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Posts tagged ‘Gandhi’

Is hubris slowing down Modi?

Hubris

So when does hubris — the corrosive comfort of undiluted power — overtake a government? Conventional wisdom points to three early red flags. First, when routine tasks are ignored for grand ambitions. Second, when party cadres act out of entitlement rather than commitment. Third, when rant replaces reason as public outreach. Has this already happened to the BJP government?

Ignore routine tasks at your peril

Venkaih

First, consider the recurrent trail of routine lapses. Take the embarrassment in July of being unable to get the non-controversial bill to give constitutional status to the Other Backward Castes Commission passed in the Rajya Sabha because BJP MPs did not even bother to attend in sufficient numbers. There is no glory in floor management. Ergo, it gets overlooked. Next, consider the election of Ahmed Patel to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat. The strategy to keep him out was brilliant. But shoddy execution, or worse, deliberate sabotage, let down the BJP. Finally, the mass death of children in a Gorakhpur hospital. The hallmark of the RSS has been effective management during emergencies and disasters. That oxygen cylinders couldn’t be swiftly organised speaks volumes of how low the cadres have sunk.

Rulers can’t ignore the Rule of Law

Second, consider contempt for the rule of law. Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS supremo, violated the law in Kerala by unfurling the national flag, on Independence Day, at a school in Palghat, contravening a restraining order by the district collector. The order was perverse, based on pique and politics rather than prudence. The manner of its service — just prior to the occasion — was hurried and amateurish. But it was a legal order and anyone violating it is liable to be arrested. Mohan Bhagwat got away. But the lesson he taught the schoolkids and party cadres was that no law is sacrosanct if you are powerful enough.

Gandhiji would not have approved. Disobedience of an unjust law is fine, if followed by submission to its consequences, under the rule of law.

Gandhi

This contempt for the law is visible in the cadre vigilantes protecting cows, supporting unruly, disruptive religious yatras and the demonisation of alternative voices. Add to that, the raging testosterones of a BJP “princeling” in Haryana and you have party cadres which align more with gaali (abuse) and goli (bullets) rather than the galle lagana (hug) that Prime Minister Modi has espoused as the leitmotif of New India. Third, let us consider why no one came away inspired from Red Fort this year.

Outreach by high decibel rote no substitute for passion

The Prime Minister’s speech was a prime example of zombie behaviour, where the mind is elsewhere but the motions are acted out. The wide ramparts of Delhi’s historic Red Fort have set the stage for Prime Ministers to grandstand every year since 1947. Two (Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji Desai) barely had a chance to give a second speech before they were gone.

Four others (Charan Singh, V.P. Singh, H.D. Dewe Gowda and Inder Gujral) were even more transient, managing not more than a single speech each from Red Fort. One — Rajiv Gandhi, a young, stunning-looking charmer — was suddenly elevated to the position but never quite unbuckled the pilot’s seat he used to occupy earlier. Manmohan Singh had a decade to hone up his act. But he knew that he was a mere seat-warmer for the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty — having been taught his lesson earlier, when party workers sabotaged his election bid to the Lok Sabha. P. V. Narasimha Rao — a friendless, private man was not given to making big public gestures from the Red Fort. His political games were deadly effective, but played entirely in privacy.

Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi are the only three Prime Ministers who have had the mandate and the charisma to use the ramparts to strut their act. Mr Modi thrilled us in 2014 with his energy and his earthy enthusiasm at reaching out to people — quite a change from the taciturn Manmohan Singh or the imperiously distant Sonia Gandhi. In 2015, he filled in the vacant spaces in his act with data, slogans and acronyms. We were impressed. In 2016, we were still agreeable to look kindly on him, given that the economy was racing along and government performance was projected as trending sharply upwards.

By 2017, the act was flat as yesterday’s soda. This is remarkable considering that Indian testosterones are racing at the government effectively holding off the Chinese muscle-flexing at Doklam and now in Ladakh; Pakistan is reduced to being a mere vassal of the Dragon and economically hollowed out Western powers are fawning at our doors for Indian business.

Modi 2017 Red Fort 2017 (3)

International acquiescence has bred much-needed confidence. But it is disquieting that in domestic policy it has led to complacence, drift and distance from the public. Mr Modi’s speech was rambling, glib, unnecessarily argumentative and just plan stale. The turban was way too shiny to be classy. The stance too casual to be purposive. The look too staged. Very confusing was the discrete use of the terms — Bharat, India and Hindustan.

Bharat, India or Hindustan?

Hindustan was used in the context of pledging support for the victims of the irresponsible Muslim practice of triple talaq. Bharat was referred to as the mata (mother). But it is New India that we seek to build. Meaning?

Bharat, India or Hindustan, all three remember earlier episodes of hubris — disconnects between reality and rhetoric — which ended badly for us. In 1964, we discovered, too late that India needed the world, not the other way around. In 1975, we realised Indira needed India, but we didn’t need her. In 2017 (Delhi municipal and Uttar Pradesh elections), a shallow social revolution met its downfall. In 2004, we tired of using the stock market as a metric of progress. The metrics proposed for New India are similarly flawed. Corruption, poverty, filth, early death and unemployment are long-term outcomes, unachievable by 2022.

Child India

Focus on the essentials, Mr Prime Minister: Ending poverty by providing jobs and social security; improve results in education and health; build infrastructure for the 21st century and professionalise your government. We supported you in 2014. We want to do so again in 2019. But is your party up to this task?

Adapted from the author’s article in The Asian Age, August 17, 2017 http://www.asianage.com/opinion/columnists/170817/is-a-sense-of-hubris-slowing-down-modi.html

The yin-yang of Indian democracy

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Why has anarchism become a fashion statement? Is it an early warning sign of the fracturing of the edifice of liberal democracy, built up over the last century?

Parliaments are held in contempt now with their membership dominated by lumpen elements that are there to expropriate public resources for private gain. Citizens trust nothing except the decisions they take themselves. Representative democracy is passé. Direct democracy is in. Parliamentary democracy and cabinet functioning is out. Strong man rule is in.

If political architecture is under stress, economic management principles are in severe distress. In the bastions of Western liberalism there are deep reservations about the sustainability of the smart economic solutions of the last five decades. Jobless growth is not what was targeted but it is the reality. Increasing inequality was an unintended outcome of rapid growth. The unmasking of limitless human greed continues to shock. The moral turpitude of those paid handsomely to be in positions of financial and political trust seems to have no bounds.

In the 1950s and 1960s we put our faith in planned public expenditure financed by foreign aid and debt to pull us out of the poverty trap. Poverty remained with us.

In the 1970s we fingered big business as the villain and put our faith in public enterprises to provide jobs. Instead we built a small molly coddled labour aristocracy and stamped out India’s entrepreneurial exuberance, whilst distributing the stagnant economic pie in ever thinner slices.

In the 1980s we put our faith in dismantling the complex system of government controls which were strangulating industry and trade. We found that whilst this was an adequate strategy to give “escape velocity” to small, island countries, large economies like India needed deeper domestic reform.

In the 1990s and 2000s we tried to jettison structural inefficiencies and segmentation in the labour and financial markets, liberalized the external account and kick started private infrastructure development and this worked well. In the 2010s we tried to do more of the same and it stopped working, partly because the world had slowed down, partly because we had run out of reform steam.

We are drifting now into an electoral storm in 2014, bewildered, lost and directionless, stumbling over the discarded political shibboleths of the past and feeling our way across the new crevasses in liberal economic thought.

The rise of Modi and of Kejriwal illustrates this discontent with established doctrine. The appeal of both leaders cuts across traditional vote banks of caste and class, though Modi is more constrained by his “Hindudtva” image on the issue of religious pluralism.

Elites are not comfortable with either leader because they sense in both the desire to smash the status quo, built assiduously over the last six decades, ensuring elite appropriation of public resources for private gain.

It matters little to Modi’s supporters that he does not pay lip service to “secularism”. Similarly it matters not a jot to Kejriwal’s supporters that he defies established principles of good governance in economic management by subsidizing energy and water and generating regulatory uncertainty for private industry and finance.

Neither set of supporters really care that both leaders are openly autocratic and self-opinionated and that neither has much time for the niceties of bureaucracy and traditional political decorum. The bottom line for their supporters is that the established doctrines have not served them well and so they are willing to dive into the deep end with their eyes closed.

There is a new, harsh political reality out there. Gandhi’s principles have been spurned and today the ends justify the means. Gandhi’s instruments of social mobilization however are much in demand; personal contact with citizens, effective communication in a familiar idiom instead of hectoring; a heavy reliance on personally walking the talk and never getting too far from the “nautanki” format of public discourse, so popular in India.

Cynics would call this “lumpenisation”, the demise of all that was good and proper in Indian democracy. Realists would argue that till the masks are ripped away and the ugly reality underneath revealed, there can be no reconciliation and no change. In politics, genuflecting to liberal democracy in public whilst working to deepen the roots of mutually exclusive traditional identity groups, as captive political vote banks, has been the hypocritical norm.  

Liberty is achievable only when the masks we habitually wear, of caste, class, religion and culture are ripped off and an honest conversation started, amongst ourselves, of how we can get ahead.

As the battle lines are drawn for 2014, it is useful to be mindful that every Modi juggernaut needs a Kejriwal to keep the collateral damage of an overwhelming majority in check. The rule of the multiple of 10 can be useful. If Modi corners no more than ten times the seats Kejriwal gets, it will ensure that the rest will group themselves around these two nuclei; both of whom are progressive and compatible yin and yang.

 

Avoid zero-sum political games

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The best thing about democracy is that it provides options to the zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Even the losers, in a democracy, retain their right to participate in decision making and benefit from state actions. We have seen too little democracy in India; the largest and the developing World’s best functioning democracy, and too many zero sum games being played.

One such game revolves around identity. Why is India still stuck in traditional identity models based on religion and caste? Babasahib Ambedkar’s big fear was that decentralization would further deepen these traditional identities by entrenching elite power, whilst centralized democracy, guided by more evolved minds, could pave the way to a more liberal future for the marginalized. The literature suggests that, perversely, centralized democracy has actually strengthened traditional identities across the board, rather than substituted them with more modern identities.

Dravida politics in Tamil Nadu; Dalit and backward caste politics in the North has led to political empowerment, which is welcome. But entrenchment of caste identity runs contrary to the aspirations of modernity, principally since caste is a non-meritocratic classification. One either belongs or does not. It bungs citizens into a static identity framework and denies them the right to choose and develop alternative non-traditional identities.

India inherited the Muslim “identity” issue from the colonial mindset, which used it to its advantage. The acrimony and violence of the partition strengthened the divide. But the “Hindu pride” movement of the BJP/RSS in the 1990’s sharpened the cleavage. Whilst provoking the less liberal it assuaged the guilt of the liberal Hindu and encouraged them to merge their Hindu identity with their politics. The Indian tricolor has both saffron and green. But Hindus rarely don the latter, whilst Muslims rarely use the former.

Sikh identity was just a mix of bravado, large heartedness, the absence of religious bias, a preference for chicken tikka and deliciously hot langar, available for anyone, in Gurudwaras. Till the events leading to 1984, Sikhs were integral to the Hindu tent. Today their children shave their beards to join and the Akali Dal is the dominant party in Punjab.

Focusing on identity, for short term political gain, is a zero sum game. Identity is the last refuge of political mediocrity. Parties, which are bankrupt in ideology and short on demonstrated success, are the ones most likely to use “traditional identity” as a means to gain political support.

Modi is demonstratedly keen to get away from the popular perception of being a “Hindu nationalist” but it is not easy unless the BJP dilutes its links with the RSS. Modi cannot win without the fringe Hindu and Muslim, urban vote. But the fringe voter is unlikely to support a deepening of traditional identity.

Muslims increasingly have an urban presence. They are functionally integrated into the lucrative, crafts based export and machining industry and pervasive in informal, skill-based employment thereby building social capital within urban communities. But outside Gujrat, Muslims view Modi only through the lens of Hindu identity politics.

Modi will, consequently, be denied a significant section of the urban vote, which should naturally have accrued to him since Modinomics is primarily, an urban vision. This illustrates the self-defeating character of identity politics. The decline of the Congress is another example of a self-goal. The Congress built its support based on identity politics since the 1970s. But once Muslims, upper caste Hindus and Dalits were weaned away by more efficient, identity based parties, the Congress floundered.

Unfortunately, India’s newest party; the AAP is also engaged in a zero-sum game. This game is about exposing the corrupt. Kejriwal must appreciate that voicing the demands of the Aam Admi does not have to be done in the shrill, make or break confrontationist form, he has adopted. It may get him media attention to denigrate Najeeb Jung, the courtly, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, but it is unlikely to get him votes. Just as Mani’s diatribe against Modi’s chai serving past, has floored Mani, whilst elevating Modi.

Gandhi stood out as a negotiator by being an accomplished “incrementalist”, not by presenting a zero-sum fait accompli. What distinguished him, from those he led, was his ability to be firm but civil and eager to first explore if incremental change could happen, within the four corners of the existing law. Enacting a law is no assurance that the desired outcomes will follow. Making the enactment of a law as the fulcrum of a government’s achievement is the lazy politician’s route to populism and a zero sum approach to governance. We have lately seen too many such attempts.

Good governance is about problem solving at the margin, using stealth, guile and innovation with an eye out for maximizing value for money. It is not about proclaiming a grand vision of “total revolution”. What citizens value most, is the least disturbance to their daily lives and incremental but steady improvements in the quality of life. Supreme sacrifices by citizens to attain a vision call for conditions to be intolerable. The problem for the politicians of modern India is that life is not insufferable in India even for the poor. Democratic safety valves operate to keep the pot from boiling over. Had it not been so, the Communists and the Maoist would have realized their revolution long ago.

Please Arvind, you don’t need a multi-hull, state-of-the-art catamaran to navigate calm, inland waters. A simple canoe would do as well. Don’t hanker for a nuclear bomb to eliminate a few rodents.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Mega-cities are inhuman

Unlike monkeys, it is not in the nature of humans to huddle though we take to cuddling quite easily. The instinct to explore new frontiers and the excessive demands which we impose on natural resources; both push us to put space between each other. The ancestors of today’s Indians trekked all the way from Africa to the sub-continent around 500,000 years ago, possibly to put space between themselves and their African cousins. It is not for nothing that the self- sufficient, “Marlboro Man” was an icon for three decades starting from the 1960s albeit now discredited in a tobacco-less World.

monkeys huddling

There already are too many humans at 7 billion. Of these, 1.2 billion souls are concentrated in India, making us the most densely populated, large country in the World. Worse Indians are huddled in habitations in just 9% of the land available. The rest is forests (an implausible 23% in government data), private groves, pastures and agricultural land.

Humans huddle in cities more out of necessity than choice. Group living does not come naturally to humans, unlike lions, elephants, antelopes and penguins. The Swedish alternative lifestyle experiments in the 1960s, demonstrated that whilst cuddling was definitely in, huddling was out. Commune members tended to pair off, even if temporarily. More evidence on human choice is available from the preferences of the rich, who sprawl in gardens, whilst the poor are crammed into tiny, multiple stories precariously piled on houses.

Babus, in India, are willing to serve the government, even without pay, for the privilege of living in Lutyen’s green, heritage, garden city. The nouveau rich meanwhile are busy buying up unauthorized, “farm houses” in Delhi suburbia. Part of the fascination of “going West”, particularly to the US, is the affordability of sprawling houses as compared to the tight, modular, frightfully expensive “paper” abodes of the Japanese.

Neither time not technology, augur well for huddling or cuddling. Thanks to digitization of information; the internet and social media, human relationships are now virtual and often best conducted remotely. Many a face to face encounter has spelled disaster. Business is also increasingly digital and even government is going that way. All of this reduces the need for huddling in cities. The modern “Morlboro Man” is a woman with her Iphone.

Gandhiji’s vision of “self-sufficient” villages and Julius Nyrere’s vision of “Ujama villages”, on which the Washington Consensus smart set poured scorn, now increasingly seems not only a reality but a potential option for preserving the best of humanism. Consider that with the revolution in printing technology, it is already possible to print out a plastic tumbler or bowl in one’s home. Consumer durables are most likely to follow suit. This will completely change the “scale economy” for manufactured goods. The most scalable part of the new technology would be the software, which in all probability may have been conceived in a garage! Of course we would still need some “old industry” type factories to make the chips, the computer accessories and most importantly the printer, which makes all this possible.

Old age technology and industrial habits have fueled the international trend in urbanization towards mega cities (population of 10 million and above) whose number increased from 2 (Tokyo and Rome) in 1970 to 28 in 2013 and will likely go to 37 by 2025. India today has 3 mega cities and Mumbai is the second most densely populated megacity after Dhaka. The demise of the mega huddle of a mega city is not immediately imminent because the available “industrial age” technology still makes them scale efficient. But in India recent data indicates that growth in the mega cities is slower than in second rung cities which shows that they have reached the economic limits of their efficiency.

Mega cities are bad news for the following four reasons.

First, humans are bad huddlers because with the existing technology, cities with a density in excess of 4000 persons per sq km, end up severely polluting the air, land and water. Our mega cities have a density of around 12,000 persons per sq km and are unsustainable, as are China’s.

Second, as population density increases, the pressure on land drives up the price of realty, making “land intensive” business like “international scale multi-brand retail” uneconomic. Contrary to popular criticism, the AAP knows that no international multi brander would want to locate in Delhi because land is too expensive and hence had no downside in siding with the populist naysayers.

Third, increasing population density requires a higher spend on environmental mitigation of local pollution further driving up the cost of doing business.

Fourth urban led growth is inherently iniquitous. It creates pockets of luxury amidst vast swathes of wretchedness. The IMF (the bastion of the erstwhile Washington Consensus) estimates that in the US, 90% of the incremental wealth from growth benefits just 1% of the population.  Inequality is a growing concern and a key driver of political and social instability and crime and a major threat for poorly governed countries.

The term SMART city is the current buzzword to make cities efficient. This is a misnomer since cities by definition are not SMART. SMART is to digitize; connect electronically; disperse population; integrate rural and urban areas seamlessly and not to huddle.

Our cities should be self-financing and not draw on central or state funds. Public spending on infrastructure should focus on making rural areas more productive. It should improve the quality of life for rural residents since dispersed habitations make market based solutions for basic services unviable. At the best of times, making sensible public investment is tough. It becomes unconscionable when public funds are used to artificially drive up the demand for realty through public expenditure on creating cities. This growth pattern has also been a key source of corruption with elite capture of the land just prior to its development into an urban area using State finance.

The US is the best example of publicly funded investment in highways since the 1950s. However, even they found it difficult to do so efficiently. They also have bridges to nowhere. The recent publicly financed programs of demand creation since 2008 have been downright wasteful. California, for example, is persistently broke because it is wedded to “big government”. Publicly funded research and infrastructure can only be attempted by very efficient governments and India is not one of them.

We should go back to our roots in communities. Public finance should be used primarily to subsidize connectivity (ports, airports, rail, roads, airwaves and electricity)in segments where market solutions are not available and private investment unviable. Building and maintaining stuff is best left to the private sector.

The urban-rural divide is an artificial cleavage. Gandhi’s village need not be devoid of modern facilities. Migration should be a choice enabling people to vote with their feet but it is demeaning as a necessity. Spending public money on urban areas is like giving a hungry woman a fish to eat. But investing seamlessly across the country is like teaching people how to fish. Only the latter is sustainable.

Najeeb Jung shines

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By offering soft, warm, paranthas to Kejriwal to call off the AAP dharna, Jung, the new Lt. Governor of Delhi, has not only raised the culinary standards for political parleys but acted in a manner aligned to the high office he holds.

In sharp contrast is the behavior of the Government of India’s Ministry of Home. Leave aside the intemperate description of Kejriwal as mad by its minister…which Kejriwal, being Kejriwal, may well be willing to accept, in the same manner as he gladly accepted being termed an Anarchist. It is a sad reflection of how rusted the “steel frame” has become that apparently  the babus in the Ministry felt that Jung jumped the gun; that they could have “tired” Kejriwal out; that an “olive branch” of sending two cops on leave was an unnecessary concession.  

The problem with the Babus of today is that they cannot draw the line between the political objectives of their political masters and the obligations of the post they hold. It is not the job of the Home Secretary to improve the image of the Congress or rubbish that of the AAP. It is not the job of the police to promote political agendas.

Unfortunately, such fine distinctions between public responsibility and private gain are long gone and babus align with one or the other party to get ahead.

Till the proliferation of the Commissions, since the late 1990s (which are overwhelmingly staffed by retired IAS officers and judges), the highest prize a retired official could aspire for was becoming a Governor of a State. Unlike the President who has to be elected by Parliament a Governor is merely appointed by the Central Government; a safe non transparent process used for accommodating babus in possession of embarrassing secrets of netas; quid pro co for loyal services rendered in the past to political masters; parking slots for politicians past their expiry dates and such like. The net result is all incumbents of the post of Governor are agents of the central government. Two such ex-babu Governors are now media breaking stories because the CBI has sought the Presidents clearance to question them in the sorry story of the mis-procurement of AugustaWestland VVIP helicopters.

Governors, in general, are meant be benign observers, like the Queen of England. They don their Durga avtar when the Central Government decides to declare a state of emergency and dismisses a State Government. Effectively this transfers all powers upwards to the Central Government, which rules through the Governor.

The last time this happened was in 2002 in Uttar Pradesh. Mercifully, since then, the coalition dharma at the center has protected those on dharna from being summarily excluded from political power by the President.  

In Delhi the Lt. Governor rules directly since the Police and the Land Administration is with him nominally and actually, closely controlled by the respectively, the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Urban Development/DDA. The two powers are inextricably linked. Land and property is the safest and most lucrative refuge (with better returns than the stock market) for the loot from corruption.  You protect your wealth, power and status by controlling the police. It is no coincidence that till the Supreme Court directive the largest limousines had lal battis. The Lt. Governors real power comes from how close he is to the person calling the shots in Delhi.

Najeeb Jung may have acted on the direct orders of 10 Janpath, or its ancillary offices. However I prefer to believe that Jung acted out of a deep sense of responsibility, maturity and convention, in keeping with the sophistication his position requires.  Jung is here, with us in Delhi, till at least the election results are known. This is not the last dharna or street action he will have to deal with. It makes eminent sense for him to reach out to Kejriwal and establish a sense of trust and fair play with him. A democracy is functional only if political parties collaborate. We have not seen good examples of positive and responsible collaboration in the recent past. This is one shining example of the correct approach.

Jung has been a babu, an international civil servant, an academician and an actor. By his “warm parantha parley” approach, he has finally crossed the line and become a politician, whilst simultaneously remaining the gentleman and aristocrat that he is. This may, incidentally, also ensure his continuance as the Lt. Governor, even post 2014, since even handed and level headed Governors are scarce to come by. Who says God doesn’t reward good acts?

 

 

 

Kejriwal’s Governance Debut

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Kejriwal combines Gandhian social skills with canny street fighting ability, backed by a solid record of social activism. In today’s Delhi, this is an unbeatable combination. If we followed a Presidential system, Kejriwal could well have been the Chief Minister of Delhi, instead of having to get into the muck of party politics.

However, India follows the parliamentary democracy model, in which the party vote share matters. Delhi is near equally split between BJP, AAP and Congress in terms of party vote share. This illustrates that Kejriwal is taller than his party, as is the case with Modi. Both candidates would do better than their parties, as Presidential candidates.

What this calls for is some clear thinking from Kejriwal. His supporters have rallied around his plank of a corruption-free government. No one takes his electoral promises of free water and cheap electricity seriously. What everyone is enamored by, is his Gandhian rectitude and sense of propriety. His supporters want to believe that it is still possible, six decades on since 1947, for an honest man to set government right. Modi’s supporters have a similar belief, despite his rough edges, based on his performance in Gujarat. Kejriwal has a huge advantage over Modi. He evokes no antipathy, unlike Modi and has demonstrated this by drawing support across caste, class and religion. He embodies the urban aspirations of modern India.

Kejriwal should not buy into the bogey propounded by his supporters that they cannot “morally” accept support from a “tainted” BJP or Congress. The AAP is not a revolutionary movement. It has sworn to work within the constitution. Our constitution provides for multi-party rule. Parties with a national presence and recognized by the Election Commission, can hardly be termed “tainted”. Leaders may be tainted but a political party cannot. The BJP and the Congress, combined, have more than two thirds of the vote share in Delhi. More than 6 out of 10 voters in Delhi support the “traditional parties”; BJP and Congress. Kejriwal needs to recognize this and work to win over these votes through his performance in government.

Kejriwal must not fall into the social revolutionary’s trap of the zero-sum game. All or nothing is not envisaged in the Indian Constitution and in fact is never a desirable social outcome. This desire for an over whelming mandate is similar to what Presidents of Banana Republics seek. Such mandates often become the root of the social evils of fascism and perpetuate the politics of exclusion of minorities. Neither of these are objectives of the AAP.

Finally a government is known more by its deeds than its composition. UPA 1 was a broader and more unstable coalition, but achieved much more than UPA 2. An AAP government formed with outside Congress support completely insulates the AAP from “external” influence in the day-to day management of the government. A majority is necessary in the Assembly only for new legislation and getting the budget approved.

What is far more important, than new legislation is the efficient day-to-day functioning of the government. The Delhi government is in fact only a glorified Municipal Government. Getting road projects completed, drains built and cleaned, preserving the green areas, improving water and sanitation, education, health and transport facilities is its remit. The AAPs manifesto sought to democratize governance though the wide participation of stakeholders. None of these need a majority in the assembly. Just giving the face of government a new “inclusive” feel and implementing the available instruments of direct democracy, can be a long term, game changing achievement. Delhi Government has never been known for simple living and high thinking. Time to start now.

Political parties need supporters, even in babudom, to be effective. Our babudom is not and has never been an apolitical Weberian artifice. The “golden age” of apolitical babudom, oft cited during the Nehruvian period, dominated by the Congress, never gave babus an option to align with someone else. Both the Congress and the BJP have years of administrative experience. More importantly, they have sympathetic babus. Unless AAP chooses to rule, Kejriwal’s colleagues will never get the experience of hands-on governance nor will they develop a sympathetic cadre of babus to support them. Time to get real.

Kejriwal cannot be daunted by the potential failure of a minority government after having stared “reality” in the face time and again and created his own reality. He is the “Lawrence” of India, for whom nothing is written and who determines his own destiny.

Kejriwal must not be lulled into the reassuring drone of political logisticians, who peddle their own tired theories of how to succeed in politics. Otherwise, the topi he wears, will start to resemble the one worn by the Congress and the BJP.

 

Kejriwal: Reluctant Chief Minister

Kejriwal must have thanked his stars that his fledgling Aam Admi Party (AAP) polled only 28 of the 70 available seats in the Delhi State assembly. Just 8 more seats would have forced him to form a government and rule!

The embarrassment of electoral riches Kejriwal now faces, with his massive mandate to “rule for change”, is instructive of two trends. First, Delhi is sick and tired of “more of the same” traditional party politics. Second, it is a long leap from attractive social activism to actually providing good governance. Gandhiji would have felt similarly uncomfortable as Prime Minister in 1947.

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The party with the most seats (32), BJP, has opted out of forming a “minority” government since it does not want to risk a “lame duck” unstable, government, which could jeopardize its “development and governance” stance for the 2014 national elections. Kejriwal has been offered support by the Congress which gives him the numbers to form a government, but he has refused to play ball.

What Kejriwal now plans to do in unconscionable and exactly what any other political party would do; force a re-election so that he can ride the “AAP wave” to a presumed outright win in Delhi and gain Lok Sabha seats as well in 2014. This is no different from the BJPs strategy.

How then is Kejriwal different? He says that he is not in politics for power but he is already plotting for an expansive presence in the 2014 elections. Nothing wrong in that strategy except that it hits at the very roots of parliamentary democracy if it comes at the expense of forming a government when asked to.

People do not vote to elect an opposition party. They vote to elect a party to govern. By fore- going that possibility, Kejriwal is creating  four negative outcomes:

(1) He acts against the interests of participative democracy since the outcome will be babu rule by the Lt. Governor till the next election can be held. Not a welcome outcome.

(2) He imposes unnecessary fiscal cost. Every election imposes huge direct costs on public finance and party finances (borne by business and supporters) and massive indirect cost on the economy through the extension of a period of uncertainty and babu indecision. Neither are desirable outcomes.

(3) By ducking the invitation to rule he comes across very much as Rahul Gandhi; long on concepts but woefully short on governance experience and effectiveness. This in sharp contrast to Modi and Shiela Dikshit.

(4) He also erodes the credibility of the AAP in the eyes of those who want corruption ended now! and a citizen centric shift in governance.

Kejriwal’s enthusiastic colleagues forget that the business of most ordinary citizens is not politics. Citizens enjoy and endure the electoral process because it gives them at least a marginal voice in decision making. The last thing they want to do is to make politics their primary concern. This will cost the AAP dearly in 2014 national elections, which will see both the Congress and the BJP pulling out all the stops and revamping their organisations.

Either way, Kejriwal will have earned his place in politics as the “disruptive innovator” of the decade. I suspect this result is what he truly values, unknown to his colleagues, who are merely riding the electoral wave. More power to his elbow. 

Arvind Kejriwal: Disruptive Innovator

 

Disruptive innovation (DI) is a force multiplier in business and technology. Value creation is all about getting there ahead of the competition. DI annihilates the competition, not by doing the same things better but by doing them differently, thereby changing the rules of the game. The recent greats in this line of business are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

The Mahatma and more recently Kejriwal, are our home grown disruptive innovators in the business of politics. Kejriwal’s tactics are uncannily Gandhian. Ram Guha would be well advised to jeep a close eye on him. A squeaky clean record based on public service; deft management of a mass outreach campaign and tactical choice of public interest issues. Whilst the two “big bulls” -BJP and Congress, are going hammer and tongs knocking each other out, Kejriwal is coasting to what is being rated as an outstanding electoral debut in Delhi. Erstwhile Aam Admis and Aurats who deserted him along the way, must be eating their hearts out and cursing their lack of political foresight.   

Of course Delhi is different and it is questionable whether Kejriwal’s tactics can be scaled up nationally. Still there are solid reasons why they could.

First, he is the only person in living memory who has stood up to Arnab Goswami’s harangue and given as good as he got. Last week Kejriwal cannily got onto a one-on-one “hard talk” with Goswami. When the time came for answering what the “nation” wanted to know, Arnab found only Kejriwal (as opposed to the usual circus of views to choose from) smiling sweetly at him, from behind his spectacles and pleading in an attractive, thin voice (similar to the Mahatmas) to please give him a chance to answer. Result knock out win for Kejriwal.

 

 

Second, Kejriwal is a babu with two decades of rich babu experience under his belt, and an additional decade now as a social activist, not a dyed-in-the-wool, clueless, “do-gooder”, like Anna. This makes him practical, administratively astute and flexible enough to be compatible with politics.

Third, there is a vacuum out there for sucking up the votes (young and old) fed up with poor governance and joblessness. Unfortunately, this vacuum exists primarily in urban areas and largely amongst the middle class who want to work their way upwards. This is quite different from the poor and marginalized in rural areas who are still acquiring the “escape velocity” to be sufficiently aspirational enough to demand opportunities for self-betterment. They are  yet to get beyond electoral gifts, like the NREGA and cheap food. Nevertheless, even the urban middle class accounts for around 120 million votes and (15% of the national vote). The key of course would be to leverage votes into seats through strategic alliances.

Kejriwal is likely to use Delhi as the testing ground for his brand before scaling up in 2014. He will also have to chart out whom of the two “bulls” he should support to form a government. One hopes he will not repeat the “historic blunder” of the CPI(M) in 1996 when it made itself irrelevant, by choosing not to lead the United Front national government. In the business of politics, when you get a chance, you have to play. It is only by playing that one chooses ones destiny. If Kejriwal chooses to “play”, as he must, he will have to keep his “young” flock of elected members in the incorruptible Gandhian mould, they are in today. Not an easy task, in the enticing “gallis” of Delhi.

He will need strong local collaborators in the states. The Kejriwal political machine may consequently look more like the Congress did prior to 1939; a coalition of regional forces and strong local leaders with a common brand identity. Of course there needs to be a good business reason for such political franchisees to hang together. Usually it is the future expectations from the brand value that keeps the flock together. The Kejriwal brand still has to be built.

The tool of self-denial (fasting) is passé. Irom Charu Sharmilla (Manipur) was on fast for almost two years against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, but to no avail. More embarrassing was Chandrababu Naidu’s recent, short fast in Delhi and the subsequent desperate attempts by the faster to get someone to end the fast, so he could get on with life. Jagan Reddy’s competing short fast in Hyderabad got more press, but fasting as a political tool seems to have reached its expiry date.

Civil disobedience, Gandhi style, is incompatible with middle class aspirations. In any case the Indian State is so soft and yielding that beyond a short outburst of frustration (as in the Nirbhaya Rape case), continued agitation seems futile because the government looks even more helpless than the citizen. The favorite ploy of politicos and babus at parties, in plush Delhi homes, to which they are still invited, is invariably to play “victim” after the mandatory period spent listening to individual venom-spew or petitions, whilst usefully swiveling single malt all through.

Modi already occupies the “effective government” niche. Rahul is big on “religious inclusion and helping the poor”. This pushes Kejriwal into the boutique market for AAA concerns; urban jobs and livelihoods; succor from the land and slum mafia; social protection, especially for working women and children; targeted and speedy grievance redressal and the citizen’s need to have “reachable” leaders who live with the people they represent, whose families use the very same local facilities and who make a profession out of knowing their electorate.

Concrete steps in this direction would be AAP elected members to refuse government houses and the use of government cars and push instead for an allowance for all Delhi MPs and Ministers; once in power they keep the number of hangers-on, helpers and security at a minimal; expand outreach through social media and finally the adoption of a costed and feasible five year plan addressing no more than five key concerns of their boutique constituency. The “Bulls” pander to everyone and everything. Modi departed from this typically Congress strategy by not “appeasing Muslims” but got upped in the outreach war which projected it as exclusion, rather than even handedness. Kejriwal needs to focus his agenda for it to be credible.  

Start-ups with rapidly expanding “top lines” face the temptation of selling-out to global players. The AAP will likely be offered the same opportunities, if it is not already being wooed. Gandhi was pragmatic in taking what comfort came his way but steadfast in his objectives. Kejriwal needs to measure up to high standards. If he manages to do so it would probably be a first for a babu. We wait and watch. 

Rich moms could be role models

We have a choice to make, as India grows rich. Should we glorify the path of escalating consumption levels as the mantra of economic growth or the Gandhian concept of “self restraint” as the root of sustainabile growth. Man is the only animal which consumes relentlessly. In the West the poor are obese because fatty food is cheap, relative to income. Consumption is the one emotional straw universally available since the family has crumpled and human interaction becomes robotic. The American rich are wafer thin, not because they believe in restraining consumption, but because this is how they live longer and better (the old animal instinct for survival). However, the very same people have no compunction in over using heating to remain in shirt sleeves even though it is snowing outside or drive cars which outweigh them by 10 to 15 times or travel between their home and office by air, daily, just because they can afford to do so. We know that external  controls on consumption do not work…like prohibition…or prostitution. It just drives up the cost of these goods and services with the “transaction cost” accruing to the “policracy”. We also know that all of us are trapped in an international pattern of consumption driven by the open access order of World communications. The Devil does indeed wear Prada and there are millions of wannabe Devils and Pradas out there.

Hope for India lies in two separate sets of actions (A) The government must say no to the possibly cheaper but unsustainable production systems of the past and use technology to delink resource use from economic growth. Opting for Nuclear and Renewable energy and taxing conventional eneregy is one such action. Opting for a rational blend of air, rail and road transportation is another, with taxes on low efficiency personal options like executive jets and cars. (B) More importantly we need a social movement to eschew “consumerism”. This can only begin, like all good things, from home. In most Indian homes it is the mom who is inevitably the role model of all that is good and practical…especially if the mom is the bread winner. Most males are still the “hunter gather variety” who look to accomplishments, outside the home, for fulfillment. The poor and middle class in India are too income constrained to really have the financial space to be role models of “restrained” consumerism. It is to the rich moms that we must look for change. There are atleast 4 million of these in Urban areas and 7 million in rural areas. Here are simple actions which can promote a sense of “minimalism” in our culture.  (1) Wrinkles in clothes are ok. Clothes do not have to be starched and blindingly white as long as they are clean and smell ok. Rich, urban, India wastes at least 100 million liters a day of water to over-wash clothes to get that constantly fresh and starched look. Politicians could help also by breaking with this style. (2) India with its dust, humidity and heat is unsuitable for opulent “Arab” style or ornate “French” furnishings. Keep it simple; wood, stone tiles and mats look and feel best. (3) Dress for the weather not against it. U can’t recreate Paris in Purnea. (4) Say no to more than seven pairs of footwear (including chappals) per male adult and fifteen pairs for a woman adult and do u really need more than five handbags?. (5) Say no to more than ten sets of clothes for a male and thirty sets of clothes for a female (6) Donate your old clothes freely if u want to refresh the wardrobe. (7) Install motion sensor switches in your home to save energy when are not using the device. (8) Be vocal against excessive eating and indulgence. Bring social compacts (not legislation or regulations) to bear on dowry, extravagant weddings and waste. (9) Honour persons who are role models in high thinking but low living (is Jean Dreze the only one?). (10) Honor those who use their wealth for the good of others, not just the wealth accummulaters. You can’t reap if u don’t sow.Image

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