governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘Rahul’

Recall; a “second-chance” for voters

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It is never easy to choose. It becomes even more difficult if one is unsure how well your choice will work out. It becomes easier if the store you are buying from has a return’s policy. Even the Hindu Marriage Act permits divorce in case of irreconcilable differences or incompatibility. Why then should a voter be stuck with a representative who is just goofing-off for five long years?

India does not give voters the right to recall their representative to the glorious state of being an aam admi, if she does not perform as expected or fails to pursue promises made in the heat of the electoral battle. Retribution is possible only after five long years. The result is irresponsible promises made by candidates at election time and every conceivable excuse being trotted out over the next five years why they couldn’t be kept. Imagine how this would change if elected representatives could be recalled by dissatisfied voters.

Other than the 30 million workforce “aristocracy” employed in the formal sector (public and private), who enjoy security of tenure and termination benefits, the rest of the Indian workforce (370 million) labours in casual jobs, short term contracts or is self-employed. They live with the constant threat of dismissal or loss of employment. Why should the Damocles Sword of recall not also hang over the heads of politicians?

Recall powers are available to voters in the US, Switzerland, Venezuela and Canada. Some experts argue that even where such powers are available, they are rarely exercised, so why bother? This is short sighted. As any negotiator knows, the threat of possible retribution is far more effective than the action itself. A recall provision has multiple advantages. It reduces the risk for voters to experiment with untested candidates and thereby enhanced political contestability. It can also reduce the use of money power and make politicians more accountable.

Today few Muslims, outside Gujarat, would vote for Modi. It is not his economic policy that puts them off. Nor do they doubt his executive ability. Their main fear is of potential social instability, sectarian strife and possible subversion of India’s secular credentials, if Modi becomes PM.

“Proof of concept” is a standard instrument in contract negotiations which reduces risk and facilitates efficient contracting. What if Muslims had the option to give Modi a chance and yet retain the power to withdraw support in case they find him wanting? Is it not reasonable to assume that many would vote with their head rather than their heart? That they would be more reassured of choosing freely, without the fog of fear so prevalent today.

Conversely, the traditional supporters of the Congress (the poor, dalits and the urban liberal) would still be with the party if they had the option of keeping Rahul (an untested product) on probation. Kejriwal and his team would also have done better outside Delhi with a probation period. Reducing the risk and uncertainty always results in enabling customers to make more informed choices, based on performance on-the-job rather than just go for the familiar.

A recall referendum can also reduce the use of money power in elections. Today candidates spend Rs 100 million on an MP election because they have an assured revenue stream of Rs 250 million from just the MPLADs program over five years. Even if 40% of this amount leaks (as against leakage of 75% in rural development programs once conjectured by Rajiv Gandhi), this ensures recovery of the capital invested at the time of elections. If a recall provision is activated within two years of election, the potential revenue stream gets reduced to less than the capital invested. The result would be that candidates would not splurge as much as they do today and reserve their financial arsenal for subsequent eventualities.

How difficult and cumbersome is it to embed the recall provision? The answer is not very difficult or expensive. Voters should have the power to recall their representative after two years of election but prior to two years of the next election (for a standard five year term). This ensures that the recall provision is used only once. Experience shows that the provision is only selectively used so the additional expense is minimal.

How difficult is it to operationalize the recall? Once everyone has a UID (Unique ID) and a linked phone (this is not far away and by 2019 both would be a reality), a digital referendum can even be initiated on phone with a simple yes/no option by any interested group of voters. If 50% plus 1 voters vote to recall their MP/MLA the Election Commission, after verifying the genuineness of the digital referendum, would initiate the re-election process.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Some fears are justified. After all the majority of potential MP/MLA candidates are “arbpatis” (asset value above Rs 1 billion) valued at current market prices rather than historical or depreciated prices. With so much cash sloshing around in a poor country the assumption is that voters can be bought out by a rejected but rich candidate to force a recall referendum. This is possible. But there is nothing to stop the voters from voting for whomever they wish in the post recall election. They can thereby eat and yet have their cake. Many candidates who buy votes for cash encounter strategic behavior by voters.

But the most potent barrier to recall is the combined self-interest of politicians across parties against rocking their boat. Remember how they all bandied together against the Lokpal Bill; against disqualifying convicted criminals from remaining MPs and against audit of the books of parties? When the chips are down, functional and class interest dominates, as in any other profession. Politicos hang and sink together versus the issue of empowerment of citizens.

Of course voters should look before they leap and the principle of caveat emptor prevails. But “poverty is the biggest polluter” (Indira Gandhi 1970). Illiteracy, living on the razors edge and the absence of human dignity, are cousins of poverty. Can we really expect anyone in that situation to be able to rationally choose an MP without making mistakes?

What about frustrated voters exercising a virtual NOTA vote by voting in a fresh face (Kejriwal?) hoping against hope that he would be better than the known devils? Should such voters continue to suffer for five long years? Everyone has the right and the obligation to change their minds. Even the dacoits of Chambal were rehabilitated because the State gave them a “second-chance”.

We should apply the “second-chance” approach to electing representatives. If Toyota- the gold standard for automobile quality- can make mistakes and recall cars, voters are only human and they occasionally err.

Modi’s wife

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At last the horrible secret is out. Courtesy an Indian Express scoop, we know that Modi has a wife, whom he hasn’t seen or talked with in the last 42 years.

Apparently, they never got divorced. Jashodaben is reported to have said they only saw each other occasionally for the first three years, of which they spent only three months together, since Modi travelled a lot on Shakha business. Thereafter Modi applied himself solely to the RSS. Jashodaben, as advised by Modi, got herself educated and worked as a teacher. She never got any support from Modi, or his family, but was not ill-treated either, by him, or his family. The marriage simply died away and she returned to her brother’s home.

A tragic tale of millions of middle class, urban Indian girls, whose only future and function in the 1960’s was to get married.

How is this likely to affect the Modi electoral juggernaut? The bulk of the electorate is unlikely to bother much. Abandoning wives to their own devices, is a national habit, which whilst not celebrated, or condoned, is accepted as a possible outcome of poverty or other compulsions. This approach is aligned to traditions which prescribe socially limited roles for wives. This is evidenced by Jashodaben’s own placid acceptance of the situation; continued admiration for Modi and his spectacular “personal” achievements and a willingness to share in his glory should he invite her to do so.

The few who are horrified, view this incident as yet another piece in the puzzle which unpeels the true Modi. A socially backward looking, egotistical man, focused on self-advancement. Of course this is the correct view.

National leaders are rarely expected to be sinless unless they are American Presidents. Obama is so squeaky clean that he is unreal. His only sins are lighting up a smoke and a light hearted “selfie” at Mandela’s funeral with the attractive, blonde, Danish Prime Minister and Cameron. India is today more aligned to the American way of doing things, than ever before. The Lok Sabha elections themselves are being managed like Presidential elections. This makes the personal lives of “Prime Ministerial” candidates fair play, in the run up to the elections.

Godhra, “snoopgate” and Jashodaben are now three issues that Modi needs to publicly talk about.

After Arnab’s scoop of Rahul’s TV interview, it is time Modi gave a similar opportunity to a Hindi TV channel. Modi’s executive capabilities are well known and not all the Planning Commission’s rebuttal statistics can convince people that Bihar is a better place to live in than Gujarat.

But Godhra does need to be put to rest. Rahul’s interview confirmed the widely held view that the Congress was complicit in the 1984 riots and subsequently loathe to pursue the criminals. It is not enough for Modi to rely on the serial judicial confirmations exonerating him and the positive statistics on convictions by the court in Godhra versus the low conviction rate in 1984 . He needs to be open to a free-wheeling discussion about what he went through, whilst Godhra was happening. He should explain all that he tried to do personally to control the violence and subsequently to resettle the victims. BJP representatives have often shared this information but not hearing it from Modi and his not encouraging a discussion around minority security does not serve him well.

“Snoopgate” and now the case of Jashodaben are both broadly similar in that both relate to Modi’s personal life. Is Modi a Brahamchari? Was he personally involved in snoopgate? Why did he abandon his wife? Does he still consider himself married to her? Is he keen to have her live in Racecourse Road in a grand, happy conciliation of earlier personal inconsistencies? This is rich material for Modi to reach out in a reality show, not just to the electorate, but also to the World and allow it to understand him better.

In all this, the only real winner is Jashodaben, who comes like the role model she is; dignified; proud without being an egotist; accomplished, competent and determined. The modern World would of course disagree and call her a loser for not dragging Modi to court for abandoning her and not seeking support or even for not divorcing Modi. All these actions would have been justifiable. But Jashodaben, by refusing to beg for favors and living life on her own terms; by being self-reliant and courageous, emblemizes the best in Indian womanhood.

Modi publicly worships his mother. He would do well to worship Jashodaben too, for she loves him as much and wishes him as well.   

Rahul and Kejriwal; common aspirations

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In India, fractured as it is by multiple social divisions, on top of the usual economic distinctions of class, the notion that any one party can appeal to the majority seems far-fetched, especially in the context of an increasingly aware and literate electorate. Intelligent voters seek to maximize their self-interest, which is increasingly defined in a narrow manner.

Despite its divisiveness, India’s electorate can be grouped into three broad segments.

First, the Muslims, the Dalits and the Tribals remain marginalized local groups, comprising around 33% of the vote. This vote remains pretty much transferable in bulk to whichever party they trust. The rise of regional parties is based on this vote. For the marginalized, the primary concern is the security of life, property and social dignity. These immediate concerns are best met practically, by the party which rules the State government, where they live. They also believe that caste/religion cohorts will be less rapacious than others.

The Congress used to be the party of choice for them, but the loss of power at the State level, particularly in North and East India, has severely undercut its usefulness to these marginalized segments.

For none of these, though the BJP has broken through to the Tribal vote, is the BJP a welcome prospect. Its strident Hinduism disadvantages lower castes, whilst its vision of business led growth, paints it as vile, exploitative and people unfriendly. This effectively knocks around one third of the electorate into the arms of regional parties, the Left and the Congress (where it rules a State government).

Second, the urban non-poor, comprising around 20% of voters, remain catchment areas for the BJP and its clones. The urban poor, comprising around 10% of the vote, were solidly with the Congress till 2013 but now may gravitate to AAP clones, if these are scaled up, although this seems unlikely given the past history of such “honesty based” social movements.

The third group is the rural, rich and business community, who are increasingly becoming indistinguishable from the urban rich, since untaxed agricultural income remains an attractive instrument for accounting for unaccounted income. Also agricultural land is a prime speculative asset in a fast urbanizing economy. This group, which hangs its hat on the movements of the Sensex, is firmly with the BJP. But their numbers are woefully insignificant (less than 1% of the vote).

The rural poor (other than scheduled caste and tribes), comprising the residual 36%, are the votes which remain up for grabs by the National and Regional parties. Caste, Clan and Community all play major and enduring roles.

If the Left had a more credible jobs and public services program, this segment would be fertile ground for it. The Congress and the Left have now become virtually indistinguishable. They have similar approaches to gay rights versus traditional values; social protection versus growth; subsidies versus jobs or domestic agendas versus open economy linkages. The only difference is that the Congress is not averse to playing the caste and religion card, as convenient, whilst the Left is still squeamish about departing from its class struggle agenda.

These two parties are likely to cannibalize each other. They could usefully coalesce into a single “Progressive Union” of the rural poor, Muslims, Dalits and Tribals. In doing so they could aggressively combat the Regional parties which are essentially caste and social identify based. They could give a modern, welfare State option to this segment. The AAP is also closely aligned to the philosophy of the Left and the Congress. Strident secularism; worker welfare; self-sufficiency; decentralized rule by mohallah committees/Bhagidari/communes are examples of common thinking.

The BJP is consequently forced to distinguish itself as the Party offering pan-India economic growth, industrialization, rapid urbanization and jobs, whilst minimizing its Welfare State character. It has quite some way to go towards this objective. Its 2013 victories in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were based on a social welfare program, closely resembling that of the Congress and were aided by poor leadership and in-fighting in the Congress. This cannot be a consistent ground for victory. A combative Congress could swiftly reduce the BJPs advantage at the “efficient government” game.

The BJP has to look to the rural rich and upwardly mobile middle class and the urban voter for long term support. This segment will grow from being 30% today to over 60% of the vote by 2030. This is its natural constituency. In doing so it must distance itself from Hindu fundamentalism; obscurantism and adopt a modern growth and development based agenda. The Nagpur connection has to be severely diluted. Otherwise it will lose ground, which it can ill afford.

There is little scope for Fascism in India, principally due to deep social and regional heterogeneity. The Parties of the next decade will be smaller in size and scope. They will live or die depending on how nimble they can be in reaching out to their voters. Close and consistent interaction with voters, rather than mammoth public rallies, will determine success. Merit based on performance, rather than birth, shall increasingly be the measure of politicians. Governments will be formed by coalitions rather than through block buster electoral support.

Kejriwal has belled the cat. The Congress, which is in search of a leader, could usefully anoint him as its 2014 candidate for Prime Minister.  Rahul and Kejriwal share a lot of common ground; age, social conscience, a thirst for asceticism and a focus on doing the right thing. They should join hands. What could be better than contracting-in the model, Rahul hopes to emulate?  Another, more revolutionary option, would be for Rahul and the progressive section of the Congress to merge with the AAP. Either model can work, in stemming BJPs juggernaut.

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. 

Democracy’s Flabby Middle

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No, this is not about Modi’s expanding girth.

It’s about how archaic are our systems for “group think” on public affairs. It is not just about having to elect an MP, an MLA or a Councilor to represent us. “Group think” systems are institutionalized at various levels.  In business and industry we have the “federations and chambers” which presumably represent business and “trade unions” who represent labour; in politics we have political parties; in communities we have Civil Society Organisations who claim to represent specific interest groups and of course every religion has its own management hierarchy.

Most of us have neither the time nor the capacity to contribute full time to public affairs and hence the need for a set of intermediaries to manage interest groups in public affairs. The question really is do we have too many people doing too little for us? Are intermediaries distorting our messages? Are we victims of the “agency problem” where the representative becomes the boss of the owner?

Can direct democracy help? Yes it can. Direct democracy cuts out of the “noise” of middlemen by giving voice to citizens. Direct democracy can work, even in a continent sized, heterogeneous country like India, thanks to social media technology. In the world of IT the strategy for managing a social problem, like high crime rates, is developed by convening a “hackathon”. This is a gathering of concerned citizens, who define the problem; babus, who identify the administrative constraints and geeks, who create techie solutions like mapping crime spots on a street map to check if crime clusters around poorly lit streets or is time sensitive.

By defining the problem narrowly the solutions become simpler. The application “Ushahidi”, improves policing by crowd sourcing data to pinpoint violence (Kenya 2008) or enhances disaster management by identifying emergency hot spots (Haiti 2009).

Here are some options to cut the democratic flab:

  1. Why is it necessary for MPs and MLAs to attend Parliament/Assembly by being physically present? Why don’t they participate via video conferencing from their constituencies? Technologically, this presents no problems since most districts and blocks are now connected to broad band. Consider how this could solve the “agency problem”. MPs could not play hooky, as they do today, if she they were on camera. Imagine the sense of citizen participation, as MPs debate from their homes, whilst surrounded by their adoring and watchful constituents. This can cut the flab from Parliament by saving on travel cost and eliminate the time wasted in trooping into the well. Parliament would become as dry and efficient as a modern stock exchange, where people come to transact business not engage in theatrics. Also consider the number of productive jobs created across the country to expand the enabling IT eco-system.
  2. Many of the issues, which are debated in Parliament/Assemblies, can be better informed by mobile phone based surveys conducted by a third party. Currently, mobile ownership is at 70% of households (with rural HH lagging) but ownership is growing fast and should be encouraged for a variety of social purpose applications, including mobile money. What do Indians think about the need for a specific rape law? Should political parties come under the RTI? Should there be minimum academic qualifications for MPs? These matters are far too important, to rely on Rahul to intervene, on our behalf (as he did in the case of the criminal bachao ordinance) every time. In any case, we don’t want to “rely” on anything except our “group common sense” to guide babu actions via legislation
  3. Decisions are best taken closest to the people affected by them. This is the time tested management axiom of “subsidiarity”. This implies large scale decentralization of decision making powers and finance from the central and state government downwards to district and block level elected bodies, where 85% of the elected officials are located but who have less than 5% of the powers. Decisions become less complex and easier to implement as the extent of heterogeneity decreases. The options and trade-offs are easier to understand to take a rational decision. The level of citizen participation is always higher because the issues are more immediate and relevant. Decentralized decision making fosters “innovation” and creativity.  All these are good reasons for pushing decentralization without any enhanced fiduciary risk, which a technology enabled Public Financial Management system can ensure.

 The Right to Information Act was the first “breach in the Bastille” which improved “access to information”. The second barrier awaiting removal is the noise of flabby “agents/representatives”, via whom citizens are forced to voice their opinions in public debate. Technology can help us to reduce the transaction cost and enhance the prospects for direct participation.  Phone lagao, desh bachao.

Being Caesar’s Wife

Pompeia, Julius Caesar’s wife, must have turned in her urn, when Dr. Singh compared his need, as PM, to be above suspicion, as Caesar demanded of her. When Pompeia did not stand up to the test, she was gone in a second. With the serial disclosures on scams and the studied silence from the PMO, “Dr. Singh’s Caesar” must now be readying to get rid of him.

In fact the curious case of the lodging of the CBI charge against Kumaramanglam Birla and Parakh, in the coal allocation case this week, sounded the first warning that the PMs days were numbered. Neither Parakh nor Birla are the targets here. It is squarely the PM who has been targeted and Birla and Parakh are just collateral damage.

Politicians, like Rhino’s, have a thick skin. Possibly after more than two decades in political office, Dr. Singh has grown a politician hide and so is committed to continuing to “do his duty” and let “historians” judge him. What about the people of India? Do their views not matter at all?

Apparently not. Dr. Singh was never elected by the people. He is the third PM from the Rajya Sabha and so has never been constrained by what his constituents may think. His constituency, as for all Rajya Sabha members, is their respective party bosses.

The pity is that even the Congress would probably be relieved to see him step down. Now that he has, again curiously and needlessly, come out in the open and accepted responsibility as Minister Coal, for the Hindalco decision, he has opened himself to be questioned by the CBI. Can he then avoid being questioned for the larger political responsibility of turning a Nelson’s eye to the rampant crony capitalism going on under him?

The pity is that Dr. Singh is not a politician. That, in fact, was his USP. His supporters were hopeful that he would be able to shine a light on murky crony capitalism and minimize it; come up with feasible options for pushing growth and expand access to and the quality of public services. Instead we saw an enhancement of “pork barrel politics”, rampant corruption in the use of natural resources and little progress on every day matters of concern to citizens; law and order, inflation, jobs, affordable housing, basic public services and infrastructure.

A respected and knowledgeable economist and an honest and well intentioned man, Dr. Singh risks losing even this limited legacy completely, with scams unraveling around him like Draupadi’s robes. Unless a Lord Krishna steps in to save him he is lost.

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This is really when Rahul needs to step up to the plate and provide the leadership the Congress party expects of him. The time is right. Dr. Sigh has already publicly stated that he is merely keeping the seat warm for Rahul. Stepping down in favour of Rahul is no big deal then and very much in the fitness of the succession logic.

What are the options? Would Dr. Singh like midnight vigils on Rajpath, asking him to step down a la the Nirbhaya incident? With the Delhi elections a month away, it is only Rahul who could provide the diversion from the price of onions and the absence of babu-sense at the top.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”

Brutus in William Shakespeare’s: Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

Wanted Political Principles

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The goonda raj, unleashed in Delhi from 1975, pulled the rug from under the principled politics of the previous three decades. Even the followers of Gandhian turned Socialist, JP Narayan and Lohiya succumbed to achieving ends without giving a thought to the means adopted, assiduously emulated and enhanced the bad practices of the sole national party of the times. This has been the leitmotif of politics since then and we are pretty much “adjusted”, as only an Indian aam admi or aurat can be, to corruption, dodgy political stratagems, nepotism and incompetence.   

 

Is this changing now? Some green shoots of the resurgence of “principle” are visible. Two key reasons are theorized here. First the new electorate is predominantly young. Young people are less influenced by rhetoric and tend to look towards real life models who walk the talk. Jay Panda the young Orissa politician, opposed the criminal bachao ordinance from the start, signaling his committment to principled politics. Modi comes across as another such role model, who reeks strength, effectiveness and moral integrity. The only chink, in his otherwise impregnable armor of personal, meritocratic achievement and state level development, is his ambivalence to the constitutional precept of insulating politics from religion.

 

Rahul Gandhi, for all his lack of experience and demonstrated competence, has shrewdly latched on to this chink and is hammering in the fact that he is personally and ideologically clean, has no religious preferences or hang ups and recognizes that religion and caste are the two main fault lines which need to be bridged. Rahul’s main chink is his political inheritance, which includes authoritarianism and dynasty (Indira Gandhi) and perceived corruption within his family (most recently the Vadra scam) while Modi has no such “familial” downsides.  

 

Can this dismal choice be fertile ground for the return of principled politics? Neither side will stake Principle above Power. However, symmetric steps on both sides may be agreeable to elevate the coming fight beyond the tired allegations of corruption and religious exclusion and enhance the stature of both leaders.

 

First, Rahul could publicly renounce his relationship with his compromised brother-in-law, thereby cutting away the latter’s incremental business potential and distancing himself from the dirt. This would also mean that Priyanka remains under wraps during 2014.  This “renunciation” of his family would elevate Rahul’s “principle” quotient. In return, Modi should publicly mourn the loss of lives in Godhra and strip dodgy characters away from his kitchen cabinet. Also he should pledge to cut down his fat. Have you noticed that BJP leaders tend to be fatter than Congress leaders and that they have become fatter over the last few years? This middle age spread dates them, in the eyes of the young, as people on the expiry path.

 

Second, Rahul should announce stricter proprietary norms within the Congress party than those required under the porous Representation of Peoples Act. In return Modi should pledge to give 15% of the BJP 2014 election seats to Muslims as a visible symbol of his commitment to secularism.

 

Modi loyalists would say that this bargain is better for Rahul. After all Indians are used to corruption and the sacrifice on Rahul’s part is trivial. However this “trivial” concession to propriety on Rahul’s part is accompanied by a very significant step towards cleansing the Congress of corruption.

 

Rahul loyalists would hold that the shedding of crocodile tears by Modi at election time is no sacrifice at all, since the Muslim sentiment is clearly not with him. However, this seemingly “trivial” concession is accompanied by the granting of BJP tickets to Muslims, in proportion to their population. A very major step for the BJP, towards becoming a secular party, as envisioned by the poet politician, Atalji.

 

Both sides are right and this is why these are two symmetric, symbolic but significant gestures which can elevate the election environment beyond corruption or religion. The big choice in 2014 is between (a) the BJP model of strong, centralized, executive led, economic growth and infrastructure development, with lower political levels managing social development and protection and (b) the Congress model of a mild central government, relying on pan-national consensus and periodic judicial guidance to push inclusive economic development.

 

The BJP path promises rapid growth and the reduction of income poverty but comes with the possibility of widening income inequity, the jettisoning of traditional occupations, cultural and social norms, the imposition of higher, change induced stress and social disruption. The Congress path is well known to Indians, as the fine art of muddling through whilst minimizing social disruption and retaining the status quo.

Our young electorate is likely to be quite confused by the choices offered. Jobs with social sacrifices like uniform codes and higher levels of adherence to the rule of law, on the one hand, or the continuation of multi model options on a self-select basis, but highly variable services and life styles across the country and a laid back “soft” State. Most voters are unlikely to be able to make an educated punt. They are likely therefore to go by the political symbols offered to them.

This is where the second reason for a return to principled politics becomes relevant. Voters can very easily detect the lack of sincerity, principle or commitment.  It’s all very well for the BJP to shout meritocracy and development for all but how does one explain the antipathy of the minorities (Muslims and Christians) towards them? The Congress extols social inclusion but by “excluding” development, it ends up offering only inclusive mediocrity and poverty. Rahul’s criticism of Behnji would go down better if he becomes “squeaky clean” himself. This is why the proponents of both strategies need to be personally clean and publicly committed, not only to their respective ideologies but also to serving the people of India without favor.  Jettisoning their unnecessary historical baggage can refine their respective images, help articulate these distinct strategies and attract a critical mass of supporters.

 

As Kalaripayattu dancers, gearing up for a fight, Rahul and Modi must limber up and improve their “teeth to tail” ratio. If they fail to do so, the NOTT (Neither Of The Two) vote will accrue to Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP (in Delhi) and state level parties elsewhere, who will then have the privilege of deciding, on behalf of the people of India, who should rule, thereby subjecting Indian democracy to the tyranny of the balancing few.

 

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