governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘RSS’

Trump’s implicit advice to India

Trump UNGA

President Trump does himself no favours by going out of his way to be deviant, as he did whilst addressing the UN General Assembly yesterday. Odd that a billionaire, realty tycoon should need to resort to coarse behaviour to stroke up self-confidence. Put it down to the testosterone filled hubris of corporate American, male machismo and forget about it.

Read the intent not the optics

The truth is that behind the pugnacious façade is an “honest” politician who wants to run an administration in terms which are understandable to the average American – not just the cerebral coastal types. At the cutting edge America is exactly like President Trump – bullying deal makers who neither expect nor give any quarter except for a very good reason.

You may prefer the moralistic flailing of President Obama or the glib speak of Hillary Clinton. The former uplifts. The latter grits your teeth for the plastic political correctness of it all. Trump may merely amuse you. But don’t underestimate him. He is using America’s power in the way it should have been done, long ago, to push back on the one sided economic deals it has struck with it’s allies – political support in exchange for global security. The roue is in decline and is raking back all the cash it can muster.

So, what did President Trump tell India? If you were listening and not rolling in the aisles with laughter at POTUS’s buffoonish ways, three messages stand out if you read between the lines in the sections on democracy, socialism, immigration, sovereignty and global security.

India’s first task is to focus on removing poverty – not an easy task in the uncertain technological and economic future

First, in a Trump world, India is a massive, progressive, democratic but POOR country, which is doing a good job reducing poverty. This is important. We are not the rising super star we imagine ourselves to be. We are not competition for China. We are not even the pole in Asia – that continues to belong to Japan, Australia and the Asean countries.

Yes, that sounds terrible. But it knocks some sense into our heads. Our first and only task is to reallocate resources towards investing in removing multi-dimensional poverty which traps around 47 per cent of our population (2016 UNDP). Of these 9 per cent of Indians are trapped in extreme poverty;  an additional 19 per cent are slightly better but still poor. Most worringly 19 per cent live on the edge and can become poor via the next economic or ecological shock – drought, floods, public health disasters or just indifferent economic management.

drinking water

Focusing more on greening public investment in infrastructure, education, health and sanitation is the development narrative we need to spin, of working hard to get the world rid of poverty – sustainably, quietly and innovatively in uniquely Indian ways. Just consistent, plain, good, hard work on the plumbing by experts who have done this before. This is the first message.

The route to sustainable sovereignty is by paying your own bills & not relying on hand-outs

The second message is that America values its sovereignty and independence and is willing to secure likewise for its friends. They will not preach what you should be doing in your country or how you should be praying. That is your business. But if you violate American sovereignty through drugs, immigration or terror. America shall come after you.

This is very close to the India position except we just don’t have the reach to go after our enemies in quite the same manner as America. Can we get this power in the short run? No. Is there a sequence of investment to be followed? Yes. A sequence that first puts in world class infrastructure and human capital achievements before running for guns.

China India

In the meantime, use savvy political and diplomatic accommodation to go under the radar and if the chips are down use the N deterrent card should any country seek to abuse our sovereignty. Learn from the British, the guile and charm with which they shake hands, seemingly as friends, whilst actually transferring your full pockets into their own empty ones. That is the kind of diplomacy we need, not the gun trotting, bravura kind. And please forget about pushing for more US visas. The cheap body count model of IT servicing is dead.

If you want to stride the world stage like a colossus be ready to bear the costs

The third message is that if we want to play “big boy war games” – like Germany, France, the UK, Canada tend to, we will need to do so on your own balance sheet. Don’t expect American cash to implicitly bankroll your flag waving around the globe.

India in danger of neglecting core domestic issues in favour of glitzy, overseas media coverage and an unaffordable,  muscular, security strategy. 

India should listen carefully. Prime Minister Modi has been misled by this government’s security and diplomatic advisers into believing that selling a cardboard image of a “Strong India” to foreigners, can diffuse onto the Indian voter back home, lifting the mood. This is “Shining India” redux. And what does one gain by doing this?

We pile up debt for buying trinkets like the Rafale jets, better guns, bigger ships and bullet trains. All this at the expense of making our domestic economy truly competitive. Domestic investment has been low, not least in agriculture. We should rectify this. It is an outcome of correcting the excess financing of the post 2008 go-go years of the UPA, much of which is sitting with banks as bad loans.

Bury ego & seek large foreign institutional finance to fund structural reforms in tax and infrastructure

The fact is we need large significant budgetary and development assistance credit if we are to increase spending whilst retaining fiscal stability. This means eating humble pie and going cap in hand to the International Financial Institutions. We should have done this well before going for the big bang GST reform to provide a fiscal buffer. It is still not too late to start the discussions.

Is the government getting captive to pre-election rhetoric


Unfortunately the pre-election noise is vitiating decision making. Even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has departed from its monkish discipline and austere style and fallen for the trappings of public office. Aping the BJP in organising lavish, mega events is likely to be detrimental to both organisations. The contagion of public office spreads faster than an ink stain. Once this seeps into the RSS, they become merely the B team of the BJP. Its strength has been the ascetic’s ability to speak truth (their version) to power. Is politicisation of the RSS the legacy Sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat would like to leave?

From the mouths of babes flows wisdom. In India’s case this applies to President Trump’s address yesterday. The problem is are we listening to POTUS or just hearing in his words what we want to hear.

Also available at TOI blogs, September 26, 2018

Is hubris slowing down Modi?


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


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.


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

Well run, PM Modi

modi run

(photo credit:

Reposted from the Asian Age May 25. 2015 <>

Should it worry us that Modi sarkar resembles the Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, the greatest long-distance runner ever and not Usain Bolt, the 100-metre thunderbolt from Jamaica?

Not really. The 100-metre dash, whilst spectacular and crowd pulling, is a good tactic for disaster mitigation but disastrous for managing a huge, diversified economy. The marathon analogy suits India better. It is a test of endurance, grit and determination. Outcomes are only visible towards the end of the 42 km race. Those in the lead for the first eight km rarely end up winning.

Other than physical fitness the marathon runner needs a disciplined mind, which restrains the urge to sprint till the last mile whilst maintaining a planned and steady pace all through. Also important is the ability to transcend the near continuous pain and stress, and remain focused on the goal.

Modi sarkar has expectedly followed the epic Bollywood masala — a marathon interspersed with sprints. Citizens have been kept entertained by a blitzkrieg of short-term Bolt spirits to simulate inclusive ascent on a rising elevator of well being, whilst working steadily behind the scenes towards medium-term goals.

The opening of 80 million small bank accounts; the launch of three social protection (pension and insurance) schemes; the attractively packaged, near weekly engagements with foreign governments on their soil and ours; pushing through the border realignment with Bangladesh; the quietening down of tension with China in Arunachal Pradesh; the relatively incident-free border with Pakistan; the warming relationship with Sri Lanka; the race to make India “cough-free” by substituting clean renewables with dirty fossil fuels; the quick response to natural disaster in Nepal and Bihar; the disciplining of the bureaucracy and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political cadres; effective management of the sensitive relationship between the BJP and its regressive cultural font — the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh; the visible dominance of the Prime Minister’s Office, which had wilted under the previous government; the productive alignments with Didi’s (Mamata Banerjee) government in West Bengal; Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir; the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh; Amma (J. Jayalalithaa) in Tamil Nadu, are all signals of aggressive political outreach.

But behind the scenes, several half-marathons have also been initiated — the blistering pace of tendering and award of infrastructure projects with results expected over the next three years; the quick decisions on defence procurements; the swift auction of coal mines to resolve the fuel supply bottlenecks; the opening up of the defence sector to private investment and management; relaxation of foreign direct investment constraints in insurance — both major sources of good jobs and the quiet continuation of the previous government’s Aadhaar electronic platform as a primary mechanism for verifying identity so necessary for subsidy reform via direct cash transfers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has run the first leg of the marathon with exceptional skill. But this was the easy part. The next 16 km till 2017 is what will make or break his chances for re-election in 2019. Five key measures stand out.

First, with two big state-level elections coming up, the BJP will need to marry the compulsion for populism with fiscal rectitude, which has been the leitmotif of the first year of Arun Jaitley as the finance minister of India. Reigning in inflation is a continuous struggle in such circumstances. It is fitting that the Reserve Bank of India continues to focus on managing money supply and interest rates. The ministry of finance will have its hands full substituting for the erstwhile Planning Commission in allocation of funds and enhancing real-time, expenditure management systems and metrics to ensure “value for money” spent. Key indicators to watch will be achievement of the targeted reductions in revenue, current account and fiscal deficits.

Second, introduce a poverty and private jobs creation filter. Share the assessments publicly via a “dashboard” of proposed allocations to make the allocation process more transparent and participative. Direct democracy is of Mr Modi’s signature tune. This is also a great way of self-restraining crony capitalism and populism.

Third, cut loose the railways and the public sector companies and banks from the crippling constraints of ministerial intervention. Corporatise all production and service delivery entities as a first step to reform, followed by administrative autonomy and selective listing of stock. The creeping tendency, reminiscent of the “Indira Gandhi ‘commanding heights’ syndrome”, of falling back on the public sector for getting quick results is unfortunate. The international experience shows that poor investments are the outcome if public funds are plentiful. India cannot afford “bridges to nowhere”, even if they create jobs in the short term. This implies fixing the “broken” public-private partnership (PPP) model, not effectively junking it altogether with the government assuming all the risk, as is being considered currently.

Fourth, trim the flabby Union government. The UK model of agencification and administrative reform, tight budget constraints, monetisation of assets and the levy of user charges, fits the Indian context best. Look for “asymmetric reform”, rather than whole-of-government approaches. The Aadhaar unique ID experiment is a useful example of the benefits of strategic, but narrow reform. The “Namami Gange” Clean Ganga Mission is another example. If “cooperative federalism” is to be more than just an attractive slogan the Union government must be the pied-piper, which the state governments follow.

Fifth, fix the big institutional constraints to rapid development. The last thing we need is a clash of titans — Rajya Sabha versus the government — a replay of the dysfunctionality of the American political architecture; judiciary versus the executive. Are we really keen to tread the Pakistan route? Avoid proxy veto by the Union governors over elected state governments — a throwback to the ugly days of the Emergency in the 1970s. Implement the 74th Amendment (1992), which mandates decentralisation but remains ignored two decades later.

The final 16-km dash in 2018 and 2019 will be easy if the half marathons already initiated are run well, over the next two years. The trick is not to sacrifice public interest in an all-out attempt to win state elections in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The question remains: will the BJP’s marathon mind rule or its sprinter’s muscles dominate?

Why the BJP will lose- Delhi State elections 2015


(photo credit:

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


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.


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.


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.


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 fails first governance test


Good intentions do not a good government make. As many as 8 out of 44 Modi ministers have serious criminal charges against them (Association for Democratic Reform report, May 27, 2014). The existing laws do not bar such citizens from either becoming MPs, or ministers thereafter. However, the test of a government committed to good governance is if they are bold enough to push the frontiers of public probity. This opportunity has been missed.

Admittedly, our judicial system does not help with its in-built opportunities for process delay. Our law holds that no one is guilty unless convicted. This is based on the principle of Natural Justice which allows an accused to plead her case before conviction. It is a much needed protection for innocent victims, wrongly accused; sloppily investigated against by the police; complicitly prosecuted by our civil prosecution architecture and usually, wilfully charged by the lower judiciary. Politicians too, can be victims of such a system especially when they are out of power, as BJP and supporters were for long.

However, there is a difference between legal eligibility to be an MP and the minimum requirements to be a minister. An MP becomes a minister only if the PM selects her. Modi, who enjoys a gargantuan majority in the Lok Sabha, was under no compulsion to elevate MPs, charged with serious criminal offences, to ministership.

Consider the degrees of political freedom available to him today. He has the fire power to keep Advani hanging. He has ignored the claims of Murli Manohar Joshi- a powerful BJP satrap. He only needs to pay lip service to the BJP party President, who may soon be his acolyte: Amit Shah. This illustrates his leverage with the party and the RSS.

It is unconscionable, in this context, for him to have made the eight MPs charged with serious crimes into ministers. Imagine the shock to his good governance image if any of these is convicted and then, by law, has to resign. Nothing illegal here. But good governance is mostly about the ability to claim the high moral ground, as Modi has done and then walk the talk. He has not done so.

Viewed in the larger context of distancing himself from Godhra and breaking fresh ground for rapprochement with the minorities, he has done himself a disservice by appointing as minister, an MP, who is associated with the sorry episode of the Muzzafarnagar hate crimes of 2014.  The MP does not have a serious criminal charge against him. But perception matters. The MP, who has little else to commend himself, seems to have been “rewarded” for being the BJP front man in Muzzafarnagar.

All the eight ministers have obviously been put in place with an eye on forthcoming state elections; Ram Vilas Paswan (the Dalit face of the NDA in Bihar); Upendra Kushwaha, a BJP ally from Bihar; Uma Bharti (the Hindutva face of the BJP in UP); Maneka Gandhi the Punjabi face of the BJP in UP Terai; Vijay Kumar Singh from Ghaziabad, UP; Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde from Maharshtra and Dr. Harsh Vardhan in Delhi.

Pursuing good governance is like being on an escalator. There is no escape from constantly elevating yourself and pushing the envelope. Modi elected to ride the good governance escalator. Now, there is no escape from being judged on the elevated standards he has set from himself.

Admittedly, no previous government, in the recent past, has sacrificed the political returns from rewarding politically convenient appointments but remaining committed to creating a political environment for good governance. But then, we did not vote for Modi to get more of the same. We voted for Modi because we thought he was different.

Earlier, in 2004 we voted for Manmohan Singh because we thought he was different. We were wrong in his case.

But please Mr. PM, do not prove us and yourself, wrong. There is more riding on you and your government, than the blossoming of saffron pan-India. Your decade as PM can only be useful if you leave behind a political system which respects and uphold, by personal example, the Rule of Law and the principles of good governance.

Every ministerial appointment made on a purely political calculus sacrifices merit, fair play, efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability. These are preconditions for inclusive growth.

(Photo credit:

What now Mr. Kejriwal?


What was Kejriwal thinking on his flight back from Varanasi yesterday? Did he reflect on how difficult it is in a competitive environment to get a second chance? Where would he have been, had he not frittered away his government in Delhi for a notional presence pan-India?

Maybe he was caught up in the colorful, marketing jargon, which is so popular today, to explain the “why” and the “how “of politics in a four second TV byte. Maybe he believes that he has launched a Unilever style product-shampoo in a sachet-affordable even by the aam admi and that this will be the basis of a pan Indian political empire. A top down campaign, with credibility in Delhi, translating into votes everywhere in 2019 (?) or maybe even 2024? Maybe he pondered over how to leverage himself as a brand better- an anti-corruption crusader; a karamyogi who has sacrificed a brilliant career for public service; a Gandhi (Mahatma) incarnate; a 21st century social reformer?

Possibly he does not think in the self-serving calculus of electoral gain and loss and seeks only to elevate the level at which politics is played by opening a door for decent folk, who otherwise would never have sullied their manicured toenails in the keechad of politics where the lotus blooms and the Congress mucks about.

Alternatively, he may think that a pan India campaign could surely lay a solid ground for the Delhi elections when they are held. His entire national team, which must number now close to 20,000, could descend on Delhi (RSS style) and escort every AAP voter to their booth….if they haven’t already been captured by the RSS or a desperate Congress?

Maybe he actually thinks he will win in Varanasi-that niggling (what if) last thought that smuggles its way in, just as you have drunk the “nimbu pani” and eaten the “veg” sandwich and are drifting off to snooze land, your “jhadu topi” slanted over his eyes, to screen the bright sunshine out and your seat fully reclined.

Possibly he was working out strategies to convince the Delhi voter that voting AAP is not the same as pushing the NOTA button. That this time they would be there to stay and work, not run about like a consultant, signing contracts everywhere, but executing none satisfactorily.

Is it time, Mr. Kejriwal to merge into the great Indian political mela? Is it time to build alliances with like- minded parties? The left is your natural abode. For all your talk of supporting the private sector you are a quintessential public sector man. This happens often with those, like you, who know how rapacious and self-serving small business can be. You forget that the rapaciousness of the Indian Bania is not built into her genes. It is an outcome of surviving for centuries on their own with no one else to protect them or their assets, but themselves and in the face of a grasping State which seeks only to marginalize them in the name of modernity.

Business is often a “winner takes all” game and inevitably results in huge concentration of wealth in a few hands. This is why inequality has grown significantly all over the world as business has flourished. This will not set well with your fuzzy, socialism and “equity” over growth, orientation. Be clear for once. The aam admi can never hope to have an equitable share in the wealth generated, if private business is to grow the economy. The problem is that only private business can grow the economy. But whilst growth is inherently iniquitous there are ways to induce a modicum of equity by providing opportunities to everyone. There is no option to rapid growth……to borrow from Churchill’s take on Democracy. Your fuzzy philosophy and panchayat penchant will not be able to accept this hard fact. That is why common cause with the Left is best.

Of course no one wants to side with a loser. In fact mere association with the tired shibboleths of the Left, are enough to put any voter off. But then you will not find gold plated options for getting into government every day. Possibly you and your supporters could revitalize the tired, old, men and women of the Left with your youthful energy. You share many of the virtues of the Left; austerity; financial integrity; a mass contact strategy; cadre based functioning; inner party democracy, a concern for visible equity.

Alternatively you could also align with the BJP/RSS who also share these virtues. Both you and Modi appeal to the same, young, aspirational voter who has remained an “outsider”. But of course you do not align with anyone. Good luck Mr. Kejriwal.


Avoid zero-sum political games


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.







Modi & Kejriwal; adrift sans a “clean” anchor


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.


Who Let the Sardar Out?



Only in India, would a proposal to erect a statue. in memory of Sardar Patel, who oversaw the integration of princely splinters into India, as we know it today, create so much controversy. After all, the poor Sardar only added to the land mass of India, like Mrs. Gandhi, who added Sikkim. He did not give any land away.


It would be understandable for citizens to object if the Sardar was still alive and yet got his statue erected, in his own lifetime. It would be understandable, to object, if the Sardar’s family had maneuvered to grab a piece of prime public land to dedicate to themselves. It would even be understandable if the Sardar was a just passing side show, in the political drama of the independence struggle.


None of this being the case, it is puzzling why the fuss about the proposed statue in the Narmada Sarovar? All the poor Sardar got, for his efforts during the independence struggle, was a chowk named after him in Delhi, from where he balefully contemplates the goings on in Parliament, visible down the road, through the noxious fumes of traffic.



Most comical are the efforts of those who claim that the Sardar belongs to “all of India” and not just Gujarat, where he was born. They are horrified that the Gujarat Government should choose to honour him thus, even though the Sardar was not from the political party which is currently in power in Gujarat. Who remembers which party Abe Lincoln or Churchill were from? National figures are bigger (or should be) that just their party. Of course, they belong to the Nation, which also includes Gujarat.


Some question whether INR 2500 crores of public money should be spent on the Sardar’s statue? After all this could feed 2.5 million poor people for a year @ Rs 27 per day! To these critics I can only say, if a proper statue to this illustrious “son of India” had been made in 1952, just after he had died, the cost would have been just INR 60 crores. The remaining INR 2440 crores is the cost of public neglect, over the last 60 years, of the political legacy of those (and there are many more besides the Sardar), whose families did not press to perpetuate their public image.


Others object that the BJP is rewriting history, by “appropriating” the Sardar, who they remind us, banned the Hindu Maha Sabha, of which, the current version is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Samaj, the ideological font for BJP cadres. To these history buffs I say, emulation is the highest form of praise. The Congress should be happy that the BJP is commemorating one of their tallest leaders.


Still others assert that a better (and cheaper) way of remembering the Sardar would have been to name a public welfare scheme, or two, after him as there are for the Mahatma, Nehruji and Rajiv Gandhi. What they forget, is that a rose, by any name, smells as sweet. No one else remembers the name of a welfare scheme. What citizens care about is the tangible benefits accruing to them.


The most comical are the efforts of the BJP “permanent representatives to TV channels” who are at pains to explain that INR 2500 crores is not just for the statue but includes museums, viewing platforms, food plazas, movie halls, water sports and other such essentials of a global tourist hot spot. A truly Gujarati response; refuting allegations of public profligacy, by spelling out the “value for money” proposition and the “bankable revenue model”, behind the project.


In India, even a political legacy must “pay back”. After all, this is the land of the Maruti car with its apt advertisement: “kitna dete hai” (how far does the car run on a liter of petrol), illustrating the essence of India. This is still the land of those (like me) who darn their socks and repair their worn underwear. But it is also the land of the new rich Indians, who swivel their “single malt whisky, with just a splash of water please”, ride in their newly acquired INR 2 crore Bentleys to their INR 200 crore bungalows, but crib about the increase in the price of diesel and the horrendous waste on “the Patel statue”.


It is not the poor who are petty. They see jobs and opportunities for micro business behind the Sardar’s statue, in hospitality, tourism, transportation, retail and civil maintenance. They know that it is better for a few thousand poor to get sustainable livelihoods, rather than stand in line with folded hands, along with 2.5 million of their brethren, to get INR 27 per day for just one year.



Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: