governance, political economy, institutional development and economic regulation

Posts tagged ‘zero sum game’

Avoid zero-sum political games

Image

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.

 

 

  

 

 

 

Kejriwal’s Governance Debut

Image

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.

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: