Deciphering the cAAPital Verdict!!!

IMG_1357Modi loses capital” screamed the headline in The Economic Times the day after the historic victory of Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the Delhi state elections. Not only the ET, but across the board the post-mortem narrative in the media by and large has NOT been about AAP winning but Modi getting thrashed. It almost seemed like for a man who cannot do anything wrong since Sep 2013, suddenly it is rigor mortis. Since the ascent of Narendra Modi as PM, for the main stream media, even a local body election has been a referendum on Modi’s Central Govt.  Even after wading through the muddy waters in Haryana, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and even J&K fairly successfully, the “Blow to Modi” war cry finally returned when the AAP Tsunami hit BJP in Delhi.  There is no empirical evidence to show that Delhi voted for AAP as they didn’t like Modi’s performance so far at the centre. But then media’s narrative in India is seldom based on logic or ground realities. The only empirical evidence we have ( a post poll survey conducted by CSDS for India Today group) actually points to the fact that though Delhi voted overwhelmingly for AAP, more than 60% still gave a thumbs up to Modi as PM and his Govt..  For the media it is almost unfathomable that Delhi could vote smartly by opting for “Modi + Kejriwal Combo”!!!  In fact this sub text emerged during opinion polls in Delhi during Lok Sabha Elections as well, but that got drowned in the overall din. While all criticism of Modi and his Govt. of 9 months are not all misplaced, some of it are clearly over the top. Let us look at some of the uncharitable ones:

  • “This verdict is against “Hubris” of Modi and the Modi Govt.

In leadership, it’s only a thin line which separates arrogance and being decisive. In the last 10 years, we took our earlier PM, Dr.Singh to the cleaners for being an epitome of indecisiveness. If one reads Sanjay Baru’s ‘Accidental Prime Minister’ – a tell all tale of India under UPA-1, it’s clear why and how “policy paralysis” as a result of Dr. Singh’s tentativeness pulled the economy down to the rubble. In the last few months we have seen this Govt. taking a lot of firm decisions (like transfer of secretaries, calling off talks with Pakistan,…) and they if viewed through a cynical prism may seem arrogant. It’s still not clear on how many occasions Modi or the Govt. have taken decisions which were supercilious. If this conclusion is because of things like the ordinance route the Govt. took to pass some legislations, then there is another way of looking at it. This has also sent a strong message all concerned of the Govt.’s intent and urgency to get things moving on the mining sector and land acquisition,… which have been issues impending economic activity in the country. While on this, I would agree with critics that the Govt. could have been more benevolent and offered the Leader of Opposition post to Congress instead of being churlish and probably could have given the Hubris tag a miss!!!

  •  “Modi has been focusing too much on foreign affairs”

It is a well-known fact that since the slapping of the retrograde retrospective tax, India had fallen off the foreign investors’ radar.  Far from being a potential “Break out” nation, we suddenly became a “fallen BRIC”! So for any new Govt. seeking to put India back on a high growth path, it was imperative to turn around the sentiments and send a signal that “India Means Business”. And that can happen only if the top leadership is seen making the commitment. Critics also say that he should focus on getting the confidence of the Indian investors first rather than those outside. Once again, it will be worthwhile remembering that the flow of the Rupee follows the flow of the Dollars.  If foreign investors starts investing in India, the Indian ones start following the script.  For instance,when the Carrefours, Walmarts, Metros, Woolworths started pouring dollars in organized retail in 2007/08, all the Big Indian groups like Birlas, Ambanis, Tatas,.. followed suit.  So it made absolute sense for this Govt. to reach out to the bigger economies like Japan, China and the US with a sense of urgency to showcase the climate change. And to a large extent it has succeeded. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in Jan, the buzz around India was back after a hiatus.

  • “This Govt. is all about “Show-baazi”

If one is talking of the hype around programmes like Make In India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Jan Dhan Yojana,.. then the critique is utterly misplaced.  Any programme has to be conceived well, communicated well and implemented well. Make no mistake. It’s just one word which separates “Hype” and “Hope”. From a positive hype, emerges a hope for results. And believe you me, the strong messaging around these programmes is what started giving hope of a Govt. which functions. It may well happen that some of the programmes may fail or may not yield all the desired results. But then you cannot blame the Govt. for not trying. At the end of the day, the Govt. has to function and more importantly it has to be seen as functioning.

It’s not my intention to turn this post to an unending paean on Modi and his Govt.. There indeed have been few false steps which could have been clearly avoided.

  • “Failure in controlling food inflation”

Though the head line inflation as per pink papers has come down, for the aam admi, price of vegetables and food items has never come down. And so far I have not seen any serious attempt by the Govt. to do anything about this. Supply side bottlenecks continue. In fact, the PM must have taken this as a mission and gone after this from day 1. In the coming days till the economy takes off, this will be a nagging issue in the minds of the public.  To give an analogy, in Tamil Nadu, inspite of the fact that the Govt. is being run through remote control, there is visibly less disgruntlement (atleast for now). One big reason being the opening of ‘Amma Canteens’ which disperse food at economic prices. I don’t think there is any other state in India today, where one can have a decent full day meal for under Rs.20. In TN, you can, if you choose to eat in Amma Canteens. So much so, the Saravana Bhavans and their ilk had to cut their prices in order to compete and maintain their market share. Some food for thought this.

  • “Ghar Wapsi of Kaala Dhan”

In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, I tweeted – “We will ensure India wins the World cup in 2015 – The only promise Modi has not made so far”!!! Among the slew of promises Modi made in rally after rally, bringing back Black money stashed abroad was one significant and at the same time silly I reckoned.  This business of Black money stashed abroad in banks illegally,.. is mired in a complex vortex of Global Drug mafia, Arms trade, High level political Corruption, Tax evasion,…,… in which many countries and their Govts. are willingly complicit. So the SIT and Enquiry commissions will keep spending months together (as they have been doing in the past) without getting anywhere. On the contrary, the Govt. could have focused on the Black money racket within the country. I would be surprised if the people in the Govt. don’t know that the Real Estate business in India is a haven for black money! Why not a regulator for that sector in the lines of IRDA or TRAI or SEBI first instead of going after Ghar wapsi of Kaala Dhan in vain?

  • PM not reigning in the fringe elements of the Parivar

It was completely expected that when BJP came to power with a majority, it will see the emergence of the fringe elements sooner than later. What is surprising is that the PM who tactfully handled and silenced these in Gujarat didn’t anticipate and have a pro-active plan this time. Like for example, identify the louder elements and put them on some activity trap like “Spreading the values of Vivekananda”,.. in countries abroad using some NGO front organization. They will also feel important to roam around in exotic locales abroad and at the same time you are silencing them in the country. This will ensure that there are minimum distractions. Otherwise a distraction a day will keep the Govt. at bay! We saw this during the last parliament session.

Outside of the few blips I have outlined, there has been a lot going for the PM and his team. Like getting the right people in Key ministries unlike Dr. Singh who was constrained on this, being different and creative in his approach like getting the state CMs to attend the meeting of Mission heads recently pushing Mission heads to focus on getting Dandha for the country, setting up NITI AAYOG,…,…. So it is my opinion that it is utterly malicious for the commentariat to see the “cAAPital Verdict” as a manifestation of the dissatisfied voice of the Nation! This argument can’t get more specious!

When quizzed about this Govt. in Dec I think, Arun Shourie quoting Akbar Allahabadi said, ‘Plateon Ke aane ki Awaaz toh aa rahi hai, par khaana nahin aa raha!!!’ (The sound of the plates can be heard, but the food doesn’t seem to be coming!!!).  One hopes that in the Budget and the days after the Govt. puts the Delhi shock behind and stays the course on its Pro-Growth promises made so that people get to smell and eat the food as well.  That will keep the mouths of the critics busy in chewing the food rather than spitting venom on the Govt.!

Postscript: Same time last year, when Arvind Kejriwal resigned as CM, I wrote this piece – “The loud Wake AAP call”. Read here. Looks like both the aam admi and the AAP heard the wakeup call loudly that time and today are out of bed and on their way to office while the BJP, got up and hit the snooze button. Well, the Congress has not yet heard the wake up thud and has adjourned itself Sine Die!!!

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A watch on “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”!!!

“I have read in history and folklore that kings in those days used to take rounds of the countryside in disguise to understand if aam admi are happy in their regime. I thought I will also ape that idea and do some MBWA (Managing By Wandering About) in disguise to mainly see for myself how this ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ is working on the ground.  I chose to move about in the guise of a Sardar (clearly avoided the pinned stripe suit and all 🙂 ) and do the wandering about this Sunday morning in a Mumbai suburb – Mulund where I was holed up in a friend’s house. I chose Mumbai because of my firm belief that if we clean up Mumbai, we can clean up any place!!. Over the years Mumbai apart from being the “Melting pot” of different cultures, had also become a cold pan of civic apathy.

As I started my morning walk, though its’ a Sunday early morning, as it is typical in Mumbai, the roads are quite busy. And what I saw in that 1 hour walk set me thinking:

  • Just next to the gate of the building I stayed, stray dogs were devouring the contents from inside the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) dustbins and thereby littering the whole place. The place was also wreaking with foul stench. If only the bins had tight lids I thought.
  • The road adjacent has a large peepal tree under which I saw a heap of banana peels. This must be a regular place of a banana vendor I reckoned, where people come to eat bananas after their meal, eat and throw the peels on the road there itself. After all it is the job of the municipality to clean up the next day!
  • Just ahead where a few chawls line up both sides of the road, a young lady was helping her infant kid to do his morning chores right on the side of a drain.
  • As I was wondering “if Swachh Bharat will ever become a reality?” a set of volunteers wearing uniformed T-Shirts got down from a bus and swiftly got down to the task of cleaning up both sides of the L.B.S.Marg. I was impressed to see them coming fully prepared with all kinds of paraphernalia needed for cleaning. Interested in knowing about them, I engaged in a conversation with an elderly gentleman who seemed like a leader of the group. He mentioned that like-minded people have all come together to do their bit in response to the Prime Minister’s clarion call to clean up India. So every Sunday they spend 3 hours in different parts of Mumbai and today was Mulund’s turn. Not bad I thought.
  • Just as I watched them cleaning, there were dividers on the road with signage of “Green Mumbai, Clean Mumbai”. One could hardly read the signage properly as they were half buried in red paan stains. I thought to my mind that this paan chewing is a curse for our country. Many young and old, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, men and women all take the pleasure of chewing paan and spit the red juice on the roads, walls, steps, stairs in short wherever. No amount of the poor volunteers cleaning week after week is going to make India clean if this paan spitting is not stopped in public places. Ills of spitting in public itself can be a topic of one “Man Ki Baat” broadcast.
  • While I was pondering on this, I saw a pretty young girl in her teens walking her dog and she wanted me get out of her way. I stopped my MBPA (Managing By Pondering About 🙂 ), mumbled a Sorry and moved to the side. She walked ahead and then stopped for a while as her dog pooped well, yes on the road. The PYT got immersed on her phone while her pet nastied the public place and then continued to walk when her pet finished its quota of Aswachh Bharat Abhiyan 😦 😦 . In most of the developed countries pet owners are required to clean up their pet poop.
  • As I turned towards the corner and headed back to my place, I saw a paan shop littered with cigarette buds and Gutka packets (And I thought Gutka was banned in Mumbai!), crushed sugar cane trash of a juice vendor lying on the road so on and so forth. Can’t they have small dustbins outside their outlets and get their customers litter into them?

The one hour stroll in Mumbai was enough for me to understand where the campaign is working and where it is not.  

  • While it is good to nominate celebrities and entities to get involved in the programme to get visibility and continuous awareness, that in itself is not enough
  • Any amount of cleaning is not enough unless aam admis realize that they should not litter in public places.
  • And in public places there aren’t enough dustbins.
  • Cities with more population are dirtier than smaller towns and villages.

 On my flight back to Delhi itself I thought of the next steps for the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. 

  • Focus first on the 6 metro cities, then next 14, then the next 30 and so on. Build on one success after another.
  • Carrot and Stick approach towards implementation of the programme. Rewards for success and introduce stiff fines as deterrence.
  • Call a meeting of the municipality heads in these cities to get them involved.
  • Get Municipality wards to provide dustbins in every conceivable public place. Involve large corporates to give dustbins as CSR initiative.
  • Competition among wards and awards for the cleanest wards.
  • Involve set of NGOs to do repeated door to door campaigning for creating awareness about not strewing in public. Duplicate the success of the door to door polio eradication campaign.
  • Collect all who are involved in begging and “transform” them to “Swachhata watchmen”. Find a way to empower them to collect “On the spot” fines when they catch people red handed for paan spitting, not cleaning up dog poops,…
  • Request the celebrities who have been nominated to focus on spreading awareness about not littering rather than just spend few hours cleaning with a jaadu.
  • Tell Arun Jaitleyji to levy a x% cess on companies earning more than 100 Crore profit in a year in the forthcoming budget to fund the campaign
  • And finally in order to put the foundation for a clean India, call up Smriti behen and get her ministry to include importance of public cleanliness in school curriculum to indoctrinate “Swachhata” from childhood. 

As the Prime Minister of this country who brought the issue of cleanliness to the public agenda, I have to keep a watch on this Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and make sure that this campaign succeeds. We indeed have to wake up to a “Clean India” in Oct 2019. And for that if I have to disguise myself and make more clandestine trips to different parts of the country and continuously crowdsource ideas so be it” !!!

Swachh

That was a bit of imagination going wild – as if our PM Narendra Modi himself hits the ground to check what’s happening and taking some corrective actions!!!

Image courtesy: India Today