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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And the winner is “None of the above” !!!

It is the 16th of May. The day of reckoning for not only the candidates who are in the poll fray but also for the pollsters who have been predicting swings, vote shares and election results. I wake up early, finish my morning chores also early and plonk in front of the idiot box which will soon have experts who will make nonsense out of sense and vice versa depending on how the results swing. After all, this election has been touted as one which will change the destiny of our country in many ways than one. At this time I didn’t realize the tinge of prescience embedded in this statement.

As is the wont, the first one hour indicates only leads and everyone except the one who leads dismisses them as very early trends. But I could sense some tectonic change waiting to happen. Much to my delight, the candidate whom I voted in my constituency was leading. And whom did I vote for??? This is a dilemma I always had when I went to the booth to vote. Whether to vote on the merits of the candidate in my constituency or vote for the party I want to see in power irrespective of the merits of the local candidate. More often than not I found that the party I want to vote has fielded a lousy candidate and the best candidate in my area belongs to the wrong party. But this time, actually 1st time for me I had the option to beat this dilemma by pressing the “None of the above” button and come out happy. And that’s what I did. And in my constituency None of the above is now clearly leading.

NOTA_295x200

Wait a minute. As counting progresses, in many constituencies across the country as the experts were getting flummoxed to explain (but still manage to justify that it was a clear wave not just against incumbency but also against the challenger and all other fringe players blah blah blah) None of the above was emerging as the winner by far. By evening as the Pan India results starting coming out it is clear that the Indian voter has once again spoken and spoken smartly. In the total 543 seats for the Lok Sabha no party or a Pre poll alliance emerges with a clear majority. Reason being, None of the above win in 220 seats out of the total 543. So BJP and the NDA get stumped for the 3rd time with just 120 and 156 seats respectively. The silver lining was the Congress. Silver lining – because it is exactly as per prediction. As one expected they end up at 90 with 77 seats going to the 3rd, 4th, Nth fronts.

By evening parties reconcile to the bizarre result and start mouthing the usual “respect the verdict of the people with all humility” line predictably. One could see that it was difficult for the Congress spokespersons to hide their glee as their archrival- the BJP has been downed once again. Anish Tiwari said “Is me Kattar Soch Nahi, Yuva josh hai. Holistically is Parinam Hume manzoor hai” The mood in the BJP camp is of utter disbelief and despondency. While they had planned their campaign meticulously, they had not bargained for such an outcome at all. The BJP parliamentary party meets quickly and resolves to respect the verdict and support None of the above if they wish to come together and form the Government. Emerging out of the meeting party patriarch Lal Krishna Gidvani (summoning all his histrionic skills to hide his elation) says,

“Hum Vinamrata se maan te hain is haar

Abki bar NOTA Sarkar

Jai Hind”!

In the meanwhile all the None of the above candidates meet and elect their senior None of the above as their parliamentary leader who will become the PM. They shortly meet the President and stake the claim for forming the Government with BJP providing outside support. The next day newspaper headlines, TV tickers and Web banners scream – “Historic verdict – And the winner is None of the above”!!!

It is now the 20th of May. The dust has settled in what was a historic election in the world. India now as None of the above as Prime Minister. And the members of the Cabinet read as

Home Minister: None of the above

Defence Minister: None of the above

External Affairs Minister: None of the above

,…

,…

Ranjay Garu Ex Media advisor to PM Nanmohan Singh is still doing the TV rounds to promote his book “The Incidental Prime Minister”. In one of the channels, the anchor asks him

Anchor: So what do you think of this unprecedented election outcome now that None of the above has become the PM of India

Ranjay Garu: What is so unprecedented about this? I thought for the past 10 years we had one None of the Above as PM!!!

India is now making rapid strides in the economy front with None of the above running the Government meticulously with his None of the above colleagues. None of the above are involved in any scams and corruption is a thing of the past. In world fora, the only thing is top of the lips of all leaders is

None of the above

None of the above

What is wrong with you, blabbering None of the above, None of the above in your sleep?? This is the problem if you watch so much election rubbish on TV!!! Wake up now.

 

Na Tired,… Na Retired,…!!!

I like Jaswant Singh. I think he was arguably India’s best External Affairs minister in the post Nehruvian era. I cannot think of another politician in that time who could have handled the diplomatic fall out of the Pokhran tests during the Vajpayee regime better than him. When I recently read his book – ‘A Call to honour-In Service of Emergent India’ where he elucidates the complex negotiations he had with the US leading to the relaxing of sanctions much earlier than the world expected, my respect for him went up a few notches. So it was extremely sad to see the same Jaswant Singh last week waging a lonely battle of sorts with his party for not nominating him from the seat of his choice. When the party wanted him to retire gracefully, he wanted to retire after a last race!!! He was visibly tired. Even the vocal energy was missing. Those grandiose articulation skills which helped him stave off many a diplomatic challenge didn’t come of use in his own turf battle. Diplomacy they say is “an art of give and take” or rather “appearing to give and take”. Jaswant Singh nor the party leadership was in any mood for even appearing to give in. The result – Mr. Singh had to throw in the turban in the election ring as an independent and has been expelled from the party. While the curtain on his career is certainly down if he loses, I am not sure if the climax will be anything interesting even if he wins. With this episode, has he become a foot note a petulant one in that in the party’s history?? History will judge.

It’s not just Jaswant Singh. We have leaders across the spectrum of parties in India for whom a “graceful exit” is an alien concept. At an age of 87, one would expect a patriarch to provide abundant blessings, plentiful advice and be a fatherly figure. But, here we have Mr. Advani throwing fits about where he will contest for the next Loksabha elections. When his tenure ends he will be 92 – not an age one expects to have the energy to energize the nation of a burgeoning youthful population. Giving him illustrious company is the “Kalaignar” from South – Karunanidhi who at 90 is doing all what he can to prevent the “Rising Sun” from sinking. The visuals of an immobile leader being wheeled from meeting to meeting his mastery over Tamil language notwithstanding are hardly inspiring.

knidhi

Is it just politicians?? Nope. In sports too, we have enough examples of exits happening only when push comes to shove. It was my humble opinion that even God aka Sachin Tendulkar called his retirement a couple of years late. In the context of retirement, a very used cliché is – “One must exit when people ask why now and why not?” However if one surfs through history of legends, it is mostly of the “Why not” variety. Whether it was Kapil Dev or Saurav Ganguly. That’s why a Sunil Gavaskar who stepped down from captaincy after a World Championship win or retired from tests after one of his best knocks is still respected and that’s why a Rahul Dravid who decided to hang up at the 1st sight of self-doubt will be spoken with high regard.

This disease has plagued industrialists who run empires as well. I know of a group where the Chairman who in his late 80’s still tries to be active in running the business. He used to say that he will stop attending office the day his son (in late 50’s) starts acting responsibly which is when he attends office on time!!! And his son used to claim that he will be in office on time the day his dad has confidence in him and stops attending office!!!

Hence in this “I will not give up” atmosphere, one was pleasantly surprised to see Jairam Ramesh of the Congress declaring that in his party, leaders must retire at 70. It’s another matter that his party soon disowned his lofty comment as a personal lament.

Let me for the moment limit this issue of “No Voluntary Retirement” to the sphere of politics as that is of public importance. It can be safely concluded that but for extreme bad health nothing else stops politicians from trying to be politically active. Are physical strength and mental alacrity not critical in matters of governance? Jairam Ramesh also added “People unfortunately in India don’t know when to exit. That is why most mentors become tormentors”!!! Is this “not stepping down graciously” an “Indian” thing? For want of adequate information, I am unable to conclude. Is it time to amend laws to stipulate upper age for contesting in elections? Will the leaders who hang around themselves will ever come together to bring about this legislation?

Only time will tell. Till such time, as Atal Bihari Vajpayee a man with a liberal gift of the gab once said “Na Tired, Na Retired” will be the overarching theme for our netas. “Young nation with Very Old leadership” is what looks like is preordained for our country. But I think the time has come for a national debate on this.

“Hello!

 Is this Mr. Kejriwal speaking,…???”

 Cartoon credit: www.cartoonistsandeep.com 

Neutral Media???

Aam Admi Party’s most khas admi Arvind Kejriwal’s diatribe against media few days back brings back the neutrality of media in sharp focus once again. The last time it happened was when Radia tapes were leaked and hell cut loose only to be forgotten and forgiven in a few months. Stung by the open attack, most of the TV channels and newspapers picked up cudgels for media neutrality against Kejriwal. In fact the channels AAP subsequently named, (India TV, Timesnow,..) unleashed an all-out war against Kejriwal and AAP and came up with hour-long defences to shield themselves. In Timesnow’s case it was not defence but complete offence as Arnab Goswami’s (who else 😊) as is his wont ripped apart one hapless AAP chap that night in Newshour (where else 😊). The key question is – “Is Neutral Media an oxymoron???”  Before answering that question few associated ones pop up.

  • Is media neutral today?
  • Was media ever neutral??
  • Can media be neutral at all???

Is media neutral today? – Certainly not. How can it be? In the age of cut throat competition and proliferating options – it is struggle for existence and survival of the smartest. Being smart include being owned by corporates and barons who have deep pockets, being flexible in editorial content, packaging “News” with “Views” and taking a slant politically to reap the rewards. So it is not surprising that many of the media groups are owned by politicians or corporate bodies. They have not invested certainly for charity. If a channel or publication is owned partly or in full by a politician, can we expect neutral reporting on the wrong doings of his/her party? In the same lines if the channel is funded or owned by a corporate group with varied interests, can we expect the channel to report any scandal happening in that group?

Was media ever neutral? I don’t think so. Today when we say media, we mostly refer to the 24*7 TV news channels. But much before histrionics and hysteria took over our drawing rooms every evening, mainstream media was mainly newspapers. Even in the glorious print era of The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Malayala Manorama, The Indian Express,.. it was a known fact that the owners of most of these papers belonged to political parties and used their paper legitimately to pedal their parties’ cause. So, while you had news reports and events there were the editorial and Op-ed columns to proliferate opinions with a particular slant. This tradition if I may say so continues till today whereby newspapers give a particular angle as per their compulsions. This is more than evident in the Radia tapes.

Can media be neutral at all? I doubt. For reasons espoused earlier like rampant competition and lesser value system these days it is and will be increasingly difficult for a media house to stay neutral and survive. Many proclaim to be but it is difficult to fathom how they can be.

While it is a fact that media plays a major role in forming and influencing public opinion, it is for the same reason that it is manipulated. It is extremely difficult to pick up one anchor/journalist today who can be said with confidence that he/she is neutral and his/her opinion can be respected. So the only option as readers and viewers is to understand and realize that Neutrality and Media cannot go together and take what we read/see with a fistful of salt.

  • As responsible citizens it may not be very wise if we take decision on who to vote based on what is mentioned in the media. For example the same Bihar which till a year ago was the emerging state with all round development is back to being a “BIMAR” state (after Nitish broke off JDU’s ties with BJP). Similarly the same press which hailed Akhilesh Yadav as “THE” Yuva Neta when he won, is trashing him to the dumps. To me there was nothing spectacular about him then and nothing so worse now.
  • The concept of WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) may be popular in the context of “Text Editors”. But in the context of “Gen Next News Editors” it seems to be an obsolete idea. We saw that in the leaked Kejriwal-Punya Prasun Bajpai video (watch here) where even Kejriwal’s shenanigans were exposed.
  • As we also saw, there exists in India an “Opinion poll marketplace” – where one can order data and opinion poll results in the way we want and get it delivered at your place and someone will say OLX pe bech de 😁
  • As I mentioned in my earlier post (read here) for the same reasons of survival, a marketing plug is masqueraded as news item and slipped in. So at our own peril we can decide on buying that product believing what is written in that news item. Same is true for political stories.

Bordering cynicism, let me say this and close. In our great theatre of democracy our media provides 24*7 (mostly free) entertainment. So lets’ enjoy as the Arnabs and Rajdeeps battle it out with the Kejriwals, Lekhis and Tiwaris and “experts”. But form our opinions and cast our vote as per conscience and not based on what we read or see. Neutral umpires in Cricket became a reality long time back. But Neutral umpires in Media is still imaginary.

journalism

Cartoon of Satish Acharya from http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.in

The loud Wake “AAP” Call!!!

On the 14th Feb, when mush was filling the air in Delhi and elsewhere, Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Admi Party (AAP) decided to end their romance with power after 7 weeks.  When I tweeted thus, someone corrected me – “Romance??? Far from it. It was day-today bickering with power”. Well it was. From the time of Team Anna and then Team Kejriwal, I have been of the opinion that it serves best for Team Kejriwal’s values to stay out of the political system and fight. Read my earlier posts here and here. Age provided wiser counsel to Anna I guess and he refused to be even a peripheral part of AAP. His original agitation for a Lokpal bill reached its logical conclusion finally with the passing of the same. He is now gearing up for the next fight with his new charter all fighting from outside the system. (Though his alignment with and endorsement of Mamta Banerjee is a dampener)

Did I want AAP to fail like this??? Certainly not. I maintain that the time has come for an alternative way of politics in the country and AAP briefly provided that and I hope they will continue to. Some of their moves do deserve more lenient and generous commentary.

  • In India political parties think of manifestos only before elections. Once elected, the manifesto is archived meticulously only to be retrieved and “Operation copy/cut/paste/find/replace” done before the next elections!!! Even in the short 49 day raj, AAP demonstrated their seriousness towards fulfilling the promises made in the manifesto.
  • Once in power as seen in recent times mostly as a coalition, the mainstream parties have thrown the alibi of “Coalition compulsion” for not implementing their core party promises. Usually the larger party agrees to the conditions of the smaller party to form the government. Here the smaller party (Congress in this case) agreed to toe the line for supporting the larger party (AAP) to form the Government without seemingly extracting its pound of flesh!!!
  • Time frame is something political parties never bother about except in situations which suit their convenience. One was pleasantly surprised to see AAP trying hard to do things in a hurry.

To be fair, these are things unheard of / unseen in Indian politics.

Having said that, AAP certainly could have done things differently rather than changing Delhi into a theatre of “AAPsurd” in the past couple of months.  When I was in Delhi 2 weeks back, a resident told me this – “Delhi these days has become like Kolkatta. You never know what dharna is going to happen, where and how it will affect daily life”!!!  Well, that’s not a very charitable comment. Having come to power due to the strong power of democracy, there is no way the ruling party can change democracy to “dharnacracy”.  In the spirit of fulfilling the promise made in the manifesto (which in the 1st place smacks of ludicrousness) you cannot waive off penalties for those who failed to pay power bills in support of your agitation. Tomorrow a Sena can start an agitation calling for burning a few trains and when they come to power can announce lifelong free passes for all those who supported them on their agitation. How ridiculous is that???

This AAP’s fling with power has sounded a loud “Wake AAP call” to all concerned:

To AAP: As many pundits keep saying, once part of the political system which has brought AAP to power it is important to focus on governance and shed the street fighter stripes. People are yearning for change and when in power, change is best brought by using authority to bring in governance. An apple a day can keep the doctor away. But an AAP overkill a day will keep all well-wishers away!!!

To Main stream political parties: As demonstrated by AAP within the short period of existence, there is a compelling need to change the discourse of the past. Patience may be a virtue but today’s generation has very much less of it. Choose candidates based on merit, performance matters and to people nothing matters except issues related to their day-today well-being. Read as jobs, income, family’s future,…  Hence single-minded focus on Governance and carrying out things in a timely fashion is what people expect.  Chai pe charcha and Bharat Nirman campaigns are all fine. But once in power, charchas in parliament have to result in Desh Nirman, and not in shameful “Pepperspray” abhiyaan!!

To the Aam admi: In the next few months, the aam admi will get a chance to express him/herself.  The next 2 years will decide if India will become a developed nation or continue to be a perennial emerging country. It is important to differentiate the expectations from a local body election to a state election to a Lok Sabha election and vote accordingly. The last 25 years we have suffered due to fractured mandates. In today’s world an absolute majority will make a difference at the centre.. Hence it will serve us better if we use our precious vote to bring a stable party/pre-poll coalition at the centre rather than a fancy front with regional parties which jump on to the bandwagon as post-poll partners bargaining for “ATM” ministries and pulling in NEWS directions!  And vote for individuals who show capability and tendency to make a difference.

Postscript: Sharing a joke seen on Whatsapp:

“Kejriwal resigns as CM of Delhi.  Kaamwali bai sach hi kehti hai. Jhaadu kitna bi acha kyu na ho, 2-3 mahine se jyada nahi chalta” 🙂 🙂 🙂

aap cartoon

Cartoon Courtesy : The Hindu

Downloading in Delhi – the app of the season!!!

On the same Sunday two weeks ago, Indians in general and Dilliwallahs in particular were waiting in bated breath as the counting for the state elections was in progress to know who will be the next Chief Minister(CM).  2 weeks hence one is still waiting to know who will be Delhi’s next CM as another counting is underway and announcement of result is awaited tomorrow.  Few years back (2008 I think), IDEA cellular ran a TVC for their mobile service in which politicians were seeking opinion from people on an issue related to governance thro SMS polls. That time the idea of seeking referendum using technology streams like mobile/internet seemed like an extreme fantasy of a creative brain.   However the Aam Admi Party (AAP) the new kid on the block in India’s politics has been in the forefront of re-writing the rules of the game and what seemed like fictional has indeed become a reality. As I type these words, in a reality show type SMS poll, AAP is conducting a referendum exercise in Delhi on whether to form the Government or not.

Everyone is in unison when they say that this Delhi Election has seen a new coming of age of Indian democracy. And this has been mainly engineered by the presence of AAP in the election ring. Can you imagine of a situation few years ago where the single largest party with few seats short of majority soberly declaring that they will sit in the opposition and serve the people without making an attempt to form the Government??  To borrow from Vinod Mehta’s piece one feels that suddenly India these days has become “the Republic of Utopia – St. Thomas More’s imaginary state in which laws, government and social conditions are perfect”!!! From the days of “Aaya ram, Gaya ram” to “Hamare pass numbers hai” and the usual scenes of MLAs being holed up in some remote resort to prevent horse trading to today’s “Pehle aap, Pehle aap”, I think this is a fantastic and refreshing change.  In that sense, AAP has already won the battle if not the war.

Once the single largest party-the BJP showed no inclination to form the Government, there has been a huge clamour on AAP to stake claim for forming the Government with support from the Congress or BJP.  The conundrum which ensued on AAP was understandable. “How can we take support even if  its outside from any of the 2 parties whom we opposed tooth and nail during the campaign???” “How can we form the Government somehow by striking a deal with the Congress or BJP when we were exactly against their wheeling dealing type of politics???” So when this conflict played out, the AAP leadership took the stance of not staking claim and as per me rightly so. But they were reviled by the opposition first and then the press.

 “AAP is shirking its responsibility by not forming the Government” was one refrain. How can they, when they didn’t have the numbers or the mandate to govern on their own terms?

Politics is the art of the possible. So AAP should take the support from Congress and form the Government with a Common Minimum programme (CMP)“ was another theory. As per me this whole Common Minimum Programme is nothing but a recipe for “Common Minimum Governance”!!! We saw this during the UPA-1 regime when Congress formed the Government with “Outside” support from the Left under the premise of a CMP. What followed was nothing but a Left rule by proxy. While the CMP ensured that the agenda of the Left was followed, the growth agenda of the country got left behind 😦 😦

“How will the people know what AAP is capable of if you don’t govern? Since Congress is providing “unconditional” support, AAP should stop posturing and take their support and change Delhi as you promised” – this is another missive.  India’s political history shows “Unconditional support” means “And Conditions apply for support”!  So I’m not sure if Congress will play ball on all initiatives and changes AAP wishes to usher in Delhi. Maybe they will. May be times are changing.

So all this egging of AAP to somehow form the Government is as per me a well thought of strategy by the parties to make AAP govern and then flounder. After all how has AAP managed to capture the imagination of people in a short time? Not just by promising to root out corruption but also to govern with Aam Admi’s interest in mind on every issue. If AAP comes to power and makes mistakes, it will be good news for BJP and also Congress when they face the same public in 2014 for the Lok Sabha polls. But if AAP does really govern well, still 6 months is a short period to make any impact which will affect 2014 elections.  So the National parties with their sights firmly on 2014 Lok Sabha polls want AAP to rule and probably fail.

On the other hand, if AAP had stuck to the original stand of not forming the Government under any circumstances, may be Delhi would be subjected to President’s rule and re-poll held along with Lok Sabha polls.  That would have been a win-win situation for AAP.

  • If they win with a majority then, they get full undisputed mandate of Delhi and they can rule without anybody looking over their shoulders and give the Governance they promised.
  • If they lose and BJP gets a majority, they can sit in opposition. It allows for some time for the young first time legislators to learn and prepare for the long haul in the future. At the same time they can continue to put pressure on the Government like they are doing today and bring in paradigm changes. Somehow my take is AAP is best suited to be in opposition and bring in changes rather than govern. While everything else of AAP is inspiring hope, somehow their economic agenda is not. It smacks of more socialism, Anti-business and hence worrisome.  Hopefully they will change their thinking when they understand what matters most to Aam Admi.  It is not doles but jobs and hence empowerment.
  • The only issue is what will happen if it’s a hung assembly again with no clear majority. I feel that there is lesser chance for the same as constituencies where either AAP or BJP won with smaller margins will vote more decisively the next time over.

Somehow in the last few days, coming under pressure from media and commentators, AAP leaders decided to dilute their stand from “Not forming the Government” to “Will form if people say so”. Hence that “What an idea, Sirji” was put to use.

As I come to the close of this piece it is clear that AAP has been the “app of the season” in India. It looks very possible that this is App is “downloading” itself in Delhi and we may have Arvind Kejriwal as the new Chief Santa this X-mas and Aam Admi Party governing Delhi in the New year.  Here’s wishing AAP an error free run and more downloads in the future!!! Jingle Bells, jingle bells,…,…

aap

Indian Elections – Truly Sensational!!!

On a day when one has been busy following the results of what has been touted as “Semifinals” i.e. the elections in few states of India, one cannot but feel happy/proud at the way the whole election process works in India. Elections in India today, whether they are the state elections or the Lok Sabha elections happen in a very smooth manner, well almost. The Election Commission (EC) which is an independent constitutional authority is responsible for conducting elections in India under the frame work of the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951. From the time the elections are called till the results are announced after counting and governments are formed, the entire process rolls out like a well-oiled machinery.  There are very few parallels in India to the EC if you talk of “Sarkari” offices discharging their duties so efficiently.  However it was not the case for quite some time since Independence.

The way elections in India are held can be categorized into 2 eras – the BS and AS era just like the “Before Christ (BC)” and Anno Domini (AD)” era.  For the uninitiated, BS is “Before Seshan” and AS is “After Seshan”.  Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan, popularly known as T.N.Seshan took over as the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the year 1990 and elections in India since then have never been the same. He was in office till 1996 before he retired.  If today one views the office of the CEC and its incumbents with some reverence, it is certainly after 1990. In the time before 1990 which is the BS era, the office of the CEC was another sedate, sober one carrying out the job of conducting elections in the country in a very routine manner. Though the position was an independent one, till Seshan came in the CEC almost functioned as an office reporting to the Government of the day.  But the same office transformed itself since 1990 when Seshan took over and has become what we see as one of the most efficient departments of the Government of India. We hardly remember the names of the CECs before Seshan. On a day when Seshan must be watching the election results sipping hot filter Kaapi from I guess Chennai, it will be good to recall few of the landmark changes he brought into the election process:

  • Today, the moment elections are announced the political parties come under the purview of what is known as “Model Code of conduct”. As per this, among other things, the Government of the day cannot announce any luring sop or launch any program which can influence the voter once the elections are announced.  In addition to this significant point, there are other mandatory requirements as well. Mind you this Model Code of Conduct is not any law under the statute but an ingenious intervention by Seshan to make the elections free and fair.  Since then this Code of Conduct has been refined to include many other clauses as well and is today an established drill followed with discipline.
  • In the BS era, on a polling day with much less media coverage and almost no or low security – it was free for all leading to rigging, booth capturing, fraudulent voting and what have you.  It was common for voters to find their votes already cast when they go late in the day.  Today it is not as bad due to
    • the elections being conducted in a phased manner (and not in a single day as it used to be in the 80’s) so as to ensure sufficient police and security forces being made available across the state. When Seshan announced his plan of conducting elections in phases for the 1st time, it took everybody by surprise and there were many who questioned his wisdom evoking fears of keeping the ballot boxes safe,.. But he stuck to his guns and now, phased conduct of Lok Sabha elections and elections in larger states has become the norm and no EC even thinks of conducting elections in a single day. That he was in the Home Ministry earlier helped him to assess the logistical challenge for the troops movement. The model he came up for scheduling phased out elections is part of the EC’s Standard Operating Procedure.
    • The introduction of the Voter’s identity card:  One fine morning in Aug 1993, a maverick he is – Seshan announced that no more elections will be conducted in India without voter identity cards which have the photo and other details of the voters. It was an exercise of gargantuan proportion to issue a photo I-Card to all eligible voters and this call certainly put the Government in a quandary as to how the same could be implemented. Seshan thumped his foot down on this (as he always did) and got the Government to allocate funds in the budget and got this project underway. He relented only a bit in terms of time frame but ensured that the Government commits itself to this cause. I must add that for a complex country like India such a project needs a better project implementation rigour. Due to the very aggressive posturing of Seshan, the project got implemented though in a hap hazard manner (lot of mistakes in the cards, Duplication, Inadequate coverage of the entire population,…). Nevertheless the need for a Voter ID got in vogue in the country and still is.

    Indian Elections

    • Enforcement of spending limits by candidates: The existing limits for spending for candidates always appear to be some kind of a joke when you actually see the kind of money which gets spent oops “invested” in elections.  State funding of elections has been an idea which has been going the rounds but which needed legislation.  In the meantime, Seshan introduced the concept of having officers going around the length and breadth of the electorate and filming/recording activities the candidates carry out in the garb of electioneering.   With this initiative there have been very many instances where candidates have been disqualified post their victory under charges of unfair practices. Though money power is still omnipresent it is not as obvious as before.
    • Timing and scheduling of elections: It is an established fact that Mrs. Gandhi used IB (Intelligence Bureau) to gather ground intelligence about the way the political wind was blowing and dismissed elected governments under some pretext. She then got the then EC to time the elections suitably. Not so in the AS era. Now the EC decides on the timing and scheduling based on various factors some as per the constitutional provisions and others as per need to conduct free and fair elections (weather, school holidays, religious festivals, …,…)
    • Cancelling/Ordering Repoll in case of mal practices: Seshan was quick to make assessment of any reported mal practices which happened on the polling day or before and order re-poll in those constituencies. This became an effective barrier for such activities.

Now when he brought in all these changes did the Government of the day keep quiet? Well not at all. It did its bit to clip his wings by making the EC a multi member body with one Chief Election Commissioner and 2 Election Commissioners. (Earlier it had just one CEC). Fortunately this change didn’t affect the functioning of the EC and may be made it more robust.  Since Seshan, India has been fortunate to have some illustrious officers who served as CEC and continued the autonomous working style and authority of the EC. But to Seshan’s credit it must be said that we have not seen many substantive changes or game changing ideas since his departure. The EC has been by and large following the broad template Seshan had evolved for conducting free and fair polls in the country.

Seshan is reported to have famously said that men from Palghat were either great cooks or classical musicians or good bureaucrats. So as per him, that he was a good officer was because of where he hailed from. That was a very simplistic self-assessment of a man who was not known so much for his humility but certainly reputed for cleaning up Indian elections once for all.

seshan

 Postscript: If there is one area where the Chinese feel envious of India it is the fact that we choose our leaders through elections that too of the free and fair type which people like Seshan ensured over a period of time. Can China get an “Aam Admi Party“??? Truly senSeshanal isn’t it??? On that note, 3 cheers 🙂 🙂 🙂