Leadership Marketing!!!

David Packard, Co-founder of Hewlett Packard famously said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the Marketing Department”.  He meant that in an organization, every individual – the CEO included, has to perform his/her bit in “marketing” the company’s products.  I am not sure if there is anybody else who has taken to this concept more keenly than Donald Trump, a CEO turned POTUS. How else could you explain this?? On the 28th Jan, Trump has a call with the Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull as part of his global leadership outreach since he became the President. Post the call, the official White House Readout on the call went thus:

“President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke by phone for twenty-five minutes today. Both leaders emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally”.

A few days hence, media reports emerged on the call which said, “Donald Trump yelled at Australian PM during “worst ever” phone call about refugee swap deal – then HUNG UP”. For obvious reasons, this report created a furore all over with the rumblings being heard for few days over. In the meantime Trump at a Prayer Breakfast added,

Believe me, when you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it,”

Now, here’s the intrigue. Apparently we hear that while on the call with Turnbull, Trump was joined by the then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and senior advisor Steve Bannon. Only. So how did reports of his so called “yelling” and “hanging up” find their way to the media??? Surely the President’s office is not bugged by some media house! It’s clear that the media reports were a part of an orchestrated PR campaign to market the product called Trump. In this case it was clearly intended to send a message to his constituency which bought his message of “America First” during the campaign that he is tough and is now “Walking the Talk”.  Notwithstanding the tremors that the news of the call created, I am sure it did the job of enhancing Trump’s image among his supporters as a no nonsense leader. So it was not just important for Trump to talk tough on the refugee issue but to communicate to the world that he talked tough.

trump

Welcome to the age of “Leadership Marketing”!!!

Closer home too, we have parallels to this. Through Narendra Modi our Prime Minister. For example, when Heeraben, our PM’s mother visits him in Delhi and spends a few days at the official Prime Minister’s residence, we get to see pictures splashed in the newspapers of Narendra Modi with his mother. The source of this being the Prime Minister’s twitter handle itself where Modi posted pictures of him walking his mother in a wheel chair along with his tweet which said “My mother returns to Gujarat. Spent quality time with her after a long time & that too on her 1st visit to RCR”.  So to his many followers, the intended message is clear. Here’s a leader who is tender at heart with his mom while being blessed with a 56” chest in his own words to take on his adversaries.  In India more than spending time with wife and children, image of a leader taking care of his mother has a telling impact. Again it was not just enough for Modi to spend quality time with his mom but to inform the world that he did so!!!

America, arguably the global fountainhead of marketing has been in the forefront of adopting this technique with Trump now but even with Barack Obama before. Routinely we were fed with images of how the Obamas enjoyed quiet dinners at suburban restaurants on weekends. On Obama’s 55th birthday which was his last in Office, we saw plugs like “55 pictures of Obama discovering his inner child” and so on!!! In the case of Obama the positioning was not of a tough leader but of an affable and lovable man who cared for everybody.

In India, giving competition to our PM in Leadership Marketing is the Aam Aadmi Party Chief Arvind Kejriwal. He wears the positioning of Aam Aadmi on his sleeve. Literally. Even as a CM of a state he walks in chappals, wears loose fit clothes, tweets reviews of films he catches up on weekends,… to reinforce his positioning. The party also posts routinely on Facebook like this:

“Chief Minister of India’s Capital. No security, No VIP treatment. Truly Aam Aadmi,”  With the following picture:

ak1

Not surprising that the post got over 30,000 likes and 5,400 comments!!!

So, Leadership Marketing is no longer the exclusive domain of Americans.

In advocating this Leadership Marketing, I must say that the advent of Social media has made the job much easier. No need to depend on your PR agency to do the job. One could time it yourself.

On the flip side, the case of Vijay Mallya tweeting a picture of himself at a Super luxury hotel in Dubai and claiming to have a rocking time when his employees were hitting the streets for unpaid salary back home were bad optics and horrendous Leadership Marketing!!! Leadership Marketing is the new double edged sword in the arsenal for leaders to “position” themselves “right” in the battle for the minds and hearts. Double edged it is and hence they can’t leave it to the party’s publicity wing or an external agency but have to be on top of it themselves. Just as Packard advised.

As leaders engage in this marketing and optics, we the people need to develop the skill of separating wheat from the chaff and make our judgement objectively rather than fall for the optics or surround sound!!!

So the next time when you see a report quoting from an “inside source” of Trump banging the table during a meeting with Tim Cook for not making Apple phones in America or a clip of O.Paneer Selvam praying to a Jayalalitha’s picture tucked in his shirt pocket, you know why!!!

Somebody famously said, “The Future of Marketing is Leadership”. I am tempted to paraphrase in tune with today’s times as “The Future of Leadership is Marketing”. Amen.

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!!!

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.

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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,…,…

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Coming up – A “Yuva” moment for Team Anna???

In the final moments of Maniratnam’s movie “Yuva”, the protagonists played by Ajay Devgn and Vivek Oberoi along with couple of their friends (attired in denim!!!) are shown entering a Vidhan Sabha after winning the assembly elections. In the film Devgn is a student activist and Oberoi just another student who were taking on the local politicians and finally end up contesting the elections and also win.  I wonder if Team Anna was also dreaming of such a moment in real life when its members decided to abandon their agitation and took a call to wear political topis from now on.  For some time it was clear that Team Anna members were getting frustrated by the meek response they were getting from the common public to their agitation calls. This was a far cry from what they saw in August last year. From Jan this year when their second round of “fast” agitation met with a slow and thanda response, Team Anna was subject to a barrage of criticism and loads of advice from all and sundry.  As written nicely in his Op-Ed ( A for Anna, B for Baba, C for Camera) in “The Hindu”, columnist Biswanath Ghosh says and I quote “We feed on the frenzy whipped up by news channels; and, when caught in a verbal duel between distinguished panelists with colliding views, we are so confused that we end up adopting the voice and the demeanour of the excited news anchor”.  And most of the news anchors and famed columnists were of the view that Team Anna must stop this agitation business which has become a joke and fight elections to bring in the changes it desires to see.    These voices were amplified by the jibes the politicians were unleashing on Team Anna provoking them into taking the electoral plunge.   It looks like Team Anna got so incensed by these voices all over and decided to walk into the electoral land mine with eyes wide open.

For a moment let’s step back and look at the genesis of Team Anna’s movement.  The movement started as a calling card for a legislation for preventing corruption at high offices called the “Lokpal bill” (which incidentally holds the record for being brought up in parliament so many times without getting passed till date). Coming after the RTI (Right to Information) Act which again some of the members of Team Anna like Arvind Kejriwal effectively championed for and succeeded, this bill was to be a game changer in putting an end to corruption in India.  As I mentioned before, this bill has the illustrious history of circling the corridors of Indian parliament many times over without getting enacted.  Each time, when the bill was introduced to the House, it was referred to a committee for improvements or to a joint committee of parliament, or to a departmental standing committee of the Home Ministry. Exasperated at this attitude of the political class, a group of activists under India Against Corruption ( IAC) umbrella with Anna Hazare as their mascot embarked on an ‘Anshan’ which in no time captured the imagination of the public.

So it was a very legitimate movement which erupted purely due to the failure of the ruling class to bring a legislation that will prevent corruption at high places.  The common man who was paying the price of corruption day in and day out saw this as a menace and went all out in support of the same though he might not have understood the legalities of the Lokpal bill. There were and are legal luminaries who are of the view that we don’t need another law but proper implementation of existing laws to prevent corruption. Let’s keep that debate for another suprabhat.

It is quite obvious from the delaying tactics displayed in the past that the political class is not for a Lokpal bill.  So one didn’t expect anything else but continuous goading to stop fighting in the streets and urging Team Anna to get into parliament to fight for the bill.   By falling for this bait, Team Anna might have just ended up scoring a self goal.  While it is still very not clear what shape the political fantasy of Team Anna will take, it is very clear that whatever it might be, the writing is on the wall.  Why am I so skeptical?  Because, in our parliamentary democracy, a political formation can make laws or influence law making if it is a majority force (thereby ruling party) in parliament or in a coalition era, be like the Left in UPA1 or TMC in UPA2 with the jack in its hand.  For Team Anna’s movement to take a shape of a majority party is asking for India to win 20 Gold medals in the next Olympics!  The second option means it has to provide “outside” support or be a part of a coalition of one of the fronts which Team Anna has been castigating all the while for not enacting the Lokpal bill.   The third option is to be non-aligned to any front and with just a few MPs keep trying to push for the bill.  All this means- floating a political party, contesting the next Loksabha elections, win a few seats and try to get the Lokpal bill passed in Parliament is nothing but a non-starter.   All this, if you can muster a few seats.

Winning those few seats by itself could be a herculean task tougher than beating the Chinese in Badminton! I still remember the fate of T.N.Seshan who was once a Middle Class hero for bringing up a sea change in the way elections were conducted in India – ended up as a Middle Class Zero when he contested for Loksabha elections and lost.  There are other examples galore of eminent people biting the dust once they contested the elections and lost.  Because, in India contesting and winning an election is a matter of arithmetic and that too an expensive one by itself.  Many times in elections Indians don’t vote to elect their MP or MLA but elect their caste leader.  And there are other considerations as well – in short you need to be an expert in Game theory. ( A Shashi Tharoor is an exception – Admit, he’s doing a great job and is an inspiration )

In addition to the fact you have ended up killing the Lokpal goose, there are other issues which have been very well articulated by Swaminathan Aiyar in his weekly column in Times of India today. For those who missed that – here’s the link –  http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Swaminomics/entry/anna-s-party-would-be-a-great-blunder

A very regular argument being thrown up is that instead of fighting outside for a change in the laws of the land, Team Anna should come inside the Parliament which makes the laws and bring in those changes. This is like a film maker prodding all his critics to be filmmakers themselves before penning those critical reviews of his film!!!  One needs an outsider perspective to things and it’s good to have a movement outside the parliament constantly pushing the leaders to mend their ways when necessary. That’s what Team Anna was doing all the while.  And that’s what they should continue to do. That the Anna movement started fizzling out was mainly due to the wearing out of the novelty factor and loss of hope in people that it will succeed after that disastrous extended parliament session which ended abruptly.   Loss of hope is as much or more than a  big insinuation on the political class as much on Team Anna.

In my blog post in Jan this year after the failed Parliament session, I had humbly called for an Anti-Corruption movement Ver. 2.0.  Some of the ideas acquire more credence in today’s scenario.  As I mentioned in that post, expecting a flawless Lokpal bill first up is not realistic.  The groundswell of support for the Jan Lokpal bill rattled the politicians across the board and the ruling front in particular.  From then on till the time the fast agitation in Mumbai failed, the government was working overtime on getting a version of Lokpal bill to the parliament.  Team Anna should have shown restraint and maturity in engaging in discussions with the Government at that stage and must have gracefully agreed for the version of the bill though it might not have been the perfect bill. For that matter even the present RTI bill is not perfect yet it is already yielding results. If they had done that, we would have seen the passing of the Lokpal bill finally. Now, that seems to be distant reality.

Coming back to that climax of the film “Yuva”, the wily politician played superbly by Om Puri stops Ajay Devgn  while entering the Vidhan Sabha and says “Tum log aa to gaya idhar, Dekte hain kitna din tikta. Tumhare pahele bhi bahut log aaya idhar, duniya badalne kiliye. Kuch bhaag gaya, kuch kudh badal gaya

(Now that you have come here, let’s see how many days you survive. Before you, there were many people you came here to change the world. Some vanished. And others have changed themselves).

It will be very ironical if this happens to Team Anna!!!

Check this link to enjoy that scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fksT0VfDKj4

I’ve been seeing similar sentiments being expressed by few columnists, check these out :

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Citycitybangbang/entry/team-anna-the-need-for-strategic-clarity

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3735258.ece