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

India “Mining”???

Elsewhere in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, brand strategists of Unilever, the FMCG giant are on a panic video conference call with their counterparts in India.  The key point of discussion is how to stop their main competitor in Oral care segment – ‘Colgate’ from walking away with a sudden spike in the market share in India.  Random surveys in different cities and towns in India revealed that “Coalgate” emerged on top of the mind and lips of a majority of Indians these days!

It’s not just the Unilever brand managers who were having sleepless nights. Ever since the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General (CAG) on Coal block allocation hit the public domain, it has spread insomnia among quite a few in the ruling front as well.  The opposition has smelt blood and resembles these days “The Gangs of Wasseypur  and are doing everything but short of spilling blood on the streets or on TV. The CAG report set a new record for the number of “0”’s in a digit for a scam and proclaimed that there is a loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore ( US$ whatever!!! ) caused by delaying the auction route for allotment of coal blocks instead of allocation by a screening committee which was seemingly opaque.  It would seem that from a 55 cr scam (Bofors) in the 80s to 1.86 lakh cr scam now we have indeed come a long way even after adjusting for the high inflation!!!  Who said we are an emerging nation ? Guys, we have arrived!!!

I’ve not read the CAG report and hence my observations in this post are based on what I’ve been reading and watching in the media in the last 2 weeks.  It’s good to see institutions turn watch dogs and uphold the principles basis which they have been founded.  However if they become the rabble-rouser variety which is what the CAG has turned into then we have a problem.

The track record of CAG in floating purported loss figures and diluting the same as time passes has not been so impressive. Keeping that aside, the problem I’ve with this report is that it presents a purely accounting perspective (that too a faulty one) in arriving at the loss figure which is in essence an opportunity loss or a presumptive loss.

Erudite economists and columnists have found many a hole in the CAG report and they are all there in the public domain.( A good one from Surjit bhalla – “CAG,Credit & Credibility” is a good read)  I am not erudite and not an economist.  As a lesser mortal, I’ve only the following simplistic observations:

  • For a developing country like ours with growing population, infrastructure building and Job creation are critical for growing our economy and meeting the needs and aspirations of the people
  • For both these, massive investments are required and it can’t be that only the Government which will have to make these investments
  • A congenial environment needs to be created for private sector to invest in infrastructure and set up factories, facilities, … which in turn will create millions of jobs.
  • When the Govt. reaches out to the private sector to invest and when they do invest – apart from fulfilling the social obligation their look out is also return on investments and shareholder value

 Coming back to the “Coalgate” issue,

  • It’s been a while ( may be the late 80s’s) since Govt. encouraged private players to engage in mining of coal to produce fuel for power generation plants.
  • India is already short of power not to forget the grid failure which consigned 600 mn Indians to darkness a month ago.
  • Coal India which is a Govt. owned entity is unable to meet the demand of coal. Under the circumstances, if the Govt. of the day (whether the central Govt. or under advice of the State Govt.) decided against auction and went by allotment (arbitrary is what critics claim) to private as well as public sector, the Govt. cannot be blamed for not being opportunistic of earning in millions!
  • Any auction route which is competitive in nature while raking in the moolah for the Govt., it also escalates the cost for the bidder and after bidding through the nose you cannot expect the product to be priced cheap.  The cost of 3G services in India now bears testimony to it.   Hence I’m not surprised that political parties including the UPA, BJP and the left (in the states) were not pushing for the auction route in mine allocation for all this while.   Hell will break lose if the cost of power is not kept affordable.
  • So calculating a loss and putting forth an argument based on what the Govt. would have raked in if the auction route was pursued is indeed specious.
  • If you stretch the ‘presumptive loss’ logic further – whatever the Govt. does in the form of a subsidy is an opportunity loss. Like the money it spends on schools where students are being taught for free, is a drain on the exchequer  if you compare to the fees charged by a similar private school, isn’t it ???
  • If the share price of companies sky rocketed after they have been allocated coal mines, it is simply a function of how share markets function across the globe! Govt. cannot be blamed for the valuation or the market cap curves of the companies based on the vagaries of the stock market.
  • The Govt. is being faulted for allocating 145 blocks against mush lesser during the previous NDA government. Now this is stretching the limits.  If you govern and do something it’s a problem. If you don’t do anything also its governance deficit.  There is clearly a surplus of cynicism here.

I’m not a fan of this govt. and  I’m also not in agreement with the “0” loss theory foisted by the Govt. (not mined so no loss!!!)  It is clear that there needs to be a consensus among all parties on how natural resources like Spectrum, coal blocks, land,.. are used for achieving the larger economic growth irrespective of who is governing the country.  This will ensure that there is consistency in policy and no witch hunting or retrospective levys on private investors which in turn will see a spur of investments in these key areas.  The 2G scam and now the “Coalgate” scams only highlight the need for more transparency in Governance than what exists today.

 We don’t need more “Gates” or CAG reports for “*** lakh crores loss” but what we need is “open, transparent” methods and processes in Governance.

Update : I wrote this post yesterday (26th Aug). And today ( 27th Aug) there is finally a detailed response on the issue from the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. For those interested, here’s the link : PM’s statement

P.S : It seems there is a section of BJP which wants to launch a “India Mining” campaign for the next elections!!!

Amidst all this you can’t resist a hearty laugh looking at the Amul hoarding on “Coalgate”

Amul’s Coalmaal