I recently attended the grand Indian diaspora event in Singapore with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In today’s 24×7 media and internet connected world, I have, like many of you, been glued to the rhetoric and efforts of this man. Listening to him live just makes it so much more real, unleashing raw emotions, aspirations and patriotism. It also unleashed a flurry of thoughts that I aim to capture in this article – not so much on what transpired, but why it did.
Needless to say it was an electric atmosphere, with 18,000 Indians chanting and screaming themselves hoarse. The fact that we have come to take this for granted from him is anything but ordinary, not just for a political leader, but for any celebrity. My thoughts, however, dwell on why this man evokes such ecstatic responses from diverse demographics.
PM Modi’s oratory is widely acknowledged, even by his harshest critics, as exemplary, and the live experience only reinforces that impression. You realise that not once, in an hour long speech, does he ever refer to any notes or prompts. Yet, at the end of a day packed with diplomatic engagements, he is able to engage an 18,000-strong crowd on climate change, hygiene, culture, business, foreign policy and railways. Ever in his element, he conveys his messages through a combination of storytelling, passion and rhetorical devices. With his analogies and flair for storytelling, you find yourself nodding in agreement because the human behaviour he speaks of is so relatable to our everyday lives, even as he calls us to change the way we live to transform society. With his raw passion, you can’t help but admire the energy and patriotism in a 65 year old who works 18-20 hours a day dealing with complex issues in a complex country. With his rhetoric, he effortlessly mixes humour with serious themes to make messages memorable.
But the man is so much more than just lip service. As he boldly declared, there is not a single accusation of corruption on his government after 18 months in power. He keeps repeating this in every speech, but it never gets redundant because it rings so true. He is effectively sticking his neck out and challenging the public, the opposition and the media to prove a single instance of corruption against his government, now or in the future. How’s that for accountability? This is mind boggling in a country renowned for corruption at all levels of government and bureaucracy. Being in my mid-twenties, I have followed Indian politics for barely a decade, so I can’t even imagine the feeling for people from other generations, some of whom have probably bemoaned the corrupt system since India’s independence in 1947! This is but one of many fields where the current government has been refreshingly progressive – from bureaucratic efficiency and technology investments to infrastructure development and foreign affairs, the policies seem deliberate and strong steps in the right direction.
Thus, it is his passion (in motivation), sincerity (in intention) and authenticity (in action), that makes hundreds of millions of us invest our emotions and hopes in his leadership. For a nation, long suppressed by a vicious cycle of a dysfunctional polity and a ‘chalta hai’ public attitude, here is a leader acting with a refreshingly new approach and issuing a rallying cry to change our mindsets to make this transformation truly people-driven.
Like many NRIs, I frequently think about how to make India a better country. Our passions constrained by circumstance and distance, we NRIs have a tendency to get quite emotional about India. And team Modi sure knows how to tug at the heartstrings of our community! From the cultural performances before the speech (including Maa Tujhe Salaam, of course!) to slick, professional, feel-good videos urging you to contribute to government initiatives, it is an emotional experience. The Indian diaspora craves any connection to the motherland, and this is probably the first government to recognise value in actively engaging us.
Memorably, he summarised his foreign policy in one neat statement: “Na hum aankh jukhaa kar ke baat karenge, na hi hum aankh dikhaa kar ke baat karenge, hum duniya se aankh milaa kar ke baat karenge, baraabari se baat karenge” (Translation: In the international stage when dealing with other countries, we will not look down submissively, we will not stare aggressively, but we will make our eyes meet as equals). This may sound like simple rhetoric, but its socio-political impact may be underrated.
Many reading this article have faced the ignominy of foreigners preaching about how backward, unclean and corrupt India is. Despite the fact that it is a one-sided view ignoring unique strengths of our society, we know they are right about the flaws in the country. Even after the typically fierce “but India has a great history” retort, we look down embarrassed and helpless. Decades of this experience has manifested itself as a subconscious submissiveness in our international engagements, as a nation and as individuals. But here we have a leader, who is not pursuing meaningless jingoism, but attempting to correct the flaws and lift the collective confidence of his people to succeed in an inter-connected world. Isn’t that the classic definition of leadership?
But leaders need to be backed by strong teams. In this, PM Modi is clear, that his team is not merely his cabinet or his MPs, but is team India. His efforts at inspiring people’s contributions to government strategies are novel. For almost every initiative, from the Clean India campaign to even easing the fiscal deficit (#giveitup), he seeks the common man’s participation.
He ended his speech with a clarion call that we should stop singing paeans about our historical accomplishments as a prelude to a hypothetical great future, but rather take inspiration from the past, change our mindset, put in the hard work and collaborate towards achieving a better future.
It is on this note that I walked out that day – with immense optimism, hope and a deep desire to contribute to the transformation of India in whatever way I can.
The views expressed in this article are personal and do not in any way represent the views of any organization.
Today at the cusp of the biggest democratic exercise in the world – the beginning of a six week long general election cycle in India, I study the claim: Narendra Modi – the BJP’s candidate and most likely to become the next Prime Minister of India – is a divisive man.
I come here to Expose Modi, not to Praise Him.
Many opponents of Narendra Modi argue that Muslims will be sidelined and ill-treated if Modi comes to power, yet data from the Congress government agencies suggests that Gujarat has the lowest percentage of Muslims living under the poverty line compared to any other state or national average.
But, Modi is a divisive man.
The Prime Minister of our Congress-led government has said that religious minorities have the “first claim of India’s resources”, the same Prime Minister wanted to pass a Communal Violence Bill, which did not recognize communal violence committed by minority communities against the majority community.
But, Modi is a divisive man.
The secular Sonia Gandhi recently appealed to the country’s minorities, mainly Muslims to stop the crucial minority vote-bank from splitting and to vote as a herd. She met with Muslim leaders and promised to make more policies that benefit the community specifically if elected to power
And Sonia Gandhi is a Secular leader – so this cannot be termed communal baiting of religion-based vote-banks.
The heartthrob of the Lutyens Delhi’s op-ed circuit, Sonia Gandhi, also told you that Modi was a “maut ka saudagar” a merchant of death. Yet the same Modi gave Dr. Sanjeev Balian, an agricultural scientist who gave shelter to more than 500 Muslim families during the recent riots in Western UP, a ticket to run for elections from the riot-affected Muzaffarnagar seat.
Still, Modi is a divisive man.
When Narendra Modi was attacked by terrorists in his Patna rally, and a bomb was found under the stage, Modi gave his supporters the message for peace and unity (http://goo.gl/cRoqL6). When Arvind Kejriwal faced protests in Gujarat, the workers of the AAP vandalized and attacked the BJP office in Delhi.
But, Modi is a divisive man.
The Congress, self-styled ‘liberals’, and their supporters never fail to paint BJP as a Hindu nationalist party with support only in the Hindi heartland region of India, yet the BJP is finding support from local parties and leaders in Christian Nagaland and Goa, historically communist West Bengal and Kerala, regional parties in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and even Arunachal Pradesh.
But BJP is a communal party and an untouchable to non-Hindi speakers.
Congress has offered a few well-meaning folks like Nandan Nilekani to contest on its ticket, and they have reposed the faith in supporting a Rahul Gandhi led Congress government for the next five years. Within 24hours of deciding to contest on Congress ticket, Mr. Nilekani once the paragon of Indian entrepreneurship and business, demanded caste and religion-based reservations for minorities in private businesses – which he later clarified saying he meant public sector.
Either way Mr. Nilekani is a secular man now and can say anything his Congressi heart desires as long as he decides to walk around wearing this:
Other upstarts like the AAP are said to be fighting against corruption this election. Yet the AAP has not nominated any candidates or any of its well-known faces against the alleged fountainhead of corruption in India Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, the tainted chief minister of Maharashtra Ashok Chavan allegedly involved in the Adarsh Scam, the Minister that benefitted most from the multi-BILLION dollar 2G scandal A. Raja, amongst others.
But AAP is a noble party, led by the honorable Arvind Kejriwal.
The same AAP party has repeatedly stated its stand against corrupt and criminal representatives in the Parliament, yet Mr. Kejriwal of AAP has nominated a person with 28 criminal cases of rape, murder, arson and rioting from the violence-prone seat of Kandhamal, Orissa (AAP has since then taken back his candidacy but there are more examples: http://goo.gl/P7irJv ). Another AAP candidate from Lucknow was caught bribing voters Rs. 1000 for their votes in the upcoming election.
But Arvind Kejriwal is an honorable man, leading his chaste party – AAP in fighting against the debauchery of Indian political system.
Arvind Kejriwal’s trusted lieutenant, Yogendra Yadav was recently caught giving controversial speeches while campaigning in Muslim majority districts of Western UP that recently saw riots flare-up. He boldly proclaimed that Modi was a religious baiter and his party caused the Muzaffarnagar riots – even though the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team only charge-sheeted leaders of the BSP, SP and the Congress in connection with the riots. Yogendra Yadav went on to suggest that if Modi comes to power India will go through another partition.
And yet, Modi is a divisive man.
Narendra Modi’s trusted lieutenant Amit Shah recently asked the voters in polarized Western UP, to exact revenge on the leaders of the BSP, SP and Congress by pressing the button and exercising their fundamental right of voting, and not with swords. The President of the United States Barack Obama said the same words when he asked people to exact revenge on his rival candidate Romney last election by exercising their votes.
One of them was termed communal and divisive by the ‘liberals’, while the other has won a Nobel peace prize.
More than 700 religious and communal riots have taken place under the Congress’ regime. The Congress has ruled the country for approximately 60 years covertly or overtly, and still the conditions of the minorities have remained abysmal. While the BJP-led NDA government created 60.7 million jobs between 1999-2004, the Congress-led UPA government has created 15.4 million jobs between 2004-2012. Y-o-Y inflation has doubled during the period; while industrial growth has gone from 7.3% to -2% in 10 years since the BJP government. I have already looked at the UPA government’s performance here: http://goo.gl/RAR1Ji .
But UPA is a secular front and hence its leaders, supporters, and ministers are absolved of all blame. And this here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBsKZOV5LV0&feature=youtu.be&t=8m48s is a divisive agenda.
For our self-proclaimed secularists the uniform civil code for all communities is divisive, annulment of article 370 that gives special status to a state that is part of the Union of India is divisive, restoring the past glory of India’s ancient civilization is communal. If these are all divisive policies, so be it – I am divisive and I support the policies of the BJP and its leader. This election, I am endorsing Modi to further true secularism – that separates the state from religion, I’m endorsing Modi to kickstart inclusive productive growth and development, to create more employment opportunities, and most importantly for a respite from the myopic vote-bank politics that has shamed and compromised our participatory democracy, while ensuring that India gets the governance that it needs at this precarious juncture. This election is a plebiscite on the politics of sabka saath, sabka vikas. And there may not be too many chances like this in the future.
*This post was featured on Centre Right India on 02/17/2014: http://centreright.in/2014/02/treatise-on-realpolitik-de-2014/
**Click to access hyperlinks throughout the article
According to the mainstream Indian media, there are currently three main political trends emerging across India today: the emergence of an anti-corruption party – the Aam Aadmi Party (“AAP”), rebranding of the incumbent Indian National Congress’ (“Congress”) along the lines of its new-found activist streak spearheaded by its leader Rahul Gandhi, and finally the nationwide mobilization of supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (“BJP”) Prime Ministerial candidate – Narendra Modi, from heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, to distant West Bengal, Kerala, Nagaland, and surprisingly even Jammu and Kashmir.
Although all three trends have been correctly acknowledged by the media, the argument that each is equally significant as the other is simply inaccurate or worse, propagandist. What the liberal media fails to do is differentiate between the impacts of each of these trends, resulting in the creation of incorrect assertions about the probability of success of their respective outcomes. Case in point was the latest round of recently concluded Assembly elections in the heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and of course Delhi.
These elections were a watershed moment in modern Indian politics, and the verdict was abundantly clear, as much as the mainstream media tried to obfuscate it – the most significant trend was that BJP under its firebrand nationalist leader, Narendra Modi was the biggest winner. The party received almost 72 lakh more votes than its nearest rival – the Congress. Yet, if you were to believe the media, results from the three states where the BJP performed spectacularly were hardly worth noting. The only result that mattered to them was the hung assembly of the most densely populated state in India – Delhi. AAP’s debut of winning 28 seats out of total 70 available seats was mighty impressive, but their seat tally was still less than the 31 seats BJP won (BJP lost six seats by a margin of less than 1000 votes). If there was ever a chance for an upstart party to emerge unexpectedly, it would have to be in the most densely populated state of India.
While campaigning in Delhi requires the support of small apartment societies, colony administrators and community meetups – mohalla sabhas (door-to-door campaigns); to take your message through spread-out districts in the desert state of Rajasthan, and densely forested, Naxal-infected Chhattisgarh is way more impressive. Winning by three-fourth majority is unheard of in today’s fractious electoral system, and to do that in one of the biggest states of the country where you’re a 10 year incumbent is absolutely astounding – like the BJP did in Madhya Pradesh. The message of the latest assembly elections, the last polls before the Grand Slam event of 2014 General Elections this summer, was that the BJP was the most desired political party, with its charismatic leader Narendra Modi at the forefront of this ‘saffron’ wave engulfing the country.
Realpolitik – de 2014
This brings me to the second part of this long overdue post. While we all have a set of core political, economic, and social beliefs that remain unchanged over time, i.e. ideology; there are times when one must make choices that are better for the greater good in the face of the realpolitik. For example, when I supported the Congress Party in the 2009 general election, it was because the previous Congress government (UPA I) had provided India with energy security (Indo-US Nuclear Deal), cushioned the economic recovery after the global recession and managed terrorism as effectively as any past governments had managed to do. Although this was completely against my core ideologies of secularism, free-market economics, privatization, etc., I believed the Congress party back then was best positioned and better prepared to tackle the issues at hand compared to the opposition BJP – which found itself vision-less and in complete disarray after Atalji’s retirement from politics, with little chance to form the government (As was later found to be true – the party won its lowest vote share in more than 20 years).
Although I would have hoped for a utopian political alignment to form that would open retail, insurance, and defense industries to foreign investment, privatize railways (to the extent possible), ports and airports, increase spending on national security, reduce wasteful implementation of subsidy programs, usher in an era of nationalism and true secularism into our society’ fabric; there was no party in 2009 that could offer that, and definitely not the BJP at the time – the party I’m most ideologically aligned towards. And so the decision to support Congress was based on the realpolitik. I was too scared for a haphazard coalition government to form at the center with the support of Communist Parties when our nation was going through a precarious national security (26/11 aftermath) and fragile economic situation. The choice for a lesser evil at the time was between Congress and a hung parliament scenario with a nightmarishly weak socialist coalition government.
The aspiration of today’s realpolitik, a political wave – is that the electorate is ready to offer change a chance, without the threat of paralysis and instability of a hung parliament, but with the hope of good governance along with economic prosperity and inclusive development. If the main issues for this election are economic mismanagement, corruption, poor governance, political instability and weak leadership, who amongst the current crop of politicians as of February 2014, can address any if not all of these issues? Which politician has the acumen, a purpose, and most importantly the administrative experience to take these challenges head on and still have the vision to transform our nation? (Hint: Click to read)
For many, 2014 is a decision to choose the lesser evil. The incumbent Congress Party has realized that winning anything close to a majority 272+ seats in a parliament of 543 seats is almost impossible, in fact winning a meagre 100 seats should kick-off wild celebrations in the Nehru-Gandhi household. The choice today then is between the well-oiled engine of BJP’s 272+ mission, one that has presented clarity in vision and decisive execution, versus a hung parliament scenario with an undecided leader, unclear vision, uninitiated responsibility, that will eventually lead India to an uncertain future.
The party with a difference
Between 1998-2004, under the able stewardship of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP government built more roads than were built in all the other years since 1947… combined! Vajpayee led India to a decisive victory in the 1999 Kargil War against Pakistan, strengthened nation’s sovereignty with the establishment of a nuclear weapons defense program, and most importantly clocked higher GDP growth rates than many developing countries in the world, with careful implementation of fiscal consolidation –this in spite of the economic sanctions that were placed by the western world in response to India’s nuclear tests. There were fewer internal disturbances during BJP’s tenure and strong anti-terror laws were passed (later annulled by Congress) to curb the growing threat from religious fundamentalists in the wake of 9/11. The BJP also had the first ever divestment ministry to remove government from the business of doing business, while being instrumental in beginning the process of privatization of ports and airports, introduction of the Lokpal, Right to Information and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan.
In states where it is in power, the BJP has a stellar track record of good governance, greater economic freedom, inclusive growth, and it may come a as surprise to some but a largely peaceful environment of religious freedom without state interference. The states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Punjab consistently rank amongst the best states in Human Development Index rankings, economic growth, ease of doing business, agricultural and manufacturing growth, infrastructure development, and employment opportunities. BJP’s Chief Ministers are either talented professionals with engineering and medicine backgrounds or grassroots leaders who emerged as ardent volunteer workers ‘sangh pracharaks’, dedicating their lives to serve the people of their country. It might come as a surprise to an avid mainstream media viewer, but it was, in fact, the BJP that gave the country its first IIT-graduate Chief Minister, in the state of Goa – Manohar Parikkar. For all the witch-hunting by the ‘liberal’ mainstream media in India, the BJP may well be the party with a difference as it claims to be.
In 2014, the side contesting the BJP constitutes parties who are either still in the process of forming their base-ideology and governance vision, fanning pseudo-secularism, or worse wasting critical government resources on bone-headed policies and schemes that are destined to leave the economies of their respective states in shambles for many years to come. In Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, vote-bank serving governments are introducing religion-based subsidies and quotas that are reminiscent of the regressive Jaziya tax on majority communities, applied by religious persecutionists of the Mughal era. West Bengal’s Trinamool government has created such a massive welfare state that has made even the Communists, who ruled Bengal for 30 years before her, look like champions of free-market capitalism.
Meanwhile for Congress, it seems like Rahul Gandhi – the party’s heir apparent, has already given up any hope of forming the next government. His constant refrain of improving the Congress party from within, empowering poor, and establishing internal democracy has given stand-up comics a lot of material but will take years to actually fructify – that is if the scion is serious about these lofty ideals. His are ideas that can transform the Congress party from being a vote-bank oriented mai-baap party to a credible alternative to BJP’s center-right model. But again, this will not happen overnight and definitely not in the next 50 days. Rahul Gandhi must spend his time in the looming opposition resurrecting the grand old party of India, so that it can, one day, take over a further developed nation from the BJP and implement welfare policies that a (moderately) rich country can afford.
The party in news though is Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party. While the earnest nature of AAP’s rise is commendable, its supporters and well-wishers must understand that a country doesn’t run on good intentions alone. The chaotic 50 days of AAP’s stab at governance in Delhi, were a great example of how a vision-less contrarian party with activists running the show end up providing a guerrilla form of hit-and-run governance, which is not only unsustainable but also a recipe for disaster in a country the size of India.
AAP kataar mein hain
But there is a long way to go before AAP can represent the aspirational class that it believes it presently does. It must work hard to establish and grow its fundamental grassroots level structure, expand its vision – making it broader than just a ‘Ram Baan’ medicine of Lokpal that it believes will solve all our problems. Most importantly, AAP must find leaders from within its young new supporters, and distance itself from the current crop of failed journalists, naxal-backing social activists, and rabble-rousing mob leaders – suddenly tasked with administrating a constituency of millions of people. All this while acquitting itself of any subterfuge, be it its curious relationship with the left-liberal US based Ford Foundation or its stone cold silence on corruption charges against the Gandhi family. India’s ‘liberal’ hero – PB Mehta even argued in his recent article that the existence of Plutocracy and corruption isn’t the only problem ailing India (read the article). There is a fear of governance paralysis, a clear weariness to agitation, and a growing fear of joblessness and economic doom. Taking on Plutocracy is a marathon, not a sprint, AAP’s dramatic fracas week after week has only exacerbated this fear of constant agitation and government paralysis.
AAP’s time will come and when it does, it may even lead to the transformation of our country to the utopian society I discussed earlier – one that is removed from the influence of crony-capitalists, fixers, middlemen, ridding us of the Plutocratic society that our current democracy has come to represent. But that day is still in the pipeline, the idea in its infancy and will not be ready in the next 50 days.
AAP has successfully created a potent ecosystem for disenchanted youth and honest bureaucrats to be the change they have wished to see in the country. Now is the time to nurture this ecosystem. AAP needs to strengthen this support and channelize it so that India can possibly have three governance alternatives come 2019. But it seems like the current AAP leadership is in some sort of hurry, may be it thinks a Modi-led BJP government will dilute the strength of its support, or maybe it is in reality a concatenation of closet Congressis who can obviously not air their support for Congress under current circumstances, and would never have voted for the BJP anyway. Whatever is the case, PB Mehta summarized it well when he said that the AAP had the opportunity to “tap into a prosecutorial instinct we are developing against plutocracy, but also to demonstrate a steady trustworthiness in governance”. It blew it, and today stands woefully exposed in front of those that gave laid their hopes on the ‘new paradigm’.
The realpolitik of 2014 will have many twists and turns up until May, but it is clear that no party this time around has all the answers to our nation’s problems. For some, there is again a choice to be made for the lesser evil. But this time around we have a strong alternative in Narendra Modi – an alternative that is credible, experienced, visionary, and perhaps the only one capable of pulling India out of its current mess, with ideas that may even reroute us back on the path to double-digit growth. The choice is between the hope of a stable government enacting policies that usher in renewed growth, kickstart the investment cycle, remove uncertainty for foreign investors, lower inflation by removing supply-side bottlenecks, or a pack of rabble-rousers in a fragmented realpolitik pulling the nation in a thousand different directions.
2014 will also be an opportunity for voters to affirm that development and good governance deserve a chance over politics of vote-bank pandering and endless government activism. There exists today an alternative to the current malaise, one that envisions harnessing of renewable sources of energy, building 100 satellite urban centers, unshackling infrastructure and power reforms, while decentralizing power for aid development. The alternative wants “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas“; and I believe it is time for the populace to unite under Mission 272+ and answer the call of realpolitik de 2014: that of choosing Development for all, Appeasement to none ( link).
Dear Dr. Shashi Tharoor,
I first got interested in diplomacy and the United Nations as a teenager, around the same time you emerged as a strong contender for the post of UN Secretary-General. Regardless of that result, I was fascinated by your career as the most successful Indian in the field. My fascination soon turned into fandom as I was inspired by watching your interviews and speeches. I memorised your TEDtalk, I aspired for the Tufts MALD program, I rattled off your remarkable achievements in casual conversations ; so much so, that my friends started referring to me whenever they heard or read your name. You were my idol.
And then you decided to enter Indian politics. That decision gave millions of people, like me, hope that our rotting political system can change. You were our ideal MP – highly educated global thinker, eloquent speaker and a seasoned politician; a combination of competency, experience and integrity rarely seen before in Indian politics. Regardless of which party’s ticket you ran with, people would have voted for you in 2009 – as evidenced by your thumping margin of victory despite being an outsider to Thiruvananthapuram politics.
But 2014 is a whole new ballgame.
The mood of the country has changed, hopefully irrevocably. Over the last few years, the UPA and most state governments, across party lines, have engaged in open and blatant abuse of power. Corruption, nepotism, misgovernance and votebank politics have become alarmingly routine. But, more importantly, the emergence of a strong media determined to showcase stunning exposés and the mass awakening against corruption, led by Anna Hazare, has led to dizzying levels of political awareness in India. People want change. We will oppose identity politics, we will reject dynastic politics, and most of all, we will punish brazen corruption. You, of all Parliamentarians, should recognise this trend and join us in eliminating these archaic and immoral practices.
But, these days, the more I listen to your interviews, hear your speeches and read your tweets, the more it seems you have lost your once fiercely independent voice. Before you joined Indian politics, you have openly criticised the Congress Party, its “true dynastic tradition”1 and its corrupt core. In your book, From Midnight to Millennium, while recollecting Rajiv Gandhi’s term you wrote that after a promising campaign, “the rot set in…Compromise followed sellout as New Delhi returned to business as usual”  as this government too was charged with massive corruption. Do you honestly believe that Sonia Gandhi, the woman you are so loyal to now, and the other Congress stalwarts who continue to rule today, were not involved in what you yourself call, the “sellout”? Yet, just last month, despite the deluge of corruption scandals over the last few years, you unambiguously defended the UPA’s term harping on outdated phrases and a spasm of extravagant statistic-listing in The Indian Express . You call India a “thriving, entrepreneurial and globalised economy”, when inflation, investment levels, balance of payments, the Rupee’s value and other key economic indicators have all worsened exponentially. You declare that the UPA is responsible for substantial employment generation, despite The Economic and Political Weekly and even a government study terming these numbers grossly exaggerated  . You even go so far as to state that “the UPA governance has changed the face of our society”. Yes, Dr. Tharoor, it has. And the face of our society is mutilated beyond recognition.
Please realise that every day you continue to endorse and defend the Congress Party, you lose your own moral high ground and become part of the herd of mindless politicians this country has unfortunately elected. It is, quite frankly, insulting to see educated ministers not having the courage and honesty to admit obvious lapses in governance and then absolve the UPA government of all corruption cases without trial. It is, quite frankly, embarrassing to see experienced parliamentarians, including yourself, acting like court sycophants, falling over each other to praise ‘Rahul baba’, a man with no notable experience or achievement . Let the other obsequious partymen sacrifice their self-respect and dignity at the altar of the Nehru-Gandhi family. You, Sir, deserve more. You have accomplishments of your own throughout your glittering career as a diplomat. You deserve respect from common people like me. And we need educated, independent and sensible voices in Parliament. Please do not sacrifice our hopes of change by succumbing to the Congress disease of sycophancy and dynastic politics.
I do not ask you to jump into the Modi camp either. It doesn’t need extensive research to know that you are ideologically against what the BJP stands for. I am no fan of the BJP; I believe the BJP has been a grossly irresponsible opposition party guilty of insulting Parliament through regular disruptions and corruption at the state-level on countless occasions. As a Bangalorean, I was thrilled when the BJP lost the Karnataka elections last year. Because it proved to me, as it did to you, that Indian voters were ready to punish, in your own words, “flagrant financial malfeasance…charges of nepotism and crony capitalism, real-estate and mining scandals, policy paralysis” . But in your Project Syndicate article, you took that premise and somehow managed to come to the conclusion that it bodes well for the Congress. You are far too experienced a politician for me to expect that you do not recognise the massive failures of the UPA government, or the current political climate against the UPA. The Congress-led central government is guilty of everything the BJP-led Karnataka government was, but on a larger, more devastating scale.
I do not discount your significant contributions as Member of Parliament, Foreign Minister and Human Resource Minister. But as a well-wisher and a patriot, this is my plea: please, leave the Congress Party.
Contest as an independent and voice your independent opinion in parliament. Continue all the good work you have been doing in your constituency . I have heard first-hand that Thiruvananthapuram has changed for the better since 2009 because of your active and sensible leadership. Continue raising India’s international profile using your invaluable experience as a former UN diplomat. Your proactivity and sensitivity as Foreign Minister was instrumental in nurturing important diplomatic relationships with states across the world as evidenced by numerous testimonies . Continue contributing to our policymaking in Parliamentary committees. Your initiatives have found support across party lines primarily because your reasoning is backed by a career of political and developmental expertise. And finally, continue giving us hope that capable and honest individuals can exist in Parliament. In fact, beyond setting an example, you could lead the charge and promote the idea to other qualified, educated, and most importantly, honest people across the country.
I have faith, Sir. I have faith in you and in our country. Millions of my peers do to. Please do not disappoint us.
A well-wisher, desperate for change in India.
UPA Government & The Indian Welfare Economy
“Congress Ka Haath: Na Tere Saath Na Mere Saath”
The United Progressive Alliance govt. (“UPA”) for all its internal security failures, multi-billion dollar scams and absolute chaotic-handling of the economy; continues to be portrayed as the grand old party serving best interests of 300 million poverty stricken people of India. On the face of it, UPA govt. does have policies that should benefit the poor in the form of loan waivers, free electricity, and fertilizer subsidies for farmers; subsidized food schemes and guaranteed rural employment schemes to rural poor, and mid-day meals to school children; to name a few. But recent economic data and research conducted on Congress’ fiscal ‘benevolence’ has made people turn the Congress election tripe into a legitimate question: “Congress Ka Haath, Aam Aadmi Ke Saath?”
First, let us take a look at the fuel subsidies program over eight years from 2004-2012 under the UPA. Fuel subsidies comprise a major portion of the UPA government’s subsidy program. Specifically, petroleum subsidy increased to 1.9% of GDP in 2013 compared to 0.6% in 2004-05 when the first UPA govt. came to power. An IMF study on ‘The Fiscal and Welfare Impacts of Reforming Fuel Subsidies’ in India , points out that most of the benefit received from price subsidies on petroleum products goes to higher income groups, who consume greater amount of fuel products. Now imagine if the same $19 Billion of budgetary expenditures were used to improve public transport, city infrastructure, local trains, buses, etc; you would significantly increase the opportunity cost for the higher income groups of using private transportation. In effect reducing demand for diesel and petrol, fuels that comprise more than 70% of this $19 billion fuel subsidy or ~$12 billion.
With the Rupee’s steep depreciation recently, it is important to notice its fiscal impact on fuel subsidies. A fall of Re.1 against the USD has a fiscal impact of almost $2 billion on the deficit. So how beneficial is the fuel subsidy to the Indian in the lower income deciles?
The math is simple: the cost of fully compensating the poorest 40% of households in India is less than 0.2% of GDP (for fuel consumption). The Aam Aadmi living in the lowest income deciles, allocates only around 1.6% of their total monthly expenditures on fuel consumption. In contrast, higher income groups allocate almost 6% of their total expenditures on fuel consumption. The fuel subsidy costs the exchequer almost 2% of the GDP. After compensating the poor for kerosene/LPG related subsidies, the government spends $11.9 Billion on petrol/diesel subsidies. Essentially, the UPA govt. is spending 1.2% of India’s trillion dollar GDP on financing/subsidizing the automobile industry – “Congress Ka Haath Aam Aadmni Ke Saath?”
Now let’s look at the UPA government’s flagship welfare program- the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) scheme. The scheme, controversial amongst economists, has seriously skewed the rural labor market, having artificially increased rural wages (to be discussed later). More importantly though, the scheme has tapered off and is plagued with implementation issues, malpractices, leakages, inefficiencies and most importantly it has consistently failed in achieving its budgetary targets. Although the scheme guarantees 100 days of labor to rural households in exchange of Rs. 100/day, the average days worked nationwide, under the scheme, currently stands at 35 (source: Parliamentary Q&A). The budgetary expenditure allocated to the scheme has not been met in the last three fiscal years. Other than the operational failures and poor implementation, the scheme has also distorted the labor market across India. Manufacturing, agriculture, mining and power industries are facing labor shortages as the poor who would otherwise go to labor-intensive industries for jobs are instead making similar wages under the easy-to-achieve employment guaranteed under MNREGA . The scheme provides people with stipends for digging holes and filling them later, while the country reels with labor shortages in growth-inducing industries that are a key driver of development in an emerging economy – “Ho Raha Bharat Nirman?”
Finally, the Food Security Bill, soon to be tabled in the Parliament is expected to have the worst impact of any other welfare scheme designed by the UPA so far in the last 10 years. The scheme provides for subsidies to almost 60% of the population on primarily food items such as grains and cereals. This scheme on paper seems Godsent. Poor who are unable to provide for a square meal a day for their families will get to meet their most basic needs. Chetan Bhagat, a popular Indian author, correctly asked how can your financial data, economical retorts and arguments compete against the picture of a malnourished hungry child in an Indian village?
Well it can, because food-related expenditure of a rural household has dropped from 63% two decades ago to 48% today. On average, cereal related expenses were less than 12% of monthly rural household spending. In urban Indian households this number falls to 7.3% spent on cereals. The numbers just don’t add up. The government through FSB will only provide rotten cereals at a cost to the exchequer that is needless and would’ve been better spent on improving downstream infrastructure, removing supply chain bottlenecks, to provide the poor with essential diet ingredients like fruits and vegetables necessary for wholesome nutrition, at cheaper market prices.
The government intends to spend $13.2 billion in the first year itself on investments related to increasing production yields in agriculture. A noble idea for a country the size of India, but the supply chain bottlenecks in the distribution of food grains are unable to hold the current production levels, let alone create space for another increase.
The storage capacity for wheat is currently at 20 million tonnes, while the stocks are around 50 million tonnes. Where does the rest go? Worldwide export? No. Energy production? No. Sold over the market? No. It’s left to rot in government warehouses, or worse, open spaces from where they’re usually fed to animals or sent abroad to poorer nations for a pittance. Then why is the government spending Rs. 60k crore on production when grains worth Rs. 50k crore are wasted every year? Wouldn’t it be better to invest in the distribution supply chain before investing precarious funds on production? And yet despite clear supply chain issues, the government through its whimsical FDI policy, lack of taxation guidelines and overall ineptitude at assuaging foreign investment concerns has left this area of reform in a complete mess.
There are many other misinformed decisions of the UPA government that have in fact ended up hurting the poor. Infrastructure: that would single-handedly provide employment for millions and solve one of our country’s biggest problem, continues to lag behind other sectors. Projects worth up to Rs. 70,000 crores are currently stalled due to uncertainty over regulation and environment clearances that are hard to come by. And what is an absolute slap to the poor’s face is that the UPA govt. have reduced the poorest-of-poor to survive on Rs. 17/day. If you can survive on Rs.18 a day without receiving any government schemes reserved for the poor, kindly contact me so I can outsource my monthly budgeting to you and pay you more than Rs.17/day for your services.
P.S.: Enjoy this 2009 ad film released by the UPA government describing its achievements and plans for next five years: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWOf3mkKnIQ
One of the comments pointed out that the official poverty line of the Govt. is Rs. 27-32 (Rural-Urban), as suggested by the Tendulkar committee. I accept that the figure that I used (Rs.17) was incorrect in the usage but my argument for the Rs. 17 figure is presented in the comments section. Thanks for pointing it out.
The election is a game for the politicians. It is a competition for them which they have to win. But lets not get mistaken, it is a game for us too: We have to use our one vote to ensure the best possible outcome according to our perspective. This responsibility does not end at choosing who you want the winner to be and voting for him, but requires you to generate a ranking of the candidates in order of preference and calculate who your vote should go to backwards.
Those familiar with economics will recognize my attempt at explaining the basics of Game Theory. But to understand the need for this we must first understand how elections take place in India and what are the implications.
I am sure all of us are aware of the absolute basics: The country is divided into 543 constituencies which are suppose to be roughly equal in terms of their population. Each of these constituencies elects a representative. This representative need not even achieve a simple majority (i.e. 50%); as long as he has more votes than any other single candidate he will be given the seat in the Parliament. For example, if there are 3 people running from a constituency and the vote share is divided in the ratio 25%, 35% and 40%, the candidate with 40% will be declared the winner. This is called First-past-the-post voting (FPTP).
What does such a mechanism imply? It can result in skewed representation. For example in the 2012 UP state elections SP (Samajwadi Party) received 29.3% of vote share and were allocated 226 seats in the assembly out of 403, where as BSP (Bahujan Samay Party), who received 25.9% of the vote share were allocated only 80 seats. This happened because the SP won several seats against the BSP over a very small margin. Thus while BSP received considerable votes overall, they were thwarted in individual battles and thus annihilated in the war in the world of FPTP.
This may seem like an unfair mechanism, specially when compared to the proportional representation method. But that is a debate for another blog post. What I would like to discuss is what the voter should do.
Let us imagine that the people who voted for BJP would rather have BSP if their only other option was SP. Their strategy should be obvious: Instead of voting for BJP, who anyway did not have a chance of coming to power, they should have voted for their next best choice which was BSP. If we assume that in each constituencies the vote share was identical to the state level data, then with the transfer of BJPs 15% to BSP, the party would be propelled to number one status with almost 41% of the vote share. Thus the BJP supporters might not get their first choice, but at least they would not be stuck with their 3rd or 4th one.
This example is obviously simplified using several assumptions, but the principle remains the same. At the central election level this effect can be observed with Modi being portrayed as the PM candidate for BJP. While Congress’ abysmal performance has lost them support, voters who fear Modi more will fall back to Congress which is the only credible force to stop BJP. The same applies to people who fear another five-year reign of Congress: Recognizing this possibility they will leave their regional parties and flock to Modi (also discussed in Back to the Basics: Polarising Mr Modi).
The FPTP system often has the effect of bringing the war down to two parties. Understanding the system is important or your vote may actually count for nothing.
As the 15th Lok Sabha nears its end, a detailed study of its members and all contestants of the 2009 general election reveals fascinating and intriguing facts about our leaders. To a large extent, they have had an impact on policy formation in the Lower House over the last forty eight months.
We shall start with some good news. Contrary to general public awareness, Lok Sabha members today enjoy a remarkably high level of intellectual and academic accomplishment. Out of the 543 members sitting in the House, a total of 260 have post graduate, higher or technical degrees. 157 members today have atleast an undergraduate degree to their name. Thus, over 80% of the members sitting in the Lower House today hold a bachelors degree or higher. It is also heartening to note that in a country where so many are unable to receive even a basic education for no fault of theirs, education is not a barrier to entering politics. To the credit of Indian democracy, the current Lok Sabha comprises of 15 members with no formal education exceeding class five and 55 members with education not exceeding class ten.
The news now gets murkier. Members of the current Lok Sabha are a fabulously wealthy lot. Based on officially acknowledged wealth, one in five members is a dollar millionaire. Another forty percent are rupee crorepatis. However, deeper analysis shows that people with smaller bank balances too contested the 2009 general election in large numbers- it’s just that their success rate is very low. Two out of every five candidates at the last general election had wealth below Rs. 5 Lakh. Of these, 14 have won a seat in the House.
The most worrying feature of Indian Parliament is the presence of criminals. A large number of members in the 15th Lok Sabha have extremely colourful past’s. The proportion of those with one or more criminal cases pending against them is 14% amongst candidates but a shocking 32% for elected members. It is disheartening to note that the victory rate at the 2009 general elections was higher for accused than for clean candidates. Indeed, detailed data shows a steadily rising trend of victory rate as we move from candidates with no cases against them to those with large number of cases pending against them. Even if we were to not consider members facing trial for petty cases, the proportion of members charged with serious offenses is still 14%. This corresponds to 75 members in a House of 543! People may not be surprised to note that the victory rate for a candidate facing serious charges is a minimum twice that for the remaining.
What makes criminals so successful at winning elections in India? Why did 75 candidates with serious charges against them manage to win a seat in the House at the 15th general election? One major factor is that in the constituencies in which they contested, all candidates had criminal cases pending against them, thus leaving voters with little choice. This is especially true in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Another explanation could be these candidates also happened to be extremely wealthy. This allows them to buy off support from labour unions and village sarpanches, both of whose support can be crucial in ensuring maximum voter turnout on election day. Political parties are more interested in finding candidates with greater chances of winning and thereby adding to seat share in parliament, rather than candidates having high moral standards. Thus, criminals are always in large demand. Also, we need to keep in mind that many of these candidates were incumbents from the 14th Lok Sabha and hence enjoyed access to official machinery and enjoyed the benefit of familiarity with voters and name recognition.
The big question that we must ask ourselves with respect to the preponderance of the wealthy and criminally influential in parliament is whether it has lead to policies detrimental to national interest and if so to what extent. It is clear that candidates and members with criminal cases create a big dilemma. The 15th Lok Sabha, like many of the fourteen before it is filled with some extremely shady characters. While it would be naive to expect any serious changes in the 16th Lok Sabha (with elections being barely a few months away), it is vital to ensure that candidates with serious charges are barred from contesting the 17th general election. A country seeking economic and political clout in a rapidly changing world needs a parliament which is truly reflective of its people and their ambitions. Hence, urgent legal and political reforms are required to resolve this problem and establish a parliament which commands respect of its people, both at home and abroad. Only then can India truly unleash its enormous potential and move towards social and economic prosperity in a harmonious manner.
The India Today group has been running opinion polls before general elections for several years now and their track record is surprisingly not that shabby.
They conducted the first of such polls for the 2014 General Elections with a dummy variable: Modi as PM candidate. The results were significant but far from surprising.
When Modi was not projected as the PM candidate by BJP the seats allocations were: 179 for BJP; 132 for Congress; and 232 for the 3rd front. On the other hand when Modi was projected as the PM candidate both the number of seats to BJP and Congress increased. The benefit, however, was greater for BJP: 41 more seats to BJP; 23 more seats to Congress; and 64 less seats to the 3rd front.
The logic behind this is very straightforward: Modi polarises the electorate. Majority muslims fear his rise to power and vote for Congress instead of their local party. Even though they might hate Congress, they are willing to put up with them as long as Modi does not achieve the PM mantel. The others vote for Modi because of his track record in governance and the image he has been able to cultivate for himself as a man of action and not just of words. After UPA IIs deplorable performance, many people yearn for a strong leader which they see in Modi. For this they are willing to neglect their local/regional loyalties and vote of BJP.
Nitish Kumar’s strategy: Back fired?
Nitish Kumar, the current, popular Chief Minister of Bihar, recently broke his alliance with BJP over their insistence of portraying Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate. He had hope that he would be able to blackmail BJP, being its chief ally, into not having Modi as the PM candidate. However, according to the survey, this turned out to be good news for BJP. If JDU (Mr Kumar’s party) were to remain in alliance with BJP, the Bihar votes would remain with them. However, the preference for Modi is so great that the voters will ditch their loyalties to JDU and vote of BJP diminishing JDU’s power considerably.
The fact is: People either hate him or love him. The ones that hate him are willing to settle for anyone but him, and the ones that love him simply will not compromise.
Over three hundred and fifty parties contested the last general election in 2009. Thirty eight parties are currently represented in the 15th Lok Sabha. The next Lok Sabha elections will see many more parties enter an already crowded political spectrum. An average of seven political parties (along with independents) shall contest any given constituency in the country. With so many different options, what separates the BJP from the rest? Why should the party deserve your vote any more than the rest?
Most of us who have voted before, have ended up selecting candidates for the WRONG reasons. Many people vote in India without having done any research on the candidate or the party he/she represents. Over 90% of people in India have absolutely no clue what values, principles, beliefs and legislative agenda the Congress and the BJP represent. People read and see the news, but they rarely understand the implications of it or realise the rationale behind political decisions. The BJP, along with the Congress, accounts for over 45% of the total vote share and almost 60% seat share in the 2009 general election and the 15th Lok Sabha respectively. Both parties are the lead constituents of the two coalition alliances in India. Any government formed next year will surely be lead by one of these two parties. This post hopes to educate people about why the BJP, more than any other party (especially the Congress) is better positioned to lead India forward.
First and foremost, the BJP remains the only major party in India with a clear economic viewpoint on how the country should run. The party has repeatedly stated its beliefs in core economic principles such as free markets, limited government and fiscal conservatism. Unlike the Congress party’s disastrous socialist agenda (which was started by Nehru and continues to this day), the BJPs sensible right of centre economic views have greatly benefited this country and improved the lives of millions. Sensible, conservative right wing economic policies have worked all over the world and there is no reason for it to suddenly fail in India.
Secondly, the BJP has a much better track record when it comes to governance and administration. The average Indian voter may not have been smart enough to realise it, but India truly did shine when Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. BJP and NDA ruled states today perform much better on several parameters (agriculture,education, public health, crime and safety etc) than their congress counterparts. Indeed the India Today “State of the States” surveys over the last few years give a clear indication that NDA administered states ate much better off than UPA ones.
The BJP has always had a much better stance on foreign policy than the Congress. The BJP recognised and spoke about friendship and strategic partnerships with the United States long before the Congress did so. For decades India paid a heavy price for Nehru’s foreign policy blunders. His infamous “Hindi Chini bhai bhai” slogan and subsequent efforts to build ties with China resulted in India suffering a humiliating and crushing defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962. After Nehru’s death, the Congress leadership continued with his failed Russian friendship policy which seriously angered the United States to such an extent that Indo-US relations remained hostile for decades. Infact the US saw Pakistan as its natural ally in South Asia! It was only during the Prime Ministership of Vajpayee did the US finally begin to see India as a friend and an ally over Pakistan. President Clinton visited India, the first US President to do so in over two decades, and as they say, the rest is history.
The BJP is perhaps better equipped to deal with internal security matters. Geo politically, we live in a very dangerous neighbourhood. Terrorist have struck at will for years now. To help our law enforcement agencies take on terror groups, not only do we need good intel, we also need stringent laws which ensure that terrorists can be properly prosecuted. The BJP passed one such law when in power- Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act, 2002. The act provided our law enforcement agencies the necessary teeth to prosecute captured terrorists. However, the act proved unpopular amongst a certain section of the electorate who regularly voted Congress. So one of the first things the Congress led UPA did upon coming to power was to remove POTA and replace it with some toothless inefficient act. The reason given out was that “the act can be misused”. If the Congress party truly believed in what it said, the right thing to do would have been to pass amendments to the existing bill, which would provide necessary safeguards to check that the police do not cross the line. And if they do, exemplary punishment ought to be doled out to the guilty to serve as a deterrent to others. The Congress did no such thing. What it did do was sacrifice national security for cheap political mileage.
The last reason why the BJP deserves your vote is the fact that it is perhaps the only political party in India which is not a family business. Every single party in India is epitomised by dynasty politics. Unlike the Congress, the BJP has no “first family”. It operates in a highly democratic manner and it truly is refreshing to note that this is the only party where emphasis lies on the individual. The party does not care who a person’s father was and they certainly don’t care who his son will be! The only criteria the party holds for promotions and responsibilities is your achievements and contribution to the country and to the party.
The BJP ought to and deserves to return to power at the next general election. The party offers a clear decisive vision on how to run this country and has a proven track record of stable, effective governance in various states across India. While in no way perfect, the party does represent and stand for growth and development in a manner which no other party can claim to do so. The party’s presumptive Prime Ministerial nominee’s achievements are outstanding and it is clear that Narendra Modi is by far the most suitable candidate to lead this nation into a new era. While may people remain cynical of the political class on Raisina Hill, the coming general election is crucial. Frankly speaking, we cant afford to remain cynical and end up not voting, or worse, vote for the wrong party simply because we “aren’t aware”! The BJP provides a credible alternative to the existing rot and if you are concerned with the direction in which we are moving, perhaps the party deserves your vote.