Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2G, Coal corruption charges crumbling....

The newspapers dont always highlight these developments. Hence it becomes important to write about them in a blog like this. For those who care for the truth, the message is that corruption allegations in 2G and Coal were mostly bogus. Those exaggerated claims made by the CAG - Rs 1.76 lac crores for 2G and Rs 1.86 lac crores for coal - were just figments of it's imagination.

Take 2G. The CAG concocted the concept of "notional loss to the exchequer" and put a value of Rs 1.76 lac crores to the 2G spectrum sale undertaken in 2008 by Raja. The BJP then spun this number into a "mota maal" theory of corruption. Illiterate, but politically savvy, activists of Anna's team then mounted a series of fasts and rallies and put the tag of "the most corrupt government" on the UPA. All of these were supported by a sensation seeking media, which failed miserably in sifting the grain from the chaff. Ordinary citizens, who rely entirely on media for information, were brainwashed into believing all. Collectively, the pillars of our democracy, conspired to taint a ruling government with drummed up charges. Its a different issue that the government was incapable of defending itself, a fact which cost it its credibility.

Someone has to stand for the truth. And this blog aims to do just that. So let's look at 2G and Coal and see where the matters stand.

In 2G, the government "preferred" to give spectrum cheap to telecom operators in 2008. It preferred to lose revenues, so that consumers - especially the poorest of the poor who had not till then benefitted from the telecom revolution - could get services cheap. In order to ensure this, it encouraged massive competition....as many as 12 per circle. And exactly as planed, Indian tariffs plummetted and became the lowest in the world, with talk rates as low as half paise per minute. This led to a huge increase in teledensity, with 900+ million Indians embracing this life-changing technology. Did the government lose revenues? Of course it did. Was this the first time the government was losing revenues to benefit the public? Not at all. The government's fuel subsidy (or any subsidy for that matter) is exactly the same. It loses more than Rs 1 lac crore a year so that consumers pay less. This is not corruption. The true test of corruption is to check the profitability of companies and see if they are making "windfall" profits. The fact is that the number 2 operator, Vodafone, broke even after being in India for 15 years. Reliance, the no 4 operator is still struggling. And the leader Airtel last reported some 30% type EBITDA margins for its India ops - not a great number considering the huge debt pile on its books. If the corporates were not making profits, the consumers must have been. And that's why this decision of cheap spectrum was a case of "policy" and not "corruption".

The other question is of how new entrants "sold" equity in their "yet to become operational" companies to foreign entities at "huge valuations". True....but what no one bothered to highlight is that the "seller" did not take a single paisa home. The money brought in by the foreigner went into the company....and was used to fund roll-outs, operational losses, interest charges, government fees etc. There was no profit....in fact as the Voda example shows, it would take years to make profits. The hyper competition in the sector made the path to profitability even longer. Most common people never understand such details, and an irresponsible media - many of whom have benefitted from similar deals themselves - never bothered to explain.

In any case, after two failed rounds of auctions, the truth about the market value of the spectrum has now emerged. The notional loss to the government was not Rs 1.76 lac crores, but some Rs 45,000 odd crores. To repeat my earlier point, this was money transferred from government to the people. Not corruption....but just a government policy. Hate the Congress for it's economic policies.....and I have no problem. But call them corrupt for this....and I will fight it tooth and nail.

Take coal. The first chargesheet has been filed a couple of days back, and the CBI has clearly stated there was no case of corruption. Yes, the corporate involved - Navbharat - had fudged figures to prove eligibility. This is a crime alright, and maybe some babus and politicians were involved, but these are randomized cases of small-scale corruption. Nothing of the order of Rs 1.86 lac crores. And the BJP is as complicit in such acts of corruption as the Congress. Also, lets not forget....it was the PM who initiated the process of switching away from "screening committees" to "auctions". It was the state governments - many of the BJP but also of other parties - that opposed the auctions. Why did they oppose? Why let them off the hook? If it took 5 years to implement auctions, we should certainly question the time it took, but lets place the blame where it belongs. The one who initiates change, cannot be the one who is corrupt.

In both coal and 2G, local cases of corruption must have taken place. That's the reality of Indian politics and we must find ways to eliminate it. But to say that the Congress government orchestrated massive corruption is dirty politics, apart from being factually wrong. Its OK for the BJP to make such allegations.....its a valid political strategy after all.....but its not OK for constitutional bodies like the CAG and others like the media to become a part of it.

One last point on the Adarsh scam. Sure, there appears to be corruption in this case. But please pause and think if this is the only building in Mumbai in which corruption charges exist. The fact is that the real estate market in business is full of dubious practices and all parties - most notably the BJP and Shiv Sena - are deeply entrenched in the real estate business. Why single out Adarsh?

The real truth is that with passage of time, the truth is starting to emerge. 2G was not a scam at all. It was a preferred government policy which benefitted the people directly. Coal was not a scam....it was a case of implementation delay (of auctions). Adarsh was a scam....but hardly the only building in Mumbai that should be singled out. Most corruption charges were political in design. Fuelled by a politically motivated CAG, and an irresponsible media....

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why does Modi not face media???

The answer is simple. He is afraid. But what is he afraid of? If his administrative and development record is so brilliant, shouldnt he be tomtomming it all around? Shouldnt he be seeking out media, rather than shunning it? The fact that he is afraid shows that he is worried about being exposed. But exposed of what? I'll tell you what.

Modi has positioned himself as the man who is "perfect". When you hear Modi speak, you feel like he's done nothing wrong ever. He's a decision maker, a "loh" and "vikas" purush, a solid nationalist who can talk back to China and Pakistan, a genuine secular who treats all equaly unlike the Congress, and so on. There are no flaws in Modi's image. He is virtually, like the Hindus would like to call him, Bhagwan Ram, a near-perfect man. This visual of Modi = Ram is critial for Hindus to unite behind him. It is this visual that Modi doesnt want disturbed. Any interaction with the noisy and aggressive media in India represents that risk. Hence it's best to avoid it altogether.

But is Modi really so flawless? Is he really the god that he makes himself out to be? The truth, as you would have guess, is anything but.

If he faced media, here are some truly embarassing questions he would have to answer:

1. Why does he not answer questions on 2002 riots? How did he let 2000+ people die in his state, right under his watch, when a full-blown crisis in Assam led to under 100 deaths? Why were his ministers (Maya Kodnani) and party workers indicted when he claims his govt was not involved? How was his governance so poor that it took months to control the situation?
2. If he is not anti-Muslim, why has he never given seats to any Muslims in the last 3 assembly elections in Gujarat? Does he find no one capable of winning? How come his party does not have any Christian leaders in senior positions? Nor any Muslims worth their name? Even by law of probabilities, shouldnt there be a certain % of people from these minority communities in his govt/party?
3. Why did it take 10 years to get a Lok Ayukta in Gujarat? Why did he change the law so as to make it easier to appoint a "convenient" Lok Ayukta? Why is his state's bill so much weaker than the center's Lokpal?
4. Why is/are there only 1 or 2 RTI commissioners in the state, when there could be as many as 8-9?
5. Why does he lie about no riots in Gujarat, when Lok Sabha records indicate Gujarat had 246 incidents in the four years since 2009? (http://tinyurl.com/of3x6rh). Incidentally, the 3rd state on this list is MP and 4th Karnataka, both ruled by BJP during this period of time.
6. Why did he ask his police force to stalk the young girl? What was his relationship with her? How many people - including judges, CAG officials, police personnel, ordinary citizens - are being similarly stalked?
7. What is his stand on Sec 377? Does he stand by his party's regressive views on the subject? Can he clearly declare that he is opposed to scrapping this section?
8. What is his view on reviving economic growth? He talks of manufacturing.....but apart from doling out cheap land, does he have any other plans different from what the Congress had?
9. How will he justify the dirt-cheap land given to Adani, Tata and Ambanis?
10. Why does Modi lie about the development statistics in his state? Why does he not acknowldge that AP, Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana....have all grown as fast or faster than Gujarat in the last ten years? Why does he not acknowledge the severe indictment Gujarat has received on HDI indicators?

There are many more questions that media would want to ask (Ishrat Jahan, Haren Pandya, Surat floods....). If Modi is confident about himself and his record, why doesnt he open up? Why is he so afraid? Isn't he behaving like a coward, running away from tough questions? Rahul Gandhi got ridiculed when he appeared before Arnab, but at least he had the guts to do so? He didn't walk away, nor did he duck any questions. He may have said "system" and "women's empowerment" too many times, but at least we know what he has in his mind. We don't know anything that is in Modi's mind at all. At least, not the details, which would only be known on close questioning.

In the past, the BJP used to taunt the Congress about entering into a public debate. I think a good starting point would be a Modi interview. It would be a "safer" option, considering that he has a lot of sympathizers in media. Modi in front on Arnab would be comfortable....Arnab would ensure that! He doesnt have to face toughies (for him) like Karan Thapar, the way Rahul Gandhi faced a toughie (for him) like Arnab.

The real truth is that Modi knows how thoroughly he will be exposed as being a hollow person; someone who makes tall claims but doesnt know how to justify them. That's why Modi prefers to "shoot and scoot" or "hit and run" if you prefer that metaphor! Say something and run! No need to take cross-questions! People are realizing this ploy....and sooner or later will demand he face the media.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fraud polls.....a sinister BJP strategy?

The Economic Times talks of a sting operation conducted by a TV channel called News Express which shows that "undercover reporters agreed to manipulate poll data". It adds "Clips from the sting operation aired by the channel showed many pollsters agreeing to produce favourable numbers by leveraging the so-called margin of error, a statistical concept meant to indicate the quality of sampling and the accuracy to be expected from survey results". The fact is that the manipulation goes way beyond playing with statistical errors. The methods, and intentions, are far more sinister.

But before that, lets look at who has been the beneficiary of these fraud polls. One single party, the BJP. The BJP has been showing rising with every poll, creating the illusion of a wave. The timing of the wave was always suspicious. It rose with the appointment of Narendra Modi first as the poll campaign chief of his party, and later, and at a much faster pace, after he was made the PM nominee. If someone is paying off the field researcher to show a favorable result, who could it be? I think we are smart enough to figure that out!

The methods, like I said earlier, are far more sinister than merely "leveraging" some "sample of error". That's just the talk of a guilty man trying to drown his crime in a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Of course, all researches have errors, but a research is designed in a way that keeps error at an acceptable level. And depending on the design and the sample size, certain data cuts are not permited because the error would be too high. Error is central to any sampling; there is no surprise, nor possibility of an excuse, in error rates.

But there are other more devious ways used to manipulate results. A field researcher may simply "fudge" the questionnaire, filling exactly what he wants to fill without so much as bothering to ask the respondent for his/her views. Or changing the respondent's answers even after recording them on the questionnaire. Or entering the wrong responses into the "system" so as to suit the sponsor. This is all too common because the field agency is under pressure to deliver "cheap". Well, respondents deliver real quick by filling the questionnaires all up at home, or resorting to the tricks mentioned before! In the process, they also make themselves richer by a fair bit. Don't believe this? Consider this. A 20,000 sample size research should cost up to Rs 2-3 crores at current rates. If the fieldwork involves extensive travel into remote villages, the costs could increase beyond this. Which news channel has so much budget? Many of these news channels do 3-5 polls before an election. How can they afford so many? I'll tell you how. They get it done cheap! (For the official records, they say that the research costs are shared with a newspaper, but in reality, that would only halve the cost....not make it so affordable).

The second sinister reason is even more sinister (perhaps). The researcher goes to a home, finds it to be a supporter of an "opposing" party, and simply skips the home! Simple and damned effective! He then goes to a home where he finds a supporter of his devious sponsor, and finishes the interview there. Clearly, the results will make the sponsor happy!

A 3rd devious design is when information of the "starting point" of the fieldwork gets known to the sponsor in advance. The starting point is where, typically, a researcher begins his survey, and to eliminate any sampling bias, he follows a "right hand rule" to cover the first few houses he encounters. If this starting point is known in advance, the sponsor plugs his messages into those homes in advance, thus influencing the minds of those respondents.

This is why polls results are so different from reality. In 2004 and 2009, the Congress was shown to be the loser, just like it is being shown today. In both times, the BJP was expected to "romp home". The reality couldnt have been farther from the truth. The BJP was trounced, the Congress emerged stronger in 2009. Take the recent assembly polls. All pollsters got AAP wrong. Why? Because maybe their sponsor was not AAP! Simple....In all examples, the BJP is the biggest beneficiary of these polls. Not surprising it is the only party that is opposing the Election Commission's own view that opinion polls should be banned.

In today's ET, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javdekar has given a silly statement "We haven’t yet demanded a ban because these are just opinion polls, and people vote on their own considerations". Really? And how do people form their "considerations"? ONLY and ONLY via media. Consider this. Most people think UPA2 is very corrupt. How do these people have this opinion? Did any of them personally read the CAG's report on 2G or coal? Did any of them do any "chai pe charcha" (that hyped-up smokescreen to justify the fraud poll results) to unearth nuggets of wisdom from scratch? No. They all read the papers and worse....watched the news (often called Horror Entertainment Channels!).

The BJP's game plan could be to influence the voters and make them vote for it. That is why they are creating this bogus fear of a "hung Parliament", and the need for a "decisive verdict". An otherwise moderate Hindu, worried about the country's economic problems but not supporting the BJP's polarizing politics, could be made to swing towards the BJP by creating the impression that it is "nearly there". A Muslim who would traditionally vote for the SP in UP would swing towards the BSP thinking "all" have shifted loyalties....helping divide the Muslim vote and the BJP.

Influencing public opinion is an attack on democracy. It is fooling the public. How can a party that does this be trusted? Already we've heard of noted journalists like Sagarika Ghose, Siddharth Varadarajan, Hartosh Singh Bal.....and dare I add the name of Tarun Tejpal to this list....being ousted from their jobs for political reasons (they are no Congress afficianados by the way). The party that influences public opinion and gets after journalists won't think twice before muting out every opposing voice when it comes to power. Don't believe it? See how Muslims in Gujarat hardly have any voice left. They dont dare to even carry out a street morcha! When Haren Pandya started to croak, he was silenced by someone (His family accuses Modi; not proven though).

The real truth is that I have always said that opinion polls were fraudulent. It's now been proven by this sting operation. Fortunately, Times Now has said it wont use C-Voter again. But will they use someone else who might be as fraudulent? The problem is not with C-Voter. The problem is with the party that funds these pollsters....the party that is shown as the beneficiary?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Delhi must vote Congress back to power....

Arvind Kejriwal is gone. And my impression is that he's gone for good. If elections were to be held again in Delhi, it is unlikely the people of Delhi will vote for him. Why would they? Their proud city, which boasts the best infrastructure in the country and the fastest growing economy, has suddenly been put on a steep downslide; a slippery slope from which recovery will be difficult if it continues for even a little longer.

If Delhiites were to introspect, they would realize that they really had nothing to complain about from their state government. Sure, they may have had complaints with the Central government, but their own local government had done fabulous work. After 15 years of continous and rapid progress, Delhi had finally overtaken Mumbai as the place where the most corporate action happened. It sported the best airport, the best metro, smooth-as-Hema-Malini's-cheeks-roads (!), the best education system, and importantly, the biggest jobs market. Delhi's economy grew at an average of 10% per annum - a China-like rate, and higher even than the much tomtommed Gujarat rate of growth - and brought enormous prosperity to its people. Not surprisingly, Delhi's per-capita income was the highest in the country, crossing the Rs 2 lacs/annum mark.

Sure, Delhi had its problems, many of them monumental. As happens in all developing countries, the economic growth created a huge influx of migrants from the relatively backward parts of the country. Sharing borders with UP meant that that influx was particularly easy from that state. The migrants created a block of 60 lac slum dwellers, and a whole lot of illegal JJ (jhuggi jhopri) clusters. It also led to an increase in crime, especially against women. Delhi picked up the reputation of being the rape capital of the country, making its people seethe with anger. What do angry people do? Lose their sanity, and attack the first object that comes in front of them - usually the government of the day.

That's when Kejriwal got into the act. The timing was perfect. When he railed against Sheila Dixit, he looked like a messiah, a contrast much like the one people are seeing betwen an uncouth, dictatorial Modi and a too-decent, democratic Manmohan Singh. Kejriwal used the language of the gutters, and attracted that lot to his fold. But surprisingly, he also attracted the educated, the well-off, the same ones who had benefited the most in the previous 15 years, perhaps as a result of anger against the Central government. Kejriwal's success was thus one of timing; his exit from the scene will also be one of the same. 49 days of Kejriwal must surely have made Delhiites bitter. A yearning for the "good old days" must surely have returned.

Does the BJP offer a progressive alternative to Sheila Dixit? No it doesn't. For remember, that much as the BJP today abuses Kejriwal for his 50% cuts in power prices, it too had promised an almost-similar 30% cut in tariffs. And much as it abuses Kejriwal that he doesn't know that the regulator sets the tariffs, not the government, it too made exactly the same promise. How can people demand that power tariffs come down on the one hand, and at the same time, also demand that every resource (coal, land, water) be auctioned to the highest bidder? People may not understand economics, but the BJP should. Yet, it made the same offer that AAP did.

Again, like AAP, the regressive BJP also opposed FDI in retail. Imagine a day when a Delhiite would have to go to Gurgaon to shop at Walmart or Tesco, while a Mumbai resident would just hop across to one close by. The BJP's opposition is purely opportunistic. For I cannot imagine Gujarat not allowing Walmart, when lacs of Gujjus in the US do most of their value-shopping there. If BJP has its way, then young Delhiites with a dream to move up the social ladder should not work in smart  retail outlets, but in "baniya" kirana shops. This is the vision of this party. It protects the baniyas....the same guys who have caused much of the price inflation in food and vegetables. If Delhiites want relief from inflation, they must throw out the baniya-supporting BJP.

Apart from all this, Delhi has always enjoyed a certain liberal culture. People from all parts of the country live here. All cultures find acceptance. There are the ultra-chic fashion shows, as well as the ultra-ethnic Dilli-hart option. The republic-day parade, with its pan-India look and feel is one thing; the everyday parade of culturally diverse people is another. How can such a throbbing and vibrant population vote for a party that believes in 17th century bigotry (Section 377, remember) and the monopoly of one-religion (Hindutva is nothing but Hindu domination) and caste (brahmins)?

The BJP is wrong for Delhi. It is wrong for India. But in a moment of heat, Delhiites made a big mistake in November last year. It's time to undo that mistake. For Delhi to remain modern and liberal, it needs a modern and liberal government, and the only one that fits the bill is a Congress government. The Congress has its own problems, but it's the still the best of the lot.

The real truth is that Delhiites got taken in by the political rhetoric of Kejriwal and made the blunder of voting for him. I hope they don't now swing towards the other evil - the BJP - and make another blunder. Delhiites must push the "pause" button, even rewind if necessary, and think of what brought their city glory in the last 15 years. It's still not to late to make amends....