Monday, December 30, 2013

AAP disappoints with free water announcement…..



The AAP made poll promises that everyone knew were impossible to fulfil. But revolutionaries as party members see themselves to be, the party has decided to deliver those impossible promises, the impact on the government’s finances be damned. But even in this, there is so much of a slip between the promise and the reality. And though its too early to judge the newborn, its already looking like the AAP would end up like just another political party – promising the earth and the moon and delivering ordinary muck.

The Delhi government run now by AAP has made water free for the first 660 litres per person per day. The announcement is worded in a way that generates positive vibes for the party. The media – which loves AAP – has done what the AAP expected it to do: gone to town praising the party’s announcement. “Master-stroke” one particularly thrilled newspaper called it. “Fulfils promise” and “Delivers” were the general refrain of all the others. But a closer scrutiny of the announcement shows just how much of a “fraud” this announcement is:

1)    The free water scheme is only for 3 months. Why only 3 months? No explanation has been given. Is it so that the government gets more time to study its impact and can decide on the issue in a more permanent manner? Or is it just playing to the galleries and will continue doing it till the Lok Sabha elections?
2)    The free water is only for those with “legal water meters”. Now several Delhi experts have already pointed out that this condition hurts the really poor sections of the population – the real aam aadmi as against the middle-class “fake” aam aadmis who support the AAP. What is the AAP’s plans for these really poor people? Will they supply 660 litres per day to them via tankers? Again, a deafening silence on the issue. And remember this is a party that is quick to talk to the media (including informing the public about its leader’s “loose motions”!).
3)    The bizarre concept that if you exceed 660 litres by even 1 litre, you have to pay for the entire quantity, not just the incremental litre. I understand the objective is to force people to cut down on wasteful usage, but isn’t the methodology a little too harsh, almost draconian? Is this why people find similarities between Kejriwal and Modi?
4)    For those who do exceed the free quota, and thus have to pay for the full quantity, the prices have been increased by 10% as decided by Delhi Jal Board “earlier itself”. Now isn’t this is complete fraud? I thought the AAP had promised that there would be no rate hike. I thought their entire politics was that there was “rampant corruption” in DJB and by removing corruption, the price hike would become unnecessary. But suddenly, the AAP has gone with the previous government’s decision on rate hikes. Again, there is no explanation provided for this. Has the experience of a few days in office shown them that not everything was wrong with the previous government? In fact, Minister of Health, Satyendra Jain has said that North Delhi dispensaries were “in very good condition”. So is the party conceding that it raked up issues which didn’t even exist?
5)    The only possible explanation for the 10% hike is not a very happy one, and is certainly going to cut into the party’s votes in the near future. The party’s “ultra-left” positioning on economics – which compels it to subsidize the poor on the one hand (or at least that’s what they aim for) and increase tariffs for the middle-class and the rich on the other – is bound to hurt the party’s core support base, which is the middle-class. If this segment is going to see water tariffs rise, and a higher Sales Tax (as reported over social media) for goods that it consumes, then it’s going to pull out support from AAP rather soon. Idealism and all is fine, but when the shoe starts to bite, its time to discard it!
6)    Most importantly, has the party found corruption in DJB? If it’s not had the time to investigate it, why could it not just defer the 10% hike till it was completed. That investigation would hopefully find huge corruption, and eliminating that corruption would make the hike unnecessary right? In fact, maybe the water tariffs could actually go down by 10-30% if that was the extent of corruption right? So what was the rush in accepting the 10% hike?

The AAP has also made some truly silly and unexplainable announcements. If social media is to be believed, the AAP will extend support to the opponents of Koodankulam. Why for god’s sake? Is the AAP taking a stand that it is opposed to nuclear power? But why?

The first week in power has brought out other realities that are not very palatable. For example, transferring senior bureaucrats from the DJB, the power ministry and the finance ministry smacks of the Mayawati and Mulayam style of politics. “Searching for honest officials” smacks of tainting the whole bureaucracy with the brush of corruption. And one party member – Kumar Vishwas – going around from one TV camera to another thumping his chest and challenging Modi and Rahul Gandhi to a contest is plain arrogance. Kumar Vishwas is no Kejriwal and for him to throw such challenges is foolish at best. It’s shocking that a party which vowed to destroy political arrogance is getting smeared by it so quickly. Besides, most of the party’s actions have been symbolic in nature – going to office by auto, opening up the Secretariat to the general public disturbing work in the process, shunning security even while Delhi remains on the radar of terrorists – and smack of the kind of politics more associated with the Congress and BJP. In any case, now that the party has started receiving members like Kamal Farooqui (ex SP) and Alka Lamba (ex Congress), what is there to separate it from the rest?

The real truth is that the first week of the AAP government has been disappointing to say the least. It’s unfair of course to judge them so soon, but at the very minimum one expected them to become a little more mature. The free water announcement without unearthing corruption, and without considering if it will really cover all of Delhi or not, is particularly disappointing. They could have easily waited for 2 weeks or more, unearthed huge corruption, and then made water free. No one would have grudged them that extra time….but symbolism is all they have indulged in. I seriously don’t know what to expect of them in the next 3 months. Much more populism, much more symbolism…..and perhaps, much more stupidity as well.

Monday, December 23, 2013

With Mumbai rally, Modi evolves from #feku to #compulsiveliar



Modi is a good orator. In fact, many would argue that that’s probably all he is. In the early days, when he made mistakes with historical facts, he earned himself the twitter hashtag of #feku. But now with his mistakes continuing, and with the intention behind those mistakes becoming clearer, it looks like he has earned himself the #compulsiveliar title.

Lets be clear here. Modi doesn’t give any interviews. He doesn’t respond to any questions from the audience. He simply shoots and scoots. He says whatever he wants to say and goes away. Its much like a movie – where an audience has no chance to participate, and has to stay contented with a one-sided delivery (If I could have, I would have stopped Aamir from the trash he dished out in Dhoom3!). And just like a movie is made after many “takes”, one has to assume that Modi’s speeches are written and re-written and practiced and re-practiced many times. So when mistakes still remain, one has to conclude that they are intentional. And the habit of lying is compulsive.

Take the really silly mistake about how many CMs Maharashtra has had since 1960 and how many Gujarat has had. Modi said Maharashtra has had 26 CMs while Gujarat has had only 14. Now the truth is remarkably different. In reality, Maharashtra has had 17 “unique” individuals as CMs, spread over some 22 tenures. In contrast, Gujarat has had 14 CMs spread over some 23 tenures. So how did he get his 14/26 numbers for Guj/Maha? Clearly, he chose to use “uniques” for Gujarat and “total tenures” for Maharashtra! Why did he lie like this? A clue to this is in the message he was trying to drive home. That in Maharashtra, the Congress government has been useless (what else!)…..and every time a CM takes charge, there is another neta waiting to oust him. It was with this political intention that Modi made that mistake. A mistake that has to qualify as a knowing lie. BTW, Modi probably didn’t realize but his alliance partner Shiv Sena wouldn’t be too happy with this – in its little more than 4 year rule in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena had two CMs (Manohar Joshi & Narayan Rane)!

Take the motor vehicles tax issue where Modi said something about Maharashtra earning some Rs 400 odd crores while Gujarat – using technology – earned more than a thousand. Impressive right? Except that Modi was lying again. Not with the figures this time, but with the interpretation. The NCP quickly rebutted Modi’s argument. As per NDTV.com “Several vehicles from Maharashtra carry goods to northern parts of India. All of these go through Gujarat. Therefore the Motor Vehicle Tax that Gujarat collects is higher. On the other hand, lesser number of vehicles come from Gujarat in Maharashtra. Modi has wrongly interpreted this fact to present Gujarat positively”. Wrongly interpreted…..yes….but mistakenly or intentionally?

Then this assertion that the Central government, led by the Congress, had not given permission to create some “big gates” on the Sardar Sarovar project for so many years…..and that if it had done so, it would help Maharashtra get electricity worth some Rs 400 crores. Again, the NCP quickly rebutted this: “Modi's allegation about not getting permission to place the gates of Sardar Sarovar Project holds no ground. Since Madhya Pradesh has failed to rehabilitate affected people, the permission for the gates is pending. Therefore even we are deprived of electricity”. Again, does this look like an innocent mistake…..or an intentional lie???

The same story played out with respect to Local body Tax (LBT)….which Modi branded (in his unique style!) as “Loot Baantne ki Technique”. Catchy yes, but factual???? Hell, no! Here’s what the rebuttal issued by the NCP is “The local body tax (LBT), whose implementation in Maharashtra Modi opposed today, is not an exclusive feature of this state. All the states with no octroi have LBT”. This is what Wiki reports about LBT and Gujarat “LBT is not levied upon in the state of Gujarat. The octroi was cancelled in 2007 and to compensate that, Value Added Tax (VAT) was increased. However, as of April 2013, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) was planning to add on a separate LBT apart from the current VAT structure”. Again, a big fat lie.

So why is Modi resorting to such big lies? In my mind, there is a simple explanation. Beneath the clever exterior – PR driven no doubt –of the BJP’s PM candidate lies a very very dumb interior. An interior that is largely illiterate, and very ignorant of facts. Knowledge – or rather information – about subjects is shallow. This is why Modi doesn’t engage in a dialogue, only a monologue. This is why Modi walked out of an interview with Karan Thapar – the going got too tough and his ignorance was getting exposed.

As always happens with shallow ignorant people, the external fa├žade is fragile and needs to be protected at all costs; else the interior would get exposed. Modi knows his strength is his oratory, not his intelligence. He uses this fact to the hilt. He thus utters complete lies with an absolute straight face, knowing his audience will lap it up in complete trust. By the time the world gets to the truth, he and his audience would have split, the political goal achieved. That is why the other hashtag Modi has rightly earned for himself is #shamemodi.

The real truth is that Modi has evolved from #feku to #compulsiveliar, the way a small time crook evolves from petty theft to daylight robbery to assault to much worse. Modi’s lies are compulsive, which means that even he cannot control them. The reasons for these lies are a) strategic & intentional (political rhetoric), b) ignorance (we have enough evidence of that!) and c) in a large measure just an uncontrollable penchant for lies. Vote for Modi. Vote for the compulsive liar!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The BJP is opposed to homosexuality….



Most of the major political parties – including  the Congress, the Left and even the JD(U) – have come out against the SC verdict on Section 377 of the IPC. But the TOI reports that the BJP has “mostly stayed mum”. For a party that  loves rushing to the TV cameras at every small opportunity, this silence speaks volumes about where it stands on social issues.

Some of the seniormost ministers in the UPA government made statements supporting the rights of individuals to decide what they should do inside their bedrooms, provided it was consensual. Kapil Sibal is reported as being in the mood to change the law “it is the prerogative of the SC under the Constitution to test the constitutionality of a law. They are exercising their prerogative. We have the prerogative to make laws. We shall exercise our prerogative”. TOI reports Jairam Ramesh as saying “the SC ruling is retrograde and there should be no bar on relationships between consenting adults of the same sex”. Other ministers have chipped in as well. The TOI reports “Hours after the verdict, MoS home R P N Singh tweeted, “In my personal opinion, the state should not interfere in two consenting adults’ private lives.” In his official response to the media, Singh said, “Manish Tewari has already clarified that government intends to decriminalize Section 377”.

The Attorney General has also said that “The AG, G E Vahanvati, had argued that a group of ministers which looked into the issue relating to the constitutionality of Section 377 IPC had recommended that there was no error in the HC order. In other words, the government didn’t have a problem with the decriminalization of gaysex”.

Likewise, Brinda Karat of the CPM and Shivanand Tiwari of the JD(U) have reportedly called the ruling “retrograde”. I would normally expect the CPM to take a progressive stand on social issues, but even the JD(U)? That’s welcome. What about the main opposition party, the one bearing the Hindutva flag? Well, like I wrote earlier, the BJP has stayed “mostly mum”. Why has Arun Jaitley not commented on this at all on his website? Why has Sushma Swaraj not taken a stand? Why is the party’s PM candidate not speaking in favor of, or against, this issue that has the liberal sections of the country up in a revolt? The fact is that the BJP has always been retrograde on social issues, and this is just one more piece of evidence.

Expectedly, Baba Ramdev, who is part and parcel of the BJP (remember his spends on his speeches attacking the Congress were added to the BJP’s poll spends by the Election Commission?), has said “I invite all homosexual brothers and sisters to come to Patanjali Yogapeeth where they will be housed in separate rooms and taught yoga morning and evening. Homosexuality is just a bad habit that’s hard to get rid of but not impossible”. “Bad habit” my foot. It’s just a matter of personal choice. Equally, fundamentalist religious leaders have common the same page as Ramdev and said pretty much the same thing. This includes the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, who has called it a “disease imported from Europe”. Catholic Archdiocese spokesperson Father Dominic Emmanuel said, “The Catholic church respects people with different orientation, but does not accept same sex marriage as it is against god’s plan.” God’s plan? At the time God existed, maybe people didn’t want to have gay sex. Society evolves right? But the religious leaders stay in the dogmatic past.

My point is that religious leaders are expected to behave in a certain old fashioned way. Even large sections of the society will often behave in the same way. But shouldn’t those with the powers to liberalize society take a more progressive stand? Imagine what would happen if the media also supported the SC’s view and wrote against individual preference and choice? That would be disastrous for a society wanting to propel itself into the future right? In the same way, shouldn’t our politicians take a more determined and progressive stand on social issues? What if untouchability had not been abolished until now? Wouldn’t that have made India a regressive society? In the same way, why does the BJP not speak for a more progressive society? A society in which matters of religion and belief are confined inside the home, and a more progressive, more secular, attitude is professed outside? The TOI reports that some 100+ countries have already allowed gay sex. Why then does the BJP not attack the SC order?

Remember the allegations against Asaram Bapu about rape? There also, Sushma Swaraj had merely said “the law will take its own course”. Why then did the BJP create such a ruckus when the Tarun Tejpal case broke? Why does the BJP have such double standards? Equally, Narendra Modi failed to act against Asaram Bapu when two boys were found murdered in his Ashram. When it comes to sadhus and sants and regressive views, the BJP is right at the forefront!

The real truth is that the BJP has always been socially regressive. It has always failed the young, the liberal, the more progressive sections of society. It’s time it changed its dogmatic views….

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Sanghis would attack Nilekani if he became Cong PM candidate!!!



This is just wild speculation at best; that Nandan Nilekani may be named the PM candidate of the Congress. There is nothing reliable to indicate either that the party may break its tradition of not naming a PM candidate in advance; nor is there any indication that that person would be Nandan Nilekani. But just imagine…..if Nilekani were indeed the chosen one….how would that rattle the Sanghis, and how would they attack the party and Nilekani!

Knowing the BJP, its first line of attack will be to chide Rahul Gandhi (its mortal bugbear!) as one who finally acknowledges that he doesn’t have it in him to be PM. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Gandhis have been quite nonchalant about grabbing the PM’s position – remember how Sonia Gandhi shunned it when she had the chance in 2004 (and when she had no reason to)? Remember also how Rahul Gandhi called power poison? For Sanghis, who are desperate to grab power, such selflessness is extremely worrisome. Remember the veritable civil war which broke out within the party before Modi was anointed?! On the other hand, the Congress is led by people who actively avoid the post!

Then they would attack Nilekani himself. He is just another “privileged” man who has earned thousands of crores for himself under the “crony capitalism” fawned by the Congress, or some such trash! Truth seldom matters for Modi and the BJP. Because if it did, they wouldn’t push this line too much – Nilekani is a self-made man, who relied on education, and believed in the potential of the nation. He built Infosys from scratch. For a party like the BJP which believes in demolishing everything (reputations, institutions, democracy itself with its fascist style), such a merit-based growth story will be a threat to existence!

Then of course, Sanghis would attack the UIDAI and Aadhar itself. There are so many glitches. The cards are issued without verifying the identity of the person. They are given even to non-citizens (even though, the purpose was never to make the card a citizenship card!). This is a Congress attempt to regularize illegal Bangladeshis staying in India! Blah blah blah! The tongues of BJP leaders – captured eloquently in the twitter hashtag #Moditongue – would wag furiously, as they would see their rare, and to be honest still remote, chance of dethroning the Congress getting snatched out of their hands!

The BJP would also attack Nilekani for “merely having led a company”, while Modi has run a “vast” and “vibrant” state for more than 10 years. Strictly speaking, this is true. But the one thing that Kejriwal has shown is that experience per se is inadequate for winning a poll battle. Even good work is inadequate. Capturing the imaginination of people – Nilekani’s “Imagining India” is after all a best seller – is the most important thing. In Delhi, Sheila Dixit didn’t (at least for the present), while Kejriwal did. And to be fair, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh did as well, while the Congress’s leaders in those states didn’t. If Modi attacked Nilekani on this line, it would explode in his face!

Imagine Modi v/s Nilekani! It would be a case of amazing contrast! One an IIT engineer, the other barely educated (at least in practical terms). One a modern man with personal experience of technology; the other whose knowledge of technology is as fake (#feku!) as everything else (most of his twitter following is fake)! One who is respected around the world (a la Manmohan Singh); the other who is unwelcome in the mecca of global power, the US! One who is clean as as whistle; the other whose hands are bloodied by allegations of direct involvement in Gujarat’s worst communal carnage. And lastly, one who is young, apolitical in the conventional sense, liberal minded and a genuine doer while the other is much older, a true-blue politician, a combination of fascism and extreme Hindutva and one whose PR stories way more impressive than his actual achievements!

Is it even possible that the Congress appoint Nilekani as its PM candidate? Of course it is. It has done so in the past when it appointed Manmohan Singh. That got the party two terms in office. The “family” has never craved power. If its not Nilekani, it could well be Chidambaram….and like I have said earlier, Chidambaram has it in him to blot out Modi. When I tweeted about Chidambaram being made PM candidate, BJP trolls indulged in the kind of muck they are so accustomed to (after all, the Lotus only blooms in mucky water, doesn’t it?!), saying even that Modi would take off Chidambaram’s “lungi”! Such #Moditongue is inbred into all Sanghis – almost like a joining oath!

Get this guys. Rahul Gandhi would make a fine PM. He has the vision for India that is relevant for the 21st and 22nd centuries. That of a liberal, progressive, secular nation with equal rights to all (not only to the Hindus); of a pluralistic democracy where divergent viewpoints are welcome (and not a fascist state which attacks anyone with a different view; this is why the BJP can never understand why the divergent views of a Mani Shankar Aiyer are welcomed by the Congress, not muted out!), and a nation in which every last person grows (and not merely the urban middle-to-upper classes). Rahul Gandhi can become PM whenever he wants. But he’s also very happy to remain Party Pres and work on organization development (how many BJP leaders would do this? Would Modi become his party pres if he lost the PM elections?!). He could easily hand over the top job to someone else. The Congress has always been comfortable with a “dual power structure”…..something the BJP simply cannot get!

The real truth is that if Nilekani was to be named Congress’s PM candidate – and there is no indication of this as yet – the BJP and specifically its “messiah” (in whose name the hashtag #Moditongue has been coined) and his supporters would go into mudslinging of the order not seen yet. Suddenly, Modi – an old school, fascist, minority-basher – will become the BJP’s biggest liability. Bring it on, I say!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A re-election in Delhi will improve Congress’s tally….



The BJP and AAP are behaving irresponsibly. The AAP is doing what people have by now come to expect of it – be extremely inflexible. We first saw this during Anna’s movement in which the outfit’s stand on the Jan Lokpal Bill was simply “my way or the highway”. The BJP, for reasons that are not difficult to understand, is acting coy about forming the government. If it wants to, it has enough arsenal (dirty tricks, cash, inducements) to do so. Both parties are publicly claiming that a re-election will give them a clear mandate. In my opinion, anything but this is what the re-elections will give.

Both parties – and almost all political pundits – were hugely surprised by the drubbing the Congress got in the last elections. Forget their macho stance now, but none was willing to bet his money on such an outcome. The results have been “too good” for the AAP and a “face saver” for the BJP after its very visible internal scuffles. Their surprise victory has made both a little smug.

Will the Congress get more seats in a re-election? Without doubt. The people of Delhi were obviously very angry and hence cast their votes the way they did. Now that they’ve vented their anger, their more balanced and thoughtful mind will come into play. Already they are reading comments in media, even from known Congress baiters, that Sheila Dixit transformed Delhi in the last 15 years. They are also seeing that just a few days into power, and an AAP MLA has already been charged with molestation charges. As far as the BJP is concerned, it must be really worried about a re-election. For whatever he is worth, Modi cannot enact another rescue act. He’s exhausted his entire arsenal of hollow rhetoric. How can he repeat the same rubbish again? And now the BJP knows – the big rallies do not translate into votes! The last time around, it ended up becoming a BJP-AAP fight; this time, it will be a more regular three-cornered fight.

If reelections were to happen, the Congress would probably field a new leader. People are now saying that Ajay Maken would have made a better choice. He’s suave and competent, and well connected to the grassroots. A change of leader will also help assuage the feelings of the voters. Also, a few bold announcements by the Congress – like concrete steps to stem the price rise, and an honest admission of it’s past mistakes, will help douse the people’s anger further. In their own hearts, the people of Delhi know their city has seen the maximum growth under Congress – be it in terms of GDP, jobs, real estate, infrastructure, whatever – and they realize their anger was overdone.

The Congress lost some 15% or more votes from 2008 levels. If it regains just a third of these, it will be in the reckoning for power all over again. This is not just the fantasy of a Congress supporter, but cold poll logic. After punishing Indira Gandhi in 1977 for the emergency, they elected her back with a thumping majority in 1980. Would they have done it earlier if they had had the chance? No doubt they would have, for in their hearts, they always liked her. But the Janata Party was practical enough – unlike AAP and the BJP in Delhi – and it formed the government under Morarji Desai and later, Charan Singh. That government survived under three years, but it denied Indira Gandhi a continuity of term. If AAP and BJP don’t remember this lesson, the Congress is going to be very happy!

Now that the anger is off, people are also realizing that neither the AAP nor BJP can deliver on the bizarre promises they have made. How will they bring down electricity rates by 30% (BJP) and 50% (AAP)? A report in ET shows that Delhi electricity tariffs are already lower than Mumbai’s or Kolkata’s or Bangalore’s (http://tinyurl.com/pnso385). Of course, the two parties can fulfil their promise for a while, like the BJP government did in Goa by bringing down petrol costs to some bizarre levels, but that will ruin the state’s economy, like happened in Goa. People expect politicians to make tall promises, but they also know that those promises are pretty much forgotten after every election. It’s not for such promises that people vote for them. It is not that they expect the next party to be better. It is only to teach the ruling party a lesson. It is only to smother its smugness. It is only to reassert their own authority over the parties. Once that’s happened, they repeat this process, in most cases, reinstating the old party back in power. We’ve seen this happen repeatedly in Rajasthan, Punjab, UP, TN and so many more states. There is no reason to believe that Delhiites won’t behave the same way.

One thing that the hung assembly has brought out painfully (again) for the BJP is that no one wants to align with it. Neither the Congress (because they find the BJP communal), nor the AAP (because they find the BJP corrupt)…..and not even the JD(U) which has one MLA in Delhi (because they find the BJP unreliable as a friend)! If this same thing plays out nationally in 2014, the BJP has had it.

The BJP and the AAP think they will ruin their reputation by taking over just a few months before the general elections. The BJP is particularly worried about this, knowing from experience that the honeymoon periods are getting shorter. One misstep and that could cost them enormously in the general elections. So its best to stay out. But the BJP hasn’t calculated that the pendulum (the public mood) could swing the other way, now that the anger is off.

The real truth is that the people of Delhi have vented, and if they are called to vote again, chances are the fight will be three-cornered, instead of a straight BJP-AAP one. BJP/AAP should keep that in mind. Not taking over just a few months before the general elections may appear to be good strategy, but it could badly misfire….

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Congress gets drubbing. But Modi magic fails too….



Has the Congress got a drubbing? Without doubt. Even a die-hard supporter of the party will admit that much. But has the party been “demolished” and “decimated”, and has India become “Congress mukt” as BJP leaders were gushing to say yesterday? Hardly. Every political party goes through ups and downs and this is just one more of those moments. Give it time, and the Congress will bounce back. Provided it learns its lessons.

For the lessons are aplenty. There is a serious communication gap for starters. This communication gap has created the impression that the Congress is the most corrupt party. It made a mess of the 2G and Coal issues by failing to communicate better. Both those “scams” started and/or continued under several dispensations including the BJP, but the people held only the Congress responsible. When the party finally spoke up in the Birla matter, it was able to control the fall-out quickly. Had it shown the same gusto in defending its 2G “low license fee” policy (mobile penetration increased from 250 million in 2004 to 900 million now primarily because of this), or put up the same fight in the coal matter (it was the Congress that switched to auctions; the BJP had continued with the flawed screening committee system), it would not have seen this day.

Why is it that the Congress’s leaders do not communicate with the public? Why don’t Rahul and Sonia speak more? And what about the senior ministers – Chidambaram (who can cut Modi to size), or Salman Khursheed (who polished off the arbitrary scam charges against his NGO) or Kapil Sibal (who first, and correctly, propounded the zero-loss line of defence in 2G) or Antony  (of impeccable honesty) or Jayanthi Natarajan (who combines grace with an ability to mount spirited attacks) and so many more heavyweights? Why is it light-weights like Manish Tewari and Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Shashi Tharoor or the backroom boys like Sanjay Jha and Rajeev Gowda who speak on behalf of the party? The Congress has simply not understood the importance of the media….and PR.

The Congress also needs to learn that more than its socialist policies, it is inflation that matters the most to people. For sad as the reality is, people count their rising bills more carefully than their rising incomes. No one has been as well off ever as today, and yet everyone complains about rising bills. I look at well-to-do professionals and they too complain, even though their incomes have been rising faster! The Congress has to control inflation immediately.

The Congress has NOT been decimated anywhere except in Delhi (and even here it will bounce back in time). For a party to be decimated, it’s vote share should come down dramatically, but what do we find? The Congress’s vote share has actually increased in MP by 4% (32.4 to 36.4%) and 1.7% in Chhatisgarh (38.6 to 40.3). In Rajasthan, its vote share has dropped by just about 4% (though its seats loss has been massive) which is hardly dramatic. It is only in Delhi where the Congress has been “decimated”, with its vote share dropping by some 15% or more.

The BJP has obviously done extremely well, especially in terms of the margins of victory in MP and Rajasthan. But Modi has failed. If Modi had swung votes for his party, we would have seen a rise in its vote share in Chhatisgarh far higher than the 0.7% it managed (40.3 to 41%). And in Delhi, the party would have fared much better. In reality, the BJP’s vote share actually dropped in Delhi. How strange that so many “lacs” came out to hear Modi, but then went out and voted for the AAP! The BJP was counting so heavily on Modi that its poll-day ads featured Modi most prominently. And yet he couldn’t swing it for the party. Modi’s impact was felt only in Rajasthan, where the BJP won an unprecedented 82% of all seats. Even in MP, Modi’s impact is not visible…..BJP’s vote share increase of 7% odd was largely Uma Bharati’s votes coming back to the parent party (she fought independently last time). The most extreme Hindus who had migrated to her went back to the slightly-less-rabid BJP.

If Modi’s magic was less than impressive in the BJP’s strongest states, what can he be happy about? His presence in Karnataka just six months back hadn’t done anything for his party either. Modi’s been as much of a damp squib as Rahul Gandhi has been. Only because his party has done well in this round, he will survive drawing major attention to his failure. This is again symptomatic of the strength of the BJP and the weakness of the Congress – its ability to communicate.

What’s the prognosis for the national elections. Well, the Congress is certainly on its way out, unless it does something drastic. The first thing it must do is recognize that this is a vote against the central government, not the states. Both Delhi and Rajasthan governments had done well, and they still lost. The people wanted to punish Sonia and Rahul, not Gehlot and Dixit. Once it recognizes this, it must start to fix its leadership issue. Clearly, Rahul needs more time. Sonia needs to take command for at least 5 more years. She should prop Chidambaram up as the PM candidate. He is competent, and decisive, and can take on the BJP any time. The only glitch is that he doesn’t speak much Hindi. The Congress could also announce a Rahul-Chidambaram combination with Chidambaram being projected as the PM and Rahul becoming party chief. Contrary to what many think, I don’t believe the dual-power-center model has failed. If it had failed, UPA-2 would never have happened.

The real truth is that the Congress has got a drubbing alright, but it has been “decimated” only in Delhi. The BJP has done on expected lines in MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan. Its huge win in Rajasthan will be a morale booster. But the BJP has squandered its opportunity in Delhi. Worse, Modi’s hollow bluster has been exposed…..

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Biggest joke – sensex rises because of exit polls!



The biggest joke in today’s papers – obviously propagated by APCO and its newly-discovered partner Huffington Post (!) – was that the sensex was up because the BJP was doing well in the exit polls. Nothing could be far from the truth. I will explain why in very simple, and logical terms (hence might be difficult for BJP supporters to digest!).

1)    Always expected to do well: The BJP was always expected to do well in MP and Chhatisgarh. If anything, there might be a shock for the BJP in Chhatisgarh, where the exit polls are indicating a wafer-thin win for the party. And if the polls are right, the Congress’s vote share % is expected to actually increase by 1% or so. At best, the BJP will retain Chhatisgarh with a smaller margin. In MP, the BJP will win because it has completely saffronized the state, just like it has Gujarat. Apart from these two states, the BJP was expected to win Rajasthan, considering that the state has never returned the same party to power in the last 20 years. The only state where the BJP could have expected to do really well was in Delhi, where the biggest protests against the UPA were held. But from the exit polls, it looks like the BJP has made a hash out of Delhi. At best, it may emerge as the largest party, but it wont be strong enough to form a government on its own. Is this the “pleasant surprise” the stock markets received, in response to which the sensex rose?!
2)    BJP’s best states: These states reflected the absolute stronghold of the BJP (the only other state being Gujarat). Take away these states and what does the BJP have left? It is a junior partner in Punjab, its chances in Bihar and UP are highly suspect, and it does not even have a presence in South India (with or without Yeddy). Just because it is expected to do well in these states gives no hopes (to BJP supporters) that it will do well nationally. In fact, if AAP does well in Delhi, it will again show that the regional parties, not the BJP, will do better. Is this what the stock market got excited by?!
3)    Hardly the semifinal: A mail from former colleague and current Edelweiss employee Abneesh Roy gives the following views from the market:
a.    The recent State Elections accounted for only 13% of total Lok Sabha seats (72 of the 543 seats). There is still a big battle ahead to be fought. In 2003 also in the States of MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, BJP had a 3-0 victory but they lost the National Election.
b.    BJP has presence only in 330 seats out of a total of 543 seats, it lacks a nation-wide presence and hence its alliance making capability is very important. It has negligible presence in 30% of the Lok Sabha seats – these are the big states of West Bengal, AP, Tamil Nadu, Orissa and Kerala . BJP is also relative to Congress not so strong in the rural constituencies which account for ~63% of Lok Sabha Seats.
c.     The importance of UP - this  is a very big State, it accounts for 14.7% of total Lok Sabha seats. Congress is not dominant here but the two regional parties SP and BSP will pose significant challenges to a BJP victory. Caste here dominates far more than Modi’s governance placard.
d.    Finally how relevant are the polls ? Historically we have seen that Opinion polls and Exit polls tend to give similar results but the final result can be very different. This was the case in both 2004 and 2009 elections. Hence, as our political analyst says ‘’dont count your chickens before they hatch”. While Modi wave is very strong and BJP may emerge as the single largest party in the general elections (consensus number is 160 seats) , there is conviction as yet whether they will get enough majority to form a government.

Does this look like the kind of mail an excited brokerage would send to its clients?!

4)    Markets discount the future: It’s common knowledge that the markets discount the future. The biggest event of 2014 is the general elections. Is there any more certainty about a stable government then, based on these exit polls? Again, even assuming the BJP tops these assembly polls, does the market believe that that will affect the general elections? Only the absolutely gullible can believe that; definitely not the rationale stock punters!

5)    Hardly a rise: The stock market has still not retained the highs hit a few weeks back. Today, its already showing weakness, up as it is by just 40 odd points. The Japanese Nikkei in the meantime is set to test its all time high of 10000, and by the way, the Japanese King and Queen are not even meeting Modi! Also, the Karachi stock market has risen by twice as much as India today, so is that because Modi’s influence extends to Pakistan?!

The real truth is that BJP’s expansive PR machinery – on which hundreds of crores of rupees are reportedly spent – is the one that’s fuelling the PR stories on Modi. This is astute PR, but as with everything Modi, this also is a lot of rubbish! The stock markets are strong because of strong policy action by Chidambaram and the Cabinet’s project clearances, the containment of the fiscal deficit and capital account deficit, and the bottoming out of the Indian economy….

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Exit polls should be on entertainment channels!



I was a little surprised to hear over TV last night that an exit poll involves going to the homes of respondents and asking them who they voted for. I was under the impression that voters leaving polling booths were intercepted immediately after they had voted and made to vote again in a dummy exit-poll-booth. Done this way, it would be a fairly accurate process. But apparently that’s not the case. Explaining this, Rajdeep Sardesai declared honestly that his channel would only be able to put out the final exit poll numbers by 8 pm Thursday (since visiting voter homes takes time). The other channels did not even bother to issue this clarification!

This methodology of exit polls explains why it is practically impossible to forecast the final outcomes accurately. Going to voter homes is difficult and costly. Can surveyors actually go into the homes of the rural folks, the urban poor, the SCs and STs, and in the case of Chhatisgarh, the Naxal dominated areas? I say “practically impossible”, because it’s not a technical impossibility, but only a commercial one. No TV channel expends enough money to do surveys accurately. This is why almost all of them go so wrong.

Take the 2009 general elections, when exit polls were broadcast on TV on 13th May. Polls were conducted by CNN-IBN, Times Now, Headlines Today, India TV-C-voter, NewsX, Star News-Nielson, Zee Business, UTVI, News24 and NDTV. The average of these polls for the NDA was about 200 and for the UPA, about the same. What the final result was is well known, in fact, much better than anyone expected giving the UPA a conclusive win (source: tweet from PM’s media advisor, Pankaj Pachauri). If the exit polls were conducted correctly, why did they not pick up the “wave” for the Congress?

In fact, some have argued that given the Congress’s rural/poor support base, exit polls typically give it 20-25% lesser seats than it finally gets. Likewise, the more urban focused NDA gets a higher score by the same quantum. Such poll errors are not limited to the Congress and BJP alone. They affect all parties that are in rural-heavy states. In 2012 in UP for example, DNA (http://tinyurl.com/lmxw3nf) reported, “Except for two, all the exit polls predicted a hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh with Samajwadi Party on top but the results showed that the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led party romped home with a thumping majority”. Such is the reputation of these polls that DNA quotes then Election Commission Chief SY Qureshi in the same article as tweeting “opinion and exit polls should at best be on entertainment channels”!

The serious flaws in these exit polls is visible in the forecasts made for the AAP in Delhi this time, with one poll (ORG-India Today) giving the party just 6 seats, and another (Chanakya) giving it 31. All these polls claim to have statistical errors of around 3% or so. If that is so, then how come there is such a wide variance?

And even if one goes by the 3% error, that can wreak havoc on the forecasts. The biggest voting % difference between the BJP and Congress, as predicted by the exit polls, is in MP and Rajasthan, but its only 5%. A 3% correction one way for the Congress, and the other way for the BJP, can hand over victory to the Congress in both these states. The gap between the two parties in Chhatisgarh is just 1%, and no one should have any doubts about the uncertainty of the poll results in this state. Ditto with Delhi, where the vote shares are too close to allow making any prediction.

Then there is this other problem about converting vote shares to seat shares, an exercise which involves estimating the “concentration” of votes. A 1% lead for the BJP over the Congress in Chhatisgarh for example, if uniformly spread across the state, is enough to give the party a clean sweep. On the other hand, the 5% in MP and Rajasthan may only give it a marginal lead. How then do these media outlets speak with such authority on the basis of these polls? A news channel yesterday, with a known rightist bias, went so far as to make its headlines sound as if they were based on final outcomes, dropping even the caveat of them being based merely on exit polls! Exit polls may be good content strategy for TV channels, but for politicians, psephologists, political analysts and media pundits to engage in 3-4 hour long, highly intellectualized debates is plain stupidity!

All this is not to say that the Congress is not doing poorly in these four major states. It is. In MP, the Congress has no chance, with the state having been completely saffronized (like Gujarat) over the last 10 years (so saffronised that people don’t mind the huge corruption, law & order and other problems). In Rajasthan as well, known for its “flip-flop” pattern of electing governments, the Congress will likely lose. What is important to see however is what happens in Delhi and Chhatisgarh. For the Congress, wresting Chhatisgarh will be a big morale booster. With respect to Delhi, it will be an acceptable outcome if either it emerges at the top or if the BJP doesn’t come at the top. Half this battle is about the Congress winning; the other half about the BJP losing!

Honestly, the Congress should not worry too much about these poll results, no matter how they go. In 2003, the same pattern had been observed – the BJP won MP, Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan (but not Delhi). Yet they were trumped in the General elections of the 2004. This is not an exact analogy, since the central government then was the BJP’s and this time it is the Congress’s. But still, six months is a long time in Indian politics, and the Congress can still make a recovery. A few bold and innovative moves and the sentiment could shift. The sentiment against the Congress will also drop, if it is seen as having been punished already.

One last point. The BJP knows not to trust these exit polls. That is why its spokespeople were not willing to say if they would attribute the results to Narendra Modi. What if they lose Chhatisgarh, and don’t emerge as winners in Delhi?! Likewise, the Congress was unwilling to credit Rahul Gandhi with the outcomes of these polls. Quite clearly, the political parties know the polls are unreliable!

The real truth is that what former CEC SY Qureshi said about the entertainment nature of exit and opinion polls. Rather than featuring on news channels, they should be carried on entertainment channels. But then, if this principle were followed, most of the content of the news channels would end up being on entertainment channels!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Why Delhi must vote for the Congress today….



One simple reason. Over the last 15 years, the city has been totally transformed. It is much closer to being a world city today than it was 15 years ago when Sheila Dixit stepped in. It boasts of world class infrastructure – a global standards metro, India’s best airport, wide roads, airconditioned buses, well kept parks, uninterrupted power supply, large number of jobs…..need we go further?

Are there problems the city faces? Of course there are. But the kind of problems that are listed by the BJP and AAP are themselves an acknowledgment of the progress that Delhi has achieved. The power bills are too high say both….but neither says that power cuts are a problem (something that was a perpetual problem in Delhi). There is too much traffic they say, acknowledging that economic prosperity has led to a surfeit of cars (and this in spite of the metro ferreting more than 2 million passengers every day). It takes 2 hours to go from Gurgaon to Noida, they cry, accepting that the city/NCR has grown so much that it has made the entire NCR come to life.

And what is driving all this growth? A solid economy. Over the last 10 years, the Delhi government has delivered a near (or over) 10% annual GSDP growth. This is probably the highest amongst major states (Yes, Delhi is a major state considering its economy is more than Punjab’s and Haryana’s), definitely better than the APCO-propped Gujarat’s. Today, the most job creation happens in the NCR, thanks to booming IT/BPO/Manufacturing/Hospitality/Construction sectors. Today, most MNCs prefer to settle in Delhi, not Mumbai. Today, most construction happens in Delhi, not Mumbai or Pune. Since the last census in 2001, Delhi’s population has also soared past Mumbai’s. Delhi is today the most buzzing of all cities in India….

What is the AAP promising really? That it will cut electricity bills by 50%. Does it have a plan for this? No. It does have a lot of rhetoric though. The party acknowledges that electricity wastage (T&D losses) has been cut from 40%+ fifteen years back to barely 15% now. In fact, it uses this achievement to demand that the savings that have so accrued be passed on to the people. Well, this presumes that the savings are not getting used effectively; that maybe someone is pocketing them. Do they have anything to support this? Nada. Will the AAP reduce prices if elected. It will have to, considering it is their main poll plank, but what it will do to Delhi’s power situation is obvious. A look Goa, where the BJP reduced petrol prices to Rs 50 odd levels, should be evidence of that. With drastically reduced tax collections, the state’s economy has been devastated.

The AAP also promises that the Rs 400 crore surplus in Delhi Jal Board will be distributed amongst the people in the form of free water. Who will tell the AAP that if all profits are distributed, there will be nothing left for investments? Does he not know what problems the Indian Railways faces because of the exact same reason (prices were not increased for nearly 10 years…..).

What are the other issues the AAP stands for? A highly unconvicing position on the Lokpal (actually Lok Ayukta). Unconvincing because most knowledgeable commentators today acknowledge that another watchdog in the form of a Lok Ayukta will not curb corruption. Better systems, less discretionary powers, more realistic laws, more usage of technology and more competition will. But is there a plan for all this? At least I haven’t heard so. For anything on corruption, there is just one mantra. Lok Ayukta. Bizarre.

The BJP is a complete write-off in Delhi. The party that chooses to anoint its leaders before the elections could finalize its leader only a few days before the elections. Was this delay because the party has a huge number of eligible leaders? Nah….because if that was the case, it wouldn’t have relied on its national leaders to campaign on its behalf. The reality is that the BJP is a badly divided house in Delhi.

The BJP clearly looks like the B-team of the AAP. If there is a strong opponent of the Congress, it has to be the AAP. The only advantage that the BJP has over the AAP is that it is perhaps better organized, being a much older party. The party cadres also appear to have been energized by Modi. Will this swing the vote towards the BJP? I doubt it.

If performance should be rewarded, then the Congress deserves to win. But are there other issues that will harm its chances? It’s possible, but its surely not a certainty. On corruption, the BJP’s double standards on the Lokpal issue are well known. Its corruption standards are comparable to the Congress’s. On women’s issues, if Delhi is the rape capital amongst the metros, BJP ruled MP is at the national level. Is anyone saying that the BJP will lose MP because of this? Also, considering most rapes take place inside homes, and by people known to the victim, is it really possible to lay the blame on the government? In other words, can a change of government help reduce rapes? I’m not sure. What can reduce this shame drastically is stronger laws (which the Congress has enacted), an alert media (which we have a lot of!), and a huge change in the mindsets of people (which is bound to happen given the previous two points).

What the Congress really suffers from is poor communications. The Congress has no match for Modi when it comes to delivering speeches (even though those speeches are full of errors, lies and more!). Most people I have discussed the 2G scam with for instance agree that the CAG report was vastly exaggerated; but they also say that the Congress did little to defend its position. Ditto on the coal scam. In politics, a party that cannot communicate suffers. If the Congress loses Delhi, it will not be for a poor performance record; it will be for a really poor communications record.

The real truth is that the Congress has done wonders for Delhi, making it India’s numero uno in development, infrastructure, jobs creation, education…..and much more. It has set a benchmark for other cities to follow. No other government could have achieved as much. I hope the people of Delhi remember this when they go to vote today….

Friday, November 29, 2013

Tejpal issue heaviliy politicized by BJP….



Not for a moment am I passing judgment on Tarun Tejpal. Not for a moment am I suggeseting that the girl who complained is lying. Not for a moment am I saying that we should go light on Tejpal. Given the lynch mob conditions that exist in the country today, how dare I? But may I please suggest that the first principle of justice in any civilized society – that one is presumed innocent unless proven guilty – be adhered to? I know the elections are around, and the BJP desperately wants to prop up its image, but can the party please follow at least this basic principle of justice?

For it appears that the BJP’s interest in the Tejpal case is more political than anything else. There could be several reasons for this. The most obvious one of course is that Tejpal’s outfit, Tehalka, had made life quite a mess for the NDA government back in the days when Bangaru Laxman was party president and George Fernandes the Defence Minister. If I remember right, the NDA had also banned Tehalka (or was planning to) for a while. Thereafter when the UPA came to power, it gave Tehelka relief. Whether that makes Tejpal a “congress stooge” or not is for people to decide. But for the BJP, it is understably a good chance to get even. As evidence of how much relief the party is experiencing comes from the fact that even Laxman, who had become a recluse, decided to make that rare appearance on TV, attempting a shot at cleansing his name. Even if Tejpal was a Congress stooge, was that video that nailed Laxman fake?

Another major reason for the BJP to blow up the Tejpal case, and few have commented on this, is that this was a good way to deflect the spotlight from Modi’s snoopgate. The issue had dominated the channels and newspapers for several days, and didn’t seem to be dying down. The Gujarat government had been forced to set up a 2-member probe panel (whatever happened to the party’s usual preference for “independent” probes, outside of governmental control?). The issue had united the opposition and media alike. Suddenly, Modi was on the back foot, refusing to comment on it (as on any other sticky matter). For the BJP to save its PM candidate, some distraction had to be found. What a handly issue Tejpal’s was.

I am not at all saying that Tejpal’s issue was created by the BJP. Of course it wasn’t. But it was grabbed and tossed sky high by it. That’s why its Goa CM took so much personal interest, getting a usually lazy police force to work overtime. That’s why it chose to ignore the thousands of rape cases that take place every year in MP and the thousands more of attacks on women in Gujarat, but focused on this one instead. That’s why it staged dharnas outside Goa airport where Tejpal was to arrive, and defaced former Managing Editor, Shoma Chaudhary’s name plate outside her house. That’s why it has taken such an aggressive stance as to try to link the Congress somehow to Tejpal, even accusing a central minister (unnamed, but well known to all) of somehow being involved (the minister has denied he owns any shares; and that he only loaned the publisher some Rs 5 lacs or so and that too way back when it was founded). And that’s why it used its widely spread (but questionable given the recent Cobrapost scam on this?) social media clout to prejudge the matter and pronounce its opponents guilty.

If the BJP’s keen interest had not been there, could the Tejpal issue have occupied front pages of newspapers and prime times on TV for so long? Tejpal may have been a prominent journalist, but that’s all he was. He wasn’t a senior politician, or a constitutional authority, or even a high-profile celebrity. There are hundreds of prominent journalists like him. He is probably right when he alleges that he is being hounded by the BJP. The Aarushi judgment made for far more relevant content, but because there was no political angle to it, it died a quick death.

Besides, can we please cast one slight glance at the fact that Tejpal hasn’t even been tried yet. And that he may not be guilty, even if that seems improbable? What we must ensure is that he doesn’t get away using his political connections. But apart from that, we cannot pre-judge him. We cannot pronounce him guilty. We cannot let our anger get ahead of us. This kind of “lynch mob” mentality doesn’t augur well for us. And yet, we’re displaying it repeatedly. A lot of media attacked the judgment on the Aarushi case for example. A lot of grief will similarly be directed at retired SC judge Justice Ganguli now, riding on the presumption of his guilt. Can we please await a final judgment before doing this?

Not only this, we’re actually getting extremely vicious as well. A panelist on TV appeared to be preempting a possible acquittal of Tejpal in the future by saying that if that happened, that would mean he used his clout, or that the Congress helped him. This is unfair. This makes the prejudgment final. This makes India like Afghanistan and our systems Talibanesque. What if Tejpal is indeed innocent? What if the woman journalist made a false accusation? Don’t believe she could have? Think again. Remember the SC recently ruled that article 498(A) – introduced in the ‘80s to protect women from dowry harassment – has been mostly misused by women (http://tinyurl.com/patzf5e)?

The real truth is that Tejpal is at least partly, a victim of politics. He may be guilty, but he’s not being given a fair chance. He is being pre-judged. The BJP’s interest in him is disproportionate with his stature. What is worrying is that this indicates a vindictive attitude the party has towards those in media who don’t support it. If Cobrapost’s latest sting on social media involves Modi in any way (and we don’t know it does yet), then it will possibly be targeted next. This is what is so worrying about the BJP’s interest in Tejpal. It’s indicative of fascism….

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

93K phone tappings in 6 months? Gujarat has become a police state….



This is what I was really worried about. Apparently, the snooping on the girl in Gujarat was not a lone case. Firstpost.in reports (http://tinyurl.com/pwgoscr) that as many as 93000 illegal mobile phone tappings took place in just six months in Gujarat between Dec 2012 and May 2013. Phone tappings may be a less severe form of surveillance than physical snooping itself, but surely there is a worrisome story here.

Firstpost.in adds “reports now say phone tapping has been rampant in Gujarat, with a DGP discovering this year that as many as 93,000 mobile phones’ call data records had been obtained without his knowledge since December 2012”. The web publisher further reports “A report in The Hindustan Times says agencies such as the Gujarat Police, the IB, the Anti-Terror Squad and the Crime Branch are all routinely conduct illegal surveillance, either for investigations or at the instance of their political bosses. The extent of snooping is so pervasive that Gujarat’s director general of police Amitabh Pathak (now deceased) was shocked to learn in May that his own police officials had obtained call detail records of as many as 93,000 mobile phone numbers without his knowledge since December 2012”.

Referring to the same report, Firstpost.in writes further “The report also quotes from an affidavit filed by former IPS officer RB Sreekumar before the Justice Nanavati Commission probing the 2002 riots case in which he states that he was asked to rap the phones of BJP leader Haren Pandya and Congress leader Shankersingh Vaghela”.

Firstpost.in then refers to a report in the TOI (http://tinyurl.com/pyng6hc)This report in the Times of India published in 2005 quotes BJP MLA Gordhan Zadaphia complaining about the Modi government engaging in illegal tapping of phones of MLAs and MPs. The report also said intelligence officers believed that official taps on phones was time-consuming and required several levels of permissions. It becomes more fruitful in this scenario to take the service provider into confidence and come to an “unofficial arrangement, the report said”.

What is clear from all this is that the stalking case was not an isolated one. Abuse of the power to tap is rampant. Abuse of the state police machinery is rampant. What is the power used for? In part, to get political leverage. Apart from Haren Pandya and Shankersingh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel was also reportedly as complaining about being snooped upon. Any surprises that Modi has been besting his political rivals one after another over the years? We now know why. He had access to confidential information about his rivals. "Ipsa scientia potestas est" ('knowledge itself is power') is one of the most powerful weapons in politics.

What is perhaps even more stinking than the stalking, snooping and phone tapping scam itself is the way the BJP has been mounting its defence of Modi and Shah. The defence speaks more about the mindset of the BJP supporters. Madhu Kishwar (who supports Modi almost 100% of the times, even though she is a journalist and expected to be unbiased) tweeted ““56 yr old officer under watch of government 4 criminal misdeeds misuses posn to sexually exploit woman yng enf to be grd dtr, parents shd say fine?”. What is she saying? That the girl has no rights of her own? They can be usurped by her father, as if he “possesses” her? Meenakshi Lekhi, spokesperson of the BJP, has made inane accusations about the Congress asking how the tapes got out. Arre, forget how the tapes got out. The point is why what happened, happened.

And where is the “protected” girl (the victim really) in all this? Why is she not coming out and saying what she has to say? Why is her father fronting for her all this time? What is she afraid of? Did the girl really know what was going on? Did she know that even the phones of her family members were being tapped? Did she know that there were cops put on the flight that she took when she traveled out of Ahmedabad? Did she know that cops were monitoring her interactions with friends, including men? All of this looks extremely unlikely.

The real truth is that this snooping episode, along with many others – the 2002 riots, the numerous illegal fake encounters, the murder of Haren Pandya after he turned a government baiter, the tampering with the judicial process forcing the SC to move cases out of the state, the harassment of bureaucrats who don’t toe the line, the failure to appoint (or strategy not to appoint) a Lok Ayukta for more than a decade and later amend the law itself using brute legislative majority to wrest power of the appointment process, the absence of an adequate number of RTI commissioners – all points to Gujarat having become a classic police state over Modi’s tenure. If this is part of Modi’s “Gujarat model”, I don’t want any part of it….

Sunday, November 17, 2013

“Saheb” fails to clear air on Amit Shah tapes….



Modi had a good chance to clear his name in the Amit Shah tapes scandal at his Bangalore rally. But what did he do? He went of a typical rhetorical tangent, preferring to accuse the Congress’s “dirty tricks department”. Why couldn’t he just give us an explanation of what actually happened? Doesn’t the BJP demand an explanation from the PM for decisions taken by him all the time? Why then does it not give one when it is required?

The twitter world on the other hand has been abuzz with the scandal. Questions have been asked, blogs written, and caustic comments posted on why the explanations given by Rajnath Singh and Meenakshi Lekhi look hollow. What emerges is that the girl was hardly being protected; in reality she was being stalked. Whether this was on the basis of her father’s request, or for some other reason, is a matter of speculation. Besides, the question being asked is: How did the CM deploy state resources to protect his “family friend”? Why did the CM likewise not deploy state resources to protect and prevent the 450 odd cases of rape and 9000+ cases of other crimes against women that took place in his state in just a single year?

The question that hasn’t been asked yet, and which is the real worry considering the political history of Narendra Modi is this: How many more people are under official surveillance? Are opposition leaders being observed illegally? Are youngsters who protest against the BJP’s brand of politics being monitored? Are Muslim leaders under the supervision of the ATS as well? What about constitutional authorities – the CAG with whom Modi hardly shares a good rhapport, the RTI commissioners who Modi has refused to appoint in adequate numbers, maybe the judges of the High Court who often rail against him, members of the SIT…..god knows, how far and deep does this surveillance operation go? Is it possible that what has been revealed by IPS officer Singhal is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg? It is these questions that Modi should have answered.

Because what is clear, and the BJP hasn’t denied it, is that the operation was illegal. A person – and her friends – were placed under surveillance without permissions from judicial authorities. If this is true, then the larger question that also needs to be answered is about Modi’s belief in the Constitution, the rule of law, the rights of citizens, and the larger subject (which the whole world is concerned with) about the right to privacy. How dare someone intrude my private world to keep eyes on it? Even if my father has asked for it? But then does Modi even care about rights of people?

Some of the responses of typical BJP supporters provide an answer to that. One tweet by Madhu Kishwar is worth reproducing here. She writes “56 yr old officer under watch of government 4 criminal misdeeds misuses posn to sexually exploit woman yng enf to be grd dtr, parents shd say fine?”. Just look at how saffronites think. First, she completely misses the point that the girl is an adult and can make her own decisions. Did she write for protection herself? Did she know that she was under surveillance? Second, she talks about the officer being under watch. But a story in Ahmedabad Mirror yesterday – again floating widely on twitter – shows that the officer was put under surveillance after this snooping episode, not before. He was punished for calling up Modi for this operation. He was not under suspicion for earlier. If anything, this is a case of vendetta against him. Third, if the girl was being sexually exploited by this officer, then the girl could have gone to the cops, not to the CM. Why didn’t she? Fourth, how does Madhu Kishwar even know that the girl was being sexually exploited, unless she was briefed by the BJP? And lastly, just look at the blinded defence of something completely indefensible that Madhu Kishwar puts up. This is how political our media has become; it fights Modi’s battles on his behalf. Why? What about the journalist’s code of ethics? If Madhu wants to be a BJP acolyte, she has the right, but can she then please abandon her journalistic credentials?

Everyone, including the Congress, is missing the larger point here. Modi’s Gujarat is looking more and more like a police state; something similar to what existed in Egypt, Iraq and Libya before Mubarak, Saddam and Gaddafi were thrown out. This incident shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It’s a trend that started with the Gujarat riots in 2002, was followed up with the murder of Haren Pandya, the several fake encounter killings, the crushing of bodies like the Lok Ayukta and RTI, the refusal to rebuild mosques broken in the riots, the shifting of several cases by the SC outside of Gujarat…..all of these tell us about Modi and his style of governance. That’s the larger worry, not this single case by itself (although it is bad enough).

Modi didn’t respond to any of this. I got the impression he was on the back foot here. He hopes the issue will die down on its own, and it very well could, given media’s current obsession with Modi. The Congress is unable to organize large rallies against this, either in Gujarat or Delhi. If the whole thing had played out in reverse – with the Congress caught in Modi’s position – the BJP would have exploited it to the hilt. But the Congress’s inability to communicate its concern is what ails it. It’s not its performance that harms it; it’s its inability to assert a political point that does. While Modi is a master with rhetoric, the Congress is particularly inept. It resorts to boring facts and points of law. That’s why Modi gets away with so much muck that is floating all around.

The real truth is that by failing to respond, Modi has furthered the perception of his style being autocratic, and Gujarat being run like a police state. The story creates a perception that the surveillance operation is far more extensive than has emerged so far. Much like the Radia tapes, these Amit Shah tapes hold a lot of juice in them. Hopefully, the courts will intervene……and then Modi will be forced to explain.