Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We need smaller states…..US/Europe/China and even our own experience shows that….

There is some degree of panic that various statehood demands are likely to be made as a result of Telegana getting formed. History tells us that when new states get formed, they get formed in a bunch, the last three being Chhatisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand in 2000. So if a few more states need to be created now (or in the near future), why does there have to be any panic at all? Some cynic actually said something like “soon we will again have 530 princely states”. This kind of panic is completely unfounded as this post will show.

It’s common sense. The smaller the administrative unit, the more the focus it gets from its rulers. That’s why we have the whole jingbang with districts, and talukas and village panchayats and all. Unfortunately, the quality of leadership, the amount of accountability that leaders have towards their people and the extent of media scrutiny all dip when we go down from a state to a district level and onwards. For example, we are far more focused on how a state like Bihar is faring (very well), but have no clue about what its various districts are doing. This is one reason why dividing the country into more number of states, rather than merely having more number of districts, is so much better.

Smaller administrative units have been proven to be better around the world. Take the United States. The largest state there is California, which has a population of some 38 million. That’s just about 12% of the total US population. The 2nd biggest is Texas with 26 million (8%) and the 3rd, New York with 19.6 million (6%). Take the entire continent of Europe, which is divided into so many countries. The biggest country is Russia with a population of 143 million, and its biggest “Federal subject” as they call it is the Federal city of Moscow with a population of some 11.5 million (8% of total). The 2nd biggest is the Moscow Oblast, which is some 7 million (5% of total). This is a separate administrative region from the city of Moscow. Take even China. The biggest “administrative division” as they call it is Guangdong which has a population of 104 million (huge), but which is just under 8% of the total population of China. The 2nd largest is Shandong with 9.5 million (7%). Go lower down the list of most populous countries and we find that even if the % of population of a region is high, its absolute size is small and manageable. Indonesia’s largest province is West Java with 18% of the country’s  population (huge) but is only 43 million people in absolute numbers (small). Ditto with Brazil’s largest state – Sao Paolo 22% of the country’s population (huge) but with just 42 million people (small). It’s only in India that we still have states as large as UP with 200 million people (massive) and 16% share of India’s population. Or Maharashtra with 112 million population, Bihar with 104 million and WB with 91 million.

Of course, a small size doesn’t automatically guarantee good governance or faster growth. There are many small countries and even smaller states which are not doing well. But there are almost no examples of larger provinces or states (in terms of population + share of the country’s population) which are examples of good governance.

The Indian experience also has been that when large states are carved up, the smaller ones do better. Take the example of Chhatisgarh, which has grown (in GSDP terms) at an average of 8.6% between 2001-2 and 2011-12 – after its formation – compared to just 3.1% per annum during 1994-95 to 2000-01, when it was still a part of MP. Take Jharkhand, and though its growth rate since formation at 6.3% is lower than the frenetic pace that Nitish Kumar’s Bihar has achieved (11.4%), it is still way higher than the 3.6% the region saw between 1994-5 and 2000-01, when it was still part of Bihar. Maybe the splitting up helped Bihar itself. Ditto with Uttarakhand, which grew much faster at 12.3% compared to UP (6.8%), and also much much faster than when it was part of UP during 1994-5 and 2000-01 (4.6%). Again, UP’s own growth rate increased from 4% earlier to 6.8% post the split. The source for all this data is There are other socio-economic variables, most of which show that once a smaller unit is carved out, its growth improves dramatically.

It’s logical right? Smaller states means that the leaders come far closer to their people. They become more accessible, more answerable to them. The Constitution also gives far more financial and administrative independence to states than it gives mere districts. So if all of this is true, why not happily concede the demands of the other regions? Why panic? Mayawati may well be right in demanding that UP be further divided into 4 parts. Maybe Maharashtra should spin off Vidarbha and Mumbai into separate states. Ditto with Assam (Bodoland….earlier Meghalaya and Nagaland were separated from it), West Bengal (Gorkhaland) and Gujarat (Saurashtra). In this context, “division” of the country is actually good!

In a good editorial in today’s TOI, Kingshuk Nag writes about how langauages cannot be the sole criterion for forming states. While Telengana and Andhra both speak Telugu (with variations of course), the culture is vastly different. In the same manner, maybe its time for us to look at statehood demands in the above states, since all of them represent different cultures, even if they have common languages.

The real truth is that rather than panic, we should initiate a definitive program to have 35-40 states in the next few years. We need to be careful about not increasing bureaucracy. But fundamentally, we cannot deny that smaller states leads to more prosperity….

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Telengana, Jharkhand fixed…..Congress looks at UPA3 with new hope

In the end, Telengana proved to be an easier-than-thought problem. Newspaper reports indicate how by removing Telengana from “erstwhile” Andhra Pradesh (it’s a little unnerving how words like erstwhile get suddenly appended to Andhra!), the remnant part of AP is actually going to emerge even stronger and richer. The realization that they don’t have to keep funding Telengana will eventually mean a lot to people there. And of course, the euphoria in Telengana is bound to keep that part cheering. The neat handling of Hyderabad city will also help in the smooth division of the state. All this will no doubt improve the Congress’s chances in 2014.

And in Jharkhand, six months after the BJP government in the state collapsed, the President’s rule in the state ended with the Congress sewing up an alliance with the JMM. That must surely improve the Congress’s and UPA’s chances with the 14 seats in that state.

The NDA in contrast has been ransacked and mauled in the last three months since Narendra Modi ascended the throne of his party. First the JD(U) exited a 17-year old relationship with the BJP. The last two poll forecasts had assumed all parties to fight independently in Bihar; hence they had shown the BJP gaining in that state. But surely if the Congress ties up with either the JD(U) or RJD or manages to at least get the support of both (a la UP), the poll equations in that state will change decisively against the NDA and pro the UPA.

Then there are the discomforting (for the BJP) statements made by Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Naveen Patnaik et al, as well as the known stated positions of the UP chieftains, Mulayam and Mayawati that whatever happens they will not sign up with the NDA. Many bridges have been burnt with TMC, DMK, JMM and of course JD(U) since the NDA government of 1999-2004, and many (if not most) of these will prove difficult to re-build. Especially if one looks at the viciousness of the BJP’s acrimony towards the JD(U) these days. The other day I heard some BJP spokesperson (I think it was Meenakshi Lekhi, or Smriti Irani) say on TV that JD(U) was never a reliable ally. Never??? But it was your ally for 17 long years…..and it was unreliable??! C’mon there have to be at least some courtesies towards ex partners, right? The Congress never bad mouthed the DMK when it left, nor has it been so vituperative even towards the whimsical Mamata.

The Telengana decision came too late, but it’s going to be good for the Congress. How many seats will that improve Congress’s chances by (compared to the two polls of the last week?). Maybe 10? And with Jagan Mohan Reddy now cut to size (quite literally!), and with his dislike for BJP very visible, chances are that he will be forced to cut a deal with the Congress, or at least ally with the party post-poll or pre-poll. I have a feeling that the Congress will promise to make him the CM, a condition that should have been met in the first place. But like they say, vision is 20:20 in hindsight!

The Congress has also started speaking more coherently, and strongly with Maken in place. The instant rebuttals of Modi have put him a little in his place. For the last 2 weeks, I haven’t heard any big statement from him. He must be carefully researching his numbers now I guess! Equally, asserting that the Indian economy was still the 2nd fastest growing major economy in the world, the government is finally making an attempt to correct the mis-perceptions that India alone has slipped. Things are bad, but India is hardly the only one suffering. It’s not an easy message to drive home, but at least the battle with the BJP’s constant hammering of policy paralysis and mis-governance has been joined.

What is easier to deliver however, is the message that this government means business. A slew of reforms have been launched in the last one year. And Chidambaram and the PM have both promised that there are more on the way. The Cabinet Committee of Investments has cleared projects worth tens of thousands of crores, and the PMO’s own push with a committee of secretaries, projects worth tens of thousands more. There is a new swagger in the party – with the Congress talking now of liberalizing the FDI regime even in hitherto sacrosanct areas of the economy like Defence, pensions….even news media. It is soon to make FDI norms in multi-brand retail more liberal, maybe even increasing FDI to 74%. It will probably challenge the BJP’s double standards on retail – after all if the concern of the BJP is the small retailer (baniya), then why is it OK for domestic biggies to operate in the sector? Will the Reliances, Birlas, Biyanis of the world be more concerned with protecting the livelihood of the baniyas (the rubbish claim that the BJP makes) than Walmart and Carrefour will be?

The real truth is that the 800 pound guerilla, the Grand Old Party as it is called, is ready to fight. And cut its opposition to size. For those who support secular politics, and inclusive growth, it’s a reassuring sign. The polls are still many months away – fortunes in India change virtually overnight. UPA3 is hardly a chimera!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Even with Congress trumped, BJP cannot form government….

Two poll forecasts have been unveiled in the last week. One presented yesterday on Times Now, and the other a few days back on CNN-IBN. There is a huge amount of data generated, but the take-outs are few and simple. The most important one is that while the Congress is shown to be down and facing a certain defeat, the BJP is miles away from forming a government. I wonder which party these results are more depressing for, the Congress which has known these tidings for a while or the BJP which has started to count its chickens already!

One word of caution before going any further. These sorts of polls are completely meaningless. The poor financial condition of these news channels makes these polls sketchy at best. Most have sample size of barely 20,000 odd, which number is indicative of poverty far worse than Rs 32 a day! This is why poll forecasts in India usually fare so poorly. I demonstrated this in my piece on 26th August, 2012 (Last 3 poll forecasts all wrong…..India Today now forecasts an NDA win…. that almost all polls held a few months before the actual polling were wrong. But let’s leave that bitter reality aside for a moment!

The Congress cannot go down any further from here. The only way is up. This much comes out in the Times Now poll which indicates that the Congress’s seats now (in July) are about 6 more than the forecast made in April 2013. In contrast, the BJP’s seats are down by about 10 in the same period of time. If this is true, then the augury for the BJP is even worse. It also makes us think about what happened in these last three months that the fortunes of both major formations started to change? I can think of two. One is the usual fading memory of the voters, which is bound to favor the Congress (remember, most voter memory is about unsavoury things about the Congress). The second, and I mean this seriously, is Narendra Modi’s ascension to the top of the BJP.

Don’t believe this? Well, consider this from the Times Now poll. The BJP’s gain since 2009 is merely 15 odd seats. And 11 of these are coming from Rajasthan, which in any case is a “flip-flop” state (for the last 20 years, the state has booted out a ruling government). Besides, it’s the one state that Modi hasn’t even visited! Now its for each one to decide on Modi’s magic for himself. As usual, those who support him will claim that he hasn’t even started his campaigning, and his results will start to show once he starts. And those who cannot stand him will say that he’s been all over in the last three months.

But just look at how ridiculously different these polls can be from each other. The CNN-IBN poll gave the BJP the pole position in UP with some 30 odd seats. The Times Now poll is far more realistic with some 10 odd seats for the party. Just imagine. In the biggest state, the two polls are diametrically off from each other. In Rajasthan again, the two polls are both dramatically different with Times Now predicting a rout for the Congress while the CNN-IBN poll shows it to be very finely balanced. Take even popularity of leaders. Times Now shows Modi leading Rahul Gandhi by 2:1, but the CNN-IBN poll shows the gap to be very small (of course, leader popularity is the least important of all findings; remember in 2004, Vajpayee was shown to be the most popular leader and yet he lost!). It’s the same with Bihar, with one showing the BJP romping home and the other showing it facing the brunt of the split. If this is not proof of poor poll designs and pathetic samples sizes, what is?

The Congress will recover from here. In Andhra, after today’s expected Telangana announcement, it will go beyond the 7 the Times Now poll shows it to get. In the rural areas, it will do better once the Food Security programme is rolled out. In the urban areas, it will do better once policy paralysis of the last two years transforms into policy activism (we’re already seeing signs of this). The Congress is also expected to do much better with its allies (it will tie up with either RJD or JD(U) in Bihar; its tie-up with JMM in Jharkhand is already secure) and outside supporters (SP, BSP). All its allies are in place with the DMK also likely to formally join hands before the elections.

In contrast, the BJP cannot expect to do well. It has no role to play in the South and the East. It’s a fringe player in UP and now possibly, in Bihar. It’s strength lies only in the West, and once-in-five-years in Rajasthan. With such a low spread, its impossible that the party can do any better. And then there’s the Modi factor. No one wants to ally with the BJP if Modi is heading it. In spite of all of Arnab’s best efforts to build consensus around Modi, none of the journalists could agree that Maya, Mamata and Jayalalitha will all back Modi! Of course, like I said earlier, many things can change in the next 8 months. But if I were to put my money on any one grouping, it would not be the NDA.

The real truth is that what the two polls bring out clearly is what is already very well known. This is perhaps the strongest era for coalition politics. Who wants to rule Delhi has to be able to get the support of Mulayam and Mayawati and Laloo and Nitish and many many more. Now who’s better prepared for this era, the Congress or the BJP? We don’t need a poll for that!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rs 32 a day is not enough. But subsidies make it’s value 3 times….

As is typical with our obstructionist opposition and ill-informed media, the issue of the definition of the poverty line (Rs 32 a day) has turned truly bizarre. For starters, the exact sum of money used to define poverty is itself irrelevant – for our focus should be on “trends” rather than on “absolutes”, and irrespective of which cut off point you take, the trends would broadly remain the same i.e. there has been a rapid decline of poverty in the last 7 years. Let me be clear. One could argue that Rs 32 is too low to define the poverty level, but one cannot argue that poverty levels have come down drastically. Nor can we argue that the rate of decline of poverty has been three times higher in the UPA regime than in the previous NDA one.

But let me stick to the Rs 32 point, the one that has caused the most anguish and uproar. Lay people have rightly joked that Rs 32 wouldn’t get even one square meal in any urban area. To which some foolish politicians of the Congress have commented that they could actually get food even at half this amount. No one has realized that all of us urban pseudo-intellectuals have made the cardinal mistake of viewing Rs 32 from the prism of our own much-better-off lifestyles. If only we didn’t do that, the story would be vastly different.

I first wrote about this subject a few months back when Rs 32 had first caused a stir (October 2, 2011: Rs 32 a day too low a definition of poverty?). I don’t think I succeeded in convincing too many people; so let me try again. Let me start by asking a question: what would be the price definition that would surely indicate a level of existence above the poverty line? Would it be Rs 100 per person per day? Since we don’t normally think of our income in daily and per-person terms, let me convert this to a monthly household income. Assuming a family size of 4.5 (for the urban poor), this converts to about Rs 13,500 per month. Would this be an acceptable cut-off for poverty? Or should we say the daily amount should be Rs 125, which would convert to Rs 16,875 per month. Or just topping Rs 2 lacs per annum. Incidentally, at this level, the person would start to be called a tax payer.

In any case, the cut off cannot be above Rs 125 a day. Most people (except those who really want to badger up this government!) would agree to even Rs 100 a day. So lets just stick to Rs 100 per day or Rs 13,500 per month.

My contention is that in real terms, the poor who gets (earns) Rs 32 is already getting Rs 100 a day in his hands. The reason is that his cost of living is highly subsidized by the Government. He gets wheat at Rs 2 per kg, rice at Rs 3 per kg, and coarse grains at Rs 1 per kg or some such low numbers. Equally, daal, sugar, oil and fuels like kerosene and LPG are highly subsidized. Lets try and put the market rates (which we inadvertently benchmark everything to) for these goodies. If the family gets on average 30 kg grain per month, and the price differential between PDS and market rates is an average of Rs 30 per kg, then that’s an additional Rs 900 per month in the kitty.

Take cooking gas. If a family uses 1 cylinder of LPG a month, then we know that the subsidy is of the order of Rs 600 per cylinder. Then take school education. Most poor kids get education for free, while most people like us (the ones who pompously comment and complain!) pay anything from Rs 1000 to Rs 4000 and even higher per month. Let’s take an average of Rs 1500 per month. For 2.5 kids, that’s Rs 3750 per month.

So far, we have taken care of food and education. What about clothing? Unfortunately again, most people like us think of how much we spend on clothes as a proxy for what the poor would need. But again what we find is that the poor can get clothes at less than 10% of what we spend on our clothes (branded; even non-branded). But let’s take a higher number of 25% (which means that if you buy your shirt and trouser at Rs 500 and Rs 1000 respectively, the poor can get good, clean ones at Rs 125 and Rs 250 per piece). How much do we spend on clothes per month. Say, a low average of Rs 2000? The difference with the cleanly dressed poor? Approx Rs 1500 per month.

What about transport? Now I agree this is where there is a convergence of sorts between us and the poor. We use the metro, and the bus….and so do the poor. Transport cost is a killer. And the poor surely feel the pinch. But maybe we can start to appreciate the concept of fuel subsidy a wee bit? Or subsidized metro and bus rates a tad? We can complain about the quality of the service, but the poor who is just interested merely in getting from point A to B is happy that the rates are subsidized. I don’t want to assign any monetary value to this, but let’s just agree that there is some value packed in here.

The real problem of course is housing. And the related subject of sanitation. This is what really defines poverty in our country. It’s when we look at people living in slums that we go about calling them poor. Its hardly ever that poor people don’t get enough to eat, or work, or travel, or put their kids through school. It’s almost always about the squalid conditions in which they live. This is where our biggest failure has been. And when I say “our”, I include the NDA as well. There is no politics in this. It’s a joint failure. At the very minimum, one has to say that the Congress has made attempts to provide affordable housing to the poor, but the migration into cities is so huge that it’s our biggest urban suffering. And failure.

So let me close by calculating the poor man’s real buying power. There’s Rs 32 – which translates to 32 x 30 days x 4.5 people = Rs 4,320. Add subsidies on food (Rs 900), gas (Rs 600), education (Rs 3750) and clothes (Rs 1500) which makes it Rs 11,070. I am not trivializing here. I am merely putting the original Rs 32 in the right “context”. This is the “PPP” (Purchasing Power Parity) principle in practice. And its based on solid economics that neither Sen nor Bhagwati can dispute!

Let me put it another way. Critics of the Congress lampoon it once for its subsidy culture. Then they lampoon it again when it defines poverty at Rs 32 a day. C’mon, that’s unfair. Criticize on either the subsidy or the Rs 32, not on both!

Let me put it yet another way. If the government were to cut subsidies and convert everything to cash transfers (DBT), then Rs 11,070 (and more) is what a poor family would get in its bank account every month. Would you then call them poor?

The real truth is that if we remove the politics, there is nothing wrong in Rs 32 a day. People like us who crib forget the subsidies that the poor get. That lifts the Rs 32 a month at least 3 to 4 times that number. It’s not about eating out in restaurants. None of us eats out every day. Its about living a decent life. Besides, the point is not the number. The larger point is that whatever the number, hundreds of millions of people are going above that defined line. That’s what we should be happy as Indians, and what BJP trolls should worry about near election time!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Amartya Sen episode shows just how intolerant BJP is….

The venerable Noble prize winner Amartya Sen is under attack. For what? Not for disagreeing with his brand of economics – the “redistribution” of wealth ideology that happens to align with the Congress’s thinking (it also does with the Left’s thinking) – but because he doesn’t think that Modi is the right person to be PM. The BJP – as I had predicted on 23rd July – is up in arms doing what it does best. Threatening him of retribution, attacking him personally, and in short showing how intolerant it is even to non-political academic geniuses.

Amartya Sen by the way, did not say that he wouldn’t like to see a BJP government at the center. For all I know, he may well do that. But for thick skinned BJP leaders like Chandan Mitra (who makes Sen’s belief of the Indian being Argumentative feel so mild; maybe his book should have been titled the Argumentative and Thick Skinned Indian!), who are used to commenting before even developing an understanding, that comment of Sen’s on Modi was enough.

Just as I had predicted, the BJP (Chandan Mitra, Kirti Azad – two makes a party!) has called the world acclaimed Sen a Congress stooge. (From my post of 23rd July: Now BJP trolls will attack Amartya Sen the same way they do anybody who opposes them or Modi. Poor Amartya Sen – a mere economics and philosophy professor – will now see his every credential being shredded by the BJP. He will even be called a Congressi). Can someone please tell these jokers how to treat senior intelletuals? Can someone please teach them some basic manners and courtesy and “sanskruti” as they like to call it in RSS’s Hindu-lingo? Or is this their idea of “equally brutal treatment to all (their version of secularism, even after they butcher and target a particular community!).

Of course both leaders (?) also said that Sen’s Bharat Ratna should be taken back if the NDA comes to power. What these two don’t realize is that Indian are far more gentle than they are. These kind of statements will ensure the NDA never comes to power! But consider how low the BJP can get. Threatening someone who they themselves rewarded with the glory (during the Vajpayee regime) with a withdrawal of the honor. What does one make these people? Churlish charlatans? Untrustworthy morons? Fickle jokers? You choose!

Besides, when Sen promptly agreed to return the honor if Vajpayee made the same demand, didn’t the honorable professor truly snub the entire party? In one stinging statement, didn’t he hit a huge stick on the rears of the entire party leadership? Didn’t he say what the entire country has been saying to the BJP – give us a Vajpayee like leader? Not the jokers that you are fronting? Didn’t he get the upper hand by showing the entire BJP leadership (which now doesn’t include Advani) as being below par in stature?

The BJP has to understand this. People have different points of view. They can disagree with their ideologies (which are few I believe!). That doesn’t make them enemies. That may make them a political opponent (which in this case isn’t true for Sen is hardly a politician) but not an enemy. The BJP repeatedly forgets this. In fact, its not in its DNA to understand that in a democracy, people can have different points of view. Yashwant Sinha is not an enemy because he doesn’t agree with Modi, he is only one who has a different point of view. Ram Jethmalani isn’t an enemy of Advani (though he is a bit of a bafoon!), though he prefers Modi as PM. When will the BJP get this? In the past as well, the BJP has accused the Congress of having differences within itself. Of course, it will. It’s a democratic party for god’s sakes! The Congress is not moulded the same way as the BJP where, if anyone opposes Modi, he is considered anti-party!

Coming back to academicians, they are intellectually far superior to anyone in the BJP. Take Bhagwati and Panagariya, who the BJP believes support Modi’s style of economics. They are way too brilliant for anyone in the BJP, especially Modi, to even start to understand. Their support for a brand of economics doesn’t mean they endorse the politician who appears to be heeding that model. Incidentally, they have clarified that they are not supporting Modi. They don’t even know him enough! Academic geniuses will also often fight amongst themselves (although I must admit, the scuffle this time has gotten too heated, and personalized). But they know how to resolve their differences and focus on the issue and not the personality. Politicians in general – and BJP ones in particular – always go for the personality, not the issue.

I think both sets of economists have been misunderstood by our below-par (intellectually) politicians. When Bhagwati and Panagariya say that they prefer growth, they do not mean that they don’t agree with redistribution of wealth and subsidies. When Sen says that he prefers redistribution, he doesn’t mean he doesn’t agree with growth. Both sets of economists understand much better than you and me that without growth, there can be no opportunity to redistribute. Incidentally, the Congress believes in precisely that. That’s why there is an economist PM who is more in the Bhagwati/Panagariya mould, and a party President who is more like Sen. The two together make sure that the country grows rapidly (despite the current decline, which is so much because of global factors – all countries have seen a decline), and then it redistributes its wealth. This is why the poverty has come down by 2% a year in the last 10 years. The BJP on the other hand appears to shun redistribution (they are urban middle class focused after all) and chase only growth. So the scuffle between Sen and Bhagwati/Panagariya could also be seen as a scuffle between two political models – one that is followed by the Congress (a combination of the Sen as well as Bhagwati/Panagariya models) and the other by the BJP (the Bhagwati/Panagariya model exclusively). Let’s enjoy this diversity of opinion people. Let’s not kill it.

The real truth is that thick skinned and moronic that BJP leaders are in general (and Chandan Mitra is in particular), they cannot be expected to be tolerant of divergent points of view. Amartya Sen only happens to be the last victim of this intolerance. There have been many, including most bloggers who disagree with the BJP’s ideology, who have been panned and personally attacked in the past….

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

#Feku Modi’s fake claims about Gujarat Tourism….

For long, Narendra Modi (#feku) has made tall claims (now what’s unusual about that) about how successful his Gujarat Tourism campaign has been. Figures revealed yesterday show that the facts are way different from the exaggerated claims!

In a story in the TOI yesterday, it comes out that Gujarat attracted merely 24.4 million domestic tourists in 2012. As per Modi’s statement as reported on the the Gujarat Tourism website (, the number of tourists grew by some 16% last year. For someone not familiar with tourism numbers, one gets the impression that the visionary that Narendra Modi is, the micro-manager that he is, he has managed to leapfrog Gujarat into the big leagues, perhaps even make it #1, by sheer genius. That is why I was surprised to read yesterday that Gujarat is actually placed a lowly 9th in the list of Indian states on the basis of tourism. And here’s what is even more shocking. It got merely 12% of the tourists that the number 1 state – Andhra attracted in 2012 (206 million). Yet another false claim. Yet another exaggeration. Yet another lie. This is becoming quite a hobby for me now – tracking down the Gujarat CM’s lies!

There was so much more that was wrong with the CM’s statement. Modi claimed that the 16% growth rate was “double the national average”. But the TOI story shows that tourism in India grew by 20% from 865 million to 1036 million. So what was Modi talking about? Maybe he got confused where the “20%” figure was to be used??? (Remember, he lied about China’s spend on education being 20% of its GDP to students of Fergusson College Pune?!).

Modi has – as is his wont – personalized the Gujarat Tourism campaign. There are several references to this on his personal website ( One on May 20th titled “Gujarat Tourism goes to Cannes with sops for foreign film makers” talks about the department’s efforts to showcase Gujarat’s rich tourist credentials (“hills of saputara”, “white desert of kutch”, “Gir’s jungles”, “virgin beaches”). Another one dated June 26th of this year is titled “Gujarat Tourism wins CNBC Award”. “Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd (TCGL) has won the prestigious “CNBC Awaaz Travel Award 2013″ for the best state tourism board for a second time in row” as Modi’s website claims. It’s good for any CM to applaud his department’s initiatives, but why the loud exaggeration? Why does Modi have to make it look as if he is the only one who is dynamic? That too when most of the claims are soon shown to be utter rubbish.

Consider the size of tourism in the states ahead of Gujarat, and the extent of this rubbish becomes clear. Andhra got 206 million as mentioned earlier. That’s almost 9 times more than what Gujarat got. TN was next with 184 million, followed by UP (168), Karnataka (94), Maharashtra (66), MP (53), Rajasthan (29) and Uttarakhand (24). These are all ahead of Gujarat.

Modi has used the Gujarat Tourism campaign to boost his own image. No other state spends as much on tourism as Gujarat does. This is what Narendra Modi himself says in the Gujarat Tourism website ( “In 2005-06, we spent about 30 crore on tourism. This year, we have increased the figure to 500 crore," and "We will spend money in promotion of tourism in Gujarat”. Rs 500 crores? All of the central government’s ad budget has been planned at Rs 630 crores. And lest you misunderstand, this figure is to be spent over the remaining four years of the 12th five-year plan. And this itself is a doubling of the spends over the 11th five-year plan period. Besides, it’s for all of the government’s programs, not just tourism. Is this Rs 500 crores number even correct? What do I say? Nothing about Modi’s figures looks correct!

If Rs 500 crores is indeed correct, then Modi needs to answer how such a huge spend can be incurred by the state government. Rs 500 crores for 24 million tourists? I doubt if the Andhra government even spends a fraction of this to get its 200 million tourists! Rs 500 crores is even more than the provision made for the metro project between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in this year’s budget! Surely Modi is not spending more on his PR machinery than he does on capital expenses? Besides, the BJP severely criticized the Congress for the Rs 630 crore ad spend. So how is it approving the Gujarat ad budget?

Of course, when it comes to international tourists, Gujarat does not even feature in the top six states that TOI lists (who knows how many more there are before Gujarat). Maharashtra tops the list with 5.1 million foreign tourists out of India’s total 20.7 million arrivals. So much for Gujarat Tourism’s and Modi’s tall claims!

The real truth is that the Gujarat Tourism myth is almost as strong as the Vibrant Gujarat one. In the former, the state spends a huge amount on advertising and gets very little (except good PR!) in return. In the latter, the state claims very high investment numbers, but gets very little in reality (12% of the claimed figures in the last four years as per reports). Without doubt, everything about Modi is fake! (BTW some new data in today’s TOI – Gujarat’s cities killing infant girls – also shows how infant mortality rates are so high in Gujarat….shame shame).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poverty declines sharply during UPA rule

The newspapers are full of stories about how poverty in India has reduced drastically during the first 7 years of UPA rule. Annual declines have been 2.18% per year compared to just 0.74% during the previous 11 years. In my mind, there is nothing surprising about this data. The UPA government’s constant thrust has been on reviving the rural economy and providing some sort of a decent living to the people there. People like us in urban areas may complain about the government’s programs, but make no mistake. The rural folks are making the best of it all.

In fact, check the results of any FMCG company over the last several years and the rural firepower becomes evident. Companies like HUL have dramatically grown their rural presence and are reporting higher toplines and profits on the back of this rural might. HUL’s performance over the last few years has been so steller that its parent has decided to up its stake in the Indian subsidiary. It’s the same story with bike manufacturers who say that it’s the rural strength that continues to drive their success stories.

There is a strong political angle to poverty reduction. If there is one core difference between the BJP and Congress, it is this: The BJP is urban focused; the Congress rural. This explains why the BJP made much noise about the urban-centric Anna movement (even though it stabbed him in the back in the end), while the Congress was ham handed in its dealing. This also explains why the BJP throngs TV studios and its leaders give speeches only in the big metros (read my post of 7th July:, while the Congress focuses on the dirty village streets (Rahul Gandhi spends most of his time there, which is why he is not available for TV interviews). This also explains why the BJP opposed FDI in multi-brand retail, wanting to protect its urban baniya voter base, while the Congress wants it because it helps farmers cut on losses (rotting etc) and make more money (even though prices paid to them could come down). The BJP has no qualms in supporting the usurious baniyas – a TOI report showed that in Mumbai, fresh food retailers were extorting a profit of Rs 60 lacs per day per vegetable. For the Congress, intervening to break this grip and pushing retail vegetable prices back was a political opportunity, which Prithviraj Chavan has brilliantly exploited.

So make no mistake. The poverty reduction is a direct result of the UPA’s policies. There is no luck in this result. This is a result of the party’s core policies. Just look at the thrust of the Congress’s policies:

1)    Minimum Support Prices (MSPs): Just check the data available on Analysis shows that during the NDA rule between 1998 and 2004, rice prices increased by a total of just 33% (average increase 5.5% per year). During the UPA rule post 2004, rice MSP has increased by a whopping 127% in about 9 years time (average 14% per annum). It’s the same with wheat (NDA: 4% per annum; Congress 13%), coarse grains (NDA: 7%, Congress 23%) and daal (Arhar)(NDA: 8.5%, Congress 22%). The Congress rewards the farmers three times better than the NDA did. One other thing. It’s not like “the times have changed” and that’s why the UPA is paying more. Even during Narasimha Rao’s tenure between 1991-96, the average annual hikes in MSP were 11.5% for rice, 13% for coarse grains, 14% for wheat and 13.5% for daal. It’s only during the NDA rule  that annual increases dipped.

2)    NREGA: The two states where poverty has declined the most are Odisha and Bihar. Now anyone who has been reading the papers knows that both these states have reported high GDP growth rates (better than Gujarat’s by the way!). That’s obviously reduced poverty quite strongly. But the center’s NREGA has played another vital role in poverty reduction. Consider this (source:, as many as 20 lac households in Bihar and 16 lacs in Odisha availed of NREGA benefits during 2012-13. That’s nearly a crore plus people affected by the program in each state. The total people-days generated were 9.24 crores and 5.5 crores respectively. This is huge. If you are a poor person in these states, you are sure that the central government will guarantee you 100 days of employment at a hugely respectable Rs 125+ per day. The central government spent upwards of Rs 40,000 crores in just the last one year. NREGA is the world’s largest employment guarantee program.
3)    Subsidies: The Congress government maybe panned for its high subsidies (and indeed when GDP growth slows, the burden of subsidies creates problems), but make no mistake. Subsidies are what makes life liveable for the poor. Urban people like us who joke about “Rs 32 per day” don’t realize that this translates to Rs 5000 per family per month. We also don’t realize that with subsidies, this effectively works out to at least Rs 20000 per family per month. That’s more than adequate to raise people over the poverty line. Likewise, the UPA’s Food Security Bill may be panned by the intelligentsia, but just go ask the poor. It’s their lifesaver!

So the UPA has every right to claim credit. Had the UPA’s PR machinery been just a fraction as effective as Modi’s, the papers would have been full of these stories! Talking about PR brings me to one last point. Narendra Modi claimed so much success for his Gujarat Tourism campaign. He was hailed as the visionary who saw the potential of this vital service industry. Well, the facts say otherwise (now what’s so unusual about that!). Gujarat got 24 million tourists in 2012; Andhra topped the list with 206 million. Gujarat is probably ranked 9th. All that Gujarat and Modi have to dole out is a lot of gas! Maybe, I will write a separate post on this subject one day!

The real truth is poverty reduction is tangible in the country. Rural areas are buying more goods, eating better food and traveling in better vehicles. Even the urban poor are benefiting from rising wages (just check out how much drivers and maids cost these days!). We may not travel to the rural places often, and our TV cameras certainly don’t, but that’s the reality. For a change, let’s not be cynical. Let’s applaud the good work done. UPA – take a bow!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Whether Modi divides the nation or not, he is surely dividing his party!

Two stories in today’s papers suggest that Modi’s ascension to the top of the throne in the BJP has created quite stir. Whether Modi divides the nation or not, he is dividing his party up for sure! The party’s Bihar state unit appears to be crumbling with “50% of the MLAs” wanting to join Nitish as per one disgruntled BJP MLA. At the same time, the MP unit of the BJP has virtually mounted an assault on Modi.

Then there is the latest CNN IBN poll which suggests that the JD(U) is pretty much retaining its vote base and holding on to its tally of Parliamentary seats. The BJP is gaining in vote share; however if the party splits the way it is forecast, most of the vote share gains will dissipate. Also, the vote share gain needs to be understood better. Mathematically speaking, is the new higher vote share simply a result of more seats being contested by the party, or is it that its vote share is genuinely increasing within the seats it contested the last time around? If it is the former, as I suspect it is, then its no big deal. Fighting in more constituencies is bound to increase the number of votes.

Besides, these are the vote share possibilities assuming all parties fight individually by themselves, without any prepoll alliances. Now it’s almost impossible that the Congress will not ally with one of the two – Laloo or Nitish. If it has to enhance the power of its 10% expected voteshare, it has no option. The 10% by itself is meaningless, getting the party only between 0-4 seats, but when added to the JD(U)’s or RJD’s vote base, it can make a huge impact. The Congress finds itself in the driver’s seat, even with a minor presence, just like so many regional parties found themselves in the driver’s seat at the Center, thanks to the fragmented vote shares of the main national parties. Net net, if alliances are considered, the BJP’s seats from Bihar are bound to shrink. What that does to Modi’s PM ambitions is anyone’s guess.

What is really shocking about this 50%-want-to-quit charge is that just a few weeks back when the BJP snapped ties with JD(U), the local party unit tried to create the impression that the whole state unit wanted Modi as its leader. If even a fraction of the 50% dissenters is correct, it shows that a heavy hand alongwith the trademark BJP PR pressure was used to obfuscate the truth. We’ve seen that in Gujarat, where all forms of protest against the government are given the go-by. Looks like the two Modis (Narendra and Sushil) come from the same gene pool!

And what’s with this MP campaign. I mean, if Shivraj Singh Chouhan can put Ananth Kumar’s face up on the posters, surely it cannot be a mere slip that Modi’s face is missing? After all, who is Ananth Kumar? He’s not even anybody major nationally, leave alone in MP. Clearly, Chouhan, egged on no doubt by the Advani/Sushma camp, is attacking Modi. It’s amazing the opportunity Modi has created for the Congress. It needs to do nothing but just wait for the BJP to self-destruct!

And what’s this desperate plea of Rajnath Singh to the US administration to lift the visa ban on Modi. If anything, Modi should have shunned the US, and made that country eat humble pie when (and if) he got elected India’s PM, for it would surely have to invite Modi then. That would have been a real snub for the US. But instead we find Rajnath Singh groveling before the US. Looks like Modi, like all Gujjus, loves the US and will do anything to go there!

As if all this was not enough, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has categorically said that he wouldn’t want Modi to be the PM of India because the minorities of the country don’t trust him. Now BJP trolls will attack Amartya Sen the same way they do anybody who opposes them or Modi. Poor Amartya Sen – a mere economics and philosophy professor – will now see his every credential being shredded by the BJP. He will even be called a Congressi. Just like Jean Dreze, the lead author of the book co-authored by Amartya Sen – has been called the NAC’s spokesperson even though he is no longer with the NAC. Besides, the NAC itself and its members – Aruna Roy for one – has been scalding in its attacks on the government on several occasions. Unfortunately, such fine points miss the thick-skinned BJP members.

Then there was also Anna recently who recanted from his pro-Modi utterances of the past. What prompted him to issue this clarification? Is Modi’s – and the BJP’s – descent so visible that everyperson worth his two bits of fame is rushing to play down any association he had with Modi? I guess when your own party folks speak against you, the signals are pretty clear right? Just a few days back, Yashwant Sinha of “the opposition must oppose” fame, cribbed against Modi for taking the focus away from the Congress’s “misgovernance”. One strong leader Modi is!

The real truth is that the BJP is in disarray. Yet again. This time thanks to Modi. It’s “strong” regional leaders – nay satraps – are starting to pull in opposite directions. The smell of blood from the Congress’s wounds is so strong that it arouses them into attacking each other. In the meanwhile, the Congress itself is on quick repair. Policy paralysis has morphed into policy aggression. Lost ground is being made up. 2G/Coal are issues of the past. The country is obsessed with Modi, and his communal politics. It couldn’t have been better for the Congress!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gujarat Shining…..but Gujaratis?

Today’s TOI brings out more facts and truths about Gujarat – not tainted by any PR spin –seriously questioning just how good the vaunted development model of the state is (Gujarat slides in both rural and urban spending). NSSO data over the last ten years (most of it covering Modi’s tenure in the state) shows that the state has slid on a key economic variable – Household spending. Gujarat’s rural rank has slipped to 8th from 4th and urban to 9th from 7th. It is these kind of statistics that help bust the myth that Modi’s spin doctors keep putting out.

The India Shining campaign – based on a false understanding of how India was faring – had bombed in the BJP’s face in 2004. Even back then, the BJP was always more of a “talk more, do less” kind of party. It did do some good work in its period of rule, but then every party does that. The amount of hype that the BJP generated then is what got people really upset. If India was shining, why weren’t they? In a similar, but much bigger way, Gujarat Shining has been thrust on the people of India. The hype about Gujarat being like Singapore has made people believe that Modi will make all of India like that island-state. People all over India now believe that Gujaratis are rich like the Europeans. And have become rich in the last ten years thanks to Modi. Well, the NSSO data shows it’s not true.

If the people are not spending, they are surely not doing well. If quality of life is measured by consumption, then consumer spends have to rise. The expected BJP lie will go something like this: the incomes are rising, and the inflation is so low in Gujarat, that the spends are rising less! Well, that’s hardly true. Take the data readily available on the GDP of Indian states. As per Wikipedia (the most public of all sources!), (, Gujarat is ranked 5th in terms of GDP size. It’s ranked 10th by population, which explains why it is called a developed state (nothing to do with Modi). But look at growth between 2011-12 and 2004-5 (coinciding with Modi’s and UPA’s tenures) and one finds that Gujarat’s GDP has grown by 3 times over this period of time (in nominal rupee terms). But Maharashtra’s – whose economy is nearly twice of Gujarat’s) has also grown smartly by 2.8 times. And yet, we hardly find the Maharashtra CM crooning about his achievements the way Modi does! TN and AP have also grown 2.9 and 3 times – and both are bigger economies than Gujarat.

Of course, if we add on any social dimension to this discussion, the Gujarat story pales even more. Take simple ones like “decadal population growth” and Gujarat at 19.2% is closer to wayward UP’s 20.1% than to Maharashtra’s 16.0%. TN (15.6%) and WB (13.9%) both do better than Gujarat. Data with respect to health care is already well known to most readers now. It’s shocking really. Even the sex ratio of Gujarat (918) is worse than all in the top five states, except UP (Maharashtra: 946. TN: 995, AP: 992, WB: 947 and UP: 908). So what are we really talking about here?

It’s not difficult to explain why Gujarat is shining, but Gujaratis aren’t. The state has made a lot of noise over its industrial growth. But take the case of the two poster boys of Gujarat. Mukesh Ambani (though his is hardly a Gujarat-based group, one of his biggest investment is in Jamnagar, Gujarat) is amongst the largest private groups in India with a revenue base of US$ 73 billion and assets of US$ 61 billion. Gautam Adani’s group has revenue of US$ 7.8 billion and assets of US$ 19.0 billion. Both of these are the biggest showpieces of Modi. They hug and kiss him at every Vibrant Gujarat event. And yet, both of these groups employ merely 23,500 and 10,400 people. How many of these are in Gujarat is another question. In contrast, older generation (pre-Modi) companies like Nirma and Arvind Mills employ 14,000 and 25,600 people respectively, even though their turnovers are far smaller (Rs 3500 crores and Rs 5250 crores respectively). Just imagine. Modi’s biggest showpieces hardly do anything for the people of the state. This is the tragedy of Gujarat’s shiny growth.

If this is true in the urban areas, it’s worse in the rural areas. Because largely of Modi’s brand of politics, the state has shunned NREGA in large measure, destroying the lives of the poor. (When the state is trying to foist the myth of being rich onto the world, in order to propel the ambitions of its CM, what else can we expect?). Gujarat generated only 2.8 crore person-days of employment under NREGA covering just 6.8 lac HHs (source: NREGA website). In contrast, West Bengal generated 20.1 crore person days for 58 lac people. If you thought this was because WB was poor, then consider TN (41 crore person days over 71 lac HHs) and Maharashtra (8.5 crore person days over 16 lac HHs). Gujarat and Maharashtra are almost similar in per-capita income with TN just marginally behind.

The only reason Modi has been able to tomtom his state’s achievements is because of the big ticket investments in the form of Tatas and Maruti. Land has been doled out at cheap rates with gay abandon. With no Lok Ayukta in place, Modi has shielded himself from the kind of criticism that no other state or central government can possibly do. Wait for the newly appointed Lok Ayukta to do its job. The muck will start to emerge. The CAG does bring out the state’s goof ups every now and then, but with a brute majority in the state assembly, Modi simply ignores the comments.

The real truth is that Gujarat may be shining, but Gujaratis aren’t. Oh, I am not talking of the Ambanis and the Adanis, nor the Mehtas (Torrent) and the Pankaj Patels (Cadila). I am talking of the lay Gujarati, who in the personal battle of the state’s CM, is getting crushed every year…..Why does he continue to vote for Modi? We know the answer for that. Godhra…..

Friday, July 19, 2013

First Modi. Now Rajnath pushes India into the 17th century….

Even the BJP’s staunchest supporters must be wincing. Or maybe not. Maybe the core BJP’s core voters are actually enthused that they have not one, but two “mahaan netas” (cannot say “great leaders” any longer!) of the party. As if Narendra Modi wasn’t mahaan enough, there is now also the added bonus of having Rajnath Singh as the President! In 21st century India, the appeal of a 17th century party must be something!

When she came to power, Mamata Banerjee had stunned everybody by “de-positioning” the Left and occupying a place even farther left. In the same way, the Modi-Rajnath combination has made even the regressive Shiv Sena look terribly liberal in contrast. So much so that Uddhav Thackeray has indicated (yet again) that Modi cannot be the next PM! How long before even the most bigoted of all Indian decides “thus far and no further”.

And why are we surprised at all with this “English is the root cause of all problems” argument? Just a few months back, I had written about the BJP-Shiv Sena run BMC’s belief that scantily dressed mannequins (honestly!) also led to a cultural problem (“Now BJP wants a dress code for mannequins – May 30th, 2013). Then on June 26th, another right-wing party, the MNS (a “natural ally” of the BJP) had proposed that Malabar Hills be renamed…..guess what….“Ramnagari”! So this kind of old fashioned crap is well known of the right-wingers. Now when Rajnath Singh complains of English, he is also effectively arguing for a Hindi-dominated India.

Did I say a few months back that the BJP really was just a regional party pretending to be a national one? Well, no matter what the BJP voter thought of that, and going by the hate tweets I got after the post, I know exactly what he/she did(!),Rajnath Singh certainly agrees with me. He has endorsed my view that the BJP belongs almost exclusively to the Western part of India (Gujarat, MP, Chhatisgarh, sometimes Goa). And on a few lucky breaks and with the help of a few partners, a little bit of the North (UP, Punjab, Rajasthan) and East (Bihar). End of story. The party hardly has a presence in the South and the East (some 15 states or so). If this reality is not known to the party President, who could it be known to? Rajnath is indeed right. English is the problem! And Hindi is the solution.

But honestly, what’s so shocking about Rajnath’s statement. Just look at the RSS, the mother and father (“mai baap” in Rajnath’s lingo!) of the BJP and the mania with Hindi and Sanskrit becomes clear. I mean, who except the “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” could call it’s President “sarsanghchalak”?! (South Indians be damned!). And oh by the way, if it’s the RSS’s women’s wing, the chief is called “Pramukh Sanchalika”! And the next in charge is “Pramukh Karyavahika”! And then there are the sister outfits of the RSS/BJP: Vishwa Hindu Parishad (it’s in the full form that followers like to call their organization….not abbreviated to VHP), Bajrang Dal (straight out of Ramayana!) and the ever-unbelievable Durga Vahini (OMG OMG OMG!). Even their student’s wing is called Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad (take that!). And the trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Union (why not “Sangathan” or something I wonder!). When I think of these titles, the Samajwadi Party or the Janata Dal come to mind, but then again, the BJP is just another claimant to the Regional or Hindi tag! In contrast, the Congress’s bodies are called the All India Trade Union Congress, and the National Students Union of India. How un-Indian!

So lets project and see what kind of campaign Rajnath Singh will mount for himself. I am a Hindi. I am a nationalist. I am a Hindi nationalist! Please Rajnathji, run this campaign in the South and East of India also!

Of course the BJP will say “we are for all Indian languages, not just Hindi”. Our opposition is to English. Blah blah. We know exactly what they mean. If they had any other intent, why are their leadership positions not named in Tamil or Telugu or Bengali or Punjabi???

But coming back to the BJP voter base, I am shocked to notice that it includes several well educated and liberal minded urban elites. What must these people be telling themselves? That I support a party that believe in Hinduism and Brahminism as its umbra (the “center”), and Hindi and Sanskrit as its penumbra (next to the center)? Do these voters have any Muslim and Christian friends at all who they care for? Do they have non-Hindi speaking acquaintainces at all? What must be the phobia in their heads about their religion that inspite of being the overwhelming majority (80%+) they feel insecure about it? I was a BJP supporter (of sorts) when the party showed its right-of-center economic slant, but even that has vanished now. I wish someone could solve my predicament – in the countless attacking tweets this post will no doubt get!

Fortunately, the BJP has been attacked for this archaic mindset. The TOI reports: “Dalit ideologue Chandrabhan Prasad also criticized Rajnath Singh, saying the BJP was opposed to the English language as it is at odds with modernity itself. “All things Indian by tradition, be it caste, social structure or political structure, have stopped India from growing into a modern society. If English is eliminating tradition, it is also eliminating a culture that is caste-driven,” he said.” So well said Mr. Prasad!

The real truth no doubt is that the BJP – under Rajnath and Modi – is driving an overtly divisive campaign. It has decidedly forgotten Vajpayee’s moderate thinking. The party is strongly pulling at the Hindu heartstrings, and as a back-up, the Hindi pride as well. So now we know. This country doesn’t only belong to the Hindus. That it does. But they must also speak Hindi!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Policy aggression replaces policy paralysis….

Over the last year since Chidambaram took over the Finance Ministry, we have seen a spurt in policy aggression. Starting with the big bang reforms of September last year – which cost the UPA the support of the TMC – Chidambaram and the PM have continued with the thrust since then. The latest decisions announced yesterday should be seen as a continuance of this thrust. If policy paralysis was the bane of the Congress earlier, policy aggression is surely the talking point of today!

Who could have believed that the government (any government for that matter) could have opened up the defence sector this aggressively. Now, if the technology being used is state of the art, the FDI in this sector can go up to 49%. Ditto in telecom, where the FDI limit has been upped to 100%. If Bharti Airtel can go global and acquire a major footprint in Africa, why should we not allow the reverse as well? Ditto with the erstwhile holy cows – insurance and pension funds – where the government has reiterated its stance by promising to increase FDI to 49%. For this it needs the backing of the BJP; so now that party will get a chance to show where it stands again. Even more importantly perhaps, the government has simplified the process of attracting FDI, by making approvals in eight sectors (petroleum refining, commodity exchanges, power exchanges, stock exchanges, even single brand retail) “automatic”, not requiring the clearance of the slow-like-a-turtle FIPB.

What will the BJP do? On the one hand, it has nearly decided on making the self-proclaimed-development-champion Narendra Modi as its PM candidate. On the other hand, it has been doing everything possible to block development and reforms. It has repeated disrupted Parliament, for the flimsiest of reasons. It has repeatedly blocked the policy initiatives of the government. In insurance and pension, it has been opposing the opening up of the sector. This is bizarre, because the reputation the party had earned during its own period of rule was that of being a right-of-center party. What changed suddenly? Why does it oppose everything now? (Of course we do know how wise the party is when it says that the job of the opposition is to oppose!).

The BJP likewise opposed FDI in multi-brand retail, showing it wants to protect the baniyas. Anyone who has seen the steps taken by the Maharashtra government to stop the loot of the food baniyas knows exactly what these baniyas are capable of. As per a report in the TOI, food retailers in Maharashtra were pocketing an abnormally high profit of Rs 60 lacs per veggie per day ( These baniyas were charging as much as four times the price paid to the farmer. They were the rogues responsible for the retail food inflation. They were also responsible for fleecing the farmer. Does the BJP want to support such people? The BJP’s disdain for farmers is well known – during its rule, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat, rice and other staples rose just a pittance. In contrast, the present government has been far more generous.

So will the BJP continue with its opposition to what is decidedly policy aggression of the Congress, and risk being accused of disrupting India’s growth story? Already, its vociferous resistance to, and the threat of reversing when it came to power, the FDI policy in multi-brand retail, has led to foreign retailers waiting out. If it now continues to block FDI in other sectors, it will be blocking FDI as well as job creation. It will also have no reply to give to the people who desperately want reforms. Today’s Hindu has this “exclusive” revelation from the latest NSSO data. Poverty level reduced in the country by 15% (from 37% to 22% - a fall of more than 40%) since 2004-5. This has happened solely because of the reforms pursued by this government. Does the BJP want to oppose measure to alleviate poverty?

When one puts the BJP’s opposition to reforms alongside Modi’s zeal for big-ticket projects in his state, one gets the impression that the BJP supports only big businesses. It can give land to Maruti, GM and Tata at cheap rates to bring them to Gujarat, but it cannot empower the smaller guys to grow their business by getting foreign partners. It can see Kishore Biyani, Mukesh Ambani and Kumar Mangalam Birla get bigger and bigger in retail, but it cannot see Walmart and Carrefour come in. Is this the core of the BJP’s economic policy? Support the local moneybags and protect them from competition? Do they fund the party’s electoral campaigns?

Returning to the government, I think the Congress is looking recharged. Maybe the BJP’s projection of Narendra Modi has brought vitality back to the party! It nows sees an opponent who it can beat. It sees one who is immature, trying to replicate the success of one state over the entire country. One who travels only to the big cities, and has no clue about “real India”. One who panders to the “khaas aadmi” rather than an “aam aadmi”. One who can be brought to his knees by only releasing the correct statistics, once he has gone about spreading the wrong ones. One who believes in aggregating audiences on twitter (even though they are fake ones) rather than in the real world. The Congress feels more relaxed about its chances in 2014 now! And this has given it the confidence.

The real truth is that the Congress has covered a lot of ground since the period of paralysis. It has finally fought back its attackers – the CAG and the BJP working in tandem. There are still 9 months to go for the elections. Policy paralysis will long be forgotten by then….

Monday, July 15, 2013

Now #Feku gets his Chinese data wrong!

This is becoming a pattern. Narendra Modi, unused to the strong glare of public scrutiny until now, has been caught with his pants down yet again. This time, he told a gathering of students at Pune’s Fergusson College that China spends 20% of its GDP on education. 20%, no less! The Congress was quick to point out that the real number was 3.9%. This is bizarre. Even a 1st year B.Com student would know that 20% of any economy is an impossibility! How did Modi get it so wrong?

Now I am a firm believer in Modi’s skills of oratory. And politics. Modi doesn’t do anything “by chance”. Everything is thought through. His actions (or inactions) in Gujarat in 2002 were thought through. His “puppy” slant at the Muslims was thought through. His “burqa” comment was thought through. As was his juxtaposition of his Hindu religion ahead of Nationalist in describing himself. Equally, the business of using false statistics to impress a not-so-savvy audience is also thought through. In Gujarat, Modi used to get away with all kinds of feku behavior. No longer!

But what was even more shocking than Modi’s own goof up was the defence put up by his party folks on TV last night. While the seniors all zipped up, scrambling for cover, poor Smriti Irani ended up making a complete joke of herself by saying that Modi actually meant a 20% increase in education spends on a year-on-year basis (or that’s what I could understand of her shrieky reply)! How strange. The leader of the Gujaratis – a bunch of extremely savvy business people – doesn’t know the difference between % of GDP and % increase in spends? Sorry Smriti, you should have just apologized. A human makes mistakes…..but then Modi isn’t human is he?! Worse than Smriti Irani was Subramanian Swamy. Now we really have to understand this. Is his style always going to be to snub the Congress rep as being a “sidekick” or some such thing? In which case, what is he himself? A sidekick of the BJP? Most of his SC appeals get thrown out. He couldn’t get a patch on Chidambaram. So his frustration is understandable. But to try to show off his “economics credentials” and to achieve the exact opposite doesn’t quite speak well of this Harvard graduate! Swamy apparently tried to say that Chinese statistics were unreliable, and the real numbers were different (higher maybe?) than the official statistics. OK fine. But even after repeated questioning by the anchor, Swamy could not provide the source for what he believes is correct data (which would substantiate the 20% claim). Congress on the other hand said that the source of their 3.9% data was the Chinese official news agency Xinhua.

But then the man who can try to make a fool of the entire nation by putting out false data all the time should have been expected to do so in Pune also. After all, isn’t it Modi himself who has created this hyperbolic hype about Vibrant Gujarat attracting hundreds of billions of dollars of investments, when the reality is a merely fraction of that? Isn’t he the one who has taunted the Congress on its education spends (3.9%), when in reality the % was much smaller during the NDA regime (1.67%)? The TOI yesterday gave credit to the Congress in its edit piece – Silver linings “One of the most important areas where the UPA government has made significant gains is education, an important element in sustaining longterm growth. A rapid increase in school enrolment rates to close to 100% – and sharp decline in dropout rates – indicates major gains made despite shortfalls in quality. The results are even more impressive in higher education, where the number of students enrolled has more than doubled to 26 million in five years”.

The Hindustan Times also mentions this tweet from the junior minister of HRD “Spending on education FY-2003-04: Rs.6,800 cr. FY-2013-14: Rs.52,875 cr. Increase in technical edn: from Rs.641cr to Rs. 6518.2 cr”. Modi’s state in particular has dismal education credentials, with the same paper reporting “Modi had also been claiming credit for improvement in Gujarat's school education system. The official data, however, shows that other states have done better than Gujarat. But in Gujarat, the drop-out rate in class I-X was 57.9 % as against the national average of 49.3%. The drop-out rate was even higher for deprived sections such as Scheduled Castes and Schedule Tribes. The state also fares badly on providing mid-day meals to school children.”

But for Modi, facts are not important. Making an impression is. If its students, give them some gas about education. If it’s a women’s gathering, give the ladies some gas about women’s empowerment (HT says “The state's sex ratio dropped marginally under him from 918 girls for 1,000 boys in 2001 to 915 in 2011. It was lower than the national average of 940 in 2011. The girl drop-out rate in schools in Gujarat was higher than the national average”. And if it’s the lay voter give him a fatal dose of #fekugiri!

The real truth is that if there is one man who has truly earned all his monikers, it is Modi. Whether it is “feku” or “Hindu hriday samrat”, this man has earned each of them. He always operates in the extremes. Well now, he’s under the spotlight…..we’ll get to see more of his fun show!