Friday, August 30, 2013

Why is the BJP always so rude?

The one other word that rightly describes the BJP’s conduct in Parliament, apart from obstructionism, is “rudeness”. Whether it is senior leaders of the party or ordinary spokespeople, the common trait that all of them possess is uncouth aggression, calling others names, disallowing them from speaking, disrupting proceedings, booing ministers….The only thing left now for the party to descend to the bottommost pits is getting physical.

The BJP may want to keep two consequences of this style in mind. First, and most important I would imagine, it does not win them additional voters. All that it does is make those already supporting it swing further in support. Lay people – most of whom are not as aggressive – watch with disgust and anger when senior leaders call the PM “chor”. That too, this particular PM who is the most decent and humble PM India has ever had. Such aggression is seen as bullying tactics, the belief that whoever has more muscles is stronger, and whoever has a louder voice is more correct. Indians – trained to respect elders and the humble – don’t take kindly to it. The second fall-out of this aggressive style is that it doesn’t win the party any more allies. But that’s an old story. No one wants to align with the BJP, especially after the most aggressive of them, Narendra Modi, has been anointed as the campaign chief.

I don’t know if it is some sort of a heady smell of power that affects them all, but every BJP spokesperson – including the ladies, Smriti Irani and Meenakshi Lekhi – speak such guttural language that watching them on TV becomes a challenge. But then why blame them? They look up to their leaders for inspiration. When they see the normally dignified Arun Jaitley interrupt the PM with unproven accusations of cash-for-votes (no matter how untenable that charge; I wrote about this on Sept 6, 2011:, what inspiration do they get? When they see their PM-in-waiting call the PM names, that inspiration gets re-inforced. Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Shankar Prasad and even the usually more dignified Nirmala Seetharaman are hyper-aggressive by normal standards.

BJP leaders are even more abusive and uncouth on twitter. This is what Meenakshi Lekhi tweeted: #PMOChorHai NAHIN yeh Sarkar choro ki barat hai, hunger, inflation, scams & devaluation of Re, 157 files missing, corrupt/helpless/puppet PM???. I wonder what a lay person feels when he reads this tweet. Now I know that everyone believes the digital world is like the wild west, but data suggests otherwise. Tech expert Vijay Mukhi writes this lovely post on this:

The only other person/party that follows an equally abusive style is the Aam Aadmi Party. Some of the posters they have put up in Delhi are truly pathetic. But what about a national party like the BJP? I think that with the older brigade yielding to the younger one, the BJP is morphing. I have never heard Vajpayee or Advani use such language. Clearly, they are no longer inspirational.

Regional parties are typically the ones one would expect to engage in such language. But even regional parties adopt a much better tone and manner when they come onto the central stage. I have heard spokespeople of SP, BSP, JD(U), all on TV, and none of them come anywhere close to the BJP. The Congress is particularly careful on this front. I have never seen their spokespeople or leaders use abusive language againt BJP’s leaders. The BJP is in a permanently attacking mode, no matter what the issue. And since the party does have gifted speakers, it packs in a punch. But what does that punch deliver for the party? In my humble opinion, it only takes away potential voters. Maybe that’s why the latest India Today poll gives the NDA lesser seats in 2014 than it did six months back.

It’s the same with our TV channels. Hindi news channels have always been loud and sensationalist. That’s probably why they get such poor viewership. In terms of GRPs (Gross Rating Points – aggregation of viewership over a week), Hindi news channels collectively garner just around 120 GRPs a week. Contrast that with the GECs (General Entertainment Channels like Star, Sony, Colors, Zee) which get 10 times more at 1300 odd. Even Hindi movie channels get 5 times more at 600 odd GRPs. Even the more niche music channels manage 100 GRPs. Why do Hindi channels fare so poorly? Is it because of what they have done to their language? Is this also why newspaper, far more careful with their language, keep growing in India while they are dropping elsewhere in the world?

But what is even more shocking is the way the English news channels have gone in the last two years or so, since their language became even foul (since the CWG scam days really). As their presentation became dirtier, their GRPs crashed. Today, the top three English news channels garner a total of just 1.5 GRPs a week. This is a quarter of what it was two years back. Just think about this. Even English movies manage 20 times more at 30 GRPs a week.

The real truth is that BJP leaders/their followers/media owners all need to think about whether rude language is helping them at all. In my humble opinion, and the data justifies my viewpoint, no….

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Land acquisition will help everyone including industry….

The Land Acquisition Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha yesterday. Given the broad political support for the bill, it is likely to clear the Rajya Sabha as well. The bill has been dubbed “populist” and “vote catching” by the media. It has also been dubbed “anti-industry” by….who else….industry. Yes, the new bill will cause land acquisition costs to go up. But lets for a moment think about all the good it will do for the poor, the country…..and equally, to industry.

For the poor:

This is a no-brainer. The poor will get far better compensation than at present, at 4x market rates in rural areas and 2x in urban. The R&R measures also are quite rewarding, with a house being assured, a lump-sum payment to boot, and a job in hand as well. Besides, the process of acquisitions will be more consultative, with consent of 80% of owners mandatory.

For the country:

a)    Industrialization will spread wider: Industrialists will be forced to move further away where land prices are cheaper. Remember China is still struggling with this, with most of its growth concentrated in the East.
b)    Social unrest will be arrested: Rising income disparities, lack of employment opportunities and in general, poor living conditions, could lead to social unrest in the rural areas. The genesis of the Maoist movement is often attributed to these same factors. Again, look at China. The biggest threat to China’s sustained growth in the future is social unrest, as trampled-upon folks rise in protest against an authoritarian regime. We are a democracy, and the biggest advantage of that is that such “populist” measures actually nip future problems in the bud.
c)     Reduce law and order problems: One of the reasons for increasing law and order problems in the urban areas is the uncontrolled migration of the rural poor. If these people are retained back in their villages by jobs that are created (an R&R condition), then that will provide a relief. Further, several land owners who make a windfall from land deals end up becoming criminals when their booty runs out. Hopefully, if industry provides employment to the displaced, and re-skills them, these people will not turn to crime.
d)    Value addition in industry: At present, in most cases, Indian industry gains from labor and other cost arbitrages. Labor costs are low here, as are other costs including land. When these costs rise, industry will become uncompetitive and will be forced to vacate lower-value-add sectors and migrate to higher-value-add ones. This will improve India’s competitiveness in the long run. It will surely cause initial pain, as even the opening up of the economy caused in 1991, but just like then, the pain will be temporary.

For industry:

a)     Easier acquisition: Hopefully, land acquisition will become easier through clarity in policy. Multi-crop land can be acquired if the states choose to allow. Pricing formula is pre-determined. Land-owner protests against acquisitions will be less because of the strong economic incentive for them. Industry is worried about the “social impact assessment” – and it’s a fair worry – and the government must alleviate these worries through time-bound and objective-led processes.
b)     Far less politics: Hopefully, industry will be able to choose land more scientifically, rather than on the basis of political considerations as it has to today. The Tatas wanted land in WB, but had to go to Gujarat because one state government was stupid, the other savvy. Industry will still choose where they set up industry basis sops offered to them by state governments, but availability/pricing of land will hopefully not be a consideration.
c)      Transparency: If there is one thing industry hates (especially MNCs, who are governed by stiff anti-corruption laws in their country), it is the lack of transparency and the under-the-table dealing that it leads to. Hopefully, the new law will bring in transparency, making life easier. This should also help reduce corruption in the country.

Industry’s biggest worry is about costs going up. But because of transparency, and lesser protests, I think overall it will end up gaining. Hopefully again, if industry adapts to the pain of higher costs now, it will emerge stronger in competency later. Industry knows that anything that comes free depletes competitiveness and vice versa. China is going through the same pains but it will manage. As will Indian industry.

The real truth is that the Land Acqusition Bill will bring in a revolution – social and industrial – in the country. But most of all, it will secure our democracy. When rural areas prosper, India will prosper. No country where the rural areas have been neglected has prospered….

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dysfunctional Parliament, obstructionist politics to blame for economic woes….

Now that the rupee has descended to 69 levels, and the stock markets to 18K, it’s a free season for government bashing. The tacit message that the BJP/others are trying to propogate is that had they been ruling, things would have been different. My repeated pleas to the BJP to tell us what they would do differently have fallen on deaf ears. So I am unwilling to give them the benefit that they seek. The real reasons for the problems are elsewhere. And there are some bitter truths that we have to face up to now so that we never have to face such a situation again.

But before we get there, let’s get some basics right. Yes, our GDP has dropped off to 4.75-5% levels. But GDP growth has plummeted all over the world. Brazil, Russia, South Africa are growing under 2% each; even mighty China’s real growth rate (not the officially declared one) is estimated to be at 5-6% levels (refer Stephen Green’s comments). India continues to remain the 2nd fastest growing major country. Coming to the currency, the rupee is only one amongst so many currencies that have fallen off. These include the Indonesian Rupiah, the Turkish Lira, the Australian dollar, the South African Rand and the Brazilian Real. The only pattern here is that countries with high CAD have suffered more. Those with either a surplus or a manageable CAD have done better. China and much of SE Asia fall in this category.

Coming to the reasons why the Indian rupee is under so much stress, there are the obvious ones like a large CAD, a high inflation which has killed growth via the high interest rates loop, a high fisc deficit which again has fuelled inflation, a policy paralysis in the Executive thanks to malicious and political campaigns against it by institutions like the CAG. Since we as Indians cannot accept failures (remember we stoned Dhoni’s house when we lost a few matches?), what do we do? We shout against the government. We (or at least the BJP, now very much in desperation) demand that the government “go, in the name of god”. But would things really have been different if the BJP had been ruling?

The real problem India faces is different. The real problem is a dysfunctional Parliament and obstructionist politics. There are several subtexts to this. First, the fractured verdicts that our elections have been throwing up since the last 20 years have now started to hurt. The concept of a “strong” government looks a bit like a fairy tale. The NDA government was equally weak, with GDP growth lower than in the preceding and following periods. In contrast, several states are doing better primarily because verdicts there have been clearer.

Second, we’ve had possibly the worst opposition in the form of the BJP during UPA-2. This key statistic says it all. The least number of laws enacted by Parliament has been during this Lok Sabha. The BJP simply refuses to let Parliament function, even blocking a whole session once for a JPC to be set up to investigate the 2G “scam”. It later blocked Parliament again when the JPC’s report wasn’t to its liking. But the BJP always knew that it had a lesser chance of getting a “favorable” report with the JPC given its constitution (reflecting the UPA’s majority in the House), and its leadership (a Congress leader), than with the PAC (headed by its own Murli Manohar Joshi). The JPC was just an excuse to stall Parliament. The BJP has also demanded the resignation of the PM some 30+ times. The Anna movement provided a great background for Parliament’s disruption as well. So as much as the government is responsible, so is the BJP/opposition.

Third, as a result of the first two reasons, our “august” institutions have all started over-stepping. And becoming populist. The CAG under Vinod Rai started it all. Till date, I have not been able to understand why a government is not entitled to sell spectrum cheap as part of its policy. As a direct result of the cheap spectrum policy, subscriber numbers increased from some 250 million in 2004 to some 900 million now. We saw what a costly spectrum policy (first 3G, now 2G as well) has done to the industry. 3G has been an utter failure, and 2G is starting to flounder. Then take the coal scam. The PM who brought about auctions is being accused of plunder. The opposition which resisted auctions is being branded a hero. In both 2G and coal, the CAG threw up imaginary numbers, while the real numbers were far far smaller (a couple of hundred crores in 2G; a few cases in coal). The CAG is responsible for the policy paralysis that followed, as bureaucrats found it safer to sit on files rather than take decisions.

The SC has been no better, canceling all 122 2G licenses, when it should have only a few. Amongst those who lost their licenses were those who were absolutely clean. Why were they treated so shabbily? Then the bizarre order, which it later revised, about auctioning every single natural resource. Since when did it become the SC’s domain to make policies? Then orders on stopping iron ore mining. Its obvious why India’s mining sector is reporting negative growth rates for two years now. But does the SC do any introspection? Do we blame it for the mess in mining? Not at all.

And lastly, our media, the so called 4th-estate, is the most irresponsible, most illiterate and most politicized media anywhere in the world. In its struggle to gain TRPs (and advertising monies), media is happy to sensationalize. Essential virtues like honesty in reporting, giving both sides an equal representation, etc are given a go-by. Just look at the “expert panels” the channels put up during prime time. The ruling government (which has a majority in Parliament) is always in a minority on the panel. So it gets badgered every single night. This makes for TRP-busting TV, but is very irresponsible journalism.

If the ratings agencies are threatening to downgrade India, it is not because of the present government. It is because they see India no different after 2014. The fractured verdicts will continue; the governments will continue to be weak, and the institutions will continue to over-reach. This is the bane of Indian democracy. And we need to do something about this.

I have proposed this in the past. Essentially, an “anti-defection” kind of law needs to be brought to bear on alliances. A party that joins a government cannot leave the alliance till the Lok Sabha’s term ends. If it still does, then it’s members get disqualified for the rest of the term. A “whip” must apply to the whole alliance, not just to a party. Blackmailing the main party must stop. Once we have political stability, we will have better governance. Today, a ruling party has to think ten times before taking tough steps. Any member of the alliance can walk out and create a crisis. DMK/TMC have shown us this.

Stronger verdicts are the main reason why state governments are functioning better. But “functioning better” is party agnostic. The BJP’s Gujarat, MP and Chhatisgarh are doing well, but Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Himachal were messed up. The Congress’s AP, Haryana, Maharashtra and Delhi are all doing well too. Regional parties like the BJD, JD(U) are doing as well, supported by strong mandates. Yes, there are some aberrations. A strong government in UP is still floundering. But on balance, a strong majority leads to stability and better governance and vice-versa.

The real truth is that we must look at ways and means of delivering stronger goverments at the center; either single-party ones or alliances which aren’t allowed to disintegrate once formed. It’s not about the  Congress or the BJP. It’s not about the UPA or the NDA. Differences between them are about ideology (secularism v/s Ram Mandir; aam aadmi v/s khaas aadmi; farmer v/s baniya etc), not about better governance or better people….

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

“In the name of god”, Yashwant Sinha should tell us what his ideas are!

Yashwant Sinha made a fervent (some would say desperate) plea for the Government to “go, in the name of god”. He “blasted” the government and Chidambaram in particular over the economic crisis facing the country. It was an impassioned plea…..but it makes me ask him “Do you have any ideas of your own to run the government sir?” or are you “opposing because you are the opposition party”?

Because honestly, if Yashwant Sinha was to ask himself what he has enunciated so far in terms of ideas and plans, there is pretty much nothing that he would get. He writes often in the Economic Times, and I have read every piece with interest, but frankly, there is very little of suggestions that I have found. For starters, can he at least please tell us what his party really thinks about the Food Security Bill? He personally thinks the food bill is “ridiculous” (to Barkha Dutt of NDTV), but he also adds that his party doesn’t necessarily agree with him. Well he is right. If his party has any problem with the bill at all, it is that it is totally inadequate! Narendra Modi made this point at his independence day speech that the poor family’s food quota has been reduced from 35 kgs per family to 25 kgs. He also demanded that the prices be lowered even further. Can Yashwant Sinha please help us with reconciling these intra-party differences?

And when he has done that, can he please reconcile his party’s position with the NDA’s? Because last night on TV, it was becoming a little funny. Naresh Gujral of the SAD kept insisting that there is no additional spend the government is incurring through the Food bill! His numbers indicated that the government is already spending Rs 1.25 lac crores on its various schemes, and hence there is absolutely no increase! It’s just a re-packaging exercise! And like Narendra Modi, he also hinted that the government is cheating the poorest of the poor by reducing their quota from 35 kgs to 25! Now who is right? Yashwant Sinha who claimed to NDTV that the Food Bill will, in reality, cost more than Rs 3 lac crores, or Naresh Gujral, his own ally, who claimed that it would cost “the same as now” at Rs 1.25 lac crores? And can he please elaborate how the Chhatisgarh government’s food scheme – which is even more expansive than the center’s – is great while the center’s is “ridiculous”? And finally, can he also explain how the central food bill prevents state governments from continuing to give the 35 kgs instead of 25? After all, the central bill only “guarantees” 25 kgs; it doesn’t say states cannot go beyond? Nor does it state that states cannot continue to offer grains at prices cheaper than the center’s price.

Once Yashwant Sinha clarifies his position on the food bill, can he then please tell us how he would handle the economy. Because as the principal opposition party, it is his party’s responsibility to show us an alternate vision. After all, the BJP seems to really like the US Presidential system right? In that system, Romney and Obama both painted their visions for their people. Can Yashwant Sinha do that please?

Because some of his statements seem inchoate. And shallow. Now knowing that he is a very well informed (and clever) man, I fail to understand how he demands that the government should provide work to the poor in “roads, infrastructure” (NDTV interview) instead of food, but at the same time,  his party always complains about the  MNREGA which does precisely that?

And then again, he blamed the Food  Security bill for “sending the wrong signal to the market”, perhaps in the context of the stock market crash, but can he tell us how so many currencies around the world have crashed at the same time as the rupee has, and how the stock markets crashed worldwide last night, including Dubai’s by 7% and even the sturdy Nasdaq by 2%? Yashwant Sinha’s credibility is on the line here. He doesn’t want to sound like a perpetual cribber. He is much better than that. He has to elaborate on his vision.

Take reforms. It appears that there is a dichotomy between what the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, headed by him, has recommended with respect to FDI in Insurance (keeping it at 26%), and what his NDA government thought when it was in power. Why is he unable to recommend the same 49% now? Why can’t he send the right signal to the market?

The few places the BJP has clarified its position, it sounds like an anti-reform, anti-moderate (and of course anti-secular) party. What we do know is that the party doesn’t like FDI that much any longer. At least not in the retail sector where it is compelled to protect the interests of the small number of baniyas, even at the expense of the larger farmer community. We also know that it believes in a “muscular” foreign policy, even though it is unable to explain why it was so soft towards Pakistan and Musharraf when it was ruling. We now know that it doesn’t want a central act on Lokpal which includes the Lok Ayukta, in spite of its commitment to Anna Hazare in the Lok Sabha, probably because of the embarassment it would cause his party in Gujarat. We also know that it didn’t favor auctions in coal. And lastly, we also know that it supports the Congress in keeping political parties out of the ambit of the RTI, as well as in keeping convicted politicians in Parliament. Now is this what Yashwant Sinha wants us to remember when he asks the government to “go in the name of god”? Nah!

The real truth is that Yashwant Sinha sounded a tad too desperate when he chose those particular words to attack the Congress. He also allowed Chidambaram to remind him that he had made a similar demand in 2009, and the people had returned the Congress to power with even more numbers. We know Yashwant Sinha as a wise man; he must however continue reminding us why we must continue thinking like that…..

Monday, August 26, 2013

Here’s why the Food Security Bill won’t disturb fiscal deficit….

The Congress’s pet project – for which it has been needlessly derided – got the Lok Sabha’s approval last night. I say needlessly, because I am still to find one opposition party that has opposed the bill. Yes, many of them are complaining in hushed voices, or in private, but that’s more because the Congress has stolen a march over them. They know this bill will be a big election issue. Their lame complaint is that this will destroy the government’s finances. That India cannot afford the Rs 1.25 lac crores estimated will be needed annually. In my mind, that’s baloney.

Here’s why. First and foremost, the central government already provides more than Rs 75,000 crores as food subsidy. Assuming that the full Rs 1.25 lac crores is needed now, that’s an additional burden of Rs 50,000 crores. Though big, that’s really not such a big deal in today’s India. There are various ways the government can “adjust” this extra allocation to food.

One major thrust of this government, and which will help in accommodating the additional food subsidy bill, is the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme. This is perhaps what food minister Thomas had in mind when he said that the PDS has a 20-25% leakage. The way to fix it is to bypass the PDS at some point in time. DBT is the way for that. Cash in bank accounts moves electronically, without interference from corrupt middlemen. Cash in banks gives dignity to recipients, since they don’t have to go with folded hands before rapacious shopkeepers. Equally, cash in banks provides anonymity to the poor; again removing the ignominy that recipients often feel.

As per a report in the TOI dated April 29th, (, “Integration of direct cash transfer with Aadhaar will take time but the scheme will help Indian government save 0.5 per cent of the GDP, International Monetary Fund said today. The total savings could be substantial: if the combination of direct cash transfer and Aadhaar eliminates the estimated 15 per cent leakage cited above for the programmes being integrated, savings could total 0.5 per cent of GDP in addition to the gains from the better targeting of spending on the poor," the IMF said in its Regional Economic Outlook: Asia and Pacific report. That 0.5% of GDP translates to Rs 50,000 crores, exactly the excess required for the Food Security Bill. Another article in the TOI on 1st April, 2013 ( says “Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) calculations show that direct transfer of food and fertilizer subsidies in cash to targeted beneficiaries has the potential to save almost Rs 60,000 crore, without any major adverse impact on the beneficiaries”.

There is another thing that the Congress will do eventually. It will cut fuel subsidies; at least the ones on petrol and diesel. Fuel losses were estimated to be as high as Rs 1.6 lac crores in 2012-13, of which the Central government picked up Rs 1 lac crore (the rest was paid by ONGC etc). But with price hikes, that number is estimated to come down significantly, to something like Rs 20,000 crores in 2013-14. Had the rupee not depreciated so much, the government may well have succeeded. Unfortunately, that may take some time now. But even the Food Security Bill will take time to roll out. By the time it does, the savings in fuel subsidy would have already happened.

In short, when Sonia Gandhi said “Many people ask if we have resources for this. I just want to tell them that the issue is not if we have resources -- we will have to find the resources. Some ask if this can be done. I tell them the issue is not if we can do it or not – we have to do it”, she knew what she was speaking. The fisc is not the worry.

The Food Security Bill is really about what kind of a country we want to be. Do we want hundreds of millions of starving poor in our backyards? Or do we owe them a decent life? Its fashionable for intellectuals to complain against the subsidy culture of the Congress. These intellectuals may want to keep a few things in mind. Firstly, like I said earlier, no political party has opposed the Bill. In fact, Narendra Modi wanted even more food grains to be given and at even cheaper prices. Secondly, food security is the “burden” urban middle/rich classes must bear to ensure the country’s wealth is “re-distributed”. Sharing hurts, but it hurts more to see people dying of hunger. Thirdly, in most countries, the poor are taken care of “directly”, not via the circuitous route of higher-growth-more-jobs etc. The debate between Bhagwati and Sen is alright, but when the rubber hits the road, it is Sen who delivers to the poor. That’s why he won the Noble prize, not Bhagwati. Fourthly, the urban middle/rich classes should keep in mind that the Food Security will help them only by preventing wide-scale social revolutions arising from income disparity. A capitalistic model can only survive when there is a parallel redistribution model at work. And lastly, of course its politics for the Congress. That’s why it listed this in its manifesto in 2009. The focus of the party is the rural/urban poor. Just like the BJP’s is the urban baniyas. So what’s wrong if the Congress protect its vote banks?

One last word. Why does the debate have to be the way Bhagwati and Sen shaped it? Why does it have to be “growth” v/s “subsidy”. Because the Congress supports subsidies does not mean that it doesn’t favor growth. In fact, the highest growth rate recorded in India has been under UPA-1 and UPA-2. The Congress has shown that both can go hand in hand. The debate should be about which subsidies are good, and which are bad, not about whether subsidies are good or bad.

The real truth is that the Food Security Bill is the right thing to do. As a nation, all of us should feel proud that we take care of the poor. That’s the kind of nationalism I like. Of course, we’ll have to pay more for fuel. Of course, we’ll feel a part of the pain. But at least we will be able to sleep peacefully in the night knowing we have done our bit for the poor.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Ten reasons to feel cheerful about the economy….

In an age when gloomy stories occupy front pages of newspapers, and prime times on TV, and doomsday scenarios are overdone, one has to search closely to see what’s really happening in the economy. This becomes especially difficult when the rupee has crashed by 20% or so and the stock market has come off its recent peaks. But the effort is well worth it. For the finding is that the India story is intact. The government’s policy paralysis has surely changed to policy activism. Here are ten stories from today’s papers which should set the mood for the week ahead:

1)    FDI: ET reports that FDI inflows in Q1 this year were $9.1 billion, a full 70% more than year ago. If this does not speak of the confidence of foreign investors in the Indian economy, what will? Better, this is not just a flash in the pan. Expectation is that FDI inflows will be another $5-6 billion in Q2, on the back of deals like Etihad, Yes Bank, Mylan, Hexaware Technologies, Ikea, Air Asia and many many more.
2)    Cabinet Committee on Investments: The CCI set up by the government and announced during the budget has been on an overdrive. Business Standard reports that the CCI is set to clear projects worth more than Rs 1.7 lac crores of investments, stuck for various reasons such as environmental issues and fuel supply linkage problems. Specifically, 18 power projects worth Rs 82,000 crores are likely to get the go-ahead with the coal ministry being directed to sign fuel supply agreements by August 31st. The list also identifies 10 other projects worth more than Rs 92,000 crores which will be cleared by September 30th.
3)    PSU disinvestment: With a huge Rs 55000 crore disinvestment target, ET reports that the ball is expected to start to roll with full divestment in two companies – Hindustan Zinc (Govt share 29.5%) and Balco (49%). If all goes to plan, the government could get as much as Rs 30,000 crores; most of it in foreign investment.
4)    Two stuck UMPPs – government clears re-pricing issue: With imported coal prices surging on the back of price increases in Indonesia and elsewhere, the two UMPPs in Mundra (Adani, Tata Power) have been stuck. ET reports that the government, in a pragmatic negotiation with the promoters, and with help from industry experts, have closed the talks with a per-unit price increase ranging from 40-60 paise.
5)    Two new UMPP auctions: The Hindu Business Line reports that the center has cleared the auctions of two new UMPPs – one in Odisha and another in TN – with a total investment potential of Rs 40,000 crores and a power generation capacity of 8000 MW.
6)    Exports: Exports rose by 11.6% in July on the back of a weak rupee and an economic uptick in the US and Europe to reach $26 billion. What is more important is that the exports rush is expected to continue in August with Rafeeque Ahmed, President, Federation of Indian Exporters Organizations quoted in the Indian Express as saying the growth could be as high as 15%. Exports could cross $330 billion during the current year.
7)    Gas price resolution will improve production: PMS Prasad, Executive Director of RIL says in the ET that even at the higher rate approved by the government recently, domestic gas is cheaper than imported LNG by 40% and by oil by 60% (equivalent energy units). Far from being inflationary, the price of $8.4 per million BTU will lower prices of power/fertilizers etc if used to substitute more costly oil/imported LNG. Business Standard quotes UK major BP’s Indian head as writing to Yashwant Sinha, Head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance, that 27 trillion cubic feet of discovered gas resources (or 9 fields of the size of Reliance’s KG-D6) await being put on production. By extrapolation, we should expect gas discovery to start in right earnest now.
8)    Big moves on 2G: A few weeks back, the DoT referred the 2G reserve fee matter to the TRAI. After going through the motions, TRAI has given feelers that it is likely to recommend drastically lower reserve fees. What this implies for the politics of 2G is another story by itself – proving the CAG’s report to be full of gas! But in another story in ET today, the DoT is likely to ask TRAI for its views on spectrum sharing. Now this is another game changer, which can make usage more efficient, besides providing telcos more operating flexibility, and hopefully lower spectrum costs.
9)    Parliament may work! This is a big deal these days. With the Speaker having disqualified 12 MPs, and with the BJP on the back foot for its obstructionism, the Lok Sabha is likely to pass the Land Acquisition Bill and others (Pensions etc) this week or soon thereafter. The Government has extended the session by a week too. Fingers crossed!
10)                       And other good stories: And finally, an article in The Hindu Business Line by Aarati Krishnan “Four bright spots in the economy” show how kind rain gods are likely to give the GDP a boost, and rural consumption a bigger kick! This should be good news to wide sectors of the economy considering 55% of the Indian GDP is made up of consumption.

The real truth is that we need to figure out how we want to approach the current “troubled” times. Those who are politically opposed to this government are bound to play up the negatives, as if all of those are of India’s own making. But those who choose to be neutral will note that the gloom is lifting. And that there is a lot to cheer!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

84-Kosi parikrama nothing but politics….

Everyone knows what happened in Ayodhya in 1992; a centuries old monument came down and a new, deep and permanent divide set foot into the country’s politics. That event led to several other related incidents in later years, the most infamous of which has to be what happened in Godhra and later in Gujarat in 2002. What’s the lesson we learnt from all this? That we should organize more divisive religious yatras? Or less?

Newspaper reports indicate that the traditional 84-kosi-parikrama is held in April-May during the month of “Chaitra”. This year’s yatra has already been completed in the same months. There is no religious excuse left for this new parikrama. Everyone knows what the real reason is, and what the likely result, and yet there is no way anyone can prevent it from happening. Irrespective of how the UP government handles the situation, the polarization of UP has begun yet again; not surprisingly, just a few months before election season starts in right earnest.

The BJP has expectedly “supported” its sister outfit, as if it had any other choice. Rather, as if it had any other plans. Everyone knows that the 2014 strategic plan of the BJP centers around religious polarization. Poster boy Narendra Modi has already declared his intentions by putting up provocative messages of “Hindu nationalism”. And with his “puppy” and “burqua” comments. He has also sent Amit Shah, an accused in the Sohrabuddin-fake-encounter case, as the campaign chief of the tinderbox state of UP. I had predicted then itself that the party will do something dramatic in UP. This could well be it.

On the face of it, no one can object to a religious yatra. After all, we have the freedom to practice our faith. So when Sushma Swaraj says “Yatra is a fundamental right of every citizen. We have our right to movement”, she knows no one can fault her. But who decides at which point a faith yatra becomes a political one? In 1992, when the Babri Masjid came crashing down, political leaders washed their hands off and said this was the people’s action, not their, even though they were right there giving fiery speeches and almost egging their followers on. They even forgot their commitment to the Supreme Court that the masjid would not be harmed. “It wasn’t us” became their chant. How do we know that this yatra won’t end up the same way? How do we know that thousands more won’t die?

The UP government has cited a 2011 SC order asking for status quo to be maintained at Ayodhya to deny permission to the VHP. A PIL on the yatra was also thrown out by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court yesterday on the grounds that the yatra couldn’t be called a “custom”. And yet the yatra will be held in the six districts surrounding and including Ayodhya. All of this makes the present situation eerily similar to what prevailed in 1992.

That’s why the objective of the yatra looks political. It’s a highly “muscular” form of practice of religion. True believers in faith keep their eyes on the deeper meaning of religion – maintaining harmony at all times while practicing one’s own faith. They don’t get distracted with meaningless ego trips of the sort that appears to be going on. The whole idea of the yatra appears to be to provoke the Hindu into fearing that his religious freedom is under threat; when in reality there is no such thing at all. After all, Hindus are the majority community, with more than an 80% share. How can the freedom of such a large majority ever be throttled?

Here’s what is likely to happen now. There will be violence in UP; maybe even in Ayodhya. I hope it doesn’t happen, but a few innocents could die as well. The SP government will be shown to be the villain. TV channels will immaturely, irresponsibly and indecently amplify the violence. They will engage in SP bashing. It will make every Hindu in the country sit up and take note. Every Hindu will feel the only savior is the BJP. They will dissolve their differences and vote for the party. That’s what the plan is anyways. It happened that way following 1992. The only time the BJP/Shiv Sena formed a government in Maharashtra (between 1995-99) was in the aftermath of the Babri demolition. Those kinds of passions have never been raised again. The 84-kosi yatra attempts to do that now.

The yatra is tailor made to give political mileage to the BJP. For the SP, it’s a no-win situation. I do not agree that the SP is hand in glove with the VHP on this; that it will use the yatra to burnish its pro-minority credentials. I think it will lose face; as any violence and any loss of lives will be shown to be its “poor governance”. The Congress has already criticized the yatra. So its bound to be shown playing the minority appeasement card as well. All in all, this is a political masterstroke, one that is bound to succeed for the BJP.

The real truth is that nothing sounds correct about this VHP yatra. It seems like a political move by the right-wing, enacted by the VHP. We’ll know soon what happens, but my forecast is that this will spin out of control….

Friday, August 23, 2013

Coalgate files: Much ado about nothing….

I know its election time. And meaningless issues will be blown sky high for political gains. Even at the expense of the functioning of the country’s Parliament. But the issue of the Coalgate missing files, and the mudslinging that has followed, defies even minimalistic logic.

So several files related to allocations, and screening committee minutes went missing. And while that reflects the pathetic state of working in India, what was the opposition’s charge? That the Government had intentionally lost the files (silly, because the government would know it alone would be embarrassed). That the files related to allocations made to Congress leaders (opposition quoted “reports” but did the reports quote anyone?!). That since the files related to the period during which the PM was looking after coal, he was responsible (that’s why he must reply right? In which case, who must reply for files of NDA period lost?). For the opposition, the loss of files was an excellent opportunity to say something to the effect that this was proof that the government was corrupt and hiding the facts. Media was happy to amplify this and the rest of the developments followed the standard pattern – Parliament was disrupted, the Houses stalled, and most Bills remained Bills and didn’t become laws.

But nobody thought of just pausing and using that little organ that God has given all of us called the brain. For if they had done that, then they would have realized that it is virtually impossible for files to get lost in the government. There are literally tens of copies of every single document made. If an application was filed, there would be copies sent to several ministries apart from the coal ministry. If the screening committee met, the minutes would be circulated to at least a dozen attenting members, and to several more for the purpose of documentation. No government can ever attempt any such thing as accused.

And yet, the opposition accused the government of cover-up.  Had the government wanted to cover up, were they going to destroy every single copy in every single ministry? What about copies that were filed with the opposition ruled states? Were all of them simultaneously destroyed? The opposition was giving too much credit to the government; it is simply not that competent!

That aside, all the files were already available with the CAG’s office, and the CAG already said that. But was anyone interested in hearing them? No, because that would have killed the story! The story stayed on for several days, and several prime time TV shows got created, only because the files stayed missing!

Some months back, when the Maharashtra government offices caught fire, the anchor of a particular channel had similarly spun the conspiracy theory. As per him, the government had intentionally created the fire so as to destroy the Adarsh scam files! We have such creative news anchors, better even than the best guys who work for our entertainment channels! That’s probably why a friend once said: our news channels are no different from entertainment channels. Only they are in the “Horror” genre! Even in that case, the CM kept insisting that all files were available and none had been lost, but how else could the masala for several lean days be obtained if not by calling the files missing!

And then this completely bizarre demand that the PM should respond in Parliament since some of the files related to his period. But didn’t the files get misplaced now? Shouldn’t the current Coal Minister’s reply suffice, if the opposition’s interest really was in getting to the truth? And if this principle was to be followed, then shouldn’t the NDA coal minister answer questions related to files of his period?! Bizarre doesn’t even start to describe this; stupid does.

One last point. Why would the government do such a thing? Who was the loser in the entire episode? Only the government! Surely the government knew what to expect. Isn’t it possible that moles loyal to the opposition actually created all this up? Just think about it. In the world of conspiracies, this is a better one than the government losing the files!

The only question that was relevant was why the Government took so much time in turning over these files to the CBI. That of course didn’t get adequate attention. If only one could focus on that, many of our governance issues would be sorted out. For the truth is that governments (all of them, including the NDA one) work so slowly that a few months delay is hardly anything. The same CBI that sent repeated reminders to the coal ministry can also be accused of delays at its end. Infrastructure projects that roll off today were started several years/decades back. When Praful Patel ordered planes for Air India after a process than took 17 months, he was accused of “too much speed”! And our courts? They sit on cases for decades. What’s a few months in this context? In my mind, if the files reached the CBI in a few months, that’s a remarkable achievement, deserving of some national award! It indicates “sincerity” of government, not an attempt to cover up!

The real truth is that the missing coal files was just an excuse to stall Parliament. The opposition is petrified that this government has started to move. Policy paralysis is converting to policy activism. The Food Security Bill is a game changer (that’s why the BJP keeps reminding us of its own state governments having done this earlier, and better). What else can they do but stall Parliament? And did they succeed? Hugely! 88% of this session’s time has been destroyed so far (today’s TOI). As far as the country is concerned…..well, who cares????

Monday, August 19, 2013

Economy down….but anyone got any better ideas????

The economy appears to be in a “crisis”, thanks to the consistent fall of the rupee, and the temporary fall of the stock market. Well, just for the record, the GDP growth is expected to be higher this year than it was last year. So India may actually have overcome the worst. But still, there is a political rhetoric building against the government. And that’s fair in a democracy. But what would also be fair is for the opposition to tell the people what their own plans would be. Is that happening? Are opposition parties bursting with ideas that the government is not listening to? Nah!

Before we get to that, let’s look at how the Congress is handling this so called crisis. The Congress understands that while there are huge external factors that have caused this decline (and no one can deny that), there are things that are “local” in nature and under its control. It’s efforts are focused there. For example, the thrust of all the economic policies of the last one year, since Chidambaram took over, has been to “liberalize” and “reform” (words that the opposition seem not to understand). That’s why the FDI policy has been opened up. That’s why the insurance FDI limit is sought to be raised. That’s why the pension sector has been opened up. That’s why the Finance Minister has exhibited so much flexibility on the GST. That’s why the Commerce Minister has announced sops to exporters. That’s why the PM has set up the CCI, which has cleared projects worth more than Rs 1 lac crores (ET, yesterday). But there are limits to what can be done by the Executive. The insurance bill won’t go through since the opposition wont allow it. The foreign retailers – who could invest billions and create jobs in the millions – won’t come because the opposition threatens that they will revoke the policy if they came to power. The 2G auctions will only stumble through slowly and painfully because everyone from the Hon’ble SC to the CAG have wanted to write policies. And worse, because in any case the House is not allowed to function on most days. So while the Congress is doing the best it can, the opposition is hardly doing anything to help.

Lets look at what great ideas our opposition parties have given so far. Take the principal opposition party first. All of those who thought the subsidy culture of the Congress (the Food bill, MNREGA, etc) was responsible for the state of affairs (high fiscal deficit etc) should note that the BJP is supporting the Food Bill. In fact, it highlights the Chhatisgarh government’s Food Bill which is apparently even more generous. In fact, the question the party is asking is “why is the food allocation 25 Kgs and not 35, and why is the price of rice Rs 3 and not Rs 2?”. Take fuel subsidies. Yes, the BJP removed administrative controls when they were in power. Yet, when the government increases fuel prices now, they consistently oppose them. What about reforms? The BJP has steadfastly opposed most FDI proposals – be it insurance, multi-brand retail etc. What about coal mining? I haven’t heard the BJP say they want mining opened up to the private sector. In fact, it appears the party’s CMs opposed the efforts of the PM to auction coal mines back then when he was handling coal. The BJP does talk about “governance” and “development”, but gives no plans to convince us. The performance of one or two states cannot be evidence. There are good performing run under all parties.

What about the Left parties. One has to give it to them. If nothing, they are consistent! They oppose anything (well, most things) to do with FDI, especially if the currency is the $. That’s why they don’t like anything this government does (well, almost!). They also don’t like the private sector very much. That’s why they accuse the government of favoring companies when it increased the cost of natural gas recently. But what do they really want? Do they tell us what they would do? Here’s what senior CPM leader Sitaram Yechuri said, as quoted in The New Indian Express ("The Prime Minister has virtually failed to tackle the situation. We demand immediate alteration of policies being pursued by the government,". Yes, but what alteration? Then again: “If this rate (of fall in the Rupee value) continues, the Rupee will soon touch Rs 80 per US dollar”. But we already know that, and do you have another idea? Then again: “The economic policies of the government have brought the economy at the same place as we started in 1991, two decades down the line”. A good rant, but again, no ideas. And ending with their favorite subject “FDI in retail has shown this (that FDI was not a panacea for all economic ills). Not a single FDI has come in the retail trade sector. They have burnt their fingers (by allowing FDI in retail). Now they are opening up insurance and telecom sectors to FDI." So the drift is consistent and clear!

What about our economists? Most understand the subject better, but don’t seem to have any consensus amongst themselves on more than a few issues. Most believe subsidies should be cut. Most believe the economy should be liberalized further. Most believe FDI must be welcomed. Most, but not all. And again, most don’t have the same view on other subjects. There is wide disparity between economists on whether the RBI should fight the rupee slide at all. Should it rather focus on inflation and/or growth?

That’s why the government has to act on its own belief. And be patient. The government does not appear to be in panic. Chidambaram and the PM know what is to be done. And they are going about doing it. Will it take time? Yes. But is the direction clear? Absolutely. Even the worst critics of the government are not saying that GDP growth could be less than last year’s 5%. These critics often quote China’s growth to mock the government. Well, they should read up. There is a growing disbelief with China’s official statistics. Several economists are now questioning their numbers. Stephen Green of the Standard Chartered Bank has been most vocal. He believes China may have grown by just 5.5% last year and not by 7.8% that it claims ( “Lies, damn lies, and China's economic statistics”, Aug 15th). Quite a fall, wouldn’t you say?!

The real truth is that the times are bad, and we are bound to suffer. Anyone who has ideas should contribute. But what do we see across the political spectrum? Criticism, and nothing else….Those who quote the US Presidential system and demand a face-to-face debate between opposing sides should know that to do that, each side must have their own strategies. And vision. Do they have them?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It appears that my blog is being misused and incorrectly circulated by certain quarters. I am not responsible for such recirculation. I reiterate that my blog contained statements which were inaccurate and incorrect. I have already expressed regret for the same and I have also apologized to Mr. Jaitley. I would like that this matter rests here.

Unqualified apology to Mr. Arun Jaitley

Unqualified apology to Mr. Arun Jaitley: A few days back, I wrote a post on Mr. Jaitley. It appears the facts of the post were wrong. I regret the post, and have since removed it. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Jaitley for this.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

VHP/Maruti give Modi a chance to show he has changed….

Narendra Modi is trying very hard to show that he has turned. He has been meeting Muslim intellectuals – and even hugging them! – to prove that. He is also trying to show that he is not autocratic, but believes in discussions, debates, differences in viewpoints and the like. Well, two stories in the papers today offer Modi a chance to prove himself. One is that of VHP hooligans vandalizing an art exhibition featuring Pakistani artists. The other is about 5000 villagers protesting against the Modi government’s decision to give away agricultural land (wrongly calling it revenue “wasteland”) to Maruti for setting up its plant there. Will Modi seize this opportunity?

Will he deploy his state’s police to ferret out the VHP’s trouble makers? And show them that there is no place for vandalism, no matter who the perpetrators? Or will he just put up a sham search, and forget the issue, giving friendly VHP a happy escape? He is accused of doing the VHP’s bidding in 2002, when he allegedly looked the other way after the Godhra incident. Does he have it in him to take on the VHP now? There is the temptation to just take advantage of the sentiment against Pakistan, especially in a city like Ahmedabad. He can project going easy on the VHP as proof of his “hardline” policy against the neighbor. His PR machinery can exploit this to the hilt. After all, in today’s surcharged political environment, who cares for a little liberal cultural mindset, a little fineness in differentiating between troops and artists? It’s a great opportunity to flaunt “nationalism” right? So what will he do?

And what about the protestors whose lands have been forcibly acquired by Modi’s government? In any other state, the government would have put a temporary stop to the project and started an enquiry.The government would hear the protestors out, maybe sweeten the monetary offer, search for alternate land for them…...something/anything that is expected in a democratic set-up. Or will Modi make Maruti a prestige issue? After all, some time back, when it decided to set up a plant outside its base in Haryana, and in Gujarat, it helped Modi show how Gujarat was more pro-industry than that Congress-ruled state. So how will Modi tackle these protests? In his trademark autocratic style or a new democratic way?

Just as a benchmark to measure Modi against, consider the recent protests against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in TN. A bunch of protestors, numbering perhaps less than a thousand, held up the opening of the plant for more than a year. And this, when the plant was already completed; and when Rs 14000 crores had already been invested. Even as most of us fretted against the Center’s seeming dilly-dallying, and the state’s CM played politics (even though her state was ti be the biggest beneficiary), the central government deployed one negotiator after another to pacify the crowds. Even former President APJ Abdul Kalam was sent to meet them and reassure them that the plant was safe. The courts had the time to intervene too, hearing out one PIL after another. And even though there were clear signs that the protestors were being funded by external forces for their own reasons, the central government went through the painful, slow, frustrating process of trying to get everybody on board. It did not crush the agitation. This is how things work in a democracy. Things move slowly, but everybody is part of the decision.

Having set the benchmark, lets ask again: What will Modi do with these protestors? Will he have the patience to go through this democratic process? All his rabid supporters will no doubt want him to steamroll the protests and move ahead. That’s good governance after all, right? Taking quick decisions, and not letting anyone stall the work, is his style right? That’s how the Chinese do things, right? They decide on a deadline, and they deliver, no matter what? And Modi is like the Chinese, no? No, make that better than the Chinese. Not like the feeble West Bengal Left Front politicians, who couldn’t keep the Tatas in their state (and who he happily netted as well)? Not like the lame Maharashtra Congress/NCP leaders who are still negotiating with land owners at Jaitapur for setting up India’s biggest nuclear power plant right? Modi likes to project himself as decisive, right? Like Sardar Patel. His word is the writ of the state. Once Modi says something, consider it done. That’s his word to industry right? That’s why all corporate honchos like him right? So what will Modi do?

These two challenges will come in handy for Modi if and when he ascends the PM’s throne. He will realize that what worked in Gujarat, may not work outside. People outside Gujarat are a lot more politically conscious. Modi figured the pulse of the Gujaratis – his hardline stance against Muslims is a result of that – but the pulse of people outside pounds to a different beat. People have a voice. They want to be heard. They will not be cowed down. If it takes time, so be it. As and when, and if, Modi realizes this, and learns the lesson, he will understand why every state in India cannot grow as fast as Gujarat. And then, he may start to appreciate why the performance of other states, who hold democracy up – like Maharashtra, Haryana, Bihar, AP, Delhi, Orissa and others – is so credible. Why their growth, albeit a little slower, is so much more “inclusive”. It may puncture his development agenda a bit, but it will bolster his acceptability quite a lot.

The real truth is that Modi is so far used to a particular autocratic style in Gujarat. Muzzle the minorities. Brutalize Pakistanis. Condone VHP’s aggressive Hinduism. Trample farmer rights in the name of big industry. This style unfortunately doesn’t work outside Gujarat. This is a golden chance for him to change it….

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Modi’s speech: Strong on rhetoric….very poor on content

Modi is a good orator. That was on full display yesterday. But the problem with his speech was the problem that every good orator faces. The content tends to be poor, maybe because the content is typically given a go-by. That’s then the most accurate description of Modi’s speech: entertaining (to his fans), but zero in content. The PM’s speech in contrast was statesmanlike, non-partisan, and well chosen for the moment. As an Indian, I felt proud that the country was making progress, even as it was struggling on several fronts.

Modi’s problem is something that is well known to the corporate world. It is said that a “decked up” presentation, with lots of visuals and graphs and smart lines and all, has very little real “juice” in it. Shoddily packaged presentations on the other hand have better content. Here’s something similar from the world of advertising. Big brands like Pepsi have realized that when they hire a big star – Shahrukh or Sachin for example – the “creative quotient” of the ad drops. While the ad creates good PR, it hardly does anything for the brand in real terms. Want one more example? Take movies. Typically (with the exception of Aamir’s films), the bigger the star, the poorer the script! The best films, from a content perspective, are those which have smaller stars!

The exact same thing happened yesterday. Modi delivered a speech which was high on rhetoric, low on content. Shorn of that rhetoric, the speech was low brow, and in terms of decency (something that clearly doesn’t matter much to Modi) very guttural. The TOI reports that Modi referred to the PM 49 times in 50 minutes. A man who is so busy trying to be PM should instead have spoken 49 minutes about his vision for the country. The people already know what the PM’s vision is. They’ve seen him for 9 years.

That brings me to the general point of the kind of language BJP leaders and supporters speak. With 100% guarantee, I can say that this post will be panned, and I will be personally attacked. I will be called a Congress stooge, a paid blogger, a moron…..some will even use the most crass of Hindi abuses against me. In the world of a “Sanghi”, there can be no opposing view to theirs. In a style that reminds us of Bush’s famous “You are either with us. Or against us”, anyone who opposes Modi and the BJP are portrayed as anti-national, “soft” (in military terms), muslim-appeasers, and god knows what. So its hardly surprising that Modi’s language was also harsh.

He spoke about being tough with Pakistan and China. But that made me wonder why he doesn’t first encourage more Gujaratis to join the Army? There is a joke that the slimmest book ever written is the one containing the names of Gujaratis in the Army. Modi’s admiration for China is well known. He likes the authoritarian style of its leadership and the single-party rule there. But does he also know that China is no pushover militarily and that India needs to be “smart” rather than the street bully who flashes his karate moves to threaten his opponent but is instead shot in the head with a gun (remember Harrison Ford in Raiders….?!)? His statements on the “which rocket” in the context of the PM’s honest “a lot needs to be done”, and “mama-bhatija” and “saas-bahu-damaad” were particularly distasteful. Modi probably doesn’t realize this. Indians love underdogs. With so much anger against Indira Gandhi for imposing the emergency, they still voted her back to power within 3 years when they found her opponents needlessly harassing her. With his style of aggressive and rude language, Modi is making MMS and Sonia the underdogs.

The usual lies were there too (remember #feku?!). The Food Security Bill promises a minimum of 25 Kgs rice at Rs 3. That’s the obligation upon the country. No where does the Act say that a state cannot enhance this offer. The jab about families getting 35 kgs now having to settle for less was a lie. Likewise the thing about states having to fend for themselves in a drought year was an obvious lie. Then the attempt to usurp Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, without telling his audience that both had a terrible opinion about the RSS – remember Gandhiji was shot by an RSS ideologue and Sardar Patel banned the organization. Sardar Patel was particularly caustic of Modi-like RSS folks: (the RSS) is a communal body with a totalitarian outlook.". "Hindu Raj...that mad idea". "All their (RSS) leaders' speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result of the atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi's assassination) became possible...RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji's death." (Source: Outlook, available at, story titled: Excerpts from Sardar Patel's letters to M.S. Golwalkar and S.P. Mookerjee.)

Then there were several half lies. Yes, unemployment in Gujarat is the lowest (5 per 1000 people) in the country, but Modi forgot to mention that it is also the highest in a BJP ruled state, Goa (91 per 1000). Then the reference to “game of corruption”, but Modi failed to explain why his state has not had a Lok Ayukta for nearly 10 years, and why the RTI office in Gujarat is so frugal with information.

What was really missing in Modi’s speech was his vision for the country. Modi said “We need freedom from the status quoist mindset. We need to have a new vision and a fresh enthusiasm”. But what is this vision of his? Based on his speech, one gets the impression that Modi will attack or take a hard-line on Pakistan and China, enhance the Food Security bill’s provisions (don’t be disappointed if you are one who complains against the Congress’s subsidy culture), and somehow (don’t ask how!) reduce corruption, improve governance and improve GDP growth. The only proof for all this is Gujarat. C’mon Modi….you could have done better.

The only time Modi was truthful was when he shared credit for Gujarat’s success with the six crore Gujaratis (thank god he remembered them finally!) and other CMs of the past (very grudgingly said!).

The real truth is that it was Modi’s speech that was un-inspiring, not the PM’s. It was an ordinary “attack the Congress” speech. It was all rhetoric, style, and flair. But there was no content. Now if just rhetoric and style won elections, Vajpayee should have won a second term in 2004, no????