Friday, November 29, 2013

Tejpal issue heaviliy politicized by BJP….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

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

This is what I was really worried about. Apparently, the snooping on the girl in Gujarat was not a lone case. reports ( that as many as 93000 illegal mobile phone tappings took place in just six months in Gujarat between Dec 2012 and May 2013. Phone tappings may be a less severe form of surveillance than physical snooping itself, but surely there is a worrisome story here. adds “reports now say phone tapping has been rampant in Gujarat, with a DGP discovering this year that as many as 93,000 mobile phones’ call data records had been obtained without his knowledge since December 2012”. The web publisher further reports “A report in The Hindustan Times says agencies such as the Gujarat Police, the IB, the Anti-Terror Squad and the Crime Branch are all routinely conduct illegal surveillance, either for investigations or at the instance of their political bosses. The extent of snooping is so pervasive that Gujarat’s director general of police Amitabh Pathak (now deceased) was shocked to learn in May that his own police officials had obtained call detail records of as many as 93,000 mobile phone numbers without his knowledge since December 2012”.

Referring to the same report, writes further “The report also quotes from an affidavit filed by former IPS officer RB Sreekumar before the Justice Nanavati Commission probing the 2002 riots case in which he states that he was asked to rap the phones of BJP leader Haren Pandya and Congress leader Shankersingh Vaghela”. then refers to a report in the TOI ( report in the Times of India published in 2005 quotes BJP MLA Gordhan Zadaphia complaining about the Modi government engaging in illegal tapping of phones of MLAs and MPs. The report also said intelligence officers believed that official taps on phones was time-consuming and required several levels of permissions. It becomes more fruitful in this scenario to take the service provider into confidence and come to an “unofficial arrangement, the report said”.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

It’s “gandh”, not “khushboo” Gujarat ki….

Notwithstanding the much talked about and highly successful TV and radio campaign “Khushboo Gujarat ki”, featuring Amitabh Bachchan, Gujarat has for some time now been known more for the “Gandh” (foul smell) emerging from its soil. We’ve had Godhra, the post-Godhra riots, the Haren Pandya murder, several fake encounter killings, sordid HDI statistics, and a whole lot of bogus economic claims (Vibrant Gujarat being the biggest). Now we can also add the Amit Shah tapes to that list.

These tapes are even more murky than the Niira Radia ones. If Cobrapost and Gulail are to be believed, then Amit Shah, under instructions from his “saheb”, ordered the illegal surveillance of a young woman architect,  for no rhyme or reason. The former home minister, and boss of all cops in the state, reportedly deployed surveillance teams comprising members from various wings – the state police itself, the CID, the SIB, and even the ATS (Anti Terrorism Squad) – to monitor the movements of this woman. Why? What’s going on in Gujarat? Most Gujaratis already know of the Modi government’s fascist ways. It is now slowly starting to get known nationally. Gujarat has been run as a police state for long. That explains why there are no riots there (like there are none in China), very little freedom of expression (dissent is frowned upon), no Lokpal for more than a decade (so the dirty tricks remain under a lid) and hardly any RTI commissioners (so no one knows nothing). Do we want something similar nationally?

How should one approach these “taped” or “tapped” conversations. Should one worry that the Home Minister of the state, supposedly under instructions from his saheb, abuses his police force and mounts a surveillance operation over a private citizen and her male friends, including an IAS officer? Going so far as to even put cops on airplanes (at great cost to the state exchequer, no doubt) when the girl travelled out? Or should we worry about the moral temperament of the PM candidate, who appears to be so infatuated with the young woman that he wants her every moment monitored? Sometimes even knowing more than the surveillance team knows (so was there another surveillance mechanism also put in place, to keep a check on the police surveillance team)? Or should one worry about the plight of the poor girl’s father, who has issued a statement that he himself had sought the surveillance of his girl? Which father wants his daughter surveyed by a police force? And how does the CM of a state deploy state resources for something so personal in nature? Or should we worry about the fact that we had to wait for a former IPS officer to be caught and arrested before learning about this ugly episode? And that mainstream media, happy to sing paeans to Modi at every possible occasion, failed to inform us about the nature and character of the person who India is considering for the top job? Or should we worry about Shah and Modi’s (both of whom would play an important role at the central level if the BJP wins 2014) complete lack of belief in the judicial system – they didn’t even bother to get the court’s permission for carrying out this surveillance, did they? The whole issue is so shocking, one doesn’t even know where to begin and where to go.

It could be a story of lust. Lust that vitiates the trust that the younger generation puts on the older one to protect it and it’s dignity and honor. Modi’s biggest supporters are supposed to be the youth. Is this what the youth expects from him? That they may also be put under covert surveillance one day if they start to protest against some decision of his government? Is this the type of democracy they want in the country?

But Modi’s views on women are well known. Remember he once called Shashi Tharoor’s wife a “50 crore girlfriend”? A government whose CM thinks of girlfriends as material objects is bound to consider them also as “objects” that can/should be monitored. There are also rumors that the infamous Sanjay Joshi (of RSS) sex scandal was cooked in the political kitchens of Gujarat. That the same team of Vanzara (now in jail) and others had executed the tapes. All this to settle political scores with him.

The gandh from Gujarat is overpowering. We know that Modi is OK with corruption (his posters for a forthcoming Karnataka rally prominently show Yeddy with him). He is more than OK – quite comfortable actually – with a Sri-Lanka like human rights issue (2002). He is used to abusing his opponents verbally (khooni panja). He runs a one man show in his state (who is the #2, #3, #4 there?). And we also know that he is quite a control freak (fascist). Some potent combination for a PM candidate.

And what about his party, the BJP? We know that Ayodhya is what it really cares for. In fact, its fetish with 17th century orthodoxy is so much that it’s senior leaders even object to songs which apparently denigrate “Radha”, and to films which question the tenets of Hinduism (Oh My God). They force students in MP to do Surya Namaskar and sing the Sarasvati Vandana. Their leaders perform pujas to appease the rain gods (Karnataka). And we also know what the RSS, the fountainhead of the entire Sangh ideology, thinks of Muslims and Christians (India’s top 2 enemies as per Golwalkar). Is this the party that modern India needs?

The real truth is that now that the spotlight is on Modi and Gujarat, all the “gandh”, hidden for long, is finally starting to come out. And the gandh is very very distasteful. The gandh is similar to that of the 2004 campaign line “India Shining”.  That ad could not save the BJP then. Amitabh Bachchan’s ad will not be able to do it either….

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Now MP High Court swings to Hindutva tunes – Ram Leela doomed

What’s wrong with our courts? I wrote yesterday about how the SC reversed its own stand and ordered a further delay in the demolition of the illegal Campa Cola flats in Mumbai. Now the MP HC has directed, at the very last moment I might add, that the title of the film Ram Leela should be dropped. Err….dropped? At the last moment? Is this not harassment? But forget the court for a moment. What is more important is, who are these people who worry so much about our “Hindu sentiment”? Why are they so illiberal? Is this the kind of culture we want in this country?

These are the people who want to take India back to the dark ages. They are so insecure about Hinduism that they won’t allow any interpretation of it that is different from theirs nor allow the creative folks a little creative license.

Ram Leela is hardly the first instance where people with 17th century mindset have made such objections. Remember Sushma Swaraj of the BJP protesting against usage of the name “Radha” in the song “Radha” from the film “Student of the Year”? I wrote about this on 12th November, 2012 in a post titled “Did Sushma Swaraj just complain about the “Radha” song from Student of the Year???” (available at Her objection was that Radha has been shown in the film as not knowing how to dance and being invited to the dance floor to learn to dance (TOI - So did she mean that all Radhas have genes that make them expert dancers – if so, then maybe this is something that geneticists should research! Actually, Sushma would have found much more to object to if only she had heard the lyrics carefully. The lyrics of the song “Radha” actually put the words “sexy” and “Radha” together. Surely “Sexy Radha” must have appalled Sushma! Not only that, but Radha likes to move that “sexy Radha body”. Man that’s going too far, isn’t it??!! And when Radha wants to party and Radha “wants more”, then that must be going over the top for most BJP/Hindutva leaders! Apparently, Sushma considered this so important that she took up the matter in Parliament!

And why do such things happen only in BJP ruled states? We know the BJP can be exceedingly orthodox when it comes to religious matters. From doing pujas when the rains fail (in Karnataka when ruled by the party) to making singing of Saraswati Vandana compulsory in schools (in MP), the BJP has shown a penchant for high order and aggressive Hindu orthodoxy. Now I don’t know who these two lawyers are who filed the petition – Anand Chawla and Amit Kumar Sahu – and whether they are related in any manner to the BJP or not, but there is no doubt that the party’s Hindutva ideology does at least partially encourage people like them to stay back in the old ages. And when they see a leader like Sushma Swaraj – an otherwise erudite and inspiring leader – fight for such causes, surely they get the requisite encouragement to pursue their ancient-age agenda.

It appears that the courts also get influenced by the politics of the state. We’ve seen the Supreme Court having to step in and take specific cases outside of a state when it finds this. Several of the 2002 Godhra related cases were taken out of Gujarat for instance. This instance in MP also proves the point. The Delhi High Court, perhaps because of the liberal environment in which it operates, had a completely different take on the same issue. Here is what Outlook India reports on its website ( ): “Interestingly, a Delhi court yesterday recalled its earlier order of restraining Bhansali and EROS International Media Limited from using the title 'Ram Leela' for the film, slated for November 15 release. The Delhi High Court had earlier refused to ban the release of the movie and also imposed a cost of Rs 50,000 on an NGO which had moved the plea against the film on the ground that sex, violence and vulgarity in the movie will hurt religious sentiments and feelings of Hindus”. How is it that two High Courts rule in such completely opposite ways. The only explanation has to be that they are influenced by the societal and political environments in their states.

The poor producer is now stuck. He does not even know what to do next. Outlook reports that he has already changed the name of the film a few times. First from Ram Leela (two separate words) to RamLeela (one word) to Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela (Ugghhh!). But what now? How can the producer just drop the name in its entirety? If it were just a descriptor that caused the problem, he could still have done it. But to change the title itself at the last minute is pure harassment. The producer will have to delay the launch of the film in MP, appeal in the SC, make many lawyers richer by tens of lacs of rupees, and then hopefully get a reprieve. If anyone had any doubts about how difficult it is to do business in India, even if it is something as casual as films, this case proves it.

The real truth is that this is how Hindutva would pervade our entire life, if we didn’t take steps to stop it. Next time a producer makes a film, he will just play safe. Stay away from anything that can raise the hackles of the Hindu brigade. This is what Mahesh Bhatt said when the Radha controversy arose ( This is exactly what happens in Taliban-land, and in the worst of the Islamic world. Do we really want to support this version of Hindutva? Do we want to encourage it or kill it before it explodes in our faces????

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Campa Cola case shows how fickle the SC is….

The Campa Cola demolition has been stayed. And rightly so. In my view, no demolition should ever be ordered. We are after all, an asset-deficient country. Alternative remedies can and should be found, which can act as a deterrent to those who flout rules, while avoiding destruction of precious assets. What the remedies should be is really for our law makers to decide. But the focus of this piece is not on this. It is on the SC’s regular flipflops which are completely inexplicable and unacceptable. How can the country’s top court be so fickle in its decision making?

One is not questioning the ultimate authority the SC wields in deciding on judicial matters. But clearly, one expects the SC to be sensitive to this unique power it has under the Constitution, and decide matters after due consideration. Bureaucrats and ministers can get away with “roll backs”, but the SC cannot. Time and again we find that the SC either rolls backs its own decisions, or the decisions taken by the lower courts. Where is the sanctity in the judicial process then? And what about accountability to the litigants and the people in general? Why are such discretionary powers to take/alter decisions not questioned by our media the same way as they are for politicians and bureaucrats? Why do we treat our judges as if they are avatars of God and refuse to question their callous methods?

Did the courts not have adequate time to decide on the Campa Cola mess? The imbroglio dates back to 1989 when residents of the society approached the Bombay HC for permission to get water (Imagine this: they were using tankers for their needs before this). After a long-drawn process, the HC ordered demolition in 2005 (a “time-bound” process as it ordered). The matter obviously went to the SC, which after many years in Feb 2013, agreed with the HC. The demolition date was set for April, then moved by a few days to early May, then again to November. Now it has been stayed for six more months. Clearly, no one can make the case that the HC and SC did not have adequate time to pass their final orders.

I am happy the demolition has been stayed at least for now. But the grounds for doing this look specious. Apparently, the court was under the impression that only 25% of the flats were still occupied. In reality apparently, 75% flats are occupied. How does that change the situation? If it’s a “human issue” in addition to the legal one as the SC has now opined, how does that human angle diminish if its 75% and not 25% who are still occupying the flats? Are the rights of 25% not important enough from a human angle?

The SC incidentally has not reversed its order, only delayed the demolition date yet again. In a very filmy style, it played “God”, intervening “suo-moto” even as the demolition was underway. What does this say about this most august of institutions? That it considers itself above the usual accountability standards set for public institutions and thinks it can change its mind anytime? Is this kind of errant behavior on account of the fact that no one dares question the judiciary? Just look at it – no media outlet has asked the SC to justify its back-and-forth orders.

This is hardly the first time this is happening. I don’t have numbers but I can bet there are hundreds if not thousands of instances when the SC has “disagreed” with the lower courts. Recently, in the case of infamous “tandoor” case, the SC reversed the HC’s order of the death penalty. Did the SC subsequently do anything to align the thinking of the lower courts so that such “mistakes” do not happen again? I doubt it. Actually, such reversals are so common, no one even bothers about the rulings of the lower courts. Almost all their orders are appealed, and this is one of the main reasons why the courts are so clogged. Had there been accountability, this would not have happened.

But what about cases when the SC reverses its own decisions? The 2G related case when a bench of the SC ruled that all natural resources must only be auctioned was later reversed on appeal by the court’s Constitution bench. Imagine what would have happened if the government had not appealed. Would the Constitution bench have reversed the decision suo-moto even then? Such random conduct shows the SC in poor light, making it look like an institution run by moody judges. Catch them on a good day and good a favorable judgment, and vice versa. Reversals of judgments should be only in the “rarest of rare” cases.

And did the SC consider the plight of the others who occupy the legal flats? It has been reported in media that structural engineers have opined that these flats would become structurally weaker after the demolition of the flats above them. What about the hardships they would face when the water tank (at the top of the illegal floors) would be demolished and they would be denied water for months? Was there no “human angle” that the SC could see in this?

Besides, how can we destroy property, even if it is constructed illegally. Any number of solutions can be found to deal with the issue of illegality. A stiff penalty “at current rates” could be applied. As an example, maybe the prevailing TDR rate (TDR entitles a builder for extra FSI) could be levied on the residents of these illegal flats (the builder must be sued in any case). Or maybe the government can take over the illegal flats and use it for something productive. Or some other solution can be found. But under no circumstances should demolition be carried out. If laws need to be amended, let them be.

The real truth is that I am happy the Campa Cola demolition has been stayed. Rather than demolishing them, the government must find a legal way to either regularize them. But more importantly, the SC must introspect, and advise its lower arms and its own judges on how to become more consistent and less fickle in the future….

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Err….Modi responsible for sensex fall as well?!

A few days back, as the sensex scaled lifetime highs, an audacious bunch of stock market operators – and Modi aficionados I may add – rushed to attribute the phenomenon to Narendra Modi. Little did they care for even the slightest truth. Little did they care that the movement of the sensex followed other developments more closely than anything that Modi said or did. So awestruck were they by Modi’s oratorical flourish that they even staked their international reputations to put out one foolish report after another!

So the question today that they have to answer is this: Since the sensex has fallen by some 1000 odd points since its recent high, and equally, since the Rupee has started to depreciate again, shouldn’t these also be attributed to Modi?! After all, if Modi swung the sensex one way (up), surely he must have had some role to play when it moved the other way as well? Maybe it’s because he’s not been speaking often enough?! Maybe his slip-ups on history are becoming legendary and a little too embarrassing?! Maybe these Mensa cohorts are finally realizing that government formation is vastly different from fake, cooked up, attendance in political rallies?!

Just consider the process of government formation. If Modi has to become PM, the BJP by itself must get 210-220 seats. Now a quick analysis of possibilities for the party shows that it can increase its seats count by (maybe) a few in Gujarat, MP and Chhatisgarh, where it had already done well in 2009, and a little more (again, maybe) in states where it fared poorly like Punjab, Delhi and Rajasthan. But all of these states won’t give it more than 20-25 additional seats (over their present 117). The South and East are outside of bounds for the party. In fact, in the South, it will suffer a loss of at least 10-12 seats in Karnataka. In the East, it could lose a few in Jharkhand. So, if it has to make the 210-220 mark, it must get some 50-55 seats in UP and 25-30 in Bihar. Is that even possible? I seriously doubt the UP number. In fact, I even doubt the Bihar one. In UP, unless the BJP plays a vicious Ayodhya-like card (which I fear it will), inciting aggressive communal polarization in the process, the BJP won’t be able to go beyond 20. If anyone is likely to get stronger in UP, it is Mayawati. In Bihar, where it already has 12 seats, it may at best go up by a few more, maybe even touch 20. If UP/Bihar go this way, there is no way the BJP can hit even 175. How will Modi then become PM? Modi’s supporters will say that this is mere “trend analysis” done by an ignorant (worse, paid!) blogger like me, and that Modi is a phenomenon that will break all trends, but for institutions like Goldman and others, who, if anything, overdepend on data and analysis and underdepend on sentiments, before they arrive at conclusions (or do they?), isn’t it a little too early to put out such funny reports?

Besides, just look at the timing of the sensex movement. It rose when Raghuram Rajan took over, and introduced measures to fix the rupee, not when Modi became the PM nominee of his party. It rose when Chidambaram went for road shows and re-established the India story, not when Modi started trashing it. It rose when the Cabinet Committee on Investments took decisive action on stalled infrastructure projects, clearing as much as Rs 3.5 lac crores of projects, not when Modi put out one fake figure after another. And most importantly, it rose when it became clear that the US monetary stimulas programme would stay on longer than estimated earlier. This last one was the most decisive of all factors. Since close to half of all stock market trading in India is undertaken by FIIs, anything that encourages them to invest/stay in India improves the sentiment on D-street. Anything that encourages them to return to the US on the other hand, like recent data of growth and jobs growth in the US, will weaken the sentiment. It is because of this weak sentiment that the rupee has started falling, inspite of every sign that the CAD will actually end up much better than announced earlier.

Of course, the markets factor in the future. But the future is not a strength right now, it is a weakness. The big fear the markets are already factoring in is the possibility of an unstable government in 2014. Had that fear not been there, the sensex would have been at 25000 or more. It’s for the same fear that the sensex hasn’t performed uniformly across stocks. Mid-caps and Low-caps, which FIIs generally avoid, are still languishing. Yesterday’s ET analysis shows that it is stocks in which FIIs have a big play that have done well (equivalent sensex of 41000); the rest are still down. This weakness may be attributed to Modi (!); the fact that he opened up the field and added to the political uncertainty. The strength on the other hand, is co-related to Chidambaram, Raghuram Rajan and Janet Yellen (new Fed Chief), not to Modi.

But such is the Modi PR machinery, that anything and everything good that happens in India is usurped by Modi! I am actually surprised that Modi stopped at merely congratulating ISRO scientists for Mangalyaan, and did not claim credit for the mission itself! I am also surprised Modi stopped at Sardar Patel, and didn’t usurp Mahatma Gandhi as well! Modi is so used to grabbing other people’s credit that the joke goes that Modi would have taken credit even for launching IPL – except that the other Modi (Lalit) became too well known for the event! In this context, Modi taking credit for the stock market performance is hardly surprising.

The real truth is that hyper-aggressive PR, and professional “chamchas” of Modi are making his campaign look a little too comical. Like I said yesterday, Modi is threatening to dislodge Kapil Sharma of Comedy Nights with Kapil fame, not Manmohan Singh, the learned PM of India. Let the charade go on… could all end in a classic Greek tragedy for him!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Comedy nights with Narendra Modi!

Narendra Modi will soon topple the funniest comedy-show host on TV, Kapil Sharma of Comedy Nights with Kapil fame! The way Modi is going, Kapil has no hopes at all. Modi is bizarrely gifted, with hilarity running through his every vein…..every time he opens his mouth, his audience goes “Wow, did he really say that?”!! Move over Kapil….Modi’s taking over!

I mean how do you manage to write such comical copy as to confuse your party’s founder Shyama Prasad Mookerjee (whose role in the freedom struggle is minor at best) with a genuine revolutionary by the name of Shyamji Krishna Verma?! Also, imagine calling a  “Mookerjee” a Gujarati at all?! Take that, Mamata Banerjee, you parochial Bengali?! And as if this was not enough, imagine taking the humor up several notches by referring to the poor man’s ashes being stowed away outside India for 73 long years when in fact, they had never left the country?! “Priceless” as Mastercard would say! (Incidentally, no one understood Modi’s jest here. What he was saying was that he can still get a visa to Europe, even if the US doesn’t give him one!).

Apart from his ability to be self-deprecating (well, ok not self-deprecating really, but goofing around with his partymen nonetheless!), Modi does have another advantage over Kapil. His show is telecast by all news channels simultaneously, while poor Kapil has to manage with only Colors! Besides, Modi is far more innovative than Kapil with history, far more creative with “facts” and far more “economical” with truth when it comes to development statistics. Such awesome width of “knowledge” is not something that Kapil can compete with, restricted as he is to kitschy film entertainment!

If a TV channel were to run a marathon session of all of Modi’s comedy shows, the way Colors runs Comedy Nights, here is what one would get to see:

  • That Gujarati women are nutritionally deficient because they are “figure conscious”! Too good!
  • That Shashi Tharoor has a “Rs 50 crore girlfriend”! Even Jay Leno doesn’t have this type of wit!
  • That China spent 20% of its GDP on education, making even the Communist Party of that country squirm! But see the self-deprecating nature again, behaving like a bafoon, making his party look really sorry?! For it is the UPA that is spending a lot more on education than the NDA did during its term! Modi’s jab was at his own party!
  • That Alexander the Great actually reached the banks of the Ganges, when the poor soul had to return from the banks of the Beas in Punjab! Alexander owes Modi one for this good PR effort on his behalf!
  • And then this minor issue of where Takshashila is located! What a good joke that was!
  • And when it comes to numbers, Modi is truly a genius! Like this wisecrack that the UPA government converted 8.4% (growth rate during one year of NDA rule) to 4.8% (again during one year of UPA rule)! See how creative he is, flicking the numbers around and making magic with them?! I mean how many people would even have the guts to take a single year’s growth number and compare it with another single year’s? Sheer genius! Now if Chidambaram did the same and brought up 2010-11’s 10% growth and compared it with Vajpayee’s 4% in 2001-2, Modi would succeed in hitting two birds with one stone! Scoring a point (no matter how ludicrous) against the UPA…..and also making Vajpayee atone for his “rajdharma” rebuke!
  • And of course, all the drama about the “lacs” who attend his “massive rallies”?! Those poor souls who crowd these rallies, those who are plucked out of their humdrum rustic lives, put onto waiting trains and buses and made to listen to some truly inspirational gyaan from the messiah?! Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, the Director of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag could have learnt a trick or two from Modi on how to create the illusion of big crowds! Modi is truly good fun to watch!

Modi’s forte clearly seems to be history. And juxtaposing his considerable knowledge of it with “contextually relevant” topics! For example, yesterday he was speaking at a hospital run by a Muslim trust (since when did we start classifying hospitals this way?!). In Modi’s creative mind, Muslims = Pakistan (the context). So he used the occasion to attack the Congress for having partitioned the country (history)! So what would Modi have preferred instead? A united India, with Muslims making 30% of the population?! He can’t handle 13% Muslims, how would he do 30%?!

Modi has started to self-actualize now. He has become an inspiration to other humorists, making them do better. Like those on twitter who were having a field day yesterday about Modi’s failed marriage, saying that he will probably hold the PM responsible even for that! Or Shobha De who in TOI yesterday felt so inspired as to write some truly funny copy on Modi! And even his own partymen who build funny-sounding defences after Modi has “hit and run”, like after the China education spend remark!

The real truth is that Modi may or may not become PM. But whichever party forms the next government, it should create a new “Ministry of Comedy” and make Modi it’s minister! His only job should be to make one speech a day….keeping us all fully entertained! Kapil Sharma, beware. You have serious competition!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Congress right in shunning "fraud" opinion poll discussions on TV

Everyone knows these opinion polls are a sham. They are more “entertainment” than “science”. They are almost always off the mark, and that too, by a huge margin. In the rare instance they are not, it is simply because of the generosity of probabilities; something has to come good, sometime! The fact is that most of these polls are conducted by news channels, which are so strapped for funds, and so desperate to increase their viewership, that they have all the motivation they need to make the research literally “quick and dirty”!

After all, look at the poll forecasts made in 1999, 2004 and 2009. How many of them came even close to being right? None! (My favorite is “The Mood of the Nation” poll that India Today conducts… has got it exactly wrong in each of the above years! That too when its sample size is much higher than what TV channels deploy these days!). And this, at the “aggregate” level where statistical errors tend to “average” themselves out. At the state level, it becomes more complicated as sample sizes drop dramatically. At a constituency level, it is almost impossible to predict outcomes. And imagine the complication in this entire business considering that seats are contested at the constituency level, not state or national. Everything depends on the spread of the lead. If a party leads by just 1% at the state level, and this lead is uniform in all the constituencies, it will win ALL the seats in the state. However, if the lead is concentrated in a few constituencies, that 1% lead may actually make the party second in the state. That’s why there is a usually a small gap in voting % for the top two parties, but a much larger seats difference between them.

Why do media outlets do such a shoddy job? For one, there is no law to regulate such polls. The only thing that matters is that it should “appear” to be OK. That is why a sample size of 2-3000 is considered adequate for a full state. Then there is the economics to be considered. A sample size of this order makes the cost of the research – maybe around Rs 20 lacs or so “affordable”. Besides, I suspect TV channels actually prefer the smaller sample sizes…..the “froth” they generate makes for more sensationalist points to make on-air! For eg., the AAP has suddenly increased its chances in Delhi….that’s great TV content, truth be damned!

Any researcher will advise that the closer the contest, the more the requirement of sample size. In most states going to the polls now, the gap in voting % appears to be tiny (In Bastar for example, the win margins are as low as 100-200 votes in many seats). A larger sample size is also required when there is more heterogeneity. It’s well established that state elections are fought on micro-local issues, and these change as often as the dialect changes – every few kms. Yet, our polls scarcely recognize this fact.

Further, there is another reason the Congress should boycott poll discussions. Just look at the kind of panels these channels put together for the deb.tes Here is how it typically goes. The news anchor usually has a strong anti-establishment viewpoint, because being neutral is considered too “soft”. The other panelists are ALL “involved” parties. In the case of journos, MOST are aligned with one party or the other. It’s a matter of easy observation that the likes of Swapan Dasgupta, Ashok Malik, Minhaz Merchant, Madhu Kishwar, Prabhu Chawla and scores more are all aligned with the BJP. Then there are others called “analysts” – professors of prestigious institutes, Presidents of “policy thinktanks”, even noted economists and other “wonks” who are almost all aligned one way or the other. Then there is the other common trick that the anchor deploys. He packs in politicians from all parties without bothering about their strengths in Parliament. A classic composition would be one politician each from the Congress, BJP, SAD, Shiv Sena, AIADMK and BJD. See what I mean?! This is the way the anchor creates bias. Intentionally. Why should the Congress participate in such biased jokes of debates?

In the UK recently, I noticed how Sky News set up a panel. It had one politician each from the Tories, Lib Dems and Labor. That’s 2 for the government and 1 for the opposition, reflecting genuine public voting. Then there was a journalist who was truly non-partisan. And there was a public representative who offered an additional viewpoint. And remember this – a debate requires an environment where each panelist gets to speak his or her point of view. In India, even the anchor doesn’t allow anyone to speak beyond a few seconds – especially if his views clash with the anchor’s!

Incidentally, when the BJP was ruling, it also opposed opinion polls. It also accused media of bias. It also boycotted individual channels. But today, it is taking a high ground! So much for the BJP’s commitment to consistency in values!

One other point. Does our media ask itself how often it gets it wrong on all its conspiracy theories? How many times has it said that the Congress used the CBI to pressurize the SP and BSP? And yet how vitriolic is the attack both these parties pile on the Congress every now and then? It spun the theory that the Raghuram Rajan panel set up to define states as “poor states” afresh was motivated with the desire to win the JD(U) over. Now we hear that the Planning Commission has rejected that report. We heard the media mock the Tendulkar line of poverty. But later, every economist worth his name, including those who write for media, jumped in to defend it. This makes it clear that media is more interested in froth, and less in the truth.

The real truth is that boycotting panel discussions may appear to be the wrong decision…..but in reality it is the right one. These panel discussions are fraud shows; the research findings complete “nonsense”. Such fraud research is whipped up to create even more froth….giving life to a lie that should never have been allowed to be created in the first place….

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

“Encounter killings” of RTI activists…..Gujarat tops charts

Dinu Solanki, sitting BJP MP of Junagadh, and a close associate of Amit Shah (Modi’s most trusted), was arrested by CBI for the murder of Amit Jethwa, an RTI activist for seeking to expose his illegal mining activities. While one would surely worry about such an incident, one wouldn’t attach too much importance to it if it were just a single, isolated incident. A small Google search however reveals that Gujarat occupies one of the top slots in the list of states where RTI activists have been killed in recent years.

But before going into that, it must be put on record that Gujarat is a laggard in the implementation of the RTI Act. Let’s accept it. The RTI Act is a pain point for politicians. The UPA government – which enacted it incidentally – has “suffered” as activists have unearthed documents and scams using it. It is these revelations that the BJP has used to pan the Congress nationally. However, thanks to the communication deficiency of the Congress, the BJP has gotten away scot free for its own mindblowing record of attacks on RTI activists.

Wikipedia ( gives a full listing of RTI activists harassed, assaulted and killed in recent years. A quick scan of those “killed” reveals that 5 out of some 23 odd killed in recent years (22%) were from Gujarat. Isn’t that rather surprising considering just how peaceful Gujarat is supposed to be? An equally high 10 out of some 51 cases – nearly 20 – of “assault” cases are also from Gujarat, a state that accounts for barely 5% of India’s population. In contrast, the known “danger” pockets – UP, Bihar, Jharkhand – account for barely a handful of assaults and killings.

There is also this other minor detail that must be brought up. That Gujarat has for long had a huge deficit in RTI Commissioners. Even today, as per the CIC website (, Gujarat has just 2 CICs as compared to 8 and 9 in Maharashtra and TN respectively and more than 5 in most other big states. Narendra Modi’s mantra has been simple – what is all this RTI rubbish? If it hadn’t been for a constitutitonal necessity to follow the laws of the land, Modi would have done away with the RTI totally! It’s the same with the Lok Ayukta, another painful body that tends to stop a government in its tracks. Why have a Lok Ayukta at all? Gujarat hasn’t had one since 2003! These are key elements in the Gujarat model that Modi is promising us all.

What was Amit Jethwa’s crime? Wikipedia ( writes this about him “Amit Jethwa (1975 – 20 July 2010) was an Indian environmentalist and social worker, active in the Gir Forest area near Junagadh, Gujarat. He had filed several court cases against illegal mining in the protected area, naming Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of parliament, Dinu Solanki as one of the respondents”. Well, Jethwa had become a pain for Modi’s government “In 2010, Jethwa had filed a PIL petition questioning the state government's "inaction" over the appointment of a Lokayukta. The high court directed the government to appoint a Lokayukta. Jethwa had spearheaded the campaign against rising case pendency in the Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) due to lack of commissioners. It was on his petition that the HC directed the state government to complete the appointments within a stipulated time”. Something had to be done…..

Specific to the case that got him killed “Since 2008, Jethwa had filed six requests under the Right to Information Act, probing the activities of an illegal mining lobby operating in the protected forest area just outside the Gir Forest National Park. At the time, Jethwa was badly beaten up by goons, allegedly from Solanki's party.In mid-2010, he filed a Public interest litigation in the Gujarat High Court, citing evidence found, and naming local BJP politician Dinu Solanki and several relatives, for involvement in the illegal mining in the Gir Forest”.

Further “Jethwa's family has alleged that he was under constant threat from Dinu Solanki for interfering with the powerful and illegal mining lobby in Saurashtra. At one point Solanki threatened him in front of a large gathering at a meeting in Kodinar, the area Solanki hails from. Jethwa had recently filed an affidavit at the Kodinar police station seeking protection and stating that he would be killed by Solanki. His father recently received a threatening phone call from Dinu Solanki”.

And as is increasingly common in Gujarat – a  lack of credibility of the government’s law and order machinery – “A number of civil bodies and NGOs held a vigil in Ahmedabad on 21 July, seeking an independent investigation”. Well, none of that proved effective in saving Jethwa’s life. Gujarat’s BJP leaders – which includes the likes of Maya Kodnani and scores others accused and held guilty of the riots in 2002 – have a free reign in this state of Mahatma Gandhi. Would Sardar Patel have tolerated this? Is Narendra Modi really the “Chhote sardar” that he likes to have himself called? Crap….

The real truth is that Gujarat used to be a peaceful state. But in the last decade or so, it has morphed, becoming dangerous for anyone who dares to bring out the evil shenanigans of the state government. 2002 may have represented the worst of this…..but there are many other smaller parts to the story. Whether it is Haren Pandya, or Sohrabuddin or Tulsiram Prajapati…..or Amit Jethwa, they learnt of this too late. This is not Vibrant Gujarat….this is Killer Gujarat.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rural folks, underprivileged growing rapidly…..could create UPA-3

A series of stories being run in “The Mint” on rural prosperity (based on NSSO data) as well as the piece by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyer in the TOI last Sunday finally draw focus to areas mostly forgotted by mass media…..the ones that are the pet of the UPA government. There is a surge in growth rates in the rural areas in general. More specifically, it is the underprivileged communities that are doing far better economically. This probably explains why Rahul Gandhi usually travels to rural areas for his speeches, away mostly from TV cameras, while the urban-middle-class centric BJP’s PM aspirant Narendra Modi almost always clings to the bigger towns.

The UPA has made it a business to cater to the rural folks and the underprivileged. Take the MNREGA as an example. For the poor who want to work, and who have nowhere to do so, the MNREGA provides a way out. By providing a guarantee for 100 days work at Rs 100 a day, the poorest of the poor have something to look forward to. For the urban middle class BJP supporter, the MNREGA is a bad word, but for the rural poor, it is a god-sent. Later, by linking the daily wage to inflation, much of the poor has been protected from the attacks of inflation. The MNREGA has had another impact. It has led to less migration to urban areas, raising wage rates there. Again, it inflicts pain on the urban middle class, who are used to exploiting this class of migrants with poor wages and inhuman working hours, as well as on industry that has to pay more…..but in the long run, it will bring about social equality and peace.

Take MSP for farmers. It’s been rising rapidly under the UPA regime. During the 5 years of NDA rule between 1999 and 2004, the MSP rose at a snail’s pace. In these five years, farmers managed to get only 25% more prices for rice and just 15% more for wheat. Now imagine this. If you were a salaried worker, and in five years, your salary went up by a total of just 15-25%, would you keep working in the company or quit it?! That’s why the farmers quit the BJP in 2004. In contrast, in the last 7 years of UPA rule, the price of rice has gone up by 96% and that of wheat by 78%. Has this fuelled food inflation. Sure. But has this inflation hurt the poor? No….it has in fact been caused by them.

The Mint articles talk about the huge growth in rural consumption in the last few years. This is a direct result of the above two programs. This consumption growth has made companies that focus on rural markets the favorites of the stock markets. Companies like tractor companies (M&M), consumer staples (HUL, Dabur), motorcycles (Hero, Bajaj) and pharma are considered hot picks.

Rural areas aside, the article by Aiyer yesterday shows how poverty reduction at an All India level has been happening at double the pace in the years since 2004-5 compared to the decade before. Aiyer quotes a paper from Columbia University written by Panagariya and More (Poverty by Social Religious and Economic groups in India and its Largest States, 1993-94 to 2011-12. Incidentally, Panagariya is the same top-gun economist for whom the BJP had unbound love recently, when he took on that spat with Amartya Sen on Narendra Modi!

Aiyer writes “The two economists calculate that in the seven years between 2004-05 and 2011-12, the all-India poverty ratio fell by 15.7%. The decline was much higher at 21.5% for dalits and 17.0% for tribals. The decline in the poverty ratio of the upper castes was much lower, at 10.5%. This represents very substantial progress in poverty reduction. In the earlier decade, between 1993-94 and 2004-05, the decline was only 9.6% for dalits and 3.7% for tribals. The overall poverty ratio declined by 8.0%.”. Now one reason for the lower drop in upper caste poverty levels is of course their already better standing. But a lot of this is also to do with the focus area of the Congress. The better All India performance is of course thanks to the much higher UPA GDP growth rate compared to NDA’s.

It is safe to say that in the years to come, irrespective of who rules, laws like the Food Security Bill and the new Land Bill will make the rural folks do even better. Would the BJP have ever enacted such laws? Today, it will claim that it would have, but the reality is that it probably wouldn’t have. The BJP has traditionally been focused on urban areas. That’s why it focused its road building program on the national highways (even then, most of the Golden Quadrilateral program was finished by UPA-1). The Congress on the other hand focused on the smaller state highways and town roads…..not as glamorous as the national highways, but more useful for the rural folks. Ditto with MSP and inflation, when the BJP preferred low food prices in urban areas by starving the farmers. There is nothing wrong with this kind of politics…..just that the difference between the two grouping needs to be stated clearly.

Can shoddily conducted poll forecasts, with a largely urban focus, then capture the true mood of the country? These polls show the UPA in trouble and the BJP doing better. A mild memory test is in order here. Does anyone remember how the BJP was riding a similar high in 2004 with its “India Shining” campaign…..again completely ignoring the mood in the rural areas…..and how it was given a “surprise” drubbing? Ditto in 2009, when the urban areas voted for the Congress (thanks to the Indo-US nuclear deal), but the rural areas also did so? That’s why the Congress got to 206. Will the same thing happen in 2014. It’s difficult to say, but let’s be clear. If the BJP thinks it has already won 2014, it’s being foolish to say the least.

The real truth is that the Congress focuses on rural areas, the marginalized and underprivileged. These are the unglamorous parts of our society….the ones that don’t make for glamorous TV. The BJP – and much of our media – focuses on the urban, and completely ignores the rural. To say then that 2014 is a deal already done is just lazy and stupid commentary…..

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Modi is great in speech….poor in content

Give Modi any opportunity and he will convert it into a good speech! He is probably India’s best orator. In the initial days, this makes him look very very impressive. He cuts through the banality of politics and even gets the uninterested to notice him. Many even think of him as manna from the skies in human form. But a few months down, it all becomes very very clear. It’s no manna. It’s just dirt! That’s starting to happen now!

In the corporate sector, we have a simple rule: Don’t be too impressed or too disappointed with any new recruit in the first six months. First impressions are grossly overrated. I know from personal experience of colleagues about whom I formed wrong opinions based on initial impressions. It’s the same with candidates who impress hugely during interviews. They somehow come out as having no chinks, no imperfections. They know everything, are confident, have all answers….and when asked that ultimate killer question “What are your weak spots”, they even have the answer to that pat down! Such people should be avoided. The real world needs real people. Those who know they cannot solve all problems, who know what the difficulties are in public life, and who are real enough to acknowledge them. A real person gives credit to others when it is due. A real person is naturally humble, because he knows even he cannot deliver everything to perfection.

Now look at Modi. Going by his political rhetoric, I get the impression that he is God himself who has descended on earth. His governance in Gujarat is apparently exemplary (no one else is even close). His rising from a poor chai seller to corporate India’s biggest hero is the stuff of pulp fiction (again, no one else has achieved such a feat). His ability to connect with people, his grip on subject matters that people can relate with, all seem just impossible to replicate. Maybe that’s why a simple person like Lata Mangeshkar said what she did, taken in as she must be with the initial euphoria. Why, he even makes short shrift of his key opponent Rahul Gandhi, who appears to have so many fault lines, and none of his strengths! Well Modi is coming apart….and how.

Well, I travelled to Ahmedabad yesterday and was shocked with the state of the city. In a city of nearly 75 lacs population, and one in which there are nearly 10 lac scooters/bikes/cars, it’s famed BRTS is used by just about 1.25 lac people. The common refrain on the streets is that the BRTS is a great showpiece, especially after Modi showed it as proof of good governance, but in reality is a big nuisance. The BRTS corridor takes 50% of the road space, but caters to <10% of road users. Has it led to more people shunning their private modes of transport? No way. What has happened to the rest of the traffic? Its become worse. There are jams innumerable, brawls all the time, even abuses showered by youngsters on law abiding elders….in short, there is huge stress on the roads.

Then take this thing about basic decency. Last night, the firecrackers – the really loud ones (inspired by Modi I am sure!) – kept going off till 2 am inside of an apartment complex with buildings in a circular layout (leading to even more amplification of the sound). In Mumbai on the other hand, Diwali is much quieter, and definitely celebrated within decent hours. There is a hospital in the vicinity of where I stay. What about the patients there? Well, that’s their problem. Why did they fall sick during Diwali!

Then just look at the kind of language youngsters have started to speak. Youngsters follow those they see, and the Modi rhetoric in Ahmedabad is so strong, the language matches exactly his! They refuse to accept a counter point of view, are happy to shower the choicest of abuses on you, and are even willing to threater dire consequences if you persist with your argument. Modi is a product of this crowd, and vice versa. When I expressed my anguish on this subject on twitter, one person even said “Go back to Mumbai”. Made me wonder what would happen if Modi did become PM. Would I have to leave the country?

Forget Ahmedabad. Most of Modi’s governance is fake. He is now so smug he has started becoming unprepared. He shoots and scoots because he is shallow. A few days back TOI exposed that the Congress had spent as much on Patel’s birth anniversaries as it had on Nehru’s, proving Modi’s charge that it had forgotten Patel wrong. Today’s TOI says that Modi hasn’t even understood Patel. The relationship Patel and Nehru shared – having differences but knowing how to resolve them – is something that is beyond the BJP/RSS brand of politics. But on the most important subject – their views on RSS/Hindu Mahasabha – both were united. Did Modi read all this? Oh sorry….now that’s expecting too much! The question should probably be posed to his script writer!

But Modi has a lot of native wisdom. That’s why he has engaged a whole battalion of senior journalists to speak on his behalf. If Modi even says something preposterous, like for instance “we must attack China”, they will find a whole lot of intelligence in it! Why, some of them even attempted an explanation for Modi’s “China spends 20% of its GDP on education” gaffe! And if something is simply indefensible, they will simply go on to something else! Or point the mirror at the Congress and say “you are no different”, forgetting that it was not the Congress that said it was different, but the BJP! The onus of proving that it is different is on the BJP, not the Congress. If the BJP is to repeat everything the Congress did, then it should be branded the Team B of the Congress!

I am no great fan of Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Advani. But I think those leaders are well read, intelligent and grounded in the reality of India. Some of them are equally good in rhetoric and in embarrassing the Congress (remember Sushma Swaraj’s “mota maal” on the coal scam figure?)….but additionally, they also possess the real stuff behind the rhetoric. Modi doesn’t. That’s why he makes a speech and runs. That’s his true genetic coding. Shoot and scoot.

The real truth is that Modi’s “magic” – his ability to mesmerize audiences with his speeches – may last till the assembly elections later this month. But it’s a matter of time before it starts to wear off. There will be many more mistakes of the birth and death anniversaries of Patel and Alexander’s Ganges and Beas conquests and so on. Just wait and watch the fun!