Monday, September 30, 2013

Shinde is right….Minorities do need special protection

On the eve of Gandhi Jayanti, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Home Minister of India, wrote to all state CMs asking them to “ensure that no innocent Muslim youth is wrongfully detained in the name of terror” (TOI). This led to the “sparking off of outrage in the BJP over his “antisecular and divisive” move”. In May this year, Shinde had indicated he favored “fast track courts” to try Muslim youths accused in terror cases. Is this a Home Minister playing politics with religion and polarizing the country or is he one applying a soothing balm over communal tensions in which the minorities suffer the most?

Fortunately, we now have some data available on the deaths/injuries arising as a result of communal clashes. An HT story ( provides valuable insights. At an All India level, of the 107 people who died in communal clashes, 66 were Muslims and 41 Hindus. Of the 1697 injured, 797 were Hindus and 703 Muslims. In 2012, of the 93 killed, 48 were Muslims and 44 Hindus. And of the 2067 injured, 1010 were Hindus and 787 Muslims. There are state level figures also mentioned in the article, and in all cases, the number of Muslims is around 50%; sometimes going up to 65%. Equally, in the 2002 Gujarat riots, it’s a known fact that nearly 76% of all dead were Muslims (Wikipedia: 790 Muslims, 254 Hindus. Other sources put the number of Muslims killed at above 2000).

Why is it that a community which forms just 13.5% of the country’s population suffers more than half the casualties? Is it because Muslims foment terror and are violent by temperament, or is it because they suffer at the hands of fanatical Hindus? The answer to that question will depend on which side of the political spectrum one finds himself in. For me, having lived in Gujarat most of my life and having witnessed first hand several incidents, I feel Muslims are the victims. For a BJP supporter, he might find Muslims to be the perpetrators of violence.

But whatever the political views, can anyone deny that it is always the minorities who feel threatened, because of their lower numerical strength? Who deserve protection? Even special favors maybe? The BJP’s much touted “uniform civil code” is great in concept, but should it not be first practiced within Hinduism itself. Can the BJP say with its hand on its heart that Brahmins treat dalits equally? Do they drink water from the same well, and eat food at the same restaurant? What is this entire khap system in the North, if not a representation of a divisive Hindu community?

Maybe the BJP should ask Indians living in foreign nations how it feels to be a minority. About racial discrimination. How did it feel when the recent crowning of an Indian-origin girl as Ms. America led to a volley of racial abuses on twitter? Did we not feel that the US authorities should act against such perverts? And what about the Sri Lankan Tamils, a minority community which has been attacked by the majorities there for long? Don’t we all feel they deserve “protection”? When riots broke out in Kishtwar in Kashmir recently, and the minority Hindu community felt threatened, did Arun Jaitley not make a dash to that place? He did it to show support to the minority Hindus right? But how good would it have been if the majority Muslim population had come to the protection of the Hindus? What’s wrong if we, as the majority community in the rest of India, make a special effort to protect the Muslims? How about actually going out of the way to make them feel safe?

The BJP talks about Pundits in J&K, and about how the Congress doesn’t do enough for those who have been evicted. Fair point, but can BJP supporters please first read the history on J&K and understand that state has a unique status in India? A few pages of Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi” should suffice. That aside, the vast army deployed in that state has protecting people, mostly Hindus, as one of its main responsibilities right?

The problem is that most BJP supporters want to see India in a monochromatic hue, similar to how Jinnah envisioned Pakistan. What they don’t realize is that we will end up becoming, like Pakistan, a hot bed of terrorism and violence. Religion is a matter of personal faith, and should never be allowed to be practiced in public. Those who find this unacceptable should look at the history of the world. Most countries that have gone to war have done so on the matter of religion. Whether it was the crusades of the Christians against the Muslims from the 11th to the 13th centuries or the present struggle between the two communities in the Middle East, it is religion which has led to wars. When Sudan was divided recently, it was divided into a Christian South and a Muslim North. This is true across the board. Play politics on religion… will divide the country.

The BJP doesn’t like the concept of a “secular” India. They would like India to be a Hindu Rashtra. RSS ideologue and its second “sarsanghchalak” Golwalkar was candid enough to say that the three biggest ills facing India were 1) Muslims 2) Christians and 3) Communists. For a BJP completely in the embrace of the RSS, especially under Modi, Golwalkar’s message is the gospel truth, to be pursued with zest and vigor. How can we even expect the BJP to understand the import of Shinde’s statement?

The real truth is that Shinde did the right thing by asking that minorities be treated fairly. Fairly, not favorably. States don’t need to be told to not hold Hindus wrongfully, it s understood…..but they do need to be reminded about the minorities. To urban pseudo-intellectuals, this may look communal. My only request to them – try living like a minority for once…..

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Laloo’s fate to be decided today. What about Bokhariya’s?

Now that the ordinance to overturn the SC order disqualifying MPs and MLAs convicted by a court has virtually been thrown out, the focus of media has shifted to Laloo Prasad Yadav. The Ranchi court will decide his fate today. And rightly, if the court convicts him, he must resign. Babu Bokhariya, the Gujarat Water Resources minister, however is more lucky. He was convicted in June this year, just before the SC verdict came out. Technically, he is not required to resign. And he and his boss, Narendra Modi, have decided to avail of this technicality.

But since the larger debate this SC order, and the entire ordinance follow-up, has raised is about probity in public life, shouldn’t we demand that all people who have convictions standing against them resign and re-contest? Why rely on technicality at all? After all, the BJP has decided to take the high moral ground on this issue, completely ignoring the fact that it is way worse than the Congress on the issue of criminality, with 31% of its MPs/MLAs charged with criminal charges unlike the Congress’s 21%?

Babu Bokhariya was charged with profiting from illegal mining operations with the scam figure put at Rs 54 crores. He was convicted in the crime in June this year by a Porbander court. To be sure, he has already appealed to, and obtained a stay from, a higher court. But like I said, the issue can hardly be one of technicality. If Modi really wants to prove that he is different from the Congress, then shouldn’t he have already sacked Bokhariya? Even if he hasn’t done so yet, shouldn’t he do it now?

Actually, if Modi thought about this for a while, he would realize that Bokhariya would typically be what is called a “low hanging fruit”. A minor sacrifice in Gujarat would give Modi a major talking point on probity. And he surely needs that talking point, as he goes about trying to convince people that he is tough on corruption. Currently, he suffers from an image deficit on this subject. The entire Lok Ayukta issue – having successfully avoided having a Lok Ayukta for 10 good years in his state – didn’t go too well for Modi. Modi did manage to avoid too many charges of corruption coming up against him. But the way he hounded Justice Mehta, and eventually made him decide against becoming the Lok Ayukta, made Modi look insincere about corruption.

But of course, everyone knows the issue is not about probity at all. It is about making an impression on the public at this crucial juncture. The BJP had agreed to support the bill which would have nullified the SC order. But publicly it now claims that it is opposed to the ordinance. See the difference? Opposed to the ordinace, but not opposed to the concept of protecting convicted politicians. That high ground has now been usurped by Rahul Gandhi, and before him, the BJD.

Just in case anyone has any doubts about the BJP’s support for overturning the SC’s order, here’s a piece that will dispel that doubt. On 1st August, Zee News reported this on its website “Political parties united Thursday against a Supreme Court order on criminals in politics and wanted the government to address the issue during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. Leaders belonging to the Left parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) expressed concern over the implications of the court order that disqualifies a legislator if convicted in a criminal case and bars him from contesting the polls if under arrest. They said the government should address the issue as misuse of the law could be rampant just before any election. "We want a discussion on the apex court order," CPI-M leader Basudeb Acharia said after an all-party meeting called by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath. The BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad, JD-U president Sharad Yadav and RJD chief Lalu Prasad also expressed their concern” (
Its not easy to get a list of current MPs and MLAs actually convicted by the courts. But the TOI on 11th July reported that Pappu Yadav, Shahabuddin, Mitrasen Yadav and Navjot Singh Sidhu would have been disqualified if the SC order had been applicable. A list of others available from Wikipedia lists Om Prakash Chautala (INLD President), Shibu Soren (JMM), Manoj Pradhan (BJP – Odisha) and Mukhtar Ansari (Quami Ekta Dal – UP) as others who probably remain elected representatives (I am not sure of this list though).
The real truth is that while all of us are waxing eloquent about the need to disqualify politicians who are convicted, we should make sure that we be fair in the exercise. The BJP – and to be fair – all other parties need to be grilled for their duplicity. And while we are at it, there is a great opportunity for all parties to proactively sack those who are technically exempt by the SC order, but otherwise deserve to be sacked….

Does Modi suffer from an inferiority complex?

I think I have finally understood Narendra Modi. And its so so simple really! He possibly suffers from what could be loosely described as an inferiority complex. Let me demonstrate this with the help of three very clear examples:

First, and what Modi is most well known for, is his paranoia with Muslims. Now Muslims account for less than 14% of this country. Hindus in contrast account for more than 80%. And yet, the leader of the Hindus, the Hindu Hriday Samrat as he is called, has such inferiority complex that he feels compelled to attack the poor minorities. Just think about this. Anyone else in a position of 80% strength would have been smug. He would have been guilty of merely ignoring the minorities. But not Modi. He has to attack them to reassure himself that he is indeed 80% strong.

Modi has converted this complex into a political plank. Most of his followers admire him because they possibly also suffer from a similar complex. I was stunned recently when a friend admitted over Facebook that if Hindus have to remain in a majority, they have to vote for BJP. I was stunned, but it struck me that for a whole bunch of Modi-backers, this is perhaps the only reason to back him. Certainly, many in Gujarat think that way.

Second, look at which country Modi attacks the most. He doesn’t attack America, a country that continues to deny him a visa. He doesn’t attack the Brits who ruled us for two hundred years. He doesn’t even attack China for he knows that they are well capable of reaching him right inside his dugout in Gujarat. Who does Modi attack? Pakistan. In fact, Modi loves to attack Pakistan. At first, I used to think that attacking Pakistan is just an extension of attacking Muslims, but now I am convinced that its about size. Pakistan is just about the right size for him to feel comfortable to attack. Modi feels safe in attacking Pakistan. The Pakistanis probably cannot cause much harm to him. They cannot fight back. They are weak. For all of their bluster, they have not been able to impress the world about their claims on J&K.

The population of Pakistan is some 18 crores. That’s about the same as the Muslim population of India. This is tiny in comparison to India’s 100 crores Hindus. This is just the size difference that gives Modi the confidence that he wont be pummeled. He feels he can get away by attacking. So he roars against Pakistan. Many, if not most, of his speeches are about Pakistan bashing, a rhetoric that he presents as Indian nationalism. Excuse me Mr. Modi, but for many of us, we are not really that worried about Pakistan. Irritated by its nefarious activities yes, but not really worried. Nor are we about China or any other neighbor for that matter. It is in fact China and Pakistan who huddle together because they are worried that India will punch them in their noses if it ties up with Israel, Japan and the US. But for Modi, this is merely a detail, an inconvenient detail, that like so many others, he likes to ignore!

Third, in the political space, Modi attacks a PM who everyone knows is a gentleman of the highest order. The PM is an economist, one of India’s most erudite leaders, and one whom the entire world looks up to. The PM however is weak in oratory. He cannot shout the way Modi does. He cannot punch his fists in the air like Modi does. No way is the PM going to get into a shrill fight with anyone. This is precisely why Narendra Modi attacks the PM. He knows the PM cannot give it back. But where the PM can give back – in economics, in FDI policies, in foreign affairs, in strategy – Modi runs away from a discussion. This is why Modi never offers any solutions to any of the problems he blames the Congress for, because that would expose him and make him feel weak. He realizes his educational disadvantage when compared to the PM. This is also why Modi never gives interviews to savvy journalists. He walked out of a Karan Thapar interview because he couldn’t intellectually bully Thapar. But give him a lame duck anchor (and there are a few!) and he may just take the bait. This is also the reason why Modi has never accepted the challenge of a public debate with Digvijaya Singh.

This is why there are others in the BJP who may eventually make it to the PM, if the party comes anywhere close to forming a government. For whatever one may say about them, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and LK Advani maintain a certain decorum and decency that national politics and the PM’s office demands.

The real truth is that people with inferiority complex typically tend to be bullies. Bullies make a lot of noise. So does Modi. Bullies exaggerate figures to show how muscular they are (when they really are not). Modi does the same. Bullies try to sully the reputation of others better placed than them, with the hopes of catching attention. Modi does that when he attacks the PM. It’s a cinch really!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Rahul Gandhi smartly turns spotlight on BJP….

The media has been buzzing after Rahul Gandhi’s impromptu and sensational appearance at a Congress press briefing yesterday. He spoke for a few minutes; but he generated opposition and media chatter lasting several several hours! Such is the power of this man, a power he has a declared disdain for, that as soon as he makes a move, he draws the attention of the entire world to himself.

Rahul Gandhi spoke what he had to speak, and left the scene to enjoy the after effects. The media and the opposition were confused, not knowing what had hit them. For a long time, they kept harping on the “Rahul v/s PM” line, in a reference to the attack he had apparently launched on his own PM and cabinet. An alternate theme was “Rahul the outsider”. Media sensationalism being what it is, the raging topic of debate changed by the evening to “Should the PM resign”. And lastly “Has the old guard (Sonia Gandhi) been replaced by the new”. But just as media’s excitement was peaking, and the BJP was going into some sort of a heady trance, the real import of Rahul’s statement started to emerge.

First the PM’s statement from the US dashed all hopes for an immediate climax. “The Congress VP has also written to me on the issue and also made a statement. The Government is seized of all these developments. The issues raised will be considered on my return to India after due deliberations in the Cabinet”. There…..a cold wet blanket on the public revelry that was going on! Prompting even a grudging Tarun Vijay to acknowledge that the PM had behaved in a very dignified manner (imagine this, from a BJP leader!).

As if this was not enough, NDTV soon got hold of Rahul’s letter which the PM referred to in his statement. Barkha Dutt tweeted the following lines from the letter “My views on ordinace not in harmony with cabinet & core group. I have highest respect for you….hope you understand the strength of my own conviction. You are providing leadership in extremely difficult circumstances. I know my stand would be exploited by our political opponents”. Now this letter was sent before his press conference intervention, proving that a) he expected the opposition’s attack b) that he had the highest respect for the PM and c) he knew the “core group” had taken the decision. There was no attack on the PM at all. There was no “caught with his pants down” embarassment that he had forgotten Sonia had blessed the ordinance. There was no surprise that the BJP would immediately attack. Rahul knew all this when he intervened. There was something smart going on! There was an attempt to correct what Rahul thought was wrong. That leaves the opposition with only a minor point to crow about: Why didn’t he act earlier? Fair point, but it is hardly something that will occupy centerstage for long.

What will occupy centerstage for long are the following points, and this is where Rahul has really turned the spotlight:

1)    Is the opposition any different?: Read carefully, and you see a direct, frontal attack on the opposition. TOI reports Rahul said “we (my organization) need to do this because of political considerations. Everybody is doing this. The Congress does this, the BJP does this, the Samajwadi Party, the JD(U) does this”. Well, the Congress has now officially distanced itself from the ordinance; and the Bill lying in Parliament as well. Will the others do the same? Can they? (See point 3 below)
2)    BJP’s deceit won’t fly for long: The BJP claims that it has already distanced itself from the ordinance. In fact, it was claiming that its “strong” position made Rahul intervene. This is a typical BJP style, being technically correct but factually wrong, for it is well known that the party fully supports the move to overturn the SC order. It merely opposes the ordinance route! In recent TV interactions, its party spokespeople have refused to clarify the party’s position on the issue; preferring only to clarify their position on the ordinance. What will they do now? Ask that the SC’s order is followed? What about the All-party meeting in which all of them were united in demanding that the SC’s order be scrapped??? It’s going to be embarrassing for all!
3)    The BJP and its allies have the most criminals: Data freely floating on twitter yesterday showed that the BJP had 31% of its MPs/MLAs (from 2004-13) facing criminal charges, 13% serious charges. The same stats for the party’s most reliable ally, the Shiv Sena? A chart-busting 75% and 31% (highest on both counts, ahead of even Laloo’s RJD which has only (!) 46% and 26% respectively). Its erstwhile partner of 17 years, the JD(U) is 3rd on the list with stats of 44% and 28% (and the two didn’t split because of this!), while the one it is wooing, TDP had 36% and 14% facing criminal charges respectively over the same period. The Congress in contrast had a much lower 22% and 8%, occupying the 4th best position in a table of 20 parties. Its allies, the NCP and RLD were both better placed than BJP. In what position is the BJP in to attack?
4)  Why is Narendra Modi silent? Its amazing how the one who cannot stop speaking hasn’t spoken at all on the ordinance! He’s tweeted on everything from “Congress mukt Bharat” to the Gujarati film “The Good Road” to repeated references to some imaginary “BJP wave” to “welcoming the SC’s decision on Right to Reject”, but he’s not spoken a word on this ordinance. Why is the great leader so silent?
5)    Here is why Narendra Modi is silent: The poor great leader will now finally have to sack his water resources minister Babubhai Bokhariya for the verdict in the illegal mining case against him. If the BJP cared so much for the SC’s order against convicted leaders, why did they not sack Bokhariya earlier? In fact, why did they not sack their 31% leaders facing criminal charges? Narendra Modi’s tolerance for corruption is already well established, what with his smart maneuvers to prevent a Lok Ayukta from being set up in his state for 10 years, and with his refusal to sack Bokhariya. Guess what media will be asking next?!

Too much attention has been drawn to what the PM will do next. Wait and watch. The PM will have a successful US trip, concluding some important deals there. He will be publicly endorsed by Obama, no less, and media will once again be guffawing about him. There will be no battle inside the Congress, for the party knows how to settle such issues. But the battle outside the Congress will now start in right earnest!

The real truth is that Rahul Gandhi shook his own party up and turned it in the right direction. By doing so, he diverted the spotlight onto the others, the real beneficiaries of his party’s ordinance. As time passes, it will become clear that his party had the least reason to enact the ordinance. The biggest beneficiaries, including the BJP and its allies, will now be squirming!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Now Rajan debunks “Gujarat Shining”; shows Congress states are best off….

There have been so many stories already debunking Modi’s Gujarat Shining story. But there is a certain weightage that must be attached to the Raghuram Rajan report that was released to media yesterday. Why the report is special is  firstly, because of the author’s impeccable credentials and secondly, because of the variety of factors it considers to arrive at its conclusions. Rajan has classified Gujarat as a “less developed” state, bracketed with others like Andhra, Karnataka and West Bengal. For Modi, this must be yet another body-blow. For the BJP, a completely unacceptable shocker.

For the BJP has been pinning its 2014 electoral hopes on the Gujarat development model. We have been made to believe that Gujarat is more than Singapore and Hongkong combined, and Modi as the champion of Gujarat, the only one who got it glory, is the messiah sent to earth to save it from the “kalyug” that the Congress has got it into! Till the time Modi was confined to his state, no one really bothered to question him or his stats. But now that he’s become the PM nominee of his party, the spotlight is on him and his state. And the findings, like I mentioned earlier, are not too savoury for him.

In reality, Gujarat should be happy since it is going to be a beneficiary of the Rajan report. It will now get a higher allocation. A shrewd Gujarati would never mind this! He wouldn’t care two hoots about anything else! But Modi is in a jam. He has no option but to rubbish the report. He will likely refuse to take the extra handout from the center. If he does that, he will only be extending misery. He has always preferred to look a single economic measure – GSDP growth – and even here, his record is only as good as Maharashtra’s or Haryana’s or Tamil Nadu’s or Andhra’s (see my post yesterday). When it comes to any other measure of development, there is no place for it in the Gujarat model – be in social indicators like Life Expectancy at Birth (LEB), Mean Years of Schooling (MSY) or School Life Expectancy (SLE) – or the HDI index which puts Gujarat at a poor 10th place in the country.

The people will decide about Modi. But here’s more interesting data from the Rajan report. If one were to look at the least developed states – 10 in all – which include the big ones of Gujarat, MP, Chhatisgarh, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Odisha and Jharkhand – then one realizes the other dramatic fact. All of these states threw out the Congress many many years back, and yet, there has not been a change in their development status. Most of these have seen a long period of BJP rule. Makes me wonder how the BJP can accuse the Congress of not developing the country when they themselves have not been able to develop even a smaller area under their rule! Consider the following:

Least developed states: Chhatisgarh has had BJP for 10 years continuously, Gujarat for 15, Jharkhand for 8 out of 15 years, Bihar for 8 years (RJD before that) and Rajasthan for 10 of the last 20 years (rest Congress), and yet all of these states find themselves in the bracket of least developed states. Then there is Odisha which threw out the Congress 13 years back, Bihar which did the same 23 years back and UP which did it 24 years back. All of these states have experienced vast spells of non-Congress rule. Why have their new rulers not been able to make much impact? Is it time that these states gave the Congress another chance?

Relatively developed states: This list includes Haryana, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Punjab, TN and Goa. What is obviously visible here? That a bulk of these states have been under long spells of Congress rule. Haryana has had Congress for 13 out of the last 22 years, Maharashtra has always been ruled by the Congress (with NCP in part) except for 4 years between 1996-99, Kerala has had Congress governments for 14 out of 22 years, Uttarakhand has had a 50-50 share between Congress and BJP governments, Punjab has had Congress governments for 10 out of 21 years and Goa which has seen Congress for 15 out of 22 years.

The clear picture that emerges is that its not just Gujarat that is not shining adequately. States which have seen BJP rule for a majority of the time are doing poorly; and states which have seen Congress rule for a majority of the time are doing much better. Now I know that Congress critics will argue that the under-performing states threw out the Congress, and I grant them that. But this brings up two things. 1) What did the non-Congress governments deliver after the Congress was thrown out? And 2) Why do the developed states prefer the Congress? What is it about them that they don’t want the BJP to rule?

The real truth is that just like India Shining bombed for the BJP, so will Gujarat Shining. After all, how long can the truth remain hidden. PR works for a while, but beyond that, the truth asserts itself. The BJP knows this. It knows that the Congress’s economic growth record is much better. That is why the development (and governance) plank is only a minor plank in its political strategy. The main plank has always been, and remains even today, Hindutva. This is not the BJP fighting the polls. It is the RSS….

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The bunkum about faster growing BJP states….

The BJP has been making tall claims for a long time, only to be proven wrong again and again. This has earned its PM nominee the #feku tag. Yesterday, Ravi Shankar Prasad made yet another tall claim in The Mint when he said “Why is it that despite all the gloom, pessimism and lack of trust with India’s growth rate plummeting to below 5%, most of the BJP ruled state governments – Gujarat, Chhatisgarh, MP and Goa – are seeing an 11% growth rate?”. Made me research the subject and come out with therealtruth yet again!

The data I have used comes from the Planning Commission. It’s available at The table has data from 2004-5 onwards, hence is a convenient measure of the UPA’s performance at the center. The data uses “2004-5 prices”, so it eliminates the effect of inflation (many readers still don’t understand that GDP growth numbers are calculated after removing the impact of inflation). Here’s what the data throws up:

1)    Overall India growth: India’s GDP growth over this period of 8 years is 8.5% per annum on average (CAGR). This period has been completely under UPA rule. This, as is well known, is the best period of growth India has ever seen, far higher than what the NDA government gave in the six years earlier. Let’s use this number as the benchmark to figure out which states have done better than the average, and which lower.

2)    Best performing states: Those which have grown at more than a high 9% are Delhi (11.4%), Haryana (9.4%), Maharashtra (10.0%) and Goa (9.0%) – all from the Congress, Gujarat (10.1%) and Bihar (9.2%) from the BJP, TN (9.4%) of both the DMK (5 years) and AIADMK (3 years) and Uttarakhand (13.1%) shared by both the BJP (5 years) and Congress (3 years). While Goa is currently ruled by BJP (and they are making a mess of it), the data relates to the period when it was ruled by the Congress (7 out of the 8 years). In the same way, while the BJP has split from JD(U) in Bihar, I am giving it credit for it. It’s clear that of the best performing states, the Congress has four, BJP has 2, and there is one shared by both.
3)  All states above All India growth rate: In addition the states mentioned in point 2) above, there are also Andhra (8.8%), Rajasthan (8.6%) and MP (8.6%) which have grown above the All India rate. Again, two of these better performing states belong to Congress, and one to the BJP.

4)    All states below All India growth rate: This list includes Assam (6%) of the Congress, Chhatisgarh (8.4%), Karnataka (8%) and Punjab (7%) of the BJP, Odisha (7.7%) of the BJD, UP (7.2%) of the SP/BSP and WB (7.2%) and Kerala (5 years of Left, 3 of Congress) of the Left. As is seen, the Congress has only one state in this list of underperforming states, and a small part of one more while the BJP has three, including…. surprise surprise…. Chhatisgarh! Another surprise is Naveen Patnaik’s Odisha…..

5)    Gujarat: #Feku’s tall claims about the Gujarat model need to be balanced with similar achievements of big states like Maharashtra (2 times bigger than Gujarat), Delhi (53% of Gujarat), TN (4% bigger than Gujarat), Andhra (slightly bigger than Gujarat) and Haryana (45% of Gujarat). Four out of these six states are ruled by the Congress, and only one by the BJP. These are all “big” states, part of the top 12 in the country. Gujarat is just one of so many others growing equally rapidly, but the impression Modi creates is that there is only Gujarat. Modi’s bunkum is of course repeatedly proved whenver anyone just about scratches the surface – data on FDI, jobs created, and of course all the HDI indicators. Modi’s smart but devilish ploy is to show an already developed state as part of his achievements, much similar to if Obama claimed the US was developed because of him (he doesn’t of course)!

6)    Economic growth not the only factor: Low growing states like Assam, Chhatisgarh, Odisha and Punjab have seen long-lasting governments, while high growth states like Goa, Rajasthan, TN and Uttarkhand have seen flip-flops. This clearly shows that while economic growth matters (low growth states like Karnataka, Kerala, UP and WB see regular government changes, while high growth ones like AP, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, MP and Maharashtra have seen long lasting governments), it is not the only thing. Assam’s tryst with peace has worked for the Congress, Odisha’s focus on tribal inclusivenss has worked for BJD and so on.

The Economic Times recently debunked the BJP’s tall claims as well. In its 24th September issue, the paper quotes Shivraj Singh Chouhan, CM of MP as saying “Even in this 4.5% (the assumed national GDP growth rate now), the main contribution is from the BJP-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, which are growing at double-digit growth of over 10% consistently. BJP ruled states have done more development than anyone else. Nobody can dispute these facts.”. Well, the paper does dispute these facts when it says “Based on GDP numbers for 2011-12 (the last year for which state GDP figures are available), the six BJP-ruled states at that time (Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, MP, Uttarakhand & HP) accounted for only 25.45% of growth. In comparison, the six Congress-ruled states (AP, Assam, Haryana, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Goa) accounted for 37.36% of growth.”.

Besides where do these guys get the 10% (Shivraj Singh) and 11% (Ravi Shankar Prasad) numbers from? These are blatantly wrong numbers. It’s not even as if they have done this well in this most recent year. Chhatisgarh grew by 8%, Gujarat by 8.5% and only MP by 11.8%. Are BJP leaders lying?

The real truth is that the BJP is wrong about economic data all the time. Does it do it intentionally?  Maybe that is why the people of the country don’t trust the party. It was voted out in 2004 when it made similar bogus claims of “India shining”. The party also has this peculiar habit – of using PR to create an impression of extreme support for itself – but it gets fooled into believing this rubbish itself!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Work on SC observations…..but expand Aadhar even more

The SC has made a few caustic observations about the Congress’s ambitious Aadhar program. While no one can fault the specific observations made by the Apex court, the SC could have used language that encouraged this progressive initiative of the government. It needn’t have looked like a rebuke (The TOI yesterday reported “The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a crippling blow to the UPA’s showpiece Aadhaar scheme”). Rather than getting disheartened, the government must work on the SC’s observations and make Aadhar all-pervasive.

One of the rulings made by the SC is that the Aadhar card should only be given to Indian citizens. This is perfectly right. After all, if the purpose of Aadhar is to identify Indians, it should only be given to Indians. The Social Security card in the US is given only to Americans after all, right? The reality is that this ruling hardly affects the actual program. The number of illegal immigrants is rather limited – a few millions, largely from Bangladesh, and largely limited to the East/North-East. Putting a process of verification of Indian citizenship may be cumbersome, but its not such a difficult thing to do. The government must develop new means, not relying only on the police (which we know is inefficient), of identifying citizenship.

The other observation is that the Aadhar card should be voluntary. This means that the government cannot deny the benefits of its subsidy programs to those who do not opt for the card. This also is fair, given that in a democracy, sharing personal information like biometrics should be voluntary. However, this ruling is also not a problem, for if the government links cash dole-outs to Aadhar, there is an in-built incentive for the poor to enroll. Who doesn’t want cash in hand, instead of the poor service and sub-standard grains he gets at a PDS shop?

Why I am saying that the SC should have used encouraging language is because of the massive benefits that it brings for the country. If anything, it is an example of exemplary governance. India would be ahead of even developed countries with this program. One of the biggest benefits that has already been highlighted enough is that of cutting wasteful subsidies. Today, many beneficiaries avail of a higher quota of foodgrains than they are eligible for, by faking the identities of others. With a biometric card, this would become a thing of the past, cutting subsidies dramatically (by some estimates, by 25-50%).

But there are at least three other major benefits that the Aadhar programme achieves.

First, it is a bold move to cut corruption out of the entire PDS system. With payment being routed directly into the beneficiary’s bank a/c, there is no role left for middlemen. The PDS shopkeeper who routinely diverts foodgrains to the market for profit will be unable to do so, as beneficiaries will buy their requirements in the open market. In the case of MNREGA payments, the role of the contractor would be substantially reduced (though it will continue to exist, because the contractor would still be the one certifying the work done by a beneficiary). Ditto in other government schemes, where concepts like “facilitation fees” and “speed money” account for a bulk of the corruption.

Second, and no one has pointed this out, is the impact that biometrics will have on solving crime. Every criminal leaves behind tell-tale signs of his act. Investigators can lift finger-prints from most crime scenes. The problem is that these finger-prints are useless without a database of finger-prints of all citizens of the country. With Aadhar, that becomes a reality. In the future, every finger-print lifted from a crime scene can be identified, thanks to Aadhar. Most crimes would get solved. Our investigation work would be better – hence the innocent won’t have to suffer. More importantly, the real criminals will be put behind bars with a definite certainty.

Third, Aadhar’s role in social inclusiveness is unparalleled. My own driver finally managed to open his bank account in SBI with his Aadhar card. Now I can pay him by cheque or electronic transfer, bringing his finances into the open. He is kicked about having a debit card, and if he starts paying more using his card, our economy will become more “documented”. The benefits to him, in terms of safety of cash, availability whenever he wants it, being able to earn interest, etc are huge. Transferring money across states – like all migrants do to their families in the villages – becomes easy. Also, since most people already have mobile phones, the advantages of mobile phone banking could be brought to them.

That’s why I get upset when politics enters this vital transformational agenda of the government. The BJP hates Aadhar because it knows that it is proof of the Congress’s commitment to the poor. And a sign of good governance. BJP supporters (readers of my blog) make inane comments like “the photo is of poor quality” or “the card looks trashy” when they comment on Aadhar. Other critics have pointed out the several start-up problems that the government has faced in is Direct Benefits Transfer (Cash transfers) program. But lets not forget, this is just a start. We must expect teething problems. But we shouldn’t give up. The benefits are just too enormous for us to give up.

The real truth is that Aadhar is a revolutionary move. It is evidence of good governance. It should be supported by all who want to weed out corruption. It has huge benefits in reducing crime. It’s impact on social inclusiveness, and the resultant transparency it brings out, is profound. We must support the program, not politicize it….

Monday, September 23, 2013

Modi’s fake encounter was with Yashwant Sinha, not UPA!

After Feku reeled off yet another dubious “fact”, this time on the 8.4% GDP growth of the NDA becoming 4.8% under the UPA, it looked like the PM aspirant of the BJP had goofed up yet again with his numbers. After all, everyone knows that the one talking point the UPA has had over its extended 9 year term is the economy. As expected, the UPA pounced on him, with Finance Minister Chidambaram, calling this Modi’s “fake encounter with facts”. Modi himself went silent, as he usually does after saying something preposterous (remember, he doesn’t even entertain questions), leaving the battle to his acolytes to fight. But there was one man who realized where Modi’s statement was really directed. And that man was Yashwant Sinha!

Yashwant Sinha realized he had been played. Modi’s bizarre statistic was bound to focus attention on the NDA’s sordid economic record, and on him as the FM of that government. Not knowing what to do, and left with no viable options (such is Modi’s political brilliance!), Sinha attacked. He attacked like a Rottweiler, against the one party he can attack even in the middle of the night. Except that he knows fully well how his chances of becoming the FM yet again have been extinguished for good!

Now everyone knows that Modi is a wily politician. No one realizes how his mind works, but having observed him for some time now, I think I do. When he made his statement yesterday, he was plotting the most brilliant, the most perfect, butchery ever. This time of his own party colleague; one who had unfortunately made the mistake of rebelling against his personal ambitions. Modi was going to expose Sinha. And he did! Attacking Sinha’s record as FM was never difficult, and Sinha must have been praying that that record never became the subject of a public debate, but alas! Here are some of the “real facts” that Sinha must not face.

First, the economy’s performance as measured by GDP. That GDP growth during NDA was way below that during UPA (5.9% v/s 8%), as Chidambaram pointed out. But here’s something that he didn’t say. That the GDP growth even before NDA was better. It was some 6%+ during the two years of UF government. Who screwed up? Yashwant Sinha!

Second, again on GDP. The NDA did very little to grow the Indian economy. GDP in 1998 was $420 billion odd and in 2004, $620 billion odd. That’s about 50% growth over 6 years (compounded average growth approx 5.9% as mentioned earlier). During the UPA-1 tenure, the GDP grew from $620 billion to $1.22 billion – a nearly 100% jump in just 5 years. And even during UPA-2, it grew from $1.22 billion to $1.87 billion – a 53% jump in just three years till 2012. It’s only during the last two years that the economy has slowed down in $ terms, mainly because of the global crisis and partly because of the policy paralysis that resulted from a vitiated political environment following the CAG/Anna “movements”. Yashwant Sinha had clearly failed as FM!

Third, the lowest GDP growth rate ever hit by the Indian economy since the 1991 reforms was during Yashwant Sinha’s tenure. It was 4% in 2002-3. That level hasn’t been crossed yet, and I doubt it will ever be, despite the most severe economic crisis the globe has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Who was responsible for this? You guessed right! Damn….why did Modi have to start this debate off!

Fourth, the GDP growth was in the 4% region twice during the six years of Sinha’s rule (2001 and 2003). So if Chidambaram needs to consult anyone during this hour of crisis, it is Yashwant Sinha! Now you understand Modi’s grand design?

Fifth, yes indeed, Yashwant Sinha is right (finally!). The NDA did have nil Current Account Deficit (CAD) during its six years of rule and the Congress in fact had about 2.2% during its 9 years (its gone into the 4%+ territory only in the last two years). But any economist will argue that for a developing country like India, a zero CAD is not a good idea, especially when we have such a large community of NRIs that sends in huge remittances every year. And especially since we are attracting hundreds of billions of foreign capital to fuel our growth. If we didn’t have a negative CAD, our currency would soar, making our exports uncompetitive! Poor Sinha again!

Sixth, that India’s economy is actually very well managed even in the context of external debt, the other point that Sinha loves to rant about. Yes, external debt has gone up from $112 billion (Dec 31, 2003) to some $390 billion now, but so has the economy! The right measure to use is debt:GDP ratio, and that number has stayed static at 20-21% since the NDA period. What is better is that the debt-servicing ratio (ratio of interest payments to gross current receipts) is down from 18% in Dec 2013 (11% without redemption of Resurgent India Bonds) to just 6% now. So if anything, we are under less of a debt burden now than we were after the NDA rule! (Now Sinha is screaming!).

If you think this conspiracy theory is bizarre, think again. This form of attack is a Modi speciality. He attacks a fellow colleague, even while the external world thinks he is praising him! Poor Yashwant Sinha. He was left to defend his record, and in the process accuse Chidambaram of being “economical” with facts. He only managed to prove that far from it, it was Sinha himself who was being “comical” with figures!

The real truth is that this latest Feku trick of seemingly attacking the UPA on economic growth, was actually a covert operation – a fake encounter if you will – on Yashwant Sinha. This is Modi telling Sinha – and all the others who dare him – that for opposing him as PM candidate, he will suffer. If elected, Modi will not make him FM. This is quintessential Modi…..and one after the other…..each one of Modi’s colleagues are realizing the capability of this man!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Look who all Narendra Modi wants as allies….

Narendra Modi is trying to attract allies. He’s trying to prove that he is not such a shoo-away after all. Today’s TOI reports of alliances that he is working on urgently. One is with Yeddy and his KJP; the other with Om Prakash Chautala and his INLD. Both provide interesting insights into the working and mind of the knight-in-shining-armour of the BJP.

Just as a refresher, here are a few statements made by the BJP when it finally sacked Yeddy. On 28th July, 2011, The BJP has unanimously decided that there will be a change of guard in Karnataka. The board has advised Yeddyurappa to step down immediately.” – Ravi Shankar Prasad ( – And when the BJP was forced to act, it also dispatched 30 of Yeddy’s aides out of the party (TOI: BJP sacks 30 Yeddyurappa aides – Dec 25, 2012 – And even as recently as April 23rd this year (TOI): “The BJP live with principles. Any leader is involved with corrupt practices, he has to resign. Yeddyurappa was no different” – Rajnath Singh  (

What changed after April 23rd that the party is all set to make a u-turn on Yeddy? Several things. One, the BJP lost Karnataka, and with that, its only spot of existence in the South. Two, the departure of the JD(U) after 17 years of partnership, purely and solely because of Modi’s nomination as the poll chief. With that, the NDA lost its raison d’etre. Three, Modi’s swearing in as the PM nominee of the party recently. Since then, like I have written earlier, Modi has become the one-single symbol of the party. And four and perhaps most important, the fact that all polls are indicating that the BJP itself wont go much beyond 150, and the NDA a little more. Clearly, Modi is an issue for the party. So what does the party do? “BJP seeks to lure exiles, old allies back into fold” as the TOI calls it!

Again, just as a refresher, reported the following: “The Lokayukta report on illegal mining, which was submitted to the Karnataka chief secretary, indicted Yeddyurappa, the Reddy brothers of Bellary, former chief minister and JD(S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy and others and recommended prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act.” Just what happens to the party’s stand on corruption, no one cares for. That was, in any case, just a convenient ploy to attack the Congress.

With Yeddy almost in the bag, Modi’s sharp mind turned towards Haryana. The TOI talks of a possible alliance with ex-NDA partner, Om Prakash Chautala’s INLD, a party that has been out of power for the last two terms. The one common thing between Yeddy and Chautala? Both are accused of corruption!

Here’s what Wiki writes about Chautala (must be a strange feeling when out of the three paras, one is devoted to this!): “The New Delhi court had sentenced him and his elder son Ajay Singh Chautala for ten years imprisonment under various provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act on the 22nd of January 2013. CBI probe was ordered by Supreme Court during NDA regime led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee (so no Congress hand here!). The CBI had on June 6, 2008, chargesheeted him and 53 others in connection with the scam relating to appointment of 3,206 junior basic teachers in the state of Haryana during 1999-2000. On January 16, 2013 he was convicted by a Delhi court for illegal recruitment of over 3000 teachers. Soon after this he and his son Ajay Chautala were immediately taken into police custody. On September 12, 2013 the Supreme Court of India rejected his ailment plea and instructed him to surrender to Jail authorities immediately”.

Is two enough to make a pattern? Probably not. So here’s the 3rd: Babulal Marandi, of the JVM, Jharkhand. The probably again is that as recently as a year back, Marandi had said in disgust “There was no difference between the UPA government at the Centre and the BJP-led coalition in the state as both have failed to deliver people-friendly policies. Besides, corruption has been rampant both at the state and central level with public funds being looted through various scams". But this is bare-knuckled politics! Since JMM parted company with the BJP and tied up with the Congress, the BJP is left to deal with the loser – Marandi. So what if he thinks of BJP as being as corrupt as the Congress!

All of this is enough to tell us just how committed the BJP is to the issue of corruption. The fact that Modi hasn’t had a Lok Ayukta in Gujarat for ten years is already well known and must count for something. My point is not the BJP is any more corrupt than the Congress or any other party for that matter. It’s just that the party pretends to be cleaner. It’s words contrast with its deeds unfortunately.

The real truth is that Modi’s grand alliance-plan is already making him make compromises. He’s having to settle with the proven-corrupt and the left-overs. In contrast, he’s had to party company with the proven-efficient, the JD(U). The alliance that is coming up is already looking like an eyesore!

Friday, September 20, 2013

General VK Singh a rogue? The BJP looks worse….

The Indian Express story was a shocker. As much of a shocker as the TOI story first on Nitin Gadkari’s business empire. There were furious denials from the parties named then, even accusations of impropriety and bias against TOI. Later, as the truth emerged, the publication’s stand was justified. Indian Express too has stood by its report, and said that it has more to reveal. If it were to do that, or if a court were to look at the full report, the bluster around VK Singh would come unstuck.

Several things shocked me yesterday in the NDTV debate on the subject. First, the lawyer representing the General surely has to be the most rude and uncouth person ever to have made it to TV. He was foul and threatening; and wasn’t allowing anyone else to speak. Second, the BJP seemed to be in too much anxiety to defend the General. Why? Is he their party member? Is that why he shared the stage with Modi? And third, neither the General’s lawyer nor the BJP were actually denying the charges per se. The General’s lawyer merely kept asking the newpaper’s opinion’s editor if she had seen the report herself. How does that matter? Assume she hasn’t seen it. Does that make the news report wrong? If the charges are wrong, then the lawyer should have told us why they were wrong. But he didn’t. The BJP kept questioning the timing. Now assume that the timing was indeed a play of politics by the Congress. So what? Its political season isn’t it? But does that make the General defendable? And the argument that had the General wanted to topple a government, he would have tried to do the central government, not a state, is shameful to say the least. Besides, there were sordid stories of the Army conducting secret surveillance in Delhi a few years back weren’t there? At that time, the opposition had accused the government of trying to keep a watch on them. Well, we now know who was responsible. And then the explanation that covert operations are a must for a country like us? That’s silly. For covert operations are kept covert from the world, not from the government! As a responsible party, should the BJP not have focused on the seriousness of the issue and said that it needed to be investigated? Somehow Prakash Javdekar made the BJP looked guilty.

There are a few elements in the charges which somehow ring true. Or at least sound plausible. For example, the age controversy towards the end of the General’s career. It lacked even the basic decency expected of an Army officer. It was a representation of the selfish “I, me, myself” culture that probably has brought the General close to Narendra Modi. That aside, the General’s ambition, at that point, looked like extending his own career by a year. Now with this latest charge, it looks like maybe there was more to it than personal ambition. It was an effort to scuttle the present General’s chances of becoming the top dog. That’s why the TSD, part of the Military Intelligence unit that VK Singh headed, funded an NGO to file a PIL – alleging a fake encounter – against General Bikram Singh. Fortunately, that PIL was thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Then the fact that the report was actually submitted in March this year, and not revealed by the government, actually shows that the government is acting without malice. If it had wanted to embarrass the General, and thwart his chances of entering politics, it could have released the report long back. And if it wanted to embarrass the BJP, it could have revealed the report just before the Modi rally. In reality, there couldn’t be a worse timing for the leak of this report. The BJP’s charge of timing is an obvious one. Surely the Congress knew of this possibility. Why would it release the report now? Maybe its this worry about being called vindictive that made the government go slow on the report for so many months? Maybe that’s why the government is still wary of ordering a CBI enquiry?

Then again, the BJP couldn’t answer the Congress’s point that when leaks happened of the CAG’s 2G report, the BJP didn’t take such a high moral ground against leaks. Is the BJP’s politics just politics of convenience? And when the Indian Express editor said that the same journalist who broke this story had embarrassed the Congress in the past with some other breaks, thus justifying any absence of political bias, no one had an answer. If anyone was politicizing the leak, it was clearly the BJP.

The Indian Express story has given great details in its report, just like the TOI report had about Gadkari’s empire. Likewise, when the Indian Express had broken the story of how Kiran Bedi, who pretended to be holier than thou in the days of the Anna movement, and still does now, was pocketing large sums of money (maybe for her NGO) from air travel – claiming more and paying much lesser. The details were so many that they could never be denied. In this latest case as well, the specificity of charges gives the report credibility.

Talking of conspiracies, one that is equally possible is that the General knew he had been exposed, and hence created an anti-government charade so as to weaken the government’s ability to prosecute him. The General has shown to be a very savvy mind, and this is surely not beyond him. His accusations against retired Lt. General Tejinder Singh could not be proved even after the CBI examined 50 people. Clearly there is a pattern here? What is equally possible as a conspiracy, is that the BJP has its supporters in the establishment (Army, CAG, Judiciary, Activists), just like all parties have, and it has decided to induct them into its politics (unlike other parties). There has always been suspicion of the ex-CAG, Vinod Rai. We’ll wait and see if he does join the BJP. There has also been suspicion about General Singh. His overt support for Anna was a way to announce his opposition to the government, not any concern for corruption. After Anna split with Kejriwal, maybe the General decided to take his anti-Congress politics to the BJP instead. For the BJP, anyone who embarrasses the government is good news.

The real truth is that the General Singh leaks are a poor reflection of the man who was the Chief. But even more of a poor reflection is the stance of the BJP. Even in this matter of national security, the BJP prefers to play politics. Maybe its understandable – after all, its PM nominee has been caught with his pants down!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Economic rebound will force BJP towards aggressive Hindutva….

The Congress is in overdrive, with policy activism replacing policy paralysis. Over the past few months, the focus of the Chidambaram led Finance Ministry and the PM has been on clearing long-pending projects, especially in the infrastructure sector. The other focus has been on reforms in the FDI policy. This has started yielding results, with FDI rising smartly. The stock markets are at a high and the rupee has recovered much of its losses. As economic gloom yields to at least some cheer, the BJP is fast losing one of its poll planks – economic “mess” as it calls it – forcing it to gravitate more and more towards that other plank – Hindutva. Aggressive hindutva to be precise.

The Cabinet Committee on Investments has given the green signal to projects with an investment potential of more than Rs 5 lac crores. Fuel linkages between Coal India and near-completion power plants should ensure that power production increases in the near future. FDI reforms in the aviation sector has resulted in three deals being announced in recent months – the Jet-Etihad, Tata-Air Asia and today, the Tata-SIA ones. FIIs have pumped in money yet again into the Indian stock markets after pulling out money for three months between June and August. Exports are growing at 10%+ and are expected to continue the pace in the coming months. Core inflation – which excludes food and fuel – is down to sub-3% levels, making this a less worrisome issue for new RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. And while on Rajan, its clear how badly managed RBI had become towards the end of Subba Rao’s tenure – see my various posts on this subject. If Rajan today announces even a slight slant towards growth (either a lower repo rate, or a cut in CRR or SLR as he has already indicated), then the economic cheer will be back in full swing. Only those strongly aligned with the BJP will still see gloom anywhere on the economic horizon! The crisis isn’t over, but the moves made are decisive.

On the other hand, Modi’s much touted development model is coming under increased attacks. In just the last few days, several figures have emerged which show that Gujarat’s story is hardly remarkable – it is, but hardly of the order that Modi has publicized it to be. Other data indicates yet again how much stronger the UPA rule has been compared to the NDA period. Sample this: FDI inflow during NDA’s six years rule was some $24 billion. In the UPA’s 9 years, some $222 billion (source: ET, September 13th, article by Abheek Barman). And this: Despite Modi’s much-hyped Vibrant Gujarat, actual FDI inflows into Gujarat were just some $0.5 billion v/s some $8 billion in Maharashtra in 2012-13. Share of Gujarat? 2.38% v/s 40% for Maharashtra. Gujarat was placed sixth in the list, just ahead of…..guess what…..communist West Bengal (source: Total FDI into Gujarat since 2003-4, a mere $7 billion compared to Maharashtra’s $46 billion and Delhi’s $26 billion. Here’s more: As per former World Banker Salman Anees Soz (ya,ya, I know what the BJP will say given his name), Investment rate during NDA rule was 25.2% of GDP; during UPA rule 35.5%. Fiscal deficit during NDA rule was 5.5%, UPA 4.6%. Average GDP growth rate during NDA rule 6%, under UPA rule (despite 2008 crisis) 8%. Per-capita income has risen from Rs 21,729 to Rs 68,747 crores between the NDA and UPA rules (that’s 13.5% per annum on nominal basis – around 7% on real basis – highest anywhere in the world). Some 140 million people have been taken out of poverty. Etc etc etc.

This is why Modi’s strategy has changed – less in speech but more in actual action – in the last few months. He no longer reels off fake statistics, that used to be OK when he was a mere CM. Modi’s development plank had only one objective – to take the discussion away from 2002. That worked. Today, many intelligent upper class Indians are willing to condone Modi’s 2002 record, and his continuing anti-minority bias, only because of his so called development record. But Modi knows that isn’t cutting much ice any longer.

That is why Modi is trying to woo the Muslims – something that looks so funny really. It’s like Hitler asking the Jews to vote for him! On the other hand, in terms of actual on-ground action, the BJP’s main political plank has shifted decidedly towards aggressive Hindutva. The Muzaffarnagar riots prove how the strategy can help the party. Unsurprisingly, the max number of politicians named there belong the BJP. Likewise, in Bihar, the JD(U) has accused the BJP for the riots that took place recently in Nawada. The BJP’s lame defence: it was failure of administration. Are we to believe that the same administration that the BJP claimed was so effective for so many years failed in just 2 months of the alliance breaking? And what about the 84 kosi yatra? Why was it done a second time during the year, and that too only around the districts of Ayodhya? And why was Amit Shah in particular sent to UP? The pursuit of Hindutva is aggressive and muscular. The same muscular style is demonstrated in statements – illiterate ones really – by Modi about our neighboring countries. The intention? Create a strong image for Modi of being a nationalist. Hindu nationalist, mind you.

The strategy is clear. Modi wants to present a personal image of having changed; of including Muslims in his fold. But behind the scenes, it’s a different game entirely. And its understandable. The BJP has tried everything it could during 2004 and 2009. If it went with the same plan in 2014 – and again under Advani – then there was little hope to capture power. Hence the RSS’s favorite strategy. Divide and rule. Hence Modi, and not Advani.

The real truth is that the BJP has not only become a one-man party (my post of 2 days back), but also a party with a single-point agenda. Make no mistake, its Hindutva all the way. Ram Jethmalani defending Asaram is no mistake. It is to reassure Hindus (those at the fringe who prefer aggressive Hindutva) that they are safe under BJP rule. And only under BJP rule. This strategy will be played more aggressively going forward, especially as the development plank fails. Hindutva will drown out everything. Wait and watch….

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Look who’s recruiting whom: Congress goes for Nilekani, BJP for Yeddy

Media reports confirm what has been known to be a possibility for long. That Yeddy is desperate to return back to the BJP, and the BJP is desperate to take him back. Both need each other badly, corruption or no corruption. In the meantime, the Congress is mulling putting Nandan Nilekani, the poster boy of India’s IT industry, and the genius who conceived and quickly implemented the world’s biggest biometric identification project, as its candidate from Bangalore. Shows what kind of people both parties are attracting.

The story around Yeddy also shows us something more about Narendra Modi’s thinking and his political strategy. The one thing that we know for sure is that he has raised the Hindutva pitch. Maybe the BJP is not directly involved in Muzaffarnagar, there surely looks like something’s going on there. The maximum number of politicians charged for the incidents there belong to the BJP. The benefit of the polarization in that region goes mostly to the BJP. Modi’s Hindutva strategy is well known; after all, he was chosen for the PM’s nomination primarily by the RSS. After all, that’s why he sent Amit Shah there.

Now we also have an insight into what else Modi’s beliefs are. By inducting Yeddy, Modi is sending the signal that political clout matters more than corruption. When corruption in Karnataka first became a big deal, the BJP hemmed and hawed over Yeddy. When it finally removed him, under massive pressure from the media, it tried to make a big deal of it, claiming that it had “zero tolerance” towards corruption. Now, if Yeddy is welcomed back to the party, the tables would be turned over. Corruption would not be a reason for the party not to welcome someone in. Votes matter more than the corruption record of the person. So does it mean that the BJP is officially distancing itself from the corruption plank?

It would look so, considering that Modi has never really believed in fighting corruption. It’s not that he doesn’t cherish the “clean” image his PR machinery has built for him, but he has a different way to achieve that image. By simply not allowing a Lok Ayukta to come up in his state for more than a decade. Simple! No Lok Ayukta, no corruption complaints. Clean image. Do what you want to do with land, crony capitalism, fudged figures… one needs to know.

We first came to know that corruption was a mere political rhetoric for the BJP when it first pretended to support Anna and later back-stabbed him, over the issue of including Lok Ayuktas within the Lokpal Bill. All that was just political opportunism. Those days, the camera was focused on Anna, and the BJP wanted to be seen on his right side. The moment Anna was out of favor, the party turned over.

Look now at the Congress’s move to induct Nandan Nilekani. Before Nilekani, there was Shashi Tharoor, a professional diplomat who truly represents the kind of India that I personally feel proud of – educated, cultured, liberal. Nilekani makes it two of the same kind. He is a successful professional, who made India proud, by making it the hub of the world’s outsourcing and IT business. He is progressive, going by his preference for technology-based solutions to age-old problems. He believes in inclusive growth, going by the extensive philanthropy work he and his wife do. And he is liberal without doubt. Nilekani adds to the Congress’s image of being a magnet for such people. And Nilekani benefits from the Congress’s image of being a liberal, progressive, caring party.

What is interesting is that Rahul Gandhi is credited with getting Nilekani in. Rahul’s advantage in being young, in comparison to a much older Modi, is becoming visible here. Equally, Rahul’s inexperience in running a government has its advantages, as he is not bogged down by the grim realities of that. He is free to dream. Dream that one day, the likes of Nilekani and Tharoor will play a more important role in building modern India.

Yeddy and Nilekani both come from Karnataka, and yet the two couldn’t be more apart. Yeddy may have a higher chance of winning (with the BJP’s support) than Nilekani, but that doesn’t matter. The import of who supports whom and who inducts whom goes far beyond Karnataka. It speaks volumes of how the two parties function.

The real truth is that inducting Yeddy back will prove that the BJP cares little for corruption. Inducting Nilekani shows that Rahul wants to build a party of committed professionals. Apart from secularism and inclusive growth, this is another point of difference opening up between the two main parties….

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BJP now a one-man show….Modi, Modi, Modi, all the way

With the ascent of Modi to the top of the BJP hierarchy, its shocking how much of a one-man show the party has become. Seasoned senior leaders have been given the go-by, with the exhortation that the new generation has taken over. Modi may well enjoy the glory for now, for it serves his interests very well. But the shrinkage in the leadership pool of the principal opposition party should be a matter of concern in a democracy. Just look at how Modi’s elevation has done that:

First, Modi’s elevation has come in a most un-gainly way, with four out of the top five BJP leaders being cut-up with the act. There is “rusted iron-man” Advani of course, who went public with his disenchantment. Then there is “one step forward, two backwards” Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition (she said she wouldn’t be able to function in that role if Modi was made PM nominee; what will she do now?), who did her typical two steps back move towards the end. And “oppose always, because we are the opposition” Yashwant Sinha, who is hardly visible or audible these days. And then there is the true blue… “truly saffron”, Murli Manohar Joshi, who has quietly decided to give up his opposition, and possibly his Lok Sabha seat in Varanasi to Modi. Now, the result of all this has been that all these stalwarts are out of the picture. Expect them to keep a low profile, hardly be the feisty fighters that they otherwise are. The brigade of the light-weights, the Ravi Shankar Prasads, the Venkaiah Naidu’s, the Nitin Gadkari’s and the Rajnath Singh’s (I call him a lightweight in spite of him being the party Pres) has taken over the mantle from the stalwarts. For Modi is comfortable with the lightweights! And, since Modi is also the party’s campaign chief, the entire exercise is being run by him. Modi has taken full advantage of this, and appointed his close flunkey of “Sohrabuddin and Vanzara” fame, Amit Shah in UP. This is the “I, me, myself” trait that Modi has got best known for!

Second, look at the party’s dependence on Modi. Even the national campaign for 2014 was kick-started on Modi’s birthday! This is bizarre, considering that the elections are still at least 8 months away, and any date could have been chosen. But the party, full of servile leaders as it is now, chose to fete Modi by this act, as if he were some dead and gone freedom fighter! Modi of course, the humble man that he is, acquiesced!

Third, look at the political strategy of the BJP now that Modi has become Lord Almighty. The main plank is Hindutva of course, set by the RSS, but championed by Modi. His “I am a Hindu nationalist” posters, the “burqa” and “puppy” remarks, are all developed around Hindutva with Modi in the center. The secondary poll plank is development. The model? Gujarat! Who cares about the success achieved by MP, Chhatisgarh and…..oops, there are no other states ruled by the BJP! Equally, who cares if the data is so bizarrely wrong that it has earned him the sobriquet #feku! And of course, who cares about esoteric things like HDI! The biggest industrialists give him a salute and that’s enough. Then the poll plank of governance and decision making. Again, the sole exemplar of this is Modi! Who cares that a solid majority in Gujarat allows him to take decisions, and the Congress doesn’t disrupt the assembly there! Then take alliances. Again, it is Modi personally appealing to Jayalalitha (his “friend”), Chandrababu Naidu in AP, Raj Thackeray in Maharashtra and of course, Yeddy in Karnataka…..everything is led by Modi, the super-hero! The party Pres will just affix his signature where required! The Parliamentary Board – oh that can be managed! When it comes to commenting on important Congress laws like the Food Security Bill, it is Modi whose comments sound the loudest. On India’s relations with neighbors, again, it is only Modi who has the wisdom to opine. Why, even the BJP’s minority outreach program is fronted by the one and only Modi (so what if he is suspected to be a Hindu Hriday Samrat by the minority community!). Modi decides when to shun a skull cap, and when to order people to wear them at his rally. Modi decides to charge Rs 5 as entry fee, and to change that the next time. It is Modi all the way!

Fourth, look at our media. It appears that the only leader traveling the country (only cities, mind you!) is Narendra Modi. TV channels gave full-speech coverage on Sunday when Modi spoke in Rajasthan. In contrast, Rahul’s speech in Rajasthan a day later got just a minor mention on TV. As far as media is concerned, Modi is the Anna of 2011. There is saturation coverage of Modi. But Modi should not forget the whims of media. He should only remember the fate that awaited poor Anna once media had wrung him dry. Media dropped Anna like he was a pariah. Today, one hardly remembers Anna or his long fast. Modi’s fate could likely go the same way. Media loves Modi today, but give it a little time, and in spite of Modi’s astute PR skills, he could well become an equal pariah one day.

Fifth, look at the opposition to the BJP. Today, the biggest movement has suddenly transformed from anti-Congressism to anti-BJPism. This is amazing, and has gone mostly unnoticed. This suits the Congress just fine, giving it time to cover lost ground. Has anyone noticed how the Cabinet Committee on Investments (CCI) has been been clearing projects at a pace faster than Chris Gayle’s on his best day out in cricket?! The Congress will find itself to be the darling of the smaller parties, with both RJD and JD(U) in Bihar, Jagan and TRS in AP, SP and BSP in UP vying for a deal with it. Equally, the BJP has been reduced to just 2 allies, with a possibility of AIADMK joining in later. But surely BJP remembers its experience with this whimsical Southern sultress from its earlier stint!

This is way beyond a Presidential form of election. Modi is Romney and Obama folded into one. He is Putin, Merkel, Cameron and Hollande all bound into one. He is the combination of Amitabh Bachchan, Rajnikanth and Sylvester Stallone multiplied by ten. He is God! Blessed is India that a new avatar of God has descended on earth! China, Pakistan, US, Europe….beware! G8 will soon be replaced with the G1. Surely this is the golden era for India!

The real truth is that the BJP was always, by geographic spread, a regional party with a presence in the West, and part of the North. Now it has shrunk further and become a one-leader party. Looks like the BJP has found its manna from the skies…..and its magic mantra!