Sunday, April 27, 2014

Priyanka, Priyanka, Priyanka - Vadra

It is a feeling of deja-vu again.

Last assembly elections in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh, media tirelessly campaigned for Rahul Gandhi. The party was speculated to be on the top of a wave. Rahul had supposedly revived the party and we came to know of it on a day to day basis even in faraway Karnataka. I am sure much of the other parts of the English language reading, Wren and Martin chomping audiences were bought into the subaltern Rahul Gandhi hawa (as described by someone who is now busy heading another political party - at that time, he was firmly in the Rahul camp). But sadly, these English speaking, adverb knowing audiences from Delhi to Kochi and Ahmedabad to Kolkata did not vote in the Uttar Pradesh elections. And the Samajwadi Party swept into power.

Now, this Parliamentary election, there is a blistering Narendra Modi campaign. This comes on the heels of 10 years of poor governance, multitude of scams, skyrocketing inflation, acidic corruption, inept leadership, drying up of investment, loss of face in the international arena among other things. India looks up to a leader - a leader who is uncorrupt - who delivers - action, not acts. A leader who believes in the constitution of India - unlike the current ones (both Mr. Happy Mind Lion and Ms. Inner Voice) who pay lip service to it while dividing India and Indians relentlessly.

Be that as it may, incredibly, the Congress in its campaign has nothing to offer about development - despite having ruled the country for a largish part of the 60 years of Indian independence or in its last avatar of 10 years where it ruled and surfed a wave provided by the previous NDA government. That NDA government built more highways than all other previous and post Congress tenures - among other things. And more than that, Congress is unable to contest the development work done in one state - Gujarat - where Narendra Modi has made the existing system deliver for the last 14 odd years.

And after all this, they have little to say. Leaders beleaguered by scams, with no credibility, no statistics for show for development. And a tired nation - a nation fed up with this government. And after all this, what do they get to campaign?

Eureka, Priyanka Vadra - the sister of Rahul Gandhi - who has been as active in politics as a polar bear in hibernation. And she enters the campaign - where? In two constituencies - the pocketboroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareilly - thats it. And are these constituencies the model of development? Ahem, visit it yourself and believe it yourself - (I have visited the place myself, btw) - but if the family could showcase two constituences if not the whole country, these constituences are a miserable failure. The constituencies lag in basic HDI numbers also.

But leave that aside. Think about it. For all their claims, who do they get to campaign? Priyanka? Who is paradropped into Amethi and Rae Bareilly and she, pokes, holes in, hold your breath - Gujarats development. If this not a ROFLMAO moment, I do not what is. Standing in a place with power cuts every day, she, herself with the administrative experience of a termite, has the gall to say that Gujarat is not developed - Gujarat with 24 hours electricity, scorching agricultural growth and 100% girl enrolment in school among other things. She also has the guts to say, things about - land acquisition. Notwithstanding the fact that a certain Mr.Vadra - her husband is known for acquiring land at extremely crony politician friendly prices - in many Congress ruled states. So much so that a new state called Vadra Pradesh could be created anytime soon cutting across Delhi, UP, Haryana and Rajasthan.

If this is not a failure of leadership in Congress circles, I dont know what is. No other big leader. Not the Prime Minister. Not the Home Minister. Not Defence. But the sister of Rahul Gandhi - who is not even an MP comes into campaign. A fabulous sign of Congress bench strength I must say or servility to the dynasty - take your pick.

Now all of this is fine. It is really, their prerogative. If Manmohans brother can join the BJP and Raj and Udhav Thackeray can form separate parties - it is really their family headache.

But the media - like the crowd in The Emperors New clothes is singing along. They are falling over each other to create the euphoria over Priyanka to the same Wren and Martin chomping, English diction perfecting, non voting crowd. Exactly like they did for the UP assembly. And of course, she comes in with the deadweight of Vadra - landlord at best - who has made money through his connections. BJP has torn into it calling it the RSVP model using an article on WSJ, no less ( quoting WSJ since our media has predictably stayed away). Apart from the breathless reporting, it turns out that the Madam who the media once told us looks like Indira Gandhi (I can only remember Kim Jong Un and North Korea at this point)

Why are not telling the emperor that he, really, has no clothes? Beats me

Post Script: I had wondered here, years ago, "I still wonder which genius came up with the idea of equating Priyanka Vadra with Indira Gandhi – instead of helping her carve out her own brand of leadership".

I think I have the answer now. Because she does not have her own brand. As simple as that.

Modi versus opponents - and a comparison

Narendra Modi is contesting in Varanasi and the newstraders (to use his own term) continue to have a field day speculating as to whether the contenders – a few very well known people like Arvind Kejriwal (AAP) or Ajay Rai (Congress) will pose a challenge to him. Speculation continues unabated as to whethere someone will take away the Brahmin vote or the Bhumihar vote and what not. The clear picture will emerge only on 16th May, but like in every election, this is the time for speculation (including this piece). And here is mine.

Modi is Modi. In his classic approach of setting the agenda time and again, he has simply not bothered with who says what about him - Kejriwal or Ajay Rai. By not responding to them, he has simply kept them out of the debate. He has elevated the pitch of Kashi to making it an uber destination for tourists and spiritualists alike, a timeless city that beckons, a go to destination for everybody – by focusing on bringing back its past glory. On the face of it, this is obvious – he is the Prime Ministerial candidate – he is not in the hustings to defeat some random candidate – he is there to provide the grand vision for the country – and perhaps the best place to state it is in his constituency (Something both Madam Inner Voice and Beta Aspiring Prince seem to have missed over a few elections – their constituencies are in the boondocks). Whereas, his contenders, cannot, just cannot provide a vision – they are there to defeat Narendra Modi – and why would that help Varanasi – which has a Prime Ministerial seeking election from their constituency. So, while they go to town tearing posters, acting petty and churlish, Narendra Modi, with his roadshow (and his blog as of yesterday) has simply swept the city (broom notwithstanding) off its feet.

Now, let us leave the Varanasi election aside for a moment.

If Modi were the Prime Minister of India and he had to deal with Pakistan, this is perhaps a great way to deal with Pakistan. Ignore it.

India has to grow and grow fast. India needs to provide opportunities to its teeming youth. India is in a hurry to get to facilities for its population that has been denied for 60 years – water, electricity, infrastructure, medical facilities, schools, colleges, universities. Apart from that, it has to move from a negativity spreading sop based economy to a positive story around growth and skill base. India will acquire, economic growth – with a few levers pulled in the right direction. India will be a go to destination for business, universities, agriculture – we have so much going for us. And by the way of acquiring economic muscle, by freeing up investment in defence, we will also acquire great defence capabilities. A Modi government (I speculate) will also free up the security forces to do what they are best at. Our defense will be indigenized and we will have private defence producers, not only creating weaponry and capability for our forces, but also selling it.

Obviously, this wont happen immediately, it will happen over time – but that time will not be very long. Alongwith economic muscle, military muscle will also be built. The diplomatic muscle, well, that is sought to be given – unlike in the past, when we have crawled when asked to bend. That diplomatic muscle is what his opponents in Varanasi experienced with the roadshow.

So, Pakistan will (and deserves) to be treated like the non existent challenger,  while India speeds ahead. What do they have? Neither vision or growth – their only raison d’ etre for their existence is their hatred of India and that can exist today because we let them bother us. Once, they know that we will no longer be bothered (thanks to a combination of economic, military and diplomatic muscle), they may perhaps do something for their own country – which is rapidly becoming terror central. And if they don’t, they stare down a rather deep abyss.

Nuclear weapons? Don’t bother. We have a few here as well.
Terrorists? Any misadventure will be treated with the scorn it deserves and it can be fully expected a Modi government will pull no punches (think beyond military) when it comes to national security.
As for the rest, it deserves to be treated as the proverbial dog that runs after cars.

So, the way Modi treats his opponents – by and large ignoring them and powering ahead with his vision – is the same way an India will treat its western neighborly opponents. What say? Like his opponents who are staring at oblivion.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Google reader - afterthought

I used to be a passionate user of Google reader. And I was quite disappointed when it shut down. For quite a few years, Google reader was my medium of consuming news. And a great way to aggregate posts, and read them when I had the time.

But over the past nearly 1 year, while I did move to Digg reader, I realised that my own reading habits have changed. Twitter has taken over completely as the aggregator - you can favourite and read it later. And with the prevalence of the mobile, it has become far easier to read on the go. My own usage of reader has reduced - but while the upside is the mobile internet - the downside is that there are many posts which I do not get to read simply because there is so much to read in the present, that going back is not an option, except when I retire, perhaps.

What is the point?

The point is that Google saw this development and were able to kill a product that would otherwise remained a very niche product and perhaps not worth maintaining...

What will Kejriwal do after May 16th?

What will Arvind Kejriwal do next? Let us look at the options he has and what that points to.

Before we get there, let us take a close look at history. He left his job at Tata Steel and joined the IRS which he left soon after. He was elected as Chief Minister of Delhi with Congress support. He quit this post after 49 days and began to campaign against, not, Sonia Gandhi but Narendra Modi. That would be a bit of a googly, after birthing a party from the remnants of the Indian against Corruption movement which had the Congress party in its crosshairs. But let us leave that aside for the moment. Let us see where will Kejriwal be after 16 th May.

It is near impossible that Kejriwal will win in Varanasi against Narendra Modi. Considering he is only fighting one seat, that is perhaps an end to his national political career at this point.

So, will he stand for election again at Delhi?

Let us assume that he does - and we still do not know how his party will perform in the Delhi LS polls – where they are fighting all 7 seats. By the time a Delhi re-election will be announced –if the verdict on 16 th May is towards a BJP led government, his party could well struggle in those elections – as recent surveys show – both Congress and BJP are gaining lost ground. After having admitted that his resignation was ill-thought out, does it mean he will go back and fight? And if the electorate will buy that line remains to be seen.

But he may win. And return as a member of Delhi assembly.

But becoming Chief Minister again a second time may well need an alliance with the Congress given the numbers. Is that what he wants from a National footprint perspective? Allying with the Congress again? And what does that mean for his national ambitions – is AAP just another Congress ally?

But that still does not answer a basic question.

What is Kejriwal after?

He gave up Delhi because he could not, ostensibly, pass a Lokpal bill, and that situation has not changed since the time he resigned. Is he planning to govern Delhi - assuming the electorate wants it – given his recent admission that the resignation was ill thought may well indicate that.

Or is he planning to work on building his ragtag party into a national party over the next 5 years?

Clearly, he did not want to make a difference in Parliament, else he would have contes Uuuuuted another seat and come victorious to a Parliament and make a difference as an MP?

All of these are tough jobs – CM, AAP National or as MP - his daily media soundbites will end and he will have to knuckle down to do some solid work through those 5 years.

And here is where the history matters.

History has shown that Kejriwal has not taken responsibility of anything. Neither at his job. Nor at his government posting. Nor at his elected position. By aiming Modi (and most likely failing) he has ensured that he will have practically no role in Parliament for the next 5 years either.

So, is his core competence running away from responsibility? Will he go back to agitprop again? Will he raise rabble in streets against the new government? And, more importantly, if he does, do people have the patience to bear with him again? Unless he makes a comeback as a Chief Minister and continues to raise hell against a new, potentially, Modi government?

Interesting to watch him after May 16 th . And perhaps then we will know, Aam aadmi party ka haath, kiske saath!

(This post was also my debut post at Firstpost)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Are you voting or are you on vacation?

Dedicated to all those urban hep voters who think nothing before going on vacation during on election day. And to all those who think there is no need to get a voter id card and vote. Well, you just lost your right to crib. Either you are the part of the solution or you are part of the problem!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

More secularism?

The Shahi Imam Bukhari of Delhi - a pious soul himself - who apparently has a non bailable warrant against him - exhorts Muslims to vote for Congress. This can be called a blatant support of corruption, but otherwise, it is also a blatant call for people of a particular religion to vote  for Soniaji and her prodigious son. Now, we do not know what the deal behind this 'appeal' is - neither will we come to know. (See part 1 - what passes off as secularism)

But this blatantly communal call hardly finds a mention on the timelines (as of today morning) of prominent intellectuals (Javed Akhtar, Barkha Dutt among others) who will take less than a microsecond if Balasaheb Thackeray were to do something like this. The weasel words used in this situation is usually, "Yes, he can say" or "It is his opinion" or "Ultimately, ballot is secret". But watch out for the voting shares post election and then we can argue. But then again, even at that point, none of these intellectuals will condemn something like this. Why is that so? Ask yourself.

If this were a head of religious mutt who issued a call to vote for all Hindus to vote for Modi - firstly, it will be the Hindus who will condemn it. However, post yesterdays statement, I see very few co-religionists condemning it. One person has written a lame tweet  which is neither here nor there. But if silence is acceptance, this silence is a very loud indicator - that this is secularism in their definition.

Meanwhile the church is not far off in issuing calls to support 'secular' parties. Whatever that means. Because if there is one party that is communal - it is the congress - but of course, by calling it secular, they become secular.

Both these mean only thing. That the church and the peace loving religion think that Hindus are communal and only they are secular. And I suppose Hindus agree.

Ask yourself, why are religious organizations getting into democracy? Why cant they stay out? Are they trying to unite the country or divide it? What are the parties doing? Uniting or dividing? And all parties have people of all religions (except perhaps a IUML or a MIM) - why are the religious institutions and quasi authorities getting into it? What is the deal?

A follow up to this post will happen post election results - and we can see how the vote shares pan out by religion...

Eliminating Corruption

I think I have written about this before, but this is election time, and a thought on this in order. It is general election time here and every party worth its salt is promising to erase corruption. Let us look at the three big claimants to this.

First up, Congress. Congress has been accused and has ministers convicted of corruption in their cabinet. It has also passed the Lok Pal bill and was recently trying to put a figurehead (read, pro Congress person) there. Congress promises to fight corruption - but at the same time, people accused of corruption are sheltered (like Sheila Dikshit who has been given gubernatorial immunity) or given a ticket (Ashok Chavan of Adarsh). So, the Congress track record of fighting corruption has been abysmal. This is not counting the many other scams that they have created and propagated. Will they fight corruption? And if so how? Other than putting a figurehead Manmohan who looks the other way when his team scams, they have very little to show.

Second, AAP. These people started off on the premise of eradicating corruption - the India Against Corruption movement - but in the chance they got in Delhi they did precious little. Amateur attempts like running stings against officials will not reduce corruption - at best it will create an atmosphere of fear. Neither will things like letting defaulters get away without paying bills.

Third BJP. In almost every state that BJP has been part of systemic corruption has gone down. Think of the last scam you heard from Chattisgarh, MP, Gujarat and even Karnataka (the one against Yeddyurappa has been quashed by the courts). So what gives? Technology is a good way to eliminate corruption. If land records are digitised and made available online, one does not need pay a bribe to get ones own land records. Like the passport system today. How about moving the RTO to an online system? These are not difficult - but system needs to change. That systemic change effort needs to come from the government.

Let us take a fourth case. Recently IBM sacked a few employees who were part of its contract with Airtel. What happened? The employees violated a policy and were sacked. Now will many other employees attempt something like this again? Unlikely - because the policy is clear - as is the retribution.

But what happens in the government? Usually some official has discretionary power - as opposed to a clear policy - there is discretionary power - which is liable to be misused - because there is shortage of supply and higher demand. First there is a lack of clear policy guidelines. Second, there is discretionary power - say in a ministry or with an official - and they misuse it - because the lure of the lucre is too tempting. Third and most important - anyone indulging in a fraud can get away with it - like in the case of government. So, the chance that a corruption will repeat is higher in places where there is no clear policy, transparency- and a lack of punishment.

Now see which parties have done more towards eliminating this sort of corruption.
Congress - clear no. Evey day newer scams have come to light. Think of Congress chief ministers who are not accused of scams. I cannot think of any - can you?
AAP - in the 49 days in Delhi, they did little to create any such policy. Kejriwal may claim to be honest, but he did little against Shelia or Somnath Bharti when he had the authority to do so.
BJP - watch their track record in states ruled by them - notably - Chattisgarh, MP and Gujarat. Think of Raman Singh, Shivraj and Modi. Corruption? No.

Now think about it. As we talk of motherhood statements of eliminating corruption, bribery and suchlike - who is likely to be more effective? Those who have a track record of creating corruption, ignoring corruption or fighting corruption?

(Note: You can drag this down to personal integrity and all that sort of thing - and that is important for the leader at the top to be integrity personified - who will take action against anyone found guilty - including herself. For other local corruption also, systemic change can reduce and eliminate corruption - like the IRCTC has done in rail tickets, e-seva has done for passports and so on so forth. Solutions are possible.)

Friday, April 04, 2014

An election like no other

An election like no other, say the pundits. However, almost no two elections are the same. There is something or the other happening. Sometimes, we say this before the election - sometimes after. Having said that, I remember many previous elections where this sort of a feeling was there. The one I remember far back was the voting of VP Singh into power. And then of course, how PV Narasimha Rao, came to power and stayed there for 5 years. And then of course, AB Vajpayees famous speech on how he would not compromise to get the support of legislators - and returned to power in a spectacular re-election.

Be that as it may, this election is still an election like no other. One, the connect this election has established at the ground has been amazing. Almost everybody around is politically aware and 'in the democratic process'. The number of volunteers, selflessly contributing time - taken from their jobs, family lives and other activities is amazing to see. There are people of all hues and ages across parties. Old and young, men and women - the number of 'people like us' who are ordinarily disengaged from the electoral process and hurly burly of politics are 'connected' this time.

Social media - leads in building awareness. Whethere it is twitter, facebook and even whatsapp - politics is all around and the voter is an immensely aware voter - whichever direction she votes. Mainstream media while it is still around the discourse is not such a big player any longer. Things go viral on youtube, twitter and then is shared widely on whatsapp and other groups - whether media focusses on it or not is a separate point altogether. And many a time social media leads the way and media merely follows.

The visceral engagement of people that I see here is amazing.

And yet, there are our usual suspects - the great muddle class. Going on summer vacations - right at the time of elections. It is sad to see these people do so - despite having that crucial vote. But these are perhaps the people who see themselves as having no stake in the country - just remember if you dont vote, you cannot crib. And perhaps they wont - they will just press the escape button and leave. Anyway for the rest of us, elections are up and we will vote. Please spread the word!

The word is that this is indeed an election like no other (like perhaps the next one and the previous one and then some), but watch out for April 10th - the first date of polls. If there is a record breaking turnout - it is perhaps a 'wave' election - keep watching!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

What passes off as secularism

In India secularism is communal and communalism is secular. Sample this. Sonia Gandhi begs to Imam Bukhari appearing for the secular vote to not be split. Essentially, in English, she wants him to issue a fatwa to ensure that Muslims vote en bloc for Congress. She is begging for Muslim votes. And what is in it for Bukhari? We do not know. Media does not ask. And this, ladies and gentleman is secularism. No media will run shows asking this question to Soniaji. This is blatant asking of votes in the name of religion.

Secularism in this country means, enbloc Muslim votes and a divided Hindu vote. As the above idea shows.

Look what happened to Bal Thakckeray when he did the same. From this page:

On 28 July 1999 Thackeray was banned from voting and contesting in any election for six years from 11 December 1999 till 10 December 2005 on the recommendations of the Election Commission for indulging in corrupt practice by seeking votes in the name of religion.[17][18] After the six-year voting ban on Thackeray was lifted in 2005, he voted for the first time in the 2007 BMC elections.

Now Congress has allied with the Muslim League (a party that even has the religion in its moniker) and this does not make either the league or the Congress communal. This party is the IUML - Indian Union Muslim League. And of course, this is not communal.

And then we have Imran Masood - who wants another leader (Narendra Modi - concidentally Hindu) cut to pieces- and this for the Congress does not qualify as hate speech - but a Varun Gandhi speech of last elections was debated in the media till yesterday. He is out on bail and will be contesting elections despite the hate speech. And the Congress has not withdrawn his nomination, neither is the media going hammer and tongs at this blatant spread of hatred. The same media which took Varun Gandhi apart.

This is 'secularism' in action and a 'neutral' media keeping quiet.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Who votes Congress

My family voted Congress. Generally. It was almost as if there was no other option. I remember in the socialist days of the 80s, the codeword was ‘Hand’. The uncles and aunts and neighbours would come back and show a hand – that they voted hand. It was almost as if there was no other option. Congress did not always win – in our locality though. The area had a large Sindhi and Gujarati population and they sent back people like Hashu Advani, Jaywantiben Mehta and Pramod Mahajan – though Gurudas Kamat did make it many a time. All in all, whatever, our family like most in our area was a solidly Congress family.

I was recently talking to some folks of this generation and I realized that the Congress kool-aid has many takers among this audience. And with the decline of the Congress – thanks to numerous corruption scandals and even communalism – these people are gravitating towards the new alternative that has come up in the market  - the 49 day wonder. That set me thinking as to, who would really vote Congress?

Until this election, much of the educated class has very little to do with elections or with politics in general. The fact that they vote is itself a big thing. They see themselves as being untouched by politics - and that it will never touch them. At any rate, they have given up on getting a great deal in this country - what with reservations and no opportunity to get government jobs  - which are now hardly an aspiration with this group of people. Mostly, they know that they can go anywhere with their academics and opt to reside in greener pastures.

Given this background, they are rarely 'involved viscerally' in the countries politics. (Again, I speak for the few people I know - not about a large general population). And given their penchant to stay away - they are always away from the ground politics. And that perhaps explains their choices. The Congress because it is really a lazy option and the AAP because it is an active option.

Let me explain. Like the doctor who explains to an obese patient that he should switch to an active lifestyle - and the patient switches from watching golf to watching tennis.

AAP does what this class has never done. Taken to the streets in denim. Unlike the Shiv Sena or others - who were distant to this crowd - they mostly did not identify themselves with the Shiv Sena or other parties - the AAP is people like them. And it is easy to endorse AAP - with their childish tactics - one can still retain the comfort of ones surroundings and endorse the latest activists.

Those who take the trouble of reading up, finding out, engaging with the society at large, cannot ever vote for Congress. 

How can one not see through dynastic politics, while working in meritocratic organizations. 
How can one vote for a party that has indulged in rampant corruption while paying taxes honestly. 
How can one vote for blatantly communal policies that harms themselves - unless you tell yourself that all this does not affect your - however blindly. 

And so on...

So my net conclusion is that lazy people vote Congress.

(Developing thought)

Congress attacks Gujarat

Every election you see and hear new things. However, this is one of the elections that I am closer to the ground than in any other previous election. And as always, there are stories about campaign strategies, theories and models being used and in place. A lot of this is published with the benefit of hindsight bias once the results are declared.

But one thing I found very very strange this time is that the Congress party which is presently in governance is talking less and less about its own record and is actually playing into the hands of its opposition by talking Gujarat. 

And why Gujarat? Because, the man who is the challenger is the Chief Minister for a whopping 3 terms – 1 more than the current Prime Minister. And he has developed Gujarat relentlessly over the last 15 years. From 24 hour electricity to water to river interlinking and agricultural growth he has delivered. Indeed, Gujarat has won good governance awards for many of its initiatives, from this same central government.

And now the Congress, puts up ‘facts’ on their website dissing this growth. The facts may be right or wrong – and I am sure the data army from both sides will check and certify these and the so called financial newspapers will have a field day writing for and against these. But what intrigues me is this.

This is a central government election – why would the central government use the figures of one state, any state, to show its place on the ladder? If election is all about bipartisan spirit (and this is in the post Obama world), isn’t the union government (or those who run the union government today) supposed to talk about how it is important that every state develop? Why is this stupid obsession with one states performance numbers? Is this leadership? It is a bit like the Congress – ably run by Sonia and her coterie – is rubbing its hands in glee on seeing the numbers of a state being lower by a decimal point or two. I mean, you retards rule the country do you not? Showing numbers of a state – makes you feel good?

What fabulous leadership. I am impressed. Makes me want to vote Congress already.

Update: SA Aiyar calls Congress bluff - I suspect he is referring to this campaign.