Lessons for BJP, if any, from By-Polls

So what are the lessons, if any, which the BJP needs to draw from a series of by-poll results since it assumed office in May 2014. Is there a lesson that even Prime Minister Modi needs to learn? 

I have argued many times in the past that the essential difference between the BJP and Congress (or parties broadly in agreement with Congress way of doing politics) is the level at which they seek votes (here & here). The Congress way of seeking votes is at the default divided level – people divided in their religious and sub caste identities. That is why most of Congress social intervention policies are designed to sharpen these divisions rather than subsume them. Regional parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP) or the RJD practice this Congress method even much more brazenly, unshackled as they are from the responsibility of not having to host sophisticated, whiskey-fueled, Idea of India parties in late night clubs of Delhi.

The BJP method on the other hand is to ask people to vote one level above their default divided level. This is not easy because the divided default level is a social condition built over centuries. Therefore, for the BJP way to succeed, it needs two things in place – an idea which can unite people above their default level and a credible messenger of that idea.  In the nineties that idea was cultural nationalism; in 2014 general elections it was good governance. Then the messenger was Vajpayee, in 2014 the messenger was Modi.

Most elections start off as default elections. The only way BJP can win is by converting the elections into non-default, pan state level or pan India, election for an idea. This is the consistent message from each election since 1998. In a default election, on an aggregate, the BJP would fare poorly even while taking other factors like local incumbency, candidate selection, organizational strength, etc into account.

By-elections are by definition default elections. There is no state or national level idea to be sold.  Exceptional circumstances apart, by-elections mostly see substantially lower turnout than general or state level elections. The reason is obvious. The by-elections are not fought on an idea, the only way BJP wins, but a combined mish-mash of local candidate appeal, organizational strength and default caste and religious mobilization. It is no surprise then that on an aggregate, the BJP would not do as well in a by-election as it would do in a pan state or national election, even within reasonably similar political time frame.

So is there no occasion for the BJP to learn lessons from these results? 

The success of BJP and in particular Modi, in 2014 general elections, was that they could for the first time create a national vote after three decades. That vote was created on the back of a truly world class election messaging campaign. It is this campaign that broke decade of entrenched identity politics and built a new constituency of aspirational Indians who were willing to cast their vote in hope for the future rather than the grievances of the past. This constituency was created in the face of a united opposition and a broadly hostile national media. The electoral verdict of 2014 has not altered these realities. The opposition is entitled to try every trick to recover lost ground, as it did in Bihar when sworn adversaries like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav joined hands. The national media, most of which started and got nourishment in Congress years, has remained broadly hostile. That is why such transformative initiatives as the Jan Dhan Yojana or the fact that WPI inflation is at its lowest in 5 years hardly attract any news headlines and analysis in the outrage-a-day media milieu.

However, this is not to suggest that nothing has changed post the May 2014 electoral verdict. It is the BJP’s communication messaging that has distinctly changed. Compared to the election campaign, the messaging is now completely underwhelming. Just as creating a constituency of voters who could rise above their default level was a national project that required monumental effort of world class machinery, sustaining that constituency is an equally monumental project. In Gujarat, this constituency had been created and nurtured for over a decade but at the national level it is still in its nascent stage and therefore requires continuous engagement and communication. Before the elections, this constituency was exposed, on a daily basis, to the competing ideas – through all forms of communication, mainstream and social media – of Modi and his development agenda on the one hand and the Idea of India proponents and their project of accentuating identity schisms on the other. It is this that has changed post elections with the BJP communication distinctly below the new normal it had established before the elections, while the opposite message of trying to pull back people in their past divided identities continues unabated. 

The competing vision of Modi, of uniting people above their divisions, and for the very reason that it seeks to unite people above their default divided levels, needs sustained messaging machinery, perhaps even on a bigger scale than what was required before the elections. This is the only lesson, if any, for the BJP from these by-polls. 

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A version of this article was published in DNA Newspaper. Here is the link :

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Who should Modi be compared to in ambition & scale?

One of the enduring activities of Op-Ed writers over the last few years, concurrent with Narendra Modi’s rise on the national stage, has been to slot him in some sort of an easily identifiable prism.

And what could be easier than to try to explain Modi in terms of similarities to a known political figure, of the present or the past. Once Modi could be explained as the new Mr. X or the Indian equivalent of Mr. Y, it would be easy to explain his actions, his philosophy, his likely trajectory and his future policies.  It is not that these comparisons are entirely without purpose.

As Samuel Huntington once explained, it is the job of a political scientist (or a commentator) to explain complex phenomenon in simple terms. Narendra Modi on the national political scene is a complex new phenomenon. Referencing him with someone from the past, one we have known and read about, would simplify Modi for the present.

Before the elections, therefore, Modi became Erdogan to some while Barry Goldwater to others. Some saw him as Putin; others saw him as Shinzo Abe. For a wide variety of economists, Modi was either definitely Thatcher or definitely Reagan. After Modi’s first Independence Day speech, he has been anointed the new Charles de Gaulle by one prominent public intellectual while another well known author has seen flashes of Lee Kuan Yaw in Modi. Some other commentators have likened his speech to India’s first post colonial moment.

Most of these comparisons offer some insight into the man and yet none fully explain him and that is why as new realities become apparent, a new comparison is offered. Part of the reason is that barring a very few, no commentator has had real access to Modi and therefore their inferences are necessarily drawn not so much by knowing Modi the person but by basing the inferences from public actions of Modi over the years.  But is there any one public speech of Modi, any one public expounding of his philosophy, any one policy action, which may give a peek into the real Modi, more than any other?

To me, the most important and the most definitive public speech, from the perspective of understanding the real Modi, is his address at the Hindustan Times (HT) 2007 summit. This speech was before the 2007 Gujarat elections, much before the 2009 national elections and way before the 2014 elections. Social media had still not become a force in India and while some people did talk even then of a possibility of a Prime Minister Modi one day, it was certainly not in any near horizon.

This is the speech which gives a vital insight into how Modi approaches development, how he intends to build public participation in the process of development and who he tries to emulate into building that public participation. The most important part of the speech is between 8:00 and 13:00 minute mark of THIS videoThere are other portions of the speech too, as also during the question-answer session, when Modi makes similar references, most notably between 13:55 to 14:40, 19:55 to 20:50 and 34:30 to 36:30 minute mark. It is in this speech that Modi, perhaps for the first time, lets us know his deep fascination with Mahatma Gandhi.  There is an understanding and appreciation of the real import of his methods, an understanding not displayed by even the most vocal Gandhians. 

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While this may sound outlandish, I argue that more than any other personality, it is Gandhi that Modi may most resemble in his national role. Not Gandhi the pacifier, but Gandhi the nation transforming historical person. When Gandhi arrived in India almost 100 years ago, he faced a unique set of circumstances. The freedom movement had produced great stalwarts and yet it was a phenomenon more of the elite urban class, dominated by lawyers, than an all India movement. The political conversation of the freedom movement, barring exceptions like Tilak, was mostly about high end constitutional schemes and laws. Gandhi, when he arrived in 1915 and despite his successful reputation in South Africa, was more of a misfit in the milieu.

While Congress leaders at the national stage were making  “big bang policy” demands like home rule, Gandhi engaged himself in the more mundane task of first educating himself about India and then when he did, he picked Champaran agrarian distress as his first major political initiative rather than talk about dominion status and constitutional laws. Within the next few years, Gandhi, a rank outsider, with no pedigree and not even a lawyer in the same league as some of the other stalwarts, became the undisputed leader of the Indian freedom movement. What did Gandhi do to affect this dramatic take over?

As Modi argues in his HT summit address, Gandhi transformed a till then abstruse idea of freedom into a national movement in which every individual felt like a freedom fighter. Unlike his other compatriots, Gandhi was not necessarily a policies man – except for his one grand idea of freedom through satyagrah – but more a program person, be it the non cooperation movement against Rowlatt act or the civil disobedience movement against salt tax.

It was this identification with causes that affected the common, and yet fit into the grander narrative of freedom seeking, that converted an abstruse concept of freedom into a mass movement. The greatest success of Gandhi was that he emotionally invested the people in the cause of freedom.

But Gandhi was much more than this. His years in public life in India were spent not only in just fighting the British but in a national regeneration. A country divided and ruled by foreign powers for centuries had lost its national confidence. Gandhi, to the vast masses, was a man who dressed like them, spoke like them, talked in the same idioms like them, was proud of his religion just like them and yet could stand up to the greatest empire in history of mankind merely on his strength of moral courage. Within a generation, Gandhi reversed centuries of social fragmentation and moral sapping of India.

Quite fortuitously, Modi at the national stage, 100 years apart, faces a similar set of circumstances. He too is an outsider to a system which was nominally focused on a national mission (this time development) but which had still not become a national movement. Modi too has been successful in a smaller play arena and Modi too has his skeptics who doubt his ability to deliver at a national stage. Modi, just like Gandhi, does not speak the language of the elites of the present system but is a wizard when it comes to communicating with the masses in their language and their idiom.

Modi too is not necessarily a policies man but more a projects man. For example, he is not one to articulate that banking should be privatized but a man who wants a bank account in every house. But how does the state manage this when it is resource constrained? By inviting private players! The end result is same but the way the issue is approached is the essential difference between men who are good policy experts and those who build national movements.

But there is something else. Uday Mahurkar of India Today, in his book “Centrestage – Inside the Narendra Modi Model of Governance”, narrates a very interesting anecdote from early years of Modi as CM of Gujarat. The state government was on a drive to collect penalties from defaulters of electricity board and those who used unauthorized connections. Local state bodies elections were about to be held and some panicked BJP MLAs pleaded with Modi to at least suspended the drive, if not cancel it, lest they may lose some crucial votes. A politician is at his most vulnerable just before an election. It would not have been tectonic had Modi postponed the drive by a few weeks. But he did not.

He wanted to drive a culture of payment for public services consumed – a culture that would survive the electoral cycle. How did Modi achieve this? By emotionally investing the people of Gujarat into the development paradigm. “Gujarati Asmita”, and the pride it generated, subsumed all short term differences. It is this playbook that he has brought at the national stage too. Not surprisingly, his first big projects are bank accounts and sanitation for all. The emotional bondage that this will build, that development delivers, is what will allow Modi the space to forever change the national discourse from identity politics to development politics.

In his Independence Day speech, Modi admonished the culture which tolerates the shameful episodes of female infanticide and which leads to skewed gender ratio. One state where this problem is most acute is Haryana. Haryana is going to elections within the next few weeks and BJP hopes to win this election. Yet, this did not deter Modi from looking into the eye and telling the people that they are wrong. There was no pandering to the medieval thought process of the Khaps, just to secure some votes. Modi can do that because Modi, quite like Gandhi, speaks like an insider who has acquired the legitimacy to dwell on reforming society and not just be merely content with reforming the economy.

In the Independence Day speech, Modi asked a very pertinent question – if a previous generation of Indians could come together and overthrow the greatest empire in mankind history, why can’t this generation achieve something similarly grand? At least in ambition and scale of the nation building project, if Modi resembles any one the most it is Gandhi. His aim is to be the preeminent political personality of 21st century India, just as Gandhi was of 20th century. Then we got political freedom. This time we will have civilizational resurgence.

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This article was first published in CRI on 20th August 2014. Here is the link .

In Defence of Modi Sarkar

Barack Obama took oath as President of the United States on January 20, 2009. Just nine months later, in October the same year, an award jury, bedazzled by “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”, awarded Obama the Nobel Prize for Peace.

One commentator, reacting to the announcement, expressed surprise on why Obama had not simultaneously received the award for Chemistry since “he’s just got great chemistry” with people!

The farce of giving the award so early, without any achievement, now so obvious in hindsight, was apparent to most people even then. But consider this. As per the Nobel Prize award committee website, to be considered for the peace prize, nominations must be received no later than February 1 of that respective year. So this means that someone must have nominated Obama for the prize within 10 days of him assuming office? 

If you thought this was too freaky to be ever repeated again, then consider what is happening to Modi. He assumed office on May 26, 2014. We are in the first week of August. A little over 60 days have passed in what is going to be a government of over 1800 days. And the commentators are already out with their verdict, damning the government for not living up to the mandate at best and having betrayed it at worst. On social media, some who campaigned for Modi are now calling him incompetent and have even accused him of promoting nepotism! If Obama was nominated for the Nobel Prize in just 10 days of being in office, the exact opposite of getting a Nobel seems to have happened with Modi—he has already been compared to Manmohan Singh and his government labeled as UPA-III.

It is not as if this premature judgment of the Modi government is driven by malicious intent. In fact the opposite seems to be the case. Many of the critics are those who are well wishers of Modi, if not the BJP. So why is this happening? Are there two sides to the story, one of the Modi government and another that his supporters-turned-critics are seeing? 

First, there have been governments which deliver dramatically on their promises within days of assuming office. Mulayam Sigh Yadav had promised to scrap the anti-copying law within minutes of taking office during the 1993 UP elections. He delivered. More recently, Kejriwal of AAP promised to deliver subsidised electricity and water in Delhi. He delivered within days.

But history shows that such governments rarely last a full term; indeed it is not even their intent to give lasting governance, thus the need for such flashy stunts. Invariably they leave a mess when they demit office, as residents of Delhi realised after AAP’s short-lived circus.

The Modi government had, in contrast, not promised any short term agenda of 30 days or 100 days (unlike say UPA-II in 2009). It is a government elected for five years and intends to govern for five years. The Modi government has promised to run bullet trains and not reduce governance to bullets. 

Second, governance is often a boring exercise and the process is never as exciting as the end result. The dramatic increase in girl child school enrollment and simultaneous decrease in school dropout rates in Gujarat became a selling point in 2012. However, before that, there was a decade of almost unnoticed effort with initiatives such as three-day camps in mid-June ever year, when the entire government machinery would shift to villages. The story captured everyone’s imagination only when the decadal comparisons became known.

Yesterday, there was a long debate in the Rajya Sabha on the power sector with excellent speeches by many members culminating in an important policy laden reply by the power minister. How many people followed it? 

Third, the disenchantment seems to have first started from the absence of so-called big ideas in the General Budget. Just yesterday, the Union cabinet cleared 49% FDI in defense with a provision to go even higher in high-end technology hardware, 49% in insurance, and up to 100% in railway infrastructure. These are transformative decisions with the potential to fundamentally alter the economy and spur job creation unlike ever before. About time the notion that the budget is the only platform for major policy announcement is disabused.

But even in the budget, there are policy announcements which will have a far reaching impact but seem to have been missed by analysts pronouncing judgment. Take for example the decision on transfer pricing. As per the KPMG report, approximately $66 billion is locked in tax litigation and roughly 50% of these are on transfer pricing alone. The initiatives announced in the budget have been hailed by almost all in the industry. A stable and predictable tax regime, reduction in tax litigation and other such measures are important steps in improving the “ease of doing business”, in which India currently ranks at a pathetic 134 out of 189 nations. This was an important promise made during the election campaign and something which Modi delivered even when he was running Gujarat. 

Fourth, the two terms of the UPA government were spent entirely in doing just two things on foreign policy—chasing delusional peace with Pakistan without imposing costs on it for waging war on India and trying to unsuccessfully become an ally of the United States. Every other region was ignored and even nations well disposed towards India seethed at the neglect.

Contrast this with the early moves by the Modi government. Ajit Doval, an operations intelligence man all his career, is now the National Security Advisor. His expertise is decisive action. Counter intelligence capacity dimmed by a decade of neglect will take time to rebuild. But rebuilt it will be and deployed without hesitation if necessary. 

By unanimous view, the Nepal visit by Modi has been a huge success and has reversed a decade of drift in the relationship. It is not mere coincidence that this visit was preceded by Bhutan. 

One of Modi’s central promises was of providing twenty-four hours electricity to almost all homes by the end of his term. As it becomes increasingly difficult to start new hydropower projects in India in the face of virulent NGO activism, Nepal and Bhutan can contribute enormously in this effort through their own hydropower generation. Indeed, Modi hinted as much when he said in Nepal that it can become a developed nation by merely selling power to India. Do these moves look like that of a UPA-III?

If so much activity is going on then what explains the palpable disquiet in the expert columns and voices on social media? What is the other side of the story?  In one word—world class. 

The campaign that Modi ran since the beginning of 2013 was not about making compromises with situations, accepting the substandard, or being content with mediocrity. It was about making citizens dream about an India which was world class in its infrastructure, in its institutions, in its practices, in its policies, in its delivery, indeed in every sphere. And how was this campaign message spread—through a truly world class communication campaign. From the brilliant use of social and digital media, to the monumental scale of rallies physically addressed, to the use of innovative technology like 3D rallies, to the absolutely mesmerising advertising—everything about the campaign was setting global standards. The citizens experienced this just a few months ago and this exposure to world class communication methodology was also not a flash in the pan but a sustained experience for more than a year. It had become part of daily life. It had become the expected, the new normal. It is this that has changed since Modi assumed office in June this year.

Compared with the election communication messaging by the Modi-for-PM team, the messaging by the same team now appears underwhelming. The human psyche, once used to a certain standard, only aspires to go higher or at least maintain status quo. It is the perceived downgrade that is at the core of the criticism expressed and is manifesting itself in disquiet and sometimes criticism. The yearning is for a return to the standard Modi had already set even before he assumed office.

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This article was first published in DNA on 7th August, 2014. Here is the link

Connectivity is the key theme of BJP’s manifesto

While the Congress seeks to divide people along the lines of caste, religion, region and race, the BJP seeks to connect them, as is evident from all the themes listed in the party’s manifesto.

I have postulated in my earlier writings that at the conceptual level, the essential difference between the Congress appeal and the BJP appeal to their voters is that while the Congress tries to seek votes from people at their divided default level, the BJP asks people to connect at one level above their default divided level and then vote.

Despite proclamations to the contrary, policies promulgated by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty-led Congress are designed to keep people divided in their ghettos of caste, religion, region and race. Divided people can be threatened. The greater the division, the greater the fear in each subgroup. The dynasty can then morph itself as the protector of each subgroup. This is why Rahul Gandhi proclaims his Brahmin credentials in one rally and lets the world know, for the first time, the caste of Sam Pitroda in another rally. This is why Sonia Gandhi seeks support of Imam Bukhari by stoking communal fears. 

The BJP, however, believes in connecting people and then seeking votes at one level above their default level. Whether it was mobilisation in name of cultural nationalism in the 1990s, or more recently on the agenda of development, good governance or regional pride, such as Gujarati ‘asmita’, the central theme of the BJP is to connect and unite people at least one level above their divided default level.  

This conceptual thesis has been backed by empirical evidence from previous election campaigns. But how do the parties’ respective manifestos for the 2014 elections stack up against the premise? Do they offer evidence to support the postulate?

One of the central promises in the Congress manifesto is the early enactment of the Communal Violence Bill. This is part of the 15 key promises in the manifesto. What does this proposed bill say? In the event of a communal riot, criminal law will be applied differently to rioters, depending on their religion. BR Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, mandated the uniform application of criminal law irrespective of caste, creed, religion or gender. He dreamed of a uniform civil code as well, and put it in Article 44, as one of the directive principles. The Congress, 67 years after Independence, is not only intent on defying Ambedkar’s wishes, it is even willing to subvert them by reversing the uniform application of criminal law. 

The BJP on the other hand commits itself to following the letter and spirit of the Constitution and Article 44, as it believes that, apart from other reasons, gender equality cannot be achieved without a uniform civil code. The Congress is putting its best foot forward to further divide the people; the BJP in contrast is connecting them in the spirit of the Constitution. 

Is this then enough evidence to support the postulate? Consider 10 key themes in the BJP manifesto which are distinct and different from the Congress one: 

1.) The proposal of a single ‘national agriculture market’. Farmers across the country simultaneously free to sell their produce where they choose, united in one national market

2.) The concept of “Team India” which will include the prime minister and the chief ministers as equal partners, united in one common purpose: to develop India

3.) A regional council of states, based on common issues and challenges, such as a council of coastal states, hill states and so on

4.) A first time commitment, even at the idea level, to develop eastern India on a par with western India and remove the division of disparity

5.) The commitment for the abrogation of Article 370, which has prevented the complete assimilation of the aspirations of the people of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the larger Indian narrative

6.) A detailed emphasis on technology as a unifier through means such as the deployment of broadband in every village, high speed digital highways connecting every nook and corner of the country, a national e-library, and the “eGram, Vishwa Gram” scheme 

7.) Administrative reforms such as networking all the police stations of the country, the proposal for holding the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections together, and a special emphasis on developing the 100 most backward districts and bring them on a par with more the developed districts of India

8.) A national madrassa modernization program, assuring home, electricity and sanitation to all, the creation of 100 new cities, pucca housing to all by 2022, and the idea of ‘rurban’ – all aimed at widening the platform of those connected by common aspirations of a better quality of life  

9.) 50 new tourist circuits based on themes like Himalayan, desert, spiritual and so on; all weather roads connecting every village, the promise of connecting the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir through the rail network, a national gas grid and national optical fibre network, a national logistics network, a proposal to interlink rivers, and the flagship scheme of the Diamond Quadrilateral of bullet trains – new generation infrastructure connecting people faster, better and more efficiently. 

10.) Finally, the vision of a Brand India of 5 Ts: trade, tourism, talent, technology and tradition – to connect the larger Indian diaspora with the narrative of the rise of India in the 21st century

The key thread running through all these themes is ‘connectivity’. It is the central thread and the promise of the manifesto, to connect people and let them be masters of their own destiny while the government plays the role of an honest facilitator. The match between the electoral rhetoric of Narendra Modi – Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas – and the written pledge in the form of manifesto could not have been more complete. 

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This article was first published in the DNA on 9th April, 2014. Here is the link

Here’s why the Narendra Modi government may work

What are the issues that are before the Indian people as election season is now in full force? Is it about how Moti Lal Nehru was a good host to Mahatma Gandhi in the last century or what was taught by Indira Gandhi to her young grandson?

Or is it about the issues that affect the day to day life of common man and aspirations of a predominantly young nation? Is it about reviving fears along communal lines or is it about uniting again on common goals in this century? If this election is primarily about electing a government that can build a bright future for India, then first consider some issues that have an important bearing on that future. 
India has witnessed the worst inflation, since independence, in the last decade. Food inflation, which has the maximum impact on the poor and the middle class, has been consistently in double digits for the last few years.

As per official data, the number of jobs created during the period 1999-2000 to 2004-05 was 60.7 million. This dropped dramatically to just 2.7 million in the next five year period, 2004-05 to 2009-10.

Despite some states like Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh achieving stellar double digit growth rates in agriculture, the nation as a whole has been facing acute agricultural crisis. Farmer suicides in states like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have continued unabated.

Corruption has been institutionalised in India unlike never before. Transparency International ranks India at 94th position in a survey of 177 countries on corruption perception index. India is ranked below such countries as Saudi Arabia and China. Cases of crime have seen a rise nationally with women being the worst sufferers. As per NCRB, a girl is raped every 22 minutes in India, while India’s national capital has acquired the dubious distinction of being also the rape capital.

The deluge of scams will perhaps be the only reason why the last 10 year rule of UPA government will find any mention in history books.  Perhaps, the UPA period will also be remembered for one more contribution – for creating an alphabet of scams. A for Adarsh scam, B for Bofors probe fraud, C for Commonwealth games scam and so on. These six issues – jobs, inflation, agriculture crisis, corruption, crime and scams – among them encapsulate the entire performance of the Congress led UPA government in the last ten years. In contrast, BJP led state governments have given much better performance, in some cases dramatically different, in each of these sectors. 

As per the latest Ministry of Labour survey, the unemployment rate in Gujarat is below 1% which is the lowest unemployment rate in large states and much below national average. Food inflation, through efficient use of Public Distribution System, has been much better controlled in states like Chhattisgarh as compared to other states. Madhya Pradesh, which was once derisively lumped in the BIMARU category, has recorded over 18% growth rate in agriculture, more than four times the national average. Gujarat has consistently recorded over double digit growth rate in agriculture during the last decade. 

In Economic Freedom Rankings of Indian states in 2011, Gujarat has been ranked the number one state. Big ticket corruption is largely a product of misuse of discretionary powers vested with government. As this ranking demonstrates, institutionalized corruption is the least in Gujarat.

In crimes against women, states like Gujarat fare much better than states like Delhi,Haryana, Kerala or Assam. As per NCRB data of 2012, cases of rape per lakh population in Gujarat is 0.8 compared to 2.9 in Kerala, 3.7 in Delhi and 5.5 in Assam.  

Of course in scams it is even futile to offer a contrast. It is not surprising then that the BJPhas chosen to build the first part of its election campaign for 2014 on these six themes. Each of these six issues are those that unite the common man in their quest for better life. None of these six issues relate to identity issues that have divided the common man in the past. 

In that sense, 2014 elections are really unique.  Rahul Gandhi is leading the charge from Congress party by talking about Moti Lal Nehru and what may or may not have happened during the freedom struggle, some seventy-eighty years ago. Arvind Kejriwal of AamAadmi Party is leaving a trail of chaos and FIRs, by Election Commission, in every state he visits.  The issues of today and the aspirations of tomorrow – that only Narendra Modi of the BJP seems to be focusing on, both in his speeches and in his campaign themes. The electorate sees this and it would not be surprising they add their voice to the rising chorus of Abki Baar Modi Sarkar. 

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This article was first published in DNA on 14th March, 204. Here is the link. 

Is Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign all about deluding voters?

Indians have heard of the phrase “crony capitalism” more often than they ought to in a country that is officially still socialist. “Crony socialism”, though not much in vogue, is also a phrase that has been used many times. But thanks to Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new phrase has been added into the lexicon – crony journalism. 

Consider what first went viral on social media, and was subsequently picked by many sections of the mainstream media as well. Arvind Kejriwal, president of the AAP, had just finished recording an interview with a leading Hindi news channel. The anchor of the show and Kejriwal, perhaps unaware the camera was still rolling, were seen in a conversation on how to manipulate the contents of the interview. This conversation got recorded on candid camera. The contempt that Kejriwal has for the middle class, while not wanting to lose their votes since they are the prime constituency of his TV politics, is what comes across most starkly through that leaked conversation.  

The TV anchor, with one of the most prominent Hindi TV news channels, was a willing participant with Kejriwal in this game of fixing perceptions to influence the middle class. In reality, Kejriwal holds exactly the opposite views to what he wants to project. It is part of any journalist’s brief to expose such hypocrisy by politicians. Here however, a journalist was actively colluding to mask this hypocrisy. A journalist, while claiming the privileges of journalism, was doing the job of a public relations agent. 

It is not as if this is one off case. Until recently, Ashutosh Gupta was the editor of another popular Hindi news channel. Today, he is one of the most prominent faces of the AAP. Ashish Khetan, a former journalist with Tehelka and the founder of gulail.com, has been given the AAP ticket from the New Delhi seat. 

All these journalists, even a few days before they became formally aligned with the AAP, were wearing the fig leaf of professional journalism. With the leaked conversation in public, exposing how journalists are willing participants in manipulating coverage, legitimate questions will be raised about the coverage of the AAP from other journalists as well, those now formally aligned with the AAP and those who are crypto-AAP members. 

But what about Kejriwal? He who judges everyone? He who says all are in collusion and only he and his party are the ones trying to break this collusion? He who only walks the straight and narrow path? He who only says what he believes in and does not ever say something he does not believe in? How do we judge Kejriwal now? 

How do we judge Kejriwal, who is willing to essentially put in public domain a view that is contrary to what he believes in, just to get middle class votes? How do we judge Kejriwal who treats his electors, the middle class, with disdain? 

The answers to all these questions are simple – we judge Kejriwal just the way we judge Lalu Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav or Asaduddin Owaisi. 

Each of these three mouth platitudes, but practice exactly the opposite of what they say. Lalu Yadav, without even a hint of irony, claims to fight against corruption just a few days after being convicted in one of the biggest corruption cases. Akhilesh Yadav claims he is from the most secularized party, a claim even the professional secularists now treat with contempt. And of course Owaisi claims to battle for religious harmony, while at the same time defending his younger brother who has been accused by police, based on video evidence, of making the most incendiary speeches in recent decades. 

In that sense, Kejriwal is not really different from these run-of-the-mill politicians. He, too, does not practice what he preaches. Or is there one vital difference? That while other politicians are merely hypocritical and cynical, Kejriwal, in addition to these traits, also has immense disdain for the voters? For it is Kejriwal, and not other politicians, who believes he can fashion an entire electoral victory by merely fixing media perception and deluding the voters. Is it the case that unlike any other politician or political party in India, Kejriwal’s entire campaign is built on delusion?

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This article was first published in DNA on 11th March, 2014. Here is the link

Why Arvind Kejriwal may be ready to use violence

With the decimation of the Congress in the ensuing elections staring them in the face, the establishment in Delhi is desperate for survival. Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party is their last resort to prevent a Narendra Modi-led government from coming into power.

The reason Arvind Kejriwal’s election procession in Gujarat was stopped, and he was detained, was because the model code of conduct has come into force. As this video proves, all that police officials were saying was that since elections have been announced, there are rules on taking out processions, and those rules would have to be followed. 

It is not as if these rules were being applied to Kejriwal alone. In 2004, LK Advani was the sitting deputy prime minister and home minister of India. He was holding a rally in Patna. As the campaign time, mandated by the Election Commission, came to an end, the then district magistrate of Patna walked up to Advani and asked him to stop his speech midway. Advani had no option but to comply. 

That is how it should be. This is how we have moved away from the anarchic, violent elections in the past decades to more peaceful, free and fair elections today. Even in the all pervasive institutional decline in the Congress-led UPA rule, the Election Commission is one institution that has still maintained its credibility. Then why is it that Kejriwal’s party chose to respond to Election Commission norms by unleashing violence in various parts of the country?

First, consider what happened. As pictorial evidence now confirms, Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the great Mahatma and who recently became an AAP member, was part of the mob that pelted stones at the BJP’s central office in New Delhi. Ashutosh Gupta, until recently a TV journalist who berated politicians everyday from his media platform for not doing principled politics, led the mob that climbed the gates of the BJP office, tore posters of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, pelted stones and shouted abusive slogans. Shazia Ilmi, also from the media fraternity, was part of the mob too along with several AAP MLAs. The Delhi Police have now filed criminal FIRs against Gupta and Ilmi along with many others, booking them for rioting and other serious offences. AAP workers also attacked BJP offices in other parts of the country like Lucknow, Allahabad and Jhansi.

It is not as if Kejriwal alone was being asked to follow the guidelines. From Mumbai to Bangalore, many politicians faced similar situations that same day. So why is it that the AAP reacted this way against what was a polite check by the administration on whether Kejriwal’s rally was following Election Commission guidelines?

As an answer to this question, one needs to ask a more fundamental question: what does the entrenched establishment in Delhi want? This establishment, long allied with the Congress party in a mutually beneficial way, sees Narendra Modi as a defining challenge to their hold on the Indian way of life. Left of centre in disposition, they cheered the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty’s deeds and white-washed their misdeeds, and in return were awarded with favoured contracts, plum postings, post retirement sanctuaries, taxpayer funded academic chairs in Indian and foreign universities, taxpayer funded junkets for journalists, and for the more enterprising, farmlands in plum areas of choosing. The crony socialists, part of the establishment, also fear the arrival of a Modi-led government since his economic model of promoting fair competition will end their dominance, which is built on the bending of rules and the exercise of discretionary power of ministers for a consideration. 

With the decimation of the Congress in the ensuing elections staring them in the face, the establishment is desperate for survival. Rahul Gandhi has proved unequal to the task. Despite years of sustained propaganda – from a youth icon to an agent of change to even a prominent TV anchor suggesting how a bearded Rahul Gandhi, from an earlier clean shaved one, represented a maturity of his politics – nothing has worked. 

In such a scenario arrives Arvind Kejriwal. As he has demonstrated with his brief stint in power, he believes in the same left of centre economic policies of the Congress. His model is also of dole economy, just like the Congress, instead of an empowering economy. This is exactly what the establishment wants, since a dole economy keeps sufficient number of people poor for the poverty industry to survive and flourish in the five star environs. 

On social issues too, Kejriwal is just like Congress. He too is against uniform civil code, despite the Constitution and the Supreme Court mandating it. Kejriwal, just like Congress, does not balk at taking the help of leaders who have been booked for rioting, as long as it gets him some votes. Kejriwal, too, owes his rise to the unquestioning support of the establishment media based in Delhi, unlike Modi, who has risen despite the same media’s virulent hostility. All the NGO-variety anarchists, who have built an entire career opposing anything that leads to the economic progress of India, and who for the last decade was part of the Sonia Gandhi led NAC, are now enthusiastic supporters of Kejriwal. 

In many senses, Kejriwal is the new Congress, and if at all even more left than the Congress. He may be a maverick but in disposition and policies, he suits the establishment as perfectly as a healthy Congress would have. For its own survival, the establishment has enthusiastically owned Kejriwal. That is why AAP could afford to be violent in Delhi, right next to our homes. It was counting on the immense reach of those who shape narrative in mainstream platforms to spin this as a positive development in our politics. Kejriwal’s party reacted violently to simple enforcement of election commission rules because in the garb of anti establishment positioning, AAP is the last resort of the establishment. Last resorts are invariably violent. 

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This article was first published in DNA on 6th March, 2014. Here is the link