May 312014

An edited version of this appeared in the DNA last week

And, we have a brand new Government of India, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).   This is a Government that has the undisputed mandate of the people. There are those who may argue, till the cows come home, about percentage polled and number of votes; but the fact remains that we are a first past the post system and the BJP has won more seats than everyone else put together.

As data comes in, and people conduct various forms of post poll analysis, and as reporters talk to ordinary voters, and as you yourself interact with more and more people what is evident is that people voted for Mr. Modi rather than the party; and that they voted against the Congress, UPA partners and major regional satraps who can routinely hold the Central Government to ransom. Mr.Modi’s victory is as much about the decimation of the Congress, as it is about marginalising State level parties, and reducing them to absolutely local level players, in those areas they still exist. The AIADMK, and the BJD are prime examples of this – they won, but they are limited to their State, with their central influence severely marginalised. In other cases the political graveyard beckons – be it the Samajwadi Party or the Communists, be it the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)  or the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Even NDA allies who won, won less on their merit and more as a result of the BJP election juggernaut. What Mr.Modi has done, is reduced them to near irrelevance, at least in the short run. In most of these cases the parties have deeply frayed their connect with the voter base, and representation of  local level aspiration and ‘pride’, and have become a family run business. The moment a Party, that is supposed to represent the people becomes a family run entity, then, sooner or later, it becomes disconnected with the people it claims to represent. The other problem is that fresh blood, fresh ideas, and passion cease to be injected in the system because there is no hope of growth unless you are part of the family. These parties have a grave future ahead of them and the only way to avert death is to free up parties from family control. The Congress as well as parties such as the SP or the DMK, or the MNS and the SS have to redefine their existence in the context of the 21st century and goes beyond the family name of its’ strongest leaders.

The other important aspect of the elections is it is the most significant one in terms of the India’s overall construct. A large number of Indians did not vote for regional issues or even local issues, or even because of caste or religious affiliations.  They voted for a Government of India. The lesson for Parties is that they need to fight on issues other than identity. Their raison d’être has to go beyond their past. They have to be future ready – and that means, at the very least, the promise of not just governance, but also a promise of hope for a better tomorrow.   With the permeation of the media, distances in India, as elsewhere, have shrunk. Voters have glimpses of lives that are more comfortable than their own – better roads, better jobs, better infrastructure, water on tap, schools with teachers and hospitals with doctors – and they realise there is a world not so far away from them where things work. The burgeoning middle class – which includes cab drivers and maids, shop assistants and courier boys, Office assistants and drivers– all aspire for a better tomorrow, not just for the next generation but our themselves.   They have been most impacted by inflation, often seeing them at the precipice of slipping back into the ‘poor’ category again. Their world is less about austerity and more about the desire to consume. Also, as the middle class base increases people define themselves less by what they do and more by who they are as people and aspirations.

The last factor to consider is the change of elite. India is no longer run by the old elite.  Even since liberalisation began in the early 1990’s a change in society has been underway. New elites have begun coming up in every field from media to telecom, from construction to retail.   It has been the era of the calculated risk taker, the buccaneer who had the vision and foresight to invest into newer areas – be they areas at the outskirts of rarefied upper class city centres to develop as new cities, where the new elite would live; or service sectors that employed this new elite. This new strata in India, is bound by, at best, loose ties of caste, religion or linguistic identity. It may follow various customs and traditions, celebrations and rituals of their associations, but beyond that it plays very little role in their lives. This elite is a meritocracy – which has gotten there as first generation achievers in every field. You see this in all sectors – people from smaller towns, people from humble backgrounds achieving great heights. In the last decade the two men at the helm – Dr.Manmohan Singh and Mr.Narendra Modi  – were not from the elite. Far from it. Both of them acknowledged it in their final and first speeches to the nation. Dr Singh said “I, an underprivileged child of Partition, was empowered enough to rise and occupy high office” and Mr. Modi said “It is proof of the strength of our Constitution that a man from a poor family is standing here today.” It is this that has changed in the core of India – the ability to move across economic and social strata, and not see India through older prisms.  India, possibly for the first time in memory, is becoming upwardly socially mobile. People can aspire to more than they were born into.   And, they can hope to achieve it. The election results reflect that.

Feb 182011

… and then Yudisthtra’s chariot came down to earth

– The Battle, Mahabharat – following Yudishtra’s lie to Drona on the death of Ashwattama.

Yudishtra, for me, is the one character in the Mahabharat whose motivations and actions I can least understand. The son of Dharma (Righteousness) and Kunti he turned silence into a fine art.

He kept quiet when his mother handed over Arjun’s bride to the 5 brothers. He kept quiet when Shakuni goaded him into  gambling his brothers, himself and then his wife. And when the famous vastraharan was played out – at the end of the first game of dice – he kept quiet when his wife- his dharmapatni -was being stripped in front of an entire sabha. When  the second game of dice was fixed and the Pandavs lost – rather than challenge the cheaters – he quietly took his brothers and wife into exile. He vasicallated when attacked in the forest. He would have possibly accepted permanent exile before the war -but for Draupadi throwing an outraged tantrum – “my sons,  brothers and father will fight to avenge me – she cried. I haven’t yet bound the hair by which  Dushashan dragged me into the sabha – i won’t rest till they are dead.” The only proactive scene that he has is the Yaksha Prasana -a set of metaphysical questions and answers – that, in his context,  are more an academic discourse than  practical application.

if i had to make a case against Primogeniture – Yudishtra would be it…. he had no business to be king. He didn’t have the courage to take hard desicions. Dharma without Karma is futile, Karma without Dharma is amoral. Yudishtra was the former, Duryodhan was the latter. There is little wonder that the Bhagvad Gita was imparted to Arjun – the third son – not Yudishtra the King to be. (my personal favorite in the Mahabharat was Bhim – because he really did do his duty)


Yesterday, when I heard the PM address the Press Conference the Yaksha Prasana came to mind.  It was a nice academic conversation – yes there is corruption. No, there shouldn’t be corruption. But what can we do -our hands are tied by Coalition Dharma.

If I hear the words Coalition Dharma one more time, I will break something. What is being practised is not coalition dharma but coalition adharma. If the price of power is to put up with this – then it is better to lose power.

as someone who voted for the Congress  because of MMS – and this was the first time i had cast a vote because i wanted someone in power, the rest of the time it is a negative vote to keep someone else out of power – keeping silent on corruption because it is the politics of expedience  is a terrible let down.

There were some answers that i was satisfied with. For example, when he dealt with the loss on 2G – the extent of loss depends on how you account for it. But, it was an economist’s answer – the academic in me was satisfied – the voter in me and the citizen in me was gravely disappointed.

I was happy with his answers on Telengana – building of consensus; Assam – the need for peace and the fact that he can’t reveal his favorite cricketeer ( that gem of a question came from Anuradha Prasad ‘do you want India to win the world cup’ ‘who is you favorite player’). I found his answer on food inflation to be accurate and honest. I found his add on comment saying that the Government could have prevented inflation but that would  have impacted growth – to be honest and brave. They could have, and it would have. That statement also tells me that he is not the puppet that he is made out to be – the Party would have sacrificed growth for lower inflation.

I also accept his word that the government has got 7 out of 10 things right

But, while I  do all that – i found the silence of the last 3 months on the 3 things that the Government has got wrong to be inexplicable. Much as i found Yudishtra’s silence…


But what really got me angry was the comment that the media should not play up scams it will impact the way the world sees us….

It was the same reaction that I had when the earlier PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee said on the Gujarat riots “I do not know what face I will show them (the world) now after the shameful events in Gujarat.”

My reaction in both cases was the same – really. you are worried about  the world – shouldn’t you be worrying about what your own people think ?

Yudishtra behavior again – he was so busy playing dharmaraj he forgot to be that..


Finally, it is never too late. There are three more years of this Government. There is still time to change – and to provide the growth, development, inclusiveness and social justice that has been promised. But for that the corrupt and the corrupter need to be penalised and made examples of.

If there is a General Election tomorrow which party will I cast my vote for ? Definitely not the BJP. Most likely not the Congress. Most probably MNS.  Three years later … who knows?