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.

May 282012

My column in today’s DNA

Dwight Eishenower, the former American President, was asked about his Vice President’s (Richard Nixon’s) contribution to the Presidency. His response was “If you give me a week, I might think of one.” This is the quote that came to mind when thinking about the achievements of the United Progressive Alliance’s second stint in Government. That is not to say that they have made no positive contribution – it is just that a combination of the scams and the paralysis has wiped out anything good that may have been done from our collective memory. So on the 3rd anniversary of UPA 2 a A to Z of issues :

Authority – no Government in the world can rule without authority. That authority is not just legal and moral, but also the capability to stand up and say – I am the Government, and this is my job because the people elected me. To be able to govern in the next two years, the Prime Minister & his cabinet need to exert authority. Or Go.

Budget – It is all right to spend if there is a plan in place to grow and earn. The current finance minister is old school socialist and happy with spending. But, there seems to be no plan to earn. No plan to grow. Only to spend. Next two years focus on growth.

Coalition – and management of diverse parties. The people, who are supposed to manage it, have failed. This coalition is more to prevent work than to get work done. Get them on board. Or Go. .

Deficit – See B above. If you spend without earning, Deficits – and large ones at that – will result.

Exchange Rate – the best thing to do when your currency starts to seek a new level is nothing. You would expect a Government led by an economist to know that.

F for … well this is a family newspaper, and one cannot really expand the F word here. Sufficient to say that that most feel that is what has been done to the country and the economy.
Governance – Governance is seeing Government in action. Not Government inaction.

Higher Power – The buck stops at the Prime Minister. Or it should. Having a higher power that second guess decision making does no good as far as either the Party or the country is concerned.

Inflation – when you grow you will have inflation. If you check that inflation, you will deflate growth. That is what has happened.

Jokes – it is bad for authority and legitimacy of a Government when it becomes the butt for jokes. The solution is not to ban jokes, but get work done.

Kapil Sibal – See J Above. The man whose defence of the Government made people more convinced that they were trying to hide something.

Legislation – that is pending because the government mangers cannot come to an agreement with their coalition partners or the opposition. See G for Governance above.

Mamata – the person no sane government should touch with a barge pole. Her dogma will be the death of the Indian economic dream. Dump her now.

National Advisory Council– or the Non Accountable Counci. A bunch of civil society big wigs, whose heart overwhelms their brain.

Opposition – see M above, and T below.

Prime Minister – whose silence is deafening.

Questionable Deals – Is there any deal that this Government has done that is not questionable. Do they have logical answers rather than pulling up the drawbridge ? Can they share those answers with the people?

Raja – the telecom minister who took a policy aimed at increasing tele-density – the first come first serve policy – and murdered it, while seniors in the cabinet did nothing. If you auction all resources the cost of doing business will increase.

Sonia Gandhi – the power behind the throne. Who along with the NAC (see N above) formulates welfare policies and prevents the Government from achieving growth that will pay for those policies.

Trinumool Congress – see M for Mamata above. With allies like this one doesn’t need an opposition.

UPA2 – it isn’t United, it is regressive rather than Progressive, and the Alliance seems all but dead.

V.K.Singh – General. The nicest thing that one can say about his tenure as COAS is that it is over. Done with. Thank God. But, another example of total mismanagement by the Government. (check A for Authority)

We the People – see F above.

X – marks the spot where people vote. And if state elections are any indication, the people are unhappy.

Y – the economist’ term for national Income. Dear UPA2 – focus on all aspects of that, not just government spending.

Z for Zero Loss – the incredibly arrogant response to the 2G scam – see K above – that convinced people that something was dreadfully wrong.