May 16, 2009

Bring out the Champagne with a dash of Sedative

Filed under: Governance,Politics — Bottom's Up @ 12:05 pm

In an election where the choice was one of going for the least of all evils, the people of India has chosen magnificently. As someone who had become more and more cynical with the direction the people (and hence leaders) of India were taking her, this writer is truly delighted.

There are some trends here which are truly causes for hope. Of course the assertion that this is a mandate for a stable Government indeed has elements of truth to it. The communists , the Mayawatis  and the regional parties which were seen as either not up to the task of providing a stable Government or simply too disruptive and untenable for a stable Government have lost heavily. When it comes to the communists, it probably has been the major reason after their repeated rants of anti-Americanism and rigid stands on issues such as the nuclear deal. Similarly, Reddy’s huge win in the Lok Sabha elections in Andhra but few gains in the assembly elections point to the same trend. Maharashtra may fall in this bucket too. All of this, particularly the strong contrasts in Andhra, definitely speaks highly of the astuteness of the Indian voters.

A second trend is a vote for Governance. A careful look shows that despite its loss, the BJP did not really lose as much in terms of seats overall as the third front.It did do badly in places such as Rajasthan where its Governance was bad, but in other places where its Government did a good job such as Gujarat, it maintained and even expanded its lead. The Governance reward trend is true across parties and regions. Nitish Kumar has made a clean sweep in Bihar. HIs strength is that he is not only able to tap into identity polictics (a necessary evil in Indian politics) but he has not forgotten to follow it up with Governance. His was definitely not a big party though it had allied with the BJP. Similarly, in the former BJP stronghold of Delhi, again a performing Government of Sheila Dixit has been rewarded. On the other hand, the extremely poor levels of Governance in UP by Mayawati have been punished. This and stability allowed the Congress to make huge gains in UP. This focus of the voters on performance is probably one of the nest news of this elections and hopefully will serve to incentivize more state Governments to do their job.

A third trend that is being pointed out is one of this being a vote against extremist. I do not believe that as a first order effect this was important. For example. Gujarat is a prime example where extremism did not play in the equations and it was all about Governance. Nor did Modi’s presence in Maharastra for campaigning either help or hurt. Similarly, in many places where the BJP had won in the past, it continued to maintain its hold. However, there are two second order effects. In an era of coalition politics – something which is expected to be around – most regional parties were unwilling to touch the BJP with a nine feet pole. Their extremist tendencies cost them heavily in terms to getting allies at a time when they really needed allies. Though it may be partly opportunism on the part of Nitish, this may also play a part in his parting ways with the BJP. Another effect of its extremism was its inability to expand its base. To that extent, in the current political climate, Hindutva just did not fly beyond the established base. Again Maharashtra is a prime example where the Congress had a Government which is terrible but still won. It does mean that the BJP, if it needs to continue to be a national party and gain allies, needs to shed its extreme image and become a true center right party. Of course, when it comes to communal issues, things can quickly change.

All said and done, blunders and lack of a strategy by the third front and the BJP definitely played their part in the win of the BJP. However, it was as much a mandate for a party that was reatively (and I use ‘relatively’ strongly) better at providing Governance and stablity. Kudos to the Indian voter. However, with good news always come some bad. We are definitely looking at a stable Government and also promising trends in the attitude of the Indian voters. However, the BJP continues to look just as confused as it always was. This could mean that they decide to go further to the hard right, choose new leaders more alignemed with the new sangh and end up becoming even more marginalized. If this happens, the Congress would become the only dominant party in the country and after the era of the Indira Gandhi debacles, we know where that could lead.  Thus, this writer hopes that the BJP takes the right lessons and comes back as a stronger, more moderate opposition to the Congress. A second cause of worry is what this means for inner party democracy. The lack of inner party culture has grown over the years and the rise of Rahul Gandhi – the Congress is already attributing the entire UP success o him, a questionable claim – would do nothing to change that. The return of Mamata Banerjee, the win of the Congress in some places such as Maharastra despite non Governance are also unhealthy outcomes. Hopefully some of these fears will be assuaged with the rise of better oppositions.

For now though, given the cirstances and the options in front of the Indian voter, this is the best possible outcome. If this is not cause enough to bring out the champage, then nothing is.


February 1, 2009

Looking Within

Filed under: Politics — Bottom's Up @ 2:08 pm

Democracy may be a lot of things, but at a basic level, it is the will of the majority. A discussion on how to avoid it’s pitfalls and to give everyone a say is a tricky topic in itself and for another day. However, democratic nations elect leaders who reflect their values. Granted, nations and peoples can be fooled from time to time, but this state of ignorance can only persist for so long.

Thus, when George Bush got elected the first time,  it was not such a big deal. Within a short time, it started becoming obvious that the administration was one of mismanagement and in many cases surreptition. Still, in 2004 the President was re-elected by the American people. Again, many reasons are given for this – the lack of viable alternatives, the belief that he was good in the things that mattered, etc. However, the bottom line was that many people were pro a hawkish non negotiable foreign policy. People were pro life and pro the economics of his day. Bush was a reflection of what the American people wanted – and it was reflective in 2004 as it was in 2000. Only by 2008, when people started seeing the error of the things they wanted their leader to do did things change. Thus the state of ignorance ended, a time of reflection and redemption arrived and people voted for a change in policies. Whether Obama is anything new or an exemplification of redemption, only time will tell. The important thing to note is that people realized the problems with their ways or priorities and voted to change their leader.

Now, let’s look at India. In India, in terms of leader we do not have a viable option. The Congress is a model of nepotism, corruption and an attitude of inaction and lethargy when it comes to Governance. The BJP on the other hand is hawkish but like a little child – immature and obstinate. It’s just as corrupt and exemplifies intolerance. Both share methods of division along various lines to stay in power. After the Mumbai attacks, people raised their voices in anger against the Government and it’s ineptitude. Pakistan was not on the people’s radar, though the policy of terrorism from across the border was not new. This writer had hoped at that time that it was our moment of reflection and maybe redemption. Alas, that was not to happen. In time, we are back to blaming Pakistan more and more and reducing our demands from the Government. We have again slipped into our comfortable chalta hai zone. While Pakistan has been less than helpful in it’s cooperation, the Indian Government has been very ineffectual in it’s handling of the diplomacy and issues. It has looked weak, more like a mock Government.  At the same time, the problem is as much of our internal systems being a mess when it comes to national security. The Congress Government has been and continues to be a bunch of blundering buffoons.

Why is this so? Why do, when we look at the upcoming elections, we see only jokers and incompetent leaders as options? Why is it that all our leaders are so bad? The take of this writer  is that they are a reflection of our value system and unless those values do not change, we will continue to come back to this. A few moments of anger would not change anything. We as a nation routinely indulge in corruption and nepotism. We have no qualms about bribing a Government officer. It’s one thing to bribe an officer when there is no other option – say you need to get your legally obtained, VAT paid raw material in your business cleared but you just cannot unless you pay a bribe. But what about the TC who we give a bribe to for a better seat on the train. Or paying bribes to customs officials at airports to bring in goods without duties. Or the atrociously large number of people who do not pay taxes or steal electricity. If we are corrupt, we would care less if our leaders are corrupt. Thus we have Jayalalitha and Laloo and Mayawati as our leaders. Or take accountability. When we as a nation consider nepotism as a fact of life, why would we object when a Shivraj Patil,one of the worst home ministers ever, continues to stay in power only because of nepotism. Only when disaster struck was he removed. Our leaders do not pay a price for such behavior since we do the same things and thus do not care enough to punish them for those detrimental traits.

Only if we as a nation first change our own attitudes towards our role in building a comunity, when we espouse values of righteousness and society, will we expect the same from our leders. And only when that happnes will come our time for redemption. Till then, Pakistan will have to do as our favorite topic of criticism. After all its easier to blame the other than to blame the mirror.

July 23, 2008

The Mess of the No Confidence Motion

Filed under: Governance,Politics — Bottom's Up @ 12:28 am

The UPA has just finished with a victory in the no confidence motion against it on the supposed issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal. Amid cries of Singh Is King, various issues are currently coming to mind and each of them adds to my disgust with our great leaders and my depression with Indian governance.

  1. The UPA Government has not disclosed all the details of the deal and time and again has not officially given any explanation on why the issues raised by the left about the 123 agreement and the Hyde Act are not pertinent from a legal and national security point of view. I still have not heard whether we will be able to have any nuclear tests in the future after this agreement and if not, why that is not important. What should have happened is that when there is so much controversy, the Govt. should have invited some leaders of the opposition and various other parties and addressed their concerns in a transparent and (semi)public debate on the issue. I do not say a debate of the full house for the simple reason that we have so many morons as the last few days have shown that no debate would have been possible with over 500 members. I do realize that there would have been some security concerns which may not have been possibly disclosed publicly, but than those aspects could have been handled better than what was done. Also, the UPA made the stupid mistake of trying to sell the deal as the kill all of India’s energy security concerns. The deal would help the energy problems and at a time when we would need all the help we can get, 6% nuclear power would definitely help. This was what the Government should have stressed upon instead of saying that the deal would solve all our problems.
  2. The communists showed their ideological obsession at the expense of rational decisions in the interest of the country. Thus their biggest problem was that the deal was with the US. As a result they failed to focus on the issues of importance and kept harping on their anti US rhetoric. Plus the ego issues of Mr. Karat. A person with such ego issues should never be given so much power. Maybe the communists would learn something from this. At a time when both the UPA and NDA are pro business and as so often happens in such cases, the poor get sidelined, the communists can play a good role of watching out for the poor and making sure bad slips do not happen. Unfortunately, they are too busy talking playing ideology while doing Nandigram.
  3. The BJP is supposedly a right wing party. They are supposed to be more attuned to national security reasons. Thus in a deal such as this, they should have been the first to appreciate the unspoken foreign policy and security aspects and should have shown a pro deal attitude. If something was bothering them, they should have been interested in a vibrant debate and a proclivity in favor of completion of the deal as opposed to scuttling the deal. Instead what we saw was them wanting to not let the Congress get any recognition for the deal and for this they have been more than ready to sacrifice the interest of the country for petty political gains. This was obvious when last few days they kept saying that they would want to go back and revisit the deal themselves. Also, using the deal for petty politics was quite obvious too from the fact that Mr. Advani’s speech hardly touched upon the deal but on everything else. Disgusting behavior by a party that claims to be a security obsessed right wing party!
  4. While calling for a no confidence motion on the Government when it has only about 100 days to go anyways is bad politics, Mr. Advani did raise some pertinent points. The performance of the UPA government has been poor at best. Little has been achieved on its CMP; the Bharat Nirmaan scheme is hardly a resounding success so far. While inflation may not necessarily be all the Governments doing, the way they have handled the inflation management has hardly been of any use or rationality with the rupee still tracking the weakening dollar and not appreciating. On the reform front, little has been done to implement recommendations such as those in the Rajan report (though I wonder how much the communist parties have played a hand in this). Infrastructure development has not exactly been stellar either. And worst of all has been foreign policy and security. The danger of terrorism has increased and trifle little has been done to catch the culprits or make the country safer. Kashmir is a mess as always and little has changed barring the fact that whatever little has improved there is mostly because the Kashmiris are getting tired of the militancy. The North Eastern states continue to be neglected and treated as second class citizens. Appeasement politics still rule. Internationally, China has continued bullying us while we have continued appeasing them. Little has been done in using this juncture where Pakistan is weak to gain any benefits from them. The Africa debacle where we woke up too late to China for resources is well known. Little progress has been made with other countries both east and west of India. The concerns of importing illegal immigrants and fundamentalism from Bangaladesh continue to grown. Much as we would like to believe, India has little to show for the hyped new power status when it comes to international diplomacy.
  5. The gadha trading (horse trading of our gadha leaders) that has been going on obviously is a shame on the leaders of the country. It is also quite obvious that both sides are deep in the dirt on this. The same way SP leaders migrated to the BSP, NDA leaders abstained and came to the side of the UPA. Shits high on the ceiling and there is an absolute lack of moral high ground of either side. However, the display of cash in the Loksabha was an utterly stupid and thoughtless move on the part of the NDA. This directly hurt the prestige of the country and in the end achieved nothing. The same attention on the issue could have been brought in much more sensible and ways less detrimental to the prestige for the country. Instead what we have now is a utter mockery of democracy in the country. In their moment of desperation after realizing they were not going to win this one, they tried to pull off this stunt and get the vote delayed – an attempt that thankfully did not work. Another thing that is being said is that the gadha trading was shocking to the public. I believe there was hardly anything shocking except for the tamasha in the Loksabha. The people of India are quite well aware of this kind of nonsense and the last few days had made it even more obvious to everyone that shady crap was happening.
  6. The media in India is quite superficial and hardly fulfills the function that its supposed to. This is quite obvious from the fact that not one major media house – TV or print – took the efforts to analyze the finer aspects of the nuclear deal and provide an unbiased and educated analysis of the issues in the deal. All we had were partially informed opinions and columns by either of the political groups. The media thus utterly failed as a source of educated and informed content. A thorough analysis by the media would have gone a long way in clearing all the confusion and taken away the ability of the political parties to score cheap points. But then the media is market driven, we have enough idiots who prefer news in the form of a melodrama with music playing in the background a la Aaj Tak to really have a sound media. While the market is there for educated responsible journalism, the market is bigger for dumb news and the lure of money coupled with limited resources of the media houses means we get moronic news coverage.
  7. The rise and continuous rise of local parties is a big concern. Equally importantly, the importance of the cow belt in country politics and their playing a highly disproportionate role vis a vis their contribution to the country’s growth and prosperity is an even bigger concern. I think it’s high time the country started thinking of amendments to the constitution to make changes such that only parties with a nationwide presence should be able to rule from the center. This of course should have to go hand in hand with more power over their own affairs to the states – especially fiscally. Bad states can get relief from the center once in a while but definitely a progressive state should have the right to use its own fiscal resources instead of subsidizing economically backward states like the cow belt. Of course, utilization of their natural resources by say Jharkhand should help Jharkhand too. To each his own. Also, such amendments should help reduce the ability of corrupt junk politicians like Mayawati and Mulayam Singh with their uneducated cow belt concerns to not have a say in issues such as national security and national trade. Of course they do provide lighter moments like Mayawati talking about Izzat when she has scores of corruption allegations against her and then saying that the UPA and NDA conspired to not allow her to become a PM since she is a dalit.

Of course the mess in the current state of affairs is not exactly a close ended blame. Democracy always throws up leaders of the populace which the populace deserves. So long as Indians continue to sit by the sidelines and let the same people rule, so long as we continue to vote along the lines of caste, religion and language and so long as we do not bring out leaders to account; little will change and the mess will continue. The UPA will just be replaced by the NDA or vice versa.

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