Two Chartalans and a flawed achiever, choice is clear
Election season is upon us, so this blog will get a bit more active. In this post I want to expand on my thoughts on the new kid on the block - AAP.
There is lot to admire and like about it. Transparent funding model, ability to mobilise erstwhile apolitical voters, demolishing high entry barriers and idealism though misplaced as we will see. It is also occupied by shrewd political minds. The choice to fight the first election from Delhi is not accidental. Delhi unlike Mumbai is a privileged city, it is where the media is located and hence the problem of high entry barriers can easily be overcome by co-opting the media. But that is where the positives end.
AAP really had a historical opportunity to experiment a radically different governance model and Delhi was a perfect fit. It is a city state with a limited population and geography. It could have showed us whether its pet idea of Mohalla Sabhas can work on the ground. How to manage illegal slums and how can we design urban spaces to avoid congestion , crime and filth.
Governance of any country is complex, but India is doubly so. Any government in India has to manage a mind boggling array of self interests and complex socio economic structures. It is very easy for the urban middle class to sit in air conditioned rooms and dis politicians as corrupt , criminal and compromised. In our privileged worlds everything is either black or white. But a poor villager in feudal UP who is worried about his next meal, will vote for someone who can get him a ration card, protect him from caste oppression or simply provide him dignity in his/ her miserable poor life. It really does not matter if he has 2 helicopters or 3. So anybody who wants to do something good needs to understand this nuance, needs to tackle the easier bits, needs to compromise and deftly manage it. It is not to say he or she needs to be corrupt, but to argue that when you can fix 90 things you should not be fixated on some utopian ideal society.
AAP in government was a miserable failure. Is Jan Lokpal bill really more important than cleaning the Yamuna, providing poorer areas with water, improving public transportation and infrastructure?. And what does AAP really hope to achieve by winning 40 Loksabha seats ( I am being optimistic here). Even the decisions that it took in its 49 days in power which it publicises as some sort of achievements is really juvenile. What governece imagination does it take to announce that they will give free water?. Does South Delhi need free water when the the slums of Delhi do not even have access?. I would have had more respect if they had worked hard for 5 years and made sure 100% access to clean drinking water and sanitation to all Delhites. It would have required imaginitave governance hard work and ability to take on vested interests.
So when Arvind Kejrival goes to Gujrath and shouts that there is no electricity, health and employment for people he sounds foolish like his middle class followers. At least Modi has a record that is visible and can be measured both good and bad. If you don't take any tough decisions you can't be corrupt or anything really.
There is a clear choice in this election. There is a regional leader who has ruled a state for 12 years and is asking a mandate on his record. And there are two chartalans, one who has never had a proper job in his life and another who has never sincerely held on or delivered on the jobs that were given to him. My choice would be clear.
I break my blogging silence to feel a bit smug about an argument I had made in the last post many moons ago during the Jan Lokpal movement. I had written and argued against majority opinion the following.
"India is a democratic republic with a constitution. And the only way to measure representation in a democracy is through elections. We can debate about what type it needs to be (a parliamentary or presidential), but free and fair elections are the only way someone can claim representation. Irrespective of virtue and deeds, nobody can claim representation unless he or she has won an election. So for Anna Hazare, who has not bothered to contest even a local election, to claim that he represents the people is both flawed and dangerous. History is littered with graveyard of revolutions that trusted a few good men. Now apparently many of his middle class/elitist followers and he himself has claimed that there is no use contesting an election because poor and illiterate people are bought during elections. This view displays ignorance at best and an utter contempt for the poor at worst. It ignores the aspirational value for a better job, better education , better health that the poor have repeatedly attached to their vote and kicked out governments (You need not look beyond Bihar). And corruption which has so enraged the urban middle class affect the poor more than anybody else. So irrespective of the cause or the solution (even if it is good) no one has a right in a democracy to impose a view or a bill through blackmail"
The stunning and unexpected debut of AAP has proved me right. It is refreshing to see a uniform vote cutting across caste and class lines to a new political alternative. It shows the strength and resilience of democracy. Despite enormous entry barriers a new and refreshing idea can take hold purely on volunteering effort shows what Democracy can achieve. A big congratulations to Aravind Kejriwal and his team for pulling of an almost miracle. Whether this could be replicated across the country is an open question but the effort is well worth it.
Despite all of the above I am not a fan of AAP. For me politics is all about ideas. Ideas are profoundly important. Apart from radical decentralization (which is a bit impractical to the level AAP proposes but nonetheless good) what AAP is selling is essentially a socialist paradise. It doesn't surprise me, as all of the executive committee of AAP are essentially communists. I know these are early times and governing may temper some of the tendencies. It will be also interesting to see how the urban middle class followers of AAP will reconcile to this ideology once reality of governance forces the leadership to take difficult decisions. For example Yogendra Yadav is staunch believer in Mandal Politics and was one of the strongest supporters of OBC reservation ( which many of the people I know who are supporting AAP strongly disagree with). How does it reconcile with soft Naxalism and frankly Islamism of Prashanth Bhushan?. These are all issues that the party will face once the idealism gives way to reality of governance.
That is the reason I think AAP is a better placed to get the governance experience at the local body and Panchayat level where it can create real change before plunging into National politics. In any case India can ill afford to waste another 5 years. Despite all his flaws Narendra Modi is the only guy who is at least talking of center right agenda (though not out rightly) of minimum government and is the only credible national alternative in 2014.
AAP phenomenon is great and welcome, but hopefully people don't get carried away and create a mess in 2014 in one of most important elections of India’s history. Fun times ahead.
This time I won't bore you with introductions about my laziness and will get straight to the point. But before that a disclaimer. I am a staunch believer in democracy and free markets. I think that the above two if combined together effectively will bring prosperity and raise living standards. So if you do not believe in democracy then I have nothing to say or argue against, than probably humbly suggest you should move to China, Singapore or Hong Kong. If you believe in democracy then read on.
India is a democratic republic with a constitution. And the only way to measure representation in a democracy is through elections. We can debate about what type it needs to be (a parliamentary or presidential), but free and fair elections are the only way someone can claim representation. Irrespective of virtue and deeds, nobody can claim representation unless he or she has won an election. So for Anna Hazare, who has not bothered to contest even a local election, to claim that he represents the people is both flawed and dangerous. History is littered with graveyard of revolutions that trusted a few good men. Now apparently many of his middle class/elitist followers and he himself has claimed that there is no use contesting an election because poor and illiterate people are bought during elections. This view displays ignorance at best and an utter contempt for the poor at worst. It ignores the aspirational value for a better job, better education , better health that the poor have repeatedly attached to their vote and kicked out governments (You need not look beyond Bihar). And corruption which has so enraged the urban middle class affect the poor more than anybody else. So irrespective of the cause or the solution (even if it is good) no one has a right in a democracy to impose a view or a bill through blackmail.
Let us look at the solution, the so called cure of all ills. Now I am not a lawyer so I will leave it to people who know the law to decipher and shred the details of flaws in Jan Lok Pal Bill (read this Link). Corruption is only a symptom, disease is lack of reforms/governance. However strong may be the Law unless you attack the disease you will not get far. I am amazed that the same left liberals who argue capital punishment will not deter people from murdering and raping, think that Jan Lok Pall bill (which is equal to capital punishment without parole) will end corruption. And the mere idea that by creating another institution with overarching powers (judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one. There is reason why our constitution mandates seperation of power between legislature, judiciary and executive) will solve problems in existing institutions is absurd. And why would you trust this new draconian institution? The answers seems to be, well it will contain Nobel prize winners and other assorted worthies. Again, history is littered with graveyards of societies that trusted a few good men over an established due process.
As I said the solution is not another law but hard economic and governance reforms. I have argued before that the limited economic reforms that we carried out in 1991 has greatly reduced corruption. In the 80's ordinary people had to bribe a politician to get a gas connection, today there are hundreds of choices for us for each and every basic need and even luxuries. The argument that corruption has increased since 80's because loss to exchequer has gone up is again flawed. Of course the absolute loss to exchequer has gone up, that is because Indian economy has grow around 7-8% since late 90s and instead of gas connections it is spectrum licenses that the politician has discretionary power over. The solution is take out the discretionary power out of politicians and bueracracy and empower people through second generation reforms. It is ironic that one class of people that benefited most from 91 reforms is marching and lighting candles to appoint a super cop ,who will, looking at the selection panel will definitely be from an ideological spectrum staunchly opposed to reforms (see analysis here on link between corruption and economic freedom)
So Dear Middle class, instead of marching and lighting candle form a voting block and push for economic reforms. Not only it will reduce corruption but make our country more prosperous.
P.S: Even if someone were to fast or use any other means to force/blackmail the government to implement economic reforms I would still oppose it because as I said it is undemocratic and dangerous.
There is nothing more to be written and said about the Dantewada massacre. Points of view from both sides of the aisle have been explored and debated from fundamentalist morons like Arundathi Roy to intelligent policy/strategy options from INI bloggers , Vikram sood and others. It's really good that public imagination even though momentarily has been focused on this grave problem and it may just help to gather the lacking political will.
But there is one aspect of this problem that I believe goes to the root of the issue. The maoisits and its intellectual torch bearers will tell you that Big Corporations, Police and State in collusion are taking away land and exploiting the poor tribals. I have no doubt in my mind that it is true. But the solution is not armed struggle, killing and stopping any kind of economic development. There is a notion that tribals want to continue their way of life and do not need any development, as Ms Roy so eloquently describes a police officer saying " Ma'am Tribals are not greedy". I think that is just bulllshit. Most of the tribals want to get out of poverty and an archiac way of living, to get better education, housing, wealth and prosperity. It is people like Ms Roy who sit in urban centers who romanticize tribal life as if subsistence living is some elevated status of being. Even if some tribals want to continue their way of life, I would consider them selfish and hypocritical because if India wants to become a superpower and pull people out of poverty we need to mine in those areas, increase exports and create jobs.
The problem is not that tribals do not want to develop or development is ruining a way of life, the problem is state intervention and lack of property rights. State intervention in distributing tribal land for Industrial use creates corruption, political meddling and land sharks resulting in this endless cycle of violence. The solution lies in that libertarian idea of property rights, where tribals get to negotiate a fair price and a fair deal for their land directly with corporate houses. Corporate houses are not fools, they know that in the long run it is in their interest to help in development of Tribals and be mindful of environment. The role of the government is to create regulation and act as a facilitator to make sure there is no unfair advantage to either side.
We can bomb all we want or romanticize a way of life, unless there is property rights, this problem will surface in one way or other. We should stop being a welfare state where the poor are always with the begging bowl, but create an enabling environment so that they can pull themselves out of poverty.
I am finally wakened up from immense lethargy, and it took a tragedy of immense proportions to force me to my laptop to write this post. Mumbai has been attacked, not just a bomb blast which we are resilient to, but an attack where 21 year old maniacs sprayed bullets on streets and held a country to ransom. Its been 2 and half years, since I have called Mumbai home (fuck off Raj Thackeray ,whatever you think I am a Mumbaikar) and I love this City. So before going into my irritation of the attacks itself and pessimism I have that nothing is going to change, let me express my love.
I have lived in couple of cities before I came to Mumbai, but within a short period of time of being here, I felt belonged. Yes it’s suffocating crowds, nauseating pollution, chaos of daily life, sheer callousness of its citizens and the struggle to get basic things done irritates the hell out of me sometimes. But the city is amazingly free and I do not experience the same freedom anywhere in India. The freedom to make money and dream big without guilt, the freedom to steal a kiss from your partner without even a cursory glance from people around, the freedom for women to dress, party and work without feeling unsafe and the freedom of its art/theatre to express itself without censorship, this city is free. And it is this freedom that those fucking insane bastards tried to demolish.
The country seems to be saying enough is enough. But I am pessimistic and I am really waiting for my turn to be killed or maimed (yes its cynical, but sadly true) and here’s why
Politics: Politician seems to be the favorite whipping guy this time and in a way rightly so. But we forget that we are a democracy and in a democracy we get the leaders we deserve. And the way Indian political system is designed, it’s unlikely anything’s going to change. We can put pressure on Congress and BJP through protest marches, candlelight vigils & media, but what do you do with Mayawathi who will be more concerned about Dalit votebank, what you will do with Mulayam who will look for Muslim Yadav combination and what will you do with Karunanidhi who does not think beyond Dravidian movement. Our politics from mid 80’s onwards have become too regionalized and is determined by psephology and not ideology. Ideology evolves and can be changed but not psephology.
Media: Am I the only one disgusted by the way media behaved and is continuing to behave. Somehow Barkha Dutt, Arnab Gowswami and Rajdeep Sardesai think they represent the moral consciousness of this country. Let me make it clear dudes, it’s sad that you have become famous journalists, because you guys are the biggest morons that this country has ever produced. And they are immoral too (can anyone tell me how Narendra Modi visiting Trident to get mileage is any different from Arnab Goswami crying out hundredth time, Exclusive footage?).
Intellectuals: I should have clubbed this brigade with the Media. Sandeep was right the biggest intellectuals in this country are also the ones with the least common sense. And the intellectuals on TV giving rousing speeches of enough is enough, are doing so because what they call second home (Taj, Oberoi) has been attacked. Where will they now sit, sip coffee, and cry out even terrorists have human rights, where will they now write scripts of movies glorifying poverty and how the hell will they now throw up the root cause argument?. I am convinced that if terrorists had only shot in CST, Andheri and such suburbs and gone home, you would find the same morons ranting on TV about root cause.
Army/Security forces: Before I get hanged, let me say that I have immense respect and awe for anybody who risk their lives to protect others. I can’t do anything close to it for the life of me. But it doesn’t hurt to ask some critical questions only to learn from mistakes in the future. I do not think the operation was handled professionally by the NSG/Army. I am not even taking about the delay in arrival or lack of ammunition/equipment. But some basic things like media management, cordoning off surrounding areas (Wasn't it shocking after of Nariman house encounter a thousand people were allowed to rush in even before operation was complete, was it a cricket match for god’s sake?) etc. Also how can the NSG claim especially the Nariman house encounter, as successful, when they lost one of their men and all hostages? If I was JK Dutt I would be terribly unhappy and give my men more rigorous training.
Finally, we the people: Terror attacks are not new in India. So let me ask this question, how many of us voted in whichever last election, with internal security as the top agenda? I am sure it will be a miniscule percentage and I would like to see somebody do a survey during the next general elections (again I am sure it will be a miniscule percentage). Price of onions matters more for us than price of life. I am all for saying enough is enough, but I am afraid that as a nation we are more concerned about symbolism than some real action.
I am pessimistic guys, so I am waiting that Mera number kab aayega
I resume blogging not with something original but two links to articles about current issues by prominent writers. First the unnecassary violence in Mumbai by Raj, Pratap Bahnu Mehta is bang on in this opinion piece in the Indian Express, read the full thing, he is bang on when he says
"The crisis in Maharashtra cannot be handled by making diversity a bedrock value. Rather the bedrock value of our society ought to be freedom: the freedom to call any place in the country home, the freedom to alter culture, the freedom subject to practical constraints, to speak any language, the freedom to break out of the fetter of compulsory identities. Out of this freedom new diversities and cultural forms will emerge. But at the moment the discourse on diversity fails in significant ways: it is too compatible with the imposition and preservation of compulsory identities, and too compatible with the idea that each Indian has his appropriate place whether by virtue of geography or kinship. Tocqueville once defined democracy as being a society to the effect that where you are going matters more than where you came from. In this sense identity talk of the kind we are seeing in Maharashtra and the responses to it are deeply anti-democratic".
Second is an oped piece in WSJ by Flemming Rose , wonderfully put.
I am getting married this Sunday and you dear readers are invited (i think we have to make extra arrangement since the readers of this blog runs into millions:)). I am leaving tommorow from the monotony called office for a whirlwind holiday of two weeks, i plan to resume blogging afterwards. I am attaching the invite (written and designed by moi)