The Modi era, the birth of a pan-Indian Muslim Party and rise of urban city parties

Ok the title of this blog is a mouthful and they are three different un-related ideas. I am sure you are wondering how the three are related? You might be thinking I have finally gone cuckoo and you should stop reading this blog. But hang on. Give me a patient reading and I will tell you how these three seemingly un-related things are connected.  I am going to break the story into three parts and hopefully by the end of the third story you will be able to connect the dots yourself.

Part I: The rise and rise of Modi

I am watching with great amusement how folks in urban India have reacted to Modi’s announcement as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Unfortunately their enthusiasm for Modi does not stem from deep understanding of BJP’s agenda or careful research on the Gujarat model of development. It is more based on self-interest. They strongly believe that Indian economy will boom once Modi comes to power. That Modi will be able to fix the potholes on the road, clear the garbage and fix the law and order situation in a jiffy. They also believe that Pakistan will start behaving and stop killing our soldiers on the border. In short all will be well with India and they can go back to watching cricket and drinking beer. I even read an article predicting a “Modi Bull Market (read the full story here). Some journalists like Aakar Patel have put this phenomenon in perspective (read story here)

The urban TV media has reacted to this news in a predictable manner. It is no secret that there is probably no love lost between the Political editors of news channel and Modi (read a story by written by Barkha Dutt here). Their worst nightmare is Modi becoming the PM and then ignoring them. Their unfettered access could evaporate in a second. Some journalists have tried an interesting spin by bringing up the challenge of “neutrality” that journalists now face (read Rajdeep’s blog here.) Some like Karan Thapar have openly floated the idea that neither Modi nor Rahul should become the PM (Read the story here.) 

While the paranoia of political editors in various news channels is understandable, the naïve belief of liberal middle class that decades of misrule can be fixed in a jiffy is heart-breaking. But then liberal middle class is an enigma which is hard to understand. So before we proceed let’s examine the liberal middle class new found fascination with Modi and the consequent disillusionment in Part II of the story.

Part II: The liberal middle class and its new fascination with Modi

The liberal middle class is famously passive and revels in hero/ leader worship. It does not like extremes either in ideas or in their everyday life. They like the predictability of their jobs, the commute to work and their everyday existence. They celebrate their festivals but in moderation. They save aggressively and are bargain hunters. By and large they are secular and respect other religions and celebrate both Eid and Christmas. They are very family oriented and would rather run to the family and the social complex to solve their problems rather than courts. They are very focused on getting their children great education and stable jobs. But above all they don’t like to make hard choices and hate their leaders making extreme utterances and pushing them to take difficult decisions. In past they have been known to vote against leaders indulging in extreme views and utterances. Sonia Gandhi probably also discovered this post her famous “Maut ka Saudagar” statement (read the story here). In short the liberal Indian middle class has a soft underbelly and does not like to be pushed very far from their middle-of-the road stance.

This same liberal middle class is now fascinated by Narendra Modi. However Mr Modi is known to take hard decisions and has the required courage and conviction to see his decisions through the very end. He is a strong and a determined leader and is not a soft by any stretch of imagination. He is the kind of leader who probably believes in “tough love” and does not believe in appeasing anybody or any section of the society (read story here). He also stands up for himself and what he believes is right. Watch this video where he interjects Atal Bihari Vajyapee the then PM who seems to be chiding him publicly about the law and order situation in Gujarat. If you watch this video you will realize that Modi is not a soft leader. He takes hard stances. A lot of his public utterances has already upset the liberal Indian middle class in the past. For example the liberal urban press blew up his comment about “50 crore ki girlfriend” (watch the video here and read the response of the liberal media here). His views about how to deal with Pakistan is possibly in conflict with the pacifist liberal middle class (read full story here).

My forecast is that the liberal middle class will find itself in a spot once the Modi era begins. Modi could possibly be a tough pill for them to swallow. The liberal middle class which is used to being molly coddled by their leaders in past is going to find Modi a completely different kettle of fish. Modi is going to also strike at the foundation of the culture of appeasement which will un-settle a lot of established educational institutions which have depended in the past for state funding. And then there is the hugely sensitive issue of the Uniform Civil Code (read this if you don’t know about Uniform Civil code) Modi has already called for the Uniform Civil code and the opposition has already jumped the bandwagon of criticism (see video here).

Then there is the issue of Article 370 that grants special autonomous status to Jammu & Kashmir (read about Article 370 here). Given the anti-appeasement stance of Modi he is not going to favor any special status for Jammu & Kashmir. That means the Article 370 might have to go. Anticipating this, our dear friend Omar Abdullah has been attacking BJP and openly proclaiming that the special status to Jammu & Kashmir will be revoked “only on our dead bodies.” (Read full story here).

Modi is going to push the Indian middle class to take tough stances on all the issues that have been shoved under the carpet by the various political leaders for decades. And the liberal Indian middle class is not going to like it when they are pushed to look inwards and examine their values and beliefs.  Ideally they would not like to come out of their comfort zone and examine all that has been wrong in the past and their own complicity via “studious silence”. They would like to go back to their old mundane predictable life and crib once in while on Twitter and Facebook about how the “country is going to the dogs”. That is the token contribution that liberal middle class would ideally like to make towards nation building. For they have better things to do like paying EMIs and focusing on their kids topping IIT and AIIMS entrance exams. From my understanding of Modi as a leader he is not going to give the liberal Indian middle class a free ride as a passive commuter. The liberal middle class will be forced to “Wake up and smell the coffee”.

My personal opinion is that the liberal middle class will fall out of fascination with Modi fairly quickly. The liberal middle class will have to look elsewhere and that is why I am forecasting the rise of urban city parties. The fact that Arvind Kejriwal of AAP is going to decide who sits on the throne of Delhi in 2013 will have far reaching consequences. You will see the rise of dozens of urban city parties like Lok Satta (read about Lok Satta here).

Where does that leave the minorities? The Sikhs will cast their lot with Modi as Akali Dal supports Modi. The Christians don’t have the numbers to make any significant move. What the Muslims voters that comprise 19% of the electorate in states like UP and Bihar do is going to be very significant. Let’s discuss that in part III of the story.

Part III: The birth of Pan-Indian Muslim Party and death of caste based regional parties

A lot of ink has been spilled over the Muzzafarnagar riots. Amongst all the allegations and counter allegations an important statements was made by Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Mehmood Madani who warned Congress that they should not take Muslim voters as granted and treat them as captive voters (read full story here). Now why is statement by Jamiat-e-Ulema important? Let me quote from the same article from Firstpost:

“Founded in 1919, Jamait is India’s biggest Muslim organization with around 125 lakh active members in various parts of the country. The members pay Rs 1 per month as subscription, and the organization has a formidable track record in social, religious and educational activities. Therefore it commands enormous political clout in the community and outside.”

Another important Muslim leader Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad, who leads the Friday prayers at the Shahi Asafi mosque in Lucknow’s Imambada openly said We will campaign against Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders and explain why Muslims shouldn’t vote for them.” (read full story here).

Other Muslim leaders have been threatening the Congress to pass the very important “Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill and “Waqf Bill” in the Monsoon session of the Parliament (read story here). The various leaders have threatened that they have options other than Congress on at least 300 Lok Sabha seats.

Rahul has been criticized by Maulana Saif Abbas Naqvi, a Shia cleric for his remarks that Pakistani agencies approached young Muslims who lost family members in the communal riots of Muzaffarnagar (read full story here)

Are these aggressive threatening statement by powerful Muslim leaders a harbinger of an important strategic shift in thinking and action?

So here is how I read the situation and what I think will happen in times to come.

The Muslims have been traditional allies of the Congress. However it all started changing once VP Singh passed the infamous Mandal Commission. Out of the Mandal fire and demise of Janata Dal emerged Other Backward Caste (OBC) leaders like Mulayam, Laloo and Mayawati. The Muslim thinkers quickly saw an emerging opportunity and aligned with these backward caste leaders to displace Congress in UP and Bihar as the ruling party. However leaders like Laloo did the grave mistake of favoring only Ashrafi community who are upper caste Muslims (to learn more read this article). The Pasmanda Muslims have been oppressed by Ashrafi community for decades. Nitish wooed the Pasmanda community and grabbed power in Bihar in 2005 (read full story here). The Muslim vote bank is not as consolidated block as people would like you to believe.

However the strategy of aligning with the OBC leaders to grab power in UP and Bihar has run its full course. In past it has been effective in bargaining for resources and entitlement with Congress which has been in the power at the Centre for the last several decades. Now there is new situation emerging and there are two new players. Congress has transitioned power to Rahul Gandhi. And BJP has named Narendra Modi as the PM candidate. All pre-poll results are showing that Modi will become the PM. The Muslims thinkers and scholars are well aware of the non-appeasement stance of Modi. They are also aware of his views on Uniform Civil Code and demand for revocation of Article 370. Now if you are a Muslim leader and thinker who is in-charge of drafting the strategy for the community then what will be your Plan A and Plan B? Given the anti-Rahul utterances by various Muslim leaders it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that the Muslim leaders might not be very confident of Rahul’s ability to protect their interests. After the allegations against Azam Khan in the Muzzafarnagar riots (read full story here) they probably don’t even see Samajwadi Party as a long term bet. That leaves Nitish Kumar who is struggling to safe guard his home turf against the BJP onslaught. Expecting him to play any national role is wishful thinking. So what are the options?

The Muslim leaders know that they are pretty much on their own now and that they need a long term strategy to deal with an emergent BJP and declining Congress. My suspicion is that once BJP comes to power at the Centre you should see the launch of a pan National Muslim party which will stand on its own feet. They will expect the OBC leaders like Mulayam and Laloo to support them. The roles are going to be reversed. Rahul Gandhi and Congress party are going to get further squeezed and might face existential crisis when this happens. Re-inventing the Congress Party might be the only option that Rahul might have. We will see how that pans out though I am personally bearish on that outcome.

The big question then is will this pan National Muslim party be able to win seats on their own. It is hard to say how that will turn out. However small experiments that have been run in South India have shown that they are capable of winning Assembly and Municipal Corporation seats (see details about All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party based out of Hyderabad here). The Indian Union Muslim League based out of Kerala has held 3 Lok Sabha seats (more about them here).In Tamil Nadu parties like Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) and Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ) have gained prominence. Please read this article by Hindu to get a background on the changing Muslim politics in TN.

However aligning various regional parties and uniting them under one common vision and manifesto is not going to be easy. As BJP pushes it agenda more and more at the Centre it will strengthen the hands of Muslim thinkers and scholars to launch a pan national Muslim party with a common vision and common election symbol. I will be very surprised if that does not happen.

Part IV of the story: The rise of urban city parties 

If you reached this part of the story you should have figured out by now why I am predicting the rise of urban city parties. Anyway let me spell it out. As I said in part II of the story the liberal middle class will rapidly fall out if its current fascination for Modi. The Congress has abandoned them anyway in favor of the rural and urban poor. The liberal middle class will be forced to look for alternatives.

Traditionally the left parties have attracted the more liberal and intellectual thinkers from urban India. But the Left parties seem to be hobbled by some internal policy paralysis that is difficult to fathom. The Left parties should have been at the forefront of the dramatic rise of the civil society and the demonstrations in the streets against corruption and lack of law and order in 2010 and 2011. However their place has been taken by new urban parties like Aam Aadmi Party with sophisticated activist-leaders like Arvind Kejriwal. A lot of people would have loved to see Sitaram Yechury along with Arvind Kejriwal agitating on the streets. But that was not to be.

The Left parties have conceded their rightful place in the Indian political milieu to urban parties like AAP. In doing so, they have missed a very important strategic moment in history of the Indian politics. The place that has been vacated by the Left will be taken by the urban city parties which will further expand its base amongst the liberal middle class. Early pre-poll surveys are predicting a very impressive debut by Aam Aadmi Party. See this latest pre-poll survey about AAP’s stellar debut in the Delhi state elections. As per the survey AAP could get as much as 32% vote share in the Delhi elections. Very impressive for a party which is less than 2 years old and is made of technocrats, bureaucrats and lawyers.

I am fairly bullish on AAP’s performance in the Delhi elections. The urban liberal press will lap up this event and drum it up as a massive new trend in Indian politics. While AAP itself will go national in 2014 Lok Sabha elections there will be other urban parties that will debut in 2014 elections. By 2019 I see a scenario where most of the Municipal and local governing bodies will be controlled by the urban city party and they will also have a big voice at national stage.

In Conclusion:

2014 LS election is going to be a watershed election in the history of Indian politics. Both Congress and BJP know this and you can sense their quiet desperation in the feverish electioneering (Read full story here). The two big surprises in form of the emergence of a pan national Muslim party and urban city parties will force BJP and Congress to completely re-haul their strategy going forward. Both BJP and Congress could be dramatically different parties by the time we reach the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. All this will not happen without inflicting a lot of pain on the common man. The re-modeling of the Congress Party, the assertion and re-tooling by an ascendant BJP and activist-infested urban city parties is a heady concoction for massive disruptions. All the four forces will jockey to influence the direction this great old country takes. It will be messy and not at all a pretty sight. But then democracies are always messy. But the big question is “Will we remain a functioning democracy?” As they say in Hollywood movies “Fasten your seat belts…”


The Indian Ponzi scheme

I have been watching with great amusement politicians quoting ridiculous numbers about what it costs to have a meal in Delhi or Mumbai. According to Shri Raj Babbar it cost Rs 12 (story here) and according to Shri Rasheed Masood it costs Rs 5. (story here). And like an ordinary citizen wading through roads riddled with pot holes and struggling to survive in face of a run-away inflation you wonder what are these politicians smoking?  If you are a child in Bihar you have the option of eating mid-day meal laced with pesticides and risk your life (story here).

So you wonder what is behind all these stories. As I have said before Indian Politicians are not buffoons. They are very intelligent and supremely conscious of their utterances and its impact on their constituency i.e the people who vote them into power.

But if you are late to the party called “The Indian Ponzi scheme” the next question that you will ask me is how does all this make sense? What is the grand scheme behind all this? To answer all your questions let me explain what is the “The Indian Ponzi scheme” and how it works.  But before that a brief over-view about what is a Ponzi scheme:

“A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation. The Ponzi scheme usually entices new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. Perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new investors to keep the scheme going”.

You can read more about what a Ponzi scheme is here.”

Now if you cleverly replace the word “investment” by “Political” and “investor” by “voters” then it will read as follows:

  “A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent “Political” operation that pays returns to its “voters” from their own money or the money paid by subsequent “voters”, rather than from profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation. The Ponzi scheme usually entices new “voters” by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. Perpetuation of the high returns requires an ever-increasing flow of money from new “voters” to keep the scheme going”.

Now when you read the above lines does it ring a bell? Okay you still don’t get it. I don’t blame you because our politicians have hidden this Ponzi scheme in plain sight. So let me show you how this Ponzi scheme works.

Part I of the story: Any Ponzi scheme is devised to benefit the group that runs the Ponzi scheme. Everybody else loses. This is a zero sum game. The Indian Ponzi scheme is devised by our politicians to benefit only their class. There are not willing to share the spoils of this Ponzi scheme with any other class or group. That is why you saw politicians across party lines ganging up when Anna Hazare challenged their hegemony (see video here)

Part II of the story: For the Ponzi scheme to run for a really long time the politicians need two classes of people. One set who will be forced to pay or invest their money into the Ponzi scheme. The second set that will receive money or benefits from the Ponzi scheme and vote the Politicians back to keep running the Ponzi scheme in perpetuity.

Part III of the story: The politicians have identified the two classes very well. The first class i.e the class that is forced to pay or invest their money in the Ponzi scheme is the urban middle class. The second class that receives money or benefit from the Ponzi scheme is what I call the politically recognized “entitlement class”. There are three sets that fall in this politically recognized “entitlement class”. One set is the SC/ST and other backward castes. The second set is minority voters. The third set is the landless rural and urban poor who live close to penury. Now if you look hard then you will find politicians (Lalu, Nitish, Maya etc) that already represent the first set (SC/ST and other backward castes). The constant competition is to represent the second set (minority) and the third set (rural and urban poor). Both Congress and local leaders like Mulayam compete to represent these two sets.  

Part IV of the story: To keep the Ponzi scheme going you need to keep the flow of money (investment) going into the Ponzi scheme. This flow of money comes from the urban middle class who is forced to pay higher taxes and rents to constantly feed the Ponzi scheme. The politicians keep extracting more and more taxes and more and more rent from this urban middle class. The need for constantly higher extraction leads to run-away inflation and spiraling cost of real estate in urban cities. Once the politicians have extracted the money from urban middle class to run the Ponzi scheme, they ignore them (more about that below). Hence roads filled with pot holes, poor infrastructure and law and order situation in urban cities. The plight of the urban middle class will probably not improve for the next 100 years. The urban cities will become worse than ghettoes that will lead to rise of the urban armed militia. There will be large tracts of urban cities where police will not enter and taxes will be collected by the local gang lord. Does that sound like Dharavi and Dongri (Mumbai) of today?

Part V of the story: To keep running this Ponzi scheme the politicians need to be voted back to power again and again. The politicians look at where is the largest number of votes. The urban middle class is less than 200 mn (see this NYT story). The “entitlement class” however is more than 900 mn. No wonder the Politicians focus on the “entitlement class”. Now as I said earlier the “entitlement class” has three sets. The first set (SC/ST and other backward castes) is well consolidated. There are leaders who have nurtured this vote bank for years. (Lalu, Nitish, Maya etc). The constant competition is for representing the second (minority) and the third set (rural and urban poor). This is the set that helped Congress win the elections in 2009.

Part VI of the story: Now as I said earlier to keep the Ponzi scheme going the politicians need to dole out more and more entitlements to the second (minority) and the third set (rural and urban poor). Congress is playing the game well. To appease the second set (minority) it is  beating up Modi in media about 2002 riots in Gujarat and making wild proclamations that IM is a reaction to the Gujarat riots (story here). The edgy statement by Digvijay Singh calling the Batla House encounter fake is part of the same strategy (story here). To appease the third set (rural and urban poor) it has already passed the Food Security Bill via an Ordinance. It is desperate to pass the Food Security Bill in the monsoon session which starts sometime in August. However to pre-empt all negative media stories around Food Security Bill they are creating controversy around the “cost of a meal”.

Why this controversy around cost of meal now?

You will ask me: But why this debate now? If you read the stories appearing in mass media about how much it costs to buy a meal in various cities in India you will see that all the journalists have come to uniform conclusion that you cannot eat a decent meal for either Rs 5 or Rs 12. That is exactly what the Congress wants the journalists to highlight. Because the core promise of Food Security Bill is as follows:

  • The poor households to have a monthly entitlement of 35 Kgs at a subsidized price of Rs. 1 per Kg for millets, Rs. 2 per Kg for wheat and Rs. 3 per Kg for rice. Read more about Food Security Bill here.

In short what Congress is promising is a full meal for the third set (rural and urban poor) at less than Rs 5 or Rs 12.

The Food Security Bill is Congress’s attempt to keep the “Indian Ponzi scheme” going on and on even beyond 2014.



Is this the dawn of new Federal democracy in India ?

I have spent countless hours watching and reading about the drama around Modi’s elevation, Advani’s resignation and the heated backroom lobbying for creation of the Third Front. I will attempt to make sense of all this and try and piece together the big picture for you in this post. My base theory is that none of these are random events. What we are witnessing is probably a big movement and historic shift in the Indian democracy. But there is one ground rule you must observe. I know we all assume politicians are buffoons and they are foolish people. I would like you to suspend that notion for the purpose of this post and believe me when I say that Indian politicians are probably the savviest lot and blessed with very high intelligence. Trust me on this. I am an insider and have grown up surrounded by politicians and their ilk. Okay now that we are in agreement on the ground rule let me walk you through the story.

Part I of the story: The Congress party is a party with High Command structure. One person has absolute power and his or her word is the law. This has how it has been in the grand old party since the time Mrs Gandhi split the party and threw out tall leaders who formed the “Syndicate”. Those of you not familiar with the “Syndicate” should read this article from Sydney Morning Herald here to understand how this “High Command” structure emerged. Rajiv kept his mother’s tradition alive by easing out politicians like VP Singh, Pranab Mukherje etc and then trying very hard to make Chandrasekhar a puppet Prime Minister. Chandrasekhar did the most honorable thing that he could do by resigning and calling for elections. Rajiv never got a second term for history to judge his democratic credentials. Rajiv’s widow Sonia had a slow but a very well planned rise in Congress. She has been able to further consolidate the power and now “High Command” structure is deeply entrenched. As you read this she is transitioning this power to her son Rahul who seems to be a reluctant inheritor. I am not sure whether he is really a reluctant inheritor or it is a part of a very well thought out long term strategy. More on Rahul’s transition strategy later. Let’s look at the other pieces.

Part II of the story: RSS is a party with some deep thinkers blessed with great intellectual horse power who are quick to grasp the changing political landscape and the mood of the masses. RSS realizes that they have a single window of opportunity to stop the transition of power from the mother to the son in the Grand old party and demolishing the “High Command structure”. But they have spent most of their time devising a sustainable long term strategy to do this. They are not looking at 2014 elections alone but want to put in place a long term plan. There are many inheritors to the legacy of the “High Command” structure. The only way to cut the roots of the “High Command” structure is to put a long term plan in place. While corruption can be a potent pillar for 2014 it cannot be a long term strategy. This is where RSS differs deeply with Advani. Advani feels that corruption should be the main agenda in the 2014 elections. Not really says RSS. I will come back to the RSS strategy after I have laid out the other pieces.

Part III of the story: When Indian constitution was written, Mr BR Amedkar in his wisdom created a Federal system of Government. Read more about Federalism here. This system assumed powerful leaders at both Central and State level sharing duties and obligations. This federal system was first tampered with in 1975 during the National Emergency via an amendment in the constitution in Feb 1976. The amendment allowed the central government to dispatch and deploy its Central Armed Police forces without the permission of or consultation with the states. This was a very controversial and unpopular decision. After the Emergency the constitution was again amended in December 1978. The central Govt again needed to ask permission of the state govt to deploy central Police forces. Since then the Centre and State have co-existed in an atmosphere of uneasy peace. This tension escalates whenever the ruling party in the centre and the state are in conflict. The Federal structure was once again challenged when Kalyan Singh’s Govt in UP was dismissed by then governor Romesh Bhandari and put under President’s rule. See the various instances under which states have been put under President’s rule here. Congress cut the legs of its regional leaders to consolidate power in the “High Command” creating a vacuum in leadership at regional level. In this vacuum stepped very powerful leaders like Mamta, Nitish, Jaya, Maya, Mulayam, Naveen Patnaik etc. RSS sensed the Congress strategy very early and they realized that their cadre based politics was much more suited to creating powerful local leaders. They went to work in the 70s and 80s and out of RSS’s efforts came leaders like Modi, Raman Singh, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Rajnath Singh, Govindacharya and the others. All the regional leaders created by BJP cut their teeth by becoming Chief Minister of their states. So far so good. Part I of the plan proved to be moderately successful for RSS. While RSS was busy grooming future regional leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani kept the Hindutva flag flying high and even managed to keep Congress out of power for many years. Let’s look at the remaining pieces of the story.

Part IV of the story: While Atal Bihari and Advani gave the much needed time to RSS neither of these leaders was central to their long term strategy. The regional leaders who rose out of the RSS cadre were. With the elevation of Modi last week and his projection as the possible PM candidate, RSS is implementing Part II of the strategy. The crux of Part II of the strategy is to have a regional leader rise to become the PM. This regional leader then makes the necessary changes to devolve more power to the states making them more autonomous. This act will further strengthen the federal structure of Indian democracy. With greater devolution of power to the state there is even a greater chance of really great local leaders emerging. The federal structure then poses a really strong challenge to the “High command” structure of Congress. Now Congress has to respond to the pieces on the chess board laid out by RSS. For last forty years the pieces on the Chess Board has been laid out by the “High Command”. Now RSS has set the game and it could be a fascinating match for the next few decades. Modi is only a vehicle for RSS to implement Part II of the strategy. Congress has much more to worry about than Modi. Their entire premise of “High Command” structure is being challenged by RSS. So what will Congress and more importantly what will Rahul do? But before that let’s quickly look at what Nitish, Mulayam, Mamta and Naveen Patnaik will do?

Part V of the story: The regional leaders like Laloo, Nitish, Mamta have had a good ride for the last two decades. They have to thank the Congress leadership for this and leaders like Laloo have shown their gratitude from time to time. However the regional leaders are incredibly intelligent and blessed with the unique ability to read the intentions of both Congress and BJP. That is how they have survived. In the last few years Congress has not given them much to worry. That is why Laloo and Mamata have had political alliances with Congress. It is the RSS that makes them really worried. They know that RSS is capable of identifying potential local leaders and grooming and mentoring them. The emergence of powerful local leaders in BJP is the kiss of death of them. They have to do whatever they can to stop Modi from becoming the PM. Hence they are in hectic backroom conversations to create the so called 3rd Front. However I am skeptical of them ever being able to agree on a PM candidate. The Congress leadership will run circles around them and whoever becomes the PM from the 3rd front may find himself in the same situation as Chandrasekhar found himself when Rajiv supported his Govt in Nov 1990.

Rahul’s strategy and options

So now let’s look at what Rahul and Congress will do. Rahul understands the High Command structure that his Grandmother and Father put in place. I am not sure whether he is thankful to them or feels he has been handed over a flawed legacy. Rahul’s articulates and voices this confusion when he alternates between threatening to become like his Grandmother while chiding his errant seniors and then speaks passionately about devolving power to local bodies in front of Industry leaders at CII. In the CII speech he very significantly said that no one person can solve all the problems of this nation. With this statement he attacked the foundation of the “High Command” structure. He is very unsure of what path to take. I am sure he understands that RSS is putting a Federal democracy structure in place to challenge the High Command structure of Congress. The dilemma that Rahul faces is whether he should fight RSS’s fire with fire i.e with a decentralized power structure in Congress or should he pursue the policies laid out by his Grandmother 40 years ago. And that is a million dollar dilemma. There are two likely outcomes:

Outcome I: Modi becomes the PM and devolves power to the states and shatters the High command structure of Congress. This will force Rahul to also honor the Federal structure by decentralizing power. He might even create a new party after his name of which he will be a lifetime Chairman and founder.

Outcome II: Nitish, Mulayam or Mamta become the PM from the 3rd Front with support from Congress. Congress will pull this Govt down before it’s full term and call for elections again and come back to power. This will be circa 1991 all over again.

What really happens and what Rahul will do will depend on the outcome of 2014 elections. If Modi become the PM then he will be forced to demolish the “High Command” structure by establishing a new party in his name of which he will be a lifetime founder and mentor. If 3rd front comes to power then he will take a leaf out of his father’s book and further consolidate the power in “High Command” structure. As I said right at the beginning what we are witnessing is a massive transition in the history of Indian democracy. As they say in Urdu “Which way the camel will finally sit” will be decided by the Indian voters. Only time will tell whether Indian voters will choose “Federal democracy” or they will choose “High Command” structure.

The Politics of Food Security Bill

Lots of you must be watching the master move by the Congress Supremo to introduce the Food Security Bill in the Parliament. To add more firepower they have lined up Amartaya Sen a noble laureate to support of the bill. Mr Sen has given integrity certificate to the Prime Minister in the past also. See this news report by Reuters here. The Prime Minister has returned the favor in the past by honouring Mr Sen. Quid pro quo amongst old friends. Everybody is happy and the Indian intelligentsia applauds two of the greatest living economists from the sidelines. Everything is hunky dory.

At the outset if you are a rational intelligent Indian you will side with Mr Sen and MMS. After all you cannot go wrong with one Noble Laureate and an economist credited with India’s growth story in the last two decades on your side. However the issue is lot more complex than what it seems. So let’s look at the issue in greater detail. The basics of Food Security bill is as follows (more details here):

• Legal entitlement to subsidized foodgrains to be extended to at least 75% of the country’s population   – 90% in Rural areas and 50% in urban areas

• The priority households (46% in rural areas and 28% in urban areas) to have a monthly entitlement of 35 Kgs (equivalent to 7 Kgs per person) at a subsidized price of Rs. 1 per Kg for millets, Rs. 2 per Kg for wheat and Rs. 3 per Kg for rice

• The general households (39% rural and 12% urban in phase 1 and 44% rural and 22% urban in final phase) to have a monthly entitlement of 20 Kgs (equivalent to 4 Kgs per person) at a price not exceeding 50% of the current Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice

 If you have shopped for your grocery in the recent times then you will have a good sense of how low the proposed prices in the Food Security Bill are. 1 kg of packaged rice in Bangalore is Rs 32/-. See the link of this grocery website to see the prices of other items that the govt wants to provide in the Food Security bill. Now if you are a smart guy then you can clearly understand the impact of the Food Security Bill on the Indian Farmers. In the long run this could destroy the foundation of food production in the country and we could become like Singapore or Dubai which imports all its food items.

So why is the Govt hell bent on passing such a law? For the same reason that they passed schemes like NREGA. Some political intellectuals claim that Congress won the last elections because of bribing the rural poor with scheme like NREGA etc. Read this story by India Today to understand the background. And there lies the truth. 2014 is going to be an important election as it will decide which path India takes. Will it continue to fuel a model where National schemes bribe the rural poor and keeps them un-productive or will it go back to growth fuelled model of the earlier decade. Only time will tell.

Police bashing and why law makers turn law breakers

I was watching with much amusement the news story from NTDV where two ministers in the UP cabinet were talking with utter disdain about the Police and glorifying the culture of lawlessness in UP. I come from the gutters of Bihar. When I was growing up naked violence was freely displayed by various sections of the society. People in power used violence and intimidation to grab land and resources illegally. The poor, the landless and marginalized used it to fight for their rights and earn a livelihood. Violence and disdain for law is something that does not surprise me. I don’t behave like our urban hapless newscasters who say “What yaah, who are these people yaah? How down-market are these people yaah. I can’t believe that they are from this country yaah.”

I remember reading an article by Richard J Maybury who has coined the term called “Chaostan”. Chaostan is an original composition copyrighted by Richard. Why am I linking the theory of “Chaostan” to the disdain that our law makers have for Law and for the Law Enforcers?  Richard in his blog here takes a leaf from the Old English Common law which I am taking the liberty of reproducing “do all you have agreed to do and, do not encroach on other persons or their property. This is the basis of the Common law and tort law which pretty much laid the foundation of the modern industrial economy. Shakespeare wrote his famous play the “Merchant of Venice” to explain the nuances of this law. This is the Law that Shylock invokes to demand his pound of flesh from Antony and Portia interprets the same law to deny Shylock his pound of flesh.

Richard makes the very interesting point about Political power and I quote him below:

Political power is the privilege of violating these laws. This is why it corrupts. Travel around the world. Where you find these laws most closely obeyed, both by the people and the governments, you will find the most liberty, prosperity and peace. Where the two laws are not widely obeyed, the only options are tyranny or chaos. This is Chaostan’s permanent condition, because that vast area never developed legal systems based on the two laws.”

The Occidental culture have broadly laid the foundation of their society on basis of the Common Law and Tort Law. An individual’s rights and obligations are well defined by law. Any individual can seek legal remedies if somebody has suffered harm from wrongful acts of others. The courts and Police enforce the rights and punish the offending party. It is as simple as that. There is no rocket science in understanding this principle.

India and the most of the Oriental countries lay in the broad swathe of what Richard calls “Chaostan”. India and other Oriental culture never built a society on basis of either the Common Law or the Tort Law. In past India were largely governed by the social law or the community law. The society or the community defined the rights and obligations of the individuals. Traditionally the Khap Panchyat or some version of it settled property, domestic and martial disputes. See the movie Pan Singh Tomar where the District Collector asks Pan Singh to settle his property dispute socially to understand what I am saying.

However now India is taking part in the new modern world and there is rapid urbanization. There is break-down of the social and community structures in urban India. People who live in urban cities have an expectation of the law of the land to be upheld. They prefer going to the civil or family courts to settle disputes rather than to the members of their community. The two worlds are now constantly colliding. Politicians from rural areas like UP and Bihar still live by the community and social laws. They have disdain for written laws and for the police force who is supposed to enforce these laws. The massive disconnect of this phase of transition that India is going through was very obvious during a debate on Times Now concerning Rajat Gupta’s mis-demeanor. There was an India lawyer from New York on the panel. There was a very famous corporate executive of an Indian company that I shall not name.  And there was Lord Meghnad Desai. You can see the debate here.

It is very interesting that the New York lawyer had a black and white approach to Rajat Gupta’s mistake. The senior corporate executive who I shall not name broadly said this was an error of judgment and Rajat Gupta meant no harm and was innocent. His defense of Rajat reminded me of how in the older times if a young boy made a mistake then all the village elders would council him and tell everybody to forgive him and move on. Essentially it was the social norms and law which took precedence over written laws. Lord Meghnad Desai points out this exact fact and says that one should realize that India is transitioning to become a player in the global scene. When you operate at the global level then you have to operate by the rules of the global world. In the global world the written law is absolute black and white. Either you are on the right side of the law or the wrong side of the law. There is no grey area which can be interpreted by the community elders and wise men.

I think Lord Meghnad Desai’s observation applies to all the politicians of India who operate by the social law rather than the written law. They have to realize that India is changing. It is no longer the country where you can get away by dis-respecting the written law and the law enforcing agency called the Police. They are no longer playing gully cricket. They are now part of the big game and playing under stadium lights with thousands of people watching them in the stadium and millions on their TV sets in their homes. Their speeches and actions will be recorded for posterity and will be available on Youtube and will spread via Facebook and Twitter. Welcome to the brave new world dear politicians from the Mofussil. You better brush up your social skills and read up the Indian Constitution and Indian Penal code. It will serve as a leash the next time you want to fly off the handle and curse the Police and defy the written law and are tempted to cross the line

Stealing from the poor, raping the helpless

I have been reading this fascinating book called Plutocrats. The book examines in great detail the sad state of western capitalism where  the wealthiest 0.1% are outpacing everybody else in their wealth accumulation. Forget the 1% and Occupy Wall Street stories. That is all passe. The new story is the super new elite which is emerging on top of the elite. To quote from the Financial Times review of the book posted on Amazon

” Cracking open the tight-knit world of the new global super-rich is Chrystia Freeland, an acclaimed business journalist who has spent nearly two decades reporting on the new transglobal elite. She parses an internal Citigroup memo that urges clients to design portfolios around the international “Plutonomy” and not the national “rest”; follows Russian, Mexican, and Indian oligarchs during the privatization boom as they manipulate the levers of power to commandeer their local economies; breaks down the gender divide between the vast female-managed ‘middle class’ and the world’s one thousand billionaires; shows how, by controlling both the economic and political institutions of their nation, the richest members of China’s National People’s Congress have amassed more wealth than every branch of American government combined–the president, his cabinet, the justices of the Supreme Court, and both houses of Congress.”

I read this book and shook my head in disbelief about how the new Plutocrats are destroying the middle class and stripping the poor of the illusion called the welfare state. So much for the economist called John Maynard Keynes who pulled the biggest stunt on developed economies with his Keynesian economics.

I thought at-least things would be different in India. We with our 5,000 years of civilized history. We with our Gods who stood for justice like Rama, Krishna and the angry Goddesses like Durga and Kali who come to save the poor and the under-privileged. And then the media breaks the story about the Sharda Group Chit fund in West Bengal. So now we are stealing from the poor and standing silently while their kids are being raped and assaulted.

All the 5,000 years of our civilization has been consigned into the dustbin. This is what we have become the land of Shiva, Rama and Krishna? Instead of protecting our poor and safe guarding their rights we are no looting from them and allowing their kids to be raped? Shame on us. What has happened to this great country. What virus has infected it’s consciousness? What macabre dance is this?




The Queen sleeps and so does the whole city

I had a strange dream last night. I dreamt that my Grandfather was meeting Queen Elizabeth in the Buckingham palace. I woke up puzzled in the morning. This was a strange dream. Why would my Grandfather who was sentenced to be hanged by the British court be meeting the Queen? I thought and thought and then I realized that not much has changed in this country of ours. We the mighty nation which right up till 1820 had more than 25% of the world’s GDP is still a slave nation. We are still run by the same imperialist forces. They now have done the smart thing of figuring out how to operate behind the veil while their loyal bureaucrats do all the dirty work and take all the flak.

This is the same country where you can pay and buy a Z security while 5 year old girls are raped and brutalized in the city whose foundation was laid with so much and love and affection by the Mughals. This song comes to my mind from the movie Gulaal.

As song says the “Seher” the city sleeps and so sleeps the Queen with her head on feathery pillow. So sleeps all the citizens in her city. While you my helpless child sleep making your sorrows your pillow.