Sunday, February 8, 2015

Fault Line

Arvind Kejriwal of today replicates Narendra Modi of 2014…someone floating on cloud nine. Both leaders are similar in many ways. Both signify a departure from the age-old rule of the privileged class and that’s why both are equally despised by the Oxbridge-educated elite, though for the time being the latter has sided with AK as a tactical move.

There is not much to fear of the elite unless it is coupled with smugness on the part of the party, the belief of being invincible. Fame and public adulation are transient. The person/party at the top do tend to forget that between the victor and the vanquished lie only a few percentage points of vote share which can evaporate in the small time of a year or two unless a good chunk of what has been promised is delivered or seen to be on the path of being delivered. A make or break time for both the leaders – already started for one and going to start for the other.

A singular aspect of AK and his colleagues are they are easily accessible. To the common man, they are “our own”.  When a fan tries to touch AK’s feet, he feels embarrassed (just like us) and stops the guy from doing so, unlike our known politicians who will haughtily look the other way. Seasoned politicians simply cannot match the AAPians in this respect. MCD is run by the BJP and everyone knows how much corruption takes place there. Delhi’s transport system is horrible. Other than the Metro, the bus service is grossly inadequate – buses simply vanish for the greater part of the day. It compels people to own some sort of a vehicle, whatever be one’s level of income. Neither the Congress nor BJP have ever cared about the city’s bus service. The school/college education? One who have a small kid and have to go through the horror of getting him/her admitted in a school knows very well how deep the corruption runs there. The lady principal of a very famous school is known to personally grab a chunk of the huge donation money that comes the school’s way. About hospitals, even the low-income group has no other option (besides visiting quacks) but to get admitted in a private nursing home. The label of being anarchists really does not cut much ice because anarchism is in the DNA of the north Indian. Any sort of discipline is anathema to him. They even cannot stand properly in a straight, orderly queue at the milk booth or at the cinema ticket counter. Just observe them at public places – at metro coaches, in the malls, on the flight of stairs or escalators, and inside the lifts, and you will yourself know. “Anarchism? Well, say that again?”

Somebody well said that Delhi BJP resembles more a bunch of real estate agents than politicians. And politically inept too – they totally rely on Modi to rescue them when the battle begins. And the fact is that the 35% or so of the vote share that they get these days is mostly due this one man’s popularity.

I have mixed feelings about AK’s possible win. We will see some good action on the corruption front, particularly at the lower level. But in the long run, since corruption happens due to discretionary powers in the hands of some people, if that power is not taken away or reduced (through the reduction of the need of clearances at various levels and through more and more of privatization) then the present prescription of AAP (sting operations) will sooner than later turn into blackmailing tools. Also, proving 20k litres of free water is a totally regressive policy in a water-scarce region like Delhi. In fact, any type of freebies (except, perhaps, subsidized education and health) is a bad policy. And the biggest horror will be the Mohalla Sabhas. Endless bickering and politicking, catfights, us/them, lots of corruption and whatnot will ensue from it! We have seen it in West Bengal during the left rule where even family discords and petty thefts had had to be taken to the local party office and not to the police station for resolution (the same tradition continues in the TMC rule, perhaps in an even cruder manner).

AK is clever. He will find ways to put the blame on the centre. But know what? Yeh jo public hai na, yeh sab janti hai!

Coming back to the predicaments of BJP, their real test will lie in deliverance. As of now, it is mostly hope that we see, and also trust in Modi’s intention and capability. But Delhi election will dent that. Subramanian Swamy has very recently tweeted that important people in the party are discussing about the need of course correction. Hope that does not translate into going back to the cultural right abandoning the path of the economic right. This will be suicidal not only for the party but also for the country. In a heavily-skewed-towards-the-left country like India, there is even a greater need of an intellectual atmosphere where the economic right can grow, and the only party that can give that breathing space is the BJP. For the cultural right, I want to remind what Swami Vivekananda said – let the people set aside religion for at least 50 years and devote themselves fully to achieve material growth.

BJP came to power on the main plank of creating jobs, to uplift people from poverty through proper and productive employment, unlike NAREGA. Modi hits the nail squarely on its head when he says that for all diseases the only (and common) cure is development. People like Piyush Goel is doing a lot in that direction. Power plants have better stocks of coal now. In my native area, a broad gauge railway line is being laid through hills and jungles where the progress in the last six months is much more than what happened in the last 18 years. These things remain unreported, such is the bias of the media.

But there is also a feeling that Modi avers going the full hog. It seems like initially he believed that mere administrative reforms like ensuring punctuality at government offices and empowering the bureaucracy will alone be able to bring the goods home. When that did not fully happen, he brought experts like Arvind Panagariya on board. But the decision was unnecessarily delayed, that’s how I feel. The labour reforms are also peripheral so far. PM's website wher people are supposed to give their feedback/suggestions also does not function properly (I could not log in when I tried), and most of the various websites are as laggards and no-performers as they used to be during the UPA days. Let me give one example from the time of Sheila Dikshit’s reign. After the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder incident, a 24-our women’s helpline was established with much fanfare. But there was a glitch. when one tried to contact it, it simply went on playing a musical tune (as happens with all the customer care numbers) endlessly, and even if someone became successful in connecting, after say 5-10 minutes, she were simply advised to lodge a complaint at the local police station! Apparently, nobody, including Sheila-ji, ever bothered to check if the number really worked! They simply had to dial it for once to know. But she would, I suppose, find it below her dignity. I suspect the same happens now with the too. The test of the pudding is in its eating and the test of the job creation effort is in the increase in the number of pages of the weekly Ascent of the ToI which is not yet happening.

Media management is a big failure as here are the people who plays a big role in creating positive or negative perceptions of a person or a party in the public mindscape. Modi/BJP have been pariahs in the eyes of the mainstream media for a long time and this is why the natural reaction is to view these media guys with extreme suspicion. I have seen some some recent  tweets blaming Jaitley for cozying up to the lot of NDTV, Rajdeep Sardesai, etc. Well, fine, but have you guys been able to create an alternate space in the MSM so far? Except perhaps Swarajyamag? Domination in the social media alone will not do, which, in any case, is going to be emulated and even surpassed by rivals like AAP. SM is more an indicator of public thinking than a source of regular news. Tolerance of the media, however contrary their view may be, and finally turning them around, is a hard necessity that BJP supporters must learn. Let the left-Congress leaning media be there, and in the meantime bring up your own media.

BJP must introspect, not only for the reverses in Delhi but also for the not-so-good performances in the local body elections in many states. Winning states (what Amit Shah is doing) is also very important as otherwise Rajyasabha will be in the hands of the opposition which will block every reform. In fact blocking of important bills in the RS is one of the biggest impediments to many largescale reforms.

It is an absolute fact that Modi and his team of ministers, and maybe some hapless babus too, are burning their midnight oil for the sake of the country and doing a lot. Non-performers are being punished, even shown the door. But what happens away from the sight of the boss? At the local level? BJP functionaries elected to the state assemblies and municipalities and panchayats are much worse than their Congress counterparts. They simply vanish after winning in Modi’s name. Why Can’t Amit Shah punish them? Some point that is being overlooked to own peril?

Lastly, the leader also must not be above scrutiny. At present the person of Modi is getting the full PR cover, not the good work he and his team is doing. This must reverse. Plus, the mistake of self-name-monogrammed pinstripe must not be repeated – this is something coarse and creates a poor perception in people’s mind (perception is very important for a public figure). Even if it was a gift from an admirer and not a 10-lakh item as is being projected, it should have been refused – such tendencies on the part of admirers should nipped in the bud. 

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