Monday, September 15, 2014

Floods Have Made Bond between J & K ... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 14, 2014

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Floods Have Made Bond Between J and K and Bharat Stronger, Article 370 Notwithstanding




Irony is the constant companion of contradiction. So far Jammu and Kashmir has enjoyed special status under Article 370. Last week, its people realised that a separate constitutional identity was no guarantee against nature’s fury. When the state structure—created under Article 370—collapsed like ninepins, it was the Union of India comprising all 29 states and seven Union territories which rose in unison to save its most splendorous geographical entity. The rest of the nation just forgot that a large number of locals from the Valley, including members of the ruling parties and separatists, were against the Indian state. For the past 65 years, they have been waging a war to retain J&K’s special status on paper only. They have been silent on the forced ethnic cleansing which drove Pundits out of the Valley. They have kept quiet when innocent Army personnel and helpless Kashmiris were killed in terrorist attacks. Over 90,000 people have lost their lives in the state during the past 25 years. Yet, India has been doling out grants to Kashmir, enabling it to compete with other states in terms of development. But the funds have only made a few people rich and rest of the state poorer. A special category of citizens who are the actual beneficiaries of the special status are the ones who are indirectly fuelling the fight against the abrogation of Article 370. But as the flood situation worsened, even hardcore supporters of separatists cursed the special status. All of them were looking to the Indian Army, Central government officials, PM Narendra Modi and his minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, to save them from apocalypse. It has taken a tragedy of immense proportions to turn J&K, an integral part of India, to become an inseparable member of Bharat Parivar. Despite Article 370, Srinagar was “taken away” from CM Omar Abdullah by the rapacious flow of water and his government was “totally inundated”. A team of officials led by Union Home Secretary Anil Goswami and Indian paramilitary forces ultimately prevented the devastation of a state and its people. The PM also dispatched IAS officer Ajay Kumar Pradyot to Kashmir to set up a system to track missing people and trace them, in the manner he did in Uttarakhand.

When 20,000 personnel drawn from the defence forces, equipped with modern communications systems and other equipment, were evacuating people, the local administration led by its young and acerbic CM was conspicuous by its absence. None of its two dozen ministers, 90 IAS officers and over 100 IPS officers were seen in action. Instead of asking his ministers to go out and save the people, Omar sent six of them to Delhi to demand money. He wasn’t even able to control stone-pelting by hired separatist goons to sabotage relief operations. Normally, in such a situation the CM, Chief Secretary and DGP take direct charge to minimise casualties and damage to property and livestock. Instead, Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khandey and DGP Rajendra Kumar were looking for safe havens from floodwaters, for themselves and friends. It is possible that most of them couldn’t step out of their homes due to excessive flooding. But none of them had any clue or plan in place to deal with natural disasters. Surprisingly, the website of the J&K Police defines the force as a “saga of sacrifice and courage”. But not one of its members was in sight to prove the slogan right.
The stranded inhabitants of the Valley chased away local politicians belonging to regional parties and even the Congress. They were genuinely upset over the total failure of the state machinery to rise to the occasion. J&K enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the lowest GDP growth rates in spite of huge Central grants. What really takes the cake is that the state not only has a full-fledged Cabinet minister for flood control, Shyam Lal Sharma of the Congress, but also has a well-appointed office of J&K State Disaster Response Force in Srinagar. Set up in 2012, it has two battalions headed by an Inspector General of Police assisted by a Deputy Inspector General of Police. State leaders have been claiming that they had never expected such a large-scale disaster. However, in February this year, Omar himself had warned of such an eventuality. His government had hosted a two-day ‘State Level Conference of Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation’, which was addressed by him. At the meet, Omar spoke about the growing natural threat faced by the state and wanted the Centre to pay special attention. Experts from the National Disaster Management Authority also participated and gave their views on pompous-sounding subjects like ‘Overview of the Incident Response System and Disaster Management Architecture in India with Special Focus on vulnerability of Jammu & Kashmir’.
In reality, neither did the state government nor Kashmir’s permanent agitationists bother about the slow and steady degeneration of governance. All of them, including the Congress and National Conference, were more interested in keeping Article 370 on the statute book for the sake of preserving their vote banks. In the process, the safety of the state and its people became the casualty. For the past three decades, enormous time and energy has been wasted in debating the autonomy of the state, the role of Indian Army and human rights violations. In fact, the politics of the state revolved around keeping Kashmir deprived of the fruits of growth and prosperity, which the rest of India was witnessing. Any attempt by the Centre to connect Kashmir with other parts of country by road and rail were foiled by extremists. Even power projects were targeted and outside workers killed and kidnapped. For Kashmir’s short-sighted leaders, keeping the state in abject poverty and illiteracy was the instrument used to widen the gap between the state and the rest of India. Unfortunately, it has taken a loss of over 300 lives and property worth thousands of crores to drill the point home that India takes care of even its most truculent states. For all Indians, J&K remains their most cherished heaven on earth. The existence or absence of Article 370 is meaningless and J&K and Bharat were never separated at birth, and shall never be. By cruel irony, the floods have only made the bond stronger.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com;Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 8, 2014

Copyrights do expire. Gandhis must...Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/ September 07, 2014

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Copyrights Do Expire. Gandhis Must Rediscover Congress to Stay Politically Relevant

There cannot be a more opportune time for both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to dust the shelves of history, and pull out the gilded volumes of The Discovery of India written by Jawaharlal Nehru. The book could help them rediscover not just themselves but also their party—the Indian National Congress. The time has come for the stakeholders of the jaded 128-year-old outfit to rediscover and reposition itself. Since the Gandhis are the only shareholders, they have to devise a perfect and effective marketing strategy to reclaim the territory lost to Narendra Modi. If they feel that they can achieve this by  confining themselves to inaccessible, fortified homes and offices, they are likely to lose even more than what they can imagine. Congressmen want the Gandhis to lead from the front and not retreat into citadels. Their gestures and actions during the next months will not only decide the party’s future but also the political relevance of the Gandhi Parivar. Sonia acquired an iconic status after winning power for the Congress in 2004 and 2009. The Gandhis have always been recognised as national leaders. Now with the arrival of Modi on the national scene, Sonia has to score a dramatic comeback to retain her pan-Indian identity and exalted status.
The Congress has gone though many splits, climbed many hills and descended myriad valleys. But the party has never faced such a threat to its very existence. Even after 110 days of its worst defeat since Independence, the High Command is still prostrate with shock. The body language of the leadership and middle-level functionaries doesn’t reflect the resolve needed to stage a comeback. While the BJP has undergone a generational change and an ideological overhaul, the Congress is struggling to keep its flock together. Generally, the political war should be between the ruling party and the Opposition over issues and institutions. But the Congress appears to be at war with itself. The Gandhis are conspicuous by absence, yet the party keeps its faith in the Gandhis. A majority of workers feel that only a Gandhi can revive the party. But they are hugely demoralised by the internecine strife among senior leaders who are busy seeking various posts like the Leader of the Opposition and chairpersons of various parliamentary committees instead of agitating against the ruling party by finding fault with its governance. A former minister, known more for indiscretion than performance and was sacked for his objectionable conduct, lobbied so hard to grab the chairmanship of a panel by incessantly hounding the High Command that other more qualified young MPs were ignored. A large number of former ministers and senior functionaries cut sorry figures when they continue to behave as if they are still members of the ruling party, and fail to accept that they have lost not just power but credibility too. A bunch of defeated and defamed Congressmen pose a mammoth challenge to the party leadership by unashamedly seeking positions of power in the organisation. Perhaps this damaging environment has forced over a dozen young Congress officebearers to demand the purge of those who were responsible for the rout of 2014, but are unwilling to quit their lofty perches. A party general secretary demanded that anyone above 65 should retire from active politics. A month before, some state leaders had raised their voices against Rahul, holding him responsible for the collapse of the party structure.
Sporadic rebellion against the leadership is not unprecedented, especially after the party had lost a decisive election. The Congress genetically is an outfit of power-seekers. The party lost its independent character after Indira Gandhi faced down the powerful challenge from the party’s original freedom fighters. If they got India independence from the British, Indira Gandhi got liberation from them and created a portmanteau of loyalists who worshipped her like a deity. Since then, the inheritors of her political genealogy have been building and rebuilding a party of a quantity of followers, but few leaders of quality.
It is not surprising that despite the party’s humiliating defeat, no disgruntled Congress leader has demanded Sonia Gandhi’s resignation. They still feel that she is the only one who can revive the party’s sagging morale and nudge her son to be more politically proactive. For the past three months, they have been expecting a major organisational reshuffle—both at the Central and state levels. They were also expecting Sonia to tour the states extensively to address grassroots workers. In fact, she was working on a revival plan and had planned a Bharat Yatra accompanied by new set of officebearers. But she couldn’t take on the oldies. Even in the selection of various officebearers, she was advised against experimenting and just stick to the well-tested Congress principle of obliging every caste and region. For example, she was forced to appoint 72-year-old Mallikarjun Kharge as the party’s leader in the Lok Sabha only because he was a Dalit. Many effective senior leaders like Veerappa Moily and Kamal Nath were ignored. For the past 112 days, she has been meeting people from various parts of the country, but has refrained from calling a formal meeting of state leaders. Her supporters and admirers are equally baffled by her inaction in revamping the party machinery in the poll-bound states of Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and J&K. All of them have the sinking feeling that the High Command has accepted defeat in these states even before the elections have been formally announced. In addition, there are no serious talks about forging regional alliances to stop the Modi juggernaut from making a triumphant entry into these states. All of them are currently ruled by the Congress or in alliance with a local party. The party has formulated no strategy to fight the by-elections in various states like Uttar Pradesh. It has decided not to seriously participate in any of the 12 by-polls. The reason is quite a revelation. The party, which still rules around half the number of the country’s states and has held sway over India for over five decades, is short of funds. If this is indeed true, then it reveals yet another equation changing within the party. Those who are capable of funding the party and collecting huge amounts are not passing the dosh on to headquarters, but are keeping it with themselves to finance the elections of their supplicants. It is a clear signal to the Gandhis to undertake the long political journey to rediscover the Congress, which still swears by them, stands beside them and sacrifices for them. After all, copyrights do expire and royalty also ends.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, September 1, 2014

By Connecting with the Young, Chacha Modi ...... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ August 31, 2014

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By Connecting With the Young, Chacha Modi Could Create an India of His Dreams

Modi is a message. Even his sworn enemies concede that. But he is also au courant with the medium to disseminate his message in real time. His colleagues are surviving by flirting with fair-weather opinion-makers and media mavens. On the other hand, the PM is thriving by setting up his own mechanism for connecting with India. In the past 100 days, Modi has proved that he can reach out to maximum people with minimum interaction with the media. He doesn’t miss any opportunity to convert his gestures into a publicised event. From Independence Day to Teachers’ Day, every date provides him an excuse to reach out to target audiences all over the country—schoolchildren, bank officers, jawans, youth and government employees. His obsession with technology and social media has made him the only world leader who connects with people directly, making conventional media redundant. It may sound like a coincidence, but there is a method in his methodology.

Last week, he was back on stage with another out-of-the box idea. His eyes are set on future voters as well—India’s children. India’s first PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday on November 14 was declared as Children’s Day so that he could speak to the young. He would ask the Delhi government to gather over 1,000 school kids at the national stadium and interact with them at teatime, thus earning him the sobriquet ‘Chacha Nehru’. But Modi isn’t bothered about projecting his birthday. Instead, he had a recent epiphany about how to reach both children and teachers simultaneously. HRD Minister Smriti Irani has directed her ministry to convert Teachers’ Day on September 5 into a ‘Charcha with Chacha Modi’. A planned dialogue with 100 handpicked students from Delhi schools will last for over 100 minutes, to be telecast throughout. States have been directed to provide not only TV sets in chosen schools but also Internet connections in remote areas so that all schoolchildren can watch the PM answering questions from kids. Though states are yet to provide the total number of the children audience, the HRD ministry is confident that it would set a world record in which a PM would be watched by over 1,900 million schoolchildren.
All these are not just attempts to reach out to future voters and to mesmerise adolescents with the Modi Mantra. The idea is to force states to connect every school with the rest of the country and the world. It will also help the PM to interact with the most active section of the population. For Modi, connectivity is a matter of faith. Creating records is his mission. Like a star athlete, he takes pride in hanging medals on his 56-inch chest. Last week, his administration created history again. It is perhaps for the first time that any Indian government has implemented a scheme within two weeks of its announcement by the PM—the Jan Dhan Yojna. Calling it an attempt to ensure financial inclusion, the finance ministry launched the scheme on August 28 by opening over 1.8 crore bank accounts for over 60 per cent of Indians who have no access to banking facilities. He also announced 1.5 crore free insurance policies. This means massive business for banks, insurance companies and mobile operators. Earlier, Modi sent out emails to senior bank officials, asking them to take active interest in opening accounts under the scheme. Never before had any official received a personal communication from the PM. A senior banker confided that but for the PM’s personal intervention, the banking system wouldn’t have come together to successfully conduct such a massive exercise in a single day.
Modi’s passion for connectivity was evident when he launched the government portal mygov.nic.in on July 26. It is meant to encourage people to write to him directly about various issues and propose solutions. Since talkative and argumentative Indians have opinions on everything, Modi saw an opportunity to be exploited in this predilection. Any ordinary citizen in any remote part of India now has direct access to the PM. Later, he issued a directive to all government employees to provide their email ids to their ministries in case he wished to get in touch directly. On the face of it, all these exercises appear to be just about the government communicating through a new technology-driven medium. But actually they involve creating a massive data bank, which Modi is putting together to access without government help in the future. According to his techie aides, the PM himself has access to over four crore mobile numbers, email ids and personal details of ministers—both at the Centre and in the states—as well as of party workers. This info-treasury is a powerful instrument in his hands to keep track of the performance of party office-bearers and ministerial colleagues. Modi would also be able to do course corrections. It is intriguing that he hasn’t junked the practice of placing the PM’s picture on every Central government advertisement, an exercise started by the all-powerful Indira Gandhi, who, too, was equally aggressive in establishing direct contact with the people.
A loner by lifestyle and a workaholic by nature, Modi is perhaps the first CM who fought as a PM candidate and won an unprecedented mandate. He earned it by being a frequent flier and maximum talker. According to websites, Modi addressed about 425 rallies in 28 states, covering 5,800 locations from September 2013 to May 2014. He flew and drove for 300,000 km and spoke to over four crore people. He conceived an unusual interactive programme by organising Chai Pe Charcha, which was distributed live through 3D projectors at 400 locations. As if connectivity with domestic audiences wasn’t enough, he set yet another precedent on the day of his swearing-in. For the first time, leaders from SAARC countries, including a hostile Pakistan, were invited to participate in the function of installing India’s PM. As Modi completes 100 days in office this week, he would be known as the most formidable human data bank connected to the most powerful and fastest server with unlimited memory. For Modi, it is not a chair in South Block but information which is power. Will he use it to create the India of his dreams or demolish those who stand as roadblocks in his way to become the most powerful PM the country has ever had? Over to Chacha Modi.
Prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 25, 2014

PM Must Choose his Words ..... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/ August 24, 2014

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PM Must Choose his Words and Weapons in Dealing with Pak and its Missionaries

Nawaz Sharif,Abdul Basit

For a while now, all Pakistan envoys posted in India have been nothing more than remote-controlled megaphones. Their mission is to blare out the bluster of their ventriloquists in Islamabad and they are rarely switched off. Conventionally, a diplomat is expected to convey even the nastiest news in the nicest manner. But Pakistani diplomats are trained to convey to India the meanest messages in the foulest fashion. Recently, when the elegantly balding, sharp-nosed Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, made a plea to include separatist leaders as stakeholders in the K-dispute, he gave an ugly face to diplomacy. His provocative contention was a direct intervention in India’s internal matters and violation of conventions. Despite a stern warning by India’s foreign office, he held meetings with self-styled Kashmiri leaders who have been rejected by the people of their own state. A section of Indian diplomacy firmly believes that most Pak high commissioners have been used to unintentionally sabotage dialogue between the two countries. Or was it an attempt to prevent the visit of Indian diplomats to Pakistan, who would have gathered first-hand information about its paralysed government? Opposition leaders like Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri are making it impossible for beleaguered PM Nawaz Sharif to function as head of the government. Hence it is a mystery as to who could have advised Pakistan’s foreign secretary to continue the dialogue with Indian delegation? Was it a move on Basit’s part to destroy India’s democratic milieu? After all, every Pak envoy is known for hosting parties replete with biryani and sufi concerts for Delhi’s cultural, social and political influencers who would then sing the same tune as the quarrelsome quwwals in Islamabad.

Otherwise what was the logic behind Basit’s move in invoking the right of those responsible for creating trouble in the Valley? By his action, Basit has defied Indian democracy. He has challenged the right of democratically established Indian institutions to decide on how to deal with hostile elements. Predictably, an envoy representing a failed state struggling to save its identity is trying to deflect international attention from the crisis at home. It is unclear whether he speaks on behalf of Pakistan’s elected government or some invisible parallel power centre. Democratically elected leaders hardly share the vocabulary exhibited by Basit. His speaking style resembled extremists like Hafiz Saeed and others better. While his symbolic political masters back home underplayed India’s decision to call off the Secretary-level talks on August 25, it was Basit who was painting India as a warmonger.
Basit and his predecessors have been liberally misusing diplomatic immunity by not only engaging with anti-India elements but also trying to infiltrate the capital’s high and mighty club. The Pakistani establishment always chooses suave high commissioners whose cosmopolitan charm makes them trophy guests in Delhi’s drawing rooms. During the past three decades, envoys like Abdul Sattar, Riaz Khokhar, Ashraf Jahangir Kazi and Salman Bashir were so effective at networking that none of those invited to the high commissioner’s residence would ever utter a word against their hosts’ direst diatribes. With huge funds at their disposal, the envoys were able to create pressure groups in India who would parrot the Pak point of view on cross-border dialogue. In the past 25 years, Pakistan’s top diplomats have directly or indirectly facilitated the participation of hundreds of powerful Indian opinion-makers in seminars, symposiums and similar fine-dining gabfests organised by think-tanks funded by unknown sources in Pakistan. It is possible that some of the frequent fliers to Islamabad and Karachi from India have strong feelings against the continuation of dialogue with the perfidious neighbour, but there are many others who refuse to find fault with terror activities sponsored by non-state actors from across the border. The Pak High Commission in Delhi has become the preferred rendezvous for all those who have either been convinced about or mesmerised into believing in Pakistan’s cause. Last week when Basit spoke about “stakeholders”, he found support from many internationalists from India, including corporate leaders, all of whom have been strongly building a case for enhanced cultural, economic and sports cooperation between the two countries. Surprisingly, none of the beneficiaries of Indian munificence—at home and in Pakistan—have ever spoken against terror camps in PoK and Pakistan. On the other hand, they were able to influence the Indian establishment to grant Pakistan ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status by ignoring the fact that border violations have been plenty in past two years. According to a latest report, over a dozen terrorist training camps are actively operating from PoK and other parts of Pakistan. What is worse is that there is no progress on India’s demand to hand over its known enemies like Saeed and Dawood hiding in Pakistan. In a widely televised press conference, however, Basit let it drop that his country is also a victim of terrorism and that over 1,500 civilians have been killed by terrorists. He conveniently forgot that the killers were Frankenstein’s monsters created by Pakistani agencies like ISI.
The response to Basit’s outburst only reflects that though the colour of the Central government has changed, its organs remain unwilling to strike or challenge the defiance of Pak diplomats. Knowing PM Narendra Modi’s style and intentions, he would have sent Basit packing, along with his team and taken the broom to pro-dialogue moles in his own establishment and the party. According to media reports, even External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was kept out of the loop regarding cancelling the dialogue. It is a fact that Swaraj has been pushing for a hardline approach against Pakistan, even when she was Leader of the Opposition. The new leadership, however, has realised that the primary reason behind the delay in the settlement of the Kashmir standoff emanates not from the political leadership but from diplomats and non-state actors who have a greater stake in the continuity of confrontation between the two countries. Even Western powers like the US allow that any settlement between a prosperous India and a peaceful Pakistan would end US machinations and destabilise its strategic interests in South Asia. Modi began well by inviting Sharif to his swearing-in. But Sharif and his establishment have returned the gesture with bullets and barbs. It is for the PM to choose his words and weapons in dealing with India’s nefarious neighbour and its missionaries and mercenaries in India.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 18, 2014

Outsider PM's success lies in ..... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/August 17, 2014

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Outsider PM's Success Lies in How Fast He Demolishes Barriers Built by Insiders


It was a 63-minute speech which elitist India would abhor, even while adoring its deliverer. Flamboyant in royal Jodhpuri headgear, Prime Minister Narendra Modi comported himself like a man with a mandate. His maiden address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort was short on big words but long in outreach. The gifted orator used videshi idiom to unfold a swadeshi road map. He vowed to convert India’s primitive countryside into a digital paradise. But he also made it clear that wireless connectivity would be achieved only through instruments made in India. He said, “When I talk about Digital India, it is not just something meant for big people. It is an instrument of growth for the poor.” The PM adroitly chose the very issues used by the elitist India to stay relevant and connected with the establishment, both at home and abroad. Speaking on gender issues, safety of women and heinous crimes like rapes, he admonished parents, asking them to control their sons instead of shackling their daughters, something no NGO or chest-thumping activist has even had an epiphany about. It is for the first time that a leader made it the responsibility of parents to spend more time in making their sons accountable for their activities than monitoring their daughters with suspicion. He emphasised the need for a clean India, both in body and spirit. His predecessors would unfailingly bleat about reviving big business, but Modi’s intent is to create a phalanx of young entrepreneurs. Refraining from excessive name-dropping of past leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Modi touched upon almost every issue from communalism to consumerism. Perhaps, it is for the first time that a PM skipped commenting on cross-border threats. The central point of his address was exclusively domestic—ensuring a responsive civil service, engineering economic revival and containing caste and communal strife. Without defining the contours of the coming institutional changes in the government structure, he made his first visible move by announcing the disbanding of the Planning Commission, which had become a roadblock in faster development of states. It was a political message to the states that the PM would like to make all CMs equal stakeholders in the allocation of funds for progress. With a single stroke, Modi silenced his worst critics in the states. Thus the CM-turned-PM also became India’s Pradhan Mukhya Mantri (Prime Chief Minister) and Pradhan Sewak.

Modi also made the shocking revelation that Delhi has many governments within the government. By giving the example of one Union ministry fighting a legal battle against another, he was revealing the nature of the various pressure groups that use their influence to stall government decisions through their contacts with ministers and bureaucrats. Calling himself an outsider, Modi made it clear that he was determined to dismantle the parallel establishment inside and outside the government. As his vocabulary revealed, now that he has taken charge, the PM would start the process of putting in place a genuine Modi Sarkar soon. According to insiders, he has been spending long hours understanding the rules of governance and the hidden multi-layer processes within decision-making. He has successfully aborted the moves of numerous powerbrokers to find their way into his inner circle of advisors. As one of his aides said, “Modiji moved from Gujarat to Delhi without a kitchen. Now many are in the line to join his kitchen cabinet. They don’t forget that he is a much better cook and manager of his own kitchen.” As is evident from the past 75 days of his tenure, Modi welcomes ideas and not individuals with personal agendas.
NaMo has once again asserted that he will follow his own vision and mission. Proving various pundits claiming proximity to him wrong, the PM’s message to the nation was not written by a menagerie of mandarins. As is the usual practice, all ministries were asked to send directly to Modi proposals they would like to be included in the PM’s speech. Since most of these presentations were near-Xeroxes of the ones sent to previous PMs, they went into Modi’s trash can. He avoided announcing new schemes, elaborating only on subjects he was vocal about during his election campaign. All the new initiatives he announced bore the Modi stamp. He didn’t make any promises. It was obvious that he realised over 90 per cent of the new schemes announced by his predecessors were forgotten as soon as they returned to Race Course.
Two most important takeaways from Modi’s address were accountability and delivery. Announcing the launch of Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojna, he advised all MPs and MLAs to use their discretionary funds to develop a model village each in their constituency every year. So far, lawmakers were using taxpayers’ money to oblige their supporters by constructing barat ghars, installing streetlights near their houses or splurging money on projects which were already being funded by other agencies. Modi’s objective was to force legislators to deliver visible assets in their respective areas. Basically, he was telling them to spend less time at cocktail parties and more working in the villages. Modi has realised that it is the growing promiscuity between lawmakers and lawbreakers in big cities that has marred the nation’s growth.
His indigenous narrative was also meant to make India self-reliant by making her a destination for capital creation. His pitch for foreign investment did not come without a rider. He made it clear that foreigners are welcome to establish manufacturing units and not just to invest in financial instruments. None would be encouraged to bring in hot money either. They could come only to make things in India and sell them outside India. He offered investors a range of choices from paper manufacturing to submarine building to minimise India’s dependence on imports.
Modi’s call for change from the heights of the Red Fort has shaken the foundation of the class and caste-ridden establishment. His success would lie in how fast and how soon an outsider like him would be able to demolish the 68-year-old hitherto unbreakable barrier built and protected by greedy insiders and take India to its true destiny.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, August 11, 2014

Modi Faces Bigger Threat .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ 10.08.2014

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Modi Faces Bigger Threat from Wily Civil Servants Than Political Opponents

It was a missive, totally un-Modi like, since Narendra Modi has won India and taken full control of BJP through trusted and tested aide Amit Shah. But the citadel that awaits to be stormed is the Delhi-based phalanx of babus, who he is yet to Modify. Last weekend, when the PMO issued a 19-point code of conduct after almost 30 years for India’s steel-framed bureaucracy, it was seen as a warning. Modi is perhaps the first PM who has refrained from mass-scale transfers of senior officials. He surprised his colleagues by deciding to give a six-month extension to Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth, whose only virtue is his invisibility. Modi has retained all key secretaries in finance, defence, HRD, home and external affairs. He enforced the principle of continuity in the bureaucracy even though some mandarins were UPA loyalists. It is clear that Modi wants to govern through bureaucracy. He has taken over from Manmohan but the Modi government is yet to acquire a shape.

The Indian Civil Services is one of the country’s most powerful institutions. A relic of the Raj, it ensured that politicians would never take any initiative without making babus either partners in power or beneficiaries of the system. The over 20,000-member club of All India Services officers comprising IAS, IFS, IRS, IR&AS, IPS etc. are the unelected rulers of India. They get automatic promotions, perks and salaries and create lucrative post-retirement facilities, which even politicians have failed to do for themselves. When Modi advised bureaucrats to be neutral, efficient and honest, it was like telling a tiger to stop hunting. Insiders say there are enough checks on the civil services in place, without the need for new directives. Even the official code of conduct provides summary dismissal of officials found engaging in political activity. They can be sent to jail if guilty of corruption. In one instance, Yashpal Kapoor, the then private secretary to PM Indira Gandhi, acted as an election agent for her. Mrs Gandhi lost her poll petition because she used a government official for election purposes. Rarely is a senior official transferred due to his or her inability to perform duties correctly, because the steel frame hasn’t allowed any accountability matrix for the bureaucracy. Babus can only be moved out if they fail to do the bidding of their political masters.
Modi, however, added a significant provision to his proclamation, which, if taken to the logical end, would break the civil service-corporate nexus. One directive is that all conflict of interest situations must be avoided and resolved. It is evident the PM has placed a premium on the character of a civil servant. It is, in fact, the conflict of interest—or creation of future interest—which has been the guiding principle for taking official decisions so far. Post-retirement, most civil servants joined the very corporations they used to deal with in their official capacity. A study of retired babus reveals that over 80 per cent of senior officials took up highly paid jobs after superannuation in the same sectors they had been handling, all which benefited by their decisions. One of the most dangerous fallouts of economic reform has been mandarins playing the markets. Either through relatives or on their own, bureaucrats have been making a killing buying and selling scrips. It is the cleverest legal way of making illegal money because babus know in advance which future policies of the government would positively or negatively affect various sectors. There is suspicion in some quarters that it is the politician-babu-corporate nexus that has prevented the government from imposing the capital gains tax so far. India is perhaps the only democracy where promoters and relatives in politics and civil services make crores without paying a paisa as income tax. The power of bureaucracy was evident when two decades ago, it prevented the finance minister from revealing the names of babus who were allotted promoters’ shares by companies at concessional rates. Some officials holding the shares joined the same companies as directors or consultants. Even now, there are officials who have mastered the art of writing pro-private sector documents for PPP and demand royalty for it.
Piercing the steel frame has been a big challenge for all leaders for it’s the apparatchik who makes the apparatus. Modi should remember that the “bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies and cowards”. Therefore, his agenda should have been to replace pygmies with giants. If a party needs a strongman with verve and vision, the bureaucracy needs an equally towering personality to lead it. For past three decades, fearless and innovative officers have lost the battle to sycophants and incompetents. India has seen impressive Cabinet Secretaries and principal secretaries like A N Verma, Brajesh Mishra, B G Deshmukh, Vinod Pandey and Naresh Chandra. They led from the front and were au courant with the mind and mission of their PMs. Since they were first-raters, they also chose first-raters to assist in running the government. Now second-raters have taken over and they look for third-raters so that they do not outshine their bosses.
For a change, the steel frame showed signs of cracks after Modi took over. Initially, they cowered perspiring in their AC rooms for the call from South Block, informing them about their transfers. They were relieved they were not relieved of their jobs. Modi preaches and practises delivery. As Gujarat CM, he successfully rode the bureaucracy tiger. He neither set nor amended any rules of conduct for them. Yet his babus exceeded his expectations.
So, when he walked into 7 RCR, the bureaucracy was expecting its achche din of doing no work about to end. It is used to conjuring up new ideas for the new leader, to generate fresh jobs for themselves and escape scrutiny. Babus understood the real message behind Modi’s slogan ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ well. It meant he would demolish many departments and secretaries to create a lean, mean establishment. Before Modi could implement his vision, they counselled him to embark on the path of ‘advice first, act later’. The bureaucracy abhors initiative and innovation. It despises any exercise which ensures better results. Modi faces a bigger threat from the wily civil servant than from any political opponent. He must keep it in mind that “powers once acquired are never relinquished easily, just as bureaucracies once created never die or vanish”.
prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla