Is PM Modi Losing his Political Touch? by Aseem Prakash


It is not unusual for politicians to suffer electoral setbacks. Sometimes they are able to bounce back and regain their political poise. For their political recovery, they probably have to figure out why they lost ground in the first place and how they might recover this lost ground by deploying appropriate strategies. They fire their political advisers for providing bad advice and bring in new set of advisers. They modify their political rhetoric. They seek to bury issues that highlight their political vulnerabilities and focus on the ones that shine light on their strengths.

Think of Indira Gandhi in the post 1977 situation. The 1977 Lok Sabha elections were a watershed in Indian politics. For the first time since 1947, the Congress Party lost power at the Center. Congress could not win a single seat in North India and fared poorly in the West and the East. Its tally was 153 seats (compared with 350 in the previous Lok Sabha), of which 92 were in the South. Indira Gandhi lost her seat in Rae Bareli and Sanjay Gandhi in Amethi.

The Janata Party came to power at the Center. It set up the Shah Commission to investigate the excesses committed during Emergency (1975-1977). It seemed Congress and Indira Gandhi will be in the political wilderness for a while.

Not quite. Indira Gandhi was a shrewd politicians. She scripted her comeback carefully. In 1977, there was the shameful massacre of Harijans in Belchi (Bihar) allegedly by the upper castes. I vividly remember reading in the newspapers how Indiraji visited Belchi riding on an elephant, her head covered by her white saree, and looking very grief stricken. She projected herself as a politician who connected with the masses, and cared for them. She wanted to bury the image of the dictator who imposed Emergency in 1975. She understood her image problems and sought to cast herself in an entirely new light.

Belchi probably gave her the political break she wanted. In 1978, she won the by-election from Chikamaglur, defeating Veerandra Patil by a solid margin. Rest is history. In 1981, she was voted back to power at the Center.

Compare this with PM Modi’s political strategy after the 2015 Delhi elections. Did he or the BJP learn anything? Do they realize that the AAP outmaneuvered them for the “aam admi” branding? Has the PM tried to downplay issues which made him come across as a privileged, arrogant individual, and not the chaiwallah of the 2014 Lok Sahba elections? I do not see much evidence in this regard.

My sense is that PM Modi is floundering. He is making politically unwise choices. This makes me wonder whether the PM has lost his political touch. Let me focus on the saga of the pinstripe suit.

This self-inflicted political disaster is getting worse by the day. One would have thought that the PM will understand the message of the 2015 Delhi elections and seek to reclaim his chaiwallah branding. Yes, Rahul Gandhi kept reminding people about the monogrammed suit costing Rs. 10 Lakhs. Yet, the suit controversy seemed to be receding. But the PM’s cover-up action has brought it back into the limelight.

Enter Mr. Rameshkumar Bhikabhai who claims that he presented this monogrammed suit to the PM. He further claims that the PM promised to wear this suit on January 26, the day of his son’s marriage. Of course, this coincided with the visit of President Obama.

Let me see if I got this right. The President the United States is visiting India, a very important diplomatic event by any standard. The world is closely watching every action and move of both Obama and Modi. And our magnanimous PM decides to wear a monogrammed suit to please his political supporter without thinking what sort of a message this might convey. If true, this is political incompetence. If not, this is dangerous narcissism.

BTW, I hope the PM has made sure that Rameshkumar Bhikabhai, the gentleman who allegedly presented the suit, actually has a son, and the son indeed got married on January 26. If not, the PM would have dug himself deeper into his monogrammed hole.

This PM wants to bring probity to public life. Great idea, much needed, welcome it. There were stories about his honesty and how he keeps his Cabinet ministers on a tight leash. There was the story of how the PM gave a dressing down to the son of powerful minster (in the presence of the minister, of course) for allegedly asking for bribes to facilitate the transfer of some officials. Or, how the PM calls ministers when they are boarding airplanes and reprimands them for wearing inappropriate clothes. The message is: the PM is very smart, he knows all and watches all, and will do most unconventional things to bring honesty to public life. Great stories and solid PR. Full marks to the PM!

But I do have a question. Does the PM respect the ethical standards he preaches? Specifically, do ministers break laws when they accept expensive (undeclared) gifts? The Home Ministry has a code of conduct for ministers on this subject: “A minister should not accept valuable gifts except from close relatives, and he or members of his family should not accept any gifts at all from any person with whom he may have official dealings,” ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Did-PM-Narendra-Modi-violate-code-of-conduct-by-accepting-suit/articleshow/46293691.cms). Apparently, ministers are not supposed to accept gifts worth more than 5,000 rupees.

So, why was this gift accepted in the first place? Who will be held accountable?

But it does not stop here. The cover-up has become even more ridiculous and is imposing real political costs on the PM. The suit which was initially valued at about $25,000 was sold at an auction for $694,000! The Rs. 10 lakh suit (that Rahul Gandhi talked about) was eventually valued at Rs. 4.31 crores. This perhaps another instance where RG got it quite wrong — but this is a conversation for another day.

This clumsy cover-up has ensured that the monogrammed pinestriped suit will remain in public memory for a long time. This is a serious political misstep that has undermined the carefully cultivated image of the PM as a chaiwallah.

How could such an intelligent individual as the PM make such a fundamental mistake? Clearly, he is losing his political touch. While his narcissism got him into trouble in the first place, his clumsy cover-up has focused on the negative aspects of his personality.

I hope he understands the political consequences of his actions. monogrammed or not.

Chicken Roast – Yes! AIB Roast – We are Indians! by Maqbul Jamil


The Roast comedy genre, in which a public figure is ridiculed as their friends watch, is popular in America. But the format was largely unknown in India until the four-man AIB troupe performed live in Mumbai on Dec. 20, 2014 with an audience of about 4,000 people, including Bollywood heavyweights.

Their YouTube clip showed “India’s edgiest comedy collective” attacking its quarry in crudely scatological terms. Aspersions were cast, too, on the sexuality of a well-known male director, alongside unsubtle hints about assignations involving Bollywood starlets who happened to be in the auditorium. All concerned seemed to take their mocking in good part, but as the hit count raced towards eight million, obscenity complaints tumbled in from religious groups, prompting investigation threats by politicians and the police.

What this Roast aspired to do is mock structures in the film and entertainment world that we take for granted, and introduce a new kind of humor – self-deprecatory. The country has shown a sense of humor failure in its response to this bawdy foreign import. The tabloid-friendly mix of celebrity and profanity dominated local papers for days. Right-wing Hindu nationalists and even Christian groups have been up in arms ever since the comedic performance went live. Those offended argue that such shows tarnish the “clean image of the Indian culture” and also mislead young people. A local right-wing cabal issued a threat to the participants stating that they will not release any of their films in Maharashtra unless they tender an “unconditional apology.” They have also asked AIB to provide an apology. According to media reports, the chief minister of Maharashtra, has declared that if, when investigated, the Roast is found vulgar and legally unsound, and action will be taken.

A filmmaker who served as ‘Roastmaster’, responded to the public outrage on Twitter after the show was dubbed “national shame” writing: “Not your cup of tea…don’t drink it!” Actresses, who were guests at the event and were also targets of the jokes, defended the show. Another actress, whose relationships with fellow actors were the focus of many of the jokes, supported the event. Other Bollywood celebrities defended the show in response to growing disapproval. However, the cerebral Bollywood actor who just escaped controversy over his latest movie, which for the first time grossed $100M in India, hopped aboard the already-crowded bandwagon of Indians who are offended by the roast. He stated that he was “deeply affected” by the show because he felt it was “violent” and those celebrities have a “certain responsibility” to abstain from verbal violence. An Indian-Canadian stand-up comedian lashed out at those who have gone against the controversial AIB roast that’s been making news of late. The comedian asked the actor to “shut up” and “mind his own business.”

It seems that even innocuous acts will prompt someone somewhere in India to take offence. Eventually, AIB buckled. “To everyone who’s called us seditious pornographers while plotting the downfall of Indian Values And Civilization As We Know It, we would like to reiterate that we are just a bunch of comedians,” the group wrote in last week’s letter, justifying the decision to yank the video from its YouTube channel. “Unfunny, crass or whatever you want to call them, they’re still just jokes.”

One could view the resulting affront as part of a wider tussle between Indian pique and free expression. AIB’s scandal reached its zenith when a musician was forced to bleep out the word “Bombay” from another YouTube video, for fear of offending groups who favor the city’s formal name of Mumbai. Similar arguments have bubbled up of late, over everything from explicit Tamil literature to kissing in public in Kerala. Worried westernized liberals fear that such incidents are evidence of a newly censorious public culture, linked to the election last year of Hindu nationalist prime minister.

This outrage tells a different story about the relatively recent arrival of western-style stand-up comedy. India has a rich comic tradition, albeit one that tends towards slapstick or mimicry in mainstream entertainment and media. The stinging humor common in America was relatively rare until a branch of London’s Comedy Store opened in a swanky mall in Mumbai in 2010. Although their jokes found favor among the relatively small English-speaking urban elite, they proved combustible when mixed with the celebrities of Bollywood and let loose on a wider public online. It appears that there is still this huge divide between the India that comes to a comedy club in Mumbai and the mainstream majority of the country.he entire time.

However, social activists found problem with the Roast not about its sexual content or alleged obscenity, but for perpetuating the prejudices of Bollywood (and society) about women and homosexuality. They were offended by the mockery of women and gay by the haughty, nepotism-powered, casting-couch loving film fraternity. This Roast was seen as an attempt by the cool Bollywood actors to laugh at themselves, while subtly yet surely reinforcing the bigotry of Bollywood. These comedians claimed that they equally offend everybody. But equally offending everybody doesn’t make you particularly fair or progressive in your comedy. While every performer mocked the only dark-skinned panelist, no one seemed to mock light skin color. Is that because multinational companies pay these celebrities for the endorsement of whitening potions? The government and the right-wing moral police have no problem with bigotry, what they pretend to mind is the so-called obscenity of it all.

The comedians may see defamation suits for insulting cricket, moral values, and family values but it has succeeded in reinforcing everything Bollywood and society stand for. It is important to defend free speech– even intolerant ones. So we must let Bollywood have its Roast. Although it isn’t courageous free speech – it is just a crass and vulgar mouthpiece for the wannabe hipsters. Democracy demands that we allow it but not support it!

Delhi Debacle: common man’s revenge by Maqbul Jamil

Less than a year after winning a historic victory for his party, the prime minister has been outmaneuvered by a radical, anti-corruption and anti-establishment party. Many may see the Delhi election results as a defeat for him but his party may be correct to dismiss suggestions that the vote was a referendum on his performance as premier.

Under the new party president implicated in several criminal cases, the ruling party seemed to have found a perfect winning strategy: polarize voters on caste, class and religious lines; make crude appeals to Hindu supremacy, sectarian identities and jingoism; exploit upper-caste/upper-class elite aspirations; and run an expensive election campaign funded by corporate cronies and NRI admirers. Hoping to take advantage of what they saw as his enormous personal appeal, the party used the prime minster and his cabinet and many parliamentarians throughout the Delhi election campaign. In speeches, the prime minster vilified the chief minister candidate, and his picture was the dominant image on full-page newspaper ads in the days leading up to the vote.

Some in the media are suggesting this defeat was just a hiccup in the ruling party’s effort to become the new dominant national party. Delhi contest was just one of many state elections — the party had already done well in four state elections – and that the party’s loss was the result of tactical missteps rather than a fundamental rejection of its message and messiah. Others view the loss in Delhi elections as a significant blow to a popular national leader and his party’s star campaigner. This defeat had put the brakes on a winning spree by the party that has campaigned furiously in state polls to expand beyond its traditional strongholds. Does this loss suggest that the prime minister’s honeymoon with India’s voters had ended? Is India’s most powerful prime minister in thirty years tripped over price of a pinstripe suit?

The common man’s party has accomplished an amazing political feat. Not only has it won more than half the total vote and 67 of 70 seats in the local elections – but also by unabashedly championing the cause of the poor, and the interests of underprivileged social and religious groups in their 70-point manifesto developed for the election. It is to be seen whether the promise to improve the lives of Delhi’s vast underclass through a crackdown on corruption, as well as by providing cheaper electricity and free water will materialize? However, the sheer magnitude of the victory cannot fully be explained by its mass outreach, its celebration of working people, and its commitment to providing better public services and fighting corruption – or even by the charisma of its temperamental leader. The victory is because the electorate wanted to hand a stunning defeat to the ruling party that has strutted about since it won the national election eight months ago as if it were invincible.

Despite the diplomatic high of a recent successful Delhi summit meeting with President Obama and a string of earlier successful foreign trips to Australia / China / US, the prime minster has yet to demonstrably revive India’s economy. The party elected on the hope of good governance and growth is busy consolidating power. The economy is producing a fraction of the jobs needed for the roughly 12 million Indians who come of age annually.

Recently, the new government has cut funding for the popular National Rural Employment Guaranty Program by 45% and is about to severely restrict the public provision of affordable food grains. The government has been ready to roll-out pro-business land acquisition rules that potentially could displace millions of farmers without public hearings or environmental impact assessment. These changes are widely opposed by upper house of parliament and many more in the country.

This political earthquake could, in part, be a backlash from a pluralistic society against a rise in religious tensions since this government came to power. Emboldened by the landslide victory last year, Hindu fundamentalists, including leaders in the ruling party, have grown more publicly hostile toward Muslims.

This victory by the upstart party signals the arrival of a new moral force in India’s national politics. Commentators on the left hope that this is the rise of a new kind kind of force that is irreverent towards authority; militant in opposing hierarchy and privilege based on birth; passionately egalitarian; and ready to bring the tall claims of “the world’s largest democracy” down to earth through greater public accountability for rulers.
This election result could in fact become the “big bang” of the new politics of India. The decimation of the corrupt family-owned Congress, the old guard that dominated the politics since independence, is complete. What is amazing is that in the same blow, this fledgling party brought down the rightist party from the high horse of invincibility. The Delhi result has halted the juggernaut and created the hope that a new people-cantered, participatory, secular politics would prevail in India.

The Day After: Delhi Elections and its Aftermath by Aseem Prakash

The AAP’s sweep in Delhi Assembly elections is impressive. While 67/70 is a great score, I’m impressed by the increase in its vote share which is the true measure of popular support. The AAP’s vote share increased from 30% in the 2013 Assembly elections (and from 33% in the 2014 Lok Shaba elections) to 54% in 2015 Assembly Elections. The BJP’s vote share in 2013 elections was 33%. While it jumped to 46% in the 2014 Lok Shaba elections, it has slipped to 32% in 2015 Assembly elections. Congress’ vote share was 25% in 2013 Assembly elections. It dropped to 15% in 2014 Lok Shaba Elections and has dropped even further to 10% in 2015 Assembly elections. While the AAP has increased its vote shares in successive elections, the BJPs’s vote share has fluctuated. Importantly, in the 2015 elections the AAP has gained votes from both the BJP and the Congress.

How might one explain the AAP’s success? For most pundits, Kejriwal and the AAP executed an immaculate strategy, strategically and tactically. After Lok Shaba elections, it seems the AAP began reinventing itself while the BJP slept (or its Delhi leaders fought among themselves). BJP ran a negative campaign while the AAP ran a positive campaign (of course, everybody forgets the negative ad campaign Kejriwal ran against Jagdish Mukhi). Kejriwal did every thing right. For these pundits, it was a foregone conclusion that the AAP will win the Assembly elections.

I beg to differ.

Until Obama’s 26th January visit, virtually every opinion poll showed the BJP to be in the lead. For example, the ABP-Nielsen poll on January 16, 2015 noted:

“As per ABP-Nielsen’s latest Opinion poll, Narendra Modi-led BJP is projected to win 34 seats in Delhi Polls but is falling short by 2 to reach the magical number. Talking of Arvind Kejriwal led AAP, it again stands at 28 seats this time – the actual number achieved in 2013’s assembly elections. In not a good condition, Congress party is managing somehow to get 8 seats similar to 2013. Independents and Others are left with nil this time unlike the previously when they at least gathered 3 seats.”

Source: http://www.abplive.in/india/2015/01/16/article477989.ece/ABP-News-Nielsen-Opinion-poll-BJP-unlikely-to-reach-majority-mark-in-Delhi-poll-AAP-to-get-28-seats

Something dramatic happened during and after Obama’s visit which caused a huge shift in public perception in favor of the AAP and against the BJP. What might be this?

Here is my speculation. Obama’s visit seemed to cleared the fog about Modi: changing his image from an underdog to an elitist ruler. While Modi tried to use this visit to project glamour (his designer clothes) and stature (Modi and Obama having tea and Modi making it for him), this backfired. He came across as a politician interested in impressing foreign audiences instead of solving problems at home.

I am not suggesting that by itself Obama’s visit changed voters’ perceptions about Modi. I think the permissive conditions (anger and frustration towards Modi) were building up; the media projection of Modi during Obama’s visit gave vocabulary to Delhi citizens to articulate their anger to themselves, and eventually through the ballot.

Kejriwal seemed to have most out of his contrast with Modi. He remained the muffler man. He complained about not getting invited to the Republic Day parade; the way common folks can’t get through the security cordons to watch the parade. He came across as a common person who is stopped when VIP motorcades need to pass through. The voters thought: Kejriwal is the real deal; we believed Modi was like us but he is actually an imposter.

Modi has an image problem, big time. From a chaiwallah who is insulted by an elitist Mani Shankar Aiyar, he is now perceived as Mr. Glamour who wears expensive suits and designer clothes. He seems to lack substance and focusing too much on image and slogans. His constituency seems to be located in New York’s Madison Square Garden, not in Delhi slums.

To correct this perception, Modi will need to produce results and essentially walk his talk. Slogans of “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan,” “More Governance, Less Government,” and “Made in India” will probably not impress Indian voters any longer. Celebrity endorsement of his pet projects will not translate into a political payoff. His words and promises will now be subjected to even more scrutiny; bloopers such as Amit Shah’s statement on black money will impose huge political costs.

I’m not suggesting that Kejriwal is not media obsessed. He is probably even more obsessed than Modi. But Kejriwal is not sporting designer clothes, at least not yet (with apologies to Comrade Sitaram Yechury). He is not seeking photo ops with celebs for his pet projects. So far, his image of being the authentic aam admi seems intact.

Most politicians are concerned about their public personas. Gandhiji was a master of image management. Sarojini Naidu had famously noted that it costs the nation a fortune to keep Gandhiji living in poverty. Modi should perhaps spend some time in Sabarmati Ashram and ponder about the lessons he can learn about image management from a fellow Gujarati.

AAP has become a regional party, at least for now! by Kirit Patel

The mandate received by AAP in Delhi election is unprecedented, not only in the context of Delhi assembly but for all 29 states in India. It has virtually eliminated opposition by leaving them with only 3 seats out of 70.

As multi party democratic system gets more consolidated in India, such sweeping trends have become less common. Of course, Delhi electorates are not like illiterate voters of Rajasthan or emotional voters of Tamil Nadu that are known for single party swings. By voting differently in Look Sabha and Assembly elections, Delhi voters have proved that an average Aam Aadmi is smart and capable of making informed choices on ballot papers.

AAP’s sweep is similar to regional parties, such AIDMK in TN or TMC in West Bengal, which focus on regional issues. At this stage AAP leadership has to swallow their pride and accept that AAP is a regional party. They should not become over ambitious again and start preparing list of candidates for upcoming election in Tamil Nadu! Yes, Punjab is fine and shall gradually develop strategy for neighboring states, perhaps with high urban population and rural-out migration.

AAP has to create sound mechanism within party to ensure that power and aspirations of their leaders involved in the government remain curbed. No more it should allow taking law and order in their hand, as it happened during night raids led by Somnath Bharti in South Delhi. If party fails to keep internal democracy, their leaders would easily turn into powerful Supremo, similar to Jaylalitha and Nitish Kumar.

Modi’s BJP should not dream for Congress-free India. Though BJP has lost less than one per cent of votes it received in Delhi in 2013, it has lost almost all seats. If Congress has been eliminated earlier, what happened in Delhi could have happened in Maharashtra and other states too. The large national parties like BJP need multi party race rather than American style two party election battles. Further, the Prime Minister should withdraw his role as a master strategist and Prachark for the elections. The Delhi results are an early signal and Modi should be thankful to Delhi voters for reminding him his primary job. Modi should focus on governance and development issues to bring Acche Din, he promised. He should trust his skills as a teacher and confidently leave planning of regional elections and internal party matters to his disciple, Amit Shah. There was nothing fundamentally wrong in terms of planning of Delhi election that would have changed the outcome for BJP. It was a tsunami, as Congress votes (lost 15% popular votes) get diverted to AAP, that could not have been diverted by last minute emergency measures.

Sheila Dixit was wrong in knowing mood of voters in the last Delhi election. However, she did not miss it this time and asked everyone to be prepared for major shocks! Most of Congress candidates (62 out of 70) lost their deposits. Sonia should consider moving her residence, including young Rahul, from Delhi to Hyderabad (Telangana) or some other place in South India. This will give an opportunity for Rahul (Sonia as well) to experience political, cultural, spiritual and ecological diversity of India.

On Pinstripe suits and Narcissism by Aseem Prakash

PM Modi’s suit with “Narendra Damodardas Modi” woven into its pinstripes has generated some interest, to put it mildly. I am sure the PM understands that politicians need to project their image well. One might even say that in this day and age of social media, politicians need to have a rockstar persona. They need to be physically fit, look good, and even have facials. Bill Clinton’s famous hair cut at the LA airport was defended on similar grounds (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/21/us/haircut-grounded-clinton-while-the-price-took-off.html)

There is some work suggesting good looking CEOs create tangible benefits for their companies. Apparently stock prices are correlated with the looks and appearance of CEOs: Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer is sometime cited in this context. The paper by Halford and Shu, “Beauty is Wealth: CEO Appearance and Shareholder Value”, finds a statistically significant correlation between “facial attractiveness index” and the stock prices of S&P 500 companies:

“[A]ttractive” bosses receive better total compensation and can improve share prices on their first day by creating a good first impression. The research also suggested that they perform better on the negotiating table, and are more likely to land good deals. Regular media appearances can also improve shares if the chief executive is attractive, the study found. “CEO attractiveness may also affect shareholder value through the visibility channel, in which media attention may affect a firm’s investor base and stock prices” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/10549340/Study-finds-beautiful-CEOs-boost-stock-prices.html).

So, why can’t this not hold for politicians? After all, film stars have done quite well in politics (MGR, NTR, Jayalalitha, etc)? Would we rather have a drab, unimpressive PM (Manmohan Singh) or a dynamic, elegant and suave PM (Modi)?

I am all in favor of leaders being well dressed, groomed, scented, etc. Facials are fine as well. After all, symbolic politics is important. I liked the headgear the PM sported on August 15 and again on January 26. But I do I hope politics is not reduced to a fashion parade. If we can take politicians to task for sending government planes to collect their shoes from Bombay, I suppose the PM Modi needs to be held to the same standard.

PM’s flamboyant style creates dissonance in the mind of his well wishers. PM Modi seeks to project an image of a common man and highlight his humble background. There was outrage, and rightly so, when Mani Shankar Aiyar made the “chaiwallah” remark. Wearing an very expensive suit – which by some estimate would cost over $25,000, makes one wonder what he truly is.

Moreover, the focus on creating a celebrity image suggests that the PM has a strong narcissistic streak. So, next time an important person visits India or the PM travels abroad, would one expect PM to reveal a James Bond persona, “nimbu pani please, shaken but not stirred.”

Of course, PM Modi can draw solace from Clinton’s damage control response. As the New York Times Reported:

“In light of Mr. Clinton’s haircut by a stylist to Hollywood stars, Mr. Stephanopoulos was asked whether his boss was still the President of the common man. “Absolutely,” he answered. “And if you look at his economic package, it’s a package that’s designed to turn this around and to really get some real benefits to middle-class Americans. And that’s what’s important” (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/05/21/us/haircut-grounded-clinton-while-the-price-took-off.html)

There are plenty of examples of narcissist politicians overplaying their cards. By most account, Nitish Kumar was a successful CM of Bihar primarily because he was so different from Lalu Yadav. Yet, Nitish began to think himself to be invincible. He took on the BJP during the Lock Sabha elections and lost. For his political survival, he has formed an alliance with Lalu Yadav — yes, Lalu Yadav. This is a tragedy not only for him but for Bihar as well. All because of his ego got the better of him.

Citizens elected the BJP on the platform of good governance and development. Has the BJP delivered on its promises? After making a song and dance about bringing black money back in 100 days, what are the results? The global decline in oil prices has given PM Modi a temporary reprieve. But this good luck may not last forever.

The days of “simple living and high thinking” are probably over. I do not want the PM to look unimpressive or shabby. But there is fine line between being well dressed and being flamboyant. This line should not be crossed, especially for a person who proclaims his humble background. Crossing this line leads to the erosion of the leader’s moral capital. It confuses people about the priorities of the leader. As I see it, with the pinstriped suit episode, this line has been crossed.

Battle of the Babies by Maqbul Jamil


Although the complete 2011 census findings are yet to be revealed, a recent media report claimed that the Muslim population in India has grown by 24% between 2001 and 2011. Though Muslims now form 14.2% of the country’s population (as opposed to 13.4% in the last decade), the rate at which the population has been growing has shown a definite slow down compared to the decade before that, says the report.

However, despite the slow-down of the population growth of Muslims, the previous government allegedly wanted the census data withheld as the country went into polls. Perhaps the previous government feared that the populist ‘illegal immigrant’ theory would be blamed once the data was revealed. But it doesn’t end there. The current ruling party finds the census data ‘sensitive’ also.

In a country that prides itself for its plurality, this new statistic doesn’t seem like an “alarming” statistic or something that should spark political debates. However, in India, every bit of information pertaining to religion holds potential for a political wrestling match. Now rightwing leaders want millions more Indians and they want more of them to be Hindus.

First, a maverick member of parliament (MP) for the ruling party who dresses in saffron robes, urged Hindu women to have at least four children each “in order to protect the Hindu religion.” “The concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India,” the MP is reported to have told a gathering in an apparent reference to Muslim men, who are legally allowed to have four wives. Then a prominent Hindu nationalist leader joined the fray, calling for even more children to ensure the safety of Hinduism for 1,000 years. Another recalled that Lord Krishna sired 10 children by each of his 16,108 wives (although Krishna had mainly eight wives according to some tradition) and was quoted as saying, “the world will be ruled by those who have maximum population.”

Many hard-liners regularly accuse Muslim women of being “breeding machines” who have lots of children in a bid to overtake the Hindu population. These appeals spring from a primal fear that Muslims are breeding so fast and converting vulnerable Hindu women at such a rate that they will soon overwhelm the Hindus, who still account for 80% of Indians.

It is accurate to state that the Muslim share of the population, at about 14%, has grown from about 10% since Independence in 1947 — but that is not because Muslims were trying to outbreed their Hindu neighbors. Poorer, less educated and rural people tend to have larger families and since partition , when many of the Muslim elite moved to Pakistan, Indian Muslims have been, on average, less prosperous than Indian Hindus. In the relatively educated and wealthy state of Kerala, Christians, Hindus and Muslims have equally small families, and across the country fertility rates among Muslim women are declining faster than those of Hindus, and converging with them.

India’s Hindu right is not unique in promoting competitive breeding, there are plenty of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and white supremacists out there lobbying for more babies of their own creed or color or religion, future foot-soldiers in the battle between “them” and “us.” Even the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, complained last week of a “demographic crisis” in the Indian state and called for more Andhra babies!

The unsustainable population growth has severely tested India’s ability to provide for all its citizens with their basic minimum demands. In this environment, this battle for babies is an irresponsible call as is the comfortable slogan like the demographic dividend. The longer India delays acknowledging the severity of population problems and dealing with them head on, the graver the consequences are likely to be!

Who will transform India? by Maqbul Jamil

The “Make in India” lounge at Davos for this year’s WEF annual summit is a big hit! “Make in India” is the government’s major new national program designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation and enhance skills development.

Asian tigers have been concentrating their efforts on expanding manufacturing, boosting growth and keeping external imbalances in check. India’s manufacturing value-added as a percentage of GDP stood at 13% in 2013, compared to 24% for Indonesia and 30% in China and South Korea. India is now trying to recoup the missed opportunity.

This campaign is a necessary ingredient of economic revival and hopefully will make more than a dent in the demand for 12 million new jobs a year. But the question is who will transform India? The country’s poorly skilled and fast-growing work-force has to bear the responsibility. The share of school graduates going on to higher education jumped from 11% in 2004 to 23% in 2011. By this year, India will have 35,000 colleges and 700 universities. The problem is a lack of quality. No Indian university (public or private) has made it to the top 200 of any global ranking of universities.

According to the National Employability Report of Graduates done by Aspiring Minds in 2013, employability of graduates varies from 2.6% in functional roles such as accounting, to 15.9% in sales related roles and 21.4% for roles in the business process outsourcing (BPO/ITeS) sector. A significant proportion of graduates, nearly 47%, were found not employable in any sector, given their English language and cognitive skills. More importantly, the quality of a majority of engineers in the country is below acceptable standards. According to the National Employability Report of Engineering Graduates done by Aspiring Minds in 2014, 18.4% of the engineering students, who graduate every year, are “employable” for software jobs, while a dismal 3.9% are appropriately trained to be directly deployed o projects.

The quality problem India now faces is a direct consequence of its emphasis on quantity over quality. The solution is not to limit expansion but rather to improve quality. The state overregulates private institutes, limiting what can be started, how many students can be admitted, what fees can be charged (although it has been unsuccessful in eliminating the persistent capitation fees), and the curriculum that is taught. At the same time, it does a shoddy job of the assessment of institute quality. However, the public agenda for higher education is dominated by an acrimonious debate on extending caste-based reservations in public and private institutions.

India has a tremendous opportunity provided by a unique combination of the huge availability of talent in student numbers with an education system that—with all its problems—has demonstrated its ability to respond effectively to market demand, a strong social desire to invest in education at great personal cost, and an abundance of the intellectual freedom in which academic enquiry can thrive.

To produce 600,000 engineers a year, of whatever quality, is no mean achievement. India must now move on multiple fronts: it must build true research universities by moving public research funding from autonomous institutes to the university system. The government could leverage the public-private partnership to improve quality in the largely private professional education system, with the state ensuring public assessment so students and parents can decide which institutes are of adequate quality to survive. The government must ensure equity of access on merit by permitting institutes to set their own fees and recover costs in a transparent manner, for which state guaranteed loans are easily available. The state must step in to provide support for non-professional fields and vocational programs, but there is no reason to subsidize education in an IIT or IIM or ISI. It must focus on higher education investment on building a few world-class, full-service universities that will produce the country’s intellectuals and engineers of the future. India must not squander this opportunity or otherwise “Make in India” would just be a slogan!

Is the RSS one happy family?: VHP’s efforts to derail Modi by Aseem Prakash


Few will dispute that the Modi government wants to focus on governance and economic development.Ghar Wapasi, Love Jihad, and Ayodhya are not on its agenda.
This is not surprising because the swing voter (especially the youth) is focused on jobs, and development, and not on religious strife. Recall the BJP’s disastrous showing in the 2014 UP by-elections when it raked up the issue of Love Jihad. It is, therefore, puzzling that the RSS, which should have vested interest in the BJP’s success, has not reined in its other front organization, the VHP.

Why so? There are two plausible theories: the personal animosity between Togadia and Modi (a point that Madhu Kishtwar has made previously), and the desire of RSS leaders to seek glory by making shocking pronouncements, a tendency that is encouraged by the mass media.

First, Togadia versus Modi. The English press and the Delhi’s chattering classes seldom recognize that the RSS is not a Stalinist, unitary organization. Personal ambitions and personality clashes abound. Modi and Togadia harbor deep animosity towards each (So does, for example, Modi and Sanjay Joshi, an ambitious RSS pracharak). While it is difficult to pin point when the Modi versus Togadia clash began, many would agree that Modi’s ascendency to the position of Gujarat CM and his desire to be his own man precipitated this clash. As a CM of Gujarat, Modi sought to focus on governance, and not saffronization. Importantly, he began ignoring Togadia (and even sacked his crony such as Zapadia from the Council of Ministers).

But to focus on governance, Modi had to take on the RSS. For example, Modi locked horns with RSS sponsored Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) when he decided not to roll back of tariff on electricity supplied to the farming sector (http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/pm-may-intervene-in-gujarat-power-row-104012801067_1.html). While sensible economic policies such as these eventually led Gujrat became a power surplus state from a chronically power deficit one, it antagonized BKS.

Modi did not shy away from confronting the VHP on religious issues either. His government forcefully tackled an endemic Indian problem: encroachment of public space by religious structures. Consequently, Modi’s government demolished nearly 200 temples in Gandhinagar which led VHP’s Ashok Singhal to compare Modi with Mahmud Ghazni (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/news/History-of-how-Modi-and-Togadia-fell-out/articleshow/34068095.cms).

Togadia also noted:
“The BJP which claims to be a Hindu party is moving away from its ideology and is acting against Hindu society at large…Never in the past has even a Congress government imposed a ban on the carrying of ‘trishul’, but it is this Narendra Modi government which banned it during a BJP rally in Bhavnagar. …. Is this what we dreamt of, for a Hindu government in Gujarat? Certainly not,” said Togadia (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Modi-govt-not-pro-Hindu-Togadia/articleshow/2258132.cms)

Going beyond making statements, during the 2007 Gujarat Assembly elections, Togadia joined hands with Keshubhai Patel’s Parivartan Party to take on Modi. As it turned out, Modi prevailed in elections; Keshubhai was routed.

But Togadia refuses to shut up. I expect him (and other VHP functionaries) to launch agitations and make provocative statements to embarrass Modi.

Why is the RSS then not reining in the VHP and Togadia? Here is the second theory. The proliferation of mass media has created perverse incentives for leaders to seek glory by making provocative statements and to see their pronouncements getting discussed on television (ideally, on Arnab Goswami’s show with Arnab shouting, Mr. X. Do you support the statement by Mr. Y on this?). This publicity bug seems to have infected RSS leaders (other parties as well; Tharoor, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Jairam Ramesh, Mohd. Azam Khan, and on and on). From insignificant leaders such as Rajeshwar Singh of the Dharam Jagran Samiti (and who famously declared that by 2021, the DJS will convert all Muslims and Christians to Hinduism; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2879597/We-free-India-Muslims-Christians-2021-DJS-leader-vows-continue-ghar-wapsi-plans-restore-Hindu-glory.html), to Mohan Bhagwat, all seek this perverse glory. How can then the RSS rein in the VHP? If Togadia is told to shut up, then Bhagwat will need to keep quite as well!

Who loses? Modi government gets distracted. It spends political capital dousing these fires, and not on constructive activities which can solve the numerous problems India faces.

On this count, inducting Kiran Bedi in BJP is a positive move because she is not an RSS/VHP person. With such individual hopefully in leadership positions, Modi’s dependence on the RSS diminishes and his degrees of freedom increase.

Eventually, Modi will need to strike, more quickly than he perhaps thinks or hopes. Of course, one might suggest that he is giving VHP types sufficient rope to hang themselves. I don’t think the swing voter will patiently wait this out.

Modi’s Cultural Revolution; But Not Mao Style by Aseem Prakash

PM Modi recently asked “all secretaries to visit district of their first posting and present a report card on progress with a view to improving implementation of government programs. The secretaries, according to a letter by the Department of Personnel and Training, have been advised to take their families along for such visits. The report card would have to be submitted by the end of this month” (http://www.dailypioneer.com/top-stories/pm-asks-secretaries-to-visit-first-district-of-posting.html).

This is an interesting idea. It reminds me of my first job in Procter and Gamble (P&G). In the first year, all management trainees were asked to do a stint in Sales. We had to visit shops with the P&G Sales representatives, understand how P&G products got placed in shops, how shopkeepers thought about P&G products, marketing, advertising, distribution, margins, etc. We also participated in the monthly Sales meetings to understand how district-wise sales targets were arrived at, and how P&G sales representatives developed strategies to fulfill these targets.

While I found the Sales experience to be exhilarating and refreshing, l recall the opposition from some of my colleagues who worked in functional areas such as Finance, R&D, and Logistics which did not have a directly bearing on Marketing or Sales. They argued that the Sales training module was a waste of their time because it was irrelevant for their functional expertise. P&G top management, however, was not impressed by this argument and continued its policy. I recall Gurcharan Das (CEO of P&G) noting that every manager must appreciate P&G’s core activity: selling its products.

Gurcharan was correct — this is what I thought then and this is what I think now. Managers working in the head office often get disconnected with ground level realities. This disconnect is pervasive in other professions as well. I see this in my new profession, academia, all the time. A large number of academics make empirical claims and master sophisticated techniques but virtually never do field work. They use secondary data without understanding how these number were generated. Some are even more extreme: as a doctoral student in the mid-1990s, I recall a distinguished professor working in the area of global conflict saying that s/he does not care about the Rwanda genocide because it was not in his/her dataset.

How to counter elitism? Is Mao the answer? While Mao’s Cultural Revolution sought to solidify Mao’s hold over the communist party and to discredit his opponent, its stated purpose was to change the culture of elitism by forcing the urban elites to rediscover rural realities. Most China scholars consider the Cultural Revolution to be a big failure. It unleashed unprecedented violence and destroyed much of intellectual capital China had accumulated post 1949. In contrast, Modi’s directive is quite sensible. It does not promise revolutionary change; it does not identify the enemy within and calls on the Red guards to uproot the counter revolutionaries. Instead, Modi’s directive asks top bureaucrats to rediscover and confront ground-level realities. By sending them back to areas where they had their first exposure to public administration, these individuals (vested with enormous power) will get the opportunity to ponder (and assess) whether their policies make a difference at the ground level.

PM Modi has interesting and innovative ideas on governance. I hope he can enthuse and motivate his Ministers and bureaucrats to truly imbibe his good governance agenda.