First thoughts on the Cabinet

Around 12 noon today (Singapore time), the Press Information Bureau (PIB) of the Government of India had released the names of all the Cabinet Ministers in the Government of Mr. Narendra Modi with their respective portfolios. Last night, I watched the swearing-in ceremony. It was a proud moment for all of us when we saw Shri. Modi-ji officially became the 15th Prime Minister of India.

When I sent out the list from the PIB, one of my friends wrote back that she was quite aghast not to find Dr. Arun Shourie and Suresh Prabhu in the list. Another friend wrote that it was wrong not to have included elders like Dr. M.M. Joshi and Shri. Advani-ji. Of course, a third friend wrote that it was good to see a Prime Minister choose his own cabinet after what felt like ages.

A statement put out by Modi-ji’s office on Sunday gave rise to expectations of a very lean, very smartly re-organised and restructured Central Cabinet. In the final analysis, that was not quite what it turned out to be. In that sense, expectations raised by that statement remain unmet so far.

Rural and Agriculture related matters have four Ministries – Rural Development, Agriculture, Food and Civil Supplies (PDS) and Food Processing. There is the odd combination of I&B and Environment as well as Finance and Defence. Quite clearly, these things will be set right in due course. Mr. Arun Jaitley has said as much in his first remarks as the Cabinet Minister. [Link]. The present Cabinet is still a work-in-progress.

Business Standard expressed its disappointment forthrightly. MINT found bright spots in this article, such as the maximum age ceiling, number of youngsters, number of women in the Cabinet, etc.

Sandipan Deb had an interesting view on Modi’s message to China through his appointment of former Army General V.K. Singh as the MoS with independent charge of Northeast and also as MoS for external affairs, headed by Ms. Sushma Swaraj.

Similarly, R. Jagannathan has a persuasive argument on the method and smartness behind Modi’s choice of Ministers.

[Parenthetically, one should read his piece on the shocking and brazen method of deficit reduction adopted by the former Finance Minister Chidambaram by transferring surplus from oil producing companies to downstream oil companies. This makes a mockery of deficit reduction. Strange that many mainstream news outlets have not called him out on it]

A final thought from my wife, not with respect to any specific Cabinet member but said more generally: in films, sometimes, ‘run-of-the-mill’ actors come to life and put in stellar performance in the hands of an able Director. I suppose the analogy is obvious.

Few days ago, she had posted an interesting allegorical message on her Facebook page. Here is the ‘copied and pasted’ version below:

I am in love with a massive heritage property. It has everything. A gorgeous house filled with artifacts, paintings surrounded by flora, fauna, flowing streams. The house also has diverse residents. Some need serious help. Elderly, poor, children. The care-takers who were in place for the past ten years have done a bad job. The roof is leaking, the garden is dying, a lot of residents are starving. Some are not educated. Some don’t have appropriate jobs. In parts the house is crumbling. Some rogue neighbors are claiming ownership. The care takers could not be bothered. They looted, cheated, enjoyed a good life, did not answer questions.

Finally, the co-owners have managed to find a new care-taker. He seems sincere, committed, focused on bringing about change.

The co-owners are now barking instructions at him:

“Mend the roof”
“Feed the elderly”
“What about the garden?”
“Who will restore the paintings?”
“Make friends with the neighbors but teach the bullies a lesson”
“Reclaim our land”
“The stream ways are polluted. Clean that up first!”
“Don’t leave out some residents because they are different!”

Some of the co-owners who did not like him and wanted a different care-taker are saying “We are all watching! One screw up and we are waiting to say I told you so.”

Ten years of decay will take at least three years to bring the house to a livable state. It may take many more to restore the house to its full glory. Co-owners have to be patient, supportive and constructive.

What am I doing right now? I am full of optimism and I am praying for the care-taker and for my maternal home.

This is a gem

Last summer, just as the crisis began to bite, a senior banker told me that “from now on we will only lend when we understand the risks involved”. I did wonder what they had been doing up until then.

This is from the speech delivered by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alastair Darling in the UK in June 2009. I found a reference to this remark in the book, ’23 things they do not teach you about capitalism’ by Ha-Joon Chang. A delightful and very thought-provoking book.

Indian commentators critical of Indian public sector banks and their current problems with bad and non-performing debt have some consolation that the problem of credit risk assessment is neither unique to public sector banks nor to banks in India.

‘Liberal’ (with) inconsistencies

The UPA government enshrined many legal Rights – Right to Food, Right to Education, Right to Information, etc. They amounted to nothing. If they had enacted the ‘Right to lie and distort’, they could have claimed overwhelming success because many of their fellow so-called ‘liberal’ travellers in India and even abroad practise it freely. Of course, the only catch is that it has been widely practised even before.

Here is a list that exemplifies the fundamental ‘Right to Lie and Distort’ (Most of the list is known to us. There is nothing new here. But, it is good to assemble them in one place for easy recollection):

(1) It is a mistake to deify and present a ‘larger than life’ image of Modi. He is not God. But, Raghuram Rajan, for example, can be projected as such. That is, without him, RBI, India, the Indian currency and everything else will be doomed. [I have nothing personal against Raghuram Rajan. In fact, it is the opposite. I think, he has done a very good job, so far. But, it is the inconsistency that I am pointing out here because RBI is an institution that has distinguished itself over decades under different heads. That does not matter].

(2) Modi is not responsible for Gujarat’s economic success but Modi alone is responsible for the post-Godhra riots.

(3) Relentless and huge rise in inflation under UPA  is due to the spike in the price of crude oil that was global. But, growth under UPA had nothing to do with global forces or lagged effects in economics. It is all UPA’s achievement.

(4) If Western nations go after Islamic terrorists, it is not ‘Christian Nationalist’ policies. But, BJP will always be ‘Hindu Nationalist’. [Actually, it is no problem for us to accept that we are both Hindus and nationalist. But, it is the pejorative sense in which it is inconsistently applied that escapes (deliberately, perhaps?) most commentators].

(5) We are ‘educated, broad-minded, globally concerned, socially aware Hindus’. That is why we will demand that BJP be inclusive and demand that Muslims be not ignored or unfairly treated. Nary a squeak will escape our mouths at the past and present ethnic cleansing in the Kashmir Valley, at the mass exodus of Kashmir Pandits from Kashmir, at the systematic annihilation of Hindus and their assets in Bangladesh and Pakistan.

(6) We will analyse to death Modi’s remarks during and after Gujarat 2002 riots but we will not utter a word against Rajiv Gandhi’s remarks on the shaking of the earth when a mighty tree fell.

(7) We will call the death of Muslims in Gujarat riots a pogrom but we shall not label the death of 8000 Sikhs in 1984 riots as a pogrom.

(8) We will insist on calling Dr. Manmohan Singh a good man and not divisive even though he lied in calling RSS responsible for deaths of Sikhs in 1984 and lost his election in 1999 but we will repeat that question marks linger over Modi’s inclusiveness towards all Indians.

(9) We will call Modi power-hungry, authoritarian and a Hitler, forgetting his three election victories in a democratic process in Gujarat (and now the fourth one nationally) but we will not call Sonia’s unaccountable and extra-constitutional behaviour as authoritarian or dictatorial.

(10) Hindu-majority India may grow at 6%, 7%, 9% and 10% but only when it grows at 3% to 4% we will call it the ‘Hindu rate of growth’.

Anti-Modi Antidote

Here is someone writing for a western newspaper (FT) who finally gets it (ht: Arun Kumar):

Now, the private sector’s faith in Mr Modi and his mandate can become self-fulfilling. [Link]

In other words, he understands that all those who are splitting hairs on which matters rest with States and what rests with the Centre are missing the wood for the trees as they did, when they projected  the number of seats the BJP would get.

This mandate, simply put, is about Hinduism even more than Hindu nationalism, or secularism. It might sound paradoxical, but by running on a promise of universal good, rather than on divisive identity-rhetoric, Mr. Modi has re-established a very Hindu way of looking at the world. This is important to recognize, because the anointed secular position against Mr. Modi, though seemingly a good thing–for secularism is a good thing in my view — has very little intellectual, emotional, or moral purchase in large sections of India’s young today. We need to recognize that, and to respect that. [Link – ht. Chandrasekhar Gupta]

The paragraph above is from an article in ‘Huffington Post’ by one Mr. Vamsee Juluri and it is worth reproducing in full. But, I had just picked out a few lines. Some one gets it finally and very well too.

From Indian newspapers:

I used to read Jason Burke quite a bit in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even though he writes for the ‘Guardian’, he is no misled and misleading left-liberal hypocrite. His piece published in India’s ET is a good one. His final parting shot is a good one.

Our own home-grown Siddharth Singh has written about the information bubble that Delhi’s opiated intellectuals fed and feasted on. He could have called it an ‘incestuous information bubble’ because each one fed off the other and believed their stories to be the authentic representation of India. Good stuff, Siddharth [Link]

I understand that Ms. Gayatri Chandrasekaran is a new journalist with MINT. She has been writing some very good stuff on happenings in foreign soil (e.g., Boko Haram). This piece is a very good one and, if I am not mistaken, probably her first on domestic matters. Her conclusion is similar to the one written by Vamsee Juluri in ‘Huffington Post’, linked above:

When they fear and dismiss Modi’s idea of India as “exclusionist”, are they not doing the same thing when they reject any idea of India which is not what they thought should have been the result of this election? [Link]

Bravo!

A letter to the Indian PM-elect

This column took four drafts and a consultation or two. Some were surprised that I had addressed Shri. Modi-ji as ‘Dear Mr. Narendra Modi’. It is not my choice.

Also, in hindsight, the last sentence could have been replaced with the following:

“Indian politicians take themselves so seriously that they fail to notice when the public ceases to do so’.

The article in the MINT site is here.

Mon, May 19 2014. 07 01 PM IST

Preparing for 2019 elections

Governance is about resisting the temptation to become acceptable to all, especially to the faux intellectuals of India

Dear Mr. Narendra Modi,

Vanakkam. You have defied all odds to become the prime minister and you have led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a stupendous victory that no one foresaw—except perhaps yourself—when you were made the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. That you overcame tremendous odds stacked against you in the campaign phase is a good augury for tackling the infinitely more challenging governance phase. Hope and optimism are the appropriate feelings for now. However, some have to remain paranoid so that others can work on turning hope and optimism into reality.

First is that the outgoing United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has literally scorched the earth for the new government. Bankrupt banks, bloated budgets, ballooning prices and bulging unemployment are few of the examples of things that have gone grievously wrong for the country under the UPA. UPA-I reaped the benefits of the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) policy decisions. UPA-II reaped the cost of UPA-I’s missteps. Now, NDA will face the consequences of UPA-II’s plunder and blunders. On the polling day(s) in 2019, voters might be a disaffected and dissatisfied lot if fixing the economy takes time. In other words, it will be perilous for you to ignore lags in policy consequences. You should release a white paper, in all languages, on the situation that your government has inherited in various areas. Please talk to citizens regularly to keep us informed of the progress you are making in removing the landmines set for your government by the UPA government and to expose those—inside and outside the BJP—who obstruct that task.

The second is largely in your hands. It is about resisting the temptation to become acceptable to all, especially to the English-speaking faux intellectuals of India. Having failed to stop you in the election, pseudo-secular and pseudo-intellectual types will use this old trick in the book. Please read carefully the following sentence, for example, in this The Wall Street Journal article:

“Among the issues pushed by Hindu nationalists: limiting affirmative-action-type programs for Muslims, taking a harder line with majority-Muslim neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh and advancing a conservative Hindu cultural agenda.”

It deliberately mixes up domestic and foreign policy matters and conflates the issues at hand. Ending affirmative action programmes that are not means-tested is a fiscal necessity, at the very least. Taking a hard line with Bangladesh on illegal immigration into India and its treatment of Hindus is an action that any self-respecting Indian leader should take. Similarly, dealing with Pakistan as a perpetrator of terrorism on Indian soil and not viewing it as a fellow victim of terror are long overdue. These are actions that Americans would expect the US government to take and if it did, neither The Wall Street Journal nor The New York Times will call the US government, “Christian Nationalist”.

If you were to take these actions, you will be tagged anti-Muslim. If you shy away from them simply to prove your detractors wrong, you will be implementing their agenda and not yours. Although it is a simple ploy, most humans craving acceptability among the “elites”, fall for it. But, in any courtship—real or fake—the one who plays harder to get, wins.

Third, your party’s manifesto correctly noted that it was imperative for a nation to know its roots and that future generation of Indians should be proud of the culture, heritage and history of India (Pages 1 and 22 of the English version). The Central Board of Secondary Education has created an elective course on indian traditional knowledge systems for standards XI and XII. Student response has been lukewarm. You should champion this elective course and ensure that Indian students finish their school years aware and proud of their country’s accomplishments.

Fourth, it is possible that historic mandates are wasted. Two examples in our own living memory are that of the mandates given to the Janata Party in 1977 and to Rajiv Gandhi in 1984. Both of them lost the idea of the purpose behind power. One was consumed by egos and in the other case, perhaps, the system triumphed over sincerity.

Hence, it is good to constantly remind yourself of what Lord Krishna told Arjuna in Kurukshetra (chapter 11 and verse 33 of the Bhagawad Gita)—”nimitta-matram bhava savya-sacin”. You are an instrument chosen by him to provide a government of, for and by dharma. As long as you govern with that spirit leading a generation of (all) Indians to a life of security and prosperity, it will be the duty of the country to keep returning you to office.

One way to stick to that path and mindset is to employ a couple of persons, whose loyalties and intellect are beyond any doubt, tasked only to keep you grounded. You have achieved a Congress-mukt Bharat for now; more important is to achieve a Congress-culture (sycophancy)-mukt Bharat.

The fifth and final thought for you is to persuade Indian politicians to accept that self-deprecation is a sign of self-confidence by setting a personal example. Indian politicians can loosen up quite a bit.

Sincerely,

Anantha Nageswaran

V. Anantha Nageswaran is co-founder of Aavishkaar Venture Fund and Takshashila Institution. Comments are welcome at baretalk@livemint.com. To read V. Anantha Nageswaran’s previous columns, go to http://www.livemint.com/baretalk

Response to Gopal Krishna Gandhi

My response is inserted in the appropriate places. His original piece appears in quotes and in italics.

An open letter to Narendra Modi

By Gopalkrishna Gandhi

The BJP has won the seats it has because you captured the imagination of 31 per cent of our people (your vote share) as the nation’s best guardian, in fact, as its saviour. It has also to be noted that 69 per cent of the voters did not see you as their rakhvala . They also disagreed on what, actually, constitutes our Desh. And this — the concept of desh — is where, Mr. Modi, the Constitution of India, upon the authority of which you are entering the office of Prime Minister, matters. I urge you to revisit the idea of Desh .

This comment about the vote share is disingenuous because it is not a phenomenon peculiar to the 2014 elections. With too many parties contesting elections, votes get scattered. This reminds me of an email I received two days ago.

A friend sent me a statement of seats that BJP would have been entitled to, under proportional representation. Apparently, it is 169. All this ingenious statistical analyses were probably discovered only after Mr. Modi won the elections.  Had ‘proportional representation’ been applied to elections in 2004 and in 2009, the Congress and the UPA would not have come to office at all and we would have been spared ten years of incompetence, inaction and inglorious plunder and loot of the nation.

Let me get more specific with numbers:

In the 2004 elections UPA (a post-poll alliance) vote share was 35.4% and the Congress vote share was 26.53%. We had the Prime Minister of the country chosen form a party that three in four Indians did not vote for! Even more painful is the fact that, in the seats contested, both the BJP and the Congress had received 34.4% of the votes. The Congress won 145 of 400 seats contested and the BJP won 138 of 364 seats contested. BJP had done better. Yet, the Nation was subjected to the ignominy of a UPA government with Prakash Karat and the NAC holding the country to ransom.

In the 2009 elections, which was supposed to be a positive vote for UPA-I, the UPA (this time, a pre-poll alliance) vote share was 37.2%. About 63% of the country did not vote for them. That did not stop them for running everything to ground in the country or Ms. Mamata Banerjee from holding the government and the nation to ransom with her opposition to policies.

I did not recall Shri. GKG writing open letters either to the NAC, Ms. Sonia Gandhi or to Prakash Karat about more than 60% of the country not having voted for their loot-and-scoot policies. I will be happy to be proven wrong.

In the 2014 elections, in the 427 seats it contested, the BJP is supposed to have won a 38% vote share. I do not have the exact figure. (Happy to be corrected here too).  But, the fact is that NDA had 22 parties in its fold. Hence, the vote share of the NDA has to be considered. Naturally, vote for a NDA ally was a vote for the NDA PM Candidate. Hence, saying that 69% did not vote for him is plain wrong. It is a serious error.

Here is a news-item that Mr. GKG could read at leisure and draw his own conclusions on Modi’s and BJP’s mandate.

Reassuring the minorities

Why is there, in so many, so much fear, that they dare not voice their fears?

It is because when you address rallies, they want to hear a democrat who carries the Peoplehood of India with him, not an Emperor who issues decrees. Reassure the minorities, Mr. Modi, do not patronise them.

Patronising the minorities has been the problem or the prerogative of the Congress party and the so-called secularists. Asking them to pull up their socks and fight poverty and not fight Hindus is not a patronising statement but a sincere call to make them choose their priorities. Mr. GKG is addressing the wrong person here.

“Development” is no substitute to security. You spoke of “the Koran in one hand, a laptop in the other,” or words to that effect. That visual did not quite reassure them because of a counter visual that scares them — of a thug masquerading as a Hindu holding a Hindu epic’s DVD in one hand and a minatory trishul in the other.

This country has revelled in symbolism for the last several decades – politicians attending Iftaar parties, visiting mosques, etc. The key is to ask what has been done in substance.

This morning, I read good friend Andy Mukherjee’s incisive column in Business Standard.  He mentions a fact that I did not know until then. It was the Congress Party that had introduced free power to farmers in 1977 in Andhra Pradesh. The rest of the political parties followed suit.  For nearly four decades. The rest is (disastrous) history.

How much damage has it caused – In material terms; in human terms?  To India’s water table; to India’s water quality; to India’s soil fertility; to agricultural produce; how many million homes have gone without power for how many million hours; the poor, the Dalits and the minorities going without electricity in their huts, small tenements, eating, studying, living and sleeping with creepy crawlies and poisonous ones at that.

Has any commentator called the Congress Party to account for their crimes of omission and commission in governance because of which we have probably 240 million abject poor and another 360 million who are flirting with poverty. One serious injury, one health setback or one failed crop would push them over the line into poverty.

Why doesn’t this shock us while demonising (I am not suggesting that Shri. GKG demonises him. He doesn’t) Modi comes to many naturally? Can we write about this and not about who carried what DVD in their hands?

In the olden days, headmasters used to keep a salted cane in one corner of the classroom, visible and scary, as a reminder of his ability to lash the chosen skin. Memories, no more than a few months old, of the riots in Muzaffarnagar which left at least 42 Muslims and 20 Hindus dead and displaced over 50,000 persons, are that salted cane. “Beware, this is what will be done to you!” is not a threat that anyone in a democracy should fear. But that is the message that has entered the day’s fears and night’s terrors of millions.

Let us get a few things straight again: First, let us be thankful to Shri. GKG for mentioning the numbers of deaths of Hindus and Muslims.

But, let us also remind him that Muzaffarnagar riots happened in UP before elections in a State ruled by a so-called secularist. Law and Order is a State subject. If Modi could be held solely responsible for post-Godhra riots by these secularists (in whose eyes he is not responsible for Gujarat’s successes but only for failures), why is there no mention of the Yadav clan in UP?

If ‘day’s fears and night’s terrors’ have entered the minds of millions, it behoves Shri. GKG to ask the question of who is responsible for that. Is it someone who provided riot-free governance for more than a decade – something unprecedented in the history of Gujarat?

An objective social commentator would use the occasion to ask some questions of the community itself and question the responsibility of other political parties, social activists and commentators for this state of mind, so that they could pose (only that) as their guardians.

In one of his film songs, the late M.G. Ramachandran said that unless a thief chose to reform himself, theft and robbery cannot be eradicated. That applies to many things in lives of individuals and in the economic and social development of communities and nations. Hard questions need to be asked.

What has been taken as your stand on Article 370 of the Constitution, the old and hackneyed demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and what the media have reported as your statements about “Hindu refugees” in our North and North-West and “Muslim refugees” in our East and North-East, strikes fear, not trust. Mass fear, Mr. Modi, cannot be an attribute of the Republic of India. And, as Prime Minister of India, you are the Republic’s alter ego.

It is wrong to conflate domestic and foreign policy issues. Illegal immigration is a big issue in the Northeastern States as are the activities of Christian Missionaries in those States. Shri. GKG should not treat these matters perfunctorily.

The BJP Manifesto’ stand on the Uniform Civil Code and on Article 370 are clear.

When you reconstitute the Minorities Commission, ask the Opposition to give you all the names and accept them without change. And do the same for the panels on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and Linguistic Minorities. And when it comes to choosing the next Chief Information Commissioner, the next CAG, CVC, go sportingly by the recommendation of the non-government members on the selection committee, as long as it is not partisan. You are strong and can afford such risks.

Did Ms. Sonia Gandhi consult even her PM when she constituted the National Advisory Council? Did Shri. GKG not know that Ms. SG and her son lacked the grace and decency to congratulate Mr. Modi? Given their bad faith and mala fide, why should Mr. Modi accept the suggestions they make, without demur?

Good that Shri. GKG introduced the caveat of ‘non-partisan’ for his other recommendations.

Imperial and ideological exemplars appeal to you. So, be Maharana Pratap in your struggle as you conceive it, but be an Akbar in your repose. Be a Savarkar in your heart, if you must, but be an Ambedkar in your mind. Be an RSS-trained believer in Hindutva in your DNA, if you need to be, but be the Wazir-e-Azam of Hindostan that the 69 per cent who did not vote for you, would want you to be.

The 69% is wrong again.

With every good wish as you take your place at the helm of our desh ,

I am, your fellow-citizen,

Gopalkrishna Gandhi