The mission for the messiah

What was the most positive aspect of the results to the five State elections in India? The failure of AAP to capture power in Punjab. We do not know yet the implications of the BJP’s resounding victory in Uttar Pradesh. It could be a force for positive change or it could hasten hubris. Right now, we do not know even as we hope for the former outcome. Why AAP not coming to office is a good outcome?

In February, former Punjab police chief had warned that the Aam Aadmi Party was giving platform to radicals . Harish Khare, after the elections wrote the following Edit for ‘The Tribune’:

Many citizens had prayed that AAP would be the party to deliver Punjab from the Badals. Its appeal was anchored in its promise of subversion of the status quo. AAP did produce a subaltern alliance of the extreme left and the extreme right, and that, in the end, proved to be its undoing. The voters were not sure of AAP’s ability to first create anarchy and then carve a working order out of the chaos. Punjab had lost its taste for anarchy once for all after the ‘militancy’ was defanged. [Link]

That the people of Punjab rejected the anarchy of AAP is the good thing and the most heartening thing about the outcome of the elections to the five States.

Now, let us come to Uttar Pradesh (UP). There are two interpretations. One is that the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) were rigged and tampered with and the other is that no one understood the voters, their sentiment, etc.

The first is the easy route to take. That is what Mayawati has taken. But, there is a fatal flaw. If one suspected it, one should have sounded the alarm well before the outcomes were announced. Two, it is difficult to get rid of the suspicion that the accusation is a consequence of the unfavourable outcome and nothing more. So, we have to dismiss that. That leaves us with the second explanation – that no one has a clue about what they were writing about or analysing.

Accepting them would take a lot of humility and lot less of hubris. It would also point to the fact that all those who did not want this outcome were once again deluding themselves by talking to each other and thus reinforcing each other. Conversations in echo chambers. The so-called intellectuals have repeated it so often in recent times – both in India and outside – that one has to wonder if the American economist-academics who came up with the theory of rational expectations were so rational after all!

Einstein is said to have called it stupidity – sticking to failed methods. That applies to intellectual analysis too. That is what the pundits have done over and over again. They have allowed their prejudice against the Indian Prime Minister to cloud their reason, if they had one to begin with. They made the cardinal error of conflating what they like to see happen and what is likely to happen. A forecaster should never commit that mistake.

Post-elections, they continue to make that mistake. This is an example – an epitome of a confused and ‘unwilling to confront oneself’ mind. I can parade many others naked here. But, this blog is not a nudist camp.

Shekhar Gupta does not do a bad job here, however, in contrast, to the one cited above.

As for the BJP, the Party President Amit Shah said that the victories had vindicated their pro-poor, pro-backward and pro-Dalit policies:

Shah called UP a universal verdict that confirmed the people’s acceptance of the BJP as a pro-poor, pro-Dalit, pro-backward party. [Link]

Nothing wrong in being ‘pro’ all three. But, what is wrong is to let them degenerate into anti-others. We have to wait for that.

The Prime Minister too had said, in his thanksgiving speech to his party workers, that he had sympathy for the plight of the middle class but they had to wait until the poor were empowered, for their turn, or something to that effect.

The middle class is the most burdened section, burdened of tax, societal norms… This burden needs to go and that will happen once the poor are empowered to shoulder their own burdens. [Link]

These are my questions:

Shouldn’t they be parallel and not sequential? What prevents them from being parallel? If it is about resources, there are many other ways to relieve the burden on the middle class.

Couldn’t relieving the burden of the middle classes with respect to tax be helpful in the fight against poverty too, by possibly boosting economic activity, employment opportunities and government revenues?

Will a sequential approach not run the risk of seeing some members of the so-called middle classes slipping into poverty with one health shock or business adversity?

In true IIM-A (my alma mater) style, I wrote a column for MINT titled, ‘What should Narendra Modi do now and why?’ yesterday.  It was an article that balanced much that has been accomplished in the last three years with the failings. The problem, as Gulzar and I had written in ‘Can India grow?’, no matter how much one does, there is plenty that remains to be done.

The scope of India’s development challenges is colossal. Many things are both important and urgent. Lot needs to be done. I have spelt out a few of them in the MINT column.

I have just a little bit left of the book, ‘The Fix’ written by Jonathan Tepperman, the editor of ‘Foreign Affairs’. It is a story of leaders from differen countries that made a lasting impact for the better in their situations. Now, the book is a journalistic account. It is somewhat superficial. Not very, though.

The book is honest enough to admit that the stories had not really ended well or that everyone lived happily ever after. Actually, the more one uses that as a criticism, the more one realises the stupidity of it. Things never remain the same with very rare execptions. Indeed, bad situations continue far longer than good situations. Contexts change and even people change, even if they are not replaced. So, things can deteriorate. Luck plays a very important role.

But ,there are plenty of lessons for the Indian Prime Minister from the successes of the first President of Botswana and the current Mexican President. A full review of the book is necessary, especially the chapters pertaining to these two leaders and that of Brazil and Rwanda.

I will just write about the Mexican President’s achievement. Due credit must be extended to Opposition parties too. They worked on a ‘pact’ for several months in total secrecy after the elections and achieved major policy reforms as a result of the agreement they reached among themselves. The process must be an important case study for Indian politicians and the present government too.

I will just end this post with one paragraph from the book:

But despite these flaws—or, more likely, because of them—the Pact worked amazingly well. When Congress opened for business at the start of 2013, the truce held and Mexico’s leaders abandoned warfare for legislating. Working together over the next year and a half, they managed to enact eighty-five far-reaching changes ( generally with 80 percent legislative support ) in all the areas mentioned above—education, taxes, banking, antitrust, and elections—as well as to the criminal code and transparency standards; they even increased tariffs on junk food to fight Mexico’s fast-growing diabetes epidemic. To appreciate how profound these accomplishments were, try to imagine the US Congress doing something analogous, like passing immigration, tax, banking, and campaign-finance reform—all at the same time. And then remember that the animosity between Mexico’s political parties was as bitter, if not more so, than the divisions between Republicans and Democrats in the United States.

I had earlier linked to a review of this book by Paul Collier here. That is what prompted me to order the book, in fact. I had also criticised Tepperman’s stereotypical negative references of President Trump in a session he moderated at the LKY School of Public Policy in January in Singapore.

Now, you know why I was somewhat uncomfortable about the Prime Minister’s sequencig of empowering the poor and then relieving the burden on the middle class.

Postscript: Just wondering if it would not have been in the best interests of preparation and attitude for the Prime Minister and his party to approach 2019 as an underdog rather than the top dog because hubris usually spares few leaders. Check out the website of the Daedalus Trust.


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