Monday, May 25, 2015

Faced with Agresive Opposition .... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ May 24, 2015

Faced with Aggressive Opposition, Faster Execution of Ideas to be Modi's Real Test in Year Two

Narendra Modi

The golden principle of a vibrant democracy is that the Opposition should have its say and the government must have a way. During the first year of the Modi government, this rule has been violated with a vengeance. Narendra Modi sped into 7 Race Course, powered by a massive mandate from the people of India. His mission, model and mantra were fully endorsed by the voters who gave him 282 Lok Sabha seats. So, it isn’t unfair or unreasonable on his part to demand a full say in the governance of the nation. But has he been able to? The corrosive confrontations between the PM and the Opposition make it apparent that Modi has been denied his right to govern according to the manifesto on which he rode to power, obliterating his opponents. His admirers claim that in every state, a frustrated opposition led by the Congress obstructs the NDA government. Modi has ensured relatively corruption-free governance. He has taken India’s global acceptability on a vertical trajectory. The nation is much more stable—politically and economically—than during the vulnerable and venal decades that had excoriated the national morale.

The entire Opposition has become politically schizophrenic—on one hand stalling important legislation in both Houses of Parliament and on the other, moaning about the denial of their right to be heard. The truth, however, lies in between. It is quite evident that 365 days of Modi Raj not only redefined the style of governance but also the role of the Opposition in a single party rule after almost 25 years.
It is true that the NDA government in its attempt to deliver more than it had promised rushed through various decisions without taking the collective opposition into confidence. Some ministers also acted like provocatively posturing Chanticleers in Parliament, which the Opposition perceived as demonstrating the arrogance of power. For example, the latter wanted legislation on land and general sales tax to be reviewed by a parliamentary panel, but the government was determined to ram through both the Bills in a hurry. On the whole, it managed to do much business despite a determined Opposition ready to thwart it at every stage.
The government decided to celebrate its first anniversary with unprecedented savoir faire by fielding its glossiest faces and using every medium available to raise the octaves of its achievement anthem. Never before has since Independence any administration spent so much of energy and time in propagating its performance like Team Modi did in less than a week. For the Prime Minister, it was a time for showcasing his inimitable identity and unique stamp on democracy and governance. But for the Opposition, it has been an uphill task to stop his implacable juggernaut from advancing on its agenda. This is the first time since the indomitable and imperious Indira Gandhi governed the country that the entire Opposition has realised that the incumbent Prime Minister poses a real political danger not just to individuals but also to their ideologies. If in the 1970s and 80s, anti-Indiraism united parties from the extreme Left to extreme Right, Moditva has forced all non-BJP parties to forget or sink their differences and fight Modiology. It is precisely this fear, which led to all the factions of the Janata Parivar to dine and shine together to plan a merger. It is for the first time that even politically genetic enemies like the Left and Mamata Banerjee were forced to forge a tactical alliance in Parliament to prevent the NDA government from completing its legislative business. It’s Modi, with his speed and substance, who the Opposition is really afraid of. Even the Congress compromised on its various stands on major policy issues just to keep the Opposition glued together. For example, the top leadership of the party favoured supporting the GST Bill. The younger generation, however, prevailed upon the old warhorses to take an aggressive stance against Modi and in turn protect opposition unity. Modi’s one year in office has also laid the ground for a major realignment of politics, which may eventually lead to the weakening of multi-party electoral conflicts and forming a broadly twin-ideology-led political formation. Naturally the right of Centre forces will be led by Modi and the opposite factions would rally around Rahul Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik. In fact, nationwide opposition to the amended Land Bill cutting across political lines is an indicator that any controversial policy initiative by the government can lead to an ideological confrontation and force the NDA to do course corrections. Even the BJP’s master strategists and their moles couldn’t burke the Opposition’s new united avatar.
If Modi has risen in stature nationally and internationally through his mobility and agility, even the Opposition, which was desperately demoralised after the 2014 General Elections, made its presence felt and regained its lost voice. Samajwadi senapati Mulayam Singh, with just five Lok Sabha MPs, became a rallying figure for all anti-Modi forces. In addition, the Congress, which couldn’t win enough seats to even claim the office of the Leader of the Opposition, also sussed out many chinks in Modi’s armour. According to many Congress leaders, it was Modi’s rising hold and consolidation over national politics, which compelled Rahul to go for a metamorphic makeover in demeanour and delivery.
The second anniversary of the Modi government, however, would be much more interesting. By then, Modi would have faced the crucial Bihar Assembly elections and the economy would either have recovered from its current not-so-good feel situation or sunk further into ‘bure din’. Many of his major initiatives like pension schemes, Jan Dhan Yojna, Swachh Bharat and infrastructure development would come under greater scrutiny by analysts. Additionally, Year Two will be tougher for Modi to showcase any fresh innovations since the implementation of the existing ones hasn’t yet shifted from first gear. If a united Opposition is able to defeat the BJP in Bihar, it would also raise questions about the invincibility of the party and further encourage the fence-sitters to jump to where the grass seems greener. For the next 365 days, the Opposition is going to adopt the strategy to stick the ‘pro-rich government’ label on the ruling party. Modi’s detractors will continue to charge him with promoting crony capitalism in the country. The BJP cadres expect the PM to redefine the meaning of economic growth. He and his team have spoken a lot about ensuring ease in doing business in India. From now on, perhaps, Modi will talk about how to create more demand and put more money in the hands of the poor and middle class so that the manufacturing sector can bounce back from its moribund melancholy. Rather than talking about lowering lending interest rates for the corporates, Modi’s second year will be tested on how much more will he be able to do for the poor as well as his core constituents.;  Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 18, 2015

With Good politics and Better ...... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/May 17, 2015

With Good Politics and Better Economics, Amma Set to Acquire Recognition Beyond Her State

The wattage of power doesn’t always electrify the gilded chair of prominence in an office or an institution. Leaders derive their authority from their ability to lead and deliver. She may have been out of office for a while, but her power or acceptability has not been lost, either among the cadres of her party, AIADMK, or a large number of people from within and outside her state, Tamil Nadu. The coming week is likely to see 67-year-old J Jayalalithaa back on the throne at Fort St. George, Chennai. Her fatigued foes may question her acquittal by the high court, but the reality is that Amma has retained her halo of invincibility in the state. Her followers and admirers trust her for her decisive demeanour, charismatic appeal and ability to provide a responsive government. The congratulatory call Narendra Modi made to her soon after the high court verdict was not just a casual courtesy. Rarely does a Prime Minister call up a state leader after he or she wins a legal battle involving motivated graft charges. But Modi knows Jayalalithaa’s importance in both state and national politics. Controlling 48 MPs in both Houses of Parliament, Jaya can make or mar the survival chances of numerous legislative drives. By all indications, she is going to stage a grand comeback in the Assembly elections due in 2016. Pollsters are betting on her victory because the ground-level feedback reflects a tsunamic endorsement of her policies. Most people feel that she has delivered on almost all the 170-odd promises made in the 2011 state elections.

Amma’s indispensability lies not just in the numbers she controls, but also in her model of governance, which is akin to Modi’s in Gujarat earlier and now applied nationwide. Jayalalithaa is not attached to any institutionalised ideology or dogma. Her administrative direction and the nature of policies clearly indicate that she has genuinely pursued the philosophy of a welfare state in which the poor and the marginalised get priority. After 33 years in active politics, she is very much aware of the social, economic and political complexities of her state. Jayalalithaa began her administrative innings as the in-charge of the Mid-day Meal Scheme started by K Kamaraj in the 1960s and expanded exponentially by former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran in 1982. She made a huge success of the scheme, which was the first of its kind to be launched in India. Since then, she has always been in favour of allocating more money to schemes and projects, which benefit the poorest of the poor. For example, during the past four years, she has taken special interest in launching schemes that provide essential commodities at highly subsidised prices, so that the underclass does not suffer from inflationary pressures. Endeavours like Amma Canteen provide breakfast of idlis, sambhar and rice to over 10 lakh persons at Rs 1-5. This was followed by yet another initiative, the Amma Mineral Water Project, which provides clean potable water. As chief minister, Jayalalithaa also ensured that the middle and lower middle class get cement below the prevailing market rate. A limited number of cement bags costing Rs 190 each was made available to those constructing state-approved homes. She also ensured that besides being assured of water and food, the people of Tamil Nadu could also buy medicines at reasonable prices. She opened Amma Pharmacies in the state, which sell drugs at highly subsidised prices.
The astute administrator didn’t confine herself to distributing dole. During the past four years, Jaya filled a large number of vacancies in the state government, providing employment to jobless degree holders. For example, over 70,000 teachers were recruited to shorten the instruction gap in schools. There is hardly any sector which hasn’t received attention and financial support from her government. Myriad infrastructure projects, including roads, power plants, drainage, sewage lines, school buildings and the linking of rivers to improve irrigation facilities got liberal funds from the state.
Jaya’s short absence from Fort St. George had put the brakes on the implementation of her development agenda. Though Amma is a loner by nature, her bureaucracy has been stupendously successful in creating a favourable investment climate for big business. Jaya’s Vision 2023 expects an investment of $250 billion flowing into Tamil Nadu. The state accounts for 25 per cent of the national automobile output with major international corporations such as Nissan, Hyundai and BMW setting up manufacturing units there. Tamil Nadu also contributes about 18 per cent of India’s electronic goods production with the top MNCs like DELL, Samsung, Foxconn operating in the state. It is because of such a favourable investment environment that FDI had increased from $1.2 billion during 2010-11 to over $2.8 billion during the last year in the state.
Jayalalithaa has enough political clout as a popular powerhouse. Now she is determined to acquire economic superstar status as well. Already Tamil Nadu contributes 8.25 per cent of the GDP, second only to Maharashtra. It has been the fastest growing state in terms of Gross State Domestic Product. It is the state government’s fabulous fiscal management, however, which has wiped out its revenue deficit in a mere span of the past four years. When Jayalalithaa took over as CM, the deficit was Rs 3,000 crore. Last year it had a surplus of over Rs 600 crore. Surprisingly, despite splurging on social welfare schemes, Tamil Nadu is perhaps one of the few states, which have shown a healthy improvement in revenue collection. Its own tax yield as percentage of GSDP grew from a little over 8 per cent in 2010 to 11 per cent during 2013-14. In absolute terms, the state’s total revenue collection witnessed a 100 per cent increase during AIADMK’s rule, clearly indicating that significant leakages had been blocked.
Encouraged by her huge success on the political and development front, Amma has emerged as a leader who knows how to provide a pragmatic mix of good politics with better economics. Like Modi, Jayalalithaa is blessed with great oratory skills and the unquestioned loyalty of her supporters. In Modi’s new mantra of Cooperative Federalism, a powerful leader like her can play the role of both a spoiler and a supercharger. With her political rivals at home paralysed by her popularity, Jayalalithaa is now a regional leader who is all set to acquire recognition and influence beyond the geographical boundaries of her state. Modi has correctly studied the direction of the wind and wasted no time in connecting with her. He dialled the right number—One.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 11, 2015

Those Challenging India's ...... Power & Politics/ The Sunday Standard/May 10, 2015

Those Challenging India's Resolve to Crack Down on Foreign NGOs Can Do So At Their Own Peril

Richard Verma

Diplomacy is defence by design and offence through opprobrium. Envoys are expected to defend their countries even at the cost of giving offence by distorting facts and disseminating fiction. But it is undiplomatic to threaten their host country or embarrass a friendly nation. But the US ambassador to India, Richard R Verma, ignored the basic principles of civilised protocol. Last week, when the NDA government acted to ensure accountability in India’s money-minting NGO sector, Verma leapt to their aid and exculpation. Instead of using diplomatic channels to convey his government’s concerns to the home ministry, Verma chose a public platform to put the Indian government on the mat. Upset with its action against Greenpeace and Ford Foundation, Verma reflected a rare anger against Indian establishment. Speaking on the Indo-US relations, he warned, “I read with some concern the recent press reports on challenges faced by NGOs operating in India... Because a vibrant civil society is so important to both of our democratic traditions, I do worry about the potentially chilling effects of these regulatory steps focused on NGOs.” He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by the temperature metaphor, but it is evident that the US is wary of the home ministry’s order on severe scrutiny of the functioning of a large number of foreign-funded charitable organisations. It isn’t for the first time that the government decided to investigate the real motives behind the mushrooming of NGOs in India. Ever since the BJP government took over in May 2014, it has served notice on over 9,000 NGOs which failed to comply with Indian laws. Verma didn’t object then, because none of them were funded by American corporate entities or charities. His indignation surfaced only when the US outfits came under scrutiny. Last week, the government decided to probe the bank accounts of the Gates Foundation over discrepancies between the money received and spent. The foundation has refuted the allegations. Verma should have kept in mind that the scrutiny by Indian agencies is far more lenient than that of American agencies on their own charity organisations. Some of their 15-point charter of guidelines are:

• Charities should maintain and make publicly available a current list of their five highest paid or most influential employees (the key employees) and the salaries and direct or indirect benefits they receive.
• Charities are independent entities and are not part of the US government. Like all US persons, charitable organisations must comply with the laws of the US, which include, but are not limited to, all OFAC-administered sanctions programs.
• Charitable organisations are encouraged to adopt practices in addition to those required by law that provide additional assurances that all assets are used exclusively for charitable or other legitimate purposes.
• Charitable organisations should operate in accordance with governing instruments, e.g., charter, articles of incorporation, bylaws, etc. The governing instruments should: a) delineate the charity’s basic goal(s) and purpose(s); b) define the structure of the charity, including the composition of its governing body, how such body is selected and replaced, and the authority and responsibilities of the body; c) set forth requirements concerning financial reporting, accountability, and practices for solicitation and distribution of funds; d) state that the charity shall comply with all applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations.
• Charities should maintain and make publicly available a current list of members of the governing board, their salaries and affiliation with any subsidiary or affiliate of the charitable organisation.
• While fully respecting individual privacy rights, charities should maintain records of additional identifying information about the members of the governing board, such as available home, email and URL addresses, social security number, citizenship, etc.
• Charities should produce requested records maintained in accordance with these guidelines to the appropriate regulatory/supervisory and law enforcement authorities in a timely fashion.
• The charity should clearly state its goals for and purposes of soliciting funds so that anyone examining the charity’s disbursement of funds can determine whether the charity is adhering to those goals.
Verma probably feels he has legitimate justifications and fears on the intention of the probe. But India couldn’t just stand by when most NGOs were using foreign money for political activities and diverting funds to finance agitations against a number of infrastructure projects. A few years ago, a US foundation used an Indian NGO to test a vaccine on young girls in the name of child care. The government noticed the toxic fallout and banned the experiment. The increasing inflow of greenbacks from America to elitist Indian NGOs has raised suspicion among Indian agencies. Domestic NGOs received about Rs 3,800 crore during 2012-13 from the US as against around Rs 3,000 crore during 2009-10.
The Modi government has genuine reasons to suspect that many NGOs are being used to infiltrate the Indian establishment through universities, youth bodies and NGOs working in the environment field and foreign relations. Since a large number of these bodies are controlled by highly connected civil servants, corporate houses and politicians, foreign-funded organisations have also been dictating their agenda before releasing the funds. Even the choice of office-bearers and speakers at seminars, coffee table dialogues and protests organised by them are decided by foreign agencies. In the past three decades, the NGO industry has grown faster than many developing economies. India has one NGO per 400 people, and their total budget exceeds that of a big state like UP.
What has irked the Indian leadership are the sermons delivered by various foreign leaders, including US President Barack Obama. Indian intelligence agencies have enough evidence to substantiate the charge that many NGOs are behind fomenting communal tensions in India. Yet Obama made uncharitable remarks about the recent attacks on churches and other places of worship. Understandably, the Obama confraternity gets its feedback from the NGOs financed by the America’s rich. Verma’s indignation was also influenced by the views of the company he keeps in India. Since he represents the world’s most powerful democracy, he ignored the reality that India is the globe’s largest democracy. The lure of dollars may mould the minds of few greedy individuals looking for foreign jaunts and jobs, but it can’t shake the faith and commitment of the nation-shapers who matter. India is fighting to earn its legitimate supremacy in a world that is rapidly changing geopolitically, is resource-driven and terror-infested. Anyone who challenges its resolve will do so at his or her own peril.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

Monday, May 4, 2015

It's Time for Modi ....... Power & Politics/The Sunday Standard/May 03, 2015

It's Time for Modi to Ensure that Minimum Government is More Visible in Maximum Action

Narendra Modi

Politics is more about perception than performance. As Narendra Modi completes his first year in office this month, the scrutiny of his performance by both critics and admirers has breached the thermal limit. Since he conquered the harried heart of the scam-stung voter, expectations were frighteningly vertiginous. In May 2014, he set the tone and tenor of public discourse. He converted ‘development’ from being just a slogan into a manifold mission. As an oratorical oracle, Modi was able to convince all that he was the monolithic messiah who would rid India of its miseries. The Modi Model of politics and governance got unprecedented national approval. During the past 11 months, he gave India many new ideas and suggested innovations like Swachh Bharat, Make in India and Digital India.

In May 2015, however, the tide of national narrative seems to be turning. Despite Modi’s stellar achievements in foreign policy, ensuring economic stability, movement towards devolution of financial powers to the states, emphasis on infrastructure development and taming corruption, the public focus has shifted to the agrarian crisis, Ghar Wapsi and insensitive remarks made by leaders on women issues. The sudden shift from performance to perception about the nature, composition and intent of the BJP-led government is worrisome. It symbolises the chinks in the marketing strategy and inability of NDA spinmeisters to sustain the enormous goodwill towards Modi’s résumé as Gujarat’s CM.
In the fog of their fallacies, the fact that inflation has fallen significantly, the trade deficit is under control and many new initiatives have been taken in the infrastructure sector is being ignored. India’s swift intervention in restoring normalcy in earthquake-traumatised Nepal has been lauded worldwide. For the first time in the country, electricity generation in 2014-15 crossed one trillion units, showing a growth rate of 8.4 per cent over the previous year—the highest in the last two decades. The government successfully auctioned spectrum and coal mines without any questions being raised over the mode and manner of selling natural resources.
Yet, it is not Modi’s performance that is grabbing the headlines. Newspapers, opinion-makers and even diplomats are now discussing whether a rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi would be able to put the brakes on the Modi juggernaut. Undoubtedly, the BJP has become the world’s largest political outfit with the enrolment drive under party president Amit Shah taking the membership to 10 crore. Yet its sartorially obsessed spokespersons are losing out to their counterparts in other parties over ignorance on debating issues. They have made negativism their prime weapon. Even during parliamentary debates, Union ministers and senior leaders go on the defensive when facing consistent cannonade from a united opposition.
Their charges give the impression that the BJP is keen to propitiate only those who control industry and diplomacy. For a change, even Rahul found some support in the social media and seized prime time space when he dubbed the NDA as a suited and booted government. On land acquisition, Rahul’s barbs are capturing more eyeballs than the entire Team Modi. While he and other Opposition leaders wax eloquent on farmers and women’s woes, most BJP leaders are defending the Land Bill, which hardly helps the ruling party fight the battle of perception. Even though over a dozen ministers are being pummelled metaphorically on India’s streets and villages on the bill, it hasn’t prevented the ruling clique to attempt any course correction and bring the debate back to the core issue of real performance. With most of the upper echelons of government being inaccessible, the NDA government is most conspicuous by its invisibility.
Perhaps Team Modi has lost the plot. For it, ratcheting up the reform raga instead of governance appears to be the only benchmark to measure the popularity and success of the government. Its victories in getting important legislations like the Insurance Bill and FDI in defence are positive signs. Industry would be happy to see the GST Bill passed in Parliament. But all these actions have little to do with helping poor and middle class India, which wants employment, jobs, affordable housing and efficient public transport. Nothing seems to have moved on these fronts. The dismal fourth quarter results of most Indian companies indicate that the economy is ailing. For the first time in a decade, supply has stagnated with no sign of demand picking up in any sector. Exports are showing a massive fall, which may overturn the gains India had enjoyed due to the massive decline in crude prices. 
Yet, Union ministers and CMs are spending more time with business leaders from India and abroad, to invite more investment. Tycoons enjoy and broadcast these tête-à-têtes but are yet to commit to any handsome investments. They only want tax concessions and unhindered access to the Indian market. The Modi government has done much more than the UPA in terms of policy corrections to make India one of the most investor-friendly markets in the world. Yet its magnanimity hasn’t yielded many dividends so far.
In the process, its popularity in middle and rural India has significantly suffered. Poll results in the recent municipal elections in West Bengal have punctured the hype created by a few rootless BJP leaders about the party’s acceptability in the eastern state. Modi’s detractors are now awaiting the outcome of the Assembly polls in Bihar followed by West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. He would be under pressure to play to the gallery by pushing administrative decisions, which would be lauded by the rich.
But Modi has to remember his vow: not to be held hostage to the dissolute Delhi culture, which promotes elitist exclusivity. On his first anniversary as PM, Modi has to insulate himself from enemies more from within than without. He must note that it is he, and not any of his trusted ministers, who is under attack for acts of omissions by the government. His loyalists may be at their verbal best in defending him but some are the worst performers in their own ministries. Modi’s sustainability as a leader with wisdom and vision lies in going back to the basics and the masses. He will do well to engage in reverse economic engineering by de-prioritising the service sector. He has to revive small and medium scale manufacturing and rescue agriculture from imminent death. Delhi, Mumbai and New York can wait. Bharat wouldn’t like Modi to fail because it still sees in him a decisive leader. The time has come for him to ensure that minimum government is more visible in maximum action and delivery. Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla