Tuesday, 10 February 2015


As far as I know Delhi is at least 2000kms from the nearest sea. Yet it was hit by a tsunami on the morning of the 10th of February that will change its political and social landscape for ever.  For the second time in less than fourteen months a nondescript, diminutive man with baggy trousers and a persistent cough, with just 20 crore rupees in his pocket has humbled the two largest national parties in the country with a combined ancestry of 150 years and coffers overflowing with more than 4000 crore rupees. By winning 67 of the 70 seats on offer he has done what no other political party has ever done in any state. In the process he has faced down every vested interest and bloc in the country-the bureaucracy, the media, the police, organised industry- and been subjected to every abuse in the Indian political lexicon. Kejriwal's stupendous and overwhelming victory in Delhi will rewrite the rules of politics in future, for the Indian voter has now seen at first hand that HE CAN BE THE CHANGE THAT HE WANTS . There is much to be learnt from this election and given below are some of these lessons.
The Aam Aadmi Party( AAP) has emerged as the undisputed regional party of Delhi, just as SP, Telugu Desam and TMC, to name just a few, are the dominant regional parties in their respective states. It has been able to successfully articulate the specific demands and needs of the citizens of Delhi such as electricity, water, women's safety, slum improvements, shortage of colleges, corruption and so on. In the process it has highlighted, by contrast, the fatal flaw in the BJP campaign-the stress on  " achievements " at the national level at the cost of local issues. The AAP exposed this misplaced emphasis brilliantly, for the ordinary citizen of Delhi, almost half of whom live in slums and unauthorised colonies, is more interested in the quality of his daily life and not in FDI or nuclear deals. Like all regional parties AAP perhaps understands the pulse of the voter better than national parties which tend to look at everything through the prism of Delhi.
But the unique quality of AAP is that it has the promise of being much more than just a regional party, and not just because Delhi has people from every other state in India in ever increasing numbers. It is because the very psyche, the essential philosophy of AAP is national in an ideating way. Firstly, its core agenda- corruption, focus on the common man, safety of women, electoral reforms, transparency-has a pan India appeal and is not limited to any region or state. Second, the appeal and reach of AAP is not based on any vote bank( unlike the other regional parties). AAP does not pander to any particular caste, or religion, or community, or even any income group. The voting pattern in Delhi establishes this beyond any doubt: by winning in 67 out of 70 constituencies, by winning in Trilokpuri as well as Greater Kailash, in Okhla as well as in New Delhi, in Matiamahal as well as in  Harinagar, in Jangpura as well as in Patel Nagar the party has convincingly debunked the misplaced theory that it appeals only to the poor, the Muslims and the Scheduled Castes.
This phenomenally broad allure of AAP gives it a national quality, in the true sense of the word, not just in the mathematical sense in which the Election Commission categorises a national party. In other words, the AAP is emerging as a SYNTHESISER of political and social aspirations, in the same manner as the Congress was at the time of Independance and later during the rule of Nehru, Shastri and the early Indira Gandhi, or in the manner of VP Singh before he let his ambition and Mandal consume him. Like the early Congress the AAP has been able to bring under one umbrella the  aspirations of various social groups and transmute them into a core agenda that has found popular support. It is ironical that whereas the BJP has almost succeeded in giving the country a " Congress mukt "( Congress free) Bharat or India, it has not been able to occupy the space vacated by the Congress because of its hubris and angularities, and has instead allowed the AAP to enter this space.
The overwhelming victory of the AAP has positioned it well to become the catalyst for a united Opposition, something which the Modi juggernaut badly needs. It can now become the nucleus around which other opposition parties can coalesce. In January 2014 I had penned a piece in these columns- IS AAP THE REAL THIRD FRONT?- in which I had visualised just such a possibility. The reactions of Omar Abdullah, JD(U), TMC and other parties hold out this promise in times to come. For the AAP victory in Delhi is too huge to be attributed to local factors, or to Kiran Bedi, alone. It reflects an emerging disenchantment with the BJP at the national level, and therefore it argues for a national Alternative, which the AAP can now initiate.
Even more important, the AAP under Kejriwal is the true harbinger of change and transformation of the cesspool that politics in India has increasingly become. It is because  its politics has a moral and ethical underpinning, a principled core that none of our parties has. AAP seeks to promote decentralised administration, a Praja Raj in the place of the present Neta Raj and Babu Raj. It unabashedly challenges the status quo which only benefits the few, which is why it is so detested in the salons of South Delhi and the farmhouses of Chhatarpur. Not surprisingly, therefore, Kejriwal has been called " toxic ",an anarchist and a Naxal( by the Prime Minister, no less!) and has had at least ten police cases registered against him. These are the time honoured tactics employed by those who resist any meaningful change and Kejriwal has prevailed in spite of them, maybe because of them! But his victory in Delhi has released this particular genie from the bottle and I have no doubt that in the coming months and years we shall be witnessing a metamorphosis in the nature of political discourse in the country, the manner in which political parties raise funding and select candidates, the equation between the rulers and the ruled, the relationship between the Center and the States. No party has seriously articulated these issues: they have been used simply as stepping stones to power, and forgotten once power is attained because such questions, we must not forget, challenge the powerful. But Kejriwal is not likely to forget them because they are the cornerstones of his victory.
Kejriwal as Chief Minister will change the dynamics of Delhi in a significant way. The city will no longer belong to those who reside in Lutyen's Delhi or in South Delhi alone-the majority shareholders of the metropolis in unfashionable addresses like Bawana and Narela, Geeta Colony and Mahipalpur will increasingly stake their claim to a slice of the capital's pie of Rupees 40000 crores. Mr. Modi too cannot for long continue to treat Delhi as an enclave of the Central govt: one of Kejriwal's main promises to the people was statehood for Delhi-they have enthusiastically supported it and it can be ignored no longer. With more than two thirds of Delhi's voters supporting this demand Modi can ignore it only at his own peril. In some manner or the other the central govt. will have to part with its stranglehold on the DDA, MCD and the Delhi police-this is inevitable, as are the confrontations that will precede it. Kejriwal has a renewed and revalidated mandate for it, much as the elite may decry it, and I foresee the struggle for control of Delhi as part of a larger redrawing of relationships between the centre and the states
There are important lessons for the BJP too from these elections.
Mr. Modi must realise that his personal evolution over the last nine months has disappointed the electorate and they do not approve of it. They would like to see the Modi of May 2014 who spoke of a bright future, of economic growth, of a tolerant society where the minorities did not fear the majority, of a govt. both transparent and responsive. They do not want the Modi they now see instead- domineering, uncommunicative, unresponsive, contemptuous of civil society or any dissent, tacitly supportive of rabid fundamentalism. They want to see him as the chai-wallah, not the fashionista in ten lakh rupee suits. No amount of economic achievements can compensate for these attributes and expectations in a democracy and Mr. Modi would do well not to see the Stock Exchange as his barometer of success: after all, not even 2% of our population play the market, while 67% vote. The Prime Minister has to go back to being the Modi of early 2014.
The BJP, on the other hand, has been conveyed an even more seminal message by the voter of Delhi--the politics of polarisation will just not work any more in a country where 970 million cell phones have been sold, with almost 250 million inter net users. The people have seen through the " good cop- bad cop " pantomine and do not approve of the BJP's ( and its government's) covert support for the Hindu majoritarians,for the Vedic dinosaurs from a bygone era. The BJP must realise that it cannot project a modernistic Prime Minister while at the same time validating the primordial nonsense spouted by its Ministers, Sadhvis, Sakshi Maharajas, and ramming forcible conversions, Sanskrit, Love jihad and Good Governance Day down the throats of its people. Delhi has shown that such a duplicitous approach does not pay dividends. It alienates the party from the minorities, dalits, the youth, the professionals and all thinking people, even the moderate and liberal Hindu. The proof lies in the results of the Lok Sabha elections when the BJP romped home on the exclusive promise of development. In the last nine months it has gone back on this pledge, and the Delhi voter has punished it emphatically-in 2014 ( Parliamentary elections) the party had won in 60 of Delhi's 70 constituencies: today it has won in only 3. Can the people speak any louder?
Kejriwal has set the agenda for the future, and the people have endorsed it. The Indian voter has come of age, and the Delhi results are as much his victory as that of Kejriwal. Mr. Modi has made some mistakes in the last few months, but he should remember that the most liberal education is learning from one's mistakes. A defeat can become a victory if one derives the right lessons from it. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015


The recent report of the World Bank, published on the HILLPOST site last week, lauding the efforts of the Himachal Pradesh govt. is a fairly balanced one within the very limited scope it appears to have set for itself. It admittedly is a socio-economic survey but its attempt to go beyond mere statistics is half hearted, and it completey excludes from its study certain vital and emerging areas that pose a serious challenge to the state's administrators.
There cannot be an iota of doubt that the state has made commendable progress, far beyond the national average, in many sectors such as health, education, land reforms, status of women etc. To my mind, this has been made possible by a polity and bureaucracy which, though not necessarilly more able than their counterparts in other states, has always been much more accessible and accountable to the people, with fewer opportunities for going astray in monetary matters. The people have been able to hold their rulers accountable because the social profile in the state is extremely egalitarian, with no one community or caste dominating the others; with very few fissures in the social fabric, there are no dominant interest groups which can hijack policy making or administration in one direction. The result has been, as the report also observes, a balanced development across regions, communities, genders and sectors. But everything is not as rosy as the World Bank may like to believe.
Some of the favourable statistics have come at a cost which the report would have done well to highlight. Growth and development in the state have been almost exclusively driven by the govt. and not private enterprise, which, as every economist will tell you, is not sustainable in the long run. Himachal has the highest population to govt. employee ratio in the country, 28% of its working population is employed in the public sector-that is, almost 1 in every 3 Himachali works for the government. This report itself records that half of all men in urban areas are employed in the public sector as are one fifth of urban women-this, for me, is a very disturbing statistic. All its PSU's have run up losses in hundreds of crores and continue to siphon off scarce resources without delivering anything tangible in return. The consequence is that the state has a debt of about Rs. 30000 crores and on a per capita basis is perhaps the most indebted state in the country. The reality is that Himachal has been subsisting on largesse from the Centre and the Planning Commission, and has reason to be very apprehensive now that the latter has been wound up. The Finance Ministry may not be as accommodating in times to come. The state needs a large dose of fiscal discipline and it would perhaps have helped if the World Bank had provided this context in its report.
The report raises some perplexing contradictions in the state's development record but does not explain them adequately. The most salient one is the declining sex ratio-this has seen a sharp drop from 970( females per thousand males) in 1981 to 905 in 2011. On the face of it this is inexplicable given that all other indicators in respect of women are very positive. The report does not throw any light on this strange phenomenon. However, I would venture to postulate that this decline is the result of another positive indicator-the declining TFR( Total Fertility Rate): this now stands at 1.9-one of the lowest in India and just 0.1 point above the accepted Net Replacement Rate, below which a population decline is generally considered to be irreversible. This achievement has to be considered in the context of the Asian proclivity for preferring the male child: as families become smaller this proclivity becomes exaggerated, at the cost of the girl child. This has been experienced in China as one of the adverse fall outs of its one child norm. I would suggest that this cultural trait is at work in Himachal also, and this conclusion is reinforced by the report's finding that pre-natal sex determination is quite wide spread in the state. The govt. has to wake up to this before it is too late.
A second contradiction in spite of other favourable indicators is the finding that 1/3 rd of all children in the state suffer from malnutrition and have stunted growth. The World Bank should have tried to find out the reasons for this baffling figure but has not done so inspite of asserting elsewhere that Himachal has the second highest per capita income in the country and that just about every rural family possesses agricultural assets. An explanation to this conundrum may involve issues related to distributive aspects of income, sanitation. imbalances in the dietary basket or/and gaps in health care. It is important enough, however, for the state to initiate a detailed study into this disturbing finding.
There are certain important areas of the development matrix which the report completely ignores, or makes just a passing reference to. The most vital of them is the environment, and the impact of Himachal's development model on it. It is an incontrovertible fact that the quality of the state's forests have been declining over the last two decades in spite of the ban on green felling. Since !981( when the FCA came into force) it has lost approximately 11000 hectares of its best forests to hydel projects, road construction and other " developmental" activities. One result of this has been extensive soil erosion, siltation of rivers and attendant natural disasters. A 2007 report of the National Remote Sensing Authority, Hyderabad on Land Degradation categorises HP as one of the three states in the country that have the highest percentage of soil degradation. There is widespread opposition to such projects in the rural areas, especially in the districts of Kinnaur, Kullu and Chamba, where traditional irrigation systems have been destroyed, hundreds of "gharats " or water mills rendered inoperable and water sources devastated. Rural livelihoods have been affected in these areas but for some strange reason successive govts. normally responsive to people's protestations, have chosen to ignore these facts. The World Bank would have done well to have gone deeper into these issues, and to have perused two studies on this subject titled " The Socio-Ecological impacts of Small Hydro-power projects in Himachal Pradesh " by Prof. J Mark Baker of Humboldt University, California, USA.
Tourism has been mentioned in passing in the report, but what has not been examined is the faulty model of mass tourism being practiced, mostly by default, in the state and the complete lack of direction to it by the govt. Issues of tourism, urbanisation and environmental degradation are all interconnected in this state and each sector feeds off the inefficiencies of the other. In the process urban spaces are becoming more and more unplanned and some, like Shimla and Manali, have reached a state of irreversible decay and decline. As the tentacles of tourism expand into more pristine rural areas these too are under threat.
Climate change and global warming is another major area of concern that the World Bank has not bothered to address. I find this mystifying because the Himalayan states are the most vulnerable and the impact of climate changes( now inevitable) on agriculture, rural livelihoods, water availability, food security, the natural environment etc. shall be felt in its worst form in states like Himachal. The govt. needs to start planning for a change of strategy in sectors such as agriculture, animal husbandry,forestry, disaster management,water management, industrialisation etc. in order to prepare for the changes that are just a few years ahead. So far it appears to have done nothing concrete, and the report should have stressed on the importance of launching missions for this purpose.
There is, however, one part in the report where there is one laudatory reference to the govt's efforts on the environmental front, where the World Bank praises the govt. for its goal of achieving carbon neutrality in the near future. Unfortunately, even this is misplaced and mildly amusing. The fact is that Himachal has always been, not just a carbon -neutral but a carbon- negative state! And this has not been owing to the efforts of any govt., but to the munificence of Nature. Just a few simple figures will establish this. The total forest area of the state( 2007 figures) is 14668 sq. kms. It is an accepted thesis that one hectare of good forest sequestrates 10 metric tonnes of carbon per annum. This would mean that our forests sequester 14.668 million tonnes of carbon every year. Assuming the state's  population as 7 million( it is probably lower), the per capita sequestration comes to 2.18 tonnes p.a. The state's actual emission is apprx. 1/2 tonnes per capita. In other words, on a per capita basis the state captures 1.68 tonnes MORE carbon than it emits every year. We are already carbon -negative and therefore this part of the report is a bit misleading.
In conclusion, one would only like to reiterate that though the state has done well so far, there are still many challenges and unsolved problems ahead. Some of the sins of the past are beginning to catch up with us, and the inevitable downside of economic prosperity is now showing itself. As with everything in life these days the pace of change has accelerated and the state's policy makers and administrators cannot rest on their past laurels but have rise to the challenges ahead.