Saturday, December 28, 2013

Challenges of Delhi AAP Government

The first question is how long the new Delhi government would last since for any sustainable long term change you need a stable government lasting for few years at least. There is a primordial question of existential threat to Delhi CM Kejriwal. He has refused any kind of police protection even though possible physical threats are grave, especially as his government starts unraveling corruption cases in these ‘land and real estate deals’. When vested interests in these industries loose lucrative profits due to non-corrupt ways Kejriwal would bring in, events can turn ugly and reality could resemble a Bollywood movie. It was for a different reason - his foreign policy about Tamils in Sri Lanka - but ultimately Rajiv Gandhi paid the catastrophic price when security lapses were exploited. Few commentators are already requesting Arvind Kejriwal to accept some minimal security. Because in absence of Arvind Kejriwal neither there will be AAP nor AAP's Delhi Government. It is not that there are no other qualified people in the party to take over, but the party simply had not had a chance to grow the organization and project other leaders in the line. Over years that would happen and one of the goals of Delhi AAP Government should be getting next batch of AAP leaders up and running.

The political threat is very obvious and most have been focusing on that – Congress Party is the master of ‘outside support’ technique and they have some storied history behind that. Congress Party has been in politics for too long for not to smell an opportunity about when to pull the rug under AAP and back out their support. However, AAP politics is different than usual in Indian context. Congress Party will not be able remove the support just because AAP Government starts exposing skeletons in the cup-board. Public will simply get that Congress Party could not handle 'the heat' and electorally Congress Party would lose further. In other words political discomfort created because of AAP’s success in fighting corruption cannot be an excuse for Congress Party to pull up on AAP Government. Only when AAP fails in fulfilling its electoral promises or fails to find a way of effective governance while sticking to its 'USP of no corruption' and the only news in Media is about how AAP is washing dirty laundry of past administrations of Shaila Dixit; public would lose the interest and Congress Party would get an opening to remove the outside support.

There is another scenario where Congress Party performs electorally better than expectations and then feels emboldened to strike at AAP. However, as things stand, Congress Party should be happy to cross three digit number winning seats in next Loksabha! It is in such a dire state, so I doubt if this scenario is likely at all.

Good thing is Kejriwal and APP know that they are on ‘borrowed time’. The other effect of that will be AAP will be in ‘hurry’ to make the difference in whatever smaller window it has – time till general election in first half of 2014.  There is a remote possibility that Congress Party may undertake some legal creative thinking with the help of President Pranab Mukherjee – former Congressman – and try to push the general election time past Monsoon. Politically it will be extremely difficult for Congress Party to pull off such a stunt; but given the dire state of Congress Party, some in the party may be tempted to argue for such an extreme path. In any case, all such additional time should generally help AAP to continue to manifest its brand of ‘transparent governance’ and help convince people that such transparent governance does not need to come at the cost of ‘concrete results’.

Delivering concrete results – that is going to be the next challenge to AAP Government. Arvind Kejriwal says his math is realistic when he says 50% electricity price reduction and 700 liters per day per household portable water are doable. At this point Public will accord the benefit of doubt to AAP, but as time passes and if execution becomes spotty; such a failure will be an obvious political opening to Congress and BJP. There is another issue here – even if APP government is able to pull off these promises to Delhi, would it repeat those promises for rest of the country or other urban areas of India? Wiser course for AAP is instead of getting trapped in these hard numbers all across, focus on transparency, overall better governance and overall betterment of common people. It is understandable that in the current situation for the first election faced by AAP, it has to make such bold promises. But earlier AAP adopts 'under promise over deliver', better are chances that it avoids fate like President Obama!

When AAP prepares itself for the general election, demands of that campaign, candidate selection and overall fund raising all within the strict criteria of transparency which AAP has set to itself; all that will be challenging to Kejriwal and the company. The diversion of focus and sharing of bandwidth will take its toll on Delhi  governance too. The larger issue, however, at that point will be articulation of an economic policy for national consumption (AAP has got the political part right – ‘corruption free transparent governance’). That is where AAP will have to answer some hard questions – the economic welfare which it wants to bring to common people can be achieved only if trappings of Socialism are removed. Fruits of transparency are long lasting and wide spread in a free and liberalized economy. That is where a coherent policy formulation is needed. Equitable and transparent distribution of pie is one thing, but the imperative of growing this ‘pie’ for a Billion Plus population of India needs to be addressed head on. So far the politics AAP is waging, it has not required to grapple these complexities. To formulate such a policy means effectively pinning AAP on the policy spectrum of Left to Right and at the point AAP would need to defend that turf since politics of standard Left Right policy prescriptions is well worn out in India as well as globally. Chances are that even rising aspirant India which is enamored today with AAP may not find 'old school socialism policy prescriptions in new avatar' that much attractive. It seems AAP has some serious homework to do here and it is yet to start that in earnest.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Berkeley versus Harvard

"Personally I don't agree with what Maharashtra government has done. I think the government should reconsider its decision. No one should be spared of corruption if we want to change the system."


"This was a decision taken by the full Cabinet of Maharashtra. I will meet by Cabinet colleagues and discuss it. Rahulji has given a suggestion and I respect that,"

-- Honorable Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan

No one disagrees that Rahul Gandhi could have been more polished in correcting a political giant, a clean chief minister of an important state like Maharashtra (just imagine, CM Chavan rules over more people than what Angela Merkel rules in Europe). Rahul was anything but politically smart in these comments.

But, if Rahul Gandhi indeed wants to make true his words that Congress wants to clean the corruption, he has no choice but to express the course correction explicitly as he asked from Maharashtra CM Chavan. Good thing is Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan has the political capital and track record to come clean on all these matters without costing his own credibility. He has nothing to loose, he is one of the 'good guys' Maharashtrians look upon. 

Unless Prithviraj Chavan's of Congress come completely hard on 'corruption' and demand totally transparent governance, Congress party does not stand any chance to withstand the revolution Arvind Kejriwal is starting today in New Delhi

These are good days for Indians if one considers attempts to cleanse Indian Politics.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Yasukuni

Notwithstanding a compassionate and contrary take by one reader to James Fallow's post about Japanese PM Abe's visit to the war shrine (the last reference in the blog post); it is clear that duty of a leader is to 'heal'. Didn't Nelson Mandela's funeral few weeks back teach anything to these Japanese Leaders?

Point is not about Abe scoring an emotional chord with many Japanese. I agree neither my forefathers died in defending against Japanese aggression nor perpetuating some of the most insulting and immoral aggression as conducted by Imperial Army of Japan during WWII; so I won't know what emotions are tied up with a shrine like Yasukuni. But still as a global citizen, I can understand the futility of a Japanese PM stocking emotions of China, Korea and others all along. What was the need to get into this nasty business? What is important - to honor who died in some controversial circumstances about which many other nations have grave reservations or to improve lives of folks 'here and now' all across the region? Or is it because PM Abe's popularity is dipping below 50%, he is resorting to some nasty business? Why now when Abe economics is still showing some promise in reality despite discomfort created to many in Japan? Why is 'patience and fortitude' in such a short supply with these Japanese Leaders? By being 'impatient and short sighted', these Japanese Leaders are creating problems for everyone - themselves, east Asians, their protector America and in essence to the whole world; despite some easing by Japanese to America.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Commentary on Current Indian Politics

(Long form)

As three Indian leaders take center stage for coming general election in 2014 - Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi - one wonders how the rot of Indian political economy can be cleansed by the politics of these three individuals. Clearly it will be a long drawn process and the critical piece of that endeavor will be to form a stable central government in 2014 with a set agenda and ability to execute with competence. Such a stable government needs to have a clear mandate from Indian Public. That does not necessarily mean clear majority in Indian Parliament, though that will be good; but rather well stated pre-election alliances, transparent process of candidate selection and fully disclosed campaign finances. (If 2014 election results in a un-stable minority government, what happens in this 'semi-final' will set the deck for the 'final'.)

As Rahul Gandhi and Congress Party belatedly try to reverse already lost political ground, it will not be sufficient for Rahul Gandhi to declare adherence to a transparent framework of regulations in front of India's 'maker class'; thought all what he said there is correct. The most important things Congress party can undertake to demonstrate it's commitment to a 'corruption free governance' will be:

- Declare that it would consider only those candidates for its Loksabha ticket who have fully disclosed finances (all assets including assets of extended family members - spouse, kids, brothers, sisters, brother-in-laws, sister-in-laws and parents of both adults in the household; as well as income sources) and who have filled income-tax properly for at least last five years. Having candidates with lots of money should not be an issue. Goal is to remove 'poverty' and not to disdain wealth - created or inherited. Part of the agenda should be 'ease with wealth'. But the flip side is anyone who has got 'wealth' which needs to be hidden will be automatically reluctant to come forward. Sure, there will be a class of Congress Party aspirants who are convinced that 'protecting their ill gotten wealth' is to secure political coverage by being member of Loksabh - precisely such creatures will be kept aside by open adherence to this 'eligibility criteria' for party candidacy. (It should be given that anyone with pending criminal cases should not be also considered for candidacy.)

- Next is, Congress Party should make all of election campaign fund raising fully transparent. Let each candidate and the party publish on a web site all the donations received - cash or in kind; during the campaign period. This will be an exact reply to AAP which is instituting the most potent process to cleanse out corruption from Indian life - opening up the process of raising cash for elections. It needs to be followed by making public all of election expenses.

- One of the biggest problems for Congress Party or actually any established party in India is how to select party candidates for the general election. In absence of 'primary elections' this problem gets really compounded. Congress Party can attempt to deploy a roughly equivalent informal primary election process by letting each constituent local committee heavily involved in the candidate selection process from the roaster of candidates who fulfill above mentioned first two criteria.

- For non-Congress Party coalition partners, Congress Party should insist to apply the same criteria as it applies to their own candidates. If Congress Party approaches next election as a desperate political party which is attempting to hold the sinking ship by all sorts of expedient political alliances; it will not go anywhere. But on the other hand if it is willing to let go those alliance partners who do not qualify to the 'transparency litmus' tests and approach the coming general election as an appeal to win minds and votes of Indians rather than retaining any entitlement sense; it might have a chance to compete against AAP and BJP. 

The real leadership needed from Congress Party is 'before the election' in setting in motion the process of 'transparency' to instill confidence among Indians that it might be still worth to give a Congress Party / UPA another chance. For this to happen, Congress Party will have to project a new PM candidate since Dr. Singh is exhausted and is clearly not a leader in minds of most Indians today. Current cabinet ministers P. Chidambaran and AK Antony or ex-Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani - all three leaders are fine candidates for the position of PM. Rahul Gandhi is not yet there in terms of being a PM candidate and he himself needs to admit it publicly so that misguided eager party members are forced to shut up rather than create more problems for the party. Rahul Gandhi has a unique position within Congress Party to instrument a dramatic change in politics and that is what he needs to focus on. Governance is not his 'forte' and he is yet to master that. First one needs to get 'politics right / winning elections right' as like Arvind Kejriwal. However, for the governance, Congress Party has a deep bench of qualified candidates to select from. (Figure head leadership of UPA including parliamentary party chairmanship should continue to reside with Sonia Gandhi since she is still the glue which binds UPA and her role of the 'titular head' in carrying legacy of her martyr husband and mother-in-law is not done yet.)

Today, the situation looks all hopeless for Congress Party; but starting from such 'under-dog' position may have its own advantages. For example, Arvind Kejriwal is going to find extremely hard to keep his poll promise of reducing electricity pricing by 50%. It is because without understanding the basic economics here - that most costs have been accounted by coal and electricity generation, electricity prices are already controlled and room for improvement is only about 10 to 20% of end user prices - AAP has fallen for some non-sustainable slogans. The question for AAP is not about making honest efforts and let people know about so that it retains its credibility. The question is ability of AAP to understand 'how modern economies work' and whether it has an aptitude to pull off governance of Billion Plus country. This competence issue is the real opening for Congress. Similarly AAP crosses 'public versus private' line when it insists CAG to undertake 'audit of private businesses'. (Capital market regulatory institutions are expected to keep leash on finances of private business and AAP does not seem to understand that at all. AAP has a streak of 'anti private business' thinking and it will need to curb such misplaced socialistic urges; else Congress and BJP can claim all that political ground for right reasons.) 

I guess AAP showing lack of competence to govern modern economies will be more of a political opening for BJP where the core 'pedal to the medal claim' is about what Narendra Modi achieved in Gujrath. BJP has been always the party of 'traders' and to a large extent party of business people in India. Narendra Modi is simply stoking this base without providing much attention to how would he enlarge the political tent of BJP. With his inglorious past about Muslim killings; Modi has no wherewithal to form a new 'rainbow coalition'. (Congress can still retain / claim that strength.) Nor Modi is laying out comprehensively his agenda for a 'transparent governance' in response to what AAP is bringing to the table. Clearly Modi and BJP are content on 'corruption free PM Candidate' and think that is in itself sufficient for transparency. I doubt Indians would buy that so long as BJP is not equally scrupulous to the whole slate of its candidates across its entire spectrum of political leadership as well as its campaign fund raising.

Finally, BJP seems to be least willing to 'listen' to what Indian people want to say. Modi and his party apparatus are so convinced of having 'keys to what is good for India'; there is least chance of Modi and BJP incorporating any positive feedback and inputs from outside world. (Will he be like Turkish Boss Erdogan when in government?) AAP is by design wanting to 'listen to people' while Rahul Gandhi is 'getting it' what India wants. But BJP seems like 'drinking the cool aid' and believes totally in all its 'hype'. That was the same mistake 'shining India campaign' did for AB Vajpayee's government and seems like BJP might repeat those mistakes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Izzat ka sawal hai

(It is a question of honor...)

Watching the oldest and biggest democracies of this planet at loggerheads on some petty issue, one sees how politics can become counter productive at times. Neither American interests are served well when one of the strongest countries in Asia which can be part of a coalition that is counter weight to ever expanding Chinese sphere of influence; is unhappy with America. Nor Indians are served well when instead of common Indians holding feet of their politician's to fire for corruption and stalled economy; Indian Media creates 'frenzy' about some storm in a tea cup.

One can understand the political need of a developing country like India where centuries old domination by Western and foreign forces is to be overcome in mere decades. Yes, people are bound to be over sensitive when for decades 'miseries' of the country have been blamed on 'cunning Foreigners and exploitative ferengis' (that is India's History education...). But when India and her Media give prominence to a 'cavity search' of an elite Indian women at some 10,000 miles away for her mistakes while forgetting that five cops raped a sixteen year old girl at gunpoint in India; one has to question the moral compass of those who claim to represent over Billion People.

Enough has been said and criticized about extravagant expectations of special treatment by Indian elites. So when this exaggerated sense of entitlement collides with cold realities of beyond borders; their world comes crashing down. (Yup, I have paid my wages and have gone through the same humbling experiences while I settling in USA even though I did not have that much privileged up-bringing in India to start with.) It is all fine for one Devyani Khobragde as an individual that her sense of entitlement crashes to ground. But it is disservice from ruling Congress Party to gin this crisis to paper over its own failures in winning elections because it fails to solve problems of her own people or for BJP to smell one more opportunity to stoke testosterone of its base in the name of patriotism. Even newly minted AAP is like a dear caught in light and unable to think through what is taking place here. Quite possibly AAP can fall for blind and misleading 'nationalistic emotion rousing. I am not sure AAP has the wisdom at this point to realize that 'not joining' the bandwagon is the precise diffrentiator for the party to further consolidate its credibility among common Indians.

Preet Bharara - he could be possibly at the pinnacle of his popularity among Indian Americans. He is one individual who has balls to take on billionaire law breakers from Wall Street. You cannot get any more progressive than Preet even in times of the first black president. He is such a diamond and platinum material politically among Democrats. But....I suspect he could have been more circumspect in this matter like keep prosecuting Khobragade without any of the drama.

Or is it that Bharara concluding such a 'public humiliation' of a diplomat from an over conscious country like India as the only way to highlight flagrant violation of immigration and minimum wage laws in this country? Or is it that 'by taking on one of his own type' he is shoring up his credentials among whites of New York State for a higher office? Politics is such a poisonous profession that one can never underestimate what the desire to higher offices would lead public officials to do.

But the problem with America is not just of possible ambitions of one Preet Bharara. America routinely considers herself that 'shining city on the hill' and expects special treatments to her diplomats like claiming immunity even when her non-diplomat kills native country men in Pakistan. I am not talking about special security America's embassies enjoy in India. That is really reflection of 'poor security' situation in India and not of much high accord to USA diplomats. After all, providing security to foreign diplomats is the 'sole responsibility' of the host nation. You need only 'one sentry' to protect an Indian mission in a USA city while huge barricades to protect American embassy in your capital city; that is all function of prevailing security situation in respective countries. To read into all these security arrangements some kind of hierarchy of 'darbar' - that is the problem of Indians for which no one is responsible for.

What is the solution to this mess then? I could think of 3 components:
- the office which undertook 'cavity search' of Devyani Khobragde to apologize to Indian Government for transgressing sensitivities of a billion plus people;
- Preet Bharara to speed up prosecution of Devyani Khobragade to bring it to a conclusion (of course no games of retrospective immunity; the last bad thing Obama Administration can do is to try to influence Justice Department in this case);
- Obama Admin to pardon Devyani after prosecution succeeds and then let her go with a slap on the wrist (after all we are talking diplomacy here and each case is different).

In the end law of the land must prevail. That is what Barack Obama, John Kerry and Preet Bharara owe to Americans. 

Unsung Hero

“Fed was created to stabilize the financial system in times of panic, and we did that.”

-- Ben Bernanke, Retiring Fed Chairman

Neither Dana Milbank nor me have any chops to pass erudite public media opinions on Economics or Monetary Policy. That is left to Paul Krugman of New York Times or Martin Wolf of Financial Times. Nevertheless I fully agree with Milbank when he says Bernanke deserves more credit than what he has got so far.

Yah, I know Bernanke graced Time magazine cover. But seriously, do we still care about those Person of the Year awards from an extinct print magazine even though I like the current Pope and think he is going in the right direction? Many decades down the line when humanity would look back at our times, it would appreciate the innovation and integrity which Ben Bernanke brought to the monetary policy - never to bend for the prevailing flow of political winds in undertaking what is right and in keep experimenting until we find a solution for what needs to be solved here and now; the recession of 2008 in Bernanke's case. He successfully withstood monetary policy lunatics like Ron Paul and whiz bang kids like Paul Ryan (so what if Ryan got it 'right' with Sen. Pat Murrary in the budget deal? The adult in the room - Sen. Murray - is always expected to bring back a recalcitrant kid back on the line). That is such a colossal feat that quite possibly it dwarfs Obama Presidency so far.

May be that is where the true strength of American Republic lies - from different walks of life, different personalities rise to the occasion in varieties of institutions to serve American People well in difficult times. Seems like the tenure of Fed Chairman Bernanke is one such exemplary case. So thanks Prof. Bernanke, job well done.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mixing Two Things

When Jonathan Bernstein criticizes President Obama and his Administration for effectively playing to 'news cycles' while promising to stay away from such 'media rides' early on; I think he forgets a key point - that conducting Administration so as not to give new avenues of criticism is a valid and prudent way of conducting an electoral office. So long as Obama Administration did not make explicit 'chase' for Media moments or undertook 'harm to nation's interests' while purchasing a favorable treatment in Media; there is much less basis to criticize Obama Administration for its prudence with regards to Media. That is just the other side of 'no drama Obama'. 

But let us keep aside all these 'nice to haves' features. Let us focus on the core failure of President Obama - never to grasp centrality of maneuvering Congress for his domestic agenda nor showing aptitude to read public mood so as to manage political pressure points within the Congress to achieve something. Now, not only Americans have given up on him to achieve anything legislatively; he himself has given upon his tenure to move forward any such credible agenda. 

Immigration is one such serious issue where President Obama can make political life of its opponents extremely uncomfortable. It is to watch next year if indeed he is still ready to play the role and his duty of 'the man in the arena' rather than being content with a 'care taking presidency' and few foreign policy victories instrumented by an old work horse Sec. Kerry. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The war Speaker must win

“they’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals...This is ridiculous!” 

Speaker John Boehner, Washington Post 

Exactly! As Media outlets are salivating for this internecine GOP war in public; this is the exact war this Speaker needs to win. There is no better thing for America than what Rep. Paul Ryan did here - bringing GOP from insanity into the camp of America's problem solvers. 

Looking back it is clear that Sen. Ted Cruz led craziness of government shutdown was the high water mark of Tea Party shenanigans. Hey, many Liberals may be 'wedded' to the success of ObamaCare or rather solving America's problem of uneven health care coverage and high costs; but we are not wedded to one Barack Obama. He will have to work hard for his legacy (just like how Nelson Mandela earned his own legacy). Point is American Politics is finally getting ready to go past Obama Years and there is a large swath of voters who would be amenable to Conservatism which is not nutty - the one which is not anti-women and anti-poor. Speaker and GOP folks like Rep. Ryan are doing exactly right things here - keep working with opposition party to solve America's problems and keep exposing extremists who run amok in the name of Conservatism.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Aam Aadmi Party

Is this the first sign of a revolution in India? Demographics tells us that a country with such a young population would find the message of one Arvind Kejriwal more appealing - that 'let us clean the mess created by Congress'.

More and more common Indians are seeing through the game of Congress - to keep tolerating corruption - and they want to get rid of it. Indira Gandhi famously dismissed 'corruption' as an urban elite phenomenon. Whereas Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi completely miss the point that most Indians are sick and tired of this 'corruption' and they hold Congress as singularly responsible for this state of affairs. We all know many other parties than Congress are responsible for continuing the corruption too; but the lion's share of blame goes to the Congress Party.

Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi never had the aptitude or political senses to realize that Indians want to change and Indians are sick and tired of this 'corruption'. All of those MGNREGA and other fancy schemes - we have seen that film too often; that is what most Indians think.

Rahul Gandhi simply does not have the aptitude to 'read' these signals from common Indian folks while Dr. Singh is completely lost; if only appointing a James Bond central banker would solve ails of India. Of course, real world and real economy are not that simple.

If Arvind Kejriwal and his party are able to build on this initial success; one can truly say India has turned the page. This is a momentous occasion to make 'corruption and transparency' as the central electoral issue in India. Arvind Kejriwal has pulled off a giant change here.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela

“We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again..."



I think President Obama articulated it aptly. Looking forward to his remarks at the coming state funeral of Mandela.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Can Democrats Save Themselves?

Possibly yes. I am very glad that my beloved Senator from MA, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, had senses to quench the speculation about her Dem nomination in 2016. (That does not mean I support Hillary's nomination blindly. What with folks like Senator Mark Warner, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Governor Jerry Brown? 'Executioners' branding should not be restricted only to GOP front runners like Christie.)

It is all right to run for Senate on the campaign of 'hard left'. There too I would love to see Senator Warren work hard to sort our real issues - like how to empower shareholders and force SEC to recognize full rights of shareholders. Issuing some fancy 'red meat' press releases hardly helps Americans. 

You cannot be the President of this country either as a 'Hard Left' or a 'Tea Party' hack. That is not what we Americans are and it will not be representative of this country. We Americans have enough of adjustment to make in reconciling to the first black president named one Barack Hussein Obama and that should be enough of hard work to us for now. President Obama has been less of an ideologue compared to recently minted New York Mayor and that is good. If Democrats take the path of Hard Left represented by NY Mayor De Blasio and Sen. Warren, Dems will be wiped out electorally.

Democrats cannot forget that just because there is an internecine war going on between GOP Establishment and Tea party, it does not mean Americans want to forget what Ronald Reagan taught us: 'be careful of Government and do not look at Government as our salvation'. It is enough that Obama Administration screwed HealthCare.gov; there is no more appetite with Americans for any more Government Intervention in any manner. Democrats can forget this cardinal lesson only at their peril.