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.

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