Monday, June 25, 2012

Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014

The next general election is two years away. The contours or nature of the next government is anybody’s guess. The only thing that seems certain for now is that it will not be a government led by the Congress party. However, speculation about the next prime ministerial candidate is rife. Strange as it may sound, but for some political formations and many among the paparazzi, the question is not who should be but ‘who should not be’ the prime ministerial candidate. 

Narendra Modi himself has not spelt out his desire to become PM. He may have an ambition to become prime minister, but frankly which politician does not harbour such ambitions? Some time back, asked whether he had any prime ministerial ambitions, Lalu Prasad Yadav shot back, ‘why not?’ There may be many Deve Gowdas who secretly hope to be ‘the monkey that arbiters between the two cats’! This category includes Chandra Babu Naidu, Jayalalitha, Mamata Banerjee, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Naveen Patnaik, Nitish Kumar and maybe, quite a few others. The name of Chandra Babu Naidu may be out of sync in this list as unlike the others, he lost two successive general elections and if the present is anything to go by, there is no hope in the world that he would win the next. But stranger things have happened in the past. In 1991, a concatenation of events resurrected P. V. Narasimha Rao from a self-imposed political vanavas and anointed him PM.

The BJP is yet to take a call on ‘who’ its prime ministerial candidate will be. The party claims – maybe, truthfully - that it has a number of ‘prime-ministerial candidates’ in its ranks and Narendra Modi is only one among them. There are a number of state elections between now and 2014 including one in Gujarat, where obviously Narendra Modi would like to see his party ensconced for a third term in office. He is entitled to it on the strength of his development record which, those in the know say, is comparable to no other state in India but to China, the epitome for development in the twenty-first century.

But speculation about ‘Narendra Modi as PM’ has electrified the mainstream media. Just google “narendra modi as pm” and the query returns a mind-boggling (for once the phrase is no exaggeration) 17,700,000 results in 0.39 seconds! There may be strong opinions ‘on both sides of the divide’ to use a media cliché but none can deny that he is a serious contender.

Before we consider the reasons his detractors might put forth against his candidature let us look at the positives in Narendra Modi’s favour:

Does he have an ennobling vision for the future?

He does not believe in offering sops but putting in place mechanisms for empowering people. In his vision, the first step for building the value chain of empowerment is developing infra-structure. It includes sources of water supply (both for drinking and irrigating agriculture); hassle-free power supply (again for homes and industries) road and internet connectivity and more importantly education for all.

The second step is generation of employment opportunities by encouraging investment in industry. In most states starting industries is mired in bureaucratic red-tape and corruption. The difference that Gujarat under Narendra Modi makes in this aspect is demonstrated in the setting up of the Nano car factory. When the Tata’s had to exit Bengal because of Mamata Banerjee’s cussedness and myopia, at least five states including three developed southern states and Maharashtra were vying for its location in their state. Even while these states were scrambling for the acquisition of land, Narendra Modi was ready with an offer. The land he offered was immediately handed over, with all infra-structure facilities in place. As a result of the one quick decision-making and acting on it, car manufacturers from all over the world are scrambling to build manufacturing facilities in Gujarat. The setting up of such major industries has a spin-off effect. It spawns setting up of a spew of ancillary industries generating jobs in lakhs.

While the ongoing foreign NGO-funded agitation has been delaying production in the Kudankukalam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, work has been silently going on in Gujarat for the construction of the first nuclear power plant under the Indo-US civilian nuclear co-operation agreement.

Speaking on the economic crisis that is currently gripping the nation and on how to overcome it by attracting investments in industry, he has this to say in an interview to the Economic Times (Red carpet, not red tape for investors, is the way out of economic crisis: Narendra Modi, June 7, 2012):
“It is a crisis. In the new economic scenario, the government can’t do all that is needed to pump growth. We have to encourage private investment, not just in infrastructure but also in the social sector. We have to open up new investment avenues for people who want to invest. 
But before any individual or company invests, they look for safety of their money and profit from the investment. We can provide safety for their money through clarity in policies, transparency in decision-making and decent implementation.
Can he make his followers see his vision through expressive language and communication?

If the recent BJP Natioanl Executive Committee conclave in Mumbai is anything to go by, he certainly can make his followers share his ennobling vision for the future. His every word was lapped up and the points he made lustily cheered by the crowds. This is but an example. His every speech in every meeting is crafted to paint glorious visions of the future for the listeners to visualise.

Does he take personal risks and makes personal sacrifices?

Narendra Modi leads a spotless Spartan life, works eighteen hours a day for realising his vision of a glorious future for his state.

No other political leader in India or anywhere in the world would have faced the kind of relentless onslaughts and vilification campaigns as Naredra Modi did in his career as Chief Minister of Gujarat in the last ten years. Undeterred by these, he has been marching ahead in his single-minded pursuit of development for his people.

Does every citizen identify with and believe in Narendra Modi’s ennobling vision?

His detractors and sections of the media might say what they want but the people of Gujarat, of all sections and communities have unshakeable belief in the leadership of Narendra Modi because of what he has already achieved. They identify with the golden future that he has in store for them.

Viewed differently, the question also means whether he can provide strong and effective leadership to his followers. The answer to it is a firm ‘yes’. One needn’t elaborate, for the all round development of his state and the rapid strides the state is making in different fields is proof positive of his strong and effective leadership. Just to mention two areas, the state saw deserts bloom and agriculture has been galloping at over 10% growth year on year whereas in the rest of the country it has been hovering at 3%. Some might say that his leadership lacks a consensual approach and is autocratic. One must remember he is an elected leader and he has been consistently delivering results. If he were to act only after all objections are convincingly answered it would lead to systemic sclerosis resulting in policy paralysis, something which we are witnessing with the central administration.

The criteria that were discussed above form the framework of what sociologists call the Charismatic Leadership and fits Narendra Modi to a T, no matter what paid-piper sarkari sociologists say.

And now the secularism debate.

To be continued…

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why should a secular nation have minority reservations?

Thanks to the Congress party’s unrelenting pursuit of vote bank politics the issue of reservations for minorities in jobs and educational institutions is back in the news. Designed as a ploy to regain a foothold in UP (as a key to capturing power at the centre in 2014), it carved out a 4.5% sub-quota for minorities (primarily Muslims) in the 27% reservation provided for OBCs. In its vulgar greed to capture power at any cost it conveniently forgot the sequence of events, beginning with the creation of separate electorates based on religious lines in the 1930s, which eventually led to the partition of the country. The creation of separate electorates was precisely based on the same logic and for the same reasons that the government now seeks to create reservations for Muslims.

As soon as it came back to power in 2004 the Congress party began planning its long term strategy to woo permanent vote banks that would be beholden to it. In the first fifty years after independence it expropriated the freedom movement as a convenient anchor to lay claim for power. During this period also it tried its best to project itself as a champion for the welfare of minorities.

The Justice Rajender Singh Sachar Committee was constituted on March 9, 2005 to prepare a report on the social and educational status of Muslims (not minorities) in India. The other members of the committee were Mr. Sayyid Hamid, Dr. T.K. Ooman, Mr. M.A. Basith, Dr. Akhtar Majeed, Dr. Abu Saleh Shariff and Dr. Rakesh Basant. Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood, a civil servant, was appointed as Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to assist the commission. The Committee submitted its report on November 17, 2006.

The Committee was asked to prepare a report on the relative, social, economic and educational status of Muslims at the district, regional and the state levels by obtaining relevant information and conduct[ing] a literature survey. Please note the last part in the first item of the terms of reference. The Committee was not expected to conduct any field research; it just had to conduct ‘literature survey’! This gives the committee led by J Rajinder Singh Sachar virtually the latitude to write anything it wants. (That the said J Rajinder Singh Sachar later turned out to be an honoured guest of Pakistani ISI-Front, Gulam Nabi Fai is another matter.)

PRS Legislative Research (“PRS”) which posted a summary of the report on its website has this to say of the report: “Barring some generic observations about the cause for the ‘development deficit’ among Muslims, there is no explicit or detailed discussion of the causes of such conditions.” (Click here to see the summary: Sachar Committee Report)

Sample some of the recommendations of the report, apart of course from recommending reservations for Muslims which was the latent reason for constituting the committee:

“… Work out mechanisms to link madarasas with higher secondary school board.  
“Recognise degrees from madarasas for eligibility in defence, civil and banking examinations.”

On the other hand governments in various states have been merrily closing down Oriental Colleges, which were established during the British reign to impart Samskritic education in Vedas and allied sciences. The ostensible reason for closing these colleges, most of which were over a hundred years old is their dwindling enrollment.

But the most perilous course that the Committee recommended is in this recommendation:

“Establish a delimitation procedure that does not reserve constituencies with high minority population for SCs.”

If this course is followed the problems the nation is facing in Jammu & Kashmir are likely to surface in other states like Assam, West Bengal and Kerala. (See below for population ratios of these states.)

The following may be summed up as the report’s errors of commission and omission. The report did not take into account the bulk of educated employed Muslims that migrated to Pakistan when the country was partitioned. It did not take into account the numbers of Muslims engaged in trades and other professions. The Committee willy-nilly concedes that the “[…] most striking feature is the relatively high share of Muslim workers engaged in self-employment activity, primarily in urban areas and for women workers. […] Muslim participation rates in traditional manufacturing and trade (especially wearing apparel, auto-repair and electrical machinery) is much higher than for other groups, while their participation in the agricultural section is lower.” It excluded the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes from corresponding Hindu figures thus annulling any equity in its comparisons. Last but not least it excluded educated and well off Muslims from comparisons.

The Committee also had to concede that the literacy rate among Muslims @ 59.1% was slightly below the national average of 64.8%, “with the greatest gap in urban areas” for reasons already mentioned above, but that “the literacy rates were higher than those of SCs and STs.

The Committee ignored the fact that the country did provide fair and equitable opportunities to all and those Muslims who availed of them did prosper - in filmdom, in industry, in government / university jobs or in politics. If you go by the findings of the report, Asghar Ali Enginner, A. G. Noorani, Azim Premji, Syed Shabuddin, the Khan trio and other Muslim celebrities of Bollywood and a host of other Muslims in high places (Sayyid Hamid, T.K. Ooman, M.A. Basith, Akhtar Majeed, Abu Saleh Shariff and Syed Zafar Mahmood included) - all need reservations in government jobs!

The National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) has concluded that the findings of the Sachar Committee were manipulated. The committee’s job was all the more easier as it was given the theories; it was only expected to go out and find facts to fit into them! Lo and presto, it did it and how? Try as you might, you cannot accuse the Committee of objectivity or doing anything right either by commission or omission. The Committee’s report, to borrow from information technology jargon, was doomed to be GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) right from inception. The Committee set out with faulty assumptions, faulty data collection and faulty analysis and of course ended up in arriving at faulty conclusions.

However the report made certain interesting findings with regard to the Muslim population in India. The states with the highest percentage of Muslims include Jammu & Kashmir (67%), Assam (30.9%), West Bengal (25.2%) and Kerala (24.7%). In 2001 the population of Muslims in India was 138 million which grew to 150 million by 2006. Between 1961 and 2001 their population grew from 10.7% to 13.4%. The committee estimates it is likely to grow to between 18% and 21% by 2101. These statistics are quite significant in that they raise a query about the definition of minority as applicable to Muslims.

The Constitution of India in Article 15 (1) ordains that [t]he State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.; and in Article 16 (1) that “[t]here shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.”

By its latest executive fiat and in spite of court of after court questioning its motives the government at the centre seems to pursue a perilous course that might once again threaten the unity and integrity of the nation.