Lok Satta Party Ad

Yesterday I caught an interesting ad for the Lok Satta Party on some Telugu channel. It depicts a family obviously in poverty. Their hands are in cuffs.  Two extended hands appear, one of them offering rice and the other offering some other food which I did not catch. The family shakes their heads, refusing. Then Jayaprakash Narayan, head of the party shows up, and he too extends his hand, only it is revealed that he has keys in his hands. Nice, crisp and effective message.

Lok Satta has been running quite a serious campaign here in Hyderabad. Any idea where they are getting  funding from? Perhaps their  web site  answers the question, but a quick glance reveals this, which does not tell me much about the composition of their sources.

Presidential and Parliamentary Systems

Rishi wants to know how I can claim that the Presidential System underdelivers change, and Ritwik angrily objects to my claim that in the Parliamentary System, the Prime Minister can handpick legislators. Both of them have missed an important qualifier: popular.

Change is rare in any mature democracy. This is as it should be. Obviously, I prefer change in the direction of less government and limited powers and others may prefer otherwise, but whatever the direction of your preferred change, I think that we should be wary of a system where a Chief Executive can, on the basis of just one election, bring about fundamental and drastic change in the structure of the polity.

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Look Out for Presidential Chief Ministers

I have piled on Sagarika Ghose earlier, but I must give credit when she is right. I think that she is essentially right here.  I had written earlier that

Very few politicians have tried to break out of this cycle, and I believe that the person with the greatest chance of succeeding is Modi.

The other person who is succeeding is Naveen Patnaik.   Neither Modi nor Patnaik has an immediate chance of succeeding at the national level, but then, I’d expect a vacuum at the national level for the next few years anyway. In the next few years, I believe that we will see many more of these presidential Chief Ministers, i.e. Chief Ministers who bypass intermediaries and forge a direct contract with their constituents.  The contract is: I provide you good governance and you vote for me. This will replace the multi-level contracts based on various caste allegiences that are now the norm. The Central Government will be a confederacy installed by these Chief Ministers.

And, this is something for the BJP to think of. 15 years ago, the BJP would have been the natural place for all these Chief Ministers to be in ( or be in alliance with). Now, it is no longer true.  Karnataka is one place where they are really badly screwing up.  There, if you had a presidential Chief  Minister like Modi, they could have achieved a permanent majority just as they have achieved in Gujarat. Instead, they have Yedyurappa.

Also, this moral policing is a bad mistake. If you are wondering how this point is related to the previous ones, trust me, it is related. I have just skipped a few steps in the reasoning.

Rube Goldberg Voting System v2

A refinement of my idea here. Minors should continue to have weighted votes to be exercised by their parents, but each parent should be allowed only one vote in addition to his or her own. That way, parents don’t get credit for having too many children. (Polygynous people of whichever religion will get credit for as many children as there are wives, plus 1, which sounds fair.) Now,   I don’t think that it makes sense to argue that this will provide an incentive for parents to “game the system”. Those who think that it makes sense have obviously never had children themselves. But the point that it will overweight the votes of people who did not practise birth control is well-taken, hence the modification.

Second modification. The weights should be discounted. We should use the  five-year average rate on government securities of appropriate tenor to determine the discounting.  That will mitigate the advantage enjoyed by young people somewhat.

The Turning Point?

Last May I had written:

So, a weak Congress with allies will do quite well for some time. In a First Past the Post electoral system, the parties in the first and second place tend to look stronger than they are, because like Vali in the Ramayana, they will gain strength from their opponents. 

This analogy is unfortunately inaccurate.  Vali gained his strength from the strength of his opponents. In a FPTP system, the second strongest party gains strength from the weakness of the stronger party. Your organization could be in a complete mess, but as long as you are the main alternative to the stronger party, the ruling party’s missteps and the anti-incumbency factor will cause you to gain strength.

My point, though is still valid. I believe that the Congress is in an irreversible decline.  If ever it happens that the third front gains enough to form a government on its own, then the extinction will be quite rapid. The BJP is also in a decline, but I am not sure if it is irreversible.

Hiding the Fiscal Deficit

It turns out that the UPA government, which presided over the boom phase of the business cycle has ended its term with an incredibly high fiscal deficit. It  got away with its legal responsibility to keep the budget within limits by  keeping them within limits on paper and simply spending more than it was allowed.  Chidambaram’s response to those who pointed out that he had not actually provided funding for the NREGA was, in effect “Trust me. Do you think I am so stupid as to not provide funds for such an important scheme?”  Now, we will enter the bust phase of the cycle burdened with a huge deficit. For some reason, I am reminded of the discussion I got into here.

Imagining India

Samvaadh Explains it All
Samvaadh Explains it All

Imagining India is an ambitious book.  It aims to take an inventory of India’s successes and failures, and set the agenda for its future direction.  While the book is interesting and worth reading, I am afraid it falls well short of its ambition.

Nilekani has divided the “ideas” in the book into four sections – The first section is for ideas that have already “arrived”. The second comprises those that are “arriving”.  The third involves areas where pitched battles are being fought in the war of ideas, and the in the fourth section, Nilekani tries to give notice of ideas that are far away, but are fast approaching.

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Speaking of Books…

I am currently reading “Imagining India” by Nandan Nilekani. I got a free copy from Webchutney, the PR firm for the book, on the condition that I review it and write about it.  ( I checked with them. A negative review is also allowed.)  I haven’t finished reading it, so this isn’t a review yet. But my initial impression is that it is quite well-written, which is a relief as I wouldn’t want to trudge through 500 pages of badly written prose.  As for the content, well, quite honestly I am not sure what to expect. Nilekani is obviously quite smart ( he is from IIT Bombay, he must be.)  Smart people have clever ideas. But solutions for India’s problems have been obvious for over 50 years now, and they haven’t been implemented. It is rather unlikely that Nilekani has anything radically new, and I don’t think that he is claiming to have any. 

Perhaps what is required is for someone to communicate those ideas clearly and forcefully? There is always a need for someone to communicate ideas and the more the better. From what I have heard, Nilekani is a great communicator, but his comparative advantage is in execution – after all, he founded Infosys and turned it into one of India’s most successful companies. With this record, it is natural for him to expect to be able to do more. But to be able to bring about actual change, it requires skills of a completely different kind, skills that he lumps under “Politics” in the preface. So his attempts to use his skills to actually execute change ends up in task forces with minimal impact. 

As I understand, the book is born out of this gap between what he has been able to achieve and what he thinks ought to be done. The answer to the question of how to close this gap is one that will require fresh ideas.

Rerun – Popular Will and Divine Will

As you ponder over the results of the elections in the five states, it is time to rerun an old post from over a year back: Popular Will and Divine Will

Essentially, I believe that the first fundamental lacuna of India’s democratic system is that a government’s performance at governance has nothing to do with its performance in the elections. Everyone can explain an election after the results are declared, but no one can predict it in advance. I believe that in India, a statement like “If you do X, your probability of returning to power in the next elections is Y” cannot be made for any values of X or Y. This applies to all X, whether X stands for “good” policies  or populist policies. Neither kind of X will have any kind of cause-and-effect relation on election results. 

The problem is not just the electoral system. It is also because no value of X will translate into any result on the ground. A politician can hatch a scheme whereby he can promise free colour TV to all voters. He may think that voters will get TVs and vote for him, while he gets kickbacks from the manufacturer. But given the corruption in the administrative mechanism, it is pointless to try and put this scheme in action. There is no guarantee that the TVs will reach the voters, and therefore there is no way to ensure that his constituents vote for him. 

Given this reality, if I were a politician, I would basically forget about trying to get reelected and concentrate on making money.

Very few politicians have tried to break out of this cycle, and I believe that the person with the greatest chance of succeeding is Modi.

The Decline And Fall of the Indian National Congress

This post will probably come back to haunt me. Later this year, there will be elections in BJP ruled states, and there is a chance that anti-incumbency will bring the Congress back to power there. Next year there will be a general election and the Congress may yet win it, and you guys will come back to this post and mock me for it. But what the hell, here is my view. For what it is worth, I held the same view after the 2004 elections.

I believe that the Congress is in irreversible decline. It may win one election and lose the next, but the trend is towards a decline. In a decade, it will be like Saltanat-e-Shah Alam: Az Dilli ta Palam. (The Sultanate of Shah Alam, a latter day Mughal “emperor” that stretched all the way from Delhi to Palam – then a village on the outskirts.)

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Intra-Party Democracy And Nuclear Disarmament

There are structural reasons why we do not have intra-party democracy in India, but I think that cultural reasons are important too.  Internal democracy is like nuclear disarmament – you can’t do it unilaterally.

In India, the cultural norm is that if you openly speak out against the leader of the party, you are not just disagreeing, but signalling a revolt. Reporters will breathlessly ask the critic if he is preparing to quit the party. News channels will quote sources close to the “two camps” which will talk of how the morale of the party  rank and file has been affected by the events. If you try to claim that there really aren’t any plans to split the party and the disagreements were just that – disagreements, the papers will speculate that the two camps are on the way to a patch up.

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