Unity and Delusions

On our side of the border, we have Kupamanduka who claims that the Pakistanis’ religiosity gives them strength that Hindus lack. Ergo, we Hindus should unite, so that our country achieves the heights that Pakistan has achieved.

On the other side of the border, we have Ejaz Haider who claims that we Indians have developed a sense of nationalism that binds our various institutions, civil and military,  and that this has helped us pursue a tough policy, in contrast to the softer Pakistan.

Questions for the BJP

Dear BJP,

RE: Your performance during the Kandahar Episode

Do you have anything better than this Kanchan Gupta article to explain your performance? If not, then here are some questions that arise from that article:

  1. The article blames the media for creating the impression that the entire country wanted the terrorists to be released. The question is, were you elected to office based on SMS polls organized by the media? Don’t you have BJP workers all over the country?  Did you really have no way to be in touch with those who elected you?
  2. If you cannot fight your country’s media and some 200 families within the country, how do you expect Indians to have the confidence that you will fight India’s enemies? If you cannot take tough decisions and communicate them during a minor crisis like this, what would you have done if you had faced the situation that Britain faced during World War II when the Germans were bombing them?
  3. The article is pretty critical of the behaviour of the officials at the Raja Sansi airport. Apparently, they failed to obey a direct order from a Central Minister at the time of crisis. What did you do to end the careers of such incompetent officials? Or do your powers of harrassment and vindictiveness extend only to those who expose wrongdoing in your government?
  4. In December 1999, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Amritsar because they did not have a plane. In November 2008, NSG commandoes could not fly from Delhi to Mumbai because they still did not have a plane. What did you do between 1999 and 2004 to get the NSG commandoes a plane?
  5. Finally, if, when faced with the problems, constraints and incentives that the Indian National Congress did, you are going to do the same things that the Indian National Congress did, why should anyone who is exasperated with the performance of the Indian National Congress vote for you?

Replacing FPTP

Karan Thapar discusses former Chief Election Commisioner Lyngdoh’s solution to the problem of “hate speech”.  Lyngdoh believes that hate speech is a consequence of the first past the post system which will often lead to candidates getting elected even with 20-30% of the vote.  So, all a candidate has to do is to appeal to a hardline base, which often means that he can profitably utilize hate speech towards that end. The solution, according to Lyngdoh, is in two parts. The first part is to utilize run-off voting where the top two candidates slug it out for a second round. The second part is to use proportional voting to fill part of the legislature.

I have discussed this when I reviewed Arun Shourie’s book for Pragati, but both these solutions will worsen the problem. In the FPTP system, you have to win the first time. Yes, you can win with 20-30% of the vote, but only if no one else gets more. What is stopping you from appealing to a broader section of the population right now?  In a run-off voting system, you have an incentive to run a two-stage election strategy. In the first stage, your campaign is extremist, focusing on your base. In the second stage, you move to the centre to take advantage of the median voter – something that happens with American Presidential elections. In the FPTP system, you have little incentive to shoot for the second or third place. But in a run-off system, you have an incentive to try to secure 10-15% of the vote, so that you “transfer” it in the second round in return for favours.

Proportional voting has similar problems. In the FPTP system, there is little incentive to appeal to a religion, caste or section that is only 5% strong, but distributed across multiple constitencies. In a proportional system, a party that is focused on just that 5% will still get 5% of the seats.

To be honest, I actually like the proportional system. If you combine it with a directly elected President (making parliamentary majorities irrelevant) the system has some advantages – for one thing, it will provide better representation to the middle class that is now spread across multiple constituencies. But let’s not look at it to solve problems it won’t solve.

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.