Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Galti bahut kiya, lekin chori to nahin kiya

In recent times, I have seen a spate of articles and comments on social media that are part of a tremendous backlash against the AAP. I struggle to find a sound rationale for this. So, I have taken it upon myself to write the piece in defence of the AAP.

The arguments have been on three planks

1. There is no difference between AAP and Congress (or AAP and BJP): 

This is fantastically absurd. These guys took on the Congress on all planks, led the rout in Delhi. They were asked to step up and take charge when the BJP 'honorably' stepped aside on the issue of govt-formation; they were called irresponsible for holding the state to ransom; called impractical for calling for fresh elections. And then they decided to try and govern Delhi because the Congress 'offered' support, without being asked. Now it is somehow their fault for trying to run the show. In their short life-span, they have never sought any help from the BJP.

2. These guys are 'activists', they know only to disrupt, they do not know how to construct something:

They have been in power for less than a month.  Our history has seen governments that serve full terms and achieve far less than what these guys have done in few weeks.

Let me just take the example of honorable Mr. Kapil Sibal. He was in charge of the Human Resource Development ministry for a long time. In the first few weeks, he came up with a plan that could actually revolutionize the way Indian schools were administered.

Within days of taking over the ministry, he said - Let us have a unified board system. Let us scrap all these different boards and simplify the system with just one board of education. Many of us cheered for this (Personally, I was thrilled to bits). This could be awesome, could really make life easier for millions of school kids because no state could game the system and spend an inordinate amount of time playing politics with history and language books. Of course Mr. Sibal had not thought this through; of course he could not push it through. Unfortunately for the country, this was the last good idea Mr. Sibal had.

Then largely because he could not be seen as an old man doing nothing, he came up with a series of inane proposals. He talked of the pressures of students writing many entrance examinations and came up with a plan to simplify this. Now, all AICTE approved colleges had to select students based on this one great exam called CMAT. "One exam kills all, and I have justified my existence" he said. Only, the ministry could not outlaw CAT, XAT, SNAP, IIFT and NMAT. All of these exams existed in 2010, and they exist now. Only exams that have been scrapped are JMET and FMS, and these had been scrapped BEFORE CMAT came into existence.

Our honorable minister created an exam to ensure students would write one exam instead of 5; and ended up making them write 6. He went after Maharashtra CET then, and scrapped it. I think even that exam is back now. There has been a lot of confusion regarding CMAT for the past 4 years. No college selects based on this, but every college tries to ensure that the people whom they admit have written this exam. I sit on the admissions committee for 1-2 colleges and I pretty much told them "CMAT is a crap exam. Do not select anyone based on this. Select based on CAT, XAT, MAT, or anything else. And then whoever you select finally, ask these guys to write CMAT so that you do not end up violating some norm" This reminds one of Soviet Propaganda of the 1980's, but this is what Mr. Sibal made us do. So, more than 2 lakh people write CMAT because Mr. Sibal had a brainwave.

Mr. Sibal also pushed through government policy on expanding IITs. Someone who had consumed an inordinate amount of Tequila said "IIT = good brand. More IITs more good brands. And therefore, more good Engineers", the entire government machinery nodded and we have  a bunch of wretched new IITs.

I have arbitrarily picked one department and one minister. I am sure there are other ministers who have accomplished even less. I am not trying to paint a relative picture here. That is not the bar we should set for our new governments. We would have to reach a new level of ineptitude to perform worse than our current brigade. So, there is no glory in saying "it is not as bad as them". Nothing can be.

But all things taken into account, these guys have been in power for less than a month. They have shot to prominence, live in a TV capsule and are trying to govern the most difficult state in the country. They do not have control over their own police force and do not have much experience. And Congress and BJP are both good at creating trouble. So, let us not underestimate them either. BJP stepped aside from governing Delhi pretty much because it was a high risk state just prior to general elections. Now, they are essentially saying "Good luck with that".

Let us remember some basics. Once you give smart people some time, they will eventually figure out a way to get things moving. If we have intelligent, corruption-free guys in charge, they will get past a few errors and get it right, sooner or later. Mr. Kejriwal is an extremely intelligent person. Not in the Mr. Laloo Prasad is called 'smart', but in a way that scientists probably call someone intelligent. We have invested 50+ years in muppets. What Mr. Sibal says passes for intelligent TV these days, Mr. Salman Khurshid can look around a talk show table and realize there are 4 others who do what he does for a living - say lots of words that mean nothing.

We should not stare a gift horse in the mouth. Mr. Kejriwal is sharp, he is not corrupt - thats it, that is a manifold improvement on what we have had thus far. Whether he is left-of-center, right-of-center, or trying-to-be-in-the-center does not matter. These monikers are created by people who think they have had a good day if they can make Mr. Sibal agree to appear on a talk show. If he can be clean, provide Roti, Kapda, Makaan to everyone; and then Bijli, bandwidth to everyone; I dont give a tiny rat's behind which side of the 'spectrum' he is in.

In a recent interview, Mr Kejriwal said as much as well. He also said "Galti bahut kiya, lekin chori to nahin kiya" when asked about how his team had performed in 21 days. I want to vote for this guy for that statement. Amidst spin merchants, this is refreshing.

3. Why is Kejriwal playing spoilsport with the grand Modi march to Delhi?

This is central theme of a great many enthusiasts' angst. And this is the one that riles me the most.

A great proportion of India's social-media savvy youth has invested emotionally in this election. This is an extraordinarily good thing. What is less good about this is the fact that great numbers have invested in the Modi phenomenon. And they now feel that this new Kejriwal guy is out to steal their thunder. They feel that Kejriwal will end up playing 'spoiler' and should 'give way' in order to create a strong unified India.

This right to rule and 'destiny is with us' chatter cost BJP dear in 2004, and they are flirting with it again here. The BJP fanboys seem to have forgotten some basics - i) No wave is a wave unless you win some seats, ii) No seats are reserved for Modi. Have a message, have a leader, play ball.

The shoe can be fit on either foot. In New Delhi, the AAP can come out and say they could have routed Congress 60-10 if the BJP had not spoiled the party. In many ways, BJP joined the AAP-IAC show late, and are now demanding that AAP leave the stage once the comedy act is done. Veterans of the BJP basically sat on their behinds for 8 years and competed with the Congress on "Who is more inept, government or opposition?". The really big challenge to this stint of misgovernance came from Anna and then AAP. Now, BJP has stormed back to claim its rightful place as the number 1 alternative to Congress. Where were they from 2004 to 2011?

The narrative one can spin is - Modi is riding an anti-incumbency wave. A wave that was set in motion by Mr Hazare, pushed along by Mr. Kejriwal and whose fruits Mr. Modi is now looking to reap. For all his accomplishments, the biggest plus point Modi has is that he has Congress on the other side. In a nut shell, all parties competing in the 2014 elections are in it to have a stab at the 500 seats Congress WILL NOT win. Congress not winning is the theme of this election. Even in far away Tamil Nadu, elections are going to be about how to try to give the Congress another kick. If there were a way to give Congress -1 seats in this state (they are looking up at zero now), people would be queuing up for that.

Truth is, BJP would never have restricted Congress to just 7-8 seats in Delhi if AAP had not been there. Truth remains that AAP took as many or more seats that were potentially Congress's than those were potentially the BJP's.

Put differently, without AAP, BJP would have easily got a simple majority in New Delhi, but would never have banished Congress to single-digits. Delhi has struck fear into the Congress, something BJP could not achieve in 8 years as primary opposition party.

There is no god-given right for Modi to become PM in 2014. The BJP would do well to remember how they were in the mid 80's and how one rath yatra shaped their destiny. The man who went on that yatra seems to be the only one saying words of caution now. Too bad he borders on senile on occasions.

BJP is a party that built itself brick-by-brick, a party that became the face of the nation's desire to have something non-Congress. And then they became part of the fabric. They are still non-Congress, but less so with every passing year. And this rankles. This rankles a lot. Even the die-hards BJP-ites do not call themselves the party with a difference.

The BJP expected to turn up, beat a drum, say out loud thrice that they were not Congress and march to the Lok Sabha. It aint going to be that simple.

Let us not stare a gift horse in the mouth

It is not going to be that simple for the BJP and perhaps middle class India should be thrilled with that.

In many ways, India has long clamoured for an alternative to the two big parties. And somehow when an honorable one steps up, we cannot take it. We 'need' to stick to our original us vs. them narrative.

What more alternative do we want? A combination of Churchill and JFK riding in on a magic horse distributing gold coins to the peasants?

There have been so many times when we have looked at all of these SPs, BSPs, Shiv Senas, DMKs, ADMKs,  talk one language when in opposition and do the same mistakes when they come to power. And the simple theme has always been corruption. We have all said "Is hamam mein sab nange hain" at one point of time or another. Here is a guy who says, no matter what we do, we will not steal. We will not be corrupt. We will not screw over people.

And we want to fall back on the old rhetoric again.

Mr. Kejriwal is intelligent (somehow I prefer that adjective to Smart), extremely forthright & honest and someone who seems to be capable of governing well. Let us not jump to the conclusion that he cannot govern in less than 100 days.

Whichever constituency I vote in, if an AAP bugger stands in that constituency, I will vote for him/her. I am giving these guys a long rope. They defined hope in public life for India in 2013 (for the first time since probably 1970) and I will be damned if I give up on them within 6 months. I have held on to bad investments and bad employees for longer. I am unwilling to give up on this hope this soon.

And I hope you dont give up on them as well.


  1. Well written. I wish the AAP luck. They are certainly a breath of fresh air and have energized Indian politics like never before.

    Though AAP could have avoided the Somnath Bharti drama and ended up in a much better place. Right / wrong apart, it could have been executed & handled better, I'm sure. This thing will drag out for an entire week when they could have been out there proving themselves on much more constructive planks.
    Also - Kejriwal, being the idealist he is, is speaking his mind (which is not bad at all) and antagonizing almost every policewallah & bureaucrat. Ultimately the govt cannot function if these people shun work - whatever amount they do.

    Secondly, winning the Delhi assembly elections is more similar to winning the Mumbai Corporation elections..To scale from that to national level is a big challenge. Finding 30-40 clean candidates, vetting and evaluating them is very different from doing it for 500. I hope we don't see more incidents like this from future candidates.