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Thursday, May 21, 2009

What lessons can Pakistan learn from India

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I came across an interesting article in the Pakistani newspaper The Dawn. It talks about how deep the anti-India feelings exist in Pakistan. I suppose it would be wrong to say if similar feelings don't exist here. We can go arguing which one is more. It is in these circumstances that we fail to appreciate what is common among us and how both sides have something to learn from each other. The article talks about lesson Pakistan can learn from India. I am mentioning some of the more interesting point. Do read the entire article.

  1. So strong is the Pakistani elite’s aversion to India that it barely acknowledges its South Asian identity. Most Pakistanis would like to believe that Pakistan is located somewhere between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
  2. This mindset prevents Pakistan from studying Indian strategies to deal with the various issues that also plague us. Faced with problems of stagnation in agriculture we have invited experts from the western countries that have little knowledge of our soil, our land tenure system and the strengths and weaknesses of our peasants but we have made no serious attempt to analyse how India, a food-deficit country in the early 1950s, is now groaning under stocks of surplus grain.
  3. The destruction of Pakistan’s railway system is a most painful scandal but it is doubtful if we have tried to find out what keeps the Indian railways running. We have subcontinental diseases and we insist on applying Middle Eastern cures, quite unmindful of the disastrous results.
  4. India is the only country in the world where polling in a general election is spread over several weeks, the basic reason being the keenness to ensure availability of the necessary personnel in sufficient strength in each sector. Till some years ago ballot boxes used to be kept under strict guard till counting could begin at the end of polling. It was no small achievement that in a country that was among the first to report incidents of booth-capturing no serious complaint of tampering with ballot boxes was heard.
  5. But in 2004 India took a revolutionary step by switching over to vote-recording machines. The success of the system has silenced all those who had argued that the poorly educated rural communities could not use machines. True, there have been minor problems here and there but on the whole voting by machines has yielded huge benefits.
  6. Some improvements in India’s political culture were evident in the promptness with which the losers admitted defeat and the manner of their doing so. In the main they held themselves responsible for their poor showing instead of blaming the system or the winners for wrongdoing. It is evidence such as this that convinces everybody of the election having been free and fair.
  7. The extent to which the election commission has contributed to the development of electoral processes and conventions in India merits study by Pakistani experts. India has avoided reserving the chief election commissioner’s office for the judiciary and succeeded in establishing the institution’s credibility. Differences have been noticed between the commission’s working under a stern and authoritarian Seshan and a gregarious and media-loving Gill and there have been occasions when observers have wondered at the commission’s laziness or else but on the whole the system has continued to deliver.
  8. The greatest misfortune of the Pakistani people has been that the repeated disruptions of the democratic journey by authoritarian adventurers have deprived them of the joy of owning the state. The Indian election needs to be studied in Pakistan in order to settle the question of the state’s ownership — whether it belongs to an oppressive, incompetent and corrupt elite or the dumb, exploited multitude.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Comparing NDA vs UPA performance

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Perhaps this is the right time to compare the performance of the two regimes. But before I begin to compare, let me state some facts so that the rest of the discussion is seen in that context.

To begin with, the BJP had 189 seats in the NDA coalition while the UPA had a mere 145. The UPA had to bear left almost throughout its term as an alliance partner. The average oil price during the NDA regime was between 20-25$ while it was well over 50$ in case of UPA. During the UPA, world economy witnessed phenomenal growth except during the last 6-8 months. Average rate of growth ofIndian economy was 8% during UPA while it was 5-5.5% during NDA. NDA era also witnessed the 2001 recession.

Now in the above context of things, let us try to list down the achievements of both the Govts. Let me also admit right at the start that I am a bigtime Congress basher. In case I forget to mention some of the achievements of UPA, I request the readers to point it out to me. Moreover, since I cannot cover everything, I will try to cover the major ones.

First, let me with NDA. The NDA regime began with a bang - yes, literally with a bang. India became nuclear. Ofcourse Pakistan also became one. Now it is no more a secret that Narasimha Rao too wanted to have the tests in 1995 but backed out after detected by the US. So it wasn't just the NDA that wanted Nuclear Tests. But it is not the nuclear tests that was the achievement of NDA. It was the way it handled the post-Test scenario. Jaswant Singh convinced the US that a democratic nuclear India was not a threat to the US. It was NDA that first brought India and US closer. It was perhaps this which in some ways facilitated the Nuclear Deal in 2008.

NDA worked enormously to bring peace in Kashmir and its Kashmir policy is laudable. Vajpayee made three attempts to strike a deal with Pakistan including the Lahore bus journey and also the Agra Summit. It also made regular attempts to bring Hurriyat to table. Vajpayee Govts also made a strategically important move by starting the construction of Baglihar Dam and also KishenGanga. This served two purposes - one, it could provide electricity to a power deficit state, two, it would give India a capability to cut-off water to Pakistan whenever it wanted thus giving India a massive bargaining power. However, unfortunately India could not strike a deal with Pakistan.

1999 also witnessed the Kargil war. Kargil war once again showed India's underpreparedness with respect to weaponery. While some blame of the intrusion could be handed to the NDA regime, its the previous regimes that have to take the entire blame of the lack of modernization of the Indian armed forces. Infact, India forces suffered massive losses initially. It was Israel that came to India's rescue during the war. Had it not been the case, the result of the war might have been completely different. What was also important is that winters were approaching and it would have been virtually impossible to clear Kargil once winter had set in. Therefore winning Kargil was an achievement of NDA govt. It was NDA that started the modernization of the armed forces and also built close military ties with Israel.

Terrorism was present during the NDA regime as it was during the UPA. Two of the major incidents that happened were Kandhar hijack and Attack on Indian parliament. Kandhar hijack didn't happen on Indian soil but there was a chance to stop the plane from going away from Indian soil. That is something that cannot be wholly blamed on the Govt. Neither can its surrender to millitants. News were flooded with plight of the relatives. Every news channel was only talking about the victims and none of them talked about the broader national interests thus creating huge pressure on the Indian Govt. The Govt. did what it could, negotiate with the terrorists who were now in a safe heaven. Jaswant Singh in a interview later on said that he had no regrets about the release of the terrorists. Critics including the same media have raised time and again this issue saying that NDA too wasn't strong enough against terrorism. My only question to them is, "Will Rahul baba go to Afghanistan to talk to a regime that does not believes in any kind of rational and has no principles". Infact Jaswant Singh's going to Kandhar was an act of bravery rather that cowardice. The problem is that the BJP hasn't really communicated this well and has allowed Congress to attack.

The second incident of attack on Indian Parliament. This was perhaps the attack on the very idea of India, perhaps of the same level as that of 2008 Mumbai Attacks. But there was a major difference. US had started the War on Terror in 2001 and Pakistan was a major ally. Therefore, India could not really do much. They did try the Operation Parakram but failed to meet any objectives. It was a massive failure. On the other hand in case of Mumbai attacks, Pakistan was already under pressure from the US and UPA used it to its advantage to coerce Pakistan into accepting that Kasab was a Pakistani. Ofcourse, UPA hasn't been able to achieve much beyond that but atleast it was better that the former case. But it is important to note that the geo-political situation was completely different in both the cases.

The points discussed so far primarily on foreign policy issues. On the domestic front, NDA made a significant impact as reforms came thick and fast. NDA created a separate ministry of Disinvestment under Arun Shourie and made massive disinvesments including that of BALCO and Maruti. Massive investments were made in infrastructure. Golden Quadrilateral and East-West and North South Highways were planned and started. It was NDA that brought in FRBM act to reduce fiscal deficit which had been ignored and had been increasing.

But the Hindutva agenda was also present. In 2002, Godhra happened and the entire BJP leadership kept quite. That was also what led to its downfall. I am not writing more on Godhra because its already a well discussed topic. Moreover, the benefits of roads and FDI failed to reach to the bottom layer, who voted out the BJP and NDA.

Now, coming to UPA. UPA started its era by announcing NREGA. It was a pretty much a populist measure aimed at getting votes. In someways, it was perhaps required to. But was it really required to be launched throughout the country in such a quick fashion even when there were questions raised about its effectiveness in the 150 poorest districts where it was first launched. Also, the fiscal pressure was also there.

Forming of Sacher Panel was another important step taken by UPA. Though it was primarily meant to garner votes, its importance cannot be undermined. UPA also formed the Sixth Pay Commision. This was once again targetted at getting votes as it was launched strategically at a point so that its report would be out when the Govts. term would be ending. Reservation in higher education was another step taken by this govt. but that can in no ways be termed as an achievement. The problem is that it cannot be openly criticized by the opposition.

Among the major achivements of the UPA govt, two things stand out. The first was RTI while second was the Nuclear Deal. While RTI is surely going make a lot of impact on the long term, Nuclear deal is something that is hard to understand for most Indians like me. But given the fact that Pakistan isn't too happy about it and wants similar deal for itself gives ample proof that it surely in India's strategic interest. Under UPA, India has increased its influence tremendously in Afghanistan. That is achievement for UPA, but also it needs to be understood that things were completely different in case of NDA and they could never do the same.

On the fiscal front, the UPA fared very badly and has failed to meet the targets set by FRBM. It is also important to note that Indian economy grew at 8% during UPA which means that Fiscal Deficit increased in real terms in the UPA era despite the 8% growth.

I have tried to cover all points but I am bound to miss some of them. But what onething that is pretty much clear from above is that it is the NDA that is much more decisive and capable of taking strong and long term decisions. Ofcourse, BJP having 189 seats played a big part in enabling in taking those decisions. UPA has taken some politically correct decisions. Perhaps it is these decisions that got them back in power. They also seem to be benefitting from some of the decisions taken by their predessor. But now is the time to take a long term view particularly in this recessionary scenario. The Congress has the mandate to do so with over 200 seats. But are they really capable of that? Only time will tell.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Verdict 09

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It's been almost a month since I updated my blog. The primary reason was because now my MBA is over and I had joined my company. Nevertheless I kept myself updated and tried to follow as many blogs as possible. But I had to comeback. The results of the elections forced to me find sometime.

As an NDA supporter, I have to say I am disappointed. Mind you I did not say BJP supporter. Though I have never had friends outside my religion, I wouldn't mind any. I am a strong believes in secularism. This is where I believe BJP lost the plot. Projecting Advani as Prime Minister and more importantly Modi as his heir cost them dearly. Though Advani led the Rath Yatra, but not many people remember it as well as Godhra. So, BJP has to giveup its hindutva agenda and focus on development. Varun Gandhi didn't help either. It is these characters that shifted the debate away from development issues thus allowing UPA to escape.

So how come Congress and UPA came back to power in such comprehensive fashion. There were two or three real masterstrokes played by the Congress soon after it came to power in 2004. First was setting up of Sachar panel to look into the condition of minorities and in particularly that of Muslims. This was clearly aimed at getting the Muslim votebank. Second was NREGA. Though its effectiveness is still being questioned as there is large scale leakage in terms of corruption. Vast majority of the rural people believe that this is a state govt. scheme rather than a central govts. Moreover, its the NDA states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat that have implemented this scheme much better than that of UPA. Third was setting up of the sixth pay commision so that its recommendations do come well in time of the General Elections.

Not all of this can be attributed to an advantage UPA. Ofcourse if you ask any Congressmen, his reason would be simple,its all because of Rahul Baba. While Rahul may be a factor, he cannot be solely responsible to this resurgence. For instance, it may be recalled that even in the assembly in UP, Congress went alone and Rahul baba attracted huge crowds. But Congress hardly won any seats. Perhaps it was more of anti-imcumbancy than of Rahul effect. I won't go into each state but I still believe it was ManMohan Singh's clean imae that helped more than Rahul effect. But in Congress, every victory is attributed to the Gandhis while for every defeat a scapegoat is found. So it wasn't surprising at all when soon after the results there were calls to make him the Prime Minister.

But despite all this, I still believe that there is something to cheer about. Firstly because it is a decisive verdict. With 200 seats, Congress can go ahead and implement their policies without being heldback, provided it wants to. Secondly because finally the left has been cut to size. For a party that hardly has any influence outside three states, it used to have a dispproportionate influence at center. Moreover, finally people of West Bengal have voted for change. Only problem is that its Mamata who lacks any vision for the state and who is determined to keep Bengal the way it is for the last 30 years. But perhaps, Bengal can wait for the development, atleast the rest of the country is no more heldback.

, this election has been a big thumbs down to caste based politics of Mayawati and Lalu. In an earlier article, I had said that we must not get carried away by Maya's rise. Afterall, left despite representing the common man (and being particularly strong with labour unions) hasn't been able to extend its influence beyond the three states. Maya clearly has hit a roadblock. In the current format where she is the only leader of her party, she cannot hope to extend BSP beyond UP. BSP needs to create more local leaders. Lalu too has been finally rejected by the people of Bihar. Its high time that both these leaders understand that caste-based politics is being slowly rejected by the people.

However, there have been places where such politics has worked. Maharashtra is one such state. The Congress-NCP has been there for almost 9 years and the state has been languishing since then. But these parties have got their caste equations correct. Moreover, the entry of MNS has cut into Sena-BJP votes.

The last five years have full of indecision, where it is on economic front, foreign policy front, reforms front or on terrorism front. But people of India have given Congress benefit of doubt. But this time there aren't going to be any excuses of being heldback.