Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunami Relief Effort


Young India itself does not have a relief fund but we want to let you know of reputable and trustworthy organizations (see Disclaimer at end of posting) through which you can provide direly needed assistance. The extent of the tragedy is enormous. I'll write more about the on-the-ground reaction in a few days. I am currently in New Delhi where the government is trying its best to cope up with the situation but is falling short of people's expectations. Information is not being appropriately communicated leading to panic. Not to forget the pathetic evacuation job, which was non-existent in most areas. But there will be enough time to point fingers and hold people responsible. Right now people are fighting for sheer survival.

Some links to assist the victims -

* The Hindu Relief Fund (South India's Largest Daily Newspaper)
* AID-India (Association for India's Development)

India Together has an informative site as well - Tsunami Relief

Please donate generously and refer as many people as possible to this site and others that are trying to help the victims. Any and all help is appreciated.


**Disclaimer: Young India cannot receive funds on behalf of any of the organizations listed here. These organizations are not part of or affiliated with Young India in any formal or legal manner, and their inclusion here is not an endorsement by us of their efforts. **

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

YI Special Bulletin - "America Speaks: 2004"

We present to you a Young India special bulletin on the US
Presidential Election - America Speaks:2004. This bulletin analyzes
the reasons behind the verdict and shares with you our view of the
future. It's been a month in the making and we are glad that it took
us this long. We were able to analyze things away from the heat of the
election and to have a more long-term vision. True to our spirit of
seeking solutions we put forward ideas that could become the basis for
policy initiatives that help achieve our goals of improving
representative democracy.

"America Speaks: 2004"

This bulletin is the concluding effort of our 2004: THE DEBATE FOR
DEMOCRACY initiative. The momentous political events of this year
inspired us to undertake this endeavor that started last fall with
Mr.Mani Shankar Aiyar's visit to Washington. During the course of the
last twelve months we have held two Congressional briefings on the
Indian election, been invited to speak on Capitol Hill, televised
specials on the US Presidential election, in addition to being part of
many coalition efforts for peace. It has been a rewarding experience.
The year ahead has even more in store.

We feel this bulletin will assist in focusing our conversation about
democracy even more. In the coming year we intend to open another
front for our work - Indo-US relations. We think it is essential for
forward-looking ideas in both political systems to come together to
shape policy that will not only impact citizens in both nations but
will also have a positive impact on international affairs as well. Do
keep checking back with us through our website. We'll keep you posted
as well.

We sincerely hope you find our work useful and share it with many
more. We would love to hear back from you. Feel free to send us your
comments to Last but not the least we need your
support. You can assist us financially by sending checks payable to
YOUNG INDIA to PO Box 1791, Germantown, MD 20875-1791, USA. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your support and encouragement. We look forward to sharing with you our journey down the road of democracy.


Young India Team.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

America turns RIGHT

Less than an hour ago Senator Kerry conceded the election to President Bush. As time goes by we'll have more data to analyze the results but somethings are getting clear. Not only did the President carry the southern states he carried them with record turnouts thereby winning the popular vote. And even more importantly the Republicans have strengthened their grip on the Senate and House. They sent Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, packing home. Most of the new winners on the Republican side are distinctly from the right-wing of the party.

Exit polls indicate that in the end "values" was the most dominating issue. We all felt that it would an issue but I doubt anyone other than the Bush campaign really believed that it would be THE issue. A new brand of cultural conservatism is on the rise. One which has now been shown as politically beneficial.

We'll have a lot more analysis on the site and events to grasp the emerging realities. Today is a day of celebration for neo-conservatives and a day of relfection for the progressives in this country.


Tuesday, November 02, 2004

A Day to Celebrate

Almost all nations cherish their independence days as the most important days of their national life. I somehow feel that election day is equally important for two reasons. One, it most tangibly puts democracy in action and no matter how acrimonious campaigns may be if the elections are held fairly then every citizen has a voice. Second, I feel it's a day to pay homage all those people who laid down their lives for us to have the right to self-determination. And not just the ones in our countries but as history has shown that democratic movements derive strength from endeavors way beyond their own national frontiers. Today I feel a sense of deep gratitude towards all those great souls.

Congratulations to the people of the United States and may their democratic experiment get even better and inspire others across the world.

Do vote!


Monday, November 01, 2004

The final hours...

A long political journey culminates tonight for American democracy. Tomorrow it will exercise its most cherished right. The national polls are as indecisive as are the voters split. There is no statistical measure that could help us predict the outcome. It all depends on who shows up at the polls tomorrow.

Moving beyond the statistical excitement and the electoral college permutations (which I've addressed in the last posting) there is a significant ideological fight at hand. George W.Bush is an icon for the neo-conservative movement. There's not even a close second to him. This derivative of conservatism that most notably championed the doctrine of pre-emptive war is really fighting for survival. Four years without power and more importantly a leader this ideology could face extinction. George W.Bush is their last hope since he embodies some of the old conservative principles that are electorally critical. If you look at the second string of Republican leaders there just aren't many of them that can appeal to the base across its ideological and intellectual spectrum.

A victory tomorrow will validate the neo-conservatives and show to emerging conservative leaders that their ideas can fetch votes too. George W. Bush did NOT run as one in 2000 so that that makes this election the first neo-conservative election. They were surely emboldened by their 2002 Congressional success.

There is no coherent competing ideology to neo-conservative thought today on the American political landscape. There are supporters of it and then there are critics of it. That's why it's no surprise that this election is more about George W. Bush more than it's about John Kerry.

A win for Bush, however, does NOT guarantee a more right-ward turn for the United States. That will hugely depend on the Senate races. The ultra-thin majority of the Republicans can conceivably evaporate. A Democratic Senate will alter the agenda for a Bush second-term, if that happens. So, I'd say keep a very close eye on the control of the US Senate.

Election results from Uruguay just came in this morning declaring another win for a left-wing Presidential candidate. South America is going left-of-center. International developments like these will temper the right-wing turn the Bush administration may want to take if they win.

A John Kerry win will create a more of a attitude change compared to an ideological one. The lack of ideological baggage may lend it more flexibility in dealing with issues. It may encourage a Kerry administration to look at things without the color of pre-conceived notions. A second-term may find a Bush administration more liberated from its right-wing base and electoral politics. Many questions remain and the answers to which will only be known in due course.

But no matter where you stand on the issues do cast your vote!


Saturday, October 30, 2004

As of now...

It is next to impossible to predict this one but some formulations if realized can help us making some safe predictions.

Here are some of them:

A) Whoever wins BOTH Florida AND Ohio will most likely win the Presidency. Currently the race in both states is too close to call.

B) If FLORIDA and OHIO are split that will then create a big problem for Bush. In that event to offset that loss (esp Florida) he will have to win Wisconsin AND Minnesota. Iowa would be a plus. So, the split works in Kerry's favor IF he wrests Pennsylvania AND Michigan. Michigan is still surprisingly shaky for Kerry.

C) Both candidates basically have to win all the states they or their party won in 2000. For Kerry he has to win one more! Bush coasts to a victory if he retains his states from last time.

Even national polls are split with a Newsweek poll showing Bush with a 5 point lead but then both the Zogby and Washington Post daily tracking polls are showing Kerry with a 1 point lead. It is very hard to discern momentum and so this election in the end will come down to TURNOUT! TURNOUT! TURNOUT! The higher the TURNOUT the better are Kerry's chances. Meteorologists are predicting rain on Tuesday in Ohio. If that dampens turnout that could favor Bush.

Both parties have worked hard at the grassroots. Now it's game time.


Thursday, October 28, 2004

The "actual" election

After the debacle of the 2000 election that finally exposed longstanding issues in the electoral process Congress was galvanized (more like shamed) into action. No one wanted a repeat on 2004. Sorry to see those dreams being crushed. But to Congress' credit in 2002 they did pass the Help America Vote Act of 2002. President Bush signed it into law.

If you visit the Department of Justice website it says the following:

"Under Section 401, the Attorney General has enforcement authority for the
uniform and nondiscriminatory election technology and administration
requirements that apply to States under Sections 301, 302, and 303."
For those interested in details, read through sections 301, 302 and 303. A cursory reading reveals that Congress basically preserved the myriad of polling systems across the country but made sure they met new requirements. One of the requirements DOES mention a written record for a recount situation. I think there is definitely some legal confusion about that and as can be expected it has been duly challenged in the courts against electronic voting machines. One thing that I find startling is that states have till January 1st, 2006 to implement this!

I know democracy is all about choice and America holds its federalism close to its heart but too many choices for 50 states are creating an electoral process that is undermining the most basic democratic exercise. I think it's time for a complete standardization of the electoral process across the country. India has successfully achieved that and I don't see why the United States would have any technical problem in doing so.

The outgoing Congress has been quite active on the Election Reform front. Many procedural laws have been passed but I still feel that states are still messing up federal elections. The fact that 58,000 absentee ballots get lost in Florida where the last election was decided by 537 votes is a major scandal. It should be a cause of outrage against the secretary of state's office who had 4 years to fix things even though they're blaming this one on the postal office, who reject that blame.

I guess it's going to take another close election, more cynicism in the political process to finally move people in the right direction. It's hard to talk of issues when a large percentage of people in this country believe that the next "elected" President is going to be illegitimate. Welcome to the world of political polarization where mistrust reigns and the only thing certain is the uncertain.


Legitimate Elections

One of the biggest controversies with the 2000 US Presidential Elections was the debacle in the state of Florida. If you don't recall, the controversy was around ballots which could not be read clearly - "Hanging Chads". The US Supreme Court took on this issue in the context of recounting ballots where the "intent of the voter" could not be easily discerned. The results of that decision can be reviewed in this New York Times article published the day that the decision came out. It is interesting in that is includes some analysis of the other opinions published by the Supreme Court in addition to the majority opinion.

Whatever one's opinion is on the Supreme Court decision, the fact that such a controversy erupted highlights a much more fundamental problem in the way that federal elections are conducted in the United States. The reality is voting in the United States is that basically the only thing which the federal government guarantees is that every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote (except for a few exceptions such as for felons). Other aspects of voting is left up to the individual states and counties. This had not really been a national issue before the 2000 election, but since then, this has become an increasingly worrying situation.

We're not talking about voter intimidation or illegal tactics (although those are a concern, they can be addressed through better enforcement of existing laws). The worrying situation is that in federal elections such as those for President or Congress, the federal government doesn't require any minimum "quality" for polling locations or for the process which states and counties use to run elections and count votes.

What this means is that there are various ways in which people submit their votes - the traditional paper ballots, optical scanning machines where tick marks are read by scanner, and the new touch screen machines are just a few examples. There is certainly controversy around the touch screen machines because, depending on the type of machine, there is no receipt or secondary method to confirm the vote. This is one area of where it would make sense for the Federal Elections Commission to weigh in with standard for the types of voting machines which can be used in federal elections and the ways in which elections officials should maintain these machines to ensure proper functioning. Unfortunately, the FEC only seems to concern itself over campaign financing.

If you've read deep into the NY Times article linkd to above, you'll notice that the actual court case brought before the Supreme Court was regarding the recounting of questionable ballots. The decision made was based partly on the ability of Florida election officials to recount ballots quickly enough with certainty. This highlights another area of grave concern over the American elections process. There is no federal standard for counting or recounting ballots in the case on controversy, mistakes, or questions. Each state has different standards on when a recount should be conducted - many require a recount when the vote is within 1/2%, but it varies.

So after the controversy around the 2000 election, one would expect the federal government to weigh in on this and publish standards for counting and recounting ballots in federal elections. Again, this would be perfect for the FEC to pick up, but again, they do not oversee this area.

There are certainly other areas of concern with the process of voting in the United States. This piece has only touched upon some procedural areas, but there are many more issues around enforcement of elegibility rules, voter intimidation, and access to polling locations. All of these issues concern us about the quality of the elections process here. One can cynically question the legitimacy of President Bush's term because of problems in Florida, but safe to say that these issues were not in the public's eye then. In the four years since then, Florida has made strides to improve upon their elections process, but why not the federal government?

For the elections coming on November 2nd, it would not be surprising if various lawsuits are brought on the grounds of procedural errors. If the campaigns are ready to pursue these issues in a court of law, why isn't the federal government doing anything to discount the need for such lawsuits. Any time a material change in the results of an election could occur on the basis of these procedural failures and subsequent lawsuits, one has to wonder why there is not a larger uproar. Until there are federal standards for the election of federal officials, the legitimacy of every winner could be questioned.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Heat is ON!


I feel like the home-stretch, the final lap of a long race is underway. Yes, the race for the Presidency of the United States. You know when you watch those long 10,000m races at the Olympics that take about 23-24 minutes to finish you watch the start and then you keep checking back. And then as the final laps approach only a few runners are left in contention. And then the bell rings signalling the final lap. Similarly, this race began a couple of years ago. With almost 10 candidates up for the Democratic nomination. And after a gruelling primary season and rough Presidential campaign we are down to two runners. The electoral bell can now be heard across the land.

For a political junkie like me 2004 has been a great year. Two of the most prominent democracies on the planet are electing their executive and legislators. The Indian experience was exhilarating for the surprise it threw at observers. And now another huge election.

Outside the battleground/swing states there is no place more abuzz then Washington. I am lucky enough to be in the vicinity to absorb all the political talk and analysis. Most of it absurd but then again democracy is a reflection of the prevailing culture so what else can we expect from a culture that thrives on sensationalism. But enough of this abstract unsensational talk. The question is who's going to win?

Beyond the sarcasm that guises my cynicism this election will have a tremendous impact. No matter how superficially the electorate makes the final judgment. In the end I am optimistic that such an important judgment will be well thought out. From an issues perspective we all know what has dominated this campaign - Iraq, Terrorism and the Economy. The question is there going to be one issue that will swing voters one way or the other as they head to the polls.

I feel that voters will vote on general issues as opposed to something specific. And in that regard the 55% of the voting population that feels the country is headed in the wrong direction could mean trouble for the incumbent. But then 9/11 has transformed the political landscape here. People may feel that they are in the middle of a war and even though things are not as good as they could be they are better off weathering this storm in the same ship. Hence, people may vote cast a "gut feeling" vote.

This late in the game I'm not sure if the steady stream of bad news from Iraq is changing any minds. I feel there is an unfortunate sense of immunity from the ground realities there. Something "spectacular" will have to take place to shift the electoral dynamics in any significant way. And this is a sad commentary about modern democracies where violence is easily integrated in the political landscape. The anti-war side is going to protest at this generalization but the majority of the population felt that the war is the right thing to do. So, go figure.

The post 9/11 landscape has made it hard to discern the reasons for the economic downturn. In a non-war time the electorate would place more blame of such a downturn on the incumbent but some confusion exists this time in doing that. That is because people believe that the attacks hit the economy hard. Now other economic data combined with fiscal policy can lead people to feel differently. A tax-cut in time of war is unprecedented but then the incumbent administration comes back with the argument that the economy needed a stimulus. The interesting thing here is that each issue has two-sides but more often than not one analysis is deeper. This analysis is then responded to by rhetoric and not counter-analysis. And that's sad. Bottomline - the voters aren't helped in making up their mind.

There are people hurting all around this country. From families of soldiers on the frontline to single mothers without health insurance to factory workers whose jobs have been shipped away... their problems are real. The battleground states are seeing a battle on these issues. Even though the electoral college has reduced the political size of this country at least the issues being debated are of serious national and international consequence.

Yet after all this talk of issues and consequentiality there is a fundamental obstacle American democracy has to overcome - to conduct a fair election in the 21st century. It is telling when 40% of the population feels that their vote is NOT going to be counted! That is an alarming state of affairs. More on that coming up...

The polls are swinging so wildly that presenting any poll data would not make much sense. But you can check them at our page:

Keep checking back with us. Send your comments to


Saturday, October 16, 2004

Major defeat for BJP

Just months after a stunning defeat in the general election the BJP has suffered another body blow. The party's alliance with the Shiv Sena suffered a major defeat in the important state of Maharashtra. The incumbent Congress-NCP alliance barely fell short of a simple majority. The final results show out of 288 assembly seats contested the Congress-NCP combine have won 140 (145 needed for a majority) and the BJP-Shiv Sena combine secured 118 seats. The Congress alliance shouldn't have a problem conjuring up support to form the next government.

The BJP's defeat is noteworthy on many fronts. After the national debacle in May when the Congress shocked them in the parliamentary elections the BJP badly needed a morale booster. Maharashtra was one state where they had a good chance of regaining some political momentum by defeating the incumbents. The anti-incumbency factor that dominates polity in India had the Congress alliance worried as well. A victory for the BJP would have stopped the bleeding and given hope for a revival. That hope is now lost. The BJP entrusted the emerging leadership of its party to work these elections. They have failed. With the older leadership on the way out this signals a strategy vacuum in the BJP. The BJP's national status has thus taken a beating.

At the state level this verdict displays a level of political saturation for the BJP and its chief ally the Shiv Sena. The alliance's "Hindutva" calling failed to deliver. The religious and regional exclusivity that the alliance covertly pushed on the electorate was rebuffed. The inability of the BJP alliance to motivate people on issues of development against a not so popular incumbent shows a paucity of real policy thinkers within the party. If I were the BJP leadership I would find that alarming.

The Congress alliance must not see this as an overwhelming mandate. They must proceed in a sincere spirit of cooperation with all sides and fix the mistakes they made in their last term. They have a great opportunity on their hands and one would hope that they can move beyond infighting and achieve something for the people of the state.

Sonia Gandhi's leadership is now being commended by the BJP too. That says something. She has clearly emerged as a national leader. Her giving up the post of the Prime Minister and instead working for the party is paying dividends. The Congress is slowly but surely emerging after a decade or so of political oblivion. They must, however, not become complacent. Something very difficult in politics.

This victory gives the Manmohan Singh government a much needed shot in the arm. With the BJP, their chief opposition, somewhat on the ropes they may have an easier time getting things done. The hope is that they do the right things. All in all a momentous day for Indian politics as this result signals the start of an interesting chapter in the polity of the nation.


Sunday, October 10, 2004

October 13th - Important day for Indian Politics

The Indian state of Maharashtra will go to the polls on Wednesday, October 13th to elect its next legislature. The composition of the outgoing assembly that comprises 288 seats - Indian National Congress + NCP alliance (133) and BJP + Shiv Sena (125) reflects the current national political composition. The Congress and its allies can deliver the BJP and its allies a serious blow by retaining control of the state. On the other hand a victory in this very prominent industrial state can breathe new life into a dispirited BJP alliance. The stakes are very high for Maharashtra in particular and the country at large.

Maharashtra, which has the second-largest parliamentary contingent (48/543), is a crucial state from an economic and social perspective. With Mumbai as its capital in some quarters this election is being seen as a referendum on the Congress (UPA) government's economic policies in New Delhi. This could at best be seen as a secondary issue. The people of the state will still vote on issues more directly affecting them. On social lines the Congress and the NCP have aggressively combated the exclusivitst politics of their opponents - both religious as well as regional. The Shiv Sena has been discredited over the years for its violence and intimidation against non-natives in the state. The opposition alliance has since moderated itself but only the polls will tell how sincere the electorate finds these steps.

Many reports suggest that both alliances have had to battle rebellions from dissatisfied segments of their own parties. Politically speaking the rebellions seem to have cancelled out each other. One thing of note that an article in today's Hindustan Times (by Pankaj Vohra) points to is that the top leadership of the BJP alliance has been absent or ineffective whereas the Congress has brought in its star campaigners like Ms.Sonia Gandhi and PM Dr.Manmohan Singh. This can interpreted in different ways.

I feel that the BJP has much more at stake. With their strength in the parliament significantly reduced they desperately need to win this election for meaningful political survival. A win for the Congress/NCP alliance would be a shot in the arm for the Manmohan Singh government. A much needed one for a government in office on a razor thin majority. So this election is important on many counts for observers within the state, within the country and for all of those outside India interested in following Indian politics. Check back with us at our India site for the results later this week.

The election season is heating up the world over. Democracies are on the move to declare their preferences that will determine the course of this young century.


NOTE : You can get a breakdown of the outgoing assembly by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Six weeks to go!

Exactly six weeks from today the United States will go to the polls to elect its next President. The stakes are high. Yet the campaign season has failed to generate enthusiasm on issues that affect most Americans. Enormous amounts of political and organizational energies have regretably been spent on debating records from the Vietnam War era. An exercise borne out of vindictive politics rather than a desire to see the body politic address the issues of the people.

But we still have six weeks. Hopefully there will be some straight talk on fundamental issues of domestic and foreign policy. On the domestic front I would like to know precisely how the spending numbers add up when dealing with the war in Iraq and domestic needs such as health care and education. Senator Kerry has made a simplistic argument of rescinding the tax-cuts for the wealthiest to pay for his proposals. The precision of that calculation is up for interpretation and to some degree incalculable because of the volatile situation in Iraq. President Bush has been more audacious in his pronouncemnts promising more funding for the social sector without addressing the sources for these funds.

On foreign policy Senator Kerry should provide more specifics on what he intends to do. Simply stating that he would do things differently is not going to be sufficient to beat an incumbent who enjoys good support in matters of foreign policy. There are other issues on the international scene than Iraq. I haven't seen any difference in policy statements on the middle-east, south-asia, africa, drug-trade in latin america, relations with brazil, relations with india, and the list goes on... The war on drugs is forgotten. I don't expect these issues to make headlines but I hope that at some level these differences are laid out. Both parties should realize that in a close election where the demographics is diverse and immigrant numbers are increasing it is beneficial to spell out these details. Even today immigrants vote for candidates who have favorable attitudes towards their countries of origin. Just look at the Cuban-American population.

If this is to be viewed as a battle between unilateralists and multilateralists then the latter have a heavier burden to carry. They have to not only expose the failures of the unilateralists but also exemplify the efficacy of multilateralism. With the polls reflecting unconventional numbers ( numbers for the incumbent rising as a foreign war deteriorates ) this burden requires creative handling, which is yet to be seen.

The next four years can indeed change the world. Will the pre-emptive doctrine survive or will Iraq be the final stop? How are Iran and North Korea to be dealt with? How long can the deficit be ignored? Many more questions hinge on the events of the next 6 weeks. I hope all citizens do their homework before they head to the polls.


Sunday, August 15, 2004

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Independence Day Speech

PM Manmohan Singh gave an inspiring speech on the occassion of India's 58th Independence Day. Evoking the spirit of the Indian freedom movement and the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi the PM talked of fusing governmental endeavor with citizen participation. The speech addressed the most pressing concerns of the Indian people. Water issues featured prominently in his speech. A welcome sign of government atleast acknowledging a problem and then suggestions such as local water management indicate a thoughtfulness of sustainable and environment friendly solutions. Unlike the ecologically disastrous idea of linking rivers.

The full text of the speech is at the site of THE HINDU, which they obtained from the PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA.

PM Manmohan Singh's Speech

Peace and Jai Hind.


Monday, August 02, 2004

Voter Registration

Americans are notorious for their dis-interest in voting. Anecdotally, 60% of people eligible to vote in the US actually voted in the 2000 US presidential election and of those actually registered to vote, 86% of registered voters actually filled out a ballot (info provided by the US Census Bureau). That actually seems higher than we're usually lead to believe. In any case, Americans are usually "shamed" into registering by showing examples of much higher voting percentages in other countries. India is typically used as an example where, no matter what, the populus turns out en-masse to have their say about who will represent them.

So recently, I participated in a voter registration drive. This time of year is key to getting folks to register since the presidential race is finally starting to heat up. The usual strategy to get citizens to register is to get them where it's easy for them to fill out the form. This time, we had a booth at a charity dance party. Before the event I didn't expect too many folks would bother with spending 5 minutes to fill out the form. And true to expectations, very few individuals came up to our booth to register. But the interesting fact was that when we went up to party-goers, a large number of them willingly put their drinks down and filled out the form. The more interesting thing was that many of them had comments about how interested they were in the election - democrats and republicans, both. It was heartening to see that people showed their interest on a night when most people probably didn't expect to see a voter registration drive. By the end of the night, our registration box was full.

Lesson learned? People are more than interested in the upcoming US Presidential elections. There's no need to "shame" them into registering. They may not show interest right up front, but simply engaging them with a question or two will get them talking, and hopefully follow through at the ballot box in November.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Lance, Lance and Lance

For those of you not familiar with the name Lance it's the name of the only man to have ever won 6 straight Tour de France races - a 3000+ km bicycle race ranked amongst the most difficult of physical challenges. But why does this blog have an entry about Lance Armstrong? Because inspiration must be sought from wherever it can be.

In 1996 Lance Armstrong lay on his death bed suffering from testicular cancer with the doctors giving him a slim chance to live. Today one of the commentators on TV recalled visiting Lance in an Indianapolis hospital in 1996 and hearing from Lance's doctors that he had less than 3 months to live! From that day to this day it's been a very long journey but a journey that has inspired millions, especially those fighting cancer. And for those of us blessed with good health the burden to act only increases. Examples like Lance should inspire those of us who aspire to be of some meaning to our larger human family.

One reason I chose to write about Lance today was that Lance trains harder than any of his competitors. He does with an awe inspiring single-mindedness. Such dedication and tenacity should inspire those of us who want to change the political space for the better. Studying Lance one can learn the precision, clarity and sheer determination one needs to succeed. I am far away from achieving any of these goals but when I see a cancer-survivor winning 6 straight years in Paris it inspires me to do my best.

As a survivor of cancer Lance gives hope to the most physically vulnerable amongst us and for those of us priding ourselves as warriors of social justice the connection is simple. As the Mahatma put it democracy should be judged by the state of its most marginalized. And Lance has given hope to the ones in that position of physical marginalization. I hope he goes for number 7 and also hope that the inspiration that I feel today and so do millions other will translate into action making our world a better place thereby giving us a sense of a more complete presence here.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Democracy goes back to sleep?

Today democracy comes to "life" during the election season. Every 4 or 5 years people's issues get packaged in slogans and emotive speeches fill the air waves. If you love democracy then you can REALLY feel it. Everyone is taking stock of the nation. I am quite assured in my belief that this is a global phenomena. India just went through that and now the United States is going through that ritual with all the theatrical fervor that modern PR firms can muster.

This overt display of democratic activism that surrounds an election disappears once the votes have been counted, the winners have celebrated, the losers concede, new cabinet positions been announced and to stretch it... the first 100 days in office are over. In some ways its like the birth of a child in a dysfunctional home. The coming of the child is always a celebration. But after the first few months the child is barely cared for, his/her future consumed by the present struggles and unlike democracy it rarely gets a second look. Well, such an attitude towards democracy affects more than one child. It affects millions of them.

Modern politics has been reduced to winning elections. Policy-making is secondary. Policy-implementation is tertiary. Citizen's participation = opinion polls. Are you kidding me?? Nope. This is what our foreparents fought for - the "sport" of democracy. I say sports within quotes because the usual sportsmanship often seen in the athletic realm is missing. Democracy is being reduced to a spectator sports. And that is a shame.

A change of guard at the political helm is always a time for optimism, hope and for the losers... reflection. But that optimism rarely translates into policies that change the lives of millions upon millions who carry democracy on their backs day in and day out. If one talks about their concerns, the struggles one is termed a "populist" or a "liberal" or an "idealist" !! But such name-calling should not desist us from dealing with substantive issues that affect us - the reason for democracy. Election enthusiasm cannot be the total life-cycle of the democratic process because it is too short to address the issues that people deal with for their entire leaves... generations sometimes.

The challenge is to sustain this drive. And the most energetic part of every democratic society must take the lead in doing so. That must be the mission of our generation - not to quit after the first mile but to finish the race. The race will never end as we will only pass on the baton to the next generation but while we run we will feel the pain of the journey, the camaraderie of the run, the satisfaction of helping others to run with us and above all making the story of our journey the story of our generation. These columns cannot and will not provide specific solutions to specific problems. They can't. We must believe in the strength of communities, in their wisdom to know best. We must devolve our democratic faith to the level where people affect their own destinies.

Initiatives like Panchayati Raj (village self-governance) need to become the basis of democracy as we move forward. Supporters of democracy should be alarmed at the dropping rates of electoral participation, pathetically the only barometer available. In the end communities MUST take things into their own hands and dictate the political process that so profoundly affects them.

Whenever you think that you are too small to make a difference one figure that can always inspire you is Mahatma Gandhi. He once said, "Strength in numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone." Even if we are a minority of ONE we must persevere through strategic nonviolence. I close with these memorable words from Jawahar Lal Nehru's first speech to independent India:

The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us but as long as there are tears our job is not done.

And I add that the tears may have dried up but the pain persists and if we can every so slightly reduce it we have served our purpose on Earth.


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

BJP turns "right"

The BJP's on going national executive meeting in Mumbai has outrightly rejected any suggestion of moderation. To the contrary they are going full throttle in the "right" direction. Rejecting ex-Prime Minister Vajpayee's suggestion to reconsider the selection of Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi (widely accused of complicity in the 2002 riots that left 60 Hindus and 1000 plus Muslims dead)the BJP has reaffirmed its faith in figures like Mr.Modi.

I had feared that the extreme forces under the auspices of the RSS may dominate the scene after the election debacle. I am saddened to say that my fears were not unfounded. For all those who supported the BJP just because Mr.Vajpayee was at the helm this is a wake-up call. I always contended that Mr.Vajpayee was a mascot. A mask that suited the BJP in 1999. They don't need it any more. Their garbing their right-wing conscience didn't pay off this time so their going "back to basics". I wonder what will happen of people like Mr.Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and the likes. People who are moderates and not wedded to the RSS. I hope these leaders realize that the BJP is no more a party where they can survive. If Mr.Modi overpowers Mr.Vajpayee in a party then that party has issues.

I hope the BJP splits. For the better of the nation. The nation can use the service of its moderates. These moderates in the end will be the best bulwark against dangerous polarization. Let's see what happens.


Sunday, June 06, 2004

The New Indian Government's Agenda - The Common Minimum Program

The newly-elected Congress-alliance, formally known as the United Progressive Alliance, has prepared a Common Minimum Program (CMP). This document provides a high-level view of the coalition's legislative ambitions and gives us some idea of the mindset of this new government.

The CMP covers all major policy-areas. In order for us to have a more meaningful debate on these issues we have decided to take these issues one at a time. Some postings may lump more than one together but the general idea is for us to have time to absorb and understand what the new government is trying to achieve. At the completion of this cycle of posts we will compile our postings and your comments.

We begin our analysis with the "six basic principles for governance" as outlined in the CMP. We have enumerated them for simplicity of analysis. To repeat them they are:

A. To preserve, protect and promote social harmony and to enforce the law without fear or favour to deal with all obscurantist and fundamentalist elements who seek to disturb social amity and peace.

YI Comment: Heartening to see this as the first principle of the CMP. Over the last decade divisive politics has come to dominate the political discourse in India. The rise of Hindu "fundamentalism", deepening caste fissures and other sectarian tensions held India back. After the horrendous events in Gujarat, the train carnage followed by the inexcusable slaughter of innocent civilians, India indeed needed a government that would reaffirm its faith in secularism. Yet pronouncements alone will not do and the government will HAVE to address the root causes of hate. It will have to ensure that laws are enforced. At the same time it HAS to work with citizen's groups that are engaged in preventing the distortion of India's composite culture. The assault of imposed homogeneity MUST be withstood. This government will be closely scrutinized for its efforts in that regard when the history our times is written.

B. To ensure that the economy grows at least 7-8% per year in a sustained manner over a decade and more and in a manner that generates employment so that each family is assured of a safe and viable livelihood.

YI Comment: This principle, in my opinion, just sums the greatest challenge that democracy faces today. That is the challenge of managing social needs with economic goals as dictated by a rapidly globalizing world. India is doing well in managing the latter challenge but as the outgoing BJP-govt can tell you neglecting the former can exact a very high political price. Many theories have been floated in defense and opposition of economic liberalization and free trade. Often these debates have focused on numbers that rarely take into account socio-political factors. In most developing countries that have pursued such policies in the latter part of the 20th century and are still finding their way government's have done a pathetic job of educating and informing their citizens. The citizenry have been caught off guard with transition pains, whose duration is still being debated. They cannot but help feel like sacrificial lambs. The sad part is that the policies that are indeed being pursued, if done so in a more holistic way, may indeed uplift the very same people. This communication breakdown does not befit a democracy. This principle to me is a recognition of this fact and given my interaction with the new leaders I feel confident that the debate on the reforms process will qualitatively change. The reforms are irreversible but atleast now the nation will know where its headed. As it should.

I see no reason for investors to shudder as the people at the helm are extremely competent and fully subscribe to the ideology of free enterprise and trade. However, how India progresses in the second half of this decade will be a model for all democracies in balancing their social obligations (employment generation is paramount!) with economic aspirations. They are not necessarily at odds. The art to manage them MUST become a synergetic science.

C. To enhance the welfare and well-being of farmers, farm labour and workers, particularly those in the unorganised sector, and assure a secure future for their families in every respect.

YI Comment: This principle, in my opinions, emanates from many sources. One is the traditional base the Congress has had amongst the farmers. The point about social realities being addressed through economic policy also resonates in this principle. The undeniable backwardness of Indian agriculture is not lost on anyone. At the same time the inescapable reality of how critical agriculture is to rural employment MUST be recognized. The welfare state in India primarily extends only to the public sector. The majority of Indians still subsist on agriculture and to even think of addressing socio-political challenges without addressing the unorganized sector in rural India is a colossal mistake. Once again as the BJP can tell you.

The extremely strong message that the starving farmers of Andhra Pradesh sent to their state government has been duly noted by all political parties. Andhra Pradesh under Mr.Chandrababu Naidu's premeirship symbolizes the tragedy of lop-sided development. Development where lush green lawns of foreign corporations like Oracle and Microsoft have an abundance of water and farmers in the countryside are committing suicide because there no water to irrigate their fields and hence no food to feed their children.

Just the other day I was having lunch with an eminent Indian historian who reminded of how CRITICAL it now seems Jawahar Lal Nehru's insistence was in ensuring UNIVERSAL Adult Franchise. He fought off opponents that called the masses illiterate and a danger to democracy. Today they have rescued it!

D. To fully empower women politically, educationally, economically and legally.

YI Comment: This basic principle comes right out of the name for the alliance - progressive. The Congress has historically been the champion of women's participation in the national mainstream. Of course, its insistence on this principle was far more sincere and intense during the freedom movement. Then Mahatma Gandhi ensured and greatly encouraged women to take roles of leadership. Who can forget women like Sarojini Naidu.

The dismal percentages of women in elected bodies MUST be addressed. I am sure legislations to address just such issues will be earnestly introduced. The women of India MUST take the new government to task in order to fulfill this promise.

E. To provide for full equality of opportunity, particularly in education and employment for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, OBCs and religious minorities.

YI Comments: This basic principle too is a pillar of progressive politics the world over. Affirmative action to galvanize the socially and economically backward is central to progressive ideology. Such galvanization is also the basis for many of the coalition's partners. When we delve deeper into this principle a little later in our analysis you will see the special attention being given to the tribals. That is indeed a a very welcome development. They have been most unjustly treated over the span of the last 50 or so years. Having to pay disproportionate prices for "development". The hope is that the new government will strike a humane balance between the rights of the tribals AND the needs of the nation.

A word of caution here for the new government. Those of you who closely follow Indian politics must remember the furore caused in 1989 when the government implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations. The recommendations provided a significant increase in reservations for these same sections of Indian society. The economically weak sections that did not qualify because of their social conditions felt left out and there were massive demonstrations and violence. Affirmative action everywhere arouses mixed feelings. The government will have to proceed with caution striking the right balance between true opportunity and social tranquility. It MUST not be driven by vote-bank politics as it will invariably harm the interests of the majority of Indians in that case.

F. To unleash the creative energies of our entrepreneurs, businessmen, scientists, engineers and all other professionals and productive forces of society.

YI Comment: Hard to find something more vague in terms of substance. But I believe it is important to make such optimism a guiding principle. Stating this desire doesn't mean much unless it's backed by policies and pronouncements that inspire. Time will tell how this government fared while fulfilling this ambition of theirs. It's also the ambition of every Indian that their government provide them the opportunity to become a productive force for their own nation.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The new Indian Cabinet

More than 5 dozen members of the Indian cabinet were sworn in on May 22nd, 2004. The cabinet composition not only provides some insight into what type of policies can be expected but also how these policies will be implemented.

It is hard to provide detailed information about all the different ministers but we have chosen the top-spots for analysis. You can view this information on our Indian Cabinet page. Most of these spots have gone to the Congress Party members, the largest contingent in the United Progressive Alliance government.

The cabinet formation process wasn't a particularly smooth one. With each partner of the coalition demanding the most important portfolios they could get. Mrs.Gandhi's political engineering came into play here and the issues with the DMK (ally from Tamil Nadu) and RJD (from Bihar) were resolved. I do not foresee any other activity on this front for a while. All parties seem to be satisfied.

The cabinet could have and should have had some younger faces. That is what I think is the only mistake the Congress has made so far. It would have given them a real boost with the urban youth. I hope that they will keep this in mind when the cabinet composition is up for change next. It is critical for the fastest growing section of the Indian population to have serious representation.

The new government has to be vigilant of divisive forces. It must develop policies and enforce laws to completely marginalize the use of religion in the political process. Most recently these divisions have been deepened by creating social tension leading to riots. These forces have achieved under the garb of a "political struggle" or sometimes under the "auspices" of democratically elected politicians. These riots have driven fear into the hearts of innocent citizens. This MUST stop. Be it Kashmir or Gujarat. I am not comparing the two situations as equal but there is no denying that in both places innocent lives have been targeted by hate-mongerers. These individuals and groups MUST be brought to justice. There can be no two ways about it. The responsibility to make this happen will fall on the shoulders of India's Home Minister, Mr.Shivraj Patil.

Education must be a top priority for the new government. Its decision to increase education spending to 6% of GDP from 3% is very heartening. Of course, with the hope that the government will be keenly aware of the fiscal burden thereby incurred. The Human Resource Development ministry under Mr.Arjun Singh MUST now focus its attention on the curriculum. Let us not forget that 70% of India's school-going children drop out after 8th grade! You can read more of our education proposals.

Mahatma Gandhi when asked to detail the India of his dreams once said that he dreamt of an India where every Indian felt that his/her efforts were going towards building his/her own nation. That sense of participation and belonging still eludes us and it is the moral imperative of this new government to make such participation a reality. Anything less will be unacceptable.


Thursday, May 20, 2004

What's next?

Dr.Manmohan Singh is scheduled to take the oath of office on Saturday, May 22nd. Thereafter the focus will shift onto the announcement of key cabinet portfolios. And the rest of the cabinet in due course.

As and when the announcements are made I will provide some insight into the choices. I'll talk about the people chosen, their records, their views and their aspirations. In parliamentary democracy a lot can be learned from looking at a cabinet's composition. A note of caution here. The process of portfolio determination is getting tricky with coalition partners deciding to join the government and in return seeking strategic positions. A balancing act that the Congress must master as it will have to exercise it many times over its tenure in power.

It must be said that the respect and admiration that has come Mrs.Sonia Gandhi's way will definitely strengthen the Congress's bargaining position in the event of an unreasonable request being made. For example, if the leader of a 6-7 member parliamentary delegation starts threatening to not support the government unless granted a key ministry Mrs.Sonia Gandhi's current popularity will desist them from making too much of a fuss. Hence, by not accepting the Prime Ministership she has really strengthened her political position. Critical for the leader of a party that only has a 7-seat lead over its chief rival - the BJP.

That is what's in store for the Congress and its allies. What I am interested in seeing is how the BJP and more importantly the RSS responds to this new reality. Their platform has been rejected and the only thing they could have claimed any credit for - the reforms - are being carried out anyways. With the foreign origin issue even further eroding their stature they are out of sorts. May be this will force them to be a more responsible opposition in the legislative sense.

I feel for the BJP to survive the moderates have to make a clear break from the extremists. The "Hindutva" (which is a linguistically wrong word for "Hindu-ness"!) forces within the party MUST be isolated. The BJP may be the progeny of the RSS but it may be time to move out for its own good. Something for them to think about.


Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Who is Dr.Manmohan Singh?

As most of you may have already read and heard that Dr.Manmohan Singh is all set to be India's next Prime Minister. For readers outside India this is a relatively new name. To get you started I thought I'd put together some links and information to shed some light. Actually most Indians too are only familiar with his economic policies from the 91-96 administration. They are not too aware of his precise economic views and most definitely not of his personal political views. The latter will come out slowly and I'll try to share them with you as and when I learn them.

Dr.Singh's official parliamentary website is the best source to learn more about this tremendously accomplished man. Most memorably he is seen as the father of the modern Indian economic resurgence. It was under his leadership as the finance minister that in 1991 faced with difficult economic choices Dr.Singh led the charge to open the Indian economy. It was a bold move.

Last year when I met with him along with my Young India Board of Directors in his parliament office he was reflective about the reforms. Not regretful but aware how they had not touched millions. He was also concerned about the unexpected social ramifications of rampant consumerism. I expect him to propose policies that broaden the economic gameplan and at the same time sustain the growth that India has seen over the last decade.

His positions on HOT political issues are unknown. Atleast to me. What does he think about Kashmir? What are his views of the war in Iraq? How should the temple-issue in Ayodhya be resolved? What specific proposals does he have to improve primary and secondary education? The list goes on. I am conjecturing he is pretty much aligned with the official party positions of the Congress on these matters.

The man has unparalleled experience in public policy. India could not have asked for a better administrator. BUT... he lacks political capital and people are supporting him because of Sonia Gandhi. Atleast for now but I am confident that this man is so decent and sincere that he will create a following amongst all sections of Indian society. Gentlemen of such a breed are very rare.

All the best, Mr.Prime Minister. All the best, India.


Tuesday, May 18, 2004

THE Decision... Part I

Few had predicted a Congress victory. Of course, none in the media. But we will be hard pressed to find anyone who would have predicted that Sonia Gandhi would NOT become Prime Minister after a Congress victory. Her decision was truly shocking.

As of midnight Eastern Standard Time she is "reconsidering" her decision. At this stage it will be foolish to speculate anything. Her words so far have suggested that there is almost NO chance of her changing her mind. Her speech to the Congress Parliamentary Party leaves little doubt. But I have heard that Congress workers/leaders from across the country are on their way to New Delhi to convince her. This is a delicate situation. The emotionalism could get out of hand. Sonia Gandhi needs to be careful here. She cannot let these people down too hard. She has to pick the right words and the right approach to make them understand her decision of not taking the PM position - if that stays. Her personal decision will have wide consequences.

In the long-run her decision to not take the PM post may be seen as beneficial. She seems to be focussed on defeating the BJP. She knows that an 8-seat lead (145 vs 138) isn't anything to sit on. Her single-mindedness on this front will definitely make the Congress strong. But in the short-run, as I have stated above, she needs to contain the disappointment of the party cadre. They hold her in the highest esteem. And I can say that from personal experience.

Various Indian editorials from leading dailies like THE HINDU and TIMES OF INDIA have paid Sonia Gandhi glowing tributes. From a political standpoint I think this situation is going to require some serious political skill. The way she has energized the party will require her to find ways to maintain it. As she herself has said that the Congress has only won a battle... not the war.

Another political reality to contend with will be the lack of political capital of any other Prime Ministerial candidate. Dr.Manmohan Singh, an outstanding academic and an epitome of decency, lacks any real political or mass support. It is, however, interesting to read reports that the Left parties have indicated their support for him. That's huge. May be the bifurcation of administration and political evolution is the best way to go for the Congress. With its star player leading the strategic battle to create more space for the party in the political context things can only get better. But the effectiveness of the administration will remain suspect. It will be interesting to see how the allies come around.

One thing is for sure that the BJP has been exposed by all this. Some of its prominent leaders being openly racist and talking of shaving their heads and wearing white clothes and stuff just shows how maturity has completely missed them. Worse is the silence of leaders like Mr.Vajpayee at such a tawdry and childish display by his party-folk. Very disappointing. And I must say that a part of India's liberal class too has not been emphatic enough in its denunciation of the opposition Mrs.Gandhi has faced on account of her Italian-origin. When it was time to be counted... these folks were nowhere to be found.

In the end we MUST respect the sentiments of Mrs.Gandhi. And I am sure that her party workers will. In any event, an angry and energized Congress Party is bad news for the BJP, who will now be scrambling to find more issues to create noise. Their old ones have been thoroughly rejected. May be and just may be tackling some real issues that confront the masses... will be helpful to them and India. I am sure there are some smart folks sitting there behind the Sushma Swarajs and Uma Bharati's. I can atleast hope.

May sanity prevail and the new government have a chance to get off the ground. We ALL must support it now that the election is OVER.


Monday, May 17, 2004

Sonia Gandhi's Foreign Origin

A lot is being said and written about India's next Prime Minister, Sonia Gandhi's Italian origin. The losing BJP alliance is going to protest her assuming the highest post by boycotting her swearing-in ceremony and then organizing rallies etc across India to mark the event as a "Black Day" for India. All because she was NOT born in India.

Let's get one thing clear before we proceed. Who is qualified to be Prime Minister? According for the Constitution, for which the BJP-Alliance is showing scant regard, Sonia Gandhi is a citizen of India. And according to the same constitution ANY citizen of India over the age of 35 can become Prime Minister. Sonia Gandhi is 57 and thus meets both criteria. The BJP-Alliance was desperate to amend the constitution while they were in power to prohibit someone of foreign-origin aka Sonia Gandhi to be eligible for the Prime Ministerial post. They failed to gain any serious political traction on the issue. They then made this issue a part of their campaign platform and we all know how they fared there. Even after the people of India have let their wishes known the BJP-alliance is in denial and is pushing for what I can only term as a racist campaign by sore losers. This racism will resonate with people in the diaspora, who can easily relate to this situation through the personal challenges in assimilating into societies different from their countries of origin.

This is not about whether I have any personal admiration for Sonia Gandhi or the Congress. The Congress too has done ridiculous things in the past but such a blatant disregard for the outcome of democratic elections is shameful. The founders of the Indian nation knew what they were doing. The current protestations do not have ANY legal basis. They are regretably prejudicial. I am aware that the protestors also include people who don't even consider Mother Teresa an Indian. Just a Christian zealot out to convert people. How tragic is that? I am hoping that a parliamentarian and statesman of Mr.Vajpayee's stature will show leadership and guide his colleagues.

Last week a friend of mine, who is dear to me, asked how I would feel if George W.Bush became India's Prime Minister. I told her that IF George W.Bush-
1. moved to India and raised his kids there
2. spent 36 straight years even after his wife is blown to pieces by extremists.. fully having the option to return to the US!
3. became a citizen of india, learnt the language and the customs and wore kurta-pyjama or even better the traditional dhoti!
4. resurrected a dead political entity
5. connected with his constituents
6. led his party to a national victory

I would be glad to see him have the chance to be India's Prime Minister as he will have outdone many of those who have come to regard democracy as an entitlement. I say this with great thought and conviction that democracy is not about entitlement but about participation. And Sonia Gandhi HAS participated.

If the BJP-alliance ever came up with a leader who was born outside India and dedicated his/her own and family's life to live and grow in India. Had the desire to serve India then I will be the first person to defend him or her against ANY and ALL attacks. Because to attack such a person is wholly un-Indian! The fact that a naturalized citizen can become the Prime Minister of India shows how much more emancipated Indian democracy is compared to its counterparts in the other parts of the globe. Sonia Gandhi's becoming Prime Minister doesn't diminish my pride in my country... but only enhances it.

My faith in India is not based on who's at the helm and what their first name or last name is. My faith in India is based on its incredible ability to assimilate. That is why all religions have found a great home in India. How could the founders of a nation that fought discrimination create a discriminating constitution?? They couldn't and they didn't. It's a fine constitution for a great nation!


ps. remember Al Gore being present at George W.Bush's inauguration. i hope the BJP revises its stand and does the right thing.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

To Join or Not to Join

One of our readers has posed an interesting and important question - why wouldn't somebody who has the opportunity to join a govt in a parliamentary system NOT join?
I am by no means an expert on parliamentary democracy but here's what I think.

I guess this issue is coming up as the Left parties have almost (formal announcements awaited) decided NOT to join the Congress-led coalition government in India. Their rationale seems to be that such a move would ideologically dilute them. They are bitter rivals of the Congress in some states as well. The divergence of economic viewpoints is perhaps the greatest reason why the Left will sit out and in their own words prevent the BJP from "usurping" the opposition's agenda. So, the Left will strategically vote with the Congress to maintain a non-BJP govt. On specific bills they seem to want to have the option to freely vote their mind. And they believe that given the gap in economic thinking they will not be doing justice to the faith placed in them by their constituents if they join the govt.

I must say that this is a rarity given the opportunistic nature of multi-party democracy, of which India is perhaps the best example. Rarely does ideology triumph over opportunism. We may be seeing an instance of that.

Before I close this should be a welcome sign for the economic reforms lobby which has been freaking out (the Indian Stock market reporting heavy losses) since the news of a Congress-Left govt hit the wires. The Congress will now have a greater say on matters of economic reforms. They will still need to take the Left into confidence to get things passed but precipitous situations like Left ministers resigning and stuff will be avoided now. Anyways, with Dr.Manmohan Singh (the father of the economic liberalization process) at the financial helm there should be few worries on the market and progressive sides of the political fence. I am sure that the Congress and he himself have learnt many lessons in the 8 years that they filled the benches of the opposition. These lessons will enable him to make more inclusive yet forward looking policy.


Friday, May 14, 2004

Challenges Ahead...

A major theme of Congress nay-sayers has been that the outgoing BJP has lead India towards the 21 Century and amazing GDP growth rates and that the Congress party will go back to old ways of socialism. On the contrary, many things actually point to the Congress & BJP having very similar economic plans. However, rather than focusing simply on maintaining GDP numbers, Congress leadership needs show the way towards distribution of these trends to the rural majority. If Congress hopes to sustain support, the party must show that it can lead the rural masses to the pot at the end of the rainbow. It cannot continue to hope for windfall monsoons and IT leadership in city-centers, it must develop better ways to get the rural economy in lock-step with the rest of the economy.

Panchayati Raj is something which the Congress Party can surely build a foundation upon. Just as IT has given power to many formerly powerless city-dwellers (and helped them to become business owners, CEOs, and yuppies), the village-based Panchayati Raj gives power to a much lower level and creates a self-governance. The challenge for the Congress Party lies in determining the best way to empower village leaders to improve their own lots in life. Tying this into the agricultural economy can indeed sustain GDP numbers while spreading the wealth and benefits to a much larger set of people.

There are certainly many other things which Congress et al need to think about, but if the government can help a village stand on its own, it has in effect, given those villagers the ability to vote everyday instead of just when national elections are called. While I'm a cynic when it comes to politicians and their seedy ways, I do believe that a sincere leadership at the center can minimize the effect of self-serving politicians and empower villagers to govern themselves.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The People's Verdict

Does the Indian psephologist and media community stand discredited or corrected? I'd say a little bit of both. The people of India have gloriously demonstrated the incomparable strength of their democracy.

With 536 of the 539 seats where elections were held reporting the Congress and their allies are at 219 with the BJP and their allies at 186 (Source: NDTV). No poll anywhere had predicted the Congress alliance overtaking the BJP alliance. None. The people have proven all of them dead wrong. The Congress coalition will be bolstered by the support of the Left parties of India, who are close to 50 in strength. Their combined strength will be sufficient to form the government. Something unimaginable based on the pre-election reporting. If the US TV networks were embarrased by the Florida outcome confusion then this verdict delivers a body blow to the Indian media's forecasting credentials.

But enough of chastising the media. There is no one who could have predicted this. And this most certainly includes the Indian National Congress aka the Congress Party. I can say from a personal standpoint and based on my experience with the leadership of the party that their optimism was far more modest than what the results finally show. That cautious optimism was once again evident just an hour before the counting began. I had called up a senior leader to get his take and he said that it was going to be a very close call. Well, it wasn't that close after all.

So, what happened? I'm sure this election analysis will go on for years. Such a monumental shift in the political circumstances of all involved was beyond everybody's expectations. But there are some high-level conclusions that can be drawn:

1. This is a verdict that rejected the BJP-alliance. As much as the Congress wants to believe that this is a vote for them it is a vote against the incumbent. But you have to give it to the Congress for capitalizing on that discontent. Perhaps something the Kerry campaign may be interested in learning more about? Politics is so similar now across the globe.

2. Contrary to what THE ECONOMIST is heralding as the begining of an unstable era in Indian politics this is actually a stabilizing development. My prediction was that the Congress Party's raw strength would be between 130 and 150. The closer to 150 the better their chances to form a stable coalition. They are at 141 with 528 seats reporting (Source: Election Commission of India). Up from 114 in 1999. What makes this result surprising to me is how well their alliance partners have done. They picked the right allies at the right time. And the big thing is that none of their allies has won that many number of seats to challenge the Congress' leadership in the coalition. With the Left parties ideologically committed to an anti-BJP front the stability of this government leaves no doubt in my mind. The Congress strategy team did a great job. All credit to their coalition building prior to the elections.

3. The BJP itself has been siginificantly weakened. With 528 seats reporting they are down to 136 from 182. Given their pre-election popularity on "paper" this is a thrashing. What is even more devastating for the BJP is the defeat of some of their most prominent leaders like Dr.Murli Manohar Joshi and Mr.Yashwant Sinha. The Education and Finance ministers respectively. The BJP is at the crossroads. They need to decide on a hardline or the line of moderation that they were trying to portray if not follow. Time for some serious soul-searching. The hawkish and fundamentalist elements will undoubtedly get stronger as they pint the blame on the leadership that did not force Hindu nationalism onto the campaign platform.

The subtler conclusions in the next post. After all why did the incumbents face the wrath of the people. Some intriguing stuff awaiting us there. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004

How to get the latest election results?

The official website to get the latest election results is:

The tension is growing as the fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Our analysis will begin as soon as trends and results are made available.

Stay tuned.


Dispatches from India during Election Time

I always find it interesting to read the thoughts of people as they find new experiences. Whether they be travelogues or diaries, the comments provide much insight into other peoples' worlds. On that note, here is a set of dispatches by Akash Kapur, a writer who is travelling around Southern India during the election there. His is clearly not an un-biased report, but he's pretty clear in differentiating his opinion from the thoughts of the people he meets.

There is a new post everyday but here are the links for the first three days:

If there are any readers who are currently in India and wouldn't mind relating some of their thoughts about the environment there right now, we'd very much appreciate your insight.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

And there it is... the Andhra rout

The voters have emphatically spoken. Unidimensional policy-making bereft of any real plans for the masses has led to a rout of Mr.Chandra Babu Naidu's party in Andhra Pradesh. This is not only important in the context of Andhra politics or even Indian politics but all democracies out there that are waging a struggle to find a balanced approach to development must look at these results. There are distinct systemic conclusions to be drawn here.

I have detailed in previous entries my views on why this rout was in the making. The anti-incumbency characteristic of Indian politics too is a factor but such a decisive rout (only 49 seats out of 294!) is a resounding vote of no-confidence. Now the Congress and its allies MUST respond to the challenges that the hard-working people of Andhra Pradesh face. They need the government's help to help themselves. The free electricity campaign slogan for farmers may or may not pan out. The Congress will have to take steps that provide a more holistic response to the problems of development. It must prioritize employment generation in all areas of the state. It MUST also continue to support the IT sector to which Mr.Naidu devoted most of his time. A great opportunity has befallen the Congress.

For a while I was counting on Andhra Pradesh producing the most gains for the Congress on the national level (counting to begin on May 13). Tamil Nadu is another state where they can do well with their allies the DMK. Elsewhere they may not gain much.

In closing, this is a very rude awakening for the BJP led NDA coalition. This is bad news but since the parliamentary election these losses may not be that big. In any case the Congress could not have asked for a better start. 226 out of 294 isn't bad at all!


Monday, May 10, 2004

The counting begins...

With counting of the national elections still a couple of days away (May 13th) the counting of votes in the crucial southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is now underway. This is for the state assembly elections.

These results have a bearing on the national outcome as well. The performance of the Telegu Desam Party, a key coalition member of the outgoing BJP-alliance at the central level, will be a good indicator what its new strength is going to be when the parliamentary counting gets underway. A loss in numbers will directly mean a weakening of the BJP front. To be noted here is also the expectation of a dismal showing of the BJP in Tamil Nadu (another south Indian state)where it got together with AIADMK.

If these losses do materialize than the hung parliament prediction will definitely gain weight. The latest NDTV poll does put the BJP alliance about 30 seats short of the majority mark and the Congress alliance another 30 or so behind the BJP. But the Congress alliance does not count the outside support the Left parties have already consented to. The Left's final strenth will be between 40 and 50. So, the final numbers will determine everything. It's like a basketball game in the 4th quarter with 30 seconds remaining and one team has a 2 point advantage. In basketball terms its a one possession game. If the other team scores they could tie or win the game. The Congress is clearly trailing but a late surge could see them through or force overtime, which would mean hectic coalition parleys for both alliances.

Before I close it is important to look at the Andhra Pradesh results in another light. The Telegu Desam Party leader Chandra Babu Naidu had made it into a priority to make Hyderabad, the state capital, into a global hub for technology and backoffice work a.k.a outsourcing. Many of his critics said he put too much emphasis on that and ignored the rural areas where farmers committed suicide because of the extreme poverty they found their families in. They blamed it on the negligence of a government that they badly needed to help in times of natural calamities like droughts. These results, if they hold up, will be a vote of clear dissatisfaction with a policy-maker with a unidimensional approach to development. He may have made the upper middle-class proud and the free-market fundamentalists happy but the ones that counted most for him... are showing him the door. It is important to point here that there is a serious move for the Telengana region in Andhra Pradesh to become a new state. That separatist sentiment gave the Congress a key ally in these elections - the separatist flag carrying party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).

The excitement has just begun. More to follow....


Friday, May 07, 2004

More wild-cards....

I just read that the much touted exit polls have only covered 145 out of the 361 seats that went to the polls. And the projections for the last phase of polling (May 10), which decides 181 remaining seats, are based on mid-march polls. Not that I am saying that this points to gross statistical inadequacy but does leave a lot of room for speculation. In any case, as per my earlier beliefs the BJP alliance will stay put hovering around the majority mark (272) barring a dramatically good performance by the Congress in this last phase.

In a comment to my last posting one reader disagreed with my prediction of a hung parliament. There is surely a chance that that precise scenario may not arise but the scenario that does will be one where the mandate of the eventual government will barely clear the majority mark. Technically that is sufficient. But the volatile nature of Indian politics will make it quite insufficient. As important as the need for political stability is I hope that some qualitative changes too be a focus of the citizenry and the representatives alike. A more holistic approach to social, economic and political issues will help India become a great nation. In my opinion India's potential is being contained by myopic approaches to development and other policy matters as well. This lack of understanding the interplay of various policy matters and their effect on the nation cannot be blamed on any one party. It is the collective failure of the political system. I am not ranting against the "system" but sharing with you some ideas as to how this situation of political apathy and incoherence can be improved.

I've already shifted to the policy side of things so might as well continue. I don't see much change in the economic policies of India after these elections results are known. Both the Congress and the BJP will continue the process of liberalization. One can, however, hope that this process is reviewed and modified to address some of the basic weaknesses of the Indian economy. The education system must be seen as an integral part of India's economic gameplan. Just yesterday there was a piece in the New York Times ( that talked of how the IT boom had not led to any significant change in the employment scene. It remains a huge issue for millions of people in India. And as the social disparity will increase as service sector jobs, as lucrative as they may be, will not be able to keep pace with the number of graduates mass unemployment is NOT a distant possibility. It is a REAL situation with REAL social and political consequences too.

India's internal social situation too is on the line in some sense. The horrendous violence in Gujarat was an abberation. But its repitition elsewhere is not totally out of the question. The resurgence of separatist violence in the North-East is also a matter of serious concern. Let's not forget Kashmir. The Indian electorate fully realizes the sanctity of the secularism clause of its constitution. It is in sync with the ethos of the Indian nationhood. But that clause and that ethos is definitely under attack from the right-wing and opportunists elsewhere. All parties will have to be absolutely united in confronting this menace of communalism. Moderates within their parties will either have to weed out the extremists or lose moral credibility. There can be no two ways about it. Trying to fool the public with high-flying rhetoric based on "history" is cheating the nation of the time and energy it needs to invest in feeding and clothing millions. There are that many without it!

The election results will change the fortune of some in the political class but it will do little for the people of India if there is not a persistent effort to address some of the most fundamental problems. This does not require blind quotas and favors handed out BUT enabling people to help themselves. As long as government sees itself as a provider and thus master of the people NOTHING much will be achieved. Can the government of India move into the position of a facilitator is the real question.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Indian Elections - How does it look on May 4th, 2004

With the 3rd phase of polling (one more to go after this... May 10th) about to commence in a few hours the political climate is both exciting and ambigious. The latter is feeding the former. 84 parliamentary contests will be decided. Prime Minister Vajpayee's electoral fortunes too will be on the line. One contest to watch will be between the flamboyant, controversial and outspoken Laloo Prasad Yadav and his past friend but current foe Sharad Yadav. Laloo could be a player in the formation of the next government.

Latest polls so far are projecting the BJP and allies mustering 245-265 seats. Falling short of the 272 majority mark. The Congress and its allies are expected end up very close to the 200 mark. May pass it. But exit polls have been the real story of these elections and they have greatly corrected blanket speculations. The exit polls from tomorrow's polling will be significant and if this stays a close race the pressure on the last phase is going to be immense.

The seats up for grabs in tomorrow's phase have the potential of determining the national outcome. They are in crucial states. States where the BJP did well last time and this time will be struggling to maintain that performance. The Congress and its allies will be hoping to make serious gains. If they do then they will have a fighting chance at the national level. UP will be most important of them all. The Congress was decimated last time winning only 10 seats out of 85. I expect them to do better than that. The bottomline in tomorrow's contest is how decisive will the shift be? If there is a minor adjustment in seat distribution then not much is going to change at the national level. But if the BJP (currently 29) loses double-digit seats in UP and suffers losses in Rajasthan, MP and Bihar then no outcome is certain at the national level.

Much focus, as expected, is currently on the statistical outcome of this election. In my next post I will talk about what I feel will be the policy impact of some possible outcomes. Read on...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Indian Elections - How does it look on April 28th, 2004

With two phases of the polling process over the exit polls are revealing what psephologists (experts in election analysis) should have discerned from the prevailing mood and the results from the 1999 results. In my opinion, the BJP had max'ed out 5 years ago. There was no way they could make dramatic gains if one looked at the state-by-state results. Given the anti-incumbency nature of Indian politics their over-achieving performance last time around should have, if anything, made them more cautious.

Looks like BJP and allies a.k.a the NDA will barely make the majority mark (272). That means cobbling up a coalition will require some new faces. These new faces will hold the key to India's forseeable political future. The TDP, currently a prominent member of the outgoing coalition, in Andhra Pradesh is heading towards disaster so at the moment the AIADMK (Jayalalitha) is the most prominent partner of the BJP. It is a little difficult to predict who the savior is going to be for the NDA coalition. Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party is a top candidate, in my opinion.

The most important number will be the raw strength the Congress party musters. If it hits the 150 mark on its own then it is a serious enough contender for the BJP to be really scared. By my analysis thus far I see them only gaining in strength from their dismal 114-seats vantage point. Dramatic gains in Andhra will help them. They will pick up single-digit seat gains in many other states as well.

I must end by saying that two more phases are still to go and if there is one thing to be weary of in a democracy then that is guessing what voters will do on election day.