Gadkari cannot say “mere paas saasu ma hai”

Vivek Kaul
So the tables seem to have turned. The story has moved on from Robert Vadra to Nitin Gadkari. Veerapa Moily, the Union Corporate Affairs Minister, had been quick to jump to Vadra’s defence and had said “I have already verified these allegations and no wrongdoings have been found in any of the six Robert Vadra-owned companies.”
Now with allegations against Gadkari coming out thick and fast, Moily has jumped in at the same quick speed and ordered an inquiry against Gadkari. “I have told our ministry to make some discreet inquiry to find out what exactly is the matter… are there any violations of the Companies Act?” said Moily. He also added the ministry would probe it as the matter was in the public domain. “It is all coming in the newspapers,” he said.
What is interesting here is that Vadra’s dealings with DLF are also in the public domain and the news was all coming in the newspapers, as Moily put it in Gadkari’s context. That being the case shouldn’t Moily have ordered a “discreet inquiry” against Vadra as well?
Digivijay Singh, the chief muck raiser and one of the General Secretaries of the Congress party, has written a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Gadkari has also said he is open to a free and fair investigation. [He] being the national president of the BJP, it is in the fitness of things that his case is properly investigated and he gets a fair opportunity to prove his innocence and clear his name,” wrote Digvijay Singh in his letter to the Prime Minister. “A prime facie case does exist,” added Singh, and requested the Prime Minister to ask the Corporate Affairs Ministry to initiate an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office.
There are two things that come out of this statement. In the Congress’ world view of things Robert Vadra remains a private individual. Though he must be the only private individual in the country who is being defended by some of the top Congress leaders (you can read a more detailed argument on this here). But Gadkari is not a private individual and hence he needs to be investigated. The second point is that Digvijay Singh sees a prima facie case existing for an investigation in case of Gadkari. I agree. But it also exists in the case of the Vadra-DLF dealings. I am sure Diggi Raja would have a different view on that.

Before I get into some other points let us try and understand what the Gadkari case is all about. Gadkari calls himself a social entrepreneur. He was the Chairman of Purti Sugar Ltd till about fourteen months ago. “Purti Sugar Ltd. is a sort of cooperative that is owned by the farmers it was meant to benefit. It’s true that the list of shareholders is long, about 10,000 names, that carry the flavour of rural Maharashtra. But farmers (if they are, indeed, farmers) own only 10% of Purti. Mr Gadkari himself owns only 200 shares. The bulk of Purti is owned by just 18 companies. These companies invested about Rs 2-4 crore each, to form the bulk of Purti’s paid up capital of Rs 68 crore. This, essentially, was Purti’s start up money,” Sreenivasan Jain recently wrote in DNA. Purti Sugar is located at Khursapar (Bela) village near about 60 KM from Nagpur.
So far so good. What makes things interesting is the fact that some of the companies that invested in Purti Sugar were not found to be operating at their registered addresses. “When our reporters paid them a visit at their registered addresses, they (surprise, surprise) hit a dead end.Two of the firms — Swiftsol India and Earnwell Traders — are registered at a chawl in the Mumbai suburb of Malad, surprising for companies which have invested about Rs 4 crore in Purti. None of the residents at the given addresses had heard of Swiftsol or Earnwell. The same dead end at the addresses of Chariot Investrade, Regency Equifin, Leverage Fintrade, etc scattered across suburban Mumbai and Kolkata,” wrote Jain.
This is something that a report in The Times of India said as well. “According to records with the Registrar of Companies, five private limited companies with shareholdings in Purti Group—Nivita Trades, Swiftsol (India), Rigma Fintrade, Ashwami Sales and Marketing and Earnwell Trades—are registered in and supposedly operating from a room in Dube Chawl on Andheri-Kurla Road (seen at left). Four other shareholders—Jasika Mercantile, Leverage Fintrade, Regency Equifin and Chariot Investrade—are registered in an under-construction building meant to house slum-dwellers under the SRA scheme.”
What complicates matters further is the fact that Manohar Panse, who used to be Gadkari’s driver, was also a director in many of these companies. A couple of employees of Purti and even Gadkari’s accountant were directors in these firms.
It is well known that businesses tend to operate through a web of companies when they want to hide the real owner’s identity. Also it is easier to channelise ill gotten wealth through a maze of companies. Prima facie that is what seems to be happening in the case of Purti Sugar as well. So the accusation against Nitin Gadkari is pretty strong and hence an investigation is called for.
Robert Vadra was smart on this account. He also operates through several companies (Sky Light Hospitality, Sky Light Reality, Real Earth Estates, North India IT Parks, Blue Breeze Trading etc). But the ownership in each and every case can be easily traced back to him and his mother Maureen.
Getting back to Gadkari, one of the invetors in Purti was Ideal Road Builders(IRB). As Jain writes “Ideal Road Builders purchased shares worth Rs 1.85 crore in Purti in 2001, just over a year after Mr Gadkari demitted office as Maharashtra’s public works department minister. During his tenure, Ideal was awarded a number of contracts by the PWD department, which eventually led to it becoming one of Maharashtra’s leading toll road companies. DP Mhaiskar, founder of Ideal Road Builders, also bought shares worth about Rs 2 crore in Purti. Together, IRB and Mr Mhaiskar control about 8% of Purti Group… In 2010, Purti Group received a secure loan of Rs 165 crore from a company called Global Safety Vision, which has DP Mhaiskar as its director. With this one loan, Purti was able to repay all its outstanding debt.”
So the question being asked here is did Mhaiskar and IRB invest in Purti because Gadkari as the PWD minister awarded contracts to IRB? Gadkari was the PWD minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government that ruled Maharashtra in the mid and late nineties. Hence, a case for a quid pro quo seems to exist and can be established if a proper investigation is carried out.
In case of Robert Vadra and DLF, things were a little different. DLF gave Vadra an advance of Rs 50 crore against a piece of land of 3.5 acres that Vadra sold to DLF. This advance was paid in installments starting in the year 2008—2009(the period between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009). The advance stayed on the books of Vadra for a period of between three to four years. An advance is typically given short term. DLF explained this to be a normal commercial transaction but has been unable to tell us about other cases in which it carried out a similar transaction. The advance was essentially an interest free loan to Vadra. Other than this DLF gave Vadra’s companies other advances as well. It also gave an unsecured loan of Rs 5 crore to Real Earth Estates Private Ltd, a Vadra company.
Vadra used this money to go on a property and flat buying spree in Rajasthan and Haryana. (You can read about it here and here). But what is difficult to establish is how did DLF benefit from all this? Allegations are being made that the Congress government in Haryana went out of its way to favour DLF. Was this because DLF was being nice to Vadra? This business-politics nexus is not easy to establish as it is in the case of Gadkari and IRB.
Other than the government breathing down Gadkari’s neck, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which installed him as the president of the Bhartiya Janata Party seems to have asked him to come clean on all the allegations by the end of this month. Vadra on the other hand has the full support of his mother-in-law’s party.
At the heart of both the Vadra and Gadkari issues is the nexus between businessmen and politicians. The basic difference is that Vadra is Sonia Gandhi’s son in law and Gadkari is not. To conclude, the smartest thing that Vadra ever did was to marry Priyanka Gandhi. “Mere paas Saasu Ma Hai,” Vadra can say proudly. Gadkari meanwhile needs to consult a good astrologer and figure out when his stars will turn around.
The article originally appeared with a different headline on on October 24, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

We need to give Kejriwal time: he is testing the waters


Vivek Kaul
We are a funny country. We kept voting the Congress party back to power time and time again for a period of more than 65 years without asking any questions. The party made a mess, turning India into one of the most corrupt countries in the world, where governance has more or less collapsed.
And then comes a man, a former bureaucrat, an IITian, who promises to turn the system around. Arvind Kejriwal is his name. And he is—at least in terms of intentions—our best hope. But, ironically, we want him to be battle ready and give us answers for all that has been wrong with the country right-away.
Here are some doubts that I have seen appearing across the conventional as well as social media:
a) Kejriwal and India Against Corruption(IAC) are too obsessed with politics. It could be a movement if they dug up facts against municipalities, industries and others. (A status of a Facebook friend)
b) They don’t have the organisational strength to propose a viable alternative
c) If Kejriwal is starting a party I’d like to know his economic policy too. Shouldn’t just begin and end in catching thieves? (Another status of a Facebook friend)
d) What is new about all that he has pointed out? It’s just a rehash. (A favourite with newspaper editors. And something which The Economic Times suggests in its lead story today. And even if it is a rehash, does that necessarily make the issues being brought into the public domain by Kejriwal and IAC less important?)
e) What interest groups does the movement represent? What are its priorities, apart from radical transparency and a maximalist Lokpal bill? Where does it stand on religious minorities? What compromises would be unacceptable? (As an editorial in today’s edition ofThe Indian Express asks.)
While these are important questions that Kejriwal and IAC need to answer, but expecting them to answer them immediately and all at once is a tad unfair. If we Indians could give the Congress party 65 years, and still not get many answers from them, we can surely give Kejriwal and his team 65 weeks, if not months, to come up with the answers.
Let me paraphrase lines written by my favourite economist John Kenneth Galbraith (borrowed from his book The Affluent Society) to capture this cynicism against Kejriwal and what he is trying to do. “When Indians see someone agitating for change they enquire almost automatically: ‘What is there (in it) for him?’ They suspect that the moral crusades of reformers, do-gooders, liberal politicians, and public servants, all their noble protestations notwithstanding, are based ultimately on self-interest. ‘What’, they enquire, ‘is their gimmick?’” At the same time we Indians tend to ignore the absolute power enjoyed by the Congress party which has now led to a situation where the Congress leaders are simply not used to answering questions that are asked. As Salman Khurshid, the Union Law Minister, said a couple of days back “Wo (Kejriwal) kahte hain ki hum sawal poochenge tum jawab dena. Hum kehte hain tum jawab suno aur sawal poochna bhool jao.
Getting back to Kejriwal in an earlier piece, I had equated Kejriwal’s decision (then Team Anna) to form a political party to a disruptive innovation. Clayton Christensen, a professor of strategy at Harvard Business School is the man who coined this phrase. He defines it “innovations that transform an existing market or create a new one by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability. It is initially formed in a narrow foothold market that appears unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents.”
The point being made here is that a disruptive innovation always starts small and appeals to a small segment of the market. It cannot be everything for everybody from day one simply because the resources are limited.
An excellent example of a disruptive innovation in an Indian context is the Nirma detergent which was created in 1969 by Karsanbhai Patel, a chemist with the Gujarat government’s department of mining and geology. Patel started making the detergent in a room in his house. On his way to office, which was some 15 km away, he sold 15-20 packets every day. Thus, started the great journey which within a decade would give sleepless nights to the top management at Hindustan Lever Ltd (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd).
But the point is that Nirma started small. Patel sold a few packets everyday and his area of operation was limited given the limited resources available to him. The focus was on making a detergent which was much cheaper than the Surf from Hindustan Lever, which dominated the market back then.
Amul, another disruptive innovation, started small in Anand in the Kaira district of Gujarat. But soon it would become very successful and move to other districts in the state as well. In the end it would also be responsible for making India a largely milk sufficient nation that it is today.
Another great example is that of Apple, which brought about a revolution in the personal computer market. Again Apple started small and focused on one section of the market.  As Clayton Christensen told me in an interview I did for DNA, “Apple made a wise decision and first sold the personal computer as a toy for children. Children had been non-consumers of computers and did not care that the product was not as good as the existing mainframe and minicomputers. Over time Apple and the other PC companies improved the PC so it could handle more complicated tasks. And ultimately the PC has transformed the market by allowing many people to benefit from its simplicity, affordability, and convenience relative to the minicomputer.”
Another example is Sony. “In 1955, Sony introduced the first battery-powered, pocket transistor radio. In comparison with the big RCA tabletop radios, the Sony pocket radio was tiny and static laced. But Sony chose to sell its transistor radio to non-consumers – teenagers who could not afford big tabletop radio. It allowed teenagers to listen to music out of earshot of their parents because it was portable. And although the reception and fidelity weren’t great, it was far better than their alternative, which was no radio at all,” write Clayton Christensen, Michael B Horn and Curtis W Johnson in Disrupting Class — How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.
So like all other disruptive innovations, Arvind Kejriwal and IAC are small and do not have the necessary organisation to take on heavyweights like the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Also, their views on a whole lot of issues that plague India aren’t known.
But what Arvind Kejriwal and IAC have managed to do is focus on one issue – i.e. the nexus between politics and business, and the cosy relationship even between rival political parties. In the case of the Congress party, the nexus between Robert Vadra and DLF has clearly been brought out. And in case of the Bharatiya Janata Party, its businessmen President Nitin Gadkari has been accused of using his political standing to favour his businesses.
This focus has helped Kerjiwal to appeal to the so called “middle-class”. It has also managed to clearly rattle his biggest opponents, the Congress party and now the BJP. The Congress party unleashed a string of lawyer ministers to defend Robert Vadra. The BJP yesterday had both the leaders of opposition in Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha (Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj) along with three party spokespersons defending Gadkari in a press conference.
Also right now is the time when Kejriwal and IAC are building their brand. And as marketing guru Al Ries keeps saying, “Focus is the essence of marketing and branding”. They are doing just that. There is no point in spreading their thin resources all over the place. Once the brand is built they can gradually start moving to other issues.
By then, hopefully, more people would have joined them also. Any disruption does not come as an immediate shift. Similarly, the IAC isn’t going to take India by storm overnight. It will need time. In a way Kejriwal and IAC are in a similar position like the Congress party was in 1885 when it was formed. The initial aim of the party was to get a greater share in the government for educated Indians. The party wasn’t opposed to British rule at that point of time. The point being the Congress party wasn’t clear from day one all that it would do in the years to come. As years went by, things evolved and the party led India to its independence and tried to come up with answers to questions that arose along the way.
The challenge for IAC will be to figure out how to hold the interest of the people once they start losing interest in the corruption issue. Also they might appeal only to a section of the voters initially, probably the urban middle class, like Apple PCs had appealed to children and Sony radios to teenagers. So they are likely to start off with a limited appeal. Chances are if they stay true to their cause their popularity might gradually go up over the years, as has been the case with disruptive innovators in business.
Any disruption does not come as an immediate shift. As the authors write, “Disruption rarely arrives as an abrupt shift in reality; for a decade, the personal computer did not affect DEC’s (Digital Equipment Corp’s) growth or profits.” Similarly, Kejriwal and IAC aren’t going to take India by storm overnight.  They will need time. And as time goes by more questions will be asked of them and they will need to come up with answers.
As I had said on an earlier occasion, there are three things that can happen with this disruptive innovation. Kerjiwal’s party tries for a few years and doesn’t go anywhere. That doesn’t harm us in anyway. Kejriwal’s political party fights elections and is able to build a major presence in the country and stays true to its cause. That benefits all of us. Kejriwal’s political party fights elections and its candidates win. But these candidates and the party turn out to be as corrupt as the other political parties that are already there. While this will be disappointing, but then one more corrupt political party is not going to make things more difficult for the citizens of this country in anyway. We are used to it by now.
As far as Arvind Kejriwal and IAC go, they must well remember these famous lines from Majrooh Sultanpuri, the famous Hindi film lyricist and Urdu poet.
Main akela hi chala tha janibe manzil magar,
Log saath aate gaye aur karawan banta gaya.
(Loosely translated, it means this: I had started off alone towards my goal, people began joining and a huge caravan began forming!)
The article originally appeared on on October 18,2012.
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

‘India grows at night while the government sleeps’

Gurcharan Das is an author and a public intellectual. He is the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma which interrogates the epic, Mahabharata. His international bestseller, India Unbound, is a narrative account of India from Independence to the turn of the century. His latest book India Grows At Night – A Liberal Case For a Strong State (Penguin Allen Lane)has just come out. He was also formerly the CEO of Proctor & Gamble India. In this interview he speaks to Vivek Kaul on why Gurgaon made it and Faridabad didn’t, how the actions of Indira Gandhi are still hurting us, why he cannot vote for anyone in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and why democracy has to start in your own backyard if it has to succeed.
What do you mean when you say India grows at night?
Essentially the full expression is India grows at night while the government sleeps. I thought that would be insulting to put in the title. So I left it at India Grows at Night. And I subtitled it a liberal case for a strong state. The basic idea is that India has risen from below. We are a bottom up success, unlike China which is a top down success. And because our success is from below, it is more heroic and also more enduring. But we should also grow during the day meaning we should reform our institutions of the state, so that they contribute much more to the growth of the country. We cannot have a story of private success and public failure in India.
Could you explain this through an example?
I start chapter one of the book with a contrast between Faridabad and Gurgaon. If you were living in Delhi in the seventies and eighties, the big story, the place you were going to invest was Faridabad. It had an active municipality. The state government wanted to make it into a showcase for the future. It had a direct line to Delhi. It had host of industries coming in. It had a very rich agriculture. It was the success story. So if you were an investor you would have put your money in Faridabad.
And what about Gurgaon?
In contrast there was this village called Gurgaon not connected to Delhi. No industries. It had rocky soil, so the agriculture was poor. Even the goats did not want to go there. So it was wilderness. And yet 25 years later look at the story. Gurgaon has become an engine of international growth. It is called the millennium city. It has thirty two million square feet of commercial space. It is the residence of all the major multinationals that have come into the country. It has seven golf courses. Every brand name, from BMW to Mercedes Benz, they are all there. And look at Faridabad (laughs)…
Faridabad missed the bus?
Faridabad still hasn’t got the first wave of modernisation that came to India after 1991. It escaped Faridabad. Only now it’s kind of waking up. And Gurgaon did not have a municipality until 2009. This contrast really is in a way the story of India grows at night. And the fact is that the people of Gurgaon deserve a lot of credit because they didn’t sit and wait around. If the police didn’t show up they had private security guards. They even dug bore-wells to make up for the water. The state electricity board did not provide electricity, so they had generators and backup. They used couriers instead of the Post Office. Basically they rose on their own.
So what is the point you are trying to make?
My point is that neither Faridabad nor Gurgaon is India’s model. Faridabad is a model where you have an excessive bureaucracy. Why did Faridabad not succeed? Because the politician and bureaucrats tried to squeeze everything out in the form of licenses. And Gurgaon’s disadvantage turned out to be its advantage. It had no government. So there was nobody to bribe. But at the end of the day Gurgaon would be better off, people would have happier if they had good sanitation, if they had a working transportation system, they had good roads, parks, power etc.
All that is missing…
All the things that you take for granted that you would get in a city, you shouldn’t have to provide them for yourself. This is the point. Neither model is right. And we need to reform the institutions of our state. And we need to create what I call a strong liberal state.
What’s a strong liberal state?
A strong liberal state has three pillars. One an executive that is not paralysed like Delhi is right now, where you have push and drag to get any action done. Second that action of the executive is bounded by the rule of law and third that action is accountable to the people. When I mean a strong state? I am not talking about Soviet Russia or Maoist China. I am not even talking about a benign authoritarian state like Singapore which is very tempting because it has got such high levels of governance. I am talking about classical liberal state the same kind of state that our founding fathers had in mind or the American founding fathers had in mind when they thought about the state. And so that is not easy to achieve.
Why do you say that?
It is not easy to achieve because some elements in these three pillars fight with each other. In other words you have an excessive drive for accountability then the executive gets weakened.  I mean right now the Anna Hazare movement has so scared the bureaucrats that they won’t put a signature on a piece of paper. The Anna Hazare movement is a good thing because it awakened the middle class but it also weakened the executive. So, today more important than even economic reforms are institutional reforms i.e. the reform of the bureaucracy. If a person is promoted after twenty years regardless of his performance there are repercussions. If it doesn’t matter whether he is a rascal or outstanding, and both are treated the same, you won’t get high performance. You will get a demoralised bureaucracy. Those are the kind of reforms we need.
What are other such reforms?
Take the case of the judiciary, why should it take us 12 years to get a case settled when it takes two or three years anywhere else? You go to a police station to register an FIR, do you think they will do it? Either you have to bribe somebody or lagao some influence. You have this rising India amidst a very very ineffective state.
One of the things you write about in your book is the fact that India got democracy before it got capitalism. World over it’s been the other way around. How has that impacted our evolution as a country?
That also explains some of our problems. By getting democracy before capitalism, you had a populist wave. The politicians when they thought about going to elections started realising ke bhai we will tell people that I’ll give you four rupee kilo rice and get elected. In Punjab the politicians said we will give free electricity to the farmers and got elected. So you killed your finances through this populism. The states which did this really went bankrupt. Punjab and Andhra Pradesh which did these two things couldn’t pay their salaries to their bureaucrats.
And this started with Nehru’s socialism?
Nehru’s socialism created the illusion of a limitless society, that the state would do everything. Jo kuch hai, which we used to do for ourselves, through our families etc, we now expected the state to do. That was the message given by the socialists. The fact is that the state did not have the capacity. In the courts judges knew their jobs. It was a good judiciary. Even the police was very good but suddenly you expanded the mandate so that half the cases today are government cases. You haven’t been paid a refund. Or the government is taking your land or something and so you go to court.  So the guilty in many cases is the state.
What you are suggesting is that the mandate of the state was expanded so much that it couldn’t cope with it?
And they did not expand the capacity. Suddenly you needed a tenfold increase in judges and a tenfold increase in bureaucrats. This is because the jobs you expected this people to do were so much greater. And you told people, especially workers and government servants, that you have rights. So a school teacher suddenly realised that he did not have to attend school, he could get away with it. The person who was his boss or her boss was too scared because of the union of the teachers. So one out of four teachers is absent from our schools. And nothing happens to that person. I am answering your question about how embracing democracy before capitalism hurt us.  We became more aware of our rights. We tried to distribute the pie before the pie was baked. Before the chapati was created we started dividing it.
In fact there is a saying in Punjabi ke pind vasiya nahi te mangte pehle aa gaye (the village is still being built and the beggars have already arrived)
Bilkul. Perfect. That’s an even a better saying. This has been one of the problems. In 1991 we did start building the economy base to support a democracy like ours. But these people fettered away some of the gains. Just see how much subsidy is being given on petroleum products. It is around Rs 1,80,000 crore. I mean you could transform your school system with that kind of money.
And the health system…
Yes even the health system.
How much do you think the socialism of Nehru and Indira Gandhi is holding us back?
The damage that Indira Gandhi did was far greater. Her license raj combined with the mai baap sarkar, this double whammy gave the illusion to the people that the state would do everything. Nehru had never talked about a mai baap sarkar. The second was the damage she did to our political institutions. We owe Nehru a great debt because he built those institutions. Our modern political democracy we owe it to him. But she did a lot of damage to those institutions. Could you elaborate on that little?
During the period she was the Prime Minister, I think she dismissed fifty nine elected governments in states. Now we hardly hear of this. This is partly a reaction to what she had done. She tried to change India’s culture and change our political system. A lot has been written about the emergency and so on. But the enduring damage we don’t realise. Before her, Chief Ministers were a little afraid when a secretary said no sir you can’t do this. And if you tried to do it, the secretary wouldn’t bend very often. Now they just transfer. Look at what Mayawati did. Also after Indira Gandhi the police became a handmaiden of the executive. The police lost its independence.  Even the judiciary was damaged. She wanted committed judges. Fortunately the Supreme Court did not succumb to that rot.
“It is tempting to compare crisis-ridden Hastinapur with today’s flailing Indian state,” you write. Could you explain that in some detail?
Before this I wrote this book called The Difficulty of Being Good. I interrogated the Mahabharata in a modern contemporary way. And I realised that the Mahabharata is us, still. The great scholar Sukthankar, the editor of the critical edition of the Mahabharata had once said that the Mahabharata is us. And I had always wondered what he had meant. I realised reading the book that really it’s a story of India. And why I preferred the Mahabharata to the Ramayana is because in the Ramayana, the hero is perfect. The brother of the hero is perfect. The wife of the hero is perfect. Even the villain is perfect. Luckily I had done Sanskrit in College and so I went back to my roots. I went to study in Chicago.
And what did you realise after studying the Mahabharata?
Essentially the Mahabharata is about the corruption of the kshatriya institutions of that time. The way the rulers, the nobles behaved, it clearly upset the author of the Mahabharata or we should say authors, because it was continuously evolved over 400-500years. They were very upset and enraged as today young Indians are enraged by the government. They were enraged by the institutions of these kshatriyas. The sort of the big chested behaviour.  The idea that you went to heaven if you died fighting on the battle field. That sort of notion. So most people think Mahabharata is about war, but actually it’s an anti war epic.
So what is the point you are trying to make?
In Mahabharata, Hastinapur is the capital of the kingdom of the Kauravas. The Pandavas have created a new capital at Indraprastha. The point is crisis ridden Hastinapur is somewhat like our crisis ridden institutions of today. People were impatient and they were enraged by what was going on and so they had to wage a war at Kurushetra. And I just hope that we don’t have to do that. We can reform the institutions before we reach that point. That’s the comparison to Kurushetra and Hastinapur that I spoke about.
You were a socialist once?
I was a socialist like all of us when we were in the 20s and 30s. But then we could see that Nehru’s path was leading us to a dead end. Certainly a part of India Unbound is a story of the personal humiliations that I experienced, and on top of that Indira Gandhi’s failures really converted me. When the reforms came in 1991 I had become a libertarian. I really celebrated the reforms. For me that was Diwali and so I began to believe that the story of India rising without the state was a sustainable story. And I began to believe that this was a heroic thing and a laissez faire state was the best state. Back then, in my view the state was a second order phenomenon. Now writing this book partly and looking back over twenty years, I have concluded that state is a first order phenomenon. So I have gone from being a socialist to a libertarian to what I would go back and say is a classical liberal, who really doesn’t believe that laissez faire is the answer, and who does believe that you need the state.
Can you elaborate on that?
You need a limited state and not a minimalist state as Nozick(Robert Nozick, an American political philosopher) would have said. But that limited state must perform. So I have come to realise that the success after 1991 has partly been because there were regulators in those sectors, which rose. The election commissioner, the RBI, the Sebi, these have all contributed. Or even the first TRAI(Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the telecom regulator) under Justice Sodhi and Zutshi. That first TRAI sent the right signals. If we had left it to the Department of Telecom (DOT) and did not have any regulator things might have been different. DOT wanted to crush the new private companies. So what I am saying is that you need good regulators. You need government as a good umpire. You don’t need government to own Air India. But you need a good civil aviation regulator who will ensure a level playing field for everyone in the market.
You explain in some depth in your book as to why Indian political parties treat voters as victims. One can see that happening all the time and everywhere…
And it also explains why I cannot vote for anybody in 2014. Really as an Indian citizen I have been thinking who will I vote for? Every party treats voters as a victim. They are all parties of grievance. We don’t realise that one third of India is now middle class. This new middle class are tigers. They have just made it. They don’t want to be reminded that they are victims. They are looking for the state to further their rise. And they are looking for good roads, good schools and these things.
But nobody talks about development in India…
Yeah. BJP if you scratch them you know they are talking about 1000 years of Muslim oppression. Congress says you are victim of globalisation and liberalisation. So we will give you free power, free this and free that, NREGA etc. Dalit parties say you are a victim of oppression. OBC parties say you are a victim of upper caste oppression. Nobody is talking about the reform of the institution. Even the Anna Hazare movement was talking about only one Lokpal, which is fine, but it had to be couched in a bigger story.
You critique the Anna movement by saying that they have further undermined politicians and political life. Could you explain that in detail?
They have undermined the politics and political life. It is very easy to do that. When you attack politicians then you are also unwittingly attacking the institution of elections. The good thing is that it has put a fear in the minds of politicians. Whether the Anna Hazare movement fails or succeeds is no longer important. What is important is the legacy that it has woken up the middle class. That won’t go away easily. The question then for a young person today is that the Anna movement may have gone, but what can I do? The answer is start with your neighbourhood. Start with your ward and see what can be done. And that is the local democracy I am talking about. That’s where politics begins and that’s where habits of the heart created. I am so in favour of grass-root democracy, the fact that we should put the power downwards. Also even in the rhetoric of the Anna Hazare movement they talked about the gram sabha, the mohalla sabha, that’s where we get the habits of the heart.
What about Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to enter politics? How do you view that?
Before I get to that let me discuss something that I talk about in my book. In this book I hope for a formation of a new political party along the lines of the erstwhile Swatantra Party. But the agenda of this party is not just economic reform but institutional reform. At the Delhi launch of my book Arivnd Kerjiwal was there. TN Ninan, Chairman of the Business Standard newspaper,was moderating the discussion and he said since both of you are advocating a political party, why don’t you join hands. I said, I admire Kejriwal, but he has got all kinds of crazy people around him, who still think that reforms were a bad India. Also, they never talk about institutional reform. So I am not sure that we could be together.  But I said were we would be together is that both of us are tapping into the new middle class, which is impatient, confident, assured and which wants to get rid of corruption. But I feel that we need the hard work of institutional reforms and that street protest is not the answer. I also said I am so glad that Kejriwal is now looking at politics because that is the right route to go.
One of the things that one frequently comes across in your book is that you are hopeful that the politics of India will change in the next few years as more and more people become middle class.
But it doesn’t look like…
It doesn’t look like because politics has been left behind. But now they are realising. They have been shaken up because so many of them (the politicians) have gone to jail. Even the language is a little more cautious now.
So you see the kind of chaos that prevails right now will go away?
It is only out of chaos that something happens. As Nietzsche(Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, a German philosopher) said that it is the chaos in the heart that gives birth to a dancing star. I see things positively even though we have been a weak state. But as they say, history is not destiny.
 “The trickling down of power has made India more difficult to rule,” you write. Could you explain that in the context of the politics that is currently playing out?
It has made India more difficult to govern. But it remains a very important development because I am in favour of federalism. The best thing about FDI in multi brand retailing is that they have given the states the freedom to decide whether they want foreign investment or not. So imagine an FDI decision is now in the hands of the state. And I think that is wonderful because each state is like a country in India. The state of UP has 180 million people and I have no problem is with the trickling down of power. My problem is that we should be able to have an effective executive at the centre. Today we have a very weak Prime Minister. We need a stronger person in the role. We don’t want an Indira Gandhi, but we want a strong person who can be an institutional reformer.
You hope for the rise of a free market based party like the erstwhile Swatantra Party(a party formed by C Rajagopalachari and NG Ranga in 1959 to oppose the socialist policies of Nehru). Do you see really see that happening?
You have to be lucky to some extent and hope to get a young leader. I don’t know who it will be. But there will be somebody in their thirties and forties. Then the country will rally behind them. The way they rallied behind the Kejriwal, Anna Hazare movement. In one sense the last thing India needs is a another political party. But I also see that I cannot vote for any political party. I see that there is a wing of the Congress which does not like this free power and that entitlement culture and the corruption that is being bred in the Congress. There are people even in the BJP who have faith in the past, but they are not anti-Muslim necessarily. So I think they will come together for a secular political liberal party. Similarly there are people in the regional parties. And this is a good time for a liberal party. Swatantra Party was at the wrong time. They were too early.  They were ahead of their time. So if we are lucky we will throw up a leader, but you can’t depend on that.  But the hopeful thing is the rise of the middle class which will make the politics change.

(The interview originally appeared on
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected]

It’s back to Hindutva for Shiv Sena after 11 August

Vivek Kaul
The Tiger is roaring again. Posters of Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray with the tagline Ekta Tiger- Garv Se Kaho Hum Hindu Hain have started to appear in Mumbai.
The aim it seems is to kill two birds with one stone. The Ekta Tiger part is to just remind Mumbai that the original tiger of the city is still around, the roar of Raj Thackeray notwithstanding. But it’s the second part which makes things more interesting.
Shiv Sena first took on the cause of Hindutva way back in 1984. As Vaibhav Purandare writes in The Sena Story “After having vacillated for some time…the Shiv Sena made a definite shift to Hindutva in 1984…Addressing a massive public rally at Shivaji Park on January 22, Bal Thackeray mooted the idea of confederation of Hindu organisations, the Hindu Mahasangh.”
Thackeray explained the three point programme of Hindutva. “First, Muslims should like Hindus, adhere to one-marriage rule and resort to family planning…Second, they should extend their support to the ban on cow slaughter. And third, they should accept this is a Hindu Rashtra,” points out Purandare. (The italics are of the author Purandare).
Soon after this the Shiv Sena joined hands with the Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP) for the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for December 1984. The late Pramod Mahajan was instrumental in getting this alliance going.
In an article that Mahajan wrote for the Sena mouthpiece Samna in 1998 he says (as quoted in The Sena Story): “I still remember the discussions I had with Balasaheb in our first few meetings. He had entered the arena by taking up the cause of Hindutva. Once, in the course of our conversation, I told him: the Hindu votes as a Maratha, as a Mali, as a Dalit, as a Marwari, and as a Brahman, but he never votes as a Hindu. How will our politics be successful? Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: ‘Pramod, when I started the Shiv Sena, people said the same thing – that the Marathi manoos doesn’t vote as a Marathi. But I proved this assumption wrong. You’ll see that I will make Hindus vote as a Hindus. I was overpowered with emotion at this answer, but I hesitated to believe what he said. Now when I look behind, I see that he proved his word in just five years.” (The italics are of the author Purandare).
So from this one can easily conclude that Hindutva as a political strategy which the BJP so successfully employed in the years to come was really the brainchild of Bal Thackeray.
Over the years Hindutva helped the Sena spread itself much beyond Mumbai and its suburbs and helped attract people from other parts of Maharasthra. As Purandare writes “The Sena set up its forts in villages in extravagant style, Sainiks bathed head-to-toe in saffron clothes and bandannas splashing gulal all over the place and shouting slogans of Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji, to the blowing of conch-shells and the accompaniment of leathern-drums, kettle drums and other musical instruments…The rapid rollout of the saffron carpet slowly induced significant numbers of rural youngsters to move forward and attach themselves to the Sena fold.”
While taking up the cause of the Marathi manoos helped the Sena firmly establish itself in Mumbai. It was Hindutva that helped it increase its presence across other parts of Maharashtra. In a way it was also responsible for the BJP taking Hindutva from Maharasthra to other parts of the country. Brand BJP was built on the war cry of “saugandh Ram ki khaate hain, mandir wohin banayenge”. This ensured that the party was able to increase the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from two in 1984 to 88 in 1989 and 118 in 1991.
In the last few years the Shiv Sena has put Hindutva on the backburner as it has tried to widen its appeal and support base. As columnist Sujata Anandan wrote in the Hindustan Times in October 2010, “There was a time when they (the Muslims) were willing to experiment with the Shiv Sena in the wake of their disappointment with the Congress”. (you can read the complete column here).
But with Raj Thackeray trying to hijack Shiv Senas Hindutva cause with his latest rally at the Azad Maidan in Mumbai, Shiv Sena has had to get back to the basics. While Raj Thackeray did not associate with the Hindutva cause anywhere directly in his speech, but there are enough reasons to suggest that Thackeray junior is trying to broaden his appeal and go beyond just the Marathi manoos stand that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena currently stands for.
“In 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished, where was its retaliation felt instantly? In Mumbai! There was no violence anywhere else in the country…only in Mumbai!” Raj Thackeray said in his speech. (You can read the complete translation of the speech by Gaurav Sabnis here).
Every political party is a brand and a brand needs to stand for something. It needs a story that can be told to people, so that people can go buy the brand by supporting it and by voting for it. Shiv Sena’s success has been built on the planks of Hindutva and taking up the cause of the Marathi manoos. That is what the brand Shiv Sena stands for.
When political parties try to fiddle with what their brand stands for they pay for it dearly. The BJP decided to abandon its soft-Hindutva branding and go in for what it thought was a more mass market campaign of “India shining” in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The party lost the elections and has been in opposition ever since.
More recently Buddhadeb Bhattacharya tried to project a pro industry and business image of his communist government, for the 10 years he was the chief minister of West Bengal. The left parties lost the 2011 state assembly elections in West Bengal badly.
In a sense, political parties trying to change what they stand for are like the Fair and Lovely fairness cream. The skin lightening cream as it is technically referred to as was first launched in India in 1978. The advertising strategy for Fair and Lovely has always been something akin to “kaale ko gora bana de“.
In fact in 2007, a Fair and Lovely advertisement, which showed a dark-skinned women, who was having a tough time finding a job and a boyfriend and was shown to be a complete loser, suddenly became the talk of the town after she started using Fair and Lovely fairness cream and became fair.
The criticism caused Fair and Lovely to change the “kaale ko gora bana de” positioning to try and show those who use Fair and Lovely are achievers in their real life. The next advertisement to hit the market showed a girl achieving her dreams of becoming a cricket commentator and finally meeting Kris Srikanth.
The association of the original story of “kaale ko gora bana de” with the Fair and Lovely brand was strong that it had to go back to it with the claim that the cream made women several shades lighter in four to six weeks. In that sense Shiv Sena like Fair and Lovely is going back to the story which has been closely associated with it. And that cannot be bad for it as a political party.
On a separate note it does make the politics in this country more divisive and communal. Having said that almost every regional party in India has had its origins in divisive politics. And they continue to survive on the same. Be it Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh or the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam(DMK) in Tamil Nadu.
Shiv Sena is getting back to doing what everyone else is.It is clearly not an exception.
The article originally appeared on on August 21,2012.
Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected]

Media and the art of misreading LK Advani’s blogpost

Vivek Kaul

Sunday evenings are normally difficult days for newspaper editors. There is not much happening politically. Businesses are shut and so is the government.
So unless there is a rail mishap somewhere or India happens to win bronze medal at the Olympics, bringing out the Monday edition is a major challenge in comparison to most other days.
Unless, someone like LK Advani happens to write a blog which smells of the foot in the mouth disease, and can be read between the lines.
Newspapers have gone to town highlighting that Advani has conceded to the possibility of a non BJP-non Congress government emerging after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. “A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible,” wrote Advani. This has become the headline point.
But the truth is a little more complicated than that. The word to mark in Advani’s statement is “however”. The context in which he uses the word however has been missed out by the newspapers while reporting on the blog.
Advani starts the blog with an informal chat he had had with two Senior Cabinet Ministers in the current United Progressive Alliance at a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister(PM) Manmohan Singh, for the outgoing President Pratibha Patil.
As he writes “In an informal chat with two senior Cabinet Ministers belonging to the Congress party before the formal dinner, I could clearly perceive an intense sense of concern weighing on the minds of both these Ministers. Their apprehensions were as follows: a) In the Sixteenth Elections to the Lok Sabha, neither the Congress nor the BJP may be able to forge an alliance which has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. b) In 2013 or 2014, therefore, whenever the Lok Sabha elections take place, the Government likely to take shape can be that of the Third Front. This, according to the Congress Ministers would be extremely harmful not only for the stability of Indian politics but also for national interests.”
The blog then goes on to address the concerns of these Congress ministers. “My response to the anxiety voiced by these Congressmen was: I can understand your concern, but I do not share it. My own view is: i) The shape which national polity has acquired in the past two and a half decades makes it practically impossible for any government to be formed in New Delhi which does not have the support either of the Congress or of the BJP. A third Front Government, therefore, can be ruled out. ii) A non-Congress, non-BJP Prime Minister heading a government supported by one of these two principal parties is however feasible. This has happened in the past also. But, as the Prime Ministership of Ch. Charan Singh, Chandrashekharji, Deve Gowdaji and Inder Kumar ji Gujral (all supported by Congress) as also of Vishwanath Pratap Singhji (supported by BJP) have shown, such governments have never lasted long.”
Essentially Advani is saying three things in a very direct way. The first and foremost is that the Congress is worried after having been in power for nearly eight years at a stretch. The second thing is that he does not expect the third front to come to power, as a certain section of experts has been widely speculating. The third and the most important point is that no government in the country can be formed without the support of either the Congress or the BJP. Hence even if the Congress or the BJP do not form the government they will run the government. Given this, such a government is not expected to last long.
While Advani has said that a non-BJP non-Congress PM can emerge in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he has also said that such a PM cannot last long as has been the case in the past. This is a very important point that has been missed out on by the media while reporting on the blog and thus creating an incomplete picture.
As expected the Congress leaders are shouting from the rooftops that Advani has already accepted defeat. “Advani has conceded defeat by saying that there can’t be a BJP prime minister in 2014. It means he has conceded defeat… After this blog, how will a BJP candidate win?” said ex journalist and now BCCI office bearer and Congress leader, Rajiv Shukla.
That feeling does not come out anywhere through a proper reading of the blog. In fact Advani clearly says that “it may be the first time when the Congress Party’s score sinks to just two digits, that is, less than one hundred!” Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but the statement does make it clear that Advani hasn’t accepted defeat in any sort of way.
Shukla’s statement should also be seen in light of the fact that Advani attacked the Gandhi family in his blog. As he wrote “The party’s (the Congress party) miserable performance in Rae Bareilly, Amethi etc. which have long been regarded as pocket-boroughs of the first family, in the U.P. Assembly polls held recently and its dismal record in the Corporation elections of Uttar Pradesh where as against the BJP’s score of ten out of twelve Corporations, the Congress drew a big blank are clear indices of the party’s collapsing fortunes.”
The main job of any spokesperson of the Congress party is to keep the flag flying for the Gandhi family and that’s what Shukla was basically doing.
Another cocktail party theory going around is that Advani has basically used the blog to make a veiled attack at his own party, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), and the senior leaders who are busy projecting Narendra Modi as the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2012 elections. The logic being that Narendra Modi cannot lead the BJP to a win in the Lok Sabha elections and so he (i.e. Advani) still remains the right candidate, his age notwithstanding.
Now that is something only Advani himself can throw light on and we can only make speculations on the same.
To conclude, let me throw in some lines from a popular reggae song called “Games People Play” first released in 1994 and sung by this group called Inner Circle. As the lines go:
All the games people play now,
Every night and every day now,
Never meaning what they say, yeah,
Never say what they mean.

Politicians are a tad like that.
(The article originally appeared on on August 6,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])