Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Moving my blog

Hey, to all those of you, however few your dwindling numbers are, please note that I have moved my blog permanently to http://lonsharim.tumblr.com

I will no longer to be posting here.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Who is India’s next Prime Minister?

The next general elections scheduled in India is in 2014. If Dr. Manmohan Singh survives and completes his full term (as is very likely) he would have completed 2 full 5 year terms in office. He is already India’s third longest serving Prime Minister.

It is however unlikely for Dr. Manmohan Singh to become our Prime Minister for a 3rd term; principally for 4 reasons.

  1. The Congress and the UPA need to come back to power. There is no guarantee of that happening. The political cost of their colossal mishandling on Anna Hazare’s Jan Lok Pal bill is not yet know. In all probability they will lose heavy in Urban areas with the chief beneficiary being the NDA and BJP. They will hope and pray that in 2 years time their bungling will be forgotten and the controversies of Adarsh building, 2G, Commonwealth games, Cash for votes etc. will be forgiven and glossed over. The public will also blame them for the rising prices, interest rates and  inflation over the last few years.
  2. He will be near about 82 years old in the 2014 elections. If he does serve a 3rd time, then he will become the oldest person to be sworn in as Prime Minister in India, a feat that is unlikely.
  3. The popularity that he enjoyed in his first term 2004-09 is missing in his second term. While majority of the public have no doubt about his integrity and honesty, his second term has been a disaster with a number of ministers embroiled in controversies and scams while he himself has been largely silent on the issue.
  4. Finally, after 10 years crisscrossing the country and spending time in the back benches of the Parliament, it is widely believed that the time for Rahul Gandhi to lead Congress has come. He is odds on favorite to be the Congress’s Prime Ministerial candidate during the campaigning for 2014. In the unlikely event of UPA fighting anti-incumbency trends of the last decade (04-14), it will be Rahul Gandhi who will take Centre stage and not Dr. Manmohan Singh.

We are still two and a half years away and a lot can change during this time. I would still think that UPA-II has committed so many mistakes that it is highly unlikely that they will have a similar or larger strength in the 2014 Parliament. They will have smaller numbers which may or may not be enough to form the next government. Can they muster enough support or will the NDA led by BJP take advantage? What about the so called Third Front.

My best guess is that this is going to be a hung parliament. We may have political instability and/or minority governments with external supports like in the days of V. P. Singh, Chandra Shekhar, H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral.

From the BJP/NDA stables
L.K Advani will be be 87 or 88 years old in 2014. A 5 year term means he will be in office at the age of 93 in 2019. I think it is very unlikely scenario ever since he ceded power to the likes of Shusma Sawarj and Arun Jately.

Narendra Modi has age on his side and fanatical support in some parts of the country. The problem with his candidature is that people are either in full and complete support or aghast at the idea of him becoming Prime Minister. There is sharp divide in opinion and BJP allies may desert them if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister. It will also not go down well with BJP politicians in Delhi who have nursed ambitions on the high seat. He can become Prime Minister in the following scenarios
1. BJP wins enough numbers by itself. If it crosses simple majority or even falls short by small numbers, then the allies will fall in line and those that don’t will not hurt the stability of their government.
2. BJP does not announce a Prime Ministerial candidate during the election campaign. Given the apathy to UPA-II people vote for UPA. BJP Parliamentarians elect Modi who will then have 6 months to get himself elected through either the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha.
3. Advani is PM candidate for the 3rd time running and fulfills a long standing ambition of becoming PM. Mid-way to his term, he retires and gives Modi a back door entry.

I will be surprised in the extreme if the BJP announce Modi has the prime ministerial candidate ahead of the general elections. That would ruffle too many feathers both within the BJP and its allies.

Nitish Kumar is an outside choice within the NDA. If BJP depend on allies to form a government and Advani rules himself out, it creates an interesting position. Are the next 2 or 3 leaders strong from BJP strong enough to emerge from the shadows or will Nitish become consensus candidate. With the NDA he has a secular image and has done well for himself and Bihar in recent years.

Other BJP candidates like Shushma Swaraj, Arun Jately etc seem to cancel each other out, sort of vetoing each other off. I don’t know if the equation will change in the coming years and balance of power will shift to one side conclusively. Based purely on the last decade that looks highly unlikely that status quo will change or if either of them will cede ground for the greater good of the party.

The Third Front otherwise known as The Others
1. Mayawati – Her only hope is that the House is so messed up that she can become Prime Minister by cobbling up a motely crew for herself. Outside support from Congress or BJP would be a requirement. Even if she doesn’t last the full term she would have achieved a naked ambition she has nursed for years. If anyone withdraws support they will of course have oppressed Dalit rights and were always against Dalits in the first place.
2. Practically anyone – This is a scenario where Congress or BJP is giving outside support. Just about any consensus candidate can emerge for a minority government surviving on outside support. This happened with Chandra Shekhar, H. D. Deve Gowda and I. K. Gujral. The government will be highly unstable and will not last more than a year or two.

Game Changer – Anna Hazare
Anna Hazare seems to suggest that he will ask the people of the country to back those parties that have zero tolerance to corrupt politicians. If there is a political party (either of the big two) ready to field candidates with no taint of scam/corruption/criminal cases against them and Team Anna backs them – then what? Will the people back Anna and respond? I don’t know the answer. Is his support widespread or is it just a TV audience.

As things stand, I see a lot of uncertainty in the coming elections. The ruling coalition has been disappointing and the main opposition parties show lack of strong leadership.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The mandate to rule India

There is an interesting sub theme to the Jan Lok Pal Bill agitation led by Anna Hazare and the India Against Corruption movement. Civil society activists lobbying the government for enactment of such Bills are not the people’s representatives. They have no locus standi because they do not represent us in our Parliament. They stand outside our democracy and tell our elected representatives what to do and if our elected chaps don’t agree, then they agitate, go on hunger strike, mobilize aam janta support and make the government lose heavy political capital in the bargain. When the politicians tell us that this is a subversion of parliamentary and democratic norms, they are actually right. (Never mind the fact that the aam janta that voted them also supports India Against Corruption wholeheartedly.) After all our MPs and our MLAs are duly elected by us and send as our representative to Parliament.

Politicians that are in the ruling coalition always tell you that they have the mandate to rule for a 5 year term. This is significant. It signifies that the people of India have selected their merry band of politicians to see them through another 5 years of unfulfilled promises. But do they really have the mandate to rule us? Are they really in power because of popular support?

I have been wanting to determine popular support and quantify it for a very long time. I am undertaking this exercise based on the Indian General Elections 2009 – since it was our last one. You can choose any election results (state or central) and determine popular support if you like. This is not meant to show any political party in a bad light; it is merely my attempt to quantify what the media and politicians refer to as popular support and mandate.

Here are some undisputed facts:

  1. The population of India stands at 1.2 billion people. That’s 120 crore people.
  2. The number of people who were eligible to vote in Indian in 2009 were 71.4 crores as per Wikipedia.
  3. The average voter turnout was 59.7%; that means approximately 42.6 crore people voted. (That’s probably a bit too high than it actually is because the declared statistics are not of actual number but of the averages across each constituency of varying populace). For the sake of ease, lets assume that it is indeed 42.6 crore.
  4. Indian National Congress was the single largest party and the major partner of the UPA II coalition. Their vote share in the 2009 election was 28.6%. That means out of the 42.6 crore that bothered to turn up, 28.6% of them voted for the ruling party that formed our government. That comes up t0 12.18 crore.
  5. Lets assume the remaining allies of the UPA polled another 10% together, that’s another 4 crore.

So basically the votes of roughly 16 crore people out of 120 crore have ensured that the UPA rules for another 5 years.

That’s 13.34% of all citizens in India.

That’s popular vote and mandate to rule. That gives our government the license to formulate laws and govern us. If you look at NDA stats of 1999 general elections you will come up with a similar number. If you look at most state elections, you will come up with a similar number.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Right to recall

Right to recall your elected representative – wow – that' is what Anna Hazare wants next. It basically means that someone elected as my representative can be recalled from Parliament. With Anna Hazare now having a nation wide recognition, civil rights representatives will use him symbolically to set up corrective measures in our democracy making politicians and bureaucrats accountable.

First there was the Right to Information Act, passed in 2005 by the UPA and part of the Congress’s election manifesto which it delivered. It took active participation from people like Aruna Roy and Arvind Kejriwal for this to become reality. Anna Hazare played a role here too, by forcing the Maharashtra government to pass a strong Maharashtra Right to Information Act in 2003. This became the basis on which the law was enacted at the national level.

Then the entire “India Against Corruption” movement and the Jan Lok Pal Bill. Once this bill is passed it will act as a deterrent and add accountability to government officials and the members of parliament. I hope the parliamentary members don’t drag their feet for too long on this otherwise the civil movement will continue to protest.

Next on the agenda is the Right to Recall. Does this mean we can recall our representatives whenever we feel like? NO. It requires certain circumstances before this can happen. For example, there are allegations of corruption against your representative and the constituents feel that until a probe determines reality, it is inappropriate for the MP to continue in office.

Doesn’t that give opportunities for political opponents to stir up trouble for the duly elected parliamentarian? Not really. Political opponents will always try to lobby against elected officials. The way this should be implemented is that an MP/MLA can be stripped of his office by the people through a referendum. If enough number of people want to recall him, then he is recalled otherwise the referendum has failed.

The referendum itself cannot be held until a certain number (or percentage) of the MP/MLA’s constituents sign a petition asking for a referendum. If the election requires popular support, then so too must the recall.

The Bill to recall such representatives will have the determine/define the circumstances of recall and the size of a successful petition to hold the referendum either in actual numbers or percentage. There will be other challenges in implementation of such a law in a country of our size. Determining eligible voters for the referendum for instance or checking the validity of signatures on the petition. You can trust the political machinery in India to exploit such a law and all such loopholes must be plugged and such actions preempted. A certain amount of electoral reform is required for this act to become reality and for it to be enforced effectively.

That brings us to the next item of Anna Hazare’s wish list. Electoral reforms. I think electoral reforms is a big enough topic for a separate blog post.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Social implications of Social Media

Social Media is a medium for social interaction. User driven content. Wide accessibility. Interactive dialogue. All you need is an internet connection. A variety of devices are used from an ordinary PC/Mac, iPhone/Android/Blackberry type smartphone, to tablets. A variety of applications are used like internet forums, blogs (like Bloggers, Word Press), podcasting, micro-blogging (as in the Twitter variety) and social networking sites (like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Google Plus).

The power of social media is undeniable; impacting society in positive as well as negative ways. Social media is hard to contain or control. By virtue of this, it is virtually impossible to contain and restrict flow of information. This can be both a good and a bad thing. Importantly breaking news around the world is reported more often than not via social media even before exclusives are scooped by News corporations.

The 2009 Iran Presidential elections was an interesting case resulting in what many call Iran’s Twitter revolution. It was said that the Iran government restricted dissident information from spreading by blocking sites and text messages from within the country. While officials were busy closing down access, hackers were publishing proxy portal details for the internet savvy citizens of Iran. Some complained about the lack of coverage western news media outlets devoted to the election results. Others were disgusted that these western outlets did not question the legitimacy of the election results. All of them chose to vent their feelings micro-blogging on Twitter. One thing was clear, short of suspending internet for an entire country, information could not be withheld or blocked. This was widely commented on as good by the global community.

In the recent London rioting (6th – 10th August 2011) it generated mixed feelings. The same social media was used by a bunch of miscreants to telling effects. Newspapers reported how rioters used Blackberry messenger and incited each other to loot High Street stores. Twitter was used to lash out at everyone, the government, the police, the rich people who had it all etc. At the same time, journalists and photographers were attacked by the rioters while real time updates were being made by ordinary citizens informing a shell shocked nation of the atrocities in their vicinity. The police reportedly used some of this to track down the rioters.

Social media has been used elsewhere across the world to organize protests, to even organize civil disobedience. In June 2011, dozens of women drove cars in Saudi Arabia, a country were women can’t drive by law. An appeal was made on Facebook for women in possession of valid driving licenses from other countries to drive on the 17th of June.

In Egypt, a Facebook page was created titled “We are all Khaled Said” referring to an Egyptian business beaten to death by police after threatening to expose corruption. The page called for a day of wrath on 25th January 2011 and thousands filled the streets protesting. It was the prelude to 4 months of protests that brought down Hosni Mubarak. In days to come, the government’s response was unprecedented, to try and shutdown the country’s internet. The shutdown involved withdrawal of more than 3500 Border Gateway Protocol routes by Egyptian ISPs. It exceed the actions taken by Iran, China, Syria and Tunisia who have blocked/restricted access to social networks during times of protest. In United Kingdom, there have been discussions about suspending access to social networks during situations similar to their London riots.

These networking tools were used in India too during the Jan Lok Pal bill crusade by Anna Hazare protesting against rampant corruption among India’s bureaucracy as well as its political representation. Twitter accounts lambasted the government for infringing on the rights of an individual when the police preemptively arrested Anna. Facebook pages and websites were setup in support of the anti corruption crusade.

Events on the last 2 years will force the governments from around the world to formulate policies that will thwart social media in extreme situations requiring containment rather than spread of information. They will come up with the excuses of mobocracy and civil unrest to block such access. The less democratic the governments are the less they will be answerable for such actions.