Me too madrassa

The rational school operators of Uttar Pradesh

Just like over nine out of ten families in Karnataka, many school operators in Uttar Pradesh demonstrated that they are rational actors. If the Indian government has announced that it will give Rs 325 crores over the five years to madrassas (which, among others, means "an honorarium of Rs 6,000 per month to graduate teachers and Rs 12,000 per month to post-graduate teachers") then it is perfectly rational for private non-religious schools into madrassas. Perhaps private schools operated by Muslims are taking a lead in this—but it should not surprise anyone if people from all faiths jumped in to get a share of the pie.

Of course, the Ministry of Human Resources Development officially doesn’t get it. It has called upon the Uttar Pradesh state government to conduct an enquiry into why people are behaving rationally, and responding to incentives.

The UPA government has been schizophrenic in its understanding and application of incentives (see this post on Acquired Incentivo Deficiency Syndrome, by The Rational Fool). It seems to understand them at a political level where it has extinguished equality of opportunity for an entitlement economy. But it has repeatedly failed to understand them at a policy level, where it has pretended that nice sounding intentions can replace sound incentive structures.

The hole that the UPA dug India into

Caught in a storm without an umbrella

Mint makes a very important point in today’s editorial:

We have often said in these columns that the UPA government made a cardinal mistake during its term: buoyant tax revenues should have been used to fix the fiscal problem. The money that flowed into the kitty was frittered away, even as the promise to restructure government spending was not followed up on. India is in a fiscal mess at precisely the point when it needs fiscal muscle to support weakening demand. The blame for this has to be laid squarely at the door of the Manmohan Singh government.

The overall tone of ministerial statements is one of innocent helplessness: The domestic slowdown is because of the global economic crisis. That is technically correct. But then the domestic acceleration, too, was partly because of the global boom between 2003 and 2007. The UPA government can’t have it both ways: claiming credit in good times and blaming others during bad times.[Mint]

Expensive mistakes on national security (2)

A flip after the flop

And just one day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that his government has “no fixed, inflexible or ideological view” with regard to anti-terrorism laws, and that it was actively considering strengthening the legal framework in line with “global consensus”, his government has announced that it won’t be doing so after all.

“No, No, No. It is a draconian (law) and against human rights. If the present anti-terror laws are implemented properly, there is no requirement for additional laws,” Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi said.

“What do you mean by tougher anti-terror laws? Some of our laws are much more strong than those in the US and UK,” he shot back when asked whether the government was planning to bring in an anti-terror law similar to POTA. [TOI, emphasis added]

So this what what Dr Singh meant by not having a fixed and inflexible view. Depending on time of the day, day of the week and member of his cabinet, you get very different views. (Psst. Note that it is Mr Dasmunshi and not the home minister who is announcing these cabinet decisions, in the company of the home secretary.)

Mr Patil’s zen-like mastery!

India burns while Shivraj Patil works on a grand plan to recruit more policemen

Over at Tehelka magazine they have a curious defence of Shivraj Patil, arguably the worst home minister in the worst government in Indian history (linkthanks Gautam John). The article tells us that “sources close to the Home Minister said that is precisely how he is expected to function — by not taking sides. They said that Patil understands his job differently: he will not speak except when seeking “balance and tolerance”. They said that Patil keeps everybody at bay.” As an example it cites how he did not make a call on whether or not the governor of Jammu & Kashmir should impose a curfew in Srinagar in the face of separatist protests. “Patil said it was for the Governor to take a call. As the man on the spot, Vohra had to decide, not Patil.”

Most people would call this evidence of high incompetence. They would think that the honourable home minister would drop everything he was doing to handle a crisis of national, not municipal importance. But according to Mr Patil, they would be wrong. According to him, his job is not to take sides. And he’s doing it admirably well. He’s not taking sides in the battle against Naxalites, in the war against jihadi terrorism, between terrorists and victims, and evidently, in Jammu & Kashmir.

But there’s more. “Patil’s zen-like mastery lies in what he does not say or do. He will act exactly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.” The writer obviously has no idea of what zen-like mastery is but that’s not Mr Patil’s fault. But “act exactly in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution”? That’s no virtue, that’s expected. That he should think it’s a virtue speaks a lot for the values of his colleagues. But more importantly, it’s untrue: how is taking Sonia Gandhi for a free ride on an IAF aircraft in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution?

And there’s even more. Mr Patil’s main job is to “oversee Centre-State relations. If these relations haven’t deteriorated despite the terrorist attacks it is because of Patil’s calm”. There’s that little business of BJP-ruled states complaining of Mr Patil’s ministry playing partisan games with anti-terror legislation. And there’s that business of Jammu & Kashmir. Just what is Mr Patil overseeing, calmly?

The pièce de résistance is this: “Patil has concluded that things cannot improve until there are more and more policemen on the streets. Patil is working on a grand plan to change the nature of policing in India.” This would have been half-believable in 2004, when his term started. But months away from the next election, after presiding over unprecedented damage to internal security on all fronts, Mr Patil is still working on a grand plan to recruit more policemen! So why did the Supreme Court, in despair, legislate police reforms from the Bench?

Let there be no mistake—Shivraj Patil is an unmitigated disaster. The worst part is that he is just one of a constellation of individuals in the UPA government who will vie for the infamous position of having done the worst damage to India’s national interests.

The article concludes that “On available evidence, Patil has a long way to go.” Not quite. He has a very short way to go—the distance between his desk and the door.

The answer is good governance, not lily livers

Defeatism spreads under ineffective leadership

It is nice to see the Indian Express correctly hold the the nincompoops in the UPA government responsible for allowing the situation to come to such a sorry pass.

Discussions on Kashmir always bring up history. Here’s a little bit of history to help contextualise the current state of state response: probably not since the early 18th-century ruler Muhammad Shah Rangila, who wrote the book on awesomely ineffective security governance, has India had administrators who have been so brilliantly incapable of discharging their basic remit. Needless to say 21st-century India can’t afford Rangilas in government. And all responses to the Kashmir crisis must start with this recognition. Also, let’s ask ourselves: is India to cut and run because of some weeks of violence when years of patient diplomacy, dogged army work and good politics had blunted the hard edges in Kashmir? The country has dealt with violence within before. It has dealt with groups calling loudly for a divorce with the Union. If we decide to take a particular course on Kashmir, what will we do when politicised violence erupts elsewhere? Drawing-room solutions can look pretty and neat. Nation-building, sadly, isn’t always pretty and neat. It calls for clarity and determination. That’s what Delhi — and Srinagar — need. [IE]

Indians should concern themselves with asking who can provide this leadership—and how their current leaders might be persuaded to provide it—rather than boosting the morale of India’s enemies at this time.

What’s Left?

Not respect for the office of Prime Minister. Not even courtesy

The Communists didn’t even wait for the Prime Minister to come back from his trip to Toyako, where he is meeting G8 leaders. They just pulled the rug. And that should be the least bit surprising. A bunch of people who never cared about India’s substantive interests can hardly be expected to care for symbolism.

Elections can’t be all that far away. It should now remain for the Indian voter to give the Communists the drubbing they deserve. Somewhere, one of history’s dustbins is waiting for them.


Mani Shankar Aiyar’s freudian slip

Towards the end of his lecture on “inclusive growth through inclusive governance” (yes, yes, the title tells the tale), Mani Shankar Aiyar says:

I speak for the inconsequential Indian, the unsuccessful Indian, but also for the Indian who crucially determines the outcome of the democratic process. [The Hindu]

The Indian voter, in other words, is inconsequential according to Mr Aiyar, even after ‘crucially determining the outcome of the democratic process’.

Isn’t it at once apt and ironic that Mr Aiyar should say this in a lecture on inclusive governance?

Monumental folly

A statue to end all your troubles

A bunch of violent thugs attacked the residence of Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta for writing a satirical piece criticising the Maharashtra government’s decision to engage in monumental folly. In support of Mr Ketkar’s freedom to write what he thought was right, and in support of writing what was right, here are excerpts from the English translation of his editorial.

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems of the people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of the greatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than one acre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build the monument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities will be given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue, artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji’s personal effects, swords and shields and attire. There will also be directives issued by the Maharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the people happy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, selling T-shirts with Shivaji’s painting. There will be Shivaji key chains, Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be no dance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader of NCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and served along with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald’s as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which has been renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as ‘Shiv Vada-Pau’. There will also be ‘pani puri’ sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No ‘bhaiyyas’ will be allowed to do business, only locals will be engaged. [IE]

Those concerned about Maharashtra and Mumbai need to explain their quiescence when the plans to revitalise Mumbai city and to turn into into an international financial centre were put in cold storage.

Having nothing much to show for its term in power, the Congress Party-led government is merely stoking up Marathi-chauvinism to distract public attention ahead the coming elections. Voters in Maharashtra should see through the trick.

Non-opposition is costly

The BJP didn’t forcefully counter the UPA government’s communal socialism. It’s paying for it in Rajasthan

Let there be no mistake: those who organised the violent mass agitation demanding entitlements that go with a scheduled tribe (ST) status, including its leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, are responsible for the deaths and injuries that resulted. Surely in a country where Chauri Chaura is taught in history textbooks, public protests involving burning down police stations and public transport buses can’t be called non-violent protests? Mr Bainsla’s claim to a Gandhian parallel—he was fasting while blocking railway traffic—is a macabre parody. The Gujjar riots are not about non-violence. They are about cynical use of violence and the threat of violence to press political demands.

And let there also be no mistake that even ‘non-violent’ tactics that disrupt normal life—blocking railways and holding up traffic—have no place in a constitutional democracy. As B R Ambedkar said, such methods are the “grammar of anarchy“. The political demands that the Gujjar protesters had should have been pressed in constitutional ways: through electoral politics and the judicial system. Arson and vandalism are crimes. Nothing in the Gujjar agitation must desensitise us from seeing them for what they are.

The police and law-enforcement authorities acted correctly. The loss of lives is unfortunate. But the police were not firing on a group of peaceful satyagrahis, but rather, on mobs that were resorting to mass violence. Mr Bainsla and his colleagues cannot escape moral responsibility for these deaths. They also cannot escape responsibility for diminishing the legitimacy of whatever genuine grievances some in the Gujjar community might have had.

These riots have come at a time when tensions between the BJP government in Rajasthan and the UPA government at the centre came to the fore after the terrorist attacks in Jaipur. The Congress Party is revelling at the Vasundhara Raje government’s discomfiture, at the hands of a monster that the UPA government nursed back to health.

It’s useful to be blunt about it. The rhetoric of ’social justice’, ‘reforms with a social face’ and ‘inclusive growth‘ is largely about doling out entitlements based on group identities. The prize—the status of ‘backwardness’, with its attendent benefits in terms of reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and if the UPA government were to have its way, in the private sector too. The designation of backwardness was subject to electoral promises, not hard-data or economic rationale. Do this long enough and you run into the Gurjjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab. Continue to persist along this path, and such incidents will be repeated in hundreds of places. [The Acorn, 4 June 2007]

Dr Frankenstein will face his creation eventually, but the BJP cannot escape its share of blame for failing to prevent, or at least draw attention to, the UPA’s larger project of divide and rule. It did complain when entitlement were sought to be handed out along religious lines, calling it minority appeasement. But it remained cynically silent when entitlements were handed out along caste and ethnic lines.

A party claiming to represent the whole of India should have protested loudly inside and outside parliament when the UPA government began its divide and rule project. Why, even a party claiming to champion the interests of the Hindu majority should have protested loudly when its base was being vivisected. If the Congress Party has succeeded in pulling the rug from under the BJP it is only because the latter could not muster up the leadership and courage to speak out against entitlements. As the Gujjar riots indicate, it will have to play the game by the rules set by its opponents.

The power of the taboo

Politics ‘R Us, or how the constitution can be painted in Congress Party’s colours

Even the strongest believers in constitutionalism and rule of law will concede that in the end, the system is only as good as the willingness of the people to respect the norms that form its ‘spirit’.

One of those norms is the taboo: the notion that some things are just not done. Indeed, in many instances the taboo is the only latch that keeps the floodgates of wholesale perversion firmly shut.

So in the long list of the UPA government’s damaging acts, undermining the dignity of high constitutional officers is one of the most significant. The elevation of a dubious political retainer to the position of the president of the republic, the recycling of S M Krishna, from a defeated politician to state governor—an apolitical constitutional office—and back into the partisan fray of electoral politics, and now, the appointment of a former chief election commissioner as a minister breaks many taboos. The floodgates have been jerked open.

The Congress Party’s attempt to use the Election Commission for its partisan ends is extremely dangerous. M S Gill might well have been the chief election commissioner a decade ago, but no one can deny that the implicit promise of future rewards can act as an incentive. The mere perception that election commissioners are partisan not only undermines public faith in the electoral system but makes electoral officials more susceptible to pressure from politicians. Mr Gill’s appointment reinforces the serious misgivings caused by the presence of Navin Chawla— a person declared “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”—at the Election Commission.

In terms of long-term damage, the UPA government has done much worse that V P Singh’s Janata Dal government of the late 1980s. The bad news is that it still has some months to go.