Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Is it true that Modi Government has been unfair to Andhra Pradesh as alleged by TDP and other Telugu Parties?

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

Ever since the political crisis in the NDA broke out, numbers are flying out fast and thick. Every political party that has a stake in AP is coming out with its own version of numbers – how much was given to the state, how much was received by the state, how much was spent by the state etc. There is no uniformity amongst these numbers, but the underlying sentiment still prevails – the Central government has not stood up to its promises. However, the state government is not squeaky clean when it comes to certain claims. Let’s take some time to understand these controversies related to the following:
  • Tax devolution
  • Revenue Deficit
  • Railway Zone

In February 2015, the central government announced that they are accepting the recommendations of the 14th Finance Commission, and because of this, the states will now get 42% share of the central taxes instead of the 32% they got earlier. This whopping 10% increase was unprecedented and was generally well received too.
In addition to this, the central government has also agreed to compensate for the revenue deficit of a few states for the period 2015 to 2020. As part of both decisions, Andhra Pradesh was to get the following – A whopping INR 1,78,000 crores over a period of 5 years starting 2015, and an additional INR 22,000 crores for the bridging the revenue gap. That would amount to a total of 2,00,000 crore!
Tweeting at that time, I felt this was a master stroke by the central government – without having to give a special status, the central government had solved the problem of revenue deficit of AP and they get an additional 1,78,000 crores. But my assessment was short-lived, and massively backfired too! Please allow me to explain this through a couple of snapshots.
This is how the largest circulated telugu newspaper covered the allocation, in its Hyderabad edition.
The banner headline highlights the 10% extra money that will come through devolution. There is a chart that shows the revenue deficit of different states. And on the same page, we are told that Telangana will get 1 lakh crores for the next five years.
How was the AP news covered then? Because this was in Hyderabad edition, the news was covered in the inside page, prominently, like this:
The headline highlights the Rs 22,000 crore benefit from revenue deficit only. Only one of the bylines tells us about the whopping Rs. 1,78,000 crores that AP will additionally get! And then there was another headline that says AP actually asked for more than 1 lakh crores. Do you notice the anomaly? Whilst 1,78,000 crore is a small byline, the key headlines are that AP asked for  more than 1 lakh crore but got 22,000 crore only!
This is when we understood that the sentiment in AP is very strong for a special status. It does not matter if AP get 2,00,000 crores additionally, because all other states are also getting benefitted from the additional 10% devolution! It is this sentiment that the BJP has failed to read. The TDP-BJP combine failed to communicate to the people the benefit of these 2,00,000 crores!
The second issue is regarding revenue deficit. Here is how the whole thing is being played out. First, let’s see this graphic that shows the Central government side of the story.

The center’s claim is that out of the promised 22,113 crore, about 15,500 crores have already been released. Then you might be wondering what is the problem? The revenue deficit grant is being given from the year 2015-2016. The big bone of contention is the revenue deficit grant of the year 2014-2015, the year in which the state was formed!
AP is claiming that the revenue deficit for that year alone is 16,000 crores! They are also citing a CAG report to bolster their stand (Quite strangely, though I have been able to easily find the CAG report for 2015-2016, unable to find a similar report for 2014-2015. Any help will be appreciated ). However, news reports have claimed that there is another CAG report that says that this 16,000 crores is an overestimate, and the real deficit is ~7000 crores. There is a contention therefore between the center and the state on this amount. So far, about 3900 crores were released by the center for the year 2014-2015. Arun Jaitley has proposed (from ~8:00 here) two formulae – if you use one, then the remaining amount due is only 138 crores. If you use the second, then the remaining amount due is about 1600 crores. And he is saying that the center is willing to give the 1600 crores.
Head spinning with all these numbers? Don’t worry, you are not alone! And here is where the political messaging also comes into picture. It is pertinent to note that so much number crunching is not possible to be drilled down to the public! The TDP is succeeding in telling people that the central government is claiming that the revenue deficit is only 138 crores! That they are asking Rs.16,000 crores, and Modi is saying Rs.138 crores! No mention about the other 1000s of crores released – the messaging is that the central government is claiming a meagre amount of 138 crores only is due.
The other emotive issue on which the central government has failed is the railway zone to Vizag. Technically, the AP Reorg act says that only a feasibility study will be done by the Indian Railways within 6 months of the formation of the state. Till date, no such study has been released. A couple of days back, Indian Express published an article:
There are two problems here. One arises if we are to assume the contents of this news report are true. The report states:
 “…the demand for a new zone to benefit a particular state “vitiates the pan-national character of the Indian Railways” and goes against the idea of the “forefathers of the nation”
Is it a new trend to use this kind of a language? A new zone will go against the idea of “forefathers”?! A new zone will be catastrophic? Really, catastrophic?!
 “Any further fragmentation of Railways will be like putting many nails in the coffin of the Indian Railways as there is no need for any new zone, operationally or administratively.”
Many nails in the coffin of the Indian Railways? Does a demand for a new zone deserve such strong language? The news report also tells us that about 50 demands are pending for 12 new railway zones. If the report is true, then this report does one thing for sure – “puts many nails in the coffin” of the BJP in AP!
The second problem is this – if the contents of this report are untrue, then why haven’t we heard any rebuttals from the Railways or even the Minister himself? Either way, the messaging on the railway zone has been really poor. Telugu media has recently highlighted that an official in the central government has announced that a railway zone is impossible. Chandrababu used the floor of the Assembly to highlight this as an insult to the people of AP – he has directly asked why can’t the center differentiate between a political decision and an administrative one!
One must understand that a railway zone to Vizag was shown as a big relief to AP, and therefore became an emotive issue, once the center started dilly dallying on this. At the risk of repeating myself to the point of boredom, the issue in Andhra Pradesh is now political, not bureaucratic.

When Leftist Media created a fictional divide between South India and Union of India

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

As the anger against the central government was rising in AP, an articleappeared on the controversial leftist website, The Wire in February, 2018. This article was trying to analyze just one term of reference, of the 15thFinance Commission (that will come into effect for the years 2020 – 2025), and came up with an atrocious byline – “It is becoming almost untenable for Tamil Nadu and Kerala to thrive in the Indian union as rational, self-interested sub-units.”
Popular Telegu actor, and Jana Sena party chief plugged this article and added his opinion as follows:
Is the success of south Indian states going to be used against them by Union of India??? This article flags a genuine concern that population-based formula for sharing tax revenues between states & Center would hurt south Indian states.”
This argument started gaining slow traction. TDP MP Mr. Murali Mohan made a statement that 5 south Indian states wouldn’t mind separating from the country too. This has created enough outrage on Social media, but the source of this outrage wasn’t too well known then. News reports have also mentioned that Chandrababu Naidu made an argument that South Indian states are being penalized, in his 2 hour 20 minute speech in the state Assembly. I haven’t heard the speech yet, so I have no way of verifying it. TRP-centric TV media even ran programs that discussed “Pawan Kalyan & Kamal Haasan to end South India's slavery?
On Sunday, March 11thEenadu, the largest circulated telugu newspaper (And 9th largest circulated in the country), put this argument on the front page. They interviewed Shri V. Bhaskar, secretary to the 13th Finance Commission. The headline screamed – “Damage to the spirit of Federalism”. Below is a snapshot of their coverage on this issue.  

What is the crux of the argument these folks are making?
  • The terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission (FC) tell us that “The Commission shall use the population data of 2011 while making its recommendations.”
  • The Wire, and subsequent experts have argued that this is grossly unfair because this basically means all those states that have made progress on controlling population and increasing tax productivity will be at a loss.
  • By the same logic, states that have not bothered about implementing these measures will immensely gain.

The article in Wire claims that Tamil Nadu and Kerala are at a massive loss because of this. The article in Eenadu tells us that AP, TN, Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha and 7 other states stand to “lose” money, whilst UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, J&K and the remaining states stand to “gain” money.
While reading the article in Eenadu, I was perplexed when Shri Bhaskar made the following statement:
From the 7th FC to the 14th FC, all of them used the 1971 census data as reference”.
This is reconfirmed when we visit the Finance Commission website and look at the terms of reference of all the finance commissions. Up until the 6thfinance commission, no specific guideline was given on which census data to be used. From the 7th FC (set up in 1977) onwards till the 14th FC (2015 to 2020), every single FC used 1971 data! Imagine using 1971 data for distribution model in 2015 – what explains this status quo for so many years? Isn’t it surprising that we used 1971 census data even 40 years later?
The issue of Tiny Fonts.
The Wire says that the change of criteria from 1971 to 2011 census “was done with such little fanfare and in fonts so tiny that it made one wonder if those who sought it wanted no one to take notice.
Fonts so tiny? Such little fanfare? Please take a look at the Gazette notification. The font is the same across the entire document! The population criteria is placed at a similar place, as was done in all previous FC references. I, for one, fail to understand this penchant to dramatize non-existing problems?
Was any weightage given to 2011 census in 14th FC?
The Wire tells us that “… the 14th Finance Commission…. gave a weightage of 10% for Census 2011 data”. So is it fair enough to assume that the remaining 90% weightage was from the Census 1971 data?
Shri V. Bhaskar, Secretary of 13th Finance Commission told in his interview - “The 14th FC gave 17.5% weightage to the Census 1971 data”.
At first look, these numbers itself were very perplexing! Because the automatic assumption is that the remaining percentage is from the other census. It turns out that my assumption is wrong. The devolution formula has always included other aspects, outside of population. For example, this table picked up from a government website confirms such findings for 13thand 14th FC
What about the other key argument – should performing states be penalized?
Both the articles in The Wire and in Eenadu have suggested that the performing states of South India are at a heavy loss. In fact the eenadu article even gave us the losses that the performing states would have entailed, if the 2011 census was considered for the 14th FC (whose period is 2015 – 2020). The table told us that AP would have lost ~24,000 crores, TN ~22,000 crores, Kerala and WB ~20,000 crores each and so on. It also told us that UP would have gained ~35000 crores, Bihar ~32000 crores etc.
And here’s where the chicanery of websites of The Wire, and the insincerity of bureaucrats (covered in Eenadu) come to the fore. Since most readers don’t bother to go and actually check the terms of 15th FC, they will automatically believe that there is no provision for rewarding the performing states.
Here is the truth. For the first time ever, the terms of reference for a finance commission included a number of “proposing measurable performance-based incentives for States”. A few earlier commissions considered fiscal discipline for incentives, but never has an entire section been dedicated to this.
There are a total of 9 parameters under which it has been recommended that performance can be measured. Previous FC’s for sure did not have so many parameters explicitly mentioned. The second parameter recommended is “Efforts and Progress made in moving towards replacement rate of population growth”.
The Wire article told us that – “Some experts have argued that having a weightage factor for dropping fertility rates is a possibility.” Possibility? They have been mandated to consider dropping fertility rates!  
In his interview, Shri V. Bhaskar has told us that a good “Replacement Fertility rate” should be less than 2.1. And there are many states that are currently higher than this. The terms of reference clearly indicates that states that have moved towards this rate should be considered for incentives.
The entire premise of the North India – South India argument was based on a lie that states that have made progress in terms of containing their population will be heavily penalized. The truth is that they will in fact get incentivized!
Not just that, please take a look at other parameters too. States that have done good in GST, Ease of doing business, grants for local bodies, sanitation, waste management etc – will all get incentivized. This is the first time that such measurable parameters have been placed in the FC terms of reference. The 15th FC is currently accepting suggestions too - shouldn’t we be spending our time in giving these inputs to the FC?
What then explains the deliberate attempt to spread such lies and mis-information? What the Wire published got mainstreamed into the politics of a state in India. A lie travels far before the truth wakes up. It is one thing to cast aspersions on methodology of a commission, or give suggestions based on available information. It is a whole different ball game to arrive at dangerous conclusions based on half assumptions! A ball game that many sections of media are perfecting!

The 2019 fight in Andhra will be primarily between TDP and YSRCP with Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena as a key player.

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

With TDP pulling out of the central government, many enthusiastic analysts on the social media have been speculating about the changing political landscape in Andhra Pradesh. The predictions varied thus:
·        BJP will tie-up with YSRCP, and ensure TDP loses the election
·        BJP will fight on its own and this is like a god given opportunity for the party to strengthen itself.
·        TDP has lost all goodwill for staying with the NDA for so many years
·        TDP has garnered additional support because of this decision to quit NDA well ahead of the elections (nearly 1 year earlier).
At the very outset, let me make one thing very clear – if the current situation holds, then there is no way, I repeat, absolutely no way, any party will want to ally with the BJP (or the Congress). There is no way, absolutely no way, the BJP can grow on its own, if it does not fulfill the promises made in the AP Reorganization act.
Therefore, I would really urge all those supporters of the party, who stay outside of AP, to understand the gravity of the anger in AP against unfulfilled promises. And before you begin arguments on how TDP is being unfair in demanding certain things, I’d urge you to please read earlier pieces on this subject, here and here.
Chandrababu Naidu did not have any choice but to exit the ruling coalition.When a special package was announced in 2016, in lieu of the special status, Chandrababu Naidu embraced it. He explained why the amount that is promised is same as the one we would get if the special status was given. However, this didn’t cut much ice with the people of AP. If there is no difference between special package and special status, then why not just give the promised special status itself? Remember the key word – “promised”.
Things would have cooled down, if say for example, the Central government showed urgency in fulfilling the promise of a railway zone in Vizag. Or a steel plan in Kadapa. Or progress on the Vizag-Chennai Industrial corridor. However, the central government had nearly zero movement on these fronts. Hence, the anger was building up against the BJP in general and Prime Minister Modi in particular.
To add fuel, there was a tussle between the Centre and the state regarding some tenders floated in the Polavaram project. TDP and the media played up this tussle as yet another example of BJP’s high handedness. The facts of the tussle didn’t matter – the emotions were so high that any small move by the Centre that seeks clarifications from the state, was seen as being anti-AP.
The anger reached the peak when the last full-fledged budget by the Modi government also didn’t speak anything about the various projects promised in the AP reorg act. Amidst all this, Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP did not have any option but to come out. If he stayed put any longer, he would have definitely lost out in 2019 elections.
To those writing off TDP, I think it is way too early to write them off. TDP and Chandrababu Naidu can easily portray his stay for 4 years, and coming out of 1 year before elections as an act of heroism and statesmanship. Statesmanship because he chose to work with the Center for 4 long years hoping to get everything done for the state. Heroic because he came out 14 months before elections are due, and didn’t wait for the last minute. TDP can easily seek a mandate for continuity of the work that has begun in this tenure. Any change in the ruling party may bring in unwanted disruption to the execution flow, and I think TDP will use this messaging to the fullest.
For all that we know, popular movie star Pawan Kalyan may yet again ally with the TDP in 2019, to fight against Jagan’s YSRCP.
YSRCP is seen as gaining ground in the state, with their leader currently on a padayatra crisscrossing the state. Some have professed that Chandrababu Naidu feared growing popularity of Jagan and took the decision to pull out, but like I mentioned above, he literally had no other option but to pull out. Jagan’s lack of any administrative experience will continue to be held against him, by the TDP, which will lose no opportunity to showcase the experience of Chandrababu Naidu.
Recently, we have seen how bypolls and municipal polls have been made the benchmark on how ruling parties will win/lose ensuing elections. By those standards, the TDP will smoothly win 2019, as it has recently won an assembly bypoll, and also the Kakinada Municipal Corporation! However, by polls are necessarily not an indication of a state-wide swing (For example, the TDP lost 40 bypolls in the 2009 – 2014 timeframe).
Amidst all this, it was amusing to see some Congress handles tell us that the party was unfairly punished in 2014. The party is telling us that the provisions it made for AP in the reorg are the best, and the fact that everyone today thinks that these provisions will propel the state forward is proof of the same! What they fail to understand is that the people are so angry at the Congress for bringing in the misery in the first place! No one thinks the provisions are the best. Today, people are asking that the promises made be fulfilled! Congress can continue to believe that it has a fair chance of revival, but the reality is that the party has hit its low.
The 2019 fight will be primarily between TDP and YSRCP. Another major player, with the capacity to split votes is Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena. The 2019 fight is primarily between TDP and YSRCP.. It will be interesting to see if he will go alone (which he says he will) or if he will ally, in the larger interest of the state. If so, the only chance of an alliance will be with the TDP. Any alliance with YSRCP is bound to backfire because Jagan is popularly seen as the poster boy of corruption! If today’s situation remains as is, the two national parties, BJP and Congress can conveniently forget any chance of even a single seat.

Andhra Pradesh political crisis is not just about the Special Status alone

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

It was very interesting to see social media reactions, one day after the TDP pulled out of the NDA government. The overwhelming assumption was that special status is the only reason the TDP pulled out of the government. And then we had folks reeling out statistics on why AP doesn’t deserve a special status; why it doesn’t deserve tax incentives; how Chandrababu is trying to blackmail Modi and how Modi is not a Vajpayee to give in!
In this article, I would like to bring your attention to the fact that this anger in AP is not just about special status. There are a few other key points on which no movement was seen. I have argued this earlier, and would like to again bring it to your attention how hurriedly and badly the Congress drafted this reorg act.
Why is AP asking for Tax incentives when statistics indicate its growth rate is very high? Simple answer: Because the AP Reorg act says so!
Fiscal measures including tax incentives - The Central Government shall take appropriate fiscal measures, including offer of tax incentives, to the successor States, to promote industrialization and economic growth in both the States.
The Congress has written into the law that the central government shall offer tax incentives to both TS and AP! So, on technical grounds, the demand is justified. However, on technical grounds, even the central government has offered incentives – for example, Arun Jaitley has waived of capital gain tax on the transactions of lands that farmers have given for Amaravati (a whopping 33000 acres!). However, the narrative has been so built, that since there are no tax incentives offered to industries, AP is doomed! Recently, KIA started Making in India. They setup their plant in AP – there was an ugly spat on social media on whom to credit this initiative to – PM Modi or CM Naidu?
Why does AP need so much money for building its capital Amaravati, when capitals of other new states didn’t get so much money. Simple answer: Because the AP reorg act says so.
The Central Government shall provide special financial support for the creation of essential facilities in the new capital of the successor State of Andhra Pradesh including the Raj Bhawan, High Court, Government Secretariat, Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, and such other essential infrastructure.
“Such other essential infrastructure” is being read by a few folks that the center will even fund building of the drainage system for Amaravati, because what is more essential that a drainage system! In fact commentators have written that “The reorganisation act also mandates Centre to fund the construction of a green field capital”! This is what the sentiment on the ground is today.
Do people realize here how badly the law has been drafted? Who writes such ambiguous statements like “such other essential infrastructure”?
Why does AP need a railway zone, and why is it a big deal to get a railway zone? Simple answer: Because the AP reorg act says so!
Indian Railways shall, within six months from the appointed day, examine establishing a new railway zone in the successor State of Andhra Pradesh and take an expeditious decision thereon;
Railway zone was seen by the people of AP as a saving grace for getting a state without a capital. People were hopeful of employment opportunities getting generated because of this. Nearly 4 years after, people are not sure what the status of this is. This issue snowballed into a major issue, along with the grant of special status! Notice the badly drafted law yet again!
What about these arguments that AP has a large revenue deficit? The 14thfinance commission has recommended that the center fund the 22,000 crore revenue deficit of AP for the period 2015 – 2020. There is no argument on this amount. The argument is regarding the amount in the first year of the state, i.e., 2014-2015. AP is claiming a whopping 16,000 crores only for the first year and is citing the CAG report that has given this number. The center is saying that it cannot fund a revenue deficit gap that is based on farm loan waiver, pension amounts etc. Arun Jaitley has proposed a couple of formulae by which the state will get anywhere between 4500 to 5500 crores. Now you can imagine, how the narrative is set – AP is asking for 16000 crores, but center is only willing to give 4500 crores!
In the initial days, this was not a big contention, but slowly started to snowball into a controversy. The TDP and the media started projecting this as yet another instance of how the center is ignoring AP!
Likewise, the setting up of a steel plant in Kadapa; the developing of a Vizag-Chennai corridor; “development of backward areas in the successor States, including expansion of physical and social infrastructure” – all of these have snowballed into big controversies now. What could have been nipped in the bud, was allowed to blossom fully!
The central government has also done a lot of things that were mentioned in the act too – “expanding the existing Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Tirupati airports to international standards”, the setting up of various education institutes in the state (naysayers are now saying “enough funds” haven’t come in!); Rs2,500 crore already released for Amaravati etc.
However, at the risk of repeating myself, the issue is more about sentiment than facts now. The people of AP considered a few incentives as very big-ticket items – Special Status, Railway Zone, Revenue Deficit, Capital construction etc. And therefore, the anger is not just because of announcing a special package instead of special status. The anger is beyond special status, and it is imperative for those in power to understand this.
Does all this mean there are no politics involved here? Of course there is ! We will discuss the politics of this, in the next article.

TDP pulls out of NDA

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

As expected, the Telugu Desam Party has pulled out of the Central government. And of course, the BJP ministers in the AP state government will also be resigning. Why was this widely expected? Since 2016, there was widespread anger against the BJP government at the center for taking a long time to fulfill the promises made in the disastrous 2014 AP Re-organization act. We haven’t seen this much movement since 2016 and today marks the end of the waiting period for TDP’s much anticipated action.
Writing about this topic back in 2016, I mentioned the following:
The two key areas where the people of Andhra Pradesh are very keen to see an urgent solution is the establishment of a new railway zone in the State (as mentioned in the bifurcation Act), and the granting of special status to the State. Suresh Prabhu was recently elected to the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, and people are hopeful of the new railway zone (after all, it’s all give and take in politics).”
Let’s first talk about the railway zone. The AP Reorganisation act says:
Indian Railways shall, within six months from the appointed day, examine establishing a new railway zone in the successor State of Andhra Pradesh and take an expeditious decision thereon;
Look at the chicanery of the Congress party. They didn’t technically promise a railway zone. But they only promised a feasibility study within 6 months. Which means that if the feasibility study says Zone not possible, then the promise is gone to winds!
Anyways, a railway zone was seen as a great employment generator and also as much-needed autonomy for the Vizag region. For some weird reason, the Modi government hasn’t bothered about the six-month timeframe promised in the act. As recent as February 2018, Railway Minster tells in the Rajya Sabha that the center is still studying all proposals!
The perception has gained ground that a new zone to Vizag would mean Odisha having to give up many employment opportunities. Bad press in Odisha would mean a loss to BJP in that state, where it is seen as gaining ground! And so the anger against the Modi government has been building up a lot since then. Today it hit the boiling point.
Let’s talk about the special status next. The biggest of all the demands, during that hasty bifurcation process, was granting of a special category status. And this was not included in the Bill that was passed in the Lok Sabha. And since the support of BJP was required to pass this in the Rajya Sabha, the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, made a statement on the floor of the house that the Central Government would grant this status to AP, but cannot include it in the bill at that moment because there was no time to go back to the Lok Sabha again.

Venkaiah Naidu had also vociferously argued that the status should be granted for 10 years and not five. However, after coming to power, the NDA Government has shown a lot of reluctance in granting this status to Andhra Pradesh. Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu, literally held a midnight press conference, to give the state almost all benefits that will accrue to it, in case a special status was granted. At the beginning, this seemed to have assuaged some feelings, but off late it came to light that those these benefits were announced, they were not actually released!

And since this was heating up, the other unfulfilled promises were being highlighted too. For example:
The Government of India shall develop a new major port at Duggirajupatnamin the successor State of Andhra Pradesh to be completed in phases with Phase I by end-2018
We are the beginning of 2018 now. ISRO has given written objections for the port at Duggirajupatnam. The center has asked the state government for another recommendation. The state government has expressed its inability to do so. And now, at the beginning of 2018, we don’t even have a town name to build a port! The Congress, without studying feasibility has promised a port, that ISRO has raised serious objections too! The BJP, by putting it in extended limbo, has aggravated the situation.
2. SAIL shall examine, within six months from the appointed day, the feasibility of establishing an integrated steel plant in Khammam district of the successor State of Telangana;
3. SAIL shall, within six months from the appointed day, examine the feasibility of establishing an integrated Steel Plant in YSR District of the successor State of Andhra Pradesh;
I don’t have to tell you what the status of this “examination” is. Already people have started agitating on why Kadapa steel plant hasn’t materialized yet.
The Polavaram irrigation project is a lifeline to the state of AP. And as with any big project, is taking a very long time to build. The Centre has agreed to fund the project in its entirety, and in a unique decision, has also given the responsibility of constructing this to the State government itself. The targeted date for completion was 2018. We have recounted how a recent notice by the central government snowballed into a major issue that required bigwigs of both parties to get involved!
There are a lot of statistics that are put across by both supporters of the BJP (citing the various fulfilled promises as made in the bifurcation Act) and the TDP (citing various unfulfilled promises made in the Act and in the Rajya Sabha).
The BJP has failed in communicating effectively to the people of AP on what it has done, and what it will do to remove these hurdles. Even Venkaih Naidu’s elevation to Vice President of India, has been seen as a demotion to him – because he was seen as fighting a lonely battle while being part of BJP!
The people of AP are right in expecting that the center fulfill what has been promised. Since we are 4 years into the promised 10 years to finish all aspects of the bifurcation, it is only fair that they at least show a path towards fulfilling them. This debate has far moved away from factual arguments. The issue is emotional one now and needs to be treated as one.

KCR’s National Aspirations and attempt at resurrecting Third Front

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

How you say, is as important as what you say. It’s one thing to read in newspapers or web portals what  leaders say; it’s another to hear them say it. That is why Rahul’s speeches might sound good when you read it, but appear downright silly when you hear it. But then we are digressing. This article is not about Rahul Gandhi!
For few days now, Telangana CM KCR has been making national news. He addressed a press conference first, on Saturday March 3rd, and said that he is willing to take the lead in the formation of a “front” that will be an alternative to the Congress and the BJP. On Sunday, March 4th, he addressed general public that came to his house to congratulate him on becoming “desh ka neta”.
I heard the speech and was astonished at the level of hatred KCR has suddenly developed towards the central government. The topic of devolving more powers to the states is certainly worth debating, but as I said in the beginning - How you say, is as important as what you say.
For example, at 9:57 in his speech (this part is in Hindi, except for one line in telugu, which I translated to English) – “Pradhan Mantri gram Sadak Yojana. Aap ko kya kaam hai bhai. . We should feel ashamed too. Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. Pradhan Mantri ko kya kaam hai, is desh ke 6 lakh gaaon ko road banana ke liye? Rajya ka sarkaar nahi hai? Kya wo log nahi bana sakte?”
It’s not like KCR doesn’t know the situation in the country when PM Vajpayee introduced Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. It’s not like he doesn’t know that many state governments weren’t even building such basic infrastructure for villages in their states. It’s not like he doesn’t know Naxal infested states needed this infrastructure push to enhance their connectivity. He knows all this – yet he chose to attack the Central government on a scheme that has benefitted the states, with little burden on them. So, when he shouts “Rajya ka Sarkar nahi hai? Kya wo log nahi bana sakte?”, he is doing nothing but indulging in pointless and loud rhetoric.
This is not the only scheme on which he tried to attack the Central government. He was showing his ire against the Congress and BJP for not allowing true federal structure to exist. Quite funnily, he asks us what has BJP done in the past 4 years? He tells us that they did nothing. Elsewhere he tells us that ours is now a power surplus country but still there are areas that reel in darkness.
The answer to his question in 2018, was given by KCR himself in 2016. In a public meeting, he heaped praises on the Prime Minister for effective federalism that was put in place. He heaped praises on the then power minister Piyush Goyal for helping solve the dreadful power situation in Telangana. It is thus baffling to understand why he launched this attack, and chose topics like these. Does co-operative federalism change so drastically in under 2 years?
He demanded that Health, Education, Agriculture and Urban Development be given to state governments. Health is a concurrent subject. Nothing in the constitution prevents KCR from improving health facilities in Telangana. Irrespective of the facilities and hospitals the central government will build, KCR can go on his own and build world class infrastructure for health. Is anyone stopping him?
Education is a concurrent subject. Nothing in the constitution prevents KCR from improving educational facilities in the state. Instead of asking “aapko school mein kya kaam hai”, he can focus on cleaning up the mess in state education sector. We can pick examples if needed. In 2016, there was a paper leak for EAMCET. Till date, that investigation has not been completed. There has been no change in syllabus at any level of education all these years. Did anyone stop him for bringing in the changes? KCR, in an admirable decision, suspended the license of nearly 150 engineering colleges, thereby plugging the loophole in a big scam. Did he need anyone’s permission to do that? Why then this heartburn on Education now?
His oversimplification of farmer’s suicide came as a massive surprise to me. He asked why farmers are committing suicides even after 70 years. In the context of his speech, was he blaming the concurrent nature of the subject to be the reason for this? If KCR accuses Modi of not doing anything for 4 years, then shouldn’t KCR also take responsibility for farmer suicides in Telangana? Was there really nothing he could do about them?
His tirade against Urban Development is surprising too. The center doesn’t have absolute control on Urban Development. The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) earns a lot of money through taxes, and yet has failed to provide good roads in the city. KCR himself has told us "If the government were to begin taking action against corrupt staff, then no one will be left in the GHMC. "Correcting GHMC is entirely in his hands – no central government is stopping him from taking up reforms.
He attacked the way NREGA funds are released – “Should we wait for Delhi to release funds even for labourers?” was his rhetoric. Well, it’s a central scheme, so the center  will release funds! Is his contention that such a program shouldn’t have come up in the first place? Or is his contention that since such a program has come up, release of funds should be left to the local body?
He followed this up with asking if this is how local bodies are sought to be run in the country. Later, he says that many laws regarding panchayats were bought and they were useless. Recently, KCR himself set up Rythu Samithis at village levels. These samithis are supposed to take up all land related problems in the village and solve them. There was widespread criticism that these samithis were filled up with TRS supporters/members. He didn’t care much about this criticism. Perhaps he likes to have this unlimited power.
KCR started his speech with asking how long these Delhi parties Congress and BJP will continue to divide people based on religion? Funny, coming from KCR, who for example, has two names for the same scheme – Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak. Both schemes do the same thing, Rs 75,116/- to families of poor SC/ST girls and Muslims respectively. I agree with his larger point though – this country was sought to be divided on communal and caste lines, majorly by the Congress party. How will a third front solve that problem – one really doesn’t know!
Devolution of more powers to the states is a very important topic, that needs to be debated threadbare. It requires level-headed discussions and a major change in the constitution. A major change in the constitution requires greater support across the political spectrum. That support cannot be garnered by going combative on day 1. I, for one, feel that the tone of KCR’s speech didn’t set the right forum for this debate.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

It is wrong to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not acted against corruption.

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference.

Whilst the anger on the 2G verdict was understandable, it amazed me how soon we forgot that a court has convicted no less than a Secretary to the Govt. of India in the Coal Scam. We now live in times where the PM is expected to know what the branch manager of a bank is doing, it was astonishing that former PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh was not hauled over the coals regarding the conviction of a secretary directly reporting to him!
The space in both the mainstream and social media is occupied by actions/raids/statements against politicians. The “big fish”. The “small fish” doesn’t interest this space. The “small fish” is what I would like to share my thoughts today though!
Let’s leave aside the politicians for a moment. What does corruption then mean to us? Remember that demeaning term – “broker”? Remember the number of times we might have heard that the “middlemen” and “brokers” eat up everything, and the actual beneficiaries don’t get anything? The “small fish” that directly impact the common farmer, the common petitioner, the common man. Enter the robust Direct Benefit Transfer program. First, Jan Dhan accounts have been opened up for individuals. And then Aadhar has been linked. And through this, all subsidies and payments are directly passed on to the beneficiaries themselves! The concept of “middle man” and “broker” is dying a slow death. If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?
What else does corruption mean to us? If you are from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, remember all those stories about Shell companies that YSR’s family had? Or remember the web of companies that Satyam Computers created? And then those discussions on how these Industrialists create these shell companies to eat money? Well, enter Demonetization. In one stroke, Modi government has cancelled the license of 2 lakh shell companies. Yep, 2 lakh shell companies and 1 lakh Directors of defunct companies have been struck off in just one night. If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?
Remember the earlier days when you had to wait for police to come verify your address for passport and you had to pay “fees”. Getting passport has become so much easier now, that the concept of payment to visiting police has now become a thing of past! A direct change in how the system works has resulted in the near elimination of corruption in the department. If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?
Do you remember those long lines farmers used to form outside Fertilizer shops? Do you remember those news items showing agitated farmers protesting about the lack of Urea? Do you know why there was a Urea shortage? Because Urea was being pilfered. It was being illegally diverted to Industries so that they can contaminate products that even included milk powder given to babies! What was the solution? To neem coat this Urea after which it could be used as a fertilizer. UPA allowed for only 35% of Neem Coating. Where the remaining 65% went, you can take an educated guess. There has been no respite to the farmer, because he still had to queue up outside the shop. What did Modi do? He made it mandatory that 100% Urea should be neem coated! What is the result? Do you remotely recollect any news of Urea shortage? Modi himself has mentioned this so many times – CMs used to write to him regularly when he became the PM, regarding Urea shortage. Now, no one writes to him about it. If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?

Remember those days when we heard about having to grease the hands of interviewers for government jobs? In one stroke, Prime Minister Modi has cancelled all interviews for selections to Class 3 officers and below. All selections will be through a merit based exam that will have no scope of corruption. Have you ever met people who yearn for such jobs but are forced to shell out money? And it is then these people that go on to become corrupt, justifying their action saying they have to “earn back” what they paid? If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?
Am I done yet? No! There was a time when we used to question why politicians get allotted so many bungalows. Guess what Modi did – a whopping 1500 powerful occupants of Lutyens’ bungalows have been evicted, if they didn’t move out. 1500 of them! This includes many former ministers, MPs etc. No wonder they are all ganging up against him! If this doesn’t amount to action on corruption, then what does?
You may get back to me asking are these measures enough? Of course we would want a world where there is no corruption. I would definitely want our government offices to get to a place where a citizen can walk in with the supreme confidence that his/her work will get done without ever having to grease anyone’s hands. Modi is doing many right things in that direction. The “big fish” may be breathing a bit easy (this twitter thread says they are not, but just to give a benefit of doubt!), but the “small fish” are surely finding it difficult! Prime Minister Modi needs all the support he can, to curb this menace of corruption.

If your definition of an “intellectual” is equivalent to people like you and your friends Mr. Ram Guha, then I am really glad that this is an “anti-intellectual” government

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference

Ramachandra Guha’s elitist disdain for the Prime Minister of the country has been well exposed before. But it looks like he is not happy with the hatred he spreads. He finds new depths to plumb regularly. Latest in his series of diatribes was his shocking tweet after Prime Minister Modi addressed students to take out the stress when it comes to exams.
Every CBSE school was compelled to hear the Prime Minister promote his new book. The Principal of a school in my neighborhood was asked by a student: ‘Sir, what exactly is the exam that the Prime Minister has passed?" Doubtless the same question was asked in other schools too.”
First, I found it very cowardly that Mr. Guha chose to shoot from the shoulders of both an unnamed student and unnamed principal of his “neighborhood school”. Second, the choice of his words in the entire tweet only goes on to show how blinded he has become by hatred.
“Every CBSE school was compelled”. Students were watching the Prime Minister of India addressing them, about a very important event in their life. It beats me why most students would not want to hear him. When I was a student in school, I would have been thrilled to have had the opportunity to listen to the Prime Minister (any PM!) if he is talking to us about exams. Guha makes this sound as if some punishment has been meted out to the students.
What is “compelling” though Mr. Guha is when students are made to celebrate Children’s Day on November 14th, with no clue as to why “Chacha” likes them and what he spoke to them about! In Mr. Modi, we have a leader who communicates with students regularly and directly. He did this once earlier (in 2015 I think) and many times as CM too. Oh, whom am I telling this to – you are after all an eminent historian!
The Prime Minister was not promoting his book. He is not capable of promoting his book like some members of your ilk do. But we need not focus on this aspect, because there is a bigger issue to look at here!
You don’t think the Prime Minister has passed any exam. I am simply astonished as to how myopic you are in your understanding. Another journalist Sadanand Dhume saw this as an opportunity to join the bandwagon and wrote thus:
Modi has many qualities (strong oratory, fine work ethic), but turning to him for advice on exams is a bit like asking me about ice skating.
Your lack of confidence in yourself is appalling Mr. Dhume! If you can write about economic policy, foreign policy, domestic politics, international politics etc., surely nothing’s stopping you from spreading gyan on ice skating too?! If you can go to UP during election campaigning, write a lot of articles and yet not predict the wave, surely you can do such a sterling job talking about ice skating too, no? From when has not having experience in something ever stopped your ilk from commenting on it?
Mr. Guha, coming back to you now.  While you may want to harp on whether he literally passed any exam, you conveniently forget that he holds a Master’s degree. The elitist in you, may prompt you to sneer at a mere distance learning course degree. Even today, there are lakhs of folks across the country who work hard, in their free time, to gain these degrees and proudly display them to their family and friends. I have seen from close quarters how much these degrees mean to them, Mr. Guha. So maybe you can keep your elitist sneer to yourself.
If we move away from the literal sense of writing an exam, the Prime Minister has faced multiple elections so far. The pressure of performing well in those elections is exactly like an exam for a student. Any Prime Minister of this country (And I mean any Prime Minister, and not just Dr. Manmohan Singh, as you imply here!) is eligible to speak of handling of pressure, and facing tests under stringent conditions.
No other Prime Minister in recent times has had such connect with the students of this country. No other Prime Minister has communicated with them so frequently and so earnestly, in recent times. Your continuous tirade and disdain against Mr. Modi, calling this as an “anti-intellectual” government is now getting boring. If your definition of “intellectual” is equivalent to people like you and your friends, then I am really glad that this is an “anti-intellectual” government!