Sunday, February 17, 2013

When "achievement" is not "substance"

This article was written for Niti Central. Reproducing it here. 

Gujarat CM, Mr. Narendra Modi gave a nearly one hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce in Delhi on Wednesday. Formerly national bureau chief of CNN-IBN and currently with DNA, expert analyst Mr. Diptosh Majumdar analysed the speech in a few tweets. The analysis included the following:

Modi’s speech did not have much substance but it was politically influential – the young people lapped it up

Modi's speech at #SRCC was without much substance because except for Vivekananda's vision, he had not much to offer.

The wretched trolls on twitter started bombarding him primarily one query - how come he didn't find any substance in the speech? To which, he bombarded them back with the same query: 

The wretched trolls went on to give him examples of "substance" in the speech, to which he replies to one

never once referred to 2002. U haven't yet told me what outside Gujarat achievements is substance in that #SRCC speech?

And despite such prodding, Diptosh has not bothered to enlighten us with what "substance" he was looking for. Instead he set a new barometer of judging a speech – discussing achievements don’t count towards “substance” in speech!

So was there any substance in the speech then? To answer this question, let’s not rely on the wretched trolls. CNN-IBN’s deputy editor Sagarika Ghose said this:

At SRCC, we have heard Modi speak about cotton, salt,, bananas, ayurveda, teachers: but his big ideas on challenges facing India?

Cotton, salt : He spoke about agriculture revival in Gujarat (from 12th minute here), in which he detailed many innovations – from soil health cards to water management to integrated approach. In the course of this speech, he mentioned how cotton production increased in his state and how a value addition to this prodcution that will benefit the cotton farmer, was developed through a new textile policy – Farm to Fibre; Fibre to Fabric: Fabric to Fashion; Fashion to Foreign!

Bananas: He gave a very interesting anectode of farmers from a tribal belt approaching him for a much higher quality of roads so that their bananas that get exported to Finland don’t get smashed! Modi pointed out (from 19:20 onwards) that such aspirations of the tribal farmers to do better business in the global market is what drives the country ahead.

Ayurveda: While speaking of service sector and industrial development, he mentioned about the need for better branding and packagaing. And he cited many examples to make his point – one of which a report by Hathi commission on Ayurveda. (from 38:20 onwards)

Teachers: From the 28th minute, he spoke about the role and importance of teachers in shaping the society and how he recognized the need for better teachers and therefore set up the first teaching University in India.

Just by merely looking at the four points that Sagarika Ghose mentioned, it turns out that there is indeed a lot of “substance “ in the speech. He made many additional points, even talked about “India’s development through Gujarat’s development” - but then Sagarika Ghose is not impressed for these don’t’ count towards “big ideas on challenges facing India”.

Agriculture, law and order (he describes some of his attempts towards police reforms), better teachers, better infrastructure, better ideas, better implementation, better growth, better hope - in his speech, Modi described the challenge and then went on to tell how they either overcame or are trying to overcome those challenges, by not relying on mere rhetoric, but by citing specific examples. But hey – these are not “big ideas” nor do they count for “substance”!

Not to be left far behind, Bhupendra Chaube of CNN-IBN does a 2 minute report on this speech in which he says Modi made political references to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi! Perhaps he is the only person who thinks a reference was made to Sonia Gandhi in the speech! This video report is all the more surprising because on twitter he said this:

U gotta give it to @narendramodi . Orator par excellence. Very very convincing arguments. Always speaks logically and rationally

None of Modi’s “convincing”, “rational” and “logical” arguments made it to his report though!

No discussion on Modi and media is complete without mentioning Mr. Nikhil Wagle. He has a single point agenda – “Modi should apologise for 2002”. Whatever the context – that’s his only demand. It was pointed out to him many times that if he believes Modi is guilty of murder, he should demand punishment according to the law but not a mere apology but that’s beside the point. This speech bothered him so much that he went a step further and said this:

Most of middle class is hypocritical. They voted for BT after riots n probably will vote for modi. They want dev even if its on dead bodies!

It’s one thing for you to have strong anti-Modi feelings, but to blame “most of the middle class” who struggle to make ends meet of being hypocritical speaks volumes about the sanity of a person making such rile statements. It is no wonder that a speech filled with substance and big ideas has disturbed Mr. Nikhil Wagle so much!

So there was nothing in this event that satisfied this ilk? Turns out that there was one thing indeed:

Nikhil Wagle: I appreciate left student unions who protested against @narendramodi in delhi yesterday.They proved a point of dissent. All r not with modi!

Diptosh: And can you seriously root for a Prime Minister who is shown black flags wherever he goes outside Gujarat #SRCC #Modi

The Hindu had a full report that concentrated on the travails of the protestors here. A very casual reference to the speech and a very elaborate report on the protests outside! Rajdeep Sardesai wondered why The Hindu didn’t front page this report when other newspapers did. The Hindu’s editor, Siddarth Varadarajan replied thus:

We refuse to be part of the herd. Every story on our p1 was far more newsworthy than a speech by a CM to a Delhi college.

It is the newspaper’s prerogative to decide what item is “newsworthy” and that prerogative must be respected, but that tweet also said “we refuse to be part of the herd”. A natural question arises – was the decision not to carry it on page 1 (or anywhere in paper) based on the desire not to be “part of the herd” or was it based on “newsworthiness”? In the answer to this question lies the key to thinking of the media on Modi.

All said and done, no image captures the media bias as superbly as the one below that compares some reactions to Rahul's rant in Jaipur to Modi's speech in Delhi (put together by ShivSBharat). Like they say – a picture is worth 1000 words!

PS: News channels, as always, have had noisy “debates” on the speech – the outcome of which is nothing!

Congress tangles Telangana beyond repair

This article was written for Niti Central. Reproducing the same here.

This article is not intended to make or break a case for splitting AP. It merely seeks to explain the current vitiated scenario; how it becomes impossible to take any decision in such an atmosphere; the lack of a proper road map; and the lack of attempt by the ruling party - the congress party - to attempt any sort of conciliatory measures. Until such point of time, where the people of both the regions reach a general agreement on the split - this unrest will continue. 

Recent past

When questioned about their view on Telangana, from 2004 to 2009, every congress person worth his/her salt had pretty much this to say -" Sonia amma is seized of the matter. She will take an appropriate decision". For all those five years, the same echo everywhere - "madam" will decide, "madam" will decide, "madam" will decide. None of us had any clue what was going on in Madam's mind - the people of the state were never told. 

And then, in late November 2009, TRS President KCR started his umpteenth fast unto death for Telangana. Congress party still did not have an opinion till then. Within 10 days, things changed. KCR was getting weak. Students were getting involved in the agitations; non-political leaders too got busy with agitations; bandhs, dharnas became the order of the day. And then Madam decided that on her birthday, December 9th, her government will announce a favourable decision. At 11:45pm that night, then Home Minister P. Chidambaram announced that the "process of forming Telangana will be initiated". 

And all hell broke loose in the rest of Andhra Pradesh. People took to the streets, demanded that their representatives resign; students, non-political leaders took to the streets; bandhs, dharnas became the order of the day in these regions! And within 15 days, Madam took another decision - her birthday gift will have to be put on hold. It was also decided that an all-party will be called and a commission headed by Justice Shri Krishna will give a comprehensive report within an year. 

Ever since, there have been dharnas, bandhs, strikes, marches, meetings etc in both the regions (more prominent in Telangana though. One such strike by govt. employees of Telangana lasted for more than a month, putting many common folks to misery). First affected are school and colleges - fearing any law and order issue - they shut down. Exams get postponed; special classes get arranged later to make up for these losses. The Sri Krishna commission, after extensive deliberations across the state, recommended that the state should not be split. More agitations! Periodically, a buzz is created about a "possible announcement" - and then there is again an unrest in one region or the other. This has been the story of the state since December 2009. 

The Present

Amidst all this, in early December 2012, UPA was hell-bent on pushing through the FDI bill in Parliament. Since there was widespread opposition to it, a vote was necessitated  Seizing this opportunity, Congress MP's from Telangana decided to boycott the CPP meeting to protest against their own party's indecisiveness in atleast calling for an all-party meeting from AP! And since winning this vote was of paramount importance, the Congress leadership agreed to set-up an all party meeting on the 28th of December. Home Minister Shinde convened the meeting and pompously announced that he would take a decision within one month. 

As January 28th was approaching, the congress incharge of AP, Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad made a prolific announcement - "One month does not mean 30 days". While this amazing scientific assertion will prompt a re-look at some basics followed the world over, the government promptly followed up this announcement by saying they need more time to decide on this issue!  And now the stage has been set for the next round of unrest in the state. Remember, this round of unrest started because GoI was keen on pushing through FDI. The common folk have already begun to dread 

No proper road-map

Whilst Congress party and "madam" have been dilly dallying, some other parties have made their stand "clear" on Telangana. And herein lies the main problem. These parties have no stance on some basic points, like:
  1. Assuming AP will be split into two - Telangana and Andhra, what will be capital city of the two states? 
  2. Assuming Hyderabad is the capital for Telangana, what will be the capital city of Andhra? 
  3. How long will it take to build a new capital city for the new state?
  4. Till such point of time, what is the proposed roadmap to govern both the states?
  5. How will water distribution take place between the split states?
  6. Is it safe to assume that granting Telangana would mean that AP gets divided into 2 and not 3 states?
Believe it or not, not a single political party (BJP, TDP etc) that claims to have "clarity" on Telangana issue has answers to the above! A capital city is the basic requirement in a road map. Without answers to such basic questions above, how would one proceed with splitting a state? Assuming there is some secret master plan for the same - how does the BJP plan to convince people and parties across the state and create a separate state "within 100 days"? 

The only thing that reigns supreme in AP now is confusion! Endless debates on status of Hyderabad, special packages, community interests (MIM's main plank) happen day in, day out - draining out the viewer's interest! The mess that Congress party (and Sonia Gandhi) created is something that cannot be undone in 100 days, especially with no clarity on some basic requirements for splitting of a state. One cannot simply brush aside the comprehensive report of the Justice Shri Krishna commission, that advocates a united state. 

Since that dreadful December month of 2009 - one section strongly wants a separate state and the other strongly opposes it. Both sections have powerful political leaders in them; both have powerful articulators who will throw facts at the drop of the hat; both have regular involvement of students and civil society leaders; both have strong support from the common people of the regions - amidst such a vicious atmosphere, it is improbable to imagine that this can be mitigated and a way is paved for a long lasting solution "within 100 days". 

And then there are advocates of smaller states as a matter of principle - but where emotions are involved such theory will not pass muster. In our online world, many outside the state are always curious about the political prospects of Congress and the BJP in various scenarios. Whatever their political prospects are - one thing is for sure - the prospects of a stable Andhra Pradesh has gone for a toss. And as Shashi Shekhar mentions in this article - there is no leader in sight who can help resolve this.