The confabulating case of Sad(istic)anand Dhume

I had promised myself that I would keep myself out of the partisan debate that would undoubtedly arise in the aftermath of the Wharton Indian Economic Forum’s (WIEF) uninvite of Modi as a keynote speaker. Unfortunately, a chance reading of Sadanand Dhume’s article on WSJ blogs dissipated the determination behind that promise to myself. What drew me out to pen down this piece was the utterly shameful display of shifty standards on the part of the author in professing to stand for one thing even while leading the discussion to something else altogether.

Going by the title of Dhume’s piece ‘Why I’m not speaking at Wharton’, it would appear that it was a solidarity note in favour of Modi. But appearances are deceptive and shifty standards quite easily camouflaged by those who have practiced it for long years.

WIEF’s volte face can be best described as an undignified, unmindful & ungracious act unworthy of its image. One could construe it as an insult to Modi who had set aside some time for this event. To be uninvited from the event would then be rightfully seen as an insult to the time and effort that might have been set aside by the Chief Minister out of his other commitments as a public servant of the state of Gujarat. But Dhume, taking a sadistic view while taking pleasure in Modi’s uninvite situation, seems to think that WIEF’s action was more than a “ritual humiliation”. Now, as per me, the word “humiliation” has a connotation of showing someone in poor light. Going by the facts of what happened, it was Wharton that came up being shown in  poor light with its invite flip flop unbecoming of the stature of an organization that counts itself amongst the premier intellectual grounds in a free country like America. Instead, to then say that the act of uninvite was more than a ritual humiliation (of Modi) is nothing but a fanciful flight of Sad(istic)anand Dhume’s imagination.

Perhaps not content with conjuring up images of “ritual humiliation”, Sad(istic)anand Dhume creeps up on the unsuspecting readers and surreptitiously suggests that with “more courage and creativity”, the “humiliation” perhaps could have been even more extreme?. He suggests the format too quite helpfully:

The speech could easily have been followed by a question and answer session with students, or by a panel discussion on Gujarat that featured friend and foe alike.

Now, what are the kind of questions he would have liked?

To be sure, smart people disagree over important questions about his state. Has Gujarat struck the right balance between growth and equity? Should Mr. Modi be seen as a reformer or merely an efficient administrator? Have Gujarat’s human development indicators kept pace with its income gains? Are the lessons of the so-called Gujarat model, rooted in India’s most entrepreneurial society, replicable in states less comfortable with commerce?

The references to equity and human development indicators are shorthand to mean Muslim victimization when it comes to discussions about Gujarat under Modi’s rule. That is a stick that Modi’s detractors have consistently beat him with whence queering the pitch against him. Sadistic(anand) Dhume quite obviously also prefers the same.

Dhume also seems prone to moments of confabulation. He seems to remember at first that the law of the land that Modi is subject to has consistently exonerated him for his alleged role in the 2002 post Godhra riots.  Then suddenly Dhume imagines that America’s laws are in force in India since he finds the need to highlight the fact that “America has denied a visa since 2005” to be somehow important more than the fact of Modi’s exoneration by Indian courts. Decency requires an acknowledgement that the pain has been caused on both sides including on Modi’s. One has to remember that Modi is also a human being who, in addition to undergoing the demands of the country’s legal process, has withstood a media/intellectual trial patiently for well over a decade now. That Modi should be beyond reproach on those parameters after the clean chit given to him is something only smart people can understand.

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Narendra Modi and the increasing appeal of good governance

Modi at SRCC

Going by the media discussions (both mainstream and social) about the speech that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi delivered recently at Delhi’s SRCC’s Business Conclave, he probably has put the topic of development, good governance and its benefits at the centrestage of public discourse amongst this country’s youth. In his speech to an audience largely comprising of young college students, Modi laid out his vision for India’s development drawing upon Gujarat’s success in the implementation of various policies related to its agriculture, services & industry sectors. In the speech whose topic was ‘Emerging business models in the global scenario’, his message to the youth was simply thus; go forth and dare to dream about making India a global business & knowledge hub and a supportive government focused on good governance will make every attempt in helping the people realize their ambitions, goals, dreams and their potential. And in that process India will realize its potential to become a superpower.

It is this message that will find resonance with the vast majority of progressive youth who have hitherto found themselves being denied even the basic amenities on account of Government indifference and apathy, let alone avenues and potential opportunities that are available to their counterparts in the developed world. And furthermore Modi asserts that all of this is achievable as has been amply demonstrated in Gujarat “with the same laws, same rules, regulations and same people”.  In my view, it is this statement of his that will potentially shape the development discourse and eventually increase the demand for good governance across India.

Let’s look at the second part of that statement first; that is of achieving good governance in Gujarat with the same type of government employees found elsewhere in the country. Modi’s implementation of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ model would depend heavily on an efficient public service delivery mechanism. Now, efficient public service delivery is a concept largely unknown in India where public servants see themselves as serfs before whom people must supplicate to get those services that they are entitled to. Ensuring a citizen focus in government’s service delivery then is no mean achievement on Modi’s part when elsewhere in India, citizens routinely suffer owing to public sector employee apathy.

Let me use a personal example to highlight how even a decently educated citizen of this country feels when faced with the prospect of accessing government services. I remember very clearly when I had to visit the Delhi Passport Office in 2010 to get my passport reissued. The sense of despondency and frustration that I felt is revealed in this Facebook post which I felt even before I visited the Passport office. And these government employees expectedly did not disappoint; the unhelpful and harrowing experience pushed me to use the services of an agent who got the work done smoothly by appropriately greasing the palms of the so called “public servants”.

Govt office FB comment

However, people in Gujarat are not strangers to the idea of an efficient public service mechanism. There, it is a living reality. There are numerous accounts that give both a first hand and second hand account of the manner in which the bureaucracy and the service delivery mechanisms of the Gujarat Government have geared up to meet the citizens’ needs (rather than of the financial wants (read bribe, speed money) of the government employees). It seems that the Gujarat government under Modi has made the government employees actually earn their money by carrying out the principal duty for which they have been recruited for; that of servicing the citizens. In any other state, a government employee probably deems her salary as appearance fees (to the office). Her work related performance fees would of course have to be remunerated in the form of bribes from the public. If it can be done in Gujarat, then over the course of time, people in othjer states will also come to expect a similar quality of public service and increasingly demand for good governance.

Now let’s look at the part about delivering good governance with “the same laws, same rules & regulations”.  Over the last two years, many states in India have implemented or are in the process of implementing what is collectively known as the Right to Public Services legislation. Incidentally, the first two states that enacted this legislation were two other states where governance has vastly improved over the course of the reign of their new chief ministers. The Central Government too is in the process of working out the details of a similar legislation. It is interesting to note that Narendra Modi did not feel the need to enact a similar legislation for making his public service delivery mechanism timely and accountable. It says a lot about Modi’s administrative and leadership capability to be able to deliver good governance while directing and inspiring a typically insipid, unconcerned & apathetic breed of bureaucratic animal that is the public servant.

The emergence of Narendra Modi at the national level can only have good repercussions for India. Narendra Modi has changed the game of governance in India in as far as it existed in the form of bureaucratic red tapism, tardiness and apathy. Also when it comes to industry-government interface, his speech seeks to spur the vast creative energies of the youth and channel it towards whichever endeavour they wish to undertake. For far too long, the Indian government has come in the way of the unfolding of the natural creative efforts of this country’s citizens; Modi has delivered a message that under him India cannot afford to waste the precious talent of the youth.

The Tyrant Tripathi Truth

Headnote:

Tyrant: An oppressive, harsh, arbitrary person.

Oppressive: Weighing heavily on the mind or spirits; causing depression or discomfort

My attention was drawn to Salil Tripathi’s article today in The Mint dated 17 January 2013 titled ‘The Vibrant Gujarat Myth’.  As an opinion piece in a business newspaper, it stands out as a rather peculiar piece. It appears that the writer has been tormented by the claims and actions of followers of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and is troubled by their antics so much that he has had an emotional outburst which he attempts to camouflaged by his caustic & sarcastic comments about Modi followers in a biased article. The structure of his article is thus; Tripathi ridicules the past emotional & intellectual related aspects as well as actions of Modi followers and finds it amusing while explaining why he does so, the current excitement amongst the followers of Modi of the return of Britain to India in the recent Vibrant Gujarat summit.

I have summarized and paraphrased the writer and added my observations & comments in blue italics.

The article begins with setting the context by summarizing the emotional & intellectual aspects as well as the actions of Modi followers, who, in Tripathi’s view,

a)      feel secure and overcome their inferiority complex by feasting over the statistics of investment commitments made by attendees at the Vibrant Gujarat summit;

b)      put emphasis on who came, who didn’t and who left quietly at the Vibrant Gujarat summit rather than the more real achievement of Modi winning his fourth electoral term because they take voters for granted and are more interested in earning accolades from abroad;

Unlike Tripathi’s column title, ‘Here, There, Everywhere’, most of the sane, rational, objective & centred beings are ‘Here in the Now’. When in an investor summit, the guests (investors) are more important than the host (Modi & Gujarat government) and naturally the focus is on the investor and not the political victory of the host which is best reserved for a party political broadcast. Did Tripathi want Modi followers to show up in large numbers and raise slogans to the effect that Modi’s victory is a bigger achievement than the investors getting themselves to the summit? Wake up, Mr. Tripathi. This was an investors’ summit, not a political jamboree. And by the way, who was handing out accolades from abroad during an investor summit? Is Tripathi in knowledge of some ‘Best Investor Summit Annual Awards’ that we are not aware of?

c)      indulged in a laughable mobilization to get people to vote Modi as one of the most influential people in the world;

d)     get thrilled when a foreign publication considers Modi as a leader to watch;

e)      get excited when a Wikileaks cable shows the interpretation by an American diplomat of Modi’s popularity & Gujarat’s growth;

f)       feel dejected when despite lobbying the US government, its State department hasn’t issued Modi a visa, so he can address motel owners in some cities in the US;

It is interesting that Tripathi derides Modi followers for attempting to get recognition and supposedly endorsement from foreigners across the world while in the same article he asks anyone who cares to read Britain’s High Commissioner’s speech closely and conclude that actually there is no recognition forthcoming from him for Modi that would qualify as an endorsement. Now, do I need to explain the double standards Mr. Tripathi breathes in or is it apparent to that brain inside his chubby cute mustachioed face with a portly body to boot?

Next, Tripathi states that he finds amusing the excitement in Gandhinagar & Ahmedabad over getting Britain to “reestablish” (note the quotes) contact with Gujarat government, especially in the context of the above set of behaviour by the followers of Modi.

He then goes on to highlight the reasons that form the basis of his state of amusement;

a)      Britain has relations with India and not with its individual states;

b)      presence of Patricia Hewitt, an opposition leader in Britain (he asks us to remember this) and the High Commissioner has a symbolic value & doesn’t guarantee the promised sums of money or for that matter mean that Britain now actively encourages investment (& had discouraged it earlier) in Gujarat over other states;

If the aforementioned presences are symbolic as Mr. Tripathi would want us to believe, then why does he ask us to remember that Hewitt is an opposition leader? Could it be that he is insinuating that when it comes to symbolism, a ruling party politician trumps an opposition party one? Well, what do I know of symbolism; I only have a keen eye for people’s double standards and biases.

c)      there is not one direct, personal, effusive mention of Modi by High Commissioner James Bevan of the sort captains of Indian industry handed him

d)     the return of Britain to Gujarat (note this phrase) is, to paraphrase the Bard, Much Ado About a Routine Thing.

Now, was that a slip of Mr. Tripathi’s mouse(tache) or the keyboard (can’t help the silliness)? Didn’t Tripathi mean the supposed return of Britain to Gujarat or did he accidentally let it slip out that Britain did in fact return to Gujarat. Or wait perhaps, he forgot to put that phrase in quotes?

e)      the investors put their money in Gujarat because the state has been administered soundly over the past 50 years and would require spectacular incompetence to mess things up.

f)       Modi’s chief characteristic is in letting people do what they want including letting people seek revenge.

In the final point, Tripathi articulates a sentiment he himself is in agreement with; that of letting business people do what they want with investors voting with their wallets rather than government directing investments, and spins it into a negative & depressive comment about Modi letting people take revenge. This exposes him for what this article is; a negative & biased, “double standarded” spin on the Vibrant Gujarat summit.  It is sad that The Mint whose journalistic standards should at least be in consonance with that of The Wall Street Journal should allow an article of such sort.