Reality Check India

Indian elections : Mutants will be destroyed

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on March 8, 2009

The media and the blogosphere is awash with articles celebrating the upcoming great Indian democratic exercise. I had an argument yesterday with a gentleman who was gushing about the democratic process and how the transfer of power was without bloodshed. I asked him how it was then we had completely screwed up in the last 60 years. He had just shelled out a small fortune and undergone an ordeal for a kinder garden seat. He lives in a locality with no sewage system or piped water or roads or footpaths. To top it a garbage dump nearby burns 24×7 spewing toxic stinking fumes. We are talking about the upper middle class here. So you can imagine the rest. Celebrating the technicalities of the electoral process alone is naive and tiring after a while.

Chewing is only the first part of eating. The objective of eating is to nourish your body and not to chew. Anyway, he was sufficiently annoyed and pointed to our neighbours. “Hey, at least we are not like them” – he said. Yeah, do you feel proud everyday of not being a drunkard and wife beater ? We changed topic shortly afterward.

Here is a case study

BJP-BJD split

In a major blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party -led National Democratic Alliance, on Saturday, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) snapped its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP in Orissa after both parties failed to reach a consensus over seat sharing for the forthcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

Source : DH

First the ground rules are not what the BJP seems to think. Not what the “middle class” seems to think. We are playing hockey not cricket. The BJP and Congress must not aspire to be anything more than providing escrow service to the various narrow interests. You can roughly think of BJP and Congress as being like Mastercard or Visa and the various narrower interests as the banks actually issuing credit cards. The third front might be a wannabe like Discover ! The Congress fully knows this and will reap the benefits at the polls. Just consider the complete independence granted to entire ministries and its demonstrated commitment to protecting the national secret. Readers of this blog will know that the narrower interests have congealed around the compromises made to equality. In this environment,  the BJP continues to look like a straggler on the bus. The Congress has masterfully pulled the rug from under the BJPs feet. Imagine getting shot down for talking about larger interests (from price rise to national security). Unfortunately, the Congress’ will eventually get swallowed by its own creation.

The offstumped blog briefly hits the core of the issue before quickly getting diverted in the wrong direction.

The regional allies of the BJP who have far less in common with it on economic philosophy and have far more in common with the Congress on politics of entitlement, have found it easy to expand their social base to grow at the Congress’ expense. They are able to do so by being a more sensitive local substitute for the Congress that can pander to the entitlements of these social groups.

Source : Offstumped blog

I do not agree with the ‘economic philosophy’ part. For I think there is none. The big difference between the two groups is that BJPs inclination to support creation of non-rival economic goods, in contrast with the Congress’s tendency to create rival goods.

So why must a leader representing a narrow interest, which itself could be a temporary arrangement of even narrower interests, prefer the Congress over the BJP ?

One of the frequently cited costs of aligning with the BJP is that now you have to swim the media against the current. Why, because the media itself has interests to protect primarily due to historical links with the Congress. But even this can change in time if the BJP can look more and more like the Congress. So, I dont think the media is a problem. The bigger problem is the BJPs constant talk of working for larger national interest. Now, this really sends shivers down the spines of the leaders representing narrow interests. So, am I saying the JDU in Bihar secretly wants to switch places with Lalloo ? It is highly likely.

So the number one question is :

Is the Congress a SAFER federation of narrow interests ?

Lets sharpen that question ;

Do the leaders representing narrow interests consider the Congress to be a SAFER federation ?

I think they do. I also think they are correct.

In this election the larger coalition wins. There are very few seats where I think the free agents can make a difference. Unfortunately you cannot educate a voter out of human nature. I also think the left will support the Congress after the polls. So one wonders what the people in Kerala and WB are voting for ? The choice in front of these two states seems to be mango ice cream in a cup or mango ice cream in a cup !
Fortunately, the half life of this political setup is short.

Unfortunately, it wont be a pleasant ride for those not involved.

So, is the only hope for the BJP is to dump its campaign of large interest and instead act as a holding company of narrow interests ? Yes it appears to be the only way out for them. The situation is hopeless because once the narrow interests are in power – they will not expend energy for a larger interest. This is human nature, you do not need to be a Mancur Olsen fan or even an independent think tank to understand it. So what got us to this point ? Forget about the western world, cant we atleast provide a dignified living to our citizens comparable to Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, or Tanzania ? No one knows really.

This is what happens when you put the basic building block of modern political systems, the equal treatment of citizens up for trade. Of course, social justice is a valid reason to take a detour, but without data it is like a stock market.  At election time brokers trade in ‘entitlement equities’.


Please bear with the cynical tone of this post. I have zero interest in the technicalities of the electoral process. There are millions of positive takes on the web anywhere you look. So it may just be me.

12 Responses

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  1. AG said, on March 8, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Very very well written.
    Cynical yes, but closer to the truth.

    The fact is india is now circling the drain on all dimensions. Parts of india are already down it — we cannot even move around the country freely!

    The question i have is: is the problem unfixable? If yes, the only option to guarantee our children some modicum of a life is to leave.

    The idea of india will likely die and will take the ecosystem of my culture with it.
    The upside: i have at least a goldfish bowl version of my culture to live with.

    Now, to head in search for a good bowl…

  2. realitycheck said, on March 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    >> is the problem unfixable?

    It is fixable, but not by the people who we see on TV. A completely new organism has to take shape in the swamp. The free agents who clamour for “good governance” – must stop living in denial. You cant vote your way out of this mess. Why ?

    Let us say the people who yearn for “good governance” manage to attract a electorally significant critical mass. The “critical mass” can immediately be cut down to size by creating narrower interests in the said population. I can give you umpteen ways to slice the ‘middle class’. So we are back to square one.

  3. x said, on March 8, 2009 at 1:51 pm


    The Congress is also creating non rival goods like roads,rail lines,power stations.The Congress is better for parties like DMK because it no longer has any ideology.It is a status quo party.It has no mass base.So regional satraps are happy with it.Karu,Lalu,PMK are queing up to join UPA.The Congress has no chance in TN or Bihar.

    But in UP the Congress is still optimistic.Here the savarna population is substantial.The Congress has many powerbrokers from brahmins,thakurs,kayasths,muslim elites and vaishyas.The SP(which is a yadav force) cannot use the sons of the soil theory.The BJP realised its limitations in UP.The Congress with its powerbrokers can still play spoil sport.But in the long run BJP cannot be stopped.

    In andhra the Congress has the support of reddys,obcs,scs and to a lesser extent kapus.The TDP is primarily a party of kammas.

    In Orissa,Congress has a substantial presence among christists.A regional satrap(scion of the redoubtable Biju) would loathe to give up space to ‘northie’ BJP.

    In Maharashtra the Kunbi-Marathas have always had their say in Congress.They would resent giving up space to BJP(seen as a northie party).The linguistic minorities in Bombay are comfortable with Congress than with BJP which is a junior partner to Shiv Sena.

    The same is true for Hindus in Punjab(where BJP is a junior partner to Akalis) and Bengalis in Assam(where BJP is a junior partner to AGP)

    Only in Gujarat,Rajasthan,MP the BJP has a mass base.Even here in Rajasthan the Jats have a natural affinity to Congress.The Jats had a marginal position in Rajasthan.The Congress is good at whipping up the gujars and meenas.

    In Karnataka,the BJP’s emergence is recent because the lingayats in North Karnataka have taken to BJP and in coastal karnataka the hindu upper castes form a support base.The Congress counters it by wooing minorities.(This is the context for Mangalore incidents).The real obcs throughout karnataka support congress.The Vokkaliga support is divided between JD(S) and Congress.

    The ‘problem’ is throughout india-after mandal and deteoriating security situation savarnas are rooting for BJP.The Scs are voting for BSP in the North but for Congress in other parts.

    Mohammedans and Christists vote for Congress.

    OBCs in North India have deserted Congress in general.In UP where there is a substantial savarna presence,yadavs votes for SP.The Rajput-yadav difference is sharp in eastern UP.But the jats in western UP are more confident.The Congress has substantial support among farmers in Haryana and Rajasthan.

    The real obcs support Congress in AP and Karnataka.

    The BJP has done very well by an appeal to Hindu identity in Gujarat and MP.But even in Gujarat,the Congress has a constituency in Harijans,Adivasis and the relatively ‘lower’ ranked rajputs.

    We have to accept the demography and history of india.Many indviduals in SOME communities have an opportunity of sharing pelfs of power in congress.’WE’ always talk of abstract ideals. The elite status quoists who are already well entrenched support Congress.

    Look at the middle class.It is predominantly savarna and increasingly north indian.In southern india,the savarnas who are mostly brahmanas with few exceptions and their numbers are shrinking.

    With all this,i think we should not despair.Indian nationalism is a recent affair.We cannot legislate against regional identities.There is huge migration taking place from North to NE,Maharashtra and South.

    Many of the virulent leaders like karu and ramadoss are being bribed.The Akali extremism is a distant memory.Inevitably the personality cults of regional satraps will diminish.Sub Sub identities will emerge.

    Labourers are migrating for a better life.India will become more competitive in the world.Opportunities and power will be more diffused.(more groups will have access to power).I dont think every one in india will ever have the amenities of an average american home.That is ecologically impossible.

    Some will gain.Some will lose.The Indian civilisation will survive.We can never be a china or US.But we will be more like the nation states of Europe or the cultures of the Middle East.

    This Indian civilisation will reflect the diversity of india.Why should be it any different.There are regional variations in England,France,Germany,European Russia and Japan.

    India is something like all these nations put together.How can we expect governance here to be like in California or New York.

  4. x said, on March 8, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    The tamil middle class and the brahmin middle class are different in the sense of indentity and entitlement politics.

    But if one graduates into the upper class then the situation is different.

    It is ecologically impossible to ensure the amenities of an average american home to everyone in india.It is possible for a ‘substantial population’ to have these facilities.

  5. rc said, on March 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    >> ensure the amenities of an *average* american home to *everyone* in india

    Think about the above 🙂

    There is a crucial difference between what you are saying and my point. You say there is a natural slant of some groups to some political formations. I say that there is no natural slant, the slant is deliberate and is about protecting a narrow interest.

    It is fine if people voted for their caste or regional chauvunism. Obviously you cant expect a Hindi speaking guy to contest and win from the south and vice versa.

    If people had a natural slant for their caste /religion – then you can easily elevate the elections to address big ticket issues by neutralizing it. Simply field a person from the same caste. No matter how many Yadavs are fielded by Congress the Yadav vote is going to Laloo. Why ? Because people think he is the narrowest choice and therefore will spend most energy on protecting their narrow interests. Compare with the Yadav candidate of the Congress/BJP/etc.

  6. Barbarindian said, on March 8, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Excellent post and also thanks to commenter ‘x’ for a neat summary of the social justice situation.

    However, the specific case of BJD can only be explained by other global forces. It simply can not be a vote sharing spat. It can not reliably join the UPA. So ditching BJP has very little upside. Patnaik is simply afraid. The reason he is joining the Left is simple. He knows the third front folks will eat him for breakfast. He needs the Left’s global media power.

  7. AG said, on March 9, 2009 at 4:51 am

    X — interesting view — but it comes with a huge price.

    Whuile fragmentation of identities may work to create local pockets, it leaves the whole open to radical evisceration. This is because several elements of governance are not amenable to HCF (highest common factor) mathematics — they only work at LCM or above (least common multiple; using schoolbook maths).

    These include defense, efficient markets, infrastructure and industries like power.

    Scale matters.
    Unity matters.
    Coordination matters.

    In your view of the future, it will be very easy for christians to infiltrate and overturn the andhra belt.

    For mohammedans to do the same to UP.

    For ‘dravidians’ to do the same to tamil nadu.

    The internecine fighting will destroy the civilisation.
    I care less for the republic.

    Expatriates will be the only survivors, living as refugees in other parts of the world.

  8. reason said, on March 9, 2009 at 5:49 am

    Think of BJP’s rise in Gujarat and Karnataka. States where Janata parties died leaving way to the BJP.

    Bihar and UP are the only states where Janata offshoots survived. But you can take one look and spot a million differences between Naveen Patnaik and Mulayam/Laloo/Nitish.

    This split is good news for the BJP in orissa.

    I agree with Barbarindians’ reasoning for Naveen’s decision. But a late jump into the Secular cesspool will not help him with an unforgiving group of voters who will still want to punish him. Congress will return to power in Orissa.

    Naveen Patnaik will not survive one year out of power. People have been leaving the BJD routinely through the years, even during the years when BJD was sharing power with BJP at the center. His party will vanish.

    Just one humble suggestion – please look at actual vote percentages in election commission website. That can change a lot of your thinking. A 10% difference in voter turnout *can* mean a lot of difference to the results. And in the case of Gujarat 2007 results, it really made a big difference.

  9. x said, on March 10, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Barb,Thats a non trivial insight. BJD aligning with BJP makes it a target practice for global evangelist groups who have powerful supporters in the US. The Congress with a christist base could have unleashed the national media, minority commission etc.

    BJD with sekuloor CPM will take the wind out of the windbags.


    your reasoning is right as well.BJP cannot be stopped in the long run in most parts of india.I would include punjab,assam,orissa in ‘most’ parts.An increase in voting, particularly if migrant labourers/workers/engineers can be persuaded to vote for BJP’s vision,’can impact positively for BJP.


    I agree with you as well. Markets,scale,efficiency,security,co-ordination,optimal utilisation are all important.The regional satraps and the caste leaders know that very well.But the caste leaders/regional leaders have their primordial loyalties and selish intersts.

    Some want to retain privilege(christist educational institutions) which they had earned in the past with active British assistance.This has to do with identities at variance with mainstream indian nationalism.

    Others want to retain benefits from recent innovations which have come their way after independence(OBC quotas) some of which have more to do with satisfying dominant pesant castes(like vokkaligas,lingayats,gounders,jats,kurmis,yadavs,thevars).These are not the really socially backward castes though many are/were educationally backward.

    Markets,efficiency do not mean much if entire communities have no understanding of modern economy.The peasant communities some of whom are gaining power really for the first time do not want to be marginalised in the new economy.

    On the other hand,those who have had access to power like mudaliars,thevars,vokkaligas,marathas,lingayats,jat sikhs,rajputs do not want to lose power.

    It is difficult for rajputs to claim backwardness but all others can use regional/sectarian identities.


    You are not taking into account the perception of power and the benefits associated with real power.

    The fulcrum of indian society is family and caste which is but an “extended” family.We might swear by the nuclear family,but the ‘different’ communities have to be angelic not to clamour for special privileges when they see other ‘families’ doing ‘better’.

    Education,particularly in IITs has very real association with tech power and govt jobs are about real power. It is easy to be instigate envy against certain ‘classes’ who are monopolising the seats in IITs/IAS etc.Particularly in TN which is fairly large,vocal and different(meaning they have a identity differing from ‘national mainstream’) though not necessarily backward.Or in Bihar where there is real poverty.

    The genuine fears of some states( particularly those receptive to hindu nationalism like karnataka/maharashtra) have to be understood.These fears stem from the fact that their relative openness/liberalism is ‘exploited’ and these states are treated with contempt by the dork media.While others guilty of far serious transgressions are mollycoddled.

    Communicating to an ‘amorphous’ mass is not easy.I am impressed by Barbs marshalling of achievements of the real deprived.But can such achievements sell over freebies offered on a platter,particularly in a competitive world with pervasive corruption?

  10. Lost Paradise said, on April 6, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    great article. Bookmarked!

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