Ability should be the only criteria

Readers of this blog would recall that I predicted that the Congress (and Sonia Gandhi too) would show some prudence in electing any seasoned politician from its camp (and there are many) to be the next Prime Minister. Sonia could still be the party supremo to act as the “source of inspiration” for the party workers as well as create a “power centre” within the organization to dispel internal feuds and power struggles (as the newspapers report, Sonia atleast tried her bit by saying a firm no to the PMship yesterday). Actually, on her becoming the PM I have a mixed opinion. On one hand I have strong objections to the BJP stand on this on the other I don't find her too capable for the post too. This was something I wrote on my Hindi blog almost 6 months ago:

Few days ago, Atalji was delighted at the prospects of Bobby Jindal becoming the Governor of Louisiana. Had he won the elections, perhaps he would have penned down a poem on the rising stature of NRIs. It feels good to see an Indian rise on the political ladders of any other nation, even if the person does not regard himself an Indian anymore, but a similar situation happening in our own country hurts, even if she is a lady married to an Indian, even if she speaks better Hindi than a former Prime Minister Devegowda can.

As a matter of fact, any qualification on the basis of which you and I would get selected in exams and recruitment processes cannot form the basis of being elected in politics, be it the education qualification, Age limit or work experience. It's little surprise that we often end up selecting illiterate people, people with criminal backgrounds or those in the last stages of their lives. And who can talk of electing here? In an era of coalition politics you can never be sure that the parties you rejected would not come to power as a result of their brokering allegiance with the largest party.

I am not a Sonia devotee, but I have reservations on the points on which she is being opposed. Selecting a veteran like Atalji or a novice like Sonia, there is no visible benefit in either propositions; while in the case of novices like Sonia, the people who would benefit are the beaurocrats and the kitchen cabinet would run the government in proxy, in the case of experienced players indulging in suitcase politics cannot be ruled out. I feel we need to take a middle route.

I am worried that with Sonia at the helm, the government will have to spend most of its time justifying its each and every action, as the opposition will raise doubts on the integrity of such decisions, especially in matters of national security.

Update[2:50 PM]: Sonia Gandhi has refused to be the Prime Minister.

While on the topic:

The disinvestment card!

PSU Disinvestment

My father is a retired public sector undertaking employee. Having grown up in a township within a city scenario where this navratna organisation had created all sorts of facilities for its employees: sector-wise schools, colleges, dispensaries, shopping complexes, recreational facilities, etc. In short – everything the employee and their families would ever need; reason why I have deep respect for public sector organisations. But over the time they haven’t been able to sustain themselves. When I finished my graduation in 1993, the organisation hadn’t recruited a single engineer since 4 years, the staff quarters were slowly being sold or given on rent to outsiders, many education society schools were closed and a lot of controls were put on providing medical facilities to the employees, especially to the retired lot. To the employee and their families these changes were hurtful, but it also underlined the compulsions of such a public sector organisation. In our case this was a profit making enterprise, but most of the otters aren’t.

PSU DisinvestmentWhich brings me to the core issue, the outcry started on reported scrapping of the Disinvestment ministry propagated by the Left, as it prepares to back a Congress lead government at the center. The leftist thinking obviously has roots in safeguarding worker rights. They maintain that disinvestment needs a human face: don’t sell the “family jewels”, don’t disinvest the navratnas and the profit making non-navratnas they say. This has caused much furore. The Samajwadi party terming Shourie as “an economic terrorist” said, “Sell only those that are not making profits”.

Even if we neglect these opportunistic clamour, and look at the primary reasons for disinvestment, they were manifold:

  1. Removing government monopoly and allowing private sector players to participate, so that better competition leads to better services/competitive prices.
  2. Get rid of loss making organisations and organisations with surplus manpower, high overheads.
  3. Redeploying the resources in areas that are much higher on the social priority, such as, basic health, family welfare, primary education and social and essential infrastructure.

While I fail to understand how the disinvestment decision on the two petroleum giants, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL) would have justified on the point (2), since they have consistently contributed to the central exchequer, the last point is the one that interests me.

My clear view is: Government should certainly not be burdened with running companies, but if it has to, as in matters of National security and safeguard (Atomic energy, Railways for instance) and for social concerns, it should perhaps limit itself to the sectors mentioned at (3).

The disinvestment issue indeed is touchy and in all ways non-populist. Now there are umpteen ways to populism but they can cause serious repercussions too. Remember that one of the reasons for Digvijay Singh losing in last assembly elections was his refusal to pay perks to government employees (who comprise of a paltry 1% of Madhya Pradesh voters), and cut down on posts in the bid of reducing the cost to the exchequer on salaries, obviously in order to satisfy the rest of 99% in form of subsidies (for example: in form of “free” electricity).

Today many such governments will be shocked to discover, when they actually hold the steering, that in fact there is no money in their wallet to entertain such populist measures. When people tend to feel that employment is being cut (it doesn’t matter if in organisation like the National Textiles people are drawing salaries sitting at home, rationale being “where else can they go”) they will protest. Third parties can always smell foul and say the the companies were under-sold or there was something fishy in the deals. We must remember that perhaps this was the reason that Arun Shourie was given the charge for the ministry, for his non-partisan, steady image. Thanks to the forward looking attitude of many such public sector employees like my father, at least people like me are not sitting at home waiting for the trade unions to fetch us a secure sarkari job.

IMHO, These are certainly not the days when you can leech to the government run enterprises for nourishment, simply because you voted for that government.

Everybody knows that the Congress has been the pioneer in playing populism cards (ranging from caste to Ayodhya) but if they try playing with seemingly sane economy measures, just to appease the allies, in the long run they might just as well pay the price. I think the way of economy that India has started traveling on, no party can ever hinder its pace. This yelling is just a matter of public imagery, behind the scenes they will have to do what all others have been doing, whosoever comes to power. My advise, therefore, to these politicians is: pick some other card to play.

Afterthoughts

Few afterthoughts on the Elections 2004 that I must pen down.

  • Tough days ahead for Congress, reorganizing the cadres, dealing with inline power spots and above all running a coalition with a bloated ego. Though leaders like Paswan (who earlier backed NDA) want to be part of the government, many (like CPI(M)) will chose to stay outside. Such partners will only add to the risks. We are perhaps again going to have a super-sized cabinet.
  • This is not a mandate for Congress in all probability, not a mandate for "secular" forces either. Anti-incumbency is a potent factor in India. People were bored with NDA, the campaign was “up-market”, people at the grass-roots spend the election days wondering what “Feel-good” means in their local lingo, leave alone deciphering the publicised achievments of technological advances and swelling Forex reserve at the helm.
  • Running a party and an election campaign like a company does not always pays. If psephological research work on the Indian voter mentality and trends were so accurate the exit polls would have predicted the outcome. Planning on papers is hardly a solution if the party worker is not content with the party; and remember, he is the only link to the denominator.
  • People want entertainment even during elections now, reason why so many actors heading towards parliament this time, those who were famous and charismatic won against all odds.
  • Past performance hardly matters, public has short political memories. Why was Jagmohan defeated? Why did Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Titler win?
  • Don't shed your spots, BJP understood that. But will it go back to the Temple issue next time and will Vajpayee take a political sanyas now?