The cynicism within

Today I’d like to address certain underlying themes of the government’s stance concerning the popular nation-wide movement of Shri Anna Hazare ji. Today’s theme is cynicism. Let me begin with the agit-prop, agent-provocateur argument. Many Congress spokesmen including the hon’ble prime minister himself (also Mr. Rashid Alvi but in an extremely disgusting fashion) have said something or the other alleging a foreign hand. Mr. Rashid Alvi went on to name the United States of America as ‘the’ foreign hand trying to destabilize the country. Firstly, am sorry to say that Mr. Prime Minister, this statement was a very naive, myopic view of the situation. The overall underlying theme is one of cynicism on the part of the government, and the ruling party that all these people who have gathered to protest at various places in all our cities and towns have been brought there by fooling them into believing that they’d actually get something out of this movement. If that’s the contention, then I must say that it’s true. We, the people of India including the youth of the nation, do sincerely believe that we can rid our nation of corruption. I agree that this is a foolish belief, a very foolish one at that. However, I must also say that any daunting task can be accomplished if there is will, and conviction. Was aspiring to put a man on the moon not foolish on part of the USA? Of course it was, but, only till they did it. Once they did it, it became an achievement, a triumph of human endeavour, and sparked the space race. However, this does not still answer the cynicism that these people were brought there by some third party promising them “whatever they promised them” in return. Prima facie, I have no defence to that charge other than what I have said above through analogies. I can’t prove that there were no third parties involved (to clarify, by third party I mean people or entities other than team Anna and the government of India), there were, there are, and millions of them. The third party Mr. Prime Minister is the general public of India. But in this case, the third parties are actually a party to the debate; whatever happens will affect them in absolute measure. So the support base of this movement is for everybody to see, and my contention is that if I (used to be a cynic till a few days ago, so I know the type) a simple literate person with nothing but my own small brain to guide me can see and get convinced that this is a people’s movement, then why can’t the educated, and highly competent members of the government? Surely Mr. prime minister, saying that this is the work of a foreign hand is an insult to your own personal dignity, authority, and more importantly intelligence. I will not devote anymore time to this foreign hand question as it apparently is a trick to discredit the movement, strip the people of India of their legitimate right to voice their opinion. Well, I am thankful that our constitution has given us this right, it’s not the government’s fief to award or withdraw.

On the question of cynicism in general – I’d like to ask the so called cynics who have no apparent links with the ruling party (certainly none they have agreed to) that why are you only cynical against Anna Hazare? Why not against the government? A cynic is defined by dictionaries to be a person who believes that everybody is motivated by self interest. I am a cynic, or at least I’d like to think so. So why play favorites and still call yourself a cynic? Shouldn’t you also think that the Congress party is working to safeguard its self interest? If your answer to the aforementioned question is no, then I will reserve my comments about your motives and your cynicism.

I have said quite a few things against the Congress party. This should not be construed as anti Congress or pro any other political party propaganda. I am not a member of any political party, or a supporter of any politician (definitely not BJP and RSS). So, having said that, lets consider this hypothetical scenario.

A month or two back, Mr. Digvijay Singh (another Congress spokesperson) says that Rahul baba’s time has come. Okay, perhaps it has Mr. Singh. Then we hear about how Rahul baba goes to U.P. to fight for the farmers’ cause; very good P.R. and it did have the desired effect. I was with Congress at this stage, and totally buying into the messiah image. Rahul Gandhi, the nation’s new saviour. I went to bed many nights with this very thought. So far so good. But then this Anna Hazare movement came about, and we heard less of Rahul baba. Few days pass, and we hear about the Congress-NCP led government’s crackdown on farmers agitating on and near the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Why shoot the farmers? They were anyway killing themselves. And, why this discord between the party and the government? On one hand a Congress led government in Maharashtra orders a lathicharge and shooting at (wouldn’t say innocent, cause nobody really is) farmers. At this point I must say that using force against an agitation or protest group ultimately has to be a political decision. They were not history sheeters or terrorists that police could shoot at sight, they were farmers damn it. So on one hand farmers are shot and killed (again very conveniently on camera) in a Congress run state, and on the other hand, a party general secretary (ohh.. I was entirely taken aback that it was Rahul baba, total surprise there) visits to condole their deaths? My question to the Congress party is very simple – why are they playing good cop, bad cop with the country?

And, the good cop, lo, and behold is none other than Rahul baba. This happened in Uttar Pradesh which was repeated in Maharashtra, and this is what happened with Anna Hazare (I’ll come to that point).In Uttar Pradesh it was even more convenient, at least they didn’t have to go through the trouble of shooting and killing a few farmers to create an incident of national political significance to justify Rahul baba’s intervention.

First, the broader issue. In my opinion, the way the Congress has handled this very elaborate, very carefully planned public relations campaign for projecting Rahul baba as the country’s most liked prime minister to be, and the one who should take the mantle from Dr. Singh must be applauded for its meticulous planning, and flawless execution. Now coming to the Anna Hazare point. The public has rallied behind Mr. Hazare, the Congress knows this. So what does the Congress do? It first abuses Hazare ji through various fora, fielding its spokesmen on television debates, holding press conferences etc. So first it enrages the public by being overtly against Mr. Hazare, so much so that they launch a personal attack on him. Then a couple of days pass, the movement builds up. This is in my opinion what the Congress was waiting for. It discredits the movement and its leader on one hand, and then makes the announcement that Rahul baba wants Anna to be respected by the party. This very clearly, is an attempt by the senior Congress leadership, and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s political advisers to create a public difference of opinion between the party and Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government. Why is this public difference of opinion required? It is required because, the public mood is against the government, there is a general lack of trust in the government’s actions. So, the self perpetuating rule of the self proclaimed arbiters of India’s destiny comes under threat. Distancing the party and the top leadership is the only step they can take.  I will not be surprised if in a few days from now, Rahul baba extends an olive branch to Anna Hazare ji, and seeks his blessings on camera. What could be better after all, than a Gandhi seeking the blessings (and thereby political legitimacy) from a Gandhian?

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A crisis of faith

Dismissing the present movement as a middle class movement that is thriving on media attention amounts to trivializing it. Would those criticising Anna’s movement as a middle class phenomenon not agree that Mahatma Gandhi was a middle class rage when he came back to India from South Africa? Would they have the gumption to say that the Mahatma was not wise enough to use the media of the day (albeit not 24×7 electronic media) to cover his every move? Rather than brushing off this movement as a media creation one must ask, why is the media interested in this person called Anna Hazare and his movement. I know this sounds rhetorical but the point remains that trivializing a people’s movement, their vent to frustration as something that is being stage managed by vested interests is in my opinion an extremely myopic viewpoint. Having said that, let me also add that the vested interest is mine, and yours too. It’s ours to take! The vested interest is – a country that holds the ideals of the freedom struggle high, to free our country from corruption – political, economic, and moral.

All of us have seen that people from all walks of life have joined this movement, rich and poor alike. Corruption affects us all, even those dalit leaders who claim that “take the cameras away, and people will go away”. Corruption has stopped the fruits of democracy from reaching the poor, the dalits, and despite having reservation for so many years, their situation hasn’t improved. I hope those who represent Indian dalits in social fora understand and respect this fact. This movement will be analysed threadbare, as we see happening on television, however we as the people of India should not forget what led to this, what the core issue is – the inefficiencies in the way our system works which leads to benefits not reaching the intended beneficiaries on one hand, and lack of accountability of the executive, the political and financial elite on the other. But this only accounts for economic corruption. What about the corruption in each of us? How many of us wouldn’t pay to make life easier? While ridiculing corruption, we must also understand that corruption will exist as long as inequity in the distribution of resources and (perhaps more importantly) power exists. This may come across as a leftist view, but let me assure you it’s not. What about the general lack of accountability in each of us? What about the ‘chalta hai’ attitude?

As the situation stands today, the average Indian isn’t happy with the way this country is run, we want a better India, a healthier India, a motherland whose wealth isn’t looted by the political elite. This crisis of governance has evoked strong feelings among the people, which led them to rally behind Anna Hazare. The government is perceived to be against the fundamental rights of the people, and corrupt; a crisis both political and economic in nature. Hard to say which lead to which, but high inflation and large scale looting of public money has definitely sent the signal that this government is not with the common man. The common man has seen parliament being stalled by both the government and the opposition over corruption and price rise. These are real issues facing the nation. But more importantly, the common man has seen another common man Anna Hazare being insulted by the ruling party spokespersons, his right to protest becoming the government’s bete noir. This public anger against the government turned into massive support for a simple old man.

While talking about the government draft of the Lokpal bill, or Anna’s draft, we are overlooking the major issue. What started off as public outrage against corruption and government’s treatment of Anna Hazare, and the government’s politicking and show of strength on this issue has accidentally exposed the government’s structural weakness and ineptitude. Well, I am not sure whether this weakness itself is by accident or by design, but it’s there for everybody to see, and that is the real irony of the situation. The government of a great nation being so weak, confused, and directionless.

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Politics of democracy

It’s been a long long time since I posted here, however there are times when even lazy buggers like me sit up and take notice. For the past week or so, our nation has been going through one such time. Watching events as they unfolded on the television in my living room, I felt sorry for the state of affairs, but not at the state of our young nation. Our democracy is as vibrant as it ought to be, there are quite a few issues that need addressing however, the health of the country’s polity is unquestionable. Had it not been for that strength in our democratic institutions which by the way they derive from the people, Mr. Hazare’s protests wouldn’t have been possible, ordinary people would have been beaten off the roads and the movement crushed with a heavy hand. So democracy is working, no doubt about that. I therefore beg Mr. Hazare and his team to not indulge in making statements such as “government is killing democracy” and such like. This is for two reasons – firstly, our democracy is so strong that government can’t kill democracy even if it wanted to, and secondly it’s our democracy that gave Mr. Hazare the reception that he apparently deserves and the political space to launch this movement of national significance. Having praised Indian democracy, let me also add that Anna Hazare has demonstrated enough political legitimacy albeit outside the election system to lead the nation in letter and spirit.

Let’s take a look at the reaction Mr. Hazare has evoked from Indian public at large over the last couple of days. Slogans such as “Anna nahi tu aandhi hai, desh ka doosraa Gandhi hai”, “Anna Hazare aao desh ko bachao”, “Anna Hazare aage badho ham tumhare sath hain”, “Vande Matram”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” are all over our television channels. Of course, the point can be made that all this is too good to be true, it’s a self serving world, and there is a clear method to the madness. However, the sheer number of Indian citizens who took to streets all over India, sat on hunger strikes, and shouted slogans against the government prove this line of argument to be inane, weak, and most importantly counter productive as Indian citizens have shown on the first day of the movement. I will not quote stats for the day, as it was there for everybody to see. People from all walks of life, irrespective of religion, profession, socio-economic class, caste, age group, and gender came out to unequivocally support Anna Hazare.

Some thoughts on the government of the day – the UPA II as it’s called, came to power due to good electoral performance in some states. One such state is Andhra Pradesh. Congress’ victory in 2009 Lok Sabha elections in A.P. was entirely the creation of the then C.M. Mr. Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, after whose death, the congress party refused to give due attention to this crucial fact of state politics and now we see Mr. Jaganmohan Reddy well positioned to cut through Congress’ vote share in A.P. On the face of it, it just looks like the government of the day is thankless, holds the people of India in contempt, as well as it’s own party members who command popular support, forcing them to leave the party. I know many things can be said about what I just said, however, please allow me to complete my point. Congress party has gone through multiple splits in the past, the parent body however has always maintained that in the pre-independence days, the congress was the entire national movement, it commanded and directed more than 80% of political thought and action. After Mahatma Gandhi’s death, the Congress party went through a small power vacuum of sorts because not only had the infant nation lost it’s father, the congress party who graced with his holy presence had lost the source of their political and moral legitimacy. This unexpected vacuum was dealt with well by the then government and all credit goes to Sardar Patel for not upsetting the fledgeling government of Pandit Nehru. Unfortunately, our leaders no longer have the spirit of sacrifice, integrity, and strength of character that public life ought to demand (I say ‘ought to demand’ and not demands because I am not sure if we as citizens who vote today’s politicians into power are completely absolved of the blame). Congress was still a democratic party that adhered to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Even Mrs. Indira Gandhi had to prove her legitimacy within the Congress first, that showed the strength of the democratic processes in our country, yet. Since then it has been in decline. This is not to say that Congress doesn’t have any place in the political space of India, the Congress enjoys wide support in this country, however there seems to be no steel (except when it needs to bad mouth simple and honest people such as Mr. Hazare and his team) in the party, and no conviction in it’s decision making. The party feels weak, the problem is endemic, and the reason is very very simple. The congress party members and its leaders have inherited power from their seniors. Indira Gandhi was the last party leader to have a clue about anything. While criticising the Congress, the nation must also remember that it was Mrs. Gandhi’s leadership that led to the creation of Bangladesh. I can’t recall any other country that liberated (and not subjucated) a people, and upheld their right to self determination. Sadly, no other Congress leader that followed Mrs. Gandhi even came close to being 10% as good, as clearheaded a leader. The problem started soon after her death. The country was rioting, late Mr. P.C. Alexander (who passed away a couple of days ago) took a decision to ask Mr. Rajiv Gandhi to succeed his mother. The party since that day, has simply been following the precedent set by Mrs. Gandhi’s principal secretary. This crisis of leadership as well as the (perhaps also the lack of political experience) is very very apparent in the way the government is handling the current crisis.

The original point when I started criticizing the UPA-II government, was that there are systemic political weaknesses in the current arrangement, and if they are not addressed, will keep inviting protests and challenges to it’s legitimacy. I don’t say power because the union government is quite powerful if it comes to that.

In the previous post I briefly talked about how Mr. Hazare and his supporters shouldn’t grudge democracy because democracy itself gave him the platform to stage his movement. I also talked about how the arguments of the UPA government that cast aspersions on Mr. Hazare’s character and his motives are turning out to be counter-productive. I also touched upon the systemic weaknesses in the Congress party and how those defects are coming back to haunt it. I concede that Congress appears to be a democratic party in it’s early history, but also assert that the apparent lack of democratic principles that we see today is actually a power crisis between the congress party and the government.

Power crisis how? The early years (post independence were discussed in the previous post), after Mrs. Gandhi’s death, Mr. P.C. Alexander ensured that Rajiv Gandhi came to power. In late eighties a financial crisis hit, and thus we experienced a period of unrest, and loss of faith in the Congress. Chandrashekhar and V.P. Singh governments came and went. A few weeks before 1991 general elections Mr. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in a terrorist attack. Waves of sympathy for Congress and Mr. Gandhi’s widow followed and resulted in a massive victory for Congress. Their political observers were quick to latch on to fact that in modern Indian politics, the state that Congress found itself in, it’s only claim to legitimacy was the national movement and the descendants of the icons of the national movement i.e. Nehru Gandhi family. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi had rightfully refused participation in public life, though cynics may say that her political advisers had carefully planned this. But the fact remains that when the P.V. Narsimha Rao regime was hit by scams, Congress party felt power slipping out of its hands. The basic disconnect is this – people of India at least to some extent associate Congress with the national movement, however, the leadership of the Congress post Mrs. Gandhi’s period have nothing to do with that august movement. They are enjoying the fruits of the politics of an older generation, who were either sidelined by that time or had lost faith in the Congress leadership’s ways. Thus the sad situation that the Congress finds itself in, the perpetual dependence on the descendants of Pandit Nehru for some symbolic legitimacy.

Now coming to the present government and it’s systemic weaknesses. The arrangement is peculiar, if not somewhat naive in some form. But such are the joys of democracy. The prime minister was an after thought. Congress did not fight the 2004 elections with Mr. Manmohan Singh as it’s prime ministerial candidate. All of us can recall the drama outside 10 Janpath, when 2004 Lok sabha election results were announced. Anyway, when Mr. Manmohan Singh’s name was proposed, I for one felt a sense of relief on two counts, firstly that an educated, clean man, was about to become the prime minster of this country, and secondly that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s and her political advisers’ better sense prevailed by refusing prime minister ship. I now hope she hadn’t; not to say that the many scams this government finds itself buried under would have been attributed to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, but that it would have created a better, stronger government, with one clear leader, one chain of command.

The prime minister Mr. Manmohan Singh is the leader of the executive arm of the Union of India, however he is not the supreme authority in his own party. This bi-polar, presumably multi-polar structure, without a clear chain of command doesn’t allow for a strong government. Even if the nation leaves aside the various scams that this government is surrounded by, Mr. Manmohan Singh in retrospect was not the right leader for the country because he wasn’t the popular leader even in his own party. His prime ministership or even his candidature in the first place depended on his public perception, which however was never in question for the large part of his seven year rule. In my humble opinion, the prime minister should be thankful to the nation for having given him the benefit of the doubt even when his own ministers were found to be corrupt and massively so. Moreover, even if Mr. Singh was the most popular leader in his party, he wasn’t the only leader. Human organizations have a clear chain of command and that is pyramidal, resulting in ultimately only one person at the helm. This Singh-Gandhi combine hence proved to structurally weak, and this is main reason that the government has let India down on several accounts.

This lack of political legitimacy, and the clear divide (not difference of opinion per se but a divide nonetheless just by the virtue of being two different individuals) between leader of the party and leader of the government, the system was bound to fail, as we see its ministers shouting on television channels while others try and have a peaceful discussion. I saw with my own eyes Mr. Narayansamy MoS PMO, and Mr. Saifuddin Soz cabinet minister shouting at the anchors and fellow panelists, felt almost sorry for them. Surely, they are smart enough to realise that they are losing power, and fast. The mandate has begun to slip from under their feet, and soon they’ll be flat on their faces.

Some thoughts on individual and collective responsibility of the council of ministers. The constitution allows for both. I am no expert on the constitution, but as far as I remember I was taught by my civics teachers that the council of ministers was collectively responsible to the parliament, and that in cases when the government’s moral authority came into question, it was only just that the government resigned, owning collective responsibility. Well, individual responsibility also exists, in the sense that a minister can be asked to resign, and as we’ve seen happen so often in very recent past.

About collective responsibility – statements by the Congress party that the PM had no clue of the goings on in case of a) Raja b) Maran c) Kalmadi (these are the only names that come to mind right now) is insulting the intelligence of ordinary Indian citizens. but just for argument’s sake lets put it aside as a cynical viewpoint. Prime minister is effectively the leader of the executive arm of the Union of India; does India deserve a prime minister who claims that he doesn’t know (not talking about interference here, just plain knowledge) what his ministers are doing? But again for argument’s sake lets say that this claim is true – doesn’t this amount to criminal negligence? And when Anna Hazare’s fast can be called a law and order issue, does the prime minister not see his own actions as cognizable offences? If these claims are false however, then seriousness of the matter just goes up. But the people of India know, that first his colleagues claimed his innocence, then he himself claimed ignorance of all corruption in his government, finally when it was revealed that his ministers were corrupt he refused to take action against them until Supreme Court forced his government to act.

Just one request to hon’ble prime minister of the union of India. Dear sir, we know the constraints of coalition politics, most of us have grown up with it. However, when the people of the union of India saw you as the prime minister we had high hopes. We were mesmerized into believing that all will be well, now that you are leading the nation, the architect of liberal policies, the person who had unlocked India’s destiny all by himself. We believed in you sir, and I feel that many of us are desperate to believe in you again. But you let us down dear Prime Minister, you let us down. You were supposed to bat for us, the people of India whose prime minister you still very much are, and not for your Congress party. Surely an economist of your stature and experience will count India to be bigger and more significant than the Congress party?

I will revisit the Anna movement, and the factors that drew me towards it. But for now, I want to end with this very basic concept of politics – that is, public opinion. NCERT text books on political science define public opinion to be the prevalent opinion, not necessarily the majority opinion or the correct opinion. This is the first concept of political science presented in these books. The public opinion is against Mr. Manmohan Singh’s government, and they themselves are to blame for it. Surely the government reads or has read the books it prescribes to school students nation wide?

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Some thoughts on Agile software development and BPM

First of all, what do all enterprise software products have in common, apart from being software? They claim to make life better for business folks. Clearly, something is not right or else this problem would have been solved ages ago. Many people that I keep running into call it the business IT disconnect; some say that the tradtional on-premise software delivery model has failed as it stretches the time-to-value for client organizations. Some blame it on technology and its inherent complexities. I think it’s a combination of multiple factors, but most importantly, it’s because IT and business aren’t on the same page. Very simply put, IT (including IT vendors) wants to make things better, whereas businesses just want stuff that works. In my opinion, the core of the problem is the inability to manage change (will dwell on this a bit more in due course)….

Continue reading

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Agile adoption and product marketing.

This is my first post here, and I want to start it off by conducting a small poll. In my opinion, agile is spreading fast. Those who aren’t on the agile road yet want to get there soon. Those who are there think it’s a one stop shop for all their IT ills. Afterall, custom apps that people have in their environment are the biggest barriers to flexibility and change, and agile hits at the root of that problem. So, I see the same promises being made over and over again (faster time to market, greater flexibility, built for change, greater user adoption, …). Not all of these promises are false, and marketing is well within its rights to make these promises. But I feel that at times they go overboard.

What do you think? Take the poll  here:

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