Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Bihar Conundrum

      Bihar elections are round the corner and being politically involved and hailing from Bihar, several friends have asked me to write something about it. Thus here I am penning down my views, observations and thoughts. Sadly, what I'm going to write might not please many!

      As of today, i.e. 16th of September it looks to be a neck to neck fight but while NDA is now getting its house in order the JDU led Mahagathbandhan has more than one issue to take care of. The spice in this curry has been added with MIM's entry into the fray and that could prove to be Nitish Kumar's bane. 

       I'll start by giving a bit of background. After 15 years of RJD rule Bihar was indeed in shambles. Any parent, who could afford to, would make sure that they send out their kids to study in other places after their 10th or 12th. Delhi, Kota, Bangalore were some of the preferred destinations (and they still are). I was also a part of that brain drain and left my hometown Patna after I finished my schooling. 

       Nitish came to power some years after I left. By that time I had faced the humiliation one was subjected to being a 'Bihari' in Delhi. The term 'Bihari' was used as a cuss word in Delhi similar to the manner in which the word 'Bhaiyya' is used in Mumbai. Though I was and am still proud of what Bihar gave me but the political, economic and social situation was indeed something that didn't leave people like me with much to be proud of apart from 'of course' the IAS and IIT results year after year.

      Then Nitish happened! He came to power on the plank of development and to the surprise of everyone, actually delivered. The roads got better and the seasonal labor force which used to go to Punjab and other states started to stay back and get work right at their doorstep due to proper implementation of MGNREGA. Nitish used existing laws to rein in use of firearms and even went to the extent of confiscating properties of corrupt officials and turning them into schools. 
     Another important development, which most people miss out is that the police force was refurbished. Police Thanas and chowkies were given permanent buildings with residential facilities for the personnel which eventually helped in a 'BIG' way in curbing crime. Then Bihar started to show signs of economic growth. There were years when it was among the fastest growing states in India. Compared to the bleak past, things were indeed looking better. 

      People like me, who were living in other states started being complemented for the good work that Nitish was doing back home. A massive change from what we faced earlier. No body can take credit away from the JDU-BJP alliance for giving a face lift to Bihar. Yes, it was not Nitish alone, there were other people involved. A captain is as good as his team and no doubt the JDU-BJP team was the best Bihar had in decades. 
       Then, like every good story, this also came to an end. There were very clear differences between the JDU and BJP over right wing extremism and that eventually became the issue which led to both parting ways.

      During the Loksabha, both JDU and BJP didn't leave any chance to take a potshot at each other but as the Bihar elections are coming nearer, both parties are using every chance to take a jibe at each other. While JDU is claiming that it is the one responsible for the recent development in Bihar, BJP is blaming JDU for everything that needs to be done. Well, weren't both part of the alliance and thus both had a shared responsibility? The situation is like that of a recently divorced couple with each blaming the other.

Gladiators of the Bihar arena!

     However, everything said and done, it is Bihar and eventually the nation's future at stake apart from that of the JDU and BJP! After the loss in Delhi assembly it is very important for BJP to win Bihar to keep the talk about 'Modi Wave' alive. On the other hand, it's a matter of survival for the JDU. It doesn't have presence in any other state apart from Bihar and a loss there would mean that the road ahead for the party would be very tough. 

      Bihar has largely been free of communal extremism till now and the fights have more been fought between the forward and backward. Interestingly, it's the MIM's entry which has given a communal flare to the elections more than anything else. The biggest question people are asking is, who will MIM's entry favor. The answer is quite simple actually. The more MIM and its leader Owaisi will campaign in Bihar, the more beneficial it will be for the BJP. BJP and its patron, the RSS has learned their lesson and evolved their strategies. They no longer engage in communal theatrics themselves but rather make sure that the communal extremists on the other side keep ranting thus converting the neutral into BJP's favor. 

      An example of this was seen in the recent Maharshtra elections where MIM helped them polarize to a great extent. It won just 2 seats but the psephologists would be able to tell in much more detail how they derailed equations for others. With their hate speech Owaisi brothers are a potent weapon for the BJP. Leaders have been arrested in India for sillier reasons and spreading communal hatred should be a ground enough but Modi seems to be doing an Indira Gandhi here. It might hurt him in the long run but more importantly it would hurt the nation. It's sad that few people are realizing that!

     The BJP has also been able to put together a formidable combination of Forward, Dalit and Mahadalit by bringing together Ramvilas Paswan and Jeetan Ram Manjhi along with Upendra Kushwaha as part of the NDA in Bihar. 

     Nitish on the other hand has bridged gaps with his old foe Lalu Prasad Yadav. Most people, including myself are not happy with this but if you give it a thought, did he have a way out? The NDA is coming in with all its election machinery to Bihar. In such a situation could Nitish have afforded to let this become a triangular battle rather than a bipolar one? Despite all his negatives Lalu is still a force in Bihar and his being the third player would have harmed Nitish more than the NDA.

     However, the bigger question is, whose side is Lalu on! 

     The coming together of 'Janta Parivaar' was a drama of which Mualayam apart from Lalu and Nitish were part of. A dream which was destroyed even before it could take proper form. The BJP leaders made sure that CBI is used by them as effectively as it was used by the UPA when at power in center. Mulayam had to walk away from the parivaar and now it is more like a house at war!

The Janta Parivaar - A distant dream!

      The pertinent question however is, what will happen to the Mahagathbandhan post the election? There are few scenarios and I'm discussing them one by one!

Scenario 1: Mahagathbandhan gets majority with JDU as largest party

Seems possible but post the win Lalu will bargain. Will Nitish fulfill his wishes? Or will that lead to another war between the two Janta pariwaar veterans. Only time will tell.

Scenario 2: Mahagathbandhan gets majority with RJD as largest party

Will be a tricky situation. Nitish was the CM face but his party not being the largest will make things difficult for him.

Scenario 3: NDA gets majority

There will of course be a fight for the CM post and the central BJP leadership and RSS will take a final call (like putting a Khattar in Haryana). However, Manjhi and Kushwaha will need to be managed tactfully. In this case if RJD is the largest party it will go for LOP, a situation which will completely sideline Nitish.

Scenario 4: A hung house

Though very unlikely but with fringe players like the left and Samajwadi party, it might happen. Would be a precarious situation with unpredictable outcome.

     As of now, my personal hunch is that scenario 3 is the most likely outcome with JDU being pushed to the third spot thanks to well calculated placement of candidates by the MIM. If that happens, Nitish as a leader will be under questioning in his own party and Lalu will pave way for his next generation in the RJD.

      Nitish will need to do something exceptional in the last few weeks that he had at his disposal. What he and his close aide Prashant Kishore can conjure, we will have to wait and watch. 

      On the other hand, if NDA loses, it will be final nail on the Modi wave as unlike Delhi, they don't have a Kiran Bedi here to shield Modi ji from humiliation of loss!

Friday, September 11, 2015

What Delhi can learn from Singapore

           In the first week of September I was in Singapore for a conference. Before leaving I had made a mental note of the things that I need to observe and understand while I was there. For that, I had booked by return ticket three days post the end of the conference and that proved to be a good decision. 
           The conference I was participating in was about 'Customer Experience' and had delegates from across Asia. There were people who had spent 10 or more years in the industry catering to customer needs and expectations. The chief speaker was Shep Hyken, world renowned customer experience Guru and I was one of the six keynote speakers. I was probably the youngest speaker at the conference and also one from the most unusual of backgrounds, i.e. politics. My keynote was about usage of Social Media for Politics and the customer experience learning from it.
           But no, the conference is not I'm going to talk about here in this blog! Here I'm going to talk about what I learned from the 50 year old country which when it became independent had aspired to become cosmopolitan like Mumbai!
            I'm breaking this blog into segments for the ease of reading.

Getting a mobile connection - Before leaving Delhi respected tourism minister and my dear friend, Kapil Mishra had given me this brief, "What is there in Singapore that it attracts so many tourists? What can Delhi learn from there?"

Well, thus after landing in Singapore I decided to do two things, one was to travel by public transport as much as possible and the other was to travel solo. 

At the airport I decided to get a local sim card and got one easily by submitting a copy of my passport. The card had a validity of 1 week and was good enough for my 6 day visit. There were similar 1 month, 3 month and 6 month validity cards available. Tailor made for tourists! I don't know if there is any similar facility provided by any Indian mobile operator at any of the international airports. 

Thus, at ease of getting a mobile connection - well Singapore scored way better than Delhi for sure.

Transport services - I had been provided two days of accommodation in Marina Bay Sands by the conference organizers so I decided to hire a cab till there. Again, the manner in which one hired a cab impressed me. There was a queue at the airport with one guard. No ticket counter or booth of any sort. The cabs would come and park on opposite side of the road and the guard would let one group per cab proceed from the queue to the cab area. 

Quite different from the maddening rush and hounding by drivers we see at IGI.

Once inside the cab there was a GPS device which was also doubling up as an advertisement board.

Without any hassles I reached the hotel and was given a printed receipt for the travel.

The next day I used the metro and also commuted in the low floor buses. The first thing that struck me was that all transport services were disabled friendly. A disabled person could use the metro or bus without any help. Well, that's something we need to learn for sure.

Stray dogs - Another thing that struck me in Singapore was the absence of street dogs. Many people might call me anti-animal but the fact of the matter is that 36% of world's rabies related deaths occur in India! People who traverse late night in Delhi, Bangalore or any other major metro are very well familiar with this menace. Somehow Singapore has been able to do away with this.

Tourist spots -  Despite being a small country Singapore has developed multiple world class tourist destinations in this small area at their disposal. 
The central business district (CBD) complemented by the towering Marina Bay Sands (MBS), the ArtScience Museum and Garden by the bay is a complete package in itself. I witnessed the sight of lights in CBD coming up while the sun withdraws slowly into the clouds from the top floor of MBS and it was quite a sight. The top floor of MBS also houses the famous infinity pool. Not being much of a swimmer, I didn't take a dip there but yes, it's a great visual attraction.
The infinity pool

Garden by the bay from top of Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay Sands and ArtScience Museum

I also visited the S.E.A. aquarium and the Jurong Bird park both of which are international tourist attractions and rightly so.
36 meter wide viewing panel at S.E.A. - The largest in the world

Ship wreckage at S.E.A. aquarium

Feeding birds at Lory Loft

Inside the waterfall aviary which houses world's tallest man made waterfall

Thus, I can without a doubt say that the Singaporeans have worked hard over the years to develop their country as a tourist spot and have been successful in doing so.

Crime and policing - Now here's the interesting part. During my entire 5 day stay in Singapore I did not see a single police vehicle. During one of my cab journeys I asked the cab driver about it. He replied, "No need of police, they observe everything on CCTV." 
Then I asked my hosts about it. The reply was really interesting, "It's not that we don't have crime here in Singapore but they have put CCTV cameras almost everywhere and moreover, when a criminal is caught, they make sure it's all over the media. The punishment gets more highlight than the crime."
This also reminds me of the fact that the AAP was laughed at when it mooted a similar idea as part of its manifesto in 2015 assembly elections.

The flip side - This is what some people have asked me not to talk and write about but I can't help it. Coming from a country where 'Right to Freedom of Expression' is a fundamental right, I can't finish this without talking about the flip side.
Though Singapore is a representative democratic republic but almost everyone I met had reservations about what they talk and made it a point not to voice out their opinions in public. It is pretty obvious that Singapore is a 'de facto' one-party state with the ruling  People's Action Party (PAP) having won every election since 1959.

Take away - Singapore had the advantage of location and leadership. Apart from being strategically located at the center of world trade transit route, it also had a leadership which realized the potential and led the country to great height. 
We as the AAP in Delhi have got a lot to learn from Singapore and with a bit of conviction and right steps we can for sure tap into the great tourist potential that the city has.

I would like to sum up with a line a fellow Indian delegate said during one of the conference lunches, "India has such huge tourist potential. Had Leh-Ladakh been in Singapore, they would  have made a fortune out of it. But sadly, we don't even have mobile network there!"

Hope someone is listening!