Atanu Dey On India's Development

Friends of BJP

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The Friends of BJP is a recently formed organization with which my colleague Rajesh Jain is closely associated. On his blog today, Rajesh explained that

“The goal is to galvanise the youth and professionals to engage with the political process to bring about transformational change in India.”

The Friends of BJP is a subset of the educated civil society that is BJP-leaning, and willing to be vocal about it. We are not part of the BJP. We also do not agree with everything the BJP says or does. It is our belief that at this point of time the BJP is the better alternative. It is not a selection between black and white, but opting for the one with the lighter shades of grey.

The subtitle of the Friends of BJP blog says, “Because India Deserves Better.” Is that true? Most will agree that India’s governance has left much to be desired. But merely desiring something does not make one deserving of it. I desire lots of things but I sure am not deserving of them. There’s much hard work between desiring and deserving.

However much India “desires” otherwise, India gets poor governments because collectively it deserves poor governance. This hard fact needs to be better appreciated by Indians. Reality cannot be wished away. Any worthwhile change requires hard work. That is a trite observation and unfortunately for lazy people (and I am a card-carrying member of that tribe) it is true.

You may have heard the joke about the Zen buddhist who goes to the hot-dog vendor. The H-DV asks, “What would you like on it?” ZB says, “Make me one with everything.” ZB gets his hot dog, pays his money and asks for his change. H-DV says, “Change comes only from within.”

Fortunately, change does happen. Not always, but sometimes things unexpectedly change for the better.

Anecdotal evidence of people and organizations reforming are in plenty. Legend has it that Valmiki, the sage who composed the Ramayana, used to be a robber. His personal transformation was positive and extreme. He had to work hard for years before he could work out the consequences of his past misdeeds. That’s karma, neh?

The bad karma that Indians have collectively accumulated over the decades is manifested as bad people governing the country. Things have come to such a sorry pass that criminals routinely contest and win elections. Every society has criminals; but it is only in sick societies that criminals get elected by the people.

Just one example: Sanjay Dutt was associated with Islamic terrorists and got lethal weapons and explosives from them. He was convicted under the Arms Act for his role in the 1993 Mumbai serial bombings. Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s foremost criminal defense lawyers actually argued for Dutt’s bail in court. The strong implication is that if anyone other than Dutt himself knows about Dutt’s culpability, it has to be Jethmalani. According to him, Dutt is a criminal.

Sanjay Dutt is a movie hero. His fans adore him for being such a nice guy, a guy who introduced the term “gandhigiri” to millions. The Samajvadi Party wants Dutt as their candidate for the member of parliament from Lucknow. Why would they want to do that? Because the people of that constituency will vote for a criminal and make him win. That’s why.

Ram Jethmalani gave a press statement and wrote an op-ed piece. Here’s a report from the TOI

“He (Dutt) does not deserve to be a Member of Parliament and any political party that sets him as its candidate is totally impervious to the security to the nation,” the noted criminal law expert said in a press release.

He [Jethmalani] being a loner in politics with little influence over the voters was of little consequence for the noted lawyer as he vowed to “fight all the way against him (Dutt) and any party that supports him, the ruling Congress included”.

“I will at least have the satisfaction of having warned the nation,” the lawyer said. Asked what was the provocation for this sudden outburst against Dutt, Jethmalani said from Mumbai that it was because of his personal knowledge and the country’s interest being foremost in his mind.

He said he has written to the Congress leadership over his strong opposition to any support to Dutt’s candidature and expressed his dismay over the SP’s decision to field him as a candidate for the Lok Sabha elections from a constituency in Uttar Pradesh.

The Supreme Court had on November 27, 2007, granted bail to Dutt and 16 others, who were convicted and sentenced by the TADA court in the Mumbai bomb blasts case.

Though Dutt was acquitted of TADA charges by the trial court, he was convicted under various provisions of the Arms Act for keeping an AK-47 given by the conspirators behind the serial blasts and was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment of which he had already served 1 year and 6 months in jail.

Criminals run India because a very very large number of Indians (perhaps counted in the hundreds of millions) are quite comfortable with having criminals run India. India will deserve good a government the day Indians collectively grow a moral sense.

Very strictly speaking, the demand for good government is low. The supply keeps pace with what the market demands. If India wants better government, then it will have to earn that through hard work. The change has to come from within the people.

It’s all karma, neh?

  • http://www.ringsofsmoke.com sandeip

    “However much India “desires” otherwise, India gets poor governments because collectively it deserves poor governance. This hard fact needs to be better appreciated by Indians.[...]The bad karma that Indians have collectively accumulated over the decades is manifested as bad people governing the country. Things have come to such a sorry pass that criminals routinely contest and win elections. Every society has criminals; but it is only in sick societies that criminals get elected by the people.”

    i would beg to disagree.Mr. Dey, perhaps you never visited a polling booth in UP or Bihar when you talk about sick societies. And, just in case you point out to me the battalions of paramilitary forces that turn up to “protect” the sanctity of the electoral process, I would remind you that all poll manipulation does not take place on the day of the elections itself. Not by a long. Most of it is done pre-elections, with the un-unrban, unsophisticate equivalent of-call it lobbying,cabalism…whatever you will.Then there is economics, which you, as an economist, would definitely appreciate.Tell me, in a village of five thousand landless laborers/small farmers, if I am head of a small group of large farmers/landowners who,of course,also double up as money lenders who forms the source of employment in cropping seasons and loans in noncropping seasons when the banks wouldnt look at them to save their lives, which of those poor sods would have the guts to against my wishes and vote for anyone else come election time?And who will the criminals ally with-me of them?And since there will only be so few of me (the vote rigger) compared to him(the poor voter)…what chance does any honest candidate have when he tries to unite the poor voters to their cause as against a “criminal” who tries to unite the riggers? Remember, that to win an election in India, you don’t need at least of half of the votes…you just need one vote more than your closest competitor…so,if you 8 competitors for a particular seat, you just need 12.5% + 1 vote, assuming 100% turnout. Make the turnout 60% (which is more than the optimistic average for any election in India), and the winner needs get only 7.5%+1 vote to be elected.

    The undeserving winning the elections is probably the worst thing that could happen to a country. And yes, it is in sick societies where criminals get elected to public office by the electorate, much like the sheep voting in the wolves. But what an electorate! How many of the so called “graduates” produced by our country’s more than 180 universities do you think even understand the meaning of phrases like GDP,GNP,inflation rates,economic policy,economic diplomacy,infrastructure development,human rights,decriminalisation of the legislature and the impact they will have on their day to day life?From what I have seen in my life, (having grown up in a village with abysmal levels of education, and having studied in the so called elite institutions of learning), not even half of even the “educated” people understand or care.Then to expect a barely literate electorate to understand such issues and vote on them sounds a bit profound and parochial.

    And as an economist,you would,of course understand the importance of “Indicators”.Sanjay Dutt is an actor with a criminal record.Let us consider two scenarios.

    Scenario A: His closest election competitor is just a criminal.Now,Sanjay Dutt also has a criminal past, but that is something remote from me,if I am a voter in a Gorakhpur village, I might or might not remember it, if in the first place, I ever heard of it.And even if I have, my next bet is also a criminal, who has never done anything good for me or anyone in his life.At least this Dutt guy has, even if onscreen, given me some few moments of escape from the gutter reality that I live out everyday.Sometimes,he might even have given me that elusive commodity-Hope.What signals do I get from this?Who do I vote for?

    Scenario B: His closest competitor is a normal guy in as much as any politicians are normal guys. Now Dutt has a criminal past, which I may or may not be aware of.But the same argument as above.He has already given me something.Plus he has that awfully misleading intangible called “charisma”.On the other hand, my normal guy politician, who would be my next bet,is just one of a whole procession of such guys I have seen in the past 60 years who have been able to do a whole lot of nothing for my betterment while they come every few years to promise me the sky-this is a category which I generically know to be liars and untrustworthy.Who do I vote for?

    I know these scenarios are ridiculously simplified and do not take all variables into account.But the purpose of a model is to be a simplification of reality.While they might not incorporate all factors,they do include a few very important ones.

    Saying that we get the government we deserve and so we deserve to get criminals until we as a society rise up and get a collective sense of morality is not only irresponsible, but also cruel, and not something one would expect from somebody of your erudition. One would expect you,of all people, to understand that the people have not been equipped to make that informed,moral choice.How do you expect somebody to make a rational choice on factors which he/she does not understand?So economics and geopolitics and national policy matters get thrown out of the window.That leaves local concerns,petty and irrelevant factors like caste,colour,even visible evidence like whether I like his face or not…which go into making the choice.People make their choice based on factors like “I went to his rally and was not beaten by a policeman/got some laddus to eat”…while in the larger scheme of things it might sound idiotic,on that level it is very real,and a very objective assessment too,because they Dont Have Any Other Tools.

    And so, you cannot just call them undeserving because they dont even understand what being deserving means.Yes,since the great uneducated of India,the “sick society” which you refer to, also decide my fate and yours because they are far greater in numbers than you and me, but then it IS a democracy,after all, and number do count.But thats the overriding logic of it all-If you want the decisions of a democracy to make sense and be rational, you must first enable the people who constitute that democracy to see sense and be rational.In other words,you have to educate them and take them above the concerns of survival.Then only can you accuse them of being undeserving,if they make the wrong choice.

    P.S. I am sorry if my some of the arguments appear cliched or unformed.I am not an intellectual or thinker or even an economist.My understanding of such matters is very rudimentary and extremely superficial.But I do hope you get my drift, will get my general argument,which must be hidden there somewhere in this immensely verbose comment.I also apologize for writing a comment which has almost reached full blogpost length now.

    P.P.S.: I have been a reader of your blog for some time now, and have been an admirer of your views.I still am an admirer of most of your views.But this was one instance where I could not help disagreeing, and from making my disagreement known.

  • http://bengalvoice.blogspot.com BengalVoice

    Good luck with the “Friends of BJP” organisation in Mumbai.

    We need similar organisations in every locality, city, town and village of India.

    Jai Ho !

  • amity

    sandeip, we already have the concept you’re talking about, and we celebrate it every year. It involves using one lit lamp to light other unlit lamps placed in a row. The metaphor of lighting more and more lamps to remove darkness (of ignorance) is exactly what you’re talking about in your comment.

  • kaps
  • AM

    The BJP seems to have taken it’s role as ‘opposition’ rather literally.

    It seems to oppose even good ideas like FDI in retail, cash transfer of subsidies etc.

    If the party had shown itself to be ‘different’ and behaved a bit statesman-like in the last 3 years as opposition, they would still have my sympathy.

    It is a joke that the party call’s itself ‘right-leaning’…

    So not sure i want to be friends with them anymore…Of course, i am not saying that the alternative is appealing…