Shankkar Aiyar News

Paracetamol politics, tried ragas, tired rhetoric and retired reasons

Published: 11th September 2016 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th September 2016 10:49 PM   |  A+A-

They say change is the only constant. It is a useful cliché that helps keep hope afloat. Change, unless it is driven by cataclysmic events, is a glacial process. The idea of change lies between the observed and the observable. Frequently, as images and words of the past weeks suggest, change seems to be in flashback mode.

Like, this week Rahul Gandhi was back in the news—or, as some would say, back in politics. The idea of the 2,400-km road show through Uttar Pradesh seems to confuse physical appearance with political presence. In the 2014 elections, the BJP polled 42.6 per cent of the votes followed by SP at 22.35 per cent, BSP at 19.7 per cent and the Congress at 7.5 per cent—and apparently 59 of its candidates lost their deposits. To appreciate, look at the absolutes. The BJP polled 343 lakh votes—5.5 times more than the Congress’s 60.6 lakh votes.

Like politics cannot be merely a slogan industry. Sure, the cuteness of the “khat sabhas” did deliver air time. But electoral efficacy calls for ideas. Yes, Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of farmer distress. But what about solutions—beyond the higher minimum support price and another loan-waiver? It is inescapable that loan-waivers have only hurt farmers by blocking access to credit. Ideas must also pass the electoral test—it might help if the Congress analysed why the 21 Lok Sabha seats it won in 2009 translated into just 28 Assembly seats in the 2012 UP polls. It is the perpetuation of paracetamol politics that has hurt farmers and left the Congress in the heap. The Congress score in UP in the new millennium is 28 in 2012, 25 in 2007 and 22 in 2002 in a house of 403.

Like, once again the farmers in Karnataka are protesting the release of water from Cauvery to Tamil Nadu. The bandh that followed led to the coinage of the phrase ‘Bandhaluru’ for the capital Bengaluru. The cause of chaos is located in the history of unresolved disputes.

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal formed in June 1990 submitted its report in February 2007 and the notification was issued in 2013. In 2016, following special leave petitions, the matter is sub-judice. It isn’t just Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. There is the Punjab vs Haryana dispute of 1986. In March, Punjab unilaterally terminated water-sharing agreements.

Like it is worth noting that river water disputes tend to be historic as they are pending forever. Of the eight inter-state river water disputes, awards have been given in three, one is pending and four involving 11 states are in courts. It begs the question: whatever happened to the idea of the two-tier River Basin Authority (a la GST Council)? And, yes, what does all this mean for the idea of inter-linking rivers?

Like Kashmir has been on the boil for over 60 days. The nature of discourse around it must be giving déjà vu a sense of déjà vu. It is time to review the nomenclature—Kashmir is not the issue, Pakistan is. The thesis of non-state actors is hogwash. There is the so-called state and then there is the rogue state run by the ghost of Zia ul-Haq.  India did well to speak up—especially at the G20, shame Pakistan without naming it. It follows that India must spell it out to the Friends of Pakistan club—expose the immorality in the cohabitation of moral posturing and support for sponsors of terrorism. How about asking the pontiffs of nonproliferation to sanction those who helped North Korea with its N-test?

Like, this week India got to know `356 crore was being spent on separatists groups, aka Hurriyat. Unsurprisingly, a PIL will come up this week in the Supreme Court calling for an end to it. For sure, there could be some justification on the provision of security. What is inexplicable is the subsidising of separatism. The hypocrisy of the separatists is only to be expected. But seriously, how can the government of India justify picking up the lifestyle and luxury hotel bills?

Like, the brains trust at Rail Bhavan this week produced a half-hearted, ill-conceived scheme to ramp up earnings. Indian Railways loses over `30,000 crore a year in the passenger segment of the business. Mimicking the airlines model, Indian Railways announced surge pricing for its premium inter-city trains. The logic was that premium passengers will pay. Fact is, the railways, in just the past six months, has lost 8 per cent of passenger traffic and mostly to airlines as airline seats are often cheaper than train tickets.

Like the fundamental question that was not asked is: will passengers pay more or choose to fly? Unsurprisingly, Air India was out with an ad the very next day “Udo Dil Khol Ke”. And on the IRCTC site, the big banner advertisement by Spice Jet read “Upgrade your travel experience, for less”. Fact is, the Railways is derailed on a track of retired reasoning.

Like “disinvestment”—that quaint Indian phrase—is back in the news. Niti Aayog has suggested 32 sick PSUs for disinvestment and another lot for strategic sale. The sense of sameness is inescapable—Raisina Hill seems to be the Aadhar address for déjà vu! In 1997, the government had constituted the Disinvestment Commission headed by G V Ramakrishna. Now nearly two decades later, the wheel is being reinvented and the same old questions on choice, value and timing will be discussed, debated and interrogated.

Like the bigger and more open issue is whether the mandarins sign in on the process after the recent CBI case on a 2002 disinvestment during the Vajpayee regime. More pertinently—given the state of excess capacity in certain sectors in the global economy, the perilous state of pricing in commodities and the pathetic state of PSU banks—who is queuing up to buy? Instead, why not transfer all PSUs onto a sovereign trust (

Finally, it is time for the political class to get out of the ghetto of denial. In the age of anytime-anywhere delivery, the era of shared economy, voters seek real-time solutions, and not mere placebos. It is time for governments to exit from tried ragas and tired rhetoric. It is time for politicians to migrate from the discourse of allegations to outcomes.

Shankkar aiyar Author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

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