Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hysteria Over Nukes and Nano

Drama, hysteria and hype have become the staple diet in India when it comes to contentious issues. So carried are we by propaganda that mere controversies become life and death issues for the nation. Two such controversies have hogged the headlines persistently for more than a year and reveal the absurd lengths to which analysts, pundits and the media can go to put forth their point of view. One is the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the other is the Nano project of the Tata group.

If you go by media reports, the very future of India’s energy security will be jeopardised forever if the nuclear deal doesn’t go through. There are dire warnings that Indian homes, offices and factories will remain dark and desolate without nuclear power. Similarly, if you go by media reports, a catastrophe worse than the famine of 1943 will strike Bengal if Ratan Tata gets fed up and shifts the Nano project to another one of the many states that are laying down the red carpet for him. In some media outlets, you will read alarming stories of how the plug will be pulled on Rs.800 billion worth of planned investments in Bengal if the Nano project is shifted from Singur.

It is ironical; but in both the cases, the media has officially branded as anti-national villains two sets of people and parties, both of whom predominantly belong to Bengal. In the case of the nuclear deal, the Left has been excoriated as a spoilsport that doesn’t want India to become prosperous. In the Singur case, it is Mamta Bannerjee who has been cast as a stubborn naysayer who doesn’t want Bengal to become prosperous.

Even those who make such doomsday predictions and projections privately admit that their forecasts are grossly exaggerated. Take energy security. Sure nuclear energy will be a big plus, once it is fully operational around 2020 if the deal goes through now. If basic reforms in the sector are not implemented now, power cuts will anyway cripple India long before nuclear power arrives. And who says that the deal can never ever be revived if it fails this time? Nobody seems to be talking about that. Then again, it will be good for Bengal if the Nano project is kick started at Singur. But will its relocation forever destroy Bengal as an investment destination? If the state, like India, can provide the right environment, the right infrastructure and a lucrative market, investors – both domestic and international automatically flow. And one nuclear deal and one Nano project will not permanently change that equation.

I recall two such examples of ‘life or death’ scenarios projected over controversies. The first one was when pro-American pundits insisted that India must send troops to Iraq to help Uncle Sam in 2003. There were forecasts that India will forever lose a chance to emerge as a Big Boy if the opportunity was lost. Mercifully for India, the Vajpayee government did not send any troops. Then there was the hysteria over the Enron project where pundits – like the nuclear deal – condemned India to darkness if the controversial deal was not allowed to go through. The Enron deal was allowed. And we all know what happened to India, the power sector and Enron after that!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

If numbers could win elections…

If winning elections was all about number crunching, the UPA government should have a cakewalk when Lok Sabha polls are organised in a few months time. Here is how the numbers stack up. The Sixth Pay Commission has delivered a bonanza to about six million employees (Voters) and their families. Very soon, close to 15 million state government employees will get the same bonanza. That adds up to more than 20 million ‘happy’ voting families. Assuming each family has at least two voters, Congress spin masters can conjure up scintillating visions of 40 million votes falling into their laps.

That’s just the beginning of the march towards statistical bliss. The ‘never before’ farm loan waiver bonanza is worth a staggering Rs.70,000 crore (Rs.700 billion) and it ‘statistically’ promises relief to about 50 million farmers and their families who can now stop committing suicide and start thinking of what to wear when they and their family members line up at polling booths. That works out to another magical 100 plus million votes tumbling into the outstretched ‘hand’ of the Congress.

Wait. There is a lot more. The mother of all doles – the NREGA – has been unleashed in all districts of India with a ‘statistical’ promise of providing 100 days of ‘paid’ work to all poor people in each district. This masterstroke of political posturing should persuade another 50 million starving Indians and their families to start making a beeline for polling booths come elections. For ecstatic Congressmen, that should translate into another 100 million plus votes in the bag. Then there are old allies like Lalu Yadav and new allies like Mulayam Yadav who promise to deliver their own ‘statistical’ magic. By stubbornly insisting that SIMI should not be banned and that its India loving cadres not be harassed, the Congress and the UPA spin masters can conjure up visions of yet another statistical harvest of about 70 million votes.

Lo and behold! The Congress and the UPA is poised to pull off a ‘statistical’ coup and get 300 million votes during the next Lok Sabha elections. So why is there a sinking feeling that these statistical probabilities will remain a dream for the Congress? For the simple reason that voters are tired of posturing without any substance and promises without any delivery. Most of the 20 million odd government employees will ensure that debt riddled farmers and poverty ridden Indians do not get the money and relief meant for them. And do you think the ‘babus’ will vote en masse for the Congress?

Just one example will show how this regime is all about posturing. The non-officer ranks of Indian Armed Forces wanted a ‘military’ pay of Rs.3,000 per month. They were given Rs.2,000 instead. The additional Rs.1,000 would have cost just Rs.1,000 crore more a year-a mere drop in the ocean of largesse. But then, since the Jawans cannot form unions, pressure groups and threaten the state, why care about them?