Is Karnataka Assembly Election verdict a foregone conclusion?

Elections for Karnataka Vidhan Sabha are scheduled to be on 5th May 2013. Unlike other recent assembly elections, there is not much speculation about the expected results. Not only the main stream media but even social media political gurus are of the opinion that nothing can stop the BJP whitewash and Congress would form the next government with comfortable majority. The major reason for this consensus is the election result of the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) in Karnataka held in March 2013.

In these ULB polls, Congress emerged as the number one party by winning 1960 wards out of 4952 declared results. BJP and JD (S) were tied for second position with 905 wards each. After the results were declared, political pundits were quick to predict the impending doom of BJP not only in the upcoming assembly elections but also in the parliamentary elections (expected to be held in May 2014). Their rationale is that results of ULB polls is a good leading indicator of an assembly or a parliamentary election. Intuitively, this assumption sounds logical. After all, the same voters who voted in the local body elections would be voting in the assembly and parliamentary elections. According to one estimate, the ULBs covered approximately 30% voters of the state. So theoretically, this argument is very strong that verdict of assembly and parliamentary elections in the state is a foregone conclusion.

However, when one looks at data, this idea is not supported. Take Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Mumbai for example. In UP, BJP has always been the number one party in Mayoral elections since 1995. The party however could never excel in any assembly or parliamentary election held in the state since 1999. In the assembly elections held in February last year, BJP was at third position and polled its lowest vote share in the state in the last twenty years (both assembly and parliamentary included). However in the Municipal Elections held just after five months of assembly elections, BJP won 10 out of 12 Mayoral elections in the state. In 2006, Municipal elections were held before assembly elections of 2007 and the party had won 9 out of 12 Mayoral seats. This performance was in no way an indicator of its performance in 2007 assembly elections, when the party was at third position in the state. Even if one looks at urban assembly constituencies, the performance of BJP was nowhere close to what it achieved in Mayoral or Municipal elections. This electoral behaviour is not specific to Uttar Pradesh. In Mumbai, BJP and Shivsena are controlling the Municipal body since last seventeen years but failed to win a single parliamentary seat in 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Even in assembly polls, held in the same year as parliamentary elections, NCP and Congress had an upper hand over the saffron alliance. MNS, which ensured that Congress-NCP win all the Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai, could not stop BJP-Shivsena from winning the BMC for fourth consecutive time.

In Delhi too, the story is somewhat similar. BJP won the MCD polls comfortably in 1997 and 2007, but could not win the assembly elections held in 1998 and 2008. In 2009 it lost all the seven parliamentary seats in the state. As opposed to Karnataka, where ULB elections reflect mood of 30% of total electorate of the state, the local body elections in Delhi and Mumbai reflect mood of 100% of electorate. And still these elections proved to be a bad leading indicator of assembly and parliamentary elections.

This does not mean that local bodies can never be indicative of trends in assembly and parliamentary elections. In West Bengal, the loss of Left Front in Municipal and Panchayat elections in 2008 gave a good indication of the future rout in 2009 parliamentary and 2011 assembly elections. In Orissa, before dumping BJP in 2009, BJD fought the local elections in 2008 without allying with BJP. Its good performance in the local polls gave BJD enough confidence to sever its ties with BJP and win the subsequent assembly and parliamentary elections in the state on its own.

So what do we make of Karnataka ULB results? Is Karnataka like Mumbai, Delhi & UP or is it like West Bengal and Orissa? The most logical thing to do here would be to look at Karnataka’s past electoral history. In the 2007 ULB elections too, Congress had emerged as the number one party in the state. It had won 1,606 seats (compared to 1,960 won now), JD (S) was a close second with 1,502 seats (compared to 905 now) and BJP was at third position with 1,180 seats (it is now at second position with 905 seats).

When local body elections were held in 2007, BJP and JD(S) were in coalition government in Karnataka. In 2001 urban local body elections, JD (S) had won only 415 seats and this more than doubling of seats in 2007, gave enough confidence to JD(S) to sever ties with BJP and go for snap polls few months after ULB elections. This was very similar to what BJD in Orissa after an excellent performance in Orissa Local Body polls. The difference was that local body polls in Orissa mirrored the assembly and parliamentary results whereas in Karnataka, the ULB polls had no correlation with assembly and parliamentary election results. BJP which was at third position in ULB polls, not only emerged as a single largest party but was only three seats short of majority (which it achieved in subsequent by elections). In Parliamentary elections held in 2009, the party won 19 out of 28 seats in the state. BJP won more seats from Karnataka in 2009 parliamentary elections than from any other state (including Gujarat and MP) whereas in ULB polls its performance was far worse than even UP, where it is neither the opposition nor ruling party since 2002. As Table 1 below shows, since 2001 BJP has been the largest party in every assembly and parliamentary election despite being at third position in ULB polls twice. In the latest ULB polls, position wise BJP has improved. It is now at second position (along with JDS) unlike last ULB polls when it was at third position.

Karnataka Election Results since 2001

 

ULB 2001

Assembly 2004

Parl 2004

ULB 2007

Assembly 2008

Parl 2009

ULB 2013

Cong

2322

65

67

1606

80

62

1960

BJP

562

79

109

1180

110

140

905

JD(S)

415

58

47

1502

28

22

905

JD(U)

457

5

1

NA

0

0

NA

Others

1178

17

0

719

6

0

1182

Total

4934

224

224

5007

224

224

4952

Table 1: Karnataka Election Results since 2001. For ULB polls, wards have been considered. For parliamentary, assembly wise leads and for assembly elections, seats won. Dark Green colored cells show seats won by single largest party.

If BJP could be the number one party in the assembly and parliamentary elections, despite being a distant third in ULB polls, the 2013 ULB results are not that bad for BJP. If KJP and BJP seats of 2013 ULBs are added, it exceeds the BJP tally of 2007. Also on several seats, neither BJP nor KJP won but the vote split benefited other parties. In the assembly election to be held next month, BJP seats would depend on the extent of damage that KJP has inflicted on the party. The most important factor would be candidate selection by all major players in the state.

However the larger point here is that there is no precedent in near past to suggest that ULB polls give any indication of which way wind is blowing in Karnataka.

Last Two Assembly and Parliamentary Elections

 

Vote Share

Seat Share

 

Assembly
2004

   Parl
2004

Assembly
2008

Parl
2009

Assembly
2004

   Parl
2004

Assembly
2008

Parl
2009

BJP

28.3

34.8

33.9

41.6

79

109

110

140

INC

35.3

36.8

34.8

37.6

65

67

80

62

JDS

20.8

20.4

19

13.6

58

47

28

22

Others

15.6

8

12.3

7.2

22

1

6

0

Table 2: Last Two Assembly and Parliamentary Elections. In 2004, assembly and parliamentary elections were held on same day. For parliamentary, assembly segment leads are shown.

In 2004, Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha were held on the same day in Karnataka. BJP was leading on 109 assembly segments in the Lok Sabha elections but could win only 79 seats in Vidhan Sabha. Polling booths were same for both elections. The time difference for pressing the EVM button in the two elections was probably less than a minute. BJP’s vote share was 6.5% less in Vidhan Sabha compared to Lok Sabha election even when elections for both were held on same day. This happened because voters are smart enough to understand the difference between a state and national election even if elections are held on same day. One can safely assume that the same voters would vote differently in a state election held 50 days after ULB polls.

We will have to wait for opinion polls with good representative samples to get a better sense of political situation in the state. Opinion polls too would not give a near accurate picture and have been off the mark in past (mostly in states with three or four cornered contests like Karnataka and UP). In this book review of Indianomix, I have explained problem with polling in India but they are still better than ULB polls in indicating the trends. Or better wait till 8th May.

Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India

Indianomix

Image Courtesy: bookadda.com

The tittle and blurbs of Indianomix: Making Sense of Modern India might give an impression that the book is about economics or more specifically about how economics could help us understand modern India. The book indeed has many examples related to India. However not all examples are confined to economics. The authors try and make sense of a range of topics from the surprising verdict of 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Nehru’s (and India’s) surprise when China attacked in 1962 and how MSM (Main Stream Media) in India confuses opinion with facts.

In one of the chapters, the authors describe how in Delhi economic incentives are used by Delhi Police to improve pedestrian safety and in Mumbai an NGO is using behavioral psychology to prevent deaths at unmanned railway crossings. These two examples show different applications of behavioral economics, a branch of economics closer to psychology than economics. The NGO in Mumbai succeeded in reducing the death toll at railway crossing whereas the experiment in Delhi seems still to be a work in progress. Different chapters in the book explore themes like randomization or luck, how traditions gel with modernity (the most interesting example in this chapter is from China) and how MSM (Main Stream Media) in India prefers sensationalism over fact checking.

The chapter on randomization or luck had two election results (2004 Lok Sabha and 2012 UP Vidhan Sabha) as examples among others. Based on the electoral data and opinion polls/exit polls the authors make two interesting points. First being that close elections are like a coin toss and second (a corollary of the first point), it is a matter of luck to correctly predict the election results. So the authors suggest that saying that NDA lost because of India Shinning campaign and BSP lost because UP voters voted in favor of development politics makes little sense.

I am a student of Indian Politics and hence this chapter was of special interest to me.  The authors conclude that in a close election even data (opinion and exit polls in this case) would not be of great help in predicting the outcome. They arrive at this conclusion by comparing the relation between vote share and seat share at macro level i.e. for the whole of India while analyzing 2004 Lok Sabha elections and for entire state of UP while analyzing 2012 UP elections. Lets us look at the case against polls. Yogendra Yadav, India’s most famous pollster and a fox has been conducting exit polls since 1996 Lok Sabha elections and announced his retirement from polling after 2o12 UP polls. A fox is someone who is pragmatic, not ideological and open to discard a cherished theory according to Philip Tetlock, author of Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? where as a hedgehog is a single minded devotee to a particular big idea or concept, which they stick to through thick or thin. According to Indianomix such people exude confidence, boldly tell you without mincing words whats going to often and are more often wrong. Yogendra tried explaining 2004 debacle (of exit polls) by suggesting that there were three main reasons why polls can go wrong: sampling error, response bias and difficulty in translating vote share to seats.

The explanation given for sampling error in 2004 is that urban voters were oversampled and since BJP has most of its supporters in urban areas, most exit polls were off the mark. However a closer look at election results of 2004 would reveal that BJP under performed in urban areas. It did not win a single seat in Delhi and Mumbai. In 1999 NDA had won every seat in these two cities. In Maharashtra, the second biggest state in the country, NDA won 25 out of 48 seats and UPA won the remaining 23. The 23 seats won by UPA include 9 urban seats of Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. NDA could win only 1 urban seat in the state. In fact in the Vidarbha region, the agrarian suicide capital of the country in 2004, out of 11 seats, NDA won 10 and the one seat that NDA could not win was the lone urban seat in the region i.e. Nagpur. In Maharashtra, NDA won more rural seats then UPA and UPA won more urban seats than NDA. Outside the state too, NDA lost most of its seats in urban areas. So this argument of sampling error does not hold much water. Response Bias as explained by Yogendra Yadav, where voters purposely do not divulge correct information, is very similar to the Bradley Effect in US. A closer study of polls in India would reveal that hardly has any poll correctly predicted seat share and vote share correct at the same time. Now if pollsters want to explain this by citing response bias then it would be better if they stopped conducting polls altogether.

The third reason i.e. difficulty in converting vote share to seats has some merit. In a multi-cornered fight, it is almost impossible to predict seat share. Even when the contest is mainly between two parties, it is not easy and we would soon see why.

But again this reason would sound valid if at least pollsters could get vote shares for parties right. Predicting the vote share correctly is a rarity for Indian pollsters and mostly happens when fight is between two main parties. Ironically, Yogendra Yadav who correctly predicted seats for Samajwadi Party in 2012 UP elections, could do so because his vote share predictions were spectacularly wrong. He overestimated SP’s vote share by a massive 5%. In UP, where vote share difference between top two parties was just 3.4%, this error is huge. However, Yogendra Yadav was widely praised for correctly predicting the UP polls as most people including astute political observers (foxes and hedgehogs included) seldom look at the details of elections or polls.

So are outcomes of close elections really like a coin toss as the authors of Indianomix seem to suggest? If we only look at polls conducted in India, we would have to agree with the author. However, if we look at the second biggest democracy, a math geek has cracked the code of predicting elections. Nate Silver not only correctly predicted the final outcome of US Presidential Elections (that Obama would win) but his prediction was correct in all fifty states. And this was a close election with less than 4% vote share difference between Obama and Romney. Its equivalent feat in India would be to not only predict the winning party or alliance in a Lok Sabha election nationally but to also correctly predict the winning party/alliance in each state of the country (if not the actual seats in each state). Needless to say, no pollster has been able to achieve this in India since the first national opinion poll conducted in 1980 by Prannoy Roy and Dorab Sopariwala for India Today.

Nate Silver is not a pollster. His methodology is very simple. A poll of polls where each poll is weighted by its past performance, sample size and other attributes. A blogger who goes by the pseudonym Albatrossinflight, performed a similar exercise before Gujarat election results and predicted 130 seats for BJP. The actual tally for BJP was 115. So does that mean the Nate Silver approach would not work in India? It most probably would not if surveys are conducted in the same way as they are conducted now in India. Most surveys only cover a handful of constituencies and extrapolate the results to the remaining constituencies. Even Lok Sabha elections in India, are an aggregate of 543 constituencies. An urban voter in Mumbai voted differently in 2004 (where BJP lost all seats) from an urban voter in Bangalore (where BJP won both seats of the city). Nate Silver could predict the results correctly in US, because his sample size i.e. the opinion polls were better in quality than the polls in India. His algorithm had multiple state specific opinion polls at its disposal. Indian pollsters assume that an urban voter in Nashik would vote in the same way as an urban voter in Nagpur. It hardly matters to them that MNS is a strong factor in Nashik and may not win the seat but still impact the result whereas in Nagpur MNS has no major impact.

In short, because of quality and quantity of the polls, Nate Silver was better placed to predict elections than an Indian Nate Silver would ever be. Indian pollsters would not only have to conduct polls in every constituency but also get the sampling right in each constituency. This may seem difficult to execute but this is exactly what C-Voter, a survey company tried in Gujarat this time. For their exit poll, they collected samples from each constituency in the state. They may not have got the seat share correct but were very close (within 1% ) in predicting vote share for BJP and Congress. A more detailed study of the poll results of C Voter would give a better idea of its performance. So by 2014, if we have more C-Voter type survey companies, who poll in every constituency, predicting the election result would not be an outcome of coin toss. Since any election is an aggregate of results of its constituencies, the authors are most probably right in asserting that making sweeping generalizations about election outcomes at a macro level makes little sense (like NDA lost in 2004 because of India Shinning or SP won in UP because people voted for good governance).

My favorite chapter in the book is News from India. As the title suggests, this chapter is on Indian Mainstream Media. The authors cite several examples ranging from HIV, child malnutrition, violence against women etc and show how our media in general either does not understand data and logic or choose to take the easy way of rhetoric and sensationalism. Not only this chapter but the entire book should be made for compulsory reading in all journalist schools in the country.

The book may not focus exclusively on any one field and has a range of topics but the theme that binds all the topics is that data and reasoning should be given prominence over popular belief. In one of the chapters, Nehru is quoted after the defeat in 1962, “We were living in an artificial atmosphere of our own creation”.  Whether it is a Prime Minister, an NGO working towards saving lives of people who cross railway tracks, someone trying to predict outcome of an election or someone who wants to understand factors affecting women safety after the horrific Delhi gang rape, we all need to be open to reasoning & logic and not swayed by rhetoric. This is the first India centric book which makes this point and hence is a must read for all.

Narendra Modi and Indian Democracy

India has had seven prime ministers in the last 25 years i.e. VP Singh, Chandrashekhar, PV Narsimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HD Devegowda, IK Gujral and Manmohan Singh since 1989. Of these seven PMs no one except Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the PM candidate before elections for the next ruling party/coalition. It means people had no clue about whom they were voting as Prime Minister when they voted for the ruling party in the respective Lok Sabha elections.

The circumstances in which VP Singh became Prime Minister sowed the seeds of his dethronement within a year. After the 1989 Lok Sabha election, both Chandrashekhar and VP Singh wanted to become Prime Minister. Apparently a compromise was reached and they both agreed on Devilal’s name. In the Parliamentary Board meeting that was convened to elect the leader of the Janata Dal, VP Singh proposed the name of Devilal and it was seconded by Chandrashekhar. However Devilal proposed the name of VP Singh which was then accepted by the Parliamentary board. Chandrashekhar felt that this was a conspiracy hatched by VP Singh and he deserved to be the Prime Minister. This, despite the fact that VP Singh had become a bigger mass leader than Chandrashekhar, because of Bofors issue. VP Singh could not even complete one year of his term when Chandrashekhar split Janata Dal and became Prime Minister with outside support of the same Congress Party, against which he had won elections. All this probably could have been avoided if the Janata Dal had gone with a Prime Ministerial candidate in the elections and there would have been no confusion within the ranks of the party and common voters.

After 1991 election results, when Congress emerged as single largest party and Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, the party chose P V Narsimha Rao to become Prime Minister. Again, people of India had absolutely no say in who would become their Prime Minister. It was decided after the election results by the Congress Party. In 1995, BJP declared that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would be its Prime Ministerial candidate. This decision was actually taken unilaterally by Lal Krishna Advani without even discussing with top leaders of BJP. Even Atal Bihari Vajpayee was shocked to hear LK Advani’s announcement from stage in the party’s Mumbai adhiveshan. Till then it was widely believed inside and outside the party that if BJP ever comes to power, LK Advani would be the Prime Minister. LK Advani could take such a decision and announce it without discussing it with anyone as he was at the peak of his power within BJP. Since then no other leader, not even Vajpayee, has enjoyed so much power and confidence within the party.

The announcement was a positive milestone in Indian democracy. Though the decision of nominating Atal Bihari as PM candidate was not a result of any democratic exercise and Vajpayee was probably not even among the top two most popular leaders within BJP, at least the voters had a clear idea who would be India’s Prime Minister if BJP comes to power. After the elections which were held less than a year after the announcement of Vajpayee’s PM candidature, BJP came into power for the first time, though only for thirteen days, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee was made the Prime Minister.

After BJP could not prove its majority as no other party apart from Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Samta Party supported it, H D Devegowda became Prime Minister with the outside support of Congress. Other leaders who were in fray after the elections to become Prime Minister were Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Yadav, Biju Patnaik etc. Again, H D Devegowda was not a Prime Ministerial candidate before the elections and he could become PM because there was least resistance to his name among top Third Front leaders and CPI (M) had committed the ‘historical blunder’ of not making Jyoti Basu as Prime Minister. H D Devegowda’s main opponent in Karnataka was Congress and he found nothing wrong in becoming Prime Minister with Congress support. Sitaram Kesari who became Congress president after PV Narsimha Rao withdrew support from the third front government led by HD Devegowda and made it clear that he would support third front only if they replace Devegowda with someone else. The third front meekly agreed and chose IK Gujral as their leader. The reason for Devegowda’s replacement is still a mystery today. Sitartam Kesari did not bother to give any strong valid reason for his withdrawal of support.  After 1998 election Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was NDA’s PM candidate before the election, became Prime Minister. By now he had become the most popular leader in the country not only among BJP supporters but was also rated as top PM choice across all parties.

In 2004, when UPA came into power Manmohan Singh was made Prime Minister just because he enjoyed confidence of Congress President. There was no discussion about his name even among top Congress leaders let alone UPA. Sonia Gandhi just decided on his name and the rest meekly accepted. Before 2009 elections, Sonia Gandhi announced that Manmohan would continue to be Prime Minister if the party comes back to power. However there were also talks that there would be a smooth transition and Manmohan would be replaced by Rahul Gandhi.

Circumstances other than popular public support have made six of India’s last seven Prime Ministers. In a mature democracy, people should know who all could become Prime Minister as a result of their votes. The argument that India is a Parliamentary democracy does not hold water any more. Britain too is a parliamentary democracy and India has adopted its West Minister model but in the last British general elections not only the three major parties announced their PM candidates but also had pre election debates among them.

Narendra Modi has emerged as the most popular candidate for the post of Prime Minister in every Opinion Poll conducted in the last few months. He is not only the most popular BJP leader but the most popular leader across all political parties. This despite the fact that he has been a state Chief Minister since last ten years and has not held any national position within the party or the government since 2002. In 1996 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was declared the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, he was not even the most popular leader in the party (forget being the most popular leader across all parties). Lal Krishna Advani was the most popular leader at that time and one can argue that Murli Manohar Joshi was not less popular than Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It took three years, a disastrous performance by a third front government and most importantly projection by BJP as PM candidate for Vajpayee to become the most popular leader in the country. Narendra Modi has achieved almost the same level of popularity as Vajpayee had in 1998 & 1999 despite the fact that he has not yet been named as party’s official PM candidate. One can only imagine his support when he is officially declared so.

If that happens, it would be another milestone for Indian democracy. For the first time, a national party would have to appoint someone its PM candidate who has risen from grass roots and is not a Delhi based leader, someone who has earned this position not because of circumstances but because Delhi based leaders had no choice but to adhere to popular public choice. It would be better than what BJP did in 1995 by declaring Vajpayee as PM candidate because this time BJP would be backing someone who is already the most popular choice in the country.

If India’s next Prime Minister is someone who is the most popular leader in the country and does not owe his position to circumstances and palace intrigues, it would be a great leap forward for Indian Democracy.

Raajneeti – Movie Review

Raajneeti was one of the most awaited movies of the year for many reasons. Very few Indian movies have an ensemble cast; Prakash Jha has made some very good social-political movies like Mrityudand and Gangaajal and as the title suggests, this movie was expected to be an out and out political drama unlike his earlier movies where Politics was not the main theme but just one of many backdrops.  Prakash Jha had been active in politics and even contested two Lok Sabha elections from his home state Bihar; once as an independent (2004) and once from Lok Janashakti Party (2009). All this had raised my expectations from the movie.

The story is inspired from Mahabharat. All main characters are from one single joint family and fight each other for the political legacy after the family patriarch is paralyzed. Surprisingly for a political movie, not much attention is paid to other parties but the story revolves around different members of one family trying to take over the party. We have seen this happening in many political parties (in Congress after the death of Sanjay Gandhi when a feeble attempt was made by Menaka Gandhi to inherit the poilitical legacy of Sanjay only to be rebuked by Indira Gandhi and more recently in DMK). Of course the real life clashes were not as bloody as it is in the movie. Most Indian political parties are controlled by families where head of the party treats the party as his/her fiefdom to be passed on to some family member. Jha has successfully portrayed this aspect of Indian politics.

Mostly the movie is good. Surprisingly even Arjun Rampal has pulled off his character of a politician from the Hindi heartland really well and as expected Katrina Kaif is unconvincing because of her accented Hindi. They should definitely have used voice over dubbing for her. Or maybe Prakash Jha subtly wanted us to think of Sonia Gandhi when we see Katrina. In fact the scene where Katrina tries to evoke sympathy in her voters by reminding them of sacrifices made by her family, reminds us of Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Congress forced Prakash Jha to change the dialogue Vidhwa vote le jaayegi (The widow will take away the votes) to Bitiya Vote le jaayegi (The daughter will take away the votes). All characters are well etched and believable. Full marks to Prakash Jha for this. Many Hindi movies have tried to show state of Indian Politics in recent times. As far as closeness to reality is concerned Raajneeti is the best so far though it is not perfect. The story though inspired from Mahabharat is indeed hatke.

Of course the movie has some flaws. And the biggest being the failure to use Mahabharat as a backdrop convincingly. Some sequences inspired by Karan’s birth & Arjun’s hesitation to kill Karan in the climax just did not click. Thankfully, Jha restrained himself in showing Katrina as modern day Draupadi. He had clarified in his many publicity interviews that the movie is not inspired from Mahabharat but the characters are. By this he implied that there is no hero or villain, as we generally have in Hindi movies, but the characters have Grey shades. This sounded good as it is indeed difficult to adapt the epic in a 3 hour movie (the movie is a little less than 3 hours) but Jha has tried to do so and this is the movie’s biggest undoing. In fact one may wonder whether the movie is on Indian Pilitics and Mahabharat is used as backdrop or Jha intended to make a modern day Mahabharat and Indian Politics is used as a backdrop.

Despite its flaws it is one of the better movies in recent times and the best in its genre so far. It definitely deserves a watch.

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Connect The Dots


In her first book Stay Hungry Stay Foolish Rashmi Bansal profiled twenty five entrepreneurs who were alumni of IIM – Ahmedabad. Many had then wondered including yours truly, how important an MBA degree is to become an entrepreneur. Rashmi claims this inspired her to write Connect The Dots, story of twenty one entrepreneurs but who dont have an MBA degree. The format of the book is same as her last book. There are twenty chapters, one on each entrepreneur (Gaurav Rathore & Saurabh Vyas who co founded PoliticalEDGE are covered in one chapter) and the entire chapter is based on one single interview.

The book is divided in three sections : Jugaad, Junoon & Zubaan. Jugaadis are those who didn’t get any formal training in business but learned by observing, experimenting and applying their mind. It includes some one like Kunwer Sachdev  of Su-Kam who created a Rs 500 crore company from scratch; Ganesh Ram, who started what is today India’s largest English training academy, VETA when there were no BPOs and no one knew that English coaching would be as big a market as it is now.

Junoonis as the name suggests, are passionate about something that is ahead of its time. This was my favorite section in the book. Gaurav Rathore and Saurabh Vyas envisioned a consulting and research firm exclusively for politics and founded PoliticalEDGE; Satyajit Singh, founder of Shakti Sudha not only created a new industry but also benefited thousands of farmers in rural Bihar; Chetan Maini, founder of Reva, designed a solar car and has been producing electric cars since the time when global warming was  not so well known and creating electric cars seemed to make little sense.

The third section Zubaan is about creative people like Paresh Mokashi, creator of Harishchandrachi Factory, India’s official entry to Oscar last year or Krishna Reddy, whose Prince Dance Group, consisting of daily wage laborers won India’s Got Talent last year.

I had great hopes from the book as I loved Stay Hungry Stay Foolish. The first chapter on Prem Ganpathy is literally a rags to riches story of someone who came to Mumbai with no money and now owns Dosa Plaza, a fast food chain with 26 outlets in the country.The rest of the stories too are very encouraging. The book is replete with inspiring anecdotes and quotes . When I read the synopsis on the third section i.e. Zubaan, I thought it would be probably the weak link in this book as stories on creatives who had made it big in the field of art would be a misfit in this book about entrepreneurs. However, all these artists achieved commercial success by following their passion and this justifies their inclusion in this book about Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship after all is about following your heart.

Generally when the first book is good and successful authors fail to recreate the magic in their subsequent books and that too in the same genre, as people have high expectations. In this case Rashmi Bansal definitely exceeded my expectations. A very good book and must read for some one aspires to be an entrepreneur.

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The Great Game and India

The latest version of The Great Game in Afghanistan is at an interesting point. The next 18-24 months are very crucial for the region and for India. US has set a deadline of July 2011 by which its troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan. This has obviously raised concerns about the security situation in the neighborhood. Strategists are postulating several scenarios for post July ’11 period. As far as India is concerned, the worst possibility is that Taliban would become much more stronger and Pakistan would gain a “strategic depth” that it had when Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11. India has good relations with the current regime in Afghanistan. If Taliban gains more influence in future, it would be bad news for India.

To counter Taliban, many believe that India should have a big military presence in Afghanistan as that would give us some leverage. This might sound good but is actually a very bad idea. One must keep in mind that US, whose military budget is greater than India’s national budget, had to finally leave Afghanistan after brokering a deal with Taliban. India does not have the resources to have a strong military presence in Afghanistan. Besides even if we succeed in influencing Afghanistan, terrorists can still continue their operations from Pakistan against India. The “strategic depth” in Afghanistan would always come at a very high price with very less or no reward for both India and Pakistan.

Besides, the roots of terrorism as correctly diagnosed by Obama administration lie in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. After a very long time, US has a favorable regime in Pakistan which is ready to crawl if asked to bend by Uncle Sam. Drone attacks have increased in post Musharraf Pakistan and we would get to see a lot more action within Pakistan against terrorists by US in the near future.  Besides if Indian interests are hurt in Afghanistan beyond a certain threshold, India always has the option of doing what it did after the Parliament attack in 2001. When India mobilized army on Pakistan border, Pakistan had to divert its forces from Afghanistan to its Indian border. This had affected the US campaign against Taliban in Afghanistan. India would always have this option which would be more effective and cheaper than having a strong military presence in Afghanistan.

Lets hope that good sense prevails and India does not end up taking the outsourced job of policing Afghanistan at the cost of our own interests.

Sports and Politics

Sports and Politics are different and both should not be mixed, is the most cited argument in favor of sporting ties with Pakistan. People argue that not playing with Pakistan or Pakistani sportsmen would not serve any purpose as it would not end cross border terrorism. The fact is that Sports since the time of Gladiators has affected politics and shaped public opinion. The two just cannot be separated. Sports, like war is used as a tool to achieve political objectives. Of course it is non violent and not as affective as war.

Last month, a senior official of Iran Football League had to resign. His crime? He accidentally sent an email to Israeli Football federation wishing new year!! Israel and Iran have no sporting ties and the reason is purely political. None of the two countries have ever been on war with each other. And it is not just about the Arab world, where many countries have no sporting ties with Israel; Politics has even affected Sports in other parts of the world.

South Africa was not only banned from Olympics from 1962- 1990 but the UN also maintained a list of people who participated in sporting events in South Africa to put a moral pressure on athletes not to appear in South Africa. The UN and other countries did this so that the country ends it apartheid policies. South Africa could play its first cricket world cup in 1992. Many sportsmen who visited South Africa on private tours were banned by their respective sports federations. In 1976, 28 African nations, boycotted Olympics to protest against tour of South Africa by New Zealand’s Rugby team. The Sports boycott in itself did not put an end to the apartheid in South Africa. But, the boycotts put across the point that it wont be business as usual for South Africa and it would have to mend its ways.

Olympics were not boycotted only in 1976. In 1980 around 45-50 countries boycotted Moscow Olympics including US, Japan, China & West Germany as a protest against Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The boycott triggered a debate in US that it could be percieved as a sentimental rather than a strategic reaction. However, the counter argument prevailed, that the boycott would be an effective symbolic protest because of its dramatic visibility to the citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of whether or not the action provoked a response. In retaliation the Soviet Union along with fourteen countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angles Olympics. Superpowers like US & Soviet Union clearly did not believe that Sports and Politics can be separated just because Sports alone could not achieve any political objective. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did not end after the Olympics boycott and the US had to fight a proxy war for eight years.

On the other hand, the argument that Sports and Politics should not be mixed prevailed during 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Berlin Olympics marked the return of Germany on International stage after World War 1. There was a huge debate in US over boycotting the Olympics to protest anti Semitic policies of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: “The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race.” Brundage opposed a boycott, arguing that politics had no place in sports saying “The Olympic Games belong to the athletes and not to the politicians.” Many Afro Americans favored participating arguing that victory of Blacks would undermine Nazi’s “Aryan Supremacy” theory and foster Black pride in US. Thus there were political reasons as well for not boycotting the games.  The issue was settled by a vote and the Amateur Athletic Union defeated the proposal to boycott the Olympics by two-and-a-half votes. However many Jewish players personally boycotted the games.

Hitler initially held the Olympics in low regard because of their internationalism, but he became an avid supporter after Joseph Goebbels, his Minister of Propaganda, convinced him of their propaganda value. Goebbels stated in 1933, “German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence.” Germany won most medals in that Olympics and won praises from most of visitors for its hospitality and organization. Hitler even had plans to take over the Olympics forever. He said, “In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium”. Many observers believe that boycott by western countries would have bolstered international resistance to Hitler’s expansionist designs.

In the context of India Pakistan relations, Cricket has played an important role many times in the past. In 1987, when the Indian and Pakistani army were in an eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation on the border, General Zia invited himself to watch an India Pakistan match at Jaipur and eased the tension. Before India’s tour to Pakistan in 2004, when ties between the two countries were improving, opponents of the Pakistan tour within the Govt argued that an attack on Indians on Pakistani soil would destroy the sense of well being whereas supporters of tour argued that it would help to ease the tensions. The successful tour by the Indians further created a false sense of normalcy. Prior to the tour, cross border terrorism had reduced in 2004 and Pakistan for the first time had said that it would not allow its territory to be used against  India. This has since proved to be a false promise.

Today the situation is much different from the one in 2004. Despite evidences against 26/11 attacks, Pakistan has not taken any relevant action against terrorist groups acting against India. Yesterday, Pune was attacked barely a week after JuD said that Delhi, Pune & Kanpur were its targets. The current circumstances demand isolating Pakistan on international forums and exerting diplomatic pressure, if not a limited war, to dismantle terrorist infrastructure. The recent unofficial boycott of Pakistani players by IPL has once again demonstrated the importance of cricket diplomacy. Isolating Pakistan in cricket and not just IPL would go a long way in exerting diplomatic pressure on Pakistan.