Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Nero's Guests - P. Sainath


Nearly 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997

What is the agrarian crises? The drive towards corporate farming.
How is operationalized? Predatory commercialization of the countryside.
What does it achieve? The biggest displacement in Indian history.

Public sector has lost 900,000 jobs in the last 10 years. So when we throw people out of agriculture, where is the industry?

In the last 15 years, the fastest growing sector in the country has not been IT services, it is inequality. It has growth fastest since the days of the British Raj.

Lakme India Fashion Week was happening in Mumbai and there were 512 accredited correspondents covering the event. The clothes the women were wearing were made of cotton. One hour's flight away in Vidarbha, the men and women who grew that cotton were taking their own lives at the rate of 6-8/day.

And as always in India: all cuts and austerity in India have their class and caste hierarchy. Bombay has no power cuts; Grade 2 cities have 2 hours of power cuts; and villages have 8 hours of power cuts. Now in the middle of all this for the first time in the history of this country, a geo-exempted mortuaries and post-mortems is in place for 4 districts in Vidarbha because of the number of suicides taking place there. (For a 20 minute power cut in Bombay, you can give 2 powers of electricity to all the troubled districts of Vidarbha.)

Food and Agricultural Organization's "State of World Food Insecurity" report: between 1995-97 and 2000-02 - hunger fell in Ethiopia and grows in this rich country (India). The net per capita availability of food availability fell acutely during the reform years.

In 2002-03, India exported 20 million tons of food grains when our own people were starving. Exports made at Rs. 5.45/unit while we sold it to our poor at Rs. 6.40/unit. They exported it for the cattle in Europe. The European cow is one of the most food secure in the world - $2.7/day spent on it . The dream of the Indian farmer is to be born a European cow.

In 2001 the value of the cotton produced in US was $3.9 Bn and the subsidy was $4.7 Bn, in 2005, for 20,000 growers. Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Benin - live on cotton economy, which have been destroyed. They too are rocked by farmers' suicides. What does the WTO do in this situation? They tells these countries to diversify from cotton because they are "not viable". The one who is not viable is the American and European farmers.

I have covered farmers who committed suicide because they could not pay Rs. 8,000 and could not raise that money at a decent rate of return in 2003. As an urban middle class professional and got a letter from my bank offering me Mercedes-Benz at '6% with no collateral required'. What kind of justice is this in society?

You give 5 bucks to the poor you call it a subsidy. You give 5 million to the rich that is called 'incentive'.

Farmers: "Seeds and fertilizers cost Rs. 100,000 and yield is barely Rs. 25,000."
"I have been farming since 6-7 years. I cannot remember a day when I treated my friends or, bought my children clothes or, my wife a sari or, anything ever."
"Is it a sin to be a farmer. No one cares for us. No one hears our cries."

Who were Nero's Guests? What kind of mindset was required to pop one more fig into your mouth as another human being went up in flames to provide the illumination for their party? These were the elites of Rome. How many of them put their hands up? According, to Tassittus, not one did.

And a final warning from a farmer: "The only way is to attack, kill, and then their eyes will open."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Modi's Clean Chit Fantasy

It is a popular perception among Modi supporters that Modi has been given "clean chits" by the Supreme Court with regards to the action or, inaction in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

I will share four links from separate sources to clarify the point here that many want to wish away thus. clearing the moral decks for a Modi PM-ship.

1 - Summary of the clean chits (LSE)

The Chit Myth: On three occasions – one each in 2011, 2012 and 2013 – the Supreme Court of India has supposedly absolved Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the upcoming elections, of culpability in Gujarat’s communal riots of 2002. But a case against Modi has never been registered in the Supreme Court. So how has the court given him a ‘clean chit’ without being asked to adjudicate the matter? And on what basis does Modi claim a clear conscience with regard to the 2002 violence in Gujarat?

The SIT: The Supreme Court in 2008 appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into nine riot cases, removing them from courts in Gujarat. A year later, the Supreme Court asked the SIT to investigate a criminal complaint against Modi, filed by Zakia Jafri in 2006. Modi’s three so-called ‘clean chits’ from the Supreme Court relate to this case.

Enter Amicus Curiae: When the SIT filed its interim report, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of asking an eminent advocate, Raju Ramchandran, who was already appointed as an Amicus Curiae (friend of the court), to assist in this critical case and visit Gujarat, independently assess the evidence generated and meet with witnesses directly.

First Strike: On 12 September 2011, after reviewing Ramchandran’s final report of July 2011, the Supreme Court ordered the SIT to further investigate in the light of the Amicus Curiae’s contrary findings and thereafter file a final report in front of a Magistrate. The fact that the Supreme Court was not going to monitor investigations any more led Modi to claim his first clean chit even though the SIT’s final report had yet to be filed at this stage. So there was clearly no question of a clean chit from anyone at this stage.

Second Strike and a Life: The conclusions drawn by the SIT in its final closure report filed on 8 February 2012 were not only different from those drawn by Ramachandran, but also from its own interim reports. In its watered down final report, the SIT concluded that there was not enough prosecutable evidence to bring charges against Modi. This led Modi and his supporters to make a new claim of having received a ‘clean chit’ by the SIT, a Supreme Court-appointed investigative body. True, but Ramachandran, who is also a court-appointed investigator, disagreed with the SIT’s conclusion.

2 - Proceed Against Modi - Amicus Curiae (The Hindu)

The Conclusion: The Supreme Court's amicus curiae in the Zakia Jafri case concluded that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi can be proceeded against for various offences during the 2002 riots, including promoting enmity among different groups.

The Sanjeev Bhatt Dichotomy: In his report, Mr. Ramachandran strongly disagreed with a key conclusion of the R.K. Raghavan-led SIT: that IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was not present at a late-night meeting of top Gujarat cops held at the Chief Minister's residence in the wake of the February 27, 2002 Godhra carnage.

It has been Mr. Bhatt's claim — made in an affidavit before the apex court and in statements to the SIT and the amicus — that he was present at the meeting where Mr. Modi allegedly said Hindus must be allowed to carry out retaliatory violence against Muslims.

Mr. Ramachandran said there was no clinching material available in the pre-trial stage to disbelieve Mr. Bhatt, whose claim could be tested only in court. “Hence, it cannot be said, at this stage, that Shri Bhatt should be disbelieved and no further proceedings should be taken against Shri Modi.”

In his final report, the amicus, however, said: “The stage for believing or disbelieving a witness arises after trial i.e. once the entire evidence is placed before the court for its consideration. It would not be correct to conclude, at this stage, that Shri Bhatt should be completely disbelieved unless there is clinching material available to the contrary…”

Further, “the question whether Shri Bhatt was present at the meeting ... and whether Mr. Modi had indeed made such a statement, can only be decided by a court of law ...” 

3 - Amicus Curiae in Detail (Tehelka)

The Legal Case: Amicus Curiae has recommended criminal prosecution against Modi under Sections 153A, 153B, 166 and 505 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which call for imprisonment of 1-3 years. Importantly, the former Additional Solicitor General and senior Supreme Court lawyer has made these recommendations based on the SIT’s own findings.

If followed, Ramachandran’s recommendations would have had an unprecedented impact on the Indian criminal justice system, which often sees the powerful being let off either because of sloppy probes or dilatory legal proceedings. He first defined the relevant sections applicable to Modi, laid down their legal scope and then cited several SC case laws before emphatically concluding that Modi should be sent to trial. His report demonstrates that the impediment in the course of justice is neither lack of evidence nor lack of law. If anything, the problem lies with a disturbingly selective application of law.

The Gulberg Massacre: Ramachandran has underlined the fact that the SIT itself had discovered that the two senior officers in question — PB Gondia and MK Tandon — had malevolently abandoned Meghani Nagar where Gulberg Society was situated and instead got bogus FIRs of communal violence registered in other areas that were free of any kind of trouble. It was done to justify their absence from Gulberg Society.

The SIT found in its probe that Tandon, who was the JCP, Sector 2, Ahmedabad, deliberately didn’t respond to distress calls from Gulberg Society, Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya, where some of the most gruesome massacres were underway. Instead, he got bogus cases registered in other parts of Ahmedabad to justify his presence and that of his police force in those areas, rather than Gulberg and Naroda. The SIT also found that Tandon and Gondia were in telephonic contact with Jaideep Patel and Mayaben Kodnani, the architects of massacres at Naroda Gaon and Naroda Patiya.

4 - How the SIT Worked (Outlook)

Book extracts from "The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi & Godhra" by Manoj Mitta

The Summons: When Narendra Modi visited the office of the SIT (Special Investigation Team) in Gandhinagar on March 27, 2010, it was exactly 11 months after the Supreme Court had directed it to “look into” a criminal complaint. Modi’s visit in response to an SIT summons was a milestone in accountability—at least in potential. It was the first time any chief minister was being questioned by an investigating agency for his alleged complicity in communal violence. The summons were on the complaint by Zakia Jafri, the widow of former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, who had been killed in the first of the post-Godhra massacres in 2002.

The SIT's Conclusion: This long-drawn-out but unusual exercise culminated on February 8, 2012 in a “final report” to a magisterial court in Ahmedabad exonerating Modi and the rest of the accused persons of any of the criminal culpability alleged by Jafri’s complaint.

The CrPC Non-Question: Such a conclusion was predestined, if not predetermined, for a variety of reasons. Not least of those reasons was the manner in which the SIT’s closure report relied implicitly on Modi’s testimony. This was despite the fact that Modi’s statement had been perfunctorily recorded outside the framework of the CrPC. The only time he appeared before the SIT was when Jafri’s complaint was still in the phase of preliminary enq­uiry. His statement could therefore not be recorded under Section 161 CrPC, the provision normally invoked to question any person “supposed to be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case”. Had he been summoned during the “further investigation” too, Modi would have been leg­ally obliged to speak the truth under Section 161 CrPC. The provision stipulates that the person questioned “shall be bound to answer truly all questions”, subject to the universally recognised right against self-incrimination. That Modi was not put under such a legal obligation “to answer truly all questions” was a curious omission. The SIT ref­rained from summoning Modi even as it recorded fresh statements under Section 161 of several other persons named as accused in Jafri’s complaint. This led to the anomaly of the SIT’s final report to the magistrate relying on the testimony given by Modi during the preliminary enquiry, which was outside the scheme of the CrPC.

The Interrogation: The length of the interrogation was, however, out of proportion to its intensity. Although as many as 71 questions were addressed to him, the transcript, bearing Modi’s signature on every page, shows that Malhotra studiously refrained from challenging any of his replies, however controversial. At no point did Malhotra make the slightest effort to pin Modi down on any gaps and contradictions in his testimony. Although the questions, culled from Jafri’s complaint, were extensive, the SIT refrained from asking a single follow-up question. It seemed as if Malhotra’s brief was more to place Modi’s defence on record rather than to ferret out any inconsistency or admission of wrongdoing.

The Gulberg Society Redux: In his testimony, Modi made out that he had no clue to any of the violence at Gulberg Society, including Ehsan Jafri’s murder, till he was told about it five hours later by the police. This is how the testimony was actually recorded:

Malhotra: Did you receive any information about an attack by a mob on Gulberg Society? If so, when and through whom? What action did you take in the matter?
Modi: To the best of my knowledge, I was informed in the law and order review meeting held in the night about the attack on Gulberg Society in Meghaninagar area and Naroda Patiya.
What was listed as Question No. 31 in Modi’s testimony actually had three parts to it. The first was whether Modi had received any information about the mob attack on Gulberg Society. Modi’s answer was yes. The second part was when and through whom had he received the information. Predictably, Modi indicated that he had been informed about the massacre by the police. The surprise, however, lay in the time he claimed to have been “informed” about the massacre. Modi said that it was at the law and order meeting “held in the night”. In a different context, while enumerating all the measures Modi had taken on February 28, the SIT’s 2012 report disclosed on page 256 that this law and order meeting had taken place in Gandhinagar at 8.30 pm. So, linking the two discrete pieces of information recorded by the SIT, my book for the first time establishes the precise time at which Modi claims to have been informed about the Gulberg Society massacre. It was 8.30 pm, a claim that strains credulity given the magnitude of the massacre which, according to the SIT’s own findings, was exe­cuted right in Ahmedabad by 3.45 pm. By then, Gulberg Society had been, as the SIT report put it on page 494, “set ablaze and lot of lives including that of Late Ehsan Jafri had been lost”.

Modi’s claim to have learnt about the massacre only at the 8.30 pm meeting threw up a glaring and unexplained time lag. But the SIT neither contested his claim during the interrogation nor discussed the implications of his claim in its report. It tacitly accepted Modi’s claim that he had no real-time information on the prolonged Gulberg Society siege and massacre, stretching over eight hours. And even after Joint Commissioner M.K. Tandon was said to have intervened in the Gulberg Society massacre around 4 pm, Modi remained out of the loop for nearly five hours, till the news was apparently broken to him at the 8.30 pm meeting. As a corollary, insofar as the SIT was concerned, the third part of its Question No. 31, asking what action Modi had taken in the matter, was rendered inconsequential. Since he somehow remained in the dark during all those crucial hours when he could have made a difference, there was no question of holding Modi to account for the Gulberg Society massacre, or so went the SIT’s line of reasoning.

Strong Governance: In the sequence of events reconstructed by the SIT, one such meeting was held by Modi in Gandhinagar at 1 pm on February 28, when things were coming to a boil in Gulberg Society. Joint Commissioner Tandon had already made a brief visit to Gulberg Society around 11.30 am, when he ordered the “striking force” accompanying him to burst teargas shells to disperse “a mob of around 1,000 Hindu rioters”. Further, at 12.20 pm, the police control room received a message from the Meghaninagar police station asking for reinforcements as the mob, which had regrouped at Gulberg Society and grown to 10,000-strong, was indulging in stone-pelting and arson.

How could none of these details about the escalating crisis in Gulberg Society have been brought to Modi’s notice in the law and order review meeting he had at 1 pm? Modi’s claim to have been unaware of the Naroda Patiya violence as well, at the end of that meeting, is even more puzzling. This is because by then, at 12.30 pm, the police had, for the first time in the context of the post-Godhra massacres, imposed a curfew in the jurisdiction of the Naroda police station. Even if it proved to be ineffective, the very imposition of the curfew signified that the administration had taken cognizance of the gravity of the situation.

The Moral: The moral of the story is clear. When the right questions are not put, there will be neither the right evidence nor the right conclusions.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

The 7 Myths of UPA's "Economic Disaster"

Economics faculty, Maitreesh Ghatak, Parikshit Ghosh, and Ashok Kotwal, respectively from London School of Economics, Delhi School of Economics and University of British Columbia, have published a paper titled, "Growth in the time of UPA: Myths and Reality". I would those who visit this post to go over the complete paper and get a better grasp of the various (coherent) arguments.

I have tried to glean #7 insights from this academic paper in order to explode some myths on UPA I and II's economic mismanagement and on the new magic mis-mantra of mis-"governance". The caveat here is that there was widespread corruption and lack of transparency, especially in the UPA II regime, which is inexcusable. (There was also slow progress on Human Development perspective but, we will not concentrate on that here.) But, this passage should put things in some perspective.

"Corruption will surely slow down growth, but growth also tends to create corruption by generating new wealth, the claims on which are not properly established. It is, therefore, both a worry and a positive symptom, but the latter aspect gets lost in the excessively moralistic framework within which the problem is often discussed. There are very few thieves in Antarctica, but primarily because there is nothing to steal."

Some shortcomings and actual "disasters" will be documented too as 'Failing Scores' (my pov) but, right wing commentators and blind Modi groupies should tone the rhetoric a bit with a dose of good old data, as we will see below.

Myth #1: India grew faster during NDA regime

*Real GDP grew at nearly 6% per year under NDA, which has increased to 7.6% during UPA’s rule. Growth jumped above 8% in UPA’s first term and has come down to an average of 7% in the second, but is still comfortably above the NDA benchmark.

*In the NDA period, India’s growth lead over the world was 2.5 percentage points, which increased to about 3.5 percentage points under UPA. Even relative to the rest of the world, growth has clearly accelerated.

Myth #2: UPA has put India's Public Finances & Investments in the toilet

*It is true that the volume of subsidies has gone up under UPA, from 1.6% of GDP in the last year of NDA to 2.6% in 2012-13. Under NDA, the debt grew from 50% of GDP to 61%. Since UPA took over, it has come down to 48%.

*It is quite evident from the data that a structural shift happened in the Indian economy around 2004-05 towards greater savings, investment and growth, in both the public and private sector. Whether this shift has anything to do with government policies is certainly a debatable issue but it is difficult to argue in the face of these facts that the UPA government actively suppressed productivity and income growth.

*It is remarkable that UPA has so meekly surrendered to the charge of fiscal indiscipline when the record is so completely in its favour.

Failing Score:

The UPA period is characterized by consistently higher and rising inflation rates compared to the previous régime. When it comes to the inflation question, the incumbent government will find it difficult to get off the hook.

Myth #3: UPA has destroyed the economy with its Welfare Schemes

*There is direct evidence that UPA’s signature welfare schemes have not seriously damaged productive capacity in the economy, at least relative to earlier levels or trends. Government consumption as a fraction of GDP has remained nearly flat through the NDA and UPA years.

Myth #4: UPA did not invest/encourage Infrastructure Development

*Panagariya claims “progress in infrastructure, which had acquired great momentum under NDA slowed down (under UPA).” There is no evidence to support this claim. Indeed, data shows the opposite is true.

*Infrastructural investment even as a fraction of GDP (let alone absolute value) has been substantially higher during the UPA régime, hovering in the range of 7-8% in recent years as opposed to the 5% or so that was invested annually by NDA.

*From US $2.8 billion per year on average during the NDA years, annual FDI inflow ballooned to an average of $ 26.2 billion during UPA’s second term, nearly a tenfold increase. The positive effects of infrastructure funding, achieved to a great extent by mobilising private and foreign capital, are visible in many areas.

Failing Score:

Since 2003, rents earned from extraction activities as a percentage of GDP have nearly doubled. The overwhelming impression in India is that unclear pricing and allocation rules, as well as lax property rights, have created a scramble for these lucrative rents using political connections as leverage. The Economist (March 15, 2014) quotes a recent poll where 92% of respondents thought corruption has gone up in the last five years. In the magazine’s own estimate, $80 billion has been earned through rent seeking in the last decade.

Myth #5: Exports have stagnated under UPA

*Exports have grown from below 15% of GDP in the NDA years to nearly 25% in 2012-13. Imports have more than doubled relative to GDP – starting from 17% in the last year of NDA rule, it now touches 35%.

*Average import duty on goods and services have steadily gone down since the onset of liberalisation and is now in the single digits. The only mild upswing in this declining trend is seen in the early years of the NDA government.

Failing Score:

In just four months, between May 2013 and August, 2013, the rupee fell 20% to the US dollar. From the time UPA took over, the rupee has lost nearly 30% of its value in nominal terms. However, it currently stands 11% below its value in 2004-05 in real terms.

Myth #6: UPA spent a lot of money on Human Development

*Public spending on health has been flat at around 1% of GDP under both governments. Perhaps surprisingly, there was a significant increase in public spending on education in the initial years of NDA, from under 3% to well above 4%, around the time when the Vajpayee government launched the Sarva Shiksha Aviyan [sic].

Failing Score:

On the whole, there is little to choose between the NDA and UPA administrations. Neither government made public health or education a top priority.

Myth #7: UPA report card is a disaster

A period witnessing remarkable gains for the privileged and some for even the not-so-privileged has been confidently declared a disaster zone. The obvious leadership gap has played a role here, but nonetheless, this manufactured reality will no doubt marvel future historians when they look at the actual records.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ravish Ki Report: Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Ravish Kumar of NDTV did a 40 minute on the ground report from Ahmedabad in January.

YouTube link 

I tried to transcribe some of the highlights. This is not an indictment of any particular person or, government but, as Ravish puts it, a (depressing) state of affairs across India. All that glitters is not really world class.

[Somewhere in Ahmedabad]
0:20 - Ravish: "Road is broken recently?"
Citizen: "No, been in this state for 2 years."
Ravish: "To mein Gujarat mein nahi hoon?"
Ctizen: "No, no, you are in Gujarat."

2:55 - Citizen: "Rajkot, Surat, Ahmedabad - only the main cities have development"
Ravish: "Seems like I am in Delhi's Sangam Vihar."

[Murlidhar Society]
4:25 - Ravish: "People confirmed that they have water and electricity."
Ravish: "Water comes 24 hours?"
Citizen: "No, only for 2 hours." 

[Batwa Gujrati Vidyalaya Shakha No. 12]
6:20 - Ravish: "There is only one tap in this (other) water tank for kids to drink, the others are present for statistics. At least cleaning is going on so we know the system is 'working'. Whichever city I go to, the state of government school is like this."

6:40 - Ravish: "A kid studying in a school in Delhi and coming in his BMW try and drink here  or, his mother/father stand here. What they do is sit in a TV studio and form an opinion that the country is not 'shining'. But, when poor people drink water in this state they do not form an opinion.

7:50 - Ravish to a small girl cleaning the classroom: "What are you doing? Picking up garbage?"
Ravish: "Only when the classroom is clean will Goddess Saraswati give the certificate of literacy."

[Chandulia Prathmik Pathshala]
9:10 - Ravish: "Three girls were cleaning ('pocha') a big classroom. I am not an aggressive reporter to ask, 'why is this happening'. I am reporting what is in front of me, and why is it happening - understand its reasons as well."
10:00 - Teacher: "We also do not like this (cleaning by kids) but, we need sweepers, which we do not have."

17:05 - Ravish: "It is not that Ahmedabad is not nice... but, need to find areas where the bright lights do not reach... I have come to an area like this."

17:30 - Ravish: "Cities are of many types: there are ones near legislatures/secretariats, have their own malls, where every facility makes you feel you are in a world class place. I have come to this lake for rainwater harvesting. This is the same state as in any other where crores have been spent."
Ravish: "How old is this?"
Citizen: "4 years."
Ravish: "Have you ever seen water in this?"
Citizen: "No. Whatever rainwater used to come, even that has disappeared. Used to be filled 
till waist height."

23:30 - Ravish: "Is this a government colony?"
Citizen: "Yes."
Ravish: "Gujarat has developed so much, how come your colony is not?"
Citizen (laughing): "Yes."
Ravish: "It is OK, you are like a general class train coach! General coach of a superfast train."
Citizen: "It has been 27 years but, the internal roads were never made."
Ravish: "I feel this is the only area in Viveknagar that is not developed."
Citizen: "No, all of Viveknagar is like that. 3000-3500 homes are here."
Ravish: "Where do people work?"
Citizen: "All work in factories no one in government jobs here."
Ravish: "What do you think about development in Gujarat that you see on TV."
Citizen: "It is there somewhat: 60% left to go."

[Dandi Pull Basti besides Sabarmati Ashram]
32:00 - Ravish: "There is no latrine as there is no sewage line."
Citizen: "People come for votes but, they do not come back and do not do anything after the elections. Even the center's scheme is flawed as there is no space here to match their specifications. If now the new riverfront comes then we cannot go there, where will we go then?"

Ravish: "This was the outlet that led the sewage out into the river but, the government has blocked it so that the riverfront resembles the one on Thames. However, no alternative arrangement has been made."

39:00 - Ravish: "Let us assess the center's schemes. Many latrines have been made without drainage outlet. This has been done so the center government, through Vidya Balan can tell everyone that latrines have been made."

Ravish: "When Champaran was happening (almost 100 years ago) Gandhiji was called to fight that fight for the people. I do not know what I can do for you besides showing this report."

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Halo Effect: A Tripartite Analysis in Current Indian Politics

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner in Economics has written wonderful (and readable) book on psychology - Thinking, Fast and Slow that represents his "current understanding of judgment and decision making."


From the Chapter titled: A Machine for Jumping to Conclusions, the following passage:

Exaggerated Emotional Coherence (Halo Effect)
If you like the president's politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person - including the things that you have not observed - is known as the halo effect. The term has been in use in psychology for a century, but it has not come into use in everyday language. This is a pity, because the halo effect is a good name for a common bias that plays a large role in shaping our view of people and situations. It is one of the ways the representation of the world that System 1 [operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control] generates is simpler and more coherent than the real thing.

This is a good enough introduction for now, which got me thinking on arguably the three biggest personalities in the current run up to 2014's general elections: Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, and Arvind Kejriwal. (While writing this I unwittingly put Modi's name down first even though I like him and his politics the least - maybe, it is the halo effect or, months of priming).

I am attempting to do an 'armchair analysis' of how swayed is an average supporter of each of these politicians by the above halo effect. Views and (confirmation) biases are of course, strictly my own.

Modi: In this case, the halo effect is the clearest. From citizens in India who have never been to Gujarat to NRIs who have never been to India, there is a wide spectrum of supporters. Development figures that have been mostly made up for the state of Gujarat are flaunted with impunity as the absolute truth while inconvenient numbers like, those on the human development ones fall by the wayside. Those who decry corruption and crony capitalism turn a blind eye to suspect dealings. Even if one ignores the appalling state of affairs with reference to 2002 riots and the subsequent actions including, encounter killings that have ensnared both Modi's ministers and top cops, there is very little data to support the great governance that Modi and his supporters tout.

So the big question is: do supporters like Modi's brand of politics (communalist, Hindutva/Sangh Parivar based) and consequently use that as an excuse to blindly believe the other lies and half truths or, do they like his style of governance, whatever that equates to, and are willing to turn a blind eye?

If you reference the above book passage it is clearly the former: an average supporter likes Modi for what he has done in 2002 and subsequently covers that narrative with stories of governance and development, irrespective of how weak or, untrue they are. 

Disclaimer: a lot of folks would claim and probably hold the other end of the argument i.e. governance (eg. good roads) trumps human rights, and they might be correct in their arguments and psychology but, here we are analyzing an average supporter.

Edit 3/13: This article points to the moral fallacy of the above disclaimer: growth trumping humanity.

That is why widely exaggerated claims of Gujarat's development and number of Modi's Social Media supporters are taken at face value because it follows a convenient narrative chain. That is why the cognitive dissonance of governance does not surface for such a supporter - how a 'strong leader' who is super-awesome in governance could not control riots in his own state and perpetrated by his own minister(s) that killed and displaced thousands? Either that person is bad in governance or, the word has selective meaning where human life of a certain kind (sic) is not valued.

Some commentators have already made more well-formed arguments on why people love Modi - the above is just a minor attempt to understand the possible psychology behind it.


Exaggerated Emotional Coherence (Halo Effect)
You meet a woman named Joan at a party and find her personable and easy to talk to. Now her name comes up as someone who could be asked to contribute to a charity. What do you know about Joan's generosity? The correct answer is that you know virtually nothing, because there is little reason to believe that people who are agreeable in social situations are also generous contributors to charities. But you like Joan and you will retrieve the feeling of liking her when you think of her. You also like generosity and generous people. By association, you are now predisposed to believe that Joan is generous. And now that you believe she is generous, you probably like Joan even better that you did earlier, because you have added generosity to her pleasant attributes.

Real evidence of generosity is missing in the story of Joan, and the gap is filled by a guess that fits one's emotional response to her. In other situations, evidence accumulates gradually and the interpretation is shaped by the emotion attached to the first impression.

Gandhi: Chances are that your first reaction on reading this surname was to think of either Rahul or, Sonia. Chances are lesser that you thought of Indira - unless of course, you lived through the Emergency years under her and/or consider her as the last mass leader. I will go out on a limb here and say you thought the least of 'the' Gandhi i.e. Father of our Nation.

In Rahul Gandhi's case the above example of Joan, cuts both ways. 

Those nominally and violently (social media types) against the 'Gandhi Family' will find associative data points on Rahul Gandhi's lack of interviewing skills, actions related to the ordinance for convicted politicians, equating Dalit empowerment with escape velocity, or even 'doing things' as this tumblr post suggests. Just like the fictional Joan above, all these negative associations lead opponents to the conclusion that Rahul Gandhi is unfit for public office, let alone for the highest one. As this post points out, some of this bashing is unfair in sharp contrast to what the 'haloed-one' i.e. Modi, spouts, which some commentators and majority of supporters consider as gold.

It should however be pointed out that Rahul Gandhi has not held a public office for us to sit on judgment on his performance or, as claimed vociferously to the point of hoarseness, non-performance. He has of course, been in charge of elections in UP and elsewhere with disastrous consequences that he has owned up but, surprisingly this lack of political achievement is not part of the popular failure narrative of Rahul Gandhi.

So, as Rahul Gandhi and Congress Party keeps committing errors and faux pas, these negative 'evidence' accumulates gradually in the minds of naysayers so that the final conclusion becomes that he and hence, the party itself is not fit for governance post 2014 elections.

But, if things are so black & white then why doesn't the Congress Party take corrective action? This is the halo effect that is blinding many of the party insiders and their increasingly outlandish bet is: so will the majority of voters in the country.

It is no secret that for a party that has governed India for most of its independent history, the current state has very few leaders of note and instead has its fair share of psychophants whose rise and power can solely be attributed to their closeness and loyalty to the family. As the noted historian, Ramchandra Guha notes here, "It was Mrs. Indira Gandhi who converted the Indian National Congress into a family business. She first brought in her son Sanjay and, after his death, his brother Rajiv." Therefore, from a party of tall, independent-minded leaders the Congress Party of today has mostly turned into one of 'yes-men' and power brokers.

Hence, in the eyes of these party and government functionaries the Gandhi name is paramount to their own survival and in fact, of the party itself. Hence, this 'halo effect' coupled with personal gratification keeps them in public awe of the 'leadership of Rahul ji'. Similarly, the effect that Indira Gandhi, and to a limited extent, Rajiv Gandhi had on the masses - the die hard, rural supporters link the Gandhi name to the Congress Party (naming a bunch of schemes on the famous surname have helped) and vice versa. Therefore, a party without a Gandhi patriarch/matriarch is a runt of the original. 

So whatever little chance Congress Party has of saving face in the general elections they feel they have to hitch their star with Rahul Gandhi or, if a miracle happens, with his sister- with the same famous halo in the surname and with much lesser negative association (except ironically, with a now infamous married surname).


Exaggerated Emotional Coherence (Halo Effect)
Real evidence of generosity is missing in the story of Joan, and the gap is filled by a guess that fits one's emotional response to her. In other situations, evidence accumulates gradually and the interpretation is shaped by the emotion attached to the first impression. In an enduring classic of psychology, Solomon Asch presented description of two people and asked for comments on their personality. What do you think of Alan and Ben*:

Alan: honest-intelligent-administrator-impulsive-stubborn-anarchist
Ben: anarchist-stubborn-impulsive-administrator-intelligent-honest

If you are like most of us, you viewed Alan much more favorably than Ben. The initial traits in the list change the very meaning of the traits that appear later. The stubbornness of intelligent person is seen as likely to be justified and may actually evoke respect, but intelligence in an anarchist and stubborn person makes him more dangerous. The halo effect is also an example of suppressed ambiguity: like the word bank, the adjective stubborn is ambiguous and will be interpreted in way that makes it coherent with the context.

The sequence in which we observe characteristics of a person is often determined by chance. Seequence matters, however, because the halo effect increases the weight of first impressions, sometimes to the point that subsequent information is mostly wasted.

*I changed the adjectives to better fit the following subject

Kejriwal: Consider this situation. An eloquent and educated man in his early 40s is demonstrating to days on end at a public space demanding elected representatives to cede to his demand for public toilets because he thinks that is the right approach to the problem of urination in public places. Even on repeated assurances this person is being stubborn in insisting on his design of public toilets to be the only right one. When confronted, the person exhorts his few supporters of public toilets to civil disobedience. This is against the legitimate right of the people of the country who have elected their own representatives to choose the right design of public toilets on their behalf.

What if I then told you that this person is actually an intelligent person with an IIT degree and an ex-senior IAS officer? Having been fed up with the above shenanigans, will the weight of this person's past achievements give him public leeway to move forward with borderline anarchist activities? I would guess 'no'.

When Arvind Kejriwal captured the popular mindspace or, rather media space, with his India Against Corruption movement in 2011, few characteristics of his persona were known to the public.

However, what was known that he was an engineer [adjective: smart], an IITian [adjective: very smart] no less, an IAS officer [adjective: super smart, hard working], social worker [adjective: dedicated], Magsaysay award winner [adjective: good social work], one of the key campaigners for the 'Right to Information Act' [adjective: honest, public servant], and associated with a noted social worker, Anna Hazare [adjective: credible].

All the above adjectives, to a majority of casual observers, pointed to an honest, intelligent man who is dedicated to public service and rooting out corruption.

The stars were perfectly aligned to the rise of Arvind Kejriwal: a public fed up with instances of misgovernance by the ruling alliance, which synthesized into a single point agenda of corruption, finding a champion in an "honest, intelligent man who is dedicated to public service and rooting out corruption."

To an ardent supporter of the subsequent party of Arvind Kejriwal's, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the first impressions are all that matters in their version of the halo effect. In fact, one can argue that the subsequent 49-day Delhi state government of Arvind Kejriwal's has still yielded fewer data points for most to form an informed judgment on the person and the party. This rhetoric-based approach suits AAP just fine as the lasting memories they want people to hold in their respective 'Systems 1' is - of an upright man and movement that is being thwarted by the current political system, which only they can change.

Now, Arvind Kejriwal can safely claim he is an anarchist because the first impressions, leading to his popular haloed persona in certain circles (BJP supporters excepted) are firmly in place.

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ambedkar's Three Warnings About The Future Of India

Adapted from Ramchandra Guha's - "India After Gandhi"

Longer essay by Guha here.

On 25th November, 1949, the day before the Constituent Assembly wound up its proceedings, the chairman of the Drafting Committee, B.R. Ambedkar made a speech summing up their work.

He ended his speech with three warnings about the future.

1. We must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation, and satyagraha (popular protest). Under an autocratic regime, there might be some justification for them, but not now, when constitutional methods of redress were available. Satyagraha and the like, were nothing but the grammar of anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.

2. Unthinking submission to charismatic authority. To quote John Stuart Mill, who cautioned citizens not "to lay their liberties at the feet of a great man or, to trust him with powers, which enable him to subvert their institutions."

3. Not be content with 'mere political democracy' but, work towards ridding the country of inequality and hierarchy.
"Country was going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril."


All three are (unfortunately) as topical today as they were over 60 years ago. 

From the jan-andolan (people's protest) the erstwhile India Against Corruption initiative, led by Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and others, which was symptomatic of the first warning. Holding an elected government to account through not the electorate but a public demonstration confined to a particular geography and hence, representing a narrow strata and class of society.

The second is all around a lauh-purush (iron man) and 'decisive leader' narrative around Narendra Modi, whose social & economic track record at best, can be described as patchy. But unfortunately, these records have not been critically examined by a wider range of the electorate who have cornered themselves into a Hobson's choice.

Finally, the last warning is for the electorate themselves and related to both of the prior warnings. When our own narrow interests and topics for outrage do not converge with the larger society, there is bound to be an eventual conflict for the soul of the nation. The extreme left-wing driven Maoist conflict affecting 40% of the country (by land area) is but an outcome of this (continuing) social and economic inequality that finds little mindspace in the case of other otherwise self-proclaimed conscientious citizens mentioned above.

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Man's World Magazine Predicts Narendra Modi's Rise in 2002

Link to Article - Courtesy, @daftari

Some surreal stuff here - selected passages with my comments inline.

On RSS - the puppet master, and Modi's symbiosis
And although as chief minister he may not speak against the jurisdiction of courts in the Ayodhya matter, that is the position he holds—it is a matter of faith and the faith of the majority must prevail. “Hindoosthan mein rehna hai to Vande Mataram kehna hoga” is to Modi the essential principle of accepted socio-political behaviour. In fact, so well and deeply dyed in khaki is he that whenever one needed to get a sense of what might be happening in the often off-limits bull pen of the RSS, Modi was the man to go to—if there was one man among the general secretaries of the BJP who knew the workings of the RSS mind, it was Modi. Not always because he had information but because he had the instinct; he thought like one of them, he was, and is, one of them. And he wouldn’t move a millimeter to pretend he isn’t. 

On the now infamous BJP's Goa conclave - how the BJP caved in and determined its (as yet, unfulfilled) destiny
To believe that Modi is averse to chief ministership is to also believe that he had arrived at the Goa summit of the BJP in midsummer, scarred by his short fling with governance and ready to give up and return to the backroom. Quite on the contrary, he came to Goa determined to hold on in the face of mounting demands—even from sections within the party—that he be sacked. He had come not to submit but to dare. The mayhem of Gujarat had not been a consequence of his inexperience and inefficiency, it had happened at his bidding. It was not a lapse, it was a deliberate design. And now the gauntlet was before the party. It either committed itself to Modi and his politics or risked losing not only Gujarat but also earning the wrath of its hardline bosses in the Parivar for whom Modi had already become the latest pin-up.

On AB Vajpayee - the 'liberal poster' of the Sangh for who he truly was
Modi came to Goa riding a tide and he swept the party with it. Proof? Prime Minister Vajpayee, the Liberal, rounded off the Goa convention with a speech that might have rankled in his own ears later. Wherever Muslims go, he said, they create trouble, they have become a problem the world over and Gujarat was no exception. The menace in Gujarat was not Modi and his mobs, the menace was “Muslim terrorism”.

On the use of 'net' - if you were being compared with Chandrababu Naidu then you must be doing something really right. Also note, the lack of absence of the term "social media"
One does not know if Modi has funded this website, but there is no doubt that he has used the net far more effectively at promoting himself than any other chief minister in the country, Chandra babu Naidu included. 

On the obsession with Patel and ahem his 'youth' - Statue of "Unity" and a certain Saheb's snoopgate
Besides his love for poetry, Modi also seems quite enamoured about the fact that he, at age 52, is very young. On the official government site he is referred to as a ‘young political leader’, while describes him as a ‘Young Indian Statesman’. Modi’s other obsession of course is Sardar Patel. in fact has a section called ‘Know Your Sardar’ where a picture of Modi morphs into Sardar Patel at the click of the mouse.

On websites devoted to him,which no doubt have his blessings, Modi at age 52 loves being described as ‘The Young Indian Statesman’, a ‘Poet- writer’ and most importantly as ‘Sardar’ after Sardar Vallabhbai Patel.

On the the love of the netizens for the Dear Leader - awesome prescience from the author in the last line
And finally Vikramidtya Daga provides the ultimate encouragement, “You have done a great service to the Gujarathi Hindu community. My humble request is if you could also do this to the entire Hindu community by trying to become PM. I am currently not voting for BJP in my state, but if you stand for PM I will vote for BJP.” Lal Krishna Advani better watch out.