Where Captain Gopinath and his ilk did err?

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Early January saw aviation entrepreneur Captain Gopinath and danseuse Mallika Sarabhai, who recently joined AAP after its resounding victory in the Delhi Assembly election, getting a tongue-lashing on live TV from party leaders for questioning certain policy matters and personal leanings of a prominent member. They had just joined the party and might not have expected such a welcome. They are not the lone celebrities flocking to the new kid on the block. People of extraordinary calibre ranging from Malayali writer Sara Joseph to anti-Sikh riots lawyer H S Phoolka to singer Remo Fernandes had also queued up to join the party, which is yet to spell its position on a variety of issues.

The party, which has been propelled to power in the capital on anti-corruption plank and antipathy to the existing political system, believes that the 20th century binaries of ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ do not make sense. One may expect a party to spell out its broad idea of politics and specifics on a range of matters concerning public life. But if it doesn’t, the options before you include not joining the bandwagon, engage in a debate or just look for another alternative.

Given the middle-class’ animosity to an ideology-driven process and difficulty in building a party structure across the country, the AAP think-tank could have strategised not to have a clear-cut policy direction but harp on corruption in general terms. In the immediate future, this may help them harvest the current euphoria and keep the surging support base in tact at least till the upcoming elections.

After the Delhi Assembly results on December 8, there was tremendous response among people to join AAP, which could be an eye-opener for the mainstream parties. People troubled with the system queued up at AAP offices. Such was the resentment that nobody gave it a thought what line the party would take on issues close to their heart in the future.

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(Captain Gopinath)

For a fed up layman who is getting an easy entry into a party with which he can identify himself, the move without further thinking is understandable. However, the election victory has attracted not only layman but also professionals of repute and celebrities. The first problem with the entry of celebrities into AAP is the timing of their entry. It smacks of opportunism as they wait to see whether AAP is able to pull it off and then put their money on it. That could be a pragmatic step. But for one entering politics by taking a high moral stand, the fall starts here.

Gopinath was among the first lot to join AAP after its Delhi victory. It appears that he was also the first to be hit by an ideology-less AAP. His pro-FDI stand was directly in conflict with the decision to scrap the decision to allow foreign multi-brand retailers in the capital. If a quote on news channel’s website is to be believed, journalist-turned AAP leader Ashutosh has asked Gopinath whether he had read the party’s manifesto. That query to a person of eminence during a TV debate may be rude but one cannot blame Ashutosh. What Gopinath might have forgotten in the euphoria was to ask himself about the stand the party would take on a variety of issues. His statement during joining the party in the first week of January also suggests that the anti-corruption plank moved him and his was just a romantic tryst with a movement.

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(Mallika Sarabhai)

Take the case of Sarabhai, who found another prominent AAP leader Kumar Vishwas’ comments on Narendra Modi, women and minority objectionable. Vishwas retorted that she is among those people who are joining the AAP and he does not need to react over their views about him. It is not known whether Sarabhai had sought to know the party’s line on minority or women or any other issue. She might not have given a thought about AAP’s stand when issues like that of vigilantism by party members as seen in the past few days in Delhi.

Same could be the case of common man. The existing parties have failed to inspire them in the recent decades to get involved in politics. It consistently put barriers for common man to be part of a democratic political process. The common man was a harassed lot and not given their due. At the same time while deriding politicians, the same common man also encouraged nepotism if it suited them.

The common man is finding AAP an approachable political party. But how far it will remain desirable for them? Once it clears its line on issues that bear a direct influence on their lives, what will be their stand? For example, many people in predominantly agrarian Wayanad, a district in northern Kerala, openly profess that they would join the party. But will they continue to support the party if it takes a position in favour of the Kasturirangan report, which lists many curbs on development activities there? Will a middle-class professional in Bangalore continue to support AAP if it takes a pro-quota stand? Will an underprivileged Dalit in Delhi stick to the party and vote for it if takes an anti-reservation plank?

Such specific questions are not being tossed at the ‘aam aadmi’, who flock to AAP for membership. If such a situation arises, it would mean danger for AAP as the same ‘aam aadmi’ could turn against it. One joins a party in the hope that it would address his concerns.

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The concerns of a common man do not limit to whether he gets cheap water or power. AAP, so far, has touched upon civic issues only but to become a credible platform for alternative politics, it needs to spell out how it plans to go ahead. At present, one has a broad indication what Congress or BJP will do at a given situation but that could not be said about AAP. Maximum good for common man could make a good slogan. But the common man could feel cheated and disillusioned when AAP, which they believe would bring change, takes a position in the future opposite to their ‘interests’ long after ensuring the support.

Ensuring that the support base does not split through by not revealing its ideals could be a good electoral strategy at least for the time being. Even a non-vegetarian can relish an egg-less cake but an ideology-less party could leave a follower in disgust when the same outfit takes a divergent position in a problem in which his heart is.

On the question of death and mercy

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With India presently housing at least 414 death row convicts in its jails, the Supreme Court verdict in favour of condemned prisoners has come out as a relief for many languishing in prisons across the country while bringing to focus the government’s apathy in dealing with their rights.

Thirteen mercy petitions were rejected last year, including the rejection of a leniency plea filed by Dharampal from Haryana 14 years ago and nine-year-old plea of four aides of Veerappan from Karnataka. The Supreme Court order has come as a boon for the four Veerappan aides as well as Praveen Kumar, whose mercy plea was rejected last year after being pending for nine years.

Since 1985, an RTI query has revealed that there has been a delay in deciding on the mercy petitions. In 1983, 18 petitions were decided by the President but it came down to four the next year. There were no decisions on mercy petitions for four years and 28 petitions were decided in 1988 but the number came down in single digits in the next ten years.

The decision on Bengal rapist Dhananjay Chatterjee’s petition came after being pending for ten years in 2004. The next decision on a mercy petition came in 2006 and then in 2009. After that, there was a flow on deciding on mercy petitions though the numbers were not high as in 1988.

According to government statistics, 13 women are in jails on death row with Maharashtra having five in their jails followed by Delhi (4), Punjab (2) and one each in Haryana and Karnataka.

An analysis of the figures provided by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) between 2001 and 2012 shows that 1,612 people were sentenced to death by courts. In the 12 years, only three persons, including Mumbai attack convict Ajmal Kasab, were executed.

The figures were 2013 are yet to be made public and officials said they are collecting details from states. Parliament attack case convict Afzal Guru was hanged last year.

In 2012 alone, 97 persons were awarded death penalty in comparison with 177 the previous year while the sentence of 61 convicts was commuted to life imprisonment. The year 2007 saw the highest of 186 verdicts of sending convicts to gallows. A similar high was reached in 2005 when 164 people were sentenced to death.

The years under review also showed that the number of death penalty verdicts hovered above the 100 mark except in 2010 and 2012. At the end of 2012, the highest number of death row convicts were in Uttar Pradesh (106) followed by Karnataka (63), Maharashtra (51), Bihar (42), Delhi (27) and Gujarat (19).

Another interesting point emerging from the analysis is the commutation of death penalty of a staggering 4,382 people during this period by higher courts, in an indication that the trial courts were liberal in awarding death sentence. These cases did not stand up in higher courts.

The highest number of commutations was in 2005 when 1,241 were benefited by the higher court decisions while the next year another 1,020 got the benefit.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on January 22, 2014. The day before Supreme Court had  commuted the sentences of 15 death row convicts, ruling that delays in their execution were grounds to change their sentences to life imprisonment. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/supreme-court-commutes-15-death-sentences-due-to-delays-473572?curl=1390406076)

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‘We can predict the time frame of terror attacks’

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It may sound out-of-the-world idea for a common man if one says that terror attacks can be predicted. Prof V S Subrahmanian, a Professor of Computer Science and a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, says it can happen.

Subrahmanian, Co-author of ‘Computational Analysis of Terrorist Groups: Lashkar-e-Taiba’ and ‘Indian Mujahideen: Computational Analysis and Public Policy’, presently heads Centre for Digital International Government at University of Maryland.

In an e-mail interview for Deccan Herald, I interacted with Subrahmanian on data mining, predictions on Indian Mujahideen and how data-mining help authorities to build a policy framework.

(Excerpts of the interview appeared in Deccan Herald on January 22, 2014)

For a lay man, it may sound outrageous that one can possibly predict a terror attack. Can you please explain the science behind predicting the conditions that can give a hint about an impeding terror attack through data mining?

We collected data on 770 variables that may have been linked to terror attacks. These variables included variables related to social, economic, political, religious, and internaloperationsof the groups being modeled. Attacks are triggered by a combination of motive (desire to attack, e.g. revenge for arrests/kills of IM personnel, desire to show their recruits that they are strong, etc), means (i.e. technical ability to carry out the attacks – which is a given in the case of IM because of Pakistani ISI support), and opportunity (most IM attacks in India have been at public places like markets, so opportunity ispresent). We can predict time-frames when attacks may occur by using data mining on historical data to learn when IM has the motive, means, and opportunity to execute attacks – and our 770 variables are geared towards capturing past data on these. This is why we can make predictions about impending terror attacks through data mining.

The lay man’s concerns are not outrageous at all, however. Our predictive capabilities provide less granular predictions than we would like. We cannot, at this stage, predict that they will attack a particular location at a particular time. We can predict that they will attack certain types of targets (e.g. security installations) during certain time frames (usually a 3-month window).Current predictive models such as ours can be used as inputs by law enforcement agencies to determine when to increase intelligence collection and when to increase security precautions.

How does data mining help predict conditions that can predict Indian Mujahideen attacks?

In the case of IM, data mining broadly shows that IM carries out attacks (i) a few months after India-Pakistan diplomatic relations start warming, (ii) a few months after IM organizes a conference(that is a meeting of its leaders), (iii) a few months after there is increased IM public communications, e.g. reports of anger about certain events, (iv) a few months after there are arrests of IM personnel and there are reports of increased cooperation between IM and other terror groups (e.g. SIMI, LeT).

Our models currently predict that IM will carry out attacks in the January-May 2014 time frame. Most likely, these attacks will be in public places such as markets. In the past, IM attacks have focused on Varanasi, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, but we cannot say which of these locations will be targeted.

How data mining and analysis would help building a policy to rein in terror outfit and prevent future attacks?

Our data mining engine generates “rules” of the form “when some condition C is true, then IM will carry out attacks in the next few months”. When C is true, an attack occurs with high probability, when C is false, they occur with low probability. These rules can be used both to predict attacks and in some circumstances, pre-empt them. One rule predicts an increased probability of attacks when Indian relations with Pakistan warm. That doesn’t mean that India should not seek improved relations with Pakistan, but rather that security services should know that this is often followed by attacks. But policies canalso be crafted to try to make sure thatconditions C are falsified by appropriate government action, leading to a low attack probability.In the case of IM this might mean seeking to disrupt meetings of high-level IM operatives, where their attacks are planned. Another rule indicates the high likelihood of attacks when IM is receiving substantial assistance from other terrorist groups. Disrupting these links could prevent IM attacks. These last points require building detailed methods for travel intelligence. Where are people going when they leave India or prior to entering India? For instance, a number of IM (and LeT) personnel go from India to a neighboring country and travel on a fake ISI issued passport from there on). To monitor this, India needs to help friendly neighbors of India improve their border security systems, enter into travel information sharing agreements with them, and build “travel maps” of people’s movements.

Does mining big data for terrorists actually make us safer? Will it actually end up as a tool in the hands of governments to invade privacy of citizens?

Big data analytics alone will not make the world safer. However, the combination of big data analytics and traditional law enforcement and counter-terrorism methods will indeed make the world safer. Governments should clearly articulate policies to their citizens specifying the relationship between privacy needs of their citizens and big data analytics for security.

But there are criticism against data mining in national security issues. Though it has many valuable uses, some feel it is not well suited to the terrorist discovery problem. How do you view this?

We predict attacks by terror groups. Discovering who is a terrorist is a far more complex problem. To date, no one has shown that data mining is suitable for this problem. However, social network analysis, which is closely related to data mining, is useful. In SNA, you analyze the connections of people who are known to be terrorists (or strongly suspected of being terrorists) to uncover who else might be a terrorist.

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How suited is data mining for India and how far India has progressed? Has policy makers at any point of time approached you seeking guidance or help?

I have been approached by policy makers in many countries including India. India’s software industry (such as TCS and Infosys) are very well aware and competent in data mining methods and their applications in security and counter-terrorism. I am sure they – and other Indian IT firms – would do an excellent job in helping India fight terrorism.

In addition, one of my co-authors on the book Indian Mujahideen: Computational Analysis and Public Policy (V.S. Subrahmanian, Aaron Mannes, Animesh Roul, and R.K. Raghavan; Springer 2013) which has just been released by Om Publishers (www.ombooks.com) in India, served as the Director of India’s CBI for several years.

Besides terrorism, India has many internal security problems. Do you think data mining could be of some use in tackling Maoists, which the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has declared as the biggest internal security problem of the country?

Yes – studying the Maoists is one of the next priorities for my research group.Big data could also be useful in examining the behavior of organized crime networks or studying trends in general criminal activity.

Social media has become a major driver in opinion making. India is going to have a general elections and there is a big talk about politicians using technology to reach out to voters. You have developed OASYS, a real-time social media opinion analysis system. Will it be of some help for politicians here?

Yes, Sentimetrix, a company I co-founded with others from AOL in 2006, has developed products for users to “get” a message out via social media using sentiment analysis. This could definitely be useful for politicians both in India and elsewhere. Analysis from social media is highly predictive of trends in voter sentiment. It could play a key role in India where social media penetration is amongst the highest in the world. We’ve used it in the past to predict outcomes of elections in France, Italy, and Pakistan.

RIP: Tharoor’s love of life

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At 5:39 AM on Friday (Jan 17, 2014) morning, Sunanda Pushkar was awake and replied to a tweet, which would be her last, saying jestly that she and her husband Shashi Tharoor would never appear on a popular chat show hosted by Karan Johar.

Her reply “LOL that would Never happen” to a zestful tweet seeking to know whether she would appear along with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar did not betray any anguish. Sixteen hours later, she was found dead in a luxury hotel in Delhi.

Tweets seems to have a big role in her life as she shot into limelight with a post from cricket administrator Lalit Modi raising questions about Tharoor’s female friend acquiring “sweat equity” in 2010 in Kochi IPL team for which Tharoor had intensely lobbied. Tharoor married her later but lost his ministership to the IPL fiasco.

In the midst of a battle of wits in twitter with a Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar, whom she accused of stalking her husband, she is found dead. Initial investigations suggest she committed suicide but there is no conclusive report as of now. Tarar tweeted, “What the hell. Sunanda. Oh my God…I just woke up and read this. I’m absolutely shocked. This is too awful for words. So tragic I don’t know what to say. Rest in peace, Sunanda.”

Only on Wednesday evening, she again jostled her way into limelight by accessing her husband’s twitter account and posted messages which she claimed Tarar had sent to Tharoor. The Minister, who returned to the Union Council of Ministers after a gap following controversy over IPL controversy, had said his account was hacked but Pushkar told media that nobody hacked the account and it was she who posted the messages.

She even said she was going to file for divorce on Wednesday evening but on Thursday the “happily married” couple issued a joint statement saying nothing is amiss in their relationship.

Indian parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor (R

Of late, she was having medical complications and in one of the last tweets in the day at around 8:01 pm, Tharoor said, “my wife’s illness means i need to be with her&will miss all 5 events of #JaipurLitFest 2014. Have promised to atone in 2015.”

Thirty minutes later after attending day-long AICC session, when he landed up at the Hotel Leela, she did not respond to the knocking on the doors and later was found dead. They were staying in Hotel Leela since Thursday as renovation work was on at his official residence.

Tharoor had described Pushkar as the “love of my life and life of my love” in his latest book ‘Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century’. The 52-year-old Pushkar, who hails from Sopore in Jammu Kashmir, rode into controversies with ease throughout her life and was not the one who would run away from adversities.

Known as a bold woman, Pushkar never hid her agressive nature and even slapped a man at the Thiruvananthapuram airport when he misbehaved with her. Last Thursday in Dubai, she even had a verbal duel with a journalist for interviewing Tharoor during a private party.

Pushkar and Tharoor had married twice before tying the knot themselves. She also has a 13-year-old son from her late second husband, Malayali businessman Sujith Menon. Pushkar had first tied the knot with Delhi-based hotelier-turned-pop-singer Sanjay Raina but the marriage broke up soon.

Pushkar was earlier working as a leasing and property investment ‘specialist’ in Dubai-based Tecom Investments, a member of Dubai Holding but quit her job in a property investment company in Dubai in March 2010.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on January 18, 2014)

Adarsh and Snoopgate raise questions on abuse of power

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(Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh at AICC Session in Delhi on Jan 17, 2014)

Thriving on a relief provided by Maharashtra government a few days ago, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde has rubbished talks of any illegality in the controversial allocation of Adarsh flats. Only days before, his leader Rahul Gandhi had thrashed state’s decision to junk the inquiry report and many believed that Shinde might have to pack his bags from North Block, the seat of Home Ministry, once the voluminous report highlighting every illegality is accepted. One had ample reason to believe that the recent Assembly election results had forced Gandhi to talk tough on corruption but the days to follow reinforced that the political biggies have their own way of getting away.

Six days later, Maharashtra government ducked the Gandhi bouncer and in turn bowled a googly at him by accepting the report indicting Shinde, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and others but refused to initiate any criminal action against them and thus nullifying the criminality in their actions. The next day on January 3, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was earlier at Gandhi’s receiving end for the “nonsense” ordinance on protecting convicted lawmakers, said he had not got time to “apply my mind” on allegations against Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

The abuse of power is not just a Congress phenomenon, it run across the political system in the country. Whether it is the BJP-led Gujarat, Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh or JD(U)-led Bihar or AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu, those in power ably assisted by a section of the bureaucracy, do circumvent laws and procedures to consolidate their grip on the power structure.

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(Sushilkumar Shinde)

The Adarsh scam, the Snoopgate scandal involving BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and allegations against Virbhadra Singh have this one thing in common. As controversies depict the illegality in itself, the follow-up by political and administrative leadership on dealing with it reeks of blatant abuse of power. One sets up an inquiry commission only to thrash it, another constitutes one to paint everything white while other wants it black. In between, the casualty is truth and the elite in power continue to have their say in ensuring that none from their brethren was sent to the wilderness of jails.

The pattern and speed with which the political leadership scramble to get out of a possible criminal case or a legal action against them could be seen in the failed efforts to save Lalu Prasad from losing his membership in Parliament when the judgement day on fodder scam was nearing. The move failed because of the popular mood. However, this was not the first or last time that those in the seat of power used their advantageous position to further their grip on the system.

In the Adarsh case, the list of beneficiaries has the names of high and mighty and the inquiry report names 25 such people, including Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade facing charges in the United States of underpaying her domestic help. The Adarsh case is a black and white case but an upcoming general election appeared to have tied the hands of Congress, which does not want Chavan, one of its very few leaders with some presence in the grassroots in Maharashtra, in trouble.

The fact remains that Gandhi has failed to do a follow up in the Adarsh case. ‘Juniors’ in his party and government managed to sabotage his decision and he still chooses to remain silent. Where does this leave Congress and Gandhi’s fight against corruption? Or does it mean that political expediency has reined Gandhi in not raising the issue again?

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(Narendra Modi)

Take the case of two Commissions of Inquiry (CoI) on the Snoopgate controversy surrounding Modi. The state instituted a CoI with Terms of References, which could be described as a sham that very much suits Modi. What has to be investigated is not the conspiracy behind the release of tape but why the state is interested in the life of a young woman, why keep a tab on her love life and why a ‘Saheb’ is so much interested in her security. Gujarat government, for obvious reasons, appears to have decided to do its own inquiry to get a pre-decided conclusion.

Also, the Gujarat governance model, publicised by the chest-thumping believers of Modi, would remain hollow if one has to believe the BJP argument in defence of Modi in the Snoopgate. The BJP has claimed that the woman was put on surveillance following her father’s request to Modi. This raises a question whether a Chief Minister can “misuse” his administration for providing security for a young woman. What about other women whose fathers could not reach him? That will remain a question for Modi.

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(Rahul Gandhi at AICC Session in Delhi)

On the other hand, the Congress-led UPA had Modi on its radar and came up with its own inquiry on Snoopgate. It cannot constitute a CoI as the state has already done it. So it circumvents law and set up an inquiry by combining cases – tapping of the phone of BJP’s Arun Jaitley by a private detective and a two-year-old case of tapping of Virbhadhra Singh’s phone – from two other states. Nobody disagrees with a thorough probe against Modi and nailing him if he is guilty. But the question is how are you going to do it? Is it by circumventing law for political considerations or for ensuring justice?

Amid parties’ politically correct posturing on cleansing the system, public appears not convinced with the high moral ground taken by Congress or BJP on corruption or abuse of power. How could they tackle the surging anger against existing political system, which smacks of favouritism and dynastic politics, against the backdrop of the rise of a party like AAP, which does not even have a credible governance plan and rules?

TAILPIECE: On the New Year, 38 Ministries, including External Affairs, Coal, Environment and Rural Development, were asked why they have not put in place regulatory parameters for using ministers’ discretionary powers. The first order to set up such a mechanism came 21 months ago and this shows the political class’ reluctance to let go discretionary powers.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on January 18, 2014)

Thus spake Gopalswami

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Post Supreme Court verdicts on disqualifying convicted lawmakers and banning jailed people from contesting elections, I spoke to former Chief Election Commissioner on N Gopalaswami in July 2013. The interview appeared in Deccan Herald on July 22, 2013

The Supreme Court has now come up with verdicts on disqualifying convicted lawmakers and banning jailed people from contesting elections. What are your views on these orders?

The first one is fine but the one on banning jailed people from electoral contest does not seem to be in consonance with relevant provisions.

Do you think the recent verdicts went beyond the recommendations of several Commissions?

In a way, Yes. A convicted legislator used to get an advantage if he appealed. But by the earlier verdict of 2005, the Supreme Court has clarified that the advantage is available for a limited period not till the disposal of the appeal. If a lawmaker is convicted for an offence during his tenure, he could appeal within three months and continue only till the term of that particular House.

In this judgement, the SC has struck down that entire provision and so here after upon conviction a legislator will lose his seat whether he appeals or not.

Also the ‘barring’ of all jailed persons from being an elector and so from contesting as a candidate goes well beyond the proposal for amendment to law to prevent only charge-sheeted persons from contesting an election.

For example, elections are held in 2010 and in 2013, if somebody is convicted and then he appeals, he gets a protection only till 2015 during the period of that House. The protection does not help him afterwards. He cannot contest the next elections unless a higher court acquits him. Protection is only for a short period. The maximum cover can be five years. For example if a person takes oath on the first day of a House and he gets convicted on the second day, and if he appeals, his protection will be only for a maximum of five years. This verdict of the SC is only about convicted person and not chargesheeted person.

Since 1998, Election Commission has written to successive governments asking them to take steps to decriminalize electoral system. The EC has always hit a hard wall. How do you see this situation?

It is not only the EC but the Commission for reviewing Constitution and Law Commissions did it. Everybody has proposed that those who are chargesheeted for heinous crimes should be kept out. But the Parliamentarians are unmoved. It is they who have to pass the law.

Justice J S Verma Commission has recommended several measures in its report and the government acted fast on certain aspects like amending the CrPC. But it has not taken any steps to implement the recommendations on electoral reforms. Is it a setback?

The Verma Commission recommendations that were not taken with respect to electoral laws are in line with the recommendation of earlier Commissions. Verma commission specifically said somebody chargesheeted for rape should not be allowed to contest in the same manner in which the Law Commission and others recommended.

The EC does not check the veracity of affidavits at the time of filing nominations. What more legal measures you think should be taken to give more teeth to EC?

It is difficult to check affidavits. If you start checking affidavits soon after the day of nomination, there is scrutiny two days after it. If there are ten candidates and if you have to check every affidavit, it will go on for days. Then we will not be able to hold the elections in time. That is not a feasible proposition.
It has been noticed that there is a tremendous increase in the wealth of a lawmaker if you compare his assets at the time of election and end of his tenure. Isn’t it a matter of concern?

These are all problems. The Commission cannot handle it unless we have an army of people enquiring into it. There are 543 Lok Sabha MPs alone. The average number of contestants in each constituency is 15-16 and it could mean a total of around 8,000 candidates. How can the Commission start enquiring about them? That is why we make affidavits public so that people can file complaints. So if there is a complaint, EC can look into it. Again there are problems. The EC cannot take action. The action can be taken only by the returning officer before whom the affidavit is filed. So how long will it take is an issue?

BJP Gopinath Munde has made a sensational revelation that he has spent Rs eight crore for campaigning when the ceiling is Rs 40 lakh.

Wait to see what the election Commission does on the issue.

In this context, do you think that there should be an increase in the cap on election spending taking into account inflation and other matters?

Somebody says he has spent Rs eight crore. The present ceiling is Rs 40 lakh. If you increase the ceiling to Rs 50 lakh, then also he is spending Rs 8 crore. If you raise it to Rs 80 lakh, he is again spending Rs 8 crore. If you raise it to Rs one crore, then also it is Rs 8 crore. Is there any end? Not only that, there is a funny thing. More than half the number of candidates, I am told, indicates expenditure to be half the sum of the permitted ceiling in their affidavits. What is the truth? If today you increase the ceiling to Rs eight crore as some people are spending such amount, then tomorrow somebody will say raise it to Rs ten crore because some are spending Rs ten crore. We may as well not have a ceiling at all. That’s a ridiculous argument.

Do you think black money is another issue of concern?

Black money cannot be tackled at election level. Black money has to be tackled at the point of its origin. Everybody knows the point of its origin. Black money in election is not the disease. It is only the symptom. One should not concentrate on the symptom but concentrate on the disease. The symptom only tells you that there is a disease. You have to tackle the disease and not the symptom.

Making sense of AAP and Governance

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Just over two weeks in power, the AAP government in Delhi is creating headlines, both positive and negative. Questions are raised on their style of functioning as one section criticises them saying they govern a state like a municipality.

I spoke to Shailaja Chandra, Delhi’s first woman Chief Secretary who retired in 2004, for Deccan Herald. We spoke about AAP’s governance model and administrative vision. The excerpts of the interview appeared in Deccan Herald on January 12, 2014.

You have seen the poll promises made by AAP. You had an inside view of how a government function. In its manifesto, the party had promised reduction in power prices and providing 700 litres of free water every day. How implementable it is?

AAP’s agenda appears to be first and foremost to do something on corruption because there was so much resentment in Delhi. For a citizen, the fact that he was not getting his due, whether it was caused by price rise, or any other factor and was made to move from here to there and ultimately to have to give money to get things done had made him angry. Therefore AAP’s promise that they would get rid of corruption as their first target made sense. But I don’t think they can achieve things on a large scale only through volunteers and suchlike. The best way would have been to use technology to reduce public interface. There are so many reports available which have not been acted upon. If they had only implemented those reports they would have made a bigger dent on the issue of corruption in public offices.

The party had promised reduction in power prices and providing 700 litres of free water every day. This is a time, almost an era when governments the world over are moving away from giving subsidies.

They had always referred to large scale corruption as well as inflation in the projection of cost of power; they were certain they would be able to transform the sector and bring down power tariff by effecting savings. That made sense. But I am not sure how all that would fall into place as quickly as they want which is perhaps why they have opted for subsidy. Subsidies in the power sector have been used throughout the country, but much more so in the agricultural states which needed irrigation, like Punjab. Many state electricity boards have been ruined in the 1980s, 1990s largely because they gave free electricity for agriculture.

In the case of urban India, this (subsidy for power) was not a phenomenon. This is the first time. Since AAP’s voters are urban voters, they have gone ahead and announced the subsidies. The subsidy comes out of the budget and the budget is already earmarked for many things. And obviously somewhere a cut would have to be made to balance the budget. In effect they will have to prune on something, which already has been agreed to be done to locate funds for subsidies. The effect of that will be known only when people stop getting some services that they have been accustomed to.

There is a fear that there will be some impact on government coffers?

There will be an impact on the budget, i.e the funds the Delhi government controls.  I should also clarify that unlike say Mumbai or other state capitals, which get only a share of the revenue collected, but most goes back into the finances of the state. Later, some money is given back to the city for its development. Delhi on the other hand, gets to keep what it earns through commercial taxes and through so many other taxes which are levied locally. So to that extent, Delhi is in a much more comfortable position.

Therefore I would not go so far as to say that the end of the world will come tomorrow. But definitely there should have to be some tightening elsewhere if they wanted to give subsidies.

In the case of water, the question is do you want efficiency, do you want conservation? Our resources have to be used in a rational kind of way. And subsidy is not the route. The real route (in case of water) would have been to see that piped water connections are given to all people who do not have piped water and metered connections are given to all those who do not have meters. And if subsidy had at all to be increased, it should have been given only to the lower strata.

We also know from history and economics that subsidies do not work. Subsidies once given always go to people who do not deserve it. They very seldom reach the people who really need subsidies.

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(Arvind Kejriwal collecting petitions from public during the first and last ‘Janata Durbar’ on Jan 11, 2014)

But many governments are following the AAP way. Haryana has halved the power tariff and there are demands in Maharashtra. Isn’t it that people deserve lower tariff? Is it the right way?

People may have their views but Delhi has been able to give a higher standard of living compared to many other places and became something of a model in terms of modernisation. Now if Delhi citizens start to get subsidy there will be a panic reaction in other states. A feeling will gain ground that urban voters will be upset if Governments do not follow the Delhi example and then they too will opt for this route.

Looking at initial days, do you think that AAP is still chained to their Jan Lokpal mindset? Aren’t they just trying a monolithic structure to solve problems? Do you think that they have an administrative vision?

I don’t think that they have expressed any long term administrative or political, ideological position. It is not clear exactly what they stand for. Basically they are very pleased voters have voted for them in large numbers. Undoubtedly there is a lot of support for AAP but this is not necessarily support for any individual or a particular party but it is a vote for change. People wanted change at any cost and they feel that change of any kind may be better than put up with the known dispensations. It so happened that there was space available which was filled by AAP.

I don’t know whether they have thought through their future vision. There have been many studies, many reports by people who did have any axe to grind or were not trying to placate any particular vote bank. These reports show how to bring about efficiency. The growth of a city and its wealth determines the wealth of the nation. Ultimately the country’s wealth and its growth is a reflection of what transpires in the urban areas. That wealth is generated by giving opportunities to people- opportunities to work, opportunities to innovate, and opportunities to be able to be self employed, to be creative. Everyone would agree that this is what makes a city successful. So when you talk about urban areas, the aspirations of people have to be responded to and that means that they should be able to do better and the next generation should be able to do even better. To do that, one needs a long term vision which would lay the ground for such growth. All reports lay great emphasis on trying to bridge gaps and to focus on inclusiveness. I do not see this vision in the present approach of AAP. Their preoccupation seems to be with corruption and being able to find people who are corrupt and sending them to jail, to nab political people and frighten officials into working by making it clear that they will be punished if they are found wanting in their performance or taking bribes. Their programme seems to be more of this kind of approach rather than the other earlier approach of providing conditions that foster innovation and prosperity.

It appears that there is lack of understanding of the system. Within a fortnight, we see a couple of ministers taking awkward steps.

Delhi somehow always had either BJP or Congress ruling the state and these people came with long years of experience. And Delhi politicians have grown up watching seniors. It is the same with bureaucrats. We too were raw when we joined the services but we watched seniors and learned how to administer and behave in a mature fashion.

I think whatever has happened recently is a string of stray incidents. They will happen, and they will continue to happen not just here, but in various states. We don’t hear about such incidents because they do not take place in Delhi. I have also been a part of two different state governments where bizarre kinds of things were often done. They happened in the early stages. I don’t think one should make a big issue out of it. It looks big because it happens in Delhi but many more shocking things happen. Particularly when new states are carved out a number of very peculiar things have happened. As time passes, they are all forgotten. These are not major issues.

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You believe that they may learn from their mistakes

I won’t say mistakes. What is a Minister’s role? I am not talking about AAP. I am talking about the political executive in any state. Their role is to take guidance, to take advice in writing from the bureaucrat who is paid and his whole time training is to give advice on the risks and benefits, the advantages and disadvantages of following a particular course or not following it. It is for the Minister to accept or overrule the bureaucrat in writing and whatever be his reason, be it political or based on his knowledge of the ground situation; he has to accept responsibility after considering all aspects. That is the system that needs to be followed in a democracy. It is one thing is to say that you know exactly what the ground reality is because you are in touch with people and people have told you what they want. But the other way to look at it is that you have a much larger responsibility. That is not only to appease those that are aggrieved but all those you govern.

One also carries responsibility to plan for people who never express that they are undergoing any disadvantage. Their legitimate needs have to be understood from economic and social reports. In that way all segments of society and not just those who appear the most disadvantaged people have to be looked after but only after taking guidance. And having taken advice, the Minister has no doubt weigh and consider whether what he has been told appears correct or not. That is what the IAS, IPS and so many services are trained to provide. They are expected to give correct advice to the Minister so that tomorrow if the Minister commits a mistake he knows that he did not receive good guidance and it is apparent from the files that he was not guided properly.

In the Delhi situation, the new Cabinet was required to respond to deep public anxiety, public desire and public exasperation very quickly.  The feeling of exasperation was so deep-rooted that people felt that they must tell a person who represents the new party. The expectation is still that their work will be done and their problems will be solved. Situations which they have faced in the last few years will not happen again because now they have persons who understand their issues.  AAP is in effect responding to that kind of anger and expectation that people have voiced. They are not working in the way that the normal government systems require to be worked. But only time will tell how effective this one –on –one approach will be.

Refusal to take car, security and fights with department Secretary. So do you think there is a flawed notion about austerity, governance?

I am not taking the side of AAP but I have been watching this tendency both among the political class as well as senior bureaucrats. It is not just the ‘lal-batti (red beacon). That is just a word-a syndrome which in turn reflects inaccessibility to people and a preference for keeping a safe distance from them. When visiting offices people are routinely prevented from meeting a person in authority because a battery of personnel secretaries, peons and others bar their access. Even telephone calls are screened unless somebody gets hold of a mobile number.

People are very upset with this kind of treatment and the expectation is that when I elected you are bound to listen to me. I think the AAP has tried to respond to these feelings of the people. So initially, they dispensed with Secretaries and started using volunteers, working in a very informal way.  This may be alright for some time.  But ultimately the very process of government requires that files are disposed off and most important files seek directions on policy. And if officers do their work and put files for orders, Ministers need to devote time for that. Everything cannot remain on a symbolic plane of houses and security and such-like. Those are very small things compared with the totality of the work the government administers.

Thirty-eight years of service, you have worked with many leaders. How different is AAP?

I have not worked with AAP government. How can I comment? I can comment about all the people I have worked with earlier. I have worked with several Cabinet ministers, three Chief Ministers in different in states and then Delhi Chief Minister which was completely different because it is National Capital Territory and not a state. All I can say is that 80-90 per cent of the time you get people who are very experienced, very mature and they have their own ways of getting what they want done. They leave bureaucrats to do quite a lion’s share of the work. It is not that they are politically interested in everything that goes on. India is running only because of systems like that. Otherwise the whole place would have been chaotic by now.

Since I have not been in the AAP offices I don’t know their style. I do hope that a certain degree of calm and quiet will prevail because that is the manner in which government ought to work. Bureaucracy knows about systems and processes. Bureaucracy’s role is to provide institutional memory and a clear idea of past processes which were followed for doing something. Also to advise on the correct procedural way of doing things so that there is fair play and the rights of all citizens, including those who do not complain are also safeguarded. If the bureaucrats are not playing that role, I would blame them more for than anybody else. The Ministers of AAP are not expected to know all these procedures and requirements which are integral to governance. The bureaucracy has to tell them in writing.

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There is an interesting trend. Corporates leaders joining AAP. In the past, post retirement, many top officers used to join Congress or BJP or the main regional parties in their states. However, bureaucrats look up to AAP. Why is that?

Bureaucrats by and large those who are honest would feel very comfortable with somebody who represents honesty. Bureaucrats would be willing to give the benefit of doubt to people who do not carry any baggage behind them and are unlikely to be crooks. They would not grudge them for simply being different. Everybody I meet says “give them a chance.”

With other parties, what happens is that they are always surrounded by coteries, lobbies and  people who are known as leaders for 20, 30, 40 years. So a new comer has no place in that set up. Such a person will not be able, in his life time, to work up to be able to reach a place of prominence unless there is some understanding.

But in the case of AAP, the feeling is that these people do not have a background like this.   One would be as important or unimportant as everybody else. And therefore, why not give this place a chance rather than run after something in which you will always be way behind everybody else who is in the queue?

You were the first woman Chief Secretary of Delhi and at that time, Delhi had a woman Chief Minister. Please share your experiences of working with Sheila Dikshit.

I was returning to the cadre from the Government of India. Most of my later career was with the Central Government. When I returned to the Delhi Government as the Chief Secretary Smt Shiela Dikshit had been Chief Minister since 1998. I came in as Chief Secretary in 2002 and I retired in middle of 2004. While people may impute a lot of things to her in terms of corruption, mismanagement of the Commonwealth Games etc I have no knowledge of where the truth lies. When I functioned as Chief Secretary she would never ask me to do anything irregular. I am not holding a brief for her. I am not close to her much as people may like to believe. What I do know is that she treated bureaucrats and me with respect and she took our advice and by and large was very amenable to accepting advice given to her. Only once in a while she would express dissatisfaction or annoyance but that was very occasional.

Of late, I am told bureaucrats are not even venturing to give advice and the very people who used to make all kind of excuses to avoid carrying out instructions are now just implementing orders without pointing out deficiencies and problems that can arise at a future date. In that case you are not doing your job. Even if the Minister expects that the orders are carried out, due process has to be followed and due processes are required to be reduced into writing by the bureaucrat. If they have failed to do that, more than Ministers, it will be their responsibility.

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