Sunday, 27 November 2016

Modi Meltdown

On November 8th Prime Minister Modi took India and the world by surprise when he announced a demonetisation scheme that took 86% of rupee notes out of circulation with almost immediate effect. It is difficult to find a historical precedent of a country the size of India being thrown into a financial crisis by its own government without any warning or prevailing exigent circumstance for doing so other than the whims of its leader. Prime Minister Modi’s demonetisation gambit has led to economic chaos across India for the past nearly three weeks and shows no sign of abating. As bad as the cash shortage is in major cities, ground reports get progressively worse as you go into hinterland and away from the media spotlight, with rural areas almost being left to fend for themselves through barter. Economic activity has ground to a halt with consumers struggling to buy even the bare necessities, trucks unable to transport, farmers unable to sow their rabi crop, employees spending more time standing in line outside ATMs than working, and volatility affecting the financial markets. This was a true November surprise.

How does a Prime Minster make such a staggering miscalculation? I doubt very much he was expecting such a severe economic dislocation when he addressed the nation and subsequent changing of the goalposts by the government bears this out. At first we were told the disruption would be last a mere two days, shortly thereafter it became two weeks and finally the PM pleaded for a grace period of fifty days. Needless to say the implementation of the demonetisation scheme has been farcical with a daily litany of new rules issued by Finance Ministry and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slavishly following suit, creating more problems than they fixed. The sub-plot related to rules governing withdrawal of cash for marriages could make for an excellent case study on bureaucratic obtuseness. How many new currency notes are being printed and in which denomination is a mystery, because RBI refuses to tell us, but the online news platform Quint reports that only 0.06% of the vital Rs 500 notes have been replaced so far. The new Rs 2,000 note is in greater supply but of purely ornamental value right now because of the shortage of smaller denominations to provide change. The level of incompetence has been a sight to behold. The ministers weren’t much better, proffering varied reasons for the necessity of the demonetisation scheme, leapfrogging from black money to national security to fake currency to the more recent one of transforming India into a cashless economy. Well, they certainly succeeded in the last cause, because they have indeed rendered most Indians cashless. 

Apologists keep parroting that demonetisation was a brilliant idea, it was only the ‘implementation’ that had fallen short, conveniently forgetting the PM had won his mandated promising above all superior implementation and competence. But most crucially, a responsible government is expected to do no harm and maintain stability before doing anything else. Events, external and internal, will test a country’s stability and voters understand that, but a government pulling the rug from under a billion Indians and doing so inexpertly will not be easy to explain. The fallout from the demonetisation has been felt directly by every Indian, with the aam aadmi feeling the brunt in far greater measure. Financial insecurity pervades the land and has united the country in suffering. I never expected the Prime Minister to be much of a uniter, but he has clearly proved me wrong. For nearly three weeks India has withstood this national trauma, with every passing day the death toll attributed to the scheme mounting, and hardships continue. Prime Minister Modi and his government are testing the limits of the Indian people’s patience. 

The PM is a shrewd political operator and a misjudgement of this magnitude requires an in-depth analysis of what precisely led to flawed decision-making. There is the political aspect to it as well as an institutional aspect. 

Politically, the 2014 campaign promise of repatriating Rs. 15 lakhs of black money in every voters’ bank account has been used as an effective taunt since then by the opposition in state election after state election. It is the original sin, so to speak. Amit Shah’s attempt to explain away the promise as a metaphorical ‘jumla’ only backfired further. So before the most important state election of all in Uttar Pradesh, his adopted political home, it was reasonable to think the PM would try to do something that would free him from this charge. 

The government claims months of preparation preceded the demonetisation and I am not going to take issue with that, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The one objective we know they spent much of the first half of the year on was the ouster of the fiercely independent RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan and supplanting him with a loyalist in the form of Urjit Patel, or as he has come to be known as in recent days, the Invisible Man. Once the Reserve Bank of India was captured in the first week of September it is clear that the march towards demonetisation began in earnest. 

Indian Prime Ministers, especially those select few with single-party majorities, have always had grand visions of how they wish to transform India. Previous PMs succeeded during periods when they were able to surround themselves with capable ministers and aides who were able to speak truth to power. When this vital ingredient was missing from the governance mix PMs have tended to lose their way, even those with mammoth majorities like Pandit Nehru in 1962, Indira Gandhi in 1975, and Rajiv Gandhi in 1987. This is the institutional aspect that I referred to earlier.

As far as we can tell, in the decision-making process leading up to the demonetisation speech not one minister or PMO aide advised prudence or caution to Prime Minister Modi. Debate does not appear to be encouraged in the Modi cabinet, only one man’s opinion takes precedence. Shri Modi is said to prefer verbal presentations than written briefs, he’s not a details man, which is not unusual in political leaders around the world, but in such a case it is imperative he have a powerful and competent Principal Secretary who covers all the bases and makes sure nothing is missed, playing the part of a weather vane who forewarns of hidden trouble ahead.  Unfortunately, the PM chose to divide the powers of the Principal Secretary between two men, in addition a National Security Adviser who is a law unto himself. The power apex of the Modi PMO is fractured and it reflects poorly on the PM when decisions are taken hurriedly and without a study of all possible ramifications. To put it bluntly, there is nobody in the Modi PMO or cabinet capable of speaking truth to power and that’s exactly the way the PM prefers it. So when the PM starts down the wrong track based on a half-baked idea there is no fail-safe in his decision-making process to warn him of the possible hazards ahead. 

Secrecy is being used as an alibi to explain the government’s lack of preparation despite suspicious financial transactions by more than one BJP state unit in the weeks preceding November 8th. Even if we concede the need for secrecy, it cannot absolve the PMO, the cabinet and the RBI Governor from the responsibility of due diligence before putting the country through such an enormous change. It was incumbent on them to have asked pertinent questions of the demonetisation scheme before moving forward. How long will the disruption last? How long do we need to print the new notes? Are the ATMs ready to accept the new notes, especially the Rs 2000 note? How will this affect rabi sowing? How will this affect marriage season? How will this affect tourists?  How will this affect the unbanked population? How will this affect the informal sector where 80% of Indians work? What is the worst scenario? How much will economic growth be affected?  What is the long-term risk-reward of putting the country through such a serious economic dislocation? Could the financial infrastructure of the country withstand the pressure? Were the government’s administrative capabilities upto the task? Was there enough black money parked in cash to be worth going through such instability? How would the underground infrastructure that launders black money from Delhi to Mumbai to Dubai and Singapore adapt to the assault on their core interests? Did government legally have the power to execute everything that was planned? The list of questions can go on endlessly but the sense you get is this government does not waste much time on discussing the prudence of its actions in the normal course and did not suffer from much self-doubt in this case either. 

Then there is the question of the PM’s intellectual temperament. His government has earned a reputation for bandying around official figures that on closer investigation prove to bear no resemblance to the ground situation. It is one thing to try to fool the public but quite another if you start basing your decisions on your own boosted figures. From the Prime Minister’s repeated exhortations on moving India overnight to a cashless economy it is as if he is describing a completely different India where everyone has a bank account, an electricity connection, basic education, and a smartphone.  This separation from reality could be part of the reason he may have believed the demonetisation scheme would only cause some initial disruption and nothing more. The problem is that the India that exists in the PM’s mind bares little resemblance to reality. This delusion is a worry for us all.

Coupled with the incompetence of the RBI and Finance Ministry has been the reliance on private companies like Paytm and Big Bazaar as conduits of government policy, to their considerable profit. The stench of crony capitalism emanating from these relationships is apparent. It’s almost as if the common man is being coerced and herded into the awaiting grubby hands of these corporates as a direct consequence of government actions.

The PM’s greatest weakness is the myth of infallibility that he has created for himself, assiduously defended by his ministers, as a result of which he refuses to apologise for anything even when it is his interest to do so. It’s a lesson he perhaps learnt from his experience in 2002 and his rise since then has probably reinforced this instinct. Obstinacy can be an asset during trying times but more often than not it stops a leader from recognising his error and changing to a more successful course. In the case of demonetisation Shri Modi has refused to alter course and gambled his government on it. An unnecessary and unwise strategy. The PM’s inability to defend his case in Parliament is a major liability as was seen this past week when Manmohan Singh earned a decisive victory. It was a demoralising blow for BJP MPs to see their much vaunted general flee the field of battle without fighting back. A great speech inside Parliament is worth a hundred outside.   

The PM appears to have been convinced by the prospect of garnering a windfall Rs. 3 to 4 lakh crore from hoarded cash that the government estimates would not be returned to banks and thus extinguished, whereafter a subservient RBI would pass it onto the government exchequer in the form of a special dividend, ignoring its own rules and generally accepted international accounting practices. In retrospect we can see why the Budget was moved up to February 1st a few weeks ago, positioning it just before the state elections. The budgetary windfall blinded the PM and his principal advisors to the gravity of the risk they were taking. They got greedy and therefore careless. Politicians will be politicians, but the RBI Governor Urjit Patel, who surely knew better, has no excuse for agreeing to this madcap scheme. The economic losses and suffering caused by this decision is likely to dwarf any fiscal windfall that the government gains. 

Shri Modi has gambled a great deal of his credibility and political capital on the ultimate success of the demonetisation scheme. He may succeed in the immediate future by parleying windfall gains from demonetisation into election gains, but in winning Uttar Pradesh he may have lost trust of the rest of the nation. The trauma to the economy and the aam aadmi’s psyche will not be repaired so easily. The BJP’s obnoxious and unrepentant response to the genuine suffering of people, almost branding by association millions of people as black money hoarders will not be soon forgotten. Those harried souls standing in ATM queues across the country may voice support for Shri Modi out of politeness when asked on camera but their faces tell a different tale, with anger likely lurking just below the surface and 2019 may provide an outlet. 

Arun Shourie knows how the PM thinks better than most and he explained in a recent television interview that Shri Modi has got into the bad habit of wanting to perform a ‘surgical strike’ every few weeks. This need for quick-fixes to long-standing afflictions like black money shows a lack of discipline and understanding of governance. There are no quick fixes or easy solutions, national change requires sustained, patient work and persuasion of the public day in and day out. But Shri Modi is not a patient man and he has an overwhelming mandate so he can make impetuous, poorly thought out decisions with little resistance from those around him. There was only one person who could have saved the PM from himself, and that was Raghuram Rajan. What an irony it is that it was the PM who allowed Rajan to be hounded out of office. Will Rajan have the last laugh? Only time will tell. 

Saturday, 22 October 2016

AAP, Amarinder, and the vote for change....

So what is the electoral state of play in Punjab today with the assembly election fast approaching? On the ground in Punjab it is now becoming increasingly clear that the election is a two-horse race between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress, with the incumbent Akali-BJP alliance now lagging far behind. Also we can be sure that any hope of a fourth front is a non-starter, as Navjot Sidhu and his cohorts have quickly found out. 

There is no need to waste too many words on the Badal Government’s odds of re-election, which are right now close to nil. After ten years of misrule the Badals leave behind a legacy of having overseen a rampant drug epidemic, rural distress leading to farmer suicides in the hundreds, limitless nepotism, crony capitalism, total breakdown of law and order, fiscal bankruptcy, and outright loot. There is now a widespread belief in Punjab that the Badal clan has sucked Punjab dry. Their beleaguered ally the BJP can do nothing but cower in fear of an AAP victory because of the national political implications of such a result. To put it simply, the writing is on the wall for the Badals. 

Amarinder Singh has spent the last six months trying to ward off the wrangling ways of his campaign strategist Prashant Kishor (aka PK), whom the good Captain claims to have invited onboard in the first place. Amarinder seemed distinctly uncomfortable during the plethora of packaged events PK and his team had organised for him through the summer. But now Amarinder seems to have momentarily broken away from PK’s influence and found some of his old fire. The people of Punjab have a very emotional relationship with the erstwhile Maharaja of Patiala, they are willing to forgive him many a fault because of his obvious charm and great reservoir of goodwill that he built after resigning from Parliament and the Congress Party after Operation Bluestar. He is the only reason the Congress is largely shielded from continued voter anger about the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Amarinder is hoping that after a ten-year interregnum the voters will forget the disaster that was his earlier tenure as Chief Minister; the corruption charges and the inaccessibility where mornings started late and the evening’s entertainment began early. If elected this durbar culture will likely return with a vengeance, his family and retainers will surround him and all promises of governance and development will be forgotten. But Amarinder is a fighter and he will campaign hard, no doubt trying to elicit every last drop of emotion and sympathy of this being what he clams is his last election and last stand. 

And finally we come to AAP, who pulled a surprise against the run of play in 2014 by winning four Lok Sabha seats in the Malwa heartland of the state. Since then AAP in Punjab has been trying to put in place a party structure to fully exploit this initial groundswell of support that appeared, almost unbidden. Fortunately, Sanjay Singh, Durgesh Pathak and their top-notch team has been able to put an extensive party organisation into place on the ground over the past eighteen months or so. AAP is also well ahead in candidate selection with over half the candidates already selected and now campaigning in their constituencies. The candidate selection process necessarily led to some upheaval, as was expected, and some departures including the former state convenor who now finds himself all alone in the political wilderness. And then there was the Sidhu drama that began with a bang and then seems to have petered out. After walking out from the BJP and then overplaying his hand with AAP, Sidhu is now busy playing off one camp against the other in the Congress Party. One thing is for sure, you can’t be Awaaz-e-Punjab if you are taking orders from Rahul Gandhi.          

It is important to note that the groundswell of support in Punjab of AAP is only tangentially related to the party’s support in Delhi. In fact many of those who voted for AAP in 2014 make sure to remind visitors that they voted for AAP even when Delhi’s voters failed to do so during the Modi wave and they say this with great pride in their voice. Arvind Kejriwal is the common link for all AAP voters, of course, and the more he takes on Modi in Delhi the more popular he gets in Punjab, where an underdog with a fighting spirit is always admired. So the Modi Government’s strategy to use Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Delhi Police in a war of attrition against the Kejriwal Government is totally backfiring on the ground in Punjab. Because of its turbulent recent history there are few states where people are more suspicious of the police and the central government than in Punjab and Modi Government’s ceaseless bullying tactics in Delhi serve as unwelcome reminders to Punjabis of their own state’s past.

This is going to be a ‘change’ election, of that there is little doubt, the only question is what kind of change Punjab’s voters decide to choose. Amarinder is promising a safe version of change, and that is all it is, campaign promises never to be fulfilled once in office, as has been the case so many times in Punjab’s past and witnessed in Amarinder’s own chief ministerial tenure. Or voters can take the more risky choice of real change promised by AAP, likely to be more turbulent but also a genuine departure from the past, a new vision for Punjab divorced from the arguments of the past. 

A new beginning for Punjab is what AAP promises, but that is not enough to cross the finish line. They will need to convince voters that they are safe pair of hands to govern. Delhi Government’s example will provide some assistance in this endeavour. Modi Government’s extra-constitutional war on the Kejriwal Government is an attempt to stop AAP from crossing this final hurdle of acceptability in Punjab. Congress will target AAP’s lack of a chief  ministerial candidate, a vulnerability that AAP has no obvious solution for at the moment. Arvind Kejriwal’s popularity and credibility in the eyes of Punjab voters will be invaluable but the election hinges on whether voters can make the mental leap required to envision AAP’s local leadership as a government-in-waiting. 

AAP has captured the message of hope in the Punjab election, while Amarinder is relying on emotion and false nostalgia. After a lacklustre summer the Congress is resurgent but yet to begin its ticket distribution exercise, which is likely to be fractious due to prevailing tensions between the young guard and veterans, between PK and sitting MLAs, between Rahul and Amarinder, between Bajwa and Amarinder, just to name a few. As of today it is an election for AAP to win or lose, the crowds at campaign events every day speak for themselves. The electorally significant Malwa heartland south of the Satluj is where AAP is strongest, the Doaba region lying between Beas and Satluj is where the Dalits and NRIs have a major influence and AAP is also doing well, but Amritsar-centred and sceptical Majha is a weak area for AAP and a more localised campaign strategy might be the need of the hour. 

There is no room for AAP to be complacent as the decisive phase of the campaign has just begun and there is a fighting Captain obstructing its path to victory.  

Thursday, 7 July 2016


We are an emotional people and never more so then when the subject is politics. But emotions tend to be an impairment when trying to get a clear view of the political landscape. So for the moment let’s cast aside all the angry recriminations of political spokespersons, the media clatter, and social media babble. The question of the hour being: what are the reasons for the recent escalation of hostilities between the Modi Government and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to a level that seems like almost total war? Admittedly, relations have been steadily deteriorating since AAP’s landslide victory in February 2015, but till now Prime Minister Modi was happy to leave the task of tormenting the Delhi Government to Lieutenant-Governor Najeeb Jung with able support from the Delhi Police and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley putting in a guest appearance on occasion. The recent escalation, however, has been of a higher order and intensity, something no one in Lutyens’ Delhi has missed. 

From the moment Arvind Kejriwal launched his quixotic campaign to challenge Narendra Modi for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat in 2014 the fates of the two man have seemed inextricably linked. The stakes have only risen since then. After all, AAP’s sweeping victory in the 2015 Delhi assembly elections was the first electoral defeat Prime Minister Modi had ever experienced. It was as nasty a campaign as has been seen in recent times and few will forget the sight of union cabinet ministers spreading out across Delhi to try and stop AAP’s guerrilla campaign. In the months since then, LG Najeeb Jung has willingly played proxy for the BJP in its attempt to scuttle AAP’s government, the litany of misdeeds with which we are all familiar. Chief Minister Kejriwal has been pretty vocal about what he thinks of Prime Minister Modi and, if BJP leaders are to be believed, the feelings are mutual. 

With the Congress in retreat and Priyanka Vadra’s apparent entry into a more full-time party role for the Uttar Pradesh election campaign, Rahul Gandhi’s diminishment as a national alternative to Modi continues apace. History tells us that in a durbar there can be only one heir, because when there have been two heirs internal strife is the inevitable result. Such are the dynamics of power. The weakening of Congress has provided AAP opportunities to rise in Punjab, Goa and Gujarat in recent months. The BJP’s grand plan to constrict and destroy AAP within borders of Delhi has largely failed. AAP’s crusade to get to the truth behind PM’s college degrees only heightened tensions between the governments and increased the mutual animosity between the party leaders. 

Recent internal polling done by BJP in select states has startled senior party leaders, especially the rise of AAP in Gujarat, where a defeat for BJP in 2017 would be seen as a personal setback for the PM. Kejriwal’s unequivocal call for the incarcerated firebrand Hardik Patel to be released as well as his impending trip to Gujarat has left the BJP even more jittery. 

Thus we have a rising party on one side and the all powerful ruling party on the other. Naturally the party in power will take every step it can to impede the rise of the challenger. In the case of Narendra Modi we have a Prime Minister who believes in the sledgehammer approach to crushing opponents, as can be seen in his track record in Gujarat.

So, according to senior IB and CBI officers, it seems word recently came down from the PMO asking the agencies why it was that they had files loaded with information on every Chief Minister in the land except for the only one that mattered, Kejriwal. And sure enough in the last week there have been a non-stop series of charges, investigations and cases inflicted on AAP with the most high-profile being the recent arrest of Delhi CM’s Principal Secretary by CBI while the CM was campaigning in Punjab. A direct attempt to target Kejriwal himself. The idea being to pressurise the aide until he breaks and then to turn him against Kejriwal. I will not waste words going into the veracity of the charges, because I’m not a lawyer and frankly it does not matter, everybody knows how the CBI has operated as a tool of the PMO under successive governments and it is even more true under the current regime (in fact, it’s entirely possible during the course of your reading this piece that an AAP leader or MLA could well be charged or arrested for any range of alleged crimes on the basis of a one-line complaint without any corroborating evidence whatsoever, but don’t be overly alarmed because such is everyday life for AAPians in the age of Modi). You’ll hear plenty of headline-making leaks to the media about this and other investigations in the days to come, never to be proven in a court of law because the aim of the entire charade is not judicial but as always electoral. The only thing these desperate strong-arm tactics really reveal is the BJP’s fear of a rising AAP and more importantly fear of the ideas AAP has come to represent in the mind of voters.    

These are the facts so far, and the next six months will be a torrid period for AAP with the Modi Government trying its best to malign the party’s image as corruption-fighters and to malign the aam aadmi-friendly model of governance in Delhi. So what must AAP do to counter this central government-directed campaign against it? With the Badal Govt in Punjab starting to follow suit in recent days and BJP governments in Goa and Gujarat not far behind, AAP needs a new path forward.

It is a given that BJP will do its best repress and malign AAP in the next six months, nothing anybody can do about that, it’s the law of jungle, but AAP can certainly adapt and adjust its strategy to better meet the threat. Since the formation of the AAP Government in Delhi, the acrimonious exit of those two drama queens Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav, and the non-stop war with the central government along with the accompanying media storm, the AAP leadership has understandably been forced to retreat into a bunker mentality just to ensure the party’s survival. That is no longer necessary, the party has survived and prospered, the battle for Delhi is nearing its end and the battle for India is about to begin. It’s safe to come out of the bunker. 

AAP must transform from a guerrilla political organisation, which vanquished the giant, lumbering BJP army in the bylanes Delhi, into a national party that can adapt to the electoral imperatives of larger states. The organisational transformation in Punjab over the last year, spearheaded by AAP’s very own wunderkind Durgesh Pathak and his team, has been nothing short of miraculous. But the national leadership has been somewhat static, and for a party expanding by leaps and bounds at the grass-roots the growth should also be reflected at the top as well by attracting experienced hands. Right now Arvind Kejriwal and his core team have single-handedly taken on the might of the Modi Government, but it’s time to recruit reinforcements to help broaden the campaign fight and spread the burden. There must be space for experienced national and state leaders from other parties with a track record of honest and competent service to be welcomed into the national leadership structure. In the larger war to come AAP will require more generals, and anybody who thinks otherwise is living in a fool’s paradise. As the big tent of the Congress collapses nationally it is imperative that AAP takes its place like it has done on a much smaller scale in Delhi.

Delhi Government, in a very short period, has earned a well-deserved reputation for competence and reforming zeal particularly in the areas of education and health care, a creditable achievement certainly but it is not near enough for AAP to be taken seriously as a national party. In addition to education and health AAP will have to start participating in the national debate on vital subjects that it has only done so sporadically like foreign affairs, national security and finance, with well thought out policy stances. This will require opening up the party to policy experts in these fields, many of whom being retired bureaucrats and establishment-types are naturally suspicious of AAP, and will require some wooing. The good news is that there are many who are willing to help and are just waiting for the right opportunity.

Part of transitioning out of the bunker mentality will require that AAP’s frontline leadership must now take a step back from daily battles as participants in combative press conferences and television debates, which take their toll and leave all participants less worthy in the eyes of the viewer. The reason any political party has spokespersons is to project the party message while insulating the leaders from the daily maelstrom of the media madness so they can preserve their image and concentrate on more important party-building tasks. Younger spokespersons, like the soft-spoken but formidable Atishi Marlena, will be far more effective in dealing with the Sambit Patras of the world and frontline leaders can interject themselves into the media debate as and when it is necessary. Also the tendency to hold daily press conferences about the latest conspiracy theory before checking its veracity or collecting solid evidence must be put an end to as soon as possible, it hurts the party’s credibility and plays right into the criticism that AAP cries wolf without any factual basis. Above all it is lazy politics of little or no electoral benefit and careless accusations may make headlines in the short term but tend to prove counter-productive in the long term. Political parties are not media organisations and nor should they try to be. Politics at its best is about knowing when to exercise restraint as much as it’s about knowing when to act decisively, and the ability to strike a balance between both these instincts is what makes the difference between success and failure. No other party can match AAP in terms of fighting spirit and energy, traits when combined with tactical adroitness and message discipline will likely be unbeatable.               

In politics a party either evolves to changing circumstances or soon meets its end, and you just have to look at the current condition of the Congress Party for proof of this maxim. The Aam Aadmi Party has overcome an unprecedented eighteen months of sustained assault by the combined might of the Sarkari Dilli establishment, media included, on a mission to destroy it. It has been a trial by fire for the party and has emerged battle-hardened. Modi Government can return every bill the Delhi Government passes, can arrest or disqualify every AAP MLA, it can continue to use the CBI and police to trump up charges against Arvind Kejriwal, but they will soon come to realise that the Indian people always root for the underdog who stands up to the powerful for a worthy cause. In that regard this is still very much Mahatma Gandhi’s India. With elections in Punjab, Goa and Gujarat due next year, 2017 could well be the year of AAP.  

Let me conclude by telling a story, quite possibly apocryphal, that is often retold at Lutyens’ Delhi cocktail parties with a mixture of wonder and horror. The story goes that a junior IRS officer put in a request for unpaid long leave from service and was asked by his immediate superior the reason for this unusual request, the young officer replied he wished to give his entire attention and energy to fight and root out the corruption in India’s governing system. Needless to say the request for long leave was not immediately approved, but nor was it denied, and made its way up the chain of command with each succeeding officer passing the request swiftly upward like it was a ticking bomb about to explode on their desk. Finally the request reached the Revenue Secretary in North Block, who was equally clueless about what to do with it and so went to see the Finance Minister, the previous BJP-led government then being in power and the inimitable Jaswant Singh being the incumbent. After Jaswant Singh heard the predicament he laughed out loud and said he was impressed with the young man’s gumption. Jaswant Singh is said to have approved the request for leave on the spot. The young officer’s name, which I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, was Arvind Kejriwal.