The Democracy Paradox

The incentives of a party fighting elections are straightforward: they want to win the elections. The spoils of power are tempting, and everyone works hard. But once they come to power, their incentives are not quite so straightforward.

Consider the two things they needed to come to power: money and votes. Let’s start with money. All democratic politics is about the interplay between power and money. You need humungous amounts of money to win elections. Special interest groups or wealthy individuals provide this money. They do it as an investment, not out of benevolence. And when their horse wins, they want an RoI. They used money to buy power; now they want the power to be used to make them money.

Amit Varma looks at the symbiotic relationship between money and political power in an exploration of why ‘democracy’ is of the special interests, by the special interests, for the special interests.

Bonus, Amit’s review of the Prashant Jha book How the BJP Wins Elections. (Which I read earlier this week, and will recommend as a primer on the Indian political process and how the BJP plays it to brilliant effect).

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WTF Just Happened: September 22 edition

Subramanian Swamy plays canary in the coal-mine in a recent interview,  where he said that the economy was heading for a “tailspin” and that the signs have been evident since May of last year when he first warned Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the possibility.

It is not a new message; economists have been warning of this possibility for over a year now, before demonetization, first, and then the hasty introduction of GST, struck further blows at the economy. Those warnings were deflected as coming from ‘anti-nationals’ and the ‘Lutyens media’ — criticisms that can hardly be leveled at Swamy, which is why it pays to listen to the interview in its entirety.

‘Tailspin’ is the leitmotif of an alarming number of stories/analysis in the media. A detailed Livemint analysis of the state of the economy has ‘tailspin’ right up there in the headline; the same paper details a UN Conference on Trade and Development report that warns of ‘serious downturn risks’. A recent State Bank of India report categorically refutes BJP president Amit Shah’s spin that the slowdown is for ‘technical reasons’. The Economic Times warns of a looming pension crisis; the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has downgraded its forecast for the fiscal ’18.

Swamy makes the point that a series of planned remedial measures is urgently required if the trend is not to become irreversible. A series of news items from recent times indicates why:

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What The Fuck Just Happened?: 21/09 edition

I was supposed to be in Kerala this week — partly for personal reasons, partly to meet with some local journalists and grassroots politicians from both sides of the divide to gain some sense of what is going on in my home state. Torrential rains and a landslide blocking NH17 along the Thamarasherry stretch of the Ghat road caused a postponement, but news from there continues to stream through my email box. Like, so:

#1. Students Federation of India goons attack policemen attempting to prevent them from clashing with a rival group. Nine suspects have been booked in the case, under Section 332, causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty. (more stringent clauses, relating to assault, attempt to murder etc would be a more effective statement).

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We reap what we sow

A bunch of local BJP leaders embarked on a cleanliness drive in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. A bystander asked one of the leaders, a woman, when she will clean her own locality.

You will totally believe what happened next. (Apologies for the clickbait phrasing, and for the foul language contained in the video clip linked above, but you need to see the video clip for yourself.)

Man, someone once said, is the only animal that selects someone less capable to lead him.

H/T Saji Nair on Twitter.

And that reminds me: my DM is open on Twitter. And then there is the comments section here. Appreciate tips to stories that I should read and/or that you seek comments on. I’ll try to swing by at least twice a day to check.

Post fact ergo…

Arnab Goswami is again in the news. This time, for making up an entirely fictitious account of his encounter with a lynch mob during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Making up an entirely fictitious account”, which is how I described the act in the previous para, is of a piece with “alternate facts”, the coinage popularized by Kelyanne Conway — epistemological obfuscation. What Goswami did, shorn of such window dressing, is: he lied.

Rajdeep Sardesai and other senior journalists who were Goswami’s colleagues at NDTV at the time were right to call out the lie. One of the issues with the press is that it takes unto itself the power, and the responsibility, to ‘speak truth to power’, but when it comes to wrongdoing by peers, falls strangely silent.

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Links: On fake news, and an edit

Fake news damages public trust in news media.

Fake news undermines public confidence in our democratic discourse.

Fake news exacerbates economic pressures facing quality news organisations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fake news highlights issues of responsibility and regulation in our fast-evolving media ecosystem.

Excerpted from a speech by Lionel Barner, editor of the Financial Times, that is worth reading in full. Bonus: Octavius Caesar.

On a tangentially related note, I’ve been thinking about and collecting examples of clickbait journalism — which, along with fake news, is metastasizing into a major problem for a media already shorn of credibility. My growing collection includes annotated examples from various media houses (all of which I’ll bring together into a post one day soon). Here is the example I picked to annotate today — see the comments appended to the highlights, and the summary story right at the end.

What rubbish!

Update“We are out here cleaning India Gate. Cleaning programmes are going on across the country. The message is we have to keep India clean. Everybody and not just government officials will have to participate in this. And it has to be an everyday operation, not just once in a year and not just for the camera.”

Alphons Kannanthanam, a recent inductee into the Union Cabinet, was doing his bit for the Swach Bharat cause — pity that he first arranged for cameras and the press, and then had volunteers litter the India Gate lawns so he could “clean it up”. That he then lectured about camera-ops is merely the ironical icing on the cake.

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