Centrestage by Uday Mahurkar: Book Review
How Narendra Modi’s governance model actually works. A catalogue of Modi's schemes  

By the time you read this issue, the verdict of general elections of 2014 would have been clear. And, with that, we would have got the answer to the intense speculation that has gripped the nation for the past six months—whether Narendra Modi can become the prime minister, after a calculated and high-energy election campaign across the country, the like of which India has not seen before. If Modi leads the BJP to more than 200 seats and a winning alliance, it would be a feat that has combined technological brilliance, meticulous planning, strategic seat distribution and tireless personal drive—remarkable for a man of 64.
 
Unfortunately, despite this, people are hardly wiser about Modi; he remains an enigma. Many people have tried to pick holes in his ‘Gujarat model’ and scholars, like Amartya Sen, have outright denounced him as being harmful for India. 
 
The media has not been in favour, by and large. He has refused to give interviews to top English ‘news’ channels, because they have been persistently anti-Modi in the past. Modi has appealed to the masses directly through rallies and, since the rallies were worth covering, the media, especially the television media, ended up giving him massive publicity. 
 
So, what can India expect from this man, if he becomes the PM? Among a section of the people, huge expectations have been built. They believe that Modi can provide solutions to India’s six-decade-long problems. Others fear Modi’s attitude to minorities and also suspect he is more hype, oratory and marketing. After all, running a state is different from running a country.
 
Will Narendra Modi unite or divide? Will he deliver growth with social justice? We don’t know; but here is a story Mahurkar narrates: In July 2013, a right wing activist of Saurashtra spent two days with a group of 350 armed Maoists in a Jharkhand jungle. The activist was surprised to find that a third of those Maoists felt that Narendra Modi had the capacity to take the fruits of development to the poorest of the poor, through his committed and innovative governance. 
 
When asked about why they rooted for a man who should be ideologically a sworn enemy of the ultra-reds like them, they told the stunned activist that they were fighting for a just share in their region’s development cake for the poor and whoever gave it to them would get their support.
 
Mahurkar has been based as the Gujarat correspondent of India Today for almost three decades. He has personally known Modi for years and has observed the Gujarat model closely. He has written a book that avoids some uncomfortable facts about 2002 and, instead, focuses on Modi’s governance. 
 
According to the author, three of his innovations are unprecedented in India—his decision to introduce online voting for civic body elections in the state in 2010, making voting compulsory at the civic body election level and giving voters the right to reject candidates. Unfortunately, the last two suggestions were rejected by the state governor and, therefore, couldn’t be implemented. 
 
What Modi unsuccessfully recommended in 2010 was, however, adopted by the Supreme Court in September 2013, when it directed the National Election Commission to give the voters the Right to Reject by giving an option in the electronic voting machine (EVM) titled  ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA).
 
KC Kapoor, who was the election commissioner of Gujarat from 2007 to 2011, says: “Modi can only be complimented for his vision and political will in taking these historic electoral decisions. Few leaders have the courage as well as the foresight to take such tough calls in the interest of democracy.” And Modi has been repeatedly described as a fascist. 
 
Modi has had several other path-breaking initiatives to his credit. One such is to celebrate every Independence Day, Republic Day and Gujarat Day at a new district headquarter with a view to bring in focused development and foster a sense of pride in the locals about their culture and history. 
 
Another one is to make a massive drive for female education. “From 2003 onwards, every year, about 700 top officers of the state including more than 160 IAS officers have been fanning to the village for 2-3 days in the third week of June in the sweltering summer heat, convincing parents to send their children to schools, especially the girls.
The timing of the annual drive is made to coincide with admission of new students in the school every year. The campaign has brought down the overall school dropout rate in the government primary schools in the state from 46.78 percent to almost 7 percent and enhanced the enrolment percentage from 74.43 percent to 99.25 percent in the past 
decade.”
 
Mahurkar narrates many such programmes of Modi and some anecdotes that underline a strong and impartial administration. He explains in detail the heart of Modi’s achievement: tremendous growth in agriculture. According to YK Alagh, sustained growth of 4% in agriculture is rare because acreage tends to remain fixed and so the gains have to come entirely from productivity. And, yet, Gujarat has managed a 6% agricultural growth, according to him and 8% according to agricultural economists Ashok Gulati and Tushaar Shah. This was possible by tripling the number of check dams, drip irrigation, providing 24X7 power and charging for it. Mahurkar’s account shows how all this was actually implemented. An interesting account for those who make up their minds about this forceful personality before gathering enough knowledge.
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An Undocumented Wonder : Book Review
The inside story of the Indian general elections by the former CEC

The Indian election is a gigantic exercise that is often called the ‘greatest show on earth’. As Gopalkrishna Gandhi sums up in his foreword to this book: “India is valued the world over for a great many things, but for three over others: The Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and India’s electoral democracy. The credit for the last of the three fames goes to the people of India... The people are the propulsive force, the driving energy of India’s electoral democracy... But the vehicle’s engine… is the Election Commission of India. And behind the vehicle’s steering wheel is the Chief Election Commissioner of India.” 
 
Dr SY Quraishi, he says, has not only given us a “vivid portrayal of what makes India’s elections work and prevail over many obstacles that confront it,” but  also “confidence and pride.”
 
“The book is my modest attempt to unravel the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto,” says Dr Quraishi. 
 
As promised, the pages are replete with anecdotes, case studies and analyses. The book is divided into 13 chapters. The most interesting reads are: Engaging Youth: Converting Subjects into Citizens, Secure Elections Safer Democracy, Voter Education towards Peoples’ Participation and Money Power in Elections.
 
Dr Quraishi, in the chapter on ‘Use of Technology in the Indian Elections’ outlines the Election Commission’s efforts at providing better services that include online enrolment in electoral rolls, complaint registration and public grievance management, call centres for public grievances, online information sharing and electoral roll search. And, yet, tens of thousands of people have been unable to vote in Maharashtra and elsewhere. 
 
 Dr Quraishi also dwells at length on his own innovations, including the creation of voters’ education and election expenditure monitoring divisions, India International Institute of Democracy and election management and distribution of voter slips and their impact. 
 
The most illuminative for me was an extract of the election rules and processes in early medieval India (sourced from www.conserveheritage.org). The stringent pre-qualification and disqualification norms of an earlier era, such as knowledge of business, honest income, a pure mind, accountability and many others probably need to be included in the Representation of Peoples Act once again. 
 
The book ends with the author’s reflections on ‘a few unresolved issues that affect Indian polity’ such as elections as the source of major corruption, the rise of the rich in politics, participation without representation, etc. 
 
Overall, this book is a must-read for all Indians to understand, from a man who has conducted this greatest show, what it means to participate in the election process. They will then see that being part of democratic India is not just a right or a duty but a privilege; and, hopefully, we will see even larger numbers of people coming out to vote in the future.
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'Elections: An undocumented Wonder' by Dr SY Quraishi -Book Review

Former CEC Dr SY Quraishi unravels the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto in his book, 'An Undocumented Wonder'. The book will be launched in Mumbai on 9th May

The Indian election is a gigantic exercise that is often called the “greatest show on earth”, not merely because of the scale, size and diversity of the exercise but because of the vibrant volatility of our democracy.

 

Dr SY Quraishi’s well-written book “An undocumented Wonder- the Making of the Great Indian Election” would be launched in Mumbai (https://www.moneylife.in/events/Quraishibooklaunch/index.html ) on 9th May by Deepak Parekh, in presence of television and film actor Kabir Bedi and note social activist Medha Patkar, at the Indian Merchants Chamber.

 

Gopalkrishna Gandhi succinctly sums this up in his foreword to the book. He says, “India is valued the world over for a great many things, but for three over others: The Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and India’s electoral democracy. The credit for the last of the three fames goes to the people of India ... The people are the propulsive force, the driving energy of India’s Electoral democracy. ... But the vehicle’s engine, where ignition and combustion take place and the fuel and engine combine to move the vehicle is the Election Commission of India (ECI)”. And behind the vehicle’s steering wheel is the Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC)”. Dr SY Quraishi, by documenting 'The Making of the Great Indian Election”, he says, has not only given us a ‘vivid portrayal of what makes India’s elections work and prevail over many obstacles that confront it’, but by also ‘confidence and pride’.

 

If only this well-written book had been released before the 2014 Parliamentary Elections instead of making its appearance at the fag end of the polls in May 2014, it would have made a world of difference, more particularly to the lakhs of people who were reportedly unable to vote in Pune, Nagpur and Mumbai. The Election Commission ought to have announced to citizens via print and electronic media that it expects everyone to recheck their names, even if they have been voting in all earlier elections. It would have made a big difference.

 

Dr Quraishi, in the chapter on Use of technology in the Indian elections outlines the Election Commission’s efforts at providing better services that include online enrolment in electoral rolls, complaint registration and public grievance management, call centres for public grievances, online information sharing and electoral roll search.

 

Dr Quraishi writes - “The book is my modest attempt to unravel the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto.

 

As promised, the pages are 'replete with anecdotes, case studies and analyses’. It ends with the author's reflections on ‘a few unresolved issues that affect Indian polity’ such as the paradox of great elections and a flawed democracy, election as the mother of corruption, the rise of the rich in politics, participation without representation, protest and participatory politics, the election as a festival and not a funeral’. Dr Quraishi also dwells at length on his own innovations, including the creation of Voters’ Education and Election Expenditure Monitoring Divisions, India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management and distribution of voter slips and their impact. Here again, as a Mumbaikar, I believe, if the distribution of voter slips was known to more voters through a public information campaign, they would have checked out to ascertain their names figure in the voting list and would not have had to return disappointed.

 

The book is divided into thirteen chapters – the most interesting reads are Engaging Youth: Converting Subjects into Citizens, Secure Elections Safer Democracy, Voter Education towards peoples’ participation, and Money power in elections.

 

The most illuminative to me is an extract on Election rules and processes in early medieval India (sourced from www.conserveheritage.org) listing inter alia the selection process in ancient India. The nominee’s name written on a pre-designed palm leaf is dropped in the common pot (kodavolai in Tamil) on election day, in the presence of all the people. The oldest priest randomly transfers some leaves to another pot and a small boy from the crowd is asked to pick one. The winner is chosen. The basic criteria for contesting is that the candidate lives in a house on taxpaid land, is between the age of 35 and 70, knows the rules and laws mantra-prahmaana. The qualifications required are– knowledge of business, honest income, a pure mind and not been on any previous committees. The disqualifications are more stringent; they exclude those who are foolhardy, those who have accepted bribes in any form, have been on a committee that has not submitted accounts, the foolhardy, those who have stolen the property of another, partaken in forbidden dishes, committed sins and have become pure by performing expiatory ceremonies or those guilty of incest. For a country whose Bharatiya Sanskriti goes back millennia, some of these some of these qualifications and disqualifications probably need to be included in the Representation of Peoples Act, Election Moral Code of Conduct that are violated so brazenly.

 

Another interesting box lists the modus operandi of hiding illegal expenses during elections. The 40 different modes listed are unique, as also the six ways of corrupt political financing. There is a page on Financial Discipline and Accountability that requires audit of election expenditure by EC empanelled chartered accountants. These in-house auditors of political parties “are naturally likely to do a perfunctory or whitewash job” says the author.

 

Some over hyped controversies includes a box on How costly was the cost of covering Mayawati/ BSP symbol ‘elephant’. Dr Quraishi’s also has some interesting comments on his predecessors such as TN Seshan chomping carrots and gabbling on about how he eats politicians for breakfast, JM Lyngdoh being a stickler for rules, who moved Gujarat Chief Minister to refer to him in public rallies as ‘James Michael Lyngdoh in a sly reference to the fact that he is a Christian.’

 

The chapter Emerging concerns in Electoral Reforms delves with concerns of aam citizens like cleaning criminalization of politics, Tainted MPs in the Lok Sabha, Inner Party Democracy, Transparency in accounts of parties, the problem of dummy candidates, Right to Reject.

 

The pros and cons of the NOTA option that is used in France, Belgium, Brazil, Chile and Bangladesh, provisions regarding the Right to Reject in Canada are discussed at length. Compulsory Voting, relevance of First-past-the-post and Proportional Representation systems also figure.

 

The concluding chapter Reflections and afterthoughts has an interesting quote from Sir Winston Churchill –“Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried’ and failed.” This has his reflections on Trust in public institutions, Tally of the tainted, Enriching the rich, Mother of all corruption, Good Elections Flawed Democracy, Fifty plus one, his views on compulsory voting, Funereal or Festival, Yes, We Can, Is AAP Movement Democracy or Anarchy?

 

Overall, this book is a must read for all Indians to understand, from a man who has conducted this greatest show, what it means to participate in the election process. They will then see that being part of democratic India is not a right or a duty but a privilege and hopefully we will see even larger numbers of people coming out to vote in the future.

An Undocumented Wonder

Author: Dr SY Quraishi
Publisher: Rainlight Rupa,
434 pages
Price: Rs795 


(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai-based chartered accountant turned concerned citizen activist.)

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