We get filtered news through the English media on the UP elections. In most cases, it is what the parties would have us believe. So, stories emanate about how internal surveys show the Congress leading, and another report has the BJP focused on 243 seats of the 400+ in the state. It will all boil down to the Muslim vote, some say. Will it be united or will it split? And so on.
What I find surprising is that every party is playing the same game of caste arithmetic. I wish, and I accept that this be living in fantasy land, one of them would have chosen to create a clear positive campaign centred around good governance and development. For example, the BJP could have adopted a slogan like “Uttar Pradesh Ki Dharti, Gujarat-Bihar Ki Niti, Aap Ki Tarakki.” But we may still be a few years ahead of thinking beyond caste to economic growth as the primary aspirational agenda.
So, the game goes on. Elections, they say, are all about addition. And Indian elections like those in UP, are all about adding castes and sub-castes!
The real battle, of course, is in Uttar Pradesh. From the reports and hearsay, here is what I have gathered. BSP and SP are in tough fight for first place, with both expected to get 120-130 seats. In essence, the BSP is expected to lose about 90 seats from its 2007 tally. These spoils are what everyone is going after. BJP and Congress are in race for 3rd and 4th place, with both hoping to get in excess of 75 seats so they can then decide who forms the government.
Things could still change dramatically. In UP, caste matters more than anything, and there is a lot of attention all the parties are paying to their candidates and campaigners to ensure the right math. It is a seat-by-seat fight.
On election day, what will make all the difference is the get-out-the-vote operation. In a four-cornered contest (not counting the smaller parties who are also in the fray), victory margins are going to be wafer-thin, so that party which does a better job of getting its supporters out to vote will have a significant advantage.
Elections in India are always fun. No one really knows how voters think, and yet everyone tries to speculate. Voters get wooed in multiple different ways through all kind of sops. It is both political theatre and a celebration of democracy, as commentators repeatedly remind us. And every bunch of state elections is a “semi-final” for something or the other.
And so we have yet another exciting electoral extravaganza in store for us. All national decision making is in suspended animation till the results are declared on March 4, and the Uttar Pradesh scenario plays itself out. In a frenzied way, we are fed stories every day of the caste calculus, and which way the winds of change are blowing.
The other four states – Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa – suffer by comparison to UP. And yet they are also important. A lot has happened in the past year in India, and people now get to vote. Each state has its own dynamics, so it may be hard to decipher a national mood, but there will be plenty of indications as to what people are thinking.
I wrote a series similar to the one I wrote this week a year ago:
Every year is different. Every year brings with it its own set of ups and downs. Many times, during sad moments, we ask why it is happening to us. The corollary to that is that we never do so in happy moments. Over the years, I have learnt to take the ups and downs, the happy and sad moments, in my stride.
The early years of being an entrepreneur in India in the 1990s were very difficult. That is where I learnt to recognise and accept failure. In some ways, it also taught me to experiment and try innovating – because more than anything else, it is the fear of failure that prevents us from trying something new and different.
Through the years, I have now learnt not to worry about failure. As I tell people, in my entrepreneurial life, I have probably failed with 15 ideas that I have tried to create. A few have succeeded, and that is what the world sees. But these successes were built on the failures that I learnt to accept and build upon.
And so it will be with 2011. There are many fresh ideas I have both in NetCore and on the Political front. Some will succeed, but some will fail. It will be for me to apply the lessons I have learnt through the past two decades and create something India and I can be proud.
So, 2012 is upon us. As I was telling a friend recently, for the first time in the past 20-odd years, I get the feeling that tomorrow is not as bright as today. Maybe, it is the economic scenario. Maybe, it is the frustration with the political policy-making. Optimism has always been a key factor for all of us, and that seems to be in less supply this time around.
For Netcore and OneIndia, the most important challenge is to maintain the growth momentum. We are too small to worry about upturns and downturns. The market opportunities are there and we have to capitalise on them. The external environment needs to make us much more focused on a small set of things that we should do better than anyone else.
For me, with each passing year, the desire to help transform India’s policy future grows. There has been a lot more time spent thinking than doing. The problem is so big that there are many ways of doing things and not making any impact. The thinking has been to see how to craft a path to the desired future – much like Connelly plots his storylines!
Wish you all a wonderful 2012.
On the personal front, the highlight for me was the trip I made to China as part of Narendra Modi’s business delegation. There were multiple other travels – a couple trips to the US, and three short vacations in Bali, Binsar and Munnar. Vacations are when I get extended time with a growing Abhishek (he will be 7 in April).
Life otherwise has its own set routine. And from time to time, I feel the need to change that. Which of course is not easy! There is office to attend, meetings to do, emails to be answered, and so on. I do try and read, but the list of books I’d like to read goes longer and longer! I ended the year reading two thrillers by Michael Connelly – The Drop and The Fifth Witness. Great reads, both.
On the gadgets front, I bought an iPad 1 in Jan last year, along with an Amazon Kindle. I got a second phone with the Samsung Galaxy II S. In August, I bought a new HP Laptop and a Canon Camera. All seem quite out-dated already!
There is also a need for us to educate and build public support for economic reforms. As it turns out, every time a reform is proposed, the ones who are disintermediated or negatively impacted are the ones who shout loudest – and therefore get heard. The ones who benefit – in the majority – haven’t been explained the benefits in a language they can understand, and so stay silent. No prizes for guessing the outcome.
India needs economic reforms – and more importantly, it needs a vocal constituency that supports these reforms. In 2011, India’s stock market lost nearly 40% in dollar terms. The bad policies are hurting our pockets and our futures. We cannot stand idly by. We need a change in objectives of government and the policies – and we need to understand this. If not, we can expect a 2012 that is likely to also be bad.
The political space is fascinating – if you think about it with a non-politician mindset. I see it as an entrepreneur – white spaces, inefficiencies, opportunities for disruptive innovation. All of this needs to be done without worrying about the outcome (or ‘exit’ in start-up terms). That is what I want to do in 2012.
The Indian political landscape was full of unexpected twists and turns, and most of them were in the wrong direction. In many ways, I think only when things become bad do we realise the need to act and do something. I think we are getting there.
If there is one thing I am now firmly convinced about, it is that coalition politics are not going to work for the good of the country. So, the next national election has to be about convincing the electorate for one or the other national parties. It has to be a “275 election”, which means one of the national parties (Congress or the BJP) needs to get majority on its own. The approach one has to take to get to 275 is very different from trying to get to 160-175 seats.
I think over the next two years, people in India are going to realise that there is a need for strong leadership at the national level. At a basic level, all parties are probably similar, even as ideologies and approaches differ. What will change the discourse is the leadership the parties put on offer.
In this context, I want to see how I can help the BJP get to 275. Of course, it needs the right leadership. In a summation of states elections, we will be back to square one when it comes to governance.
As I write this on the last day of 2011, the Year is about to transition. A New Year is a good time to reflect on the recent past and think about the future.
My life can be thought of as three compartments – business, some of the political change part, and the personal bits. Let’s start with the business part.
I wrote recently about Netcore’s business on the blog. The year had started with great hope, but the regulation changed in the SMS business has dampened some of that enthusiasm. As we rebuild the mobile infra and marketing business, the email marketing business is showing great promise has become the growth engine for us.
Our inability to make MyToday work was more a reflection on some of the decisions we made, but there are some interesting new ideas that we have been thinking. The mobile web opens up a lot of opportunities, and perhaps we can apply some of the work and learnings in a new context. Life’s empty moments continue to be there – and all we have for company is the mobile device.