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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Modi and the art of triangulation

In a democracy, politicians try to satisfy as many people as possible. Since, one man’s food can be another man’s poison, satisfying every person is almost impossible.  The politician who satisfies the most number of people will come up trumps in the elections. So, when formulating policies on contentious issues, politicians intend to reach out to those who haven’t voted for them previously, while trying to ensure that they don’t lose the support of their existing voters. This delicate maneuvering can be described by the term “Triangulation”. Below is the brief overview of triangulation. (See: Matt Bai. “Is ‘Triangulation’ Just Another Word for the Politics of the Possible ” NYTimes, 16 December 2010, (accessed 22 July 2013))

“The term “triangulation,” politically speaking, dates back to the days after President Bill Clinton lost control of Congress in 1994. Mr. Clinton sought the advice of the pollster Dick Morris, who used the term (primarily with the news media) to describe the way in which he thought Mr. Clinton might claw his way back into the public’s esteem.

Think of a standing triangle with either party at the corners of its base — Democrats on the left, Republicans on the right. The president, Mr. Morris argued, should occupy the third point, in the center and well above the partisan fray.

In truth, Mr. Clinton, who never actually used the term, probably didn’t need the nice little diagram to point him in this direction. He had come to power in the party as a critic of liberal orthodoxy and had long argued — at great political peril inside his party — for fiscal discipline, welfare reform, free trade and a more moderate social agenda. What Mr. Morris called triangulation was really just a strategic frame for the policy goals that Mr. Clinton would most likely have pursued in any event.”

What has struck the author is clever usage of “Triangulation” by Narendra Modi to solve many dilemmas. Listed below are ways Modi has put “Triangulation” to use.

Dilemma: One requires developmental/industrial projects to bring prosperity/employment to people. At the same time, one should not come across as not caring a damn about the environment in the name of development.

Triangulation: So as not to cede any ground to the left wing on the issue of environmental protection, Modi has taken steps to tackle climate change, with one of the steps being increased use of renewable energy resources. He has also written a book on the steps taken by the Gujarat government in this regard (“Convenient Action” published in 2010). He has framed the issue of environmental protection as just a consequence of following the native Indian tradition of considering Earth as a mother and worshiping/protecting her. So, it satisfies people who care about environmental protection without putting off those Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters who care about economic opportunity (Since most BJP voters are Hindu and attached to native Indian traditions, they can’t find fault with the policy to protect mother Earth)

Dilemma: Smooth land acquisition by the government for businesses is one of the requirements for them to start their projects in the state. But at the same time if it is done improperly it will put off the land owners, and lead to loss of votes.

Triangulation: Modi has shown that one can promote business by acting as an intermediary to acquire land and giving it to industrialists, but at the same time one could avoid putting off landowners by simply paying them the right price (See Murali Gopalan and N. Ramakrishnan. “The Auto Wars — Tamil Nadu vs. Gujarat“, The Hindu Business Line, 18 March 2013, (accessed 22 July 2013). Gujarat government has been commended by the SC for ensuring that land acquisition is by and large smooth without much protest from the landowners (See Express news service. “Land Act a fraud, learn from Gujarat, says SC“, Indian Express, 5 August 2011, (accessed 22 July 2013)). Thus, Modi is able to promote business and get votes from those benefiting from development without putting off the villagers.

Dilemma: Loss making PSUs are a burden on the treasury and are inefficient. But privatization of them will lead to a lot of noise from the opposition, and might lead to loss of votes from government employees.

Triangulation: Modernizing the PSUs to make a loss making PSUs profitable (See Mail Today bureau. “India doesn’t need act, it needs action! Narendra Modi spellbound audience with his high voltage speech at India Today Conclave 2013″. India Today Website, March 17 2013, (accessed 22 July 2013). Though in general, he is for keeping the government out of business, in certain contexts, this third way might be a good way of keeping the financial hawks happy without giving an issue for the left to attack.

Dilemma: Labour reforms are required to improve the business climate. But, political opposition (including opposition from potential coalition partners) to these reforms is huge, and might lead to a lot of noise.

Triangulation: By advocating that removing labour issue from concurrent list would give an opportunity for at least some states to implement labour reforms, he has ensured that he satisfies the economic right-wing without rankling any potential coalition partner who might not agree to labour reforms. (See P. Vaidyanathan Iyer and Sandeep Singh. “India Inc gets a peek into Narendra Modi’s agenda” Indian Express, 28 June 2013, (accessed 22 July 2013))

Dilemma: Food security bill will lead to a lot of corruption and might add to the economic ruin. But, opposing it will make sure you won’t come to power again.

Triangulation: Since one can’t oppose the bill outright, he has used a clever rhetoric “Action not Acts” to call the bluff that merely enacting a bill doesn’t result in any improvement of food security on the ground. So, the government can’t just claim votes by saying that they have enacted a food bill, but it can do so only by showing that they have really implemented it well, which is a very difficult task with a corruption ridden bureaucracy.

Dilemma: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an important source of BJP’s cadre, is against westernization. But, at the same time the young population of India has a modern outlook.

Triangulation: Modi has done two things here. First is using “Swami Vivekananda” as a youth icon. Swami Vivekananda is a source of inspiration for countless students. By using him as the icon, he has turned the debate away from the usual “Valentine’s day”, etc. to one of youth power. Using a Hindu icon to woo the youth is hitting the bull’s eye. The second step is the clever rhetoric “Modernization without the westernization” in the context of education. One thing which comes to mind when one hears this is the establishment of Indian Institute of Science by JRD Tata, after he had a chat with Swami Vivekananda on a voyage from Japan to Chicago about channeling India’s ascetic spirit to useful channels. See the letter from JRD Tata to Swami Vivekananda, in the Indian Institute of Science Archives.

Dilemma: Industries are needed to generate employment. But, too much focus on industries can lead to an image that the farmers may not like.

Triangulation: BJP has been a traditionally urban party. By the focus on Agriculture which has resulted in approximately 10% agriculture growth per year, he has managed to keep the farmers happy. Another good step planned in this regard is reaching out to farmers through “Vibrant Gujarat Global Agri-Business Summit 2013″ (See Kapil Dave. “Now, a Vibrant summit for farmers” Times of India, July 11 2013, article (accessed 22 July 2013)) to be held in Mahatma Mandir. To folks like Ramachandra Guha, who were repulsed at the sight of the huge “Mahatma Mandir”(See Ramachandra Guha. “Delusions of grandeur - The curious transformation of Narendra Modi” The Telegraph, 26 March 2011, (accessed 22 July 2013)), by reaching out to industry, farmers at the same time on an issue of mutual benefit without playing one against the other, he has provided a fitting reply.

Dilemma: Outreach to Muslims with appeasement would not be liked by BJP’s core voters. If the outreach to Muslims is not done, they might vote strategically to keep BJP out.

Triangulation: Modi has tried to reach out to Muslims in two ways. One is working with people who want to bring development to the Muslims (See Zafar Sareshwala, “Why Gujarati Muslims are with Modi” The India Blog, entry posted June 6, 2013, (accessed July 22, 2013)) and giving representation to those Muslims (who are focused on development) at local body level (See Uday Mahurkar. “Muslims Chant NaMO Mantra” India Today, March 16 2013 (accessed 22 July 2013)). The second is addressing the riots issue using “Sadbhavana mission”. The good thing about the word “Sadbhavana” is that it means that everyone needs to have good feelings towards each other. 

It’s not one sided appeasement. Contrary to what some article writers think (See Mukul Kesavan. “DEATH AND DEVELOPMENT - Mr. Modi’s package deal” The Telegraph, 12 July 2013, (accessed 22 July 2013)), core voters want Muslims to do well, but are opposed to tax payers making allowance for or subsidizing the ignorance of some sections of Muslim society. The core voters are not opposed to outreaching towards Muslims with a development focus without special allocations/one-sided-appeasement. Contrast this triangulation with how Mr. Advani tried to do outreach with his “Jinnah was secular” remark. That surely outraged BJP’s core voters.

Dilemma: BJP is known as a “Bania, Brahmin party”. Outreach to people of other castes by playing casteist politics will put off the core BJP voter.

Triangulation: By paying homage to social reformers, not belonging to “upper castes”, like Narayana Guru who brought about great change in the society without abandoning Hinduism, he is managing to attract the attention of people of those castes without putting off the core voter. He himself not being from the upper caste but embracing Hinduism, attracts people from other castes while not losing any upper caste votes.

To conclude, if one had to use only one word to describe Modi, it wouldn’t be “dictator” or “messiah”.  I’ll use the word “pragmatic”. If he were to come to power, he wouldn’t be populist and make India a basket case like Indira Gandhi did. He wouldn’t do unpopular economic reforms which will ensure defeat for the BJP in the next elections. He would undertake projects with gestation periods less than five years which would result in the visible change on the ground, and which would help him to bring him back to power. No wonder other politicos fear him.

P.S: Recent pronouncements from Modi about being a “Hindu nationalist” kind of put a spanner in the works of outreach towards people of other religions. Modi’s image is of a no-nonsense politician who won’t tolerate sacrificing the interests of Hindus at the altar of secularism. There is no need of proclaiming anything more. It’s like adding chocolate sauce to chocolate. Too much of it, and there could be death by chocolate.


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