this article is in the feb 2016 issue of swarajya magazine. http://swarajyamag.com/magazine/the-first-few-baby-steps

India is unable to attract foreign startups to set up shop here. We have to improve R&D, the industry-academia interface, and the regulatory environment to make the country a magnet for world-class startups.

As I write this in early January, it appears that the entire country is agog with anticipation for the Startup India event to be held on January 16th at the Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. I read a report that the invitation-only event that can hold 500 people is likely to be standing-room only, and over 1,50,000 people were trying to get in.

I just received the programme content, and it showcases both big-name startup founders such as the CEOs of Uber and Softbank, and of some of India’s unicorn-ish startups like Ola, Quikr, Zomato, and Google’s startup service Launchpad, with the winner of a contest among pre-screened startups going home with a prize of $50,000. It should be an interesting event with both top officials and many in the ecosystem, including in verticals such as healthcare, and horizontals such as women entrepreneurs, providing their insights.

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this was published by swarajya magazine of feb 4 at http://swarajyamag.com/ideas/is-innovation-moving-away-from-the-latest-gadgets-and-gizmos

With artificial intelligence and machine learning  making a sure comeback what does the future hold  for hi-tech gadgets and devices?

It was an epic moment when Apple’s market cap was overtaken by Alphabet (Google’s parent) company on 2 February, 2016. The two companies have been on different trajectories, with analysts projecting a somewhat less bright future for Apple’s flagship iPhone (despite the company posting phenomenal profits, in fact, the largest profits any company has ever made, beating its record). Alphabet is more of a mystery, partly because they have a bunch of ‘moonshot’ projects, and have been fairly secretive anyway.

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this was published by swarajya.com on feb 28 at http://swarajyamag.com/politics/how-to-be-anti-national-a-primer

In the storm in a teacup over Smriti Irani’s calculated assault on Rahul Gandhi and his commie chums at JNU, there has been a lot of talk about anti-nationalism and treason. Nobody seems to have an exact definition for what anti-nationalism is all about, but, as has been said elsewhere in a different context, we know it when we see it. Somebody like Mahadevi, widow of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa, would know it best. She urged students to not be anti-national.

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this was published at http://www.firstpost.com/india/fight-fire-with-fire-how-the-narendra-modi-government-can-prevent-a-full-blown-assault-on-the-nation-2638502.html on feb 23, 2016.

here’s my submitted copy. not too many changes.

Assault on the nation: There is a pattern

Rajeev Srinivasan on connecting the dots regarding the atrocity literature

The headlines have been uniformly negative for a while, and especially right now. A 26/11-style invasion in Pampore, Jammu & Kashmir, and the deaths of two young captains from the elite special forces. A violent agitation by Jats seeking reservation. An alleged acid attack on a tribal activist. Seditious students in Jawaharlal Nehru University who claim freedom of speech for what sounds suspiciously like ISPR propaganda. Communists hack yet another Hindu activist to death in Kannur, Kerala. And we just went through convulsions over the suicide of an allegedly SC student in Hyderabad.

There is other, important news that’s not getting a hearing or a platform. The critical budget that is due shortly. The #MakeinIndia effort that is apparently attracting investment and entrepreneurship. The important #NationalHerald case that could well send some Congress leaders to jail. The continued subversion of the democratic process and the virtual shutdown of Parliament, as Congress continues its scorched-earth tactics.

In light of an impending global slowdown, if not outright recession, India is one of the few bright spots in the world economy, or at least that seems to be the general sentiment among economists and investors. The Prime Minister seems to be putting his entire thrust on development – much to the chagrin of Hindu supporters who expected some relief from the usual apartheid memeslike RTE and the continued looting of temples by state authorities.

The PM is generally correct in his laser-like focus on development, in that almost all of India’s problems will be ameliorated if only there were rapid development. The fundamental problems Indians face – and have faced through decades of Congress sloganeering – are roti, kapda and makaan. But there are definite concerns that, despite all the good intentions, not much is actually happening on the ground. Retroactive taxation efforts persist; the stumble in the stock markets and the depreciation of the rupee indicate that India’s competitive advantage remains elusive.

While efforts in support of development and economic growth are constrained both by global issues and by the mutinies that seem to swell up, gain propaganda points, and then disappear, it is worth asking the question: who has the motive to keep India on the boil? Just looking at the history of agitations, there were the Patels, the Kapus, the Jats, and so forth: they seem to swell up spontaneously, but isn’t it suspicious that the Patel agitation website has apparently been renamed the AAP website? (AAP being the AamAadmi Party running Delhi in shambolic-anarcho-nihilist mode).

The sudden appearance, massive media attention, and then the disappearance of these ‘causes’ (as well as the perennial question of whether IshratJehan was a terrorist) suggests that there is a method to this madness. It is orchestrated, planned, induced and managed. It is not random. There is someone who is pulling the strings.

Who might that be? There are at least four suspects, who have the motive and the means:

  1. The Congress Party
  2. China and the Communists
  3. Pakistan
  4. The Deep State

The Congress Party has one major motive: to keep Sonia Gandhi and son out of jail. (Of course, they’d also prefer to have them ruling the country). It appears that the courts are closing in on them in the National Herald case, which appears to be an open-and-shut case of embezzlement despite the efforts of highly-paid lawyers to pretend that it was not. The Congress will do anything, and I mean anything, to avoid this eventuality. In fact, the government should work out a plea-bargain deal with them: the Gandhis (all of them) go into voluntary exile in Italy, return their ill-gotten wealth stashed abroad, and the case will be dropped. Or else they go to jail. Truly an offer they cannot refuse. If there is such a resolution, the various agitations will stop instantaneously, and the blockade of Parliament as well.

China is beginning to realize that their delusions of grandeur are somewhat premature: they have bitten off more than they can chew in the South China Sea, and they are beginning to feel the pinch as the American money men put the screws on them. A trillion dollars have fled China in the last year. But it’s a high return-on-investment deal to put a few million dollars into the pockets of Indian communists, which will be turned into agit-prop, law and order problems, and, as needed, a slew of political murders. A communist leader in Kerala declared openly some time ago that they had carried out a whole lot of murders, and would continue to do so. Keeping India down is just pure competitive tactics.

Pakistan continues to needle India, as their army and the ISI have no intention of letting go of their goal of capturing all or most of India as part of their to-be-established Caliphate. Pathankot, now Pampore, and numerous other incidents show that they have the means, the sleeper cells, and the local support they need to keep on imposing costs on India. This sub-critical warfare is low-cost, convenient, and has the effect of force-multiplication. They also believe that time, and demography, are on their side. They believe that, with a little help from the Congress and the Communists, they will be able to get rid of Modi (as Mani Shankar Aiyar pleaded with them) and bring back a pliant Man Mohan Singh 2.0.

The most intriguing of all is the #Deepstate of the West. I wrote in these columns a year ago about how the Deep State treats India, for all practical purposes, as one of its infamous #AxisOfEvil opponentshttp://www.firstpost.com/india/us-deep-state-indias-daughter-india-now-part-new-axis-evil-2152087.html, the others being Russia and Japan. I also predicted that the Deep State’s assault http://www.firstpost.com/india/western-deep-states-assault-india-2180637.htmlwould be couched in women’s rights, SC/ST rights, air pollution etc. and to my chagrin, I was right. Ye of little faith, who didn’t believe me, I told you so!

There is nothing morally wrong in what the usual suspects are doing – it is merely self-preservation and suppression of a current or potential foe. But all of them would like India to be, at the minimum, a poverty-stricken supplier of raw materials, coolies and converts and a market for dumping their obsolete goods; at the maximum, they would want India to be balkanized into a whole set of statelets. None of this is good for India.

This is what the Modi government is up against. All of these forces are quite happy with the status quo ante. And they do have a series of plans to escalate the assaults. Plan A was to create electoral stumbling blocks. Plan B is to create lawlessness and riots (as envisaged by our good friends at the UC Berkeley’s ACRPR, which I was the first to write about two years ago on rediff.com, an external link http://www.rediff.com/news/column/rajeev-srinivasan-the-time-will-come-when-america-can-dictate-to-india/20140303.htm ). Plan C is more extreme, and you can imagine what it is.

These assaults on India will keep coming. The paid media, NGOs, the Ford Foundation, the Bill Gates Foundation, The New York Times, The Economist, The Guardian, the Communists, jihadis and so on will be pressed into service. The PM has two choices: either keep taking the punishment, or fight back. Throw a couple of media types in jail, kick out the NYT, the Economist, and the Ford Foundation, a couple of unfortunate accidents to ISI generals: you get the drift. If they feel some pain, those assaulting India will think twice. Else we will see these “death by a thousand cuts” incidents proliferating. And no, they are not Naipaul’s “million mutinies”.

1250 words, 23 Feb 2016

 

 

No country for young women: Why is India inhospitable to them?

Rajeev Srinivasan whether the tragic cases of several women grievously injured in India has some larger lessons that we need to learn

It has been precisely one year since Sowmya was murdered in a particularly horrific manner. Her family’s sole bread-winner, she was working in a ‘Homestyle’ store in Cochin, Kerala. She was commuting by train to her home near Shoranur on 1st February 2011 when she was assaulted, raped, and left to die.

A one-armed vagrant named Charly aka Govindachami boarded a women’s compartment where Sowmya was the lone traveler. Apparently he terrorized poor Sowmya and chased her around the coach, smashing her head against the walls. Finally he pushed her out of the moving train on to the tracks.

The thug jumped out after her, raped the injured girl brutally on the tracks, and then bashed her head in with a rock. He left her to bleed to death. She lay in a coma for several days, and died on 6th February, 2011.

One November 11th 2011, Charly aka Govindachami was sentenced to death by hanging by a fast-track court. This is obviously a case in which capital punishment is imperative; judge K N Raveendra Babu also added a life sentence and rigorous imprisonment for seven years – presumably he felt that the death sentence may not be carried out.

The one-armed beggar’s defense – he did not deny the accusations of rape and murder, and the sentencing judge noted that he was also named in eight previous cases – was that he was a handicapped person, and therefore deserved compassion!

The viciousness of this act is shocking, especially in Kerala where women generally have had economic freedom and a large presence in the workforce for many years. I am sure many other women have begun to re-evaluate their personal safety when they commute to and from work by public transport.

The absolute cruelty of this act is only matched by the incredible story of Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a coma for 38 years. When she was a 25-year-old nurse in Mumbai, she was choked with a dog chain and sodomized in the hospital basement by a sweeper. The asphyxiation cut off the blood supply to her brain, leaving her a vegetable, in which state she has remained.

Startlingly, it appears that her attacker, Sohanlal Walmiki, was only tried for robbery and attempted murder – and not for rape or sexual molestation or sodomy. He apparently served two concurrent seven-year sentences for the robbery and attempted murder, that’s it. No wonder Judge Raveendra Babu felt in Sowmya’s case that it was necessary to impose the additional punishments.

Then there is the remarkable case of Sister Abhaya. This 19-year-old was found dead in 1992 in the well of a Catholic convent in Kottayam, Kerala. The initial report suggested suicide and death by drowning, but on further investigation – thanks to the unceasing efforts of community activist Jomon Puthenpurackal – it is almost certain that it was a case of homicide: the actual cause of death appears to be head injuries caused by a blunt instrument.

Certain influential elements are rumored to have conspired to sweep this case under the carpet (the initial investigating officer Augustine committed suicide). There were attempts at character assassination against Sister Abhaya. After several investigations, which appeared to have been thwarted and sabotaged at every stage, the CBI finally arrested two Catholic priests, Kottur and Puthrakkayil, and a nun, Seffi, in 2008, sixteen years after Abhaya’s death.

Under narco-analysis, the trio, according to CBI reports, confessed as follows: Abhaya went to the kitchen early in the morning of her death to get a drink of water from the refrigerator. It appears Abhaya happened upon the nun and the two priests in “suspicious circumstances” in the kitchen. Worried about being exposed, Seffi hit Abhaya on the back of her head with the blunt end of an axe. Then, fearing she was dead, the trio dumped Abhaya’s body in the well. The CBI accused the trio of murder, destruction of evidence, and defamation.

In a remarkable coincidence – which observers noted was suspiciously convenient – soon after this, the Supreme Court held that the results of narco-analysis (also known as truth-serum-based analysis) could not be admitted as evidence. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Sister Abhaya case is in abeyance at best and is nullified at worst. Poor Abhaya, twenty years later, has not received justice, and probably never will.

Now comes the story of a 2-year old, severely abused girl-child named Falak who is fighting for her life at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Although the details are murky, she was injured by a 15-year-old girl (herself sexually abused) accused of battering Falak and inflicting severe brain and chest injuries.

On top of this comes a UN report on the status of the girl-child (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9054429/India-most-dangerous-place-in-world-to-be-born-a-girl.html) which states baldly that India is the worst place in the world for a girl child, based primarily on the number of deaths of girls below five as compared to that of boys. China – widely known for its ‘missing women’ – is the other big culprit.

Why is Indian culture so anti-female? The statistics and the explanations about the malign neglect of girls make for grim reading; these are attributed to dowry and caste as though these were absolute truths. But most people do not realize that the current, offensive dowry system is a colonial-era construct, according to a landmark study by Veena Talwar Oldenburg of Baruch College, New York.

In her path-breaking 2002 book Dowry Murder: The imperial origins of a cultural crime Professor Oldenburg observes that the dowry system, which had been managed by women in pre-colonial times, was perverted by British colonial practices so that “an invaluable safety net was turned into a deadly noose”. Here is an excerpt from the description of the book:

…Veena Oldenburg argues that these killings are neither about dowry nor reflective of an Indian culture or caste system that encourages violence against women. Rather, such killings can be traced directly to the influences of the British colonial era. In the precolonial period, dowry was an institution managed by women, for women, to enable them to establish their status and have recourse in an emergency. As a consequence of the massive economic and societal upheaval brought on by British rule, women’s entitlements to the precious resources obtained from land were erased and their control of the system diminished, ultimately resulting in a devaluing of their very lives. Taking us on a journey into the colonial Punjab, Veena Oldenburg skillfully follows the paper trail left by British bureaucrats to indict them for interpreting these crimes against women as the inherent defects of Hindu caste culture…

 

Thus, as in many other things, it could be postulated that the devaluation of women was a consequence of imported British practices, imbued with patriarchal Christian ideas. Much the same can be said of the practice of child-marriage and purdah, which were imposed as a result of Muslim invasions.

This stands to reason, because traditional Indian culture places a premium on the female – note, for example that India is a motherland, not a fatherland. Strikingly, it is only in Indian religious thought that females are not subservient: observe the powerful figure of Kali, representing the female principle, depicted as dancing on the prone body of her consort. Or the benign mother-and-child image of Baby Krishna and Yasoda, a much-loved icon and metaphor. Or the figures of Gargi and Maitreyi, respected sages from Vedic and Upanishadic times.

In fact, India may well be an exception to the hypothesis that plough-based agrarian societies value male upper-body strength, as opposed to hoe-based agrarian societies, where women play an equal role in production (see the Economist article The plough and now from May 2011 http://www.economist.com/node/18986073 referring to a paper from N Nunn of Harvard and P Guiliano of UCLA, On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough). Their hypothesis suggests that long-lived prejudices about the (lack of) value of women arise in plough-based societies.

In contrast, Kerala, with its strong agricultural tradition based on paddy cultivation – and thus the plough – is matrilinear and matriarchal among its Hindus, which has almost certainly led to its excellent (girl) child-mortality rates and high life expectancy for women (76 years, roughly the same as for white women in the US).

The experience of women in the Northeast is similar, and there also there are pockets of matriliny. The participation of women in the workplace is high in both these areas – women on average have greater economic independence; and fertility has come down as men seek to marry employed women, and are loath to lose their income should they get pregnant frequently.

The conclusion then is that there is nothing inherently anti-female in India, but that there are certain entrenched, perverted social attitudes. That is small consolation for Sowmya, Aruna and Abhaya, true, but individuals in every society do suffer. For instance, despite the accusations of widespread dowry deaths, it turns out that, as a percentage, more women in the US are killed by husbands and boyfriends than those killed in dowry disputes in India.

That is the good news – there is nothing inherent in Indian culture that makes it inhospitable to women; but there is the hangover from colonial practices, which should disappear with greater educational freedom for women, and also, ironically, because of the looming woman shortage due to selective foeticide. There is no room for complacency, though.

Societal change does not come on its own. For instance, the anti-tobacco effort really did not take off until the problem of second-hand smoke was publicized heavily, and non-smokers understood the dangers to themselves from inhaling smoke. Similarly, it is necessary to introduce public awareness campaigns on the value of the girl-child; the fact that often your daughter is more willing than your daughter-in-law to tend to you in your old age may well be the clincher.

1700 words, 5 February, 2012

A version of this was published by firstpost at http://www.firstpost.com/economy/is-india-fumbling-the-future-argentina-style-292708.html in 2012

Is India fumbling the future, Argentina-style?

Rajeev Srinivasan on what we can learn about India’s failing institutions from Argentina’s debacle

Argentina did something recently which not many Indians would have paid much attention to: but we probably should look a little more carefully at it. What happened there was that the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner nationalized a Spanish-owned oil company, YPF.

While Argentina possibly had justifiable reasons for doing so, the net result has been that foreign and domestic investors will look askance at the country. It is anyway not doing so well on the macroeconomic front and it could use some FDI flowing in. From the outraged howls emanating from Europe, it would be safe to say that Cristina made a big boo-boo.

Compare this to India. Some years ago, a female Prime Minister suddenly nationalized banks in India. (Not to be outdone, in 2001, Argentina froze all bank accounts in what was dubbed Corralito, in order to prevent capital flight). Recently, in a display of childish petulance, the UPA government decided to overrule a Supreme Court order in the case of Vodafone and its tax obligations by unilaterally modifying relevant rules retroactive to 1962! This, I suspect, means India can kiss goodbye to quite a bit of FDI, which India too needs, mostly to offset its large current account deficit and budget deficit.

Thus, both countries are going down the slippery slope of strong-arming those who are foolish enough to invest: a short-term gain with sure long-term pain. Both of these may turn out to have been unwise actions. But it turns out there are other, surprising similarities as well between Argentina and India. In fact, if you look at the data here, it appears as though Argentina is generally doing much better than India! India’s growth is less, current account deficit and budget deficit (in particular) are much higher, and its currency has fallen far more this year (13.68% vs. 8.15%).

GDP growth % Inflation% Current account balance, GDP % Budget balance GDP % 2012 Currency to $, Apr 1, 2012 Currency to $, Dec 31, 2011
Argentina 7.3 N/A -1.4 -0.7 4.38 4.05
India 6.1 9.1 -2.8 -5.8 50.7 44.6

Fig 1. Comparative data. Source: The Economist, Apr 7-13, 2012

It is an obscure fact that in the 19th century many people thought that the race for economic superstardom would be between the United States and Argentina. Imagine them two hundred years ago: both large countries, thinly populated, with much good farmland. In both, European colonists had managed to subdue (and in some cases, exterminate) the native populations.

In the case of Argentina, the migrants were mostly southern Europeans, especially from Italy. In the case of the United States, the migrants were mostly from northern Europe. But in both cases, they were, as migrants often are, pushy and energetic. So an impartial observer in the 19th century would have given both of them high marks for potential to be superpowers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world, based largely on its agricultural exports. But then something remarkable happened: Argentina faltered, it was subject to endless military coups; eventually Juan Domingo Peron, a military officer, took over. Later his widow Evita (of “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” fame) was in charge. To this day, Peronists are in charge. What happened to Argentina?

According to Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, two well-known development economists, the answer lies in their recent book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins or Power, Prosperity and Poverty, where they study institutions. They posit that “… while economic institutions are critical for determining whether a country is poor or prosperous, it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a country has”.

The authors argue that institutions can be either ‘extractive’ or ‘inclusive’. If it is the former, then there is a vicious cycle; if the latter, a virtuous cycle, they claim. They quote the “Iron Law of Oligarchy” on their blog, which is that “… Extractive economic institutions always create struggles for control, and they tend to attract would-be elites bent on extraction, and whoever comes to power takes over a system without checks on their power. The outcome is to re-creation of extractive institutions under a different guise.”

Thus Argentina fell victim to a model: their original elite immigrants created large, exploitative estates where they used essentially slave labor from the conquered natives, which is a good example of extractive institutions. (Pakistan’s twenty-two zamindari families that control everything might be another example).

The original immigrants to the US did not end up creating extractive economic models (well, if we forget the small matter of African slaves and tobacco plantations in the US South – but then, they did fix that through their Civil War), and ended up being far more inclusive.

But Argentina thrived for a while, and it was in the 20th century that its lack of inclusiveness began to hurt. Those who took power in the coups were not the original elites, but they soon became indistinguishable from them, because they all had the same objective: extraction.

Why should all this concern India? Well, I hope it is obvious that India, too, suffers from elites who have formed extractive institutions, or perpetuated them. The imperialist British had created institutions that were meant only to loot the country (not for the nothing was the principal official in a district called a “Collector” – his job was to collect taxes.) After 1947, a new ‘elite’ came into the picture, Brown Sahibs, who found it convenient to perpetuate the extractive economic institutions.

And India’s political institutions have not been able to get the country out of this death spiral. Indeed, they were not designed to; and with the passage of time and the clever use of technology, the ability of the political elite to manipulate the electorate has grown by leaps and bounds. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether there have been crypto-coups in India that has kept the same bunch in power.

If the Argentina-US example at the turn of the 20th century can be put in the context of India-China rivalry now, the prognosis for India is poor. China, with its extractive political system, built a somewhat inclusive economic system, which has enabled many to climb out of poverty. India, like Argentina, may fail to loosen the extractive nature of its economic system, because the political system benefits greatly from it.

If that unfortunate eventuality happens, India will be doomed to Argentina-like irrelevance. Already there are suggestions that the ‘I’ in BRICS should be Indonesia, not India, given India’s recent downgrade by S&P.  India’s beloved leaders, then, would have fumbled the future, yet again.

1085 words, 29th Apr 2012

an unpublished article on the 2014 election.

Were women voters Narendra Modi’s secret weapon?

Rajeev Srinivasan on a possible gender divide and the reasons for it

I have not yet been able to find data on how women voted in these elections. But I have a conjecture that far more women would have voted for Narendra Modi than conventional wisdom suggests, for both psychological and practical reasons. Until the data is crunched, we will not know this for sure, so I emphasize this is only a hypothesis at the moment.

Conventional wisdom, especially as based on American data, about women’s votes would follow certain axioms:

  1. Women are not particularly interested in politics but in day-to-day issues
  2. Women are more swayed by emotional appeals
  3. Women are put off by conservative or right-leaning parties
  4. Women may pay attention to irrelevant things, like a candidate’s good looks

And add to that, in India:

  1. Women vote as their menfolk tell them to, not as independent thinkers

Let us start with these postulates. Well, the immediate implication is that the BJP has not a ghost of a chance of winning their votes, because:

  1. The Congress is quite good at sops and giveaways. The immediate gratification has always won them the votes, especially from rural womenfolk
  2. The media barrage about how the BJP would turn the country into an unending mess of riots and violence – a la the narrative of BJP/Modi guilt in Gujarat 2002 – would terrify women
  3. The BJP with its allegedly macho image (remember how an editorialist in the mis-named The Hindu thought that even Swami Vivekananda was too macho a figure?) would scare women
  4. With all due respect to Shriman Modi, with his 56-inch chest, he’s no beauty. Women prefer guys like John Kennedy. And Rahul Gandhi, with his dimples, appeals to them
  5. Most men are going to vote for the familiar Congress (especially after being plied with booze and the usual rousing slogans of roti-kapda-makan and Secularism in danger!)

Thus, a priori, one would imagine a BJP, with its rather unsophisticated image (especially as narrated by the mainstream media), would not appeal greatly to the woman voter, who, I imagine, counts for a little over 50% of all eligible voters in the country. This impression was strenghtened by an interview I did of a smart young woman, who said she was “put off” by the BJP. She made a face too. But I did find that older women in Kerala were more positive towards them.

Other interviews I read about – mostly about young women in metros – were generally negative about the BJP. They seemed to have an image problem – quite likely because of the intense dislike the media has had for the party. Thus, it did not look promising for them at all.

But what might have happened during the last phase of the campaign? One possibility is that women are generally kind-hearted and sympathetic to the underdog (perhaps because they find themselves the underdogs in many of their encounters with men).

But then women like a winner, too. The feebleness of Rahul Gandhi’s campaign would have contrasted with the robustness of Modi’s. The images of Modi’s immense popular support (such as the ocean of people turning out to greet him in various places all over the country) must have had some impact, too.

I posit that women, who generally look for security in whom they choose for their husbands, are also keen to select the most capable and most formidable leader, because in a sense that is what keeps their country, and ultimately themselves, safe. The widely publicized issue of women’s safety (especially in the wake of the rape-murder of poor Jyoti Singh Pandey) may have made more willing to accept machismo, obviating item #3 in the list above. And Modi conveys machismo in spades, and efficiency too. He is the guy to depend on in a tight spot.

This struck a chord. I was amused by several anecdotes about old women arriving in polling booths (where Modi was not contesting) and demanding to know where they could vote for Modi. The man had become a movement, a tsuNaMo!

Perhaps the most important issue for women would have been item #1: their day-to-day troubles. Roaring inflation that has eaten into purchasing power falls disproportionately hard on women, as their budgets have increased anywhere near as much as prices. A mother struggling to feed and clothe and educate her children – as most fathers are blissfully unaware of these matters – has faced a tough time in the recent past. Economics dictated that they would not be swayed by short-term blandishments when they had seen for ten years poor delivery by Congress.

Item #2 – fear tactics about terrible times under the BJP – may not have played much of a role. Besides, not only the BJP, but also the AAP, focused women’s attention on the issue of corruption, which they probably encounter in regular extortion. In many ways, the fear of the unknown BJP was overwhelmed by the contempt for the known Congress. Women were ready to give the BJP a chance.

Item #4 is something that irritates men endlessly: the seeming female focus on irrelevencies. A friend of mine in San Diego, a smart and witty woman, once told me that she voted for Obama 1 simply because “he was better looking than McCain”. I told her I could have given her 25 good reasons why she should have voted against Obama, but she didn’t care.

But I think women are not as superficially as men think they are. Women, used to multitasking, are probably taking into account a large number of factors, which they don’t want to go into, when they simply say, “the guy looks good”. They arrive at a gestalt based on all these factors  – again it irritates men – calling it ‘woman’s intuition’, which is surprisingly clear-sighted.

As an example, take Shashi Tharoor’s campaign in Trivandrum in 2009. The guy looks like a rock star and speaks with a silver tongue, and women (of all ages and political persuasions) simply swooned over him, and he got a huge majority of around 100,000, unheard of in razor-thin-victory-margin Kerala. But wait, there’s more: women calculated that this man, if elected, would almost certainly become a minister, and also bring international pizzazz to his constituency, both of which were true.

Now contrast this with the Tharoor campaign in 2014. This time, the women were not very happy with him, for various reasons. But they also calculated that if he were to win, almost certainly he wouldn’t be a minister because the UPA was unlikely to come back to power. So I conclude they voted for O Rajagopal, who could become a minister in a likely NDA dispensation. So much so that Tharoor won with a much reduced majority.

Did men tell women how to vote, item #5? Perhaps. This continues to be a problem, I am sure. But this time the menfolk were also caught up in the TsuNaMo, which means that too worked to Modi’s advantage. The women I spoke to did not say “my husband told me to do this”, they usually said, “I like (or don’t like) Modi because…” Okay, they were in Kerala, where women generally are more independent.

Women are a tough vote bank. They who manage to pocketbook will be looking carefully at how far their rupees go. Unless the recent stagflation is tamed and there is clear growth, they will defect. Women are notoriously and ruthlessly practical about money: therefore Modi has to ensure that economic growth, along with their concerns about the safety of their daughters, are taken care of. In that case, this secret weapon will stick with him.

1250 words, May 23, 2014