Sunday, March 02, 2014

Cut Out of Whole Cloth -- The Tales of Modi - Part 1

One cannot but marvel at the astounding pieces of statistics dished out by Modi's men, as achievements of the Vajpayee NDA era. While one does expect that Messrs APCO Worldwide would do a great job of window dressing, given that they have already shown outstanding customer service record burnishing the images of worthies like Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Kazakh President-for-Life Nazarbayev, Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, and for 'managing' the accounting scandals of once-media-darlings-later-gone-bust companies like Worldcom and Yukos Oil (Russian version of Enron Oil), one still hopes that the gullible public at large would learn from the past experiences of being taken for a ride. If you thought the One-India campaign of Modi has anything to do with the One-Israel and One-Malaysia campaigns of the respective regimes there (both APCO clients!), remember that it's nothing but pure coincidence. Or there may at most be, as they say, 'inspiration'...!

With that hope let's examine how the claims of Modi's media managers fare when compared with actual facts. I'd be doing a series of posts, starting with this one, examining the oft-bandied claims vis-a-vis documentary evidence from official sources, which are incontrovertible in nature, and all available online for any interested reader to cross-check and verify.

(Much as I'd want to defer to the twitter-age attention span of readers, and love to present the case in 140 characters, I'm afraid I do not have that much skill of compression, nor does the evidence lend itself to that. So, you'll have to read on if you wish to get the lowdown!)

Hot Air Balloon Number 1: 
Vajpayee built 50% of the national highways in India

This one is the top-of-the-line propaganda. That Vajpayee built 24000 kms of national highways in just 5 years, which is more than what was built in the three previous decades. The net is full of this completely bogus piece of (mis)information, which is much in the same vein as bogus rumors that 33% of NASA employees are Indians! Here is what BJP's Ravishankar Prasad claims:
BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad drew attention to the Centre's admission before the Supreme Court that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had fared much better on the construction of highways. In an affidavit, the Centre had admitted that the BJP-led government had in five years constructed half the total length of national highways laid over the past 32 years. "Shouldn't Manmohan Singh be held to the same standard that he and his friends set for AB Vajpayee?" asked Prasad.

Here is what another BJP propangandist, Shubham Ghosh, masquerading as a newspaper columnist writes in the DNA newspaper:
"It also revealed that during 1997-2002, the period under the Ninth Five Year Plan, 23,814 km was constructed, which means nearly 50 per cent of the total road constructed in the last three decades, which remains a record since independence."
Please note -- the columnist above does not even say "50% of national highways" but "50% of total roads", giving off  an air that would lead a gullible reader in a hurry to conclude that Vajpayee as if built half of the entire road infrastructure of the country in 5 years. 

For those who don't know it yet -- national highways constitute just about 1.7% of the total road network of India, which stands at around 47+ lakh kms.

Ok, so Vajpayee built 50% of India's national highways...? Really...?

Let's see what the length of national highways was when Vajpayee demited office, as per the official government records published by the Ministry of Roads during Vajpayee's time.

1) Length of National Highways in March 2004 
    (When Vajpayee leaves power): 65569 kms

Source: Basic Raod Statistics Report 2004-2008 of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways(check the table on page 13 of the pdf):

Length of National Highways in March 2004
When Vajpayee Calls Elections
(Click image to enlarge)

2) Length of National Highways in March 1998 
    (When Vajpayee becomes PM): 49600 kms

(Please note that the Economic Survey is presented in March of every year, prior to the budget, and reflects the performance of the previous year, with forward looking statements for the ensuing year. Therefore the 98-99 survey reflects the status as of March 1998, when Vajpayee took over as PM.)

Length of National Highways in Mar 1998
When Vajpayee Becomes PM
(Click image to enlarge)

Therefore, how many kilometers of national highways got added in Vajpayee's era? As per Vajpayee's own submissions to Parliament, it's (65569 - 49600) = 15969 kms.

Now, let's take the analysis further back, and see how many kilometers got added in the immediate 7 years preceding Vajpayee. This is the Rao/Devegowda/Gujral period of 1991-1998.

3) Length of National Highways in March 1991 
    (Narasimha Rao becomes PM): 33650 kms

Source: Basic Raod Statistics Report 2008-2011 of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (check page 9 of the pdf)

Length of National Highways in March 1991
When Narasimha Rao becomes PM
(Click image to enlarge)

4) Length of National Highways in March 1997 
(When Gujral becomes PM): 38445 kms

Source: GOI Budget-time Economic Survey Report of March-1997
Length of National Highways in March 1997 
(When Gujral becomes PM)
(Click image to enlarge)

So, how does all the evidence stack up? Please see the chart below, which compares the seven years of Rao-Devegowda-Gujral regime, with the six years of Vajpayee regime. 

(Note that all figures quoted above are from OFFICIAL government publications, not mere newspaper reports or opinion pieces of columnists. Please check the source links, and satisfy yourself of their authenticity.)

Vajpayee Years versus Rao/Devegowda/Gujral Years
(Click image to enlarge)

What does the chart show? Vajpayee built a total of 19 kms (no lakhs, no thousands -- just 19 kms!) of national highways more than what his immediate predecessors did in roughly the same duration of 6+ years.
 (Vajpayee ruled for 6 years and 2 months, while Rao+Devegowda+Gujral together ruled for 6 years and 9 months.)

So, where does this mythology of Vajpayee having built 50% of India's national highways arise from...? I'll explain.

The root of it is the Ninth Plan NHDP report (check table on page 8 of the pdf) which shows that 23814 kms were added during the period 1997-2002.

Planwise Addition to National Highways
(Click image to enlarge)

So, if the NHDP report shows that 23814 kms were added during the Ninth Plan, during which Vajpayee was in power, doesn't it follow that they were built by Vajpayee...? The answer is: it doesn't. The report covers the period 1997-2002. Vajpayee became PM only in Mar 1998. Therefore, obviously the Ninth Plan report also captures the highways built during the 1997-98 period during which Gujral was in power.

The excerpt below clearly shows that Ninth Plan was drafted in Feb 1997 -- one full year before Vajpayee became PM. Therefore, it follows that the Eighth Plan was close to expiry by then, unless already expired. Therefore, performance of the Ninth Plan would cover everything following the expiry of Eighth Plan, which includes about one year of Gujral's rule as well.

Ninth Five Year Plan Period
(Click image to expand)

The question now, therefore, is: how many kilometers of national highways were added in the 1997-98 period during which Vajpayee was NOT in power, but which got counted in the Ninth Plan...?

The answer is easily available from Gujral's and Vajpayee's submissions to Parliament through their Economic Survey reports, presented in Mar 1997 and Mar 1998 respectively, as already quoted by me in points (1) and (3) above. India had 38445 kms of national highways in March 1997 (Gujral becomes PM) and had 49600 kms in Mar 1998 (Vajpayee becomes PM). Therefore, in Gujral's regime 49600-38445=11155 kms got added in the 1997-98 period. This clearly has to subtracted from the 23814 kms to correctly count Vajpayee's own contribution in the Ninth Plan. 

And Vajpayee's share in the Ninth Plan thus becomes 23814-11155 = 12659 kms. Remember, this is in the period 1998-2002. I have already shown above that if you consider the entire Vajpayee regime period of 1998-2004, he has added 15969 kms in 6 years, which is just 19 kms more than what Rao+Devegowda+Gujral built in the immediately preceding 7 years.

So, what percentage did Vajpayee actually build...? Given that India's current length of national highways is 79243 kms, Vajpayee built 15969/79243=20.15% of national highways, NOT 50% as misleadingly claimed. And, guess what, Rao+Devegowda+Gujral too built 15950/79243=20.12%. Is that a revolution that Vajpayee brought about...?

Therefore, if there ever was a golden period of highway building, it was the Gujral regime, which lasted just one year. In that ONE year, Gujral built 11000+ kms, whereas Vajpayee could build just under 16000 kms in the SIX following years. Wow! How does it compute...?? Pretty evidently, it was Rao/Manmohan Singh's policies showing effect with a lag, two years after they left power (although two years is a long enough period for Devegowda/Gujral too to get a share of the credit). It was Rao who had launched the National Highways Development Programme one year before he left office. The results started showing only a couple of years down the line.

Modi's men simply usurped the performance of the Gujral year, and credited it disingenuously to Vajpayee, by clubbing it all under the Ninth Plan. (Well, the clubbing was not wrong per se -- because it was after all the performance during the Ninth Plan period. The dishonesty lies in crediting to Vajpayee the kilometers that were added even before he took power -- and that number was 8000+ kms. Vajpayee built 16K kms in 6 years, not 24K kms in 5 years.)

(This is going to be a running series, with the analysis of one or two claims presented in each post. Therefore, do keep watching this space and come back for the next one in a few days time. Do scrutinize my analyses, and post your comments, especially if you can detect any holes in the facts presented or the conclusions drawn. It's essential for people to base decisions on the correct facts -- well, not true for the fanatics who'll anyway shut their eyes, but for those who do have a healthy interest in knowing and examining the facts and figures.)


  1. Unfortunately, news of political parties in India inflating/misrepresenting facts just isn't something that shocks one anymore. There is simply no integrity left in the political arena - hasn't had any in a long time it would seem.

    I have always suspected that any progress that this country has experienced in pretty much any sphere is essentially a result that is achieved in spite of politicians rather than because of them. When the AAP rose to prominence I initially allowed myself to hope that perhaps this is a party with a difference and even considered actively involving myself with it. But now it seems to me that the AAP is basically an organization that is fundamentally clueless. An entity that suddenly finds itself more successful than it imagined it could ever be and hasn't learnt when to stop being an activist. The Congress and the BJP don't really have to try very hard to bring them down - they seem to do that just fine without any help (as commented on by this hilarious tweet by the Arvind Kejriwal parody twitter account @fakeriwal - I'm shocked that there are people willing to pay pollsters to show AAP in a poor light when Somnath is doing it for free.). I can't help but draw comparisons between Arvind Kejriwal and the character Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther movies - someone who perhaps has good intentions at heart but is comically inept.

  2. I'd say progress is a natural process, and unless one lives in a completely dysfunctional nation, even an inevitable one. Therefore, it's correct neither to credit politicians for every progress that gets made, nor to blame them for every wrong that happens. Doing so is nothing but oversimplification, although the human brain is designed to veer towards such simplification, being the pattern-modeling-and-recognizing engine that it is!

    However, one needs to be aware of what are called as 'cognitive biases' where one sees patterns where none actually may be present, when scrutinized closely enough.

    One such bias is 'groupthink' or 'social proof' -- where pretty much everyone believes in something simply on the assumption that the other guy (and remember there may be millions of those!) must have checked it (remember 'SpeakAsia'...?).

    Such groupthink can have disastrous consequences, especially when it comes to decision-making. There are reams of evidence from all walks of life -- business, geopolitical-strategy-making, nay even mountaineering -- where failure to assess a situation from multiple angles -- independent and contradictory -- and instead going by a manufactured consensus of yes-men acting on the cue of a "decisive" leader, has led to catastrophe. President Kennedy's Bay of Pigs misadventure is a classic case study of the perils of groupthink and yesmanship. And yet what we have in India today is extolling the virtues of groupthink as "decisiveness". The whole country -- every academic, investor, chaiwallah, rickshawallah, twitterati, facebookati, commentarati, eminent novelists who get their works turned into films -- are in a hysterical and hypnotic trance of "decisive leadership" as the panacea. I can't even fathom the ridiculousness of it all...! When they get their nose bloodied some day like Kennedy did, the virtues of "decisiveness" aka groupthink will be painfully realized.

    Similarly, "the real reason" makes for excellent television newshour, but in most cases it's nothing but humbug, also known as the fallacy of the single cause. There are always a number of factors that contribute, and politicians and policies are just two of them. It's neither a 'Politician Paralysis (aka Dehati Aurat Syndrome)' nor a 'Policy Paralysis (aka Decisiveness Syndrome)' that is the "real reason" of anything.

    As regards Kejriwal, I've always held him to be the country's most accomplished media-manipulator. Saying that he "has good intentions but is comically inept" is getting it wrong twice over. He is not inept, he works perfectly to plan. Do you think he didn't plan his resignation...? He had it from day one. If he indulged in administration, how would he have time for campaigning...?

    I never was under any illusion of Kejriwal, but yes, after his Delhi victory, I welcomed it to the extent that the AAP could offer the polity an electable alternative over the long run. I think it's too early to pass a verdict. They are new, and have every chance of learning in the future, and turning out better. They are a victim of their own promise -- that one needs perfection. It's not true of them, it's not true of anyone else either. Politics is a practical art of delivery. Politics has delivered quite well in India over the decades, despite what every naysayer says. It hasn't failed the nation. Somerset Maugham once said -- "If fifty million people say something foolish, it's still foolish".