"Mind is a vestigial organ, like appendix or ear lobes. 'Application of Mind', as a concept, is overrated.", says Sam Peters
We are sitting in Lutyens Coffee Shop (LCS) an invisible coffee shop in the middle of Lutyens Delhi. This coffee shop is modelled based on 'Hogwarts', the legendary School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series. This is the holdout of Senior Government Ministers, politicians of all hues and senior government officials in Lutyens Delhi. The entry is through strictly restricted membership. Despite not being a politician or a government functionary, I managed to get membership to this exclusive club.
Sam Peters is the spokesperson of a leading political party. Sam and I are spending a relaxed evening at LCS. Sun is just about to set, though you can't tell with all the smog around.We are talking about the need for applying ones mind before taking crucial decisions.
"Application of mind is an overrated concept. Its role in decision making is debatable at best", Sam continues.
"What if decisions go wrong?", I ask him
"You can always roll them back", quick comes the clear reply, "and if they are irreversible, we have to live with the consequences"
"You can't be serious", I tell him
"Our government has been doing this for the last two and a half years", says Sam, "we have become experts at taking decisions and then rolling them back. Did heavens fall? No, they didn't. All this talk about 'applying minds' (Sam did an air quote) before taking decisions is all a liberal left propaganda",
Sam concludes his point.
When arguments go against him, Sam uses two weapons. First is to call people names. People who debate with uncomfortable facts and figures are 'Liberals'. If they provide facts about how the decisions are impacting the poor and the marginalized, they are 'Left Leaning Liberals' (worst kind of Liberals). If the Press asks tough questions, they are 'Presstitutes'.
If name calling do not work, he uses the second weapon. It is called the 'Anti-Modiji' weapon. There are three variants to this weapon. The question variant is 'Why are you against Modiji?', the statement variant is 'Your are against Modiji' and the accusatory variant is 'Why are you impeding the progress that Modiji is trying to bring?'.
Both the above tactics are intended to divert attention from uncomfortable questions. Sam Peters is trying the 'Liberal' tactic on me. I am not going to fall for this.
"You bragged that in the last two and a half years, you have taken many decisions and rolled them back. Can you give me some examples?", I ask
"Oh, I can give you plenty", replies Sam, "where do I even begin? Let me start off with Porn Ban. Remember porn ban? One fine day we banned more than 800 websites telling the Supreme Court that they were porn sites. We were accused of intruding into people's bed rooms. Later we found that many sites had nothing to do with Porn. After some criticism we rolled back that decision. Couldn't we have done the due diligence before taking this decision? Of course we could have. But that would have called for the so called 'Application of Mind (AOM)' (air quotes again). Who cares for that? right?" Sam gives me a victorious smile and sips his coffee.
"That is just one decision. It doesn't mean that you regularly take decisions without AOM. One swallow does not a summer make", I point out.
"It is not just one", replies Sam, "Remember the encryption policy that R S Prasad tried to bring in, in the early days of the government? You were not allowed to delete your Whatsapp messages or emails for 90 days (even if they were Spam Mails). That was another decision taken without AOM, which we quickly rolled back", Sam is obviously proud of this.
"You rolled it back under public pressure, correct?", I question Sam.
"That proves my point that AOM is not required for decision making. You can always roll back the decisions", Sam is quick on the uptake here.
"You have given me an example of just one minister", I tell Sam, "It doesn't prove anything. May be the minister is incompetent. One swallow does not a summer make".
"You presstitutes won't give us credit where due, will you?", Sam admonishes me, but it is obvious that he is relishing dishing out the list of decisions of the government taken without AOM.
"My aviary is filled with Swallows, my friend", says Sam, "Let me give more examples. Remember our erstwhile HRD minister? She declared December 25 as a 'Good Governance' day and asked Schools and Government offices to be open on that day and ensure that Students attend schools and staff to attend offices. This decision was rolled back after public protest", Sam finishes with a twinkle in his eye.
"But that decision has not been rolled back. December 25 is still the Good Governance Day", I inform him
"Ha, ha, I had you there, hadn't I? The joke is on you. How many students are in school on December 25? How many staff is working in the office on December 25? None. Nada. Zilch. It is like an effective roll back", Sam is relishing this.
"Just three instances do not prove anything", I am feeling a bit deflated with the torrent of examples that are coming out of Sam.
"Early in her term HRD minister took a decision to replace German with Sanskrit as the second language in the middle of the school year. This put a lot of students under difficulty. That was another decision taken without AOM. Even a kid would have thought through before taking such decisions. But we didn't. We simply rolled it back when protests erupted and courts intervened", Sam is on a roll.
"Even a decision to have an uneducated person to head the education department was taken without AOM, would you say?", I ask Sam
"Thank you for giving credit where due, my friend. Yes, you are right. How could I forget such an achievement? Another example that AOM is overrated?", Sam sighs. He is obviously tired of giving this slew of examples.
"Ok, I grant you that two ministers took decisions that were without AOM. But to credit the entire government with a broad brush for the achievement of two ministers is a stretch", I tell him.
"Oh, come on. How many more examples do you need before you give us some credit?" asks an exasperated Sam Peters. What about 'Composite cap' decision made by Finance minister and rolled back the next day?", Sam asks
"What is that?", had not heard about it earlier.
"One challenge that we face when taking complex decisions without AOM is that we not get credit for rolling back the same. One day finance minister announced the introduction of 'Composite Caps'. Currently, in some industries like Private Banks, FDI is capped at 49% and FII is capped at 26%. Composite caps meant that the total caps was shifted to 75%. Market obviously assumed that now 75% FII was allowed and stock prices zoomed. Next day it was clarified that FII cap remained at 26%. The share prices deflated on this news. That was the end of Composite Cap"
"You could argue that the government should do the due diligence before making such announcements. I think you are being too hard on us. Why should we do AOM if we do not believe in AOM. Our policy is 'Act first, rollback next' ", says Sam.
I am not about let him off so easily. "Come on Sam, you have to do better than this. Every government takes decisions that has to be rolled back. The above examples just prove the rule. Your government is no exception to the rule", I insist.
"How many roll backs has to happen before you accept that too many roll backs has happened?", Sam tries a Dylan, "Cut us some slack, won't you?", Sam says in a beseeching tone.
I decide to be a bit lenient. "Ok, I grant that the decision to roll back the tax on EPF withdrawals was taken without AOM, but that is all. Only five or six decisions at the max."
"What about our PM landing in Lahore unannounced on his way from Kabul. Can you not grant me that one?", Sam begs.
"Ok. Fair enough. I grant you on that, though the jury is still out on that one", I add a caveat.
"What about Amit Shah saying 'Acche Din' will take 25 years? Do you think that promise of 'Acche Din' before elections was done without AOM?", Sam asks
I am not sure election promises fall into this category. Considering that people voted for 'Acche din', I give a guarded assent on that one.
Sam is encouraged by my decision to include election promises into the list. Out comes a long list of unkept election promises. "What about the promise to arrest corrupt politicians and put them in Jail? Considering that we have not put a single corrupt politician in Jail mean that the promise was made without AOM?"
"What about the promise of Job growth? There has hardly been any job growth in the last 2.5 years. What about economic growth? Other than a GDP Growth sleight of hand, we have not been able to deliver on that one. Sensex earnings are at the same level as it was on May 2014. Only the PE has increased from about 18 to 25 now. Do you consider these as promises made without AOM?", Sam looks at me expectantly.
"You are trying to take credit for a number of debatable points. All parties make tall claims in run up to elections only to face reality upon coming to power. You can't take credit for reneging on election promises.", I reply.
"Ok, I grant you that. Was worth a shot anyway. But will you grant me that the promise to put 15 lakhs in the bank account of all Indians count as promise made without AOM? I mean, no way we were going to be able to achieve that. It cost us the Bihar Elections, as it were", Sam asks hopefully.
I grudgingly acquiesce to this point.
"While rollback of all the above decisions were credited to the ministers, PM could not take any credit for this. PM was under pressure to deliver. Press was questioning his decision making skills. That is why, on stroke of 8 'O' clock on November 8th 2016, he announced demonetization. The mother of all decisions taken without application of mind.. This decision proves beyond doubt that our government is capable of taking any decision without due diligence and application of mind", Sam concludes grandly.
"Wait a minute", I protest, "the jury is still out on that one. This decision could prove highly successful in the long run"
"In the long run we are all dead, my friend", Sam responds with a tone of finality.