The Moral Lessons from ‘Newton’

Newton_Film_Poster

Democracy is messy. Democracy is slow. Democracy is painful. And for most of India, democracy is often a novelty.

‘Newton’, a movie by Amit Masurkar, shows democracy in action in India, telling us the story of an election being conducted in a solitary polling booth in the Maoist heartland of Dandakaranya in Chhattisgarh. And in the process, it touches upon all the issues that plague Indian democracy – the disconnect between voters and leaders, lack of education and interest among citizens, disinterested bureaucrats, the gaping absence of rule of law and most of all, the fragile hold that the alien concept of democracy has on Indian psyche.

The story revolves around Newton Kumar, the eponymous titular character, a presiding officer of the polling booth whose responsibility is to ensure that the 72 registered voters in that booth get to vote in a free and fair manner. Newton is a young idealist and a dreamer, a stickler for the rules. He is honest, and righteous, to the point of being bone headed at times, and is also sincere to a fault. However, as it turns out, despite his best intentions, following the rule book becomes a rather difficult ask in the jungles of Chhattisgarh.

For getting democracy right in India is a humongous enterprise; even the most earnest of efforts can find it a hopelessly difficult nut to crack.

India is a massive, sprawling country with the population of a continent and the complexities of a few. For hundreds of years, its citizens have survived under foreign rulers and indigenous monarchs, oblivious to the concepts of elections, democracy, basic fundamental rights, or even the rule of law. Even today, vast swathes of the country live in conflict zones, in desperate poverty, without access to the basic rights and amenities that a western citizen takes for granted. For most of these people, the Indian administrative machinery just exists as an abstract theory.

To a casual observer, India remains a thriving democracy, but much of it is on paper. Elections are held on time, thanks to a fiercely independent Election Commission, one of the strongest institutions in the country. With time, elections have gradually become free and fair, even though allegations of ballot stuffing and electoral malpractices continue to be made. But even then, the whole idea of electoral democracy still remains a farce to vast portions of its population, for whom surviving every day is a struggle, and exercising the right to franchise is the last thing on their mind. The Indian democracy has more or less failed them, putting their names on the voters’ list, but writing them off entirely from the nation’s conscience.

Of course, there are other issues to contend with. For one, the Indian bureaucracy is notoriously corrupt and painfully slow. Lulled by the complacency of secure jobs, presented with no incentive to take any sort of risk, and steeped in a culture of doing nothing, Government service in India is where most ambitions go to die. There is a reason why the word ‘sarkari’ in India is thrown around as a derogatory term signifying something which is slow moving, or poor in quality, or lackadaisical in spirit.

Then there are the turf wars among the departments. Public service in India is done through a maze of bodies, with ill defined jurisdictions and staffed with personnel loathe to take responsibility and happy to throw the ball around. They operate in their own little silos, often taking a dim view of the work of others. Co-ordination among the departments for any sort of complex task is thus often a humongous job.

Finally, a lack of respect for law is ingrained in the Indian culture. Having for decades faced an oppressive and non-cooperative state, Indians have learnt how to cleverly work around the laws, seldom facing any major repercussion for doing so. For every system that exists on paper in India, there are hundreds of work arounds available. There are millions of people who have perfected the art of such work arounds, often doing it at a price for others. In fact, there is also a uniquely Indian name for this practice – ‘jugaad’.

‘Newton’ tackles all of these issues head on, and a few more. For example, there is a delightful little sequence which shows the language hierarchy in North India. Many of the local dialects in the Hindi heartland are gradually getting wiped out in the face of an officially sanctioned onslaught from Hindi. At the same time, Hindi has itself become a poor little cousin to English; knowing Hindi may still land you the Government job and help you scrape through, but in the pyramid of social standings, you will still remain a second class citizen until you attain fluency in English.

Despite its heavy message, ‘Newton’ treads lightly, often gently mocking its hero, for his name as well as his naive optimism and righteousness. The story is simple and threadbare – the most exciting part in the movie is in fact a presiding officer running around in the jungles with an electronic voting machine. But the movie is kept interesting largely through sharp, funny dialogues and two brilliantly sketched out characters in the form of local paramilitary chief Atma Singh and assistant polling officer Loknathji, played superbly by Pankaj Tripathi and Raghubir Yadav respectively. Both Atma Singh and Loknathji are veterans in their respective fields; years of experience have left with deep cynicism and their worldviews are often at odds with the hopeless optimism of Newton, thus providing for moments of genuine conflict.

But more than its social commentary, ‘Newton’ succeeds in portraying the virtues of an individual striving hard to make small changes, and how difficult it can be.

It is about the hopeless idealism of youth and the understated value of sincerity. It is about doing the best one can do, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It is about sticking to the rule book and passing on to chance to cheat, even when no one is watching. It is about trying to change the system from within, one step at a time, instead of just cribbing about it. It is about doing your work and not worrying about the results. It is about how all of these can be so mundane (a lot of the movie has just four people sitting in a polling booth and nothing happening) and yet so rewarding.

And finally, it is about trying and failing and yet not losing your faith, the value of small steps taken in the right direction, and appreciating how tough change can be.

 

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Why the Season 7 of ‘Game of Thrones’ was a Huge Disappointment

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‘Game of Thrones’, the fantasy epic produced by HBO has become one of the most talked about television series of all time. Based on the ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ series of novels written by George RR Martin, the show, currently in its seventh season, has cultivated eager followers across the globe and has turned into one of the biggest pop culture phenomena of the last few decades.

Interestingly, the original source material which the series is based on has already been exhausted and the series producers have moved on to completely unchartered territories, relying on fresh writing to bring the series to a closure, with some creative inputs from George RR Martin himself. Initially, the difference in writing was hardly noticeable and the series moved on as usual; however, as the story took new twists and turns, especially in Season 7, the difference in style has become gradually starker.

For his fantasy novel, Martin invented an entire new world with a bewildering array of characters, each more interesting than the next. While there was some magic and some supernatural creatures, the story of greed, lust and power exploited the interplay of human ambitions and human limitations, within the normal laws of physics and biology. It is true that dragons and white walkers were always looming in the background, casting a menacing shadow on the proceedings, but seldom did they come out and directly affect the storylines.

Take for example the War of the Five Kings. Apart from the murder of King Renly Baratheon, there was no magic involved. Instead, it had everything to do with the zero administrative skills of Robert Baratheon, the bone headed righteousness of Ned Stark, the cunning games played by Little Finger, the juvenile cruelty of King Joffrey, the errors of judgement of Catelyn Stark, mutual suspicion and lack of trust between the Starks and the Lannisters, and so on. Despite the peace after Robert’s rebellion, the situation in Westeros was always tense, and the Seven Kingdoms were yet to fully come to terms with power vacuum created by the dislodging of the House Targaryean. It took just a small act of provocation, the murder of Lord Jon Arryn, to set in motion a complex series of events resulting in the Great War. Not very dissimilar to the Europe of early 20th Century, where a number of evenly matched and competing powers shared space uncomfortably with each other, and the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary in Serbia upset the complicated balance, leading to the First World War.

Thus, this story, for all we know, could have been set in any place and at any period of time.

The ‘Game of Thrones’ series, however, has eschewed this approach and has instead eliminating most of the side characters, truncated a host of ancillary storylines and has set up the series as an epic confrontation between whitewalkers and dragons. From the Season 5 onward, when the series began to inch ahead of the books, this approach has become more and more apparent. The series has not introduced any new significant characters since, often killed off a bunch of characters abruptly (think about the finale of Season 6), and has often patiently waited out episodes to set up climactic battle scenes.

Till the end of Season Six, the approach worked to an extent. The battle of bastards was exquisitely shot, probably one of the best war scenes television has ever come up with. Similarly, the beginning of the season finale was a master piece in direction; the entire sequence being shot to a haunting back ground music and with only a sprinkler of dialogues. But the series also overstretched itself in the last season, leaving behind few characters and hardly any storyline to play with.

And so, in Season 7, ‘Game of Thrones’ has been reduced from a complex, morally ambiguous, unpredictable, captivating and chaotic epic to a fairly linear good v/s evil run of the mill story.

If we really wanted to watch a CGI powered battle scene between a bunch of fire breathing mythical creatures and an army of zombies, wouldn’t we better off watching one of the countless big studio summer blockbusters that assault our senses every year?

To make matters worse, the balance of power was thoroughly lopsided at the end of last season, with Daenerys having so many allies and so much of firepower that it seemed inconceivable that she could ever be defeated. So to compensate, the series writers have come up with ridiculous plot lines that lack any sort of internal consistency. Through the entire season, Tyrion Lannister keeps getting hoodwinked by his sister, committing one dumb mistake after another. To top it all, he comes with a scarce to believe, dumb as shit plan of capturing a wight and demonstrating it to Cersei to win her approval for a truce. Yes, risking the lives of some of Dany’s best allies and warriors to set up a summit with her adversary who also happens to be the most cunning and the least trustworthy woman in all of Westeros to impress her with an undead when she has one already as her bodyguard has to by far the worst plan of all time. At least till demonetization was announced.

If sacrificing the human elements and common sense rationale in favour of blockbuster battle scenes was not enough, the show has also run out of interesting characters. It has killed off most of the characters that occupied the uncomfortable space between black and white, characters like Olenna Tyrell, Tywin Lannnister, the High Sparrow, Roose Bolton, Stannis Baratheon, and suchlike. The character progression of many others have stopped or regressed – think about how the likes of Lord Varys, Littlefinger, Malissandre or even Tyrion Lannister have been treated by the script in the last two seasons. Instead, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Queen Cersei, and the whitewalkers have ended up hogging most of the screentime.

The problem with this approach is of course that both Daenereys and Jon Snow are two of the most boring characters in the show. They are the archetypal good characters in a parable, moral ideals every reader must look up to. They are also hopelessly bland. Every time Daenerys opens her mouth, you half-expect her to start yapping about her glorious ancestry, her early struggles, her dragons, and her claim to the throne. Every time Jon Snow starts speaking, you expect a barrage of self-righteous drivel to come out of his mouth, ending with a plea to take on the white walkers. Both the characters are incapable of doing anything bad, making unpredictable moves, or even some low grade cunning. The fact that Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington are not among the best actors in the show does not help either.

Another problem with the script is that Jon Snow has to be in every battle with the white walkers and Jon Snow just cannot die. No matter how dire the circumstances are, or how hopeless the situation becomes, there is a deus ex machine lurking in the script, springing out at the right moment to rescue Jon Snow. For a show known for killing characters abruptly, in this season, it has gone through a series of showdowns barely harming a single major character.

Add to that, the show has started increasingly looking like a fan fiction of the original novels. Consider the number of times fan theories have come true on screen – the confirmation of “R+L=J”, the incessant efforts and screentime dedicated to establishing a relationship between Jon Snow and Daenerys, or the way the character of Gendry, a fan favourite, was brought back on screen for just two episodes.

When your scriptwriters are too scared to disturb the expectations of fans, all it ensues is predictable mediocrity.

Having said these, ‘Game of Thrones’ is still not a bad show. Even at its worst, it provides edge of the seat entertainment and is captivating as ever. It is brilliantly shot and is as grandiose as television has possibly ever been. But George RR Martin’s ‘A Song of Fire and Ice’ it is not. Instead, it looks hijacked by a Hollywood culture of writers and producers addicted to the easy moolah racked in from big bash superhero movies and the low expectations of a pop corn munching obeisant audience in thrall to it.

 

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‘The Mahabharata Murders’ – The Review

The Mahabharata is probably the greatest book that has ever been written. Vast in its scope, breathtaking in its complexity, sweeping in its array of characters, flawless in its attention to details, and ambiguous in its moral lessons, it is truly an epic. In fact, it is quite possible to take away small portion of its storylines and characters and weave complex plotlines around them. Arnab Ray (or Greatbong as he is better known) does the same in ‘The Mahabharata Murders’, creating enigmatic persona, terse interactions and a fascinating murder mystery, all revolving around the storylines and characters of Mahabharata.

‘The Mahabharat Murders’ is a serial killer mystery, but in effect is much more than that. Set in Kolkata as a cat and mouse game unravels between two investigating officers and a mysterious sociopath, it transcends its genre to act as an effective commentary on the characters and the society they live in.

It is told from the point of view of a thirty five year old Muslim woman. While the author himself is neither Muslim nor a woman, he brings characteristic finesse to the character, incorporating the many obstacles and insinuations that a working, single woman has to face in modern society which is still in many ways as parochial in its treatment of women as it used to be in the times the Mahabharata was written. In fact, in many ways, Ruksana Ahmed, the protagonist, is reminiscent of Draupadi. Strong –willed, intelligent, and ambitious, yet constrained by the social norms and patriarchy, like Draupadi, she has multiple men in her life, many of whom have treated her little better than a pitiful object of desire, but she manages to have her revenge, and survive longer than most of her tormentors.

Unlike a typical book of this genre, ‘The Mahabharata Murders’ is heavy in dialogues, written mostly in the form of a screenplay. The characters are mostly Bengalis, and like the typical Bengali, they like to talk, often with a dry wit and dripping sarcasm. To the author’s credit, it never gets verbose, and the story progresses smoothly without ever being held up. In fact, he adroitly allows the characters play off each other, manufacturing tension from their interactions. These conversation between the characters, often ominous and with a sense of foreboding, form some of the best moments of the book.

In case the book is made into a movie, there will be inevitable comparisons with ‘Baishey Shrabon’, the Prosenjit starrer. However, a more apt comparison perhaps shall be ‘Shojarur Kanta’, another serial killer Byomkesh novel written by Sharadindu Bandopadhyay. Like ‘Shojarur Kanta’, this novel is also more about the story behind the crime, rather than finding out the perpetrator of the crime. In fact, it may be argued ‘Shojarur Kanta’ is probably among the very few Byomkesh novels, where a well written story from a different genre (a romantic drama in this case) is disguised in the form of a whodunit.

If there is one grouse against ‘The Mahabharata Murders’, it is the climax. The denouement of a mystery novel is typically the toughest part, as the author not only has to bring together the loose ends of the story and present a coherent, satisfactory closure, he also has to explain the plausibility of the same to the reader, while retaining an element of surprise. That explanation in itself can become an awkward tool in the storytelling process, something which has been acknowledged by none other than Satyajit Ray himself and even by the author in this novel. Greatbong does make a honest attempt to provide a satisfactory climax to the story; the ending does come as a bit of a shock and perhaps it is the best one can come up with, but it still leaves a few gaping holes in the plot line.

If there is any moral lesson in Mahabharata, it is that end justifies the means. If you, however, find the journey more satisfying than the end it gets you to, you will find ‘The Mahabharata Murders’ one of the best mystery novels this year, and not just by an Indian author.

P.S. – I finished the book in one sitting, of around six hours. It is that engrossing.

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A Comprehensive Guide to the Financials of the Indian Premier League Franchisees

Indian Premier League, popularly known as IPL, the much followed and the much maligned T20 cricket tournament is in its tenth edition now. Having managed to survive a string of high profile corruption cases, censure from the Supreme Court, change of administrators, churning of franchises and temporary banishments from India, the prospect of the league currently looks as bright as it ever was.

In its current edition, eight different teams are contesting in the IPL. Six of these – Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils are regular franchises. Two new comers – Rising Pune Super Giant and Gujarat Lions have been inducted temporarily to take the places of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, which have been suspended for two years in the wake of some of the officials of these teams being involved in a spot fixing scandal. Both Chennai and Rajasthan are expected to return in next year’s IPL.

With the businesses of the franchisees having stabilized now, it is time to take a long, hard look at their financials and find out if the investments were actually worth it.

Source of Revenue:

Before looking at the financial numbers of these businesses, it is important to know the source of revenue for them. For an IPL team, the revenue comes typically from the following sources:

  • The BCCI auctions off the broadcasting and digital rights of IPL to the television networks, 60% of the proceeds of which are then distributed to the participating IPL teams. The proportion of each IPL team in the pool depends on its standing in the IPL.
  • The BCCI also auctions off the sponsorship of IPL. For example, Vivo is currently the lead sponsor of IPL. The sponsorship amount is also contributed to the central pool 60% of which is again divided among the various teams with teams better placed in the league getting a higher share of the revenue pie.
  • The individual franchises also look for sponsors. Usually, each team has multiple sponsors and the amount paid by each sponsor depends on the relative size of their respective logos as well as the placement of these logos in the jerseys of the teams. For example, Kolkata Knight Riders currently has a number of sponsors like Gionee, Reliance Jio, Lux Cozi, Exide, SRMB TMT, Colors Bangla, Greenply Industries Limited and Khadim’s. Gionee though is the lead sponsor as is apparent from the fact that its name is emblazoned prominently at the centre of the KKR jersey. Thus, among these sponsors, Gionee also has to pay the highest amount to KKR.
  • The teams also obtain gate receipts from their respective stadium for the tickets purchased by the spectators who attend the home matches.
  • Apart from this, there is substantial prize money to be owned by the franchises in case they manage to make it to the play-offs.
  • The franchises, especially the better known ones, also earn some revenue through sale of merchandise.

Expenses Incurred:

As against these, the main expenses incurred by these franchisees include the following:

  • Back in 2008, when the IPL rights of the various cities were auctioned off to the franchisees, they agreed to pay a quoted amount to BCCI for these rights. This amount to be paid is spread over a period of ten years. For example, at the time of auction, the management of Delhi Daredevils had quoted a price of Rs. 336 Crores which means it has to make a payment of Rs. 33.60 Crores to BCCI every year till 2017. Post 2017, the franchisees will have to share 20% of their respective income with BCCI.
  • Apart from the fees to BCCI, the major operating expense of these franchises includes the payment of salaries to players, coaches and support staff. Salaries to players constitute the largest chunk of these. In IPL, of course, the players do not come cheap and almost all the players are bought through open auctions. A certain percentage of prize money also has to be distributed in the form of incentives to the players.
  • The franchises have to make payment to the respective cricket associations for using the stadium during the period of IPL.
  • The IPL franchises also incur significant promotional activities. During March-May, you may find large banners popping up in the cities hosting IPL matches, asking you to support the respective IPL team based out of that city. This is mainly to ensure that high attendance in the IPL matches (which translates into gate receipts), create higher brand awareness (thus resulting in more interest from sponsors) and more sale of merchandises.
  • Other than that, the teams also have to incur travel and lodging expenses during the length of the tournament, various legal and administration expenses, and interest expenses, in case they have availed loans from banks or other entities for funding part of their working capital requirement.

The Structure of the Franchises:

Not all IPL franchises are structured alike. Some of them like the erstwhile Deccan Chargers, Chennai Super Kings (before 2015) and the Sunrisers Hyderabad are part of bigger companies (Deccan Chronicle Holding Limited, India Cements Limited and Sun TV Network Limited respectively). These companies have miscellaneous other assets apart from the franchise rights of these IPL teams. On the other hands, most of the remaining other IPL teams are owned by special purpose vehicles i.e. companies which have been formed only in order to hold these assets. For example, Mumbai Indians is owned by a company named Indiawin Sports Private Limited which is a 100% subsidiary of Reliance Industries Investments & Holdings Limited which is again a 100% subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited. Similarly, Royal Challengers Bangalore is owned by Royal Challengers Sports Private Limited which is a 100% subsidiary of United Spirits Limited. The newly formed Rising Pune Supergiant is owned by a company named New Rising Promoters Private Limited which is a subsidiary of Crescent Power Limited which is in turn a subsidiary of CESC Limited, the flagship company of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka group.

In some cases, the shareholding is slightly complicated. Kings XI Punjab is owned by KPH Dream Crocket Private Limited which has equity stakes from four individual investors – Mohit Burman (46%), Ness Wadia (24%), Preity Zinta (24%) and Karan Paul (6%). Kolkata Knight Riders is owned by Knight Riders Sports Private Limited which used to be a subsidiary of Red Chillies Entertainment Private Limited till February, 2010. In 2010, the ownership was changed and currently 55% stake in the entity is held jointly by Shahrukh Khan and Gauri Khan, while 45% stake is owned by Sea Island Investments Limited, a Mauritius based overseas entity owned by Jay Mehta, the business man husband of Juhi Chawla. In fact, this sale of ownership attracted the attention of the Enforcement Directorate which has issued show cause notices to the concerned parties, alleging that the sale of shares was done at a price below the market rate, resulting in loss of foreign exchange to the exchequer and contravening the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Management Act. GMR Sports Private Limited, the owner of Delhi Daredevils, has a rather curious, hybrid structure, with 51% of its ownership being held by GMR Enterprises Private Limited and the remaining 49% owned by four individuals, all promoters or executives of the GMR group.

Financials:

Based on the revenue and profit generated, the franchises may be categorised into the following four broad categories:

Team MatrixFor the purpose of comparison, the average revenue and profit after tax of the various franchises over the last three years available have been plotted in the following chart:

Revenue and PAT

PAT

The amount of investment made by the owners into the respective franchises (in the form of either debt or equity) as on 31st Mar, 2016 has also been compared below:

Investments Made

Kolkata Knight Riders:

Kolkata Knight Riders might be the only franchise which is not part of any well known business group or does not have majority stake owned by investors from strictly business backgrounds. Kolkata Knight Riders, however, is also among the best managed IPL franchise and a look at the financials of Knight Riders Sports Limited, the company owning the franchise tells you why.

Ever since the franchise went through a makeover in the 2011 IPL season, disbanding almost the entire previous team and recruiting new players like Gautam Gambhir, Yousuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hassan, Sunil Narine, etc., KKR has become a force to reckon with in the IPL. After finishing sixth, eight and sixth respectively in the first three seasons, the franchise has made it to the play-offs in the four of the next six seasons and has even managed to win the league in 2012 and 2014.

The improved performance of the KKR on the field has been reflected in the financial numbers of the franchisee as well. It has posted profits in all years since 2011-12, registering aggregate profit of Rs. 46 Crores in these five years. At the same time, its balance sheet has also improved. It has now repaid all debt obligations from banks and is the rare franchisee to have a positive book value of around Rs. 40 Crores as on 31st Mar, 2017. In other words, its owners have already been able to recuperate the investment of Rs. 20 Crores made in the franchise and have a tidy profit of around Rs. 20 Crores on top of it.

The good financial results of KKR are partly a result of the fact that its owners had bid for it cheaply at the time of the auctions, thus resulting in lower burden in the form of annual franchise fee. While the support base of KKR is possibly higher than that of franchises based out Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi and Punjab, the rights of it were acquired at a lower price (USD 75 Million) compared to the franchises based out of the aforementioned cities. The star power of Shah Rukh Khan also helps in attracting more advertisers.  Thus Knight Riders Sports Private Limited has annual revenue at par with or higher than these franchisees, while it pays a lower franchise fee to BCCI. This along with its efficient bidding techniques and improved performance in the league has made this franchisee financially the most sound in the entire IPL fraternity.

Kings XI Punjab:

On the face of it, Kings XI Punjab has a lot going against it. It is not owned by a deep pocketed corporate house, which means it does not have access to the funds of a cash rich parent entity which can fund any loss that it might be making. Being a standalone corporate entity, it also does not benefit from any cost synergies with a larger, parent company. The lack of backing of a corporate also reduces its attractiveness in the debt market. It is owned by four separate individuals, two of whom are not in the best of terms with each other. Being located out of Chandigarh, it does not have access to a large supporter base, unlike Mumbai or Chennai. And finally, its performance on the field has been middling at best. It has been one of the least successful franchises in the IPL, making it to the knockouts only twice in nine attempts, and failing to win the league even once.

A look at the financials of KPH Dream Cricket Private Limited, the owner of KXP, however, shows that it is much better placed than most of its more heralded peers.  While its revenue in a relatively bad year is only around Rs. 105 Crores (its revenue increased in 2014-15 to Rs. 130 Crores largely because of it finishing among the top two in that year), the company has been able to eke out tiny profits in three of the last four years, including in the last two. While KPH Dream Cricket still bears accumulated losses, on account of losses made in the earlier years, its book value has increased from a negative Rs. 48 Crores to a negative Rs. 35 Crores in the last four years.

Part of the losses posted by the company in the initial years has been funded by unsecured loans from the owners.  But with profit accruing in the last few years, KPH Dream Cricket has been able to pay off part of these unsecured loans, and the outstanding unsecured loans as on 31st Mar, 2016 stands at Rs. 58 Crores. The company is also availing working capital borrowings from RBL Bank Limited. While the sanctioned limit is Rs. 35.00 Crores, the outstanding amount near year ends has been at around Rs. 15 Crores.

In terms of operational expenses, KXP has been one of the most frugal sides. Apart from the franchise fee of Rs. 30 Crores that it has to pay to BCCI annually, it has incurred average operational expenses of around Rs. 72 Crores in the last four years, most of which is in the form of player expenses. Part of the reason why KXP has been unwilling to chop and change its player combination in spite of not getting great results in the tournament is that its existing player base does not come with a very high price tag. In fact, it does not have a single expensive domestic player in its roster and most of its overseas players have also been picked up quite cheap. It currently pays around 30% of its revenue in the form of franchise fee to BCCI and completion of the ten year period in 2018 shall see the percentage share get reduced to 20% and thus enable the company to register more profits.

In business terms, Kings’ XI Punjab is the equivalent of a low cost, no frills, economy only airline. The downside, of course, is that the team’s on-field performance has been erratic and the supporters do not have much to cheer for. It remains to be seen how long the team can retain support of fans and advertisers, given the poor record on field. Also another challenge in front of the management shall be maintaining this cost competitiveness at the next years’ auction when most players will again be up for auction again.

Delhi Daredevils:

The fortunes of the Delhi Daredevils, owned by the GMR group, have gone into a tailspin over the last few seasons. Initially a formidable side, it made to the play-offs of IPL in three out of the first five seasons, but has struggled badly since then. It finished last in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons and came close to finishing last in 2015 and 2016 as well. The franchise has been let down by muddled strategic thinking and propensity of the management to bid for players at sky high prices and then release them without persisting with them. A list of the players released by Delhi Daredevils would make a formidable XI on its own – David Warner, Gautam Gambhir, AB De Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Kevin Pietersen, Shikhar Dhawan, Aaron Finch, Glenn Maxwell, Yuvraj Singh, Imran Tahir, Andre Russell, Amit Mishra, Umesh Yadav, Ashish Nehra, etc. As recently as 2016, the franchise bought Pawan Negi for a whopping Rs. 8.5 Crores and then let him go after just one season.

This random chopping and changing of players and inexplicable buys at the auctions have not only affected the performance of the franchise on the field, but has also impacted its financial numbers. GMR Sports Private Limited, the company that owns Delhi Daredevils, has registered losses in six of the last seven years, the only exception being 2013-14.

The main issue with the company has been the poor showing on the field (which has prevented the company from reaping the benefits of a relatively sizeable fan base) and high operating expenses, ranging between Rs. 100 Crores and Rs. 125 Crores, excluding the franchise fee. Its operating expenses have usually been higher than the franchises based out of Kolkata, Chandigarh and Bangalore.  The franchise did show some signs of improvement in 2015-16, with the losses narrowing down to Rs. 6.2 Crores.

However, the liquidity issues being faced by the company have also affected the conduct of the company with banks. It has availed a loan facility of Rs. 45 Crores with Yes Bank. Disclosures in the financial statements show that it has made multiple instances of delays in the servicing of the debt in 2015-16, with the number of days of irregularities extending to 69 days in one instance (if the number of days of irregularities goes beyond 90 days, an account becomes a non-performing asset or an NPA in the parlance of Reserve Bank of India).

It is not that the management has not been cognizant of the issues. For example, its annual reports over the last few financial years have contained the following clarification:

Your management has taken the continuous weak performance of the team seriously. Major changes are being made to ensure better performance on the field and rationalization of costs keeping in mind the revenue potential of the franchise. As a first step, the player salaries will be rationalized in the upcoming auction without compromising the core of the team. We are also actively looking at pruning the support staff costs to ensure a better financial performance.

In spite of making such statements though, the management has gone on to splurge Rs. 16 Crores on Yuvraj Singh and Rs. 8.5 Crores on Pawan Negi and then release them the next season.

In order to register profits, GMR Sports Private Limited needs to get a number of acts right. It needs to trim its player and staff expenses, as identified rightly in the financial statements. And at the same time, it needs to deliver results on the field, which will not only increase its revenue from the BCCI central pool, but also attract advertisers, and increase attendance at its home matches. Currently, it does have a promising, young team; however, its strategy at the 2018 IPL auctions is going to be crucial. The franchise must also be hoping for a much higher premium at the time of allotment of revised broadcasting and digital rights which increase the kitty of the central pool. Finally, the end of the fixed royalty payment to BCCI and switching over to a variable payment regime may also save some cost for the franchise at the margin.

Mumbai Indians:

By most measures, Mumbai Indians is to the Indian Premier League what Chelsea is to the English Premier League or Real Madrid is to La Liga. It is owned by Indiawin Sports Private Limited which is a step down subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited, currently the most valued company in India with a market capitalization of close to Rs. 4.6 lakh crores. It is based out of Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country. It has been the franchise hosting iconic players like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Sanath Jayasurya, Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, etc. And its performance over the last few seasons has been impressive, with the franchise notching up two IPL wins (2013 and 2015) and two more Champions League wins (2011 and 2013).

As a step down subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited, money is not much of a concern for this franchise. In fact, it is the costliest franchise in IPL, the rights of which were acquired at a price tag of USD 112 Million i.e. Rs. 447.6 Crores (at the then exchange rates) to be paid over a period of ten years. But this is still small change for Reliance Industries Limited which registered consolidated revenue of Rs. 3.3 lakh Crores and profit after tax of Rs. 30 thousand Crores in 2015-16. Till 31st Mar, 2016, the holding companies have infused Rs. 226.74 Crores in the form of debt and equity into the company. Just for the purpose of comparison, RIL spent a grand total of Rs. 1.12 lakh Crores in capital expenditures in 2015-16 alone.

Having said that, the franchisee has become gradually improved its financial management over the last few years. While in the first five three of its operations, the entity incurred cumulative loss of Rs. 90 Crores, it has since incurred only accumulated loss of Rs. 15 Crores in the next five years. While its stellar performance on the field has helped, leading to more central pool revenue, prize money as well as sponsorship income, it has also become more judicious in its expenses and selection of players. From a franchise that used to chase every shining object available in the market, it has now evolved to become a launching pad for some of the most exciting domestic T20 talents, including Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya and Nitish Rana. This is reflected in the decrease of player and support staff fees from Rs. 99 Crores in 2013-14 to Rs. 80 Crores in 2014-15 and Rs. 71 Crores in 2015-16.

Funded mostly through a zero coupon optionally fully convertible debenture subscribed to by its holding company, Indiawins Sports Private Limited does not have any external borrowing on its balance sheet. Being based out of probably the most lucrative market of IPL, and having a successful track record, it also registers among the highest revenues among the franchises. The one dubious item in its balance sheet is the outstanding receivables of around Rs. 66 Crores as on 31st Mar, 2016, around Rs. 24 Crores of which has been outstanding for more than six months. This naturally raises questions on the recoverability of these receivables. The financial statement does not contain any other detail pertaining to the receivables.

Royal Challengers Bangalore:

The most surprising fact about that the financials of Royal Challengers Bangalore is its subdued revenue figure. Between 2010 and 2015, the total income registered by Royal Challengers Sports Private Limited (RCSPL), the company that owns this franchise, did not reach Rs. 100 Crores even once, falling mostly in the range between Rs. 80-100 Crores. In terms of revenue, this squarely puts it in the league of smaller franchises like Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals; however, unlike them, RCB has not shown any willingness or ability to cut corners in expenses and make the franchise a profitable venture.

The accounting practices followed by Royal Challengers Sports Private Limited also do not inspire too much confidence. They have amortized the value of their franchise over a period of fifty years, unlike other franchisees which have done so over a period of ten years. In effect, they have understated the losses they have incurred relative to other franchisees; even then, the cumulative losses posted by the company between 2010 and 2016 has amounted to an eye popping Rs. 205 Crores.

Another jarring number in the financials is a write-off of receivables amounting to Rs. 84.80 Crores in 2013-14. Detailed breakup of the receivables is not given; however, around Rs. 30 Crores of receivables are probably in the form of dues outstanding from United Breweries Holdings Limited, then a group company of United Spirits Limited, the owner of Royal Challengers Sports Private Limited.

The franchisee has been kept floating mainly through unsecured loan of Rs. 375.96 Crores (outstanding as on 31st Mar, 2016) taken from United Spirits Limited, the holding company. No other franchise owner has invested so much in any IPL franchise; furthermore, going by the financials of RCSPL, it is not likely in a position to repay the unsecured loan any time soon.

With the ownership of United Spirits Limited having changed hands, from Vijay Mallya to Diageo, the current owners may not have much interest in running this loss making IPL franchisee. Instead, they may be looking to off load the stake to some other business house. The new owners would have their task out in instilling a sense of financial discipline in a franchisee so far marked by too little income and too many expenses.

Sun Risers Hyderabad:

The history of Sun Risers Hyderabad is a little different from other franchises. The franchise of Hyderabad was earlier owned by Deccan Chronicle Holdings Limited. On account of breach of contract terms, the franchise right of Deccan Chronicles was terminated by BCCI in October, 2012. A fresh auction was held and the rights of the Hyderabad franchise were bought by Sun TV Network Limited. Thus, Sunrisers Hyderabad came into being and it has been representing Hyderabad in IPL since 2013.

Since the franchise rights of Sun Risers Hyderabad are part of a larger balance sheet of Sun TV Network Limited, the detailed financials of the same are not available separately. Instead, only the topline numbers are available. The IPL team registered revenues of Rs. 106 Crores, Rs. 100 Crores and Rs. 96 Crores in the first three years of its operations, since 2013-14.

Being a latecomer into the IPL family, when the league was already up and running and the risk associated with it had subsided to a large extent, SRH has to shell out a larger fee in the form of franchise fee to the BCCI compared to the other franchises. Its annual franchise fee is Rs. 85.05 Crores, which is nearly double the sum of Rs. 44.8 Crores that Mumbai Indians, the next most expensive franchise, has to pay every year. Of course, from 2018 onwards, its payout to BCCI will become 20% of the total income, like that of other franchises.

Given annual revenue of around Rs. 100 Crores, and a franchise fee of Rs. 85 Crores, the franchise is clearly not profitable currently. Even if we conservatively consider other operating expenses of Rs. 75 Crores, it is currently making annual losses to the extent of around Rs. 60 Crores.

The financials of SRH can only improve from here on. For starters, it just won the last season of the Indian Premier League which shall give a significant boost to its revenue. The franchise has done well so far in this year’s Indian Premier League as well. With consistent performance and bankable stars, the franchise shall gradually be able to cultivate a devoted fan base, which shall increase its gate receipts, sale of merchandise as well as attract more sponsors to it. More importantly, from 2018, the payment to BCCI shall reduce to only 20% of its income, far less than the 85%-90% figure it is paying currently. Also with the broadcasting rights under negotiation, the total kitty of the central pool may increase further, contributing to increased revenue for SRH.

Thus SRH has the potential to increase its revenue to around Rs. 140 Crores, in which case the payout to BCCI shall be around Rs. 28 Crores and even with other operating expenses of around Rs. 90 Crores, it shall be in a position to rake in profit before tax to the extent of around Rs. 22 Crores. Of course, this improvement in financials is contingent on a lot of factors and is easier said than done.

Rajasthan Royals:

Facing suspension till 2017 on account of some of the owners engaging in betting and corruption, Rajasthan Royals has not been the most transparent franchise when it comes to practices of corporate governance. It has found itself repeatedly in various controversies. In 2010, it was temporarily suspended from the league when it came to the notice of BCCI that its ownership had been changed without any intimation to BCCI. However, the matter was referred to arbitration and BCCI settled for a fine of Rs. 1 Crore. In May, 2013, three players of Rajasthan Royals (Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila) were arrested by the Mumbai Police on allegations of spot fixing and were subsequently banned by the BCCI. In 2015, the franchise itself was banned for a period of two years, as Raj Kundra, one of the owners of the franchise, was found to have indulged in betting and passing on information to illegal bookmakers. The franchise has also been fined by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs because of violations in following standard practices while entering into business deals with related party entities. There have also been multiple investigations against the franchise for violation of income tax and foreign exchange management rules.

The ownership pattern of Rajasthan Royals is convoluted. The franchise is currently owned by Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited which is a subsidiary of EM Sporting Holdings Limited (EMHSL), an entity based out of Mauritius. The ownership of EMHSL is not publicly available; however, as per the last disclosure made by the franchise, stakes in the entity are held by Manoj Badale, a UK based Indian businessman,  the Chellarams family based out of Nigeria, the UK based Kundra family (including Raj Kundra and Shilpa Shetty) and Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch. The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) website shows that Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited has only two directors currently – Ranjit Barthakur and Dalip Pande, both directors with Globally Managed Services Private Limited, a consultancy firm based out of Mumbai.

Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited follows an accounting year ending on 31st December. In the MCA website, only the financial results of 2012, 2013 and 2014 have been uploaded. The financial numbers show that the reputation of Rajasthan Royals as a frugal business is not unfounded. In fact, its financials are very much comparable to those of KPH Dream Cricket, the owner of Kings XI Punjab. Despite being based out of a less lucrative market, not being among the best performing teams in the league, dogged by ownership issues and at times, lacking even a proper home venue, both the franchisees have been able to register profits in the recent years.

Like Kings XI Punjab, Rajasthan Royals has been able to manage its operating costs very efficiently; if anything it has done this better than KXP. Its formula has been hiring cheap domestic talents and converting them into valuable, performing contributors by making them play around veteran superstars (Shane Warne initially and Rahul Dravid later). Although the title winning performance of 2008 could not be replicated by the franchise, it has made it to the play-offs twice since then. The fact that this is the cheapest franchise in the Indian Premier League, with a price tag of only USD 67 Million, also reduces the annual payout to BCCI and hence protects the margin. By 31st December, 2014, Jaipur IPL Cricket Private Limited already had a book value of around Rs. 39 Crores, against equity investment made of only around Rs. 1 lakh. Otherwise the balance sheet of the company also looks good and it does not have any external bank borrowings on its balance sheet; on the contrary, it had cash and cash equivalents of around Rs. 19 Crores outstanding as on 31st December, 2014.

Chennai Super Kings:

The other team to have been disqualified temporarily, Chennai Super Kings was owned by India Cements till recently. Since the franchise was part of the larger balance sheet of India Cements till 2015, its financials till that period are not available separately; only the revenue numbers were available. The revenue numbers confirm that after Mumbai Indians, it is the IPL team with one of the highest incomes, at par with Kolkata Knight Riders, and much higher than the rest of the franchises.

In February, 2015, the IPL franchise of Chennai Super Kings was transferred to Chennai Super Kings Cricket Limited (CSKCL), a wholly owned subsidiary of India Cements. Subsequent to that, the shares of CSKCL, owned by India Cements, were transferred to India Cements Shareholders Trust. The transfer was done mainly in order to comply with a Supreme Court order stating that any functionary of BCCI should not have a stake in an IPL franchise. CSKCL has not filed the audited financials of 2015-16 in the MCA website and as a result, profit and loss account of the company is not available. The balance sheet as on 31st Mar, 2015 showed short term loan of Rs. 25 Crores availed in the form of inter-corporate deposit but no bank loans outstanding.

Rising Pune Super Giant & Gujarat Lions:

Rising Pune Super Giant has played its first IPL in 2016 and as a result, it will recognize its first year of operating revenue only in 2016-17. Hence the available financial statement of the New Rising Promoter Private Limited, the holding company of RPSG, for the year 2014-15, is not really helpful in getting much of an insight into the financials of the franchise.

The franchise of Gujarat Lions, on the other hand, is owned by Intex Technologies Limited which itself is not a listed company.

The rights of the Pune and Gujarat franchises were auctioned by BCCI for a period of two years. The two franchises would not receive the revenue from the central pool of BCCI. On top of that, RPSG will have to make a payment of Rs. 16 Crores and Gujarat Lions will pay Rs. 10 Crores to BCCI every year.

Thus, the financial statements of the two franchises will look much different from those of other franchises. Revenue from the central pool constitutes a significant source, perhaps the largest source of revenue for IPL franchises. The breakup of revenue of Mumbai Indians (the only franchise for which revenue break-up is available) shows that the income from the central pool of BCCI was Rs. 67 Crores in FY16, Rs. 58 Crores in FY15 and Rs. 66 Crores in FY14.

Hence, the only sources of revenue to these franchisees shall be sponsorship income, ticket revenue and prize money received. Now, as per the existing plan, these franchises shall have the rights to represent their respective IPL teams only in the 2016 and 2017 season. Further, being new teams with no established following, they may have limited support base. They are also based out of relatively smaller cities, compared to many of the top tier IPL teams. Considering this, the sponsorship income and ticket revenue may be lower than many of the larger, older franchisees.

Given this, it is unlikely that the annual revenue of the two franchisees in 2015 and 2016 shall exceed Rs. 60 Crores. For reference, the annual revenue of Sun Risers Hyderabad, a new franchise, has been at around Rs. 100 Crores, a significant portion of which comes from the central pool which Pune and Gujarat would not have access to. On the cost side, if one is to optimistically assume operating expense of Rs. 90 Crores , apart from the franchise fee they have to pay to BCCI, one may be looking at pre-tax loss of around Rs. 40-45 Crores annually.

At the margins though, the Gujarat franchise may perform slightly better financially. For starters, their franchise fee is less by around Rs. 6 Crores annually. Secondly, they made it to the play-offs in the 2016 edition, thus making them eligible for higher income from prize money and raising the brand value of the franchise. Thirdly, their player expense is more rationalized compared to that of the Pune franchise. But even then, it is unlikely that either of these franchises will make any profit in these two years. Perhaps, a better way to look at the investments would be to consider them marketing expenses incurred by two major corporate houses to raise their respective visibility among Indian customers.

A few other observations:

  • Performance on the field matters financially. Better performance leads to higher prize money, bigger share in the central pool revenue, better sponsorship deals and more attendance at the stadium. A plot showing the relationship between revenue of the franchises and their standings in those years in IPL has been mentioned in the following plot:

Revenue vs Rank in IPL

The relationship is not obviously completely linear, for a Mumbai Indian in its worst year may earn more than a Kings XI Punjab in its best year. However, the above table still proves that a higher standing in the IPL generally translates into better revenue.

The accretion to the bottom line may be limited though as the franchises need to pay a certain percentage of their prize money in the form of incentives to players.

  • In fact, around 65% of the variation of revenue of various franchises across years can be explained by two variables only – the rank of that franchise in IPL in that year and the cities they are based out. We can use the following simple equation to estimate the revenue of an IPL franchise in a particular year:

Revenue (in Rs. Crores) = 133.19-5.93*(Rank in IPL)+39.33*(City Variable),

where city variable is a dummy variable which is 1 for metros (i.e. Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai) and 0 for others (i.e. Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bangalore and Hyderabad).

The plot showing the predicted revenue of the franchise obtained from this formula as against the actual revenue of the franchises has been mentioned below:

Actual Revenue vs Predicted Revenue

  • In a business where a number of variables are already decided (franchise fee to BCCI) or beyond your control (central pool of BCCI, gate revenues, etc.), getting the right players and coaching staff at the right price is one variable that are in the hands of the franchisees. As a result, the strategy of the IPL teams at the auctions becomes extremely critical. It entails dealing with interesting trade-offs – the lower you pay, the lesser quality of players you get, and the higher the probability of your team finishing poorly on the field. But having said that, there are a number of undervalued players who fly under the radar at the auctions and can be picked up at bargain prices. Some IPL franchises, like Kolkata Knight Riders, has been able to hone the art of bidding well, while others like Delhi Daredevils, are gradually learning the tricks of the trade. The same, at the end of the day, have direct bearing on the financials of the respective franchises.
  • Franchises which are owned by corporate houses generally receive financial help from their owners to tide over temporary hiccups. However, this also makes these franchisees financially undisciplined, with profit making in many cases becoming a secondary objective. The teams which are owned by individual or disparate investors, on the other hand, are far more disciplined as they may not have recourse to funding in case things go south. Neither of Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals or Kings XI Punjab – the three franchises that have generated profit in the last few years are controlled by one, large corporate group.
  • Yes Bank has funded a number of the IPL franchisees at some point of time. They have extended secured loans to the companies owning Kolkata Knight Riders, Kings XI Punjab, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Daredevils and Rising Pune Super Giant. Of these, the loans extended to Kings XI Punjab, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals have already been repaid. Kings XI Punjab has in fact managed to repay the loan extended by Yes Bank and replaced them by fresh funding availed from RBL Bank Limited. The account of Delhi Daredevils, on the other hand, has been marked by delays in payment of dues.
  • The financials of the franchisees may improve substantially from 2018 onwards. For one, the annual payout to BCCI shall become 20% of their respective revenues. Secondly, the central pool may get expanded if BCCI is able to obtain higher prices for the broadcasting and digital rights. Further, the risks associated with the league have subsided to a large extent. This is reflected in the significantly higher premium at which the rights for the subsequent franchises have been sold.

 

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An Alternative Team India Line-up Based on IPL 2017

One of the weirder trends in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) has been the way most of the current stars of the Indian limited overs’ line-up have had underwhelming performances till now, even as players never heard of before, players long on the fringes of the national squad, and players on the verge of retirement have set the tournament on fire with one scintillating performance after another. For an Indian cricket fan, this is at once both promising and scary – the existing players of the Indian team are out of form; while you have exciting replacements available for each position, you cannot simply get rid of well established players, with years of accomplishment behind them, on the basis of performances in one season of IPL.

This has led us to this fun exercise – what if we hypothetically replace the current team that represents India at the various limited overs’ tournament with players who have performed better than them in this year’s IPL? We can prepare an alternative eleven that may even beat our regular Indian XI, at least in a T20 match, on the basis of recent form.

First the usual caveats though. Please note that this is an entirely theoretical exercise and it is not advisable for selectors to try this in their meetings. Playing for an IPL franchise is completely different from representing India at an international tournament. Moreover, most Indian stars are playing in this year’s IPL after a long, exhausting home season. Many of them are making comebacks from injuries. They may not be as fit and fresh as their less known domestic counterparts. And most importantly, as Joginder Sharma showed us once (or twice), “Form is temporary, class is permanent.”

Please note that all figures and statistics are as on 05th May, 2017, post completion of the match between Kings XI Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore.  

The Openers:

In the recent limited overs’ matches, India has opened with a combination of any two of Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, KL Rahul, and Shikhar Dhawan (with Kohli putting up guest appearances here and there). Given their respective limited overs’ form, and the track record of selection in the recent past, it is safe to assume that in case all four are fit and available for selection, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul will make the cut.

In the IPL so far, the performance of the regular Indian openers has been tepid. It is fair to say that Rahane is in the middle of one of his worse seasons of IPL, scoring just 226 runs in 11 matches at an average of 21 and strike rate of 121. Shikhar Dhawan has been better, scoring 369 runs in 11 matches at an average of 37 and strike rate of 126. While Dhawan sits sixth among the highest run getters in IPL so far, his strike rate is the worst of all batsmen in the top 15. In Dhawan’s defence, his job so far has been mostly to take singles and bring the marauding David Warner on strike.

As far as Rohit Sharma is concerned, he has had an even worse IPL than the first two, scoring just 173 runs in 10 matches at an average of 25 and strike rate of 118. Making a comeback from injury, he has batted in the middle order instead of opening, and has only started showing glimpses of his formidable IPL record. KL Rahul, on the other hand, is sitting out of the entire tournament because of injury.

There are at least three Indian openers who can challenge these four players on the basis of their current form. They are Gautam Gambhir (411 runs at an average of 51 and strike rate of 135), Sanju Samson (374 runs at an average of 37 and strike rate of 144), and Rahul Tripathi (352 runs at an average of 39 and strike rate of 155). These three feature among the top seven highest run scorers of the tournament so far. And all three play at comfortable strike rates, are adept at scoring boundaries, and are not prone to getting bogged down in the crease. To add bonus points, Gambhir can double up as a feisty, aggressive skipper; Samson can also keep, while Tripathi can serve as a part time bowler. There is not much more you can expect from your openers.

The Middle Order:  

India’s middle order in recent tournaments has mostly starred a combination of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Kedar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Yuvraj Singh. Apart from Suresh Raina (395 runs at average of 49 and strike rate of 145) and Manish Pandey (341 runs at average of 57 and strike rate of 137), the others have not really done justice to their reputation.

Part of this can be attributed to the woeful season Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) is having with the bat. At the start of the tournament, it seemed inconceivable that a batting line up comprising of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers, Kedar Jadhav, and Shane Watson could fail. But not only has this batting line up been a massive failure, it has combusted so thoroughly, repeatedly, and embarrassingly that a lot of RCB fans are left longing for the 2008 line up of true blue T20 hitters like Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Jacques Kallis, with Sunil Joshi thrown in as a pinch hitter.

Virat Kohli is having a very average tournament, not just by his own exalted standard, but by even an average batsman’s expectations. He has scored 245 runs so far, averaging 31 at a strike rate of 124. The more surprising statistic here is the strike rate, worst in the list of top 20 run getters, and definitely not becoming of the best batsman in the planet right now. Kedar Jadhav has also struggled generally, with a string of failures in between a few reminders of his delicious stroke making – scoring 247 runs at a lower average of 25, but far better strike rate of 147.

Yuvraj Singh has so far played two substantial innings – both sublime knocks that evoked collective nostalgia, but has not done much otherwise. In his defence, he has not had to do much in a batting lineup where bulk of the scoring has so far been done by David Warner, Shikhar Dhawan, Moises Henriques, and Kane Williamson. His record – 187 runs at average of 31 and strike rate of 164, is still better than some of his other international teammates.

Based on their current form, the batsmen who can lay claim to the international squad include Robin Uthappa (384 runs at average of 43 and strike rate of 171), Nitish Rana (312 runs at average of 35 and strike rate of 129), Dinesh Karthik (286 runs at average of 36 and strike rate of 138), Shreyas Iyer (204 runs at average of 34 and strike rate of 140), and Manoj Tiwary (190 runs at average of 32 and strike rate of 146).

This bunch offers an eclectic mix of a hitherto unknown player plucked to IPL fame from obscurity (Nitish Rana), a rising star of Indian cricket (Shreyas Iyer), and three other players who have drifted in and out of the Indian squad without really putting together a successful international career.

Interestingly, there are two more wicketkeepers in this group (Uthappa and Karthik) to go with a makeshift keeper present in the list of openers (Samson). And we are yet to officially come to the section of wicketkeeper in the squad.

The Wicketkeeper:

MS Dhoni is not only the current wicketkeeper of the Indian limited overs side, he is also one of the all time great wicketkeepers in One Day Internationals, and one of the first ones to master the Twenty20 format. Such has been his form and fitness over the last twelve years, and such has been his success as a player and a skipper in the shorter formats of the game, that it is difficult to remember the last time anyone else had donned the gloves for the Men in Blue.

You would not be able to guess any of these by looking at Dhoni’s numbers in the IPL 2017 so far. He has had a pretty poor season, scoring 204 runs at an average of 26 and strike rate of 110, with only one innings of note so far, albeit a crucial, match winning one. His failure to rotate the strikes in the middle overs has become evident from his low strike rate which is the worst among batsmen who have scored more than 100 runs in the IPL 2017 till date.

On the other hand of the spectrum is Rishabh Pant, a fresh faced 19 year old, who has overcome personal tragedy to post brilliant returns in this year’s IPL, scoring 281 runs at average of 28 and strike rate of 176. In sharp contrast to Dhoni’s numbers, his strike rate is the highest of all batsmen who have scored more than 125 runs in the IPL.

At the end of India’s campaign in the 2016 T20 World Cup, an Aussie journalist asked Dhoni if he wanted to play on. As part of a belaboured reply, Dhoni mentioned, “I wish it was an Indian media person. Then I would have asked if he has a son who is a wicketkeeper and ready to play. He would have said no, then I would have said maybe a brother who is a wicketkeeper and who is ready to play.”

Obviously, Dhoni was referring to what then looked like a bare cupboard of India’s limited overs wicket keeping talent. But a lot has changed since then. Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik, and even Parthiv Patel have done well in this year’s IPL. Among the established Indian players, both KL Rahul and Kedar Jadhav can keep wickets, at least at T20 level. Dhoni’s place in the squad is looking more insecure than ever before.

The Allrounders:

The Indian national team has preferred to go with Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja as the designated allrounders in recent limited overs matches. But for reasons which are completely different, the performance of these two has not been up to the mark in this year’s IPL.

Hardik Pandya has so far scored 151 runs so far at an average of 50 and strike rate of 172. While these numbers are impressive, Hardik has been used sparingly by the Mumbai Indians so far, pushed down the order and asked to bat with only a limited number of deliveries left. As a result, his highest score in the tournament remains a measly 35 not out. With the ball as well, he has been underutilized, getting to bowl just 16 overs in 10 matches, taking 4 wickets at an average of 32 and economy of 8.00. His position as the 38th highest run getter and 41st highest wicket taker in the IPL so far does not behoove his status as India’s front ranking allrounder.

If Hardik has not got a lot of opportunities, Ravindra Jadeja has simply been out of form. Marking a return from injury after a long and tiring season, he has been terribly off colour with the bat and the ball. He has scored 118 runs so far at an average of 30 and strike rate of 137, while with the ball, he has taken just 5 wickets at an average of 56 and economy of 9.65. Interestingly, given the stellar season that he has had with the red ball, Jadeja may end up joining a long list of players like Ravi Ashwin, Murali Vijay, and Wriddhiman Saha who came to national limelight through the IPL, but have become more successful in the longest format of the game.

Axar Patel, long considered a Jadeja-lite, has had a great season so far. In a low key Punjab outfit, with not a single high profile domestic name in its playing XI, Patel has shouldered much of the workload, contributing 13 wickets at an average of 20 and economy of 7.33, and 176 runs at an average of 25 and strike rate of 149. He has been the strike bowler for his franchise and has contributed crucial runs in the lower order at a healthy strike rate.

Another all-rounder that has done well has been Krunal Pandya. Like Axar, he has been more impressive with the ball, taking 10 wickets at an average of 18 and economy of 6.70, while making useful runs in the lower order, scoring 136 runs at an average of 27 and strike rate of 137.

The Spinners:

In recent times, Ravichandran Ashwin has been India’s frontline spinner across all formats. Sadly, he is out of this year’s IPL on account of an injury. Amit Mishra, the usual replacement of Ashwin in the national team, has had a middling IPL season, taking only 8 wickets so far, at a strike rate of 28 and economy of 8.37.

In contrast to Mishra, Yuzvendra Chahal, a player that recently made debut for India, has further cemented his reputation as one of the leading spinners of India in the shortest format of the game, contributing 13 wickets so far at an average of 20 and economy of 7.33. Kuldeep Yadav has also shown glimpses of his ability, taking 9 wickets at average of 31 and economy of 8.02. Pawan Negi is another spinner that has impressed, taking 11 wickets at average of 15 and economy of 6.14, in addition to scoring 126 runs at average of 18 and strike rate of 122.

The Fast Men:

Ashish Nehra, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav have been India’s preferred seamers in the T20 format. Of them, Bumrah has been in good form (taking 12 wickets so far at average of 27 and economy of 7.92), the other two not so much (Nehra has taken 8 wickets at average of 24 and economy of 9.60 while Umesh Yadav has taken 10 tickets at average of 26 and economy of 8.51). While being regular at taking wickets, all three bowlers have given away runs aplenty. Mohammed Shami, another regular member of the Indian squad, fitness permitting, has also fared poorly, taking just 2 wickets in 4 matches, at average of 62 and economy of 10.25.

In fact, there have been a number of seamers who have done better than these four. For one, Bhuvneshwar Kumar who has struggled to cement his place in the Indian line-up is comfortably leading the wicket charts right now, with 21 tickets, 4 wickets more than Imran Tahir who is in the second position. Not only that, his average is an impressive 13 and his economy is a lowly 6.53. Among bowlers who have taken more than 5 wickets in this year’s IPL, only Andrew Tye has had a lower average and only Pawan Negi has been more economical.

Apart from Kumar, other Indian pacers who have dominated the IPL include Sandeep Sharma (14 wickets at average of 20 and economy of 8.35), Jaydev Unadkat (12 wickets at average of 17 and economy of 7.75), and Mohit Sharma (9 wickets at average of 32 and economy of 8.55).

So here is our alternative team India line-up based on the performance in IPL 2017:

  1. Gautam Gambhir (Captain)
  2. Sanju Samson
  3. Robin Uthappa
  4. Nitish Rana
  5. Dinesh Karthik
  6. Rishabh Pant
  7. Axar Patel
  8. Pawan Negi
  9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar
  10. Sandeep Sharma
  11. Jaydev Unadkat

As against this, the team fielded by India against West Indies in the semi-final of the World T20 tournament held on 31st Mar, 2016 included the following players:

  1. Rohit Sharma
  2. Ajinkya Rahane
  3. Virat Kohli
  4. MS Dhoni
  5. Suresh Raina
  6. Manish Pandey
  7. Hardik Pandya
  8. Ravindra Jadeja
  9. Ravi Ashwin
  10. Jasprit Bumrah
  11. Ashish Nehra

 

A good way to compare the current form of this team with the first eleven of the Indian cricket team would be to take the composite scores assigned to these players in the various fantasy leagues (which takes into account parameters like runs scored, strike rate, wickets taken, economy rate, catches taken, etc.) and make a position wise comparison. For example, on the basis of the scores assigned by Fandromeda, one of the popular fantasy league sides, here is how these players stack up:

Name of Player Average Score Per Match Name of Player Average Score Per Match
Gautam Gambhir 71 Rohit Sharma 37
Sanju Samson 74 Ajinkya Rahane 34
Robin Uthappa 92 Virat Kohli 52
Nitish Rana 62 Suresh Raina 74
Dinesh Karthik 51 Manish Pandey 62
Rishabh Pant 66 MS Dhoni 37
Axar Patel 86 Hardik Pandya 50
Pawan Negi 70 Ravindra Jadeja 43
Bhuvneshwar Kumar 84 Ravi Ashwin NA
Sandeep Sharma 67 Jasprit Bumrah 54
Jaydev Unadkat 65 Ashish Nehra 41

So who will win a clash between these two teams? The regular Indian team still remains the favourite, simply because most of them have experience of playing for years on the big stage and know how to perform under pressure. Our team may be light on reputation, but given their red hot current form, I would wager on this team of rookies and also-runs to put up a tough fight against their more heralded peers.

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How to be a Superstar in Indian Political Twitter – In a Few Easy Steps

“It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing” – William Shakespeare on Indian political twitter

“Indian political twitter is the best. By far the best. Just amazing. Unbelievably good. I love the Hindus. Big league.”  – Donald Trump

“Delete your account” – Hillary Clinton

So you want to become a Twitter superstar in India. You want to command the following of thousands of eggheads. You always wanted to achieve something in life. You knew you always had that special something in you. You just needed some hand holding and guidance. You have come to the right place. Here we will break it down, step by step, the simplest way to have that Twitter handle at the heart of every political conversation in India.

If Facebook is the high end, black tie, cocktail party where people are unfailingly nice to each other but do not forget to show how much they are better off through snide remarks and subtle gloating, Instagram is the movie theater where you go to gawk at beautiful people living in places you can never afford to visit, Whatsapp is the canteen of your college campus where you can have intimate conversations and the occasional fights with people you mostly know, Twitter is the shadiest bar in the neighbourhood where wasted, boorish men get into drunken fights and indulge in brutish free for all. Twitter is a place where the ugliness bubbles right beneath the thin veneer of respectability; all it takes is a simple act of provocation for it to come to the surface. But even by the not too exalted standards of Twitter, Indian political twitter is an especially demented place to be in.

But worry not, we have got it all planned it for you.

For the convenience of the dimwits that inhabit it, Indian political Twitter is neatly demarcated into two separate halves – the Right and the Left. The two halves are at constant loggerheads with each other, outraging over the slightest provocations, trying to outwit each other in a constant race to the bottom. The two labels are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, leaving no room for subtleties and niceties. It is in this bloody, binary world that you will have to prove yourself.

The first step is to decide if you want to join the Right or the Left. No, you don’t have to read up on Karl Marx , Vinayak Savarkar, John Keynes or Milton Freidman and form well researched and informed beliefs. No, don’t even think about it. There is a very simple Rorschach test to find out. Just visualize our Prime Minister giving one of his speeches. Does it make you slightly aroused or does it leave you with a sick feeling in the stomach? In case of the former, you are a bonafide right winger, whereas in case of the latter, you are a born leftist.

But what if it makes you do neither? What if you are the a guy who is prone to take a rational and well thought out decision, whose beliefs have been moulded by years of studies, deliberations and experiences? What if you are driven more by the issue than by the face behind it? Well, then just fuck off. Twitter is not for you. Go to the local library, read some books and die alone. Or worse still, become a Wikipedia administrator. Or may be do a Ph.D. Whatever. Just don’t waste our time here.

Now that the most important question is out of the way, let’s get you started. If you are a right winger, just follow the following steps. If you are a left winger, skip to the portion below. And if these steps do not yield the desired results for you, do remember that this advice is coming from a person with a grand total of 72 followers on Twitter.

Twitter Rules for People from the Right:

  • Put up a picture of you shaking hands with the Prime Minister as your display pic. If you don’t have any such pic, make one in Adobe Photoshop. If you don’t know Photoshop, just skip this step. Worry not. If you follow the remaining steps, you will soon have a real picture with the Prime Minister.
  • Keep a picture of Bharat Mata or national flag or a deity as your cover pic. Spell your name in Hindi, instead of English. Make your Twitter bio sound something like “Nation comes first” or “A true believer in India” or “Bharat Mata ki Jai”. Does not matter if you have not been living in India for the past decade. Also end your bio with “Fiercely unbiased.” I don’t know why, but all famous people, especially the most biased ones, seem to do so.
  • Get familiar with words like “presstitudes”, “ sickular”, “pseudo liberal”, “AAPtard”, “Congi”, “Jihadi”, etc. Be liberal with the usage of such words, especially while indulging in Twitter fights, even if you may not be liberal with anything else in life.
  • Take outrage. Take lots of outrage. Outrage should be your middle name. You should get offended by the sight of a person in wheelchair not standing up when the national anthem is played. The thought of India losing to Pakistan in an inconsequential tri-series cricket match should make your blood boil. If any one dares to say anything against our Government or our country, your hands should tremble with passionate fury as you type the most vicious of abuses against the guy in Twitter.
  • Remember the phrase “Freedom of Expression” only when you need to defend yourself or some more of ilk when you guys type some indefensible nonsense on Twitter that quickly goes viral. It is human to get carried away. Especially for a guy who cares so deeply for his country. We understand this. “Freedom of Expression” was invented precisely to deal with such situations. (Not really. But never mind)
  • Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and Sagarika Ghosh are your biggest enemies. Remember these names. Find them on Twitter and hound them. They are the worst thing to have happened to this country since Chunkey Pandey and Emergency. They are the reason why our country has not been able to become superpower yet. (But wait for ten years; under our current Prime Minister, it will, despite their best efforts). So attack them viciously; put every tweet of them under the microscope and don’t spare any effort to find the minutest of faults in them. If we are attacked by Pakistani terrorists, don’t blame the Government for the failure, instead make a joke on how it would be the happiest day of the lives of these journalists. If a major scam is unearthed, don’t say anything against the Government; instead, point out how these journalists are in bed with corrupt politicians of the Opposition Party.
  • Abuse your targets until they are forced to block you. Take a screenshot of the message that says you have been blocked and post it around, claiming how it violates your “freedom of expression” (even though it doesn’t , but never mind).
  • Use whataboutery. A lot of it. When they ask you about 2002, tell them about 1984. When they ask you about Dadri, tell them about Kannur. When they ask you about Vyapam scam, tell them about 2G scam.
  • If someone does not agree with you, accuse him or her of being an anti-national. Ask such people to go to Pakistan.
  • People not belonging to your faith or religion are not to be trusted. All Muslims are terrorists. Except Tarek Fatah, he is the only true Indian Muslim, even though he is not actually an Indian. All Christians are missionaries trying to convert you. But Jews are okay. They also hate Muslims. At least that’s what you think.
  • When you find yourself losing an argument, use statements like, “This country gives you rights or freedom. Don’t use these rights or freedom to abuse this country” or “You are having this arm chair argument only because soldiers stay awake at night at the border to keep us safe. Don’t dishonour their sacrifices”. Neither makes much sense, but then you are not on Twitter to make much sense.
  • Watch Zee News. Read Swarajyamag and Opindia. They are like the last minute suggestions before exams. They will give you a list of daily issues to take umbrage on and helpful pointers on what to say.
  • Shower the Government with superlative praises if the newspaper carries any positive news. Shrug off and ignore all bad news, and if they cannot be ignored any more, blame it on the Opposition, Pakistan, minorities, media, bad weather or Digvijay Singh.
  • Finally do remember this – The Right is called Right because it is always Right. You can never be wrong.

Twitter Rules for People from the Left:

  • Put up a profile picture that makes you look cultured and sophisticated. May be a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower or the Merlion of Singapore. If you have never ventured outside Ulhasnagar your whole life, fear not. Just use the picture of Statue of Libery as your profile pic. Or that of a random, obscure leftist politician. But no Che Guevera, please. It is too clichéd.
  • Google to find an inspiring, uplifting and esoteric quote that you yourself cannot understand, spoken by someone you have never heard of, and put it up as part of your bio.
  • Become familiar with words like “Bhakt”, “sexist”, “misogynist”, “racist”, “communal”, etc. Use them to label anyone who does not agree with you.
  • Outrage every time the rights of someone who do not belong to the majority are compromised. But don’t even acknowledge the human rights of the majority. There is no such thing as human rights of the majority. They are just oxymoron.
  • Be a hypocrite. Show heartfelt concern for the poor, call for higher taxes on the super rich, but cheat on your tax filings.
  • Ask anyone who does not agree with you to go to North Korea.
  • Practice selective retention. Pretend as if there was no recorded history between the year Nehru died and the year Modi came into power. Especially, forget everything of the period between 2009 and 2014.
  • Feel proud to call yourself a liberal. Embrace the label. Explain how this means that you tolerate dissidence and welcome disagreements. But when someone disagrees with you or offers a more logical counter to your argument, start outraging and label him a sexist or a racist or a misogynist. Or better still, call him a troll and block him.
  • But when someone you like actually says something that is sexist, racist or misogynist, use “freedom of expression” to defend him.
  • Remember this – there are no principles. Something is acceptable only as long as the person doing it is acceptable to you. So when AIB makes offensive jokes, it is acceptable. When Viru makes a harmless joke, roast him over it. When SFI engages in campus violence, ignore it. When ABVP does the same, condemn them breathlessly.
  • Use statistics to glorify the previous government. But question the validity of these statistics when they portray any success of the current Government.
  • Portray a sense of victimization, as if the utopian world that you were part of has turned upside down after the present Government came to power.
  • Use identity labels wisely. So when a member of the minority community commits a crime, ignore his religion. But when a crime is committed on him, go to the town talking about how his religion is under attack.
  • Terrorists have no religion. Unless they are Hindus.
  • The world is becoming intolerant. And all this is because of the present Government. Return an award as a measure of protest. If your cupboard is bare, give yourself an award and return it.
  • Be paranoid. Train your mind to imagine the apocalypse and doomsday every time the Prime Minister opens his mouth.
  • Watch NDTV.  Read Scroll and The Wire. They are like the last minute suggestions before exams.They will give you a list of daily issues to take umbrage on and helpful pointers on what to say.
  • Finally, do remember this – the liberal world order is under attack from a bunch of illiterate, intolerant, uncivilized buffoons. You are performing a selfless, noble duty in the protection of the realm. Stay calm and carry on.
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Why the Aam Aadmi Party Should be Taken Less Seriously

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not had a great few months.

If you were to believe the mainstream media and the multitude of pre-election opinion polls, they were heavy favourites to win the Punjab Assembly election held in February, 2017. In fact, some of the opinion polls went so far as to predict around 100 seats for the AAP in Punjab. Instead, they ended up winning only around 20 out of the 117 Assembly constituencies.

If you were to believe the national media again, they were expected to put up a spirited show in Goa, presenting a strong alternative to both the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Instead, they ended up not winning a single seat, getting only around 6% of the vote share and forfeiting their deposits in 39 out of 40 constituencies.

Now in the recently held by-polls to the Rajouri Garden Assembly segment in Delhi, a seat that AAP had won comfortably in the 2015 Assembly election, the AAP candidate came third, finishing behind both the BJP and the INC candidate, winning just 13% of the vote share and forfeiting his deposit. It is a humiliating loss for a party in its home turf, a reminder of the vagaries of electoral politics served by the voters of the same territory that had given it victory in 67 out of 70 seats in 2015.

This begets another important question – should we stop taking AAP so seriously?

If you are remotely interested in the politics of India, you will find AAP everywhere. In every so-called prime time debate held in every news channel, you will observe an AAP spokesperson seated, vociferously countering the views of the representative of the ruling party of India. At times, you may end up listening to two representatives of AAP, one each from either faction (yes, the party also had a faction which did not agree with Arvind Kejriwal and was promptly expelled).

If you happen to read the daily news, you will find some or the other antic of Arvind Kejriwal, the supreme leader of AAP, dominating the headlines. On some day, the party leaders turn up en masse at the Delhi University office, asking for proofs of Narendra Modi’s graduation. On some other day, they are engaged in some or the other verbal skirmishes with the Delhi Lieutenant General. Kejriwal often makes appearances in the media, making apocalyptic prophesies about the dangers of the Modi government, and registering shrill complaints about fantastic conspiracies to derail the Delhi Government and even murder him.

When they lose elections, instead of sulking silently in the corner, AAP leaders raise a hue and cry questioning the validity of electronic voting machines.

Along with an ability to generate endless bouts of controversies, the Aam Aadmi Party also have a penchant for carrying out incessant promotional activities. Even if you happen to read a Malayali daily, sitting thousands of kilometres away from Delhi, chances are you may stumble upon a front page advertisement extolling the virtues of the Delhi Government, paid of course by the tax payers’ money. No matter where you live in India (or in Canada), news as basic as Kejriwal inaugurating a school in Delhi is sure to reach you, either through the never ending marketing campaigns of AAP, through the obsession of the mainstream media with AAP or through its hyper active social media activists eager to spread around the party’s message, far and wide.

This ability of AAP to hog headlines and drive news cycle is also reflected in the relative searches of AAP, BJP and INC in Google Trends. The number of Google searches related to AAP ends up beating not only Congress, but also BJP, the party which through alliances that controls the Central Government of India as well as the state Governments of as much as two-third of India’s population.

Google Trends

So what explains this media obsession with Aam Aadmi Party? The number one reason is AAP itself. The party is, without a doubt, very good at promoting itself, even though it is not so good at translating this support into votes outside its core area of Delhi and parts of Punjab. This is reflected in the way AAP dominates online searches among Indians.  Also, in both Twitter and Facebook, the number of followers of AAP easily dwarfs the number of followers of other comparable regional parties. For example, on Twitter, the official page of AAP has around 3.15 Million followers, close to the 4.8 Million followers of the official BJP account. INC, on the other hand, has around 1.8 million followers on Twitter, while all the regional parties have less than 0.1 Million followers. Similarly, on Facebook, the number of followers of AAP (around 3 Million), while less than those of BJP (around 12 Million) and INC (roughly 4 Million), are still much higher than those of any regional party.

AAP is also adept at grabbing eyeballs and manipulating the news cycle. To an extent like Donald Trump (and this is meant entirely as a compliment), the party somehow manages to be in the news, day in and day out. The proximity to the studios in Delhi, of course, helps. It is far easier for an average media person to report on the activities of the Delhi Government, or seek the opinions of the top party officials of AAP than do the same with the states and parties located thousands of kilometres away from the national capital region.

There is also the fact that the only other non-BJP parties whose ideologies are non-regional in nature – the Indian National Congress, the Left Front and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are in various stages of decline. INC still continues to be the main opposition party to the BJP, in vast swathes of the country, but it has been battered and bruised by a string of successive electoral debacles and appears completely bereft of vision or leadership to stem the rot in its system. The Left has completely ceded its erstwhile bastion of West Bengal to the Trinamool Congress and is now restricted to the smaller states of Kerala and Tripura. The BSP’s fall from grace, if anything, has even been worse; a decade ago, it was ruling the largest state in India and was increasing looking to increase its support level, especially among the scheduled caste voters, across India. Currently, it has no representation in Lok Sabha and is struggling to keep the party afloat in Uttar Pradesh.

AAP, on the other hand, offers vigorous anti-BJP opposition. Its party workers are well trained to spread its message through the social media. Its leaders are telegenic and can speak well on camera. It runs the Government in Delhi which allows it ready access to journalists, especially the TV journalists who are mostly based out of the National Capital Region (NCR). It knows how to stay in the news, by generating one controversy or the other. It knows how to fully exploit the myopic Delhi centric view of our television studios, which almost refuses to acknowledge the problems and concerns of the world outside NCR. And finally, in the anti-BJP political segment, it is up against competition that is moribund, listless or completely uninterested in appearing in the Delhi studios, for they know their voters rarely watch national news.

This makes AAP the undisputed opposition party in the eyes of our national media, and explains its ubiquitous presence whenever you switch on the news channels.

In fact, if you were somehow completely unaware of the reality of electoral politics in India, based solely on the media coverage of AAP, you may even be mistaken to believe that AAP is the main opposition party in India, snapping at the heels of the Bharatiya Janata Party, ready to throw it off its perch any time soon.

The reality, however, could not be any more different.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, AAP contested in as many as 432 Lok Sabha constituencies, four more than even the BJP. Whatever the theoretical logic was behind the move, it did not translate that well into practice with the party ending up winning just 4 seats, all in the state of Punjab. In terms of vote share, it obtained just 2.05% of the total votes, putting it at the tenth position, placed between YSR Congress Party and Shiv Sena, two regional parties with limited appeal outside their respective states.

Vote Share

When it comes to the number of seats won, AAP did no better. Its performance placed it in the 14th position, tied with Rashtriya Janata Dal and Shiromani Akali Dal, again two regional parties that barely find any mention in the national media, except when elections are being held in Bihar and Punjab respectively.

Number of Seats

Perhaps a better measure to assess the relative strength of the respective parties is to look at the number of seats these parties came in at the first or the second position. This helps in identifying segments where these parties are currently strong as well as are in a position to pose a strong challenge in the near future. Here also, Aam Aadmi Party falls short, finishing fifteenth, tied with Telengana Rashtra Samithi.

Seats of Influence

In other words, AAP is just like another regional party, except that a lot of regional parties have much bigger areas of influence. Quite clearly, the attention bestowed upon AAP is disproportionate to the size of the party.

As time and again proved in a number of elections, AAP has hardly any presence outside Delhi and Punjab. It is true that the scale of its victory in the Delhi elections was stunning, but the margin of its victory was amplified by the peculiarities of the first past the post system. Further, Delhi is actually a very small territory. Had it been a state, it would have been eighteenth largest state, behind the likes of Assam, Jharkhand, Haryana and Chhattisgarh. Do you hear a hullabaloo being raised every time the leaders of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha or the Indian National Lok Dal had a run in with the authorities?

It is true that in theory, AAP does not have an ideology or agenda that is focused on any particular state. Its governing philosophy, with slight tweaking, can be applied in almost any part of India. But that does not make it unique. There are other non-regional parties, most prominently the Left parties, which share the same space ideologically as AAP, and have much larger presence in India. Nor is Mr. Arvind Kejriwal a trailblazer among chief ministers. The likes of Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh have been elected multiple times on the back of their performance as Chief Ministers. Among smaller states, Pawan Chamling has been the Chief Minister of Sikkim since 1994 while Manik Sarkar has governed Tripura since 1998. I bet you are barely cognizant of their names.

The novelty factor of AAP is also not an excuse for the heightened coverage given to them. In the chaotic and noisy democracy of India, political parties are formed and disbanded at the drop of a hat. It is true that not many of them become as successful as AAP. But in the 2014 general election, YSR Congress, a newly floated party ended up getting higher vote share as well as more number of seats compared to AAP. But in the skewed coverage of the national media, YSR Congress is accorded not even a fraction of the attention showered on AAP.

The recent Assembly election results have shown that the base of AAP, even in the region of Delhi and Punjab has become shaky. The various irregularities as highlighted in the Shunglu Commission report have put a serious question mark on its claims of being a different political party. And its many attempts at widening its support level outside Delhi and Punjab have met with bruising failures, repeatedly.

With the Delhi MCD elections coming up, there may be renewed attempts on the part of the national media to either frame the results as a phoenix like regeneration of AAP or to write obituaries of the party. Either way, chances are that it would not matter. Remember the shock and awe with which the results of the Delhi Assembly election were treated by the media, how far reaching that election was supposed in the electoral history of the country. Now two years later, the effect that election has had on the political fortunes of India has been minimal.

It may be the right time for us to take AAP a little less seriously and give it the respect that it deserves – that of a midrange regional party. May be, in due course of time, AAP will gradually become large enough to govern India on its own. After all, the BJP was also restricted to just two seats in 1984. But clearly, now is not that time. Giving such disproportionate attention to AAP is an insult to the voters who live outside Delhi and Punjab. It is time we tone it down.

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