Thursday, 20 December 2012
Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Having fought fifteen general elections for the union and much more for the state legislatures, we have, in the eyes of the world, matured and developed as a quintessential democracy, at least on the eastern side of the globe stretching from the Arab dictators to a communist China covering chaotic Nepal, dictatorial Myanmar and unstable Pakistan. The predictions of political pundits trained and civilized in the western schools of political thought, took a humiliating setback as India, against all the odds, evolved her into an institution of democratic teaching.
Though, this is no less a milestone in itself, we have reached a position wherein we should break the shackles of slumber in which majority of us have been living since long and step ahead to further the success of Indian democracy. Of all the elections that have taken place in India till date, none, and that is not an exaggeration, have been fought on the agenda which could be identified beyond votebank politics-a niche subsidy of real politics, that is only hinged around issues of caste, religion, region, colour et al. The 2011 census claims India’s literacy to be a little over 75% which is a huge number if seen in absolute terms. But, we should not let this figure deceive us as literacy is spectacularly different from education. Hardly 15% -20% of Indian students reach high school and assuming the figures to be correct, the percentage of ‘educated’ Indians would be in a wide range of 7.5-10% as 50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25. This figure is close to the ‘literacy’ rate of India at the time of independence (i.e. 10-12%) which indeed is a magical figure as it was enough to defy the cynicism of the world towards India. If we could establish a democracy with 10% of literacy, we can definitely mature our nation and its institutions with the same percentage of educated Indians.
The next Lok Sabha elections should and need to be fought on the real issues which have a wide domain to be discussed here. The most important, as I, being a centrist inclined towards the right, see is the economics. The globe is in a period of economic stagnation and changing energy needs which are bound to steer the driving factors of economy. Being at the peak of environmental concerns and depth of economic downfall simultaneously, we have been resting at a very sensitive point susceptible to a tilt either way. In such volatile situations, we need our public to stand up and force the politicians on the issue of economics because it is the fuel for everything –from honesty to corruption. We, as voters, and politicians, as voted, need to mature so that the governments are made or marred on real issues which we can indentify with our progress. The 15th general elections, which brought Dr. Manmohan Singh, an economist, back at the helm, too were, despite being in the period of economic churn, fought on political brownies like loan waiver and subsidy enhancement which according to a section of economists is no less than an economic suicide. If an economist thinks it unwise and detrimental to fight his political war on the subject he specializes in and in the subject that was of utmost importance to the nation and the globe during that phase of history, we, according to the school of political science, have not significantly evolved. The hopes on upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh and other states regarding such an evolution in the agendas of political clash have wiped out, but, I most optimistically and probably highly unrealistically hope that 2014 or 2019 (assuming 5 year terms of coalition governments) elections at the centre assume greater role and responsibility in its political manifestos. The role for the educated youth shall not be confined to wearing ‘I am Anna’ caps and arresting the daily economic activities. We need to make sure, that if a person is standing against the establishment, it better not be for another political score, but for a fruitful result. Throwing our weights behind Bhatta Parsaul and Nandigram (which are political battlegrounds in the name of poor and helpless) only will (or have) change(d) the rulers, not the rules of the political gimmick. Real issues, like the economy, need to surface and unless we push those gentlemen in white kurta pyjamas and Nehru jackets to do so, we would keep spiralling around the issues that plagued us in the previous century. To be a superpower, 2020 is only a dream now, but to be one by 2050, we need to consider and ponder over economic issues way too seriously as the economic models of any other country won’t be the best fit for any other country. It is all about comparative administration that has the tweaks requisite to the local climate. These coming years, I wish to see them talking and talking economics!
Friday, 7 October 2011
Two decades of economic reforms unleashed the idle potential of many Indians, who owing to the tainted socialism, could hardly rise above the status quo, defined by the British domination over India for more than two centuries. 1991 paved the way for the systematic, yet insufficient, rise of a new wave of Indian entrepreneurs. The initial inhibition to embrace something they were sceptical towards was shunned by the few daring success stories that played the inspirational tune to make others tread the path of courage and innovation.
Frugality had always been embedded deep in culture, because of our innate desire for big things at small prices. Thankfully, our business houses, both big and small, realized that sooner or later. Fast forward to the 2000s, the success stories of India Inc. need no deep research. We are the home to the world’s cheapest car, world’s cheapest tablet (which by the way Steve Jobs would have been surprised to see), world’s cheapest call rates, world’s cheapest mobile phones and not to forget, world’s cheapest life. Britons divided our nation into India and Pakistan. We have divided it further into urban and rural, into poor and rich. While the urban India is rising at an envious pace of around 8%, it is the rural India that had a lacklustre performance, thanks to our desperation to see India rising in terms of numbers, defined in the institutions of west to determine the status and strength of a nation. The quality of rise has been awful, so has been the inclusiveness. Though, it is true that rural India has now started picking itself up from the lowest ebb, they have an exceptionally long journey to tread before they can reach an acceptable level of dignified life. Of these, BIMARU states of India- Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have been the worst sufferers. The Planning Commission, formed with the vision of Nehruvian Socialism, has failed to cater effectively to the rural population, the place where it was needed the most. Add to that, reluctance of Indian states to accept the supremacy of Planning Commission on the subjects enlisted in the state list. The much criticized report of Tendulkar committee further added to the woes, which assumed that poor only needed food to survive and that services like education, health et al would be provided by the government for free. The result is unambiguously clear and simple; we have failed collectively as a nationalist society. For the rural and the uneducated, only the occupants in the secretariat buildings have changed not the pervasive attitude and elitist policies. Crony capitalism has worsened the condition by increasing the black money supply in the market, leading to inflation, thus directly affecting the most vulnerable. Much preached spill over and trickle down effects have failed to take off. The result is, in comparative terms, the life of Indian poor has drastically been demeaned over the years. Bhopal gas tragedy still awaits justice to the thousands of poor while Mr. Anderson lives a luxurious, peaceful and retired life after he managed to escape the nation in connivance with our elected leaders. Thousands of unmarked graves in Kashmir, as claimed by the locals, the inhuman practices by the security forces in North-east and Naxal affected areas, the Rs.32 definition of poverty line, ethnic cleansing in Gujarat, killing of a party worker after he threatened to expose the corruption of his bosses- how cheap has life become in India? The question that follows is- how cheap have we become? Laying the blame squarely on our politicians is all we have been doing. We do need a self-introspection. The rich of Europe have written to the government for taxing them more, what about the Indian rich? Well, the Indian rich do help setting up stalls and bhandaras at popular fasts, but beyond that they grease the palm of politicians to find their way through. The rising middle class fails to find resonance with the people who take genuine causes of the poor, suppressed and downtrodden. Instead, we happily glue ourselves to television sets airing extravagant protests, propagated by the media and embraced by us. Constitutional amendments won’t succeed much in bringing the change we need, for there are enough laws already, if effectively implemented, to achieve the desired. What we need to change is our mindset, our political will and our indifference to the real problems. The genuine claims of India shining with the aam aadmi still have a very long way to go, if at all we chose to walk that way.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
There is no second thought about we being at the cross roads of what seems to be an unparallel chaos in Indian political history. The financial losses (or under recoveries) the ex-chequer has suffered because of the recent spell of scams, in past year and two, is much greater than the sum total of all the misdoings since Independence (inflation adjusted)
But, instead of snatching it away, we got to give it to UPA for bringing it to light. In the years, since 2006, there has been an accelerated access to information, thanks to the Right to Information act, which has been extremely instrumental in bringing forth the cronyism breeding inside the closets of such ministers. Corruption is not a new phenomenon, it has been taking place since Independence, at the national, state and even district level, and those who refute it are in a phase of blatant ignorance. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was never seen in such activism in the preceding years and governments, the obvious reasons being the strings attached to its independent functioning. UPA has not only given us a right to transparent information, investigating agencies like CBI and CVC have got wings enough under this government to go after the mischievous elements.
Coming to the latest insinuation, which has been doing the rounds in the news channels and esteemed columns vis-à-vis the alleged misdoing on the behalf of then finance minister, Mr. Chidambram in the allocation of 2G spectrum, media will feed anything that will sell. The present home minister being allegedly involved in a scam mounting to Rs.1.76 lakh crore is something and everything the audience will stick to, advertisers will sell to and news channels will party to. And the cycle goes on.
The report of comptroller and auditor general, on the allocation of 2G spectrum was an observation on the financial omission committed by the then DoT and EGoM, which lead to the exchequer suffering mounting charges of Rs.1,76,000 crores, calculated on the basis of prices of 3G auctions. The CAG, with all his constitutional authority, can comment on the policies of the government which he thinks are economically inefficient, but, how can someone (Mr. Subranayam Swami in this case) establish criminal culpability on a policy decision that a cabinet minister or the cabinet, as a body, took? Our constitution gives the power to the cabinet to take a decision regarding a policy it deems essential, fit to pursue public interest. Had not the 2G licenses been allotted to the telecommunication companies at those prices, India would never have experienced the teledensity and mobile penetration of over 85%. Even the one second pulse, brought in by Tata Docomo, was given GSM licences according to the policy adopted by the government. There was nothing criminal in the policy of assigning spectrum without auctions, for auctions when initially adopted for 2G during the NDA regime had led to unrealistic prices and companies eventually defaulting on their payments. It was then decided, that to achieve teledensity of the level we have today, auctions can be avoided and a new formula for granting of licenses has to be adopted.
Mr. A Raja, is in Tihar, not for adopting this policy, as can be wrongly inferred from the media’s projection of polished truth. There is a criminal case against him for changing the deadlines of applications for spectrum allocation at his whims and allocating the bandwidth to companies having very less or no experience at all in the field of telecommunication. These companies then made colossal profits, by selling their shares to genuine telecommunication players at swollen prices and that is when crony capitalism enriched Mr. A Raja and a few others. Mr. Chidambram, cannot be held criminally responsible for giving his nod to a policy that brought about a revolution in our mobile telephony sector. Agreed, that when these licenses were distributed, the nation already had 4-5 players in each telecommunication circle, but the price battle between the various operators after the entry of a string of them enormously benefitted the end customer with average price of a local call dropping to around 30-40 paisa.
True, that people of this nation have become sensitive, thanks to tons of skeletons of corruption being dug. We all need to be a little more pragmatic before we jump into unsolicited conclusions, for headlines are always meant to be catchy, but it is the inside news that give us the real taste.
Sunday, 10 April 2011
There is one thing unique about our ostensibly unified nation-any effort against the establishment appeals the masses. Look at Mr. Anna Hazare. With all due respect to the veteran socialist, he has in a time equivalent to microseconds in political circles, garnered support of over a million Indians. This is admirably good. The bad part is that most of them are unaware of what they are protesting for. This is probably the incident English language professors will cite to practically quote an example for irony. Mr.Hazare’s demands are against the government for making the ignorant people of this nation immune to tolerance, the chalta hai attitude. The twist is that in doing so, he gathered the support of people ignorant to his cause (many joined the protests after their religious and spiritual leaders like Baba Ram Dev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji lent their hand, giving it altogether a different colour). I am pretty sure, Mr. Hazare won’t approve of this support and these were definitely not his intentions. But, this leaves us with a big question. Can the nation, so politically unaware, embrace the constitutional revolution Mr. Hazare is advocating? The draft bill which the civil activists are supporting, no doubt, has sharp and cunning teeth in contrast to what the government has been proposing. The assumption is that Mr. Hazare’s Lokpal will be occupied by only good people with a shield against corruption. With the kind of powers being suggested for this Lokpal, at times even superseding the supreme judiciary of our country, we have to ensure that the commission never falls in the wrong hands. When even highly regarded and completely independent election commission and judiciary, to mention two most important institutions of the government, are not free from political influence and unscrupulous elements, how can this draft assure our nation a good, completely honest and a highly efficient Lokpal? Anything less than this would be extremely disastrous. It will create a fourth organ of the government, but much more powerful and capable of exploitation (God forbidden, these fears come true) than the present three-executive, legislature and the judiciary. The highly ethical and disciplined Army too made a sorry exception in the Adarsh Land scam.
We don’t have too reel under the assumption that anything against the government is always good and will produce perfectly desirable results which the efforts, though half-hearted, of the past 63 years haven’t. What is required is not a legislation that is practically impossible to realize. There needs to be a balance between the right and the pragmatic. Though the draft of the government is an instrument for their protection, an alibi for their political survival and an institution of puppet power in their hands, the draft suggested by civil activists though being extremely powerful and capable is definitely not the right solution. For example, one of the provisions of the civil activist’s draft proposes to have ten members in Lokpal being chosen by CAG, Election commissioner, members of judicial background and international awardees. Another provision, being read with this one states that Lokpal should have police powers, should register FIRs and proceed with investigations. Now, first of all, how can a noble prize winner, say in physics, have the expertise in an understanding of the bureaucratic and political structure of such a complex nation? Second, in an area of conflict between the lokpal, the government and the courts whom will the police, CBI etc. take orders from? Third, since Lokpal is morally bound to investigate all the genuine complaints it receives, is a 10 member team sufficient to effectively pursue the investigations over the grievances of a major chunk of 1.2 billion people? f not, won't addition of too many members dilute the immunity (from political influence) this Lokpal was bound to possess? The government’s version of the draft suggests channelling of the complaints through the speaker of Lok Sabha or chairman of Rajya Sabha to be allocated for investigation to Lokpal. Since, this proposal lacks the teeth considering that the speaker is generally of the ruling coalition, there is definitely a need to strike a right balance between the two sides of the same argument.
There is nothing in the government’s draft that should attract even a scintilla of support but, there is definitely not so much of pragmatism in the civil activist’s draft to catch the fancy of a billion people. Supporting a cause is one thing. Advocating a solution is another. While the former should be well pondered over, the latter should be well researched.
Tuesday, 17 August 2010
The woods are lovely, dark and deep....
On closing my eyes to imagine country of my dreams, I get drifted away by the patriotic emotions, sanguine but impractical. I willingly or unwillingly refused my conscious to exercise control on the over-ambitious and utopian India I aspire and hence dream for. An India with a well defined SRZ (Special Religious Zone) where all the holy institutions of varied religions co-exist in mutual harmony is the first stop to the infinite loop of my dreams. I further my thoughts to imagine an India with social security- education, health, food, clothing and shelter for the 1.2 billion human assets. And then I take a full stop, because achieved this, there is no stopping us!
Our country has numerous bottlenecks on its developmental (both human resource development and economic development) path- illiteracy, corruption, opportunistic politics, red tapism and inefficiency to say the least. No legislative and institutional reformation can bring an instantaneous revolution. The good news however is that the nation has set for the voyage. We have moved slowly yet steadily. Here, in this essay I will be describing where I see India a few years from now and on what grounds.
Subprime mortgage crisis and European slowdown have revamped the global economic structure and the driver’s seat has been ceded to the developing BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) nations with China as the forerunner but could be, with great possibility, overtaken by India within two decades. The reasons are many. First and the most important is the population trend that David Bloom has presented in his research paper, ‘Demographic Transitions and Economic Miracles in Emerging Asia’ wherein he has established an interesting link between the demographic trends and a country‘s economic development. With the autocratic control China had exercised over its population, a sharp decline in its fertility rate was observed in 1970s and number of working people now are two and a half times the dependants, up from 1.3 in 1975 (a figure same as that of India in the same year). But, by 2040 they will have a non-working population of 400 million! India on the other hand persisted with its pervasive democratic family planning policies through education and awareness that has caused a more gradual and natural enhancement of our demographic dividend which is expected to stay for the longest in world history, till 2035, when it will peak. Other important factors that will contribute to India‘s marching ahead of China is the latter‘s inhospitable attitude towards foreign investors (the Google controversy) and as of now its reluctance to free control over its currency which has made the world reconsider its economic policies towards China. India on the other hand has been instrumental in significantly addressing the grievances of foreign investors (recently held meeting of CEOs of India and America endorses the fact), removing the roadblocks to private investment by amending the legislatures to encourage entrepreneurs and by ramping up the infrastructure while maintain both transparency and liquidity in the market with the help of regulatory and governing bodies like the Securities and Exchange board of India (SEBI) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI). In fact, the positives of our economy were evinced by our resistance to the global crisis. By 2030s all these seeds, if watered prudently, will bear the sweet fruit India has been longing for long and we without a doubt will be supreme global economic power.
This is perhaps the toughest to achieve. With a country as diverse as India and with its multi-party democracy, the shrewd politicians have been playing to the gallery under the banner of religion, region, caste etc. and instigating ethnic clashes to cement their positions in official decision making machinery of the nation, which many of them mistake for being the perennial money generating bodies with an initial investment of just a few thousand litres of blood of scores of innocent democrats misguided because of their ignorance. Harmony cannot be achieved by religious preaching, not even by harmonious preaching. It can only be achieved by a sense of realization and awakening among the youth that can be brought in by nothing aberrant from pragmatic and modern education. With the right to education being a fundamental right now, the possibility of success achieved to bring co-relation and mutual co-existence through this path, within the various groups has increased many folds. The process of spreading education beyond hypothetical boundaries of religion and caste can and most probably will be sped up with the telecommunication revolution and mobile phone and broadband penetration. Further, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act will ensure more and more number of eligible people getting jobs which means unavailability of idle sitting people to infuriate the mobs. Also, with development reaching the most backward of regions of our country people will definitely realize that there are issues much beyond caste and religion which can assure better living standards for them. With all these factors combined I can actually dream of a harmonious India where the existent clashes have been substantially reduced to an amount irrelevant to our march ahead. (To dream of achieving total harmony will be too idealistic for our diverse land)
If we manage to harmoniously move ahead in the economic path of development, social security will be the default concomitant because of the inextricable relationship these three share with each other. While food, clothing and shelter are the tangible aspects of social security; education and health are the intangible ones but equally vital, if not more. A healthy mind is a storehouse of innovative ideas and an educated mind can perfectly execute them. To move ahead as a nation we need our human resources to contribute their best. In India of present I can visualize the babus and the politicians sitting on the huge cash reserves meant to be dispatched for the welfare of the deprived classes. But, in India of my dreams I see the cash and other benefits reaching the bottom of this pyramid. I dream this not only on the basis of a young generation of politicians and bureaucrats which is lot less greedy and corrupt but also on the basis of spreading information and technology which will ensure more transparency and hence efficiency of the highest grade. Once Unique Identification Project comes into culmination with its smart cards, systems like Pubic Distribution System will witness a drastic transformation for the benefit of the needy. Mobile penetration, as mentioned before will be a major contributor in spreading information about the various schemes and policies of the government so that they can be availed to the best, as against now, when many are unaware of the welfare schemes the welfare government ostensibly passes for the welfare of its subjects. Our success story since the previous two decades has been driven by just a handful of people. 120, 000 Indians today hold a third of our national income. But, this is how capitalism works initially. The rich have generated the wealth and now it will eventually trickle down our social circles because of the job opportunities created as a result of their further investment to create more money. While the lacuna between the rich and the poor will never be filled, the living standards of those lying at the bottom of the pyramid today will be gradually raised.
The path ahead to our dreamland is not smooth, it is full of thorns. We need to strategically, diplomatically, sincerely and steadily work to remove them. We face tough resistance from not only our hostile neighbours but also from within. India faces many security threats partly because of its geographical location and partly because of its failure to drive an inclusive growth. While the international problems need to be solved with our diplomacy, the internal troubles can be eventually tackled with our inclusive growth and genuine policies ensuring benefit to all. Nevertheless, we should also focus on developing a strong internal security system, which we lack today, for guarantying protection to our citizens from the delinquents of the society. All this requires resources and efforts beyond imagination, but after all this is a dream we are working towards.
.....But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.