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Book Review – Tales From Shining And Sinking India

Published March 15, 2017 by vishalvkale

Image result for tales from shining and sinking india amaryllisTales from Shining and Sinking India is a series of deep fascinating and interesting stories covered by a journalist during the course of his career. The selection is stupendous, meaningful, and a great value add, besides being interesting and largely of current interest. The eclectic selection includes stories on the Naxal problem, massive floods in Bihar, the 26/11 attack and its Media coverage, Air Accidents – YSR Helicopter accident & Mangalore, Chandrayaan, Tibet, A visit to Pakistan as a Media professional, West Bengal and the fall of the Left, and the two best ones – Anna, and a lovely article on Festivals of India
Tales from Shining and Sinking India is a book by a Media Personality – Akash Banerjee; it has its many good points; but let me depart from my convention, and first point out what I felt were its negatives. I want the readers to leave with a positive impression of this excellent work, so for once let me get into the negatives of the book before I delve into the positives. There aren’t very many, to be honest.
Image result for tales from shining and sinking india amaryllis

First and foremost, this is an out and out defense of the Media, start to finish. That is the impression I got from it. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing – the other side of the story does need to be told, especially in an atmosphere wherein the Media is often called up for its ways. The US example is present in front of all of us – and that is why, despite me calling this a negative point, this book needs to be read by all. Credit where credit it due. That said, the points raised in at least one article, maybe two or more, failed to impress me, especially the article on 26/11 Media Coverage. I didn’t buy the arguments put forward, sorry. But as this is a book review, I leave it at that. Read it yourself to form your own opinion. Suffice it to say that I remain singularly unimpressed by the defense stated.
Furthermore, the second negative – the point in the Epilogue on Paid Media, well – let me just say that I don’t buy it as an individual. The points raised by the author, while pertinent, do not tally with what I have experienced. I have read one-sided views on at least two scientific topics, with the brunt of the articles being on one side of the argument only. The other side – well covered in more than several researches – didn’t see the light as often as the other side. Now this may be due to opinion as well – not paid news; but unless these and such instances are analysed and explained, I just don’t buy the entire segment in the Epilogue, as it seems to me one-sided. I can also spot many other examples from memory, but science is fact-based, so I choose only science.
Moving on to the positives, let me start be saying that there are so many that it will be difficult to list in a small Blog Article. The subject matter this book contains is so pertinent and varied that listing all pluses is not feasible. So let me just focus on the main points I noted. First and foremost, the depth of coverage of each article, and the entire presentation is excellent. This makes for riveting reading. Since these are personal experiences, depth refers to the complete experience of the Author, and the attention to detail. That is remarkable.
Next, the choice of articles and the subject covered deserves a special mention. You get a view of the on-ground scenario in a variety of contemporary and vital aspects of public importance or interest, ranging from Pakistan,  Natural disasters, Accidents, Terror aspects, Media, Politics, Science – topped off with a delectable number on India’s Religious Festivals. It is this top-notch mix of articles that make for a fascinating, riveting read; giving the book a lovely flavor – this is a very highly balanced book indeed!
Third, the articles, or rather memories, are so well presented in the book, that you get a birds-eye view of the entire scenario as it plays out. The follies as well as the good points have been fairly narrated, with a full coverage; this tends to lend authenticity to the work. The coverage is fairly in-depth, and it gives us an idea of the entire scenario. The articles on the Tibet situation, India’s Festivals, Bihar Floods, Naxal Menace, Anna – and The West Bengal Left’s collapse are the best of the lot.
Fourth, and perhaps the most significant, it gives us, the audience, an inside look at the career of a Journalist in the modern high-pressure world of constant 24*7 news, the pressures they work under, and extent of the hard work, trouble and hardships they have to go through to get us that vital news-bite. This is, in my opinion, vital – as the 24*7 atmosphere is here to stay; and rather than blandly criticize the Media, or take it for granted, we should all be aware of what they go through. This book is a significant contribution in that realm. All in all, a class book truly worth reading for all bilbiophiles, indophiles, current affairs followers and Media persons… 

The Great Inclusion Vs Growth Debate

Published August 21, 2013 by vishalvkale

Some people state that India requires inclusive growth, that we require to support the people through interventionist and populist policies, that we need to shepherd the people with a supporting and guiding hand. Others state with equal vehemence that we require easier competition, that we require to unlock the industry, that we require to give market forces an opportunity… and so the debate goes on; and so the great Indian circus of development efforts continues; and so the great and misdirected Governmental efforts to direct – or misdirect, in reality – India continues. And the fun (or sadness, depending on your point of view) continues, unabated and unstoppable, regardless of who is in power…

A cursory perusal of the newspapers will readily bring out the above as simple fact. It is there in just about every daily; in just about every magazine that you would care to pick up and read. Some articles glibly suggest an even more diabolical and dangerous viewpoint, that the correct method lies in a blend of the above – namely, market-friendly policies and reforms with a human face of support and intervention for the poorest of the poor. These are views that, regardless of which side of this debate you are on, sound good to the ears; and yet, are totally off the mark as they don’t address the core issue that is currently facing India, that is threatening to engulf all of us; perhaps it already has swallowed all of us, for all we know!

The reality of Capital Flight is now there for all to see, as businessman after businessman invests abroad; as international investors give India a bypass; as our Current Account Deficit balloons; as inflation reaches stratospheric levels and as the exchange rate enters new territory almost every trading session! These are factors and realities that can no longer be ignored, or wished away. And neither are they unconnected; the glib reason aft stated for the slide of the Rupee – QE-related problems and developed market concerns, cannot explain away the sustained run on the Rupee, neither can they explain away the steady fall against all currencies; neither can they explain the steady decline for the past 2-3 years; and neither can they explain inflation, or investment decline or anything else. 

Similar is the case with any other solution proffered – for example, that now-famous grand strategy statement named market reforms, a statement that can have the distinction of making a great statement while meaning nothing in real terms, a feel good statement that sounds good to everyone, as they can then sidestep the real issues that are confronting India, one that no one wants to confront, as it shows  a mirror to us… and as in that mirror, we can see our own ugly, distorted faces. 

Even the most cursory eye over the various sectors of the economy will throw up one inescapable reality: that nearly every sector from core to consumer goods, from services to manufacturing has been buffeted by scams, scandals and corruption. In the entire great debate being conducted in newspapers between eminent thinkers, editors, politicians, businessmen and economists – you will be hard put to find even a passing mention to this problem. You will, at best, find oblique references in the form of beautiful statements like “it is difficult to do business in India” – statements that mean nothing, while seeming to sound informed and full of meaning. Statements that seem to address the issue head-on, while neatly sidestepping the real issues very adroitly. 

I would like to understand how can we possibly unlock our potential by mere market reforms / How can we solve the problems of the poor by interventionist policies – when 90% of the inputs don’t reach the intended targets, be it investments or subsidies. It is like throwing good money away. You might as well collect the entire cash and throw it in the Indian Ocean, for all the real effect that occurs on the ground situation. This is also supported by hard-core data, as I have previously espoused on my blog on many an occasion.

No amount of policies and changes in them can make an impact, unless implementation on the field is looked at with equal, and perhaps greater emphasis. This is what the entire picture shows – when analysed from a 360-degree approach. Each round of “reforms” is accompanied by grandiose announcements of investments into the country; how many of those get translated into reality – and most critically, and in what time frame do they actually materialise? Furthermore, how many get cancelled due to various and sundry issues? How many get stuck in the red tape?

Corruption is a massive drag on the economy; it is also a brake that is stopping all development. In land issues relating to investments, in subsidies, in regulatory approvals – this is an ever-present brake that is acting on every economic activity. Projects get stuck as people don’t get their dues, leading to protests. Projects get stuck due to laxity, acting as a further impediment. And the nation pays the price of the negligence of our so-called intelligentsia, who have so far not shown the guts, the courage, the audacity and the gall to take on this scourge.  

Let alone corruption, these so-called great men and women in politics, universities and society have so far not shown any inclination to seriously link the other great scourge that is acting as a disk-brake that is threatening to bring the economy to a dead stop, and as a reverse gear that threatens to pull it back. And by that, I mean the total lack of accountability in our so-called public service, for which a pretty strong case can be made out for a renaming to Civil Disservice. The total lack of accountability on Government Servants, and the intertwined corruption is like a spreading cancer that has now engulfed the entire body of Mother India. The lack of accountability means that Primary Health Centers go unattended and unstocked; that medicines get diverted; that schools go unattended, that no genuine teaching occurs, that free books get sold, that projects get stuck and delayed for sheer lack of proper implementation… and so on and so forth. 

And that is the real issue; we require someone with the bloody guts to link the two; sure we need market reforms. We sure as hell need to support the poorer section of our society. But we most of all need a strong implementation culture in our country, a work ethic and a corruption free atmosphere to do business in. 

And judging from The Great Debate that has been on in the Media among Government Servants, Politicians, Economists, Thinkers, Strategists, this is light-years away from the minds of the people who matter. The article that talks of problems facing the economy will usually totally omit the real problems of implementation, while the anti-corruption brigade totally ignores this other side. There is no one that is linking the two; for they are connected and intertwined into one indivisible whole. 

No one has shown the courage to take the real steps to tackle corruption and implementation – tame the Civil Service, include a work-ethic and culture, free the police from political control, improve overall policy implementation. Sadly, there is no debate on the national level on this problem either. All you hear is a deafening, all-engulfing silence, with intelligent people spouting grand strategies that translate into rubbish on the ground.  Only Arvind Kejriwal has come close to this, with his Lokpal campaign… only he has shown the guts… I very much fear that even he has not gone far enough!

And I very much fear that if this is not done post-haste, India faces greater tension in the day to come…

Jaago, Sonewaalon!

Book Review: Swaraj By Arvind Kejriwal (Part-2)

Published February 26, 2013 by vishalvkale

In the first part of the review, I had given the outline of the book, and the overall approach. As I stated earlier, the book focuses on core issues of governance: giving people a say in the running of government in areas that directly impact them; control over governmental money, as well as the total lack of accountability in the cadres of the government servants in the state and central government. This is a hard fact; I am reminded of a news article of today wherein the police refused to take action against a person because he was a senior Mantralaya official – and in fact took action against a teenage girl over a matter of a football! This is the kind of environment we live in; each one of us can readily think up of several such cases. As another example: I still haven’t got my Marraige Certificate; I dont know whom  to approach to get it done – as I wont pay a bribe. There can be countless such experiences when a normal citizen feels totally helpless. And this is the area that Mr Kejriwal is attempting to solve.
But before that: let us be clear on one thing: The book Swaraj is about rural India. There is almost no focus on urban India. It is primarily about the villages of India, and how to provide better governance such that the lot of the people improves. Urban India has been looked at, but only in passing. That is what perhaps accounts for a lot of misunderstanding regarding Mr Kejriwal’s policies. As I shall elucidate later on, the solution proffered is eminently practical and result-oriented; a decided improvement on the current state of affairs. As regards rural India, it is obvious that if the lot of the rural sections of society improves, the economy is bound to improve, as with improving governance standards – health, and education levels will go up. the entire spectrum of economic activity will go up in rural India. That is a no-brainer, and full marks to Mr Kejriwal for taking the bull by the horns. Inequality of income is indeed a major source of worry in the current economic structure. The other focus of the book is on the disenfranchised sections of society; the focus, the primary focus is on improving delivery of governance to the sections of society who genuinely need it, If anyone can actually deliver it without playing around too much with current economic policies, that is perhaps precisely what India needs. What we need from Mr Kejriwal is a clear manifesto on other matters that concern us as well; that should settle the butterflies that can currently be seen in a good many people regarding the Aam Aadmi Party.
Control over the Government
The central point here is that someone far removed from the reality in the villages of India makes senseless policies; frequently, these have nothing to do with what the villages really require. This is not a tall claim; there are several practical examples of largesse and needless expense that have been given. Furthermore, the current system is such that if the people providing basic services – health, anganwadi, PHC, schools etc dont do their job, or indulge in corruption, or simply dont work at all – there is very  little that the people can do about it to bring about a positive change.
The suggested solution is a devolution of power to the Gram Sabhas. For example, the Gram Sabha should have the power to penalise the errant school teacher who never turns up to teach, or the doctor who does not attend hospital (or PHC) and runs his own clinic instead. The Gram Sabha can, in such cases, reprimand or even give instructions to stop the salary of the concerned official. This is an interesting solution, and merits a closer look. The Gram Sabha is a meeting of the entire village; quite simply, if the majority of the people feel or state that a teacher, or a doctor (for example) is not giving proper service, or not attending: then that official can have his salary stopped or some other disciplinary action contemplated.
This seemingly outrageous concept is on deeper thought, a stroke of genius; it makes the government officials the servants of the people – instead of a bureaucracy. It will enable a much greater focus on job performance and implementation of governmental programmes. The officials will then – albeit out of necessity and fear – start serving the people and taking care to attend to their duties. This is undeniable; and is very, very practical. This merits a deeper study and analysis beyond a shade of doubt.
He goes on to state that the power of appointment of officials located in villages should also be vested with the Gram Sabhas. This is one area where my views diverge; I have serious doubts as to its applicability. There are several questions that come to mind: what if there are simply no qualified local candidates? Wont it impact performance and implementation? And what about the city and town appointments? What about organisational growth? Employee growth and management? One way out of this could be – this is a suggestion from my side – could be the identification of jobs where the above objections will not be a factor; for example primary school teachers, anganwadi workers, gram sevaks etc. In these functions, a local person will actually be far more effective. With this caveat, I wholeheartedly concede the point made by Mr Kejriwal.
The book suggests a functional structure of Gram Sabhas going upto district and block level structures in simple language; if the suggestions are not upto the mark, they can be tweaked and made suitable. But the basic concept of power to the people with an objective of giving them greater control over their own destinies is laudable – and the basic concept is eminently doable. A defined set of rules, identifying precise roles and jobs that are directly under Gram Sabha control can be created. Salaries can be linked to Gram Sabha feedback; specified jobs can be filled by Gram Sabhas; all this is practical and welcome. It has the added advantage of giving village folk reason to stay in the villages, create employment opportunities, and prevent or limit the migration to towns and cities. It will engender positive change in the villages, bringing about a decided betterment.
Control over government money
This is where Mr Kejriwal is in his element – and this section is pretty much irrefutable. The book makes the simple, logical and lucid point that the requirements of each village are different; it is not a case of one size fits all. And this is an argument buttressed by several real-world examples. Add to this the reality that only a small percentage of the money allocated reaches the common man. The net result of the above is the current situation wherein important work remains undone. The solution is simple, and is another stroke of sheer genius. I cannot argue with it – I have read the book twice, and cannot locate a single flaw, or objection, anywhere. The argument laid forward is simply that instead of scheme-wise allocation of funds, the money should simply be allocated in toto to the Gram Sabha, to spend as per the requirements of the people and the local problems in the village. Instead of MNREGA, or Indira Awaas Yojana, the net money of all these schemes for each village is to be handed over the the Gram Sabha. And as proof that this works – you have Kerala, where already 40% of such funds are spent this way. That is an argument anyone will be hard put to negate. A village in need of irrigation can focus on that; a village in need of something else can focus on that. With a proper control process in place, this can work wonders. This has the added advantage of reducing corruption, improving implementation, reduction in funds leakage; and the spending of funds as per genuine need. For, the people will not (most of the time anyway) squander it away, they will put it to genuine use – since the decisions will be in a Gram Sabha. 
Control over resources
Land: The usage of agricultural land for industrial purposes has always been a bone of contention between big business, politicians and the people. One can offhand recall several high-profile cases of this type. The solution – again, Gram Sabha – is spot on. It places the entire power in the hands of the Gram Sabha – it is, after all, their land. Rather than hinder development, the book makes the point that Gram Sabhas can then negotiate with the big industries It empowers the Gram Sabhas to decide whether the project is in favour of the people; and if so – under what conditions. However, I do have a query, or an objection: there may be cases wherein there is a conflict of interest between the local interest and the national interest. What would happen under those circumstances? For example: take the case of a car unit. The displacement of people and the attendant hardships can be ameliorated to some extent by the provision of jobs in the factory. The problem is that there may be a situation, given the educational and skill levels in the hinterland and the villages, when there may no fit for these people in the new unit. Thus, it is my belief that this needs to be accounted for; or that perhaps this step is a bit early. A possible solution could be limiting the power of the Gram Sabhas only to collective negotiation to ensure an amicable solution. Looked at it that way, this could indeed be a positive step forward.
These are the three main positives that I can derive from the book. If implemented, there will be a decided improvement in the human indices of development in rural India. There can be no doubt that this will have a very powerful positive impetus on our economy as a whole, as the spinoffs into various productivity improvements that are entailed by an educated and healthy population are too numerous to recount. Yes, Mr Kejriwal has suggested some aspects which I dont entirely agree with, which I shall briefly touch upon below. These are relatively smaller passages in the book, and hence I am not going into too much detail. My objective here is to engender a thought process, and encourage people to read this book, which enables a deeper understanding of an important public figure. 
My main bone of contention the the section on Mining, Quarrying, Forests and Water Resources. I cannot see how these national treasures can be placed under a Gram Sabha. The book raises the point that all such resources that are small and localised should be totally under the Gram Sabha. How do you define a local forest? Even a small wood would touch several villages. Further the book also states that resources have to be mapped into village, block and district levels as per their size and spread. This sounds feasible and practical, I concede that readily. No issues on that score. However, the difficulties in implementing this will be tremendous; there will be few resources that are clearly localised to a single block or even a district. I do not think that this can be implemented. That apart, there is the section on taxation, which as per me requires a good deal more clarity
As to the rest, the book is fantabulous. The best aspect is that most stated solutions have already been implemented in some part of India; it is only a question of scaling it across the nation. The supportive facts have been given adequate coverage in the book. It also deals with almost all objections I could think of; those objections to which I did not find answers have been mentioned above. It analyses the impact of these steps on various problams facing society from Alchoholism & Corruption to Naxalism. 
To summarise, Arvind Kejriwal has ideas, they are daring, bold and I daresay original. He is focussed on rural India, which is a welcome change from the rhetoric we are used to hearing. In closing – if Mr Kejriwal is reading this – I wish he would not only deal with the questions I have raised, but also pen his thoughts on the Urban part of India in equal detail,as also his thoughts (or his Party’s) thoughts on Commerce, Economics, Defence, Foreign Affairs. You, sir, have proven your integrity; through this book you have proven your originality of concept, planning and understanding of the real problems facing India – namely Education, Health etc, that is the basic factors of Human Development. We would love to hear your views on infrastructure – especially infrastructure, since implementing infra improvement will cause friction…. Do revert if you are reading this, Arvindji…

Book Review: Swaraj by Arvind Kejriwal (Part – 1)

Published February 26, 2013 by vishalvkale

So it is clear that neither than the MPs and MLAs help solve our daily problems, nor can they help in getting good laws passed. This is the dichotomy of the situation. We elect them, but they act according to the wishes of the party they belong to. And if they dont toe the party line, they are punished and may even have to lose the membership of the house or assembly. So, even if you elect a good and honest person as a MP or MLA from your area, it will neither solve the issues of your area, nor will he or she be able to help pass a good law. Isnt it a queer democracy, where neither the public is heard, nor its representatives?
The above lines should touch a chord in every Indian hearts. It is difficult to argue with such powerful logic. And that is the central thrust of this book: that the people of India are effectively powerless, and have been emasculated by the current system. This is a feeling that all of us can empathise with, having dealt with it all of our adult lives. Arvind Kejriwal is a man who has worked in the system, and is aware of its many pluses and innumerable minuses. This comes out very well in the book, which makes it worth a read for that alone.
The key issue here is both the diagnosis of the problem, as well as the cure – if any. First, the problem. Mr Kejriwal makes a powerful case for the emasculation of the people and their utter helplessness to do anything about the current situation. This comes out most powerfully in the frank self-appraisal of the Jan Lokpal agitation, wherein the author agrees that it is difficult to imagine a situation in which any political par
ty can bring about a strong Lokpal. The bugbear of corruption is presented as one of the 2 or 3 central problems related to governance in India. The other problem is the total lack of accountability of the public servants in the state, central governments as well as the state and central bureaucracy. The way in which these people tend to serve their master rather than the people is brought out with stunning clarity. It helps you grasp the depth of the problem as well as the basic hindrances in the path of setting things right. 
The second problem is related to the first; lack of effective utilisation of government funds, improper allocation and ineffective controls on the way these funds are spent – leading to the third problem, corruption. This is where Arvind Kejriwal is at his practical best. The focus of the book is on the centralised plannng model, which leads to fund allocation to the states and the districts. Schemes are run – and dictats are issued that this has to be done and this way. The concentration of power in one hand – or a few hands – combined with the lack of proper accountability leads to corruption as funds are misappropriated. The difficulty in seeking information (with regard to legal as well as real-world problems – like threats being issued) regarding funds and implementation completes the circle. 
The net result of all this is the oft-repeated leakages in the system, where very little of the money actually spent reaches the people whom it is meant for. These people have no say whatsoever, and no recourse to rectify this issue. The current avenues are so tedious, so cumbersome, and have so little tangible results to show that people have lost faith in them. As anyone of you can see, this is a hard reality. That is the real power of this book – it goes into the root causes of corruption, lack of proper implementation, various problems ailing India like Land acquisition protests, Naxalism, MNREGA, concentration of power and the attendant lack of responsiveness of the system.  
The utter helpless of the people to do anything has been brought out in an extremely lucid fashion; you will find yourself nodding your head in agreement. The diagnosis of the problems is spot on; not only that – there are no grandiose claims like demographic dividend, GDP growth etc. This is a book about the people of India, written by a common man for the people of India. The beauty of the book is that the solutions – with a few changes (in my opinion, of course) will lead to the realisation of those very same grandiose goals – Gini coefficient, GDP, Per capita income etc! Furthermore, the language and terminology used is very simple. Almost anyone can understand – there is no jargon in any of the 151 pages that comprise the book. It is a fast, fact-filled and fun read that has an excellent presentation and simple language. It is available in both Hindi and English. 
The book also delves into solutions in some detail; this being too complex and too important a topic, I will deal with the solutions part in a separate review – the Part-2 of this book review. Suffice it to say that this is a book that attends to the real problems facing India – Health, Education, Life Expectancy – the core factors that determine how able a population is in taking advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. This is a refreshing approach, and one that merits serious contemplation and study. Yes, there are lacunae, scope forimprovement as well as some criticisms. In a couple of areas, I felt that additional clarifications are needed; one area of the solution threw up questions in my mind as to the downside. But overall, I have to say that it is a much superior approach to the current one. With some details, practical methods and modifications, this could indeed be worth a try… What are the solutions presented? For that, read the Part-2 of this review. Watch this space!

Silence on the Lokpal Front…

Published August 13, 2012 by vishalvkale

A simple perusal of the movements of the past 3-4 days throw up a very interesting scenario. Anna Hazare and team have, for all practical purposes, accepted that pushing a workable as well as effective Lokpal through the current set of polticians is going to be next to impossible. They have gone to plan-B – namely, trying to provide a political alternative; thereby effectively vacating the plank (at least for now) of the Lokpal. Simultaneously, Baba Ramdev organises a “dharna” 

And, unfortunately, the locus of the demand – and the media and public pressure – shift from the Lokpal to bringing back black money. Nothing wrong with that in principle; with one significant caveat. While the Lokpal focuses on solving the root of the problem and affixing accountability, the “bring back black money” movement very neatly shifts the focus from the core of the problem to its effects. It is like treating the fever, not the illness… 

What is even more interesting is the political support for Baba Ramdev – at least for the bring back black money movement. It provides the opposition the opportunity to target the incumbent government without the attendant commitments or dangers of the Lokpal. And immediately, you have the opposition targeting the UPA-2. Excellent! It also provides the regional parties with the chance to hitch themselves onto the seemingly lucrative anti-corruption platform without doing any concrete about it. What a classic strategy – and transparently obvious as well. 

The Bring Back Black Money brigade has the media attention; public attention – after all, a rather large some of money is involved; it offers immediate (!!!!!!!) fruits – or the promise of immediate fruits; it is good advertisement of intentions; and gives the semblance of doing everything in your power against corruption while in reality you are doing nothing. What could be better and more convenient – at least for some people?

Meanwhile, the Lokpal has been forgotten yet again… apart from the sporadic statements from UPA-2 to get it passed in this session. The political class has as yet failed to act on a Supreme Court order to free the Indian Police from political control; in the light of that, I sincerely doubt whether an effective Lokpal will be passed. In fact, I sincerely doubt whether even an eye-wash Lokpal will see the light of day. While the Lokpal is specific & provides concrete measures against corruption; “Bring Back Black Money” is very unspecific; has no commitments, no dates, no accountability and certainly no affixed responsibility attached to it…

And it captures the imagination of the political class, the media, and I daresay the People.

While the people who fought for the Lokpal without any discernible interest for themselves lie forgotten… please remember that had the bill been passed last year, this entire “enter politics” imbroglio would not have happened. As things stand, not only do we not have a Lokpal, we do not have any pressure on the political class for a Lokpal… excellent strategy by some people, might I add! And Lokpal? Whats that???????

Judicial Activism….

Published August 6, 2012 by vishalvkale

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Disturbing trends in judicial activism:

‘via Blog this’

An interesting article on Judicial Activism in India by a senior advocate in the supreme court has highlighted cases where the apex court intervened. A look at the areas where the court passed orders is most revealing:
  • Control over automobile emissions
  • Air, noise and traffic pollution
  • Parking Charges
  • Helmets
  • Cleanliness in housing colonies
  • Disposal of garbage
  • Control of traffic in New Delhi
  • Made compulsory seat belts
  • Ordering action plans to control monkey menace
  • Ordered measures to prevent accidents at unmanned crossings
  • Prevent ragging in colleges
  • Collection and storage of blood banks
  • Control of loudspeakers and firecrackers
  • Baba Ramdev Eviction from Ramlila grounds
  • Exclusion of tourists from core areas of tiger reserves
  • Investigation and prosecution of ministers and officers in the Jain Hawala case
  • Taj Corridor case
  • 2G telecom case
  • Distribution of food grains to persons below poverty line was monitored
One question that comes to my mind is What is the Government Of India doing? And what are the various State Governments doing – if traffic, food grains, helmets, ragging, tiger reserves etc all are monitored by the Judiciary? Just who is running this country? And precisely what are the various government agencies, IAS lobby, State and Central Government departments, Governments etc doing? It is obvious from the above list that ipso-facto, the country is being run by the Judiciary and the Army, the only 2 relatively clean organisations in our society. This above list is hard evidence of official apathy and governmental neglect. This is a testimony of a total breakdown of governance… it might sound melodramatic to most of you, but this list boggles the mind and distorts perspective! And we, the people, are blissfully silent and going on with our lives… mindless of the mayhem all around us. 
The more I think of it, the more I read this damning list of failure, of governmental failure, the more I am sure that we need a viable political alternative. We need to get out in 2014 and let our votes do the talking. Let us give the new team IAC a chance…. we have voted for criminally charged individuals, for failures, for power-hungry people, for dynasties…  (based on the list of MPs with serious criminal charges against them); now let  us vote for a set of clean people. At least the IAC team is indubitably better, cleaner, for more qualified, educated than almost 95% of the political class!  Let us hope that Team India Against Corruption can provide us with some much needed respite, and a ray of hope…. we need a chance, before it is too late for our country….

The Political Alternative

Published August 4, 2012 by vishalvkale

The past 18 months have been a roller coaster ride for Team India Against Corruption – starting with the massive interest in the movement in April 11, moving on to the next few heady months… right till the peace in December. During this period, the Team IAC saw it all: heady adulation, vicious targeting and misinformation campaigns etc; they saw the mass frenzy in their support, and also the loss in followers after the initial euphoria. Not a bad experience for a team whose core agenda is to eradicate corruption
But first, the Lokpal. The much vaunted Lokpal, as I had observed in one of my earlier posts, cannot be the final solution; it can only be one of the cogs. The problem is far too deeply entrenched for it to be legislated away. When just about everyone you see is involved in some form of corruption – whether as the taker or as the giver – then a statutory body can only do so much. Further, anyone actually involved in corruption – and in a position of power – would not want a body along the lines of the Janlokpal. Forget about the Lokpal; our political class has even been unable to implement the Supreme Court directive to give autonomy to the police forces. How anyone seriously contemplates the possibility of a genuine lokpal is beyond me.
Next, the much-vaunted middle class. Sorry to say so, but they are either busy in harvesting the fruits of corruption – or are simply not in a position to do anything about it for lack of avenues. In an environ where speaking up leads to being targeted and all your efforts being hindered, any family man will turn a blind eye. This is the way things are done; I cannot participate in it since I am honest; but that does not make me so foolish as to court disaster by trying to buck the system – these thoughts are pretty much what pass through the honest guy. As a result, corruption festers unhindered; it also propagates unhindered as more and more honest people get pulled into the quagmire.
That is the situation as it stood before the advent of India Against Corruption. Now let us analyse the achievements, so as to arrive at a definitive idea of exactly what has been achieved and what needs to be done.To those among us who believe that the movement has fizzled out – please read the points given below with an open mind:

  1. The biggest achievement of this movement has been the galvanisation of the middle class. The laid back middle class with its “chalta hai” attitude was shown to have at least a core of constituents who cared, and cared deeply. They cared enough to come onto the streets all over India: and consistently at that, right upto this latest attempt. Dont look at the dwindling numbers – that is looking at it upside-down. Look at this the right way: you now know that you have a core set of Indians who care deeply and want to implement change, and a tertiary set of citizens who care but have lost hope or trust in you. The moot point here is that the tertiary set is also wanting an improvement in the state of affairs
  2. Creating pressure on the political class: the political class, for the first time in the history of Indian Democracy, got a taste of the power of the people of India. The fact that they verbally ripped apart IAC leaders bears mute testimony to this fact. Sure – they won the first round. But then they were always going to win the first round, no matter how hard anyone tried! They are after all in power, they are known leaders and some of them are genuinely well liked and respected. In this class of respected leaders are some who want change but do not agree with some modalities of IAC – this realisation is also critical
  3. Team IAC has provided a ray of hope in the darkness that was beginning to engulf the nation in the sphere of rampant corruption; it is like the proverbial spark that lights a fire. And the fire that has been lit is the fire in the bellies of all honest Indians who now have some genuine hope of change – and have shown the willingness to do something concrete about it. This is one factor that was conspicuous in its absence earlier.
  4. It is serving as a magnet that is drawing like-minded people… people from all walks of life are now beginning to interact with team IAC. Again, dont look at their numbers. Look at what they can contribute and more pertinently look at the fact that even a figure “1” is numerically greater than “0” – which is precisely what it was just 2 years ago
  5. It has also brought the issue front-and-centre onto the national stage – a factor which was not present even 3 years ago. No mean feat, that
These 4 significant factors are not ones that can be so easily ignored. They points towards a qualitative change in the atmosphere of the Indian people; they point out that there is now a core set of citizens who are actually willing to put the first food forward in the process of change. The political class is now under more pressure than it has ever been; they are under attack from the entire spectrum of interests – including people who disagree with Team IAC. Thirdly, a person without hope will do no efforts; a ray of hope can work wonders : given sufficient time. And fourth, the coming together of people of probity in one forum or one one platform (meaning crusaders who dont agree with IAC but are anti-corruption nonetheless) is also a pwerful factor: it gives the normal citizen a role model and it acts as a further magnet. Not only that, the galivanisation of the middle class also acts as a catalyst as people see citizens they can identify with playing a role and taking a stand. A professional or a doctor as an activist will catch the interest and attention of all professionals or doctors; that is bound to fuel change
Moving on to the political alternative, it should not be and cannot be discounted so long as you dont target specific parties and keep your agenda as Lokpal, probity in public life, anti-corruption and providing a clean alternative. You have to differentiate yourself from the mess out there. No easy task, but there is no other way. We have seen that the political class is in no mood to even relinquish control of the police forces- for which there is an apex court order pending-  so obviously any dreams of a strong lokpal or CBI independence are not going to be realised so easily. We have seen the fear of the political class: they are scared out of their wits by the movement, judging by their vituperative methods as well as long-drawn efforts to appease the people by trying to get in a so-called lokpal. Hence, a political move is indicated
So long as the new clean party harbours no dreams of power, there should not be a problem. It would still cause untold discomfort to the established parties as the votes will be split. Even a few percentage point shift can change the whole scenario; so all in all it could just turn out to be a good move. If the people standing for elections are genuinely clean – and if you can galvanise the middle class who prefers so stay at home on election day then there is no telling what may happen. But at the core of it all is your connect with the movement… it has to grow organically, and your connect with the people has to grow. If you can provide that alternative and cause even a small swing in the calculations – it will give the existing top parties a reason to change simply because the more decent among them might just cause the change. This is simply because your move will have hurt them where it hurts the most: the vote. All in all, a good move… 

Hugo Dixon & Jeff Glekin: Unravelling India: growth bottlenecks

Published January 31, 2012 by vishalvkale

Hugo Dixon & Jeff Glekin: Unravelling India: growth bottlenecks:

‘via Blog this’

Classic analysis and Development  – 360 degree viewpoint, almost. In summation, the authors are looking at the following points:

  • Corruption
      • High-level corruption
      • Petty corruption
      • Electoral corruption
    • Anti Corruption Movement/s
      • Lokpal / Anna Hazare
      • Media
      • Right to Information and its impact
      • CAG, CJI etc other pro-and re-active offices
      • Stray political responses
    • Corruption Remedies
      • Powerful Independent Lokpal
      • Transparency in Government
      • RTI – 2005 and its impact
      • UID Project and its impact
  • Sustainable Growth
    • Economy
      • Demographic Dividend
      • GDP Per Capita
      • Bottlenecks
        • Private Investment, negative sentiment of the same
        • Politics – Coalition politics and decentralisation
        • Environmental issues and problems
        • Corruption
    • Problems of the day: Decline in investment, fiscal deficit, corruption and environmental roadblocks
The article deserves special mention since it places corruption, negative sentiment and environmental problems at the same level, and examines – or attempts to examine- their impact on growth. 

The Demographic Dividend, first extolled by Nandan Nilekani in his book on India, is worth mentioning: India will have an average age of 34 by 2050, whereas the age of the average Chinese will be 46. This means that both consumption and working-age population will be in abundance in India. But at the same time, our nation will have to struggle to provide land, water and power to satisfy an ever increasing consumption – which is going to be a challenge. And to make sure that we are able to cash in on this dividend, some problems have to be overcome. Interestingly, we dont have any option: unless we overcome these bottlenecks it is our own country and consequently our own population that will have to bear the brunt of our failures. Because we have to produce enough to provide for this burgeoning population!

The proposal of decentralisation is worth examining. Furthermore, the point they have made that given India’s diversity, a plethora of political parties is inevitable seems justified. Decentralisation, or devolution of power to the state would also be in keeping with the spirit of our federal constitution, as well as the panchayati raj bill etc amendments. It is a fact that the well governed states- Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and now Bihar are doing well. 

The 3rd take-away for me from the above is the author’s belief that the anti – corruption movement is here to stay in one form or the other. The increasing levels of awareness and education, media focus have given rise to a broad anti-corruption consensus – which would serve to generate reverse pressure, as also win converts within the system itself – there are many that we can think of today. All in all, a great article that offers a balanced, holistic view and several thought provoking suggestions and observations. For me, these are:
  1. Broad anti-corruption consensus
  2. Coalition politics, its inevitability and decentralisation
  3. Demographic Dividend – pluses and minuses. (We are aware of both sides, but have never linked them together like the 2 sides of the same coin, so to speak)
A must read article, in my opinion

Govt ironing out lokayukta kinks from lokpal bill

Published January 8, 2012 by vishalvkale

Govt ironing out lokayukta kinks from lokpal bill – Hindustan Times:

1) Why couldn’t they have done this sooner???? What a waste of taxpayers time and money.

2) No mention of CBI’s independence yet again. Is this Lokpal of any use? Team Anna should explain to the nation how an independent Lokpal will be an asset, and will be able to become a scam-free and independent body that will take the anti-corruption agenda forward. The real pressure on the politician classes will build only when the people of India understand the nuances of CBI’s working, and the ramifications of its continued dependence upon the government. And Team Anna – Team IAC if you will – is in a unique position to do so. The need of the hour is education of the masses on this critical agenda.
‘via Blog this’

Team Anna / Team IAC: What Next???

Published January 6, 2012 by vishalvkale

Team Anna needs the Media back on its side… as the above article argues, it would have made perfect sense for the Media to turn cheerleaders…  get them on your side! It is the information age, after all…

Dear Team India Against Corruption,

  • First and foremost, do not give up – not now. You are the first to have managed to successfully shake the white-collar workforce into joining the mainstream of the nation – that is your first and biggest achievement. Hitherto, no movement has been able to shake the middle and upper middle class, a fact which has potentially disastrous consequences both politically as well as for the overall social fabric of the nation. Team IAC has managed to crack through the edifice of indifference of this class. I personally know of a production manager in a good firm who had taken active part in the protests – with wife and 2 teenage kids. You have managed to shake the collective conscience of this class – these are the actual people who implement any policy, business transaction or service. If you have managed to touch a chord with them, then it is no small achievement. So, for that reason alone, dont give up. Not now.
  • The government was shaken not by Annaji, but by his – and by extension your – connect with the people, and the mass support you had. I personally do not think there is anything to worry about. No social movement can hope to sustain its momentum at the levels demonstrated by August. A study of the movement against the British fought by the Phenomenon of Mahatma Gandhi will make this clear – there were periods of intense activity followed by periods of studied calm. Adopt that strategy, for the people need time to recharge, to attend to their lives, to get on with the daily business of living. That they are willing, interested and able to take up the cause has been demonstrated beyond any modicum of doubt – just give them some breathing space. That will enable them to re-focus
  • Get your connect with the people re-instated. That is paramount. There have been unsavoury reports about your team in the media- dont over-react to them. Be calm, and place full facts before the people. Your target audience is the lower-middle, middle, and upper-middle classes of India: trust their intelligence.
  • Get the Media back on your side -at least a couple of the major publications. It is the information age: and you need the media on your side
  • Avoid getting into politics at all costs. Your target audience does not appreciate politicians,  and your political appeals will only serve to alienate your core followers. This you cannot afford. If you must, appeal against politicians as a group – avoid party-specific appeals. It would not be wrong to state that your target audience has abdicated and forgotten its civic duties in terms of voting, taking part in political events etc, and is in a general state of denial.  
  • You have already won the battle: the Lokpal bill did not pass muster. Not in its current form, anyway. That gives you 45 clear days before the next phase begins, which is plenty of time. If there is pressure of a similar nature on the parliament in February – March, then you can have some hope…
  • And last but not the least: the fact that your momentum wavered is due in some measure to perceived differences in your team, your “quarrels” etc. Get back to speaking in one voice. You were Media savvy earlier: now you need to be doubly so. Because now you are known entities, and are being dissected methodically, each statement analysed by media, government and people alike; each appearance studied to the point of distraction. 
  • Judging from comments on the internet, the people do not have a clear realisation as to how the lack of independence of the CBI makes the Lokpal an exercise in futility. The common refraint is that “sarkaar ne itnaa to kiyaa, kaafi hai yaar.” You need to educate the people, so they clearly understand how the CBI / investigative agency point is critical for an effective Lokpal – for this, you have a top-notch police officer, eminent lawyers, IAS officers who need to appear in front of the public and explain how – clearly, without any ambiguity, the CBI’s independence will make it a better functioning body. The government has frankly played a master-stroke in its maneuver. You need to counter this on a priority: Suggestion – the only one:
    • Appear in interviews in english, hindi news channels explaining this point
    • Interviews in local newspapers – Dainik Bhaskar, Jaagran, Lokmat etc
    • Extensive people contact
    • Answer allegations collectively, frankly
To summarise: Give it time / Re-connect with the people / Get Media support / Avoid political entanglements / Get back to speaking in one voice – avoid internal problems / stick to your core issue: corruption + lokpal. The last is the most critical – it would be best if all of the core group, and indeed all members of IAC avoided comments on any other issue

Please dont give up – India needs you, our society needs you. Keep up the good work, and dont worry about the mistakes. People have a short memory, a fact that has been proven many a time before…