Arvind Kejriwal

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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

THE NEGATIVES
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.
THE POSITIVES
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… 

Punjab – AAP Debacle, Or Just The Start?

Published March 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

The recently concluded Elections in Punjab, in particular, returned a surprising result; few people had foreseen such a massive victory for the INC. While even the UP elections were rather of a surprise, the difference was that the UP results were not as suprising, given that on-ground reports from my friends in UP were very gung-ho about the BJPs prospects. But there was nothing in the air regarding Punjab that at least I read, with the result that I got a complete surprise.

In my opinion, after studying the entire results data constituency-wise, as well as the history of elections in terms of results, the question that comes to my mind is this : were we guilty of expecting too much? Historically, Punjab has always been a two-way fight between Congress and SAD; and the AAP was a rank newcomer to the scene. This reality has to be kept in the backdrop. Second, the win in New Delhi for AAP was in a different political and ground reality, and the realities in Punjab were slightly different. Third, as others writers have also noted, there were mistakes committed in the run-up. Fourth, there was also the scepter of internal issues in the AAP. All of these were known to us.
Expecting too much is not the same as accepting defeat after a loss. By expecting too much, you let your ambitions and desires soar; the resulting crash leads you to ignore the benefits that have accrued, as you go into the mode of post-mortem. And the reality is that a new party has exploded onto the scene in the state with a significant vote-share; never in the history of Punjab has any party apart from these two won 20 assembly seats. Only the Janta Party in 1977 won 25 seats; even the BJP got 18 and 19 seats twice. Thus, this is a very respectable opening for a new party. Note that 77 was a different pollical atmosphere and 97/07 BJP numbers were from an established party. The AAP is a rank newcomer.
Looking further into the numbers, the AAP garnered a vote-share of 23.7%. Dig deeper, and both issues, as well as areas to focus on, start becoming apparent. In the seats which AAP won, it got an average margin of 9.58% over the 2nd candidate; this number is 19.79% for the INC and 18.99% for the SAD-BJP combine. The AAPs margin of victory is far slimmer, meaning that the other parties are deeply entrenched into the local people. This also goes to prove the splendid job that the AAP did achieve, given the circumstances and all that happened in the campaign.
It is noteworthy that they managed inroads in a state which has had only two major players since independence. The slimmer victory margin underscores the strong support for the existing parties, as well as shows AAP the way forward – Consolidate on the gains acquired, and grow from here. The Janata Party in 77 could not consolidate, neither did the BJP having acquired a similar level of strength. But what is truly in AAPs favour is its newness to the political scene. Far from being a problem, this newness is actually a great big advantage in its favour-  provided they develop their policies and their core base properly. Another data point also supports this contention – the SAD-BJP, despite having only 18 seats, had a vote share of 30.9%, again showing deeply entrenched followership.
What is more, when you go deeper into the data, what transpires is even more heartening. Of the 10 seats where the INC had the slimmest margins {upto 5.25%} over the next best, 9 were AAP candidates, who lost by a few thousand votes only. This indicates that it is feasible that the AAP is eating into the INC vote share and support base {though this cannot be a definitive conclusion, need more data and facts}. Again, this gives the AAP a strong starting support base which it can develop into a core base, from which it can grow in the years to come.
There can be no doubt that the AAP did not do as well as expected; in our first past the post system, yes – the AAP lost. But it wasn’t a comprehensive loss by any definition of the word. There are enough indicators of the way forward present, and it is now upto the AAP to pick up steam and develop their core base from here onwards. Given their overall strategic approach, I for one have no doubts. The AAP while it has committed errors, has also shown the ability to learn fast. In 2014, it tried for 432 seats pan-India. Since that experience, they have now altered approach in favour of a steady growth state-wise. The ball is now firmly in AAPs court.
The last point that I make here- these elections have been very heartening indeed, in that in three cases, the results was a clear one. That is what we need – two or three main parties in contest, which ensures stability of policies and governance. It was heartening to see the BJP emerge as the single party in charge; as also the INC in Punjab. We also need to keep track of NOTA… in Punjab, NOTA managed a share of 0.69% overall, emerging as the 4th or the 5th choice in 60 of the 117 seats. This again proves the contention above-  the emergence of two or three strong choices. This bodes well for our Demoracy!

REFERENCES : 
  
1) assembly elections 2017 results – HT  2) Punjab Assembly Election 2017 Results – Elections.in    3) Raisina Series – AAP’s Punjab post-mortem…    4) Firstpost – Punjab Election Results 2017: Congress wins 77 seats; Amarinder Singh to be next CM

The Absence Of A National Dialogue

Published January 19, 2016 by vishalvkale

The Absence Of A National Dialogue
The title will surprise many, but that is precisely my contention; that we lack a national dialogue; a consistent, strong and clear discussion on the matters that really matter to us as a people. We are very quick to discuss on Social Media issues relating to Religion, BJP Government, AAP {particularly denouncing it}, Rahul Gandhi / Congress, Arvind Kejriwal, Indians Abroad… but are almost totally silent on any number of issues that are far more relevant, important and critical to us


AGRICULTURE

You will not find many posts, mentions on agrarian distress, drought conditions in several districts, condition of Small and Marginal Farmers, lack of farm profitability, abysmally low farm-gate prices, lack of facilities in the agrarian belts, the problems faced by the farming community etc. And yet, even the smallest step taken for the emancipation of the above problems gets highlighted excessively.

That the positives are highlighted is welcome – but this happens without an attendant and equally vocal attention to the problems being faced by farmers. Therein lies the problem; you cannot have a complete picture of the ground reality without a full picture. What we see is an abundance of noise and adulation on steps taken for farmers – but almost zero attention to the reality of the farming scene in India…



THE ECONOMY

Similar is the case with the Economy; let me take just one small example to make my point. The structure of the Indian Economy is skewed heavily towards the Small and Medium Enterprise; as previously pointed out on my blog, the contribution of the unorganised sector to the Indian Economy is in excess of 40%, in the range of 45% – 60% {Refer the review of the book India, Uninc by Prof Vaidyanathan for full details}

And yet, a glance at the Pink Papers, Media, Social Media would completely belie the above in its totality. Rare is the article that goes deep into this aspect of our economy, which employs more people, contributes more to the GDP as well as to savings, and is the engine of India’s growth as well as consumption and savings juggernaut. Anything to do with Corporate Business gets immediate attention; is analysed threadbare – but not on this most vital of sectors of our Economy.

Its needs, wants, bottlenecks and requirements never reach the educated classes, So much so – it took me, an MBA with a regular reading of News and Books well over 14 years work experience to get introduced to the scale & scope of the Unorganised Sector and its contribution – and even that took a book that I spotted in a mall {mentioned above}



EDUCATION & HEALTH

This stands as the most neglected sector of all, with near-zero attention; in my opinion – even more neglected than Agriculture. The fact is that we spend very little {as a % of GDP allocation in Budget} on Education & Health gets a mention – but few people question this. Conversely, politicization of education – by any party – gets headline news for weeks – but the lack of attention to both these factors nationally hardly merits a few erudite articles and analyses in some select serious media outlets!

We rarely stop to think how can we improve the lot of the people among the not-so-lucky; how can they partake in the improved opportunities that growth brings without good health and education! Is it due to the blind spot we have – being educated, living in Urban Agglomerations, with good jobs {mostly} – leading us to forget that there are others who don’t have the advantages we have had due to our lucky parentage, which is strictly speaking an accident of birth?


THE CONCLUSION

Each of the points above ideally needs a dedicated article unto itself to do it justice; furthermore, there are other relevant issues that can be included in the list that get ignored. The list above is neither representative, nor is it exhaustive. Sadly, basis what we have seen and read till date on Media and Social Media both – you have to hunt for updates and information relating to these vital aspects of our nation.

How is Religion, Pro- or Anti-BJP, Pro- or anti-AAP etc going to influence the direction of policies in any way? Regardless of how much social media noise is generated, regardless of how much attention and coverage these generate, how is it going to help in any practical and definable way? In fact, in some cases it stokes arguments and verbal duels as can be seen in comments on facebook updates {as an example}

If we can focus so much attention on these frankly irrelevant and unimportant matters, post updates on them in Social Media, attempt to influence your readers, friends etc, or inform them – then why cant we also show due interest to real matters, matters of far greater relevance? We can update a deluge of updates praising one Government or the other, and yet maintain complete silence on real matters – Education, Agrarian Distress, Rural-Urban Gap, Health, Indian Armed Forces, Economy?

Similarly in the Media, one can read threadbare and in painstaking detail {or watch to be fair} news relating to so-called “current events”, in minute-by-minute breaking news and updates – but almost nothing by relative comparison on these real issues. How difficult could it be, just increasing space and/or time for analytical articles and snippets on these real issues, factors that will determine the pace of our growth?

What is happening is that as a result, there is a complete of a national dialogue around the real issues that matter to us as a people, as a nation. The lack of awareness of the people at large {basis personal experience of my own self} leads to a total silence on these matters, compared to a deluge of information on the other matters, which are relatively minor – and some might even be called debatable as being “matters” of relevance.

If the belief in the people is that by sharing updates on Religion and related matters, Historical wrongs, Pro- or anti- Government, Personality-specificity etc – one can influence public opinion, then the same holds true for the real issues. And if you don’t believe in the power of Media, then why share on your social pages, and why write or create on your Media?

And, if this medium does hold power – both Media as well as Social Media – then what does our silence on the real issues say about us as a people? Why are we sharing and reading avidly on Religion, Political Parties – but ignoring the really important issues, issues that are vitally important to the nation? What does this behaviour say about us? 

Book Review : This Unquiet Land

Published January 2, 2016 by vishalvkale

THIS UNQUIET LAND – STORIES FROM INDIA’S FAULT LINES
BY BARKHA DUTT

THE INTRODUCTION

Image result for This Unquiet Land Barkha DuttThis Unquiet Land is a book that stands out among all the other books I have read and reviewed on my blog, numbering more than a 120 at least. This is also a book that sets a narrative of India that is at complete variance to the one which the people of India would like to read which is that of a vibrant and fast growing India, an India that is on the road to its desired goals of Economic Growth and the promise of a future pregnant with positive developments and fast rapid emancipation of problems.

This is a book that looks at the dark side, the unsavoury stories and realities of India, a side that we would much rather ignore, or a side that we would much rather leave to our fervent hope that things will get better. This is a side of India that is best represented by “out of sight, out of mind”; a side dealt with looking the other way. This book is a book that is deep and dark in its narrative and tome – yet not depressing which is quite an achievement for the author, who has successfully taken on many a dark side of India.


THE AUTHOR’s NARRATIVE, AND THE LAYOUT OF THE BOOK

The book revolves around the author’s personal experiences through her extensive touring and exposure to India during the course of her long and eventful career. She has resorted to her experiences quite extensively; which brings me to the most significant disadvantage, or negative part of the book which lessens its impact by a wide margin : the lack of a proper annotation end-notes and bibliography alongwith precise dates of events.

There is a bibliography – but when you are penning such hard-hitting content, it is better to use in-page annotations, end-of-chapter endnotes or endnotes at the end with proper numbered references littered throughout the book. I would like to point the reader to other non-fiction books reviewed on my site – examples being Parag Tope with his seminal classic Operation Red Lotus; or Narendra Singh Sarila with his explosive Partition – The Untold Story. This would have elevated this book to the level of legendary stuff.

The author writes with transparent and unreserved passion with remarkable control over her language considering her depth of passion – which makes for fast as well as  absorbing reading; she is passionate about all topics she has covered – and it shows in her writing. This is a definite plus; the problem is in the layout of the content within each chapter. She has been fair and balanced for the most part; but a proper sequencing of the narrative and the points raised would have been welcome as it would have expanded its impact. A slightly more analytical approach, without compromising on the narrative tone, and a structured approach to each point would have been welcome; that said, I like it as it is. This is just a thought that could have made it more powerful.


THE CONTENT

The content is thought-provoking, and takes on Indian Society head on and in no uncertain terms. If anyone has been spared, I cant offhand think who, or what. There is no bias that I could detect {bar one – maybe two places, where I could also be mistaken}, and certainly a thorough hammering has been dealt out to each participant in the chosen topic regardless of the side the participant is one. Be it Women, or be it Society, or be it The Middle Class, or be it Kashmir, or be it Politics – everyone has been shredded.

Before I continue – just a disagreement on Nehru & Kashmir; I thought I detected a tone of blaming Nehru; I would like to point the author as well as the reader to the books reviewed on my blog, which are all authentic evidence-based books that tell a completely different story. Links of all books mentioned at the end of this review.

·       WOMEN : This is the chapter that every man should read. A hard-hitting and brutal chapter that takes your mind into a disturbed vacuum, factual and completely true so far as I could tell. Be it our treatment of and approach to the rape issue; or be it the issue of work versus family for women – you will find it all here. My only issue relates to the question of gender roles in Indian society, as my article argues. I look forward to the author’s views on that, if possible

·       THE COST OF WAR : This is the peice de resistance of the book, a chapter on her experiences in the Kargil War. You are left with wonder as you marvel at the courage shown by her and her staff, as well as the commitment and passion. This offers a very different look at the Kargil War, from the perspective of a civilian, rather than the look given by General VP Malik in his two books reviewed earlier. {Links below}
·       TERROR IN OUR TIME : This chapter deals with a wide spectrum of terrorism – related experiences. Vast in its scope and breadth, it gives a birds eye view of the terrorism challenge faced by India, including a short precise on the maoist challenge. The one problem here is the inclusion of the sporadic incidents of Hindu extremists; while these need mentioning in a chapter on terror, I felt that they could have been reduced to a half page, or one page – rather than the 2-odd pages they got.  Am I nitpicking? Perhaps I am; but smaller focus would have been more balanced. The main problem we are facing is different

·       IN THE NAME OF GOD : I don’t write on Religion – period. This is the red line I will not cross. That said, I highly recommend this chapter – without giving my views on it, I may have liked it, I may have hated it. My views on this remain sacrosanct, and in my mind. I have a determined policy to not write anything on Religion, after my last 2 articles on this. {Links at the end}.
o   My only comment – the identification of the colonial factor as being one of the causes of the conflict we are facing {page 129} is somewhat accurate; though not completely so. The origin of this sectarianism cannot be understood unless you understand the changes that took place right from 1700AD, as I argue in my secularism series {Links below}. This is something that I still haven’t fully understood despite reading a full 28 books on this – all pedigreed, maybe more. {PS : Not all are reviewed on my blog – some will not reach my blog, as the content is either explosive or the book is too hard to review, like Jinnah or Experiments}
o   There were always 3 players – The Muslims, The Sanaatan Dharmis {Hinduism is not the name of our religion; the only name we can give it is Sanaatan Dharm} and The British. What we see today has its origins in the three societies and their delicate interplay, and is not so simplistic. For more, click links at the end.

·       KASHMIR : Read the book for this chapter alone, and with an open mind. You will be the richer for the experience. This seminal chapter is an excellent kaleidoscope of personal experiences at the tragedy that is Kashmir wedded with a short look at the history of the state during Independent India, making for enthralling reading. What is specially noteworthy is that our mistakes have been thoroughly analysed, making for a highly disturbing but thought provoking read
o   That said, this is the one chapter where I have two disagreements: Nehru – whose role has been revealed in the classic book by NS Sarila {ADC to Mountbatten} which reveals the true story basis original documents – with proof and extensive references –  from the archival records of three nations. {Link below; suffice it to state that I thank God for sending Panditji to us as an Indian}.
o   The other disagreement I have is in the detailing of the tragic stories of excesses by security forces. I don’t object to them being aired; we are a democracy – and these excesses should be aired. The problem is that in analysing the mistakes we committed, I felt that a greater sense of balance was  needed in clarifying the foreign role and the Pakistani hand, as well as the loss of life due to it, which numbers in thousands. That said, she has looked at all sides of the picture to be honest

·       OF POLITICAL DYNASTS, JUGGERNAUTS & MAVERICKS : Loved this chapter – thought provoking, disturbing, blunt and to the point, with a hard hitting look at all political options, with no one being spared –whether Congress or BJP. This is a truly great read, as we get an inside look at the entire political brouhaha of modern India, as well as some pretty direct questions and searching examinations. AAP is the only party that gets away easy…

·       A SOCIETY IN FLUX : This is the chapter I loved the best, given that I have analysed almost the same in my article {The Great Indian Middle Class – Neither Middle Nor Class}. While I look at the aspect of corruption and selfishness of the Indian, the author has taken the middle classes and upper classes apart, torn them to shred in my opinion in this chapter – which is also the darkest and most disturbing chapter in the book with the graphic descriptions and horrors. A riveting yet darkly fascinating mirror to Indian Society….
o   The stark statement of the inequities in our society, the level of deprivation and the level of deplorable ignorance shown by us, the terrifying sceptre of poverty, or the shocking and ugly pusillanimous behaviour of us Indians has been ruthlessly exposed through real life incidents that will haunt you. Read the book to feel the same level of shock and disgust I felt…

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I rate this book 4.5 stars –  am docking 0.5 stars for the reasons mentioned. It is a tour de force penned by a person with a vast experience cutting across a veritable kaleidoscope of situations – which bring a murmur of admiration to your lips at the sheer chutzpah, courage as well as her strength, given what life has exposed her to. At the end, you are left with a picture of India’s fault lines which need attending to, as well as an appreciation of the author. Could this book have been more balanced with a look at the positives? Yes – but then, it wouldn’t be a book on Indian Fault Lines-  and high time we Indians faced up to our challenges. Overall, an excellent book!

Are there disturbing elements in this book? Yes, there are. This is not your coffee table book; this is a hard look at the nation’s problems; could it be more balanced – yes; as I point out. But that does not mean we ignore it. A must read as per me…




REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS : 


Secularsim – Modern India and Pseudo Secularism {follow links for historical detailed persecpective}
In addition, there are over 26 books on Indian History reviewed on my blog; feel free to browse if interested

Insaaniyat Kahaan Hai?

Published December 15, 2015 by vishalvkale

The title says “Insaaniyat Kahaan Hai?” That is my question to all of my readers. Insaaniyat kahaan gum ho gayi hai? Where is our feeling of humanity, of oneness, of compassion, and of love-  all those lovely feelings humans are supposed to have – heavy emphasis on the word supposed? For, even a cursory glance at contemporary society would prove beyond any shade of doubt that not one of these is in common prevalence…
This is a society that can watch a Nirbhay {May God Bless Her Soul and Grant Her Moksha}  lie naked and bleeding on a road in a cold winter morning; this is a society that can watch a wounded man writhe in agony on the road, or can watch a man bleed to death – and yet do nothing.These are just examples;  does no remorse ever touch such people? Doesn’t their conscience prick them, and say anything? How is it that we as a society have become so insensitive?
This is a society which can rise and raise a hue and cry when a question is raised on a political leader – any leader with a following, to be frank; the level of the noise rises with an increase in popularity. This is a society that can cry themselves hoarse, throw insults and worse on the slightest criticism of a political leader, or party, or perceived national image {intolerance, anyone?} – and yet remain totally silent on such callous and insensitive displays of so-called “human” behaviour as we have seen in the above examples!
Where is our indignation when such things happen?  Where is the high-decibel shock, condemnation and disgust that was in evidence earlier – when such {and many other} displays of apathy and insensitivity occur? Where is our collective conscience? Why the profound silence, and why the noise when someone – whether famous or not – criticizes the Government, any party {note – ANY party}, our culture, our nation, our heritage? Or is it the contention that such finer feelings are reserved only for such idea, notions and feelings rather than clear human tragedies?
A couple of days ago, a similar such {similar, not comparable – please!} incident occurred in New Delhi, which might also have resulted in the sad death of a baby {matter sub-judice, we don’t know}. A clearly legally correct action on people occupying Railway Land; they had no right to that land. I don’t think that is in question here. But the manner this was done – destroying settlements in mid-winter – has shocked me to the core of my being. What is going on?
This was done without any alternative arrangement – and that is the true horrifying shocker in this entire sad tragedy. Other questions – like was it too hurried {the death of the Baby – why it happened etc} are there; but they are more to do with administrative and legal matters; and we cannot comment without more information. The Honourable High Court is now looking into this matter; and its initial scathing observation and questions on The Government is telling, but we cannot and should not comment till more information is available.
The reason was : A Passenger Terminal, among other things. A passenger terminal is more important than providing for those poor people who have nowhere to go? Couldn’t someone have found a way to do both? Where was the need for such horrifying and mind-numbingly shocking action on a hand-to-mouth people, who have no hopes and nowhere to turn to? Is this the excellent implementation culture we have been hearing about? I am stunned at this action, and could not sleep all night, as I recalled that incident, my mind was numb with disbelief, A Passenger Terminal!!!!! Couldnt it wait? Couldnt someone have first made alternate arrangement – this is mid-winter, man! Shocking!
And now where all those indignant noises that we heard against Aamir, or against those who were saying we are intolerant? If we believe that raising a voice against a perceived or real event can be effective – then why the silence now? Where are all those people who were raising a voice that India is Tolerant? Where are those people who were saying India is Intolerant? Where are all those people who talk of GDP growth, amenities and facilities? Where are all those people who chat about inclusive growth? No, Nothing, Nada, Zilch, Cipher, Zero, Silence. Absolute, Complete and Total Silence.  
Or are such niceties reserved only for important things, like Culture, Tolerance, GDP Growth, Amenities, Facilities? What happens when you see such sad examples as above? Every odd day, we hear a news of bystanders doing nothing as accident victims bleed – everyday examples of apathy. Why the silence  – the total silence – on every social media of note on such issues? Why we ignore such mind-numbing cruelty? For this is cruelty – letting someone die, and doing nothing.
This is also poor implementation – not making arrangements. But  I forget – good implementation is only for your swank malls, large factories, lovely roads, big ports, isn’t it? You put pressure on the Government for these; high time you also put pressure on the Government for the other aspect – good implementation in terms of displaced people in projects, good and hassle free implementation of accident victims treatment, and lessening the fear of the people.
But no, that isn’t important, is it? Your GDP, Factories etc are far more important, right? I am not talking of the Government – I am talking to you, the people of India. Frankly, this pusillanimous display of lack of plain humanity in the people is only convincing some among us that this Government is A Suit-Boot-Ki-Sarkar. I would like to remind everyone here that this Indian behaviour has been in evidence, this apathy has been present regardless of the which political party is in power!

I can only ask : Insaaniyat Kahaan Hai? Where is our feeling of being Human? Aapas me gam baante, Jo ham phir na rahe aise  sitam… Kahane ko insaan hai… Insaaniyat kahaan hai??????? 

The Intolerance Debate – Two Sides, and A Silver Lining

Published November 28, 2015 by vishalvkale

THE PREAMBLE

In the previous part of this article, I concluded by stating “… One cannot argue or speak logic in such an atmosphere, when the tiniest comment leads to taunts of Go To Pakistan and/or personal insults, when even the most simple article or statement leads to massive arguments with some of my close friends and family”… This is the main theme of this concluding third part on Intolerance; this article is more of a heart-searching, a regret and a lament than a contribution to the debate. As previously stated, I have no intention of muddying the waters anymore.

I cannot recall any instance in my life when such an impassioned, and completely biased debate has been the mainstay – and from both sides of the spectrum. While one side is admittedly far calmer and collected, the fact remains that Newton’s third law – action/reaction, is ensuring a slow degeneration. That said, it has to be stated that despite the most cutting barbs, one side has not descended to such abysmal levels of public discourse. This is not about the Government – I am exclusively talking about we, The People; I stated earlier that I have no intention of writing on any political angle as of now. I intend to keep my promise as far as possible.



SELF-EXAMINATION OF US AS A PEOPLE

What causes us, as a people, to express ourselves in such ways? What has the Intolerance Brigade done that is so bad that justifies the Tolerance Brigade  {Some members at least} calling people who express their opinion from the other side with deep insults, give vent to extreme taunts and cutting barbs? Where is the need to show such scathing condescension? I admit that this is present only in some people – but it is present, and for everyone to see. This development is unlike anything I have seen in my life; and has caused to me to be shocked into silence by the unbelievable contempt and lack of understanding on the other side.

Even the more conservative have been, this time, scathing in their vehemence and at times even condescension. The stunning stridency of the defences mounted by the Tolerance Brigade beggars belief, so galling is the high decibel levels of the defence; so much so, that I can only call it a counter-attack. Even the remotest suggestion of a public figure – any public figure – venturing anywhere near the term ‘Intolerance” sets off a  massive spate of protests on social media as well as the regular media outlets!

If this was only about Public Figures, it could be a political matter; the problem is that this even extends to the personal sphere. Whatsapp forwards that poke barbs at the Intolerance Brigade, anti-BJP or Pro-Congress or Pro-AAP people are pretty much the routine. The odd-article or comment from the other side almost immediately  results in someone or the other countering with views of their own. This is, by itself, welcome; I have been privileged enough to be a part of such debates on Facebook as well as Whatsapp with some of my closest friends as well as relatives.

The problem is if someone from the other side automatically assumes me to be a member of the Intolerance Brigade without affirmation of my views; or if someone comes back with a barb and straight insult – or even a show of deep contempt. Fine; you don’t agree – but does that mean my patriotism is in question? Does that imply that only one side of the debate is patriotic? I refer to various updates questioning the same! Or that I deserve contempt or insults? Is this the way to conduct a civilized discourse? Not all discussions degenerate like this  – to be completely fair; but some do. And it is those few that cause intense provocation and soul-searching.


THE FRIENDS AND FAMILY ANGLE
Luckily, in my case, soul searching has managed to overcome the provocation – and for that, I have to thank The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta and the Kathopanishad / Kenopanishad which I am currently reading. Credit where credit is due. That I have managed to overcome the bitterness is not due to my innate abilities, or my self-control, or my personality; it is due to the wisdom that I have found in the Holy books I am currently reading

How do I argue with my relatives – close ones at that? How do I discuss with my closest friends without spoiling the relationship? How do I  discuss this with the benefactor who has helped me? It cant be done; so divergent are the differences, so different the views that any discussion is a recipe for certain heartache and disaster, given the strongly held positions on both sides. It would also be a stupid thing to do – at times, silence is golden and preferable to proving your point.  That seemingly simple, clear and straightforward bit of common sense holds great promise…



WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY?
And that is what is worrying me; at the same time – that is also pointing a way out of this quagmire. I cannot recall anything in my 43 years {well, 25-27 years if you count from the late teens} that has aroused so much passion and debate in the people. Why is it that anything remotely questioning the Government this time is inducing so much vehemence and stridency? Why the extreme levels of defensiveness to debate and questioning – and on just about any aspect of the Modi Government? Is it the assumption of the people that Mr Modiji cannot do any wrong? Conversely, why is it so difficult for the other side to give praise where praise is due?

Take Shashi Tharoor, Arun Shourie and Shatrugha Sinha as perfect political examples. Does their praise of  or questioning or their political stance vis-a-vis the Government make them any less committed than what they are? Why is this so much of a problem? Why cant we accept that Modiji is doing fabulously great in some aspects, not-so-great in others, and abysmally bad in others? How does that statement call for anything other than an informed rebuttal on the negative aspects basis facts? Where is the need to bring in insults, barbs and taunts on this? Why cant we, or rather, to be harsh – why are we totally unable to – think in a calm fashion on this? Why the stunning stridency?


SHADES OF GREY
And no side is bereft of errors in this debate; this is the real world, and both sides are shades of grey. But you will not find even one participant on either side willing to admit they are anything other than the purest , most pristine shade of the Whitest White! At this juncture, it is pointless asking who is more responsible; that is an exercise in futility. Never in my entire life have I encountered such cast-in-stone views on any political matter… and that is the biggest question in my mind. Both sides are blaming the other, and neither side is willing to cede even one inch of ground, taking the debate to ridiculous levels, with the hardened positions on both sides now causing mirth and humour to people like me, who are now shaking their {our?} heads in disbelief.

The Tolerance Brigade is either quick to discount totally the ridiculous utterances of the fringe elements, being insultingly dismissive of the societal as well as political impact of the said statements; either that, or some members of this brigade actually defend the above as logical, which is a really sad tragedy. To these people, these are non-events; and they will brook no question of intolerance; some of these people also maintain the Government is picture-perfect and can do no wrong. To this sub-set, any question of anti-Government, critical appraisal is nothing short of sacrilege – so much so, that insults and taunts fly on the mere hint of criticism.

The Intolerance Brigade, on the other hand, is vehement on proving their point. Separate issue that some of their points requires no proof; the fringe elements and their statements are proof enough of the existence of some elements that buy into the intolerance. Furthermore, the way the protestors cut across the socio-political kaleidoscope is mute testimony of the facts as they exist on the ground. 


They however, tend to forget that a fringe does not a nation make! They too, like their friends above, exaggerate – though not to such an extent; some of these people regrettably extend the intolerance claim to the entire nation – which is a highly debatable assumption. Do we, as a nation, really require to prove to anyone our tolerance? I don’t think so.


SILVER LINING AND HOPE
But most critically, what most sides miss is the most vital aspect of this entire pro and anti BJP thing : the fact that this {larger pro and anti BJP debate} has politically revived the nation, and especially the thankless and lackadaisically selfish middle class. For the first time in my memory, political debates are in friends, family and society; for the first time in my memory, politics is not some esoteric rocket science that does not impact us as a people; for the first time, politics is seen as something that interests us directly. And that, to my mind, is a powerful plus, any which way you look at it. And it would be a capital insult to call it a communal affair-  the issues discussed are political, economic, business, and development based

Indeed, for the first time, we have a charismatic leader who has fired the imagination of Indians across religious and political divides. For the first time, we can see passion and devotion towards a leader. For the first time, we can see an involved and committed Indian Citizen, almost entirely fired by one or two leaders. For the first time, we can see, spot and feel the hope that is transparent in Indians wherever you turn your eyes. And for the first time – we have not one – but two clear leaders. One on a national level, our PM; and one on the Regional Level – Mr Arvind Kejriwal. For the first time, we can spot a range of other leaders emerge that can take India to the next level, apart from the above two.

Whether or not you like one or the other; whether or not you concede the status of AK, or whether or not you are in agreement with the policies of either; you cannot deny that each has a dedicated followership; and never mind that as of now, AK cannot compare in any way in terms of dedicated and unreserved passion unlike NaMO. For the biggest plus that we have as a  nation is the slow emergence of  a set of future leaders. Now we can be assured, that even if AK does not meet the promise, the holy land of India, Bharat, Aryavart will not fail her children. She never has, and she never will. As I said earlier – Mehendi Toh Mehendi Hai, Rang Laayegi. Khoon Apnaa Rang Dikhaa Kar Rahegaa. That much seems certain.



In conclusion – I just wish both sides would tone down the needless rhetoric, focus on development, acknowledge that real problems exist, and move on.  If this article sounds disjointed and confused – it mirrors my mind in letter and spirit. I cant put it any better than I have above…  

Make In India Explained, With Questions It Raises

Published October 5, 2015 by vishalvkale

Make In India is, and has been for a while now, the buzzword and the favourite of the Media and the educated public alike; little space has been shared for the realities, or what precisely MII entails. It almost sounds like a new dawn of manufacturing, with   the excitement and the euphoria this slogan has generated. That by itself is most welcome; if people in India are gung-ho about manufacturing, that is indeed welcome, and helps to seed entrepreneurial spirit. The problem is the word Euphoria; excitement is needed, and a catalyst, and perhaps what the Government desires.
The difficulty is the needless Euphoria around this term, which is almost a halo now. It almost sounds as if we have no manufacturing at all! We are ALREADY making in India, thank you very much. The challenge isnt Make In India : it is Create The Proper Conditions For Make Much More In India!
Take the Auto Compenents Sector, for example. It is dominated by the Small and Medium Companies, some – indeed most – hiring unskilled or semi-skilled labour of upto 10-20 people, producing end-products for some defined customers in a symbiotic relationship not only with other manufacturers, but also with traders and suppliers. In Mumbai alone I alone managed to find 1077 companies spanning auto components, springs, steel traders, kitchen appliances, bolts, nuts etc. More than 90% of these were small outfits, Isnt this Make in India?
In the Delhi – Ludhiana – Chandigarh – Haryana – Gurgaon corridoor I managed to locate some 736 companies making the above items. Ditto Hyderabad, Nashik, Chennai, Coimbatore, Pune, Nagpur. Most of them – nearly all – small companies. I visited one personally – a small company, well managed, but with less than 50 employees doing brisk business. Isnt this Make In India?
Make what In India, pray tell? Nuts? Bolts? Springs? Rack-and-Pinion arrangements? Wheels? Gears? Cars? ACs? Soaps? Biscuits? Curtains? Cloth? Shirts? Shoes? Motorcycles? Furniture? Make what? Dont we manufacture all these and more? And what happens to the current spring manufacturers and gear manufacturers, to take a small example? Not your large companies – I am referring to the multitude of small players that exist in the economy, in just about every industry – even soaps {Sanatan Soaps, for example}. And what of the current overcapacity? What happens to their product lines? Where are the specifics? Make in India for whom and which market?
Make In India wont just happen; you will have to deal with the issues. Companies are facing a credit crunch, with working capital loans hard to come by. There order books are ether stretched due to lack of timely raw material, as old outstanding to suppliers are not coming through due to supply chain issues further down the chain. Or their order books are vacant, as companies close down.
I myself have talked to several promoters who have closed their units, There are massive infrastructure issues, skill issues, access problems, market access issues, raw material issues, productivity and work habit issues that need sorting, to say nothing of the market and economic structure related points that we have inherited!
Where are the changes that enable lending to companies, for another small examples? Why is the credit offtake on a decline from the banks? Where are the measures dealing with these systemic challenges that will have to dealt with? Like the challenge at our filled-to-capacity container terminals at various ports? The roads and rail infrastructure that will carry the goods from one place to another? Make In India, when it takes days just to send material from one state to another, requiring documentation across states? When the vehicle takes 3 days just to traverse 400 kilometers, sometimes even lesser distances? These matters, and more, are known factors; that begets the question, what then, is Make In India about? When we have extensive manufacturing industrial units in India in every industry, what is this Make In India?
Primarily, MII is targeted at the Western Audience, not an internal audience, with two clear purposes in mind :
* Attraction of Foreign Direct Investment, as opposed to portfolio investments or Financial Institutional Investors. The budget does not have much fiscal space which can give the Government room to manoeuvre; so they seem to feel that this is an easy way out of the quandary. Every step the Government has taken is in line with this objective in mind. Whether or not this is actually the case : fiscal room – is another matter, and opens up a pandora’s box; one which we will perforce have to open if we are to really understand the MII plan in its entirety.
* Build India as a major stop on the Global Supply Chain,with a secondary target of Job Creation, spurring investments and building economic growth
There it is, in a nutshell. If and when it succeeds – it has the potential to turn Indian fortunes.
The target of the Global Stop for India might be laudable – but is premature in the extreme, as Arvind Kejriwal has rightly been at pains to point out, as also any number of other critics of this plan. This cannot happen without giving proper education, and proper health facilities – for who will work in those nice new swank factories? Large numbers of the population automatically stand excluded due to this problem. I pointed this out last year in 3 separate articles, and am certainly not the only one to do so. What is being done to address the other, and far more important point of this MII Plan?
For the plan to spread inclusive growth, employment opportunities have to be shared by all sections of the population – and that can only happen with a focus on education. Do we have such a focus? Far too obviously, we don’t have even a tiny fraction of the focus on education on a national level {I am talking of you and me, not the government}. That is actually not in argument. There is no focus on Education  – not in our minds, not in our Media, which goes gaga over the smallest development related to Make in India, summarily ignoring the questions that emanate from this plan!
Point to be noted is that expenditure on education remains abysmally low; funds have been marked to the states, with increased devolution of central revenue. This has apparently happened without a clearly elucidated guideline to the states for proper utilization of these excess funds. Read the RBI status report on the finances of the states for more, both the good and the bad. If there is a guideline, it is not in my notice.
In the absence of such a guideline, there is no guarantee that these excess funds will go towards education and health, which are a pre-requisite for manufacturing. You need humans to work in your factories – and you need to ensure that benefits from industrialisation flow to the local population, so that resistance to other moves comes down. This is manifest in its absence, as is evident from the nationwide strident objection to the Land Bill.
You also need infrastructure – which means Land again. This wont happen fully without the above, and a reduction of corruption and increase in governance efficiency. The list of sordid tales arising out of Land Acquisition in India is long; and in vivid public memory. Unless these reforms are initiated, MII wont take off. Not for a long time. And, if it does, {which is quite possible, frankly} – the rate of spread of its benefits to all economic classes of society will be very slow, leading to further income disparities, increasing inequality in income alongwith all it entails.
And therein lies the problem.
This isn’t all; there is far more to it than meets the eye. Stop for a moment and think : you are introducing {or trying to} large facilities by directed planning, into an economy populated by Small and Marginal Manufacturers with distributed manufacturing facilities on a micro, small and medium scale, characterised by exceedingly complex holding patterns and ownerships meant to circumnavigate the complex historical laws governing the industrial sector.
Any industry requires ancillaries.This means investments by second and third tier manufacturers, who have serious issues accessing institutional credit, and do not have either the experience or the cash to do it on their own, or indeed the knowledge. Those who do have scale and money, cannot take advantage due to distributed ownership patterns and other reasons. The mode of large numbers of transactions remains cash. This also raises issues for security for employees, as one of the entry strategies is far too obviously JVs or take-overs of existing facilities.
Again, lack of clarity governs. This highlights the attendant reforms that are needed : corruption on a war footing, reform of the banking system. To be completely fair, some of these steps are either being contemplated, or are being started by Dr Rajan and the RBI. But that is limited to the Banking System, not corruption. Further, credit delivery and other things need both, not just one aspect.
Thus, in conclusion, while MII is an excellent plan, our India needs answers to the many questions it raises : namely Infrastructure, Corruption, Systemic Reform, Education, Health, Environment. While we Indians are euphoric about the the possibilities of this plan, the tragically comic aspect of this euphoria is the complete and utter neglect of the need for systemic reform required in the aspects noted above in the public imagination. The Government may or may not be doing anything : that is immaterial.

We, the people, just don’t seem to care about these basics. Quite frankly, we just don’t care. If we did, we would not be euphoric, but only cautiously optimistic, and be asking the Government to give more attention to Education, Health, Corruption Eradication, Environment etc. Judging from the amount of media and social media hype around MII, it seems a fair conclusion : we just don’t care…

Make What In India? {Narrative Series}

Published September 28, 2015 by vishalvkale

An article in TOI today tells me that GOI is primarily focussing on 3 sectors : Services, Manufacturing and Agriculture! Now this is primarily a large scope contained in this statement, impossible to go into detail as is. The question is and remains, where is the plan 15 months down the road? Where are the specifics, the what and the how – namely MWII? It should be MWII now, not MII which is fine as a slogan, but means nothing as a strategy.

MWII : Make What In India?

Identify specific sectors, industries where we can build capabilities; identify what is needed in each sector and each area. Then go to market for whatever is needed. Without the specifics, it is mere sloganeering.I do not decry the value of slogans to drive a diverse population : but slogans can only carry you so far. And, as on date, I cant see much beyond slogans. If there is a specific plan in the public, please bring it to my attention : this is an honest request.
I dont for a moment doubt that there must be some sort of a go-forward plan; why keep its distribution limited {if it has been revealed – as I request above, please call my attention to it}? Why not translate it into a national vision for and of and by the people? Why not ensure buy-in from the citizens? Surely if you can coin slogans like MII, SBA, DI you can also do an equally bang up task of selling your specific vision to the people? That will ensure a burst in innovation, ideas and action as more and more people buy-in.
Slogans wont help beyond a certain point; you have to outline your vision for Indian Manufacturing, and drive that vision – not in isolated silos of Government Bureaucrats, Politicians and Industrial bodies {although that is admittedly a vital part of any successful plan]; but in the public discourse. And the public discourse, sorry to state, is far more concerned about Caste, Class, Language, Religion and other aspects that are not conducive to the overall vision of Make In India, which is now beginning to lose its sheen.
I can only hope this is in the works. India needs it. What is needed is the building of a national narrative around Manufacturing In India. A narrative perforce means aspects far beyond sloganeering; it involves a shared vision, a plan and a shared confidence and belief in its eventual success, as also a shared realisation of obstacles. A narrative is a story, a set of connected events that move in a particular direction. It requires a vision, a goal, a set of rules & processes to take it forward, an action plan, and a shared acceptance of resources and their limits.
So far, we only have a slogan; one slogan cannot be a narrative; the slogan has now outlived its utility. 15 months down the road, high time we started building a narrative. High time the Government got into details, and built momentum basis facts and ground scenarios, not slogans. That we can do the building of a narrative is beyond debate; within the past 5 years we have seen two or three excellent examples of a narrative in the public discourse in India. The reason why this is vital is because the building and nurturing of a narrative on a national scale requires buy-in by large segments of the population with the divergent interest and needs. The moment you attempt to do this, some hard questions will emerge, as also a clear direction, which will ensure eventual success.
Once you try to get into specifics, questions will emerge, that will eventually need answering not in slogans, but in hard realities. This is not a negative approach, but a practical one. Any path towards success will need circumventing questions : we cannot run away from the questions. While the Government is certainly not running away from the questions – recent events are proof {more in later articles}, some segments of the public certainly are, as by and large, any questions on MII are met with either a stoic silence, summary ignorance, or worse.
THE INPUTS REQUIRED :
To identify questions, we will have to get into brass tacks, and look at what MII requires :
* Business Environment {Study the Indian Economy, its structure as well as the global/local Macro-Economic Environment; Excise/Customs duties & their structure}
* Land
* Labour {Not just skills; skills are dead easy to impart with training; legal landmines need attention; socio-cultural parameters need attention, socio-political matters need close attention and so on and so forth}
* Markets
* Enviromental Impact and its related issues. This is not a small point; the impact of large-scale industrialisation on the environment in a democracy is certain to lead to massive, massive issues. Combined with socio-cultural & political landscape, it is a major stumbling block}
* Corruption Eradication {Subvention of any point above, in a high vigilance atmosphere of both law enforcement as well as Media means regular and consistent exposure of scams and unhealthy tactics. Certain to stall projects fully and finally}
Let us consider just one or two questions or scenarios :
More than 44-58% of Economic Output is from unorganised sector; More than 70% employment is in Non-Corporate Sector – quoting from Memory. Large range of products and industries are controlled by Non-Corporate Sector {Think point of Markets}. Corporate India is less than 19% of the Indian Economy. Large – Millions – of units are SSI and MSI; What happens to these units if large-scale unplanned industrialisation happens? Their manpower is not employable in your class manufacturing units. Translation : displacement of labour on a national scale – leading to social unrest, and rising tensions amid unemployment. This is not a scaremongering scenario, but a statement based on absolute and verifiable facts of the current Indian Economic Structure.
I have yet to read one word in any English Media outlet or Newspaper that has raised this issue, which is gung-ho about MII. Vernacular is another matter, where a few articles have appeared, although they seemed a bit strong on rhetoric. What do you think will be the impact? The large majority lead the vernacular. What happens if MII does succeed? Look for a problem after the horse has bolted?
Thrice between 2000 and 2010, a body of Indians conducted an experiment, which called for construction of scenarios of development. These experiments were conducted by three unrelated sets of people; and the result of each was the same. In each and every case, the only path that lead to true development – given the ground realities of society as well as economics – was the one that concentrated on the small scale sector in India. All other modes and methods adopted led to an increase in the Gini, with much slower impact on the people who have real need for development. The poor of India. And all other methods delivered lesser GDP growth. Does Make in India cater to this?
This sounds so nice, so decent : “Slower pace of growth” – doesnt it? This slower pace of growth means Millions of people will continue to be poor for one more generation, perhaps more. Please try and explain to these Millions
It isnt about large or start-ups; it is about the structure of the Indian Economy & Democracy & Society, which does not support MII. The roadblocks are tremendous; one such – just one – resulted in the central government devolving the matter to the states. Land.
The presence of large – humongous – numbers of companies in the SME sector is another factor. The ecosystem revolves around these small companies. What happens to them if large scale industrialisation happens? What happened in Mumbai when the textile mills closed down? Who paid the price for development? Watch either Lalbaug – Patel : Zhaali Mumbai Sonyaachi {Mumbai becomes a city of Gold}  , or read S Hussain Zaidi. Are we saying that these should pay the price for development?
There is a way out; plan for the industries, and their manpower, so that a smooth transition is made. I have certainly heard absolutely nothing along those lines being talked about in Public. Which is why what Arvind Kejriwal says – education, health etc need priority attention if the needs of the entire nation are to be catered to. The reason is simple : only an educated and healthy person will be in a position to cash in on the benefits of increased manufacturing jobs opportunities. Both have to g hand in hand for true success. Is this happening?
Another alternative is to focus not on Large Industries – but on purely Indian Start-ups, Indian companies that want to grow, as well as the Small and Medium Sector. Invest in their capability development, enhance their competitiveness. This will generate employment in all classes, as well as focus on technology and skill upgradation; this will generate consumption internally, generate cash internally, meet far lesser resistance as well as require lesser resources.
Large Scale can be looked at on a case-to-case basis, as the economic structure matures & societal development parameters like education etc mature, and companies grow in size and capability. Special case approval for notified sectors can be looked at, where large size is an imperative, like the core sector as an example. This is an eminently feasible solution to the quandary we face, and easier to do than what we are currently attempting.
But let alone seriously consider it – we arent even willing to discuss the feasibility, and intent on ignoring any serious questions that may be asked of MII. Few people are even willing to engage in a fruitful dialogue with those who are objecting basis facts and not rhetoric, with the attendant focus on FDI and FII, which is not entirely supported by numbers. By and large, people ignore – or worse –the ones who raise questions and consider it an attack on the GOI. Well, it isn’t an attack : these are just genuine questions that are arising, and will need urgent attention… Is anyone listening?

AAP, Delhi, BJP : Why The NDA has failed

Published May 25, 2015 by vishalvkale

The events in Delhi, with the confrontation between the ruling NDA Government and the AAP Government over the matter of who has the say in Delhi is a vital one, one that holds almost paramount importance and priority for us as a people and as a nation, and for more reasons than one. It is the 2nd test for a fledgling government at the center, a test of their skills in democracy.


NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE
I refer to the NDA Government. It is an acid test of their ability to take along diverse and at times conflicting interests towards a common goal – which is, I respectfully submit, the single most vital ingredient for a good and successful central government in a land as diverse as ours. In order that all programmes get smoothly implemented, it is vital that the centre handle even state opinions opposed to them; it is also a test of their honesty and integrity as well as their maturity.

In only the first year, we have already seen major flare-ups in two states : Jammu & Kashmir, and New Delhi. In both cases, it is manifest that it is an intransigence on the part of the BJP that is at the root of the flare-up. The point isn’t that who is or who is not right : the point is firstly, the irresponsible statements of party members and leaders, and secondly & more importantly, the inability of the center to bring diverse opinions on board for the greater common good. Being the leader, you have no right to complain about the intransigence of the other party : you are the national government, the prerogative to exacerbate or solve the issue is yours and yours alone. You cannot devolve that prerogative on your political partner and/or opponent.

Being the national leader, if you take a confrontational stance once – it is ok; quite understandable, given the challenges and difficulties, as also the diversities involved. But if you do so again and again, the suspicion will arise that you are a party that is good at the state level, but a failure when it comes to the question of running a diverse nation with variegated political ideologies and views – a task which requires political maturity of a very high grade, as well as an empathy towards and respect for local issues, ground realities and problems. This has now happened twice; and only in the short space of 10 or 11 months.

For a nation like India, you cannot pontificate sitting in New Delhi – you cant even do that for New Delhi, let alone the whole country. The great leaders who wrote our constitution wrote a Union with a federal structure for a reason; there is a reason why there are segregation of tasks and powers between the center and the states. Ground realities require someone close to the people, who can understand the issues and craft solutions. And pontification is precisely what any number of NDA leaders have been doing – with comments like people should forget caste and vote for progress and things like that. The entire Article 370 brouhaha is yet another example of pontification and irresponsible talk, given the well documented opposition to the same in several parts of India as well as Jammu & Kashmir.

A third example was seen in New Delhi, with statements calling the ability of the State Government, and that they have to be taught. Such remarks in a situation as razor-edge {constitutionally} as New Delhi only make a solution that much more difficult as both sides of the debate further firm-up their positions. A fourth example is the repeated statements that can be called polarizing statements from various BJP leaders, compounded by the centers inability to reign in their own people – leading at least me to wonder – just who is in command? We have already seen what happens when the PM is not in total but mature command; I certainly do not want a repetition! While the PM is certainly in command in terms of programmes and tasks, he is not doing anything overt to control the people within.

High time the NDA learnt that confrontation is not the way forward, of which there are any number of examples. Where was the need for the recent statement of a leader on how we shall tackle terrorism, leading to a rejoinder from Pakistan that we are fomenting terror there? Cant this have been implemented quietly? What good has been served? And, in matter relating to Center-State relations, given the nature of the division of duties of each, it is absolutely vital that the center shows the maturity in handling states, which so far it hasn’t, and this is a manifest fact.

Such matters cannot be sorted by irresponsible nonsense – which BJP leaders are wont to do {and which the Government simply is unable to crack down on}; they require building a consensus, and crafting a quiet path away from polarizing statements, utterances and Media glare. As things stand, New Delhi is a relatively minor matter; and this Government has completely failed to craft a solution with its manifest confrontational stance, which is debatable given the divergence of legal and constitutional opinion on this matter, as well as the past history, wherein even an BJP Government has asked the LG to consult the Chief Minister, and in a case which is already in the President’s House.

THE AAP
It cannot be blamed in this entire matter : it is merely asking for something that is available to all other State Governments as a matter of right. It is also a democratically elected Government, and no one – especially not the center – has the moral, ethical right to say we can teach them {or words to that effect}; that is the task of the people through the vote. You cannot teach; you can guide, help, direct – but not instruct; that is the task of the election and the people. Such statements only underscore the impression of arrogance.

Neither is the claim of New Delhi being a special case valid, given the manifest ambiguity in the matter in constitutional terms, as has been brought out by the remarkably diffused legal opinions we have read, as also this excellent article in the Indian Express : Explained Kejriwal v Jung. The need of the hour was a mature handling : sitting with both, conceding some demands of AAP, as was done with previous governments of Delhi,{ Discussed here on how reverse was done earlier } and crafting a permanent solution to end the ambiguity, or letting the President or the Supreme Court settle the matter.

The AAP, on the other hand, has shown incredible maturity in handling the situation; sure – it is confrontatational as well  – but first, it is a new party, and is only learning the ropes. You have to cut them some slack for that. Second, you have to understand the promises they have made- which requires a level playing field, and independence. Third, you also have to account that historically, there has been a precedent of cooperation between the LG and the Delhi State Government, as also a historical precedent of the ruling party backing the full statehood demand : BJP’s volte-face on full statehood for Delhi and The State of Delhi Bill in 2003

As things stand, the BJP is the one that is being exposed as being opportunistic, and two-faced in this matter, as also confrontational, given the historical precedents. And the AAP comes out clean as a whistle despite is confrontational stance, which was in fact in predicated upon the constant treatment by the centre and the overriding to its objections; it was that over-ride that precipitated the problem – this could have been avoided and nipped in the bud had the NDA shown the maturity to step in at the start, rather than precipitate a problem- this would have proven itself as far ahead and mature of a confrontational AAP!

THE CONCLUSION
In conclusion, it seems that the more experienced and older party, with extensive experience of Governance, is being taken on by a newer party not used to administration, and learning the ropes- and is being exposed for its confrontational mindset quite conclusively. In light of the events of the 90s and the early 00s :  { deputy prime minister LK Advani who had stressed that the consultation was not just a formality in 2002 when then chief minister Sheila Dikshit asked Shailaja Chandra be appointed to the top post. }. Why this duality of stance? Why grant it to one State Government, and deny it to another? On what basis? Why this ham-handed approach? And what does this confrontational, ham-handed and immature handling of center-state relations hold for us as a nation? I cannot recall such unbelievable duality in my memory; this exposes the BJP, as also raised serious questions on its ability. 


This is one of the most important reasons why I regard this Government as a failure and as a zero, despite its many successes that are far ahead of most governments! We need mature handling from the Central Government, not duality, partiality, opaque decision making and confrontation! The NDA Government has some explaining to do in this matter; quite a bit in fact. The AAP – I can only say it has grown a lot of maturity in the past one year, and is now learning the ropes very fast indeed. With time and experience, given their focus, I am sure we have a national party that can deliver the governance India needs. All the best to the AAP!

Modi Sarkar : The First Year… Worrisome Portends and Trends

Published May 23, 2015 by vishalvkale

This is a short and truncated analyses; the full analysis will take time, and will be rather long – and will appear on my main blog, @Reflections in the due course of time. I am only covering the main points here. Please follow me if interested. 

Before I present the negatives : Let me state that it is too early to call this Government good or bad; one year just isnt enough. The following points are indicators that can be used as guides. I am not presenting the positives; there arent very many, as per me. There is far more to worry about, and far more that needs to be explained. 

My View : Negative at worst, and Zero at best… {First time I find myself in agreement with the Congress / Rahul Gandhi!}

Note : All Block-quotes are from my own articles

A lot has been said – and repeated ad nauseum by media and fans alike – way too much of the positives, which may or may not have any bearing with reality. Let me present the other side… the worrying aspect…

1) CENTRALISATION OF POWER
There is a clear and marked trend of centralisation of power; this brings uncomfortable memories from the past. This Government is decidedly about one man, and one centre. Not my idea of an ideal Government, frankly. For a distributed and diverse nation, centralisation is not the answer; a judicious mix of central command with a federated approach is the need of the nation. This is clearly absent; where present – as in Economics, the follow-through is exceptionally poor. This Government is about one man. And that is bad, period.

2) URBAN FOCUS

Read : Farmers see income gains vanish in Narendra Modi’s inflation war

Not one of the problems of Agriculture has been dealt with; as a matter of fact, there is rising discontent within the farming and rural community that is going to hit the electoral prospects of this Government in the near future. What do we need more : Smart Cities, Bullet Trains – or Rural Roads, Seeds, Canals, Schools, Connectivity, Market Access, Fair Remuneration and Price Realisation?

The villages of India have clear priorities : they are primarily agrarian economies, with farming and related activities as a base. The fact of the matter is that digitisation, urbanisation etc are not their primary concerns, Their primary concerns are bread and butter – same as everyone. And in that, they require bridging lab-to-farm knowledge, irrigation, better and faster access to markets, credit terms and avenues, seeds, better price realisation at farmgate… what is being done in these fields with the same level of Government attention, focus, speed and execution urgency? Nothing!

Take Smart Cities Concept as an example. There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early.

As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%. Statement of Simple Fact.

Now try and fit a smart city somewhere in all that.

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities?

Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Wow. Fantastic priorities.

We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?

Besides, a Smart City requires – DATA CONNECTION. Being a Telecom guy, I now how ridiculous and ill-conceived that notion is; We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections – this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69 Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.

The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed – but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.

The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority – upto 90% – of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik,Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard.

The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.

The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.

What nonsense are we talking about?

We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.

3) DEFENCE, EDUCATION AND HEALTH
Let us take just one – Education as an example  :—->
Is This Government On The Wrong Path? :


Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some – education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms… And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states – without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances – RBI Report

What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented – or is being planned to be implemented – to ensure that the states’ budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 

4) FOREIGN POLICY
Too early to state anything here : results – positive or negative – require time to present themselves. I only state this : 

In FP, image means nothing; it is immaterial. FP is a matter of hardcore strategy, deliverance on words, hard power, and economic give and take. How a nation is perceived is of no relevance. Thus, a better global image makes us feels better as Indians, but counts for precisely nothing in Diplomacy, and that is an absolute.

If you sift away the hyperbole and focus on the hard facts, there are no achievements – precisely zero as on date in FP by this Government. FP changes take time to reveal themselves; let us wait and see.

Now, for example, if the Government had played hardball with USA, and negotiated well with EU, taking Brics along there was an even chance of splitting the combine straight down the middle; in FP, the $$$$$ reigns supreme. It matters little if you are an asshole or a murderer {Read history for real examples of both – Pakistan, or any number of other evil leaders who were hailed by The West} : if you can deliver $$$$, you are a good man, Read the 1971 war and its prelude, or Iraq or any number of other facts. This is beyond debate, I am afraid – and is not open to question.

So far, I have seen nothing except talk talk and more talk.

Talk is cheap. Even I can talk! Look above {EU example} for proof! Where;s the real action????? He has changed many a paradigm of our FP, and the effects in FP can only be observed over a long period of time. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the FP as on date; at least insofaras USA, Israel and China are concerned.

There is no record of even one nation {non-European / Developing} that has benefited from a close association with the USA; quite the opposite. Add to that the recent revelations on arms aids, intelligence – the net result seems negative. Recall the previous time India and China tried to come close.

And ME-Israel? That is a sea-change : requires deep analysis for a thorough perspective. I am worried.

5) BUDGET

The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing – or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government’s actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time – and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!

Full analysis here : The Union Budget 2015-2016 : Glaring Holes

This budget has been justifiably praised on any number of points; sadly, it has got no praise for the two biggest points in its favour : The focus on the unincorporated sector, and the change in the duty structures. But most critically, there has been little critical appraisal of its faults, which are numerous.


This is a budget for Corporate India, and the top 20% of society. As I noted in my previous article on this budget,  Defence, Education, Health and Rural India are the priority sectors for us.

If poverty is reduced, in addition to a growing economy, we also require an educated and healthy population, which means an effectively functioning primary and secondary school set up, increase in facilities and so on. We already have an excellent higher education set up. If on the one hand you are pitching yourself as pro-poor, and on the other, you are increasing focus on high education and cutting on schooling spends in terms of a percentage, this does beget the question : are the priorities correct?

What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so – as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish.

My rating : 2 stars. As I expected….

Asia’s third-largest economy spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, compared with 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States. Indian states manage their health budgets separately. From : India keeps tight rein on public health spending in 2015-16 budget

6) HIGH DECIBEL PROGRAMMES WITH POOR FOLLOW-THROUGH

Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan and the Toilet Scheme are just two example that  have now been on for one year almost, and already shoddy implementation, and fanfare and media attention. Enough said; that said, like FP above, early days. Let us not criticize unduly!

7) ARROGANT AND UGLY UTTERANCES AT ALL LEVELS
The most worrisome aspect. It is not acceptable for leaders of a nation to belittle the past leaders at every stage and platform with utterances that reek of sheer arrogance and bravado, like “Good Government after 10/60 years”; “Indians now feel proud”, and any number of other examples. These are statements we should be making – this is proof positive of a total lack of humility and sheer arrogance; it is also unacceptable – as it is beoynd debate that at least UPA-1 made many a good decision. Give credit where credit is due- which this Government doesnt. To top it all come the polarising and deeply offensive voices from people connected with the ruling party – I have heard more than a few. 


THIS IS NOT MY IDEA OF A GOOD GOVERNMENT… THE 7th POINT ALONE IS WHAT HAS DRIVEN ME COMPLETELY AWAY – note the capitalisation. I dont support a set of arrogant people, howsoever good may they be.  

Was the UPA better? I honestly dont have an answer. My recent studies have led me to a rather uncomfortable possibility that UPA-1 at least was a good Government, but to be honest, I need to study a lot more before I can make any such assertion!