Democracy

All posts in the Democracy category

Inherent Risks Of Social Media Advertising – And How To Mitigate Them

Published October 28, 2017 by vishalvkale

I was enjoying my morning read of the Business Standard, when my eye fell upon a story – Facebook and Google helpedanti-Refugee campaign in Swing States, Business Standard, Friday 20thOctober. I  noticed this story, and marked it for later contemplation. The recent saga over Twitter usage by  Indian Politicians brought my mind back to this story – and its many implications. While the ethical & moral implications are also present – but most vital is the implication of this, and similar happenings we may or may not be aware of, for us the people as well as for democracy.
Image Credit – Google Search

It is one thing for a politician to openly come on Social Media – quite a few have done it quite successfully; they lay their views, attitudes, national plans, ideals, problems etc – like one Indian Politician. Others use Facebook, and especially  Twitter in their own names to further their own views etc. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact, that is actually welcome, as it helps a large number of people become aware of what that person stands for, as well as have a judgement of his or her potential. Used that way it is ethical, transparent, open and disseminates information.
TARGETED USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BY INTERESTS
However, I would request that you open the link above and read it; the usage of – maybe even targeted usage of – the Social Media platform as described in the article, goes way beyond what has been described above, and indeed way beyond the scourge of fake news that is now a common phenomenon that we are seeing on Social Media nowadays.  “In the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign, voters in swing states including Nevada and North Carolina saw ads appear in their Facebook feeds and on Google websites touting a pair of controversial faux-tourism videos, showing France and Germany overrun by Sharia law.
This is quite frankly, extremely disturbing, worrisome and should cause unease and disquiet in most minds. The article goes further, showing emloyees roles as well as targeted advertising : “Unlike Russian efforts to secretly influence the 2016 election via social media, this American-led campaign was aided by direct collaboration with employees of Facebook and Google. They helped target the ads to more efficiently reach the intended audiences, according to internal reports from the ad agency that ran the campaign, as well as five people involved with the efforts.
FACTOR 1 : OUR ENTIRE LIVES ARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE INTERNET
In the modern world, those of us connected on Social Media have our entire lives on these platforms; it is easy to collate and study patterns for the SM companies – with a larger customer base meaning more defined patterns. It allows advertisers to target people specifically as per your individual tastes. Just think – you click on a site, and ads related to that site pop-up in your feed; used this way, it is legal, ethical as well as a powerful advertising tool, which can and does lead to win-win situations for the customers as well as the companies alike. But recall that we have our opinions, likes and dislikes etc all openly stated; it is easy to spot patterns and create interest groups on a large database.
FACTOR 2 : IMPACT OF AV MESSAGES & MODERN PREFERENCES OF PEOPLE
Secondly, the impact of Audio-Visual messages is known to be strong in both psychology as well as advertising. Further, add to that the increasingly short attention span of the audience combined with the sad phenomenon of lesser personal time / greater work stress, as well as the propensity to prefer easier to assimilate modes of information gathering {AV}, and short tit bits. These two sub-factors combine to create a situation that enables a mind to easily assimilate and accept messages that meet these criteria stated above.
DRAWING INFERENCES FROM THE TWO FACTORS
The two major factors above create a situation wherein a targeted message can be accepted with readiness and ease at least by one segment of the population. The abilities and concepts described in the first factor create a set of people with vested interests that enable the creation of ability and skill sets that can be put to use to reach the set of consumers identified for targeted messaging. In other words, to put it crudely, a set of people willing to accept, and a set of providers willing to use this acceptability of the people to get across a targeted message comes together to create confusion.
Let me explain – on one side, you have a set a data, voluminous, about people – their likes, dislikes, views, readership, viewership, opinions. We can use this to create sub-groups according to various tastes, opinions and what-have-you. This is the company-side skill. On the other side, you have a set of people with easy acceptance of AV or short messages, short content as told in the second factor. The companies can spot patterns among the people, can group them together. Thus it is becomes easy to make tailormade messages that can influence people with specific proclivities and propel their choices towards a targeted objective.
It is feasible to create patterns, extrapolate and draw inferences from Social Media activities. If one person has a habit of regularly visiting Food sites, specific to Chololates, Desserts, Cakes – one can draw the inference that this person may have a preference for sweets. Similarly, if a person regularly likes, tweets, gives opinion on one side of any view in the political or social spectrum, you can extrapolate that he believes in one POV. In large enough data – hundreds of thousands of respondents – this will enable the identification of a set of people predisdisposed towards a thought process. This may not hold true for all instances –  but in a large enough data sets of people, patterns will emerge that generally hold true; and remember, in Social Media we are dealing with live data sets, not snapshots of time.
As can be seen above – a targeted message {Anti-Refuge} was delivered through social media. And again, as we can read, there was direct collaboration of employees. Result was a strong message was delivered at a targeted audience, again as stated in the article.  And that is why the article above is so disturbing. While it is possible for this to happen even without the collusion of employees of SM companies, it becomes infinitely easier with their help; also, the data is also relatively error-free. Add to this the issue of Subliminal Advertising – of which currently there is no provable evidence in the public domain, and neither is it a legislated area.
COMING TO INDIA…
Can this happen in India? Has this happened in India? We do not know; I hope not. But we do know that now the political parties are using Social Media in myriad ways, as has been extensively reported. We also know of at least one book on trolling or usage of SM by one party. We have seen another getting smarter in its SM presence. This they should do – SM is an efficient way to reach audiences – be it politics or be it consumer goods. No issues with that whatsoever.
The problem is if this newfound capability is used to get across a targeted message – especially one of the fringe variety, towards a targeted audience. The biggest question is – where do we draw the line? And who is to judge what is the line specifically? If we have the capability to segment audiences as per tastes, I for one see no reason why that should not be used for mutual benefit. But – as I asked in my previous article as well – how far is too far?
It is we ourselves that are giving these parties and these companies this ability, by placing all our choices openly. This cannot be avoided in increasingly connected world – just not posting on SM is not the long term solution; other proxies can easily be developed, as so much is online in the modern world, that with time, money and capability drawing inferences from data sets is dead easy. This is the evil side, the negative side of the technology that drives our civilization. It really boils down to data security, and a question of simple regulation and ethics.
A QUESTION OF RULES & REGULATIONS
The Social Media companies need to have a strong set of internal rules &  regulations governing content that is accepted by their advertising departments; one that is specially rigorous for political parties or for messages that can be construed to have a political content, or indeed for social content. There has to be a differentiator clearly placed between product-service advertising, and cause advertising. This is doable and is frankly easy to do and operate. It requires an iron will within companies. It also requires strict regulation and a code of ethics so that pressure tactics are not used to pressurize companies.
CONCLUSION

Both the above are doable; we in corporate India need to wake up and smell the coffee. We need to open our eyes, and see the immense potential for good that technology holds as well as the immense potential for influence it holds – and the potential for damage. On a personal side, we customers need to be made more aware of privacy issues, data security and issues arising out of the above. It is not feasible to expect 500million people to stop posting opinions etc on SM; that is not going to happen.  Above all we need to understand the immense creative as well as disruptive power social media holds, its potential, as well as the need for regulation. This is a space that is not self-regulating. We need to wake up, and ensure that some borders are set in place. The US example should not be repeated… 

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

Book Review : Reforming Institutions

Published December 26, 2015 by vishalvkale

The current book under review deals with, among other things, change, and deals with the process of change in a running institution or organisation. That said, it is not meant for people who are on the lookout for a how-to book full of instructions, or even ideas. It has none of the first, and only a few of the second. The book also deals quite extensively with democracy, national institutions and development. If you are looking for a book that proscribes or preaches how these should change, and what form the change should take – look elsewhere.
Image result for redesigning the aeroplane while flying reforming institutions review 
If, on the other hand, you are asking yourself questions on how should I change; or if you are tasked with implementation of change strategies in your organisation or job and are open to new ideas, methods and challenges – then go for this book. If you are among those who are past wondering what is wrong with my India, or my company, or my job, or myself – and are beginning to question : how, what, why, where, when – to move forward and in what direction, if you are looking actively for answers on how to develop my own effort and thoughts rather than instructions – read this book.
The book is titled “Redesigning The Aeroplane While Flying : Reforming Institutions”, and is authored by Arun Maira, a professional with 25 years with the Tata Group, followed by long stints in Arthur D Little and was the chairman of The Boston Consulting Group. The icing on the cake is that Mr Maira was also a member of the Planning Commission  under Dr Manmohan Singh
The book is a treasure in more ways than one; but most of all, it is a work sheer class precisely because of what it doesn’t do- preach, instruct on what to do. Instead, you are treated to a deep and though-provoking insightful book that sets your mind racing, that analyses the background situation with commendable attention to detail and a superb finesse, leaving no stone unturned, challenging quite a few pre-conceived notions and and giving a complete picture in your mind of the challenges facing India.
It starts with an obvious premise – that institutions are under challenge; but, right from the first page – it takes a course of its own, stating, with examples, that this is almost a global phenomenon. The book uses India as an example throughout, although it is chock-full of other examples from across the Business and the Political landscape from across the globe.
The book looks at the 4 forces that are coming together in the new world : Free Markets & Capitalism, Equal rights for all Human Beings, The Environment, Information. These 4 can be readily seen to be coming together across the globe, to create what all of us ca notice : a confluence of 4 different but powerful winds that are redefining the way we live in the modern world. These 4 forces are putting pressure on the institutions of Demoracy, Capitalism, and Government – as we can see in the Climate change debate, or the CSR pressure on Corporates, Questions on the extent of regulation of markets etc that we have seen arising.
An aside :  the book also raises an interesting fact – that the first attempts at changing the Planning Commission and how it functions started under Dr Manmohan Singh, who apparently set in motion a study or two on how could India  make the planning process more relevant to the new challenges it is facing, and how to make it more effective. This, alongwith other data I have come across in other sources is leading me to an interesting possibility : we have all ignored the successes and reforms initiated by the UPA…
It has looked at the options before the Planning Commission, as  well as the road the nation can take, quoting no less than three extensive and deep studies undertaken across several years. The book asks the precise same questions here that we have been hearing and reading about in India : namely, Inclusion, Governance – Local or Centralised, Big Projects or Community Based Solutions and Enterprises. Then studies conducted both internally as well as by WEF / NCAER, involved a huge range of people from all walks of life
This, then is the scenario, the backdrop – Capitalism / Free Markets + Environment + Free Flow Of Information + Human Rights or Equality of all humans – creating a high-pressure challenge for Democracy, Government and Capitalism. In this backdrop, it can be readily seen by the rising discontent among the people that trust in these systemic institutions is either falling or is low. Questions are being of Organisations, Governments, Nations and Leaders alike.
The question arises : how does one change the institutions without causing a breakdown or anarchy? Or rather – how does one change a running organisation or department without compromising on the overall performance and outputs? This is a standard challenge that most middle and up managers are confronted with; and people can readily relate to the difficulties in driving a running and performing people towards a desired goal. You first have to decide that goal, ensure buy-in, and then craft a path towards that objective
Other books – predictably, management books – have dealt with this; the difference here is that this isn’t a management book. And this isn’t prescriptive, doesn’t give theories and instructions, a ready-to-cook recipe, if you will. It just analyses the situation in considerable detail – genesis of institution / scorecards and their pitfalls / options etc, analyses and presents all options in front of the reader, leading to thought-provoking questions and insights. This lack of a prescriptive approach is the ace of the book.
The basics are of course common and hardcore fundamentals of either organisation design and management  – or of basic Governance. For example, Direction and Goals with Aligned Aspirations, Organisation with Permeable Boundaries allowing free flow of ideas and information, Processes with Minimum Critical Rules and Resources that are Flexible / Should a Democracy be consensual or majoritarian; Supremacy of individual rights versus Rights of the community; Transations or Trust – as well as introducing the concept of Gross National Happiness versus GNP.
The difference is in how it comes together : driving the reader towards the conclusions slowly, by inference rather than by data and instructions. It delves deep into the processes and ways of operation – analysing how to take decisions, what decision to take in what situation {within the overall context of national growth}; it looks at the pitfalls of conventional economics versus behavioural economics – and more. It does all  of this in a non-prescriptive manner.
This is a deep and highly conceptual book that resides in the realm of core concepts behind a properly functioning and delivering Organisation – which is why it holds relevance for anyone in a function, organisation or job that involves changing ways, means and methods of operation. This is a deeply fundamental book that will reinforce the basics and fundamentals of practicing managers as well as bureaucrats, giving new ideas and paths to carry out your tasks.
While the overarching theme is deep and basic concepts in the backdrop of localisation and hardcore basics, it does manage to ask some very pertinent questions and think about some pretty damned hard choices. And, at the end of the book, it leaves you a fundamental and basic path and clarity, of how to proceed  and how to chart a way forward, at least on the individual level.

On the more important national level, this book does a commendable task of making us face the choices that we are confronted with as a nation in terms of our institutions, making us face as well as analyse the choices and various paths that confront us as a people : suggesting what should we be focussing on : Inclusive Democracy, Inclusive Economy – while at the same time being unabashedly capitalist. It does not give solutions – that part is for us, as a people, to craft…  after all, being a democracy – it is for us to choose. 

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??????? 

Are We Really Tolerant As A People?

Published November 26, 2015 by vishalvkale

A series of both known as well as common people have spoken up against intolerance in the past few weeks and months – as also against this debate; with each passing week, we get a new face on either side of this intolerance debate.  Each side, to be fair, has cogently placed its point in front of the audience. This, to be frank – is not worrying; it is in fact a great development that at least a debate, an open discussion is being taken up in the Media and among the public; and in that debate lies a sense of hope…
The problem lies not in the cogently presented arguments; an argument, albeit misinformed – can be countered with facts and logic only if it is presented in a logical and controlled matter; but, if it is put forward in an insulting or attacking manner, the scope for logical arguments getting through to either side reduces to near zero, creating a vicious circle of point and counter-point, an argument without a logical end or a defined direction in sight. And that is what is happening in India as of now, in my humble opinion!
I will not take sides directly in this article; the reason will become apparent in this article itself.  Some people have said India is becoming intolerant, while others have risen in anger against such statements. It is fine if you don’t agree; but the way you present your arguments matter one hell of a lot. Ok, fine – so the intolerance brigade is crazy, out of its mind, wrong and easily impressionable. But does that mean the tolerance brigade respond with illogic and insults? Is that a sign of tolerance – or are you proving your intolerance by hurling insults?
The intolerance, in my opinion, is not in the Government – but in we the people, and at a much deeper level than previously thought . Intolerance is in not allowing that there might be a viewpoint that differs from yours; that others have a right to an opinion that is at variance from yours. Intolerance is in not granting the other side a respectful listening, and instead targeting it with ridicule, insults and pointed taunts going right upto leave India. Intolerance is in not in the hero-worship of an individual – everyone is entitled to a role model/s. The intolerance is in not granting that there may be people who don’t agree with you, and not granting them that leeway; rather, targeting them. That is true intolerance
THE GOVERNMENT & THE INTOLERANCE BRIGADE
A lot has been said against this Government; but I cannot find a clear instance where the Government has been  directly or indirectly intolerant. Fair is fair- let us criticise the Government by all means; we are a democracy. But let us not go overboard. There is a difference, a vast difference between the Government and some of its elements. In fact, the very worst thing the intolerance brigade can do is call the Government intolerant – that is serious stuff, and is not done.
That said, the silence on several questionable and at times outrageous statements and utterances by several leaders of the ruling party at the most inopportune moment {Is there really an opportune moment for outrageous remarks? I wonder!} is a cause of deep concern.  I have no doubt that at some point a message must have gone to the errant leaders to reign in their views; but this is not in the public domain.
The worst that this Government can be faulted for is its inexplicable silence, which is getting more and more deafening with each passing moment. I wish the Government, and specifically the PM, gets vocal, talks down the nonsense emanating from the ruling party’s fringe, faces them down and calls their statements publicly in strong terms. That would go a long way in redressing the increasing disquiet in some corridors.  It is this interminable silence that is causing deep concern and worry. Eventually, I have no doubt that our PM will speak up, given his handling over the years. I only hope he speaks up as soon as possible – and in strong terms, which will quell the debate.
THE TOLERANCE BRIGADE
This is where things get interesting. The tolerance brigade, seemingly firm believers in India’s justified reputation of religious as well as intellectual tolerance, are up in arms at the seeming insult they feel at India being called intolerant. That in itself is fine – an open debate and discussion is welcome, as it can help clarify matters. The problem is the level of stridency in the response from this tolerance brigade, which leaves zero scope for engagement for mutual benefit and conflict reduction. If anything, the conflict of the ideas escalated.  
Ok, so you don’t agree with the views of some of the people. Does that mean you tell them, taunt them to leave India and go to Pakistan? Does that give you the right to call them desh-drohi and a traitor? {Not talking of Aamir or SRK, please! I don’t watch Hindi or English movies, only selected few make grade that open my pocket! I am a fan of Marathi movies – and to me, Swapnil Joshi, Mukta Barve, Vikram Gokhle, Subodh Bhave, Ajinkya Deo are bigger stars}
Does that mean you insult the other side? Does that mean the Tolerance Brigade call the other side a “Haraamzaadaa”? Does that mean the Tolerance Brigade make a comment ”I will help you and drop you to Pakistan”? Does that mean they make pointed jokes and taunts – not once, but consistently at the other side? Does that mean the Tolerance Brigade call into question their patriotism? Have the Tolerance Brigade considered that the Intolerance Brigade may be as patriotic a side as the Tolerance Brigade? Does that mean the Tolerance Brigade makes it an issue of national pride and national image?
This is one of the most disingenuous arguments that can be made; the shrill response from the Tolerance Brigade is actually equally harmful, as it does not encourage dialogue. In fact, of the two sides, it is the Tolerance Brigade that is more  shrill, personal in their attacks, insulting and deeply wounding in their response. This is equally harmful to national image; a calm and considered response would have settled the hash of the intolerance brigade once and for all.
National image is the composite of all elements within a nation; sporadic statements don’t hurt as much as a shrill and strident response does. Furthermore, the personal level of the insults being hurled, the taunts and the baseless go to Pakistan nonsense is actually proving the Intolerance Brigade right;
Google defines intolerance as intolerance as : ɪnˈtɒl(ə)r(ə)ns,ɪnˈtɒl(ə)rəns/ noun unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one’s own. This is the same definition that is found in Oxford as well. So, who is being intolerant? Arent we proving the allegations right by our utterances, strident statements and personal aspertions? Think about it.
CONCLUSION
There isn’t any; not yet, anyway. But, given the personal attacks, insults and strident, non-stop insults and taunts being hurled by the self-professed professors of Tolerance, I am stepping out of this nonsense. I don’t see how you can engage with a side that cannot be engaged with, and insists on deep wounding barbs, citizenship taunts, insults.
Equally, I cannot see how I can take sides with the other side,  as it will only lead to further arguments. What is happening isn’t a debate, it is a joke, and a sad, tragic and deeply worrying joke – a joke caused by the stridency of one side. There are flashpoints, but these need calm reflection, not insults. And the presence of these flashpoints cannot be denied or wished away. Maturity demands an immediate de-escalation, and a calm, controlled re-engagement at some later date.
Some have stated their fears of rising intolerance. To echo the protestors,  I too am feeling scared.  Not of the Government,  which is a good one.  I am scared of the public and it’s hyperbolic euphoria, its deep taunts, complete refusal to engage in constructive dialogue. That is why I have decided to stop penning on these matters.  I will stick to book reviews,  Foreign affairs, selected current affairs of a non-political nature,  but nothing on Religion,  and now these matters as well. 

Yes,  I am scared.  Scared out of my wits by the public euphoria and clearly visible intolerance to views not conforming to their own. The level of stridency is scary; and beyond anything in my experience. So, I step out. The vicious and targeted approach of the protectors of our Tolerance have won the day.  

The Intolerance Debate : Are We More, Or Less Tolerant?

Published November 8, 2015 by vishalvkale

The intolerance debate has been raging for some time now; high time we tackled this bear by the horns, challenged it and defeated it. But, in order to do that, it is essential we understand the nature of the problem facing us.  It was as I was making this effort of trying to understand intolerance that a striking possibility occurred  : that we might actually be getting far more tolerant than we thought!

PROLOGUE

This first occurred to me when I noted how Dilip Kumar and other Muslim actors had to change their names in order to broaden their appeal. We have moved a long way since then; now not only do film stars not change their names, but can confidently go ahead without a care for their names. Modern India can now showcase famous names across trades and professions showing that professional discrimination has been steadily decreasing to what I hope is now near-zero.

This latest question occurred to me on reading some period literature of the late 1800s and the early 1900s;which showcase the status of our society as it was at ground level in those trying times. As compared to that period, in my opinion we have moved far, far ahead and have become far more accepting and tolerant. Sure, intolerance remains; but it is nowhere near what it was earlier. Sure, problems remain; but nothing quite so serious as compared to before.

SANAATAN DHARM

Santaani resurgence is not a new phenomenon, and has always been present since the times of the early 1800s at least; neither is the division in our society along various lines from caste to politics, That is the price we are paying for colonialism; that is the price of our independence, I have no doubt that eventually we shall triumph; my confidence in my mother, my India is total in that regard, As is my confidence in at least my religion : Sanaatan Dharm, wrongly known as Hinduism.

We have two choices : focus on the negative message of intolerance, or further the positive message of tolerance. I choose to take the latter path : can we spot current trends towards tolerance? I can, More than several, and in the here and the now…

There is far more than meets the eye, in that this isnt just a political issue as much as it is a classic socio-political issue arising out of the entire sequence of events that can be traced back decades, if not more. The past events have given rise to a minority of Sanaatani followers in India who hanker for a more fundamental approach; a set of people who set store by Sanaatan Dharm as the central religion, and the pole of Indian polity as well as society

Note : I refer to Hinduism as Sanaatan Dharm, by its original name. There is no historical or religious basis for the term Hinduism; basis my more than 36 books reading of Indian History, almost all reviewed on my blog.

There is still a segment of people who regard Muslim rule as alien, who still quote the wars and the violence in the Mughal and Slave Dynasty periods, who insist that Muslim rule was far more damaging than the British rule, You can read blogs, articles on the mythical 1000-year slavery, or the other aspect online on any number of platforms, or on comments. Hopefully this is still a minor matter in India

What is happening isnt just a political affair; it is a socio-political affair. And unless we factor in all factors, any conclusions we reach will be erroneous. And the past has a tremendous bearing on the present; any number of current events can be found as proof. Please read the comments on various sites, and note the tenor of the comments, and how they hark back to the “golden” period of Sanaatani rule for vivid proof of this. We have no choice but to face down the events of the past, and prove the reality, separate the chaff from the substance, and lay bare the reality,

FACTORS OF THE PROBLEM, AND THE ANALYSIS

The problems we face today have their genesis in several factors :
* History
* Social Developments and Churning
* Politics
* Religion

But more of these in later articles; To cut things short for now, it isnt a matter of do-this-as-my-forefathers-were-done-this-to-them. It goes much deeper – into a hard-wired inferiority feeling in some Sanaatan Dharmis, wherein they regard the period 1300-1700 as a period when the Golden rule of Sanaatan Dharm fell by the wayside. The problem with this narrative in vogue is at many levels and layers; for starters – the assumption of Sanaatani political rule is itself debatable, given the non-political nature, by and large, of Sanaatan Dharm. Further, the interplay between political factors and the cooperation of local kings also goes ignored in this narrative

Second, the assumption that Sanaatan Dharm fell is itself, to me, a deep insult; the way I see it, we Sanaatanis did not fall; despite the heavy persecution that was periodically visited upon us for the past several centuries, While the Abrahaminic Religions totally eclipsed the earlier society in just about the rest of planet Earth, we followers of Sanaatan Dharm remain, as we were, resilient, resolute, unchanging, with the same cultural and religious practices as in 500 or 1000 plus BC, perhaps even 4000BC Plus!.
Now that, I respectfully submit, is something truly special. We were there when Babylon rose and fell; and we are still here, in the 21st Century.

To the mainstream of Sanaatani people, it doesnt matter; we are more concerned with out duties and our lives; our scriptures are pretty much specific – do your duty towards nation, family and society. Nothing else matters. You are alive just for one reason : to do your duty to family and society, period.

But, to some people, the loss of political power in the early part of the 1st millennium onwards till the 18th century is proof of the mythical “fall” of Sanaatani power. There is a burning desire to see Sanaatani followers as powerful militarily and otherwise; they tend to forget that the real power of a Sanaatan Dharmi is, as per me, his or her internal strength and resolute and rock-hard belief system that has withstood centuries & millennia of epochal buffeting winds and changes.

To simplify, it isnt really about others; it is a burning internal desire to strengthen our own Sanaatan Society that is one part of the driving factor – giving rise to forces like the Sangh. Now this can be both positive as well as negative; that we need a Sangh, a body of social drivers that can ensure continued passing on of values and norms is beyond argument; I myself am a fan of the Sangh’s socio-cultural activities, and how they strive towards creating a good citizen, as well as driving the power of our religion into their minds, as also inculcating a feeling of pride in our heritage, which are all positives. {I have used the Sangh here just as an example}

On persecution of Sanaatan Dharm followers : that is a statement that has some basis in fact, and there is no point denying it, Yes, we Sanaatan Dharm followers are, in my opinion, one of the two most persecuted people on this planet – and in our own land, to boot. We, and the Jews stand as exemplary people in the history of the Earth : no one has been persecuted as much as us, and by just about everyone. It is a matter of inconsequential debate as to who was persecuted more : {my opinion, The Jews have been through more than us} – and is an academic point.  
But who persecuted us really – the Arabs, or the British? And what about the active cooperation of local kings with the invaders? What about the various treaties and friendships that happened during medieval times? And why are we forgetting the active conversion campaigns of the European Christians? {Christians were here in India since almost 70AD, and had lived peacefully. It is only after the Europeans that conversions started.  All these, and other questions will need attending to.

While the World has learnt and grown up to accept Jews, The Sanaatan Dharm follower is still held to public ridicule outside India in any number of even mainstream outlets. It hurts, damnit – and I make no bones about it. So why doesn’t this strike a chord in us?

But the real challenge is in facing this hurt, accepting it – and moving on, We cannot afford to live in ignorance; that way lies disaster, leaving open the chance of manipulation by some forces. We have to face the history, grow up to it, look it straight in the eyes, and state: You are History, I am the present, and I shall learn from you, but not want to seek justification or revenge. The current set of people have done nothing to damage us, and thus share no blame. What is past is done with, and over. Let bygones be bygones; forgive and forget.

By not facing upto the past, we are leaving the field open for one-sided narratives that blame everyone except look inward, We need to introspect, understand and face our own faults that lead to this persecution, for that is the positive way forward, We need to understand that not everyone, even in the past, was out to get us; and that the persecution, while true, was not supported by all. We, now more than ever, need to face upto the history of our nation, and learn from it; learn from our fall from grace, understand the true reasons for our fall from grace, and connect these learnings to the present day. That is one way we can fight this rising tide.


In conclusion, in this set of articles, I shall attempt to look at why India is actually getting more tolerant each day; I shall try and analyse the reasons for the rise of the rhetoric around some aspects, try and present the fuller picture, and underscore that while challenges and worries remain : there is far more reason to be hopeful and buoyant than there is to be cynical and worried… Jai Hind! Vande Mataram!

Make In India : A Need For Introspection

Published October 15, 2015 by vishalvkale

In the previous article {Make In India} , I introduced a look  at Make In India’s loopholes – not from the GOI, but from we the people.  Therein, I had concluded, We, the people, just don’t seem to care about these basics. Quite frankly, we just don’t care. While the chosen words are a bit strong, the fact remains that corruption – unless it is tackled, MII will remain a pipe dream. By the same token, unless administrative reforms are taken up, MII will remain a pipe dream.
Take a small example. I have consistently referred to RBI report on the states finances; the report of 13-14 clearly identifies good movements in state budgets, with increasing responsible states. But the very same report makes a  certain observation of off-budget expenses and their possibility of presence, as also highlights the laggard states and their irresponsible behaviour. The report of 14-15 once again clarifies the vast gulf between the various states. The differences in the state of finances in the document amply indicate the need for differential and targeted plans, as also the evidence of our own eyes as we traverse this Holy Land we call our Mother, our India
Now the central government has devolved a higher share of revenues to the states, and not touched or perhaps reduced in real terms expenses on Education, among others. Without a concurrent increase in state budgets allocations on education, there will be no improvement in the state of affairs; and without an improvement in the performance of government servants and their accountability, on-field situation will never improve. These administrative reforms are urgently required – are they happening?
On education, how can a poor uneducated person benefit from MII? What is in it for him? Hundreds of Millions of Indian live outside the top 200 urban agglomerations {around 86%. Not for me the artificial classification of urban-rural. Visit any city outside the top 100, let alone 200, and try and spot the similarities between rural India and them!}
How will they benefit? They arent educated and lack skills. And skill development cannot substitute for education, which opens the mind, develops its faculties, and broadens perspective. Short term few-days skill development is no comparison. The answer is education; it has to be a proper education for true development to percolate to all levels of the society. Even skill development requires a certain basic level of education or skills that can be honed. Even in low-level technical jobs, some basic education is a prerequisite.
What kind of job will these poor people get? Menial jobs and / or low-level jobs, most likely. What will these jobs pay? Some {hopefully most} will earn more than previously, but questions will remain. Will they earn enough to create enough wealth to ensure a far better future for their families? Further, how many people will benefit, in absolute numbers as well as in percentage terms? Is there a guarantee of the continuance of these wages for long, given that they are unskilled employees, and as such easily replaceable? Are we or are we not risking more migrant people drifting from place to place?  
And what about the impact on ancillaries and Small and Medium Sector units? These lack the capital to upgrade technology; and new world-class manufacturing facilities will require even ancillaries to upscale and upgrade. What about their capital requirements and problems? How will that be facilitated? What about skill levels in employees in these units, which  will require major upgradation? Is there a risk of job losses in Small and Medium units arising out of this? What about the rampant cash transactions that are prevalent in this segment? How will you push them towards cheque and other more modern methods of transactions? Even if it will eventually lead to greater monetary returns to India, what about the short-terms pains? Is there any plan to mitigate any pains that are certain to arise from the course of development?
These are all genuine questions, and not allegations or critical statements. And these questions will need to be met and answered for MII to be a true game-changer at all levels for society. As more and more facilities come up, it will require inputs, some of which will be taken from the local populace, like land.
The pressure will be on these new units to add back  to society in a demonstrable fashion so as to smoothen the introduction and facilitate their setup. Frankly, there is no choice:  these questions will have to be answered; we are a democracy.
And further, do we have the means to ensure corruption will not happen, and that these people will get their true wages? Or that the wages will be enough to provide for their families needs like education of children? Or that percentage of Cash transactions will go down? Or that land is acquired without corruption? That there is no cutting of legal corners in the entire process, and that all rules are adhered to? That there will be no revelation of scams thereby ensuring smooth operations? That everything operates above board, and that no bribes are paid? Or that, if bribes are paid, the same never comes to light?
We dont, and that is a fact. How then do we ensure that this will be implemented? We cant! The reason that this is a major stumbling block is simple : a revelation of the truth will lead to legal as well as social ramifications, stalling projects. It will also adversely impact efficiency as the entire system comes to a screeching halt with reference to that project, as any officer will be want to be extra careful lest he or she be found guilty!
This isn’t fault-finding; just a humble request for deep societal introspection. Please ask yourselves these questions, and look at what we have become as a people, what values we stand for and what values we are giving our children by our behaviour!
That  is the case of corruption. In the increased activism among the media, as well as the anti-corruption mood in combination with investigations, exposures and actions of law-enforcement and investigative agencies, scams are certain to come to light. That means a full and final grounding of any project that is scam tainted. Unless corruption is systematically reduced, questions relating to MII remain; and will need to be tackled and answered.
Furthermore, we all of us demand and ensure top education for our own children – we can afford it, by the grace of God. Then why dont we demand that the Government give education to those who cannot afford it, that education happens properly, and not the farce it is in some places? We give our family the best, because it is our family. We call India our mother, and then ignore the educational needs of the less fortunate among us!!!!! Why are we, as a people, so consistently ignoring education?

And we call India our mother?? Who will take care of our own brothers and sisters if we dont??

Doing Something Real And Current About Poverty

Published May 24, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Curse Of Poverty… one can see it all around us; I have myself written about both how hopeless and helpless I feel, as well as how horrifying the poverty trap is… this is something that I cant get over,  can’t forget, and can’t overlook. And the reason is simple : wherever I go, wherever I visit, wherever I turn in any place in India, my lovely India, I can find the same gut-wrenching and heart-stopping scenes of abject poverty, and the total helplessness of the people trapped in it.

I was just walking out from a Bakery {My Choice, Annapurna Road, Indore} when I was approached by a lady with her clothes in tatters, and was solicited for alms. I looked at her, and could not say no… I had just spent 117/- Rupees on a Pizza Topping and Butter purchase, and had in addition visited Dominoes. If I could spend that much, surely I can give her 10/-, which I did. I don’t feel guilty about my expenses – I work all day for it, all week and all year; but… I cannot forget that this is due to the benefit of education, parentage, opportunity and providence…

And, yet again, the same thoughts crash through my mind, as I have written earlier as well : why, God, why? What have we as a people done that is so horrible that millions of my countrymen and women have to suffer such terrifying indignities and conditions? What have we done to deserve this? My mind goes vacant for a moment…

The sight of beggars on the streets, the young children with no hope and no future, the labourers working all day for a few rupees just to keep alive, the slums which dot the landscape, the poverty in the villages, the mud and slush in the villages’ approaches, the lack of amenities, the huts and dwellings which offer scant true protection make for a chilling sight that shock me into numbness and an infinite and indefinable sadness at the complete hopelessness of it all…

AND THEN…
And then, I turn around – to see a very different, vibrant and tenacious India – the one of Education, Opportunity, Growth, Development, Cars, Bikes, Swank Offices, Rush-Hour Traffic, Malls & Theatres, fast-improving facilities and amenities, and a hope arises in my mind : firstly, there is still hope; a hope that one day the majority of my countrymen can enjoy the same facilities; that all of my countrymen can live a life of respect, sufficiency, confidence, and honour…

Secondly, a hope arises when I see people who have given their all for the betterment of the downtrodden – naming any one as an example would be insufficient – and understand that while I am still at the stage of shock and sadness, there are others who have shown the courage to act on their convictions, and place the lives, their careers on the line for these people.

To all such people – thank you; you are the future of India; you are the real hope for our India – you, the people who could have had cushy corporate jobs, but are doing what your heart tells you to do – a story that will go unknown and unwritten. But, collectively, when the results begin to show, you people will have done more than almost anyone else…

You are the people who highlight injustices, and, staying within legal limits, points systematic shortcomings; you are the people to reach out to these poor people and attempt to educate, treat them and help them or their children learn to grow. You are the people that drive change in the rest of society through the sheer power of your sacrifices, convictions and actions. You are the people who force the uncaring majority of Urban India and make them face their attitudes, selfishness and indefensible and deliberate ignorance of the plight of the poor of India. Verily, you are the people actually driving change – knowing fully well you will never get the credit. You are the people who are driving systemic change, forcing the uncaring and careless Urban Indian to abandon corruption, become more community conscious.

WILL THIS ALONE SUFFICE?
The question that now occurs to me is : will this alone suffice? How can we solve the problem of poverty if the poor are not in a position to either get employment, or start a business that can ensure respect and money enough to earn a decent living? Will the famed trickle-down theory actually work? The evidence of my eyes, as well as some data I have read, has led me to question the very basis of this theory; is the pace of change fast enough? How many more poor ladies and gentlemen {and their coming generations} will be forced into such terrifying conditions?

The development versus growth debate misses this one point : what will happen to the millions who are currently in distress? By not investing in capability development of this vast sea of manpower at the basic level, aren’t we creating a sea of future problems, aren’t we postponing the day of reckoning? How will increased factories and Urban Amenities benefit the poor, who aren’t educated enough to take advantage of the development? The conclusion is obvious : it the Urban Indian who stands to gain; while the poor will gain : the process will by definition be slow, as their growth will be through increased menial tasks become available, which will result in a slow improvement.

But this process creates a divergence: the Urban and Educated, through greater access to education and benefits, will clearly gain immediately. That is good – it will engender growth; but – it leaves the problem of the immediate amelioration of the conditions of the current lot of poor people. While the development – versus – growth angle is an unsettled economic debate, there can be no debate about this : that the current lot will not benefit. Therein lies the problem.  

One one side, we have a tribe of selfless people who are tirelessly working to ameliorate the conditions of these people, on the other side we have a growing economy, a vibrant democracy and increasing confidence in us as a people and as a civilization. Caught in between are the millions upon millions of poor people with no education, no hope and no chances – people whom life has never given any chances.   

The question for all of us Urban & Educated people should be – What Can We Do In Addition To What Is Being Done That Can Help? As Individuals, As People, As A Community, And As A Civilization? Isnt this worth doing? Shouldn’t there be a way where we can contribute? Our Mother, Our India gave birth to us; and gave us some benefits not available to others : how should we be using these benefits?




Choice is Yours, and Mine. 

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!  

Smart Cities : More Questions Than Answers

Published May 17, 2015 by vishalvkale

SMART CITY
A ‘smart city’ is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. A Smart City, should have Power, Water, Cleanliness, Seamless Information, 24/7 Utility Services, WiFi zones, Recreational Spaces, Waste Management, Connectivity in transport as well as communication, Speedy Service, Transparency and Accountability etc.

While there are good points & it is also a good and needed step, but…. firstly, it doesnt take into account the realities of the Indian Demography, Polity, Bureaucracy, Governance and Systems. it doesnt take into account the Indian Economy, and its doesnt take into account the status of the real estate sector, as also any number of other realities that beset the Indian Economy.


ECONOMIC STRUCTURE

Economic output by the entire corporate contributes just 18% or thereabouts to the Indian Economy. The rest is Agriculture, and unorganised sector. A smart city implies high doses of technological capability, which scores upon scores of our companies do not possess, and the gap is too large for them to plug, given the history and the monetary requirements. Other nations enjoy economies of scale and can produce whatever we can at cheaper rates. If we keep a purchase local condition, we are finished before we start, like the FDI in retail brouhaha.


If we cant compete in a commodity like Stainless Steel, it is foolish to believe we can compete in high-tech sectors. We have skills aplenty; they have the economies of scale, which is what is needed. For that, we have to dismantle a large part of our taxation structure, which is inverted in more than a few categories.



Next, how do you fit in the small variables like the thelaa-gaadis, small eateries, roadside stores etc – all the things that define a lovely Indian City in a Smart City concept? Is it clear? What happens to these small support services? They are a cultural reality; I wouldnt be caught dead in a 5-star; too stuffy and showy for my taste, Give me the fantastic Idli-Vada at Sion Station; given a choice, I would eat Idli Vada over those showy dishes in a Marriott any day! The point is that these minor details need to be idenitified and clarified before we start, or we run the risk of overzealous officials banning or relegating such activities to the backburner, leading to loss of livelihood to thousands, and an erosion of uniqueness and attractiveness as well.



Next, Sustainable Real Estate. End of Story. Take a gander at the real estate market in India. It is controlled and cartelised, beset by crime and corruption. TIll last year, prices were holding in Urban India depsite their being a 50% vacancy rate of unsold inventory. What happens when the Smart City Ball gets rolling? Sustainable? That it isnt. Valuations will go through the roof, and that is a fact. 


It completely ignores the structure of the Economy, which is characterised by small entrepreneurs. I would like to understand how the small entrepreneur with 50000 seed capital can make a mark in your smart cities. These ventures are capital intensive, and import oriented, which is the real reason why everyone from China to USA is agog; they see $$$$Kaching$$$$! Study the incomparable report on the Indian Economy by Prof Vaidyanathan – India, Uninc; it gives figures from Government sources and introduces you to the real India.


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%.


Given the Smart City definition, a good number of them don’t fit – and largely for no fault of theirs. These organizations do not have the money to upgrade – they will upgrade eventually : a process that is currently underway. That is the time these concepts can work. And this will happen in tandem with improvements in education etc basic facilities in India, not before.

PRIORITIES & REQUIREMENTS

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



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.



Besides, a Smart City requires – data connection. 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 69Million 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, Meerut, 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. These are further populated by small enterprises.



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.


MY FEAR
We are only exacerbating the rural-urban divide. As on date, few Urban Indians show the same level of passion for rural development, which is the only thing we need. Rest will take care of itself! We are asking people to focus their valuable- sorry, waste their valuable time on cities, where the conditions are utopic in comparison to villages and that is a fact! Large numbers of villagers would willingly settle for facilities comparable to our current “stupid cities” and that is also undeniable.


No amount of planning will overcome the serious objections there are, some of which are enlisted below. I dont buy visions; they are a dime a dozen. I buy execution – call it my sales instinct, but I am not impressed by Grand Visions without a proper execution document, which contains detailed studies & steps.  And this is not made after finalising the plan; that is stupid, blunt and straight. Typically, that is to be visualised before finalising the plan and the execution.



Where is that plan? If it exists, why isnt it in the public domain? Where is the detail on what exactly a “Smart City” means in practical terms – real world terms, not meaningless jargon, which even I can write, given I am a part-techie and a part-telecom / business person to boot?????? Give a person time and opportunity, and out comes a logical sounding plan! That is dead easy; doesnt require any great skill whatsoever. What will be the mode of transport in a Smart City? Residence and Commercial Areas? Connectivity in Roads? Size of internal roads? Drainage?



What will be the connectivity in terms of data and communication? What technology will be adopted? How will the technologies communicate with the other “stupid’ cities? What will it cost the residents?What happens to the slums? Or doesnt the concept apply to the slums? If they are in a smart city, they should be smart slums too! Each city has bylanes with crowded marketplaces; these are the epicenter of business in India, commanding a lion’s share of the business volume pan-India. What does this mean for them? What is in it for them?



How will rural India benefit? Please give specifics : not general statements like find jobs, or employment generation. Jobs in which industry, at what level paying what? Where will they stay? Where will the land come from? What will it do to land prices? How will you ensure proper settlement for dues – and if you think this is not important, I can produce 40 years worth of terrifying tales of neglect? How will you ensure Land Mafia is controlled – without real and serious administrative reform which no government – AAP apart- has shown any appetite for?



A Smart City means Power, Water round the clock, Where will that come from? We dont have enough power now, wont have for another 2 decades. Who will sacrifice their power for these Smart Cities? And why should any stupid city sacrifice even one kilowatt for a smart city, pray tell? Where will water come from? Any number of cities are seriously water deficient. Where is the plan for all this?????????



A Smart City implies a certain level of data connection backbone; which we dont have, and wont for a minimum 5-10 years more. It also means seamless information availability. How will you ensure that, given the various data collection points, formats, protocols? When your land records are not computerised? When any number of public facilities are not online fully, and there are no plans for them either? When you still have no common information system in the Government? When there is a redundancy in several documents?  I could go on and on… Where is the real plan?


Why does this generate this level of interest? Why doesnt the question of farmer suicides, famers earnings, rural facilities, etc generate the same level of attention, interest, passion in Urban Indians? Arent they Indians? What is being done for them, pray tell? We are still focussing on cities, not on the villages where the situation is decidedly bad. Why hasnt the same level of euphoria, the same level of passion, the same vision, the same money been generated for setting things right in Rural India? The government is hard selling this concept abroad, showcasing our development, whereas we require basic steps like Education, Health, Governance and Defence!



What it should have done is launched rural programmes with the same fervor, passion, vision and attention – which is not the case. We have finite resources both in terms of money as well as other aspects. How we spend those resources is the key.

In point of fact, Smart Cities is the last thing we need; we dont have the ground realities even in urban India for it, and that is a fact. Not one person anywhere in India has even tried to meet the serious and potent objections being raised by any number of people; and are focussing on the vision. 




Remember : Great plans fail on execution as, among other reasons, it turns out that the ground realities did not support the plan in the first place.