Narendra Modi

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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.



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Modi Sarkar and The Farmer : The Achilles Heel

Published May 2, 2015 by vishalvkale

MODI SARKAR : THE ACHILLES HEEL

It has taken a long time to manifest itself, but at long last, we see a developing Achilles Heel in our famed Modi Sarkar; a sad development indeed, given that this is the best government we have had in the past several decades. The only good thing is that the Achilles Heel has manifested itself from a totally unexpected direction; not only that, it also holds serious potential of rekindling a genuine opposition on a national scale, which is a needed and vital component of a functioning democracy.

It has taken twin developments in two connected areas for the weakness to manifest itself : Farmers’ Suicides, and The Land Bill. Taken together, this has created a situation in which, if properly strategized, the opposition can rebuild itself, while simultaneously undermining the central government.

THE CONGRESS : AWAKENING
The sad part is that once again,  it is the Congress that has the opportunity to rise from the ashes. This is sad because it has yet again failed to democratize, and has placed its faith on Dynasty. I have nothing against Rahul Gandhi; he may be an excellent potential leader for all I know; then again, he might not. That is not relevant; what is relevant is the fact that The Congress does not have any leader it feels can connect with the people, despite having some good people on its roster.

Be that as it may, the  Congress has taken what seems to be the right step; change track from the all-too-familiar “communal politics” track to a far more sensible and development oriented focus : that of the farmer and their issues. This bodes well for our democracy, for our economy and for our society, as now there is a chance the real issues might get a much needed attention and focus.

The best way to tackle communalism is not to fan it; all the while building solid relationships within communities. A politically charged message has a polarizing impact, and if the community specific plank is being abandoned by all parties, this is a development worth celebrating. If all parties can abandon a community specific focus, the only way India can go is up and forward. Aag ko jitnaa tool doge, jitni hawaa doge, utni failegi.

And harping on the communal message, which was not making a connect with any definable voter base was always a suspect strategy. Besides, there has to be a provable base for such a strategy that can be directly traced back to your opposition; and this is clearly absent in the BJP.


THE BJP : SLEEPING!
The BJP, meanwhile, is basking in the glory of its rise to power, and ignoring these undercurrents, which might yet turn into a deluge. While it is doing excellent work in any number of areas, its approach and presentation to the people on these two issues is strange and more than a little disturbing, given the party’s admirable understanding of the pulse of India and the Indian people.

Please note my choice of words : in this article, I am taking no position on the Central Government’s Agricultural and Land Policies – that is the subject of another, research based and supported article/s that I shall take up a little later on the Agricultural challenges being faced by India. I am only analyzing the potential impact of the presentation in front of the people, and the angst among them.

It adheres to a top-down development ideology, counting on investment in infrastructure, amenities to drive rural upliftment and employment, while attempting to ensure good governance at all levels of Government. It has also taken a few good steps in the Agriculture sector {Analysed on my blog here : Union Budget Analysis}; these will require time to properly strategise and implement.

What is more pertinent that it has done little to meet head-on the anti-farmer label that is being leveled against it by some, beyond messages to the farming community by the PM. More and more parties and  groups are now coming into the open, calling its policies as pro-Urban India and anti-farmer. The most important aspect that the BJP seems to have forgotten is the population of India – the top 200 Urban Agglomerations account for only around 15.46% of population as per Census 2011

Thus, any message targeted at the rural community that is focused not on ideology, religion, regionalism but rather on their bread and butter is certain to get the attention of the people. That is a foregone conclusion; the needs of the stomach will take primacy; that is a primordial fear. The BJP is giving a message of development : how is this message being received by the population? Is it making a connect with the people?

THE HISTORY
For Urban India, it means investments, growth and jobs. What does it mean for Rural India? What have the prior experiences of Rural India been in this regard? It should mean the same for them : but is this the way it is being perceived in Rural India? Farmers stand to lose their lands; what will they get in return? Each piece of land further supports landless labourers, input vendors etc – we are talking of snatching an entire ecosystem.

What is the history, the prior experiences of the farming community in India? As This Article : Why Farmers Have Every Right to Feel Gypped explores in painful detail – there is a sad, almost terrifying history of governmental failure of monumental  proportions behind this rising tide of protests against the BJP Government with regard to the Agricultural Sector;  what is sad is that this Government has actually started a series of steps that drive some hope into the refurbishment of this sector in the budget, which makes this image of anti-farmer a real tragedy in itself.

And look at the third and recent case reported this month in The Times of India which makes you want to cry and laugh – both at the same time!
The gist of the case is: in 1998, the Railways acquired land from Mela Ram and Madan Lal to lay the Una-Amb track in Himachal Pradesh. As usual, the Railways adopted delaying tactics when it came to paying up. The farmers filed a case for enhanced compensation. After a fair amount of legal to-ing and fro-ing,  in 2013, the HP High Court directed the railways to pay the money within six weeks. “But the railways hasn’t deposited the amount until now”, the farmers’ advocate AK Saini said a few weeks ago. Typical.
So, on April 9, 2015, Mukesh Bansal, the additional district and sessions judge of Una ordered the attachment of the train if the railways failed to pay compensation to the two farmers!! The court said if Mela Ram and Madan Lal did not get Rs. 8.91 lakh and Rs. 26.53 lakh respectively, the train would be stopped at Una station at 5 am on April 16 and attached by it. The farmers were asked to select one out of four trains – and they selected The Delhi-Una Janshatabdi Express!


SUMMARY
My point is simple : the steps taken by the BJP Government have exposed a chink in their armoury, one that is now being exploited by the opposition. This is the Achilles Heel; their weakness. And there is nothing they can do about it; not over the short term. I have purposely taken an isolated case history above : the point is that there is a feeling of inadequacy and helplessness that is rooted in genuine truth and a terrifying history of crass incompetence on the part of successive central governments over the years.

And this atmosphere is giving rise to an opposition movement that is, for the first time in my memory {correct me if I am wrong}, focused on real issues that make a powerful connect with the target audience in Rural India as on solid whole. For the first time, we now have an issue-based discussion in Indian Politics, which is bringing this issue mainstream.

All it really requires to bring the BJP juggernaut to a grinding halt is a solid loss in a few upcoming state elections; were that to happen, coming on top of the shock in Delhi, things will get interesting, as the BJP will be forced to recalibrate and reassess its approach and its communication. Unless the BJP can get its house in order and connect with Rural India and its real issues in light of the historical experience and the on-ground realities and challenges in Rural India, they stand to lose ground…

Obama And Our Love Affair…

Published January 28, 2015 by vishalvkale

Another US President visits; and yet again, we go ballistic in our Media interest, in our public adulation and in our analysis! The focus is immediately, yet again, on the visit and its impact, and how it brings the two “natural partners” closer in a friendship, and also how this visit is a landmark visit. Hope is being given that at last, India and the USA are friends, and that there is a convergence of interests…

Let us not compare the incomparables. For example, Clinton came 14 years ago under vastly different geopolitical, economic realities on both the Indian as well as the global scenario, and are thus completely incomparable. Not only that, we have had 14 full years to analyse the impact of the Clinton event, whereas the Obama visit is way too fresh for an impartial and complete analyses.  

Clinton was a watershed; it marked a near-total reversal in some aspects of American policies towards India, while remaining unchanged on any number of policy fronts, largely due to internal dichotomies within the American establishment. This was driven not by geopolitics but by economics, and was in the backdrop of India’s economic growth since 1991, and its opening up of the markets. 

Obama is a precise copy of the above; it is driven largely by Economics, and the desire to increase business. This is proven by his statement regarding American exports to India, which was the focus of the entire visit. The reverse does not feature as prominently, which is understandable from the US point of view, and not quite so understandable from the Indian POV.  Further, this approach wont endear Obama to the Government or to the masses, as the current mood is making India a manufacturing hub, which is diametrically opposed to exports to India from the USA. 

On strategic convergence, US-India differences on Geopolitics stand as they are; China notwithstanding. While China may have been discussed, the real picture will only emerge after May 2015, when Narendra Modi visits China. The Indian Foreign Policy has been clearly Look East for nearly two decades now, and it has been further sped up to Act East under the current dispensation. India is committed to increasing trade in the SAARC region and China, ASEAN and the contiguous region. Nepal and Sri Lanka have been recently engaged quite successfully with a combination of strategies, the result from which has yet to come in, positive or negative. 

Furthermore, there is little chance of India fomenting trouble by  baiting China, which is sitting slam-bang on its border, and has surrounded India nicely and cleanly from Hambuntota to Gwadar, and is actively goading and building Pakistan. The fact that China, while giving arms to Pakistan, has never supported it actively on many aspects in international fora will not have been missed in New Delhi. Not when both countries are beginning to at least talk of de-escalation, and trade. And with Russia now building bridges with China, the situation is fluid to say the least. For one thing seems certain : Russia will never abandon India in the near future, as well as in the mid-term. 

The USA has a large economic exposure to China; as does India, albeit with a lopsided balance. Its strategic interests endear it to a continuance of a relationship with Pakistan; it has no choice. This is exactly the opposite of India’s desires, and strategic interests. On Climate, or trade, or most other parameters, there is little short or long term convergence to speak of. It is still a transactional relationship, as opposed to a stragic relationship. 

In this scenario, it is by no means certain that India will play ball with the USA on anything, let alone China. Furthermore, Narendra Modi and his party are hard-core nationalists {I mean that word in the positive sense}, rightists, and committed to the immediate region. On top of that, 100% of strategic issues leave India and the USA firmly arraigned on opposite sides of the fence. Just as in 2000, nothing has changed. 

Past history is revealing : India stands as the only hurdle against the USA on just about each and every international fora of negotiation. That hasnt changed, and isnt going to. If it didnt change during UPA, it certainly wont during the NDA, rest assured. Again, nothing has changed. As in 2000, so in 2014. We are still on opposite sides. 

On the security parameter, the USA isnt doing us a favour. India has  a proven track record of weapons and high-technology development skills with a string of successes in Satellites and Weapons both, with a couple being actually best in class. Add to that our frugal skills. The icing on the cake, the simple fact that we are the biggest importer of weapon systems. The USA needs us as much as we need them, period. It is a plain and simple business deal as of now; we are developing utlra-high-end weapons with the Russians, and only beginning to talk of development with the USA. Nothing has changed, only thing is that now we are talking. Thats it. 

On Pakistan, the USA is still favouring it, its pointless comments notwithstanding. Anyone can shout Pakistan shouldnt do this and that; talk is cheap. We will believe the USA when it stops supplying weapons to Pakistan! And of that, given the ISIS and the American perceptions of it, wont change, not until the USA realises that Pakistan is the core problem and not the victim, or just a part of the problem. 

Thus, from most parameters, it seems as of now that there is no difference, and change in the status quo. Given our people-to-people connections with the USA, any US President’s visit is an event; add to that the status of the USA as the single superpower. From my memory, if I try and eliminate the recency bias, there was not much of a difference in the public reception in both the cases. On other aspects, only time will tell.

Obama parting shot on Religious tolerance are the only point that makes me think that Clinton was better. Having said that, I have no memory of Clinton saying anything like that; neither have I any memory of his keeping silent – and I havent checked. That is why I said, “If I remove the recency factor”. Having said that, that last comment revealed that underneath the bonhomie, nothing has changed in Washington, which still has its coloured glasses in place. Obama needs a score, USA needs business; India needs technology, FDI and manufacturing. That is the only natural fit, as it always was. Nothing has changed, folks. 

The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society

Published January 4, 2015 by vishalvkale

The Axis Of Evil is a term of World War 2 vintage, used to denote the Axis Powers led by Germany. At the outset of this post, let me proffer my apologies for using this term for the present article; if any feelings are hurt, please accept my apologies. This article has no reference to the World War 2 or its ugly memories, or even Colonialism. This is a article on Modern India, and social issues within Modern India. 

The word Evil, going by the dictionary term, means wicked; more pertinently, if we look at the secondary meanings of the word, we get the terms bad, infamous, bad or blameworthy, unpleasant, causing ruin or pain, indicating future misfortune… and my article is concerned with the secondary meaning of the word Evil, not the primary meaning. 

A discerning observer can easily spot three or four behaviours of the people in contemporary India that are coming together to form what I call The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary India, as I mention in the article. Let me get straight to the point : these behaviours are :

  • Corruption
  • Incompetence
  • Attitude
  • Lack Of Community Feeling

These above four are together conjoining into one unfortunate whole, and creating the scenes of disrepair that we see today all around us. They are the Axis Of Evil – and these have permeated most aspects of our society – be it our civil institutions, business, day-to-day life etc, with only a few notable exceptions – exceptions that prove that we, as a society, have it in us to come out of this problem. 

1. Corruption

Do we ever stop and think how the 10 Rs we give to the local policeman or the 1000 Rs we hand over to the local civil authority is harming the nation? How it is hitting India, and hitting it hard? In the article Corruption Can Kill we saw in graphic detail how corruption can also kill, either directly or indirectly – and kill by the scores. Example : “Customs Inspector Talawadekar and Phanse came into the room… Singh and Talawadekar, law enforcement officers, were Phanse’s co-conspirators…” Tiger received a call from a customs inspector…” Tiger refers to Tiger Memon, and this was the prelude to the Mumbai Bomb Attack. 

We saw in the Cobrapost expose how corruption has begun to eat into the core of our business institutions as well, with no one even caring to think that the money they are handling may have illicit sources. Can anyone of us normal citizens give a guarantee that the money we pay as bribes does not land up in the hands of the terrorists or criminals? That the money we are helping move around may be a conduit for serious illicit causes? That the silence we display may actually end up harming thousands of people, as has happened in the various scams in the stock market? In every case, the silent acquiescence of tens or perhaps hundreds of normal people has led to serious loss or worse to countless people!

This reprehensible and cowardly silence, and active or passive involvement in corrupt acts has a tremendous cost to innocent people, the organisations, our society, and the nation. Only the people involved are unaffected, they take home their salaries, their promotions, their house and their cars; without a care for the impact of their actions on the nation and the innocent people… 


2. Incompetence

This brings me to the second factor in this Axis : Incompetence. These people – who are termed “worldly-wise” by some sections of our so-called educated population, are themselves not aware of the serious impact of their behaviour. This is classic incompetence; despite being educated – some of them highly educated, these people are shockingly unaware of the damage they are causing to everyone, as we shall see later on in graphic detail

The factor of incompetence goes much, much deeper than this, and connects effortlessly with the third factor – Attitude. Take a careful look at any activity, and you can spot shocking lapses of performance and of incompetence in virtually any activity you care to observe. Let us take the example of a security guard at any mall. I have routinely been seeing every entrant to malls being searched, bags being searched; but the so-called search is a mere bagatelle, a formality. 

The shocking laxity in security searches in malls, that too in a nation hit hard by terrorism, points to deep-seated incompetence at all levels – from the security guards to the top people, who just don’t care enough about security, and are just not aware of the risks – which is crass incompetence. The same can be seen at Railway Stations, I have seen people just walking around the metal detectors, and authorities just looking on, or metal detectors kept to one side!

I could understand if this permeated only Governmental institutions, but a look at the corporate scenario only reconfirms my hypothesis of gross incompetence. How many corporate managers in telecom or finance wonder about the fake documentation with regard to KYC documents, for example? Did anyone stop to think of the risks to the nation and the organisation? How many sales professionals stop to think of the damage they are doing their company, the channel, the network by offloading needless stocks just to save their jobs, and of how many people’s careers are destroyed, and of the irreversible damage to the brand? Again, this is classic incompetence of the highest order! 


3. Attitude


Incompetence blends into attitude; not everyone is incompetent. There are any number of highly competent people who just compromise like cowards, with the manifest disorder all around, in some pretext or other. Call it the chalta hai attitude, or call it selfishness – call it what you will. These people are aware of the damage their actions are causing their organisation, the brand, the society, the nation – but make no overt or covert effort to make their surroundings a better place.

Attitude manifests itself anywhere you see it : people throwing dirt on the road, paying a bribe, taking a short-cut, walking around a metal detector and considering yourself smart for doing so as you have avoided the rush, allowing people to avoid metal detectors despite being aware of the risks involved. As we shall see in the next article, this is manifest in virtually every activity! 


4. Lack  Of A Community Feeling


This brings us to the fourth and by-now obvious pillar of this sorry state of affairs : the Lack Of A Community Feeling. Every action seen above places the self and the family above the nation, the people, the society, the neighbourhood, and the surroundings. We as a people love to go gaga on nice-sounding mantras by change agents – but lack the courage or the competence {or both} to be the change. 

And that is why we have a shameful sight of The Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi himself having to call for Swatch Bhaarat! And an Aamir Khan to do advertisements for cleanliness in India. Honestly, this is shameful in the extreme that we require such august personalities to learn behaviours that we ought to learn our mother’s laps! And the most shocking and shameful aspect of this is the pride we feel in having The Prime Minister Narendra Modi call for cleanliness! 

Tell me, are we so dirty a people that we cant keep ourselves clean? And if we can keep ourselves clean why cant we keep our nation clean? We require Narendra Modi for this? Shame on us! Cant we hold onto our urine for 15 minutes while we find a loo? Cant you take a day’s leave from your company to take out a driving licence the right way? I could go on and on! As I said, shame on us! 



In Conclusion


These four factors – Corruption, Incompetence, Attitude and Lack Of A Community Feeling are what I call The Axis Of Evil. It is painfully clear that these 4 habits are indeed Evil in the secondary meaning of the term. These are what have the potential to lead India to misfortune, give India an unpleasant name, are bad, are blameworthy, and make us infamous as a nation. Truly and verily, The Axis Of Evil. 

And, in at least one case, it is also Evil in the primary sense of the term : corruption, which can and does cause serious damage to the nation as a whole and to its people. Taking a bribe from a criminal is pure evil; ignoring money laundering is also evil; turning a blind eye to harmful deeds which lead to losses to millions of people is also pure Evil. Verily, The Axis Of Evil In Contemporary Indian Society – and these are the habits we need to change; and without the help of Mr Narendra Modi, who is frankly not there to help us tend to our bad habits! He is here to run the country, let him do that… let us focus on smashing this Axis Of Evil from all walks of our lives…

NaMo, The International Prime Minister

Published December 30, 2014 by vishalvkale

Our Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has seen a remarkable rise in his overall popularity and perception as a leader on the international stage. This has been done by partly some aggressive and bold diplomacy, firm positions and tough negotiations at various stages and with various players on the international stage. This has been further supported by his extensive touring abroad, so much so that I recently read one article asking when is NaMo in India, or words to that effect. 

Let us not forget a simple reality : we are a developing country with limited financial resources of our own. The fulfilment of the need can be either internal through home grown capital or external through FDI-FII etc.  And that is where the positive international perception of our leader is so vital. However, international perception of a leader, and of a nation is not entirely based on diplomacy; rather, in some ways, achievements in diplomacy are in reality based on a few internal factors.


International Perception is driven primarily by : 

1) Returns to be had from investments into that nation, 

2) The safety of those investments, 

3) The strategic utility of relations with that nation, 

4) The depth & breadth of the financial markets and currency markets, 

5) Internal legal setup, 

6) Conformance of laws with international standards, 

7) Ease of enforcement of laws and contracts and 

8) Stable political atmosphere. 

Note that Democracy is not a pre-requisite; equitable income distribution is also not a factor.Strong diplomacy is also not mandatory. In many ways, these two are intertwined – the internal strength of a leader gives potency to the diplomatic moves; the successes in diplomacy tend to strengthen the leader domestically. But the base of the leader is his or her own bastion, the mother country. 

It is inarguable that Narendra Modi’s international reputation is very favourable at this point in time; further, this favourable impression has actually improved India’s standing and image as well, as also his reputation of being a strong, tough, aggressive and pro-business leader.  A strong leader gives a hope, a direction and a clear vision – and, as of now, Mr Narendra Modi has brought all three to the table on the international relations arena, which bodes well for India especially since that vision is largely in line with the interests of international money. 

Analysing the points above, we can easily see that 1) – 8) all points are hugely in Narendra Modi’s favour. Hence, the perception of India is bound to rise in the global race. Add to the above one additional point : the ability of the nation to propound, present and enforce its views and interests in international negotiations. As we have seen in Trade, Climate and Indo-US talks, India is in no mood to compromise on anything, period.  Our successes in that sphere have been driven primarily by the points enumerated above; thus supporting the hypothesis that our international standing has improved; while simultaneously further buttressing the standing of NaMo!

On a global scale, it is all all about trade and money, pure and simple. The modern world is a connected world, and money drives the world. Further, we are an investment starved nation, and need investors – who will need a return on investment. From a trade perspective, money put into India will get superior returns to the tune of several percentage points over and above investments in the developed world, given the interest rate differential. That is the single most vital factor driving investments into India – be it NRIs, PIOs or FIIs or MNC Firms FDI Investments. 

In a finite world, it is primarily a question of attracting surplus funds in the global economy. Few people do it for patriotic reasons, or developmental reasons, or for strategic relations. Money drives money. Even our own NRIs and PIOs {exceptions only prove the rule} invest in India only and only due to better returns, driven by more attractive special packages for them, and the better returns from the economy; not patriotism. 

It thus becomes a question of creating a conducive internal atmosphere for investments and economic growth. Given that atmosphere, even sworn enemies will trade, like India – China – Pakistan. And when we the matter view from that perspective, this government has taken steps, or offered promise/s like : 

1) Giving a chance of a stable future, given its majority in Parliament 

2) Taken steps perceived as pro-business, like easing of Land Acquisition Laws, GST, roll back of Taxation problems, negotiation on peripheral matters 

3) Taken steps to simplify trade, with steps like  the promise of the GST and action starting on the same

4) Shown firm intent, as demonstrated by the Ordinance on the Land Bill recently

5) Taken steps to improve governance w.r.t. to the matters above

This is not to state that there aren’t real and present worries regarding any number of issues related to the Economy, Social matters, Politics and other issues in India. I myself am on record raising a few of these in no uncertain terms. But credit where credit is due; let us understand and appreciate the good that is happening while pointing out the negatives, in the highest traditions of our democracy. 

I respectfully submit that the points raised by the critics are thus not relevant to the international public at large, and Governments in particular. Particularly since their time-frame in the short to mid-term. And the true impact positive or negative of the points raised by others will show up in the long term, unless something is done now. And between then and now, a lot can happen, there are other internal social and economic parameters to be considered that are not relevant to this discussion. These parameters may curdle it, or may solve the issue; but that is another story…

All {or at least some of the points} are {or may be} accurate; granted. But I was talking from the external POV, or, in other words, how much will Rs 10 fetch if an international investor invests in India, in what level of security of the capital investment, under what economic / demographic conditions vis-a-vis investment in other nations for the same parameters. That is what will drive investment in India, which will benefit us as a nation given our finite resources

It is a question of attracting excess liquidity in the Global Economy, and offering a better return on investment vis-a-vis other comparable nations, nations with a higher chance to reach middle-income levels. And on that, with our professional legal, financial and currency setup, with the current status of the economy combined with the demographic factors – is where we are scoring under the current political dispensation, with their aggressive approach on the international front, building relations while providing, or trying to provide a conducive atmosphere at home for the business community. 

It is too early to take any call on these matters yet; this Government is only 7 months old. While on some other matters 7 months is more than enough time to gauge direction and intent; on these matters, it will take a little time to see and gauge the results, and see whether the signed agreements and promises convert into tangible gains for us as a nation. Our Prime Minister has made an excellent start by getting these in place through his extensive touring and outreach to other nations, now the task for us as a nation is the conversion of these promises into results and tangible benefits for all of us…

Note & Disclaimer : These points are my own analysis; having said that, my views are formed on the basis of my study of the following reference material :

1) Breakout Nations – Ruchir Sharma {Book Review Here}


2) Pax Indica – Shashi Tharoor {Book Review Here}


3) Fault Lines – Dr Raghuram G Rajan {Book Review Here}


4) Assorted business newspapers and diplomatic and political analyses in various news media both in print and on the digital medium

Do We Really Want Change – 3: The Hard Reality

Published October 28, 2014 by vishalvkale

This is the 3rd part of the articles : 








In the first part, we looked at our gullibility, and our tendency fawning & hero-worship of personalities, juxtaposed against our real problems. In the second part, we took a look at our history of tolerance and diversity, compared to our modern day habit of rising intolerance & impatience. In the 3rd and concluding part of this mini-series, I shall attempt to put it all together and get a glimpse of the direction we are in



In order that we do the above, it is critical that we remind ourselves of the problems India is currently facing : 



  1. we need lesser corruption at the lower & higher levels; 
  2. we need good growth, ease of doing business; 
  3. we need equal growth for all sections of our society;
  4. we need a functioning and decent state and central government and their related organisations; 
  5. we need a free Lokpal, CBI, Police, Judiciary
  6. we need a strong defence framework, without the current problems that it is beset with
The points above cover nearly all aspects, from security to law enforcement; from education to economics; from health to corruption and from growth to equality for all. It is also deliberately circumspect; leaving out one critical aspect – tolerance, which I have alluded to elsewhere, in considerable detail. It is best if that point is left out of this debate due to its contentious and subjective nature.

Let us start from a simple contemporary example : the recent Swachh Bharat campaign. I am on record praising it for its plus points, as it targets the pusillanimous habits of us Indians – which  I had noted as early as in January 2012 : Our Attitude Regarding Civic Responsibilities. I quote : “On any given day, we can see innumerable examples of Indians putting their country to shame – spitting on the road, breaking red light, parking in no parking zone, not helping people in need in accidents, peeing in public, ignoring corruption incidents, ignoring broken public water taps”



How many of us took the trouble to note that there has been little systemic change in the overall garbage collection pattern? As I will document with Photographs in a subsequent mail, there has been little or no change, with garbage heaps in the middle of the colonies or in towns still being a regular feature as on date 27th October 2014.  I intend to give this campaign a fair chance : let some time pass. Let us see the results; if they are beyond my expectations – My India will benefit! However, as on date, I  can still see mounds of dirt piled everywhere. And there is precious little pressure on the Government to introduce systemic change, which I allude to here : Swachh Bhaarat Campaign




Similar scenes of neglect can be spotted across the length and breadth of India. Clean India requires an efficient and functioning garbage collection and disposal system. It requires a network of public facilities like dustbins, urinals etc. It requires a functioning and diligent municipal and governmental machinery in each and every state, district, tehsil, taluka and pargana of the nation. Do we have that? Far too obviously, we dont. 



Simply cleaning up the streets once is not the answer. What happens to the waste after that? Is there a cohesive action plan to deal with this waste on a regular basis? Is there an action plan to ensure that the people who are responsible for this do their duties? That they dont collect the trash and create a stinking heap somewhere in public? That the  garbage vehicle come regularly, and dumps the trash not in the street, but in a landfill?



As can be seen from the example above, this is no small task; it is a gargantuan enterprise spanning a multitude of Government-People interfaces, straddling a multitude of functional areas. This is a task that requires robust administrative systems, thorough follow-up, execution excellence and ground-up reform. And the sad part is, the hard reality is that among the people at large, there is precisely zero interest or awareness regarding these points. 




Our attitude is – Narendra Modi will do it. The BJP central government will do it. But on precisely how he will do it, no one is interested, putting blind faith in him. I dont contest his skills –  he stands as one of the finest leaders to lead India – that is not the point of the article. The point is our lackadaisical attitude towards the crying need for strong performing institutions and government bodies in our nation, and the abdication of our responsibilities in making this  happen by the self-abrogation of our duties, passing them  to one persona, to one individual – whosoever may that person be. 



We are fine with grandiose words and flamboyant statements; that is to be expected, given that we are an emotional people. But in doing so, an educated and aware people should be equally aggressive in demanding strong performing institutions of a democratic set-up : our total silence on this, and other matters {some of which I refer to below} prove beyond any shade of doubt that we as a people have abdicated our duties and are content & satisfied to pass these on to some other person, without the attendant checks and balances to ensure performance. That is the vital point – the hard reality that the vote alone is not the only check there is on a Government in a democratic set-up. That is what cuts to the core of the issue – the hard reality, which exposes us as a people; the fact that we as a people do not realise the extent of the power we wield in our hands by virtue of us being in a democracy. 

This same attitudinal issue can be readily seen in any number of other matters vital to the nation : The problems besetting the Defence Establishment, Education, Health, Police Reforms, Agriculture, CBI, Infrastructure etc. The problems of the Education sector, to take another live example – are known to the majority of the people : Lack of standardisation with the proliferation of boards, poor teacher attendance in the interiors, outdated curricula, rampant fees monopoly in top schools, disinterested teachers, etc. Similar can be said of any number of problems facing the nation : lack of proper defence equipment, genetic crops and their problems vis-a-vis their benefits. 

Look at any major issue that is plaguing the country : the one overarching factor that leaps out at you is the lack of a concerted debate in the Media and Social Media space, beyond the average article that crops up sporadically. These may appear sporadically, but they are very, very far from being a concerted campaign. These articles are fundamentally different from being a debate; they are simply eye-candy to push sales and revenues, as they do not incite positive action from the readership, who read, forget and move on. Further, due to the manifest lack of emotive connect with the readership or audience, these tend to be isolated, and not huge outcries which can lead to serious pressure on the Government to clean up its act.  Critically, the readership / audience reads or listens repeatedly, time and time again, without doing anything about it. 

A debate involves active and/or passive participation from both sides of the story : The Media as well as the readership or Audience. Good, positive stories from the Media should ideally or optimally lead to positive and constructive action from the people : which can take any form : social media pressure, communication with the Government or the MP/MLA, Bureaucrats etc. This manifest lack of constructive communication with the Government and its representatives and officers is what has lead to the political class ignoring the genuine needs of the electorate. By contrast, more emotive  but lesser vital issues become headlines with regular follow-ups and Media outcries, and further lead to protests and other activism that is neither constructive nor positive.

We are a people that can take to the streets in protest for any number of frivolous or relatively unimportant issues; but decry any effort at registering our dissatisfaction on the serious issues. Over a period of time, this has lead to the political class driving us on those emotive but lesser important issues; such that now, engaging the representatives and officers of the government in two-way discussions or seeking help from them is considered impossible. This has actually created a chasm between the leadership and the people. The people, on their part, have apparently come to accept that this is the way things will continue to run and cannot change.

The hard reality is  that, basis the arguments presented above, it is quite apparent that we as a people, do not care enough about the real issues that need to be tackled. Sure, we care about them – but we dont connect with them on the same emotional plane as the other issues. Had that been the case, lack of police reforms, educational reforms , lack of defence preparedness, black money etc would have generated the same level of outrage as some of the other pointless rages that have enveloped the nation time and time again.  

The hard reality is that we are in a comfort zone; we have adjusted to this level of activity, and the current levels of involvement. We do not really want change – or, at least – we do not want to be the change agents. We want to enjoy the benefits of change; but do not want to take the trouble to actively do anything positive and constructive to bring about that change. That is why, when a charismatic leader comes along – we idolise him or her, depending on him or her to make some changes, but shy away from engaging with  the new leadership in a  constructive fashion. A few engagements do not matter in a nation of 1.27 Billion; and the rest of us are not interested or are a part of the bystander brigade. 

In the next mini-series, I shall attempt to chronicle my thoughts and analyse this seemingly illogical behaviour of this Bystander Brigade, as well as what avenues they can have in a democracy to put the heat on the Government in a peaceful and democratically acceptable fashion. Stay connected with my blog for the next series : India’s Bystander Brigade

India-Pakistan : Joining Hearts Vs Pointed Guns

Published October 12, 2014 by vishalvkale

JOINING HEARTS VS POINTED GUNS : THE DEBATE CONTINUES

An effort of peace, of bridging the gap, in the backdrop of blazing guns… and not the first, either. I was part of one such initiative : Jodey Dilon Ko, which was an interesting experience. In this post, I had observed : “Will this interaction {culture + trade} bridge the divide? All that lies in the future, and depends upon a peaceful coexistence between the two of us, devoid of terrorist attacks, and cross-border violence. That is the core, the non-negotiable reality. The ball is firmly in Pakistan’s court; I just hope the moderates in Pakistan win the day…”

Today, as we stare at yet another violation in the backdrop of this peace process, it is time for us to try and analyse whether these efforts are worth it, or are they a complete waste of time and energy. This is especially so, since we now have a Government that is intent on a firm stance – no talks in the shadow of the gun. This is a shift, a significant shift, that cannot be ignored, as it has far-reaching implications


THE POLITICAL BACDROP

It has been a real pleasure, seeing the response from the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Indian Government : No Talks, No Discussions in the shadow of the Gun. This, combined with an invite to the Pakistani PM for the swearing in ceremony, sends a clear signal – we are open to discussions, we are open to talks : but not until the Guns stop blazing. This has now been firmly established as a non-negotiable reality, a bottomline for normalcy. 

This seemingly over-the-top and ultra-hardline response is welcome, since we have soft pedaled the entire Pakistani intervention and violence for far too long; virtually everything has been tried. We have been talking to them for donkeys years with absolutely nothing to show for it. It seems to me, a lay citizen, that even those Pakistani commitments actually made in talks arent worth the paper they are written on. And, while we talk, blood has continued to flow, the flow stemmed only by the iron-will of our security forces, and their incessant sacrifices. The price we Indians have paid for Pakistani violence has been heavy indeed – a price the entire world ignores in totality. It is a story written in large amounts of blood, and the blood-soaked words on the parchment of history are still wet. 

This response is in reality, only mildly tougher, and eminently reasonable : it stands as one of the Narendra Modi-led governments successes, and acts of sheer brilliance. All The Government of India is saying is : Talk to us, and only to us; Dont create trouble while we are talking to each other; No Violence; And No intervention. This is, any which way you look at it, a completely reasonable stance, and sets a paradigm in which some progress can perhaps be genuinely attempted. 

Critically, it sets a bar for the Pakistanis – a bar that will have to be reached by them in order to demonstrate their genuine commitment to peace, and order. We are willing to talk – it isnt on our terms, as some in the Media have reported it. It is simply that we are willing to talk in conditions that can foster calm discussion, negotiation, genuine sharing of views in a conducive atmosphere. This is a basic minimum for talks, for discussions that can lead to a solution, and a win-win situation – howsoever remote that may seem under the current set of circumstances. 


THE WAY FORWARD

It is in the backdrop above that peace moves and cultural interchanges have to be seen; it is in the above backdrop that the way forward has to be analysed. A full analysis is of course beyond the scope of this blog, but we normal citizens can at least get a grip on the entirety of the situation across the border, and view it in its entirety, not through our own views, opinions and experiences

There are 2 views in primacy – a view of enmity and perhaps open dislike, even hatred; and another view of bridging the divide or the gap, and moving on, side-stepping the violence. It is my submission that both are way off the mark; one being dangerous, and the other ludicrous.  On both sides, emotions can get away with themselves; leading to hasty statements. Such hasty statements, if made by people like you and me, may or may not have a significant impact; but such hasty statements made by someone in authority – perhaps influenced by public opinion, can be extremely effective in swinging things, if you get my point. 

The NaMo handling of this entire affair has set off jingoistic chest-thumping and showers of praise on side of the spectrum, with its attendant social media chatter. These are emotion-charged, and are extremely effective in building public opinion, which is vital in the modern world. While there can be no question that the entire matter has been handled with elan and class by NaMo, let us not go overboard. Please remember that Indians have died on the border; Indian blood has been spilt. Spare a thought for them. Fine, we didnt start the shooting, but that doesnt mean we celebrate or go over-emotional; not in this powder keg. 

A calm and satisfied response is, in my opinion, what is most called for : Calm and Satisfied since the violence has been  met, defeated, a stern message sent by an excellent Government, a hard spine has been revealed, and a tungsten core shown to the world, a view of a nation not in a mood for nonsense of any kind. That would also be the best support to this Government, and in keeping with our PMs quiet, firm and clear stance and words.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have events like the 2 referred to above, efforts which bring the people of the 2 warring nations together in cultural exchanges of views, or in trade, or other such peaceful activities. While no doubt welcome, we cannot set much store by such activities, for they completely ignore the ground reality of Pakistan, and its internal conflicts, and makeup; as also the one fundamental fact that is unalterable – Pakistan is in every way a nation that defines itself as Not-India. 

History is proof of the above – for example, even as the conference in Lahore was underway, and platitudes of peace were being stated, The Kargil War was being planned. There have been regular episodes of  violence from the other side, even as talks continued; terror was and is constantly being exported from that nation. This is a fact that cannot change; and is not likely to in the foreseeable future. What use is cultural interchange as a method of pushing peace, when that same nation is exporting terror to us? 

Cultural interchange can only bring about appreciation for each others similarity, or culture, or some such aspect. These aspects are of no importance in the sphere of politics and defence – and the issues are defence related issues. Further, the people of that other nation are in no position to alter the fundamental positions taken by their Armed Forces and politicians. Not now, not in the foreseeable future. Seen in that light, all such measures frankly make for good Media coverage, but have no impact on the relations between the two sides, inasmuch as the participants are completely unable to make a dent on their nations’ policies on one side of the border. Enough said. 

That is why it is far better to me middle of the road on this – not go in for too much jingoism, and not go in for too much hoopla over peace initiatives. There is precisely nothing to celebrate about – we, too have spilt blood. Fine, they started it first, and we have responded emphatically. We are not to blame, but try and tell that to the families of the dead or should I say, the martyrs. 

If anything, let us be thankful for our open society, democracy and tolerance that has ensured internal peace within a sea of violence all around us; for the presence of a strong-willed Central Government which knows how to handle this matter. Let us be thankful to the Armed Forces and the BSF for keeping us constantly safe, and pray for them, for their well-being. May God grant them continued courage and strength; May God Protect them from harm

Once again, from the bottom of my heart, Thank You, all the martyrs who have given their lives so that we may live in peace, and for the men who put their lives in danger for us. We live in  dangerous times; that we a are calm and peaceful nation in a sea of violence all around us, is also a tribute to the selfless sacrifices of these braves who have given their lives for us…