Urban India

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Pay Commission And The Armed Forces – A Layman’s Introspection

Published August 15, 2016 by vishalvkale

This is a topic I came across when I got a Whatsapp forward of an NDTV Discussion on the 7th Pay Commission and its impact on the Armed Forces – given in the Video clip below. This was a discussion anchored by Barkha Dutt, and featured an Ex Army Chief, A former Finance Secretary, A Senior Retired Police Officer, several other middle level Armed Forces Officers and political representatives of two parties. A very high quality discussion, this featured decently presented pros and cons form both sides of the debate very fairly, and yet, the contents were worrisome.
The debate, or dissatisfaction of the Armed Forces {as per the media video above}, is around the 7th Pay Commission Recommendations in terms of some allowances – Hardship Allowance, for example in comparison to the other services, and parity with other services, among other things. Yet another vital point raised was the apparent absence of representation of the Armed Forces in the commission. Some recommendations are, to be quite frank, even from a layman’s perspective, very strange indeed; add to that the views of the civilian bureaucrats, and it creates a rather mildly troubling scenario
I am trying to choose my words with caution, given my lack of expertise in this area; I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Service Salaries and Service Rules of either The Armed Forces or any other Government Service; that discussion – debating the minutiae involved is beyond the scope of my blog and my knowledge. Neither is that the point of the article I am writing; these matters are complex, requiring specialized knowledge of a high order. Naturally, these are not amenable to public debate in social media, at least; that said, matters arising from this debate, tangential in some ways, and yet extremely vital and disturbing need the public consideration.
When a Former Army Chief uses the words “Blatant Discrimination”, and “Injustice” in reference to the Armed Forces treatment – on whatever parameter – it is time the public takes note of this. The points raised by the Ex Chief in this debate are hard-hitting, and specific; they need to be addressed. I am sure this is happening at Government levels, but given that these are public statements, we should take note of them, and be informed
Furthermore, when 18 Ex-Chiefs write to the Prime Minister, in regard to any matter whatever under the sun, and the said public authority does not respond, it is one thing; that matter might be under consideration, requiring silence on the part of his office. But when an Ex-Chief laments the lack of response from the same august office in response to the letter, and in the same discussion notes this has never happened before, {or words to that effect} , this is frankly disturbing. We aren’t talking of one or two Ex-Chiefs; we are talking of a whole bunch of them – no less than 18 in number.
This is not a matter for blame-gaming; neither is it one for hypernationalism and fervent patriotism. This is a matter of silent contemplation, of a deep introspection. The reason for that is that the statements above, disturbing as they are, point not to the political class, but straight to us, the people of India. Yes, the same people who go hyperbolic in arguments, conversations, Social Media and the like on nationalism and the praiseworthy deeds of the Indian Armed Forces. This includes I, My And Myself, as I too have been sharing Indian Army Deeds on my Facebook page quite regularly.
I say this because of two reasons : one, the political class is due to us, due to our votes, our opinions, and our ambitions. It responds to the people and what they value. While it is beyond debate that the political class, despite the weaknesses, has tried to do their best – their hands are tied by the conflicting demands on the exchequer in a resource-scarce economy. In such a scenario, balancing the scales of the spending is not a task for weak hearts. We can’t just up and blame the political class; it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it responds to the public, howsoever much may anyone deny it.
If we want the political class to give more to the Armed Forces- then that “more” is going to have to come from somewhere else. That means, some other areas will have to sacrifice; it is for us, as a people, through our voice and opinion, to determine the percentages to each demand – and this is expressed through our elected representatives. Similarly, if the issues of disparity etc expressed are to be addressed – it might just require additional spends on the budget. Where is that money going to come from? It has to come from some other head!
That is the entire point – we accept that The Armed Forces are pretty damned important, they protect us and so on and so forth; but do we, through our deeds – as opposed to statements and Social Media comments – express this sentiment? Are we, as a people, prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of the betterment of the Armed Forces? Are we prepared to sacrifice something for these people – the ones who readily give their lives for us? You can even extend that argument for the Paramilitary and other security forces, some of whom sure could do with more!
This is important, as it is only when the political class realizes that The Armed Forces are on priority no 1 for the Indian People, or at least among the top, will a fundamental change in approach come about. And that won’t happen unless we really understand what they go through and the sacrifices these brave soldiers do in order that we can be safe. Further, there has to be a far greater realization of the working conditions, demands and the career problems faced by these brave people. Rather than give armchair comments from the complete safety of our laptops, desktops and sofa sets, we should try and understand what these people go through.
I say this because of some rather stunning comments I heard in discussions around The Armed Forces by civilians which have surprised me and frankly shocked me; the insensitivity shown towards the Armed Forces is quite shocking, as is the complete lack of understanding of their requirements, their problems and the conditions under which they operate. Excuse me, these people are willing to die for the country – are you willing to do that? Are you even capable enough of such a tall order? Do you have that inherent capability? It is far harder a task than going to a foreign land to work, or working in the safe protected environs of most civilian jobs, perhaps even all!
Take the example in the discussion – how can you equate a posting to the North East for some classes of bureaucrats with a frontline high-altitude posting in the Armed Forces? It is, on the face of it, ridiculous! And yet, that is what has transpired as I understand from the discussion – correct me if I am wrong. How did this come about? Clearly because of the factors listed above – given that the bureaucrats arose from within us, they didn’t drop down from Mars! Would this have transpired had there been a better understanding of the reality among the educated civilian classes, from which the public servants arise?
But we, the people – are interested not in these things, by and large – but in going to foreign lands to earn, migrate and quit the nation;  or to do a cushy peaceful  job that guarantees our safety. We are the armchair  brigade – self included. There is nothing wrong in that – each individual has own desires and ambitions; and is entitled to self-fulfillment. But that does not mean you ignore the justified needs of the people who lay down their lives for you; or that you are not prepared to sacrifice – should the need arise – for their sakes, just as they have done a million times over since 1947!

Sure, this is a dreamy article; an article that calls for public introspection, internal soul-searching. I do not blame the political class, scream at them, or find fault with them; and the reason  is that, so far as I am aware, no peaceful permanent change has ever been triggered without a dream at the core of the change, a dream that initially sounded foolish, immature and impractical. If I can influence even one reader to introspect – my task has been done. But this introspection is required for all of us – we, who wear our patriotism on our sleeves, and yet spit on the road, bribe, urinate in public, ignore the needs of the poor, and so on and so forth…


Published April 17, 2016 by vishalvkale

Gurugram! Yet again, another day, another point for controversy. This most recent event has again attracted comments, thankfully muted; while one side sees it as justified, the other side sees it as excessive, or needless, or incorrect. Good point is that the response is muted – though it could be that the event is also small in scale. But you can notice the comments and observations by the nay-sayers, who for once I don’t agree with.
Indeed, some see a Hindutva agenda in this; while others find the downmarket, some others worry about Business. How can a name create dissonance is what I would like to know, for starters. Arent we seeing too much when we say this? How can a name of a city impact business its prospects? One article even carried a comment from a Westerner that this name will defeat them! Do we do business with city names, or on business fundamentals? Some people stated “Gurgaon had acquired a global and high-end cache despite being a “vernacular” name and that Gurugram will simply not have that brand sheen”:
Read more at:
On the Hindutva agenda, I can appreciate the concerns; but let us not get paranoid now. What possible impact can such a step have – even if it is part of a so-called Hindutva agenda, which I doubt? As it is we see far too many names on the Nehru-Gandhi Family, and clichéd names; I for one am all for name changes that better reflect the diversity of the Indian Cultural Scenario.  And, given that we have an established and long history, there is a crying need for the right names that are better reflective of our history; this will help in building pride.
These reactions are only to be expected, and you can expect more of the same. This arises out of a complex situation curdled by our addled understanding of history as well as our penchant for fawning over Western symbols and The English Lanuage. Add to this our rising desire to establish a local pride and a unique identity for ourselves.  So long as that identity is multicultural, we will be fine. The comments clearly identify the Western penchant and the Hindutva Bugbear. Here, through the analogy of books, I look at the Western Penchant of ours.
India went through absolute hell {far, far more than our history books tell}; right till 1947 – something which has created a complex situation which is going to take time to resolve. Be it the Religious issues, or the issue of Language over English & Hindi, or be it the habit of sneering at our traditions and ancient history that some anglicized people have – our past experiences have created an identity crisis in us. It would have destroyed a lesser nation; it didnt us. That is one.  
Second, the West does have a disturbing tendency of in-your-face arrogance of a very high order indeed. That is two.   Quite a few city names have their origins in the Colonial rape, and have no connect with either history or reality. There is absolutely nothing wrong in getting it right, or changing names. That is three.  
Why do we fawn over westerners? Let us study this through an analogy : I just came back from a mall, and I did not find even one single Indian business book in a bookstore measuring well over 1000 sq ft! And tonnes of business books by westerners. This is, well, just not acceptable. This isnt ethnocentricism. I found Shakespeare – the full collection, a rack full of western classics – but very, very few Indian classics. We do tend to, most of us, fawn needlessly over western stuff which just isnt upto the mark, to be brutally honest. That is four.  
To be blunt : I find more meaningful literature and books on roadside thhelaas than in swank AC bookstores, which are full of meaningless stuff. Not one of my past, oh – 136 book reviews is from bookstores – thhelaas, online, small tiny bookstores, etc. That is a fact, Look up my blog for the book reviews. Not even one; and they still arent found. Saddest part is that the non-fiction titles are containing solid irrefutable official evidence from across three continents; but we still lap up biased Western stuff.  
That is the reality of India, sir. We ape and fawn over the west, one hell of a lot; sample the comments above.   In this environment, some dose of national pride and sentiment are vital. It fuels national pride, when used in the right doses. That is  why I make no comment on Gurugram; to me it is fine. Gurgaon was also fine; this is in some ways, better, it has a nice feel to it. But that is an individual matter.
It is frankly of no material importance whether we are or arent ethnocentric per se; it becomes vital when we just refuse to recognise, as a people, genuine Indian Achievements and Indian contributions. It becomes an issue when you actually sneer at the past, and callously dismiss it as Myth, or counter-factual, or unimportant; holding onto imported views of our culture and our history.
Look at the books reviewed on my blog. One book – India, Uninc – contains precise economic data-  authentic data, and is a class analysis of the Indian Economy. I have not found it anywhere in any bookstore, save one in Thane. Ditto my latest read : Wisdom of The Ants, a seminal invesigation on Economics and its history, dealing in Keynesian and NeoClassical schools and their current influence; I havent seen it in any book store anywhere, Ditto Upanishad, or Ved, Dramas, Kabir, Tulsidas… while every store carries western books.
I am using books just to drive home the point; ethnocentricity, if in control – is actually better than the current state of fawning over western symbolism. Just how does Gurgaon sound right, and Gurugram doesn’t; why does Gurgaon sound right despite having a Vernacular name? Thus, Vernacular is unacceptable, and the Anglicized Gurgaon isn’t?
Sad part is – the comment is spot-on accurate – it does seem to have that sheen. That is the worst part of it, and is a mirror on us; I  learnt a lot and was eventually able to correct my deep-seated mis-impression, thanks to this insightful comment. This argument isnt about Gurugram, or Cricket alone – it is a backlash; a strong and hard backlash against Westernism in every sphere of life.
In the same article, you can spot comments in support, for very ethnic reasons that immediately click, like this one by Prof Abraham Koshy : ” Gurugram will take a long time to take hold as a new name in the minds of people. But, interestingly, he also said the new name can become a plus: “It is the village of teachers. With its credentials, it’s like saying we are the teachers to the world. If carefully utilised, it can be a big plus.
This is ably supported by other pointers and events from India : The data in The Indian Media Business 3rd / 4th edi shows increasing sales and penetration of the vernacular language Media and Books; The Kellogg’s case teaches us to craft Indian responses to Business Strategies, not just replicate Western models; rising popularity of local music {Katyaar Kalzaat Ghusli, Mangalashta Once More in Marathi for example} and the rising usage of ethnic streams in music + rise in classical music teaches us to give a heed to Indian trends;
The problem is and remains a deep-seated complex, a western fawning. This isnt phobia, and there is nothing wrong with taking the good from alien cultures, as a cursory glance at the 136 books I have reviewed will prove. Why should it be so – when there is quality literature in Indian writing? Why the overt presence western classics, and the complete absence of Indian classics ,as an example? That proves the western fawning; this  is the fault of the Indian People, which proves the analogy I was using..   Thus, it is vital that some ethnocentricism comes into play, to reinforce a pride in our culture.
Books are just an analogy; I can use other terms of reference, plenty around us – be it movies where we place needless emphasis on Oscars, or a refusal to engage with our ancient culture and traditions, or regarding our ancient developments as not important, or our penchant with English, or be it any other example. This is ubiquitous, and is to be seen in any number of examples; the good part is that it is slowly receding.
Almost everywhere you look – the Indian is rejecting  the Western Symbols {not saying Gurugram, please} emphatically; and is in a hunt for the true comfort and identity. Yes – there are other complicating factors; there are others considerations. But the Anglicized fawning looked at above is undeniable. This hunt will continue till the question of identity is resolved, as superbly taken up Pavan Verma in his book  “Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity”. We have no choice but to adjust; the Indian masses seem to have woken up from their stupor. None too soon! 

Participative Growth – The Need For A 3-Pronged Approach

Published February 14, 2016 by vishalvkale

It has been stated that Industry level growth is the key, the answer to India’s many woes, that industrialisation and its attendant advantages will ensure growth eventually percolates to all levels of society. The caveat in that line of thought is “Eventually” : just how long is eventually supposed to mean? How many lives and generations will have to suffer the pangs of poverty till that eventuality transpires? And, what do we do in the interim?
These people are equal to us, the privileged class – the ones with education and great {or good or even average} well paying jobs. They are our equals in every single way; they have the same rights as us, they have the same dreams and desires as us. The luck of birth, and the chance of education that has been provided us has ensured we live well, by the grace of God. Granted that some among the poorer classes do manage to break the shackles and grow out of poverty; but does that mean we forget the rest of them?
There is a tendency, a rather unfortunate tendency, among the educated classes to equate GDP growth and Industrialisation with the concept of solutions to poverty. That is unfortunate; granted that it is one of the factors that lead to resolution – but this path does not take the full picture into consideration. That Industrialisation is needed is a given; again, a correct observation. I dont differentiate between manufacturing or service here – the creation of options that can be filled by educated people is a needed reality, one which is not upto to speed in the current economy. But who will benefit from this Industrialisation?
The educated people – that is who. The ones with a professional college degree will get the best jobs; the ones with some basic college degree will land jobs and careers that ensures a stable decent life for them and their families; the high-schoolers will get the next level of vacancies; the rest will make do with poorly paid menial jobs and temporary jobs. Some will take advantage of become entrepreneurs, unlocking further jobs and careers for people – but entrepreneurship also generally requires education and a defined skill-set, although service sector entrepreneurship is a different ball-game altogether.
The problem is that the current generation of the poorest segments just cannot afford education for their children; so the question of them benefiting immensely {beyond labour jobs, often poorly paid} does not arise. It only increases the gap; this does not mean we dont industrialise; this does create jobs – even though they are poorly paid ones at the bottom of the pyramid. The key is get out of this vicious circle of poverty. That can only happen throughthe enabler of education, nothing else.
Industrialisation in such an atmosphere does create jobs at all skill levels, but the better jobs that can ensure a proper life are reserved for the educated, as these require certain skills. So how do the poorest and the poor break the barrier? It is manifestly infeasible. There have been jobs created – Engineers, Entrepreneurs, Doctors, Professionals, even Clerical Jobs, Service jobs – a whole new paradigm of change has happened with economic growth. That is beyond debate.  Poverty has also reduced; people have gotten better off, No one can argue with that; the evidence is there for all to see. But we cannot rest on our laurels; not when you see the remaining poor all around you.
Menial jobs for the uneducated and low clerical jobs for the less educated {upto 5-10 years schooling} have been created; these just dont pay enough to ensure a full education to the children often enough. The pace of creation of jobs has also not kept up with the demand, So how to get out of this? Change is happening; but the pace of change is slow; almost too slow. That is the main point of concern for us as a people. We need to increase the pace of change, the pace of growth – as well as ensure that it percolates to the most hapless people in our midst. Like us, they are equal citizens, and we should do far more to ensure they grow.
How do you ensure that jobs lead to development at all levels, without education? How do you ensure that education without jobs will lead to happiness? Both are recipes for trouble; that said, it is true that the latter – education without jobs – can be more harmful as it has the potential to unleash frustration among the educated unemployed. But does that mean we forget the benefits education brings, and place education on a back burner, and not on centre-stage, as the cynosure of all our efforts to modernise our nation and our economy?
What is needed is a balanced approach  – one that caters to Industrialisation, as well as a full scale war-like approach towards education. While the former is happening, the latter is not yet in the public imagination, or Government policy, judging from media space as well as action on Start-ups, Economy, FDI, GDP, Industrialisation etc. Even this two-pronged approach has its disadvantage – it leaves out all of the Agricultural sector from its ambit, where the farmers and the labourers just aren’t earning enough to ensure anything other than a basic life.
And the Rural community, where the farmers and the landless labourers are concentrated, form the bulk of India. We, the Urban Indians, are the exceptions; they are representative – as they are in a majority. High time that we Urban Indians faced upto that hard reality!
And that is yet another reason why Agriculture and its problems need to be defined properly, and solved at the earliest; that can unlock earning potential faster than any other avenue or venture available to us as a people. That will also tend to reverse the trendline we saw in my previous article – with rising imports increasingly becoming a reality

We need to enable the government to allocate more attention to the development of Agriculture than it currently does; that can only happen if the voice of the people reaches the government in a democratic fashion, in Media articles, through people’s letters, small {tiny} forums like this blog and its readers and so on and so forth. Urban India needs to realise and understand that improving Agriculture will lead to improvement of the Urban scenario as well, that it is far more important to elevate our villages than it is to build Urban Infrastructure, given the paucity of resources we have! What these initiatives can be forms the next part of this series on participative growth…