17th-20th April !!

On 17th, Karnataka and some other states would be going to the polls; it is a holiday

18th is Good Friday, a declared holiday or an optional holiday

19th and 20th are Saturday and Sunday, the usual weekly holidays.

Wow!…Four continuous holidays !!

No, please.

Let us keep this otherwise long weekend restricted between 18th-20th only…and make all sincere efforts to cast our votes in great interest of the nation ! There cannot be a more peaceful opportunity than an aware and spirited democracy to affect such a destiny.

Percentage figures of polling from the far-flung north-east and insurgency-hit regions are inspiring !!!

Elsewhere, we just need to take care of the heat and dust…by carrying umbrellas, sufficient water and arriving a little early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Jai Hind and Happy Voting…

As India Votes – Good Luck to Us

With the world’s largest democracy going to one of its most crucial national elections from tomorrow, here’s how we can perhaps best eliminate our dilemma –

First, let us set up our priorities and then map it on to the parties and the netas (leaders) – the mapping that draws the highest number of lines should be our obvious choice.

Alternatively, we may also label marks (party /neta rows vs. priority columns) and finally add up the total of each row to find the highest score.

Priorities: nationalistic fervour, foreign policy, internal security, defence, anti-corruption, economic reforms, social welfare schemes, education system, health care, media regulations, NO caste-community-religion bias or undue reservations (economic or financial reservations to a certain extent is acceptable as a short-term measure, as long as it actually fulfils the uplift criteria of the society concerned), cultural heritage, sports, etc.

This shall lead to a practical decision and not an emotional one. Moreover, if such a chosen party and neta are elected to power, then we can better relate to and evaluate their performances in the long-run too.

Let us together decide a bold, progressive, stable and transparent government at the Centre and the respective States !

Wise and Happy Voting !

UTTISHTHA BHARAT (Arise India).

Voting Dilemma- Reinforced Not Resolved !!

The world is about to witness one of the most decisive events of this decade- the curious game of numbers played at by the electorate in the largest democratic system in its upcoming General Elections between April-May, 2014. Regarding various scenarios, I had written an article early this year, titled Aamjunta’s Dilemma – whom to Vote in 2014 ?

Let’s quickly take a look at how things have changed since then behind the curtains…At the moment this is what an aamjunta in India still largely perceives of the stage being thus set for the big play.

Congress – Its status remains quite unchanged. The party now and then harps on various vote-bank tactics and has started fielding hugely tainted candidates just to retain constituencies based on caste-based votes or the like. So the aamjunta and their concerns are all still ignored !

BJP – There is no remarkable improvement in its lack-of-leadership /vision status. Moreover, of late it has started absorbing back big corrupt ex-members despite ‘stiff’ opposition from its senior leaders and this may awfully erode its image !

Another word of caution for BJP- the mesmerizing ‘Modi chant’ may not work everywhere as is also evident from some opinion poll trends after the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate’s recent visit to Odisha. The state’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik who has performed enormously, still continues to reign supremacy. Hearing some lines of Mr. Modi’s speeches during this visit, I personally was rather de-motivated let alone being impressed !!

AAP– It entered the scene with lot of promises and hopes but unfortunately, lost a golden chance at performing in Delhi alone. After forming government there, it started indulging in unweighed decision-making and administratively erroneous methods which are definitely not to be sympathized with lack of time in gaining political maturity. With a good intention, at the beginning it rightly raised several issues against corruption but failed to duly pursue or act upon them and impressively conclude a single big task in that regard. Then recorded in public memory are its usual fruitless efforts of conducting dharnas, andolans, etc. and throwing brickbats at the Delhi Police. As a consequence of its inabilities in governance, now it seems to completely lack any definite set of ideologies for the benefit of the nation as a whole and the temperament to accomplish the expectations of the ‘aam aadmi’. It now merely keeps visiting different states to only criticize respective state governments and generate some easy vote-bank tactics for its ‘aam aadmi’ like riding an auto-rickshaw or a local train.

Wish it got back to its original form and then acted thoroughly on core issues !!

Others – Busy calculating or forming alliances and contemplating creation of a Third-Front which can prove more ruinous !

So for many, the dilemma- ‘whom to vote in 2014 ?’ continues…

Aamjunta – what do you say?

Special Category Status of Indian States – Recent Developments

This is a topic on and off the Indian political radar, now particularly as the General Elections are scheduled in the summer of 2014.

Currently, India has 11 ‘special category’ status states. They are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. It is usually given to states which have distinct features like international boundaries, hilly terrains, special environmental issues, different socio-economic patterns and where infrastructural investments or public services are very difficult to be implemented. And most of these states bear a large tribal or economically backward population.

The country’s apex decision making body National Development Council headed by the Prime Minister and all the Chief Ministers and Union Cabinet Ministers on board, is the competent authority to grant ‘special category’ status to a state based on a set of criteria as per the Gadgil formula. This formula was evolved in 1969 by Dr. D. R. Gadgil, the social scientist and first critic of the Indian Planning Commission. Since then, the formula has been applied, modified and re-applied because of various reasons (statistical or changing social indicators, political, financial, etc.) and in various ways.

The states which enjoy the ‘special category’ status are given 90 per cent grant as assistance for externally aided projects. For the general category states, there is usually no grant and resources flow to states as back-to-back loans.

In March-2013, Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had remarked “Whoever empathises with and helps backward states will come to power in Delhi“. In May-2013, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that a high-level sub-committee would be constituted under the then Chief Economic Advisor to Government of India, Raghuram Rajan (now the Governor of Reserve Bank of India) in order to determine the criteria of backwardness of a state. Further, Mr. Chidambaram added “… going by whatever information that I have, Bihar will certainly qualify under the new criteria”. Assuming that the Minister rightfully pre-possessed some good data about Centre’s likely financial assistance, tax-waivers and performance-linked-incentives, I believe it were apt if the statement was made by him with certainty but only after the criteria of backwardness was re-defined. Otherwise, the statement still leaves behind a gap that may rather mean that the criteria be re-set so as to accommodate Bihar in the ‘special category’ status !

Anyhow, this gesture by the Congress-led UPA Government was interpreted as a sign of wooing Mr. Nitish Kumar away from his alliance with the Opposition party, BJP and gaining his party, the JD(U)’s support. From the aamjunta, there was hardly any amount of noticeable discussion on this deal just focussing on Bihar’s genuine needs.

In August-2013, the expert committee under Mr. Raghuram Rajan identified 10 parameters for a new Composite Development Index for the allocation of Central funds to backward states. The new index considers the rating of states on the basis of their distance from the national average on parameters including poverty rate, consumption, education, health, female literacy, urbanization, household amenities, connectivity, financial inclusion and share of SCs/STs (Scheduled Castes /Scheduled Tribes) in total population. Some states like Bihar have also insisted on the inclusion of per capita energy consumption as a measure of development. Overall, if this new index rates Bihar as a backward state, then it will definitely do the same for Odisha and few other states as well.

It has been reported that ‘while Bihar was given Rs 12,500 crore as part of a special development plan, Odisha’s eight Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) districts, more backward than many of Bihar’s districts, should have received an allocation in the same proportion’. As the discussions and rallies were being held by various groups seeking the ‘special category’ status for Odisha, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia cited the state’s stable finances and “sound indicators of fiscal deficit, outstanding liabilities and interest payments” as reasons for non-consideration !!

Being born and brought up in Odisha, I can vouch that while the state is rich in many natural resources and abounds in several industrial potentialities, it is economically backward due to meagre or non-sustained patronage from New Delhi. Odisha dramatically boosts the national treasury through trade in various minerals and industries namely coal, iron-ore, bauxite, manganese, power, steel, railways, shipping, commercial ports, fishery, agriculture, art, craft and tourism. One of the most significant DRDOs of the country – testing of missiles, is based in this state only.

There are at least 32 primitive tribal groups (the state has 22.8% tribal population, higher than the 8.6% national average) and according to the Planning Commission, about 155 lakh people in the state are suffering from acute poverty. The literacy rate is low and infant mortality rate high. Health and sanitation issues have just started getting mobilized towards a better future. Only then, would come the next arduous task of strengthening the education sector.

It is a fact that Odisha does not have an international border but some analysts are of the opinion that the 480 km coastal line can be treated as a substitute. This gets pronounced considering massive environmental factors like the Paradip cyclone, 1999 and the recent Phailin cyclone, 2013 hitting the state from across the vast Bay of Bengal, the waters of which are known to whirl some of the most dreadful tropical storms and cyclones ! This coastal line, if not guarded properly, is also vulnerable to illegal trades and anti-social activities, including infiltration.

Though the present BJD government led by Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik has taken good measures towards developing some areas of the state, much of the state funds are spent either in administration or repayment of huge Central loans; therefore, it is not adequate in helping all the economically affected people and developing remote areas. Inadequate solutions and non-uniform development of a region, both are largely detrimental to the inclusive concept of growth. A sustained development model, as also envisaged by world-bodies, can gradually come into the picture only at a later stage.

The demand for ‘special category’ status for Odisha was first raised in 1979, but successive governments at the Centre have not paid heed. On one occasion, Mr. Naveen Patnaik has led a 30-member delegation comprising Odisha ministers, BJD MPs and MLAs to President Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. They have submitted a memorandum and one crore signatures collected from the state voicing their concerns and demands. But any noticeable step is yet to be taken by the Central government.

Last week, the state of Seemandhra (earlier part of high-ranked Andhra Pradesh) has been granted ‘special category’ status by the Centre, as quickly as it was curved out. Whereas states like Odisha and Bihar, whose demands have been far more justifiable and long-standing, still continue to be ignored. These type of callous decisions quite seem to be linked to political bias, appeasement tactics and ploys for vote-banks. Ultimately, the citizens suffer ! One better ranked region steadily rises up the development ladder; whereas other regions, in actual needs, may still continue to falter, under-perform and remain almost stagnant for years. This undoubtedly leads to  undesirable issues of inter-state migration or over-populated urban areas where people from low-ranked states flock in search of employment and social upliftment !! Thus, it is negatively cumulative in effect.

So, when is any Central government going to think cogently and channelize the available resources in a proper direction for the long-neglected states ? In fact, not only should it provide the necessary financial grants to economically backward states but also assist them with proper and timely guidance through various advisory bodies or committees working successfully in various parts of the country. This shall expedite development in these low-ranked states and be one of the ways to compensate faster for all the years of neglected work. No Central Government should ever make the blunder of political discrimination (for vote-banks, rivalry, etc.) among states because that will create a huge social mess in the long run !

Aamjunta – What do you say ?

Similar article by aamjunta – Odisha Assam mein hai na!

Welcoming Telangana and Seemandhra – what lies next ?

With green signal given by the Lok Sabha to the Telangana Bill, creation of the 29th state of India becomes a reality. Now, Andhra Pradesh is divided into two smaller states – Telangana and Seemandhra (the one which opposed the division of Andhra Pradesh). Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of the region, particularly of Seemandhra, and other parts of India is not happy regarding the way this specific bifurcation was handled and new states are being created.

Most surprisingly, the recent developments which came into light are undemocratic and pathetic !

First, six Honourable MPs (Congress) of Seemandhra issued a no-confidence motion against their own party and the government. They were later expelled. But their grievance was never discussed in the parliament. Neither the parties in power nor the parties in opposition bothered to listen to their dissent.

Second, Pepper Spray was used by Mr. L. Rajagopal on 13th February, 2014 which shamed the Indian democracy and Parliamentary system. His act was merely condemned by the political parties and later, he was suspended. However, he had managed to defend his act on live-TV shows and became an over-night hero in his constituency, Vijayawada (Seemandhra).  Many critics of Seemandhra MPs view their opposition to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh only as a means to safeguard their business investments in parts of Telangana, particularly Hyderabad (its supposed capital) and an election tactics. It is widely alleged that the LANCO business unit in Hyderabad of Mr. Rajagopal was bailed-out by a political pact with the UPA government.

Third, and the most surprising thing is the complete blackout of the debates in the Lok Sabha. It was never seen since the live telecast of Parliament proceedings began in 1996. Hon’ble Speaker says  – it was a technical glitch; BJP says – first, we were unaware of it, then admits it was a “technical glitch”, and then blames it was a “tactical glitch”; Congress – as usual does not say any thing (even the Union Home Minister refused to comment on the blackout) and the rest call it as the “murder” of democracy or stage walkouts. What surprises the aamjunta is the way the Bill was presented and passed; there was no proper debate, no discussion, no clear plan of action for Seemandhra or Telangana, and above all no consideration on the fall-out of this Bill !! Whom should we blame, only the party in power – UPA (Congress in particular)  or the opposition (BJP in particular) or both ? Don’t we see that both of them have tried to use this sensitive and controversial Bill to earn more seats in the next general elections ? It is just “hunger and abuse of power” – both so destructive in nature, especially in the context of a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country like India !

This actually frustrates the common man of this country. Unfortunately, we probably have no option but to elect one of them (Congress or BJP or coalitions led by them) in the future, as the alternatives including Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Third-Front can prove to be more disastrous for this country !!

What would follow are perhaps – Bandhs (strikes) in Seemandhra and other parts of India, fights between various groups of  Andhra Pradesh and Delhi, debates on television and in newspaper columns, and increase in demands for creation of new states in other parts of the country – Koshala in Odisha, Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Harit Pradesh in Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand in central India, and Gorkha Land in the east /north-east ! This does not stop there; as it did not stop with the creation of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Goa.

The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, strikes, acts of hate, and various other possibilities including elections and re-elections !

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to further intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which sometimes hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicate the inter-state relations and distribution of resources – water, mining, dams, power, etc. Likewise, administration and delegation of executive tasks may take a back seat. In this light, one should take thorough note of the detailed analysis in the arduous Srikrishna Committee Report.

Further, such divisions of states in cacophony can also highly complicate the internal security with many neighbours as observed from New Delhi and NCR. Many fear that the anti-Maoist steps being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc. may also get diluted.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous article, the way we are creating smaller states with the above motives and intentions, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, lawyer, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India. We need to go beyond the selfish intention of small states and think of an united India only, without which our existence will be at stake.

It is now obvious that the selfish political parties will instigate us on the differences in languages, religions and region-specific development. But the choice is ours; whether or not to fall in their line !

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!  “Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Jai Hind…

Other articles on Regional Politics in India:

1. Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

2. Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

Aamjunta’s Dilemma – whom to Vote in 2014 ?

We do acknowledge and understand that for ‘aam aadmi‘ folks to suddenly work on so many responsibilities (simultaneous or not) centred on the capital of India, there is tremendous pressure and hindrances around. But how can any ‘good’ party forget the usual law and order scenario, or even its very own principles ?!? Citizens should remember that nothing can change over-night; so also should any party holding the reigns of power, especially if it has no experience !

There is no point in comparing the present political parties in terms of ideology, political will, presence, discipline, transparency and leadership quality. None reflect any sincere ideology at the level of national consciousness. As an ‘aamjunta‘, I see no party having a true national agenda or any leader having the shades of a statesman. Almost all of them are interested to serve the nation – getting into power or remaining in power is the main motto. And the bad-taste remarks mutually hurled at each other by the political leaders are awfully making the puzzle dirty !!

Aamjunta is really in a dilemma…

Congress (UPA) – mired in multiple and mega scams /scandals and despite having enough time, absolutely nothing was done by it to redress those matters. With their able foreign policy, all our neighbours including Maldives and Bhutan are in ‘tu-tu main-main’ (squabbles) with us. Their idea of Swaraj and Social Empowerment is only limited to Rahul Gandhi’s speeches and their leaders are either busy in the coronation drama or with making derogatory remarks against Narendra Modi.

BJP (NDA) – still inducting back corrupt /indisciplined ‘netas‘ or being completely callous about rooting out corruption. It looks like the definition of India is still limited to some states in the north or central part of the country; with no or diminishing presence in the North-East region, Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, etc. ; even grass-root level politics is yet to evolve in many such states. Moreover, they cannot rely only on the charishma of Narendra Modi; fetching the magic number 272+ is still a huge task for them ! Major changes or re-structuring their vision should be their prime agenda while preparing for summer of 2014.

AAP – during its initial activism, very boldly raised several issues against corruption but never pursued any single matter to its solution; now the party’s daily stand on administration has made it synonymous with the term ‘U-turn’ !! And the jugalbandi with Congress is somewhat fishy ! Their leaders are still in dharanas, and/or verbal duel mode and their induction process is also not convincing. But the rise of AAP has definitely changed the political equations at the centre.

Third Front – for God’s shake this experiment should NOT be repeated; most disastrous governance in Indian history !! Their rise is definitely a danger to India’s democracy and growth.

If we want to standardize a yardstick in this regard, then (apart from tackling corruption, inflation, etc.) here are some more potential weights for us to assess:

(i) Is anyone really thinking of the nation or the society as a whole ? Has any national party or one aspiring to become so yet campaigned in or adequately spoken about the far-flung North-East region of India ?

(ii) How many have considered settling the issue of Indo-Bangladesh enclaves ?

(iii) Has anyone addressed these matters – growing incidents of rapes, juvenile justice system, human-trafficking, acid-attacks, improving care and financial aid for the orphans, old and destitute ?

(iv) Is any leader talking about revamping the current education system in the country ?

(v) How much has been achieved in diminishing judicial backlogs and increasing the police:public and judge:public ratio ?

(vi) What about the health care industry ?

(vii) Where do we stand in our external policy and defence preparations ?

The list can be endless but these are very basic current issues of the nation. Therefore, these must be substantially addressed by whoever wants to come to power or gets it. At this stage even, many ‘aamjunta‘ like me do not know with certainty whom to vote !

Does ‘right to reject’ or invoking ‘Rule 49-O’ of the elections conduct have any meaning ? Not really.

May be, we should be highlighting work of good performers like Mr. Naveen Patnaik, Mr. Manohar Parrikar, Dr. Raman Singh who have done really well; at least, in the recent past, if you consider the limited support and resources that they have got in-hand. Till date, they are not involved in any public spat ! So why don’t we speak in all positivity about their achievements and their desire to achieve more for the mass ? As some would have observed, these three men have known when a leader has to work at break-neck speed and when he has to go slow or even compromise for a greater cause.

Is there any way to give chance to such men at the centre ? Let us not forget for a single moment that what we choose today, we would be rewarding it to ourselves tomorrow and to our next generation(s) !!

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – A Necessity in India !!

There are arguments and counter-arguments on FDI or Foreign Direct Investment in India in the Parliament, in election rallies, in TV-debates, in newspaper articles, in general strikes in the country or Bharat Bandhs… There are obvious fears by the farmers, retailers, small-scale manufacturers, and the common man on the effect of FDI in India. Some say that FDI in India will bring major Multi National Companies (MNCs) in India which will abolish small-scale retailers and businessman. There are arguments saying that the MNCs will have a monopoly in the market resulting in a sharp rise in price of items in India. Further, there is also a fear that the country’s security – both internal and external, will be at stake due to the involvement of MNCs in Telecom, Internet, Aviation, Infrastructure, Retail, Healthcare, Insurance, etc.

Not that all the above arguments against FDI are invalid. However, with a positive mindset, we can certainly overcome such apprehensions. This can certainly be done by bringing reforms in our Judicial system, and by resetting a stronger regulator like the Competition Commission in the line of Election Commission of India or Auditor General of India. Moreover, Vigilance Commission has to be more responsive and aggressive in its activities. Along with these, the concept of Lokpal needs to be operational in India and the nature of functioning of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) needs to be completely autonomous in this regard. And of course, the public (consumers) must be aware, prompt and pursuant with regard to issues and their solutions ! With a proper check-and-balance policy implemented, we can  certainly reap benefits from FDI in India. In the current economic scenario – stiff rise in corruption, lack of accountability and transparency – FDI seems to be the right answer and is a dire necessity in India.

Here are some reasons favouring FDI in India…

It is really surprising to know that only 2-3% Indians pay Income tax. Does this figure say that the income of 97-98% Indians are less than the taxable limit (INR 2 Lakh/year) ?? A serious doubt. There are many reasons to it. The first and foremost is the lack of transparency and lack of accountability in our financial transactions – be it in income or expenditure. People prefer cash transaction over card or cheque while buying any item in India. Starting from a kirana shop (local general store) to a jewellery shop, everybody prefers cash transaction and giving and taking a bill /receipt is mostly discouraged. Some feel it is a taboo to ask for a bill, and some think ‘why to pay tax and take a bill’ ? But have you ever wondered that in not asking for a bill /receipt, who is getting benefited – the customers or the aamjunta ?!? ‘No’ – they are the losers only !!!

With direct and organized marketing which will mainly result out of FDI, the financial transactions will be mostly transparent and will be accounted for. Payments will be mostly in online mode. This will not only improve the tax scenario in India but also curtail huge corruption in India. Poor customers will not be cheated… and even if they are cheated, with a valid bill /receipt, necessary complaints can be conveniently filed in the Consumer Court. The investigation process will also become  easy and quick as everything would be duly accounted.

In India, we have the wide concept of “Middle-Man” or “Agent” or “Broker”, who always demands his/her share in every deal; sometimes even more than the actual cost of the product or service, without actually doing any thing or adding any value to it. The concept of direct marketing is hardly available in India, especially in Agriculture, Medicine, Grocery and Household items, etc. Surprisingly, there are many middle-men involved in the process – from the farmer to the consumer, from the factory-worker to the customer, from the laboratory-technician to the patient, and from the poor manufacturer (workmen) to the average consumers. This not only increases the price of the items but also encourages hoarding, corruption, unethical practices in business, unfair trade dealings, and above all the big bug i.e. inflation.

As per a study commissioned by the World Bank, farmers in India hardly get anything more than 12-15% of the price consumers pay at the retail outlet for Agricultural products. The reasons being –  (i) lack of education or awareness (ii) poor infrastructure (machinery) (iii) poor storage system (more than 25% food-grains are wasted in India today due to poor storage system) (iv) poor transport (e.g. non-urbanized roads leading from the agricultural fields to the towns) (v) middle-man (market-domination). With direct marketing as expected because of FDI in agriculture, the involvement of middle-man will be minimized in the process. Both the farmer and the consumer will be benefited largely – quantitatively and qualitatively. Direct sell by the farmers to organized retailers can render them a profit about 60% higher than that via ‘mandi‘ (a big un-organized wholesale /retail market in India) or the middle-man ! This will also check inflation of food items. Moreover, FDI will also ensure adequate storage facilities for food items, improve infrastructure scientifically and transportation facilities.

Like Agriculture, Retailing in India also requires FDI and organized marketing. The quality of the products will be improved and at the same time the price of the retail items will reduce severely. Moreover, it will also generate employment in India. With India’s traditional family system, culture, population and needs, the small retailers will also remain fully functional… but with enhanced accountability – in services and products. It will create a healthy atmosphere for a sustained competitive market.

Other than Agriculture and Retail, FDI will also benefit India to improve its Telecom penetration, Internet affordability, etc. At present, Broadband Services are mainly available in cities only. With better infrastructure and technology, it can be expanded to villages or rural areas at a lesser cost. Growth of Telecom and Internet in India will lead to better Governance, Healthcare, Insurance, Education, etc. This will ensure more and more participation of the common man in day-to-day services or the Public Services of the government. All services can be improved and a better lifestyle can be provided to the common man.

With FDI in Healthcare and Insurance, better care facilities can be provided at a lesser cost in the villages and expert advices can also be effectively delivered through e-health programs. Cost of Medicines will also come down drastically, if the system of generic medicines is adopted in India. In any case, with no middle-man involved, the prices of medicines can be brought down at least by 15-20%. Awareness for insurance schemes – be it life insurance or crop insurance or health insurance – will also greatly benefit the people in general.

What we need is very simple – accountable and transparent services at a better price with growth-oriented policies; create more jobs and provide better services. Political parties – ruling or opposition – must explore maturity levels in understanding the various issues by discussing and debating these in the Parliament, and not on the streets and election rallies ! Nation-wide or state-level strikes must be discouraged outrightly as these activities often spread the wrong message to the unaware folks. Parliament can introduce or change Laws and Institutions such that things can be improved to a larger extent in the interest of the common man.

Many may differ regarding the implementation, policy and the limits of FDI in various sectors. But if FDI brings organized market, with accountability and transparency, then it should be definitely welcomed in India, without any politics.

Recently (May,2013), the Supreme Court of India has aptly remarked that ‘Consumer is King‘ !!!

So, let the consumer decide…

Aamjunta – what do you say ?

Yes to Telangana – Opening of the Pandora’s Box or another European Union !!

With the formation of 29th state of India – “Telangana” (carved out of 10 districts of earlier Andhra Pradesh, with some decisions pending regarding allocation of 2 more districts and the status of Hyderabad)… the political parties, the intellectuals, the political commentators are making calculated comments. Though there is a sense of pride and victory by some people of Telangana, the general mood of the people of remaining Andhra Pradesh (AP) and people of other parts of India is not happy about the way this particular issue was handled and the states are being created. One simple question always arises time and again – on what basis new states are being created in India – on political ground or, on language or, on religion or, on ethnicity or, on some growth-model or, on some kind of compulsion ?

It is certain that the creation of Telangana is more due to political reasons than that of administrative or governance or people centric ones. With 2014 General Election in mind, the UPA-II government in general, and the Congress in particular, have played a game to win more seats in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to counter the growing popularity of YSR-Congress and/or to take Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) into their coalition. This political will is yet to be ratified by the people in 2014 – time will be the best judge of course !!

Though it is being argued by TRS (in particular) that the creation of Telangana is to handle the (under) development of that region, it is not difficult to understand the political motives of TRS leaders. It is certainly a mix equation of power – hunger of power and abuse of power; hunger of power is more destructive than the the abuse of power though.  This also results in mistrust between common citizens or aamjunta, business men, companies, politicians in various degrees. The mistrust being created with the formation and demand of new states also have long lasting impact on the development of the states in particular and India as a whole nation. This is a very sensitive issue and needs to be handled carefully.

The impact of creation of Telangana is definitely not limited to Andhra Pradesh; its impact is being felt in Odisha in the form of Kosala, in Maharashtra in the form of Vidarbha, in Uttar Pradesh  in the form of Harit Pradesh, in central India in the form of Bundelkhand and in the East/North-East in the form of Gorkha Land… ! It may not stop there; it did not stop with Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Goa before. The Pandora’s Box is opened now with many political compulsions, intentions and possibilities !!!

If we analyse the impact of creation of smaller states, we can certainly find two major points – (i) smaller states boost regional parties, which are definitely not a healthy sign for a democracy like India and (ii) smaller states bring political instability as in Jharkhand and Goa – 8 Chief Minsters in last 10 years (9  governments in last 13 years) in Jharkhand, and 14 governments in 15 years between 1990 and 2005 in Goa !! The instability can be frequently created by regional parties, especially in a coalition type of government.

Other than the above major points, smaller states give rise to intolerance, regionalism and selfish motives, which some times hinder the growth of India as a whole, and complicates the inter-state relations – water, mining, dams, power, etc. This also complicates the internal security as observed in New Delhi with many neighbours. Many fear that the anti-Maoist movement being carried out jointly by Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, etc.  may also get diluted resulting in more and more kidnaps, bomb-blasts, killing and loots in different parts of the country.

Other than the above points, what bothers aamjunta is the possible political instability towards which India is heading with the current developments. It is almost certain that in the next General Election, no single political party will get simple majority at the centre; a coalition government led by Congress or a possible Third-Front government led by smaller parties are definitely not ruled out, and hence the fear of scams, corruptions, horse-trading will definitely rise. Even a possible BJP-led government at the centre will have many compulsions too ! Someone has rightly remarked – this will bring demons with crisis in democracy !!

The way we are creating smaller states with the above motives, an European Union model is not ruled out in India in the future – with one or two major partners (states) and many smaller partners (states) with political and financial instability.

Chanakya’s  (370–283 BC) “akhanda Bharat” (undivided India) is becoming “khanda Bharat” (divided India) !!

Aamjunta needs to awake, arise and take the centre-stage as a voter, implementer, jurist, businessman, student, teacher, social activist and others – for, by and of India.

Uttistha Bharata” (Arise India) !!!

Aamjunta – what do you say and how do you react ?

Jai Hind…

Another article on Regional Politics in India: Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

Mid-day (Midday) Meals in India – a Challenging Task !

With all the recent tragedies and controversies associated with the Mid-day (Midday) Meal Scheme in Bihar, Odisha, UP, MP, Chattishgarh and other states, many like me must be wondering whether there is a need to re-look at the effectiveness of the scheme and/or whether this program should be stopped altogether. Some say that these are just isolated incidents that happen at times (random theory) and some like Chief Minister (Bihar) Nitish Kumar say that there is a conspiracy behind these incidents !

The ‘mid-day meal in schools’ programme in India that started in 1960 had the main objectives of protecting children against hunger and increasing school-enrolment and/or attendance. Other than these main objectives, mid-day meal programme had also aimed to achieve equality or social harmony among children of various classes and castes, and to provide employment to the unprivileged women. Though the key objectives are still valid in the changed scenario of today’s world, the promotion of social harmony or equality is still a myth !

It is true that there are many points to be discussed, many issues to be solved and many things to be proved or disproved by the Government, by the Officials, by the Media and by the so-called social Intellectuals and human-rights Activists…

Instead of going to the mode of another commentary, let me narrate my own experiences on the mid-day meal scheme.

I studied in a village school in the early eighties. Those days, government schools were the only mode of schooling in many parts of India (a few private English-medium schools, mostly managed by Christian Missionaries were there in the cities). We had three Teachers only to teach five classes/standards, each class/standard having 50-60 students. Teaching curriculum was definitely exhaustive those days. Other than teaching, duties such as preparing voter-lists, census, checking village sanitation, etc., were day-to-day activities of our Teachers.

Like many other schools, we too had mid-day meal programme, though not regularly. There was only one item – wheat kheer (porridge). We used to bring our own utensils from home and assist our Teachers in cooking the meals, cleaning the utensils and bringing the stocks from the local Block or Panchayat office; never received the full-quota – as these offices reserved their shares !

No external help or cook was appointed for this programme.

Every student was asked to bring some firewood from his/her home for the cooking (now I realize, that in fact, it was a punishable offence). I remember, some of my class-mates used to steal firewood from their neighbour’s backyards to avoid harassment in the school.

Since there was no tube-well in the school premises, we used to walk at least 2 km (to and fro) to bring drinking and cooking water; a very tough job during the hot summer and the rainy season.

I still remember… There were some broken-wheat supplied by the government for the programme; at least half of the stock used to go to the Teachers’ homes directly for their own use – like making sweets or feeding their cows ! Oil and Salt were also supplied; more than half of the oil was used at the feasts and for preparing snacks during the School Sub-Inspector’s visit or Village Committee’s visit to the school.

And the quality of the wheat was sometimes horrible; worms were almost certain and it was an every day affair. To handle the mid-day meals in schools, Village Workers and CDPOs (Child Development Project Officers) were appointed by the government. It is true that these officials used to visit school for inspections followed by a grand feast and a holiday for all of us. But these officials also had their shares in the mid-day meal programme !! We or our parents did not know whom to complain ?!? It was therefore hardly discussed even in casual get-together of our parents or guardians.

Speaking about social harmony and equality – there were high differentiations among the students based on castes (at least religion was not involved in our school) even while preparing food, bringing water and eating those meals. This ill trend reportedly continues in some schools even today !!!!

The mid-day meal program has continued for years… worsening day- by-day. For some, it is a business; for some, it is a mode of earning; and for some, it is just a single meal in the whole day !!

Taxpayers’ money is being regularly spent on such a programme, whose effectiveness is much debatable and it is still not made clear who is accountable for these tragedies; no proper monitoring system is yet in place ! There is definitely a huge lack of administration and accountability in this. Officials or Social-Workers, even when enabled with sufficient power, seem to fall short in carrying out or meting their responsibilities, and taking initiatives to prevent mid-day meal tragedies. There is an indifferent attitude in most of the cases – no one is really bothered. And the blame-game goes on as usual…

But is the government only to be blamed ? We too are responsible in many roles as – parents, teachers, village committee members, Sarpanchs, ward-members, officials, social observers, social activists, etc. We have been sleeping on the mega loopholes for years, even though we knew it was meant for our innocent little buds !!

Aamjunta – what do you think? It is time for you to act too…

Regional Political Parties – danger to Democracy and India?

With the recent political divorce between the BJP and JD(U) after 17 years of their political marriage, and with the talks / speculations by top regional leaders over the creation of a Third Front before / after the next general election, it becomes difficult to check Congress led UPA, which has the dubious distinction of scams and corruptions, forming the next Government again in Delhi. With the next general election some months away, political parties started playing their pawns in a very calculated manner – a game where every individual party wants to win, may result in a big loss to the Indian union!!

Whatever it is…

The regional parties are all set to play a big role next time; may not be good at all for India and for its democracy. The recent political developments may go to the extent that the grand showdown between the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the messiah of reforms in Gujarat become a non-existent matter to decide the fate of India’s future. Even if there is a Third Front government comes to power, the constituents of it are so individualistic with diverse local agendas, the leaders are so ambitious and so short-sighted, lasting a full 5-year term may become a concern for Indian democracy, Indian economy and reforms.

The irony is, that, no Third Front government can come to power on its own without the inside or outside support of the BJP or the Congress. Moreover, it is really hard to understand the obvious unwritten understanding between like-minded political parties, which is being coined by various regional leaders for the formation of a Third Front without the Congress or the BJP. It had happened in the past – 1979, 1989 and 1996, may repeat again in 2014.

Coming to the root cause of this problem, it is true that the regional parties are formed with a separate mandate and a goal or as a division of a big party on personal / ideological ground, before and after India’s independence.

Their goal might be a claim or otherwise –

  • that there are political/economic bias against the state’s wish and/or right (TrinaMul Congress TMC-West Bengal, Biju Janata Dal BJD-Odisha, Asom Gana Parishad AGP – Assam, Shiromani Akali Dal SAD-Punjab, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party MGP-Goa, Shiv Sena -Maharastra, Sikkim Sangram Parishad SSP-Sikkim), or
  • on a language basis (mostly against Hindi – variants of Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam DMK/AIDMK/PMK -Tamil Nadu and Telugu Desham Party TDP-Andhra Pradesh), or
  • to create a division of a state and to come to power (Telengana Rastriya Samiti TRS–Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha JMM– Jharkhand), or
  • on a caste or religion basis (Bahujan Samaj Party BSP-UP/Bihar/Delhi, Muslim Majlis Uttar Pradesh), or
  • on a individualistic charisma to hold power (Rashtriya Janta Dal RJD-Bihar, Janta Dal Secular JD(S)-Karnataka, Janta Dal United JD(U)-Bihar/UP, Maharastra Navnirman Sena MNS-Maharastra, Karnataka Janata Paksha KJP-Karnataka, Samajwadi Party SP-UP/Bihar, Samta Party UP/Bihar, Lokshakti Party – Karnataka), or
  • to be the center of attention (Odisha Jan Morcha OJM-Odisha, Praja Rajyam– Andhra Pradesh) and so on…

Whatever it is, it is true that most of the times their (regional parties) claim over the so called bias in economic share, language participation, power balance, cultural differences, political representation are legitimate. At present, regional parties are dominant over more than a fifteen states – Maharastra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryna, Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Kerala, and Jammu and Kashmir. With the present vote base and support, it is definite that the local parties are going to influence the Indian politics for at least a decade or so.

Must be alarming for BJP and Congress of course. But, do not we think that some how the BJP and the Congress parties are a party to their creation and existence? – compulsion or an opportunity?

Their rise is definitely a major concern for the major political parties like BJP and Congress and it creates a question mark on the democracy, economy and federalist structure of Indian union, coordination among states , etc. With no single party (most likely) winning 273+ seats, creation of the next government whether it is Third Front or UPA or NDA or any other new coalition will largely depend upon the regional parties; horse trading will be a major concern. With multi-party involvement and with differences in ideology, the stability of such government, the economic development, the reforms, the law and order issue, etc ., will definitely suffer.

It is true that most of the times agenda and ideology of regional and national political parties do not match, and quite different from the federal agenda. It is also true that the local power equations and compulsions are so intense, that they won’t be thinking of the country – India; instead they’ll always think of their states only. To maintain their vote bank in their states (largely based on caste, language, regionalism and religion), they will never support an alliance or coalition even with a slight difference in the common minimum programs; irrespective of whether their action is triggering an un-necessary mid-term election as in 1996 (AIDMK withdrew support from NDA government) or creating a chaos as in 2012 (TMC withdrew support from UPA government) and so on…

Saying all this, one has also to understand and accept the fact that both the Congress and BJP are failing in uniting their coalition partners and the voters intact, mainly due to their poor governance in some states, personal agenda at some places in general, and lack of mass leaders in those states in particular. If the major national parties like BJP and Congress want to expand their base across India, then they must understand the local problems in particular and should go to the root cause of their loss of base in those states in general; grass level effort is required, not political chintan meetings at Surajkund or at Goa. They must groom local leaders, check corruptions, maintain discipline inside the party, take strong action against individuals violating party principles, learn from their earlier mistakes, and abolish dynasty rules in those states. Fortune follows effort, failing which the problems will intensify only.

In the present context, the teachings of Chanakya are definitely relevant. We have to understand that the existence and formation of the states is for creating brotherhood and Indianness among the people of the country, and for the distribution of power to core of the democracy – the citizens of this country, and for the unity in diversity, not for the division of the country on the basis of language, development, religion, caste and so on… Country’s growth, aspiration, stability, economic power, diplomatic power is more important than the individual states’ growth, stability and aspiration. We have to understand that it is India first, not Odisha, or West Bengal or Karnataka or Gujarat or Tamil Nadu or … A modern Chanakya is definitely needed.

Aamjunta – what do you say? Remember “Prosperity forsake even a lucky one, if he/she acts without a foresight” and we all want a prosperous India.

Jai Hind.

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