Sunday, October 14, 2012

American Election: Not different from India.

शहर से थोड़ी दूर रिपब्लिकन उम्मीदवार मिट रोमनी की रैली। हमारे देश में होने वाली रैलियों से अलग नहीं। वैसी ही भीड़-भाड़। उम्मीदवार का देर से पहुंचना। और भीड़ को रोके रखने के लिए तेज संगीत। इस भीड़ को अगर हिंदुस्तानी चेहरों और पाश्चात्य संगीत को फिल्मी गानों से बदल दें तो अंदाज लगाना मुश्किल होगा कि हम भारत में हैं या अमेरिका में।

हजारों लोग, लेकिन सभी कतार में। बिना कड़ी जांच सभा स्थल में किसी को प्रवेश नहीं। अमेरिकी चुनाव में इस बार सबसे बड़ा मुद्दा अर्थव्यवस्था है। मिडिल क्लास के लिए इकोनॉमी का मतलब नौकरी और टैक्स ही है। भारत और अमेरिका दोनों में।अमेरिकी नेता भी यह बात जानते हैं। लिहाजा रोमनी भाषण की शुरुआत में जनता से सीधा सवाल पूछते हैं- अगर आप किसी कंपनी के शेयर होल्डर हों और ऑडिट के वक्त पता चले कि कंपनी भारी नुकसान में है। कर्मचारियों की नौकरियां जा रही हैं। तो आप कंपनी के सीईओ के साथ क्या करेंगे? लोग चीखते हैं कि हम उसे कंपनी से निकाल देंगे। सुनते ही रोमनी का चेहरा चमकने लगता है। कहते हैं - मैं भी तो यही कह रहा हूं। हमारे लोगों की नौकरियां जा रही हैं। हम पर टैक्स का बोझ बढ़ रहा है। यह मौका है बराक ओबामा को हटाने का।

इन्हीं मुद्दों ने राजस्थान के टोंक के रहने वाले विजय पटेल जैसे अमेरिका में नौकरी कर रहे हजारों भारतीय युवाओं को भी परेशान कर रखा है। वह एक नामी आईटी कंपनी के लिए अमेरिका में काम करते हैं। पिछले लगभग तीन साल से अमेरिका में हैं। अब उनके वीजा की मियाद खत्म होने वाली है। उन्हें लग रहा है कि उन्हें एक्टेंशन नहीं मिलेगा। क्योंकि जो भी नई सरकार होगी वो बाहरी नौजवानों के बजाय अमेरिका के युवकों को ही नौकरी देने को तवज्जो देगी। लिहाजा वो वापस मुंबई लौटने की तैयारी में जुट गए हैं।

तकनीकी तौर पर अमेरिका के राष्ट्रपति चुनाव हमारे चुनाव से भले ही अलग हों लेकिन कई मामलों में दोनों एक जैसे हैं। मसलन चुनावी चंदा। उम्मीदवारों के पक्ष या विरोध में प्रचार करने वाली पॉलीटिकल एक्शन कमेटियों को अमेरिकी चुनाव कानून के तहत पैसा जुटाने की इजाजत है, फिर भी वहां धारणा बन गई है कि ये कमेटियां चुनावी चंदे का बेजा इस्तेमाल राजनीतिक गुटबाजी और घटिया मकसदों को पूरा करने के लिए करती हैं। अमेरिका की एक संस्था सेंटर फॉर पब्लिक इंटीग्रिटी के मुताबिक चंदे के तौर पर मोटी रकम देने वालों को महत्वपूर्ण प्रशासनिक पदों से नवाजना एक परंपरा बन गई है। डेमोक्रेटिक पार्टी के उम्मीदवार राष्ट्रपति ओबामा के प्रचार के लिए करीब पचास हजार डॉलर की रकम देने वाले डोनाल्ड गिप्स की कंपनी को चौदह मिलियन डॉलर के ठेके देने और गिप्स को दक्षिण अफ्रीका का राजदूत बनाना ऐसा ही एक मसला है।

आख्रिर में सत्ता के दुरुपयोग की बातें। विपक्ष का आरोप है कि ओबामा सरकारी विमान से लेकर तमाम सरकारी सुविधाओं का इस्तेमाल अपने प्रचार के लिए कर रहे हैं। और सरकार कह रही है कि अमेरिका में ये तो हमेशा से ही होते आया है। है ना ठीक हमारी सरकारों की तरह।


Interesting piece by Dainik Bhaskar Correspondant from US.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mohandas, Subhas, Jawaharlal, Bhimrao chat about India at Heaven

The scene is heaven. India’s founding fathers are bored out of their minds by immortality and are longing for the tumult of India. They are all lazing around, all on first-name basis: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Rabindranath Tagore, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, C. Rajagopalachari, Ram Manohar Lohia, E.M.S. Namboodiripad, Hansa Mehta, Madan Mohan Malviya, Chittaranjan Das, Zakir Husain, Jayaprakash Narayan.

Suddenly, Narada shows up to needle them.
Narada: So, dudes, how does it feel? India turns sixty-five. Not bad, eh?

Subhas (with sarcasm): Ask Mohan. He is the Father of the Nation.

Mohandas: Turns out I am not. The government never issued a notification. In any case, Bhimrao is the new god down there, ask him.

Bhimrao: No thanks to you lot! Ask Jawahar. (Turns to Jawaharlal) How’s your tryst with destiny? Has India awoken to life and freedom?

Jawaharlal: It has certainly awoken to life, the freedom thing is more complicated.

Rajagopalachari (rudely interrupting): Trust Jawaharlal to make freedom complicated. For him, freedom was freedom for the Congress to rule, not freedom for ordinary people to carry out a trade.

Shyama Prasad: And don’t forget the First Amendment.

Namboodiripad: And his conduct on Kerala.

Mohandas (visibly upset at this assault on Jawaharlal): You are being too unkind. Don’t blame him for India’s faults. It’s not my type of democracy, but at least he got us one. Not sure any of you lot would have held India together.

Bhimrao: And Jawaharlal built a constitutional and parliamentary tradition. What did you give us,
Mohan? Fasting and blackmail. (Turns to Shyama Prasad) And your lot would have condemned us to obscurantism.

Narada (interrupting): Did you see this, a yogi by the name of Ramdev has been arrested by a Congress government and put in Ambedkar stadium.
(Breaks into a song) Yeh duniya utpatanga, kitte hath te, kitte taanga. What a cool circus Delhi is. No wonder you are all bored and grumpy here.

Ambedkar: I repeat myself. I warned you about the Grammar of Anarchy.

Jayaprakash: And I warned you about shameless governments.

Jawaharlal: In hindsight, we all made mistakes. But we did take decisions. And you have to say, there was nothing petty even about our faults. This lot down there, even their virtues are petty. But this corruption thing is bad, huh?

Mohandas: Acquisitiveness is at the root of it.

Rajagopalachari: There you go again, exonerating your dear disciples. The Congress’s licence permit is at the root of it.

Jayaprakash: Total revolution is what we need, I say

Jawaharlal: What did your total revolution achieve? A ban on Coca-Cola!

Jayaprakash: Better a ban on Coca-Cola than a country drowning in Scotch.

Subhas: If the INA had won, India would not be so indisciplined.

Rabindranath: (In a sonorous voice) Where the head is held high and the mind is without fear.

K.M. Munshi (before Rabindranath could complete): Mind without fear? In a country with sedition laws?

Rabindranath: (Quietly hums) Ekla chalo

Narada (interjecting): Isn’t that cool traffic light music?

Vallabhbhai: (Shakes his head) The Union is in peril. Here we are in idle chatter. Refugees are again flowing across borders, riots in Assam. I always told Jawaharlal that China would gobble us up. He did not listen.

Jawaharlal: Why are you so glum? Heard they are building the biggest statue for you in Gujarat.

Vallabhbhai: That’s my fear. The more statues they build, the less they listen. Look at Jawaharlal, even his own family does not understand what he was about. And Bhimrao here, the more statues he gets, the less he is understood.

Abul Kalam: We have not solved anything. Partition turned out to be a non-solution to an insoluble problem. The Hindu-Muslim tension refuses to go away. The Indian Muslim is disenfranchised.

Mohandas: That is why I don’t celebrate Independence Day. Our peace is only surface calm. The devil of human division still lurks within us. (Hums) Raghupati Raghav raja Ram...

Bhimrao: But your methods will not rid us of them. Caste oppression remains the obdurate reality.

Jawaharlal: True. But come on, Bhim. There is some progress. You and I both know economic development will help mitigate caste oppression.

Bhimrao: Dalits are taking their future into their own hands. But don’t kid yourself, Jawahar, discrimination runs deep. And the state you created is such a failure in education that it will be centuries before we overcome disadvantage.

Ram Manohar: I always said caste would be overcome only by entrenching it first.

Jawaharlal: I never understood caste. I don’t understand how OBCs and Dalits became the same. (Turns to Ram Manohar) And your entrenching part has happened. But your overcoming will never come, will it?

Malviya and Zakir Husain (chime in together): You are forgetting the universities. The key to an enlightened society!

Shyama Prasad: Oh shut up. You should have named BHU Banaras Harvard University. Then someone might have listened to you. Anyway, no one would give you two permission to set up universities now.

Narada (interrupting): Calm down, guys. Celebrate! There’s lots to celebrate. India is a world power. Six hundred million cellphones. And six medals in the Olympics! Just a little more effort, India can grow so fast. Poverty is falling, animal spirits raring to go.

Mohandas: But no one followed my talisman: recall the face of the poorest and weakest person you see. Will your policies lead to freedom for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Rajagopalachari: You don’t talk about poverty, Mohan. You wanted India to remove poverty by remaining poor.

Bhimrao: And Mohan, you have to admit your ‘trusteeship’ thing was inside out. Instead of private wealth for public purpose, they turned it into public wealth for private purpose.

Jawaharlal: I always thought we needed a modern economy. We needed capital accumulation and all that. We needed a mixed economy. We needed new cities.

Rajagopalachari: You may have given us a mixed economy, Jawaharlal. But look at Manmohan. He has confused a mixed economy with a mixed-up economy. We say poverty is a curse. And then we say wealth is evil. That’s what I call mixed up.

Ram Manohar: And he always forgot the farmers.

Narada: (Breaks into a song and dance) Bharat Mata Ki Jai/ Sone ki chidiya, dengue malaria.

Periyar: This is all too Brahminical for me. Dravidian culture can save the nation. And you cannot rule India from Delhi.

Jawaharlal: But you can hold Delhi hostage?

Chittaranjan: No, Bengal should lead Delhi.
(In the background, the humming of Ekla chalo grows louder.)

Hansa: Sorry to disturb the boys’ party. But if you had taken the uplift of women seriously, we would not have been in this mess.
(Silence)

Jawaharlal: Well, things are changing. So many women leaders. Women are the wave of the future in higher education.

Hansa: But we still kill them, still confine them.

Narada: Hansaji, didn’t you know they give cash incentives for girl children now?

Hansa: Why do we do things only for money?

Mohandas: Why, indeed?
(Silence)

Narada: Well, T20 starts soon. That will be the celebration, eh? Don’t you guys regret not being around?

Subhas: Hum honge kamyab, hum honge kamyab.
(The rest joins in a chorus. Mohandas hums in the background: Sabko sammati de bhagwan. Narada dances to dengue malaria, dengue malaria.)

And, thus, all returned to an immortal bliss. India at sixty-five.

by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express in 15th August 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

‎10 TIPS to All IAS Officers


1. As an IAS, you are an icon and will remain so. Try to retain your clean image for the next three decades and more.

2. The journey is such that non-performers can remain in the system, safely. But make conscious attempts to become a doer. Try to be a Tendulkar or a Dhoni, and not someone who does not know whether he is playing the next game.
...

3. Don’t go with a great socialist spirit that you will work only for aam aadmi. As the DM, of course you will handle MNREGA and many pro-poor schemes, but as a generalist, you could be asked even to anchor a state-run company. In that case you will have to think about top-line, bottom-line and shareholders’ value.

4. There will be times when you will not agree with your political boss. Don’t be suicidal by opposing your boss tooth and nail. Be smart, use tactics. Yet, never become your political boss’ rubber stamp. Remember, your one signature could lead you to Tihar jail.

5. Now, file-notings come under RTI. That means, any sentence you write on a file could be under public scrutiny even at a much later stage. Also remember, your detractors within the system may officially “leak” stuff through RTI.

6. You will serve in an era of citizen journalism, high-voltage activism, and social media. You don’t need to get scared by any one of it. But don’t leave any loose end. Remember, every mobile phone is a powerful camera and also video recorder.

7. In the first few years, just check out what interests you more. And accordingly make your next moves. You should be at the right ministry when you come on a Central deputation for the first time as a deputy secretary.

8. During your career, you must choose a good government-funded scholarship for a proper masters or PhD course from a highly reputed foreign university. You should not randomly chose the university or the course. It should be strategic, and must align with your possible future postings.

9. As a civil servant, you are not expected to be super rich. A successful doctor will earn 10 times more than you even after 7th Pay Commission. Don’t compare your wealth with that of college days friends.

10. Sooner or later, private sector specialists would be allowed to make lateral entry into bureaucracy. That means you will have to compete with more energetic private sector talents. So, retain your spirit of UPSC preparations all throughout your career. Have the spirit and energy of a start-up.

http://www.babusofindia.com/2012/05/10-corridor-tips-to-upsc-topper-shena.html

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Interview with Dr. Amartya Sen

DR. AMARTYA SEN.  Excellent exchange of views and ideas. Few Exerpts.

ON MANMOHAN SINGH
Well you know, how much a Prime Minister can do in a democratic system is of course determined by the forces with which he has to reckon. About Manmohan Singh, what advice I would give... to restore his image, I don't think, having known Manmohan Singh for a very long time, he would be worried about restoring his image. I mean, he's a very fine economist, of course you would like that reputation to remain which has remained. If there's any question it is if he's a great political figure or not.  And I think he has certainly been, if you think about what he has achieved, is enormous amounts, doing many things, if you think about it. Not only the fastest period of...longest period of Indian growth has been under his prime ministership.

ON INDIAN POLITICS AT PRESENT
I think what we have to look at is not so much his image because I think that's not what he will be mainly concerned with but whether he is doing well for the country and for that yes, there are things to do. You have to mobilise the political system .Because you know, democracy is meant to be governed by discussion. Instead of that what we've ended up in India is government by pressure groups. And the pressure groups are very strong. When Manmohan tries to do something on employment or making food cheaper for very poor, people immediately jump at the idea and say you are fiscally irresponsible.

ON UNDERACHIEVER TAG TO THE PRIME MINISTER
But you know, I think I have always been saying this is the Indian colonialism. If one American magazine calls him "underachiever" then all of India is calling him "underachiever". I think we should not attach that much importance to it.

ABOUT HAZARE & COMPANY
But I believe that their reading of corruption or what causes corruption or how it can removed is wrong there. We have to look at how the economic system operates. I have a lot of sympathy for him. I am not lacking sympathy for getting absolutely maddeningly angry about the extent of corruption.

ON THE ARGUEMENT THAT WEFARISM IS RUINING INDIA
Like feeding kids is fiscally irresponsible! Giving subsidy to diesel fiscally irresponsible even though subsidy to diesel absorbs much more money than feeding kids. That argument that welfare is killing India is one of the extraordinary things. It's one of the wonders of Indian media that Indian media has already decided Indian growth has already slowed down because of food subsidies, because it hasn't even begun! But the fact that people could think that it would be a terrible thing to do and not worry about those things is because the middle classes which control the media: "It doesn't matter, those things could continue! My God, if you could kill welfarism we can have huge rate of growth!"

ON MIDDLE CLASS WORRY ABOUT WELFARISM
I don't like using an expression of that kind. But it is certainly middle class bias. Because their kids are not unfed. People sometimes ask, why is it that people cry about inflation, why is it so big a political issue? That is partly because those who are vocal are seeing their income rise along with price rise, they're doing fine. But they don't need to worry. There are housewives whose income hasn't changed, whose allocation of budget for bazaar haven't changed. But the prices of food have gone up. They have to cry but they haven't got the voice.

ON SLOWDOWN, DOOM and GOOM OF ECONOMY
But I think if they put it in perspective: India is still the second fastest growing economy in the world... largest economy in the world. Its gap with China is much the same. China has taken the big dip too as India. After the dip, India is still about 6- 6.5 per cent if they're just one quarter, that is 5.3 but overall for the 6.5.. There have been previous quarters where they have been even lower than this number. But some countries like Brazil have gone from 7 or 8 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

ON FUTURE REFORMS AND FDI
I'm in favour of reforms, I want much more reforms of this kind. But I don't have a particular pre-assigned belief that FDI in every field is that right thing. Nor do I have a belief that's it's a wrong thing. We have to see the result. It will bring investment, that is good. It will cut out jobs for many. Small jobs will be cut out by the large corporations. That is a bad thing. So you have to balance these.  If you convert all these into a slogan (and I'm glad you raised the issue of slogans) then you miss out the thing. In each case, we have to judge. FDI cannot be intrinsically good or bad, we have to see what does it actually do. For that, we need an analysis in each case.

Wonderful Dr. Sen I am a big fan of yours.

(From CNN-IBN interview with Sagarika Ghosh)

 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

India the most reckless political experiment in World History

Exerpts of a book review by Ramchandra Guha

THE REPUBLIC OF INDIA is the most reckless political experiment in human history. Never before was a single nation constructed out of so many diverse and disparate parts. Partitioned at birth on the basis of religion, India now has almost as many Muslims as the Muslim homeland of Pakistan. It has more Christians than Australia, more Buddhists than Tibet, more Sikhs, Jains, and Parsis than any country in the world. The Hindus, nominally the religious “majority,” are divided into tens of thousands of endogamous castes and sects. Meanwhile, the extraordinary linguistic diversity of India is represented on the country’s currency notes, with the denomination—50 rupees, 10 rupees, and so on—written in seventeen languages, each with a distinct script.

This is an unnatural nation, as well as an unlikely democracy. Never before was a population so poor and so illiterate asked to vote freely to choose who would govern it. Unlike in the West, where the franchise was granted in stages, the Indian constitution immediately gave the vote to every adult regardless of caste, class, education, or gender. This was an act of faith, greeted with widespread disbelief: writing of the first general elections, held in 1952, a prominent Indian editor observed that they were the “biggest gamble in history.” It was a gamble that seems to have paid off—there have been fourteen general elections since, each the greatest democratic exercise in human history (with some four hundred million voting in the last iteration in 2009), as well as regular elections in states more populous than France or Germany.

In the end he wonders what went wrong in a country which always had great thinkers/leaders?

IN A BOOK PUBLISHED in 2007, the year marking the sixtieth anniversary of Indian independence, I argued that while a democracy had to be founded by visionaries, it could be run in mid-career by mediocrities. Such was the case with India, and with the United States, for the distance between Mahatma Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi was no more, and no less, than the distance between George Washington and George W. Bush. Five years later, I see that this might have been an excessively sanguine judgment. The people who rule India today are worse than mediocrities. Forget idealism or vision, they are not even competent, being motivated rather by vanity, greed, or nepotism (or all of the above).

“The state is impersonal; the Argentine can only conceive of personal relations,” wrote Borges. “Therefore, to him, robbing public funds is not a crime. I am noting a fact; I am not justifying or excusing it.” The causes of corruption in India are somewhat more sociological— not so much “personal” as “kin” and “community” and interest group. Public funds are diverted not to one’s friend or mistress, but to one’s nephew or caste-mate. But the effect is the same, namely, the undermining of institutions meant to serve society as a whole rather than a particular slice of it.

Apart from some exceptions. most instis are corrupt:

Some institutions have stood apart from the trend. The Election Commission of India runs polls efficiently and fairly; the comptroller-and-auditorgeneral rigorously scrutinizes public spending; the Finance Commission allocates funds to states in a non-partisan manner. Unlike in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and China, the armed forces have stayed scrupulously away from politics. Many (but by no means all) judges of the Supreme Court are competent and honest.

On the whole, though, public institutions in India are defined more by corruption and incompetence than by transparency and accountability. The Gandhian period seems, in retrospect, an aberration. Inspired by the idealism and the spirit of self-sacrifice of the national movement, two or three generations of politicians, civil servants, and judges subordinated their personal ambitions (and kinship ties) to the impersonal goals of the institutions they had chosen to serve. As late as the 1960s, most cabinet ministers and all Supreme Court judges were, in a financial sense, incorruptible. But as the impulse animating the freedom struggle receded, the basic building blocks of the society reasserted themselves. Whether acting in their private or their public capacity, officials of the state would now privilege the interests of their family, caste, and community above those of the institution itself.

Final para says it all - Republic of India remains a work in progress

Sixty-four years after the British departed, the . The experiment has clearly not failed, nor has it emphatically succeeded. Home to the most elevating as well as the most depressing aspects of the human experience, it inspires—in this citizen at any rate—pride and embarrassment in equal measure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Solution to Policy Paralysis

Equip bureaucrats to mitigate, rather than take, risks

There is a widespread perception that decision-making systems in the bureaucracy, at all levels, have become slow and inefficient. While public perception is linked to a multidimensional reality, it will be useful to look at these issues within a framework that focuses on the commonly held belief that even “good” decision-makers are no longer willing to take risks and that the passing of the buck and abdication of responsibility are reasons for the poor quality of decision-making. This framework, however, does not include cases where the decision-maker is fundamentally ill-motivated.

Any analysis of the risk involved in decision-making needs to begin by defining it. Here, the risk is that the decision may be “wrong”; and we broaden it by including a situation where there is a widespread perception to this effect. It goes without saying that if the risk is to be defined as, say, adversely affecting one’s career advancement, the results of the analysis will be quite different though, of course, equally illuminating. With respect to wrong decision-making, any analysis would reveal that some of the factors contributing to it are inadequate knowledge, particularly of the techno-economic-social-environmental interfaces; lack of clarity of the time frame, whether short term, medium term or long term; an understanding of the public purpose for which the private sector is a stakeholder; the possibility of crossfire in a corporate warfare situation; simultaneous media coverage hindering decision-making processes and, finally, the interface of Parliament and the courts or audit in relation to accountability incidentally impinging on decision-making in an unconnected matter. The recent cases related to the allocation of natural resources, mining, defence acquisition, among others, can be analysed from this perspective.

It is sometimes wrongly postulated that in such a situation it is necessary that key decision-makers are selected for their risk-taking ability, and that such risk-taking should be encouraged. In such circumstances, as in any “fog of war” situation, a high proportion of decisions could inevitably be perceived as wrong. What is really needed is to ensure that decision-makers know how to mitigate, that is reduce, risk and then manage the residual risk as best they can, using their manifest expertise. Broadly, risk-mitigation would involve risk-allocation to or risk-sharing with technical and regulatory agencies. Here risk-allocation and risk-sharing must be distinguished from buck-passing by ensuring that the responsibilities of the partners are based on the respective management or technical domain expertise; by developing and using systems and institutions to generate, manage and analyse techno-economic data; by creating more transparency in the system and disclosure from those in the higher echelons of decision-making; and, finally, by fostering an informed stakeholder community of experts, media, civil society organisations, industry or sector associations. A little reflection would show that the space we have created for ourselves for risk-mitigation is clearly insufficient and is a major reason why residual risk is still so high. Additionally, we may not have created enough capacity for residual risk-management.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the decision-maker is already immersed in a risk-averse environment, where even normal decision-making is often subject to prolonged, repeated or intense scrutiny, sometimes by people with inadequate knowledge of the relevant domain; where potential conflict-of-interest situations are embedded or non-level playing fields are created; or where analytical tools are used unpredictably (for instance, legal instead of economic, or social instead of environmental). In such a situation, when residual risk is high and managing risks require special skills that are in short supply, what is really required is to reduce risk-aversion at the systemic level rather than fire-fight at the situation level.

What can be done to reduce risk-aversion and ensure that residual risks can be well managed? Each sector will need to work its own way through the problem, but generic solutions include a few key factors.

One, encourage independent and semi-independent advisory bodies, techno-economic think-tanks, policy research institutions, sector regulatory bodies that can provide considered and attributable consultancies to departments, parliamentary committees, courts and civil society organisations.

Two, create internal institutional units in technical and regulatory organisations for better evidence-based policy analysis.

Three, have a stronger emphasis on creating competent HR. This has multiple implications in terms of the quality of recruitment, sufficiency of tenures, promotion of specialisation and facilitation of multidisciplinary expertise, among others. Today, those with technical expertise do not, in most cases, develop the ability to contribute at the highest levels of sectoral policy-making, preventing the use of credible techno-economic mechanisms to mitigate or manage risks, that too at a time when decision-making is increasingly technical and complex.

Four, have stronger engagement with parliamentary committees, including robust mechanisms to enable their secretariats to easily access technical and techno-economic analysis and advice.
Five, encourage serving and retired senior policy-makers and technocrats to appear or write in the media, explaining or analysing public policy.

Six, develop enterprise-level communication strategies as against programme-level strategies as at present, with professional inputs on an ongoing basis, so that the optimality of decisions can be seen in relation to outcomes and time horizons and as per the vision and strategy of the organisation or the department as a whole.

Finally, in high-risk situations, high rewards (recognition, advancement, etc) are required not to encourage people to unnecessarily take risks, but to attract people who have the skills, experience and expertise to be able to mitigate risks

By S. Vijay Kumar, from- Indian Express, The writer is secretary, ministry of rural development.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

MY UPSC INTERVIEW

Chairman Dr. K.K. Paul, 2 Male and 2 Female members.

Me: Height- 185 cm (roughly 6′ 1″) Weight- 70.7 kgs as on medical day.
Optionals: LAW and Political Science & International Relations.
Hobbies: Calendar reform, Dispute Resolution and Street Food
Extracurricular Activities: Organising Artificial Limbs camps, Blood Donation camps, Cultural Programs. Member- School Cricket Team.
Work Experience: Partner, XYZ Food Products; Director- XYZ Cold Storage pvt. ltd.; Director- XYZ Food Products pvt. ltd.
Home State: Jharkhand
Interview dress:- Charcoal Black Formal Lounge Suit, Pinkish White Shirt and Violet Tie. Usual other things like shoes, belt, socks etc.
(Afternoon Session, 3rd to be called in)
Buzzer; the Orderly opens the door for me.

I ask “May I come in Sir”. Somebody said “come in”.

During entering I saw that the Chairman is going through my summery sheet.
I enter; went near my chair and wished the board; the members were not interested in wishes.

Asked to sit down by Chairman.

Chairman: Dr. K.K. Paul. A very smart and goodlooking gentleman.
CM: What is your Name?
Me: Sir…..Name

CM: And Date of Birth
Me: Sir…..DOB

CM: And Roll number

Me: Sir…..Roll no.
CM: So you are from Law; tell me the difference between Due Process of Law and Procedure established by Law?

Me: Sir, Procedure Established by Law is any procedure which may be established by a duly enacted legislation or made by the administration while Due process of Law involves the principles of natural justice. Here the Law itself have to be just and can be questioned in the Courts.
CM: When this Due Process did enter our constitution?
Me: Sir, In Menaka Gandhi’s case in 1978.

CM: Tell me what happened in the Menka Gandhi case?
Me: Sir, the passport of Menaka Gandhi was impounded by the airport authorities and proper hearing was not given to her. The Supreme Court held that the principles of natural justice have not been followed and struck down the decision of the authorities.

CM: In How many ways the constitution of India can be amended?
Me: In 3 ways sir; First is by simple majority in the Parliament whereby boundaries of States can be changed under Article 3,4 and few other provisions too; the second is by a special majority of two third of members voting along with an absolute majority of the total number of members and third is by special majority plus absolute majority plus ratification by half of the States.
CM: What was held in Golaknath case?

Me: It was held that Fundamental Rights comprising Chapter-3 of the Constitution are transcendental and cannot be amended further a new doctrine of prospective overruling was laid down.

CM: That is fine but something more was there?

Me: Sir, it was held that Article 368 only prescribes the Procedure to amend the Constitution and not the powers.

CM: Yes this was the most important thing. Ok, What was the ratio of Judges of Golaknath case?
Me: Sir, 6:5 judges. (Chairman tried to recall)
CM: What happened after Golaknath?

Me: Sir, the Parliament brought the 24th and 25th amendment. The 24th amendment inserted that Art. 368 includes the power to amend the constitution and a clause was also added which I do not exactly remember.
CM: Then what happened?

Me: These amendments were challenged in the Keshwanand Bharti case where it was held that the Parliament can amend the constitution but it cannot alter the basic structure of the constitution.
CM: And Minerva Mills case?

Me: In this case the basic structure doctrine was confirmed sir.

CM: Tell me what was the matter?
Me: Sir, the 42nd amendment gave primacy to all Directive principles that is Chapter-4 over Chapter-3 that is Fundamental Rights. This was held to be violative of basic structure of the constitution.

CM: You have a hobby Calendar reform, What is it?

Me: Sir, actually we use 2 calendars; the first is the Gregorian Calendar which starts from 1st January and the second is our religious calendar. Our religious Calendar is faulty sir; the Calender reform committee presided by Dr. Meghnada Saha in 1955 suggested reforms which have not been carried out till date and the result is that….(Chairman interrupted)

CM: How do we correct Gregorian Calendar? There is leap year also?
Me: Yes sir; every 4th year is a leap year but every 100th year is not but every 1000th year is again a leap year…..(again interrupted)

CM: Indian Calendar also has; one extra month. That corrects the Calendar?
Me: Yes sir intercalary month is there. (Decided to leave the matter here and not to be argumentative)
CM: What have you done for this hobby of yours?
Me: Sir I am a member of a Calendar Reform Committee with like-minded people and I have also made representations to various Government departments.
CM: There is election of President. How is President elected?

Me: (Mistook it to be US presidential elections). Sir I don’t know the exact procedure sir; but primarily elections are there on State to State basis and the candidate win states and get votes of all delegates from…(Interrupted)
CM: No, no. We have our Presidential elections in June or July?

Me: I am sorry for my mistake, sir. In our Presidential elections a collegium of all MP’s of both houses amd all MLA’s of State Assembly is formed. The total number of votes of an MLA is calculated by a formula….
CM: What is the formula for counting electoral votes?
Me: Sorry sir, I don’t remember the formula, exactly.

CM: Then?
Me: Sir equal number of votes are given to MP’s. Then final election is carried out by Proportional Voting system by a system of single transferable…(interrupted)
CM: What is this Proportional Voting system?
Me: Sir, here the candidates can give vote in priority. Firstly the first priority votes are counted and if a candidate dosent gets 51%..sir, more than 50% then second and then third priority votes are counted.

CM: There was an election where the second and third priority votes were actually counted. Do you know that?
Me: Sir, I think it was the election in which Chief Justice Subba Rao participated.
CM: No Subba Rao lost out rightly to Dr. Zakir Hussain?

Me: Sorry sir; I am not sure then.
CM: You have been associated with a business firm. What is it?
Me: Sir it’s a food processing unit engaged in Pulse Milling and producing Soya Nuggets.
CM: After doing business for so many years; why do you want to come for civil services?
Me: Sir I had Civil Services in mind from my school time sir; but due to illness of my father who has a stroke and after that vascular dementia, epilepsy etc. I had to join business in 12th standard sir; I even had to leave studies at that time sir; but now sir when my younger brother is incharge of business and I don’t have family responsibilities and I have come here sir.

Transferred to M1 (Male Member).
M1: What is domain name?
Me: Sir it’s a name given to a website sir for identification. We surf a website by its name which is the domain name itself.
M1: Why do lawyers wear Black Coat?
Me: Sir it’s a British tradition sir. I don’t know more than that.
M1: It is said that Lawyers must wear white coat. Why it is said so and do you agree?

Me: I don’t have any idea in this regard sir.

M1: What is the difference between Rule of Law and Rule by Law?
Me: Sir rule by law is a situation were we try to govern as per the rule laid down by the legislature or administration but rule of law is a British Dicean concept which implies equality before law and equal access to law. The difference is like procedure established by Law and due process of law only.
M1: Have you heard about Justice Krishna Iyer?

Me: Yes sir, he was a great Judge and people friendly too sir.

M1: In which Court he was there?

Me: Sir, Supreme Court and earlier Kerela High Court.

M1: What are the methods of dispute resolution (Again my Hobby)?

Me: Sir there is formal adjudication and alternate dispute resolution system which comprises Arbitration, Conciliation, Mediation…..(interrupted)
M1: Explain the difference between Arbitration and Adjudication?

Me: Sir Arbitration is done under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996; its an informal process sir where the parties themselves can decide on arbitrators, procedure etc. while formal adjudication is done by the formal courts using Civil and Criminal procedural laws.
M1: In Arbitration can you wear white coat?

Me: Sure sir, and I will say coats of all colour for the purpose sir. (Smile)

M1: (Smile) Do you know IP?
Me: Sir it stand for Intellectual Property.
M1: What are different types of Intellectual Property?
Me: Sir we have Patents, Copyright, Trademark, Geographical Indicator and one for Integrated chips too sir, which I don’t remember.

M1: Pick up the Pencil. (Probably to have a view of rings I was wearing). I Picked.
M1: Tell me the number of IP associated with the Pencil?

Me: Sir Trademark is surely there; and if the pencil is manufactured by a special process than patent may also be there.
Me: Sir may I keep this Pencil Down.
M1: Ya, Ya.
M1: I am having a Pen. Tell me the number of IP associated with this Pen? (It was uniball pen)

Me: Sir the same two sir; Trademark and Patent.

M1: (explaining) See this tip of the pen is patented.

CM: (adding) Process Patent and Product Patent.
Me: Yes sir.


Transferred to M2. (Female member with extremely charming personality)

M2: What is Street Food (my hobby)?
Me: Mam, its food sold by street vendors and small restaurants.

M2: How can this hobby help you in Service?

Me: Mam, in recent times we are seeing processed food as vital for food security of the people; in my home state Jharkhand we have a Mukhyamantri Daal Bhaat Yojana which I will be able to implement with this hobby, mam. Further maam the knowledge of food-processing will be helpful to me at various stages and schemes.
M2: You can also organize street food fairs and handle Tourism sector enterprises.
Me: Yes. That will help surely mam.
M2: You have been in Business for so many years. How will your Business experience help you in service?

Me: Mam I have completed projects on time and that I can do in future also for the Government, infact we completed our Cold storage in 7-8 months (I had been a director in Cold Storage a Pvt. Ltd. Company)….

M2: That is very good; delayed projects are the biggest problem

Me: (cont)…further mam I have knowledge of food processing sector which is vital for the country; I also have interest in food technology mam which will be helpful…(was running out of words here because Mam was too motherly)

M2: Your experience of Management will also help. You have spent so many years in management.
Me: (Relieved) Surely mam.
M2: You must be knowing about PPP?

Me: Yes maam, its Public Private Partnership
M2: What is it?
Me: Its a partnership maam, where private sector is called upon to co-opt with the private sector in the development of the Country maam.

M2: Has it been useful?

Me: Yes maam, it has be very useful and specially in the infrastructure secor it has been of special significance. It has been useful in development of Roads, Airports and had futher potential.

M3: Have you been to Rajasthan?

Me: Yes maam.
M3: What had been done in PPP there?
Me: Mam in Rajasthan we have build up extensive network of beautiful roads throughout the State maam in this mode.
CH: (in between) In which sectors apart from Infrastructure, PPP can be useful?
Me: Sir in energy sector and the 12th plan calls upon PPP in virtually in every sector.
M2: (again taking back) What is 12th plan?

Me: mam we are starting with 12th five year plan from 1st April this year. I have read the approach paper to 12th plan man and the headline of the plan is “towards faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth”

M2: So how does 12th plan calls for PPP?
Me: It focuses on sector specific schemes mam, but I am sorry mam; the details I dont remember.
M2: Do you like Gol-Gappa?

Me: Yes Mam.
Transferred to M3. Male Member. (A bit strict, decided to be hard as the lady earlier was soft).
M3: You have international relations as one of your subjects. There is dispute between Turkey and Greece…?
Me: (In between) Yes sir, Cyprus.
M3: Yes Cyprus is there and many more; and the dispute is one reason that Turkey is not being admitted to EU? Can you tell?

Me: Sir I am aware that Cyprus is a dispute; I also know that Turkey has problems with EU entry but sir I am not aware about the history and details of dispute between Turkey and Greece.

M3: Don’t you think Hygiene issues involved with street food?
Me: Sir there are hygiene issues involved with street food but sir the food is cooked in oil sir; above 100 degrees so there is very less chance of bacteria being present further they mostly prepare fresh food everyday while in restraints……(interrupted)
M3: Then why do you take street food
Me: Sir, the body allows and I enjoy sir. That’s the reason sir.
M3: You take street food anywhere or you have some choices?

Me: Sir I make choices.
M3: How do make the choice?

Me: Sir, whenever I go somewhere I enquire about that place that where I will get best street food. When I first came to Delhi I enquired and was told about Chandani Chowk……(was not allowed to complete)
M3: You have Dispute Resolution as your hobby. What kind of disputes you resolve?

(M2, lady from behind; “It is a very good hobby; it will help you as a DM; a DM has to resolve various disputes”)
Me: Sir I have a realization that most of the people we dislike or have dispute with are infact our closest people sir. If we make a list of people we hate or dislike we will find that most of the people in the list will be our close people. This realization helps in dispute resolution sir.

M3: Have you ever been in external disputes, outside your circle of influence?

Me: Yes sir, in 3-4 disputes I have helped exploited people to have access to justice.

M3: Your extracurricular activities are Artificial Limbs, Blood Donation camps etc. How do you do them?

Me: Sir I am a member in few organizations sir; and we collectively undertake these activities.

M3: Have you ever donated blood your-self?

Me: No, sir. We organize blood donation camps sir but I personally haven’t donated blood.

(Don’t know whether this answer was right; few friends suggested that I must have said a lie that is Yes).

Transferred to M4. (Female Member. A bit serious.)

M4: What is Jaipur Foot?

Me: Mam its an organization based in Jaipur which is known for its work in the field of artificial limbs.

M4: Explain the technology of Artificial Limbs?

Me: Mam, we use HDPE pipes as the body of the leg; Plaster of Paris foot is prepared and fitted in the pipe mam and the base which we use that is the toe part is the Jaipur Foot itself.

M4: What is special in Jaipur Foot technology?
Me: Mam its cheap. An artificial limb costs only 1000-1500 rupees.
M4: There is something special with Jaipur Foot?
Me: (A bit nervous realizing that Mam is trying to grill me). Sorry Mam we use Jaipur Foot base but I am not aware mam.

M4: How they tie the limbs?

Me: Mam leather or polyutherene belts are used but I am not very sure of the exact technology mam. (Mam wanted to know about sockets and joints which I did not know).
M4: Heard about Kalam?

Me: Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam mam..(to confirm).. Yes.
M4: What were his achievements?

Me: He was President of India mam. He is known as the missile man,

M4: What special did he do?
Me: Mam he was the head of the Integrated Missile Guided Program and for his scientific achievements he was awarded Bharat Ratna in 1997.
M4: Why was he popular?
Me: Mam he was fond of Children and a very simple person famous for these things.
M4: He has written some books?
Me: Yes mam, Wings of Fire and Vision 2020.
M4: Have you read them?
Me: No mam, I purchased Vision 2020 but I have not read it mam.
M4: There has been a new-book by Dr, Kalam? Are you aware?
Me: No Mam.
M4: Its 3 Billion

Me: Thank you mam.
M4: What is the difference between invention and innovation?
Me: Mam, Invention is making something completely new, out-of-box idea mam but innovation is improving upon an existing thing mam; modifying it.
M4: What innovations have you done in your industry?

Me: In our Pulse Milling industry there is need to sprinkle oil on whole Pulses and keep it in Tank for 48 hours so that the husk loosens. We are using a technology where we don’t mix oil mam and do without it.

Then How many hours you keep pulses in tank?
Me: mam, we process pulses directly; we give only 6-8 hours as time is required to cool; the pulses go through an emery roll mam and are heated up…..(interrupted), (I also fumbled a bit in this answer)

M4: What have you done for Quality Control and betterment?
Me: Mam, after the Mains exam I have installed a Colour Sortex Machine. Colour Sortex is a revolution in grain milling which separates grains as per colour. We should have a Government program for its promotion mam.
Finally transferred back to the Chairman. The Mighty Paul sir.
CM: In Bihar/Jharkhand there is a disease called Kala-Azar? (Home State- Jharkhand)
Me: Yes sir, Kala-Azar
CM: Tell in details about the disease?
Me: Sir it’s a disease in rural area sir, but I don’t know the details about it sir.
CM: Difference between Epidemic and Pandemic?
Me: (Thinking for 3-4 seconds) Sorry sir, I am not sure.
CM: There is problem of flood in Bihar. Even without rain there will be flood. (Sarcastically). What is the reason?
Me: Sir we had the problem of flood in Bengal and Jharkhand too…(interrupted)
CM: In Jharkhand I am not sure but in Bengal Surely.
Me:..yes sir, we have controlled the flood there with multi-purpose projects and specially DVC sir. In the case of Bihar there is uncontrolled water coming from Nepal sir and we have not been able to build projects in Nepal. We have a Kosi project sir but work is moving very slowly on that sir.
CM: What is the solution?
Me: Sir we have to take Nepal in confidence and sir only after that…..(Interrupted)
CM: You talked of Nepal; Why we have difficulty dealing with them?

Me: Sir there is trust deficit in Nepal sir; between the parties themselves and between India and few parties of Nepal; sir, with Sri Lanka and Maldives we have the privilege of having good relations with all parties but we don’t have the same privilege in Nepal and Bangladesh sir; so if we move with some parties immediately there will be anti-India rhetoric by some others; but the present PM, Baburam Bhattrai seems to be India friendly sir.

CM: What is the problem there?

Me: Sir in 2005 all the parties united against the King sir but they have not been able to agree after that. There are deep divisions in Nepal and they have not been able to complete the constitution sir.

CM: What is the biggest dispute?

Me: Sir its about induction of Maoist cadres in the Nepalese Army sir.

CM: What should we do with Nepal?

Me: Sir we should try to open with all parties and seek a reconciliation to complete the Constitution. Then we should facilitate the transition of Nepal to a functioning democracy. Once Nepal becomes a functioning democracy; it will help sir.
CM: OK. Thank you.
I get up. Wish “Thank You to you all”. The Board is again not interested in wishes. I exit.

(The Chairman was staring; throughout my way to the exit).
I came out; the candidate next to me was sitting outside and gave me a Thumbs Up. I also returned and went to the Central Hall to collect the belongings and then came out.
It was 20-25 minutes interview. I was third to be interviewed and out by 3.35 PM.


MY EXPERIENCE

About the mighty Paul sir: Paul sir is extremely smart and good-looking person. He is pakka police wala. He can dig everything out of you. In short he is extremely smart person. Very dangerous. You can’t bluff him and get away. Yet he was cordial and smiling too. Though his smiles were few and not very large. He asks questions one by one and will try to confuse you. He will ask in small steps and will ask…then….then. My advice to others: don’t say a lie before him. He will catch in no time. Answer only when you are confident; don’t beat around the bush. Paul sir will show very few emotions and will not smile. But that is good too in a manner that you will be careful.
About M1: He was probably a generalist; probably an ex-bureaucrat. He asked general questions from all of us as transpired from talks the next day during medical.
About M2: She was probably a professor in literature as we came to know later. She was extremely helpful and did also tried to answer M3 on my behalf in 2-3 questions which I didn’t pay much attention to.
About M3: He was probably another ex-bureaucrat. No special analysis for him.
About M4: She was probably a professor from engineering background as she asked technical questions from all of us.
Myself: I tried to be cool, calm and humble which I was able to. The interview went in a consistent pace and there were no ups and downs. Very few cross-questions were there but supplementary questions were asked many times. As it transpired there were lot of mind-games being played and the board tried to balance each other and used all techniques. I answered slowly and took few pauses of 1-2 seconds in between. Overall I think it was a good interview but as it was Paul Sir I don’t expect the marks to be too high.
The candidate who went after me for interview informed me that the board called him in after a time lapse of about 10 minutes. He also told that the board seemed very happy and positive. These I presume are signs of a good interview.
I Got 210/300 for this interview. This is probably the highest from this Low Scoring Board in CSE-2011.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Farewell to Incredible India: The Slowdown Story.


Bereft of leaders, an Asian giant is destined for a period of lower growth. The human cost will be immense.

IN A world economy as troubled as today’s, news that India’s growth rate has fallen to 5.3% may not seem important. But the rate is the lowest in seven years, and the sputtering of India’s economic miracle carries social costs that could surpass the pain in the euro zone. The near double-digit pace of growth that India enjoyed in 2004-08, if sustained, promised to lift hundreds of millions of Indians out of poverty—and quickly. Jobs would be created for all the young people who will reach working age in the coming decades, one of the biggest, and potentially scariest, demographic bulges the world has seen.

But now, after a slump in the currency, a drying up of private investment and those GDP figures, the miracle feels like a mirage. Whether India can return to a path of high growth depends on its politicians—and, in the end, its voters. The omens, frankly, are not good.

In office but not in power

Some of this crunch reflects the rest of the world’s woes. The Congress-led coalition government, with Brezhnev-grade complacency, insists things will bounce back. But India’s slowdown is due mainly to problems at home and has been looming for a while. The state is borrowing too much, crowding out private firms and keeping inflation high. It has not passed a big reform for years. Graft, confusion and red tape have infuriated domestic businesses and harmed investment. A high-handed view of foreign investors has made a big current-account deficit harder to finance, and the rupee has plunged.

The remedies, agreed on not just by foreign investors and liberal newspapers but also by Manmohan Singh’s government, are blindingly obvious. A combined budget deficit of nearly a tenth of GDP must be tamed, particularly by cutting wasteful fuel subsidies. India must reform tax and foreign-investment rules. It must speed up big industrial and infrastructure projects. It must confront corruption. None of these tasks is insurmountable. Most are supposedly government policy.

Why, then, does Mr Singh not act? Vacillation plays a role. But so do two deeper political problems. First, the state machine has still not been modernised. It is neither capable of overcoming red tape and vested interests nor keen to relax its grip over the bits of the economy it still controls. The things that do work in India—a corruption-busting supreme court, the leading IT firms, a scheme to give electronic identities to all—are often independent of, or bypass, the decrepit state.

Second, as the bureaucracy has degenerated, politics has fragmented. The two big parties, the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are losing support to regional ones. For all the talk of aspirations, voters do not seem to connect reform with progress. India’s liberalisers over the past two decades, including Mr Singh himself, have reformed by stealth. That now looks like a liability. No popular consensus exists in favour of change or tough decisions.

As a result, when the government tries to clear bottlenecks, feuding and overlapping bureaucracies can get in the way. When it suggests raising fuel prices, it faces protests and backs down. When it tries to pass reforms on foreign investment, its populist coalition partners threaten to pull the plug. It does not help that the ageing Mr Singh has little clout of his own: he reports to the ailing Sonia Gandhi, the dynastic chief of Congress. With a packed electoral timetable before general elections in 2014, Congress does not want to take risks.

Is it time for a change at the top? Mr Singh has plainly run out of steam, but there are no appealing candidates to replace him. Mrs Gandhi’s son, Rahul, has been a disappointment. What about a change of government? The opposition BJP is split and has been wildly inconsistent about reform. Its best administrator, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, is divisive and authoritarian. If it formed a government tomorrow, the BJP would also have to rely on fickle smaller parties.

Some reformers pray for a financial crisis that will shake the politicians from their stupor, as happened in 1991, allowing Mr Singh to sneak through his changes. Though India’s banks face bad debts, its cloistered financial system, high foreign-exchange reserves and capable central bank mean it is not about to keel over. A short, sharp shock would indeed be useful, but a full-blown crisis should not be wished for, because of the harm that it would do to the poor.

Instead the dreary conclusion is that India’s feeble politics are now ushering in several years of feebler economic growth. Indeed, the politicians’ most complacent belief is that voters will just put up with lower growth—because they supposedly care only about state handouts, the next meal, cricket and religion. But as Indians discover that slower growth means fewer jobs and more poverty, they will become angry. Perhaps that might be no bad thing, if it makes them vote for change

(From The Economist)http://www.economist.com/node/21556576?fsrc=scn/tw_ec/farewell_to_incredible_india

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Blocked Elite: Best Explaination for ANNA HAZARE Phenomenon


The problem with most middle-class political movements is that they know whom they don’t want, but rarely do they know what they want. This is the case as well in what is going on in Egypt and in other Arab countries currently in the grip of uprisings. Rest assured all these are largely middle-class driven uprisings, emerging from what is called the ‘blocked elite’ — i.e. an educated middle-class that feels it has what it takes to become a power-elite but its path is being blocked by a corrupt, unfair and autocratic regime.

Thus whenever this blocked elite does manage to stir up a movement, it is almost always focused on a single personality, and not necessarily the system as such. The rallying cry in the troubled Arab nations is against despotic individuals, but nobody has a clue what is to follow. The protesters, largely coming from middle and lower-middle-class strata of society have so far failed to produce their own organisations that can systematically suggest a political and economic plan and an alternative to what the hated individual symbolises.

Though such movements might be able to topple these individuals, they end up creating a vacuum that is often filled by political entities that may also be against the toppled individual, but their ways are not necessarily in tune with the ideals of politics and society of the middle-class. But the question arises, what exactly are middle-class ideals? In the classical sense they should be democracy, economic stability, good governance and the maintenance of law and order. But in the post-modern world such ideals have become blurred, especially in Muslim countries where the middle-class has largely begun to perceive democracy as something akin to populist chaos or a way for the West to impose its own political agenda and values.

The irony is that only a handful of Muslim countries have a democratic system in place, and the most organised opposition to autocratic regimes there is coming from the religious right. But in the last two decades or so, though the religious right has made a lot of headway in penetrating the psyche of the Muslim middle-class, people are still not quite sure whether to support the religious groups on political basis as well. The same is the case in Pakistan, in spite the fact that it is one of the few Muslim countries that has seen a number of democratic set-ups. Nevertheless, even here, though religious groups have made deep inroads into the middle-class psyche and this class usually airs these groups’ thoughts and anti-West rhetoric, it usually ends up supporting the so-called moderate conservative parties like PML-N, while the ‘masses’ (at least as voters) have always kept religious parties at bay by voting for various democratic and quasi-secular political parties.

But the vacuum created by even the most positive action by the middle-class in most Muslim countries remains. Two examples in this context can further strengthen this theory.

The first is the 1977 protest movement in Pakistan against the Z A Bhutto regime and the other is the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The movement against Bhutto was born out of the frustration the industrial and middle class faced due to the (democratically elected) Bhutto regime’s widespread nationalisation policies and its perceived favouring of Sindhis.

The frustrated middle-class which, till then was largely liberal and also had progressives in its midst, was not politically organised. For the better part of Bhutto’s regime a significant section of the young, urban middle-class aligned itself with the Jamat-i-Islami’s student wing, the IJT, on campuses and then squarely fell for the religious parties’ movement against Bhutto in 1977.

Though this movement raised Islamic slogans, it was really entirely aimed against an individual, Bhutto. Bhutto’s gradual weakening in the face of this middle-class uprising generated a vacuum that was conveniently filled by the military, that took over using the same abstract slogans used by the movement, and preying upon middle-class fears of political chaos. In Iran, the groundwork for what erupted into a full blown revolution against the Shah was undertaken by various secular-liberal and leftist groups, so much so that influential Iranian Islamic activist-scholar, Ali Shariati, borrowed heavily from leftist philosopher J P. Sartre and Marxism to attract middle-class attention against the Shah.

The result was desperate groups of middle-class Iranians squarely aiming against an autocratic individual, without any alternative plan as such — until the vacuum was filled by the organised political clergy who replaced an autocratic and corrupt monarchy with a faith-based and reactionary regime.

Today, urban middle-classes in Muslim countries have begun to shape themselves into vital economic and political entities. But as seen in Egypt and also in Pakistan, this class has failed to elaborate exactly what it wants as a political and economic system. In Pakistan it is somewhat repulsed by populist democracy, fearing that a popularly elected government too may end up blocking their upwardly mobile ambitions as does an autocratic one.

In the process this class continues to linger as a fragmented set of malcontents, willingly alienated from mainstream political entities, and thus, always susceptible in the end for settling for either the desired rule of an unelected technocrat, or worse, being hijacked by right-wing aspirations that promise them a check on populist masses-driven ‘chaos’.
(By Nadeem Paracha, Pakistan)

And He is right. The rise of Islamic parties in Egypt and Annaji joining hands with Ramdev, interest of Religious Guru's etc. factors indeed indicate a right wing flavour to these movements.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Public Reason, Indian Style: The reality


In a democracy, public opinion is the ultimate God, or so it is said. Even authoritarian regimes, at some point, fear its wrath. 2011 was the year, not of individual heroes, but of public opinion: public opinion railing against authority, oligarchy and corruption. But it was also a year in which public opinion, or so we are told, was transformed by the medium it used. Authoritarian governments found it hard to control flows of information and opinion. But the proliferation of new media — from TV to Twitter — also raised profound questions about the ways in which public opinion was going to be formed. Was the proliferation of new media forms genuine empowerment or did it rest on its own set of exclusions? Was it easier or harder for ordinary people to be heard? Where more people were expressing their opinion, did one have to shout harder to be heard? Would older forms of contribution to public reason survive? Could the old-fashioned, essay-style column, with complexity and nuance (and full disclosure, I have a vested interest in defending that genre), survive the Age of 140 Characters? Was the sound bite going to replace the sound thought? In short, what is the future of democratic discourse?

It is said, rightly, that in a democracy, nothing has special authority: not God, not History, not Reason. In fact, the radical promise of democracy is just that as Kant put it, “Reason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens.” But how are these agreements going to be produced? Every democracy has worried about this. We don’t know how to institutionalise a conception of public reason in which all individuals can participate as free and equal individuals. But 2011 was an object lesson in the ways in which discourse operated in a democracy. Indian democracy is a feat of improvisation, and nothing reflects this more so than the character of our public argument. Here are some randomly collected lessons from 2011.

There are two dangers in a democracy. The first is what Aeschylus warned about: Freedom will be interpreted to mean, “Say whatever just came to your lips.” The second danger is freedom will be interpreted to mean, “Say just what you think others want to hear.” Both the excess of the first and the restraint of the second pose dangers to genuine public reason. In most parties, spokesman succumbs to the first temptation, government to the second.

Public Opinion can make the horse come to the water, it cannot make it drink.

The most valuable trait in politics is not rhetorical power. It is silence. Those who speak the least shall be prime minister the longest.

So long as the Anna movement used the power of music and maun vrat, they had a chance. The minute they took to the megaphone they blew it.

Arguments are made for cutting others, not for advancing understanding.

Representation is Reality — till the Representation changes.

For every argument, there is an available statistic.

In economic discourse, the most important part of any claim is “other things being equal”. This is the part we are also most likely to forget.

On important policy issues like the Food Security Bill, politicians can heed complex evidence: until the NAC weighs in.

Those who speak in the name of the poor will never let the poor speak.

Those who invoke the “people” really mean to say, “It is my way or no way.”

Those who work for the public good work away quietly. Those who cannot, demand new laws.

Our discussions are very principled. On each subject we invoke plenty of principles — except the one relevant to the subject.

The camera almost always lies. Or rather, the truth it represents is a function of the magnification angles of the camera.

The allure of a camera may be even more corrupting than the allure of money. The thought that millions are watching them, brings the worst out of most people.

If you want facts don’t look at news stories. There you will get opinion. But in an opinion column you might actually get an occasional fact.

A news channel will have more opinion than news. The more important a news channel thinks it is the higher will be its ratio of opinion to news.

India has immense diversity of opinion. Except that it is the same diversity over and over again.

“Search for consensus” means: “I don’t want to be held responsible for making a decision.”

There is no immortality except through being recognised by the press. Alas, that is also short-lived.

The professional standards of every profession have fallen, other than one’s own.

There is more space for book launches than book reviews.

The difference between Hindi and English media is exaggerated. The English media pays homage to the vernacular by ethnic chic. The Hindi media pays homage to English by translating content.

The power of Twitter is like the medium itself: confined and short-lived.

Media is more likely to want war than the people.

In a contest between fear and hope, fear always triumphs.

The “A” word will remain prohibited in the media, if used in a critical context. Guess what it is? Hint: Something to do with people who own a hideous house.

Only Indians can take the epithet “Argumentative Indian” as a compliment. Argumentative means someone who goes on arguing for the sake of it even after the issue has been settled.

There are many more lessons to be learnt. But it is all of this that makes our democracy so wonderful and vibrant. It is, in Plato’s resonant description of democracy, “a many coloured cloak decorated in all hues; this regime is decorated with all dispositions.” You have to admire a democracy where Rajya Sabha debates can get high TRP ratings. God forbid, we don’t want to tamper with this edifice. 2011 was the year of public mobilisation. Will 2012 be the year of public reason?
(By Pratap Bhanu Mehta)

Weapons: The South-Asian Pride & Preoccupation

Why can't we in India be more business-like? When we tested nuclear weapons in 1998, the government, the media, and the Indian public were spectacularly undignified. A lot of vulgar and foolish things happened in the ensuing months - intemperate statements by our leaders, media coverage that was adulatory and clownish, and public behaviour that was childish (handing out sweets in the streets).

Predictably, the Pakistanis punctured our bubble. They tested immediately and then attacked in Kargil to show that nuclear weapons did not scare them. Pakistan's public reactions were as juvenile as ours, if not more so, which shows that South Asians are cut from the same cloth.

With India's Agni V missile test two weeks ago and Pakistan's Hatf IV Shaheen-1A test, we have had a replay of 1998. Missiles are not as big a deal as nuclear weapons, so our leaders were more restrained this time round. The media, though, was pretty much as bad as before, thinking it appropriate to talk a lot of nonsense about India's ability to project power (to Europe, amongst other destinations). Unlike 1998, the public did not rush out into the streets to party, which was a relief; instead, the blogosphere, the new public square, lit up with commentary, most of which would shame a nine-year-old.

When the Agni V has been properly tested, it will certainly strengthen India's deterrent with respect to China. Having said this, the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) goes back to the 1980s. That it managed to produce a missile which can carry a nuclear warhead 5,000 km is noteworthy but hardly the stuff of national celebration. After all, it took nearly 30 years to produce a missile of that range.

Any one of a dozen countries today could do it - and in short order. These include Japan and both the Koreas, just in Asia, and surely it would not take Australia very long. Pakistan's latest Shaheen already has a range of 3,000 km, so it is not technologically beyond our next-door neighbour's capabi-lity either. And Iranian missile technology is catching up fast.

The point is that missiles, as much as nuclear weapons, are old technology. Hopping up and down about them is silly. India's scientists have not particularly distinguished themselves (nor have Indian social scientists). If we look at the number of scientific papers published in leading journals, patents filed, and inventions credited to Indians, our scientists do not rank high. China ranks well ahead, as do Japan and South Korea. Britain, with 60 million people, has had 76 Nobel laureates in science and technology.

India has had only one that worked in India (C V Raman, who worked in British and not independent India) and three that worked outside India (Har Gobind Khorana, Subramanyan Chandrashekhar and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, all in the US). There are probably only two Indian technologies that have international name-recognition - the Jaipur leg prosthetic device and the Nano mini car - which are home-grown.

Why are we so undignified over things like the missile test? The answer most likely is that we have so little to celebrate, with human development indicators lower in key areas than our South Asian neighbours and sub-Saharan Africa. Indians are eating less in calories terms than a decade ago. We have millions of more males than females in our population: the social consequences of this male surplus will be massive. Our education system is in a shambles. Our infrastructure is scarily bad. The only town in India with clean drinking water is Jamshedpur. We have a fiscal crisis looming, stuttering growth, rising prices, stagnating agriculture, caste and religious discrimination, partisan politics to the maximum, and policy paralysis. Governance, particularly at the state-level, where one absurd chief minister replaces another, is so awful that you run out of adjectives.

If India wants to be respected and secure in the long run, it should celebrate clean renewable energy and the eradication of polio far more than the launching of a new missile. That would be worth many sweets in the streets. (By- Kanti Bajpai)