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Children of sex workers: Giving them a chance

A Delhi based NGO operating in the city’s red light area has rescued over a thousand children from the sex trade by providing food, shelter and education. But resources are limited and the government is apathetic, so the plan to expand the rehabilitation programme is in serious difficulty

Sutirtha Sahariah
Sutirtha Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for the London Guardian from Delhi covering human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has worked for the BBC, for Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Lalitha Nayak, 54-years-old, has spent half her life knocking on the doors of one brothel after another in Delhi, trying to convince mothers, who work as sex workers, to educate their children. Nayak’s shelter for children, run by the Society for Participatory Integrated Development (SPID), is located at the edge of G. B. Road, Delhi’s infamous red light area.
More than 4000 women, mostly from rural and lower caste backgrounds, live in inhuman conditions, crammed in dingy rooms of dilapidated buildings. They were brought to the city by traffickers on the pretext of good jobs and were then sold to middlemen or pimps in the area. “I first visited the area in 1988 to share information about AIDS, but was horrified to see the condition of sex workers,” Nayak recalled. “The brothel owners were subjecting them to systematic physical and mental abuse. Since I speak a number of languages, I gained the trust of the sex workers. Many young mothers requested me to do something for their children who were growing up in the brothels.”
In 1991, with some support from the government, she was able to start a day care centre with five children, aged 4-6 years, in a room for which she had to fight hard with the municipal authorities. The centre provided crèche and pre-school facilities. For the older children, funds were raised to send them to boarding schools and other shelters in different states of India. Over a thousand children from the red light area have gone through the centre in the last two decades and around 500 of them have completed college education. The centre now provides boarding facilities to 35 children. The early years weren’t easy for Nayak. The brothel owners physically attacked her as they feared she would get the girls out of the brothels and hit their livelihood. “But I was determined to bring the children into the mainstream,” Nayak said. “I couldn’t directly rescue the women, but could help indirectly by saving the children. So whenever I had information on a child, I had to adopt a strategy – in most cases it meant convincing the mother if the brothel owner wanted to take control of the child.”
Government funding for the day care centre stopped in 1993 after the inspectors reported “low attendance” by students. But Nayak suspects it was because she refused to pay a bribe to the inspectors. In fact, to cope with the growing number of children she had demanded more space from the government and had to wait ten years to get another room from the authorities. Two more rooms were given after 20 years. Nayak says that “most children are born of “illegitimate” relationships and lack basic care and protection. In the beginning my focus was on the girls as there wasn’t much money to pay the school fees for everyone. I treat both boys and girls equally but I feared leaving the girls was risky as they could easily become victims.”
Bimla, a 35-year-old mother of two daughters, was forced into prostitution by her husband, a drug addict. Her daughters were aged four and one when she arrived at the brothel.
“I was shocked to see the environment when I first came here. The brothel owner said I have to work if I wanted shelter. My husband soon passed away and I didn’t want my daughters to grow up in the brothel”, she said.
Her daughters are now attending boarding schools and doing well. Bimla is also encouraging other mothers to educate their children. “I will do everything in my power to educate my daughters so they can live with dignity in society. I have seen so much suffering in my life that I don’t want my daughters to suffer. The day my daughters stand on their own feet, I will leave this profession and spend time with them,” she says. Bimla plans to campaign for women’s education and against child marriage once her daughters complete their studies. The main problem for sex workers is the lack of alternative employment and it is also very difficult for them to rent a house.
Laxmi, 50, started working as a sex worker when she was very young, She suffered from cervical cancer 15 years back and could no longer work. With the help of an NGO, she started working as a HIV peer educator. She, however, has no place to stay and has no choice but to live in the brothel where she cooks for the brothel owner. Her monthly salary as peer educator is 1500 rupees but she hasn’t been paid in the last six months due to delay by the authorities in sanctioning the money.
“I continue to work without pay because I like what I do now. It’s disgusting what I have done all my life”, she says. Her daughter was brought to Nayak’s centre, and is now studying in the university where she aspires to be a teacher. The centre has become indispensible to Delhi’s red light area. “Our children have become something because of the centre. We look at the centre as our own”, says Laxmi.
When asked about the debate in India about legalizing prostitution, the sex workers say they are against it.
Nayak says controlling women is not a solution. “Is this the only job left for women? Is this empowerment? There is already a lot of discrimination and violence against women in India. Legalizing prostitution would mean pushing women to untold violence. In the red light area it is mostly the low caste women who are bought and sold. Why should poor women suffer? Legalizing prostitution means controlling the brothels but it doesn’t target the sex trade outside the red light area.

Famous Sex Scandals

India maybe a late starter when it comes to catching politicians with their pants down, elsewhere in the world it’s as common as eating ice cream. Here’s a look at some political figures who ruined their careers and legacy by “flying too close to the sun”

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

If women would only realize their dignity and privilege, and utilise it for mankind, this world will certainly be better than now. But man has delighted in enslaving you and you have proved willing slaves … the slaves and the slave-holders have become one in the crime of
Impaler impaled
In 15th century Romania, a ruler by the name of Vlad was a byword for the cruelties he inflicted on his enemies. It is said that he used to impale them with hooks, spears and stakes. Thus was born the sobriquet of Vlad the Impaler
He’s got a 21st century British counterpart whom the festive local press has labeled Vaz the Impaler!
The name hardly fits the man. In fact, he’s rather portly, balding, with a reasonable paunch and addicted, it seems, to sober suits. Labour MP Keith Vaz is the man so named, but he’s no killer, rather he’s the height of respectability being a Labour party MP and chairman of the Home Affairs select committee. The impaler probably derives from his recent adventures with two East European male prostitutes caught on video by the Sunday Mirror. It was a shocking comedown for a man who, it was widely believed, would fall not because of his libido but his shady record in public life.
As the Independent described it: “… for 26 years in the corridors of power, (Vaz) was mired in near-scandals, actual scandals, watchdog scrutinies, leaks, accusations, investigations, complaints, even a suspension … he glided through it all in his serene, elaborately polite way… he seems to slide past trouble lubricated against failure.”
It earned Vaz the other sobriquet of “Teflon Vaz” and “Keith Vazeline.”
But the sex charge was impossible to paper over with the local press full of graphic reports about Vaz talking to the East European male prostitutes at his London home, giving his name as “Jim” and describing himself as a washing machine salesman. Sample this from The Daily Mail: “The married father of two casually discussed drugs, unprotected sex and money with the male escorts … “As an MP, Mr Vaz took part in a safe sex campaign in his constituency last year. But in his flat, he apparently admitted he did not practise what he preached. “He told the pair to bring along poppers, a legal sex-enhancing substance which he defended in Parliament when it faced a ban.”
He even offered to pay for cocaine if it was brought to his flat.
Clearly, Vaz led a murky double life and the encounter with the two male prostitutes would not have been the first of its kind. There are also allegations that Vaz may have connived in breaching security as the man who paid for his male escorts, Daniel Dragusin, was granted a pass to the House of Lords. Dragusin, local reports said, left large portions of the application form blank. Allegations about him receiving money and gifts and his evident wealth are now doing the rounds. Vaz is lying low for the moment, perhaps comforted by the fact that his wife says she will stand by him. But his political career is probably over, all because he couldn’t keep his pants on.
‘Inappropriate contact’
His sexual adventures with a young woman intern nearly cost him the presidency of the United States over 20 years ago. The worry is will Republican nominee for president Donald Trump, go hammer and tongs at Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions in the White House in order to torpedo Hillary’s chances? Trump did go public with some remarks three months ago: “There certainly were a lot of abuse of women, you look at whether it’s Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones, or any of them, and that certainly will be fair game.”
But a recent book Crisis of Character by former secret service officer Gary Byrne who served in the White House during the Clinton years, could do more damage.
It has revived memories of 1998 when Monica Lewinsky exploded in America’s face. The American people got to know of the affair their president (then 51) had been having since the last three years with an intern 30 years younger. The affair was passionate, they were always

Reviving The Slowdown

The modi govenment is taking some bold steps to revive the economic slowdown

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Three incidents, two of which happened before the 2019 national election, and one a month after the results, define the attitude of the Narendra Modi’s regime towards the economy. During the campaign, the prime minister’s close aide, Amit Shah urged voters not to vote for development, but for national security. In a pre-election TV interview, Modi said that even the pakoda-wala outside the channel’s office was employed. The first Budget in the government’s second tenure seemed more like a pre-election one, rather than a vision and mission statement for the next five years.
Shah can easily claim that his comments were mere chunavi jumlas, or ways to emotively connect with the electorate, they revealed a hidden, possibly subconscious, mindset. Kashmir, Pakistan, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and China were more of a priority for this government, compared to GDP, growth, and development. This is reflected from the current urgency to politically and constitutionally solve the Kashmir issue, and that too when the country is in the midst of an economic slowdown. For Modi, despite his insistence for the past five years on the creation of jobs through ‘Make in India’, several loan schemes, and skill development, employment is just a state of mind. Any work, even if it is through MNREGA, or in the informal sectors, which he partially decimated through demonetisation, is fine. The country doesn’t need growth to keep people employed. It required a slew of welfare schemes, cash subsidies, loans, and other means to directly transfer money into the people’s bank accounts. Doles? Bribes pre-elections?

Polling Slowdown
Nirmala Sitharaman, the first woman finance minister to present a Budget, if one ignores Indira Gandhi, who was the prime minister and held additional charge of finance, echoed what we had known for five years. This government, as the previous one, is in a perpetual election mode. Economics is just one of the means to achieve political ends. For the past five years, every major economic decision was a tool to win elections. Why does one have to seriously think about the economy, if one can win more seats despite the lack of growth, as was the case in the 2019 national election? Such thought processes, which are linked to each other, as they feed into the vote-machine churn, reveal why the two Modi regimes have lurched from one economic crisis into another one. In fact, when he came to power in 2014, he had everything going right in economic terms. But he threw away the opportunities, failed to capitalise on them, and instead myopically focussed on the several assembly elections, the breaking up of the state governments and, despite the odds, how to win more seats in 2019. In effect, the current slowdown, or the persistent slower GDP growth, is a government-made crisis. If certain actions were taken at the right time, it was avoidable, or at least its consequences could be tempered. But this did not happen. Instead, the policy moves aided the political motives,-and put the economy on the back burner. The actions to deal with crucial issues were not aimed to fix the specific problems, but to achieve results that would ensure that the BJP could remain in power for a longer time. Long-lasting changes in the political and social structures are more critical for Modi, BJP, and its ideological wing, RSS. Hence, there is an inherent desire to use any crisis, be it political, social, or economic, to move towards a long-term end – the making of a New India as per their ideology.

Decimating Economy
The financial sector epitomises this perfectly. It is also crucial because most of the problems – lack of consumer demand, the slowdown in the core segments and manufacturing, farm crisis, and decline in stock markets – stem from it.
As India stuttered towards a slowdown in the last two years of UPA-II government, the banks were saddled with huge bad loans. The government took two main decisions, one short-term and one medium-term, to deal with them. Although demonetisation had largely political aims, it helped the banks in the short run. A huge inflow of cash enabled them to put a check on non-performing assets (NPAs), at least temporarily.
Clearly, this was short-sighted because the cash would be taken out within a few months.
The other important policy was the new insolvency and bankruptcy law. It sounded rational on paper – it was desirable to put wilful defaulters on the dock, and punish business people who had run up huge debts without any concern about how they would repay them. But, in effect, the impact was also on the hundreds of companies that got into a debt trap because of the economic slowdown. No distinction was made between the bad and good guys. The banks, and other lenders, declared everyone, and anyone, bankrupt, and dragged them to the insolvency courts.
Since the code was enacted in 2016, thousands of companies were declared bankrupt. It led to a new crisis in manufacturing, where the promoters were unable to save their companies, even if their businesses were legitimate. While many of these companies were sold to new entrepreneurs, after the banks took huge hair-cuts on their loans, most remained unsold. Thus, the NPAs in terms of loans were converted into non-performing real assets, i.e. plant and machinery, and hundreds of factories.

Negative Policies
Obviously, this exacerbated the manufacturing calamity. However, it had far-reaching consequences. It created a climate of negative sentiments, where businesspersons were cagey, even scared, to invest. Private investments, which were anyway down, took a beating. This was further enhanced by an environment of ‘Tax Terror” The latest death of VG Siddahartha, the founder of Cafe Coffee Day, is a testimony to such an atmosphere. His empire had huge debts, and he faced the wrath of the income tax department.
After his suicide, many prominent entrepreneurs, including DP Pai, have said the same thing.
Public investments were the only option left. Sadly, the government was not in a position to spend money. This was because of several reasons, including the ongoing slowdown, which was aided by moves such as demonetisation and the hurried imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Lower revenues, and the desire to buy votes through welfare schemes and subsidies, ruined the government’s budgets. Hence, it encouraged the cash-rich public sector companies to pump in money to revive the economy. While this was laudable, the ends were, yet again, political. Let us take one example – the huge investments made by ONGC.
Between September 2015 and October 2016, the oil exploration major, along with three other state-owned oil companies, purchased 49.9 per cent stake in Kremlin-controlled Rosneft’s Vankor oilfields in Siberia for $4.23 billion. Most experts felt that the Indians overpaid because the production in the oilfields had fallen, and Russia was under global economic sanctions for its military actions in Ukraine.
This was followed by another deal – Rosneft’s purchase of Essar Oil’s refinery, fuel pump network, and Vadinar port and related infrastructure for Rs 86,000 crore. This too was thought of as an inflated price because financial experts pegged the valuation at less than half the price. Speculations are rife that the two deals were inter-related – the first one put more money in Rosneft’s hand, which was used to pay more for Essar Oil. Remember, both ONGC and Rosneft are owned by their respective governments. In 2018, ONGC paid almost Rs 37,000 crore to buy the government’s 51.11 per cent stake in another state-owned oil firm, Hindustan Petroleum.
The government maintained that this was the first step in several others to create mega oil giants, which could compete with the global oil majors. The officials in the two companies maintained that this would lead to synergies, cost savings, and higher profits in the near future. Experts dubbed it a “cosy deal” because nothing changed on the ground – only the stocks changed hands, and the two companies continued to be run separately.
Finally, the oil major purchased a debt-ridden, almost-defunct Gujarat State Petroleum for Rs 8,000 crore. The former ONGC chairman, D K Sarraf justified this because the price was less than the replacement cost of the latter’s oil reserves, and less than half of the asking price of Rs 20,000 crore. However, the fact remains that for years, the Gujarat company had taken huge loans, and had not discovered any oil or gas. The sole aim of the deal was to save the company, which started when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
The three ONGC deals wiped out the huge cash reserves it had, and saddled it with high debt. There was negligible impact on the economy. The Rosneft purchase was for an oilfield, whose production was falling, and ONGC had no management control. The Hindustan Petroleum one was to merely help the government shore up its revenues. The Gujarat one was only a face-saving device – to help a company that Modi had propped up earlier. No new assets were added, no additional business activity took place.

Core Dip
Minus the investments, manufacturing suffered. As a consequence, the core segments took a dip. Consumer demand, especially in areas like auto and fast-moving consumer goods, could make up for the difference. But here again, politics played a deathly role.
When IL&FS was in trouble, everyone felt that the government needed to act and come up with a rescue plan. But this wasn’t done, as the head of IL&FS, Ravi Parthasarathy, was perceived to be close to the former finance minister, P Chidambaram.
Since a Congress politician backed the non-banking financial company (NBFC), the BJP government backed away from it. IL&FS was forced to go down. The government did not realise that it could take down other NBFCs and create a new crisis in the financial sector. As the NBFCs’ loans dried up, consumers found it tough, if not impossible, to get loans to buy their cars, televisions, and washing machines.
One of the crucial reasons behind the dip in car sales over the past few months is because of the NBFCs’ problems. The net effect of these developments, many of which originated from the financial sector, was an aura of negative sentiment. No one wanted to invest, no one wanted to take a decision. This was further impacted by the state of the stock markets. Given the slowdown, and the problems in manufacturing, one would expect stocks to go down. This was true for most of the mid-caps and small-caps, but the large-caps, the BSE Sensex and Nifty continued to move northwards. The shares of large companies went up. Experts contend that this was done, largely for political purposes by the state-owned financial institutions, to convey an overall message that all was well with the Indian economy. But scores of investors suffered, especially when the large-cap stocks began to tank over the past two-three months. Suddenly, people saw their savings vanish, and took huge paper losses. In such a situation, they were scared to sell because they didn’t wish to incur actual losses. But then they didn’t invest more money. Another loop of the investment cycle, through equity, ripped apart.
Clearly, politics ruined economics, and the Indian economy. But one needs to remember that most of the decisions were deliberate with politics in mind. Economics became a mere tool to achieve these objectives. RIP, Indian Economy.

BJP Beats the Drums

The BJP seems to have changed its stripes and is not mowing down opposition criticism, rather, taking it in its massive stride of 303 seats. Interestingly, the non-UPA, non-NDA members will make for some curious say

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

History has been made, exclaimed Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, immediately after Rajya Sabha approved Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019 - euphemistically called Instant Triple Talaq (Prohibition) Law.
Prasad was right for never before has a government tinkered with Muslim Personal Laws against the community’s wishes. That too without evolving a political consensus. It took the BJP led NDA government three long years and two attempts to enact this law. Its first attempt in 2017, Modi Government couldn’t enact the law because it didn’t have majority in Rajya Sabha then and the Bill was stonewalled by the joint opposition. It didn’t have majority in the upper house this time either, but managed to get the bill passed through some deft political manoeuvring.
History did get created. But, benefits and losses will be counted for months at least. Both on social and political fronts. BJP dared venture in a territory considered a no-go-area by most political parties. Muslims normally vote en bloc and no party ever wanted to antagonise the community for the fear of suffering erosion if vote share results in political loss.
BJP didn’t have much to lose. It prided itself in being a majoritarian party with a pronounced Hindutva agenda. It never had support of Muslims. Hence, it never feared loss of a vote bank. It rather served it well in cementing its position among its staunch Hindu supporters as being the only party which could ‘show Muslims their place’. On the other hand, it expected some support from Muslim women who would have perceived emancipation from age-old practice of Instant Triple Talaq (TTT) or Talaq-e-Biddat.

The practice of uttering ‘Talaq’ thrice at one go, resulting in instant divorce among Muslim families doesn’t find mention in Quran or Hadees, scriptures which are supposed to direct Muslims’ social, religious and personal lives. It is gender-skewed, as only Muslim husbands could divorce their wives through this. A repentant husband wanting to reunite with wife, had to allow his wife not only to marry somebody else but also consumate marriage before divorcing her second husband to reunite with the first one. The process was called Halala.
It was conceived by Muslim clergies that the thought of allowing his wife ṭo sleep with somebody else, would deter a Muslim man, from resorting ṭo TTT. But, they overlooked the agony of the woman who would have to sleep with someone else - often against her wish - to get back to her family. Such practices have been highlighted of late, in now famous Imrana and Gudia cases. Imrana was raped by her father-in-law. The Shariah court - governed by Muslim Personal Law - ruled that she should divorce her husband and marry her father-in-law.
Similarly, Gudia’s husband Arif, an army jawan, was supposeḍ to have become prisoner of war (PoW) in Pakistan. After waiting for him for a few years, she married Taufiq. But, as she was about to deliver Taufiq’s child, Arif returned. The matter was taken up by the Shariah court which ruled that she should go back to Arif. Gudia however, wanted to stay with Taufiq. On the other hand, Arif was ready to accept Gudia as his wife but not her child from Taufiq. No court asked Gudia what she wanted. A traumatised Gudia died soon after.

Callous Clergy
It is cases like these which have exposed pitfalls and shortcomings of Muslim Personal Laws (MPL). Muslim clergies have strongly resisted any fiddling with MPL, calling it an unsolicited infringement. So called secular parties too have desisted from touching the sensitive subjects like these for fear of losing their votes.
On the other extreme were parties like Congress, Rashṭriya Janata Dal, Triṇamool Congress or Samajwadi Party which walked an extra mile or two to please Muslims. SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, in those turbulent years of 1990-91 - at the peak of Ram Janmabhoomi agitation - had famously said, “Muslims have a right to keep weapons for their safety”. Belligerent rogue elements among the Muslims, took advantage of such proddings and Uttar Pradesh saw one of the worst communal riots in November 1990 after Vishwa Hindu Parishad cadres tried to assault Babri Masjid and police under then chief minister Mulayam’s instructions - ‘Parinda bhi par nahiṅ mar sakta’ (Even birds won’t be flying without state’s permission- opened fire on unarmed kar sevaks.
Then there was Rajiv Gandhi who enacted a law in Parliament to nullify a court verdict in Shah Bano case granting her maintenance allowance from her husband post divorce. Rajiv had a chance to support the court verdict and emerge as a reformer of Muslim Personal Law. He, however, chose the other path. Having overwhelming majority in both houses of Parliament, he passed a law to reverse the SC ruling. This enraged Hindu hardliners who saw the act as state’s capitulation to Muslim fundamentalists.

Modi Method
Thus, Modi took a completely uncharted path. He had scant care of fundamentalists or the secular leaders. He had his own vote bank in mind, besides of course, the image of being a social reformer of Muslim Personal Law. He conveyed that in so many words as well. In his speech in the Parliament, Modi said, had Raja Ram Mahan Roy cared for traditions, popular sentiments and religious feelings, social issues like sati and child marriages would still have been prevalent in the country. If social evils like these may be eradicated from Hindu personal laws, why shouldn’t Muslims come forward and support the initiative to weeken out illogical and regressive social practices from their customs and traditions?
But politically sagacious analysts see the development as a decoy to please BJP’s belligerent Hindutva constituency, which is not only vocal but also assertive. The strident Hindutva core base was initially supposed to consist of upper caste radicals. But, that was the case from 1989 to 2012-13. Emergence of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister has expanded this constituency. As analysis of 2019 Lok Sabha results demonstrated, the neo-Hindutva constituency which catapulted BJP back to power, now comprises almost all castes - including OBC, hitherto considered a bastion of leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav; as well as Dalits, so far treated as sole preserve of Mayawati.

Secular Failure
The political polarisation is apparently the result of secular leaders’ overtures pandering to Muslims in all respects. Who can forget then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s announcement that Muslims had the first right to the country’s natural resources? Or West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee attending namaz and ordering a delay of Durga Puja processions to avoid a clash with Muharram procession. Mayawati’s clarion call to Muslims during 2019 election rally in Deoband, not to allow split in their votes by voting for Congress candidate, had apparently set the ball rolling for a return of Modi raj at the Centre. It is because of these developments that analysts feel that BJP has killed two birds with one stone - placating the Hindu hardliners and emerging as social reformer of Muslim social evils. One of them has in fact compared BJP’s focus on triple talaq to the United States of America’s attack on Afghanistan. The US made its people to believe that they were attacking the Taliban. They however, ignored America’s role in the rise of the Taliban. The US said that its aim was to protect women from the Taliban, when the real agenda was getting access to Afghanistan’s natural resources and becoming powerful. Gender protection was just their stated agenda.

Stronger Hindutva
It is in this context that one should view BJP leaders’ penchant for talking about now bringing in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). In fact, not just instant talaq, even the talaq that takes three months should go. This is not to say that divorce should be disallowed.
Actually, a legal form of divorce should be irrevocable. If for any reason a married couple wants to separate permanently, the law governing the process should be just and equal for both men and women. In Muslim personal law, the power to divorce is only with the male. The patriarchal system, which has such a strong hold on society that rights to property, adoption, surrogacy, etc., place woman on a lower pedestal than man. This happens in all personal laws, not just Muslim personal law. This is why gender justice and not triple talaq should be the frame of reference for both the government and the civil society.
However, the newly enacted law proscribes three years sentence for the offending husband. It is unclear from the Act as to how long the process of going to the police, then the magistrate, who will summon the husband, and the final order in the case will take.
What is the woman supposed to do between the time she is thrown out of the house and the final order? Will she return to the marital home? The Shah Bano case did not seem to protect or bestow rights on women. Not much was gained from the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act.

Other Facet
There is yet another facets to ITT law enacted in Parliament. It was easy for the government to get the Bill passed, courtesy walkouts and absence of Opposition parties and MPs superficially opposed to the legislation. There was little bipartisan scrutiny of the Bill. The behaviour of various parties and lawmakers who ensured that BJP’s minority became majority in the House, showed their inability to counter BJP’s accusation of them being ‘pro-minority’. Blindsided, they did not realise that siding with BJP would mark a major step in their eventual political demise. Hereafter, an ally like Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar will find it tougher to retain their core base, already chipped away by BJP.
The BJP managed to convey to its supporters within the majority community that even ‘secular’ opponents of the anti-ITT Bill were aligned with the Muslim orthodoxy. The opposition was in complete disarray in Rajya Sabha. As many as 56 MPs, half of whom belonged to the opposition, were absent from the house. Interestingly, some of its members spoke against the Bill in the morning but were not present to vote in the evening (See Box).
Many opposition leaders who had spoken against the Bill refrained from voting. For instance, TDP’s Ravindra Kumar Kanakamedala, who had actively participated in the debate, was conspicuously missing during the vote. Similarly, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti voiced her opposition to the Bill on Twitter. TMC’s Derek O’Brien said “This is not floor management. It’s the not-so-invisible but most dependable allies of the BJP: the CBI and ED,” hinting at the investigative sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the missing MPs.Actually, seeking ‘revenge’, not justice, for wronged Muslim women was the driving spirit behind BJP’s campaign and legislation for outlawing ITT. This falls under the panoply of Muslim men who commit crimes — those who wage ‘love jihad’, engage in ‘cow slaughter’ and ‘instantaneously’ divorce their wives.

Real Motive
Interestingly, BJP leaders are silent on the plight of abandoned or divorced women among Hindu and other religions. The Census 2011 data on the marital status of Indians shows that among all divorced women, 68 percent are Hindus and 23.3 percent Muslims. It further reveals that 5.5 in 1,000 Hindu couples tend to get separated, including cases of wives being abandoned by husbands. Thus, both legal divorces plus separation among Hindus amount to 7.3 per thousand women. This brings to light the fact that Hindu divorce and separation rates are much higher than among Muslims, just 5.63 per thousand women in 2011 census, wherein separation or abandonment is not a significant factor due to easy divorce and notorious use of triple talaq. Obviously, politics and not sociology is the deciding factor for the BJP.

BJP-Opposition Tango

The BJP seems to have changed its stripes and is not mowing down opposition criticism, rather, taking it in its massive stride of 303 seats. Interestingly, the non-UPA, non-NDA members will make for some curious say

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

When the National Investigation Agency Amendment Bill was to be passed in Lok Sabha, Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi pressed for division. Union Home Minister Amit Shah immediately acceded to the demand and of course he gave his reason for doing so. He said “Let the country know who are those standing against the bill.” And he assured in his reply to the discussion that the amendment to name individuals, and not just organisations, as terrorists, had a reason behind, that people start a new organisation with a different name once an organisation is banned for its terror activities, and he assured that it would not be used to harass people, though it did not carry much conviction because that is what all governments say.
When Vijay Sai Reddy of the Yuva Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) of Jaganmohan Reddy moved a Private Member bill seeking a constitutional amendment to reserve seats for the Other Backward Classes in the legislatures, Union Minister Law, Information Technology and Telecom Ravi Shankar Prasad requested Reddy to withdraw the bill as a constitutional amendment bill has to be moved by the government. The YSRCP has just one member in the Rajya Sabha.
It seems that the BJP feels that it is much better to let the Opposition to voice its dissent, vent its anger because they pose no threat to the government. The Opposition on its part will do everything every time it can to oppose the government. The Opposition was quite vocal on the amendments brought in the Right To Information (RTI) Amendment Bill, the triple talaq bill titled the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights) Marriage Bill, but the government held its ground. A similar pattern could be seen while passing the National Human Rights Commission Amendment Bill and the extension of President’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir by six months.
It is Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla who has raised the bar for impartiality and given enough time to the Opposition members time in the House. After a debate on a bill and the minister’s reply to the debate, Birla makes time for Opposition leaders to seek clarifications from the minister. And in the commotion over Samajwadi Party (SP) member Azam Khan’s remarks about BJP member Rama Devi who was in the Chair at the time during the debate on the triple talaq bill, and the Treasury benches were up in arms against Khan, Birla sent out a clear message that the House belongs to everyone and not just to the 303 members of the BJP.
It is not a simple confrontation between a united opposition pitted against the united Treasury benches. For example, on the controversial Muslim Women (Protection of Marriage) Rights Bill, the Congress had staged a walkout along with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the National Congress Party (NCP) abstained from the voting, and the Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which is a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), opposed the bill during the debate and it had then staged a walkout. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the YSRCP voted for it.
The fear that the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, who continues to be president of the BJP as well, give no quarter to the opponent and they are not likely to be generous and courteous to the opposition has been partially belied. The BJP is not yet showing its mailed fist and it is not throwing its weight of 303 members against a numerically weak opposition. The BJP and the Treasury benches are also not afraid of combative and eloquent speakers from the Opposition benches like first time Member of Parliament Mahua Moitra of the TMC, who spares no punches. Her words fall on deaf ears.
The BJP believes that it has the mandate to implement its agenda and it is an assumption that cannot be countered. But as Moitra pointed out in one of her interventions in the House, the Opposition members are also elected ones and they too are duty-bound to express their views and oppose when they think that the government is overstepping its bounds.
But there is a long way to go for members of this Lok Sabha. The two sides – the government and the opposition – will spar with each other for five years, till March 2024, when the next elections will be announced.
The BJP and its allies are likely to become more aggressive in the third – in 2022 – or the fourth – in 2023 – and the opposition too would be equally combative when the next election approaches. The difference in strength in Lok Sabha between the two main parties, the BJP and the Congress is huge. The BJP has 302 – without the Speaker – and the Congress 52. The steady ally of the Congress is the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar is 5. The other party that is an ally of Congress is the DMK with its 23 seats. Congress-NCP-DMK form a block of 80, while the BJP along with Shiva Sena (18) and Akali Dal (2), Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan (5) form a block (his brother Ramchandra Paswan passed away), with Janata Dal (United) of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with its 16 members keeping their options open. The JD (U) staged a walkout over the Muslim Women (Protection of Marriage) Bill. It is those who do not belong to either the NDA or the UPA, who would make this Lok Sabha interesting. These include TMC and YSRCP with 22 members each, Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP) with 10 and Samajwadi Party (5), the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (9), Biju Janata Dal (12) along with much smaller parties form a third bloc in the House. So, the Congress-led bloc has around 80 and the non-UPA, non-NDA bloc comprises another 80. So, there would never be a mortal combat where these two blocs would join hands and oppose the BJP-led NDA with determination.
There is then a fractured opposition which makes things easy for the BJP.
Parliamentary debates and voting would change on the opposition side, sometimes crossing the 160 mark if they all stand united and falling to around 100 if some of the parties choose to go their way. The BJP led bloc would maintain a solid phalanx of 300 plus. And it is this which makes this Lok Sabha much less powerful than it could be. When the government commands a solid majority, the Lok Sabha goes with the government. It is only when the government’s majority is on the edge, when the parliament becomes a crucial battlefield.
Despite the disparate numbers, the individual voices from the opposition will leave their mark. Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chaudhury is energetic and always on his feet to challenge the government on every issue. But he may not be in a position to corner the government in its acts of omission and commission because the Congress position on many issues is ambiguous and it may not always oppose the BJP on every issue.
An example is its walkout over the triple talaq amendment bill. There was the expectation that by voting against the bill, the Congress would make its stand clear. Surprisingly, the NCP had abstained from the vote on this bill. On the amendment bill regarding the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and other changes, the opposition did not have objections in principle and supported it, as it did with Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) amendments. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had acknowledged as much while replying to the debate on these amendment bills in the Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha. Not all the bills have an ideological tinge.
The Parliament will witness more cooperation among the parties because on many matters of governance there is convergence over aims and there will be differences over the details. Shyam Singh Yadav of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from Jaunpur speaking on the Indian Medical Commission Bill, which is to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI), was sharply critical of the Modi government’s tendency to change names without effecting qualitative changes in the working of the institutions.
Yadav gave the example of the Planning Commission being replaced by the NITI Aayog, implying there is not much difference between the functioning of the old and the new. And he pointed out that a similar thing was happening in the case of National Medical Commission headed by bureaucrats replacing the MCI. The criticism of Yadav, who is a lawyer and who was coach of Olympian and former sports minister Raghavendra Singh Rathore, was both informed and barbed.
The Modi government despite its comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha cannot afford to be complacent. It will have to be on its feet. The man who seems to feel it the most is Shah, who is leading the government’s offensive as well as defense from the front. The Modi government wants to counter the criticism from the opposition on every count as a way of preparing for the 2024 election.

Want farm land? check out africa latin america

The squeeze on land is quite evident in India, as also the squeeze on water. Result is food shortages that are going to get worse with climate change. A possible solution is to lease land in South America or Africa where fertile land is there in plenty

Huma Siddiqui
Huma Siddiqui

Huma Siddiqui is a Senior Correspondent for one of the leading financial dailies, The Financial Express in New Delhi. She specialises in foreign affairs especially in coverage on Latin America & Strategic and Military Issues

Lush green fields, bountiful crop, happy farmers … no we are not talking about India here if recent reports of our farmers in crisis is anything to go by. With little or no investment in the agriculture sector, it is estimated that 45% of Indian farmers want to quit farming—supply-side constraints have been a major cause for concern.
Add to that rapidly falling water tables in north India – India’s bread basket, and erratic monsoons from climate change leading to domestic food output falling short of demand, a scenario repeatedly sketched by meteorologists and climate change experts.
So what is the way forward? Looking at best practices for sure. But should India also look at Latin America (LatAm) and Africa for food security? In late 2009, the Ministry of External Affairs started preparing a policy framework to enable Indians to acquire farm land overseas where grain could be grown and shipped back home. This would help address the country’s food security problem, especially during years of drought.
The government of Punjab since 2008-9 has been exploring land leasing in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico to grow food grain for consumption in India. There have been several high level delegations visiting the region, including one by Punjab’s deputy chief minister.
It helped that there is widespread corporate investment in land for food and fuel production in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In many South American countries there is abundance of fertile land. Incidentally, in this region they don’t plough the land, rather they practice what is called Direct Seeding (siembredirecta). They don’t prepare the land by ploughing after the previous harvest. They let the residue from the previous harvest rot and become manure. It aids land fertility.
The region is also well known for cutting edge farm technology. There are no restrictions on foreigners owning land. In some places, land prices are lower than in parts of India.
“The cost per hectare is less than half the price of agricultural land in Punjab,” says Rengaraj Viswanathan, former ambassador to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
Officials here reasoned that since the land acquisition would be by private parties only, the chances of such purchases becoming a political issue were remote. They estimated that Brazil has around 30 million hectares on offer, Argentina 32 million hectares, and Uruguay 10 million hectares with lesser amounts in other countries.
Early investors include Sri Renuka Sugars, one of India’s largest sugar producers, which has signed an agreement with a Brazilian conglomerate Grupo Equipav, to buy a controlling 50.79 per cent stake in it, with which will come control over the company’s vast sugarcane fields.
As yet, however, there is no financing available to buy land in these countries. But unlike in Africa, there is no competition from China. China does have around $ 24 billion invested in South America, but does not encourage private ownership of land.
In fact an increasing number of Indian companies are looking at LatAm as a safe investment destination, mainly because of stable governments and economic policies. These markets are also becoming a potential lifeline as India deals with food shortages and droughts. Earlier, India was bullish on Africa, but political turmoil gradually saw interest shift towards LatAm.
This is not to say that India and Africa do not have much to learn from each other. Being the biggest producer of food grain and horticulture crops, India could help the African continent develop its agriculture. Diplomats from India and Africa say Indian industry can help in training and transfer of technology even as it imports pulses from the African continent.
Africa’s farm sector is expected to be worth about $1 trillion by 2030, although this growth will largely depend on adequate technology infusion. An Indian Exim Bank report states that, “While some parts of northern and southern Africa have increasingly inducted tractors for agriculture, farmers in most parts of Africa still depend on hand-held implements for farming. Africa could learn from India’s Green Revolution, White Revolution and the expansion of its agri-processing industries. Also, ‘tractorization’ of African farms is an area that needs to be addressed.”
Cheap land and low labour costs in Africa are attracting a number of Indian firms with interests in the farm sector. It helps that in countries like Kenya in east Africa, cultivation of tea, coffee, corn, vegetables, sugarcane, wheat and fruits, is widespread, as in India.
India has a well-established national research system, seed sector and testing laboratories in place. In this scenario, an enhanced Africa-India STI cooperation could play a significant role in facilitating African countries for building R&D infrastructure, which is mutually recognized and brings in necessary Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs), shares successful mutual practices and expertise, and supplies appropriate planting materials. India has already provided better sugarcane germplasm to Ethopia for higher yields.
Indian companies could help Africa’s agriculture sector in several ways including farm mechanization; agro-processing and storage; investments in training and development of human resources for the farm sector and employment generation; greenfield investments, local vendor development and agriculture exports to neighbouring countries; setting up of agro parks in Africa; and setting up of horticulture industries, floriculture units and contract farming.
The Indian government acts as a facilitator to the whole process. It is supporting the conventional new greenfield foreign direct investments, merger and acquisition purchases of existing firms; public-private partnerships; and specific tariff reductions on agricultural goods imported into India through the negotiation of regional bilateral trade and investment treaties and double taxation (avoidance) agreements.
Not to forget the Indian private sector is the main vehicle through which investments in agriculture are being made. Many business enterprises such as Jain Irrigation, Karuturi Global, Kirloskar Brothers, Mahindra and Mahindra, Ruchi Soya and Renuka Sugars have established their presence in several countries in farm and related sectors. In addition, several new players such as Yes Bank and McLeod Russel are making forays into the agriculture sector in Africa.
Further, while boosting Africa’s agriculture production, India too can meet its food needs with imports from the continent, especially pulses, where India faces a huge shortfall. Besides, Indian industry could also help African governments establish agriculture vocational training schools in their respective countries.
About 65 % of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas, as does bulk of the labour force. For example, in Tanzania, the farm sector provides livelihood to more than 80% of the population and is the anchor of the economy. Farmers are engaged in predominantly small-holder subsistence production, marked by low output. Rudimentary production tools and agricultural technologies, vulnerability to drought conditions, declining soil fertility, climate change and poor access to inputs and capital have led to low productivity per acre. Precisely because food insecurity is acute in Africa, there is great potential for agricultural transformation. The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), has identified the agriculture sector as an ‘engine of growth’ and a potential ‘sustainable solution to hunger and poverty in Africa’.
Experts have said that, “Latin America can meet India’s food needs, a place where agriculture commands the status of IT in India, with the best brains and fortunes in that sector. Indian companies should join US and European companies who have realized this, and participate in the agro value chain there – investing in contract farming to agro-inputs to food processing to logistics.” LatAm price arbitrage exists in hi-quality farmland – prices ranging from $2000 to $3000 per acre in Uruguay and Paraguay, for ready to farm properties.
According to senior officials who requested anonymity, “Our food security concerns are immediate. The other option that the country has is increasing the acreage under critical crops, however, there is little scope for this and increasing acreage, especially under pulses and oilseeds, which are critical for us, can only be done at the cost of other crops. Not a win-win scenario again. Besides, it would be difficult to maintain status-quo in net cultivated area due to strains from climate change, water shortages and industrialization.” Since 2006, more than 20 million hectares of agricultural land, an area equivalent to total French agricultural land mass or one-fifth of the total European Union land mass has been taken on lease by several nations. Most of these deals have been done in Africa, LatAm and East-Asia. These partnerships have been largely triggered by the tightening of world food markets. While the above would be a workable solution in the Indian context, it would be a win-win scenario for host nations in Africa and LatAm. There is immense scope for increasing acreage and crop productivity. Senior officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture along with several envoys have been discussing opportunities in contractual farming in these regions.
A FICCI-Deloitte Paper on “India and Latin America & Caribbean (LAC): Business Environment and Opportunities for Collaboration”, notes that with climate change wreaking havoc in agricultural output, India and Latin America could synergize and complement each other to meet the growing food crisis. India’s raw material needs can be met and its food security facilitated by trade with LatAm and the Caribbean, as the region is transforming into a major supplier of essential raw materials like crude oil, edible oils, minerals and metal products. It also has a large available area of fertile land and abundant water resources. That India holds importance for the region is evident from the fact that former Brazilian President Lula da Silva visited India thrice during his administration.

The grace of kumartoli

he fragrance of wet clay from the Ganges, dry straw beneath one’s feet, the criss-cross patterns of bamboo spread out within the narrow confines of ramshackle studios; dimly-lit workshops full of idols in various stages of completion, blending seamlessly with the labyrinths of alleys and lanes where the artisans creating goddesses from clay, live their art.

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

Welcome to ‘Kumartoli’, described as the “cradle of Indian idols” (not to be confused with the eponymous TV show). Kumartoli is more than 300 years old, and found mention in The Bengal Consultations, a journal published in 1707, which describes “Kumartuli’s artisans” who occupied 75 acres of land at Sutanuti (present-day north Kolkata).
There are many claimants to the treasured history of Kumartoli, but for the average Bengali, settled anywhere in the world, Kumartoli is a comforting continuum equally associated with animated adolescence, and the whole span of adulthood, claims historian Runa Sen.
“Durga Puja is not just a religious festival of Bengal, but in itself a religion that is celebrated by all sections of society,” says Sen. “The five-day festival means many things at various stages of your life; each comes with its own colour and flavour. I distinctly remember holding my parents hand and visiting the various pandals, later I used to hang around with friends and admirers, and now as a mother, I take my son pandal hopping. And all this starts and ends with ‘Kumartoli’, thus completing the cycle of life,” she added, visibly nostalgic.
Ramesh Chandra Pal, one of the most talented artisans of Kumartuli known for his life like creations of the goddess, could not agree more. “Kuamrtoli symbolises life, where the frame on which we build the goddess comes back to us after the idol is immersed at the end the Durga Puja, thus symbolising a new beginning, where we start to prepare for the next year.”
Today more than anything Durga Puja celebrates the cultural and religious harmony that symbolises Bengal. “Though it is a Hindu religious festival, there are pujas being organised by Muslims and Christians along with Hindus. There is hardly any religious or social divide, when it comes to the pujas, the entire state comes to usher in the joys of festivity,” says sociologist Tarun Goswami.
Every Bengali has a puja tale-to-tell. Even for Bengali’s born outside India, the word puja becomes so much a part of the household vocabulary, that they come at least once in their lifetime to relive their roots. “I was born and brought up in United States. Never visited India or Bengal, but always heard of stories about puja from my parents. But now since they are no more, it become imperative on my part to come and see for myself why it meant so much for my parents. Even at the age of 53, I must admit, I have missed so much of my country of origin. All my life I considered myself a proud American, but today I am proud Bengali, wish I was here before,” said Shalina Bose.
Cut back the romanticism, Kumartoli is the place that provides employment to thousands of people and is the sole source of their livelihood. For the hundreds of shopkeepers, painters, labourers’, suppliers of various raw materials, and of course artisans, it’s a place for sustenance. “Today, there are around 400 workshops in Kumartuli which provides direct employment to at least 4000 people and indirect employment to another ten thousand,” said Mintu Pal, general secretary of the Kumartuli Potters Association.
Though over the years, the city has undergone tremendous metamorphosis, nothing much has changed for the artisans of this fabled place. Faced with financial hardship, these artisans barely manage to make both ends meet. The rising price and declining supply of raw materials, lack of space, working capital and labour problems plague the lives of all idol-makers. An average studio in Kumartuli is merely a space where the earthen floor is not even paved. The walls are a fencing of two wooden boards held together with rope. Tin and matting are some of the materials used in constructing the roof. Electric lighting is minimal, and the artisans squat on the floor to work.
The West Bengal Government had promised a ‘modern’ Kumartuli through ‘The Kumartuli rehabilitation plan’. Spread across an area of five acres, the complex would have housed a sophisticated auditorium that would serve as a studio for the artisans and their assistants. Promises were made about offering housing to the workers and an art gallery where their work could be preserved and showcased. A miniature model of the projected Rs 260-crore plan was also made.
But like many things in Bengal, it also remained confined to the drawing board and the artisans remain where they were. “Nothing happened,” was the only answer most could offer when asked about the project.
Others complain that chief minister Mamata Banerjee who is so keen to change the image of Bengal, completely lost sight of Bengal’s biggest cultural export the Durga Puja. “Didi (Banerjee) inaugurates hundreds of pujas every year. Even the idols could have at least reminded her of our plight,” said another artisan unwilling to be named.
“The project got delayed because of some administrative procedures. Earlier we identified a piece of land further north of the city to rehabilitate the artisans but there were some litigations pending for that ground,” said an official of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, the nodal body for implementing the project.
Apart from crumbling infrastructure, artisans complain of lack of social security. “There are Durga Puja organisers who spend lakhs of rupees in organising the Puja, but when it comes to paying for the idols, they are tight fisted,” complains Shibani Pal, one of the few practising women in this male-dominated trade. “It’s human to look for financial security especially for old age. But for artist like us, there is none and every year we find we are left with less money to sustain ourselves,” she added.
Gouranga Pal, another well-known sculptor is unwilling let his grandsons join him in this trade unlike his three sons. “The future of this trade looks bleak as with every passing year it getting difficult to sustain. There is little help either from the government or from society at large,” said the octogenarian artist.

Youth Challenge VS Opportunity

These are exciting, even euphoric times for India’s youth. Never before have the opportunities been so many, the horizon so close. Yet they need to understand the enormous challenges ahead in terms of politics, society, and their utter lack of preparation

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in an interview with Charlie Rose, spoke about the role of young people in creating value for the future. He said emphatically: “My father did a better job than my grandfather. I did a better job than my father. And I am sure, my kids are going to do a better job than me. Nobody can stop it.”
India today has the potential of emerging as an economic superpower. At least two generations of its people have reached their prime and then passed on the baton to the next generation. In that sense, 2019 is going to be the year of reckoning for millennium kids, the ones born in the 1990s and the intervening years. If Jack Ma is to be believed, this lot would do a better job than previous torch-bearers. The theory of accelerating returns shall make the task easier.
But one needs to be fairly credulous to buy such optimistic arguments. Until and unless we analyze the current context and set the correct agenda for the following year, things are not going to get as rosy as we would like to believe. Words like growth, progress, development have diverse ramifications and everyone, youth all the more, needs to examine these minutely to set the correct course for an incredible India. Let’s try and figure out the Ordre du jour for Gen Y.
Gen Y has been witness to recent political developments that could be the prelude to the politics of the future. Modi and Kejriwal’s brand of politics has drawn many youths into the political arena. Thousands rallied behind these leaders to realize political change. But is the youth participation going to remain limited to electoral politics or are they ready for the long haul?
Abinav Singhal recently returned from the US after completing his Masters in Public Policy at the University of Texas-Austin. In his view: “This is not a repeat telecast of Total Revolution or anti-reservation protests of the 90s, when students were misused for electoral gains. The political awareness has spilled out of college campuses to office spaces, glass buildings and green fields. Youth have much higher stakes in politics now.” Singhal has launched an advisory firm for political parties. If the recent UP panchayat elections are any indication, where young graduates, both men and women in their early twenties defeated political stalwarts, Singhal is absolutely right. Young India has upped its ante in politics. The December 16 protests, anti-corruption movement, etc led to a wedding of sorts between social issues and politics, and young people played the roles of matchmaker. The same youth that had conditioned themselves into believing that politics is to be avoided, have now realized that political participation is a sine qua non for the nation’s development.
RTI, RTE, Jan lokpal etc are not just about politics, it is about the political capital that Gen Y needs to invest to draw suitable returns in the future. These are long term investments. In the coming year, it would require a lot of foresight on the part of Gen Y to change the country’s political climate. A political hotbed like India cannot be seen through the lens of narrow mindedness and short term gain. Young India would need to chart out realistic vision and goals for the polity and that won’t be easy. I am reminded of a Chinese proverb: “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Our political history had been deeply mired in the politics of identity and ideology. This has led to a kind of partisanship where consensus is also difficult to arrive at. This needs to change. Gen Y would need to shift its focus to issue based politics, where each issue is examined on benchmarks of development, human, social and economic, and not through the myopic prism of political affiliations.
One of the common threads that bound together the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia was unemployment. One would be extremely cynical to lump India with the Arab world, or Africa or Easern Europe but sample this: The Labour Department’s Annual Employment and Unemployment Report for 2013-14 puts the unemployment rate for young graduates (18-29 years) at 28 per cent. India adds around 13 million people every year to the workforce. Even though the Labour Force Participation Rate is quite low at 52.5 percent, the number of job-seekers is staggering.
Check out some other statistics. Indian startups created 80,000 jobs in 2014-15. Around 72 per cent of the startup founders are less than 35 years of age, making India the youngest startup nation in the world. But these numbers don’t stand a chance against the unemployment numbers mentioned above although there is a silver lining.
Job creation has been Prime Minister Modi’s main agenda. It is the reason why he launched initiatives like Digital India, Make in India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. When he declared “Start up India, Stand up India” from the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, he had serious business in mind. The government is providing tax breaks to startups, it is fostering incubation centres and simplified the approval process for new projects. In the pipeline is a Bankruptcy law and changes in Intellectual Property laws to enable a better environment for startups.
India never suffered from lack of great ideas, what was lacking was strong, collective will for implementation. With government pushing the reforms, it is an ideal scenario for Gen Y to leverage the situation. The huge domestic market is going to make it a lot easier to experiment with ideas. Gen Y must shed the inhibitions and insecurities which plagued earlier generations, and demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit. It is the perfect time to fail in India, and learn from the failures to bounce back.
Along with this risk-taking attitude, young entrepreneurs also need a value-based approach to foster creativity, innovation and strong culture in their organizations. Revenue generation and profit making are definitely important objectives, but should not be the most important ones. If we look at the history of successful organizations across the world, the ones with strong vision and values stand out. Young entrepreneurs need to replicate such successes here as well, to create a long lasting impact.
“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In the politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. We will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.” Babasaheb Ambedkar’s warning rings no less true today. For long, India has been a crucible for forging concrete social identities, which has done us more harm than good. Our personal and social insecurities have led us towards social alliances. Our social milieu has been so compartmentalized that we always seek the compartments which are built around our social identities, be it gender-based, caste-based, religion-based etc. In the process, we seem to make some personal progress but at the cost of social prosperity.
Similar observations have been made about economic inequality. Recent research by Angus Deaton, Thomas Piketty and Abhijit Banerjee has clearly shown the social as well as economic costs of inequality, especially in the context of India. How does young India perceive inequality?
“There is no clear pattern”, observes Vandana Agarwal, a career counsellor in a Delhi-based firm. “For a sizeable portion of urban youth, who have studied in public schools and have remained alienated from rural or semi-urban life, inequality doesn’t exist. But there are many more who endorse the egalitarian view of society and are actively working to root out inequality. My optimistic side wants to believe that the numbers of the latter are increasing day by day.” Gen Y would do itself a lot of good in proving Vandana right and not just because of the Utopian ‘God-has-made-us-equal’ view. In a very pragmatic sense, our social surroundings are impacting on our personal lives in more direct ways. The more turbulent it becomes, the more opportunity cost it would incur in our lives. Of course, we would have to forego a lot of choices we have been accustomed to. But this should not stop Gen Y from making the right choice for the future.
For our parents’ generation, financial stability and a secure career was their topmost priority. They did all the hard work to create a problem-free environment at home and made us believe that we are special and destined to do big things in life. Somewhere in this process, the role of sincere effort and hard work got diluted and created a sense of entitlement in us. Our generation started believing that we are so awesome; we deserve a degree of respect and recognition irrespective of how much actual work we do.
Many of the problems with our generation, as perceived by elders, can be traced back to such distorted perceptions. We tend to be strongly opinionated, intolerant of the perspective of others and inclined towards unethical shortcuts. When there is a huge difference between our sense of identity and socially perceived identity, it leads to frustration, which has much wider ramifications.
Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management at the University of New Hampshire, conducted some research at the workplace to understand this new sense of entitlement among the younger generation. He said: “Managers have reported a lot of problems associated with this – primarily that these employees have unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback. Entitlement involves having an inflated view of oneself, and managers are finding that younger employees are often very resistant to anything that doesn’t involve praise and rewards.”
Indian youth need to understand that identities are not created through Facebook posts or tweets. It takes blood, sweat and toil to build an identity. It requires a lot of effort and any digression from the path of hard work leaves gaps that are difficult to plug later. No one owes us anything; respect and recognition are earned through perseverance and persistence. As we try to bring reality and expectations closer, our life would be much simpler and more satisfying.
Young India must tread its travel plans for the New Year. If travel blog posts and Instagram pictures are any indications, travelling is the latest craze for Gen Y. With each passing day, new bucket lists are being created, new destinations are being explored. As the saying goes, “To travel is to take a journey within oneself,” and Gen Y is increasingly taking the path to self-discovery.
As we meet new people, visit new places, understand different cultures and shatter our comfort zones, we realize that the world is far more beautiful and diverse than our opinions and egos. We, our thoughts, our exaggerated opinions, are minor against the vast expanse of nature. The whirlpool of emotions and self-questioning settles to give an inner peace, which calms all the noise out there in the world. As India’s youth prepare to pack their bags for travel, allow you to tread on a path of self-awareness and enjoy the beauty within.
Let me end with these lines from author Bill Bullard, one wonders if he was reflecting on India’s youth when he wrote them: “Opinion is really the lowest form of knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self-kind of understanding.”

Call From The Sunainas

The media is stoking language issues around the Draft Education Policy, but the policy itself has other glaring problems depriving millions of poor children from quality education

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

Many of you might remember Sunaina Rawat, a 14-year-old girl from Mohanlalganj in Uttar Pradesh. While covering the General Elections, 2019, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy landed on Sunaina’s doorsteps, as if by an act of providence. Sunaina walked with Roy and team through her kachcha house and barren fields and took the audience through her dreams, struggles and hopes. She talked about the financial issues at home, her daily chores of filling water and carrying bales of hay and her challenges of going to school daily. She then confessed that the reason she’s studying is because she wants to become a doctor and open up her own hospital someday. Sunaina is not the only child who’s dreaming big. There are millions and millions of Sunaina and Suresh who have pegged high hopes on education to bring the desired change in our society. Yet, year after year, our education system categorically bludgeons these innocent hopes and butchers the aspirations of these children owing to its archaic, and moribund structures. The draft National Education Policy (NEP), which was put out in the public domain on May 30, has rekindled many such hopes.
The deliberations for the new policy started when a committee under Late TSR Subramanian was tasked with submitting a report. The Subramanian Committee held a large number of discussions and consultations before submitting its report to the government. However, this report was junked as the government found it a ‘mere compilation’ of some older reports. Later, a committee was constituted under the chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan, erstwhile ISRO chief. The committee went through another round of discussions and consultations and submitted its report to the government in December, 2018.
In Dr Kasturirangan’s words: “Much has changed in the country and the world on social, economic, development and political fronts, and the knowledge base on which we work today is very different as an ecosystem compared to what we had 25 years ago. The new policy recommends radical changes that are aimed at addressing these issues.”
The Draft
The former ISRO head is right in some ways. The draft NEP indeed consists some of the much-needed reforms to uplift our ailing education system.
The Draft NEP has dwelled considerably on the importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). It talks about how more than 85 per cent of a child’s cumulative brain development happens before the age of 6 and an investment of ₹1 in ECCE yields a return of ₹10. The draft proposes to bring the three years of pre-primary and the two years of Grades 1 and 2 into a composite unit with “a single curricular and pedagogical phase of play and discovery-based learning” between the ages of 3 and 8 years. It also provides a comprehensive framework of promoting ECCE through a network of Anganwadis and pre-primary schools with active support from primary schools.
It proposes to bring the ECCE component under HRD ministry so that curricular and pedagogical aspects are taken care of. Dr Venita Kaul, an ECCE expert and Professor Emerita at Ambedkar University says, “If implemented well, this can have a positive impact on children’s learning as it would ensure a play-based, developmentally appropriate curriculum for children up to not just 6 but 8 years, which would give them a stronger foundation.”
The draft recommends bringing the ECE under the RTE Act, thus extending the ambit of ‘free and compulsory education’ to children above 3 years of age.
Teaching Them
The committee has dared to acknowledge the severe learning crisis which is plaguing our country today. One of the major reasons for such pathetic learning levels is the weaker foundational literacy and numeracy in our students, which completely kills their interest in learning and ultimately results in dropouts.
The report says that ‘attaining foundational literacy and numeracy for all children must become an ‘immediate national mission’. It suggests a slew of measures to tackle this national crisis – expansion of midday meal programme to include breakfast, National Tutors Programme, Remedial Instruction Aides Programme, etc.
The draft relies heavily on parental and community engagement, but doesn’t provide a clear roadmap to implement such measures.
The NEP recommends that a 5+3+3+4 curricular and pedagogical structure based on the cognitive and socio-emotional developmental stages of children, should replace the current 10+2 model. It wants the three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) to be clubbed with Grades 1 and 2 (up to age 8) and made into a single pedagogical unit called the ‘Foundational Stage’. Grades 3-5 (ages 8-11) will be called the Preparatory Stage, followed by a Middle Stage of Grades 6-8 (ages 11-14), and finally a Secondary Stage of Grades 9-12 (ages 14-18). This has been welcomed by many educationists.
Elusive Burden
The recent spurt in the suicide cases of students highlights the excessive burden of education being faced by our young ones. NEP seeks to reduce the content and textbook load on students and discourage rote learning.
The curriculum framework will, therefore, shift focus from textbook learning to hands-on, experiential and analytical learning. All subjects, including arts, music, crafts, sports, yoga and community service, will be curricular. The curriculum will promote multilingualism, ancient Indian knowledge systems, a scientific temper, ethical reasoning, social responsibility, digital literacy and knowledge of critical issues facing local communities.
To reduce the pressure of board exams, NEP suggests many flexibilities around them. Between Grades 8 and 12, students will be allowed to take board examinations twice a year. Later, when computerised adaptive testing becomes widely available, multiple attempts will be allowed, in at least 24 subjects or, on average, three a semester. The examination will test only core capacities, basic learning, skills and analysis. ‘Students should be able to pass comfortably without coaching and cramming,’ the NEP states.
Missing the Shots
Typically, the shelf-life of the new education policy is 15-20 years. The long timeframe means that the policy should be highly aspirational in its approach and envision a roadmap which shapes the discourse around education. While the committee has recommended some visionary reforms, it has missed the shots in some crucial areas.
The societal landscape has changed drastically in the last couple of decades and will continue to do so at a much rapid pace in coming years. Global problems like climate change, terrorism, refugee crisis, etc., are very real and will be affecting our daily lives. On the other hand, socio-psychological issues such as deteriorating mental health, rising degrees of anger and impatience, lack of civic engagement are eating away our social fabric. As our young students enter into the real world, our education system completely fails them as it doesn’t teach them to address these issues. “The answer lies in equipping our children with a range of socio-emotional skills (also known as life skills or 21st century skills),” says Neha Arora, a Delhi government school teacher. “We teach our students to solve trigonometry problems and make them memorise World War dates. However, we are not teaching them problem solving, decision making, empathy, resilience, emotional management and other skills which will not only help them live a positive life but also bring a positive impact on the world,” she adds.
Happiness Curriculum
The draft NEP mentions that ‘Students must develop not only cognitive skills both ‘foundational skills’ of literacy and numeracy and ‘higher-order’ cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem solving skills but also social and emotional skills, also referred to as ‘soft skills’, including cultural awareness and empathy, perseverance and grit, teamwork and leadership, among others.’ However, it completely ignores the integration of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into our education system. This is a glaring blind spot. The committee needn’t have gone too far and study the impact of SEL in Delhi government schools as part of its Happiness Curriculum.
The role of a teacher is of paramount importance in developing social-emotional skills in our students. The Policy Draft (page no 113) has correctly mentioned some of the key attributes of outstanding teachers – “…passionate, motivated and well qualified” and teachers should be able to “relate to the students whom they teach, and are invested in the communities they serve.” But then it goes completely silent on improving the socio-emotional competence of the teachers and dwells mostly in the administrative realms of teacher motivation. “It’s almost as if a high school student is made to write a 5 marks question on ‘qualities of a good teacher’, “quips Radhika Menon, a teacher education expert.
Eerie Silence
“The policy draft is eerily silent on the approach to improve teacher mindsets and relies on the age-old traditions of capacity building. These haven’t worked in the past and will definitely not work in the future, where the role of a teacher will be to facilitate learning and role-modelling socio-emotional skills, rather than of a mere knowledge-giver,” she remarks. The draft doesn’t talk about reforming the pre-service and in-service teacher training to develop socio-emotional competence in teachers and hence it leaves a conspicuous gap in the teacher education framework.
Even though policy draft sets a target of achieving 100% GER across all school stages, it offers only superficial recommendations to bring out-of-school children in the mainstream education. TAP India works for the out-of-school children and school dropouts in Gurugram. Its CEO, Rita Mishra, comments, “It feels as if millions of out-of-school children have been cheated by the new policy draft because it doesn’t offer any credible solution to get them back to schools. In a nearly 500-page long document, school dropouts could manage only 7 pages worth of attention of committee members”. The draft mentions that ‘in absolute numbers, an estimated 6.2 crore children of school age (between 6 and 18 years) were out of school in 2015.’
Political Draft
The draft is surprisingly silent on some of the major contemporary issues of our education system. It is almost as if the committee members have got their message from what happened to Subramanian Committee report. It is completely silent about the political interference in higher education institutions.
A cursory look of the policy will tell a reader about the significantly higher levels of centralisation through the proposed framework for higher education – Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog which is to be chaired by the Prime Minister.
Anita Rampal, erstwhile Professor from Delhi University says, “The draft’s highly centralising agenda also comes to the fore. Both the government-controlled Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog and the well-funded National Research Foundation, with links with the industry to “ensure that most urgent national issues are researched” merit discussion.”
Recently, the Rajasthan government revised its textbooks to get rid of the so-called saffronisation which was induced by the previous BJP governments. Off late, textbook revisions have become a political tool to brainwash an entire cohort through our school education.
Surprisingly, the policy draft doesn’t acknowledge this growing menace and doesn’t provide any space to talk about this issue. This clearly means that such revisions will always be under political control and our children will continue to suffer.
As visionary and ambitious one would expect the policy draft to be, it ignores the perils of caste and class dynamics on the education system. Even in the chapter on inclusive education, it simply parrots the already known facts and repeats the age-old recommendations to build inclusive schools. The committee had a golden chance to be bold and courageous to talk about some of the issues that matter in contemporary India, but it chose silence and conformity over speaking truth to the power.
In one of his articles, Anil Swarup, former secretary for school education and literacy, laments, “Government doesn’t require an education policy; it requires a clear-cut action plan because that is missing on the ground”.
He can’t be truer. In a country like ours, where policy implementation gap has almost been institutionalised with bureaucratic indifference and lack of political will, we needed much more than a lofty policy document. As of now, Sunaina and millions of our children will have to probably just wait for many more years for the inclusive, equitable and excellent education to become a reality in India.

‘Prakand’ Kishor On the Roll

The man who made Modi win several times in Gujarat and then, stunningly to the Centre in 2014, is a new age poll manager, extremely costly, but a winner most often

Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

Election strategist Prashant Kishor has single-handedly changed the way elections are being held in India. Post 2012, he helped Narendra Modi get re -elected as chief minister to Gujarat for the third time. He then went on to create a Citizen for Accountable Governance (CAG) group that helped the BJP and more specifically Modi win power at the centre in 2014.
The strategy employed to catapult Modi to power in 2014 laid out a template for all our subsequent elections. Following the 2012 Gujarat state elections, Kishore went on to create a mammoth electioneering team of professionals that saw winning seats as a project-management challenge away from the way elections had been held earlier, where work was overseen by local satraps and part-time volunteers. These professionals did not hesitate to use a vast armoury of weapons including campaign analytics, social media, technology, and campaign management. Of course, the fall out of using top-of-the-line professionals to provide inputs and oversee every detail of electioneering has seen the cost of electioneering sky rocket. It was therefore no shocker when one learnt that the Centre for Media Studies calculated the cost of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as having been over Rs 60,000 crore. The 2019 elections have been found to be the most expensive elections held anywhere in the world trumping even the cost of the US presidential election of 2016.
In his earlier avatar, Kishor repeatedly assured his critics that none of the members of his team were attached to any political party. They in fact functioned as a non-profit group providing a mix of consultancy and campaign solutions to Modi. But the fact is that prior to working for any political leader, Kishore insists on some prerequisites being met, the first of which is that he be given 24x7 access to the political leader he is working for.
In effect, from 2012, CAG worked out of Modi’s residence in Gandhinagar. But Kishor also set up eight other offices around the country which were staffed by around 400 paid members along with another 800 paid interns and more than one lakh volunteers.
None of these people worked pro bono and in retrospect it is anyone’s guess as to where the money was coming from.
Dress Rehearsals
But Kishor’s thoroughness in preparing Modi for the elections can be gauged from the fact that he told Pavan Verma who in turn told Karan Thapar who in turn has quoted in his biography Devil’s Advocate that Kishor made Modi see the interview he did of him thirty times over in order to prepare him for the 2014 elections. It must be recounted that Thapar asked some tough questions regarding the Gujarat Kishor’s team used the interview to teach Modi how to handle difficult questions and uncomfortable situations, Thapar claimed in his book.
During the build up to the 2014 elections, CAG brought out a detailed 200 page report on each of the 450 seats from which the BJP was planning to contest. The CAG team had held ground level opinion polls to gauge the mood of the voting public and this data was added to the information provided by the report. The BJP were informed on how they could strengthen their presence in constituencies where they were weak, how they could use local caste equations to their advantage and most importantly, since the RSS was kept in the loop of these developments, how the RSS could be used to educate people further about the BJP’s candidates.
When Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer took a dig at Modi’s background of selling tea at railway stations, the CAG team decided to turn this remark to his advantage. They came up with a concept called Chai pe Charcha in which he chatted with 1,000 tea stalls spread across India via video conferencing.
In Uttar Pradesh, which Kishor predicted would be a difficult state, the CAG came up in the 2014 election with a rather off beat campaign titled Modi Aane Wala Hai and this worked surprisingly very well. This campaign saw 400 video vans spread across thousands of villages in the interiors where his speeches were played over and over again before the villagers. Just before voting day, the CAG team conceived of the Bharat Vijay rallies, during which Modi spoke at three or four venues in a single day, and was projected by 3D holographic image to 100 locations simultaneously.
The unprecedented success of the Modi campaign saw Kishor’s stock rise across political parties. He was seen as the messiah of the political class and the following year saw him being hired by chief minister Nitish Kumar to help him become chief minister for the third time. As Kishor moved into Nitish Kumar’s residence, the chief minister is reported to have sent his tailor to stitch a few white kurta pyjamas for this master strategist. Kishor informed Kumar that he was not a politician and therefore did not wear white clothing.
Nitish Prediction
But Kumar was insistent and said he would need them at some future date and three years later he was formally enrolled into the JD(U). But this is jumping the gun. When he moved into Kumar’s residence, he was asked to stitch up a Laloo Prasad and Nitish Kumar Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) along with the Congress to defeat the BJP in Bihar.
Kishor was sceptical about his ability to bring the two giants together. Theirs had been a bumpy ride starting off as being friends a quarter century ago and then breaking up as bitter foes. Under Ki shor’s encouragement and guidance, the two leaders went on to fight the elections. The BJP was defeated and Kumar, to express his gratitude to Kishor, appointed him as special adviser. Unfortunately, the Mahagatbandhan soon broke up and Laloo and Nitish went their separate ways.When asked to comment on what happened, especially with RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav calling Nitish Kumar paltu chacha for his constantly changing sides having switched from being a member of the mahagatbandhan to the BJP in a matter of four months Kishor apparently told the press that Nitish Kumar had tried hard to make the coalition work but there were governance stumbling blocks.
The main issue is that the people in Bihar were happy with Nitish’s alliance with Modi and this move has not dented his popularity in the state, and Kishor then went on to philosophically state that leaders constantly change their alliances as has been the case with N. Chandrababu Naidu and Naveen Patnaik. Nitish should not be singled out for this, he stated. Kishor, as had been predicted by Nitish Kumar, was inducted into the Janata Dal-United last September 16 and became part of Kumar’s inner circle. The Bharat Vikas Mission, a consultancy within the state government was his brainchild. Not surprisingly, Nitish Kumar hired him earlier this year to negotiate a seat-sharing formula, this time between his party and the BJP for the 2019 general election.
Congress Failure
Following his success in the Bihar assembly elections, Kishor found himself flooded with work He was contacted by the Congress to help them win the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. Kumar’s attempts to get the Congress revived in UP turned out to be a more formidable task than even he could handle. Even though he struck up a friendship with Rahul Gandhi, Kishor could not handle the intrigue and manipulation that has come to mark the moribund Congress.
In 2017, he had suggested that Priyanka Gandhi become the face the campaign and hold rallies extensively across UP while Rahul Gandhi conduct a one month long UP yatra. But the surgical strikes conducted by the Modi government post Uri and Pathankot put paid to this suggestion. The result was that the Congress collapsed in UP winning just 7 out of 105 seats in UP.
Kishor did deliver Punjab for the Congress but party insiders attribute this more to the popularity of Captain Amarinder Singh in the state and anti-incumbency against the Badal regime and to a lesser extent to Kishor’s management skills. Many members of the Congress old guard question why the entire campaign should be outsourced to an outsider.
There is one apocryphal story of how in one of Kishor’s earlier meetings with Rahul Gandhi, the Congress President had ordered a dish. Kishor questioned him as to whether the quality of food would be at the same level as what had been laid out in the menu, or whether Rahul would follow the chef into the kitchen and tell him how to prepare the meal. Kishor is said to have asked Gandhi to trust him to deliver in the same way.
That trust between the Congress and Kishor never got established, though Rahul and he have remained good friends.
Ultimately, Priyanka never campaigned in UP, except for a 5-minute speech in one rally in Rae Bareilly and also turned down Akhilesh Yadav’s plea to be a part of the Samajwadi’s Varanasi road show.
No wonder when asked what was the big difference between Modi and Rahul, Kishor stated that while Modi was willing to take big risks, Rahul was more of a status quoist.
He is not willing to rock the boat. Kishor’s explanation for this is it could be because he had inherited the mantle of a 100-year old party.
Kishor had told Rahul Gandhi in 2017 that the party could be revived only if they were willing to move beyond the conventional practises of fighting elections and then hoping for the best. While Rahul’s objective in 2019 was to defeat Modi at all costs, Kishor had suggested the aim should be to revive the party from the grassroot levels. This could happen only if a ten -year revival plan was implemented but it cost the Congress dearly in the Lok Sabha elections,
Southern Success
Kishor’s winning formula has worked in south India also. He proved his mastery by propelling the YSR Congress of YSR Jagan Mohan Reddy to power with overwhelming majority and handing over a shocking defeat to N Chandrababu Naidu.
The YSR Congress has won 21 of 25 Lok Sabha seats and 151 out of the 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh where simultaneous elections were held both for the assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies.
Jagan Mohan founded YSR Congress in 2011 breaking away from the Congress but he lost the 2014 assembly election primarily due to lack of organisational strength. His party in the 2014 assembly elections had polled 45.4 per cent votes for 66 seats against TDP’s 48.2 per cent votes for 103 seats. Five years later, Prashant Kishor and his India Political Action Committee team identified his party’s weaknesses and helped Jagan Mohan build an organisation right from the booth level structures upwards. Of course, one has heard that YSR’s Jagan Mohan Reddy had to fork out a lot of money for the advice and inputs provided by Kishor but Jagan, presently chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, is not grumbling.
Frontier Bengal
Political strategist Prashant Kishor will work with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress for the 2021 West Bengal assembly election, sources have confirmed. An agreement has been signed between Prashant Kishor and the TMC to this effect, sources said. The development came shortly after Trinmaool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee held a meeting with Prashant Kishor. The meeting between the two lasted for two hours. Prashant Kishor was accompanied by Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew. As per reports, Kishor will start working with the West Bengal CM next month onwards.Trinamool Congress is facing a challenging political situation since the Bharatiya Janata Party managed to expand its seat share in West Bengal from two in 2014 to 18 in recently concluded 2019 Lok Sabha elections. TMC wants to take Kishore’s assistance to augment its strategy to counter BJP ahead of 2021 state polls, sources have told India Today TV.
Money Matters
CAG spent almost Rs 2 crore on just ‘Chai pe Charcha’ during the 2014 parliamentary elections that played around the theme that PM Modi was a tea-seller running for the country’s most powerful job. CAG’s total administrative expenses during the campaign was around Rs 3.5 crore. It received ‘donations’ of almost Rs 8 crore and paid almost Rs 7 crore in stipends and professional fees to hundreds of volunteers who orchestrated the BJP’s winning campaign. ‘Chai pe Charcha’ was the rath-yatra equivalent of BJP’s campaign that helped create an aura around Modi that culminated in BJP’s resounding win.
IPAC, that won the Bihar elections for Nitish, has also established a corporate office in Mohali in Punjab. IPAC received Rs 19 crore in 2015-16 as project management and execution fees by doing “political consultancy”. IPAC, like CAG too incurred most of its expenses on hoardings, digital media advertisements, promotion and hiring volunteers for various campaigns in Bihar.

Maa in ‘Maati’... Maanush Furious!

Mamata Banerjee’s naïve politics of Muslim appeasement has dug a grave for Trinamool Congress that BJP just pushed it into. Mamata’s huge promise of ‘paribartan’ or change has blown in the face of naked extortionism

Chandan Nandy
Chandan Nandy

Chandan Nandy is a senior, Delhi-based journalist with decades of experience, especially in political coverage and analysis

When Mamata Banerjee led a gigantic people’s rally in central Kolkata a couple of days after her party’s stunning electoral victory in 2011, she and the Trinamool Congress genuinely represented hope. The people of Bengal had booted out the hated CPI(M)-led Left Front, mobilised as they were by Mamata over the twin issues surrounding Nandigram and Singur. Mamata’s rhetoric of ma-maati-maanush appeared to have captured the imagination of Bengal. She had promised paribartan change and her party’s manifesto waxed eloquent on how Bengal would be transformed in no time.
But by the time her first year in office ended, her image and that of the TMC had begun cracking up, enmeshed as she and some of her party colleagues were by allegations involving the Sarada and Rose Valley chit fund cases. The people mocked her move to play recorded Rabindra Sangeet numbers at street intersections. Her penchant for painting on canvas was seen as a fake attempt to project herself as a refined connoisseur and practitioner of an art that was good only for the campaign leading up to her 2011 victory.
Whispers turned into torrents of public anger when it was revealed that some of her abstract paintings were sold for a few crores, whose trail led uncomfortably close to the TMC. Bengalis were not amused when financial scandals, surrounding the awarding of contracts to paint public buildings and other government installations white-and-blue, surfaced to reveal that the only beneficiary was her nephew Abhishek who had earlier been inducted into the TMC and given an elevated position in the party’s power hierarchy.
Shadow Deals
There were allegations that a shadowy company run by Abhishek was the sole beneficiary of a contract involving the purchase and installation of trident-shaped street lights. There were no serious attempts to pull Bengal out of the economic morass: the state’s coffers remained empty, public debt continued to mount, visits abroad to fetch investments were simply junkets and policies sounded more like jokes. Credible stories leaked that some of her closest party colleagues, including ministers, had amassed huge wealth and had taken to unrelenting loot.
Suddenly, the promises of parivartan and ma-maati-maanush began to sound hollow. Doubts were raised about Mamata’s ability to govern. To ward off growing public anger, she announced schemes, which were really doles and showering of patronage. And yet, the people of Bengal persisted with her, voting her and the TMC in for a second term.
By this time, a different kind of affliction appeared to have struck her: as a means to hold on to her most-valued constituency, the Muslims, Mamata took to unbridled appeasement, which had the unintended consequence of polarising the Hindus.
Polarising Hindus
The embrace of the Muslims grew tighter and tighter still. This too had its unintended consequence: the drift among several Bengali Hindu communities towards the BJP picked up a rapid pace. This was certainly not lost on Mamata, who found this alarming enough to assuage the sentiments of the majority community. But cracks had begun to appear on the ramparts. It took just about three years for the force of public anger to breach the dam: the BJP, whose vote share stood at 17 per cent following the 2016 assembly elections, steam-rolled the seemingly unbreakable TMC’s party machinery to win 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in May when the parliamentary election results were announced.
How could this be achieved? After all, the BJP was always an anathema as far as Bengalis were concerned. From the heydays of the Left Front which too had carefully cultivated the state’s Muslims, albeit with liberal public doses of secularism and protection of minority rights, the BJP had for years been a pariah political party, always on the fringe.
Before we embark on how the BJP could dramatically turn its electoral fortunes around, an examination of the rapid decline in the popularity of the Trinamool Congress and its supremo is in place.
Economy in Ruins
Speaking to the Parliamentarian, Kolkata-based veteran journalist and political analyst Subir Bhaumik said that much of the problems that Mamata is faced with today are a creation of her own a result of her own folly. “Mamata should have gone for resurrecting Bengal’s traditional strength in manufacturing. Having come to power through the Singur-Nandigram agitations, she should have shown sagacity by aggressively courting investments in automobiles, engineering, food processing, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, and like Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister, should have turned to China for big ticket investments.”
Instead of single-mindedly pursuing the investments route to reviving industry in Bengal, which had been laid to waste by the Left, the TMC outdid the Marxists in political patronage. There was no real urgency on her part to draw up a blueprint, for that could have at least conveyed to the people that she meant business.
Her 2011 election manifesto was quickly abandoned and she launched into theatrics, inanities and opening the floodgates of corruption and criminalisation of the polity self-glorification, free allowance to some of her closest aides to resort to loot, involving members of her extended family to be part of the skimming and appeasement of the Muslim minority to an extent that put the CPI(M) to shame.
In between her less than infantile statements – like Rabindranath Tagore and Shakespeare having taken walks together by the Thames – bought her loads of ridicule.
One of the chief public complaints against her was her patronage to thugs and criminals who masqueraded as politicians. The result of this “allowance” was the rise of a “syndicate” a criminal-politician nexus that turned parasitic. This syndicate controlled the real estate and construction markets, forcing the people to buy from them rather than from legitimate sellers. The syndicate’s grip and writ ran not just in Kolkata but across West Bengal. No wonder now that Mamata is witnessing a rapid erosion of her political ground that she has begun to openly voice her “anger” against her party colleagues’ practice of accumulating “cut money” (some prefer the abbreviation, CM).
Indeed, Mamata’s second term in office was marked by internecine battles between various groups within her party seeking to partake off the proceeds of extortion.
Blind to Extortion
A former senior journalist, who did not want to be identified, said: “Mamata knew all along about the existence and extortions of the syndicate, but turned a blind eye to it because it helped swell the party’s coffers. And now that she is faced with an electoral challenge, she is trying to rid herself of the taint. This may not work as her party faces the threat of implosion.” No senior TMC leader was prepared to comment on the record.
It is not that the TMC did not work to lay claim to achievements. The doles and patronage, in the form of schemes for school girls and women, the laying of cemented roads in many villages, where too party functionaries benefitted from skimming, and improving municipal services in Kolkata were amplified and projected as “great deeds” by the chief minister.
In development-starved Bengal, such patronage was more like a drop in the ocean that helped a miniscule section of the population.
According to Bhaumik, what Mamata should have done was to focus on “Shilpo (Industrial) Bangla rather than Biswa (Global) Bangla. She should have pushed for big infrastructural projects such as a deep-sea port at Sagar or Tajpur and pushed for growth in tourism by taking advantage of Bengal’s climatic diversity in a relatively small geographic area. After all, tourism creates more employment than hi-tech industry. Mamata did make some progress in tourism but not of the kind that could match Kerala. She took some initiative for generation of new IT ventures focused on areas such as Artificial Intelligence but Bengal needed SEZs for the IT sector.” To compound the problem was growing unemployment and underemployment, which are at the root of the BJP’s sudden popularity. From the perspective of realpolitik, the BJP was able to successfully identify the demographics that could bolster its electoral push.
Hindutva Realpolitik
In the once semi-industrial belts of North 24 Parganas, where over the years hundreds of thousands of migrants from Bihar and UP had settled, the BJP pushed for celebrating Ram Navami and other socio-religious functions of no consequence to the larger Bengali-speaking population. It was a strange but effective brand of Hindutva that helped mobilise the non-Bengali, Hindi speaking population. To battle Mamata’s Muslim appeasement, the BJP used such Hindutva tools as legitimate means to make a crack.
A more potent weapon was the unabashed use of the deadly issue of the National Register of Citizens, whose application in Assam had won the BJP rich political-electoral dividend, and the 2016 Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which promised to grant citizenship to millions of Bangladeshi Hindu immigrants settled illegally across Kolkata and other parts of the state. The Bill and the promise associated with it helped the party mobilise the Hindu immigrants in ways that could balance the weight of large Muslim support for the TMC.
While the periodic and episodic use of the CBI and the corruption cases that hung over some TMC leaders worked to the BJP’s advantage, the real body blow for Mamata’s party was the almost wholesale shifting of the Left vote to the saffron party.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury was candid enough to admit this shift which party cadres on the ground rationalised as the only means to stay safe from TMC-orchestrated violence against them. What Mamata failed to do was to ensure a broad-based alliance between the TMC, the Congress and the Marxist parties to prevent the so-called “secular” vote from splitting.
On the one hand, she did not try hard enough to stitch this alliance and on the other “payoffs” on the ground by the BJP helped the Left voters to go out in droves to vote for the former. The Left is finished in West Bengal, but even in its death throes the CPI(M) has ensured, perhaps for all times to come, that there could be a credible opposition to the rising and frightening tide of right-wing politics in the state.
Confident BJP
On its part, the BJP doesn’t even have to project an alternative plan to revive Bengal’s economy for its ruthless strategists know only too well that progressively lethal doses of Hindutva and other means, legitimate or otherwise, will catapult it to power sooner than even the party believes. The writing on the wall for Mamata is clear: the BJP is now on the ascendant in Bengal and to stop it in its track would be well-nigh impossible at this juncture. After its spectacular electoral performance in the state, the BJP will not quite slow down its march to capture power. It has already begun to chip away at the TMC’s legislators who are pulling out in ones and twos to join the BJP fold.
Already, the buzz is that BJP strategists are in “talks” with 58 TMC MLAs and will slowly but surely cause the cracks in Mamata’s outfit to widen before the inevitable blow is delivered. Mamata is fully aware that her seeming invincibility just three years ago will not last too long as she faces an imminent crisis. She has hired the services of political and electoral strategist Prashant Kishor who in the past has proved his mettle. But this move may not pay off because Bengal is primed for another parivartan.

Making Of New Andhra The Challenges Ahead

The incumbent Andhra Pradesh has an unparalleled victory both in the state assembly and Lok Sabha but is forced to admit his displeasure that Modi still rules supreme at the Centre. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr writes

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

The feisty leader had his political baptism on the rocky path of hurdles, obstructions and failures before he got what he wanted to be : Chief Minister It was sweet victory and sweeter revenge for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy. When his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy died tragically in a helicopter crash in September 2009 after an impressive victory for a second time earlier in that year, Jaganmohan Reddy demanded the Congress party that he should be made the chief minister. Then Congress president Sonia Gandhi and others in the party’s high command refused. They offered him a cabinet berth at best. But Jaganmohan Reddy was not willing to accept anything less than the post of the chief minister. In 2011, he formed the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), the first three letters coinciding with that of his father’s name. In the 2014 election he lost out to N Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party rather narrowly and became the leader of opposition in the new state of Andhra Pradesh after the bifurcation of the old state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was created. In May 2019, he scored a total victory both in the assembly where his party had won 150 of the 175 seats and 23 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats. He knows that his party’s overwhelming victory in the state assembly election has been tempered by the overwhelming victory of Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) victory in the Lok Sabha election. And he admits his disappointment with the turn of event. Who’s God? In an interview with BBC Telugu television programme, he said that he had prayed to God that he should win in the state assembly elections and that the BJP should not get an absolute majority so that the national party would have had to depend on regional parties like his to form the government at the Centre and he would have been in a position to exert pressure to get things for his state. And he said that God had heard his prayers in the state and he heard the prayers of the BJP at the national level. And after his first meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the election, he told the media that in the new context where the BJP had a comfortable position in Lok Sabha, he could only request the Central Government to consider Andhra Pradesh’s demand for the special category status, and that he did not have the numbers to exert pressure on the Modi government. In many ways, the political candour of Reddy is the sign of the new generation. They do not believe in futile circumlocutions. Reddy is resigned to the fact that he has to deal with the Modi government at the centre in a different way. Tough Tasks The victory in Andhra Pradesh is challenging in itself. Leader of the YSRC Parliamentary Party (YSRCPP) Vijay Sai Reddy in an informal chat with Parliamentarian said that in 2014 when the new state of Andhra Pradesh began its inning, the public debt was Rs 97,000 crore. At the end of Chandrababu Naidu’s first term, it rose to Rs 2.25 lakh crore. The state does not have resources of its own and it needs assistance from the Central Government. It will be tough for Chief Minister Reddy to attract private investment to the state as it was for his predecessor Chandrababu Naidu. The party is confident that their leader will persuade many of the Information Technology (IT) multinationals to set up their offices in the state and that it will trigger growth in the services sector in the state. The farmers’ distress, which is acute in the state, is one of the top priorities of the new government. Chief Minister Reddy has announced financial assistance of Rs 12,000 per acre to the farmers, and this is in addition to the Rs 6,000 per acre announced by Prime Minister Modi. Vijay Sai Reddy explained that Chief Minister Reddy has not resorted to the populist measure of writing off the loans owed by the farmers to the banks. It is now left to the farmers how they would use the direct cash subsidy. They can choose to pay partial payment of the loans, or they could use it for the next crop which would enable them to pay off the loan due to the banks. According to Vijay Sai Reddy, the cash subsidy to the farmers did not come with strings as in the case of similar schemes announced by Prime Minister Modi, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik or Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao. Facing a financial crisis combined with rural distress, the new government in Andhra Pradesh is forced to look for ingenious ways to deal with the challenges of governance. One of the major issues seems to be corruption, a legacy from the Naidu government. The YSRCP wants to prove its credentials by showing zero tolerance towards corruption. Chief Minister Reddy has displayed his intention to improve the quality of governance when he demolished the Praja Vedika, the conference hall built by the previous state governments on the river bed, violating the environmental rules. Addressing the collectors’ conference, Reddy said that government should not be violating its own rules. There is then an attempt to show that the new government means to improve governance and follow rules like anyone else Huge Challenge But it will remain a huge challenge for the new government. It will have to devise ways to deal with the financial crisis at the state level and walk the tight-rope with a central government which would demand political support to meet its own agenda at the national level. The YSRCP will have to decide its stance over the triple talaq bill, on the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, which could prove to be tricky, given the BJP’s determination to mould the national polity in majoritarian, Hindutva colours. There is also the lesson to be learnt from Chandrababu Naidu’s failures. Naidu supported the BJP and Modi in 2014, but when he did not get the special category status for the state, he broke with the BJP-led NDA government of Prime Minister Modi, and he had even tried to forge an anti-Modi, anti-BJP national alliance. It did not take off, and Naidu and TDP paid a big price for it. Chief Minister Reddy may not want to be too cosy with the Modi government or become its bitter critic. The YSRCP may follow the policy of neutrality, and try to get what it can from the central government without playing the second fiddle to Modi and to the BJP. At the moment, the YSRCP stands without a rival in the state politics. Vijay Sai Reddy rules out the revival of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) citing that there is leader in the party to take over from Naidu, who is turning 70, and who will not be in a position to lead the fight in 2024. He says that neither the Congress nor the BJP can hope to take advantage of the political vacuum because the two parties were responsible for thrusting the bifurcation of the state on to the people of Andhra Pradesh which they did not want. The YSRCP analysis might hold good for the moment, but the situation is likely to change. One of the three parties has to emerge as an alternative if only to keep the ruling party in check. The BJP is trying to find a foothold in Andhra Pradesh by getting the TDP members to join its ranks as have the four TDP members of Rajya Sabha recently. It is not clear whether the trickle of defections from the TDP to BJP would turn into a flood, and whether that in turn would help the BJP to appropriate the social and electoral base of the TDP in the state. Given the caste fault-lines in Andhra Pradesh, Congress might find it difficult to move into the space vacated by the TDP. In many ways, the Congress shares the same social and electoral base as that of the YSRCP. It is therefore an interesting logjam in the state’s political space. The absence of a political opposition and a political alternative may not make things easy for Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy and his party. It will become difficult o deal with the challenges and contradictions which are inherent in any complex polity like that of Andhra Pradesh. Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Reddy face a similar challenge – the absence of political opposition. It might appear to be a happy situation for a political party in power without a rival in sight. But it becomes an unnerving experience as there is no one around to share the political burden of governance. Neither Modi nor Reddy are obliged to create and nurse the political opposition, but they will find that it is not a happy situation without an opposition which keeps the party in power on its toes.

Technophile Modi’s picture of a futuristic society is based on technology and data minting, as seen from the latest Economic Survey

Utopia Dystopia

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

TWO chapters in The Economic Survey 2018-19 focused on public policy based on behavioral economics and data to influence people and mold their behavior to achieve desirable outcomes make for interesting reading.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is nothing but a technophile. He strongly believes that technology should be used to improve his standing – in his words “Ease of Living” – and he does not have much apprehension that technology can become a nightmare if not used properly.
There is a certain innocence and naiveté in Modi’s faith in technology, which even Jawaharlal Nehru despite all his talk of scientific temper did not have similar trust in science and technology. The Economic Survey apart from its quotidian strategies to make India a $5 trillion economy by 2025 through savings, investments and exports, and Sanskrit quotations, has in two main chapters created a futuristic landscape based on behavioral economics and big data.
Chapter Two, titled, Policy for Homo Sapiens, Not Homo Economicus: Leveraging the Behavioural Economics of “Nudge” and Chapter Three, titled, Data “Of the People, By the People, For the People. The chapters on behavioral economics and on use of data seem to have been written keeping in mind the Prime Minister’s penchant for public policies which will make India a cleaner and happier and comfortable.
Influence Spectrum
Chapter Two, under the sub-heading, “The Influence Spectrum of Policy”, states the issue quite clearly. It says, “Public policy affects all aspects of our lives. Public policy influences people to act in a socially desirable way, be it driving safely, conserving natural resources, educating children, respecting the human rights of fellow citizens or saving for retirement. Some policies subtly influence by fostering the right incentives while others mandate desired behavior or ban undesirable ones.”
The second paragraph explains further: “Public policies can therefore be graded on a spectrum capturing how strongly they influence (or coerce) behavior. On one extreme is laissez faire i.e. doing nothing and leaving individuals/firms to chart their own course. Laissez faire works well when markets achieve socially desirable outcomes on their own. Where markets fail, laissez faire fails. For instance, individuals/firms in a free market would not restrain pollution. Public policy – in the form of regulation – mandates people to act in a socially desirable manner.” And in the following paragraph we are introduced to one of the tenets of behavioral economics, where people are not forced but ‘nudged’ towards socially desirable behavior. The Survey says, “Nudge policies gently nudge people towards desirable behavior even while preserving their liberty to choose.” These sentences could almost have been from utopian/dystopian novels like Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” (1924), Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932) and American behavioral psychologist’s fictional work, “Walden Two” (1948). But the authors of the Survey led by Chief Economic Adviser Subramanian Krishnamurthy have no such apprehensions or misgivings. They are innocent technophiles like Prime Minister Modi.
The chapter highlights the so-called and much touted success of two of Modi’s programmes in his first term as prime minister, Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) and Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP). In a box, titled, “Use of Behavioural Insights in the SBM”, it is written: “SBM, as a nationwide cleanliness drive, was launched on 2nd October,2014, the birthday of India’s most revered ‘role model’ Mahatma Gandhi. The day was chosen to leverage the values propagated by him and thereby create a mass movement on the lines of ‘satyagraha’ for a cleaner India. The symbol (the pair of spectacles worn by Gandhi) used by the SBM invokes Gandhiji’s ideas. Behavioral economics emphasizes the role of context in influencing choices and decisions, which has been effectively adopted by the SBM campaign.”
With regard to the success of BBBP, the box titled “Effective use of “Social norm” in BBBP” devoted to the case study says, “The success of the BBBP Scheme demonstrates a powerful use of the insight on ‘social norm’ in its ‘Selfie with Daughter’ initiative… The selfie campaign showcased examples of parents around the country who were exactly doing that. The celebration of the girl child quickly became the norm. Most people wanted to conform, and more and more parents posted selfies with their girls. Started by one proud father in a village in Haryana, the campaign went viral and #SelfieWithDaughter became a worldwide hit.”
Sourcing Info
This chapter began with an interesting and unattributed epigraph in Sanskrit and English, which is both ironical and intriguing. The Sanskrit line reads: tarko apratishto shrutayo vibhinna-aneko rishiryasya matam pramaanam which has been roughly translated into: “We cannot rely totally on rational thinking to gain information as it is not without its bias.”
The epigraph for the chapter on data is from Chinese leader who unleashed economic reforms in China in 1978, Deng Xiaoping, and it says, “Cross the river by crossing the stones.” In the summary at the head of the chapter, Deng’s aphorism is explained: “Navigating in an uncertain, wobbly world requires constant monitoring of the path followed by the economy using real-time indicators. Thus, data can serve as the stones that enable one to cross the river.” And in the context of privacy as a fundamental right as spelt out by the Supreme Court of India, the survey keeps the issue of privacy constantly in view. In the summary it is stated, “Given that sophisticated technologies already exist to protect privacy and share confidential information, governments can create data as a public good within the legal framework of data privacy. In the spirit of the Constitution of India, data should be “of the people, by the people and for the people.”
Minting Data
The Survey makes a persuasive argument as to why government should be involved in creating data which then can become a public good. It recognizes the limitations of even the largest data-collecting companies like Amazon, Facebook and Instagram. And there is a bold suggestion that so vast is the data about citizens collected by different institutions and ministries which may be of use to private companies, there is a suggestion that government should monetize the date and allow private companies to access it. It is noted that the data about citizens available with the government is transparently collected. It says, “Consistent with the notion of data as public good, there is no reason to preclude commercial use of this data for profit. Undoubtedly, the data revolution envisaged here is going to cost funds. Although the social benefits would far exceed the cost to the government, at least a part of the generated data should be monetized to ease the pressure on governmental finances. Given that the private sector has the potential to reap massive dividends from this data, it is only fair to charge them for its use.”
An innocuous example is given of the use of government-collected data by the private sector: “Consider, for example, allowing the private sector access to data about students’ test scores across districts (with all personal information completely obfuscated). Using test scores of students, demographic characteristics of each district and publicly available data on the efficacy of public education schemes, a private firm may be able to uncover unmet needs in education and cater to these needs by developing innovative tutoring products to the specific needs of the specific districts.”
This is of course convoluted thinking at its best, and the writers of the survey are grappling with hypothetical issues that are embedded in big data. There will be many false steps on the way before the right path emerges.
What lies behind all this thinking about data is that the government realizes the importance of data and how best it can be used in the targeted delivery of public services.
Unclear Vision
But what is not clear and what creates suspicion is that the data can be misused both by the government as well as the private sector. The attempt to keep the digital data free of human interface is both interesting and ominous. Data burglary or hacking remains a potential danger in more senses than one. By spelling out the data dreams of the welfare state that the Modi government is keen to run, the Survey has done yeoman service by putting it all out in black and white as it were, an antiquated figure of speech. Ideas, facts are all there in bits and bytes and they are all embedded in the mysterious cyberspace.
There is need to challenge the government and other experts on the field and the citizens cannot sit back and allow the information about themselves being thrown around for various purposes. What is needed is general awareness about data among all the citizens. They should know that they are all embedded in the matrix. They cannot wriggle out of it, but at the same time that they have to bend their knee to the masters of big data, whether it be the government or the private firm.
Prime Minister Modi’s simplistic thinking about the advantages of technology should not stop others from raising the moral, political, economic and even philosophical questions regarding data about ourselves which is now a click away to others. There is a possibility of utopia in this data revolution, but one must be aware of the dystopia that awaits us if things were to go wrong.

The ‘Never Before’ Speaker

For the next five years, all his actions will be weighed on the scale of neutrality. He will have to be vigilant to defend the sanctity of the institution and also have the vision to strengthen it. In this challenging journey, his guiding light will be the Constitution and the rules of procedure of Lok Sabha

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

The Lok Sabha speaker’s represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the nation, the Speaker becomes a symbol of nation’s freedom and liberty. Therefore, that should be an honoured position, a free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.
These were the views of the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru which he expressed while felicitating the first Lok Sabha Speaker Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar. He apparently had lofty ideas of the chair of Lok Sabha speaker and the person who occupies it. It is not that the incumbent Speaker in 17th Lok Sabha, Om Birla fails to match those ideas. He is actually still an untested commodity. But, even on his first day in the chair, Birla demonstrated what he is capable of and what can be expected of him.
Birla justified raising of slogans like Jai Shri Ram in the house by fellow BJP MPs, on the other hand he chided leader of Congress Parliamentary Party Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for speaking to fellow party MP Shashi Tharoor. “Jai Shri Ram slogans, Jai Bharat, Vande Mataram, are old issues,” Birla said, “During a debate, it is different. Every time there are different circumstances. What are the circumstances is decided by the person sitting in the speaker’s chair.”
Then he tried to balance it out by saying, “I don’t think Parliament is the place for sloganeering, for showing placards, or for coming to the well. There is a road for that where they can go and demonstrate. Whatever people want to say here, whatever allegations they have, however they want to attack the government they can, but they can’t come to the gallery and do all this.” Asked if he could give assurance that heckling will not be repeated, the Speaker said, “I don’t know if it will happen again but we will try to run Parliament by the rules,’’ he said.
RSS School Master
Given his background he was closely associated with ABVP and the RSS - and his attitude - to run the Parliament like a headmaster - it is more than clear that the 17th Lok Sabha would be as chaotic if not more, as the last one which had Sumitra Mahajan presiding over as Speaker. Birla dropped more than enough hints by saying, “I will talk to all parties and discuss with them that what action can be taken against those who repeatedly show placards in the house and come to the well. Such actions of the members show Lok Sabha in poor light.”
Underlining that every member of the house should be heard, Birla said, every party will be given opportunity, irrespective of their strength even if it has one member. He or she should be heard and the government should respond whenever required.” As a custodian of the house, Birla said he is fully aware of his responsibilities but added, Members should also understand they have been elected by lakhs of people. They should raise issues which matter to the last person standing in the row.
The fact that Birla had to assure the Lok Sabha members that he will remain fair and unbiased, in itself is a certain give away that he feels they won’t trust him implicitly.
On the first day of the new Lok Sabha, several members took oath amid an intense slogan-shouting contest between treasury and opposition benches. While ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ were heard intermittently during the day, the ‘mandir wahin banayenge’ was raised after Unnao BJP leader Sakshi Maharaj’s swearing-in. Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, too, walked down the staircase of the House to take oath amid chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and Vande Mataram’. He could be seen raising his hands and gesturing the lawmakers to continue the slogans. As soon as he ended the oath with chants like Allahu Akbar, a few MPs yelled ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. The Protem Speaker Virendra Kumar, presiding over the House then, could merely say - please maintain decorum of the house. It was only after assuming the charge of Speaker that Birla reacted to the development. That he is full of disdain towards the opposition is to state the obvious. It was reflected in the way he chided Adhir Chowdhury but also in the manner he overruled opposition members demanded to ask supplementary questions during Question Hour. “I am determined to have maximum questions. Today, I could take only seven. I intend to take up 18-20 questions during Question Hour every day”, he said. This means just three minutes for each Question. That wouldn’t leave scope for any supplementaries.
Reverse Silence
In a way this is an attempt to lower the government’s accountability. Parliament is a forum where the opposition can bring the government on the mat. And Question Hour is the only time when an MP, whether from treasury benches or the opposition, can ask the government questions related to corruption, inefficiency, retarded development not only of their constituency but of the country as well.
It is the Speaker’s duty to ensure that government doesn’t evade any question, Ministers come prepared in the House and an MP’s query is addressed properly. There are instances when Speaker has pulled up even senior ministers for taking Question Hour frivolously. But of late, Speakers like Sumitra Mahajan have been defending the Ministers. Birla is likely to take her legacy to a whole new level.
Glorious Past
Contrast this to first Speaker of Uttar Pradesh Assembly, Purushottam Das Tandon who had offered to resign when an opposition MLA disputed his ruling. His logic was - Speaker’s role has to be running the house impartially. If even a single member loses faith in me, morally I lose the right to be in chair. It was because of such qualities that he was bestowed with the title - Rajarshi. First Lok Sabha Speaker Mavalankar too was one such individual who maintained the stature of the Speaker. Before taking over the job, he was Speaker of the constituent assembly as well. He had in fact, taken up his first legislative assignment as Speaker only as presiding officer of Bombay Legislative Assembly. He continued to preside the Lok Sabha till he breathed last in 1956. In the bicameral parliamentary structure that we have inherited from the British, Speaker’s post in the most sanctimonious one. Upon his election as Speaker, the person resigns from his parent party and continues as an independent member. Even in the next general elections, no party fields a candidate against him to ensure that he is elected unopposed. And he continues in the job till he willingly relinquishes it. This is done to preserve his impartiality, dignity and integrity. It is a tradition that is followed till day.
However, we tweaked the tradition. In 1951 and 1953, the Conference of Presiding Officers of legislatures in India passed a resolution for the adoption of the British Convention. Mavalankar tried to create a consensus among political parties on adopting this British convention but was unable to make much headway.
The 1954 decision of the Working Committee of Congress in response to Mavalankar’s attempts sealed the fate of the issue. It stated, “The Working Committee considered Shri G V Mavalankar’s letter for establishing a convention for the uncontested election of Speakers and felt that this was not a feasible proposition for the present in view of other political parties being involved in the question.”
Nehru Vision
With no security in the continuity of office, the Speaker is dependent on his or her political party for reelection. This makes the Speaker susceptible to pulls and pressures from his political party in the conduct of the proceedings of the Lok Sabha.
Nehru succinctly described this aspect of the Speaker’s responsibility in 1948. At the unveiling of the portrait of Vithalbhai Patel, he said: “We would like the distinguished occupant of this chair now and always to guard the freedom and liberty of those from every possible danger, even from the danger of an executive incursion. There is always that danger even from a National Government — that it may choose to ride roughshod over the opinions of a minority, and it is here that the Speaker comes in to protect each single member, or each single group from any such unjust activity by a dominant group or a dominant government.”
Other than the election of Mavalankar, every other Lok Sabha Speaker has been elected unanimously. After the election, the Speaker is escorted to his chair by the leaders of both the ruling and opposition parties. These conventions are meant to reflect that after his election, the Speaker belongs to the entire House.
For the next five years, all his actions will be weighed on the scale of neutrality. He will have to be vigilant to defend the sanctity of the institution and also have the vision to strengthen it. In this challenging journey, his guiding light will be the Constitution and the rules of procedure of Lok Sabha.
CJI Stature
The speaker is the conventional head of the lower house with a constitutional status at par with that of the Chief Justice of India. It is the speaker who decides when a member speaks, how much time she gets, what gets included in the official account and which statements get expunged, and whether, in cases of a member causing disturbance, she remains in the House or is expelled from it.
The Lok Sabha Speaker is also the principal spokesman, the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House
It is the speaker who allows the members to introduce the bills or to move motions. The speaker fixes time limit for the debates in the House, puts matters to vote and announces the results. The speaker also gets to decide whether this House will have a leader of opposition, given that Congress falls short of getting LoP status - for which opposition party requires 10 per cent seats of Lok Sabha or 55 seats - by 3 seats. Crucially, it is the speaker who gets to arbitrate over a dispute on whether a bill is a Money Bill or not. Such a decision is final and cannot be challenged inside or outside the House.
The provision of Money Bill, since it does not need to be passed by the Rajya Sabha, is often misused by the Government. Since the Speaker is the sole arbiter in such matters, government wants a pliable person to be in the chair.
In Modi government’s previous term, one such contentious money bill was the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016. The opposition argued that the Aadhaar bill did not qualify as a money bill, which is defined as one that contains provisions for taxes, appropriation of funds, and other purely revenue-related matters. Political Turf
Since Speaker is also the person who certifies if some MPs defecting from one party to the other is legal, it bestows upon him immense power to make or mar fortunes of a party and the government. This is another reason why ruling parties want a yes man as speaker. Shivraj Patil’s decision regarding Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal’s defection to Congress was one such example. Singh did not have enough numbers so Patil devised a strange phenomenon called split in continuity.
Ajit Singh split the 59-member Janata Dal with three of his colleagues in 1992. JD leader VP Singh asked then Lok Sabha speaker Patil to disqualify Ajit and his friends. But, Patil delayed the decision. In the meantime, there was another split as 16 other MPs separated from JD. Ajit Singh applied to Patil for recognition as separate group including the next batch of 16. Patil immediately granted them recognition of a separate party since together they had become 20, one third or total strength 59, thereby avoiding provisions of anti-defection law. BJP’s Reply
BJP was peeved. Advani called this a dangerous precedent, little realising that his party was going to adopt a similar strategy in Uttar Pradesh. When BSP separated from BJP, former’s MLAs broke away in groups. But, even if aggregated they wouldn’t become one third of the original party strength.
Then Assembly Speaker Keshari Nath Tripathi, devised another ingenious way - split within split which meant that one third of BSP MLAs split from the original party. So anti-defection law didn’t apply. Later one third of this splinter group again broke away and went back to the original party. Again no anti-defection provision could be invoked. But, in reality, all but one split happened only in paper and signatures were forged to formalise the splits. However, he didn’t adjudicate on BSP’s application to disqualify the splinter group, keeping the case hanging for four years. It is because of the benefits like these that the ruling parties want a Speaker who shouldn’t be too rigid in his approach towards work. He needs to oblige the ruling party in hours of need. BJP doesn’t yet have majority in the Rajya Sabha. That means it can’t get contentious bills like a Triple Talaq passed from both Houses of Parliament. Would bills like these be pushed as Money Bills, avoiding Rajya Sabha, like BJP did for Aadhaar? Only time will tell. But, it does need a Speaker like Om Birla to serve the purpose.

BJP In A New Avtar

The post 2019 polls shows a no holds barred Bhartiya Janata Party that is no longer a shadow of its mother organisation, the RSS

Sanjay Bechan
Sanjay Bechan

Sanjay Bechan is a freelance journalist who started his career with Jansatta Hindi Daily of Indian Express Group. Later on, he moved to TV and worked with Nalini Singh and BAG Films

I was in the midst of a TV discussion on the eve of 23 May 2019 when elections results were being declared. The anchor took a break for a live feed from BJP HQ wherein Amit Shah was addressing BJP enthusiasts. Humbled by the massive victory bestowed on the Party he was thanking the nation. However, he was not humble in his approach while making special mention of West Bengal and Chandrababu Naidu. He proclaimed that the change of guard in West Bengal is inevitable and the BJP is all set to form the government in the state after the assembly election which is due next year. Following Shah, the tone of PM Narendra Modi’s address too was humble but its spirit was vigorous. New BJP-Sangh Both the addresses have one thing in common:– to target general elections of 2024. It was a different BJP that I have known so far. The message of both the leaders clearly indicated that the birth of a new BJP has taken place. This BJP is not only a party with a difference but it is talking differently too. It was staking claims in very clear terms as a natural incumbent of seat of power in New Delhi. And this endeavour to stake claim was not under any wrap as done in the past. It was straight and direct. It was no more keen to talk about the ideas toed by the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the BJP in the past. Abandoning old ideas and picking new ones is not a new phenomenon for the party. But this new BJP is not picking a new idea. It went back to basics. Once again it rekindled the idea of Cultural Nationalism, the idea of Akhand Bharat and the idea of larger Hindu Pariwar and the idea of India as the supreme power and as a custodian of knowledge and culture which were put in a cold storage during Vajpayee regime for the sake of running the coalition with ease. In fact, going back to its root is a paradigm shift. However the birth of New BJP is not all of a sudden incident and had not happened in a day. Saying goodbye to Gandhian socialism, integral humanism and minority appeasement was not at all easy. But during recently held elections, these issues were not even in the reckoning, which not only helped the BJP immensely but prevented the opposition to rake up the issue of appeasement to clinch minority votes. It also paved the way for an election to be free from clutches of Iftar and fatwas which have lost their sheen during the election campaign. The current BJP has successfully blended the idea of New India, idea of cultural nationalism, idea of Akhand Bharat, Idea of Hindu Nationalism and idea of a greater Hindu Samaj into one to create a consolidated vote bank. It also mixed aspirations of young India and old India into one. It also redefined India’s world view and the world’s outlook towards India. It was able to deliver a message to its voters that only the BJP can convert the country into a strong and resurgent India. An India which stands tall in the world order, which can see eye to eye with world’s top powers and which can convert it into a superpower in terms of economy and national security and an India which strikes back and can stand before Chinese hegemony in the region. The concept of unstoppable India and unstoppable BJP are converted into one. So it’s new BJP of a new India. The newly emerged BJP is now a party with a difference in its real terms. It is now a confluence of diverse views. It is not opposed to creation of wealth and free enterprises. But it is not a capitalist party in rigid terms. It is pro-people at the same time. It is credited with launching world’s largest schemes. And its right wing lineage and nationalist approach have never been a secret. Under the leadership of Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, the BJP has converted itself into a party which is always ready to face elections. The party has successively placed a mammoth poll machinery which is always election ready. While all other parties are still in aftershock of defeat in general elections of 2019, the BJP is preparing for forthcoming assembly elections in full throttle. Free from the tantrums of strategists and pollsters the new BJP is more focused on increasing its strength and the number of its members at booth levels. It focuses more on booth management and it is not complacent at all. Soon after the victory in recently concluded elections, Party President Amit Shah has very emphatically stated that the BJP may have notched up its best ever tally in the recent Lok Sabha polls but it is yet to reach its peak. He made it clear while chairing a meeting of top party office bearers that the party cannot reach its peak without forming governments in states like Kerala and West Bengal, among others. The Modi and Shah’s BJP is so concerned about its future victories that it decided to increase its members by 20 per cent soon after the elections The party’s goal to bump up the membership by 20 per cent more is not only aggressive but a guarantee to boost party’s performance in forthcoming assembly polls. Panna Pramukhs, vistaraks, RSS whole timers and thousands of its office bearers and workers are engaged in making preparations for forthcoming elections round the clock throughout the year. Panna Pramukhs play pivotal role in election management at primary level. Now, in elections it’s BJP which sets the agenda, manages issues successfully and forces others to respond. While, before the polls of 2019 the BJP used to respond to the issues set by others. However during 2014 to 2019 it perfected the art of setting agenda and managing issues at every level. Recently held elections were an example wherein the opposition was forced to abandon its tried and tested tricks of secularism vs communalism, minority vs majority, Dalit versus OBC. etc. Nehru-Gandhi family scions Rahul and Priyanka were seen shuttling Hindu Holy Places. Akhilesh and Maya were seen refraining from meeting Muslim clergies and throwing lavish iftar parties. Not only that, they also failed miserably to make GST & demonetization to occupy centre stage during the elections. Issue of cow vigilantism and mob lynching also failed to gain momentum. Issue of corruption -Rafael deal – and much talked about scheme NYAYA also collapsed without yielding any result. And it all happened due to aggressive campaign by the BJP which prevented these issues to take centerstage. While erstwhile BJP derived its strength from the bashing of the Congress and the Communists for constantly raking up the issue of minority appeasement and ignoring Hindu interests. The new BJP derived its strength from its delivery through the governance. It converted the whole election campaign as Modi vs all. Earlier it was Congress vs. others, now it is BJP vs. others. Modi was positioned in such a manner that it outsized everyone. Not only that it exposed the negative narrative being pestered against it and turned them into its strength and built the campaign block by block. Earlier, it was perceived that if you are a BJP wala you are communal. Now, Modi and Shah took the issue of Nationalism at such a level wherein everyone talking against BJP was perceived as Anti National. The issue of nationalism not only attracted young voters but also silenced its detractors. It made a situation wherein anyone talking against the BJP was treated as anti-national. The BJP took the spirit of nationalism on such a high level that the communal angle failed to match its intensity and effect on the electorate. In fact it turned the tide. Balakot strike was an icing on the cake. And the entire strategy was designed in a manner wherein Indian Muslims were insulated from mischief played on them by the Congress and third front that their existence would be in danger if the BJP comes into power. The BJP did not allow them to play a faux pass this time. And this was the reason that everyone believed Modi’s statement in the NDA parliamentary party meeting wherein he declared that Muslims are BJP’s potential voters and his Government would work for their wellbeing. The journey from being untouchable to a most preferred party is remarkable in the political history of India. After the demise of its predecessor, the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, the BJP was formed to revive Hindutva but it was put on back burner under the wrap of coalition Dharma in past. Now The New Avatar of the party is working successfully to push Hindutva and issue of Indian nationalism as its core. It would be interesting to understand that how the BJP got benefitted by bringing the issues of Indian and Hindu Nationalism in centre of its entire election strategy. A series of surveys conducted in almost all Indian states between 2016 and 2018 by Lokniti-CSDS and Azim Premji University unfolds its chemistry. As per the findings of the survey the majority of Hindus are in agreement with the BJP’s idea of Indian and Hindu nationalism. This support is remarkably broad-based. The survey reveals that a majority of Hindus from different caste and tribal communities believe that those who eat beef should be punished. A majority of Hindus across different castes also believe that those who do not say “Bharat Mata ki Jai” at public functions should be punished. The majority of Hindus also believe that most of the Hindus are patriotic. According to the survey 44 percent of all Hindus voted for the BJP in 2019, which is 8 percentage more what it got in 2014. The support for the BJP has also widened. As per the findings : 52 percent of Hindu upper castes, 44 percent of Hindu backward castes, 34 percent of Hindu Dalits, and 44 percent of Hindu Adivasis voted for the BJP in the 2019 elections. For each group, the percentages of support for the BJP were significantly higher in comparison to 2014. Most interesting is the case of conversion of Indian youth especially first time voters into BJP’s votaries in 2019. To target young and first time voters was a great strategy. Connecting with youth’s aspirations with a concept of new and resurgent India was its strength. While Modi was communicating with youths giving tips for examinations and engaging with them in a series of activities everyone took it as a ploy to avoid real issues. No one has the clue that Modi was basically building a future vote bank for the BJP, a vote bank which was not captive of RSS which was exclusively created for the BJP by the BJP. These are the voters who will keep the BJP in power in future . Modi specifically underlined the aspirations of teenagers and developed devices and campaigns aimed at them. Evidence is now available to indicate that most of first time voters voted for the BJP and party is strategizing in a manner that this trend is bound to be maintained for a long time. It would be interesting to mention that some top stalwarts of the Party were always of the opinion that party means the parliamentary or legislative party and rest is the RSS responsibility. Modi and Shah worked relentlessly and successfully came out of this by establishing a BJP’s loyal youth vote bank which has no leaning towards the RSS. Interestingly RSS is also happy with this addendum, as this youth vote bank and RSS both are the votaries of the concept of a great Indian Nation. Earlier it was RSS who through Akhil Bharitya Vidyarthi Parishad acted as a nursery to groom BJP voters and workers. But by targeting first time voters and connecting with them by addressing their aspirations and convincing them that Modi is building a new India. The BJP has created a vote bank which is exclusively for the party and has nothing to do with RSS .Off course the idea of Indian nationalism is a common connect between them. The preceding avatar of BJP, the Bharitya Jansangh was founded in 1951 to push the agenda of cultural nationalism at centre stage of national politics and oust the so called unholy alliance of the Congress and the Communists from the power. The initial years of the Bhartiya Jansangh were not very encouraging. The first general elections in 1952 were a great disappointment. Only Dr. Mukherjee and two of his friends were elected to Lok Sabha. However on the basis of its scoring 3.06% of the votes, the party was recognized as a national political party. However, despite a general belief in political circles that the Bhartiya Jan Sangh will cease to exist after the death of its founder, Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. The results of the second general elections proved that the Bhartiya Jan Sangh not only survived, but moved in upward direction as well. After a long struggle and facing numerous rough weathers during Nehru-Indira era it reached its pinnacle in post-Emergency Janata Party regime during 1977-79 when it had 93 MPs. After the downfall of Desai ministry due to the rift within the Janata Party on the issue of Jan Sangh’s affiliation with RSS, the BJP was established in April 1980. The BJP was distinct in thought from its predecessor and propounded a new concept of Gandhian Socialism and a tag line of “party with a difference”. The adoption of Gandhian Socialism as a policy concept faced open defiance from stalwarts like Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, the founder Vice President, and Bhairo Singh Shekhawat, the late Vice President of India and former Chief Minister of Rajasthan. But Party has accepted it as one of its core values. And on the basis of that in the same convention Justice Mohammed Currim Chagla, perceived BJP as “the alternative that can replace the present (Indira Gandhi) Government.” Chagla proved to be right in 1998 when Vajapyee led Government was formed at the Centre. But this success was nothing to do with the idea of Gandhian Socialism which was actually put in side after debacle in general elections of 1984. After merely securing two seats in the 84 elections, the party had very rigorously and aggressively pushed a hardline Hindutva agenda which ultimately brought it in power in 1998. However the idea of Gandhian Socialism helped Vajpayee to attain a greater acceptability with a liberal face .Vajpayee always accepted the contribution of Gandhian Socialism in shaping his political image and always pushed it in his political musings. In September 2004, when the book “The Quest, The Hurdles: A Socialist Testament” written by former PM Chandra Sekhar, was being launched Vajpayee took up the issue and questioned why the nation had stopped talking about socialism. “It is in the preamble of our Constitution and is a guiding goal for all parties. For the Bharitya Janata Party, Gandhian socialism is what we want to achieve and make society free of exploitation and full of opportunities. So, we need to start this debate again,” he said. Despite Vajpayee’s penchant and insistence to continue with Gandhian Socialism BJP got rid of it and resorted to its hard-line Hindu ideology to secure power and succeeded. The towering personality and popularity of Vajpayee helped the party In forming a grand alliance of 13 political parties which proved instrumental for the victory in Lok Sabha elections, 1999. The victory ramped up political acceptability of the BJP among all parties in general and amongst alliance constituents in particular. The old BJP always tried to camouflage or sugar-coat its Hindutva agenda and ambition of power under the idea like Gandhian Socialism or integral humanism for its non-supporters. The new BJP is not at all apologetic about its Hindu ideology and RSS ideology. Whenever and wherever it requires, the party expresses emphatically and that also without any sort of shame. The new BJP is not keen to have any mask. While Vajpayee era BJP was RSS driven but its new avtar is a self-propelled organization. Defining roles regarding the three dimensions- the party, the government & the pariwar is totally demarcated in the new BJP. The new BJP proclaims its root of Hindu Nationalism with proud. In new BJP there is an exclusive room for Hindutva and the rest has been immersed in nationalism now. So the BJP now wants to convert and rebrand itself as a Nationalist party rather than a right wing Hindu party. And the party is doing it in a manner that its all the votaries are happy and think that its their own show. The RSS is happy that NRC is being implemented and minority appeasement has gone. The RSS long cherished idea of a casteless broad based Hindu society is taking shape, Article 370 and 35A will go. Hardliners within the Sangh Pariwar are happy that the Ram Mandir will be build, triple talaq is being banned, two child norms and common civil code for the country is in offing. In fact every constituency and constituents are happy as this new BJP is addressing them all. Mastering such an art with perfection is new BJP’s forte. It has mastered the art of feel good which has never been witnessed before. Vajpayee came to power bashing the Congress, the Communists and the third front. BJP 2.0 came to power on its own steam and has nothing to do with the downfall of others. Under leadership of Atal–Advani the BJP for years tried hard for political acceptability by adopting a liberal mask but that did not help the party much. However it helped Vajpayee to get a liberal face and a greater acceptability in national politics which helped him to lead two successive coalition governments from 1998-2004. Elections of 2004 proved to be a debacle despite India Shining Campaign and the BJP had to sit in opposition for ten long years. In 2014 rising on wave of anti-incumbency and Modi’s positioning as an alternate to UPA misrule BJP came back to power with full majority. But it decided to stick to its coalition dharma following the footsteps of Vajpayee. However at the same time, it also decided to change its outlook totally. After landslide victory in 2014. Amit Shah was made BJP head which proved game changer. Shah and Modi realized and recognized that politics without power is a lifeless object. The new BJP has tweaked the proposition of “Nation First, party second and self-last” as “Nation first power must.” This new BJP knows how to tackle its opponents. We have seen the bonhomie between the Congress and NDA during Vajpayee’s regime. Now it does not fussy about that any more. To destroy its enemies it can go beyond the so called culture of mutual respect. It’s not shying away from taking up a fight to finish. It is not apologetic in claiming and working in a direction to make India Congress Mukt. It is not shying away in taking legal actions against Gandhi family. Issues related with political courtesy are now a matter of the past. The advent of the New BJP after victory in General elections in 2019 is a natural corollary of the churning which took place in the BJP between 2014 -2019 that power and party are two inseparable organs of the politics and politics without power is a life without soul. Departure from the policy of “one person one post” is an evidence of the same. BJP always adhered to the policy of one man, one post since its beginning. However recent elevation of JP Nadda as working President of the party and retention of Shah on the top slot is a clear cut statement that BJP has changed. Nation and elections are its top two priorities. From single digit number in the Lok Sabha in 1984, the party has successfully scored 303 seats in the House of 545 in 2019. But even then it’s not complacent in approach. As Amit Shah described recently that the BJP is yet to reach its peak and till it reaches the top, there is no full stop. It’s always on move. The statement of LK Advani describing the BJP is very apt and explains new BJP in right perspective, “It has risen to become one of the strongest national-level parties in the country based on its progressive agenda of focusing on overall speedy growth of the nation. The party has always remained indefatigable in its approach to national unity, integrity, identity and strength through its individual and national character. The BJP, which is nurtured by and akin to the Rashtria Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS), is wedded to India’s intrinsic identity and cultural fabric of unity and distinctiveness that have been the hallmark of this great country and its people for millennia. The BJP, today, is all set for a great leap forward which can bring about a paradigm-shift in the life of every Indian, so much so as to rewrite the history of this great nation in a way that its future generations would be proud of. Even the party’s detractors now believe that BJP has transformed into an ‘unstoppable’ force.” Echoing the views expressed by its patriarch, the BJP is now converted it into an organization which is born to rule with a concept that Nation first, Power Must.

Modi’s $ 5 trillion Economy dream

It is not just that the government of the day is tweaking GDP figures, GDP does not reflect the real progress of a welfare economy like India

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second inning has successfully sold several new grandiose ideas to the public. Last month, he pulled a new rabbit out of his economic hat – the desire to become a five trillion dollar economy by 2024, i.e. a jump of more than 70 per cent from its existing size. While economists debate about whether this is feasible, and whether the prerequisite conditions exist for it to happen, there is a crucial aspect that is being shunned. Is the size of the economy, or its GDP and its growth, reflective of a country’s wellbeing – the “health, happiness, security, and material comfort” of a nation and its people? Recent research by several institutions such as World Economic Forum (WEF), Brookings Institution, and McKinsey, among others, concludes that the answer is a huge NO. According to an article by Robert Constanza (2014) on the WEF website, “The real economy – including all things that support human wellbeing – is much larger than the market economy estimated by GDP. GDP was never designed as a measure of overall societal wellbeing and its continued misuse for that purpose needs to stop.” According to a recent study by McKinsey, the global think tank, “Perhaps most important, GDP was not meant to be an anchor metric for targeting national economic performance or a measure of national wellbeing. For the latter, there are many alternative measures, including the Human Development Index (HDI), introduced by the United Nations in 1990, and the OECD’s Better Life Index.” A piece on mentions two other such indicators – Genuine Progress Indicator, and Happy Planet Index. Before we get into the reasons why these indices are better than GDP, let’s look at what’s wrong with the manner in which we calculate economics and, by default, social, progress. As is now clear, policy makers can manipulate – or tweak the GDP figures. Leading economists, including Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist, IMF, have questioned India’s formula to calculate the size of her economy, and its growth. Earlier, 108 economists, including former RBI Governor, Raghuram Rajan, wrote a letter to express doubts about India’s GDP. A few months ago, Gopinath said, “There were important revisions that were made in 2015 as a part of modernising India’s national accounts statistics, so this is certainly welcome. That said, there are still some issues that need to be fixed… and this is something we have flagged in the past.” Another economist pointed out that there was a contradiction between different figures – growth is up, but so is unemployment (at a 45-year high). This cannot happen unless productivity levels have shot up, for which there is no evidence. In the case of India, like other nations with huge informal sector and cash economy, there is a major flaw in GDP’s calculations. In a chapter on demonetisation, the Economic Survey (2017) categorically stated, “It is clear that recorded GDP growth… will understate the overall impact (of demonetisation) because the most affected parts of the economy – informal and cash-based – are either not captured in the national income accounts or to the extent they are, their measurement is based on formal sector indicators.” For economists and laymen, this statement is explosive. The official statistics either do not capture, or only roughly do so in some segments, the output in the unorganised sector. This is mindboggling because it employs, according to ILO, close to 81 per cent of the employed people in the country. Speculating on such data, based as it is on what happens in the organised sector, is naïve. The reason: while in normal times, the growth in both these sectors may approximate or be similar, in times when one is hit more than the other, the overall figures will be grossly over or under inflated. Obviously, there is no consistency in, and sanctity of, such calculations. Thus, India’s annual GDP, and its growth rate, are mere numbers that can be quoted often by economists, media, policy makers, and other experts. In effect, they can be completely delinked from reality. If the GDP cannot even capture the economic truth of a country, how can it be looked upon as an indicator for a nation’s wellbeing, prosperity, and development? Hence, the McKinsey observation: “There is almost universal agreement that GDP alone is an imperfect metric for growth and prosperity.” Even if there is a mechanism to track the output in the informal sector, the GDP figures will still be inadequate. This is because they will always exclude a number of non-market activities. Consider the example of your mother, who converts fruits and vegetables into squashes and juices on a regular basis. Or consider the outputs from services such as baby-sitting and lawn mowing. These are never reflected in official data, nor can there be a reasonable way to calculate them. This is why the Brookings paper stated that the “exclusion of non-market activities that bear on economic wellbeing merit more attention, particularly given the potential for changes in the importance of such activities over time...”One must also remember another huge gap in the GDP data. This is the total exclusion of the black, or gray, markets. In developed economies, where their sizes are smaller, they can be reasonably neglected. But not so in India, where the illegal economy is estimated at between 14-62 per cent of the official GDP. The lower estimate may distort the overall figures a bit, but if the higher one is true, it has tremendous implications. This may entail a dramatic change in the way we think about the Indian economy. Consider how Arun Kumar, an economist and a leading expert on black economy, views it: “It (India’s unofficial economy) is larger than the income generated by agriculture and industry…. It is larger than the size of the Government (Centre plus states) spending…. Because of its existence, the country’s economy has been losing on an average 5 per cent growth (compared to official figures) since the 1970s…. If we add 5 per cent to the rate of growth over the past four decades, the size of our economy would be Rs 1,050 lakh crore (or about $15 trillion)….” In effect, we would be thrice the $5 trillion dream today. We tend to think of the real economy in terms of the market economy – the goods and services that are deliberately produced every year. But let’s take a few steps back, and look around us. As the article on WEF website stated, “The real economy includes our natural capital assets – all of the gifts from nature that we do not have to produce – and the immensely valuable, but non-marketed, ecosystem services those assets provide. These services include climate control, water supply, storm protection, pollination, and recreation.”Economists feel that such natural assets “contribute significantly more to human wellbeing than all of the world’s GDP combined”. In essence, the overall global GDP is more than double of our calculations. Imagine what will happen to the economic growths of nations like India that are endowed with huge amounts of natural resources and assets. Sadly, we have overlooked the benefits, and depleted these assets. Since 1997, the world has possibly lost $20 trillion a year in non-marketed ecosystem services, i.e. an amount that is larger than the GDP of the United States. Given such resource degradation, coupled with the negative impact on climate change and greenhouse effect, we have destroyed the ecosystem’s abilities to endure in the future. Hence, GDP and sustainability have to be thought of as interlinked and enmeshed. If the former negatively affects the latter, it “diminishes the quality of life of the nation’s households over time”. It reduces the overall prosperity. The same will be true of activities that create negative values for a society – think of air and other forms of pollution. Another aspect that is grossly overlooked when we look at a nation, purely through a restricted economic (market-related) lens, is social capital. Built over centuries, even thousands of years for certain communities, this includes the formal and informal networks between individuals and societies; the democratic, liberal, and other institutions that serve the various needs of the society; and cultural traits that are both specific and widespread. Obviously, these cannot be quantified, but they form an integral and inherent part of a nation, household, and individual’s wellbeing and happiness. This is why multilateral institutions now think in terms of indicators that can capture the state of the nation and globe in a better manner, with all the nuances. The UN HDI, for instance, “includes measures of health, wealth, and education”. Hence, it is more broadly based than the GDP, which covers only economic activities, and that too partly. The Happy Planet Index captures a nation’s quality of life with measures of “happiness, life expectancy at birth, the degree of inequality across society, and the ecological footprint”. Even the GDP formula was tweaked into Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Although this too focuses on output, it includes both the additions and subtractions. Hence, the “cost of negative effects related to… crime, environmental degradation, resource depletion, and the costs of climate change” are subtracted from the overall value addition to the economy. Thus, it provides a more accurate and realistic measure of a nation’s quality of life. As a website claimed, “The relationship between GDP and GPI mimics the relationship between the gross profit and net profit of a company.” A website explains how the GPI formula works. “GDP increases twice when pollution is created – once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up. By contrast, GPI counts the initial pollution, as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later plus cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the meantime. Quantifying costs and benefits of these environmental and social externalities is indeed a difficult task.” One of the biggest impacts of economic growth, if it is positive, is lower inequality, both economic and social, within a nation or society. However, GDP fails to capture the effects of growing, and yawning, gaps between the rich and poor in practically every country. In the last several decades, even in rich and developed nations, most of the GDP gains went to the top 1 per cent earners, as the incomes of the remaining 99 per cent stagnated. In such a scenario, a high GDP, or double-digit GDP growth rate, is irrelevant.

Modi Matters

There was no trace of Modi wave on the ground but the impressive majority of the BJP shows the characteristic of a wave

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

ThE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won 303 seats in this summer’s Lok Sabha election, 30 seats more than what they won in 2014. BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had managed to muster another 50 seats. The BJP-led NDA then commands an unassailable 353 in the 543-seat Lower House of Indian Parliament. There are two intriguing aspects of this story of BJP’s, which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, victory. First, BJP president Amit Shah and before him senior party leader Rajnath Singh had claimed a week before the verdict day that the BJP is going to win 300 seats on its own. It seemed tall talk because it appeared that BJP will manage about 230 to 240 seats on its own, and that it will need the help of allies to form the government. The second is the absence of Modi wave on the ground. Many people felt that Modi and the BJP should get a second term in office but it was more for the sake of stability and continuity and not because of any spectacular achievements of Modi in his first term in office.
Modi and party president Amit Shah harping on national security, nationalism in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack and the retaliatory aerial strike in Balakot appeared a sign of nervousness on the part of the BJP, which was desperately clutching at emotive issues like nationalism and anti-Pakistan sentiments. Modi had however denied in the media interviews he gave in the final phase of electioneering that he was pressing the panic button and he was falling back on emotional issues like national security. He argued that his half-hour speeches were mostly about the positive achievements of his government and that the national security issue was only one of them. There was apprehension on the part of Modi’s political rivals a year ago that Modi would somehow conjure up a situation which would raise the sentiment of nationalism to win the election. Modi and Shah are sure to argue that they did not anticipate Pulwama, and that the decision to retaliate through the Balakot air strike was taken in the context of defense preparedness rather than with elections on mind. Modi and Shah then went on to use the Pulwama and Balakot incidents for political purposes during the campaign, and they even defended that it was legitimate to do so.
It is difficult to disentangle the reasons as to why the people voted in favour of Modi. What was the impact of Pulwama and Balakot? Did this give an advantage to Modi, and if there was no Pulwama and Balakot, would Modi and BJP have got 303 seats? Did the people give the verdict in favour of Modi because they did not like the divided opposition and not because they were charmed by the genius of Modi? Did the people prefer stability and continuity and they did not very much fancy the high decibel patriotism of Modi and Shah? What is however very clear is that there was no visible and tangible wave in favour of Modi in 2019 as there was in 2014. It would not be off the mark to infer that Modi won because there was no credible alternative. Indirectly, Modi himself admitted to this, but in his own rhetorical fashion. Speaking to the victorious Members of Parliament of the NDA in the Central Hall of Parliament, Modi said that the competition was between the Modi of 2014 and Modi of 2019, Modi 2019 beat the record of Modi 2014. In 2014, BJP became the first party since 1984 to have won a majority on its own.
The details of the Lok Sabha poll results show that the BJP did well in the states where it had a stronghold – Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka – and it won the extra seats from West Bengal and Odisha. The expectation was that the BJP would not be able to win the same number of seats in these states that it had won in 2014. The law of statistical averages suggested that the BJP would lose many seats on the way and yet remain the single largest party short of simple majority. The BJP just romped home.
So, the question crops up yet again? Why did Modi win? Is the Modi magic intact? The media are of the general view that this was a Modi election, and that he is the charismatic leader who has carried the day. The others who feel that the verdict is not a simple endorsement of Modi, the Leader are groping for an explanation that reflects the fact of Modi’s victory and also the reason the people voted for him.
The meaning of the verdict has a bearing on what Modi and his government would do in the second term. If they believe that they managed to win the election because of Pulwama and Balakot, then they will have to flex the military muscle in the neighbourhood, against terrorists based in Pakistan. The assumption here is that failure to tackle the challenges of the economy would not matter if the Modi government can keep the spirits of patriotism up.
There is also the argument within the school of Modi admirers and among Team Modi that it was welfare measures like Ujwala, which involved giving LPG cooking gas connection to village women, and the Jan Dhan Yojana scheme that won them the election. Then it would mean that the Modi government will have to step up on its welfare schemes. But the Modi government has little or no idea as to how it would finance these schemes. Its simple presumption is that the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was launched in Modi’s first term, would fetch enough revenue which could be used for supporting the welfare measures. But it is not aware of the issue that the tax collections could go down if the economy does not grow sufficiently, and the fluctuation in economic growth is a natural.
It is not that the Modi government can ignore the other challenges like improving the educational qualifications and skills of Indians, or of creating world-class scientific research and development infrastructure in the country because Modi is keen to make India a leading country in the field of science and technology. But the government does not seem to have a clear idea as to how this is to be achieved. Is India willing to invest in good universities and will it allow researchers the freedom to go about their work? The BJP and Modi tend to believe that research should be beneficial to the country without realizing that the element of serendipity is high in scientific research and that there will be many dead-ends before one comes up the breakthrough discovery. And scientific research flourishes when there is untrammeled intellectual freedom. But the BJP’s ideology requires both blinkers and controls which are counterproductive.
On the economic front, Modi’s government is unable to find innovative ways of building the country’s manufacturing base, which is necessary if India is to become a powerful economy in the world. This would require that there should be technological breakthroughs in the manufacturing sector, which in turn presume a highly skilled and highly trained technical work force. India cannot compete with either Europe or Japan, or even China and South Korea on this front. The Modi government does not have the patience to deal with a complex problem like this. It prefers to deal with the simple and tangible things like the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro’s) manned mission to the moon, which can be showcased as an achievement to the world and which could then be used as political capital to win the next election.
Modi and Shah have shown in the last five years that they are very good at fighting elections and winning them and they are not interested in anything else. Whatever good that happens in the course of governance is a side-effect of the Modi-Shah plan to win an election. It can be argued that as long as development is taking place if only to enable the Modi-Shah-led BJP to win election after election, then it should not matter.
This poll-related developmental agenda is likely to result in misshapen development, but it would help India to march onward somewhat somehow. The greatest challenge for the Modi government in its second term would be to maintain social harmony and to keep the lumpen Hindutva elements on the leash. Modi and Shah may be tempted to believe that social tensions might have their political value for the BJP’s electoral prospects. It is the point when the script could get out of hand.

Colombo’s Easter tragedy: Questions

The similarity between the Indian and Sri Lankan polities has lessons for both countries

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

Given the mood fostered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, the response to the serial blasts in Colombo on Easter (April 21) is predictable: Root out the terrorists, who have international links, and step up surveillance. The decision of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, using his emergency powers, to ban the wearing of burqa, reflects this knee-jerk response. What is interesting is that the All Ceylon Jamiyathul Ulema (ACJU) had asked Muslim women to cooperate with the security personnel after United National Party (UNP) member Ashu Marasinghe moved a Private Member’s Bill in parliament banning the burqa, lift the veil when asked to do so, and they had even asked the women not to wear the burqa, as reported in the Sri Lanka media.
Meanwhile, Colombo’s Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith had mooted the idea that President Sirisena should appoint a fresh commission to probe into the security lapses that led to the blasts, and that the commission should have religious heads, and the commission should be led by the Buddhist clergy. Indian analysts are likely to interpret these developments in a different way, but the Indian interpretation would not be the right one.
Archbishop Ranjith held his press conference along with a member of Buddhist clergy, Venerable Ittepane Dhammalankara Maha Nayake Thera. Sri Lankan politicians and community leaders are grappling with the issue, and the analysts have recognized the fact that there has been a spread of puritanical Wahabism in the island-nation, and that the community has been getting isolated and ‘ghettoised’. While Wahabism might be driving the community into a corner, the Buddhists and Christians too have been found to be cocooned as well. Interestingly, the suggestion is that there should be a greater intermingling of communities to combat the fanatics in each community.
The politics of Sri Lanka has been majoritarian long before it has emerged in India. The Sinhala-Tamil rivalry is based on language, religion and territory, and this turned bitter and violent because of the hardliners among the Sinhala Buddhists and the Jaffna Tamilians. The emergence of fanatical, violent groups among the Muslims in Sri Lanka will make the situation complicated than ever.
The other main question is whether violence unleashed by local Muslim groups is part of the international jihadi network which was once led by Al Qaeda, and now by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? The video released by the IS claiming responsibility for the Colombo carnage seems to settle the issue. The connection does not clarify issues as much as it complicates it.
The United States has tried to draw everyone into this so-called global war against terrorism, and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee naively believed in it. NDA-2 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi too appears to believe in it, but less than the Vajpayee government because Mr Modi’s worldview is Pakistan-centric. For Mr Modi, Pakistan’s Islamic militant groups pose a greater challenge, ideologically as well strategically, than the Al Qaeda and the IS. And he is quite right as well.
However, Mr Modi is a little nonplussed because the Colombo terror act involved two minority groups – Muslims and Christians. He does not know the stand he should take in the matter. It can be said that even the Sri Lankan government seems to be at a loss because the majority Sinhala Buddhist majority has not been affected.
This should partly explain the puzzling response of the Sri Lankan security agencies in ignoring the Indian intelligence inputs. But sooner than later, the Sri Lanka leadership cannot allow the island-country to be the playfield of the fight between jihadi Islam and imperialist Western Christianity. And as one of the Sri Lankan analysts had mooted there is need for harmony among the many communities – religious, linguistic, ethnic. And there is a lesson in this for India also. The different communities in India have to live together to keep the fanatics out and the politicians with majoritarian worldviews. Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and Hindu nationalism in India are of no help in fighting jihadi Islam. Though Western powers bear the moral responsibility of creating the demon of jihadi Islam, it does not serve any purpose in blaming them. Sri Lankan community leaders are showing the way how this menace of Islamic terrorism can be fought.

The Original ‘Accidental Prime Minister’

Pushed suddenly by fate and political compulsions into country’s chief executive’s chair, HD Deve Gowda had tried some positive stuff. He is now a reluctant retiree from politics

G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

Did Sanjay Baru get it wrong? Who is the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’? Dr Manmohan Singh? No, it is Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda who served as the 11th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997, for a period of little more than 10 months. Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli, a village in Holenarasipura taluk, of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Hassan, Karnataka) into a Vokkaliga family. His father was a farmer.
He often describes himself as `Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil). He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, out of which four terms were from Hassan.
In the 1996 general elections, Congress headed by PV Narasimha Rao lost decisively but no other party won enough seats to form a government. When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. Two of his significant achievements are the framing of the National Agro policy and solving the Farakka dam row. However, as MP how has his performance been this term?
He is one of the regulars in the House and he had taken part in debates whenever given a chance. Even at his age, he was prominently seen at all important events including R-Day and I-Day functions. “In Hassan he is the king. No one can take him on,” says Prasad Gowda, one of his party spokesmen. The partymen respect him and their devotion to him is almost total. He is regularly seen in Hassan, especially in his native place Holenarsipur as well. And he maintains close contact with his voters and like his friend and late DMK president Karunanidhi, remembers most of them by name.
Airfield Fighter
Hassan was a little known small town. Today it is a major city and well connected by good roads. One of the major projects, the brainchild of Deve Gowda has been the Hassan greenfield airport. It has been hanging in the air for the last two decades, but with a continuous push from the celebrity MP, the Civil Aviation Ministry last year directed the state government to acquire an additional 200 acres for the purpose. The district authority had already acquired 536 acres in 2007 for this.
The foundation stone was laid one-and-a-half decades ago near Bhuvanahalli, in the outskirts of Hassan city. Senior officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Director General of Civil Aviation had visited the land earmarked for the airstrip but refused to clear the project citing technical reasons. In 2016, the then Deputy Commissioner had convened a meeting of landowners and revenue officials to fix the compensation to acquire additional land and had issued notices to farmers of Bhuvanahalli, Sankenahalli, Lakshmisagara, Thendihalli, Davalapura and G Milanahalli.
The Hassan business community is of the view that industries and tourism in the district would get a boost with the completion of a full-fledged airstrip. The farmers have demanded a better compensation rate and a job for one of the members of their families. S Siddarth, project engineer of Jupiter Aviation, says his company will start work on the project immediately after the state government hands over the land. Jupiter Aviation had signed an MoU with state govt to build airport under PPP mode.
The farmers have been demanding Rs 2 crore per acre, while the officers have offered a maximum of Rs 32 lakh per acre. The landowners have strongly opposed the rate offered by the government. BV Karigowda, a former legislator, says the price offered was insufficient even to purchase sites in the SM Krishna Layout, recently developed by Hassan Urban Development Authority.
Good & Bad
Out of the Rs 25 crore allocated to him under the MPLAD funds during this term, he has been able to utilise 50 per cent of funds. He has recommended works worth Rs 14.52 crore and almost 95 per cent of the money has been spent by the district authorities. Most of these have gone to infrastructure related works but a sizeable chunk has gone to Holenarsipur segment. As one drives through Hassan, one can notice that a lot of road works is being done but according to local people, the execution has been quite slow. On the face of it, many people here take pride in the fact that a former prime minister represents their constituency but there is also unhappiness over the lack of development, growing unemployment and farmers’ distress in the region.
Villagers in the district rue the fact that the region has not seen much development compared to Shivamogga and Bengaluru despite electing political heavyweight like Gowda as MP. Hassan, a JD(S) bastion, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community to which Deve Gowda belongs. “We are facing drinking water problems for the last 10 years. Because of poor rains, the groundwater level has gone down and the two borewells which 150 houses depend upon, are not working properly,” Vanjashri, who stays in Sathigala area of Sakleshpur constituency, says.
In some remote places, women have to walk about 2 km daily to fetch drinking water from small streams that flow nearby. Many feel disheartened that Deve Gowda has failed to address their concern despite getting elected multiple times from the region. “We had high expectation from Deve Gowda. He is known as ‘mannina maga’ (son of the soil). What has he done for poor farmers?” asks Malleshappa, who owns 15 acres of a coffee plantation in Sakleshpura.
“Pepper prices have crashed due to cheaper imports. If the situation continues, farmers will sell the agriculture land and look for jobs in cities. The price we get for the product does not cover the cost of production,” he stresses.
“Youth are getting educated from here but not getting jobs. They have to migrate to Bengaluru for jobs, where with a meagre salary they cannot afford a living. There are no industries here,” BJP candidate from Hassan Assembly constituency Pritam Gowda says.
Parched People
On the drinking water crisis, he says there is “lack of willingness” from incumbent JD(S) MLA to ensure people get a smooth supply of water. “Hemavathi river is just 15 kms away. They have taken water from this river to places like Tiptur, Tumkur and Arsikere through Hassan. Hassan people are not getting drinking water,” Pritam Gowda says.
Lack of water, unemployment, farmers in dire straits due to crash in prices and poor connectivity to Bengaluru are the main problems that have remained unsolved over the years. But the question everyone asks is whether Deve Gowda raised these issues in Parliament. And though he is a frequent visitor to the constituency, he has not appointed any trusted lieutenant to stand in for him when he is away. Even for the media, it is difficult to track his movements. His personal staff is not helpful and some of them behave as if he is still the prime minister.
Family Fundamentals
HD Gowda plays his cards close to his chest. Apart from ‘guiding’ his son Kumaraswamy to run state politics, he also has to take care of his ambitious family members.
But he surely knows time is running out for him. And now by all accounts family comes first for him. Son Kumaraswamy is state chief minister, another son Revanna is Public Works minister in the state cabinet, daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy is an MLA, two of his grandsons—Nikhil and Prajwal –are contesting the elections to become MPs, and so on.
The patriarch of the family can be satisfied that he has done his duty for them. But his voters and supporters are still unhappy. And, he knows fully well that there are “Miles to go” before he sleeps.

not letting the guard down

National security, external and internal, will be an issue of top priority for the in-coming government. It will be necessary to create a clear national security policy framework, and all political parties should be involved in the task

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

THE new government at the Centre that will come in in the last week of May, be it the Narendra Modi-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) or a Rahul Gandhi-led Mahagathbandhan, has its tasks well cut out. However sweet may be the taste of victory for either of the camps, the challenges before the new dispensation aren’t too few to be ignored. Keeping aside the feeling of being in the seventh heaven (quite obvious after a hard-fought victory) the government would need to take stock of various urgent issues in key sectors India has been facing and hammer out immediate strategic and effective measures to redress them their root. Among the umpteen challenges that brook any delay, the question of the internal security of the country is of top-notch importance given the increasing incidents of terrorist strikes in India and in neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka of late.
Easter Sunday’s serial bomb blasts in Colombo that left more than 250 dead and 500 injured in the penultimate week of April has once again exposed the fragile nature of peace in this region. The fact that 13 or more Indian nationals were among the victims has only lent credence to the belief that India must not ever let its guard down on the issue of internal security. It assumes critical significance in view of intelligence inputs from none but the Lanka police chief 10 days before the incident about an impending terror attack on leading churches as well as the Indian High Commission in Colombo. That the terrorists gave the High Commission a miss this time need not warm the cockles of Indian authorities as the strike during the Easter betrayed a high degree of planning and near flawless execution. Already, parallels are being drawn with the 26/11 Mumbai attack. With the Indian High Commission being in the list, it would be unwise to write off the hand of the plotters and operators of IS module based out of Pakistan.
The terrorists have struck at a politically turbulent time. India is busy with its seven-phase Lok Sabha polls; para-military forces have been deployed in huge numbers across the country to maintain law and order. Obviously, sealing and plugging the loopholes in the vast, vulnerable stretches of India besides the international border with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, is indeed, an uphill task. On top of this, the 2019 general election campaign began with such issues as how terror outfits had been succeeding in breaching the national security and why it is extremely important to build an effective security network to thwart the terrorists’ game plan to destabilise India and its roaring economy. No wonder, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the run-up to the current Lok Sabha polls, has made this his major election plank despite Congress president Rahul Gandhi fiercely going hammer and tongs at Modi for blurring other burning issues like failure in creation of jobs and bringing the poor up from below the poverty level besides farm distress. In fact, the prime minister has sought to project the issue of national security in such a way that it would defang the remaining weapons in the opposition arsenal. He took great pains to impress upon the electorate that no other earlier government had handled cross-border terrorism as muscularly as the Modi government has so far done.
Interestingly, much though the Modi-Amit Shah duo raised their pitch on this issue, the issue of security and terrorism was found to be gradually fading away as the high octane seven-phase LS polls has got underway. And much to the chagrin and concern of the saffron block, such issues as development, unemployment and farmers’ plight etc., had suddenly started to hog the limelight. Because the BJP-bashers were aware that the record of the Modi government wasn’t that bright in these segments which is why attacking the incumbent BJP government on those fronts could yield dividends. This opposition-fuelled boat had been sailing harmlessly when it faced a sudden jolt midstream; the brutal serial terror attack by suspected radical Muslim fundamentalists (National Thowheed Jamath) in Sri Lanka mid-April seemed to have taken the wind out of the boat’s sail. And the issues of terror and terrorism, security and counter-insurgency measures are again back with a bang.
Obviously, the Easter tragedy is likely to play a big role in highlighting the serious threat the terror outfits pose to India, especially because the country has an open society which facilitates easy mixing of terrorists with the populace.
The lingering shadows of the February 2019 terror attack on a paramilitary convoy in Jammu & Kashmir’s Pulwama by a Jaish-e-Mohammed ‘fedayeen’ that left more than 45 jawans reduced to shreds of flesh and the subsequent air strike by the Indian Air Force quite deep inside Pakistan, are still fresh. Even though a war-like situation could be avoided with Pakistan, thanks to prompt release of the captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, the nationalist sentiments soared in the immediate aftermath. That the ruling BJP has been trying its best to use the sentiments to the hilt is passé. The tragedy in Sri Lanka is just a grim reminder of the urgent need for putting in place a tough and fool-proof security network to prevent a repeat of Pulwama or such other attacks.
The opposition also accused the BJP of focusing the electoral discourse solely on national security and conveniently excluding other equally important issues. A quick appraisal of the incidents the BJP leaders have been referring to in their campaign speeches will reveal and establish the fact that India is yet to create a proper protective shield around the vulnerable areas of the country, quite vast the territory might though be. The September 2016 commando raid across the Line of Control (LoC), the first by the Indian forces into Pakistan, the announcement of the test of an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon system dubbed as ‘Mission Shakti’, the 73-day stand-off with China at Doklam in 2017 (often advertised as the “biggest geostrategic victory”), the 1998 nuclear tests and the 1999 Kargil conflict among others are being cited by the BJP as examples of strong assertions towards counter-insurgency measures. Some of these incidents, however, at the same time, have exposed India’s vulnerability, and point to the need for further modernisation and equipping of the intelligence agencies with the required teeth to nip any threat to national security in the bud. Failure of NIA (National Investigation Agency) in solving some terror cases also bears out this need.
In view of this, it has almost become the sine qua non for political parties to desist from holding a partisan view on such a core issue as national security. Instead, the leading political parties, particularly the government at the centre that is expected to take over the reins in the last week of May 2019, must deliberate on the national security situation, the strategic environment and the state of institutions which are likely to contribute to framing an effective strategy and raising a guard on internal and external security situation of the country.
As intelligence experts meet and deliberate on ways and means to buttress the measures, it would be worthwhile to keep in mind that India’s security environment has its own peculiarity. First, India is still a developing country with a substantial number of people living below the poverty line; secondly, India’s geo-strategic location, historical hangovers, socio-cultural milieu, political and economic systems, and not the least, its external policies and world view offer a diversity of perspectives. Yet, India’s progress over the years has often suffered serious hiccups in the wake of various forms of politicised violence, triggering what the experts described as “a chronic crisis of national security.”
Internationally, the internal security situation is often perceived as the barometer of progress of a nation and India is no exception either. National security has thus become an integral component of India’s development process. The economic strides that India has so far made, it is often claimed, could have been much better had not India needed to up its spending on security measures on such a huge scale. There is no denying the fact that very few countries in the world face such a full spectrum of threats to their national security as India does. Leaving aside the external security threats that routinely emerge from neighbourhood far and near, four major internal security threats have seriously undermined the country’s efforts to become an economic superpower, at least in Asia; they are: militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, insurgency in the North-East of India, Left-wing extremism (Naxalites or Maoists) that bedevil some key states in the country, and of course the jihadist terrorism that may erupt any part of the country any time. At the same time, there are other threats that often tend to overlap with the already stated ones, namely drug-trafficking, counterfeit currencies, illegal migration, small arms proliferation, and the last but not the least, cyber warfare.
Interestingly, the threats have bared themselves in their own individual way in the affected states. Let us discuss the nature of such a threat or threats in West Bengal that would distinctly bear out how the nature of how it varies from other states. One security risk in Bengal that has kept entire India’s security apparatus on tenterhooks is that of fake currency which had once flooded the Indian market, raising a grave risk to the economy. Some villages in the twin districts of Malda and Murshidabad in North Bengal, close to the international border with Bangladesh, have already attained notoriety for harbouring the infamous currency smugglers.
The fake currency notes that originate in Pakistan, used to be smuggled to India through the porous Indo-Bangla border points. The 2016 demonetisation measure, though much criticised, has to some extent, been able to stem the trade for the time being. But what is still an area of awe and concern for both the security and media persons is huge tracts of fields in some select villages close to the international border in these districts where illegal cultivation of ganja or opium is rampant and where the rule of law is just a far cry. The situation is nearly akin to the mafia raj prevailing in the coal belts of Raniganj, Asansol and parts of Jharkhand. In Central India, the number of districts affected by Maoist extremism has been claimed to have decreased by around fifty per cent, down to around 90 from over 200 districts a few years back. But a deadly Maoist strike just before the first phase of the Lok Sabha poll that left two jawans dead again revealed chinks in the security network.
The security situation in the North-East region of India has improved significantly over the years, with fewer insurgent attacks now. Yet, chances of surprise ambushes on Indian security forces by the outlawed ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) and NSCN (Muivah faction) are not ruled out. The 73-day stand-off with China at Doklam in Sikkim has been a grim reminder to top security mandarins about the threat of aggression that persists from across the border. The same adversary had once humiliated India in 1962, leading to the secession of unchartered territory in Arunachal Pradesh to China. Surprisingly, none of the parties has made any mention of cyber threats despite the fact that India is identified as the third most vulnerable country, after the US and China, to cyber-attacks. The hackers made the best use of BJP’s own website, throwing it out of gear for several days in March.
Given the volatile situation in Jammu and Kashmir and other attendant threats, it would be highly improper to politicise the national security score card. Whoever comes to power at the centre, the new government must set in motion wide-ranging reforms in all key sectors by articulating a national security policy; it also must work together with all the political parties to forestall a serious security challenge without letting one’s guard down on the issue of national security and extremism.

Laws to be made and unmade

If India is to become a prosperous country, there is a pressing need for creating a conducive legal framework

virag gupta
virag gupta

Virag Gupta practices at the Supreme Court of India. He is a former IRS officer and has worked with Ernst & Young

ELECTIONS 2019 have focused around issues of core reform and for good governance in a ‘New India’. The incoming government will thus face gargantuan challenges to fulfil the ambitious promises made, which can only be done through long-haul reform in our legal framework. The Modi government had initiated this process by complying with the Orders of the Supreme Court. The Special Investigative Team on Black Money, the Special Committee on Interlinking of Rivers are decisions that the Government was forced to take.
The Government tried to control the hand which forced it to take these decisions but was checkmated with the National Judicial Appointments Commission being held unconstitutional. Resultantly, the Collegium system of appointment looks to have become a challenge that the Government is happy to shy away from. However, on the flip side, India’s ranking in the Ease of Doing Business saw a jump as the Parliament enacted the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, which has also been affirmed by the Apex Court. NDA enjoyed a brute majority in Lok Sabha but required the help of Opposition in Rajya Sabha. The composition of the Upper House is unlikely to change in a short time. It was interesting to see the Constitution Amendment Bill for reservation for economically weaker sections was passed within two days, but some other laws faced stiff opposition. To get the Upper House out of the picture, the Government labelled the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill. The Supreme Court too affirmed the aspect of Aadhaar being a Money Bill, albeit with dissent from Justice Chandrachud.
Good governance needs a solid foundation of the rule of law. Law is effective when it is easy to understand and easy to find. It takes tough decisions to do that. In the election season, Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu has called Election Commission morally bankrupt and ineffective. The election reforms must be the first on the agenda of a new government for which various recommendations are made by the Law Commission and Election Commission. Will the newly-recruited Joint Secretaries from the lateral entry make their mark, and deliver on the following challenges?
The term of the 21st Law Commission ended on 31st August 2018. For the last eight months, we do not have any body to examine the laws and suggest changes. The 21st Commission too took some unusual steps like issuing a questionnaire on personal laws but failed to take it forward. The new Law Commission will have to look into the fact that most of its recommendations – sedition, simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and to the state legislatures, personal law -- are yet to be accepted by the Government.
The Government released the Draft Intermediary Rules, 2018, which has been described by the social media platforms as an existential threat. The rules mandate big companies to set up companies in India and have a nodal officer for 24x7 support with the Government. They have been asked to have in place systems for removal of illegal content from their platforms. Reports also came that the Government is seeking traceability of a message in WhatsApp. Later revelations in the British newspaper, The Guardian, revealed that Facebook had lobbied with politicians across the world, including India, to delay countries from having a data protection law. In India, the Government had promised the Data Law by 2017, but two years later, comments are being sought on the Justice Srikrishna Committee Report. A comprehensive data protection law is a must in this age. Otherwise, what good is a fundamental right to privacy?
E-Commerce is the highlight in Digital India, but India still relies on conventional systems for employment. The changes in the E-Commerce sector by the Government was a bold step. The Government mandated diversification in sales across platforms.
For instance, Cloudtail cannot sell only to Amazon. This step was a continuation from the earlier rule, which prohibited certain holding structures in subsidiary companies. The result has been an undying condemnation from the US companies as well as the Government. The business of Walmart and Amazon is huge, and this issue could well become a flashpoint in Indo-American trade relations.
The masterstroke of 10 per cent reservation on the basis of the economic quota has not found much space in the election campaign. The government has supported reservation in promotions for Scheduled Caste and Tribes, with Supreme Court clearing the decks for the same.
Similarly, demand for reservation in promotions for Other Backward Classes and Economic Weaker Sections is sure to crop up. The Lokpal Act of 2013 saw fruition in 2019 when Justice PC Ghose was appointed the Chairman of the Lokpal Committee. The Lokpal Committee in itself brought in a reservation of a different kind. Minimum 50 per cent of the members of the Lokpal Committee must be women, belonging to a minority, other backward classes or scheduled caste or tribe. As Lokpal is essentially a judicial authority, this unique reservation mechanism could gain traction in the mainstream higher judiciary as well.
Is a solution possible in the Court or outside it? The Supreme Court appointed Mediation Panel is working to find one and is regularly holding talks. BJP fuelled news of an imposed solution through an Ordinance, but all such talk fell flat. Nirmohi Akhara has claimed that Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas is based upon a fraudulent trust deed. An application seeking an enlargement of Mediation Panel and shift of venue to Delhi is also pending before the Apex Court. With a gag order in place, the news is not trickling by, but Ayodhya is surely ticking.
Is it time for Armed Forces Special Powers Act to be reviewed? What about Article 370 and 35A? The Government has desisted from stating anything in the Supreme Court. Assembly Elections in Jammu and Kashmir are likely to be held after the General Elections. Any elected State Government will be free to put its stand before the Apex Court. Or as the BJP has promised in its manifesto, will 35A and 370 be erased by a Connotational Amendment? It will be a long legal summer.
Goods and Services Tax has been criticised for having structural problems. Despite this, the Central Government has been able to smoothly run GST Council through coordination, the number of BJP Governments in the States, as well as the fact that there have been very few cases of penal action. However, with time, the belligerence may increase. Some states have seen a shortfall in revenue, while the feeling of contributing more than one’s share to another’s kitty may soon arise. The structural challenges in the GST will require amendments to the Constitution as well as the Act. Five years later, there will also be changes in revenue sharing mechanisms between Centre and State, which will require amendments in law.
The quashing of the RBI circular, directing mandatory insolvency proceedings by banks came as a shock to the Reserve Bank as well as the Government. Much of the non-recoverable loans of banks is in the infrastructure sector, which includes construction and power. The power companies had argued before the Court that Rs. 34,044 crores of their NPAs were due to non-payment of dues by DISCOMs, delayed response of the regulators, government policy changes and a failure to fulfil commitments by the government. With the circular now gone, the RBI is in the process of drafting another, albeit without the fundamental flaws the previous one had. Will this stand judicial scrutiny?
PM Narendra Modi, the biopic, was slated to be released in the middle of the election. The last-minute clearance by the Censor Board, a hearing in the Supreme Court days before the release, and a stay on publication by the Election Commission added to the drama. But what would have been the result if the producer had released the film on YouTube? Has the biographical web-series, “Modi - The Journey of a Common Man” released on the OTT platform Eros Now faced even comparable regulatory challenges? This is illustrative of the dichotomy of content regulation online and offline created by the inadequacy of the Cinematograph Act in the internet age. The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is pending with the Standing Committee of the Rajya Sabha. In the present age, there is a larger debate on censorship as well as the need of censor board.
The parent law, i.e. the Telegraph Act and the Information Technology Act give powers to both Centre and States. Can the States no longer intercept communications? Or can they intercept only telephone communications? In the smartphone age, this would render interceptions meaningless. A tussle between Centre and States has started. The Ministry of Home Affairs brought out a notification under the Information Technology Act, mentioning the agencies that have been authorized for interception of messages over computer networks. The challenge to this snooping order is pending before the Supreme Court, and the Government has stated that only these agencies are now authorised to make interceptions.
The Supreme Court is the highest Court of the land and hears thousands of matters each year. The Supreme Court of the United States hears less than one hundred matters in a year. Our Supreme Court has Division Benches, causing a difference of opinion on a point in the same Court, the US Supreme Court sit en-banc. Congress in its manifesto has talked about restricting the Supreme Court to deciding questions of constitutional importance. It has promised to establish a new Court of Appeal, which will hear matters coming from the High Courts. Interestingly, the present Attorney General, who has been appointed by the NDA Government had earlier suggested the Court of Appeal. If the Congress comes to power, will it do so? Will the BJP take its Attorney General’s advice and do what the Congress has promised? Unlikely.
The Cyber Appellate Tribunal has remained headless since its inception. The National Human Rights Commission barely has any members left. The appointments in the Central Information Commission were forced through by the Apex Court. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has stated that there is no dispute that most of the Tribunals are not functioning. Himachal Pradesh BJP Government has questioned the need of an Administrative Tribunal in the State, and wants the cases to be heard directly in High Court. A number of Tribunals have been merged, but justice delivery has remained abysmally slow. The incoming Government must pay serious heed to tribunalisation and realize that justice delivery is at the core of faith in government, which is rather at a discount these days.
POLICE REFORMS- LAW AND ORDER The Supreme Court in Prakash Singh case has time and again directed the government to implement police reforms. The government in its laxity, and perhaps compulsions, have not been able to achieve much on this front. Expenditure on policing is just 0.7% of India’s GDP. The law and order situation in India is rather abysmal and brings disrepute to the country. The Global Peace Index Report of 2018 estimated that in 2017 crime and violence cost India 9 per cent of its GDP ($806 billion), directly (in terms of expenditure) and indirectly (in terms of loss of productivity). For the country to improve, policing will require a major overhaul and immediate consideration of the incoming government.
India was 142 in the Ease of Doing Business Rankings in 2014. In 2018, India was ranked 77. This performance was achievable due to a number of factors such as the methodology of rankings, laws in place, the performance of legal systems, and enforcement of laws. Prime Minister Modi has spoken about doing away with 1500 obsolete laws.
If India improves upon mechanisms to register property, pay taxes, enforce contracts, and resolve insolvency, it will spearhead its rise in the rankings. What if the results throw up a fractured mandate? Legislating will surely become a tough affair.

Look Back Look Forward

The new government that comes must learn from the blunders of the outgoing Modi government of 2014-2019, and avoid the Modi syndrome of centralization of power and decision-making, of running the economy like a business-owner. India must embrace ways of corporate management to tackle economic challenges

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

FOR over two terms (of five years each), Narendra Modi ruled Gujarat like a CEO. At least that’s what experts claimed about his long reign as the chief minister, and that’s what Modi believed in. So, when he took over as the country’s prime minister in May 2014, he was convinced that running a national economy was like managing a business enterprise, a corporate conglomerate, and that this was the right way to do things. Unfortunately, his business lessons and experiences stemmed from his cultural roots, the manner in which the Indian entrepreneurs do dhandha.
Instead of following the professional approach of western companies, Modi adopted the traits of an Indian CEO, more like the family business-owner. Hence, his economic decisions were more akin to what a Gujarati entrepreneur or a Marwari would do, rather than a Bill Gates or Jack Welch. The Indian economy was run more like an Ambani or Adani empire, rather than an Intel, Amazon or Google. Since it was essentially a state-owned empire, the negatives of Socialism and Communism crept in. In effect, he combined the worst of all economic ‘isms’, including Capitalism.
Like a typical family businessman, Modi centralised the decision-making process, and surrounded himself with loyalists, whose raison d’etre was to nod their heads in agreement and say ‘yes sir’. Like an archetypal Indian CEO and owner, he used public money, from the exchequer, banks and state-owned companies, to fulfil his economic whims and fancies. Like a classic Marwari or Gujarati, he used the system, be it economic, social or political, to establish a monopoly. Like a characteristic businessman, his faith in ‘numbers’, whether real or false, was overpowering.
Within weeks after coming to power, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) became the most powerful body. All economic files were sent there, and all the decisions flowed from there. No minister, even those who held crucial portfolios such as oil and gas, power, and telecom, had much say. They merely followed the diktats from the top. Some of the senior ministers, like Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, had some freedom, but not when it came to important policies like the annual budget. Hence, not only were the decisions delayed, they turned out to be half-baked.
An example of this was the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Although the single-tax system was debated for years, by as many as three regimes, the final policy was a mess. Within weeks and months, it was changed and tweaked. There were too many rates, and the companies were saddled with too many irrational responsibilities. For example, the onus of paying the GST was put on the company that made the payments, rather than the receivers. Even today, GST is paid within a specific time after an invoice is raised, rather than after the money is received.
New acts, like the one to deal with benami transactions, were passed without much thought. In fact, the law on benami deals was useless because there were other laws to deal with the issue. More importantly, the problem with such transactions is that the government can deal with them only if it can pinpoint and trace them. The act had no mechanism to do this; it only presented the punishment in case the guilty were found. Hence, it has merely remained on paper, and few and rare actions were initiated by the relevant authorities under the new act.
Consider another example – the proposed privatization of the state-owned Air India. Normally, unless it is a distress sale, the price is low, or market demand is high, an asset is made attractive before it is sold. Even a fruit-seller washes and wipes his ware in a bid to woo customers. But the opposite happened in the case of the national airline. Its huge debt base was almost kept intact when it was put on the block. Similarly, the various assets were untangled, as if there was a deliberate policy to make it unattractive. The result: there was not a single bidder for it.
Both public institutions and public money were brazenly used by the prime minister, and PMO, to pursue personal economic agenda. Thus, some of the decisions displayed the wasteful use of the central revenues, and funds parked with the state-owned banks and insurance firms. There were no checks and balances. One man decided, and the others acquiesced. There were no debates and discussions. The prime minister’s wishes, even if well-intentioned, became the commands of the public servants. Hence, national interests were compromised at a huge loss to the nation.
Like the previous governments, the Modi regime used the autonomous government institutions to cover up for their mismanagement of the economy, and the over-optimistic revenue projections. The Reserve Bank of India was asked to cough up huge amounts, as the government decided that it had the right to access the surplus with the central bank. In February 2019, the central bank paid an additional Rs 28,000 crore, in addition to the Rs 40,000 crore it transferred earlier. These demands and payments had earlier led to the resignation of the former RBI Governor, Urjit Patel.
The public sector was similarly bled for the same and other reasons. Consider the example of the once-cash rich ONGC, the state-owned oil and gas explorer. As on March 31, 2017, the global giant had cash reserves of Rs 13,000crore. Within a year, they dipped by more than 90% to mere Rs 1,000 crore by March 31, 2018. More importantly, the company’s debt zoomed almost 25 times between March 31, 2015, and March 31, 2018. To be fair to Modi, a similar thing happened earlier during the UPA-II regime, when cash reserves slumped from over Rs 20,000 crore in 2011-12 to under Rs 3,000 crore in 2014-15. However, the debt reduced too.
Several factors were responsible for ONGC’s meager cash reserves and bloating debt in 2018. It was literally forced by the government to acquire domestic and global assets at huge, sometime higher-than-market, prices. Experts alleged that the oil giant paid too high a price to buy fields in Russia, only because of the bilateral deals personally inked by Modi and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Similarly, ONGC had to take over the ailing and controversial Gujarat State Petroleum, which ran up a huge debt and found no oil. In a bid to create an Indian oil MNC, for no reason except to score brownie points, ONGC acquired another state-owned oil company, Hindustan Petroleum, which was financed through loans.
One needs to also remember the long-term implications of some of the grand welfare schemes implemented by this government in a bid to create new vote banks. One of them is the insurance schemes for the poor and lower classes at cheap annual premiums. There is no doubt that they provide huge financial safety to the underprivileged. But it is the state-owned insurers, which will be left holding the baby, when the time comes for the huge pay-outs. By then, Modi will be history. Remember how the Indian business owners, like Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi, as also scores of others, looted the various public sector banks!
Over the last four decades, ‘managing the system’ is a favourite phrase with the Indian entrepreneurs. The teasing, almost intriguing, the expression means how the businessmen can game the political, economic and social ecosystem to earn mega-profits by scuttling competition, creating huge entry barriers, and building monopolies. Modi did the same. As businessmen used their financial clout to tame politics and society, Modi exploited the economy to enhance his political clout. The former built business behemoths, and the latter a political empire.
Nothing illustrates this better than demonetization. Initially, the idea was to root out corruption through a ban on high-denomination notes, and the targets were the Rs 1,000 notes. But Modi saw that the move could kill his political opponents in a single stroke, if he also banned the Rs 500 notes. The reason: political parties, and especially the regional ones, store huge cash reserves to finance their elections. The ban on Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes could empty their moneybags, which it did. The result: a massive victory for Modi in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, held a few months after demonetization was announced in November 2016.
Similarly, experts contend that the linking of Aadhaar, or biometric information, to the mobile numbers, bank accounts, property registrations and a number of other things was an astute political move.
Such massive and overall linkages could have allowed the governments to go after any individual or institution that acted against it. As Edward Snowden explained in several speeches, the creation and collection of such metadata by governments enables them to link any person to any event, and thus take strong action against their enemies, both imagined and real.
Only the intervention of the Supreme Court, which said that individual privacy was a fundamental right, halted the linkages in several cases. However, Aadhaar can still be misused by the governments in the future. More judgments will be required from the apex court if the biometric details have to be used properly. For instance, they can be used effectively to ensure transparency and root out corruption in the various welfare schemes for the poor. They can also reduce duplications of names, and the existence of benami names in government schemes.
Most businessmen run after numbers, i.e. targets – for sales, revenues, profits, and share prices (if they are listed on the stock markets). In the current regime, quarterly numbers for listed companies are crucial. They have to be delivered quarter after quarter after quarter, without any respite. Hence, statistics and their use become an obsession with business-owners and CEOs. Their lives depend on them, and the numbers acquire a kind of God-like apparition. If the figures don’t show it, the financial state of the corporations is doubted by the investors.
Ever since he assumed office, Modi became consumed with, and subsumed by, numbers. Everything that he did, every decision he took, had to have a larger-than-life expanse. If financial inclusivity involved the opening of bank accounts for the poor, they had to be in terms of hundreds of millions. In this year’s Budget, the government announced that it had opened 340 million new accounts under its Jan Dhan programme. If insurance covers had to be sold to the poor, it should again be in hundreds of millions. If toilets had to be built, their numbers needed to be huge – this regime has built over 90 million toilets, and declared 550,000 villages defecation free.
The fixation with numbers entered the macro-economy. One of the first things that the Modi regime did was to change the formula to calculate the country’s GDP, only to bump up the numbers. Many experts, including Raghuram Rajan, the former RBI Governor, and Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist, World Bank, have questioned the new formula. Recently, the latter said, “There were important revisions that were made in 2015... That said there are still some issues that need to be fixed and this we have flagged before with respect to the deflator that is being used for estimating real GDP... this is something we have flagged in the past.”
When this mindset, a preoccupation with statistics, numbers, and targets percolates downwards, it can lead to disastrous results. For example, toilets were mindlessly constructed without any attention to whether they will be used or whether there was adequate water in the area, only to achieve the numbers. Bank accounts were opened where the deposits were less than Rs 10 each, and which were never operated, only to reach the targets. GDP figures were twisted and massaged, only to prove that India had the highest economic growth among the larger nations.
Clearly, the Indian CEO and Indian businessman approach to the national economy led to several failures. Modi’s methods worked in Gujarat, as they do work in smaller corporations. However, in the case of conglomerates and nations, the management needs to be decentralized, open, transparent, and professional. All the stakeholders need to benefit.

Missing The Tryst With Destiny

Uneducated, unskilled young women and men in villages and towns across the country tell the grim tale of missed opportunities and dying dreams as the demographic dividend eludes political leaders and policy-makers and India slips back into stifling air of smallness

Robin Keshaw
Robin Keshaw

Robin Keshaw is a development sector professional with rich experience in the domain of education, life skills and governance. He is a computer science graduate from BITS Pilani and has previously worked with Teach For India and CM office in Haryana.

I was walking through narrow alleys of Gosain Tola in Ranchi on a sultry April morning. The clock was about to strike 12, but the lanes and corners were bustling with children and the youth. Most of the 20+ youths were either huddled around mobile phones or playing cards. The adolescents were busy chitchatting and hurling abuses. The children were dancing around with sticks in their hands, while some of them were busy running after roosters. I found some of the young girls sitting outside their homes, again immersed in their mobile phones. Ideally, Gosain Tola should have been devoid of these folks on a Tuesday morning, they should have been at their jobs or in schools or colleges.
Out of curiosity, I asked a 12-something year old girl about her school. “Election ko lekar sirjee ne chhutti de di hai (The teacher has declared a leave due to elections)”, she chirped. Ranchi goes to vote on May 6th, twenty days from the day (April 16). I entered the home of Mariam-didi, a community volunteer in Gosain Tola and asked her about the youth of the community. “Nashe ne sabko barbad kar rakha hai, inko busy rakhne ke liye naukri hi nahi hai desh me (Drugs and substance abuse has jeopardised their youth, there are no jobs to keep them engaged)”. The grim situation in Gosain Tola is a representative sample of our country. Whether it’s Sangam Vihar in Delhi, Ragigudda in Bengaluru, or rural India, our children, and youth are peering into a bleak future.
It has been more than a decade since we have been hearing the proverbial drum of demographic dividend. Some of these facts are quoted so often that they are there at the tip of everyone’s tongue – India has more than 50 per cent of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65 per cent below the age of 35. The average age of the population in India would be 28 years by 2020 and is likely to peak to 37 years by 2050, which is the current average age of Chinese population. All these figures present quite a rosy picture of India’s destiny, although with a badgering ‘if’.
If all of the nearly 30 crore children in India have access to quality education, India can reap its demographic dividend. Currently, only 10 per cent of Indian students have access to higher education in our country. If all the 60-crore youth, under 25, have the opportunity to lead a positive and productive life, India can reap its demographic dividend. The labour force participation rate in India stood at a meagre 49.8 per cent in 2017-18, while the unemployment rate was reported to be at 6.1 per cent, which is reportedly highest in last 45 years. If this data doesn’t make you cringe, sample this – the data is from a leaked preliminary report which the Modi government has decided to withhold.
The story gets grimmer. In 2016, more than 15 lakh people applied for 1,500 vacancies with a public sector bank; more than 90 lakhs took entrance exams for fewer than 100,000 posts in the railways, and more than 19,000 applied for 114 jobs as municipal street-sweepers. Today, India is struggling to reap the benefits of its prized demographic dividend largely due to lack of jobs, inadequate spending in education, health, and infrastructure. However, that’s where the silver lining is. If the next government channelizes its energy to provide quality education to our children and relevant career skills and jobs to our youth, we shall achieve the great Indian demographic dream very soon.
India has come a long way from the initial days of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, when the real task in hand was to increase the enrolment in schools. The Gross Enrolment Ratio in primary education has increased from 95.7 per cent in 2000-01 to 99.2 per cent in 2015-16. Average annual dropout rate has decreased from 25.7 per cent in 2005-06 to 4.13 per cent in 2015-16. However, quality remains a big concern. The latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) by NGO Pratham highlights that only 27.8 per cent of the children in grade 5 and 44 per cent of the children in grade 8 can do a simple division. These figures are worrying. By Class 8, the last year of compulsory schooling in India, all children are expected to have mastered foundational skills.
Steve Rocha, national convener of Nine is Mine campaign, sees a large part of the problem in budget allocation. “It’s a simple question of priority. If the government is not spending enough on education, how can it expect our children to learn?” he asks. The campaign derived its name from the Millenium Development goals of 6 per cent for education and 3 per cent for health (now the demand has been increased to 5 per cent), a total of 9 per cent of GDP. “The two goals are a starting point for all other rights, and probably for the real development of our country”, says Rocha.
Currently, education remains one of the least valued at 3.5 per cent of total budgetary allocation. A clear non-negotiable for the next government is to drastically increase its spending on education. The implementation of Right to Education (RTE) Act has suffered heavily due to the step-motherly treatment to spending on education. As of 2017, only 8 per cent of the schools in India were RTE-compliant. This is abysmally low for a law which will complete a decade of its existence in April, 2020. RTE Act lays down minimum norms and standards relating to Pupil-Teacher-Ratios (number of children per teacher), classrooms, separate toilets for girls and boys, drinking water facility, number of school-working days, working hours of teachers, etc.
Khush Vachhrajani works for an NGO and oversees the implementation of specific provisions of RTE Act in Gujarat. “The onus of implementation of RTE provisions lies with state governments, while state governments keep blaming the central government for lack of funds. This is a cat-and-mouse blame game, which has been going on for years. The irony dies a thousand deaths, when despite the allocation of funds, expenditure has not been allocated towards meeting the targets of the Act. With the exception of 2010-11, for all other years the allocated budget could not be fully utilized”, he laments. The next government should prioritise the compliance with RTE Act across the states and should work in close coordination with the state governments to ensure the implementation.
It is said that in order to transform the education system, one needs to transform the teacher in a classroom. However, HRD ministry’s annual work plan, 2016-17, shows a deficit of more than 9 lakh teachers in the country. RTE Act creates several obligations on the government regarding the quantity and quality of teachers, which has been blatantly ignored by the previous government. Section 23(1) of the RTE Act provides that persons with minimum qualifications as laid down by the academic authority authorized by the Central Government (NCTE for this purpose) only shall be eligible for appointment as a teacher.
After the RTE Act 2009, the government had given time to all untrained teachers in the workforce to complete teacher training by 2015. However, many teachers remained untrained. As a consequence, an amendment bill was passed. According to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2017, untrained teachers teaching students of class 1 to 8 under ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ will now get time till 2019 to complete their teacher’s training. We are still talking about the basics of teacher training, where they are supposed to complete the Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed) programme, which is a 2-year course. Prakash Javadekar, the then HRD minister had said while presenting the Bill, “…there are around 11 lakh teachers in total who are without proper qualification”.
“This is a joke being played on our children, which is not even hilarious”, says Geetika Arora, a teacher trainer associated with a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru. “I vividly remember the viral video of a teacher failing to pronounce apple in a government school. It sent a chill down the spine to think of the lakhs and lakhs of our children who are passing grades and knowing nothing. There is a huge skill and knowledge gap that exists in our teacher education system. It becomes imperative for the next government to invest in teacher training and upskill our teachers and ensure our children get the right knowledge”, she says with optimism.
As our children move into their adolescence, 14 years of age as per RTE, the government sheds its responsibility for their education. The government has been stubbornly resisting the extension of the RTE Act from 14 years to 18 years. The children in the age group of 14 to 18 years constitute 11 per cent (more than 11 crore) of India’s population. They form the conduit of entering the workforce, yet they are mostly neglected by the policymakers. In 2018, Pratham released a report titled ‘Beyond Basics’, which looks at rural youth in the 14-18 age group from the angle of activity, ability, awareness, and aspirations. The results are startling. Out of 100 children in Class 7, only half of them continue to study till Class 10. And only 25 per cent of them goes on to complete Class 12. Nearly 30 per cent of all youth are not enrolled in either a school or any other educational course. According to the ASER report, only 5 per cent of youth are “taking some type of vocational training or other courses”. It doesn’t require rocket science to understand why most of the adolescents in our country are on the streets while they ought to be doing something productive.
As per the HRD ministry data, out of the nearly 2.5 lakh secondary schools in India, only 6824 schools offer pre-vocational courses as well as vocational counselling to the students. This effectively means that more than 97 per cent of our students in government schools have little or no clue about their interest areas and the vocations and jobs available in the market. Under the erstwhile Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), HRD ministry runs a scheme for ‘vocationalisation of secondary and higher secondary education’. Students in class 9 to 12 can enroll into 100 job roles across 19 sectors viz logistics, retail, healthcare, etc. as part of their curriculum.
However, the implementation of this scheme has been shoddy. A vocational trainer (a contractual staff under the scheme) in Haryana, on condition of anonymity, said, “I have become a stooge for the principal and block officers. As there is no science teacher in the school, I am teaching grade 9 – 12 in the classroom”. The scheme is also plagued by ambiguity, lack of compliance, absence of strict monitoring and review as well as irregularities in payment. Vocational education has the true potential to change the skills landscape in India. The next HRD minister should take this up on a mission mode.
A battery of schemes had been launched by Modi government in the past five years to change the skills and jobs landscape in India – Skill India, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana, Make in India, Digital India, Startup India and so on. Take Skill India for example. In July 2015, Modi launched the Skill India programme and announced the target to skill 400 million people by 2022. Goalposts were shifted multiple times due to lack of clarity and another target was highlighted in the speeches by PM and the ministers – skilling one crore people by 2020.
As on November 30, 2018, about 36.22 lakh candidates have been enrolled across the country. Out of total 33.93 lakh (approximately) trained candidates, 24.13 lakh have been trained under Short Term Training, 9.08 lakh under Recognition of Prior Learning and 0.72 lakh under Special Projects across the country in various sectors. Out of these, 10.09 lakh candidates have been reportedly placed across the country. The figures speak for themselves. To add to the scheme’s wound, India Today ‘unearthed a scam committed in the name of the scheme’. In its report, it highlighted that ‘several beneficiaries get conned by middlemen using the Centre’s flagship programme’ and ‘government records do not tally with the reality of what beneficiaries claim’.
Instead of creating a plethora of programmes for political gains, the next government should focus on the convergence of these schemes and robust monitoring processes to enable them on the ground. According to the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), 76 per cent of those who were placed after undergoing training in PMKVY (Pradhan Mantri Jaushal Vikas Yojana) got wage employment and only 24 per cent could set up their own businesses. According to Rajesh Agarwal, joint secretary in the skill development ministry, just 10,000 of all those trained under PMKVY in 2018 applied for MUDRA loans, meant for self-employment.
The naked truth in India is that there aren’t enough jobs. The focus of the skills programme should be to build an entrepreneurial spirit in our youth. Delhi government has launched an Entrepreneurship Mindset curriculum for students from class 9-12. The focus of the curriculum is to build necessary life skills focused on confidence, creativity, self-awareness, perseverance, decision-making, etc.
Manish Sisodia, education minister of Delhi, says, “Entrepreneurship curriculum is required because the trickle-down economy is fundamentally flawed. Corporations are rewarded, rightfully so, for running efficient operations, delivering more value to the marketplace with as minimum resources as possible. They do not and should not have the mandate to sustain jobs. What we need is a “bubble-up” economy driven by the needs of 1.3 billion people that is constantly reorganising to adapt to the new realities of the rapidly changing world.”
“Millions of engines of growth powered by individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset is the only long-term solution for unemployment and poverty”, he adds convincingly. The government at the Centre should take the leaf out of Delhi’s books and introduce such curriculum across the states. The school system should deliberately prepare our students with life skills and soft skills along with the vocational skills to equip them for the challenges ahead. “If we really want to help our young people thrive and flourish in the 21st century where we know change is coming at such a rapid pace, we need to build in them the resilience and skills to cope with that change. Therefore, we need to create an ecosystem where individuals, NGOs, governments need to come together and collaborate to integrate life skills education in all skill-based programs,” opines Vikram Bhat, a life skills expert and advisor to Manish Sisodia.
Indian industry regularly complains it cannot find workers with the required skills to be competitive. According to government data, less than 5 per cent of the workforce in India has undergone formal skills training as compared to 68 per cent in the UK, 75 per cent in Germany, and 52 per cent in the US. While skills availability is definitely an issue, the lack of job availability is a bigger problem. There weren’t enough jobs in India when the economy was growing at a world-beating annual rate of 8 per cent in the financial year of 2015. And having millions of young people unemployed, no matter what the growth rate, is a ticking time bomb.
The government needs a sectoral approach to tackle the unemployment problem. Agriculture constitutes 17.3 per cent of the country’s GDP, but it sustains over half of the country’s population. It grew at an abysmal rate of 2.1 per cent (projected) in the year 2018, less than half of what it grew in 2017. If India wants fewer people to depend on agriculture, it needs to create non-farm jobs. But even when India was growing at over 7 per cent between 2013 and 2015, the rise in non-farm jobs was only 1.3 per cent annually. The demand of traditional landed castes like the Patidars, Gujjars, Jats, Marathas and Kapus for job reservations must be seen as a symptom of the overburdened farm sector seeking an outlet in the urban jobs market.
More than 400 million Indians work in the exports sector, whose contribution to India’s GDP has nearly halved over the last five years to less than 20 per cent. Even as global trade improved, India failed to capitalise on it. Exports grew 12 per cent between April and November 2017, slower than Vietnam’s 24 per cent and Indonesia’s 16 per cent year-on-year. Within exports, the biggest employers such as textiles, electronic goods, gems & jewellery, leather, and agricultural products continue to struggle. GST and demonetisation have eaten away a large chunk of jobs, reportedly 50 lakhs job were lost due to demonetisation.
There are issues which need an immediate resolution to peak the employment rate. First and foremost, the government should build a credible, data-driven information system on employment. Unless this is done, the employment policies will continue to be made in isolation, divorced from the realistic demand-supply mechanism. Large scale industries and agriculture aren’t sustainable options for job growth in India, medium scale units are the only saving grace. To fuel their growth, the government should extensively focus on unambiguous labour laws and easy and transparent access to credit. Government should actively look to expand the base of government jobs as well. The staff selection bodies at the central as well as the state level are running sub-optimally, taking years to finalise the hiring process. There is an urgent need to decongest the ‘regulatory cholesterol’ in these bodies.
What I saw in the narrow lanes of Gosain Tola wasn’t an aberration, it’s a common story everywhere. These youth are at the disposal of the theatrics of the society, which isn’t bound by a common social thread. The recent spate of youth unrest in India, whether it be the university protests, Bhima Koregaon violence and to an extent, the lynchings, are really worrying symptoms.
Nikhila Henry, author of the book The Ferment, which features stories from across India of young people fighting the system said in an interview, “Young people in different parts of India feel a sense of restlessness as they face injustices. There are those whose lives are affected by these injustices, and then there are those who are angry that we have become an unjust society. I think both these groups of people are connected in more ways than they acknowledge — they are uniformly disconnected from our growth story. And they are not happy that the politicians and policy-makers are trying to maintain status-quo.”
The government which will take over in the sultry summer of Delhi will have to immediately deal with the rising tempers of the listless Indian youth. It might continue to ignore the predicament only at its own and, at the larger level, society’s peril. However, kicking the can down the road wouldn’t be an option as the anger simmers. A smart government should see the current imbroglio as an opportunity, an opportunity to reap the demographic dividend for which the window is really small.

India After May 23 - Two scenarios: What Modi will do; what others will do

The new government will not be a faceless one nor will it be a neutral bureaucratic entity. The victorious leader or parties will forge a new image and a new tone

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It would be nice to say clearly as to who the winner in the ongoing Lok Sabha election would be. But the excitement lies in the uncertainty. Even an expansive Prime Minister Narendra Modi held himself back from saying the first thing he would do if he wins the election. He was, of course, certain that he would win but he felt that it was not right to declare beforehand his victory. The anti-Modi side is busy fighting the election and they cannot say what they would do if Lady Fortune smiles on them.
The new government would not, however, be thinking of facing the challenges confronting the country – economic and political. Not immediately. Even not at all. The challenges can wait. The politicians would want to make the most of the victory. They want to celebrate the victory. They want to trumpet that they are the victors.
We have to consider two scenarios, one a victory of Prime Minister Modi for a second time and how he would celebrate; the second the victory of the anti-Modi/anti-BJP parties who would go into a huddle to choose the prime minister, and who would then claim victory over the right-wing BJP as the victory of good or evil.
In May 2014, Mr Modi took everyone by surprise by inviting all the heads of state and government to his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014. Mr Modi and the BJP were feeling expansive in their moment of victory. So he reached out to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) neighbourhood. It is unlikely that Mr Modi will repeat that gesture. But he would be planning something grandiose for his second swearing-in ceremony this May.
But what about the economic challenges? Even in 2014, he did not sit down to look at the state of the economy and finding relevant responses. The euphoria of his victory was such that it spread to the markets as well, and the BJP leaders proclaimed in the first six months after victory that the Indian economy has bounced back from the market lows of 2013 because the coming to power of Mr Modi and the BJP has restored the confidence of the markets. Two other developments took place. The international crude oil prices nosedived, and there was an increase in foreign funds flows into the Indian market. Modi government had used these two initial advantages to bolster its image and nothing more. The focus of the government was in bringing about ‘big changes’ and not be confined to smaller matters like quarterly and annual growth rates. But the big plans were quite vague and they did not become the stimulus factors that they were expected to be.
In 2019, Mr Modi and his government will not be in a hurry to attend to the pressing problems of the economy. He will spend more time on working out some big announcements for the economy as he did in the first six months after he took over as prime minister for the first time. It will be interesting to see whether PM Modi would press forward the big ticket social and economic changes that he had begun in first term in office like the Swachh Bharat Mission, Start Up India, Skill India and Make in India, or he would announce many more new schemes based on his own vision of a powerful and prosperous India.
The first decision that Mr Modi’s cabinet took in May 2014 was to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the foreign bank accounts of Indians, much of which was considered to be a tax-evasion tactic. Mr Modi had declared war on black money by setting up the SIT. So, what is the dramatic thing that PM Modi would want to do at the beginning of his second term? He may want to transfer the Rs 6000 that he had promised to the farmers into their accounts. He would ask all the public sector banks to work out the modality. He is most likely to harp on his dream of New India by 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence. Dramatic policy and welfare package announcements should be expected from Mr Modi this time too, and he may keep the best part of the announcements to his Independence Day speech on August 15. It would be quite different in case of the anti-Modi and anti-BJP coalition coming to power. Apart from a long drawn out haggling for the post of the prime minister, and ministerial berths, time would be spent on hammering out a common minimum programme among the disparate parties arrayed against Mr Modi and the BJP. In the first few months, the anti-Modi, anti-BJP coalition would announce a huge relief package for distressed farmers across the country.
It is indeed the case that the real problems of the economy are not a point of reference to the political leaders. They bring in their own rhetorical and utopian vision and pursue it because the day-to-day workings of the economy would continue because the systemic momentum sustains it. But the best economic policies will be affected by the state of the economy in general. That is why, it becomes crucial to pay attention to what economy’s watchdogs are saying.
But whichever political coalition that will take over office in the last week of May will face this paradoxical situation: India economy will remain the fastest growing economy despite scaling down the rate from 7.2 per cent to 7 per cent according to the second advance estimates released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in February, even as the global growth rate will be 3.7 per cent in 2019 and 3.5 per cent in 2020. The relatively slow growth rate in China compared to that of India is because of the slowdown in the global economy, and this, in turn, will affect the global growth rate. India’s faster growth rate remains a local phenomenon and it is unlikely to give a push to the global economy. This is indeed a complicated situation, and no party has time to pay attention in the hustle-bustle and the heat and dust of election. But once the election is done and the results are announced, the irritating reality comes back to haunt political leaders, especially those who are in government. So, the victors in this election have a tough task ahead of them and the euphoria of victory may not be enough to formulate the responses to the economic challenge that awaits the new prime minister and the new finance minister.
The performance of the economy in Quarter 2 and 3 of 2018-19 is not too bright, but it need not be a dampener because the situation in Quarter 1 of 2020-21 might be different. There are some alarm signals in the second and third quarters as indicated in the Reserve Bank of India’s monthly report of April 2019 released on April 11. It says, “Domestic economic activity decelerated for the third consecutive quarter in Q3: 2018-19 due to a slowdown in consumption, both public and private.”
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has in its World Economic Outlook April 2019 is trying to show things as they are. In the foreword, Gita Gopinath, who is the IMF’s Economic Counsellor, states the case in plain terms. The world economic growth peaked at 4 per cent in 2017, fell to 3.6 per cent in 2018 and it is expected to fall to 3.3 per cent in 2019. The second half of 2019 could improve and the world growth rate could return to 3.6 per cent in 2020.
Gopinath points out that there are economic challenges which could dampen long-term prospects. She has identified rising inequality, weakening investment and rising protectionism in the trade as the main challenge to continued growth. There is an indication that Mr Modi is not really concerned about the issue of inequality because many right-wing Indian economists argue that removal of poverty is more important than reducing inequality. Mr Modi would want to attack poverty. There is confusion among the liberal and leftist economists about the issue of inequality. They believe there is a linkage between inequality and poverty, and that it is necessary to reduce inequality as a way of removing poverty. So, the non-Modi coalition’s prime minister will do many things to remove poverty while raging against growing inequality.
What Mr Modi or his rivals cannot handle is weakening investment because rhetoric is not of much help in this matter. Mr Modi and the BJP are thrilled that India attracts foreign investments though in the last five years, the impact of foreign investments on growth rates has not been established. The anti-Modi, non-Modi prime minister would want more foreign investments without realizing that the climate of investments itself has not been good. So, it is an issue that falls beyond their ken.
The issue of protectionism in trade is both an economic and political challenge. Mr Modi, like many right-wing politicians, is caught in a cleft of his own making. He would want a free trade arrangement as long as India enjoys the trade advantage. But it is not a popular issue when other countries are benefiting at the price of India. Mr Modi wants to expand India’s exports but he maintains strategic silence over the issue of rising imports. His Make in India project encourages exports, which is good, but it discourages imports which would mean that the Indian consumer will not have access to goods of his choice. This is indeed a tricky business.
The non-BJP, non-Modi prime minister would want to increase exports, minimize imports and maintain surplus trade balance, something that China has done over the last 40 years. But she would not how to do the rope trick of raising exports and keeping down imports.
These are economic challenges. But there are political challenges as well. It is argued that even if Mr Modi manages to return as prime minister for a second term, he would have to pay greater attention to political allies and smaller parties. The expectation is that the BJP would lose at least 100 seats compared to 2014 tally of 283 though it would remain the single largest party. That makes political management a difficult affair which requires diplomatic skills which Mr Modi does not possess, even according to his admirers.
Then there is the other issue about reservations in jobs, both for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes (OBCs), and now the economically weaker sections. There is the issue of the status of religious minorities, and the BJP and Mr Modi have not been much too comfortable with the idea of entertaining the identity claims of these religious minorities. Social harmony is a prerequisite for economic development and growth. So, Mr Modi has to come to terms with the reality of religious minorities.
The non-Modi prime minister might appear to be in the comfort zone in the matter of social harmony. But here too, the prime minister of a non-Modi hue has to deal with the challenge of settling competing claims.
The economic, political and social challenges that a newly-elected government would face post-May 23 may not be unique because they recur time and again because of India’s uneven development story. But the test of leadership lies in the quality of the response made by politicians.

Challenges Before The New govt

PARENTING is often described as the hardest job in the world. Prime Minister of India may run a close second. A crushing burden of responsibility rests on the leader of the 17th Lok Sabha, at a time when domestic and international pressures are at a peak.

Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

On the domestic front, the challenges ahead make the seven labours of Hercules look like a walk in the park: the agrarian crisis, unemployment, population growth, the ever-present ‘twin deficit’ problem and cash crunch. On the international front, the government must contend with an impending global slowdown and increasingly delicate geostrategic relations.
The chief elements of the farm crisis are: real farm incomes have plummeted, widening the gap between farm and non-farm incomes, price volatility in global markets has negatively impacted Indian farmers even as domestic price discovery mechanisms have failed to evolve, risk-proofing through public crop insurance has been unsuccessful, access to credit is skewed in favour of big farmers, post-harvest infrastructure is weak resulting in enormous wastage and middlemen run the show. All this, against a backdrop of increasing water stress and microclimatic shifts.
The The crisis has been decades in the making and had deepened in the last five years, despite the introduction of band-aid measures. Implementation issues dogged the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the common agriculture market (eNAM) and the price deficiency payments scheme (intended to bridge the gap between minimum support price and open market rates).
The Earlier this year, the incumbent government was forced to introduce an income support scheme of Rs 6,000 a year per farm household (PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana). The shift from ‘price policy’ to ‘income policy’, according to farm policy analyst Devinder Sharma, was both an admission of failure and “a tectonic shift in economic thinking”.
The Such is the urgency of the problem that agriculture will have to be made an overriding priority. Solutions such as a per acre subsidy subsuming all other subsidies, a one-time (and never again) farm loan waiver for small debts and radical market reforms including overhauling the public distribution system are on the table, in addition to higher public investment. The pros and cons of each have already been studied intensively. Quick and informed decisions are possible without palming them off on committees.
The It doesn’t take an economist to figure out that government finances are under strain. Collections from GST have fallen short of budgeted targets, while direct tax receipts and disinvestment proceeds are lower than expected. So much so for government revenues. Expenses will be stretched by welfare schemes such as pension for unorganized sector workers, income support for farmers and so on. Meanwhile, the government will keep a wary eye on global oil prices, for fear of sudden ‘shocks’ that may lead to a ballooning import bill and renewed chuntering over the ‘twin deficit problem’. Energy security remains a huge worry that can only be addressed through ramping up domestic production, solar, nuclear and otherwise. In addition, the looming threat of a global slowdown which some pessimists have said will be “bigger than 2008”, is giving economists the heebie-jeebies.
The On the plus side, after several years marked by rising NPAs, credit crunch and excruciatingly slow resolution of cases under the insolvency & bankruptcy code, the Reserve Bank of India is hopeful that the corner has been turned. However, the momentum must be maintained. The sluggishness of private investment remains a great worry and building up confidence is vital, from the perspective of job creation.
The Unemployment has proved as big a challenge as agrarian distress and has just as much political traction. The only quick-fix solution offered so far is filling up government vacancies and creating more government jobs. At a time when state governments are facing an enormous resource crunch and seeking to whittle down rather than expand the size of their workforce, this is clearly pie-in-the-sky. The tourism, health, and education sectors have been touted as potential job creators and the government must examine whether it can increase investment and boost skill development in this regard. Infrastructure development creates income opportunities, so the momentum of the on-going projects must be maintained.
The The elephant in the room for most governments is population stabilisation. Few politicians have the courage to demand pro-active measures, above and beyond contraception, to bring down the fertility rate. The south has managed to do so quite effectively, but the north more than makes up for it! The resulting political tensions between north and south were partially managed by ensuring that the state-wise numerical strength of Lok Sabha seats was maintained, even while delimitation changed the shape of constituencies. For the central government, the problem lies in population-based fund allocation, which has already enraged the southern states.
The Moving on, the ineptitude of public delivery systems and inefficient institutions of governance continue to erode trust in government and political institutions, undermine inclusive growth and deny weaker sections their entitlements. India’s bloated and underperforming bureaucracy is censured the world over. Yet, successive governments have implemented finance commission awards, without enforcing accountability. The much-delayed administrative and police reforms should go forward. At the same time, radical innovations in participatory governance are called for.
The With growing urbanisation and infrastructure collapsing from population pressure, the problem of non-performing urban local bodies (ULBs) must be addressed. Enough research has been done on the link between the financial health of ULBs and the delivery of public services. Mandatory property taxes will go a long way in shoring up the finances of ULBs and enabling them to provide basic services. Residents’ Welfare Associations, too, must be empowered and given teeth, so as to demand accountability from public officials in a formal, structured manner.
The The government must be pro-active in public-facing services; at the same time, it must reduce human interface in areas where corruption is endemic. Disbursal of subsidies is one such area and scaling up direct benefit transfer is the obvious solution. Procurement of goods and services by government agencies is another. Most important of all is the Income Tax department, long regarded as a hotbed of corruption.
The Internal security has been relatively good, with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir and Gau-raksha- related violence. The government must continue efforts to reach a political solution in J&K, while reining in cow vigilantes. On the legislative side, many bills are pending: Triple Talaq, Citizenship and Women’s Reservation, to name a few. These are contentious matters that it will have to address on the floor of Parliament. The cessation of oil imports from Iran, as a result of US economic sanctions, underlined the importance of maintaining the balance of geopolitical relations in the region. Iran accounted for just over a tenth of India’s total oil imports. Of greater concern to India (despite US assurances) is its investment in the Chabahar corridor, which eases her trade access to Afghanistan. The US must be kept happy, but so must Russia, from the perspective of containing the Pakistan-China nexus and the Afghanistan policy.
The International pressure on Pakistan to stop the export of terror must be maintained, through effective juggling of relations between the US and Russia. Insurgency in the region, as evidenced by the recent bomb blasts in Sri Lanka which claimed 250 and more lives, is a matter of grave concern. In addition, continuing close cooperation with the US as a ‘major defense partner’, as also with Japan, is essential in containing China’s regional designs, particularly with Nepal tilting towards China. The latter continues to enjoy a healthy trade surplus vis-a-vis India, despite a reported dip in 2018-19 and this must be factored in.
The Above all, the government must bear in mind the advice attributed to French wit and philosopher Voltaire “Consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power”.


The rule that if a complaint is false the complainant would be penalised is unfair in the case of EVMs and VVPAATS

K P Fabian
K P Fabian

K. P. Fabian is an Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy.

We are witnessing the periodical festival of democracy with 900 million of our fellow citizens entitled to vote in a million polling booths. However, the answer to the question is not easy. There are indications that the polling might not be free and fair. In a free and fair election, the voter should be able to examine her vote as recorded and to complain to the polling official in case of doubt without the fear of being sent to jail. This is not the case especially after the introduction of the EVM and a few years later of VVPAATS.
On 23rd April, Harekrishna Deka, former DGP of Assam and a famous writer, found that the VVPAAT did not record correctly his choice. However, he decided not to risk lodging a complaint as he could be sentenced to imprisonment up to six months under section 177 of the IPC if he is unable to 'prove' his complaint.
What is significant is that a younger man ran the risk that Deka avoided. The same day, Ebin Babu, 21, in Thiruvananthapuram, lodged a complaint. As he voiced his complaint he was admonished by the polling official of the possibility of his being arrested by police under section 177 of the IPC. Ebin persisted and filled up Form 49MA. Sometime later, Ebin voted again in the presence of the polling official and the representatives of the candidates. This time, the voting was recorded correctly and Ebin was handed over to the police.
A few logical questions arise. First, just because the EVM recorded the vote correctly at 12.45 does not follow that it would have recorded it correctly in the first instance at 10.30 a.m. Second, there have been a number of complaints of the malfunctioning of EVMs. The media have reported that in Kerala alone there were 7 booths with malfunctioning EVMs in Alathur, 11 in Palakkad, 7 in Kasargod, and 10 in Pathanamthitta, to mention only some. Shashi Tharoor has remarked that it was “very curious” that “all the EVM malfunctions seem to benefit only one particular party” and that “all the malfunction somehow seems to go towards the lotus”. Till now, we have not come across any such complaint from BJP candidates anywhere in India. Obviously, this matter needs investigation. It is equally obvious that the EC has shown inertia, to put it mildly. The reader might recall that the Supreme Court had to remind the EC that it has teeth. The reader will also recall that the EC has deliberately refrained from taking action against the candidate Narendra Modi even as he violated the Model Code of Conduct repeatedly correctly calculating that he has impunity.
Apart from EC's inertia, the key question is whether and if so how the EVMs can be tampered with. Election Commission's categorical assertions reiterated from time to time do not amount to proof. Nor do they carry conviction. We know of a bank clerk who had amended the software in the bank making it mandatory for a few cents to be credited to his personal account every time a transaction was made. He amassed a lot of money before he was found out. In short, tampering is possible and the EC should prove it has not happened and it is not enough to assert that tampering is impossible.
The VVPAATS were introduced in 2013 as a check on 'malfunctioning' EVMs. Imagine putting a chip to the VVPAATS system that ensures the same result as in the EVM. In short, in a situation where both the EVM and the VVPAAT are tampered, there will be no way of finding that out. That Deka and Ebin could see that the VVPAAT had recorded wrongly their votes raises the possibility of simultaneous tampering of EVM and VVPAATS.
One or two questions more arise. Is it possible to tamper before the day of counting as in some cases there is a gap of more than a month between voting and counting? Do the representatives of the candidates have access on a 24/7 basis? Can any tampering be done during the counting? These questions have been raised but we have not come across any satisfactory answers so far from the Election Commission. The EC has been most reluctant to arrange for cross-verification between EVM counting and VVPAATS counting. It arranges for such verification only for a polling booth in an assembly constituency. In other words, out of one million polling booths, in the 2019 general election verification is done only in less than 5,000. This works out to less than 0.5%.
A group of three, including the author, filed a case in the Supreme Court. We argued that statistics required cross verification of at least 30 % and produced findings from eminent statisticians. Unfortunately for us, the opposition political parties also stepped in asking for 50% cross verification. The Court gave more time to the advocate of the political parties and ours hardly got anytime.
Let us focus on what can be done right now. First, a PIL should be filed in the Supreme Court to suspend the rule that prevents an honest voter from lodging a complaint. Once a complaint is made without waiting for filling up of forms the polling officer and representatives should rush to the spot and conduct as many numbers of trial voting as necessary. It is absurd to have made Ebin vote again after a time gap and then conclude that his complaint was baseless. If there were tampering in the manner suggested by us earlier, the second time Ebin voted his vote would have been recorded correctly.
Second, we need to review the decision taken to use EVMs. Technology can be useful, but technolatry, worship of technology, is foolish. Germany and some other countries in Europe have discontinued the use of EVMs. We need a national debate to figure out the way forward. Third, the EC should be woken up from its dogmatic slumber and asked to do its job by enforcing its Model Code of Conduct lest India becomes a laughing stock internationally.
(The author is a former diplomat)
Opinion expressed is the personal view of the write and do not reflect the views of the news portal.

  • First, just because the EVM recorded the vote correctly at 12.45 does not follow that it would have recorded it correctly in the first instance at 10.30 a.m. Second, there have been a number of complaints of the malfunctioning of EVMs.
  • We need to review the decision taken to use EVMs. Technology can be useful, but technolatry, worship of technology, is foolish. Germany and some other countries in Europe have discontinued the use of EVMs. We need a national debate to figure out the way forward.

Mamata’s Move: Glamour Gambit

True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the BJP

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

They were once part of the Tollywood ‘Girls’ Gang’, very intimate and fast friends indeed; however, they have made long strides in the last one decade, attaining glamour and stardom. Even though some of the ‘Gang’ members have ‘defected’ recently to pursue individual careers, ties among them are still rock solid. One of them was recently spotted in the birthday bash of another, partied till late at night. Hardly did a pair of the Gang members know that they would be required to play a bigger role very soon beyond the vortex of Tollywood and reel life.
Guess the duo we are talking about. Yes, you’ve got them correct – Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, a pair of new trump cards that West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress supremo pulled out of her wizard hat. True to her style of fielding star power to stem the factionalism within and add a touch of glamour quotient to the list of Lok Sabha membership aspirants, Banerjee has roped in these two greenhorns to go one up on her main rival – the Bharatiya Janata Party. That she has been nursing a desire to be a kingmaker at the last moment in this year’s parliamentary polls, is quite well-known.
Hence, the manner in which she has dropped eight sitting nominees (and two others defected to the BJP), reveals a special game-plan to make the ground slippery for the saffron party.
Leaving aside the first mover advantage (TMC first unveiled the list of candidates for all the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal), the big takeaway from the list of Mamata Banerjee is the elaborate behind-the-door-strategy of Didi to emerge victorious in her challenge to win 42 out of 42. Let us take a closer look into it and her apparently inane thought bubbles make for a rib-tickling narrative.
Nearly eight years into power, that TMC has been riven with intense factionalism over a wide swathe of the state, is now fait accompli. It is not that Didi has taken this decision of fielding Mimi and Nusrat on the spur of the moment; both the Tollywood stars have been regulars to several big meetings of the party. And Mamata Banerjee had obviously been closely observing as well as advising them on sundry things laced with dual meaning for some time now before zeroing on to field them. It was only after being absolutely confident of their unquestionable allegiance to her that she condescended to nominate them. That they would be subject to widespread criticism from the opposition of being political greenhorns, did not deter her from going ahead.
Secondly, the TMC supremo, who used to know her district party leaders like the back of her own hand, must have kept a close tab on areas where there has been an unabated spurt in intra-party rivalry (and at some places, even killings). Jadavpur in the southern fringe of Kolkata and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district bordering Bangladesh are the two vulnerable areas where the party has been bedevilled with this menace, necessitating umpteen warnings in vain from the top leadership. The depleting base of the party in Bhangar, an assembly constituency of Jadavpur, and rise of the BJP in the Basirhat-Bongaon region of North 24 Parganas district had been posing a serious concern, leaving Didi with hardly any choice to select someone from the party who would be acceptable to all the factions.
After Prof Sugata Bose, the sitting Trinamool MP from Jadavpur, expressed his unwillingness to recontest pleading lack of consent from the university he teaches abroad, Didi was toying with the idea of fielding a ‘safe’ candidate who could bulldoze over all factions and yet has acceptability to the commoners irrespective of the party colour. At the same time, the chief minister could ill-afford to ignore the fact that it was from this constituency in Kolkata that she had shot to fame (got the tag of ‘giant killer’, to be more precise) defeating CPIM veteran and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee during the heyday of the Left rule. Hence, she could hardly take any risk that would lay bare the chinks further, endangering the prospect of the party.
There were two or three other names, all Tollywood heroines, that were in wide circulation since last year end who were tipped to be inducted into the party; prominent among them include June Maliah and Indrani Halder. However, what tilted the scale in favour of Mimi and Nusrat is, perhaps, their glamour power and the present peak form in sharp contrast to Maliah and Halder. In fact, Mamata’s spectacular decision to field this pair of stars put the BJP completely on the wrong foot. It is immaterial whether the saffron party would concede it or not, the fact remains that the BJP was particularly very hopeful to cash in on the bitter factionalism in TMC in Basirhat.
But Didi’s selection of Nusrat at Basirhat has made it quite an uphill task for the BJP to make a sizeable dent in the anti-TMC vote bank. First, Basirhat is on the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas district where the minority population is distinctly high compared to Hindus, even though many Hindus were from erstwhile East Pakistan. Nusrat Jahan’s current form and glamour will, in all probability, make a dent in the minds of Hindu voters as well. The claim of TMC not indulging in wooing minorities is already passe though. The BJP nominee Samik Bhattacharya will require to tide over the glamour wave as well as the game of the minority card played by the TMC. In Jadavpur, once a Left stronghold that gave way to the TMC storm in the 2011 assembly poll, the CPIM has slowly begun to regain lost ground. The selection of former Calcutta Corporation mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya as its nominee by the CPIM leadership here has been described as an intelligent move by the political experts. Because, there was wide speculation that the BJP might field from Jadavpur respected fashion designer Agnimitra Paul who was shortly slated to join the party. And if Paul would have got the nomination from here, the anti-TMC vote will be split between Paul and Bhattacharya and the latter might have a very thin chance of victory.
Be that as it may, Mimi’s chances have simply brightened up, in a twist of the tale, the BJP state leadership, reportedly peeved over one of the statements of Paul, delayed her joining. Instead, after the BJP announced the candidature of Anupam Hazra, a TMC defectee from Jadavpur; Hazra was elected from Bolpur in Shantiniketan on a Trinamool Congress ticket in the 2014 Lok Sabha poll. Now, in the changed scenario, the electoral fight of Mimi, the Tollywood heroine of TMC, has become quite easier in absence of Paul. Mimi stands a fair chance of making her maiden entry into parliament unless of course Trinamool incurs heavy anti-incumbency wrath.
That there has been a high anti-incumbency air sweeping across the state, is a fact which has been causing concern in the TMC ranks and which has been a cause for increasing assault by the BJP in the Trinamool turf. However, the real test lies in making the electorate booth-bound; for the BJP, it is really a formidable challenge to turn the anti-incumbency in its favour while for the TMC, it is a bitter battle to stem the anti-incumbency factor in the bud itself. Yet, it is a difficult task for both the parties. The whys are pretty simple. With several TMC leaders making a beeline to the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and growing dissatisfaction over the selection of candidates, discontent seems to be brewing both in the BJP and Mamata Banerjee’s party.
BJP’s Mukul Roy, once the number two in the Trinamool Congress, has started inducting “disgruntled” leaders from his former party, including elected representatives, into the saffron party’s fold. Resentment in the TMC camp came to the fore after it announced its list of 42 candidates for the Lok Sabha polls. The party dropped 10 MPs and brought in 18 new faces. Sitting MPs from seats such as Cooch Behar, Basirhat, Jhargram, Midnapore, Bolpur, Bishnupur and Krishnanagar were dropped from this year’s TMC candidate list.
The BJP has made steady inroads in these places over the last five years, largely due to the infighting within the TMC’s local leadership. Local TMC leaders who had been with the party for several years were overlooked in many seats in favour of film stars including greenhorns, and those joining from the Congress and the Left parties. After MPs Soumitra Khan and Anupam Hazra, TMC leader and four-time MLA Arjun Singh, also a Lok Sabha MP aspirant, were denied ticket from Barrackpore, they switched over to the BJP, received saffron tickets. That the grassroots BJP workers were in no mood to welcome the ‘turncoats’ was evident when several of them resorted to violence in Cooch Behar in North Bengal after a local TMC leader Nisith Pramanik was given the Lok Sabha ticket after he walked into the BJP camp prior to polls.
The ripple of discontent over the candidate nomination affected the Trinamool too. The party’s South Dinajpur district chief Biplab Mitra had openly expressed his displeasure over re-nomination of Arpita Ghosh from Balurghat Lok Sabha seat. “I had informed the party that people of Balurghat are not happy with Ghosh’s performance. Her victory cannot be guaranteed this time.” Ghosh, a theatre activist who had been part of Mamata Banerjee’s intellectual brigade during her fight against the Left Front government claimed she is hardly daunted by the spectre of defeat as long as she enjoys the TMC supremo’s blessings. In Cooch Behar, the TMC has replaced its sitting MP Partha Pratim Ray with a minister in the erstwhile Left Front government, Paresh Chandra Adhikary, who joined the ruling party last year. Although Ray declined to comment, the BJP tried in vain to woo him into its fold. “Why was Adhikary given ticket? Does our district unit lack good leaders to contest the Lok Sabha polls? This decision has not sent out a good message to the rank and file of the party,” a senior TMC district leader said, adding that the BJP would definitely exploit these fissures in the party.
The situation is more or less the same in Malda North parliamentary seat where former Congress MP Mausam Benazir Noor, who crossed over to the TMC, has been nominated. In at least three other seats, Congress MLAs who had switched over to the TMC in the past one year were given tickets instead of old timers. In Murshidabad Lok Sabha seat, TMC’s youth leader Shamik Hossain, a key organisational man and a ticket aspirant, was overlooked in favour of former Congress MLA Abu Taher, who had switched over to the ruling party last year. In fact, more than 17 Congress MLAs and three legislators of the Left Front had switched over to the TMC since the last assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016. “It’s good that the TMC is getting a dose of its own medicine. As you sow, so shall you reap. It is the TMC which has ensured the growth of the BJP in Bengal by finishing off secular forces like the Congress and the CPI(M),” state Congress president Somen Mitra quipped.
The Mukul Roy factor: Last but not the least, once the second-in-command in Trinamool Congress and now one of the leading names in the state BJP, Mukul Roy might queer the pitch for his former political boss in a way that may not be quite palatable. During her stint as the opposition leader (during the CPI(M)-led Left Front regime), Mamata Banerjee had penned a book “Slaughter of Democracy” where she demanded deployment of central forces in all polling booths across the state. She had also dispatched a clutch of letters to the Election Commission detailing the reason behind her demand to declare all booths ‘sensitive’ in the Left-ruled West Bengal. After his defection to BJP nearly couple of years back, Roy thought it was an opportune moment to hand over a copy of the book and photocopies of those letters to the Election Commission, triggering a row in the inner circles of TMC.
Even as the TMC leaders strongly denounced the move of Roy, claiming that the state of democracy during the Left Front rule and that of the Trinamool Congress government could hardly be compared, the wily BJP leader wasted little time and ensured deployment of the paramilitary forces in every sensitive area across the state. While the Left leaders felt piqued at the TMC leaders’ cacophony against the demand for deployment of central forces, it is too early to predict that the presence of these forces could really alter the ‘game of thrones’ in West Bengal scheduled to go to polls in all the seven phases.

Foreign Flounderings

Lacking in any sense of historical perspective, the Modi government has lost valuable friends like Nepal and yielded unenviable space to Pakistan, China and the US

Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi made five visits to Nepal between August 2014 and September 2018. He was accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs secretary Sujatha Singh, but without Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj. The then Prime Minister of Nepal, Sushil Koirala, welcomed Modi at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Afterward, Modi visited the Pashupatinath Temple where he offered prayers.
Gestures from top political leaders of Nepal, crossing party lines, were explicit. Koirala, who represented the Nepali Congress apart, the then chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal and chairman CPN (United Marxist Leninist) Khadga Prasad Oli, the present PM met with him with an open mind. The then Foreign minister of Nepal Mahendra Bahadur Pandey had struck am emotional tone: “Modi is result-oriented and gives priority to economic prosperity. He wants to consolidate ties with Nepal”, believing that the new government in New Delhi, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party that got absolute majority in the 543-member Lower House of the Parliament after 25 years, was genuinely interested in implementing the ‘neighbourhood first policy.’
Off Mask
There is no confirmation as yet whether the ₹ 10,000 crore India had promised Nepal has been disbursed. The hidden motive of Modi, more committed to rightwing Hindu nationalism than the first BJP premier of India, the late Atal Behari Vajpayee, is now almost open. In his last visit in September 2018, he inaugurated the first cross-border rail link between the two countries, Jainagar in Bihar to Janakpur in Nepal, spanning 29 kilometres.
But critics, especially in academic circles, snap fingers at the Indian PM for the latter’s keenness to buck up pro-Indian elements in Nepal slanted towards the Sangh Parivar the Madhesis.
Modi’s visit was to participate in a major Hindu festival if not mainly at a temple dedicated to ‘goddess’ Sita in Janakpur, the heartland of Madhesis of Nepal and named after the mythical King Janaka of Mithila and father of Sita. Modi aspired to lead a symbolic ‘baraat’ or wedding procession up to Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, believed to have been the home Sita, along with some BJP leaders in tow, a strategic gesture ahead of the Lok Sabha elections keeping in mind the voters of states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal.
Dr Pramod Jaiswal, senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and Nepali by birth, questioned Modi’s intention ingenuously in an article in mid-May 2018: “Modi’s desire to start his visit from Janakpur in the Madhesi-majority Terai region had two motivating elements to it.
“First, the government in Kathmandu had cancelled his visit to Janakpur and the Muktinath temple in northern Nepal during his second visit in 2014. Second, Janakpur is both the putative birthplace of Sita and, as the temporary capital of Province 2, important to the Madhesi plains people’s longstanding demand for proportional representation in the Nepalese parliament through a constitutional amendment, which New Delhi has pushed for through diplomatic pressure and direct economic interference.
Choking Nepal
“India had actively backed the 135-day blockade that had frozen essential cross-border trade from September 2015 to February 2016 (a week after the constitution was promulgated). This time round, Kathmandu allowed Modi to not only visit both venues but also to use them to attempt to endear himself to this Hindu-majority country riven by anti-India – and specifically anti-Modi – protests.”
The friendliness in the attitude of Kathmandu towards New Delhi suffered a diplomatic fracture during the second NDA period. The gap that became yawning was a boon for Beijing. Modi’s hyperbolic promise of beginning a new chapter in Indo-Nepal diplomacy proved to be a pious platitude.
On the contrary, China has slowly and steadily been dislodging India as a friend of Nepal. Bejing has extended its hand to the land-locked state taking advantage of a combined communist party in power Nepal Communist Party, formed out of merger of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center).
Belting India
Beijing and Kathmandu inked an MoU on Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative to enhance connectivity of ports, roads, railways, aviation and communications in the framework of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network.
New Delhi questioned whether the trans-Himalayan railway up to Kathmandu is techno- economically viable, given the reality that it has to traverse through several tunnels, construction of which will be costly, to make the railway reach the lower mountains and plains, let alone the high seismic risks. The pro-Maoist rulers paid no heed, as they emotionally appended to the Communist Party of China that has been ruling the People’s Republic of China for 68 years.
Already, the Chinese Qinghai-Tibet railway is operational up to Shigatse (Xigaze) and is expected to soon reach the Nepal border (Rasuwagadi) in Kerung (Gyirong). From Kerung it will be a 100-km-long railway to Kathmandu. A combined transportation system of rail and truck will substantially reduce the journey. The entire journey takes only 10 days, much less than the 35 days it takes through the maritime route via Kolkata. The rail route through Kerung will hugely provide a boost to Sino-Nepal trade and commerce.
Sonar Bangla Lost
Look at Bangladesh whose people saw China under Mao Zedong as their enemy was befriended by post-Mao China. A take-off in this bilateral friendship was the groundwork for cooperation, linked to the visit of the Chinese President Xi in mid- October 2016, when Bangladesh and China signed 27 deals and memorandum of understandings, covering financing of infrastructure, energy, information and communication projects, 15 agreements and MoUs and 12 loan and mutual agreements, according to the then foreign secretary of Bangladesh, Md Shahidul Haque. The two countries agreed to work together in counterterrorism partnership as well. There had already been a robust military tie as well. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Bangladesh by that time became the largest buyer of Chinese arms, second only to Pakistan. Bangladesh accounted for 20 per cent of all the Chinese arms export during the past five years ended 2016. Unnerved, as if woken up under compulsion, the Modi government signed a $4.5 billion concessional line of credit for 17 projects in the infrastructure and power sector in favour of Bangladesh during the visit of Bangladesh PM Sk Hasina Wazed to New Delhi in April 2017.
Another $500 million credit line was extended for defence equipment plus 13 business-to-business agreements for approximately $9 million were inked with select few Indian business houses.
Tourist Modi
But Modi’s irrepressible penchant to see the world as the Indian premier seemed too lavish to keep the national exchequer on pins and needles.
The gross expenditure incurred by the foreign trips during his five-year term (2014-19) is no less than Rs 7,266.94 crore, including the related publicity spend. But the results have been mostly negative, if not destructive, as bilateral relations with none of the neighbouring countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka – let alone Pakistan show signs of camaraderie.
Officials who call the shots at the foreign policy leave no nerve unstrained to discover new digits in diplomacy, citing fragments of apparent strides reflected in economic deals with Japan, a few Middle East countries , Maldives and the like.
Jap Issues
Even deals for economic co-operation, MoUs have not all ensured sustainable efficacy. Take the reinvigorated economic and financial cooperation with Japan that pledged an investment of ₹ 33.8 billion in government and private sector investments over five years, following Modi’s meeting his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe.
Japan has already invested in the $90 billion Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor that envisages setting up of new cities, industrial parks, ports and airports, aside from a 1,483 km high-speed rail and road line. Tokyo is genuinely keen on implementing Modi’s dream project, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train service, for which the first tranche of committed Official Development Assistance loan of Japanese ¥ 89,547 million (₹5,500 crore ) has been released.
The funding body, Japan International Cooperation Agency, agreed to 80 per cent of investment cost as soft loan. But there are doubts about whether the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (alone having absolute majority in the 542-member Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Parliament), have done the spadework for its implementation.
The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, constituted to build it, is yet to acquire the essential professionalism to take on the challenge. It has to legally acquire around 1,400 hectares of land in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Of this nearly 1,120 hectares are privately owned and approximately 6,000 land owners are to be compensated.
Some 1,000 farmers, mostly of Surat, petitioned the Gujarat High Court stating that they don’t want to give their land for the bullet train project. Moreover, the JICA set out guidelines for setting up of a committee for environmental and social impact assessments.
The farmers have alleged that no such committee has yet been constituted. As a result, release of the second tranche of credit is in a limbo. And the JICA has started pulling up the NHSRCL, although the latter tries to negate such an impression and asserts that it is committed to take care of the interests of the affected farmers, adding that all necessary steps with regard to submission of various reports such as social impact assessment, environment impact assessment and indigenous people plan, have been submitted to JICA.
Basic Faults
One can’t miss some basic fault lines in Modi’s external affairs policy-in-practice, let alone the awkward concept of keeping the Minister of EA confined to South Block and the PM seeing the world resembling a government-paid joyride.
The questions that arise are many: Did Modi define national interest or articulate a strategic vision, or even enunciate his media-hyped ‘neighbourhood policy? The answer is a simple NO. Instead, the world around witnessed gradual decimation of the prestigious independent foreign policy. There was showbiz summitry, coupled with and subservience to Uncle Sam. But there was a lot of opportunities that the NDA-2 could have seized for breaking new ground like ‘stitching together a coalition of rimland states in the east to ring-fence China.’ Shamelessly, the Modi government walked into the US trap of weakening the non-aligned foreign policy. Which was why the 2 X 2 talks between the USA and India took place in the beginning of September 2018 in New Delhi, ostensibly to ramp up strategic relations but it helped the US penetrate — horizontally and vertically — India’s most secret communications and command and control networks, including the Strategic Forces Command overseeing nuclear security. The US side was represented by its Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim while on the Indian side was the comparatively soft-spoken and most often side-lined Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and the garrulous and completely ineffective but theatrical Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Defence Minister. The latter signed the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, an emblem of subservience.
Balakot Blunders
The NDA too has been more committed to belligerence than a peaceful approach, overtly with Pakistan and covertly with Nepal. Strangely – if not ludicrously enough – after the Balakot strike in the wee hours of 26 February, it was not the defence secretary Sanjay Mitra, but the external affairs secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale who briefed the media (on condition of not taking questions). The latter said, “In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammad) in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), brother-in-law of Masood Azhar Chief of JeM”.
He claimed it was a ‘non-military preemptive action… specifically targeted at the JeM camp’, contrary to the news from the spot by the Reuters and video footages in the social media. Furthermore, the notion that ‘a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated’ was a matter of suspicion for the international media.
The CEO of MoEA reminds me of Dr Henri Kissinger, National Security Advisor to the former US President Richard Milhous Nixon. “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” I don’t know how Kissinger would have reacted had he been asked to comment on Gokhale willingly agreeing to poke his nose into defence affairs at the cost of his credibility.

Facts of an Unequal World: Differences Between Income And Wealth

World economists worried over advanced economies and emerging economies struggling for prosperity and stability

SA Raghu
SA Raghu

The author is a banking and economics commentator based in Chennai. He is an economist and CFA by training and his professional career of over 30 years has spanned central banking, project financing and banking technology. He writes for financial newspapers on banking, economics and finance

Raghuram Rajan, former RBI Governor, has brought the capitalism-inequality debate to centre-stage with his new book, “The Third Pillar How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind”, in which he says capitalism is breaking down because the economic and political system was not providing equal opportunities to people. Critics of capitalism have long held that markets were responsible for creating inequality, but since governments have also proved incapable, all forms of systems are being viewed with scepticism today. But Rajan’s book is not so much about inequalities as it is about addressing how local communities could be strengthened to act as an effective check against a rampaging State and markets which have combined to bring capitalism to a crisis. On inequality itself, it was Thomas Piketty who famously propounded in his pathbreaking work that much of the inequality of wealth in capitalist societies results from inequalities of inheritance, through a self-fulfilling process – wealth inequality leads to differences in education, economic power and on to further inequalities in income. He argued that the rich grew richer because returns from wealth grew faster than national incomes, with the inequalities made worse by inheritance. Wealth in these economies is mostly of the financial kind and the rich get richer from the holding of wealth rather than from the fruits of labour.
Though income inequality reports use GDP data to derive distributions of income and inequality, it would be simplistic to draw any inferences from merely comparing inequality data across nations, because economies vary in structures and in the nature of growth. If we consider the data of the USA and India, this will be clear. According to the World Inequality Report 2018, inequality in the USA was extremely high at the top-most levels of the population groups – average share of income of the top 1% of adults in 2014 was 20%, as compared with the bottom 50% (12.5%). Furthermore, a large portion (about 65%) of the incomes came from capital (interest, dividends, retained earnings and rents) while it was less than 10% for the bottom 90%. The growth rate of financial wealth outpaced that of national incomes, helped by booming markets.
The US economy is also significantly ‘financialised’, with banking and financial services contributing over 30% of its GDP. It is easy to see where the moral outrage comes from- the perception of finance as a rent-seeking activity and its appropriation by a small minority. The most visible form is the ‘marketization’, the continuous creation and trading of financial assets to pander to the wealthy (bank loans into tradable securities are probably the least toxic), but the greater concern is the spread of financialisation to non-finance sectors. The corporate sector is now driven by stock market valuations and shareholder interests, with excessive managerial compensation linked to stock prices, which offers perverse incentives for rent-seeking than risk taking. Financialisation also crept into households – we can recall how American homeowners at the height of the sub-prime mortgage crisis were lured into taking advantage of rising home values and ultra-low interest rates by converting their houses into virtual ATMs. The rich had their hedge funds and other new securities that were continuously being created to meet their demands.
Even without being capitalist, India also ranks high among countries with income inequality – at 54%, the share in total income of the top 10% of India’s population was higher than even that of the USA (47%) as per the report. The bottom 50% shared only 15% of the income, which in fact is higher than those of China and Russia at the higher quantiles. The inequalities in our economy have more to do with the nature of economic growth, its components and the structural characteristics of our labour markets rather than capitalism and markets. Our employment data is notoriously outdated and unreliable and even what we have is unflattering- the labour force participation rate at 52% is among the lowest in the world, due to the extremely low participation of women in employment (73% of the labour force is male). This virtually renders the debate on unemployment numbers meaningless – when over 48% of working age people do not participate in the job market, it is irrelevant whether the actual level of unemployment is 4% or 6%. The significance of employment is with relation to incomes and demand, which leads us to another structural issue – the nature of employment – nearly 50% of the labour force is self-employed and about 33% are contractually employed which leaves less than 20% in the formal wage earning category. Without taking away from the merits of the type of labour, a low sized formal market is usually the cause of low wages, cited by many as the real issue and not unemployment per se. Piketty also says that such a small sized formal sector leads to tax ratios being low which seems self-evident. The sectoral GDP and employment data shows this up more starkly- the tertiary sector (trade, transport, finance, insurance and real estate) contributes over 42% of total value added to GDP, but employs only a small proportion of formal labour, while agriculture and the primary sector, while contributing a small proportion to GDP(less than 20%) has a large self-employed segment, but in reality an euphemism for disguised unemployment, given the low value added in this sector.
As for solutions, taxation is often an effective tool where the cause of excessive inequality is financialisation; in fact, the declining progressivity in tax rates was said to be one of the causes for the rise in inequality in the USA; tax cuts left the wealthy and the corporates with money, but that was not spent productively as intended and instead went to aggravate economic inequalities. In India, current taxation levels leave little scope for tinkering and besides benefits from lower taxes often accrue to only a small section.
Raghuram Rajan’s prescription for India is a leap out of the middle-income trap into a higher orbit of wealth and prosperity to tackle the issues of poverty and inequality. This would require a broad-based economic growth that embraces a larger formal labour participation which would make for lesser inequalities, but this is easier said. Which is probably why populist schemes such as a minimum basic income always catch the fancy of politicians. In fact, for long now, most economies have been practising some form of a markets-for-the rich and welfarism-for-the-less-privileged approach, but the sustainability of such models is coming unstuck, manifest in the growing unrest everywhere.
The Congress party in India has also jumped into the fray and come up with its catchily named NYAY scheme; while this may not be a proper universal basic income scheme, the guarantee of Rs. 6,000 to every family that earns less than Rs 12,000 per month if the household is a member of the poorest 20% of all households in the population, has all the ingredients. Raghuram Rajan apparently was consulted on NYAY and he seemed to favour it as it could build capabilities, but his own general views on minimum basic income schemes are slightly different. He feels that minimum income schemes can be hugely resource-intensive, calling for high levels of taxes at a time when the clamour is to reduce them. Secondly, he feels cash transfers should be considered only if it was genuinely not possible to create meaningful jobs, as otherwise they could rob people of the dignity of labour; in fact, such schemes could prevent the creation of new jobs by offering perverse incentives to remain unemployed. By no stretch of imagination can we claim that we have reached the limits of meaningful job creation in India, but given the notorious incompetence of Governments, the appeal of money for nothing schemes will be hard to resist, fiscal constraints notwithstanding.

Environment Ministry Is A National Shame

Historically, our traditions have been designed in a way to protect and conserve environment. The current dispensation has propagandised recovering the ‘lost glory’. Ironically, the government has done more damage to the environment through its flawed policies and vested interests

Mahendra Pandey
Mahendra Pandey

The author is an environmentalist, environmental activist and freelance writer on social issues

We are the certainly worst country in the world on the basis of environmental performance. Our country always remains choked with toxic fumes, rivers are not only polluted but have gone to a toxic level, the government remains silent over noise, amidst chanting of SWACHH BHARAT our cities overflow with garbage, industries kill protesters with the help of government and saints are fasting and dying for the cause of NAMAMI GANGE.
The BJP’s 2014 election manifesto had listed environmental management under ‘industry’. It was no accident. The mandate was clear: remove “hurdles” in the way of unsustainable growth. In the past year, several key changes have been affected in environmental legislation that’ll have a ripple effect in 2019 and many years to come.
In The Name Of Vikaas
Since coming into power in 2014, the BJP government has emphasised the need for speedy clearances, removal of red tape and bottlenecks. It formed a committee to suggest amendments in the six environmental laws of the country that form the bedrock of all regulations – Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and Indian Forest Act 1927.
However, with the move being intensely opposed by experts, activists, the government never implemented the changes fully. The past year, the last before the government completes its tenure, saw changes in the laws governing India’s environment, from its fragile coastlines to those that protect the vulnerable forest-dwelling populations.
Although critics have argued that these changes amount to diluting India’s robust framework of environmental regulations for a vision of development that is often exclusive, a senior official of the environment ministry disagreed. The official said, “These laws are often too strict. Sustainable development doesn’t mean ‘no development’. These changes have all been implemented while keeping in mind different shareholders.” After the environment ministry amended coastal zone rules to give relief to projects that had begun in the coastal areas without required clearances, environmentalists warned of dire consequences.
First issued in 1991, under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the notification last year revamped regulatory norms to make it easier to construct along the coastline for development activities like tourism and real estate. However, environmentalists warned that these would give violators a lease of life, and lead to considerable damage along the coastlines. Last year, the government made another bid to ease environmental regulations, stipulating that construction projects that are less than 50,000 square metres don’t require green clearance and, thus, will be allowed to progress without authorities issuing permissions after the check of environmental conditions. The building and construction sector is governed under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2006 under which any project of more than 20,000 square metres requires permission.
In December 2016, the MoEF introduced a new system wherein projects up to 300,000 square metres would not need the mandatory EC after state authorities integrated environmental conditions with building bye-laws. But this was challenged in January 2018 at the NGT as “a ploy to circumvent the provisions of environmental assessment”.
The environment ministry notified the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF) rules 2018 to ensure proper utilisation of Rs 660 billion for the plantation of trees across India.
However, environmentalists and civil society groups argued that the rules ignore the rights of forest dwellers and tribes and that the new rules are against the existing laws that safeguard their right to self-governance in scheduled areas and forest rights. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh has also criticised the rules stating that they are in violation of assurances that were given in the Parliament in 2016 by the then environment minister Anil Dave.
In a bid to bring uniformity in terms and conditions for environmental clearances, the MoEF released standard environment clearance conditions for 25 industrial sectors including major ones like coal mines, oil and gas exploration and hydropower projects.
Often criticised for being soft on industry, the ministry maintained that this would bring transparency while also being in line with the government’s overall policy of simplifying rules and speeding up the process for the growth of industries. But environmentalists have remained wary, pointing out that simplicity often comes at a cost and that speed and efficiency doesn’t necessarily mean rigorous science to back the environmental impact of projects.
Dark Times, Darker Waters
Polluted river stretches increases to 351, as against 302 in 2015 According to a recent assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there are 351 polluted river stretches in the country with 45 of them being critically polluted.
Although a greater focus is given to the Ganga river clean-up due to its cultural significance, the assessment revealed that there are far more polluted rivers than the Ganga in the country. Nearly one-third of the polluted river stretches are in Maharashtra, Assam and Gujarat. The assessment has highlighted four significant stretches of pollution which includes the Mithi river—Powai to Dharavi; the Godavari—Someshwar to Rahed; the Sabarmati—Kheroj to Vautha; and the Hindon—Saharanpur to Ghaziabad.
Most Polluted Cities In The World
Twenty-two of the world’s 30 worst cities for air pollution are in India, according to a new report, with Delhi again ranked the world’s most polluted capital. The Greenpeace and AirVisual analysis of air pollution readings from 3,000 cities around the world found that 64% exceed the World Health Organization’s annual exposure guideline for PM2.5 fine particulate matter – tiny airborne particles, about a 40th of the width of a human hair, that are linked to a wide range of health problems.
Every single measured city in the Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO guidelines, as well as 99% of cities in South Asia and 89% in East Asia. Since many cities, particularly in Africa, do not have up-to-date public air quality information, the actual number of cities exceeding PM2.5 thresholds is expected to be much higher, the report authors said. The report is based on 2018 air quality data from public monitoring sources, such as government monitoring networks, supplemented with validated data from outdoor IQAir AirVisual monitors operated by private individuals and organisations. India dominates the top segment of the list. The tech hub of Gurugram, a city just to the south-west of Delhi which was previously known as Gurgaon, ranked the most polluted in the world with an average of more than 135 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic metre (µg/m3) throughout the year. Delhi is ranked 11th.
Faisalabad in Pakistan is ranked third with 130 (µg/m3), with Lahore 10th. Dhaka in Bangladesh is ranked 17th. The only other country to feature in the top 30 is China, which appears five times, including Hotan in the western Xinjiang province (eighth) and the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar (19th). The highest-ranking capital cities are Delhi, Dhaka and Kabul in Afghanistan (52nd). The Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, is the most polluted European city with an annual average of 38.4 µg/m3. London is the 48th most polluted capital with 12.0 µg/m3 and Washington DC 56th with 9.2 µg/m3. “Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that,” said Yeb Saño, executive director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
Swachh Bharat or a Garbage Country
Barely 35,600 metric tonnes (MT) or a quarter of the 1.43 lakh MT of garbage generated every day in Indian cities gets processed. The remaining three-quarters about 1.1 lakh MT are dumped in the open. Only eight of 35 states process more than half the daily garbage generated in their cities and not a single one has achieved 100% processing.
State-wise data on the website of the urban affairs ministry shows that states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand don’t process even 10% of their municipal garbage while Arunachal Pradesh and Dadra & Nagar Haveli don’t process municipal garbage at all. Jammu & Kashmir processes a mere 1%. Chhattisgarh (74%) tops the list and is one of only four states that process more than 60% of municipal garbage. Telangana (67%), Sikkim (66%) and Goa (62%) are the others in this category. Delhi processes 55% of its daily garbage. There are about 84,000 municipal wards in India spread across states and 61,846 or almost three-quarters of these wards have achieved 100% door-to-door garbage collection, according to the website. Yet, without proper disposal facilities, this makes little difference. Municipal bodies in Maharashtra generate maximum garbage - 22,570 MT daily - followed by Tamil Nadu (15,437 MT), Uttar Pradesh (15,288 MT), Delhi (10,500 MT), Gujarat (10,145 MT) and Karnataka (10,000 MT).
Municipal bodies are dumping waste on to landfill sites, which are overflowing their capacity and polluting the surrounding land, groundwater and air. According to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), cities are now running out of land on which to dump their waste and have begun throwing it in the ‘backyards’ of smaller towns, suburbs and villages.
We Indians are destined for premature death – either due to pollution or due to protests for a clean environment. The government and Environmental Minister do not see any pollution or environmental degradation. We are certainly the only country in the world which makes tall claims on international gatherings on one hand and does ease of doing business at the cost of environmental degradation on the other.

Political Films Are Neo-Agitprop to Influence Voters

Movies have traditionally been the source of entertainment in India. Movies like Rang De Basanti, Raajneeti, etc had some undertone of politics, but they were largely neutral. The trend has changed recently, with more and more filmmakers creating movies centred on an identity or an ideology, backed overtly by the political class

Geeta Singh
Geeta Singh

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian

Recently a trailer of the official biopic on PM Narendra Modi was released on T-Series, the number one YouTube handle in the world, to pull maximum views. The biopic ‘PM Narendra Modi’ is based on the life of Modi and is slated to release around the Lok Sabha elections. The film is directed by ‘biopic expert’ Omung Kumar who has made ‘Sarabjit’ and ‘Mary Kom’ earlier and produced by journalist-turned-producer Sandip Ssingh. But the first phase of polls will commence from 11th April so the producer changed the date.
The film will release in 3 languages before general elections to gain maximum advantage. For a change of the date Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement, “People have great expectations and curiosity, so we do not want them to wait for long. This is the story of 1.3 billion people and I do not want people to wait to see it.” The protagonist Vivek Oberoi, whose father Suresh Oberoi is a BJP member and is also one of the producers, has taken up nine different looks with the help of prosthetics makeup to narrate the life of Modi. Although, Vivek Oberoi does a poor take of Modi in the trailer. He tries to get Modi’s mannerisms, but try is all he does.
The Saffron Blessing
Along with Vivek Oberoi, Manoj Joshi will be seen in the role of Amit Shah. As per sources, Sandeep Ssingh started working on this ambitious project after demonetisation in 2016. Earlier Paresh Rawal wanted to portray Modi, in fact, he had commented in the media that nobody could play the role of Narendra Modi better than him. But things did not turn out well and he was replaced by Vivek Oberoi. Then production started in early January again, and the movie raced towards completion because it has to release before polls. As per Mid-Day, a former Election Commissioner noted that the film’s release indirectly violates the model code of conduct since it has the blessings of BJP leaders. Though BJP is not directly involved with the production, it was launched in Mumbai by BJP leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. He even tweeted, “film is set to create history.” But then, Sandeep Ssingh defended the film, saying that BJP had nothing to do with film ‘PM Narendra Modi’. “Since we are making a film on the sitting PM, we are requesting people who admire him to come as chief guests,” Ssingh said.
Along with a biopic, a web series on PM Narendra Modi will also be available in April to watch just before elections. Umesh Shukla, the director of movies ‘Oh My God’ and ‘102 Not Out’ made a ten-part series titled Modi on Narendra Modi. The series will cover Modi’s life from childhood to his teenage and youth to becoming PM. Umesh Shukla has produced this along with Ashish Wagh. Actors Faisal Khan, Ashish Sharma and Mahesh Thakur play different stages of Modi’s life. The web series will stream on Eros Now from April 11 to May 19, which is also the duration of the seven phases of polling for the Lok Sabha election.
More The Merrier
Last year, 32 minute short film ‘Chalo Jeete Hai’, directed by Mangesh Hadawale and presented by Aanand L Rai and Mahaveer Jain, was released. Produced by Bhushan Kumar of T-Series, the film is based on the early life of Modi and shows how he is inspired by Swami Vivekananda and the empathy he exhibits towards the poor while growing up in Vadnagar in Gujarat. The short film has its world premiere on Star Network and its OTT platform Hotstar. And later it was screened at the Rajya Sabha and hailed by a group of ministers including Piyush Goyal and Ravi Shankar Prasad.
These are not only films that are promoting and hailing Modi. ‘Mere Pyare Prime Minister’ is another flick that promotes the cleanliness drive of Modi government. Released on 15th March, directed by Rakesh Omprakash Mehra, the film tells a story of a mother and son who live in Mumbai slum. Amidst many hardships of life, the film focuses on the problem of open defecation and sanitation problems. It is a social-drama featuring Anjali Patil and Makrand Deshpande. But before its release, the film faced a dispute with a budding writer Manoj Marita related to the credit of film writing. Director Rakesh Mehra is accused of taking the story and script from the new writer Manoj Marita and adding his name to it. The matter was taken to the court later. The controversy caused a delay in releasing the film also. The film flopped badly at the box office. Before its release, trade analysts speculated around Rs 1 crore of the collection in the first weekend but the film collected just 18 lakhs only. The total collection reached just Rs 30 lakhs.
On social media platforms many other films, full length and short, based on PM Modi released. ‘Har Har Modi’ made by Pahlaj Nihalani and ‘Narendra Modi - The Ocean of Dreams’ are some of the films. Other than Hindi, there are a couple of films available in Gujarati too that tell the story of PM Modi. ‘Namo Saune Gamo’ released in 2014 is one such film. Interestingly PM Modi released the poster of the film.
Election fever is growing fast in the country and films are also playing vital role in propaganda and promoting the ideologies of different political parties. In the age of propaganda, not only in Bollywood but in Southern film industry also, political parties want to take advantage of cinema and want to revive the sentiments of the electorate through political biopics. At the same time, parties want to transfuse their ideology through the films in today’s youth. Hence, viewers will watch more than a dozen political biopics being released or announced in the 2019 pre-poll season which seems like an unconventional trend.
Telugu Tryst With Biopics
In Andhra Pradesh, before polls, biopic fever is on edge. The trailer of controversial Telugu film ‘Lakshmi’s NTR’ has gone viral with a catchy hashtag #NTRtrueSTORY and has been watched more than 46 lakh times in just 24 hours. Within a week more than 79 lakh views were already there on YouTube for the trailer. One can judge the curiosity of the audience about the film that within an hour of being released online on 13th February, it was seen more than five and a half million times. Director Ram Gopal Varma is directing this controversial biopic based on the life of late Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao (NTR) who was an actor before entering politics. Actor P Vijay Kumar is portraying the role of NTR. The film ran into controversy when an MLA SV Mohan Reddy reportedly filed a complaint against Ram Gopal Varma for the song in the film for defaming AP CM Chandrababu Naidu. On the other hand, Ram Gopal Varma wants to trigger sensation before its release, so he has publicly promised to reveal the untold truth about the late actor-turned-politician. As per the sources, the film is based on some factual events related to NTR’s last days. Reacting to this, the leaders of Telugu Desam Party have accused Ram Gopal Varma and his movie’s producer Rakesh Reddy of maligning and misrepresenting Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu who is son-in-law of NTR.
Well, adding to this, film buffs would experience the other truth of the life of NTR by his another biopic, which is somehow official one too. Sixth son of NTR, N Balakrishna (NBK), who is also MLA from Hindupur assembly, made his father’s biopic in two parts. While actor Balakrishna himself essays the role of his father NTR, Vidya Balan plays the role of NTR’s wife Basavatarakam and popular Telugu star Rana Daggubati has been roped in to portray N Chandrababu Naidu in the film. The first part of two-part biopic ‘NTR Kathanayakudu’ that focusses mainly on NTR’s acting career released worldwide in January. And the second part titled ‘NTR Mahanayakudu’ released on 22nd February that narrates NTR’s political journey. Director Krish Jagarlamudi tried to recreate the campaign part very well and Balakrishna portrayed older NTR with ease and finesse. There are references how NTR understood the need to connect with people and did not rely merely on his charm from cinema to turn the tables at the elections. Before release, the viewers expressed enormous expectations but both films received mixed responses. A section of people pointed out that the film glorified NT Rama Rao and failed to showcase his flaws. They called it a propaganda film for portraying Chandrababu Naidu in a favourable light.
Another important political biopic which has generated a buzz in Andhra Pradesh was ‘Yatra’ based on the padyatra of political leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy. ‘Yatra’ may not be called as proper biopic because it is more event-based covering padyatra in larger part. Worldwide the movie has been released in 970 theatres. Noted Malayalam actor Mammootty played YSR in this movie. Mahi V Raghav has scripted and directed this movie.
In ‘Yatra’ the story is recreated in such a manner to conjure up the vague memories of YSR in people’s mind. It was notable that YSR had managed to come to power after a long haul through walkathon that led him to become the chief minister in 2004. ‘Yatra’ was blatant political propaganda and in fact, it did not conceal its purpose. The introductory and closing scenes are generously laced with photographs and video footage of YSR. The film may provide notable support to his son and politician YS Jagan Mohan Reddy in gaining support from voters during elections. Jagan is banking on the popularity of his father.
Telangana people missed the chance to watch a biopic on KCR. Last year a biographical picture titled ‘Udyama Simham’ based on Telangana chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) was also slated to release. Directed by Alluri Krishnam Raju, the KCR’s biopic was to release before the assembly elections held. But for some unknown and undisclosed reasons, the film was not released.
Amma Magic On The Screen
In Tamil Nadu, at least four political dramas on the late AIADMK leader J Jayalalithaa are in pipeline. One is in the form of web series. Filmmaker Gautham Menon is working on it. While in Tamil cinema, audience will get an opportunity to see the movie ‘Thalaivi’, a biopic on the life of actor-turned-politician Jayalalithaa. On her 71st birth anniversary on 24th February, the first look of the film was revealed. The film will go on the floor in April. Filmmaker-director AL Vijay who will direct this biopic says that it took him more than 20 drafts to lock the final version of the script. ‘Baahubali’ series writer K Vijayendra Prasad, who is also writing the script of the film based on RSS, has been brought on board to pen the script.
However, this is not the only biopic. Two more Jayalalithaa’s biographical films are in the offing. One titled as ‘The Iron Lady’ will debut A Priyadarshini as director. Actress Nithya Menen will play the role of Jayalalithaa in this film. The film will be released in Hindi also along with Tamil and Telugu versions to garner national buzz. The producers want to release the movie next year. Another biographical movie ‘Thaai: Puratchi Thalaivi’ on Jayalalitha has been planned by producer Adithya Bhardwaj. On all these biopics, director Vijay commented ‘Thalaivi’ will be the official biopic of Jayalalithaa. He revealed that they have also taken permission from Jayalalithaa’s nephew Deepak.
RaGa’s Raag Too
Interestingly, If BJP is manipulating cinema for its propaganda and to influence electoral choices, so too does Congress. A biopic on Congress President Rahul Gandhi is on cards as well. The title of the movie will be ‘My Name is RaGa’. As per sources, this movie has no intentions to glorify Rahul or demystify him. “It’s the story of coming back of a human being who had been ridiculously attacked, anyone who has fearlessly confronted defeat and failure can relate to this story. In that sense, I don’t want to call this a biopic, it’s a narrative of any man who becomes unstoppable after he wins over a catastrophic life,” director Rupesh Paul said in a statement. But its trailer does not put an impressive mark on viewers.
Ye Public Hai, Ye Sab Jaanti Hai
In January, two unusual propaganda films – ‘Thackeray’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ released. ‘Thackeray’, a biopic on Shiv Sena supremo Bala Saheb Thackeray, had actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui portraying the role of Bal Thackeray. It is a completely political promotional movie produced by Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena Member of Parliament and directed by Abhijit Panse, a former Sena member who’s now with the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. ‘Thackeray’ made with around Rs 30 crore budget was a disaster on box office. It only did well in Mumbai territory. The overall collection was around Rs 19 crores only. The same fate befell the film ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, based on Sanjaya Baru’s book on former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s years in power, directed by Vijay Ratnakar Gutte. His father Ratnakar Gutte, a prominent sugar baron of Parbhani, had contested the 2014 Assembly elections as a BJP-alliance candidate but lost to the Nationalist Congress Party. It was termed as a propaganda film because ruling BJP promoted the trailer through their official Twitter account. At the domestic box office, the film collected only Rs 21 crores.
Like ‘Indu Sarkar’ and ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, another movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ is in the pipeline that will create controversy. The first-look poster of suspense thriller was unveiled before Holi announcing that the film will hit theatres on 12th April. Directed by Vivek Agnihotri, whose last film ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ was based on the Naxal-intelligentsia nexus, ‘The Tashkent Files’ is based on the mysterious death of India’s second prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent (formerly a part of USSR, now in Uzbekistan) in 1966. The film concentrates on the Tashkent conspiracy, whilst also highlighting how Shastri, regarded by many as India’s first economic reformer who introduced several steps which led to many reforms like the White Revolution, was “seen as a hurdle to some forces”.
‘An Insignificant Man’, a documentary on Aam Aadmi Party head Arvind Kejriwal, had a nationwide theatrical release in November 2018. Directed by Khushboo Ranka, the film did not catch any buzz in India though it received a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival. It has gone to major festivals across the world including the BFI London Film Festival & Busan International Film Festival.
Filmy Furore
On the other hand, satire and sarcasm are also seen in cinematic creativity like director Anik Dutta’s film ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ and ‘Halahal’. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ has been ‘unofficially’ banned after its theatrical release. The film was withdrawn from almost all multiplexes and single-screen halls in the state within 10 days of its release. Then its producers had to seek judicial help to exhibit their film. They went to court alleging that the Mamata Banerjee-led state government had ordered an unofficial ban on the film. The court passed the interim order based on a plea by the producers of the film. ‘Bhobishyoter Bhoot’ irked the state government because it criticises political parties, including Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, BJP and CPI(M). Another recent controversial blockbuster was actor Vijay’s political action film ‘Sarkar’ that ran into trouble with the state’s ruling party AIADMK over its depiction of the late politician Jayalalithaa and her welfare schemes. Movie’s posters were vandalized, theatres witnessed violent protests, and the producer of the film, Sun Pictures, was forced to delete certain controversial scenes that depicted freebies given by a political party being thrown into the fire. One thing from this act also became clear that political parties cannot tolerate any satire on them.
In the backdrop of Vyapam Scam, a film ‘Halahal’ is made that will reveal the scam of college admissions and government recruitments involving several politicians, businessmen and civil servants in Madhya Pradesh. Produced by Zeishan Quadri, who was scriptwriter of ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, and directed by Randeep Jha, the film is more fictional though inspired by true events. “It is more or less a fictional story because we have fictionalised a lot but the backdrop is real,” Zeishan Quadri said. The movie is mainly shot in Amroha in Uttar Pradesh. The makers have planned to release the film on digital streaming platform instead of theatrical release.
However, the box office report of these movies points out that people are not really keen to watch these political biopics. Whereas, on the other hand, political biopics and saffron have become the new season of Bollywood, so masses will watch more biopics in coming days. As per sources, the latest to join the bandwagon are movies on RSS and Nitin Gadkari. Movies definitely help political leaders make headlines and these days films are becoming neo agitprops to spread the message before the polls.


On 2nd October, 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission was launched as a nationwide movement to clean India and make it Open Defecation Free (ODF) by 2019, 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It was PM Modi’s pet project and he infused lots of funds for the mission. Much water has flown since, quite literally as well, but nothing substantial has been achieved till date. This will also go down in the annals of history as a monumental governance failure.

Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist. He co-founded Asha for Education with Dr. Deepak Gupta and V.J.P Srivastava while working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar

A high profile Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) is on with the objective of providing toilets to every household in India. However, the scheme is marred by high expenditure on publicity and low achievements on ground. The government has not been able to make it corruption free either. In the end we’re likely to pollute our drinking water sources because of promotion of a faulty design. Government has finally resorted to publicity as it falls woefully short of its target of making India Open Defecation Free. Conspicuous by absence is the mention of role of sanitation workers in keeping India clean, all of whom belong to a particular Scheduled Caste.
Mahatma Gandhi has been a victim of this campaign, termed a people’s movement by the Prime Minister, as it appears that he didn’t have any other substantial contribution to make to the idea of India. Narendra Modi wants Gandhi to be known only for sanitation, not for truth, non-violence, satyagraha or communal harmony. For Swachh Bharat Mission is only about physical cleanliness and not about cleansing oneself of hatred, intolerance and parochial thinking.
The Number Game
In Gram Panchayat Uttar Kondh of Block Sandila in Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of over six hundred families only 310 toilets have been constructed. Only 50 of these families got the stipulated Rs 12,000 in their bank accounts to get these toilets made.
The Gram Pradhan took upon himself the responsibility of getting the toilets made in around 260 households by engaging a contractor which is against the norms laid down by the government for implementation of this scheme. Out of the 310 toilets made only 160 are in usable condition, 50 can’t be used because they have been constructed away from habitation and there is no water available near the toilets. In others either the soak pits have not been constructed or there is no door, making it difficult for women to use it. Eight households had built their own toilets before it became a government programme. 300 families in this Gram Sabha (GS) remain without a toilet but still the village has been declared ODF.
In Gram Pradhan (GP) Goni of neighbouring Block Bharawan of Hardoi district, 684 toilets have been shown to be constructed. 350 of these were constructed under SBM. The remaining were supposed to be constructed as part of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for which every family gets Rs. 1,20,000 including the Rs 12,000 for the toilet. However, in this GS not a single family which has built their houses as part of PMAY, has built its accompanying toilet. 100 families in the village have been left out of the sanitation and housing schemes. Of the 350 toilets constructed, in reality only about 200 are in use.
In GP Sua Gada of Bharawan Block there are about 600 families. 499 toilets have been made as part of SBM, of which 300 are in use but 50 are incomplete. 6 households had constructed their own toilets. In GP Lalamau Mawai of the same Block there are 300 families residing. 93 toilets have been shown to be built but actually only 50 are constructed. 200 families have been left out of SBM.
In GP Bengalput, also of Bharawan Block 283 toilets have been shown to be constructed, of which 260 have been actually made. 100 of these are in use, 160 are incomplete with either no soak pits built or with no doors. Out of approximately 400 families which reside in this GS about 100 have been left out of SBM.
In GP Rampur Atwa of the same Block out of 394 families residing here, 13 already had their own toilets and 236 got toilets made under the SBM. However, only about half of them are in use. A requisition for 182 more toilets has been made to the Block office. The target for Bharawan Block in 2017-18 was 14,283 toilets which was achieved but for 2018-19 it was 4,743 toilets for which half the amount, Rs 6,000 per toilet, is still awaited.
In GP Maharajganj Dheri of Block Moth in Jhansi district of UP two firms, Shamni Traders and Bitiya Enterprises, have been made payments by cheque for construction of toilets from the Gram Panchayat account against the norms, instead of crediting Rs 12,000 to each beneficiary’s bank account. A complaint to this effect was made to the District Magistrate on 21 December, 2018, however, no action has been taken so far. Out of 100 toilets shown to have been built by these two firms 43 toilets are non-existent.
Bida is the President of her Gram Panchayat’s Monitoring Committee of GP Kamlapuri, Block Palia in district Lakhimpur Khiri of UP. She took upon herself the responsibility of getting toilets made for villagers. She borrowed cement, iron rods, morang and bajri worth Rs 1,80,000 and bricks worth Rs 88,000 to get 60 toilets built in her Gram Sabha. Now she is finding it difficult to get these payments made from either the Gram Panchayat or the Block Office.
A 2011 baseline survey has been used to achieve the target of Open Defecation Free. As a result even after Villages and Blocks are being declared Open Defecation Free, a number of households are left out to defecate in open. The hurry to achieve ODF and corruption are yielding sub-standard quality of construction, a reason why people are not using the toilets even after they have been shown to be constructed. One solution fits all approach of the government with respect to SBM seems to have miserably failed.
Where’s The Money, Honey?
In spite of proclaiming himself as Chowkidar, Narendra Modi’s government has not been able to arrest the prevalent corruption in government schemes in the form of commissions. If anything, the rates have gone up. In SBM, the Gram Pradhans and government officials, bypassing the instruction of transferring Rs 12,000 to individual accounts of beneficiaries, have preferred to get centralised construction done in the name of efficiency and meeting the targets. A supplier from Barabanki, Uttam Nirman Kendra, which has provided about 400 pre-fabricated ferrocement toilets to GPs in Barabanki and Faizabad disticts of UP reported that Rs. 1,000 was being taken for every toilet by Gram Pradhans when these toilets were procured.
Gram Pradhan of Rampur Atwa in Hardoi, Rajeshwari, belonging to a SC community, complained that while she had to pay a small bribe at the Block office to get people from her GS registered for receiving toilets, there were middlemen who were taking money from people for supposedly getting them included in list of beneficiaries.
The Comedy Of Errors
Irony is that government has not cared to provide toilets to some of the lowest level workers in SBM working as volunteers without any honorarium whose task is to motivate others to build toilets for themselves. They have been provided with a torch, a whistle and a cap to keep an eye on people defecating in open. Members of Gram Panchayat level monitoring committees from district Lakhimpur Khiri, Shankaria and Hema Malini from Dhakia, Janewmati from Bhuda, Ramawati from Bisenpuri, Ishwari, Baldev, Anjali, Sushmawati, Rinki, Sharda, Sheela from Bhanpuri Khajuria, Guddi from Lalpur Dhaka, Barsati, Savitri, Sunita, Ria, Sabrunnisa from Kamlapuri, Sushila, Sarita, Sandhya of Krishnanagar Bhojhia, Jagdish from Murarkheda, Nirmala Devi from Krishnanagar all from Block Palia are some such examples of torch bearers of this scheme who don’t own a toilet themselves.
A number of these members of Monitoring Committees have also filed application under the Right to Information Act, 2005, asking the Prime Minister’s Office as to why they are not being given any honorarium whereas everybody above them, in the hierarchy of people implementing the SBM, is receiving a salary or working because of financial incentives. It is a strange people’s movement where except for people at the very bottom, rest everybody is working as a professional, receiving financial rewards.
Pitching The Wrong Pit
As brand ambassadors of SBM Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar have been promoting twin soak or leach pit toilets whereas in areas like UP and Bihar where water table is quite high there is a danger of ground water getting polluted because of this design. Any drinking water source should be at least 50 feet away from the soak pit. There should be a gap of 6 feet between the bottom of the soak pit, which is un-plastered or earthen, and the ground water table.
Engineering Professor GD Agrawal, who was known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand after he became an ascetic in 2011 and who gave up his life after fasting for 112 days last year demanding an uninterrupted flow of and clean Ganga, used to say that Ganga river basin area ‘floats’ over water. Hence, toilets being promoted by the government pose a real danger to the ground water. In such areas the safer design is septic tank. But everybody who has got anything to do with SBM is parroting promotion of soak pit design. Few wise people, like 5-6 families in GS Rampur Atwa of Hardoi supplemented the Rs 12,000 received from government and have built septic tanks with their toilets. However, there have been cases where people who built septic tank design were denied the Rs 12,000 grant as their design was not according to government approved specifications. Expert Ashok Jain says that 55% of India is unfit for the twin soak pit design.
In the end we may end up creating more mess by polluting substantial portion of ground water and then will have to invent another scheme to clean the ground water. This is a classic example of how modern development, in trying to solve one problem, creates further problems.
Desperate Times And Desperate Measures
As the next general elections approach, the government, having realized that it cannot meet the target of making usable toilets for everybody, is now engaged in massive wall painting exercise across the country to create an impression that a vibrant SBM is going on whereas one can see garbage strewn over at many places and people defecating in open still in large numbers.
The exorbitant publicity budget is a mockery of the people who still have to defecate in open, for the same money could have been used to build some more toilets. The government is holding the people guilty for defecating in open whereas the reality is that there are simply no toilets available for vast majority of people.
Gimmicky Government
Prime Minister Narendra Modi famously washed the feet of five sanitation workers on 24th February, 2019, during the Ardh Kumbh at Allahabad, now known as Prayagraj, as a mark of respect to their contribution to ensuring cleanliness during the month and a half long event. However, the need to undertake this exercise arose probably because there was a protest going on of sanitation workers during the event itself demanding minimum wages and better working conditions. A well known activist-poet from Allahabad Anshu Malviya was arrested on 8 February by Crime Branch of Police and threatened with imposition of National Security Act on him because he was at the forefront of organising the sanitation workers. After a protest by activists and sanitation workers he was finally released after midnight from a local police station.
Sanitation workers were getting Rs 295 per day as daily wages whereas they desired Rs 600, according to a minimum monthly honorarium of Rs 18,000, which is being demanded by national level trade unions.
Moreover, sanitation workers continue to die while inside sewer lines. On 10th November, 2018 Dinesh Paswan and Vikas Paswan died in an accident inside a sewer line in Chowkaghat locality of Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Narendra Modi, while Satyendra Paswan suffered a leg fracture. The district administration or the government did not take responsibility and instead the contractor Pankaj Srivastava was made to pay the compensation. The case was registered at Chetganj Police Station. The SBM has failed to mention the contribution of sanitation workers, all of whom belong without fail to a Scheduled Caste community, or to do anything to improve their working and living conditions. The act of Narendra Modi washing the feet of sanitation workers, which overwhelmed the basic demands of workers, seem to be motivated more by the forthcoming elections than any real regard for their basic rights - a respectable income, safe working conditions, education for their children, health care for their families and an insurance against accident.

No Dramatic Change In The PM’s Constituency

There is not much to write home about Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency in 2019. There are vocal supporters and vocal critics, more vocal critics now than there were in 2014. But there is an air of fear all over. Shopkeepers praise Modi and they lament that there is not much business. Academics refuse to speak on record. People complain there is an ugly sales pitch and culture is reduced to kitsch. But they do not lay the blame at the door of Modi. Those who grumble against him end up voting for him. Varanasi has no alternative to Modi

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

If Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to win his second term from Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency without much challenge, what then is there to write about the place? Surprisingly, there is much to write about. There is heated debate about the Modi impact on the ancient city.
The cab driver draws our attention to the widened roads, to the new lamp-posts in the city though he falls silent as we run into a traffic jam. There are more cars, more autorickshaws. What was there in April 2014 and which had disappeared in March 2019 are the rickshaws. The electric-rickshaws have taken their place. Both the autorickshaw and the electric-rickshaw drivers still fear the lathi-wielding policemen because they know they get a blow on their vehicles and on their arms before they are asked anything. But the police appeared more restrained.
Common, collective muteness
The only bit of change that can be seen is between Lalita Ghat and the Vishwanath temple, where scores of buildings have been demolished after paying generous compensation amounting to crores of rupees to the owners. There is rubble all around. The tourists use the uneven, muddy pathway as though it is beneath their pious dignity even to ask the reason for the broken houses standing all around them and numerous temples standing in the dug-up place. At one of the tea-stalls where the local wits gather mornings and evenings, there is heated debate about the rights and wrongs of it. But nothing more.
The surprising thing is that the demolition and reconstruction work had begun a few months ago, and no one is bothered whether it will be an issue in the election. The residents and shopkeepers who have been displaced murmur their disapproval and their displeasure but they have moved to their newly-assigned points without much ado. The few who argue against the demolition as violating the character of the city have not approached the courts nor have they tried to win public support for their cause. They say in a resigned note that the government will do what it wants to, and there is no way of stopping it.
A policeman at one of the checkpoints to the Vishwanath temple when asked what he feels about the changes says that it is Lord Vishwanath who rules the city, and all others are mere wayfarers, including political leaders. His ambiguous answer leaves the impression that he is not a cheerleader of candidate Modi in Varanasi.
Brewing hatred
You walk through the rubble and razed homes, and then through small clearance and again through the narrow lanes to the Vishwanath temple from Lalita Ghat. The talk is that the lanes will soon be history and that the temple will be visible from the Lalita Ghat, and the riverfront will be seen from the temple. On the way, one can see the domes of the Gyanvapi mosque built during Aurangzeb’s reign after the old temple structure had been demolished around 1669. The present Vishwanath temple was built in 1780 by Rani Ahalyabai of Holkar in Madhya Pradesh. It remains a flashpoint between the two communities of Hindus and Muslims, but it lies latent and rarely does it flare up. One of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Varanasi is that the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) along with its affiliate, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), will be raking up the issue and create an Ayodhya-like situation once the structures around the temple and mosque are cleared and an open ground is created.
Sanitising the past
The ghats have been partially cleaned and the Ganga is not yet satisfactorily clean even in Varanasi, and Hindu pilgrims ride to the other bank where the water is relatively clean to take their holy dip. But the waterfront buildings which had come up in the lasts two centuries still stand. But there does not seem to be an urban renovation and restoration plan that will preserve the old architectural styles of the city marking the passing of centuries while building new ones. Urban and historical aesthetics does not seem to bother the local authorities or the state government. Says haveli-turned-inn owner who is also a former academic in visual arts that the Mughal style buildings and paintings in Benaras are disappearing and it is a huge cultural loss to the historic city. There is an awareness and concern about the historic heritage of Varanasi, which seems to elude the politicians, including its current Member of Parliament (MP), Prime Minister Modi.
The attempt to introduce bigger cruise boats in the river has been opposed by the boatmen, who belong to the community of Mallas, and boatman Vishnu narrated that Prime Minister Modi had promised that he would protect the interests of the boatmen of Varanasi. Vishnu blamed Chief Minister Adityanath and Union Waterways Minister Nitin Gadkari for attempting to bring in the big cruise boats to Varanasi.
No one is blaming Modi for not transforming Varanasi into a smart city. But the city is changing on its own and at its own pace. One of the interesting examples of how it is transforming itself can be seen in the name of the Western style confectionary called Chocolate Heaven on one side of the road and an Indian style sweets shop called Ksheersagar on the other side. There was already a McDonalds in Varanasi in 2014 and the eating joints have only grown. There is the Sparrow Café near Assi Ghat where home-prepared food is advertised.
When scholars sing
But there is also fear hanging in the air, whether it is the garrulous salesmen in the saree shops or academics who love to hold forth. The saree salesmen say that Modi has done a lot of good and that he is going to win and when pressed to answer how their business was doing, they would start grumbling that the sales have gone down. But they cannot bring themselves to blame Modi’s economic policies.
They clam up, and their eulogy for the prime minister is buried in their silence. The academics are more self-conscious of the situation. They speak only on condition of anonymity and they are not unqualified critics of all that the Modi government has done. They believe that some of the programmes, especially the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, are more broad-based than their predecessors, the Indira Awas Yojana in PMAY’s case. But they agree that there has not been any radical change in the quality of life of the marginalized sections of society. There are more concerned with the growing intolerance in the campus and outside. If they were to speak their mind and they would be in trouble if they were identified. They see the rise and rise of right-wing Hindu ideology, and they think it is worse than the intolerance displayed by the dominant Leftist ideologues in the campus in their heyday.
One of them says that all top positions in the universities and educational institutions are entrusted to committed RSS folk. But there is a difference. For example, the former vice-chancellor of Benares Hindu University (BHU) was a proud RSS man who also boasted that he did no research after his M.A. But even the BJP government – the BHU is a central university – found it difficult to support him in the job, and he was replaced by a right-wing academic with distinction in science. Asked about the interference of BJP in campus politics, a local office-bearer said that the party kept away from it. But he said that government does interfere in the campus. “Government toh government hai (Government is government)”, he exclaimed. This is the story of Modi raj in Varanasi.

Modi in Parliament Not a parliamentarian

Never engaged in debate, never answered questions, never made statements after his record foreign visits. He used Parliament to give longish speeches on formal occasions like the Reply to the Motion of Thanks to the Address of President to the Joint Session of Parliament

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

2014 looks a long time ago. But on May 20, 2014, when he entered Parliament House, Narendra Modi made the dramatic gesture of genuflecting at the steps of the main entrance. In the Central Hall where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentary party meeting, where he was formally elected the leader, he talked in an emotional manner about responding to the needs of the poor. In his first speech in Lok Sabha, he declared that rivalries ended once the election results were announced and that members of the Lok Sabha from all parties need to work together for the country. He also sounded a note of uncharacteristic humility when he said that he was a first-time member of the House and if he were to make any mistakes, he needs the indulgence of the more experienced members.
Curiously, he spoke in the two Houses of Parliament only on formal occasions. He spoke in the Motion of Thanks to the Address of the President to the Two Houses of Parliament, where he held forth in various degrees of persuasion and denunciation, especially as the five-year term rolled on, he was expansive in asserting the vision and achievements of his government and generally dismissive of the opposition. He spoke on special occasions like the Constitution Day on November 26, 2016, the day the Constitution of India was adopted in 1949 and which also coincided with the year of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, at the midnight joint session of parliament on the on the occasion of the rolling out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a major tax reform, on the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement in August 9, 2017, reply to the no-confidence motion brought by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) on July 20, 2018. The only time in five years that Modi had intervened pro-actively was on December 4, 2014, when he asked Rajya Sabha to accept the apology of first time Member of Parliament and Minister of State for Food Processing, Sadhvi Nikunj Jyoti, who referred to the Muslims in objectionable language.
There was an uproar in the House, and Modi interjected. He said, “unhone Kshama maangi aur mai maanta hoon ki Kshama maangne ke baad is sadan mein itne varisht log baithe hai, itne anubhavi log baithe hai ki Kshama ke prati unka bhaav kya rahtaa hai, ham us se bhali-bhaanti parichit hai…mein sadan se aagrah karoonga, prarthana karoonga ki jab mantriji ne Kshama maangi hai aur ham sab ke liye yeh ek Sandesh bhi hai, aage se ham bhi, sabhi log in saare Do’s and Don’t’s ke vishay mein koi maryaadaayein na tode aur mein sadan se aagrah karoonga ki ham desh hit mein apne kaarya ko aura age badhaaye.’ (She has sought forgiveness and I feel that after she has sought forgiveness in the House where the veterans are sitting, and so many experienced people are sitting that they know what is meant by the seeking of forgiveness, I would request and I would beseech that after the minister has sought forgiveness and it is a message for all of us, that even we, all of us that no one should break the Do’s and Don’t’s of conventions and I request the House that it should get back to the work of doing what is good for the country and take it forward.) This intervention needed to be quoted because it is the only time he intervened in Parliament. It does not show his usual aggression. The prime minister sought to strike a calming note but he has done it in the most ambiguous way. He emphasised the fact that she has sought forgiveness though Sadhvi Ninkuj Jyoti had merely said that if she had hurt any one’s sentiments, she regrets it. It was not an unqualified apology. That is why the opposition leaders said after the prime minister’s statement that the minister did not apologise.
While speaking formally too, Prime Minister Modi could be seen breaking the bounds of parliamentary courtesy. In his reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address on February 8, 2017, he attacked former prime minister Manmohan Singh: “Doctor saab se bahut kuchh seekhne jaisa hai, itna saaraa hua aur un par ek daag nahi laga. Bathroom mein rain-coat pehen kar nahaana, is kala ko toh doctor saab hi jaante hai aur doosra nahin jaanta hai.” (There is much to learn from the Doctor [Manmohan Singh], so much [scandals] has happened but he suffered no blemish. Only the Doctor knows how to take a bath in a raincoat, no one else does.) The figure of speech was quite vulgar in parliamentary terms.
It created another uproar in the Congress benches. Modi never conceded to the Congress demand that he should apologise for his ‘unparliamentary’ remark. It was left to the Leader of the House Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to say that the government held Dr Singh in the high respect and that the former prime minister’s integrity was never in doubt.
It was again in August 2017 that Prime Minister Modi crossed the boundaries of decorum when he unsubtly hit out against the outgoing Vice President and Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Hamid Ansari, saying that Ansari can now feel free his views which were determined by Muslim-centric world-view because he had served mostly in Muslim countries. It was a farewell speech and it was parliamentary practice to speak well of the person laying down the office. Modi could have said that he did not agree with Ansari’s views, but he respected him all the same. That was what one would have expected from the prime minister of the country. But Modi proved time and again that he had no taste for niceties, and he would rather be blunt to the point of disrespecting a person. It would be unfair to see Modi’s negative remark about Ansari in isolation. He also confessed that whenever he (Modi) met him (Ansari) after a foreign visit, his (Ansari’s observations) had taught him something valuable and useful about the world of diplomacy.
Most of his speeches in both Houses of Parliament were more like stump speeches, where he would denigrate the opposition and pat himself and his party on the back, enumerate the real and the not-so-real virtues and achievements of his government. He did not understand that Parliament is a forum to explain the government’s policies and standpoint, and that it is not a place for declamation except for the odd occasion.
Most interesting is the fact that he did not make a single statement after his apparent record number of foreign visits where bilateral talks were held and agreements signed. It was left to Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to read out the government’s formal statement in Parliament. Modi was holding the portfolios of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space. It is indeed the tradition that the minister of state in the prime minister’s office responded to questions related to this ministry and to these departments, but the prime minister would occasionally respond to the questions himself. But Modi did not ever do it, and he even gave the impression that he avoided it. It is true that the prime minister should speak on major issues of policy but involvement in parliamentary proceedings at others levels is also expected of him. It is a fact that he covered all the bases on policy and initiatives in his formal reply to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, but it deprived him of taking in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. It seemed that the prime minister did not relish the prospect of engaging with the leaders of opposition.
At the end of his first speech on June 11, 2014, which was his reply to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, Modi said, “aaj naye sadan mein mujhe apni baat bataane ka avsar mila. Aadaraneeya adhyaksha mahodaya ji, kayee koyee shabd idhar-udha ho gaya ho, agar mein niyamon ke bandhan se baahar chalaa gayaa hoon toh yah sadan mujhe zaroor Kshama karega.” (I had an opportunity to place my views before this new House. Respected Madam Speaker, if somewhere I had slipped in my use of words, and went beyond the limitations of the rules, the House will surely forgive me.)
In his last speech in Lok Sabha on February 13, 2019, Modi had displayed his characteristic satirical observances which showed a rare glimpse of humour and wit. He said: “mein pehli baar yahaan aayaa thhaa, mujhe bahut see cheezein nayee jaan ne ko milee, jiska mujhe kuchh arth hee zindagi mein pataa naheen thhaa. Pehlee mujhe pataa chalaa ki galey milnaa aur galey padnaa mein kyaa antar hota hai. Yeh mujhe pehlee baar pataa chalaa hai. Mein pehlee baar dekh rahaa hoon ki sadan mein aankhon sey gustaakhiyaan hoti hai. Yeh aankhon ki gustaakhiyon wala khel bhi pehlee baar isee sadan mein dekhne ko mila aur desh ki media ney bhi uska bahut mazaa liya.” (I have come here for the first time and I got to know many new things, things whose meaning I did not know in my life. For the first time, I came to know the difference between embracing and being a burden around one’s neck. This I have learnt for the first time. I am seeing for the first time the games that can be played with eyes. This eye game I have seen for the first time in the House and the national media too saw it and enjoyed it.)
Modi spoke his long pieces in the two Houses without notes. He showed that he could speak at length extempore, though not with the same charm as did Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At the end of his first term as Member of Parliament, Modi has still to acquire the skills of a parliamentarian.

Of Tall Claims & Long Roads

Nitin Gadkari or rather “Roadkari” has been one of the few leaders in the current dispensation whose work speaks more than the words. Despite the honest and innovative efforts of the Minister, the targets haven’t been met. The tall claims of the Modi government will be tested in the upcoming elections, when Modi’s star minister’s efforts will be put to test

Reeta Singh
Reeta Singh

Reeta Singh is a senior journalist with over 30 years’ of experience in print and electronic media. She is also a social activist, working on gender issues

Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari’s office has a photo adorning its wall with a quote of former US president John F Kennedy saying: “American roads are good not because America is rich. America is rich because American roads are good.” It seems it represents the minister’s zeal to improve the lot of road infrastructure in the country. It also justifies his nickname “Roadkari” - given by late Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray.
Gadkari also holds charge of Shipping, Water Resources and Ganga Rejuvenation. No doubt he has tried hard to improve roads, build new highways, start shipping in 10 rivers and cleaning of Ganga. He has been making tall claims as well. Recently, he claimed that India’s achievements during past five years surpass its cumulative achievements of preceding 60 years. He also promised to clean Ganga before the end of tenure of the current government. Gadkari claimed to introduce e-vehicles and promised to have significant number of such vehicles on Indian roads by 2019. He also claimed to have doubled the pace of highway construction from about 12 km per day in 2014-15, to 27 km per day during 2017-18. He had set a target of accelerating the pace further to 40 km per day during 2018-19.
If the claim was true, the Jaipur-Delhi Expressway would have been completed in seven days during 2018-19 or in 10 days during 2017-18. But the Expressway is far from completion even though the work has been going on it during the entire duration of Gadkari’s five-year long tenure. Same is true for other highways – like 60 km long Delhi-Meerut, or 500 km long Delhi-Bareilly-Lucknow highway. All weather road connecting Kashmir Valley to Jammu hasn’t taken shape. Ganga is as clean (or dirty) as it was five years ago and shipping hasn’t started in any of the rivers. Does that call for Gadkari’s rechristening as “Ghoshna Mantri”?
The Road Not Taken
Putting up a plaque of Kennedy’s quote is one thing and following it to the last detail is just another. The Ministry, for example, has allocated only 4 per cent of its budget towards maintenance of 1.15 lakh kms of national highways. In comparison, in 2014-15 the US government allocated about 48 per cent of its total budget - $19.2 billion- on roads and highways towards the maintenance of existing facilities for a total highway length of 16.37 lakh kms. Lesser money results in national highways with potholes, weak bridges, poor pavements and obviously more accidents.
The government has been able to set tall targets but hasn’t achieved more than 55 per cent in the last three years. The road construction target for 2017-18 was 15,000 km, of which 4,292 km was constructed till November 30, 2017 (33%). This suggests a rate of construction of 20 km/day. This is slightly lower than the rate of construction for last year which was 22 km/day. Given that 33% of the target length has been constructed in the first eight months of the year, it remains to be seen how much of the target will be completed in the remaining four months.
The CAG had noted that between 2009-10 to 2012-13, the rate of NH construction was between 3.06 km/day and 17.81 km/day, as compared to a target of 20 km/day. The Standing Committee on Transport found that none of the targets could be met due to shortage of funds. The projects could not be completed due to various reasons such as delays in obtaining clearances, poor financial and technical performance of the contractors, as well as law and order issues.
The Committee on Public Undertakings (2017) had noted that from 1995, till June 2016, out of the total 388 projects completed, only 55 projects were completed on or before time. Delays in the completion of the projects were mainly attributed to: the long time taken in land acquisition, and obtaining environment and forest clearances, poor performance of concessionaires due to economic slowdown, and law and order issues.
The CAG had noted that several road projects get stalled due to court injunctions. As on July 31, 2017, 30 road projects with a total cost of Rs 11,216 crore were stayed for three years. Such delays increase project costs, eventually making certain projects unviable.
From January 1, 2015, the compensation for land acquired by NHAI is determined as per the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. The Committee on Public Undertakings (2017) had noted that due to higher compensation under the 2013 Act, the expenditure by the Ministry of Road Transport on land acquisition increased from Rs 9,097 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 21,933 crore in 2015-16. The Committee also observed that farmers who were entitled to lesser compensation under the older law, have been approaching courts for increased compensation. This has further delayed the land acquisition process and added to the cost of projects.
NHAI too hasn’t been able to utilise the funds allocated to it. Funds left unspent at the end of a financial year is shown as ‘opening balance’ at the beginning of the next financial year. This opening balance was Rs 2,672 crore and Rs 6,740 crore for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively.
The roads sector is facing several constraints such as availability of land for NH expansion and upgradation, significant increase in land acquisition cost, lack of equity with developers, bottlenecks and checkpoints on national highways, higher cost of financing; and shortfall in funds for maintenance. Further, the value of NPAs in the infrastructure sector (including roads and highways) has been increasing, with NPAs at around Rs 2.6 lakh crore as of November 2016.
Where The Rubber Meets The Road
The award and construction of highways during past five years has been higher than ever before. Work on major projects like Bharatmala and Sagarmala has started. Initiatives like innovative financing models, streamlining of land acquisition process, coordinated efforts to address environment and other inter ministerial issues have started.
Gadkari’s stint as Maharashtra PWD Minister had established his credentials. Having completed Mumbai-Pune expressway in record time, building 56 flyovers in crowded Mumbai besides of course conceiving Bandra-Worli sea-link wasn’t a mean feat. He had claimed then that he had completed works worth Rs. 8,000 crore with a meagre equity of Rs 5 crore. He had hoped to bring in same expertise and same business, administrative and governance model to Delhi as well. But that proved to be much tougher than he had thought. Around 53,000 km of NHs have been identified to improve National Corridor efficiency, of which 24,800 km are to be taken up in Phase-I, which will be implemented over a period of five years, i.e., 2017-18 to 2021-22 in a phased manner. This includes 5,000 km of the National Corridors, 9,000 km of Economic Corridors, 6,000 km of Feeder Corridors and lnter-Corridors, 2,000 km of Border Roads, 2,000 km of Coastal Roads and Port Connectivity Roads and 800 km of Green-field Expressways. Total likely fund provision for Bharatmala Phase-I is Rs 5.35 lakh crore.
Raising funds for highway construction is always a big challenge. The situation was even tougher in 2014 and land acquisition had become tougher owing to a stern Land Acquisition Act, 2013. But Gadkari is known to come out with unconventional, out-of-the-box solutions. As Maharashtra’s PWD minister in late 1990s Gadkari introduced Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model. Mumbai-Pune Expressway was the first major Public-Private Partnership project. In 2014 he devised Hybrid Annuity Model, which has lesser risk for the private players. This model needs private construction companies to contribute 60 per cent of the project cost while 40 per cent cost is borne by the government.
Gadkari was also instrumental behind introducing India’s first asset monetisation project, Toll-Operate-Transfer. Innovative infrastructure bonds have been introduced to raise funds for highways.
Gadkari also initiated work in Multi Modal Transport System involving railways, highways, inland waterways and airports to put in place an effective transportation grid. The objective was to make freight transportation in the country more efficient by facilitating the use of a favourable modal mix of transport, thereby reducing logistics, costs and also pollution. This is proposed to be done by developing 35 multi-modal logistics parks to serve as centres for freight aggregation and distribution, multi-modal transportation, storage, warehousing and value-added services, besides construction of 50 Economic Corridors, upgrading key feeder and inter corridor routes and constructing 10 inter-modal stations to integrate various transportation modes.
It was because of such initiatives that a well-known journalist wrote last year about Gadkari: “If a prize is instituted for the most effective ministers in the Narendra Modi-led government, the first would probably be given to Nitin Gadkari. He is a bundle of energy and ideas and delivered on the ground”. Gadkari takes note of all recommendations and requests from MPs irrespective of their party and acts upon them.

The Silver Lining
Gadkari has indeed undertaken lot of work, especially speeding up construction of highways. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, according to last year’s CAG report, has awarded of 51,073 km of National Highway projects and constructed 28,531 km over a four year period from 2014-15 to 2017-18. Construction of National Highways has more than doubled from 12 km /day in 2014-15 to 27 km/day in 2017-18 and the total investments in the sector has increased by 2.5 times compared to 2014-15. This was achieved through multiple policy initiatives taken by the Ministry like the Hybrid Annuity Model, Toll Operate Transfer Model (TOT), increased threshold for project appraisal and approval, support for languishing projects, enhanced inter-ministerial coordination etc.
The changes introduced by Gadkari include mandating use of technology in preparation of detailed project reports (DPRs), streamlining of land acquisition process, performance management system at NHAI, revision of selection and payment criteria for DPR consultants, and time-bound and online approval of projects etc. These process transformations were implemented through various digital initiatives such as the Project Monitoring and Information System (PMIS) for monitoring project management. PMIS provides customized dashboards and all the projects along with toll plazas, traffic survey points have been mapped on a GIS platform. PMIS provides customized dashboards and automatically identifies projects that are delayed to enable better project management.
Under the ambitious Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I, a total of 34,800 kms including the balance road works under the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) are to be completed by 2021-22. The Ministry has also begun the implementation of an ERP system to integrate more than sixty software and tools.
The Ministry has developed the Bidder Information Management System (BIMS) to streamline the process of pre-qualification of bidders with enhanced transparency and objectivity. BIMS would reduce human intervention in awarding work thereby bringing in more transparency.
Land Acquisition Modernised
Bhoomi Rashi, the portal developed by MoRTH and NIC, comprises the entire revenue data of the country, right down to 6.4 lakh villages. The entire process of flow, from submission of draft notification by the State Government to its approval by the Minister and its publication in e-Gazette, is online. This has reduced the time taken for land acquisition.
Integration of Public Financial Management System (PFMS) with Bhoomi Rashi is one of the key steps to facilitate payment related to compensation for land acquisition to all the beneficiaries directly through the Bhoomi Rashi system.
PFMS provides various stakeholders with a real time, reliable and meaningful management information system and an effective decision support system. The integration of Bhoomi Rashi with PFMS will streamline the process of disbursement of compensation. India has one of the largest road networks in the world with about 47 lakh km of road length. This road length includes National Highways, Expressways, State Highways, district roads, PWD roads, and project roads. In India, road infrastructure is used to transport over 60% of total goods and 85% of total passenger traffic. The country has received only half of what was promised in 2014, and in subsequent years. Targets were being constantly raised but they were so steep that only 50-55 per cent were met. One can only say… a lot more road to cover.

The Original ‘Accidental Prime Minister’

Pushed suddenly by fate and politics scheming into country’s top executive’s chair, HD Deve Gowda had tried some positive stuff but is now a reluctant retiree from politics

G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT


He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, four terms from Hassan
His two achievements have been framing the National Agro policy and solving the Farakka dam row
His mega vision of the airstrip in Hassan has not taken off, leaving people unhappy
But now with a battery of his family in politics, he seems unable to retire
Did Sanjay Baru get it wrong, really? Who is the ‘Accidental Prime Minister’? Dr Manmohan Singh? No, it is Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda who served as the 11th Prime Minister of India from 1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997, for a period of little more than 10 months.
Gowda was born on 18 May 1933 in Haradanahalli, a village in Holenarasipura taluk, of the erstwhile Kingdom of Mysore (now in Hassan, Karnataka) into a Vokkaliga family. His father was a farmer.
He often describes himself as ‘Mannina Maga’ (son of the soil). He has been a member of the Lok Sabha six times, out of which four terms were from Hassan.
In the 1996 general elections, Congress headed by PV Narasimha Rao lost decisively but no other party won enough seats to form a government. When the United Front (a conglomeration of non-Congress and non-BJP regional parties) decided to form the Government at the Centre with the support of the Congress, Deve Gowda was unexpectedly chosen to head the government and became the 11th Prime Minister of India. Two of his significant achievements have the framing of the National Agro policy and solving the Farakha dam row. However, as MP how has his performance been this term?
He is one of the regulars in the House and taken part in debates whenever given a chance. Even at his age, he was prominently seen at all important events including R-Day and I-Day functions. “In Hassan, he is the king. No one can take him on,” says Prasad Gowda, one of his party spokesmen. The partymen respect him and their devotion to him is almost total. He is regularly seen in Hassan, especially in his native place Holenarasipura as well. And he maintains close contact with his voters and, like his friend DMK president Late Karunanidhi, remembers most of them by name.

Airfield Fighter
Hassan was a little known small town. Today it is a major city and well connected by good roads.
One of the major projects, the brainchild of Deve Gowda has been the Hassan greenfield airport. It has been hanging in the air for the last two decades, but with continuous push from the celebrity MP, the Civil Aviation Ministry last year directed the state government to acquire an additional 200 acres for the purpose. The district authority had already acquired 536 acres in 2007 for this.
The foundation stone was laid one-and-a-half decades ago near Bhuvanahalli, in the outskirts of Hassan city. Senior officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Director General of Civil Aviation had visited the land earmarked for the airstrip but refused to clear the project citing technical reasons. In 2016, the then Deputy Commissioner had convened a meeting of land owners and revenue officials to fix the compensation to acquire additional land and had issued notices to farmers of Bhuvanahalli, Sankenahalli, Lakshmisagara, Thendihalli, Devalapura and G Mylanahalli.
Hassan business community is of the view that industries and tourism in the district would get a boost with the completion of a full-fledged airstrip. The farmers have demanded a better compensation rate and demanding a job for one of the members of their families. S Siddarth, project engineer of Jupiter Aviation, says his company will start work on the project immediately after the state government hands over the land. Jupiter Aviation had signed an MoU with state government to build airport under PPP mode.
The farmers have been demanding Rs 2 crore per acre, while the officers have offered a maximum of Rs 32 lakh per acre. The landowners have strongly opposed the rate offered by the government. BV Karigowda, a former legislator, says the price offered was insufficient even to purchase sites in the SM Krishna Layout, recently developed by Hassan Urban Development Authority.

Good & Bad
Out of the Rs 25 crore allocated to him under the MPLAD funds during this term, he has been able to utilise 50 per cent of funds. He has recommended works worth Rs 14.52 crore and almost 95 per cent of the money has been spent by the district authorities.
Most of these have gone to infrastructure related works but a sizeable chunk has gone to Holenarasipura segment. As one drives through Hassan, one can notice that a lot of road works is being done but according to local people, the execution has been quite slow.
On the face of it, many people here take pride in the fact that a former prime minister represents their constituency but there is also unhappiness over the lack of development, growing unemployment and farmers’ distress in the region.
Villagers in the district rue the fact that the region has not seen much development compared to Shivamogga and Bengaluru despite electing political heavyweight like Gowda as MP.
Hassan, a JD(S) bastion, is dominated by the Vokkaliga community to which Deve Gowda belongs. “We are facing drinking water problems for the last 10 years. Because of poor rains, the groundwater level has gone down and the two borewells which 150 houses depend upon, are not working properly,” says Vanjashri, who stays in Sathigala area of Sakleshpur constituency.
In some remote places, women have to walk about 2 km daily to fetch drinking water from small streams that flow nearby. Many feel disheartened that Deve Gowda has failed to address their concern despite getting elected multiple times from the region. “We had high expectation from Deve Gowda. He is known as ‘mannina maga’ (son of the soil). What has he done for poor farmers?” asks Malleshappa, who owns 15 acres of coffee plantation in Sakleshpur.
“Pepper prices have crashed due to cheaper imports. If the situation continues, farmers will sell the agriculture land and look for jobs in cities. The price we get for the produce does not cover the cost of production,” he stresses.
“Youth are getting educated from here but not getting jobs. They have to migrate to Bengaluru for jobs, where with a meagre salary they cannot afford a living. There are no industries here,” BJP candidate from Hassan Assembly constituency Pritam Gowda says.

Parched People
On the drinking water crisis, he says there is “lack of willingness” from incumbent JD(S) MLA to ensure people get smooth supply of water. “Hemavathi river is just 15 kms away. They have taken water from this river to places like Tiptur, Tumkur and Arsikere through Hassan. Hassan people are not getting drinking water,” Pritam Gowda says.
Lack of water, unemployment, farmers in dire straits due to crash in prices and poor connectivity to Bengaluru are the main problems that have remained unsolved over the years. But the question everyone asks is whether Deve Gowda raised these issues in Parliament. And though he is a frequent visitor to the constituency, he has not appointed any trusted lieutenant to stand in for him when he is away.
Even for the media, it is difficult to track his movements. His personal staff is not helpful and some of them behave as if he is still the prime minister.
Family Fundamentals
Gowda plays his cards close to his chest. Apart from ‘guiding’ his son Kumaraswamy to run state politics, he also has to take care of his ambitious family members.
But he surely knows time is running out for him. And now by all accounts family comes first for him. Son Kumaraswamy is state chief minister, another son Revanna is Public Works minister in the state cabinet, daughter-in-law Anitha Kumaraswamy is an MLA, two of his grandsons —Nikhil and Prajwal – are contesting the elections to become MPs, and so on.
The patriarch of the family can be satisfied that he has done his duty for them. But his voters and supporters are still unhappy. And, he knows fully well that there are “Miles to go” before he sleeps.
In-Conversation with HD Deve Gowda

“Rahul closer to people than Modi”
You had said many times in the past that you would retire and will not contest another election. But now you are still in the field. Do you aspire to be the prime minister again?
Absolutely not. I am 86 and not getting any younger. My spirit may be willing but body may not. I wanted to concentrate on Karnataka only and help my party JD(S) to emerge stronger. But, both my partymen and some of the senior opposition leaders (he avoids giving out names) have insisted that I return to the Lok Sabha. In the event of opposition coming to power, they would need my advice and so I accepted it in the national interest.
Out of 8 seats allocated to us by Congress, we may easily win 6 or 7. Who am I in a House of 545 (to ask to become PM)?
Your close aide Danish Ali has joined Mayawati’s BSP. Is there any secret deal between JD(S) and BSP?
Danish Ali joined BSP with my blessings only. Our party has no presence in Uttar Pradesh, which is his native state. So, if he wants to contest elections, I cannot field him from there. His contesting from Karnataka is ruled out. We had a detailed discussion (again, with whom he did not say who he had that with) and decided that it would be better he joined Mayawati’s party. He would be a key man for us post the LS elections.
You have given tickets to two grandsons — Prajwal from Hassan and Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil from Mandya. People say JD(S) has been reduced to a family party.
I am very much pained by this. Some leaders who have grown because of this party say Gowda had not allowed them to grow. It’s they who say this party has been reduced to a family party, a caste-based party. I don’t want to allow this party to sink and that is why I am working hard.
You have blessed the mahagathbandhan initiated by Chandrababu Naidu. Will you be able to stop Modi from returning to power?

Yes, surely, it will be difficult for the BJP to get a majority on its own. Modi’s image has taken a beating and that is why they have come up with the upper caste quota.

What happened to demonetisation and other measures?
Everything failed. It will be difficult (for BJP) to get a majority.
What do you feel about the coalition government headed by your son and its stability?
Though the JD(S) and the Congress have had differences for years, we came together to form the government. After the assembly elections, the Congress took a firm stand that it is going to support Kumaraswamy for five years. The entire state is watching what is happening now. Stability of the government depends on the Congress too.

In this long political journey, do you have any regrets?
My only regret was not completing full terms as prime minister of India and chief minister of Karnataka. I was chief minister only for two years –1994-96 — and then I was called to perform national duty. Had I been able to complete my full term here, Karnataka would have been a different state by now, a front runner in all areas.
I laid the foundation stone for the longest bridge across River Brahmaputra in Assam. The Bogibeel bridge, one of several major infrastructural projects to be set up in Assam in accordance with the Assam pact. The foundation of the bridge was laid in January 1997 by me. Yet, when Modi inaugurated it with much fanfare and media publicity, I was not even invited for the event. It really hurts. That is why I visited the place a couple of months ago to see it for myself.
During my tenure as PM, I had visited the North-East extensively – something which no other Prime Minister had done before. There was no communal violence in any part of the country, including in Jammu and Kashmir.
Did you get due credit to your achievements?
Not certainly from the media. I am not going to blame because I was not able to cultivate the media like the present prime minister because my focus had been on the administration. Frequently meeting media, pampering and manoeuvring; I didn’t do that. How has been your relationship with Congress leaders?
I do not have many happy memories except for PV Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi, who has always shown a lot of respect for me.
How do you rate Rahul Gandhi?
He is much more matured, mellowed down now. As a young man, when he made his debut in politics, he used to shoot his mouth and repeat whatever was told to him. He has come a long way and is closer to the masses than Modi. Only time will tell what is in store for him. He is very much like his father Rajiv who was thrust into politics in unforeseen circumstances.

East’s Femme Fatale

Mamata Banerjee held out a strong case as the Opposition’s PM candidate, but neither the Congress nor the Left agreed to her role

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

THERE has been much brouhaha about the January 19 Mega Opposition Conclave hosted by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee; a critical stock-taking too might have been done in various sections of the media. Perhaps, the one that follows, might as well be stale within a fortnight or so. The overriding reason is obvious: it’s poll time and permutations and combinations fluctuate and shape up all too suddenly, taking even the seasoned poll forecaster off guard.
One example at the beginning would be enough; the Bharatiya Janata Party and its now-sweet-again-sour, belligerent partner Shiv Sena have forged a deal in Maharashtra for the assembly as well as Lok Sabha polls, having buried long-drawn hatchets. And in New Delhi, AAP and the Congress have sworn not to make an inquest of the body (read rivalry) after exhuming it from the coffin and embraced a new relationship around the Valentine’s Day!
Be that as it may, Mamata Banerjee’s mega show of galvanising the virtual` who’s who’ from the Opposition at the beginning of the year served a unifying force at the nick of time. Didi, it must be conceded, still commands the gusto to liaise and egg on the tie-ups with a single point agenda – BJP Hatao/Bharat Bachao. That she succeeded in gathering together ‘heterogeneous heads’ under a single roof, is no doubt, quite commendable. However, the point that is a logical follow-through, is, what after this; the conclave had to keep at bay the crucial question of who would be at the helm of the country replacing Narendra Modi in the coming polls, she had perforce to declare at a subsequent meet in New Delhi that the burning issue of the prime ministerial candidate of the Opposition would be declared in due course.
Many in the Opposition, as also in Trinamool Congress, found in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee the best qualities of an emcee executed with tremendous professionalism. Because she took it upon herself the role of playing the anchor-woman so that nothing went amiss nor the top-notch leaders of the Opposition - Mallikarjun Kharge, Sharad Pawar, Chandrababu Naidu, Arvind Kejriwal, Farooq and Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh and Tejashwi Yadav, Shatrughan Sinha, Yashwant Sinha, and the last, but not the least, Narendra Modi’s two main tormentors in his home state of Gujarat, Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Left-leaning Dalit mascot Jignesh Mevani - would feel hurt during any time of the grand unity show.
The questions or the issues that have been hogging the limelight in the political vortex in the aftermath of the successful conclave, are: • Is she engaged in astute political manoeuvring to slowly establish her credentials as an alternative to Modi, given the united show of the opposition in the rally convened by her?
• Is she sending an indirect yet firm signal to Sonia Gandhi-Rahul Gandhi (and now Priyanka Vadra Gandhi)-led Congress that the contest for the hot seat post the Lok Sabha elections will not go undisputed?
• Did the Modi-Shah-led BJP deliberately allow the conclave to be a successful in order to take the heat and media attention away from Rahul Gandhi?
• Can the conclave be construed as part of a BJP gameplan to drive a wedge in the opposition unity with one block supporting Mamata as the future PM and another Rahul or Priyanka (a political greenhorn though)?

Major Issue
The last issue has already gained credence, as within a few days after the rally DMK leader Stalin had declined to accept Mamata Banerjee’s leadership at the centre and made it clear that the Southern states would love to see Rahul Gandhi as the next PM. BSP chief Mayawati from Uttar Pradesh too challenged the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
In sharp contrast, RJD leader and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav reposed full faith in Didi, while Chandrababu Naidu is yet to officially accept her as the future PM.
Naidu had lavished praise on her at the rally though, appreciating her sincere efforts to raise the pitch of the fight against the BJP at all levels. So, the BJP, one may assume, has gained post the mega Mamata rally in two ways; first, it succeeded in keeping the issue of the prime ministerial candidate still burning. Secondly, seeds of division in the opposition unity over the same issue, have been carefully sown.
Congress Sails
True, the Congress got wind of it and struck fast in a quick counter-attack, by declaring and roping in Priyanka Gandhi as the party chief in Uttar Pradesh, the Yogi Adityanath-ruled state BJP has still been banking on a potential yield in terms of seats in the coming parliamentary polls. As for Didi, it was a mixed fare. She had a groundswell of support for her commitment to float an anti-BJP front at the national level. That she could stitch together a heterogeneous front and remain at the helm without triggering a single divisive voice, proved beyond doubt her credentials as a seasoned administrator.
All this has also made her a serious challenger for the top job.
On the home front, she, however, suffered some reverses a little later. What we cannot afford to forget is the fact that she had made the announcement of the mega opposition rally on July 21, 2018, long before the anti-BJP mood-swing could really have gathered the present storm. “Where was that pronounced swing against the BJP?” asked a senior Trinamool Congress leader. Didi, undeniably, has been mocked for her call ‘Delhi Chalo’; as if, she has been raring to go for the hot seat, come what may.
Her success has also ferried some worries for the Congress leadership.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge and Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who were present at the rally, carried a special missive from Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Though both of them were invited, the mother-son duo gave the gathering a miss. Reasons cited were a bit mysterious though both wished the rally a grand success.
The West Bengal unit of the Congress boycotted the conclave on the plea that it could hardly participate in a unity show with a party which ‘is no different from Modi’.
By dispatching Kharge and Singhvi, the Congress leadership might have just been testing the waters as also the overall mood of the opposition camp, and whether the leaders were really missing the presence of Rahul Gandhi. But she being Mamata Banerjee, Didi completely overshadowed everything, let alone the absence of Rahul Gandhi. It was abundantly clear to all those present on the dias; she made none feel the absence of the Gandhi parivar. And as stated earlier that Rahul would not be the undisputed king of the throne has been made categorically clear.
CBI War!
Hardly had Mamata Banerjee started basking in the glory of the magnificent gathering when she was greeted by a rude jolt. She got embroiled in a fierce controversy involving the jurisdiction of the CBI and that of the state government and its police force.
Citing victimisation and vengeance (by the Modi government for organising the Opposition Conclave, she indulged in a ruckus that hardly befits the stature of a chief minister. Instead of asking the Kolkata Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, who happens to be a close confidante of Didi, to come to her place or office, the chief minister herself drove to the official residence of the top cop to prevent his purported arrest by the CBI sleuths over the multi-crore Saradha chit fund scam that ruined millions.
The dharna that subsequently followed and the coercive action by the Bengal police against the CBI officers hardly behove a federal apparatus where the rule of the law is very well defined.
The CBI raid at the residence of Kumar, who had reportedly been evading summons by the CBI, had been described as ‘an affront on the federal set up’ by the chief minister who launched the ‘Save Democracy’ dharna.
Barely a week back, Mamata, the succinct force behind the massive rally, who had demonstrated her extraordinary ability to unite leaders of diverse ideologies, was suddenly reduced to a situation from where the Supreme Court directive, fortunately, provided her with the dire oxygen and a face-saving exit route.
Had not the CBI top brass moved the apex court and the latter not come up with an interim directive, the ill-conceived dharna would have continued! Even though she claimed it (the SC directive) to be a moral victory, there is no doubt that the directive itself was a severe loss of face for her.
The apex court issued contempt notices against her top officials and directed the CBI to conduct the interrogation of the top cop at a ‘neutral’ venue – Shillong; this only suggests that the same could not be conducted even-handedly in Kolkata. Doesn’t this clearly shed a poor light on her governance?
Opposition Words
Both the opposition CPIM and Congress in the state lambasted her for what the parties described as ‘shameless act of providing protection’ to a top cop, triggering a bevvy of questions.
“She did not demonstrate an identical alacrity when her party MP Sudip Banerjee was arrested by the CBI. Does Rajeev Kumar hold some special key to the Saradha scam?” asked the state Congress chief Somen Mitra who happens to be Mamata’s strong bete noire.
What is equally intriguing is the fact that after so much of noise and the resultant heat, the chief minister had to shunt out Rajeev Kumar from the post of Kolkata police commissioner to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as its head. The grilling of Kumar at Shillong has still been on, though. Secondly, the chief minister who has been crying hoarse about being a champion of democracy and questioning the Modi government’s constitutional propriety, is being lampooned by the BJP for not practising what she has been preaching.
“It is sad to see that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has been denied permission to land his helicopter for the Lok Sabha campaigning. Earlier, prime minister Narendra Modi was denied a huge ground as his venue for a public meeting in North 24 Parganas district by the state administration. It’s so ridiculous to see her launching a Save Democracy campaign,” alleged the BJP Bengal unit chief Dilip Ghosh.
Meanwhile, the latest action by the Kolkata police left a section of the city intellectuals fuming and gaping in wonder. “Bhabishyoter Bhoot” (Ghost of the Future), a film by Anik Dutta that has dealt with the modern times in an extremely satirical manner, was forcibly taken off from the cinema halls in the city, citing ‘law and order’ issue.
A shocked and surprised Dutta, who launched an impromptu dharna in front of the Academy of Fine Arts, claimed that any “dissenting voice in the state is being systematically stymied by the state apparatus.”

Weird as it may sound, the latest police swoop is an eerie reminder of the identical action taken by the then Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led CPIM government in the state which stopped the staging of the play ‘Winkle–Twinkle’ that contained a veiled criticism of the Left government. In fact, ironically though, the Left often compares Mamata Banerjee’s rule with Modi’s, citing intolerance. While she has continued to attack prime minister Narendra Modi over his government’s and party’s intolerance, her government and party face similar allegations from the state opposition parties.

Nevertheless, all said and done, the pro-poor image of Didi as a resilient fighter still holds sway over a wide swathe of West Bengal. Much though the BJP could try to rock her applecart, it is too early to predict that the saffron brigade could really push her to the corner.
Didi’s Gameplan
Didi, it appears, has set her eyes firmly on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls which might trigger a surprise. In the event of a hung parliament, which many think is hovering, she has been quietly working up to a plan which is tailored to suit a regional player like Trinamool Congress where TMC could play a major role in policy decisions. But in that case, the Congress would require to play the second fiddle.

Whether that would be possible is a wide open question, answer to which we need to await a couple of months more.

Squeezed Lives in Kathmandu

Flesh trade have become part of what is called kathmandus ‘entertainment industry of at least 13000 women

Sutirth Sahariah
Sutirth Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for The Guardian, London, from Delhi. He covers human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has also worked for the BBC, Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Thamel! The glitzy, sleazy underbelly of Kathmandu.
There you could meet Sunita, serving you drinks in a tiny closet in a joint. You have all the right to bodily misuse her, and she does not have the right to refuse and there would be no “Me Too”! After all, she works in a ‘cabin restaurant’, where this is the price she pays to stay alive. She does not always get paid. The greasy, greedy men she hates. But this is what she had come to after the Maoists ditched her and she was no longer a ‘girl soldier’.
Like her, there are others working in ‘duet restaurants’, which feature live music shows, which includes palming and pawing. Or the massage parlours, where too male carnality rules the roost. Unbridled. Known to the authorities….
They call this Nepal’s ‘entertainment industry’, where you will also meet Dhan Kumari and many others, whom I got to interview. In 2016, as a part of wider study funded by Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) that explored the relationship between Women, Work and Violence in Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan, I interviewed thirty women and conducted to two focus groups of ten women each engaged in sex and informal entertainment industry in Kathmandu, Nepal.
But this is not just a story of tears. This is the story of hundreds of such women who fought it out and have become independent members of society.
Insurgency’s Victims
Seema, 20, was six-years-old when she was abducted by Maoist rebels from her village in Sindhupalchok, 66 km north-east of Kathmandu, during the ten-year armed conflict with the government forces that ended in 2006.
Her father, who was in the Maoist army, was killed by the government forces. “They said I have to avenge my father’s death. I was forced to use the gun; I was used as a soldier. I was in the entertainment wing (advocacy) which was made up of children. Its purpose was to influence people with the Maoist ideology. I was a dancer. I used to carry guns and ammunition. I was made to kill a lot of people. Every time they came across someone, they would say he is your father’s killer so shoot him,” says Seema.
Like Seema, Dhan Kumari alleges that she was abducted by the Maoist during the height in the insurgency in 2002, as they suspected that her brother was in the Nepal army. She says she and many other girls were raped and tortured by the Maoists forces known as the People’s Liberation Army.
Seema returned home but wasn’t accepted by society. “I was ostracised. There were families in the village that had a member in either police or the army and were killed. They blamed me for that.”
Seema was married off soon at the age of 15, but the 2015 earthquake that hit Nepal killed her husband and destroyed her house. She came to Kathmandu with her six-month-old baby to start a new life. Unable to find a proper job, she joined a massage parlour in Thamel a popular business district in the heart of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu popular with tourists.
She says “I don’t like this job. If I could remain in the village, that would have been better. In the massage parlour, we are pushed to have sexual encounters with customers. I hate this job.”
Red Menace
One of the significant findings that emerged from the interviews conducted with the women is that the ten-year-long Maoist conflict (1996-2006) against the government forces had devastating consequences on their early lives. From the sample of women studied it was found that one third were directly affected by the Maoist conflict; four women confirmed that they were abducted, sexually abused, raped and used as child soldiers during the conflict. Others, who had migrated to Kathmandu when they were very young, said the conflict was the major cause for them to leave their villages as school children were regularly abducted by the Maoist forces (PLA) and coerced to join various ranks in their forces.
The recruited girls were used as combatants, scouts, spies, porters, cooks and as part of cultural troupes.
But when the peace agreement was signed between the government and the Maoist forces, women like Seema or Kumari were simply abandoned by the PLA. Many of the top commanders in the Maoist forces went on to occupy powerful positions in the police and in the army and abandoned the objectives of the movement, which was to reframe social and gender relations at the grassroots level.
Abandoned, ostracised and unskilled, many young girls migrated to Kathmandu and found their way into the sex and entertainment industry in Kathmandu to make a living. Recently the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered the sixth periodic report of Nepal at its 1631 and 1632 meetings held on 23 October 2018. It expressed concern that the draft bill to amend the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (TRC Act) impedes legal action for claims related to sexual and gender-based violence, including war crimes and a crime against humanity.
It has been further pointed out that women and girl victims of the armed conflict have not benefited from interim relief reparations.
There are no official figures available on the number of women working in what is largely regarded as informal entertainment industry in Nepal; a 2009 study by Terre des homes (TDH) estimated it to be 11,000 to 13,000 girls and women in Kathmandu valley alone the actual figure is believed to be much higher across Nepal.
The study also found that that child marriages, domestic violence and abandonment by alcoholic husbands and fathers are other common factors that drive women to join this sector. Activists emphasise that post the April 2015 earthquake, that killed 8,000 people, there has been a disturbing trend of thousands of young women from the devastated regions being tricked by human traffickers to join this sector with the lure of quick money and foreign jobs.
Menuka’s Message
Raksha Nepal is one of the leading NGOs that have been working to provide support to sexually exploited girls and women working in the entertainment sector. Its founder, Menuka Thapa herself worked as a singer in a cabin restaurant as a teenager. She says: “I saw the girls being mistreated and exploited badly. They were also forced to perform sexual activities by the customers and the owners of the restaurants. The girls wouldn’t get paid for days but could not raise their voice for the fear of losing their jobs. I was determined to fight against such atrocities.”
Horrified by what she saw, Thapa rounded up a group of women and girls who worked there and encouraged them to speak up for their rights. She says this helped them feel more confident in firmly saying “no” to advances from the customers and owners and demanding their full wages.
Hearing about her initiative, girls from different dance bars, restaurants and massage parlours in Kathmandu started contacting her. Realising that she had hit a nerve, Thapa started the NGO Raksha Nepal (“Protect Nepal”) in 2004, when she was out of the restaurant industry, with the goal of empowering women working in informal entertainment.
Over the past 15 years, she says her charity has helped 1,623 women and girls escape from sexual exploitation.
Way back in 2008, responding to the huge surge of women working in this sector, and reports of severe exploitation and trafficking, the Supreme Court of Nepal had issued a directive to the government to set up guidelines to protect women and girls in the entertainment sector from economic and sexual exploitation.
Activists say that the guidelines have never been implemented.
Larger Concerns
Recently, CEDAW expressed concern that the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act punishes women in sex and entertainment sector rather than addressing wider issues of violence and abuse at workplace. It has recommended that the government of Nepal formulate a comprehensive policy, legislative and regulatory framework that ensures monitoring and legal protection from exploitation of women who engage in sex and entertainment industry and ensure that they are not prosecuted for engaging in such activities.
“The large number of women engaged in this industry is contributing to national economy and tourism, yet, there is a lack of social acceptance and a huge stigma attached with their professions. They are very vulnerable as they don’t have any social security. There is a critical violation of their human rights”, says Anisha Lintel of Women’s Forum for Women in Nepal.
Ratna Bajracharya, former director -general at the Department of Women and Children says: “It’s a well known fact that girls and women working in the entertainment sector are being physically and sexually abused. While the massage parlours and dance bars are legal, sex work is not, so the government ignores the matter pretending that the problems don’t exist. It is better to regulate this sector and protect the basic rights of those working in it.” To advocate for the rights of women working in this sector, Women Workers’ Protection Union was formed in 2015 with the help of DKA Austria in Kathmandu. The union now boasts of 9,000 members.
The union leader Sabina Tamang says: “Our biggest problems are frequent raids, abuse and unlawful detention by the police. We want this to stop. Our key demands are formal recognition of our work, minimum wage and better work conditions.”
Official Stand
Sarbendra Khanal, who at the time of this interview was a senior superintendent of Police, Metropolitan Crime Division, refuted the allegations of police atrocities. He says “We take cases of gender violence, rape or sexual exploitation very seriously. We give it a top priority and don’t leave a stone unturned while investigating such cases. We have no problems with registered massage parlours or dance bars but as a law enforcement agency, it is the duty of the police to check any illegal activities which are seen as anti-social. We need to stop people that carry 10-12 girls in vans in the middle of the night.”
Mohna Ansari, Commissioner, Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission, describes the problem as “alarming” and says to help women affected by internal conflict Nepal has set up a National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1820, and further formed good institutions and policies like the Prime Minister’s National Plan for Action against Gender-Based Violence, 2010.
“The concern is that these mechanisms haven’t been able to respond adequately to the problems of women and girls in a systematic manner. There is no political will and the ongoing political instability means all the gains made in the past are lost – gender and human rights issues are never accorded priority. These issues are a challenge for the whole Nepalese society”, she says.
A year ago, Seema met a health outreach worker, who took her to the NGO Raksha Nepal. She is now taking tailoring courses funded by UNODC. “If I had even basic education my life would have been better. If there was no war, probably I would be studying at a university. I hope that one day I can start my own tailoring shop. I want to get out of my present occupation and want to provide a good life to my child,” says Seema.
Income Empowers
The study also found that though the informal entertainment sector is highly abusive, it also represents a transformative moment for the majority of women studied. In part, this is because they have been able to leave behind violent husbands and destructive family/community contexts. Income has enabled them to take control and build resilience to their past traumas by connecting with other women with similar backgrounds. It has given them a voice, rebuild their lives and invest in their children’s education.

BJP Hits Urban Roadblock

The numbers tell a sober story about the many schemes launched by the BJP-led NDA government, and the dazzling claims about achievements are not credible, writes Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has generally been considered an urban party, a city-and-town party because the educated Hindu middle and lower middle classes were its vocal support base, many of them graduated from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ‘shakhas’. The party had not much of a basis in the villages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been trying to remake the BJP into a village-oriented party, but it is not clear whether he has succeeded.
The Swachh Bharat Gramin Mission and schemes like Ujjwala, providing gas cylinders to poor rural households in an attempt to ease the burden of the village housewife has been the focus of the government’s and the party’s publicity campaign, but has come a cropper. Families that have registered under Ujjwala have been ousted from the BPL list of state sponsored food and other subsidies, and yet are paying for the LPG at the whopping market price which is a bother even for urban middle classes.
However, the urban supporters of the BJP, especially the youth, are quite disappointed with Modi and his party for overlooking them. The Smart Cities Mission (SCM) did not receive the same emphasis in the projections of the Modi government and the BJP as it did in the case of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). All that the SCM offered was the beautification of cities, making them better places for people to live in, and the surveys which awarded the Clean Cities with regard to management of clearance of garbage evoked a bit of interest among the people.
Some of the ardent supporters of the BJP, especially in cities like Indore, are quite happy with the BJP and Modi for its SCM initiative. The prime minister is given credit for the cleaner system because it is felt that it was he who had set the ball rolling, and all that the municipal administration did was to implement it.
In its SCM Weekly Update for December 31, 2018, we have been informed that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation raising Rs 2 billion worth of bonds, with a five-year maturity, and that the municipal bonds have been rated AA+ by India Ratings, a 100 per cent subsidiary of the Fitch Group. The newsletter says, “The high ratings have come on the back of the corporation witnessing a 28 per cent rise in tax collection, reduction in power costs due to 100 per cent LED conversion and windmill projects, increase in non-tax revenue income as well as reduction interest costs by Rs 135 crore through loan restructuring.”
Statistical Razzmatazz
It sounds like statistical razzmatazz, impressive on face value, but hugely less credible on closer scrutiny. In a box accompanying the Ahmedabad municipal bonds story, there is a list of other cities which had issued bonds: Pune: Rs 200 crore in 2017; Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation: Rs 200 crore in February 2018; Indore: Rs 140 crore in July 2018; Amravati (the Andhra Pradesh capital-under-construction): Rs 2000 crore in August 2018; Bhopal Municipal Corporation: Rs 175 crore in September 2018.
The newsletter projects that the municipalities will raise Rs 15,000 crore by 2023, of which Rs 6,000 crore are expected to come through bonds. This is supposed to be dazzling and gargantuan in Modi style, and as it spreads into the future, it escapes scrutiny in the present.
The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which was launched by the UPA government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005, and which was meant to last till 2012, and extended to 2014 in March 2012 and to 2015 in March 2013, had two components: Basic Services for Urban Poor (BSUP) and Integrated Housing and Slum Development Programme (IHSDP).
In 2013, the government had also approved the Affordable Housing in Partnership (AHP), with the central government giving Rs 75,000 per Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Lower Income Groups (LIG) as part of Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY).
Changing Clothes
This has been changed to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) Urban, stretching from 2015 to 2022, which is based on the projection that slum population will grow to 18 million at the decadal growth rate of 34 per cent, and another two million non-slum urban poor households are added, taking the urban housing shortage to 20 million, which the PMAY-Urban plans to cover.
Interim finance minister Piyush Goyal in his interim Budget for 2019-20 on February 1, 2019, had said that 1.53 crore houses were constructed under PMAY, which included both urban and rural. According to the government, 75.2 lakh houses have been sanctioned on January 30, 2019.
However by the end of 2018, only 12.45 lakh houses have been completed. A government press release of December 27, 2018 says, “The huge investment of Rs 3.6 lakh crore in housing sector is providing more job opportunities in construction and allied sectors with the help of induced effect and contributing to overall health of the economy.” The total investment in PMAY-Urban is Rs 3,56,397 crore.
The unemployment rates do not directly reflect the situation in a particular sector, but in September-December 2018 period, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a private agency, urban unemployment rate stood at 7.2 per cent, higher than the rural unemployment rate which was 6.5 per cent.
There is vast gender gap here with the female unemployment rate for this period at 19.4 per cent compared to the male unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent. For the May-August 2018 period, urban unemployment rate stood at 6.3 per cent to the 5.3 per cent rural unemployment rate, and the urban female unemployment rate of 17.2 per cent compared to the male unemployment rate of 4.8 per cent.
Gender Jars
In the January-April 2016 period, the urban unemployment rate was 10.5 per cent compared to the 7.8 per cent in rural areas. The urban female unemployment rate stood at a high of 31 per cent to the urban male unemployment rate of 6.3 per cent.
In May-August 2016, the urban unemployment rate was 10.8 per cent to the rural 8.2 per cent. And the female unemployment rate remained high at 30.6 per cent compared to the 6.7 per cent for the urban male. In September-December 2016, the urban unemployment rate came down to 7.7 per cent compared to 6.3 per cent in the rural sector. The urban female unemployment rate remained high at 23.2 per cent compared to 4.9 per cent for urban male unemployment rate. In January-April 2017, the urban unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent compared to 4.3 per cent in the rural sector.
The urban female unemployment was 15.3 per cent to 4 per cent for the urban male. The urban unemployment rate fell to 4.6 per cent compared to 3.6 per cent in the rural sector in May-August 2017. And the urban female unemployment was 11.9 per cent to that 3.5 per cent for the make.
In September-December 2017, the urban unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent compared to 4.5 per cent in the rural sector. The urban female unemployment rate was 15.8 per cent compared to 4.1 per cent for the male.
Except for the first half of 2016, when urban unemployment rate crossed the 10 per cent mark, 10.8 per cent in May-August 2016 and 10.5 per cent in January-April 2016, and fell to a low of 4.6 May-August 2017, the unemployment hovered well above the 5 per cent mark and well below 10 per cent. But these figures do not tell the whole story.
Though inflation has remained low in much of this period, the implications were not all positive. The wages did not rise substantially and the cost of living did not fall. Food and fuel inflation was on the higher side, and its effect was felt more in the urban sector than in the rural.
Another major initiative of the Modi government was Start Up India. It was announced on August 15, 2015, and launched on January 16, 2016. According to official figures, 2.7 lakh users have registered, 1,14,000 queries were made through phone, email and Twitter, 660 startups provided advisory on business plans, 14,036 have been recognised as startups, and 91 startups have been approved for availing tax benefits as on 3 November 2018.
Prime Minister Modi and the BJP can cite statistics to show that things are not bad, and that as a matter of fact they have been a little better. But anecdotal information from the ground, which is what is accessible at any point of time, the sense of anxiety about economic security is acute.
The seven per cent average growth rate of the economy in the Modi years – May 2014-February 2019 – have not been positive for job and wage growth. The average rates hide the disparities in unemployment and in wages as well as in the cost of living.
Most of the economic initiatives of the Modi government are works in progress, and the progress has not been spectacular. Modi is not so much at fault for the modest gains and losses on the urban economic front, but what makes for urban restlessness and anger is the gap between Modi’s bombastic rhetoric and harsh reality.
Had the prime minister adopted a modest and humble tone, he would not be judged too harshly. But Modi is anything but modest, and he is unapologetic about it. He always played for high stakes, and his vulnerability is high on that count.

Holy Sewerage

In his 2014 poll campaign, Modi said ‘Ganga Mata’ had asked him to contest from Varanasi. Today, several saints have died fasting to improve the Ganga’s lot, but nothing has happened

Sandeep Pandey
Sandeep Pandey

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist. He co-founded Asha for Education with Dr. Deepak Gupta and V.J.P Srivastava while working on his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar

O ctober 11, 2018: Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand passed away, ending his sojourn on earth on a hunger strike for cleansing the Ganga. Former Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur Professor Guru Das Agrawal, who became an ascetic in 2011 at the age of 79 years and came to be known as Swami Gyan Swaroop Sanand, died on the 112th day of his fast, demanding a law for the conservation of River Ganga. He left us at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Rishikesh.
Forty-year-old Sant Gopal Das, a Jain saint, who had fasted earlier for release of encroached grazing land for cows in Haryana, inspired by Professor Agrawal also sat on fast for the same cause two days after Professor Agrawal began his fast, on June 24, 2018, at Badridham temple in Badrinath.
At a critical health junction, Sant Gopal Das was kept in the Intensive Care Unit of AIIMS, New Delhi, after being moved about to different hospitals in Uttarakhand, Chandigarh and New Delhi. On 4 December, he was taken to Dehradun from New Delhi and left outside the office of District Magistrate. He got admitted after that to a hospital in Dehradun but is untraceable since December 6, 2018.
Twenty-six-year-old Brahmachari Atmabodhanand began his fast on 24 October as a sequel to Professor Agrawal’s fast at Matre Sadan in Haridwar, which Professor Agrawal had chosen as the site of his fast. Even when Professor Agrawal was alive, the head of Matre Sadan, Swami Shivanand, had warned persons belonging to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in power both at Delhi and Dehradun, who were visiting him, that if anything happened to Swami Sanand he and his disciples would continue the unfinished task undertaken by Professor Agrawal.
Brahmachari Atmabodhanand
Professor Agrawal’s was the 59th fast by a saint associated with Matre Sadan and Atmabodhanand’s is the 60th. Brahmachari Atmabodhanand dropped out of a Computer Science graduation programme in Kerala and became a saint at the age of 21. He has fasted seven times till now for the sake of River Ganga, at least once every year since 2014.
In 2017, when he publicly protested against the DM of Haridwar, Deepak Rawat, who was patronising illegal sand mining in the Ganga, being given an award in the name of Madan Mohan Malaviya, he was beaten by the DM and his security personnel in a room behind the stage and put in jail for a day.
During the ongoing fast, Atmabodhanand was forcibly admitted to hospital by the district administration on November 29, 2018, and when his condition started deteriorating on 1 December, he left the hospital against medical advice (known as LAMA in medical parlance). When he was in hospital, Atmabodhanand was told that he was suffering from dengue and his platelet count had dropped to 64,000, but after independently verifying it outside he discovered it to be 1,01,000.
Sixty-two-year-old old Swami Punyanand of Matre Sadan gave up food grains and is on fruit diet since Atmabodhanand started his fast on 24 October and is prepared to shift to a water diet in the event of Atmabodhanand becoming a casualty.
Earlier, Swami Nigamanand, then 35 years of age, also associated with Matre Sadan, died on the 115th day of his fast in 2011 in a government hospital in Haridwar demanding curbs on mining in Ganga, which Matre Sadan claims as a murder by a mining mafia associated with the ruling BJP in Uttarakhand then.
Swami Gokulanand, who fasted with Swami Nigamanand from 4 to 16 March 1998, a year after Matre Sadan was established, is also believed to have been murdered by the mining mafia in 2003 when he was living in anonymity at Bamaneshwar temple in Nainital.
Baba Nagnath died at Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi in 2014 fasting for the same demand as of Professor Agrawal, to let Ganga flow uninhibited and unpolluted, Aviral and Nirmal, respectively.
Both Swami Shivanand and BrahmachariAtmabodhanand in their separate letters to the Prime Minister have quoted Śrīmad Bhāgavata to say that when Ganga becomes polluted with sins it will be the duty of saints to rid her of these sins by sacrificing their lives.
Modi and Gadkari
But they have not content with their duty to fast for Ganga as a religious exercise. They have chosen to criticise the government, its ministers, policies and also its attitude. Both saints have accused the PM of adopting consumerism-driven development policies which view Ganga as merely a water resource to be exploited for profits. They have reserved some harshest criticism for the Minister of Water Resources, River Basin Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Nitin Gadkari, whose capacity for appreciating the dignity of Ganga has been doubted by Swami Shivanand.
Atmabodhanand has condemned Gadkari for having lied a day before Professor Agrawal’s death that his demands had been met. Nitin Gadkari had laid down ecological flow specifications for different stretches of the Ganga and hydroelectric projects were expected to modify their operations to ensure compliance within three years.
This was at variance with the Indian Institute of Technology Consortium recommendations and was unacceptable to Professor Agrawal which he clearly expressed in an interview just before his death. Moreover, Nitin Gadkari was vague on the question of future of hydroelectric projects and silent on mining in Ganga.
Both saints, Shivanand and Atmabodhanand, have been especially critical of corporatisation of water - the bottled water industry and the marketing of ‘holy Gangajal.’
Swami Shivanand has come down heavily on Modi for his love for foreign sojourns and attempts to make cultural city of Varanasi into Kyoto. Atmabodhanand thinks that this government is ‘nationalist’ only for namesake, otherwise it has a western view of development. He has demanded from the PM immediate compliance of two of the four demands raised by Professor GD Agrawal - halting of ongoing and proposed hydroelectric projects on Ganga and ban on any mining in it as an expression of homage to Professor Agrawal on behalf of the country.
Atmabodhanand has criticised the government for having considered Professor Agrawal’s fast as ‘one man’s intransigence.’ He says Professor Agrawal represented the pain felt about the condition of Ganga, state of global environment, immoral development policies promoting crime and corruption and the irrational man bent upon destroying all living beings, environment and the culture of co-existence.
Atmabodhanand feels it is the arrogance of power because of which government refuses to recognise Professor Agrawal as representative of this pain felt by what he describes as ‘tradition of saints willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of Ganga.’
Support has been received even from Bangladesh for the struggle to ensure Aviral and Nirmal Ganga, which shows the issue affects the lives of people across India’s border too.
For two reasons the hydroelectric projects are undesirable in the Himalayas. It has been seen that maximum damage was caused at the sites of hydroelectric project in the floods of 2013. Moreover, dams and barrages on Ganga, by obstructing the flow of the river, take away the unique bactericidal properties of flowing Ganga water which is present in its sediments.
In 1965 Calcutta Port Trust reported bactericides of 8.92 milligrams per litre of sediments near Sundarbans, while in 2016-17 the department of forest reports it to be 5.52 mg/l in high tide and only 4.68 mg/l in low tide according to scholar Supratim Karmakar from West Bengal. A number of researchers and expert committees have opined that modern development of the kind which seeks to build hydroelectric projects is an invitation to disaster and should not be pursued. Had the government not released water from Tehri dam by submerging more people before they could be rehabilitated, there would not have been enough water in Allahabad, now renamed Prayagraj, for people to take a dip in Ganga during the ongoing Kumbh. However, the governments have been surreptitiously promoting the dams and their builders and have ignored the sane opinion which is now resonating in the voice of the fasting saints. As the number of saints dying while fasting for the sake of Ganga keeps rising and resolve of more of them to embark on the same path becomes stronger, it may be difficult for the country and its government to ignore this phenomenon. The BJP, now busy raking up the Ram temple issue in Ayodhya and the Sabarimala issue in Kerala, can ignore the issue of Ganga at its own peril.
If the government were sincere about cleaning Ganga, at least 4 out of 10 people in the country would have directly benefitted whereas nobody’s life is in danger if the proposed grand temple in Ayodhya is not built; and in Sabarimala the BJP is taking the society backwards by obstructing the entry of women of child bearing age going against the Supreme Court decision.
It would have been better if the RSS-BJP combine, which leave no opportunity to exploit people’s religious sentiments, had given preference to an issue which benefits people rather than promoting a retrogressive agenda. People haven’t forgotten that the PM claimed that he got a call from Mother Ganga to contest his parliamentary election from Varanasi. There is a high profile Rs 20,000 crore-Namami Gange project aimed at cleaning Ganga, which seems to have achieved little. Ganga has become more polluted as much water has flown through it since Narendra Modi won his election from Varanasi.
The Namami Gange programme aims at abatement of polluting activities in the river through interception, diversion and treatment of waste water flowing into it through drains. However, the capacity of Sewage Treatment Plants is woefully short of the volume of sewage being generated and we are nowhere near being able to completely treat the whole sewage. Rs 11,176.81 cr, which is more than half the budget of Namami Gange, has been earmarked for creating a capacity to treat 1,178.75 Million Litres per Day of sewage but National Mission for Clean Ganga, responsible for implementation of Namami Gange, estimates total sewage generation to be 2,900 MLD. In all likelihood by the time NMCG meets its target of sewage treatment, the volume of sewage generated would have gone up several times. It almost appears to be a hopeless task. The only hope is to let the river clean itself but that will require letting the river flow naturally, a demand for which Professor GD Agrawal fasted and died and something with which Nitin Gadkari doesn’t agree. There is a clear conflict between the development agenda of governments and the demand of environmentalists and fasting saints. There is also a view that sewage should not flow into water bodies and must find alternative disposal.
The boatfolk community, Nishad or Mallah, in Varanasi has been protesting against the introduction of cruise owned by a private company to ferry passengers. At stake is a population of about 40,000 whose livelihood depends on the 3000 boats in Ganga at Varanasi. While licences of boatfolk have not been renewed by the Municipal Commissioner, the cruise has obtained permission from Tourism Department of Government of India. The leader of the community Vinod Sahni is in jail on false charges since May 2018 as he was opposing the traditional exploitation of boatfolk at the hands of middlemen as well as the new projects being launched by the BJP government which are a threat to the livelihood of boatfolk. The Nishad community is also demanding the traditional agricultural rights over land across the river from Varanasi city which is now in danger of being encroached by vested interests. People living all along Ganga, whose livelihood depends on it, face a similar bleak future.
The BJP’s hypocrisy related to Ganga stands exposed now. It is apparent that saints fasting for Ganga or the boatfolk of Varanasi matter little for it compared to the vested interests of private corporations who gain from commercialization of Ganga. If it has to choose between its core agenda of Hindutva and profits for corporations it has made its preference clear.
However, this could spell trouble for BJP. Tulsidas in Ramcharitmanas has said that if saints are unhappy in a regime then the king may burn even without fire. BJP’s fortunes have seen a sharp downhill slide since the saints started fasting in Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhumi, or land of God. It could be a mere coincidence.

A Nazi ‘Democracy’

Unlike in any autocracy, democracy stands on the firm legs of several unalterable institutions, but Modi has finished them all, bringing Indian polity to wheelchairs

Yogesh Vajpeyi
Yogesh Vajpeyi

Yogesh Vajpeyi is an Independent Writing and Editing Professional. He has been associated with New Indian Express Group as Consulting Editor; with Sakaal Times as an Associate Editor and Indian Express as Senior Editor

In his monumental book “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy”, American jurist Tom Ginsburg has drawn attention to the recent disturbing phenomena of ‘democratic backsliding’ taking place in many democracies. ‘Backsliding’ refers to previously established democracies declining in quality, sometimes to the point where we can no longer use the term.
In the context of India, he refers to a troubling trend toward systematic erosion of autonomy of time-tested institutions and undermining independence of the organs of the state, combined with thuggish intimidation of journalists and civil society and concludes: “I am sure elections will continue in India, and so there is no threat of democratic collapse. But are we witnessing the erosion of India’s grand tradition of democracy?” During the two stints of the United Progressive Alliance government, the Bharatiya Janata Party spent years accusing the Congress, and in particular Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council, of attempting to conduct governance by remote control and undermining India’s constitutional institutions in the process.
If the BJP and Narendra Modi came to power, this line of argument seemed to suggest, the country’s institutions would be safeguarded and operate in the manner they were supposed to.
Events during the tenure of the Modi government suggest that exactly the opposite has happened. There has been a systematic attempt to undermine the autonomy of critical central agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Reserve Bank of India. The Planning Commission has been abolished and replaced by a government think tank NITI Aayog that has been keener on data manipulation at the cost of the National Statistical Commission to showcase the government’s achievements.
War Within
The war within the CBI and the government’s role in packing off former CBI Director Alok Verma unceremoniously and illegally on this pretext has been hogging the headlines for the last few months. Even after Verma’s exit, the CBI remained a headless agency for months, working under an interim director, and found itself at war with the West Bengal police when it raided the home of Kolkata Police Commissioner without any intimation to the state government, or even without as much as a search warrant, a day before the new Director, Rishi Kumar Shukla, took charge. As for the Reserve Bank of India, the government’s bulldozing forced the RBI governor Urjit Patel to quit nine months before completing his term. In a public lecture on October 26, RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya warned, “Governments that do not respect the central bank’s independence will sooner or later incur the wrath of financial markets, ignite economic fire, and come to rue the day they undermined an important regulatory institution.” His remarks do not come from out of the blue. Over the past few years, the finance ministry has been consistently pushing the central bank to act in accordance with its diktat, and in some cases even announced new measures without consulting the RBI first.
But the CBI and RBI controversies are only a tiny,(if egregious,) part of the tale. As the Modi government nears the end of its term, the list of Constitutional and statutory institutions that are unable to bear its destructive interference, and are openly protesting has been extending day by day.
The government’s refusal to release the latest periodic labour survey report of the National Statistical Commission has forced its Chairman and a senior member to resign. In an attempt to bail out the government, the NITI Aayog, disputed the NSC survey findings. In another recent episode, the NITI Aayog, which was purportedly set up to focus on long-term issues, has decided to take over the role of the drugs pricing regulator, the National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority. India can ill-afford to send out signals that its core macro data has been politicised, or that its key economic institutions lack the requisite autonomy.
EC Subverted
Even hallowed institutions like the Election Commission, whose independence has been assured by the Constitution, have been forced to buckle down. First, the Election Commission called electoral bonds – the monetary instrument proposed by the government that would make funding of political parties more opaque – a “retrograde move.” Soon after, the Commission changed its mind and said these bonds are a “step in the right direction”, even though analysts everywhere said that they were a blow to transparency.
At least two instances of flagrant partisanship have been displayed by the Election Commission: one was its decision to delay the announcement of Gujarat Assembly polls schedule in 2017, allegedly to allow the Prime Minister and his party to continue distributing largesse in the state. The second was the hurried and unseemly disqualification of AAP MLAs from Delhi over the office of profit charges, after which the Supreme Court rejected the EC’s decision, and castigated it for not looking at the whole thing more thoroughly.
The EC has thus far not displayed, publicly at least, any resistance to government pressures. Although it continues to go about its business in the usual manner, holding elections at different levels, the coming months will be a test for its mettle, as its conduct of the all-important general elections in 2019 will be keenly watched.
Routing RTI
In a move to curb the use of Right to Information (RTI) Act to expose government malfeasance, the Modi government has moved amendments to the Act itself, which do away with the present five-year fixed term for information commissioners both at the Central Information Commission (CIC) and State Information Commissions (SICs). The amendments also enable the Centre to prescribe the term of office, salaries and allowances, and other terms and conditions of service of chief information commissioners, and information commissioners at both central and state levels. In this case, the government has attempted to subvert the RTI Act and its machinery through pushing amendments – a legislative way of curbing transparency and accountability. In the process, the whole mechanism of information commissions will be made dependant on the government, further weakening it.
In many other official bodies ranging from the UGC to top officers in research and academic bodies including university appointees like vice chancellors, the Modi government has played fast and loose, freely appointing its own supporters, and thereby tilting the balance in favour of their ideological positions. These appointees have also played an active role in destroying democratic functioning in the institutions they head, as most flagrantly brought out by in the case of JNU and its BJP-supporting VC.
In a country that claims the legacy of over 70 years of Constitutional democratic governance, these are unmistakable warning signals. However, the litmus test for the Modi government is its approach towards the four pillars of democracy—the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the free media.
Supreme Subversion
Judiciary was hardly a topic of discussion during the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But during Modi’s reign, the Supreme Court has gone through perhaps its most tumultuous period since the days of the Emergency in the 1970s. At the heart of the debate was the question of judicial independence, with a string of controversies that began in 2014 culminating in an aborted attempt to impeach former Chief Justice of India, Deepak Misra and an unprecedented press conference by four senior judges in January 2018 about the distribution of work by him.
The government had signalled its intentions regarding the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court when an uncharitable comment about senior advocate Gopal Subramanium was leaked when he was supposed to be elevated to the Apex Court. Subramanium finally withdrew from the process. While the government denied any role in what transpired, the speculation was that the Modi government did not like that fact that someone who was the amicus curiae in the Sohrabuddin encounter case in Gujarat was about to rise to the bench.
Four years later, a judge who had given an unfavourable order that cost BJP a chance at forming the government in Uttarakhand had to face similar resistance. In January 2018, the Supreme Court collegium recommended Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph for elevation. The Centre first sat on this file. Then, in April, it expressed its reservations at the appointment, stating that the parent court Joseph came from, the Kerala High Court, was already well represented in the apex court. It wanted the collegium, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, to reconsider the appointment.
Instead of putting its foot down categorically, it took the collegium three sittings to reiterate Joseph’s appointment even as Justice Indu Malhotra, who was recommended along with Joseph, took oath in April. But the Centre had its way as the reconsideration came with two other recommendations, leading to KM Joseph losing his seniority in the Supreme Court.
In stark contrast, the elevation of four other judges in November was cleared in a record time of three days. This included Justice Hemant Gupta, against whom allegations of money laundering were made a year earlier. Reports suggested that the Congress was even thinking of an impeachment motion against Gupta.
As Modi’s tenure draws to a close, the most crucial development is likely to involve how the Supreme Court handles the Ayodhya matter. While Prime Minister claimed that his government would prefer to wait for the judicial process to take its due course, Union Law Minister has gone public that the court should not unnecessarily prolong a decision on the dispute and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other rabble rousers have even threatened to take things in their own hands if the court doesn’t act according to their expectations.
Parliament Pruned
The Modi government’s approach to Parliament and democratic conventions is equally worrisome. In an ideal situation, after the government tables a fully-formed bill in Parliament, the MPs are supposed to examine and vigorously debate the provisions of the bill, suggesting additions, omissions, dilutions and amendments. The process is supposed to take several hours, if not days, with high chances of major bills being referred to standing committees for stricter scrutiny.
This, however, is just not happening now. Take, for instance, the monsoon session of 2017, the Modi government’s best law-making year. Fifteen new bills were introduced in that session, and none of them were referred to a standing committee. It could indicate two things—that none of the bills required closer scrutiny because they were drafted rather well, and that the debates in both houses were robust enough to fix whatever problems these bills had.
But records of the time spent by MPs debating each of these 15 bills suggest that a majority of the bills were passed in a hurry. The passage of some major bills—like the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill—took less than two hours combined in both the houses.
The Question Hour has also not been very productive either. Ministers have kept away from answering questions, with the prime minister himself keeping away from crucial parliamentary debates on demonetisation and other reforms.
The Modi government has resorted to dubious means to get contentious bills passed, because of the ruling coalition’s weaker presence in the Rajya Sabha. There has been an increase in the number of money bills, which are not required to be passed by the Rajya Sabha. The most contentious such money bill was the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016.
The Aadhaar bill had several controversial provisions, which were passed only because the Modi government introduced it as a money bill. But late last year, some of those provisions were struck down by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court.
Apart from sloppy law-making, the government has also been accused of reckless law-making. A classic example is the Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, which was passed to provide 10 per cent reservation in jobs and education to the poor who belong to the forward castes. The bill was tabled on the last day of the winter session, and was pushed through the Rajya Sabha by extending the session for a day—that, too, without notice. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad described it as a “slog-over six”.
Media Muzzled
As for press freedom and civil liberties, despite claims to the contrary, the Modi government’s record is far from inspiring. “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism,” Modi said after he was swept to power in 2014 on a wave of optimism.
The World Press Freedom Index 2018 compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reflects growing animosity towards journalists in which India dropped two ranks from 136 to 138. The reasons for India’s fall are obvious. In the report, the media watchdog called the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the “most active censoring agency” during the period.
The BJP supporters counter any suggestion that like Indira Gandhi during 1975, Modi is behaving like an autocrat. But we must remember that the erosion of democracy takes place through a number of incremental steps, any one of which may be unobjectionable, but when added up they amount to a serious challenge. The key is to recognise the pattern and not just focus on the individual action in question.

Modi’s Patriotic Games

Balakot aerial attack in response to the terrorist attack in Pulwama is signature statement of the prime minister keen to establish his credentials on the security front as the no-nonsense strong man

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It would not be necessary to state the obvious: India has overwhelming military superiority over Pakistan in terms of numbers, fire-power and technological superiority. The dedication of the Indian armed forces is to a constitutional democracy. Indian soldiers are not fired by ideological zeal but by their commitment to the multi-religious and multi-cultural Indian nation-state. The heroism and sacrifices of the Indian men and women in uniform cannot be appropriated by any section of society and polity, not by the majority nor by the minority.
That is why, Indian armed forces, despite their human failings as in the operations that the army is forced to carry out against insurgencies, commands respect and admiration of the people of India. The commandos who carried out the September 2016 surgical strike or the Mirage 2000 pilots who bombed the terrorists’ camp in Balakot have displayed extraordinary courage and competence. It would be wrong to ask whether these brave men and women have ended the scourge of terrorism. Terrorism is a wider issue with political and ideological ramifications, and armies can root it out when the political and ideological aspect is taken care of. And this applies to the most powerful armies like that the United States, Russia, China and India.
Poll Impact
There are also many alternatives to fight terrorists through physical force. India has been handling terrorism since the time of the rise of militancy in Punjab in the 1980s and in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1990s. The extremism in the Punjab had been contained, and it has been raising its head every time it has been brought under control in J&K. The fight has to continue even as other ways have to be found to deal with it at the political level.
The question that comes up in the context of the Pulwama terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on February 12 and India bombing the JeM training camp at Balakot in Pakistan on February 26 is its impact on the April-May Lok Sabha election.
It is true on the face of it that Pulwama attack had happened in the run-up to the election, and there was no option for the government of the day to strike back at the JeM, which had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack. Prime Minister Narendra Modi can rightly take credit that he had acted decisively based on the advise and assessment of the security and intelligence forces, and he can also argue that prime minister Manmohan Singh government did not respond in the way he did after the November 26, 2008, terror attack on Mumbai, and nor did prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government after the attack on the Parliament on December 13, 2001.
Modi can claim that he is a more aggressive prime minister compared to Singh and Vajpayee. The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 was months away from April-May 2009 Lok Sabha election. And that election was won on basis of the sober image of Singh, and the Congress had surprisingly won 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh. It is probable that Modi’s decision to bomb the JeM camp at Balakot might win him the election this summer even as Singh’s restraint won him the election in 2009. These are imponderables and it is futile to find irrefutable connection between terrorist attacks and election results.
Critics of Modi would be wrong in denying him the credit for deciding on the counter-terrorism attacks. And it is foolish to argue that the counter-terrorism attacks do not solve the problem of terrorism. Terrorism is to be fought on the ground with guns and planes even as one fights it at the ideological, political and diplomatic levels. The problem is not with Modi’s military response, nor is his belligerence at fault.
Moral Trap
The moral and political question is whether Modi and the BJP are going to use the Pulwama attack and the retaliatory bombing of Balakot as the basis for his election campaign? If they do so, and it is even natural to do so, then the next question that comes up is whether Modi needed a war to win an election. Modi and others in the BJP will retort that it was the JeM which had carried out the terror attack in the run up to the election, and that the Modi government responded in the only way that a government in the situation had to: through the aerial strike at Balakot, the training camp of the JeM. And that it was not their intention to fall back on the ‘war’ against terrorism to win the election.
On the morning of February 28, addressing a videoconference of booth workers of the BJP at 5,000 venues, Modi was seen emphasising the economic achievements of his government between 2014 and 2019, and he referred to the tension on India-Pakistan border in passing. He told a booth worker from Hapur that the 2014-2019 term was engaged in meeting the ‘aavasyakataaein (necessities)’ of the people, and that the next term will be engaged in meeting the ‘aakaankshaaein (desires)’ of the people.
Quiet Game
The strategy is clear. Now that the patriotic sentiments have been aroused through the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot counter-attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and even because of the capture of the IAF fighter pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, by Pakistan. it seems that Modi is assured that he does not have to emphasise the issue any more and that the sentiment of the voter has been suitably triggered and on the voting day, people will lean towards the BJP. This is the assumption. And if the Opposition parties were to criticise the government on the Pulwama terrorist attack, they can be labelled as ‘anti-national’. He knows as a good propagandist that the Pulwama-Balakot episode will remain fresh in the mind of the electorate and that it would influence the voter’s choice more than anything else. He has more than one arrow in his bow. Patriotic fervour is one of them along with that of economic development and welfare measures. Though on the ground the latter have not been delivered. It falls to the people to scrutinise the record of the Modi government on development, on welfare measures and on India’s military response. Modi and the BJP would not like to be scrutinised on any of these issues because the record is not too impressive. Pulwama-Balakot have dominated the headlines for two weeks and it has been the focus of the nation’s attention. His address to the BJP booth workers on the morning of February 28 showed that Modi is looking ahead to the elections, and he has displayed a calculated nonchalance towards the faceoff with Pakistan and he is confident that it will play an important emotional part in the voter’s mind. But he does not want to overplay the patriotism card for fear that he will be labelled a war-monger in any way. The aerial attack on Balakot in response to the Pulwama terror attack is to declare in a loud and clear fashion his brand of muscular nationalism. The capture of the IAF pilot and the shooting down of the Mig21 showed that everything did not go according to plan, and there was the clear danger of things getting out of control. But the Indian government played the game with caution when Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale described the attack on Balakot as ‘a non-military pre-emptive attack’. If India had declared this to be a military attack, then Pakistan would have had no choice but to respond militarily and it would have led to a moment of conventional war. The Indian description of the Balakot has provided Pakistan an escape route as well. The intrusion of Pakistan’s war plane into Jammu and Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) is nothing more than a face-saver for Pakistan. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s televised address made it clear that it was just a statement of Pakistan’s capability to respond and it was not intended to be an act of war.
Pulwama Windfall
The Pulwama terror attack has proved to be a windfall for Modi as he was preparing to fight an election with nothing more to show than a few welfare measures and lackadaisical economic growth rate in the last five years. Though Modi and BJP president Amit Shah had gone belligerent on Pulwama and indulged in sabre rattling, the party’s tone turned subdued and restrained after the aerial attack on Balakot. The party and Modi seem to have realised that it would not do to indulge in war rhetoric. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s cavalier statement that if the United States’ Navy Seals could take away and kill Osama bin Laden, the reputed brain behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York and Washington, why cannot India do the same, seemed out of place in the light of the subdued statements of Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar denying the opposition charge that the BJP was politicising the Pulwama-Balakot episode, and which was also reflected in Modi’s address to the party workers a day later. Basically, the BJP is backing off. It appears that Modi has realised that his purpose is served by the limited aerial attack on Balakot and there is no need to step up the hostilities because as his Pakistan counterpart Khan had pointed out that once war begins neither he nor Modi has control over how the war plays out. Khan was once again playing the game of nuclear blackmail. The Balakot aerial attack was supposed to call the Pakistan bluff on the apocalyptic nuclear flare-up. India and Pakistan have once again checkmated each other. Modi and the BJP have gained a limited advantage which might be sufficient to tilt the electoral verdict in their favour.

Policing better childhood

An Indian charity founded by a former woman super-cop is transforming the lives of children of women prisoners

Sutirth Sahariah
Sutirth Sahariah

Sutirth Sahariah is a graduate in media management and journalism from the University of Stirling, UK. He writes for The Guardian, London, from Delhi. He covers human trafficking, gender violence and development issues. He has also worked for the BBC, Dutch Public Radio & TV and the NPR

Tabassum, a 24-year-old, remembers the day when one evening police came knocking at their doors to arrest her mother. “I was around 5-years-old and suddenly there was a lot of commotion in the house,” she says. “I realised that mom was about to go somewhere. The police didn’t handcuff my mom in front of us, but they were harsh. I and my younger brother clung onto my mom wailing and refusing to part from her when someone pulled us away.”
Afsha Praveen, her mother, was in her early twenties when she was convicted on the charges of kidnapping and was sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in 1999. The court had granted that her two very young children could remain with her in the prison until they attained the age of six. “I knew that my life was doomed but didn’t want my children to have the same fate. The life inside prison was tough and full of dangerous people. I was very worried about my children’s safety and future,” says Praveen, 45, who was released after serving her term in 2014.
Tihar prison in New Delhi, where Praveen was imprisoned, has over 10,000 inmates making it one of the largest prison complexes in the world. In 1993, a high-ranking woman police officer, Kiran Bedi, was given the charge to run the affairs of what was then one of the most notorious and dismally run high-security prisons in India.
“There was an undercurrent of violence, tensions and distrust between the inmates and authorities. There were 7,200 inmates as against the sanctioned capacity of 2,273 and 90 per cent were under trails. The prison management was almost dysfunctional. The prison staff was so illiterate that they could barely count. Women prisoners were subjected to most humiliating experiences, which robbed them of what little dignity and self-respect they had before coming to the jail,” Bedi says.
Great Opportunity
“I took it as an opportunity to directly connect with people in dire need and was determined to create an environment for the prisoners’ self-reform,” says Bedi, 69, who is now the lieutenant-governor of the Union Territory of Puducherry. “I started with whatever we had inside the prison. We crafted out the creche from women's prison premises. We then reached out to NGOs outside to extend support. We got it all in abundance. My approach to administrative reforms was based on respecting the human rights of prisoners, winning their trust through non-violence, compassion and welfare policing – and it gradually paid off.”
In August 1994, she was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for her work. Bedi used the prize money to expand her work to other prisons and set up charity (NGO) India Vision Foundation (IVF). “I always believed in expanding the scope of doing good when in a position of influence and power, so I dedicated it to promote the causes for which I was given the award. It greatly helped in institutionalising the programmes of women and children inside prisons and helped bring about the much-needed continuity,” says Bedi. The 2016 India’s National Crime Records Bureau shows that there are 17.834 women in prisons across India who make up 4.3% of total prisoners in the country. A study says that though there has been a marginal rise in the number of women criminals since 2001, the number of the women arrested and convicted for serious criminal activities like human trafficking, drugs and prostitution have gone up drastically.
Supreme Court Order
In 2006, the Supreme Court of India issued various guidelines and directions to the federal and state governments, encompassing all kinds of issues concerning incarcerated mothers and their children. It was held that a child can remain in jail with his or her mother until the age of six and they shall be entitled to food, shelter, medical care, clothing, education and recreational facilities as a matter of right. The top court also said that in case of separation of the child and mother, the Department of Social Welfare must ensure the well-being of the child.
Monica Dhawan, the director of IVF, says the charity ensures that the needs of women prisoners and their children are attended swiftly. “The focus of our work is to make the inmates believe that their term in the prison is an opportunity for them to rebuild their lives. Intervention programmes are designed to impart education, inculcate a strong value system through a range of co-curricular activities and enhance their skills with vocational training programmes.” In the last two decades, the charity has transformed the lives of 10,000 prisoners, ensured that over 500 children of women prisoners completed their higher education and had a job, and over 1,000 kids attended its crèche facilities which it set up in various prisons.
Praveen was persuaded by Bedi in one of her visits to the prison to send the two children to a boarding school. She says: “Madam (Bedi) encouraged us to think about our children’s education and said she could offer financial support. Through her, I saw a ray of hope for my children’s future.”
India Vision Foundation found a good boarding school for Praveen’s children. The charity also ensured that they met their mother in prison during school holidays. “These interactions are important so that there is a strong bonding between the child and the mother. The mother is also consulted while taking decisions for the child. So, when Tabassum completed her school, she wanted to study management. We informed the mother and then looked for a residential college for her,” says Dhawan. When Praveen was released from prison, both her children had jobs. Tabassum did very well in her studies and now works for a multinational company. But like Bedi, whom she considers her mentor, she aspires to be in a position when she can make a difference to the lives of people.
Bedi says Tabassum’s success is an inspiration to the society. “I treat all the children of prisoners as my children. I would like to see them run the IVF themselves one day. They are the best to run it.”
Tabassum says she is delighted to be united with her mother. “My mother made mistakes, but she has taught me to be strong and righteous. Today I feel very proud to be her daughter.” “She wakes me up every morning with a hug, makes my breakfast and sees me off to office. I feel so happy as these are the little things I missed as a child,” she says. “Being with her gives me a great sense of security. I would never want to lose her again.”

Grossly Distorting Perceptions

GDP estimates world over are frequently re-based globally, and even sharply revised, but the Modi government is simply trying to wipe out UPA’s achievements to hide its own sheer non-performance in this election year

N Chandra Mohan
N Chandra Mohan

The writer is an economics and business commentator based in New Delhi. He is an economist by training and has worked in most of the leading newspapers of the country for the last 34 years. He also teaches economics and international business in MBA programmes for the last seven years and has been involved with various think-tanks in the capital

Ahead of the national elections this year, India’s ruling BJP-led NDA regime will, no doubt, bask in the glow of regaining the ‘fastest among major economies in the world’ position according to the International Monetary Fund. This can be the crucial evidence that it has honoured its promise to bring the good days back again.
To bolster its electoral prospects, the incumbent government would surely ram home another statistic, notably, that growth during its term was much faster than during the UPA regime. How credible are such claims? Will the India growth story make a difference at the hustings?
India’s growth is projected at 7.4 per cent in 2018-19 up from 6.7 per cent in 2017-18. These numbers refer to the annual increase in gross domestic product or GDP after taking into account inflation. The latter is a measure of how much more one has to pay than one did last year and is measured in reference to a base year. For GDP calculations by India’s Central Statistics Office (CSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the new base year is 2011-12 and the previous one was 2004-05. This has been done to take into account changes in the structure of production and better methodologies.
Juggling Base
GDP estimates the world over are frequently re-based and even sharply revised with more up-to-date databases. In 2014, for instance, Nigeria’s GDP was jacked up by 89 per cent after revision in methods and re-basing. On a lighter note, following an EU agreement on GDP standards to include income from selling recreational drugs and paid sex, these changes added as much as 0.7 per cent to Britain’s GDP. Such changes enlarge the absolute size of GDP but the annual growth rates usually do not change that much. As we shall see later, this problem, unfortunately, bedevils the NDA vs UPA growth claims.
Reclaiming the world’s fastest-growing economy tag with the projected 7.4 per cent growth is one thing, achieving this number is another matter. The prospects in fact are somewhat daunting in this regard, as the Indian economy has not fully recovered as expected from severe disruption due to the twin shocks of demonetisation – when 86 per cent of currency was taken out from circulation to check unaccounted wealth in November 2016 -- and the introduction of a nationwide goods and services tax that scrapped state levies to turn the nation into a single market on July 1, 2017.
Pre-poll Slump
India’s GDP growth during the July-September quarter of 2018-19 fell to 7.1 per cent from 8.2 per cent in the April-June quarter. This ended four successive quarters of acceleration from the July-September quarter of 2017-18.
During the remaining half of this year, further deceleration is likely. Rural demand will be subdued as sowing operations were lower during the winter or rabi season. The stock markets have been volatile with foreign investors pulling out their money. The downside risks include prospects of a global trade war, worsening geopolitical tensions, weaker global growth.
If growth falls to 7 per cent in October-December and 6.7 per cent in January-March, according to SBI group chief economist Soumya Kanti Ghosh, the result is 7.2 per cent for 2018-19. However, even at these levels, there are hardly any other large economies with a comparable pace of expansion in the global economy. But this growth could unravel more dramatically if downside risks take a turn for the worse.
Instead of being buffeted by strong global headwinds, the Indian economy needs favourable tailwinds and a strong domestic-led pace of economic expansion to sustain even a 7 per cent trajectory.
Back Track
If the current year’s performance is blowing in the wind, what is the track-record of four years of the NDA regime? The average is 7.4 per cent: Rising from 7.4 per cent in 2014-15 to 8.2 per cent in 2015-16 followed by a sharp downswing to 7.1 per cent in 2016-17 and 6.7 per cent in 2017-18. Last year’s low clearly reflected the adverse and still persisting impact of demonetisation and GST. The severe knock to India’s growth and decoupling of its performance occurred when the world economy was experiencing a broad-based synchronous recovery according to the Economic Survey for 2017-18.
Under these circumstances, the only way the NDA can secure a potential electoral dividend of sorts from its four-year performance is to show that it is still better than the previous UPA regime’s. As if on cue, the CSO under the aegis of the Niti Aayog released a back series from 2004-05 of GDP estimates with 2011-12 as the base on November 28.
During these seven years, 2004-05 to 2011-12, when the UPA was in power, the earlier series with 2004-05 as base showed an average GDP growth of 8.2 per cent. The new back series substantially downgraded this performance to 6.9 per cent.
Garnishing ‘Growth’
NDA’s growth thus appears better than the UPA’s. But is the latest back series credible? No. For starters, what detracts from the credibility of these numbers is the association of Niti Aayog.
“Niti Aayog’s like the old Planning Commission, a political one. It is supposed to be an extension of the Prime Minister’s Office and the moment the Niti Aayog comes into the picture, it tends to give a political colour. This may not actually be true but that is the impression that comes out. Otherwise, they have absolutely no business in convening the data release,” stated former chief statistician, Pronab Sen.
Three years ago, the CSO had calculated a back series with 2011-12 as the base that showed an upward revision to growth in the UPA era. The then vice-chairman of the Niti Aayog took one look at it and said: “We cannot allow it,” according to Sen, who was present at that meeting as chairman of the National Statistical Commission.
Niti Aayog had issues with a proxy for growth estimates of the corporate sector. In July 2018, the Committee on Real Sector Statistics headed by Dr Sudipto Mundle put out another back series that also showed higher growth during UPA, but that effort was termed “not official”.
Parrying Answers
The CSO’s defence is that the methodology for preparing the back series from 2011-12 to 2004-05 is “largely” the same as the one followed in the new GDP series with 2011-12 as the base. The data used is also in sync with the recommendations of the UN System of National Accounts, which included the estimation of gross value added or GVA at basic prices, among other things.
This is arrived at by adding up the value of goods and services produced in the country minus the inputs. Accordingly, GDP is the sum of GVA plus product taxes minus product subsidies.
On the methodological front, “largely” is the operative word as far as the corporate sector, in particular, is concerned. The 2011-12 series incorporated a more up-to-date base of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs that had the annual financial accounts of nearly 500,000 companies, compared to the data of a few thousand companies that was previously accessed from the date base of the Reserve Bank of India. While this MCA-21 database is a treasure trove of latest balance sheet information, it is unfortunately not available for earlier years. In other words, this source cannot be used backwards from 2011-12.
The CSO thus had no alternative but to use the more limited database of the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy for some of the earlier years as also the non-corporate or quasi-corporate data of the more robust volume-based estimates of the Annual Survey of Industry, which was the mainstay of the earlier GDP series to estimate organised manufacturing’s contribution.
The limitations of data unavailability have no doubt forced the hand of the CSO to work out the back series with a hybrid methodology. How comparable then is all of this to the exclusively MCA-21 data from 2011-12 onwards?
Bad Series
Beyond the Niti Aayog factor, the back series lacks credibility as it also fails the smell test. As we noted earlier, re-basing GDP estimates with different methodologies and up-to-date databases typically enlarge the absolute size of GDP, but the annual growth rates should not change that much.
Interestingly, the absolute size of GDP in 2011-12 – the very first year of the new series – is lower when compared to the earlier 2004-05 series: the nominal size of GDP is significantly lower by as much as Rs 2.7 trillion at Rs 87.4 trillion when compared to the GDP estimate of Rs 90.1 trillion of the earlier series. Moreover, how can the GDP growth from 2004-05 to 2011-12 be downgraded, when this was a period when India’s exports boomed, credit growth, corporate sales and profits were in double digits and investments took off? Although the share of manufacturing, electricity and construction or the secondary sector is higher, the back series shows slower growth of 8.8 per cent compared to 9.1 per cent of the 2004-05 series. In sharp contrast, during the NDA years, exports were down, credit languished, corporate sales and investments were low, yet GDP growth was much higher.
For such reasons, the NDA is unlikely to secure electoral gains from claiming that under its regime growth was much faster than the UPA. To make a difference at the hustings, it must show that the India growth story under its watch has been more inclusive. That the rising tide of 7.4 per cent growth has lifted all boats, as it were.
No Growth
GDP growth, unfortunately, is only a summary statistic. Although the average levels of prosperity have gone up, the big question is whether the gains have largely gone to the affluent sections of society while living standards of the vast majority have fallen behind?
Farmers and agricultural labourers, who account for roughly one of two working Indians, have lagged behind in a big way. The latest Economic Survey indicated that their incomes have been stagnant over the last four years.
There is also a likelihood of further declines in the future, thanks to climate change or global warming. To contain the widespread agrarian distress, the NDA government appears committed to doubling farmer incomes by 2022. The narrative of nationwide farmer discontent weighs heavily over the forthcoming national elections.
Has India’s rapid economic growth resulted in employment? The NDA regime came to power in 2014 by promising development and jobs for the youth. On the face of it, growth hardly matters to the electorate if it has not generated an adequate number of jobs to absorb the 12 million job seekers who enter the labour market every year. The dismal reality instead is that there are as many as 25 million highly educated job applicants for 90,000 low-level railway jobs. The electoral preferences of the youth – who constitute a substantial segment of the voting population – may well decide the 2019 election.
Real Reforms
If the NDA regime does return to power, the challenge ahead is to sustain the current growth trajectory over a period of time. That is not easy: it depends not just on structural reforms but also a stable social and political environment. Structural reform includes those of factor markets: labour, land and capital. Land acquisition laws are in a limbo. The clean-up of the bank and corporate balance sheets must accelerate so that bank credit revives to stimulate growth. Reforms to free up agricultural product markets to make cultivation more viable also must be on the table.
Labour laws also deserve priority attention. Greater labour market flexibility will encourage job creation and enable India to reap the demographic dividend of a young workforce. If not there will be considerable social and political unrest that can eventually derail the growth narrative.
As if all of this weren’t bad enough, inter-state disparities in growth have also widened as faster-growing, richer states have steadily pulled apart from the slower-growing, poorer states in the country. The regime in power must, therefore, realise that to sustain rapid growth it must be more inclusive.

Fastest Growth

Despite the blows like demonetisation and GST, the Indian economy remains the fastest growing among all major ones in the world

Sindhu Bhattacharya
Sindhu Bhattacharya

Sindhu Bhattacharya is a senior journalist. writing on business and economy. She has worked across daily newspapers as well as digital publications and was the Contributing Editor to CNBCTV18, India’s largest business news channel.

Two years have passed since demonetisation crippled the Indian economy and though some economists believe the shock and awe unleashed by this single decision of the Modi government may not have been fully absorbed even now, recovery has begun. In addition to demonetisation, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime also came into force from July 2017 and coupled with some severe global headwinds, including oil price shocks later, the Indian economy did face real rough weather in the second half of this government’s term. But green shoots are beginning to emerge, as industrial growth picks up, oil prices soften and effects of demonetisation etc., begin to wane.
According to Fitch Ratings, the Indian economy grew by 7.1 per cent as an annual average in five years between 2013-2017, slowed to 6.7 per cent in 2017-18 but is now picking up again with the full year forecast for 2018-19- being 7.2 per cent. The rating agency has gone on to forecast 7 per cent growth for 2019-20 and 7.1 per cent for 2020-21.
In 2018-19, GDP growth has picked up after a lag and been robust in the first half, partly because of the low base of the previous year. The manufacturing sector is reviving after making massive adjustments to the GST regime, and agricultural production is also improving significantly. And even though the economy is expected to slow down in the second half of this fiscal compared to the same period last year on a higher base, overall growth for the full year should remain robust.
And as per the first advance estimates released by the CSO (Central Statistical Organisation) this week, the forecast of 7.2 per cent GDP growth for the full year 2018-19 puts India in the front of the global economic pecking order. Yes, this number is still a tad lower than expected as the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) estimate was 7.4 per cent and the finance ministry’s projection was of 7.5 per cent growth. But 7.2 per cent growth will still be higher than the 6.7 per cent seen in the previous fiscal so in this, at least, it is a leg up. The CSO estimates put second-half GDP growth at 6.8 per cent and a clearer picture will likely emerge when the second advance estimates are released next month.
As per projections by the CSO, manufacturing is expected to grow at 8.3 per cent this fiscal against 5.7 per cent in FY18; construction at 8.9 per cent (5.7 per cent). In the services sector, trade, hotels, transport, communication services and public administration will grow at a slower pace in FY19, while financial, real estate, and professional services are expected to grow at a marginally faster pace. Agriculture is projected to grow at 3.8 per cent in FY19, marginally higher than 3.4 per cent in FY18.
Significant Stride
So the Modi term will end with a reasonable growth in GDP. How has the economy done in the first four years of this government’s term? On its part, the Finance Ministry has said that the government made “significant” strides in the last four years in terms of welfare, the overall structure and growth of the economy and in creating a strong presence as an emerging global power. The ministry said GDP growth was 7.2 per cent in the first half of this fiscal, current account deficit stood at $15.8 billion in Q1 while trade deficit was $45.7 billion and CPI was 3.9 per cent in the September quarter.
The share of the Indian economy in the world (measured as a ratio of India’s GDP to world’s GDP at current US$) increased from 2.6 per cent in 2014 to 3.2 per cent in 2017 (as per World Development Indicators database). The average growth of the Indian economy during 2014-15 to 2017-18 was 7.3 per cent, fastest among the major economies in the world. And the ministry further said that the Indian economy is projected to be the fastest growing major economy in 2018-19 and 2019-20 (International Monetary Fund October 2018 database). This is borne by GDP growth of 7.6 per cent in the first half of 2018-19 (and now after the first advance estimates put out by the CSO).
Chamber Upbeat
Leading industry chamber, the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), has concurred with this rosy picture presented by the government, saying India remained the fastest growing major economy in 2018 and is expected to continue to shine in 2019. CII’s positive outlook is buttressed by strong drivers emanating from the services sector, infrastructure including construction equipment and better demand conditions arising out of election spending. “Better demand conditions, settled GST implementation, capacity expansion resulting from growing investments in infrastructure and continuing positive effects of the reform policies undertaken and improved credit offtake especially in services sector at 24 per cent will sustain the robust GDP growth in the range of 7.5 per cent in 2019,” said CII Director General Chandrajit Banerjee.
Rating agency CARE Ratings has said in a note that in 2018, particularly, volatile oil prices and exchange rates combined with conflicting signals from inflation, where farmers were stressed on account of low prices and core inflation remained intransigent and affected decisions of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on monetary policy. Industries had varied performance mainly due to differing effects of overall growth as well as the effects of GST, which skewed numbers and contributed to the ‘base effect’ argument when interpreting economic numbers.
Aided by a favourable base effect as well as some momentum in both consumer goods and capital goods, IIP (Index of Industrial Production) growth for the first seven months of 2018-19 was “quite satisfactory” at 5.6 per cent against 2.5 per cent in the same period last year. The growth of 8.7 per cent in capital goods, 9.4 per cent in durables helped manufacturing move up by 5.7 per cent so far this year.
In terms of the core sector or infrastructure, industries growth has been impressive for electricity, cement and coal during this period. Positive spending by the government has helped to maintain this growth rate.
The capacity utilisation rate, which is a good indicator of the spare capacity in industry which in turn gives a signal of future investment, increased in Q3 (September to December 2017) and Q4 (January-March 2018) of FY18 at 74.1 per cent and 75.2 per cent respectively, but declined to 73.8 per cent in Q1 FY19 (April-June 2019).
Fastest Growth
And CII observed that despite 2018 witnessing external vulnerabilities arising out of rising oil prices, trade wars between major global trading partners and US monetary tightening, the Indian economy stood out as the world’s fastest-growing major economy. The chamber has, however, listed seven key drivers for growth that need to be fostered and has suggested policy actions for robust GDP growth to continue in 2019.
1) Lowering the number of GST tax slabs to three - a standard rate, a higher rate for demerit goods and a lower rate for some mass consumption items. The GST Council should also consider extending GST to excluded sectors such as fuels, real estate, electricity and alcohol.
2) The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC): The government should consider setting up additional benches of the National Company Law Tribunal to spread geographically to strengthen the judicial infrastructure for an easier and faster exit of distressed businesses.
3) On Ease of Doing Business: Government should digitize land records, online single window systems in states and enforce contracts for even more improvements in ease of doing business.
4) In measures to unlock agricultural markets, it is important to persuade states to implement the Agriculture Produce and Livestock Marketing Model Act, which has been implemented in just four states. Also, implementation of e-NAM mandis should be prioritised, to promote inter-state trade and improve E-NAM handling share from the current 4.5 per cent.
5) In the immediate term, credit availability has been a challenge, particularly for the micro, small and medium enterprises. Credit flow to industry grew by only 2.3 per cent in H1 (April-September) of the current financial year. RBI should introduce measures such as revisiting lending restrictions of PCA banks, opening of a limited Special Liquidity Window to meet emergencies of financial institutions (including Mutual Funds) besides others to improve liquidity in the system.
6) India needs to continue guarding against the risks of higher oil prices by increasing domestic production of oil, providing a special window for Oil Marketing companies to procure oil and stepping up diplomacy with the USA to continue to secure purchase from Iran. This would also help in effective exchange rate management, CII added.
7) While the fiscal deficit target of 3.3 per cent is expected to be fulfilled, the government should continue its strong program of infrastructure development, including roads and highways, airports, waterways, and ports. This would provide the necessary growth impetus for downstream industry sectors as well as generate employment opportunities.
Banking Woes
Meanwhile, despite the green shoots on the economic front, problems persist. Fitch has noted that India’s banking sector continues to struggle with a high proportion of nonperforming assets, while non-banking financial institutions (NBFIs) face tighter access to liquidity following the default of IL&FS, one of the 30 biggest NBFIs in India.
NFBIs have accounted for a large share of all lending in recent years and have expanded credit rapidly. The rating agency has suggested that fiscal policy should continue to support growth in the run-up to elections in early 2019.
Stepped-up public investment has helped to stem the downward trend in the investment/GDP ratio, boosted by infrastructure spending. There have also been measures to support rural demand.
Besides, other measures announced to ease liquidity in the system have helped some. But still, the big question which remains is this: since external shocks like oil prices etc., are outside India’s control, how eager will the new government be to take more fiscal steps to support growth?

The Stage Manager

The Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha has grossly ignored his constituency, Karur, barring setting up one hundred drama stages, hardly ever used

G Ulaganathan
G Ulaganathan

The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore and has worked with two major English dailies, the Indian Express and Deccan Herald. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and colleges and writes for a many publications, including NYT

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances…
Says Shakespeare in his ‘As You Like It’. And, one politician who has taken it very seriously is the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Dr M Thambidurai. As an MP, for twenty years, his only worthwhile contribution seems to be the construction of drama stages across his constituency in all the panchayats. There are more than 100 such stages, proudly proclaiming that they were constructed by the Member of Parliament from his MPLAD funds.
Thambidurai is in a great dilemma now. In the past, irrespective of what he has done or not done, his passage to Lok Sabha was easy. Jayalalithaa’s charisma and the liberal use of money power saw him through.
But, with the passing away of his leader and the desertion of one of his key aides, V Senthil Balaji, a former minister in the Jaya cabinet, local MLA and a staunch loyalist, it’s almost curtains for this four-time MP.
Post Jaya, Balaji joined hands with Dinakaran in the confused TN political scenario. But now he has gone to DMK and has vowed to defeat Thambidurai at any cost.
Bad Bargain
Durai was also initially strongly in support of Sasikala for chief ministership. Hardly a month after Jayalalithaa died and O Panneerselvam had become Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Thambidurai kicked up a major political storm. “Jayalalithaa’s political heir is Sasikala. She should take control of the party as well as the government,” he wrote, curiously, on his official letterhead, as Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha.
There was large scale criticism of this and he was charged with converting his constitutional post into a political one to curry favour with the then Mannargudi clan.
After O Panneerselvam took over as CM and met Prime Minister Modi, he did not take Thambidurai along. Angered at being ignored, he started campaigning for Sasikala as CM.
He had served as the Cabinet Minister of Law, Justice and Company Affairs and as the Minister of State of Surface Transport from March 1998 to April 1999. He had also served as the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha from 1985 to 1989 and was a familiar face in Delhi. Jayalalithaa gave him a lot of importance and all the MPs were told to take orders from him.
It is said whenever Madam visited Delhi, all the MPs had to line up outside the airport with bouquets in hand, and Thambidurai would decide who should stand where in the queue.
He was such a strong loyalist of Jayalalithaa that circumstances even forced him to skip his own daughter’s wedding, as Jaya was against her marrying the son of former Congress MLA, C Gnanasekharan. The wedding created ripples in the state when reports trickled in that Jayalalithaa did not relish it. Post Jaya, the political scenario was changing rapidly and with Sasikala going to jail, Thambidurai sided with the chief minister Edappadi Palanisamy and distanced himself from Dinakaran.
Senthil Balaji was the transport minister in the Jaya cabinet but Edappadi sidelined him and he threw in his lot with TTV Dinakaran. Balaji is a powerful man in Karur district and can mobilise any amount of money in a short time.
Lonely Reaper
Now, with him not by his side, Thambidurai is forced to plough a lonely furrow. With the Lok Sabha polls round the corner, he is not sure of a victory again from this constituency.
In the last six months, he has been desperately going around the constituency with a team of officials and cops. There are hardly any partymen accompanying him.
And, wherever he goes he faces angry voters. “You only come when the elections are near. Where were you all these four years?” they confront him. There are six assembly segments in his Karur Lok Sabha constituency (Karur, Aravakurichi, Krishnarayapuram, Vedasanthur, Viralimalai, Manapparai) and all of them are represented by the ruling AIADMK. Even the MLAs who accompany him are not allowed to step out of their cars and are chased away by the voters. Thambidurai belongs to the Kongu Vellalar community which is a majority in the western districts of Tamil Nadu, also known as Kongu Nadu which comprises the districts of Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Karur, Namakkal, Salem, and northern parts of Dindigul district such as Palani, Oddanchatram and Vedasandur.
As an MP what has he done for the constituency which elected him four times in the past? Karur Lok Sabha constituency spreads across four districts in Tamil Nadu — Karur, Pudukkottai, Dindigul and Tiruchirappalli. This constituency comprises more than 100 villages and though the people are rich, the literacy level is quite low.
An educated man with a Doctorate in Economics, Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, who can meet Prime Minister and other ministers easily and get things done, a close confidant of the former chief minister J Jayalalithaa — Thambidurai’s plus points are these and much more. Even his political opponents acknowledge that he has a clean record and there is no scam or serious corruption charges against him – something rare in today’s politics. The only charge is that he has been totally ineffective as a people’s representative.
Dying Industries
There is all-round disappointment and anger among the people that he hardly meets them, leave alone doing anything worthwhile for them. “He has constructed drama stages in all panchayat and bus stop shelters in some places. That’s all. He hardly spends time here, makes a flying visit only Sundays and leaves like lightening,” say most of his voters.
“Karur is known for its flourishing textile and bus body building industries. Due to demonetisation and GST, almost all the small scale industries have been badly hit. Bus body building industry has been severely hit by the central government’s rules that all components have to be taken to Pune for authentication. This has led to increased costs. Almost all the small scale industries in this sector have closed down. The high profile MP has not done anything to save them”, says Nanniyur Rajendran, a senior politician and Karur district secretary of DMK for more than 10 years now. Rajendran’s father Gandhi was a close associate of DMK leader M Karunanidhi.
Less said the better about the once flourishing textile industry. Known for its world-famous bedsheets, lungis and mosquito nets, this industry is now in the doldrums. Jayalalithaa had set up a textile park with about 54 units in 2010. Now, the park is nowhere and only about half a dozen units are still surviving. “Thambidurai used to make many promises before polls, like setting up cold storage warehouses for vegetables and fruits. But, once the elections are over he would conveniently put all those promises in the cold storage,” says Senthil, a political activist.
Paper Promises
“Some of these promises include setting up a new bus stand in Karur, Dyeing Park at a cost of Rs 200 crore, Coimbatore-Karur Ring Road, day train from Chennai to Karur, a check dam across Cauvery, and so on. He could have easily achieved them through his contacts as Deputy Speaker. But his promises remain only on paper,” adds Rajendran and says his party’s former MP KC Palanisamy was responsible for various projects like getting the Lalapet railway overbridge, drainage scheme for Karur town and many other road bridges – some of which were constructed at his own expense.
Now since KCP, as he is affectionately known, has left electoral politics, the opposition is yet to identify a powerful candidate, and Thambidurai is confident that he can easily get all the votes of the Kongu Vellalar community to which he belongs. Interestingly, he is not a native of this district but his wife hails from Karur. Some of the other unfulfilled promises include a cold storage warehouse for banana and other vegetables, perfume factories for Manapparai, etc.
Poll Largesse
Padmanathan, panchayat union president of Kodayur, says that apart from Jayalalithaa’s campaign, and distribution of money (Rs 2,000 per vote) Thambidurai’s men distributed free dhotis and sarees for every household and that fetched him many votes last time. “But now these tricks won’t work and his partymen themselves are fed up. So, he has been taking them in batches for sightseeing to Delhi and picnic spots like Courtalam, misusing his official position,” he says.
At a nearby village Vellalapatti, a small hamlet with about 3,000 people, there is a water tank in a precarious condition. Sukumar, a retired employee, says people are living in fear that this tank might collapse any moment. “Our MP came here last month and instructed the officials who accompanied him to immediately pull it down and construct a new tank. But he did not offer to do it from his MPLAD funds as we expected. That was the last we heard about it. No one has come so far and even if we try to reach him, it is not possible as in his office in Karur there is no one to listen to us”, he bitterly complains.
Karur’s lifeline has been its dyeing units. Hundreds of them existed once. The white thread that comes from the powerlooms are given different colours in these units and sent to various knitting and weaving factories in Karur, Erode and Tiruppur and also exported to many foreign countries.
According to farm workers in and around Karur, because of these dyeing units, the Amaravati River which runs alongside the town has been contaminated. Thambidurai assured them that he would raise the issue in Parliament and find a solution. But he has done nothing till now.
College Collision
Two medical colleges were sanctioned — one for the nearby Pudukkottai and another at Karur. While the one in Pudukkottai has already started functioning, the Karur medical college is stuck in political one-upmanship.
Says Sadiq, Thambidurai’s political secretary, “Our MP had spoken to Madam Jayalalithaa and got it approved. But getting land in Karur was difficult. No one was willing to give so much land. Senthil Balaji, meanwhile, wanted to set it up in Aravakurichi where he was the MLA, just to help his cronies who owned large tracts of land there. If the college comes up there, the land prices would go up. That was his plan. But now our MP has successfully thwarted this plan and, through Chief Minister Palanisamy, got the land and construction is in full swing. The college will be functional from next academic year,” he says.
Another promise made by Durai was to get a government engineering college for Karur. Incidentally, he runs a successful Adhiyamaan College of Engineering near Hosur, in close proximity to Bengaluru. But he never tried to set up any college or school in his constituency.
Karur is also an important junction on the railway route, connecting Chennai with southern districts. But most of the express trains pass through this town between 12 midnight and 4 am. There is a long pending demand to get a day time express train on this route. People are sore that he has not pressurised the railway minister and got this sanctioned. As Deputy Speaker, he could have just sent a letter to the minister. But even this he has not done. “He had promised to get the four-lane Karur-Coimbatore highway during the last elections. Now it is being executed as a six-lane highway. It is because of his efforts only,” says Sadiq.
Under Prime Minister’s pet theme of each MP adopting one village, Thambidurai had selected Balaviduthi in Kadavur panchayat. Here there are 18 small villages where there is acute shortage of drinking water. “I will have toilets constructed in all the houses,” Durai had promised. But, except for a preliminary survey, nothing much has been done.
“Not even water and drainage connection have been given. There has been some scam,” says one of the village elders who does not want to be named. “There are no proper roads either. Instead of making proper roads for the people, he has only obliged one of his henchmen to whose farmhouse there are two pucca tar roads,” he fumes.
Big Drama
Thambidurai says since there is no separate fund allocated for this scheme, it could not be successful. He has a point there as the villages are closely knit, and if an MP spends more on one village with his MPLAD funds, the other villagers are likely to revolt and may vote against him in the elections. Hence, the MP village adoption scheme has not found many takers, not only here but across south India. Of course, Thambidurai says he has fully utilised the MPLAD funds. But how? By constructing drama stages and bus stops, he says!
One expected a well-staffed office for this high profile MP in his constituency. But not many people know where it is. With great difficulty when I reached his office, which is in an apartment, there is hardly any staff. A couple of youngsters there said only Sadiq knows everything. When called, he said he was in Chennai attending to the MP who was hospitalised. But for a photograph of Jayalalithaa, the office did not have any paraphernalia befitting an MP. But will the large portrait of Jayalalithaa be enough for the MP to retain his seat? That is the Million Dollar Question!

Farce, failure and fiasco

By seeking to dramatise himself as a visionary foreign policy thinker and declaring ‘Neighbourhood First’, Modi lost much in the world, and that includes the countries in the neighbourhood too

Sankar Ray
Sankar Ray

Sankar Ray is a senior journalist who has worked in various news and current affairs magazines, has spawned scores of good journalists and has in-depth knowledge of global issues, especially Left politics in India and abroad

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Damodardas Modi, has no parallel in the history of Indian parliamentary democracy. None of his predecessors from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh in any tenure from six-year term (1971-77) of Indira Gandhi to the 13-day premiership (May 1996) of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had visited 84 countries in four and a half years or almost two foreign trips a month. And the government of National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party had incurred Rs 4,343.26 crore only on advertisements and publicity through different media for those trips, according to a reply under the Right To Information to Mumbai-based RTI activist Anil Galgali, who sought the information from the Bureau of Outreach and Communication. This is aside from Rs 1,484 crore on maintenance of the PM’s aircraft and hiring of chartered flights, together.
And every time Modi goes abroad, he is accompanied by a 40-member crew from state broadcaster Doordarshan to beam the event live. All private TV channels telecast every event sans acknowledging the source of the feed or the footage most of the time. An eerie extravaganza.
Negative Benefits
But what is the cost benefit ratio? Or to elaborate it, has it generated financial flows benefitting the national exchequer or the economy? Is it substantially more than the costs incurred? To be candid, no.
Take the foreign direct investment. Between 2014-15 and 2015-16, apparently there was over 23 per cent increase in gross FDI that reached $55.5 billion in 2015-16, according to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. But the Reserve Bank of India negated the claim. Between the two years, FDI in manufacturing fell from $9.6 billion to $8.4 billion. Moreover, the percentage of FDI flow, which was in the range of 35-40 for the four years until 2014-15, fell markedly to 23 in 2015-16.
The picture is more depressing according to the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development (ISID), which disclosed that FDI dropped further by nearly 30 per cent. During April-August 2016-17 compared to the same period of previous fiscal. Critiquing the media-hyped “Make in India” of the PM, KS Chalapati Rao, co-author of the ISID report and its distinguished fellow stated, “according to the revised index of industrial production, the manufacturing sector’s annual average growth rate after 2014-15 is less than 4 per cent.
In exports as well, the picture is not rosy. In 2016-17 manufactured exports, including petroleum increased 5 per cent, but this should be seen in the backdrop of a steep fall in oil prices in the previous year. The average annual growth rate during the last two years also remains negative.
Rao added that the number of investment proposals increased in 2016, but remained below “the peak of 2011 or the grossly reduced figure of 2013 in the pre-Make In India period. There cannot be an FDI policy without an industrial policy that works in tandem with trade and technology policies”.
Economic policy and strategy analyst Mohan Guruswamy who was an economic adviser for the major part of the first term of NDA government (1998-2004) pointed out the factors for the collapsing FDI, “over 60 per cent of FDI into India is of Indian origin. It’s by round-tripping. To me, when India starts looking good to Indians, FDI will start pouring in. We still have too many restrictive laws and policies that make acquisition of land, building, and bank finances problematic. Even our labour laws are inhibiting”.
Hoopla & Blunders
Modi’s four years of foreign policy is unabashedly aimed at coating himself with hype and hoopla one after another, ostentatiously but there is a hyperactive push for subordinating India’s foreign relations to a round-the-clock exercise to make India look like a strategic power alongside projecting himself as a powerful personality.
And for this he has unashamedly posed himself as a super foreign minister, keeping the Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj subordinate under him.
But he committed major blunders from the beginning as he demanded changes in Nepal’s newly approved constitution and imposition of unofficial blockade of the Himalayan state in 2015. This had come as a boon for China which moved in towards an unprecedented close position to the newly-born democratic regime, rid of oppressive regal heritage.
To the south of India, China’s acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka in an equity-for-debt swap underlined the massively increased clout of India’s largest neighbour. Security specialists admit China’s “string of pearls” strategy, and consider Hambantota as an addition to that string, alongside the Gwadar port in Pakistan and the country’s first overseas military base in Djibouti.
India’s influence in bilateralism wanes perceptibly in Bangladesh and Maldives too.
Pakistan Pains
About the Pakistan policy during the NaMo era, the less said, the better. Pakistan diplomacy under the present government remains ‘the weirdest link in the chain of foreign policy’. The only cordial stable bilateral relations is on the Afghan front. The trajectory of India’s worsening relationship with Pakistan hints at the downside of having a larger-than-life figure like Modi at the helm. Everything becomes about him in a way that isn’t in the nation’s best interest.
The abject failures on the Nepal and Sri Lanka fronts exposes the hollowness of ‘Neighbourhood First’ as the main pillar of the foreign policy. Nailing the concept, the former external affairs secretary Kanwal Sibal has said that it has proved to be a non-starter “The world’s second most powerful country believes in ‘America First’. India needs investments and access to technology. It needs to fulfil its defence needs through imports. It must secure its energy needs and defend its interests in international trade negotiations, besides seeking reform of the international financial and political institutions to obtain its rightful say in global governance, and so on. None of these pressing needs can be fulfilled by our neighbours. And so, while it is a bonus to have a friendly neighbourhood, it is not a prerequisite for India’s progress and the achievement of its aspirations.”
Blistering Barnacles
Modi has actually been unconcerned about the formidable tradition of India’s foreign policy that enhanced India’s image in the world arena. Or maybe, he is intellectually incapable to perceive this. Otherwise, he would not have been the first Indian premier to have skipped the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Venezuela in 2016, and expectedly, he was blasted by the Eurasia journal for his strange misperception in external policy, unlike his predecessors.
“Modi’s absence in New York signals that he feels less need to personally meet with the business community, a regular focus of past UNGA trips. Similarly, giving NAM a pass demonstrates both that India now enjoys closer than ever ties with the US and regional powers.” He was the first PM to have been absent at the NAM meet. He seemed to have blissfully forgotten that India together with Egypt and the erstwhile Yugoslavia formulated the non-aligned foreign policy when India was led by its first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, and presidents of Egypt and Yugoslavia were Gamal Abdel Nasser and Josip Broz Tito respectively.
On the contrary, he enthusiastically attended the World Economic Forum, which even his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh did not, in spite of being a globally recognised economist, and assigned the Union finance ministers to participate. Ludicrously, Modi delivered the plenary address in Davos in January 2018 in Hindi as if it was a “bid for recognition of Hindi as a language—an Indian language—just as deserving of visibility as one of the world’s major languages alongside English, French, Russian, Chinese, or any other.”
Sober Lashes
In a balanced and sober manner, Alyssa Ayres, senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, observed on Modi’s presentation of India’s democratic diversity as an advantage in an unstable world of flux “This is a smart way to differentiate the great Indian democratic experiment with the increasingly controlling, panopticonic world of China — and indeed, to present the constant of India’s democratic traditions, however messy, as its global selling point. By emphasising this argument, Modi’s remarks today marked a shift to a broader theme from the more narrowly focused investment pitches of the Make in India campaign”, but she reminded the ultra-right ‘Hindutva’ leader that “while democracy’s centrality to India’s story indeed distinguishes the country from so many others, it is also true that India’s great diversity is not always harmonious. Recent headlines have focused on the shocking cases of cow-protection vigilante violence — anti-Muslim in sentiment. I would also note that violence against women has not ended — just pick up any newspaper in India for daily reports — and that frictions and in some cases violence due to ongoing caste discrimination continue. India has a great story to tell about its against-the-odds universal franchise. But the country has not solved its many domestic tensions.”
Political Cesspool
“Foreign policy cannot be an island of excellence in a political cesspool,” appropriately inferred Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, former Pak ambassador to India, China and the USA. Although he had in mind Pakistan, the words are appropriate for India under ‘NaMo’ when foreign policy in applications was afflicted by whims and fancies. Modi is openly pro-Israel unlike any Congress prime minister.
The tilt towards Israel was precipitated when India had the first non-Congress PM, Morarji Desai, a Gujarati like Modi, although Morarji was groomed as a political being in Congress, very much unlike Modi, who has for decades been immersed in saffron ideology. Small wonder, in four years under NaMo rule Israel’s weapons exports to India increased along a steady linear path, alongside trade and technology transfers between the two nations. In sync with the pro-Israeli swing, India had been leaning towards Trumpism. Modi’s subservient attitude towards the US President Donald Trump is detrimental to India’s tradition of independent foreign policy. Qazi, a peacenik, reminded his compatriots but unwittingly all well-meaning political beings of the subcontinent that ‘the degenerate Trump is not an American aberration. He is an American reality. His baleful impact on relations with Pakistan is the American policy.”
Trampled Transparency
The worst casualty of the present government is transparency and this is applicable in foreign policy practices too. The federal government trampled the obligations under the RTI Act by refusing to comply with the Central Information Commission’s order to disclose the names of the government and private individuals who had accompanied Prime Minister Narendra Modi on foreign tours from 2014-15 onwards.
A resident of Assam, Karabi Das wanted information from the Ministry of External Affairs under RTI on the expenditure of PM’s foreign trips from 2015-2017, as also details of non-government individuals who accompanied him on these trips.
The MEA resorted to delaying tactic and partial compliance. On 6 October 2017, Das approached the CIC RK Mathur, who directed the MEA to make available the list of non-government individuals (not concerned with security) who travelled with the PM at the government’s expense. The MEA refused to reply under the cloak of ‘secrecy. It wrote, “The information sought is extremely sensitive. If this information is disclosed, it will have an impact on India’s sovereignty and integrity as also on the country’s security, and strategic, scientific and economic interests. Because of this, a person’s life and physical security can be put in danger. Therefore, this information cannot be disclosed under Section 8 (1)(a) and (c) of the RTI Act, 2005. On a foreign tour, PMO officials, security agencies, foreign ministry officials and media persons usually accompany the prime minister. These officers are selected on the basis of requirements of the foreign tour. The work of these officers for the prime minister is confidential, which is why this information is sensitive.”
Showbiz PM
Modi poses as a showbiz batsman who consistently fails to make good scores. Indeed four and a half years on, he’s put far too few runs on the board, trailing far behind the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The NaMo technique is fatally flawed, especially in external area. Nonetheless, Narendra Modi fits into the degrading transition of the game from ‘glorious uncertainty’ to brazenly speculative twenty-twenty savagery.
But that savagery has cost India Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and even the genteel Bhutan is mighty upset. The old Onida advertisement might as well be tweaked to read: Neighbours’ Enemy, Himself’s Pride! And perhaps no Indian premier in history has gone about saying: “Heads you win, tails I lose”!

Curtains: Pushy Politics

Whether it is the diversified opposition that wins in 2019, or a fragile BJP stays in power, no formation will have absolute domination

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

There is reason enough for West Bengal Chief Minister and All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) chief Mamata Banerjee to feel triumphant that she had managed to bring together a large number of opposition parties in the country on the same platform, though there are quite a few of them who are left out including the Left parties – the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the Communist Party of India (CPI).
It is indeed the case that the Communists do not have much to contribute to the Opposition tally in the Lok Sabha elections this April-May. The moot question is whether the Opposition parties which share an anti-BJP, anti-Modi sentiment can work together to combine their numbers and provide an alternative to the BJP and Mr Narendra Modi.
If the TMC does well in West Bengal, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh, Congress in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, and they can hold together in the moment of victory, then there is a chance for the anti-BJP alliance to emerge as a national alternative.
But then there is a big if. First, these parties must do well in their respective states, and then they must stand together. It is possible that these parties will hang together if they win enough number of seats because they sense that if the BJP gets a second term at the Centre, then they will all be marginalised.
This is indeed the reading of the political experts, and the opposition leaders seem to concur with this view.
The BJP for its part wants to win the parliamentary elections as well as the assembly elections. It wants to dominate the country’s politics at all levels. It wants to reign supreme in the country as did the Congress from 1952 to 1971 and again from 1980 to 1989.But it is unlikely to happen.
The victory of the BJP under Mr Narendra Modi in 2014 is to be compared to the performance of the Congress in the 1967 elections, when it lost its dominance in the Lok Sabha. The Congress had lost the elections in many of the states, starting with Tamil Nadu, when the undivided DMK came to power under CN Annadurai, and the now defunct Swatantra Party, founded by C Rajagopalachari, formed governments in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Odisha, and the Samyukt Vidhayak Dal (SVD) under Charan Singh in Uttar Pradesh in that momentous year of 1967.
The BJP in 2019 could be faced with a similar situation. It would not be a dominant party in the Lok Sabha and it will have to depend on the allies more than it did in 2014. And in the assembly elections that are to follow the Lok Sabha elections and in 2020, it may not remain in power in states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Bihar.
For many people, the emergence of what is described as a rag-tag coalition of the disparate parties that Mamata Banerjee had gathered in Kolkata, or a weakened BJP is an undesirable thing because they believe that India needs a unified political leadership and not a divided one. The argument finds favour with the middle class across the country.
But the logic of democracy is not the same as that of the middle class. The fact that no single party will emerge strong and unchallenged is what keeps Indian democracy vibrant.
Whether it is Mamata Banerjee’s mahagatbandhan or Modi’s BJP that wins the Lok Sabha election, it will not translate into unchallenged dominance. The different parties in the country will be constantly challenging each other, and that is what will keep these parties on their toes. The BJP under party president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi will unleash all the aggression it commands, but the aggression may not pay off.
The opposition parties do not sound as aggressive as the BJP’s Shah and Modi, but they may win the election at the end of the day. The BJP will be tempted to underestimate the strength of the splintered opposition, and it is this overconfidence of the ruling party that will be its undoing.

Killing Fields

For the past four years, farmers’ income have remained static, and political parties are still playing games of hiking minimum support price and loan waivers, while ignoring a financially sound system of direct subsidy

Bhavdeep Kang
Bhavdeep Kang

Bhavdeep has worked for publications like The Times of India, The Telegraph, The Indian Express, India Today & Outlook. She has authored a book ‘Gurus: Stories of India’s Leading Babas’. She is presently freelancing for several publications -both print and digital

It’s that time of the election cycle, again, when the political class revisits the ‘Jai Kisan’ slogan. The never-ending agrarian crisis, marked by falling farm incomes and rising input costs, is sought to be addressed through a variety of quick-fix measures. The formula for relieving farmers’ distress and/or mobilising votes has thus far revolved around loan waivers and an increase in Minimum Support Prices (MSP). Both have proved to be effective vote-catchers but have failed to deliver benefits to the majority of farmers. The new flavour of the year is, thus, the direct farm subsidy.
Before analysing the above schemes, let’s take a look at what really ails India’s farm economy. At first glance, there’s something very wrong with the picture. On the one hand, we have rising food, fertiliser and power subsidies to the farm sector and spiralling credit flows. On the other, there is increasing rural debt and farm input costs, low public investment in agriculture and falling groundwater tables. On the one hand, record sowing and bumper harvests of cereal crops are reported year after year. On the other, NSSO data reveals that most rural households live a hand-to-mouth existence, earning just enough to cover their basic expenses.
Farming is a high-risk profession, vulnerable to any number of variables: weather, crop pests and diseases, price volatility in global and local markets, policy changes and availability of inputs, irrigation and labour. Risk management, in the form of publicly administered crop insurance, is poorly implemented and in any event cannot insulate the farmer against all these factors. Added to these are the problems of misdirected subsidies and credit flow, fragmentation of land holdings, exploitation of tenant farmers, encroachment and degradation of village commons, health risks posed by agro-chemicals, archaic and anti-farmer laws on marketing of produce, lack of post-harvest infrastructure and climate change – the list of farmers’ grievances is virtually endless.
Thus far, our food security strategy has been consumer- rather than farmer-centric. Boosting farm incomes took a backseat to keeping food prices low. With agriculture providing half the employment in the country, the huge gulf between agricultural and non-agricultural incomes must be addressed. In relative terms, farmers are getting poorer by the year.
Bumper harvests can be as big a disaster as failed crops, leading to price crashes - to the point where it makes more sense to let the produce rot on roadsides than take it to the market. In recent years, prices have hit lows of 20 paise a kilo for potatoes and Re 1 per kilo for tomatoes and onions – a fraction of the production costs.
The end result is static farm incomes. Estimates of average monthly farm income range from Rs 1,600 (Economic Survey, Vol 2, 2016-17) to Rs 6,426.00 (National Sample Survey, 2012-13, 70th round). By contrast, a central government employee gets a minimum of Rs 18,000. Small wonder that estimates of indebtedness are as high as 35 per cent to 52 per cent of rural households.
The plan to double farmers’ incomes, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised in 2014, centres around four elements: first, higher prices for produce by reforming markets; second, increasing productivity; third, reforming agricultural land policy; and fourth, crop insurance.
A discussion on better remuneration for farm produce is usually MSP-centric. Last year, the MSP of food grains was sharply increased. The current method of computation takes into account the cost of inputs, family labour and the interest on borrowings and fixes the MSP at 50 per cent over the total. On the face of it, this sounds reasonable. If open market prices are ruling above MSP, the farmer need not sell to government procurement agencies. So, MSP is meant to be a safety net and not a benchmark price for food grains.
MSP Game
Sadly, that is precisely what it has become. The relentless focus of the MSP system is on paddy and wheat, leading to an overproduction of these two crops and consequent soil and water degradation. Of late, procurement of pulses and oilseeds has picked up, moderating prices of these commodities. The biggest drawback of MSP is that it benefits only a handful of farmers who actually have a disposable surplus large enough to sell to procurement agencies: just six to ten per cent and that too in select states. The rest are at the mercy of private traders.
To extend benefits from higher MSPs to all farmers, the Price Deficiency Payment (PDP) or Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana was floated. When open market prices fall below MSP, farmers can sell their produce to private traders, but claim the difference from the government. On paper, the scheme has a dual advantage: it gives the farmers income support and spares the government from the headache of procuring and storing produce.
Unfortunately, the scheme ended up becoming just another arbitrage opportunity for middlemen. Private traders and mandi functionaries, who made a killing by underpaying farmers. The poor farmer then faced enormous trouble in getting his dues from the government. So, private traders benefitted at the cost of the exchequer.
Policy-makers are well aware that the MSP mechanism is no substitute for a robust market. A parallel scheme, with the objective of ensuring that farmers get the best price for their produce, was initiated by the NDA government soon after it came to power. The National Agricultural Market (eNAM) is expected to link mandis across the country and serve as an online trading platform. E-auctions will serve as the default price discovery mechanism.
A study of the Unified Marketing Platform (UMP) in Karnataka – a sort of precursor to eNAM – showed that farmers benefit from online trading. After its introduction in 2015-16, modal prices of agricultural commodities in UMP-linked mandis increased sharply over the previous year – much higher than the increase in wholesale prices in the rest of the country. As of last year, almost 600 mandis across the country were registered on eNAM to trade in some 90 commodities, but it hasn’t taken off because of infrastructure, policy and implementation issues. Apart from dumping restrictions on inter-state and inter-mandi trades, states must ensure that mandis are provided with equipment: seamless internet connectivity, computers/printers, sorting/grading and quality testing machines, etc.
A review of eNAM by the Niti Aayog has found that mandis are ill-equipped to assay farm produce. Most mandis have equipment for weighing and measuring moisture content, but this is not adequate for quality assurance in e-trading. The review also confirmed that auctions were taking place offline and the data was being entered on the eNAM portal post facto, which defeats the purpose of the platform.
eNAM Hijack
State governments must stop politically powerful middlemen from hijacking the eNAM platform. For example, in Haryana, which topped in eNAM sales in 2017, 60 per cent of the trade on eNAM was actually procurement operations for rice and wheat by the state government agencies. Taking into account the total trades and bids received, it seems there were only 1.5 bids per e-trade on the average, most of them offline and local. The middlemen walked away with fat commissions, defeating the objective of the platform, which is to connect the farmer directly to the traders.
In fact, middlemen continue to rule the roost in the state. Government-licensed arhatiyas take home a staggering Rs 15,000 crore each year! Their presence is justified on the premise that they extend loans to farmers who do not have access to institutional credit. This is a specious argument. Why should the state, through commissions to arhatiyas, subsidise informal channels of credit? Why not reform the credit system, which caters to agri-business rather than farmers? Loan waivers, likewise, benefit a minority. Farmers take loans to meet the cost of farm machinery, irrigation equipment and inputs like seeds, labour, power, agro-chemicals and soil amendments, as well as meeting personal expenses. Most of them, however, have no access to institutional credit and wind up in the hands of moneylenders.
Waiver Damage
Agriculture economists who have denounced farm loan waivers as unproductive and harmful in the long-term aren’t just whistling in the wind. That loan waivers negatively impact taxpayers is a no-brainer. State governments use public funds to pay off banks who hold farmers’ loans, effectively transferring money from the pockets of taxpayers to borrowers.
Most states face a ballooning fiscal deficit and debt waivers make matters worse. A bloated fiscal deficit means heavy borrowing and debt servicing and therefore, less money for expenditure on health, education, infrastructure and so on. The poor get fewer services and growth is stymied.
The biggest problem is that loan waivers penalise honesty and self-sufficiency and create what bankers call a ‘moral hazard’. That the farmer is an honest soul who likes to repay his debts is not just a romantic fiction, but is borne out by the fact that default on farm loans is a lot less than that of corporates. Along comes a politician and declares ‘karza maaf’. This is manifestly unfair to farmers who did not – or could not - take loans from banks and also to those who repaid their loans in a timely fashion. Farmers who have the capacity to repay (and these are the ones who find it easiest to get loans) get away with a free bonus. Those who take loans from informal channels (because banks have refused to consider their loan applications) suffer.
Bankers are fearful that the trend of farm loan waivers will encourage farmers not to repay loans, resulting in a gradual increase in agriculture NPAs. This will make future access to credit harder for all farmers. Studies have shown that loan waivers result in a subsequent credit squeeze as banks tighten norms – after the 2008 mega-loan waiver, bank lending moved away from the districts which saw the most write-offs.
Direct Subsidy
Yet, farmer leaders lobby ceaselessly for higher MSPs and it is politically expedient for governments to succumb to their demands, regardless of the increased burden of agricultural subsidies and further skewing of the country’s food economy.
The one scheme that has attracted kudos from agricultural economists is the direct farm subsidy. Applied across the country, it has been estimated to cost around Rs 2 lakh crore, half as much as a pan-Indian loan waiver.
Politicians’ interest in a direct farm subsidy was piqued when Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao decimated the Congress in the November 2018 assembly elections. The Congress was stunned: its pre-poll promise of farm loan waivers and bonus on MSP had clicked in the north but fell miserably flat in the south. A curious outcome, given that the incidence of rural indebtedness in Telangana is two-and-a-half times that in Chhattisgarh (NABARD, 2017).
KCR’s Rythu Bandhu or direct farm subsidy scheme has the advantage of being truly universal. It gives an annual payout of Rs 8,000 per acre to all farmers, big or small, irrespective of crops. It is intended to cover the farmer’s input costs but does not demand any proof of utilisation. The farmer is free to spend the money as he pleases. As power to the agricultural sector is free, it will ensure that the farmer is not cash-starved, or dependent on money-lenders, at the beginning of the crop season.
The subsidy is given in the form of a cheque, rather than through direct benefit transfer (DBT). Launched from May 2018, the scheme is believed to have benefited 93 per cent of actual land-holders. Direct farm subsidies have the advantage of having the least distortionary impact on our food economy, according to research body ICRIER.
The KCR effect is now visible. Jharkhand adopted the direct subsidy scheme last month, whereas Assam chose the tried-and-tested loan waiver route (perhaps anticipating that the centre would come out with a direct subsidy, as suggested by KCR, thereby delivering a double benefit to farmers). Even as the policy-makers struggle to determine the best way forward, the Economic Survey of 2017-18 raised the biggest red flag yet, when it estimated the impact of climate change on farmers. Farm incomes, it said, may shrink by as much as 25 per cent as a result of crop losses due to water-stress. At that point, our food sovereignty may stand compromised.

Abracadabra Economy Lies Cold

Even friendly economists discern that all of Modi’s jugglery has done nothing to take the country where he had promised it would reach under his ‘magic wand’

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

There is a fierce argument about what Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been able to achieve in office over the last five years. If many point to the disaster that demonetisation of November 8, 2016 is, then others point to the far-reaching tax reform of Goods and Services Tax (GST) that Modi had rolled out on July 1, 2017.
International Monetary Fund’s chief economist Gita Gopinath observed wryly that the collections from GST were less than expected, and some of the people, not economists, do feel that demonetisation has helped check the generation of black money. There is the battle between perception and fact. Prime Minister Modi is faced with the tricky challenge where perception is both positive and negative as in the case of demonetisation. Similarly, some of the facts related to the economy are also both positive and negative.
Political opponents will focus on the deleterious effects of some of Modi’s economic measures like demonetisation, though this has receded into the background because November 8, 2016 looks a little far away from February- 2019, and there is the farmers’ distress across the country, especially in BJP-ruled states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra which cannot be dismissed as the propaganda of the opposition parties.
But economists are not willing to judge the Modi government’s performance on the economic front too harshly. They see the government’s achievements much more generously. But the views of the economists do not turn the tables in an election year. It does happen that a ruling party loses an election even after it has done a good job in dealing with the economy. This had been the case with the PV Narasimha Rao government, when then finance minister Manmohan Singh steered the economy out of a crisis, but Rao and the Congress lost the election in 1996. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government in 2004 faced the same problem. The economy was coming out of a downturn but the BJP lost the election.
In 2014, it was not the fault of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee that the Indian economy was caught in the tailspin of what is now recognised as the Great Recession triggered by 2008 financial meltdown in the United States. But the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance lost the election.
Nothing Spectacular
The Modi government has not achieved spectacular success on the economic front, and as Surjit Bhalla, member of Modi’s Economic Advisory Council, points out, the growth rate of 7 per cent is below potential, and former chief economic advisor Arvind Virmani feels that the growth rate of the Modi years is the same as those of the previous five years.
It is only Lord Meghnad Desai who gives thumbs up to the Modi growth narrative because he seems to sense that in terms of perception of the people, the 7 per cent growth rate is good, and no one is going to pause and scrutinise its real significance.
Prime Minister Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and their colleagues in the government and in the BJP had blamed the previous government for the large non-performing assets (NPAs) of the public sector banking system, which in turn affected the credit flow system. But the NPAs never really posed a critical challenge to the banks and to the financial system.
Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das, speaking at Vibrant Gujarat Summit on January 19, 2019, revealed: “After reaching a peak of 11.5 per cent in March 2018, the gross non-performing assets ratio improved to 10.8 per cent in September 2018. As per the current assessment of the Reserve Bank, the ratio may further improve to 10.3 per cent by March 2019.”
It can be seen the NPAs improved only marginally, from 11.5 per cent in March 2018 to an expected 10.3 per cent in March 2019. In the same speech, Das said, “The progress of IBC (Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code) so far has been encouraging and has resulted in better recovery as compared to the earlier mechanisms. Data available till January 3, 2019, suggest that resolution processes have been approved in 66 cases, involving around 800 billion as resolution value to creditors.”
This shows that the NPAs posed a challenge to credit system but it was not life-threatening at any time, and that the IBC, a far improved and rational mechanism, is only helping in resolving the NPAs in a modest way.
Fizzled FDI
Another major area where the Modi government did not perform miracles was in the segment of foreign investments in India. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) was abolished in 2017. But this has not radically altered the profile of foreign investments in India. Data shows that much of FDI came into the services sector, and much of it came from Mauritius and Singapore. Again, foreign investments in the markets are higher than foreign investment in businesses and infrastructure projects in the country.
It has been noticed that in the last two years, foreign investment flows into India have decreased as part of a global trend.
An assessment of the economic performance of the Modi government cannot be done in black and white, or positive/negative terms. It is a fuzzy picture. The economy does not follow the political diktat of leaders. Though there were many things that Prime Minister Modi wanted to do, he could not. And it is not his fault.
The economic trends are much too complicated.
It is not surprising then that Modi would not fight the election on the basis of economic statistics because there is not much to show there. He will have to fall back on emotive issues like his fight against corruption, which cannot be quantified, or attack the Nehru-Gandhi domination of the Congress party.

Mocking Economy For Politics

His hubris generated by the staggering 2014 victory and the avarice to stay in power for ever forced Modi and his team to make severe mistakes on the economy front

Alam Srinivas
Alam Srinivas

Alam Srinivas is a business journalist with nearly three decades behind him, working for The Times of India, India Today, Outlook, Financial Express and Business Today. He is the author of “Cricket Czars: Two Men who Changed the Gentleman’s Game”

May 2014: It seemed the end of politics for the next four years. Narendra Modi single-handedly got the BJP a majority in the Lok Sabha. There was a saffron wave that would gain momentum and enable the party to capture more state assemblies in the near future. Apart from a few states, the signs of BJP resurgence were there on most political walls across the country. It was an opportune time to focus on economics, including social welfare.
January 2019: It never happened. It turned out to be a nightmare. The more Modi focussed on economics, the more politics dragged him away. Like the several crises in the economy, there seemed to be un-surmountable ones on the political front. The politics of Modi, and his never-ending and ever-stretching political goals, impacted the economy. The report card is dismal, and there are red marks across the page, against several subjects.
The five-year term began earnestly. The economy seemed derailed, growth had stuttered, unemployment was on the rise, and central finances were in disarray. But there was a bright sky on the horizon.
Inflation was low, prices of commodities, especially crude oil, were at the lowest, and there was visible excitement within the different classes, including the business community. It was a time to march, and the pot of economic gold was around the corner.
Blunders Begin
Sadly, the blunders began within a month – with the first Budget that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented in June 2014. That set a trend of economic mistakes, which were only bolstered by the looming political disasters, as politics dominated economics. By 2016, even earlier, in 2015, it was clear that the timing was out, the cylinders and bores were not aligned. Ultimately, as was the case in 2013-14, politics triumphed over economics. Economic policy was dictated by political objectives. Even when it wasn’t, it seemed so because of the political fallouts. The action-reaction mechanism went into a loop, a kind of feedback mechanism. The cause-and-effect was out of sync; the cause became the effect, and vice versa. As the saying goes, when the finger pointed at the moon, Modi and Jaitley, along with the BJP loyalists and sympathisers, looked intently at the finger. There were many good policies that seemed necessary. The problem lay with the changing politics, both at the central and states levels, which influenced their contours and implementation. The Benami Transaction Act was used more for political vendetta against opposition leaders. So were IT and the GST to target business supporters of political parties.
Together, they proved that several decisions were not thought through, along with a realisation that they frightened the honest, and didn’t matter to the dishonest.
The more the government tried to change things, the more they remained the same. In some cases, both the trends showed. They led to criticism, as well as frequent changes, which undermined the credibility of the policymakers. In other cases, perfectly-sensible policies were used for personal vendetta as revenge against political enemies, either to scuttle them or force them to fall in line to support the BJP or work against its other foes.
The end result was chaos, confusion, frustration, and even anger. The economy faltered. This was reflected in the relationship between politics and Budgets.
Bumpy Budget
Political euphoria after an unexpected and grand victory ensured that Jaitley’s first Budget was a washout. Arrogance and extreme self-confidence within, along with the pressures from the quarters that helped, forced the finance minister to deliver a part of the promised booties to vested interests. Hence, there was something for every section that voted for the BJP. It was neither here nor there, although a few policies were announced. Before the government could present its second Budget, there was a political shock. Despite personal campaigning by Modi, who announced that if he was a ‘lucky’ prime minister, the voters should elect his party, the BJP was swamped in the Delhi assembly election. Arvind Kejriwal, the new political star got over 95 per cent of the seats.
There was a tornado within the BJP. From then on, one of the priorities was to decimate Kejriwal, by hook or by crook. More importantly, the BJP realised that its juggernaut won’t necessarily hurtle through the states. And this was crucial because while the party had a majority in the Lower House, it was way short of the half-way figure in the Rajya Sabha. The ‘Congress-mukt’ philosophy became essential if the numbers had to swell up in the Upper House to push through the critical legislation. Hence, Kejriwal’s win forced the BJP to focus more on the states.
Bihar Bruising
The scenario became scarier with the Mahagathbandhan. When several opposition parties joined hands in the Bihar assembly elections in late 2015, the BJP lost. Nitish came back to power, after he ditched the central ruling regime.
Politics became even more important for Modi. Now, he and his loyalists had to ensure that there was no political ganging-up against them. They had to make sure that the opposition stayed disunited.
From then on, politics became more important than economics. The year 2016 only concretised this realisation when Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa retained powers in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, respectively. Politics was now the top priority for the prime minister. Hence, economic decisions were dictated by their political implications. This was reflected in the announcements made in the subsequent Budgets.
Beginning 2016, the Budgets were geared towards the creation of new vote banks, and consolidation of the old ones. Welfare schemes too were aimed to broad-base BJP’s voters’ base. The party’s and the government’s overriding focus was on how to win the forthcoming assembly elections, with an eye clearly on 2019, the year of the national election.
Economics became a means to achieve electoral victories, not for growth, not for development, and not to reduce corruption, the three most important election promises in 2014.
Sure enough, the same was true for Budget decisions. Two of the most crucial ones were demonetisation, and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Whatever the government claimed, and it changed its narrative several times, the ban on the older Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes wasn’t for economic and security reasons. It was neither to curb the expanse of black money, nor to dry up the cash funds with terror organisations. Subsequent events proved this.
Demonetisation Drama
Almost all the cash in circulation via the old high denomination notes was deposited with the banks. It seemed as if there was no black money around. Similarly, terror activities continued as usual. In fact, the government possibly fuelled the black economy by introduction of even higher denomination, the Rs 2,000 note.
The cash in circulation, according to the RBI, has reached, and even surpassed, the pre-demonetisation level. In retrospect, the only objective behind the move was to squeeze the money bags of some of the regional political parties with an eye on the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly elections.
Demonetisation was announced in November 2016. The UP results were announced in March 2017. The BJP rightly assumed that some of its fiercest competitors in the state had access to huge money bags. Those purses had to disappear as Modi badly wanted to win UP.
They did. The BJP won majestically. Demonetisation proved to be the key to dismantle the dominance of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. In the run-up to the assembly election, the BSP was predicted to sweep initially, and later the SP was believed to romp back to power. In the end, the BJP won an unbelievable over 300 seats. It convinced Modi that economics, apart from usual politics, could result in unexpected electoral victories.
Growth Ruined
Growth was hit because of demonetisation. The unorganised and unregulated sectors felt the heaviest blows. In a bid to revive the economy, and make it more transparent, the government pushed through the GST. Here too, the main objective was to gain political brownie points, i.e. to woo the voters in the upcoming elections. Hence, GST, which was introduced in June 2017, turned out to be an immediate disaster.
Implemented in a hurry, GST’s initial proposals hurt the small and medium enterprises. The only segment it benefitted was the large industries and prominent business empires. The traders were hit the worst, as a single tax was now levied on consumption, and not on production.
The concept of a single tax went for a six due to several different rates. There was a virtual revolt among the self-employed and poor traders. Over the next year, the government had to change the policy several times, including the levied taxation rates. But it neither stopped corruption, nor even curtailed it. After the initial hiccups, it was business as usual for the dishonest businessmen. However, thanks to the frequent changes, the BJP won the Gujarat assembly in late 2017. It convinced Modi that the criticism against GST will not harm the party’s electoral successes.
Stats Games
Since the policies were used to reap political benefits, they were not implemented properly. This was true of several welfare schemes. In the case of the construction of toilets, and opening bank accounts for the poor, statistics were the key. Numbers were important, not whether the toilets and accounts were used. Targets were everything, although there was little activity in the new accounts, and toilets went unused because of lack of water.
Crop insurance for farmers was an ideal policy. But the money hardly reached the needy. Suicides among the agriculturalists remained high. The doubling of the minimum support prices (MSPs) for several crops was laudable. This was to double farm incomes in a few years. Alas, the farmers never received the MSPs, as they generally couldn’t wait to sell to the government, or the government wouldn’t buy beyond certain limits.
To woo rural women voters, the government gave them subsidised gas stoves and LPG cylinders. It was highlighted as a great boon to the women, who used wood and charcoal as fuel. But this too wasn’t thought through. Suddenly, the rural households, now used to LPG, realised that they had to buy non-subsidised cylinders at the expensive market prices. Most couldn’t afford them. The families found themselves in a lurch.
Modi couldn’t have done a lot in terms of economics at this late stage. The reason was that the economic tide had turned against him. Luck gave away to misfortune as global commodity prices, including crude oil, rose ominously. Growth sputtered back to normal levels but wasn’t as high as in the pre-Modi era. Businessmen were cagey to invest; the banks were apprehensive to lend given the ever-growing bad loans, and banking scandals.
By 2018, after a tough victory in Gujarat, politics was paramount, and economics took the seat at the extreme back. The reason: BJP desperately wanted to win the three important assemblies in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. Unfortunately, by then, for the voters, the economics became more important than Modi’s politics. They were tired of low growth, higher fuel prices and growing unemployment.
The BJP lost all the three states to the Congress, whose revival in north India was written off a couple of years earlier. Politics then triumphed over economics, with the national election just a few months away.
It’s now back to full-time politics for the BJP and its government.

…And Then The re Were None!

The sheer arrogance of the Modi-Shah duo has seen a steady leakage in the alliance tank, till NDA started is tanking, with allies showing BJP the middle finger one by one

Sujit Chakraborty
Sujit Chakraborty

Sujit Chakraborty is a senior journalist and author of three books. He has worked with various publications and was the first Indian to manage Bhutan’s first independent daily, Bhutan Times. He has also specialised on environmental issues

It’s that time of the election cycle, again, when the political class revisits the ‘Jai Kisan’ slogan. The never-ending agrarian crisis, marked by falling farm incomes and rising input costs, is sought to be addressed through a variety of quick-fix measures.
When Agatha Christie wrote this mystery novel in 1939, she could never have imagined that the story line would fit a Union Government in a far off country like India. With sixteen parties having deserted the BIP during past five years, National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA’s) fate seem to have been sealed. Only a few still remain on board but none of them, barring Akali Dal, carries any weight. What happened to the NDA which was 334-member strong in 2014?
Shiv Sena is among the earliest allies of Bharatiya Janata Party. The Sena Chief Bal Thackeray forged a bond with Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pramod Mahajan in 1989 which lasted for 25 years. The Sena, along with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Parkash Singh Badal, stood by the BJP when no other party was ready to back the 13-day-long Vajpayee government in 1996. The two parties have been together through thick and thin. If Lal Krishna Advani launched a rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya for construction of Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, Thackeray was a step ahead planning the demolition of the Babri Mosque.
Chor Chowkidar
It therefore came as a bolt from the blue when Thackeray’s son Uddhav, the current Sena president, not only distanced from the BJP last year but also announced that the two parties would contest separately in the 2019 Parliamentary elections.
In fact, this is not the first time that BJP and Sena would contest separately since the two parties came together in 1989. They contested the last Parliamentary elections together but parted ways during Assembly elections held nine months later. Seeds of the discord had been sown on a dispute over seat sharing. Riding a resurgent Modi wave, BJP performed better than Sena during the 2014 Parliamentary elections.
This is why it wanted to play big brother to the Sena during Assembly polls. Not agreeing to scale down the number of seats the Sena had been contesting for past quarter of a century, Uddhav decided to contest alone.
Unable to get a majority, BJP looked at the Sena to form the government in Maharashtra. The Sena obliged. But BJP remained the dominant partner, grabbing not only Chief Minister’s post but also cornering most of the important ministries. Uddhav had to eat a humble pie. But, last year his cup of humiliation was filled to the brim. That’s when he decided to part ways with BJP.
With Lok Sabha hold just around the corner, BJP wants to court the Shiv Sena once again. In the wake of a resurgent Congress-NCP alliance, BJP leaders have been making overtures to the Sena for seat sharing. Uddhav Thackeray instead responded by repeating a slogan coined by Congress chief Rahul Gandhi: “Chowkidar Chor Hai” (the guard is himself the thief).
The ‘Guard’ in question, is none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who coined one of his typical cheap populist slogans, that he was the ‘chowkidar’ guarding against thieves and knaves looting the country. Gandhi’s slogan came in the context of the allegation of monumental misappropriation in the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France, and bringing in Ambani by ousting the official aircraft makers of the country, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
Steady Desertions
This, more or less, has been the story of the NDA led by the BJP, during the past five years. Lo and behold, one by one 16 parties have quit the alliance – some quietly like Asom Gana Parishad, and some among claps of thunder, like the Telugu Desam Party and Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Officially, the NDA claims to have 42 parties in its fold but if Shiv Sena is left out, the biggest chunk of Lok Sabha MPs is six of Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP), four of SAD and two each of Janata Dal (United) and Apan Dal. Only four other parties have one MP each in the Lower House of the Parliament. Rest of the 31 parties are there in the alliance as just fillers – 13 parties from southern India (including eight from Kerala and five from Tamil Nadu) and 12 from North Eastern states.
The alliance tally in Lok Sabha is now down from 334 in 2014 to 307. And if we take out recalcitrant Shiv Sena, the tally gets further down to 289 just seven more than what BJP won in 2014 elections.
The reason for this depletion in numbers is twofold – first, the desertion by a dozen and a half allies, and second, losses suffered by the BJP in successive by elections during the past five years.
These are the twin problems BJP needs to tackle on priority. Solving the first puzzle automatically solves the second. If BJP manages to persuade its estranged allies to come on board again or win more, it could harbour hopes to return to power. On the contrary, there are at least a dozen more allies who are threatening to part ways.
Fire in Northeast
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which was passed by the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session, is proving to be the proverbial Achilles Heel for the BJP. The bill provides citizenship to all non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries who apply for it after residing in India for six years. BJP’s allies in the northeast are mighty miffed over this.
The AGP has already left the NDA, while a number of them like Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura and Nagaland People’s Party are threatening to follow suit.
The AGP feels the bill negates the Assam Accord reached between All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the Rajiv Gandhi government at the centre in 1985. The agreement barred people from migrating into the state after 1971 the year Bangladesh was created. It also provided for eviction of people migrating into Assam after the cutoff date. The National Registry of Citizens (NRC) created last year, has 49 lakh such people who have been living in Assam “illegally”.
The AGP leaders fear that the situation will worsen if the Citizenship Bill is turned into a law after passage from the Rajya Sabha as well. But, such a situation is highly improbable because of staunch opposition to the bill by a host of parties including Trinamool Congress. These parties won’t allow the bill to be approved in the Rajya Sabha, as the ruling alliance is still in a minority there.
“We tried our level best to explain the negative effects of this bill in Assam, but the BJP left us with no choice but to leave the alliance by taking this bill forward,” said AGP president Atul Bora. Other northeastern parties agree with AGP that the bill if passed, might alter the demography of these states, besides being ultra vires because of discrimination on the basis of religion (singling out Muslims).
Gaping Holes
This latest exit has given rise to speculation that the NDA is in deep trouble. BJP leaders however claim: “Whenever old allies leave, new ones join. The NDA doesn’t get weaker if a party leaves it. The coalition is in an even stronger position than before.” But, the current trend indicates otherwise. And it is likely that BJP might be left with only a handful of allies by the time election schedule is announced in March first week.
This was precisely the reason for the shocking defeat of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government in the 2004 elections. The NDA-1, as it has come to be called now, was formed in 1999 after the fall of the Vajpayee government with one vote on the floor of Lok Sabha. At that time, it had 23 members. The BJP had only 181 members, 101 less than its 2014 tally. But, the allies made up for much more than the required number. But, by next elections, the alliance was left with only six parties most had already jumped the sinking ship.
Narendra Modi fears an encore. This is why he along with BJP chief Amit Shah has been going out of the way to placate the allies. First to threaten the BJP was Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJSP. Paswan’s son Chirag wrote two letters to Shah and Modi demanding an ‘honourable share’ in seats for the next elections. Shah and Modi not only conceded his demand of six Lok Sabha seats but also promised to send the senior Paswan to Rajya Sabha via elections due next month.
But more surprising was their capitulation before another Bihar ally JD(U) agreeing to let it contest 17 seats, though the party could win only two in the 2014 polls. This left the BJP to contest only 17 out of total 40 seats in Bihar, though it had contested 30 seats, winning 22 of them in the last elections (2014). What a major climb down!
This emboldened other alliance partners to extract their pounds of flesh as well. Apna Dal chief Ashish Patel has started cribbing about the unfair treatment meted out to a party which has two Lok Sabha MPs and 19 members in Uttar Pradesh Assembly. He threatened to field candidates in 10 Lok Sabha seats if the party was not compensated adequately this time. Another UP ally, the prickly Om Prakash Rajbhar of Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, too has demanded at least two seats, lest it is forced to part ways.
Repeat Act
The exodus of allies from the NDA had started in 2014 itself, when, just a few months after the Lok Sabha elections, the Haryana Janhit Congress quit before the state assembly elections. Party Chief Kuldeep Bishnoi alleged: “The BJP is a fraudulent party. It wants to finish off regional parties.”
Another party that left the fold in December that year was Tamil Nadu’s MDMK. Its chief Vaiko alleged that the BJP was working against Tamils. Vijayakanth’s DMDK, which had lost all 14 seats it contested as part of the NDA in the Lok Sabha polls, left soon after, as did S Ramadoss’ PMK.
Telugu superstar Pawan Kalyan had campaigned heavily for the NDA in the general elections, but didn’t take long to get disenchanted, leaving the alliance with his JanaSena Party. In 2016, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Bolshevik) in Kerala also distanced itself from the NDA. Recently, tribal leader CK Janu’s Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha departed, accusing the NDA of not fulfilling its promises to the tribal population of Kerala.
Maharashtra ally Swabhimani Paksha left NDA in 2017, accusing the BJP-led central government and state government of being anti-farmer. Last year, the spate of allies quitting the NDA began with Bihar’s Hindustan Awam Morcha (HAM). Then, the BJP lost one of its oldest allies. The Naga People’s Front broke its 15-year alliance with the NDA just before assembly elections in Nagaland in February last year.
The Telugu Desam Party, the biggest party in NDA after BJP and Shiv Sena, too quit soon over non-fulfilment of demand for special status to Andhra Pradesh. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha withdrew its support to the NDA, claiming that the BJP had cheated them.
The aftermath of the Karnataka assembly polls saw the Karnataka Pragnyavantha Janatha Party break its partnership with the BJP to join the post-poll JD(S)-Congress alliance.
By December, another ally had enough, as the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party left the NDA fold and joined the UPA. Another party from Bihar, Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party, followed the RLSP into the opposition fold. Sahni was considered close to Amit Shah.
In June 2018, BJP pulled out of its alliance with the Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, leading to the fall of Mehbooba Mufti’s government. Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP) has also threatened that he has all options open to him, including quitting the NDA. The NPP is vehemently opposed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
Payback Time
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had contested with 28 parties, winning 282 seats on its own, while 22 allies won 52 seats. After the polls too, the NDA has welcomed many smaller parties into its fold — at its peak, the NDA had 48 constituents.
Political analysts claim that most NDA parties are hedging their bets for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. Feeling that Modi has lost his charisma, they are either siding with UPA or charting their independent course in the hope of being in a better bargaining position, in case of a third front government if neither BJP nor Congress manage a clear majority in the coming elections.
The allies are also miffed over the high handed behaviour of the BJP during the past five years. The allies had negligible say in governance. They suspected being snooped and followed. With BJP having a clear majority in Lok Sabha, allies were apprehensive of being thrown out of government if they protested the Modi-Shah antics.
That explains their anger.
It’s payback time for them.
And for the BJP as well.

Priyanka: Trump Card or Morale Booster?

Her sudden entrée into politics has been likened to a ‘surgical strike’ on the BJP, but she will need much more than her personal charm and her Indira-like looks to win elections. Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr writes

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

It is the media speculation about Priyanka Vadra Gandhi that has always had a feverish ring to it. She is expected to bring a magic wand to revive the decimated party, something that her brother and party president Rahul Gandhi is supposed to have failed to do, though he is fighting the first general election this summer. And there have been conspiratorial theories that in old-style palace intrigues, the ostensibly charismatic and cleverer than her brother Priyanka is supposed to replace him in the party. There are some courtiers in the party who talk of these things in hushed tones and which the media believes to be the ‘pulse’ of the party. But the facts are prosaic.
She was slated to lead the party like her distinguished grandmother Indira Gandhi, and it has been in the air since 1999 when she attacked Arun Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi’s cousin who joined hands with VP Singh in 1988 and turned against her father. She launched an emotionally-charged frontal attack, accusing Arun Nehru of stabbing her father in the back.
At the time her mother was the party president, and she and her brother were not in politics. There was speculation again in 2003 that the brother-sister duo would join the political fray and help revive the party’s fortunes in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. It did not happen.
Flash News
It was Sonia Gandhi with the help of advisers who reached out to allies and formed the United Progressive Alliance and succeeded in forming a government in 2004. Rahul Gandhi had then joined the party at the time and became a first time Member of Parliament from Amethi, even as Sonia Gandhi contested from her mother-in-law’s constituency of Rae Bareli. There was not much speculation about Priyanka in 2009, though the hushed talk was heard again how Sonia Gandhi, like a typical Italian-Indian mother, is doting on the son to the neglect of the talented daughter.
Even as Rahul Gandhi struggled to find his political feet in the Lok Sabha election of 2014 after he became the vice-president of the party in 2013, and as president in 2017, there was no loud talk about Priyanka entering politics. So when the press statement was issued on January 23 appointing her as the general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, the key Hindi heartland state which will decide the fate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP, the news caught everyone off guard. No one expected her to be inducted at this moment in this way, and given a modest assignment.
Uttar Pradesh will be looked after by Jyotiraditya Scindia and Priyanka, two new generation leaders, who are in their 40s, and whose fathers have been leaders in the party. Scindia had campaigned for the party in the parliamentary elections of 2004, 2009 and 2014, and the assembly elections of 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2018.
In many ways, Scindia is the more experienced of the two. Priyanka had only been the campaign manager for her mother and brother in the parliamentary elections in Rae Bareli and Amethi.
It is indeed a moot question whether the two new appointees can do anything to turn around the fortunes of the party in the most populous state in the country with the largest contingent of 80 members in the Lok Sabha. Priyanka’s formal political baptism in Uttar Pradesh will be just that, a baptism. She cannot be expected to do miracles for the party in this election.
Quick Sand
There is, however, the danger that her formal presence in the party structure will make her a power centre of her own, and she will have to tackle the position deftly because she cannot, and should not, turn away members of the party who would want to approach her to get favours from the brother. At the same time, she has to avoid becoming a power centre parallel to that of her brother.
Party insiders make it clear that there is no inner rivalry in the family, that Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka act in unison and they consult each other. There was a sense that Rahul Gandhi faced problems in asserting his authority in the party while he was the vice-president and after taking over as president, because Sonia was keen that feathers should not ruffled, and the party old guard should not be thrown out in any peremptory action.
It does appear that her counsel has prevailed. Priyanka will, however, be seen as the bridge between Rahul and the party cadre, and she may have greater freedom to take decisions, which will not be overturned by the brother.
Priyanka is yet to win her political spurs. Her charming personality cannot be the base for inferring that she will be a charismatic leader in the mould of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi. Many people forget that Indira Gandhi had to struggle to establish her credentials in the party as well as in the country from 1966, when she took over as prime minister after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri and 1971 when she won a massive mandate with her slogan, ‘Garibi hatao’. But her charisma did not work in 1977 when she and the Congress were wiped out in Uttar Pradesh.
People’s Mood
The belief of the spineless members of the Congress that it is the Nehru-Gandhis who will bring them back to power is not in sync with the national mood. The people in this country are evaluating every political leader on their ability. Prime Minister Modi will learn to his dismay in the May election that people do not care much for his so-called charisma, which the members of the BJP slavishly believe. Charisma is a component of political reckoning of leaders but it is not the only one. There has to be a feasible programme, an acceptable ideology. Each leader will have to make sense of what is the programme and what is the ideology. If Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra were to speak the language of their grandmother, then they might find there are no takers for this. The poor people in India of 2019 think differently from the poor people in the country back in 1971. Mr Modi knew that people had no patience for the mumbo-jumbo of Hindutva and the Ram temple in Ayodhya. That is why, through the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign, he did not utter the words ‘Hindutva’ and ‘the Ram temple in Ayodhya’. He cannot harp on slogans of 2014 in 2019. The dynamic of democracy does not allow that.
The fact that Priyanka has been assigned eastern Uttar Pradesh means that she will not campaigning for the party across the country as Rahul, who will be chief campaigner in his capacity as party president. The burden of the Congress’ national campaign will rest on the shoulders of Rahul Gandhi alone, this time around. Priyanka will have to do her years of apprenticeship as did her brother. Rahul served an apprenticeship of 13 years from 2004 to 2017.
Priyanka will have to be an apprentice at least for five years. In the unlikely scenario of Rahul Gandhi taking over as prime minister of an anti-BJP coalition government, then there would be frantic moves by the sycophants in the party to make Priyanka the party president. As of now this looks an unrealistic scenario. Whatever be the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, Priyanka Gandhi will travel across the country and meet party workers and leaders, and the people. She will familiarise herself with the politics of the country. It is something that the Nehru-Gandhis do. Jawaharlal Nehru did it, so did Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. The only one who did not serve the apprenticeship period is Sonia Gandhi. She took over as president of the party in 1998 without prior experience in politics and in the party. But that was an exception. The party was so desperate in 1998 that it allowed a novice to take over the party. But she handled her job well because Sonia Gandhi worked with the senior leaders in the party. She did not display the impetuosity that is characteristic of the Nehru-Gandhis. She was very un-Nehru-Gandhi in the manner she managed the party. And she did her job creditably well. Rahul and Priyanka can make mistakes and get away with those. They can lose elections and not be thrown off the perch in the party. What will bring electoral success to the party will be changing mood of the people rather than the ability of the Nehru-Gandhi clan. This was proved in victories in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December 2018. Whether in 2019 or in 2024, people are likely to vote for the Congress and it may not be entirely due to the charisma of either Rahul or Priyanka. With most of the political parties choosing their leaders from a family, whether it be National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir, Akali Dal in Punjab, Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, it is no more a stigma for the Congress to stick with the Nehru-Gandhis. The BJP cannot attack the Congress on the dynastic succession issue and hope to score a point. The BJP has yet to establish its democratic credentials in choosing its leader. Right now, it is the closed shop Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that chooses the BJP president and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. The party formally approves the RSS nominee. Rahul and Priyanka will have to prove their political worthiness to win elections. They cannot fall back on the family connection. The family talisman does not work in 21st century democratic India. So, the brother and sister will have to hone their political skills, evolve a vision that chimes with the people of India at this moment, and build a team of new leaders in the party. It is a grueling and thankless task, and most probably they know by now political leadership is indeed a crown of thorns.
Emerging Leadership
Whether the century-and-a-quarter old Congress learn to stand on its own feet and stop depending on the Nehru-Gandhis is a question that will persist. The answer does not lie with Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka but with the new leaders in the Congress. This does not necessarily mean that Rahul and Priyanka will have to be thrown out of the party. It would only mean that other emerging party leaders will share the responsibility of managing the organisation and lead it to victory in elections at the national level. It will only mean that Rahul and Priyanka will be part of the galaxy of leaders in the party and not the only leaders. It is not likely to happen going by the present mood in the Congress. As a consequence, Rahul and Priyanka will have to plough a lonely furrow for the party.

The Last Of The Mohicans – Mrinal Sen

It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’

Prasanta Paul
Prasanta Paul

The author has worked with Deccan Herald for two decades, and also with various TV channels such as al-Jazeera and CNN. He currently heads the Eastern Bureau of Parliamentarian

The demise of Mrinal Sen, the last of the Mohicans in the Indian film fraternity, has left some of his close disciples groping for words to express their sense of loss. However, almost all of them have finally taken recourse to cling to the immortal films the maestro has made during his career that spanned for more than five decades, and the memories of the ‘barefoot’ Communist gentleman that he remained throughout.
True, Sen flatly declined to see eye to eye with many of the conventional concepts the modern film making has been associated with – namely the market and RoP (Return on the Product). Unlike some of his contemporaries and a large majority of modern film makers, the market and the return hardly impacted this out-of-the-box director whose non-compromising attitude and stance earned him many a basher at home. Fortunately though, the international acclaim his films had fetched, put those bashers at bay during his lifetime!
It was his passion to continuously experiment with form and content that saw him producing a bevy of ‘reel legends’ like Bhuvan Shome, Ek Din Pratidin, Akash Kusum, Interview, Padatik, Akaler Sandhane, Ek Din Achanak and scores others. IfEk Din Pratidin is an indictment of patriarchy and deals with the middle-class social crisis and Kharij the social milieu, the famine of 1943 gets a different portrayal in Akaler Sandhane, while the political and social unrest finds a voice in Interview , Calcutta 71 and Padatik. It was he who first initiated the new cinema movement in India.
A Different Nuance Everytime
The value of his contribution to the art of cinema is not just artistic but must be assessed in the light of his humanitarianism embracing his warm compassion, especially for the meek, and his profound concern for social justice. He did not seek recourse to any sort of comfort zone (unlike many of his contemporaries) which is why each of his film speaks independently in a different nuance. He has continuously broken his own narrative structure and eked out an independent path for each of his films. Hence, the narrative we find inChorus does not get repeated in Bhuvan Shome; or if Ek Din Pratidin weaves a new structure, Antareen treads an independent path. The endeavour to shed a new light that ‘was never there on earth, sea or land’ on each film (come what may!) has given Sen a signature that is rare in Indian cinema. And obviously, he had eclipsed many an Indian director in his over-riding concern for the humanity.
Cinematic Confection
Through Sen, Indian cinema got actors such as Mithun Chakraborty, Anjan Dutt, Mamata Shankar, Sreela Majumdar and Madhabi Mukherjee to name a few. Also, Smita Patil, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri have worked in several of Sen’s films. The living legend made his last film Aamar Bhuvan in 2002.
The first period of his career, up to the three related films Interview (1970), Calcutta 71 (1972) and Padatik (1973), has some memorable political reflections to offer except for the beautiful and exquisitely understated film, Baishey Sravan (1960) and arguably the best comedy film ever to come from the Indian art cinema, Bhuvan Shome (1969). In between, there are some nice pieces of cinematic confection, such as Akash Kusum (1965) , and Neel Akasher Neechey (1958).
Neel Akasher Neechey (1958). (banned by the Indian government for two months) is a commendably original endeavour to portray an unusual character in an unusual historical context. This film demonstrated his courage to handle a theme at a time when the Indo-China relationship suddenly developed an unusual coldness.
However, as well as being fine films in themselves, Baishe Sravan and Bhuvan Shome point to future highlights in Sen’s career. In Baishey Sravan, we meet everyman helplessly entangled in the unalterable course of history or, more simply, the way of things. This way of things finds depiction in various contexts in Sen’s films, while the individuals in conflict with it are also many and varied.
Ever Willing For New
Bhuvan Shome, a near lyric in reel, was a proof that unalloyed comedy in cinema can also draw crowd (and it is interesting to note that Sen never made another comedy). Its timeless humour is very funny, largely due to the superb performance of Utpal Dutt as the almost incorrigible Mr Shome (like ‘Barkis’ in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens).
However, its importance to Indian cinematic history lies at least partially in the technical innovations with which Sen decorated the film and which were used to some extent or another in later works, particularly Calcutta 71. The use of still photography, caricature, animation, quasi-documentary and the like has taken Bhuvan Shome to an unparallel level (Who would ever think of making cinema out of a telephone conversation?). At the same time, there are indications that Sen was ever willing to try something new.
Interview, Calcutta ’71 and Padatik,made and released during the climate of protest, general and intense, of the Naxalite years, reflect the best of what many have described as the political aspect of Mrinal Sen’s films. Protest here is not sloganeering processions punching the air, but a genuine attempt to make the audience think about what might be wrong with ‘the way of things’. Satyajit Ray’s Calcutta triptych (Pratidwandi, Seemabaddha, Jana Aranya) made almost contemporaneously, speak in an identical vein. Admittedly, these films subtly raise fingers at society’s leaders, most notably the self-interested and largely anachronistic captains of industry as well as the faceless puppeteers of the Naxalite movement; but of much greater interest is the suggestion that traditionally held values urgently need to be reassessed. The city, in a moral sense, needs to be rebuilt.
Questioning Traditions
The rest of the decade saw the emergence of Mrigayaa (1976), where Mithun Chakraborty made his debut, along with Mamata Shankar; Mithun won a National Best Actor Award for his performance. Actor-danseuse Mamata Shankar, the daughter of legendary dancer Uday Shankar, says she is ‘indebted to Mrinal da’ for introducing her to the world of light, camera and action in Mrigayaa in 1976. If Mrigayaa is a critical examination of the injustice of colonial justice, Oka Oori Katha is a hard-hitting tale of rural poverty that challenges comfortable middle-class mindsets about ‘the poor’.
But Ek Din Pratidin (1979) heralds a new chapter in the cinema of Mrinal Sen, a chapter that brings into focus the lives of the urban middle-class. Even though there is an urge to protest, the context is different as the issue of questioning the traditionally held values is central.
Ek Din Pratidin is equally important in pushing the cause of women’s emancipation. The subject treated here has come a long way since then, with Satyajit Ray giving his own touch in Mahanagar (1963), establishing a woman’s right to work. In Ek Din Pratidin, the woman in question asserts her right to maintain personal control over her own life, something which many adherent to a patriarchal value system might find rather challenging. The focus of Sen’s protest here is really quite revolutionary in a society that is overprotective of women, subjecting them to excessive control and apprehensive of the potential shame that they might invite – by being raped, for example.
The narrative twist in this film is the consistent refusal to have the girl explain why she was out all night, so obliging the audience – at least those members of it sensitive enough to be niggled and nagged – to think further about traditional values that would suppress and stifle women.
A Silent Crusader
In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett left a void at the end, allowing his audience an infinite space to speculate on what finally happened to Godot. When some people from the audience asked him about the fate of Godot, Beckett’s lone sentence to the query was “I would’ve stated this in the drama itself had I known it.” Several critics of Sen had felt that the director had ‘thrown up the underbelly’ of the city (Calcutta) without revealing a solution. A smiling Sen used to quote Beckett and stole a silent laugh. In his death too, he remained a silent crusader – an innocent yet loaded message “Don’t place bouquet or garlands on my body when I finally depart.”

Modi Era's Hikes Are Not Where We Want! India's Debt Up 50%

Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore


Total liabilities of the government has increased 49 per cent to Rs 82 lakh crore in the last four-and-half years during the Narendra Modi government, as per the 8th Edition of the Status Paper on Government Debt released.
Compared to the latest data available till September 2018 when the total debt of the Central government stood at Rs 82,03,253 crore, the corresponding amount till June 2014 was Rs 54,90,763 crore, the Finance Ministry's data on government borrowings shows.
The huge surge in government's debt has been propelled by 51.7 per cent growth in public debt from Rs 48 lakh crore to Rs 73 lakh crore in the four-and-half year period, which in turn was driven by 54 per cent rise in internal debt to about Rs 68 lakh crore.
Dependence on market loans show a similar rise of 47.5 per cent to more than Rs 52 lakh crore during the period. While debt raised through gold bonds was nil at the end of June 2014, it stood at Rs 9,089 crore including the gold monetisation scheme.
The Central government, in the status paper on government debt, gave a detailed analysis of the overall debt position of the government of India. It has been bringing out an annual status paper on government debt since 2010-11, the Finance Ministry said.
"The overall liabilities of the Central government are on a medium-term declining trajectory and government's debt portfolio is characterised by prudent risk profile," the paper, covering details of fiscal deficit financing operations of the government, however, said.
"Government is primarily resorting to market-linked borrowings for financing its fiscal deficit. Conventional indicators... indicate that debt profile of the government is comfortably placed in terms of debt sustainability parameters and is consistently improving," it added.
While the country's debt has been on the rise, little help is expected from the fiscal deficit side in the current financial year. The fiscal deficit in the first eight months till November stands at Rs 7.17 lakh crore, or 114.8 per cent of the Rs 6.24 lakh crore full year's target.

Chai ‘19 Who’ll Serve, Who’ll Drink

With the sudden turn of fate of a politician – Narendra Modi - whose hubris had flattened even his mother organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – was rubbished in the trial at the hustings in three crucial Hindi heartland states. And with the step-wise rise of the erstwhile “Pappu” Rahul Gandhi, speculations have begun: Who now? At the political level, poll math professionals take their own way of forecasting results, but on the astral map, India’s top star gazer Dr Ajai Bhambi reads the writings in the heavens…

Dr Ajai Bhambi
Dr Ajai Bhambi

When the cinema industry in India seemed to be sinking after Amitabh Bachchan’s near-fatal crash in a shot in the film ‘Coolie’, no one but Ajai Bhambi had said he would rise lrom the ashes like a Phoenix. He did. Pt Bhambi, one of the most respected names in astrology worlwide, also predicted the assassinations of Indian premier Rajeev Gandhi, Pak premier Benazir Bhutto and the ascendence of Sonia Gandhi in Indian politics. He was the only one to predict that Narednra Modi will register a landlslide victory in the 2014 general elections.

A politician’s life is full of highs and lows but Narendra Modi has been seeing a high from 2001 onwards, when he became chief minister of Gujarat, and the gold run has lasted till now. He faced a lot of opposition during his three terms as CM of Gujarat but that never bothered him, and his charisma started peaking from 2013 onwards.
In 2014, he became the Prime Minister of India with a thumping majority for his party. He is a great orator and made the entire country believe that he is the only leader after Independence who can reshape India and put her on the top in the realm of world politics.
Has this perception changed after his party’s humiliating defeat in the three Hindi belt states? Let us peep through his horoscope:
Narendra Modi was born on 17th September 1950 at 11.17 hrs, at Mehsana (Gujarat). At the time of his birth Scorpio lagna was rising on the eastern horizon and the planetary configuration was such: Mars, Moon–Scorpio, Jupiter (R)–Aquarius, Rahu–Pisces, Saturn, Venus–Leo, Sun, Mercury (R), Ketu in Virgo.
Modi’s chart has many rajayogas. His lagna is Scorpio, Moon and Mars are placed in it. The presence of Mars creates Panch Mahapurush Rajayoga Ruchak and with Moon it creates another Neech Bhanga Rajayoga. Jupiter has occupied the 4th house and Saturn, Venus are placed in the 10th house. Jupiter and Moon form another rajayoga called Gajkesari.

All these rajayogas are of high quality and results are very much in evidence. If we look at the background of Narendra Modi then we won’t find many parallels to it. Whenever Jupiter and Saturn are involved in aspect, it makes a person a great public figure, and Modi has a world audience behind him. The mutual aspect between Jupiter and Venus, or when they are together in a sign then the person concerned is considered highly intelligent among the intellectuals.
The presence of Sun, Mercury, Ketu in the 11th house makes the person politically wise and ready to take bold decisions. Ketu has afflicted both these planets to some extent which denotes some decisions can be taken without proper calculations and these decisions create a nightmare for a long time.
All these rajayogas – or good combinations – have given optimum results in his life. If that is so then when planets are on the descending mode or not aligning well then they should also produce results accordingly. In his chart Mars is a great rajayoga-karaka and created two yogas single handedly which we discussed elsewhere but Mars himself is weak in the navamsha by occupying debilitated one.
Moon’s 10 years mahadasha is in operation from September 1, 2011 onward and after the onset of this dasa Modi has seen a phenomenal rise. Moon is debilitated and has not occupied friendly nakshatra (Moon in Saturn’s nakshatra). There is a situation in planetary hierarchy when a positive planet gives all his energy and goodness to the debilitated but friendly planet and loses his own potential to a great extent. In this rare planetary phenomenon, Mars has become beleaguered but makes the debilitated Moon extremely potent, which is why he has become the Prime Minister of this great country and created his own brand called Modi brand in Moon’s mahadasha.
Sade Sati
Mars has made Moon so effective in his chart that the Sade Sati of Saturn did not bother him for more than six and a half years and he became Prime Minister in the peak of Sade Sati. Generally, people dread Sade Sati and here powerful Moon had warded off all the negativities of Saturn’s sadhe sati for such a long time.
Astrology is a great science and it is very difficult for us mortals to understand the real wisdom of great seers and sages. The Moon might have gained all the powers by default, but the affliction of Moon has not diminished completely. Let us try to understand the current state of affairs by analysing the Moon and sub dasa of this planet.
In his chart Moon–Mercury operated from 2/07/2017 till 1/12/2018. Moon is placed in the lagna and retrograde Mercury is present in the 11th house along with Sun and Ketu. Mercury is not good for Scorpio lagna because of its first lordship of 8th house. Mercury is also the lord of 11thhouse and placed in it.
Subtle Damages
Moon and Mercury don’t enjoy a good relationship between them. If we look back and analyse the period from July 2017 till 1st December 2018, a lot of subtle damage has been done to his image in this period which started surfacing now. The major institutions of the country felt the heat and voices of dissent were heard from Supreme Court judges, CBI, ED and explosion took place when RBI governor resigned.
Moon–Ketu is in operation from 1/12/2018 to 2/07/2019. Moon is in lagna and Ketu in the 11th house, again is not a good combination. Modi’s remark on Congress ki vidhwa came out on 4th December and that was the first negative impact of Moon–Ketu. The results of three states also came after the operation of this period. Lok Sabha elections are also going to be held in this period and that will also decide the fate of PM Modi. Moon–Ketu is not a good period and if impractical promises or harsh language is used then that could be counterproductive. Sadhe Sati is still there and inherently Moon is weak although strengthened by various reasons, which we discussed earlier. Ketu is known for unpredictability and sages have warned astrologers (us) not to make over board predictions when this period is in operation. If a practical and sincere approach is followed genuinely then his chart is still powerful to render good results.

Clairvoyant Sees Turmoil

The coming year will be one of turmoil, says CRAIG HAMILTON-PARKER, the world’s foremost Psychic Prediction maker. Brexit, Theresa May and Angela Merkel resigning… domestic chaos in the US (but Trump will survive)… Narendra Modi to return to power... Here are some his most startling soothsaying

Craig Hamilton Parker
Craig Hamilton Parker

The ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ astrologer and psychic medium is outspoken and has astonished people with the accuracy of his clairvoyance. He had accurately predicted in 2015 of ‘lone wolf’ terror attacks in Berlin, Rome and Paris, and also said Britain will thwart such an attack. The reality is now well established. He has worked with the yogis and astrologers in India. His blog is

I make my psychic predictions for the coming year in September and usually do a review and some new predictions in December. As well as making psychic predictions I also suggest spiritual remedies that we can all do to help make the world a better place. This idea is inspired by my time in India and is explained in detail in my books Messages From the Universe and Mystic Journey to India.
Psychic Predictions for 2019
Here are my psychic predictions for 2019. I got a lot right last year and you can read these on my archived pages or check them on the YouTube videos. I like to make my predictions well in advance. We know things like Brexit are going to happen but I have also included predictions here for unexpected events.
Please treat this all as an experiment. I get a lot right but I also get things wrong too. I am fallible but I do my best to use my clairvoyance to give real insights. We must ask ourselves if fate is fixed. Destiny is determined by karma and free will.
Karma And Free Will
Karma is the result of past actions. It brings fortune and misfortune. The positive and negative things we do as individuals and collectively decide the future. Some of this cannot be changed because it is like an arrow that has already left the bow. Only divine grace can change its course.
We also have free will that can alter future events. Our actions and our thoughts can heal the future. If we do charitable and humanitarian acts, it not only helps people immediately but also sets up a positive karmic energy that will bring other good things. Similarly, loving thoughts have tremendous power and can change the world.
Whatever your religion, these thoughts can take on a powerful energy when sent during meditation or prayer. Thoughts are things. They can change things.
2019 USA Psychic Predictions
Donald Trump will be in all kinds of trouble politically and personally, but he will not only survive, he will go on to get a second term in office. All attempts to impeach him will fail.
Trump will promote one of his current advocates, Rudi Giuliani, to a high post but will be betrayed. Giuliani may one day run for President. Internationally, Trump will challenge Putin over Syria. Trump will also put pressure on Imran Khan to drive out terrorists and extremists in return for a positive trade deal. Extremists are driven into Afghanistan that sees new troubles.
Trump’s illness will not be life-threatening but maybe something like a perforated bowel – serious but not terminal. This is normally a time when the sitting party does badly. I feel Trump will fare quite well despite new scandals and do well in the Primaries. The US will experience a lot of seismic activity in 2018 and 2019. Hurricanes and flooding will hit Florida and the East Coast, plus hurricane winds will hit as far north as New York.
2019 UK Psychic Predictions
It is common knowledge that Brexit is the anvil in Europe today. It is going to be a hard Brexit. I have predicted this since the start. A last minute deal is made with Germany and France but negotiations go to the wire. There is initial chaos at the ports, but trade flow improves quickly. There are no major medicine shortages.
The Irish border is left open. A ruptured border allows free flow of international goods into Europe. Ireland eventually enforces the border.
The City of London sees unprecedented activity and a general improvement after a sharp initial fall. I have spoken about this in the Sun newspaper psychic predictions in 2017. I believe it will happen this year and will draw politicians from all parties.
Two very crucial developments will occur. In a close inner party fight, David Davis defeats Boris Johnson, eventually becomes PM.
On the political front, again, incumbent PM Theresa May does not survive Brexit. She will be there till March 2019, not beyond. Late in 2019, may be in September, there will be another election. Tories win and we see the rise of a new political party.
Business Issues
A top company is accused of fixing an international deal using bribes. There is a Scottish influence connected with this story. Nicola Sturgeon (the fifth and current First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party) is implicated. In science, big money will be invested into space projects. I predict a British partnership with NASA will be announced. A new British telescope will be devised to study the Sun.
So far as natural disasters go, large swathes of the country see record flooding. Hardest hit are the West Country and Lancashire. A large factory will explode. Initially I ‘saw’ in my psychic predictions a Gas Works but I feel that there are chemicals involved.
2019 European Psychic Predictions
There will be turmoil in Europe. Right-wing and Euro-skeptic candidates will dominate European elections.
There will be a re-vamp of the European flag. It will appear in the corner of the European nations’ flags as the stars appear in the corner of the USA Flag. Angela Merkel’s minority position will become untenable and she will resign.
The iconic car industry of Germany will be rocked. Trump will put high tariffs on German cars exported to the USA. China will stop German car imports.
2019 World Psychic Predictions
• China plunges into recession and people take to the streets.
• Exceptionally big bush fires will cause chaos in Australia. Canberra is most affected.
• A large meteorite will hit Russia and make international news. This is not a threat to the world but a wakeup call that we pay more attention to avert future problems.
• Russia will sell battleships and other military hardware to China and so upset the balance of power in the South China Sea. America will increase troops in the area.
• Land taken from white farmers without compensation will cause armed clashes in South Africa.
• Under pressure from Russia Turkey will retreat from Syria but fail to protect their borders from a new flood of refugees.
• Kim Jong-un will strike a deal with Trump but North Korean people will eventually revolt against their leader.
• There will be a devastating earthquake in Nepal.
Psychic Predictions for India 2019
These are my psychic predictions for India 2019. I made these predictions on the 3rd October 2018 and will make further predictions later this year. The Vedas are the holy Hindu scriptures and written in the Sanskrit language. The Puranas contain legends and spiritual teachings as well as narratives about the history of the Universe from its creation to its destruction. I touch on this briefly and quote some of the psychic predictions for India from the Kalagnanam. In the Sanskrit language, Kalagnanam translates as “Knowledge of Times”. This is a book of prophecy. It predicts some strange events in the distant future of humankind.
Narendra Modi Re-Elected
Narendra Modi will be re-elected as PM of India. His majority will be easily sustained and we will see him as the Prime Minister of India for many more years. The Naadi Oracles also have predicted that Modi will do a great deal of good for the Indian Nation.
I predict that the current problems with Chinese influence in the Maldives will escalate. China will also try to extend its influence to other islands such as Mauritius. This growing conflict will result in a trade war with China.
India will restrict the import of Chinese goods. Although Modi will be no fan of Trump, they will nonetheless work together against aggressive Chinese expansion.
India will strongly resist large corporations opening in the towns and cities. India will embark on a policy that emphasizes the fact the democracy is for people, not corporations. It will be protectionist in that it safeguards its small businesses and promotes the idea that many small businesses are more powerful and democratic than a few big ones. India will lead the world in demonstrating a more democratic form of capitalism.
I predict a major earthquake that hits Nepal and Kashmir. It will also affect parts of northern India. India will come to the aid of Nepal and be seen as the humanitarian force for good.
I foresee a government drive to clean up India. This will be on an unprecedented scale and will see the poor paid to collect rubbish for a fee. The campaign will be a badge of national pride and will set an example to China and the world.
I will make some more predictions about India later, however, I will add here that India will continue to see terrible weather conditions during 2019. In 2018, I predicted the floods in Kerala. For 2019 I see droughts becoming a serious problem. The Indian climate will lurch between severe flooding and severe drought. The rice fields of Southern India will be at risk.
China also will see crop failures from drought and will affect the grain prices for India too. India I feel will be one of the first countries to properly manage its water. New water supplies will be discovered beneath the old course of what once was the Sarasvati River.
In my previous predictions, I have stated that ‘India will expand its borders’. I feel that in time India will take on Pakistan and endeavor to take back some of the Punjab. It will also reaffirm its influence in Nepal and Kashmir. A time will come when Tibet will fight to free itself from Chinese occupation. At this time, India will support the Tibetan cause and become a protectorate of Tibet.

Maturing ‘Pappu ’ Vs Fading ‘Chowkidar ’

The Congress president is no more a political Lilliput that he was in 2014, and the prime minister Narendra Modi is no more the invincible warrior that he was then

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr
Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore). He is now Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

The Rahul Gandhi-Narendra Modi battle has taken a sharp turn. In 2014, the media pitted the two against each other, with the sly intent of showing Gandhi, then a greenhorn, as no match to the tested Hindutva warrior Modi, who wore the scars of the 2002 Gujarat riots rather proudly on his sleeve and spoke in a monotonous tone about development and jobs, without ever mentioning Hindutva, or the Ram Temple in Ayodhya for once during his election campaign.
At the same time Modi made the cunning move of contesting from Varanasi, and entrusting the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh to confidante Amit Shah. The moves paid rich dividends, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 73 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, and Modi winning his Varanasi seat and giving up the Vadodara seat, from where the Gujarat chief minister won the 2002 assembly election on the issue of Gujarati ‘asmita’ or self-respect. By abandoning Gujarat and adopting UP, Modi tied his political fortune and that of his party to the Hindi heartland. When the party won an overwhelming majority in the UP assembly elections in March 2017, it seemed that Modi’s strategy has been vindicated.
But the certitude of the BJP’s stranglehold in the Hindi heartland was shaken with the party’s defeat in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. And after more than a year of BJP’s rule in UP under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the ground from beneath the feet of Modi and BJP is slipping away.
The BJP is worried and it is hard at clawing its way back, but it may not do so in the emphatic manner it had done in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The wheel of fortune has turned.
2014: Congress Slide
Congress was reduced to sub-50 tally of 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014, a steep slide from the 202 strength in the House after the 2009 general elections. Ever since, except Punjab, the Congress lost Maharashtra, Haryana and Assam assembly elections. It is against this background that the Congress’ victories in the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh should be seen. The party is finding its feet back again and it is back in the reckoning.
The BJP cannot hope to have a cake-walk in 2019. Gandhi has emerged a doughty fighter who has not only taken on the redoubtable Modi but has also defeated him fair and square in these state elections. Modi is no more invincible and Gandhi no more a political pygmy. Rather, Gandhi has become the David to Modi’s Goliath. These are indeed the glorious uncertainties of the game of politics!
After four-and-a-half years in office at the centre, the BJP looks quite shaken by the electoral reverses in the three Hindi heartland states, and analysts within the Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh (RSS), which plays the role of coach to Team BJP, and inside BJP as well as in the media, are trying to understand the BJP’s debacle under the stewardship of the Modi-Shah duo.
The halo of invincibility that mainstream media had created around Prime Minister Modi and party president Shah has paled, and there are no ready answers as to how a Congress, forever racked by internal squabbles under an apparently weak like Gandhi, managed to steal victory from Modi’s BJP.
Targetable blitz
The impact of the defeats in these three states is seen in the responses of Modi and Gandhi. The Congress president has realised the secret of sustained aggression, and he continues to target Modi day in and day out, from pronouncements in public rallies and press conferences to bites before television news channel cameras. Gandhi is literally pummeling Modi, and at the moment Modi is a little helpless in hitting back.
While Modi attacks Gandhi and his family, Gandhi targets the prime minister’s failures to deliver on the promises. The evidence in the Rafale jet fighter deal is neither substantive nor clinching, but Gandhi is keeping at it relentlessly, saying Modi ‘chowkidar chor hai’, alluding to Modi’s much vaunted description of himself as the chowkidar (guard) of the country.
The BJP is not in a position to laugh away Gandhi’s verbal sallies. They are forced to rebut him, and that in itself is a big change. Gandhi is not resting on his laurels post-victory in the three states. He has stepped up the attack.
The aggression may or may not pay off in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but Gandhi seems determined to deliver his blows to Modi, whatever may be the outcome next summer. It appears that Rahul unconsciously nurses the hurt and humiliation of the BJP and the rest of the Opposition cornering his father and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi on the Bofors kickbacks controversy where no clinching proof was shown that Rajiv took bribes. Gandhi, it seems, is hitting back with the grudge-fuelled passion that his innocent father was politically crucified. There is more than political rivalry when the Congress president speaks about the Rafale deal.

Frayed Chowkidar
Modi continues with his aggressive tone and tenor, but it has become dull and its sharpness is flattened because he had been maintaining the same pitch in the last four-and-a-half years. His attacks on the Nehru-Gandhis remain unabated but people are not any more amused, and even the obsessive-compulsive Nehru-Gandhi-baiters want something new from the prime minister.
But sooner than later, Modi has to take on Gandhi man-to-man, and answer the issues raised by the Congress president. There is also a strategic compulsion for Modi and BJP wanting to single out Gandhi and the Congress from among the Opposition parties.
Modi feels that it is not right for his national stature to stoop to take on Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Prasad Yadav or All India Trinamool Congress leader and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee. The only leader he can take on as an equal is Gandhi, the leader of the other national party, however reduced its presence may be across the country.
In this fresh duel with Gandhi, Modi is on a weak wicket. If he scores over the Congress president it does not rebound to his credit because he is considered a tall leader and Gandhi is not tall in comparison. If Gandhi scores points, including brownies, against Modi, it shows the prime minister in a bad light. The prime minister is in an unenviable no-win situation. The mainstream media shares the same dilemma with Gandhi as Modi. They cannot any more ignore him and they feel embarrassed to give him the space that they contemptuously thought he did not deserve all these years. They have to report his speeches, do his interviews, do his profiles, speculate about his future moves and analyse his decisions. Had the BJP and the media not made Modi the larger-than-life icon, then the clash between Gandhi and Modi would have remained a clash between leaders of two big parties, like in any other democracy. Some of the pro-BJP analysts are still harping on the theme of the presidential style of campaign that Modi had introduced, where the contest is not between the parties but between the two main leaders. The underlying argument is that there is no other leader with the national footprint that Modi has, and that Gandhi’s nationwide reach is laughable compared to Modi, and therefore Modi wins this presidential fight hands down.
It is turning out to be a hallucination of sorts, because on the ground it is parties and the candidates, the local caste arithmetic that still rule the roost in Indian politics. The election results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh do not reflect the clash between Modi and Gandhi. As a matter of fact, they are nowhere on the scene. People had voted out the governments of Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, and they voted Congress in a tenuous manner in Madhya Pradesh (Total number of seats: 230; Congress: 114 seats (40.9 per cent vote share); BJP: 109 seats (41 per cent vote share) and in Rajasthan (Total number of seats: 199; Congress: 99 seats (39.3 per cent vote share); BJP: 73 seats (38.8 per cent vote share) and decisively in Chhattisgarh (Total number of seats: 90; Congress: 68 seats (43 per cent vote share); BJP: 15 seats (33 per cent vote share).
A marginalised senior Congress leader wryly remarked that even victories need to be analysed as defeats are, and pointed that the Congress’ victory margin in the number of seats won and vote percentage garnered in Madhya Pradesh was dangerously narrow, as was the vote percentage in Rajasthan, though the margin of the number of seats won is quite convincing. In these two states, the Congress had failed to reach the halfway mark, 116 in Madhya Pradesh and 100 in Rajasthan.
The Chhattisgarh poll verdict is crystal clear. Congress has a two-thirds majority, which the BJP in its last three terms never got. The BJP won 50 seats in Chhattisgarh in 2003 and in 2008 and 49 in 2013. Congress won 37 seats in 2003, 38 in 2008 and 39 in 2013.
The story in Rajasthan in the previous three elections is quite different. BJP won 120 seats in 2003 and Congress 56 in 2003, Congress won 96 and the BJP 78 in 2008, and the BJP won a two-thirds majority with 163 seats in 2013 to Congress’ 21.
In Madhya Pradesh the Congress had been far behind the BJP. In 2003, BJP won 173 seats and Congress 38, in 2008 BJP won 143 and Congress 71, and in 2013, BJP won 165 and the Congress 58.
The performance of the two major parties in these three states is intriguing as well. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, BJP had won 25 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 4. In Rajasthan, BJP had won 21 and Congress 4. And in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, BJP won 16 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Congress 12; in Rajasthan, BJP won 4 and Congress 20; and in Chhattisgarh BJP won 10 and Congress 1. In 2014, BJP won 27 seats in Madhya Pradesh and Congress 2; in Rajasthan, BJP won 25 and Congress none; and in Chhattisgarh, BJP won 10 and Congress 1. The score in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will change, and the BJP will stand to lose more and the Congress could gain more compared to the 2014 figures, and they could be closer to the 2009 figures.

Rural Realities
The presidential-style battle between Modi and Gandhi will happen only in mainstream media. The Indian voter in this vast and diverse country has other criteria in his mind. The local candidate and the strength of the party in each state will count for more than the charisma of Modi or Gandhi. Gandhi has an advantage in this devolutionary political battle because Congress with its fissiparous tendencies stands to gain compared to the nearly homogenous and monolithic BJP under Modi. BJP is brittle because it is under the unified command of Modi.
Gandhi had to struggle in deciding who would be the chief minister in each of these three states, as he had to contend with factional feuds and demands. What might appear to be a weakness of the Congress could turn out to be an advantage, because the old party is responsive to local demands and there is intense internal competition between groups and leaders.
In a paradoxical manner, democracy is at work in the Congress, though the party is unable to shake off the Nehru-Gandhi family shackles. The BJP, which is ostensibly democratic in choosing its leader, seems to be at a loss under Modi because of the absence of inner party diversity. What was an advantage for Modi in 2014 will be a disadvantage in 2019. Gandhi leading a raucous party is strong because he has to contend with diversity inside the party and in the country.

Battle Of Two Stars

The two politicians do not see eye-to-eye, and nor do their stars. But as far as predictions from Vedic Astrology go, both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi are all set to have a terrific year ahead

S Ganesh
S Ganesh

S Ganesh is one of the highly respected names in Vedic Astrology. He has been practicing Vedic Astrology for more than 35 years and also taught at Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan from 1994 - 2016. He is also a Vaastu expert. He hails from a traditional Tamil family and his father Sankara Narayanan was secretary of Madrasi Vedic Brahmin Association of Delhi. His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Shankaracharya of Sringeri Mutt is his spiritual guru. His email is

I am here delineating the chart of one of the most charismatic leaders of India. He came into political scene and became the chief minister. He came into the national front and became a prime minister. That’s how charismatic, energetic, vibrant, philosophical, devoted, committed and fatefully blessed is the person whom we all know as Narendra Modi.
Doing a virtual journey of his life, struggle, achievement and services is in itself very exhausting and a learning process for many. So let’s do a real journey into the stars placement and understand his achievement and growth with reference to his birth chart.
I have taken his date of birth as 17th September, 1950, and his place of birth is Vadnagar, as per official documents. The time that I have taken is 11:44 am. In this, the rising sign – the ascendant – is Vrishchik lagna, i.e. Scorpio, and the Navamsha lagna would be Tula, i.e. Libra.
Why I have taken this? There are two reasons. One, normally a person who is born with Vrishchik rashi has excellent fighting ability, perception, an ability to look through the darkness and attain the exact goal and progress required for a person to become successful and famous. The Navamsha is Tula, because the person should also have charismatic personality and extraordinary good persona to attract others. This combination Modi has in ample. He, definitely, would be ranked as one of the most outstandingly good-looking eminent personality in India. Hence, I have taken this time, i.e. 11 hours and 44 minutes, to delineate his chart.
Let’s first see the merits of his chart. Ascendant, i.e. lagna, has Mars and Moon conjunct together. Here, Mars is lagna lord. Hence, this placement is extremely benevolent. It forms a formidable Pancha Mahapurusha Yoga, known as Ruchaka Yoga. And since it is with Moon also, therefore Ruchaka yogam is twice formed – both from lagna as well as Moon. Hence, Mars is potently benevolent, benefic and showering exceptional promises for growth and accomplishments in life.
Mars is also the 6th lord. Placement in lagna makes him a formidable character – a person who will never have an enemy, or even if there are enemies they will compromise and make him a leader. Shastra says such persons will live a life without any enemies or contemporaries.
Here, the conjunction of Mars and Moon forms an extraordinary good yoga, which is ranked #1 amongst 300 yogas, known as Chandra-Mangala Yogam. This promises extraordinary fame and success to a native. But here, ironically, Moon is debilitated. Therefore, it is inherently afflicted. But because it is placed in Anuradha Nakshatra, it is devoid of debilitation, dosham or affliction. Hence it promises Raja Yogam for the native.
Further, for this ascendant Moon is Bhadakadhipati, i.e. he is the 9th lord. Hence, his debilitation also indicates Viparita Raja Yogam. And being in the lagna with lagna lord, it ushers exemplary good success and accomplishments in life for the native.
Secondly, Modi is born on Shashthi Tithi in Vrishchika rashi. This rashi is held by Mars and Shashthi Thithi’s lord is considered to be Lord Subrahmanya, i.e. Kartikeya. The Pratyadhi Devata for Mars is Subrahmanya. Hence, the association of his lagna and tithi indicates good vision and steel-like abilities of a warrior to fight against any kind of adversities in life. This also promises great fame and success for the native.
Thirdly, for Shashthi Tithi the Dagdha rashis are Aries and Leo, i.e. Mesham and Simham. In the chart of Modi, both these lords are inherently afflicted. Since the Dagdha rashi lords are afflicted, it promises Viparita Raja Yogam.
Placement of Mars in the lagna with debilitated Moon and in Navamsha Mars is debilitated. Thus Mars is naturally afflicted. For Simha rashi, the lord is Sun. Here, Sun is placed in the 11th house, i.e. in Kanya rashi, with Mercury and falls in Rahu-Ketu axis. Hence, the Sun is afflicted in the birth chart being in Rahu-Ketu axis. Therefore, both these lords are afflicted and they promise Viparita Raja Yogam for the native.
Saturn is placed in the 10th house with Venus. The latter is the 10th lord from the 10th house, i.e. the 7th lord from lagna. This is very good and it promises name and fame for the native. Saturn itself in the 10th house indicates a leader of the mass who will have exceptional good success and accomplishments in life. With the 10th from the 10th lord Venus, conjunct with Saturn, becoming Vargottama that is placed in the same rashi in Navamsha is an indication of unmeasurable success in near-immortal status for the native. Further, both these planets have mutual aspect with Jupiter placed in the 4th house. This is again indicating Raja Yogam for the native. Although, Jupiter here is retrograded and inherently weak.
In his chart there are five planets placed in the kendras and this assures good growth, progress, achievement, popularity and success for the native. He will be bestowed with national honours in his life and will be an example for others in future.
Finally, in his chart, the lagna is placed in Pushkara Bhaga, i.e. in 11 degrees. The 11 degree of Vrishchika, i.e. Scorpio, is considered to be Pushkara Bhagam and this assures very good success and progress in one’s life.
The Brihat Jatakam says that if Venus is placed in Kendra one will have extraordinary good learning and wealth. Saturn placed in the Kendra also promises one serving many people. Also, Jupiterin Kendra indicates a person who will be involved in religious rites and having vision which will be equal to a seer. All these characters are very true to our prime minister. So this assures his lagna and Navamsha lagna to be what we have taken in this chart. Now, as per this chart our Prime Minister Modi is undergoing the mahadasha of Moon. I have already stated that Moon as a 9th lord is badhakesh and his debilitation promises very good Raja Yogam for the native. Hence, he is experiencing all the success and adulation in his life.
Under the mahadasha of Moon he is running the sub-dasha of Ketu till February 2019. Till this time his position will be clouded because Ketu indicates smoky atmosphere. It will give a bhram, i.e. oblique visions. Therefore, the decisions taken during this period may not fructify as per his expectation. Hence, any major decision should be avoided till the end of Ketu sub-period in order to make good progress and accomplishment.
After this period, Modi will run Moon-Venus dasha. Venus is Vargottama and it is placed in the 10th house in his natal chart. This is an extraordinary good period and he will again rise as a formidable force. He would make good success and progress along with accomplishments. Venus here is placed in own Nakshatra also. This makes him attain the lost grounds, or those doubts which otherwise came into his leadership or other areas of life would be washed away and he will regain the confidence and acceptability of the mass.
Venus antardasha under the mahadasha of Moon will run till October 2020 and this is going to be a good Raja Yogam period for the native. In this year, 2019, there are two major phenomenon occurring in the zodiac. Both Mars and Venus do not have retrogation movement and this is very good and very rare event. This promises excellent result and accomplishments for Modi. He will have good results coming for this entire year as per his expectations and capabilities. From March onwards, till May, it is an excellent period and he would build on his reputations and honor. He will spearhead a good moment and the momentum will bring him success and achievements in coming months.
From the month of July till September he has to take ample care of his health. Since Modi is running Sade-Sati the time is not very good and can produce some dangerous results. This is Modi’s third round of Sade-Sati. There could be some remark and tarnishing factor on his reputation. So he needs to be very vigilant with regard to his contemporaries and others. There could be some treachery or such similar repercussions coming during these months. He has to be very very careful.
Again, in the month of October there could be an important event where he would be taking some major decisions.
November and December again would prove very fruitful and auspicious for Modi. It will bring him auspicious results and he would get extraordinary good overwhelming support and understandings from the mass. For his life also, from November onwards when Jupiter comes into his 2nd house, i.e. into Dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) he will have excellent auspicious happening and further growth and popularity coming in his life. Very good chart and a very good year for Modi. I wish him extraordinary success and accomplishments in his life and for the nation also.

Fate Readers Of Power

Almost all politicians flock to astrologers and various practitioners of Tarot etc, not always to win an election, but mostly to skin their rivals and seek a meteoric rise

Rashme Sehgal
Rashme Sehgal

Rashme Sehgal began her career as a poet-cum-short story writer in 1970s. She then shifted to journalism and worked with several leading newspapers including The Independent, The Telegraph and The Times of India

The growth of television and new media has given a fresh fillip to astrology. Just about everybody from new age entrepreneurs to venture capitalists are making a bee line to the swanky offices of these peddlers of Jyotish Vidya. Their walk-in clients include people from every class, but politicians have today emerged as some of their biggest clients.
Ministers and parliamentarians from every political class - from Smriti Irani to Vasundhara Raje to Amar Singh - are known to seek the help of these Jyotish Gurus who are using every possible medium from You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platform to promote themselves. The days of astrologers sitting down on pavements or outside temples willing to tell your future for as little as Rs five per palm has vanished. Today, their fees are running into thousands of rupees and it is all being done via video conferencing.
Top Job
Rashmi Miglani, astrologer, Tarot card reader and alternate therapist, believes that in this competitive age, every politician wants to be on top, and it is their job to help them achieve the numero uno position.
“When politicians come to me, they do not ask me whether they will win an election or not. An election comes once in five years or so. Their queries are invariably around their rivals. How can I help them out manoeuvre their rivals, how can I help them get closer to the powers that be, how can I help bring them into the limelight. I have to work towards enhancing their luck factor, and this is done by suggesting simple remediation measures. Supposing, to cite an example, their Saturn is heavy, then how can it be tweaked in such a manner that we lessen its impact. You can do it by distributing some black item on a Saturday or else help a needy person who is blind on that particular day or else they must eat a certain type of food,” said Miglani.
Can she name some of the politicians she has given this advice to and have they followed it ? She refuses to disclose the name of a single politician, saying: “Everyone comes to me, from executives from the Reliance group to models to top notch leaders. Everyone today wants name and fame. I tell them all just one thing: visiting an astrologer is