Saturday, August 27, 2011

Freedom from Fuel Hikes

They say freedom is a state of mind, however fluid it may sound.

On second thoughts, it seems to me that it is intended to be fluid and philosophical. It is almost impossible to achieve, but everybody wants to achieve it nevertheless. It would only be a slight exaggeration if we say that we want freedom at almost every moment.

We need freedom from Fuel Hikes!

Last night when I asked "Kitna litre?" to the petrol station attendant after giving Rs. 200, he said "Do Aath". I said "wtf, only two litres of Petrol in 200 rupees". I was ignoring the .8 litre affected by the Bata price-tag mindset.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of the fuel price being the same. I cannot expect it to be the same till my next pay hike. Even if I work 24 hours to get the promotion this year.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of a vehicle that runs on water. If that becomes the case, we would need to have two monsoons. One monsoon in the winters for the BMC (municipality) to maintain the supply, even to drink! We can use paper for the other things.

Freedom from fuel hikes cannot possibly mean expectation of a day when we would have separate track for riding cycles. We cant expect to have a ban for single occupancy in personal 4-wheelers expecting reduced fuel demand, increased employment of drivers and increased pooling of cars complimenting public transport.

No, freedom from fuel hikes can definitely not mean public transport for me. I can not now get into local trains, buses, cars and auto-rickshaws.

Some of them says fuel price hike is positive for economic growth. It seems there are some broader benefits. I believe what they say in the absence of enough knowledge to validate. Now that's something, for sure wont let me expect freedom from fuel hikes.

It is good that I can manipulate the feeling of freedom to my benefit, neither with any expectation from someone to do something, nor with any guilt of hampering something good for the larger society.

It is good that freedom is a state of mind.

This blog post was written to participate in the Indiblogger contest sponsored by Fiat . The topic of the contest was 'Freedom from Fuel Hikes' 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lokpal Bill - An Allopathic Approach to Fighting Corruption

Lokpal Bill is more of an allopathic treatment with known and unknown side-effects. It seems to be directed at treating the symptoms of corruption that is overtly visible.

It rests on the assumption that we can police corruption. It rests on the assumption that corruption would reduce on a sustainable basis, if we persecute the guilty. It rests on an assumption that the Lok Pal himself and the Lokpal committee would be super-humans and would not get lured into corruption.

Although these assumptions are valid at a certain level in terms of inducing fear among the people who wields the power to do corruption as public servants, yet they are not an end in itself. We have to get inventive to arrive at sustainable solutions to curb corruption and more specifically to curb the need for corruption. There is no single solution and it wont happen in the short term. We have to arrive at a series of policies and strategies to be implemented in the next 50 years to curb the idea of corruption.

This blog post is an effort to point at some of the steps that should be taken to curb corruption. There may be many others that I am unable to think, but the idea is to have solutions that are human independent, and process dependent. A process oriented solution would stand strong even if the main proponent or the main committee decides to quit the program.

Each of the solutions that I am suggesting can become a paper for discussion. So I intend to keep it short.
  1. Who funds the political parties to fight elections? My first solution lies in this question. There should be a central pool of funds (tax money) that should fund the political parties and their election expenses. There should be a bill that defines the role of funding and restrictions put on political parties in using any kind of funds of their own. This solution will address the huge need for funds that political parties have to sustain their campaign and to sustain their dedicated party workers. I consider this need for funds as one of the primary reason for corruption.
  2. How many political parties today pay their taxes? There was a news item recently that highlighted over 300 registered political parties, which have never filed their tax returns. The Government should stress on reforming the control and accounting standards over political spending and donations. This would put restrain among the funding lobby in the political parties. The need for funds would also be lessened and additionally a proper accounting policy would put restraints on the collection of funds.
  3. Do we have a strong moral science subject in our primary and secondary syllabus? Primary education and then secondary education form our attitude and impressions about life. Not many schools, except for the few convent schools have any subject that teaches the kids about being a good citizen and a good human being. The Government should empanel acknowledged academicians to prepare a subject that is compulsory till the 10th standard. The subject would impart education about becoming a good human-being and a good citizen. It should also rationalize the need for it and why it is beneficial for everyone, the society and the country. This subject should cover the negative effects of corruption in personal and public life, and to the community in general. 
  4. Do we know how many house holds were raided for income tax irregularities in your city? It is important to have a deterrent strategy in place. We live in a society and have certain inherent fears that guide us. As part of the RTI strategy, we may have a system to present information in public forum about people who are investigated for corruption, or are convicted of corruption. Being present in such a list may become a big deterrent to being involved in corrupt practices.  
  5. Are all the Government services including the police force adequately paid? It is very critical and essential that Government should periodically review remuneration structures of all Government officials including sensitive departments like the police force. For instance, I have been given to understand that there are no adequate mediclaim policies that cover the police personnel and their families. In my experience, I think that our police forces including traffic police force have a very tough working life and they deserve to be paid well.
  6. Do we have enough reward and recognition programs in the Government offices? Do we have a recognition program if a particular flyover project is completed on time? Do we have a recognition program if a police officer does the maximum number of over-time shifts? I would not know how many such opportunities are there to reward and recognise people, but I do know that it works in terms of enhancing motivation and to continue to do good work.    
The moot point is that there are multiple ways to attack the root causes that create the need for corruption, and those that negates the conscious mind working against being corrupt. We can bring about 100 more such solutions if we organise a workshop of thinking minds.

The Lokpal Bill may become the deterrent, if it is drafted in the way Team Anna had drafted. The Lokpal bill which was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 was much weaker and it was not independent of the political class - Government and the Opposition. You may read the critical difference between the Lokpal Bill drafted by Team Anna and the Lokpal bill passed in the Lower house by clicking here.

Unless, the Lokpal bill is completely independent of the political class and the bureaucracy, it would serve no purpose, other than becoming one of the many existing machineries to fight corruption. Till I see the Jan Lokpal bill which is approved, my opinion is that the Lokpal Bill is an allopathic approach to fighting corruption. It is not addressing the root causes that define the mentality to get corrupt.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why do we have Anna Hazare?

Many argue that Anna Hazare is a danger to parliamentary democratic institution. But the question we need to ask ourselves is whether do we have a democratic institution representing the masses?

If we really had such an institution, wouldn't Anna Hazare's of India have better things to fight for.. like primary education, for instance.

If we really had such a revered institution, wouldn't we have better electoral participation? Currently our electoral participation is hardly noteworthy, hovering around 50%.

Many also argue that Anna Hazare and his team should stand up in the elections, get elected and then correct corruption. But thats an argument in utopia. That is an option only if we have a fair election process.

We have to acknowledge the bottom line truth of Indian Parliamentary democracy today. The truth is that elections are being played and participated by the 'Kings'. These are modern-day Kings ruling their fief-doms (constituency). They are Kings with loads of cash, or a good source-of-cash support. They are Kings with an army of muscle power to vandalise any opposition or danger to the supposedly democratic parliamentary seat.

Corruption is the outcome of such an status quo. Today's Indian parliamentary democracy necessitates the role of money to become part of it. The party worker, an MLA or an MP having a better source of funds available to him influences the decisions of the party.  

We need a revolution to overthrow the current democratic status quo of the Kings. The status quo that breeds corruption and kills accountability.

It is rare that we have an opportunity like the one we have today with Anna Hazare being the leader and the protagonist.Lets catch on to this opportunity and bring in whole-some reforms into our political system and parliamentary democracy.

We need a jolt to wake us up.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Assam - Rule of the Shorter Term

This blog post is a result of the thought process that I assimilated by reading 'Northeast: threat to nation building and sovereignity' The blog post had an interesting perspective on how a kingdom can rule longer by giving autonomy to its smaller princely states, and by protecting them from larger enemies. We have seen that style of governance being beautifully exemplified by the Mughal rulers, the British administration, the Ahom Kingdom ruling Assam for over 600 years.

This style of administration is still relevant to today's political problems. However, it is hard to be seen. Telangana, Uttaranchal and the most burning of them is the issue that we are facing in the NorthEast, stems from the lack of such a style of administration. An administration style that recognises and appreciates the aspirations, culture, language, history of every smallest unit of the polity.

The most potent nationalistic emotion in Assam today is the feeling of 'not being part of the mainstream politics and economic development'. The reason for this emotion is the lack of autonomy and national protection of their local identity, that the citizens in the North Eastern states feel. We need to understand the foundation for such an emotion among the masses in the North East and Assam.

Formation of the Indian union and the emotion of being an 'Indian' had slowly started building with the spread of the Mughal kingdom. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Mughal kingdom couldn't seize power from the Ahom rulers in Assam. By the start of 1800, when the Burmese army started expanding towards Assam and had defeated and plundered the Ahom Kingdom, Manipur, Cachar Kingdoms, that the British army started focussing on Assam and the NorthEast. The British Army fought one of the most expensive battles to defeat the Burmese army and hence Assam became part of the British Empire and the Indian Union.

They bought educated and English knowing Bengalis to assist them in its administration. This had an alienating effect, which was to last another hundred years. Even I could sense the over-bearing presence of Bengalis in Assam in all administrative offices of the Government.

After the first partition of Bengal in 1905, Assam witnessed another phenomenon to shatter its identity related confidence. Muslim peasants from the over populated East Bengal started to migrate to the sparsely populated fertile fields of Brahmaputra and Surma Valleys. The formation of All India Muslim League in 1906 further hatched a political conspiracy to expand its numerical strength in Assam. The league initiated organised migration of Muslims from East Bengal. Nawab Salim Ullah Khan, a prominent Muslim leader and one of the founder members of AIML exhorted the Muslims to migrate to Assam and settle there in his public meetings.

The situation worsened during the period between 1939-1941 when the alternative coalition Govt of Sir Saadullah allotted one Lakh bighas (a bigha is little less than an acre) of land in Assam valley for the settlement of East Bengal immigrants. He ignored the protest of Assam Congress leaders like Bishnuram Medhi on the plea that the Muslim exodus from Bengal to Assam was necessary for the success of 'Grow more food' scheme in the state. In reality, Sir Saadullah was 'growing more Muslims'.

After Independence, Assam remained a part of the Indian Union inspite of all effort by the Muslim League, thankfully for the many hill and plain tribes. Non-Muslims outnumbered the Muslims. I would assume it was a sign of relief. 

However, that sign of relief didnt last long. The feeling of alienation was to be ascerbated once again. During the Indo-China war of 1962, when the Chinese army had reached till the beautiful city of Tezpur, Jawaharlal Nehru made the tragic immature remark saying, 'my heart goes with the people of Assam'. It is important to note that Tezpur is one of the cultural centres of Assam, which produced many freedom fighters who laid down their lives in the Quit India movement and other such Independence movements. Assamese people didnt take this comment very lightly. It strengthened the foundation of anti-India sentiments. For instance, I heard about this comment in hear-say, floating across every household in Assam.

There were other smaller yet supposedly step-motherly initiatives by the Central Government that kept this perception of mis-rule intact. One such example was the Barauni Refinery in Bihar which was set up to process the low sulphur crude oil (sweet crude) from Assam. The other example was the lack of a tea auction centre in Assam. The tea auction centre in Calcutta was established in 1861, however, it was only in 1970 that the Guwahati Tea Auction centre was established.

Democracy of today and the constitution of India gives us two rulers with varying rights. One is the State Government and the other is the Central Government. With Lok Sabha being the power centre, the lobby for any developmental initiatives is counted by the electronic votes and therefore by the number of Loksabha MPs. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats among a possible total of 552 seats. The upper house - Rajya Sabha has 7 seats reserved for Assam. One of them is interestingly occupied by Manmohan Singh. It sounds quite fortunate for Assam. However, if I search in Google about any development or social work initiated by Manmohan Singh, there is nothing worthwhile to mention. I would take the liberty to say that Rajya Sabha is just a theoritical concept, inadequate in execution to keep the federal spirits of the country alive.

With such a low representation in both the houses, the emphasis on Assam, its culture, its economy is always a doubt. Mathematically, it may be an accurate representation but emotions and perceptions cannot be measured or controlled with mathematical logic. Its all about Action that defines a polity. I personally rule out all expectations that the Central Government would be patriotic of the sensitivities of the North East. So in all practicality, issues in Assam and the North East cannot outnumber NewDelhi’s other priorities.

The second option eligible to have become a good ruler for Assam was the ruling State Government. Going by the last few state governments, I would like to highlight the difference between the Moghul/Ahom kingdoms and Mahmud of Ghazni / Myanmar generals. The difference is that the former had a vision and an urge to rule longer either by design or by lack of choice, and the latter had the simple objective to loot and run. So the former did everything right to rule for hundreds of years and the latter looted, and vanished without much mention.

It is completely the prerogative of the ruling Government to either have a vision to rule longer and be a leader for centuries to come, or have just some short term objectives (which appear long term from one human adult life perspective) and rule for 5 to 10 years at a stretch. The current breed of rulers in Assam unfortunately doesn't seem to have a vision irrespective of whether it is AGP, BJP OR CONGRESS.

The burning issues are always at the back-burner. The Bangladeshi infiltration is eating up the socio-economic fabric in Assam. It already has 18 constituencies with a Muslim majority, up from 10 in the last election. Still the Government is not serious about curbing the menace. There is no concrete action to seal borders like we have in the west with Pakistan. There is no concrete plan to prepare for a common identity document to identify citizens. We Indians do not have a unique identity document as a proof of citizenship unlike the US and the UK. Lack of Government spending, stagnant private sector growth, and the resulting negative pressures of Un-employment is currently gripping its tight noose around Assam.

Rulers cant afford to behave like capitalists gunning and calculating for immediate profits. That's feasible only for commerce and businesses. There lies the tragedy gripping the land of red river and blue hills.

It is time to reflect and act for everyone Assamese all over the globe, to add economic value in Assam, to protect its rich Arts and Culture and to take Assam into a higher growth trajectory.