Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why to vote for the Aam Aadmi Party? (It is not about their election promises!)

We as responsible Indians residing in Delhi must vote for the Aam Aadmi Party. Mind you, this is not AAPtard speak. I would like appeal to our collective intelligence to think about the following points and then decide to place their vote of confidence on the 'broom'.

  1. A Government is in power till it enjoys the vote of confidence in the Assembly. Even if AAP forms a majority Government, they will be in the Government only for 5 years. If they do not perform selflessly, do not stay honest, do not act efficiently, do not keep their promises, we can force them out of power.
  2. We have to all agree that AAP started as a one-of-a-kind revolution that brought in the power of the common man; importantly the power of the educated youth. Indian democracy has not seen a mass movement such as 'India Against Corruption' and 'AAP' after Independence. AAP has increased the participation of the common public into the politics of the country. There are views that AAP is no more the AAP with the same ideals, and that it believes in anarchy. Whatever be the case, it was indeed a significant movement and it deserves at least a 5 year period to prove its efficiency and purpose of being in power.
  3. There is a significant public opinion that Arvind Kejriwal should not have resigned in 49 days. The political opponents have taken advantage of the same and terms the act, 'Bhagoda'. I respect that opinion. AAP respects that opinion. However, we have to understand that AAP didn't have majority and the Congress support was based on a weak foundation from the very beginning. Outside support of Congress was destined for failure, as the philosophies of both the parties differ by miles. So I request all those people who are miffed with the resignation to forgive AAP and reconsider their decision. Investing 5 years for AAP is not a very risky proposition.
  4. When Mr. Arvind Kejriwal was the Chief Minister, he made quite a few significant points. One of the points meant (not verbatim) that the Government has enough money to spend on public services, development and welfare. The barrier is 'Niyat' (intent). This is a significant point because our standard of living (happiness) depends critically on effective public expenditures. All previous Governments have not done a satisfactory job in spending public money. It is a commonplace knowledge that corruption eats up most of the public money sanctioned for expenditures. If AAP provides us the essential 'niyat' while spending public money, Delhi has indeed lot to gain in terms of happiness and development.
  5. Similarly it is not correct to assume that the public companies (PSUs) are inherently lose-making. By design all PSU should be profitable although the primary motive is not profits. However, most of the PSUs have become sick units because of political interferences. I have spoken to an employee in one of the Navratnas in Assam, who has categorically told me that applications ('sefarish') for various jobs and other 'help' have increased in the BJP reign. He says, it used to happen earlier as well. Now, the applications with signatures of various BJP MPs are just too many. So, AAP is a party that is completely against such practices. Under AAP, PSUs may just get a new lease of life increasing the welfare and development that these companies were meant to do.
  6. I cannot personally accept that India is bad at sports. We do not deserve so few medals at the Olympics and the Asian Games. We are ranked lower than 100 in football. This is not our destiny. One of the key reasons is simply political interferences and appointment of political people as heads of various sports bodies. AAP is a party that is completely against such political interferences. Arvind Kejriwal has categorically said that sports bodies should be headed by sportspersons of repute. An example to that effect is how All England Open Badminton Champion, Pullela Gopichand has taken India forward in Badminton. 
  7. Lastly, the Aam Aadmi Party is perhaps the only political party in the history of politics, whose core philosophy is honesty and transparency. All political parties have these two ideals in their books, but AAP has it as their primary reason of existence. Miss Kiran Bedi, after accepting the Chief Ministerial candidate of BJP said that her primary agenda is 'Women's Safety' and categorically said that 'Corruption' is way below her priority. So, that makes AAP different and worthy of getting at least 5 years to prove its worth.
Else, we will lose a glimmer of hope for honesty in politics. Else, politics will always be the last resort of scoundrels. Else, we would never know if AAP could have actually made a difference.

We live in a democracy, and AAP must get a chance. We will boot them out if they don't perform. That is also a must.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Falling Crude Oil Prices - A Puzzle or A Design!

This blog post is a translation of an article published in the highest circulated Assamese Daily - Asomiya Pratidin, authored by the highly revered Mr. Ananta Kalita, Former Director at Central Board, SBI. Please click on the link to read the Assamese version.

The prices of Petrol and Diesel have come down by over Rs. 10/- per litre. A lot of us give its credit to the Modi Government. It is obvious because we do not get the time to go deeper into the economics and politics of crude oil prices.

India imports over 80% of its crude oil requirement. By the end of 2008, the price of crude oil had increased to $147 per barrel. However, the price of crude oil in the international market has started falling continually from the month of November, 2013. By october last year, the price of crude oil in the international market had fallen to $100 per barrel, and by 31st December 2014, the price of crude oil dropped drastically by almost half, to a mere $55 per barrel. Today (7th January 2015), the price stands at $47 per barrel. In relation to the international prices of crude oil, the retail price of petrol and diesel should have dropped by 60% and should have been retailing at Rs. 30 and Rs. 25 respectively. But the oil distribution companies have dropped the retail prices of Petrol and Diesel by around Rs. 10 only, keeping huge profit potential alive for themselves. In the meanwhile, the central government has increased the excise duties in three phases - 12th November 2014, 2nd December 2014 and 1st January 2015, by Rs. 6.95 and Rs. 5.96 per litre of Petrol and Diesel respectively.

The international prices of crude oil do not rise or fall by the normal standards of economics. The production, marketing and distribution of crude oil is controlled by the Capitalist countries and the big multinational companies. It depends on the neo-liberal economic benefits of the stock markets and the political interests of the capitalist economies. The current crude oil crisis seems like the combined handiwork of higher oil production, better production technology and a relative fall in demand. It is true that the production of oil by non-OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) countries have increased significantly, especially from the unconventional petroleum deposit such as light sand, shallow oil sand and tar sand by the use of advanced oil extraction and refining technologies. Production by OPEC countries have also increased in the present times. After 1991, the present day Russia produces 10.58 million barrels daily. From the demand side, advances in science and technology have increased the fuel consumption efficiency of automobile and other engines, thereby creating a negative demand momentum. Other non-oil based energy options like solar energy, wind energy, Sea wave energy, ethanol, methanol etc are also being harnessed effectively. In such a scenario, even if the international prices of crude oil is going down, the oil producing countries and companies are scared to reduce their production and instead compete heavily in the international markets in the fear of losing market share.

Having said that, there is a critical need to analyze whether the current fall in the international prices of crude oil is due to the rise in production, advances in technologies, fall in demand, or is a conspiracy by American capitalism to achieve something by drastically and unnaturally reducing the international price of crude oil. One of the key American strategies responsible for the fall and breakdown of USSR in 1991 was to drastically reduce the price of crude oil. One of the key contributors to the national revenue of USSR was the revenue earned by exporting crude oil. In order to reduce the international prices, US controlled Saudi Arabia had increased the daily production of crude from 20 lakh barrels to 1 crore barrels, thereby flooding the international market with excess supply of crude oil. The price of crude oil had fallen from $32 per barrel to $10 per barrel! The storage of crude oil is an expensive proposition, and therefore USSR was compelled to reduce the price of crude oil to $6 per barrel to remain competitive in the international market. As a result, the national revenue of USSR was severely strained and there was no option but to cut a lot of budgeted expenditures allocated to various socio-economic security related public initiatives. This created an angst among the general public against the government and the administration, which laid the foundation of the break up of the Soviet Union.

In the eighties, USSR was the target of the USA. Today, the targeted countries are Russia, Iran and Venezuala. Russia is a primary adversary of the US and the NATO countries. Iran is continuing with its nuclear research and development of nuclear capabilities. Moreover, Russia and Iran is coming in the way of controlling and de-militarizing Syria. Venezuala is one of the remaining Latin American countries governed by leftist ideologies. The economies of all these three countries are dependent on the export of crude oil. This kind of continual drastic fall in the price of crude oil will severely affect the national earning potential of these three countries, and their economies will weaken for American to exercise greater power and control.

On the other side, the fall in crude oil prices is also affecting the economy of India. On 6th of January 2015, the Indian stock market - Sensex fell by 855 points in a single day. It was the biggest fall in the last 65 months. On 7th January, the fall continued by 78 points. Practically the world economy is in doldrums. The European economy including Germany is going through a bad worry-some phase. The spending potential of the general population is on a decline. In the name of controlling fiscal deficit, the governments are rolling down public expenditures towards social security related schemes. Public angst is rising at an alarming level. The value of their currency - Euro is declining. Greece is at its worst economic crisis and is expressing desire to get out of the European Union. The current progressive government may lose the coming general elections. The effect of the present unstable world economy with the falling crude oil prices, devaluation of the Euro, worsening Greece economy and the overall negative economic environment in Europe is being felt by the foreign institutional investors (FIIs) with large exposure in the Indian stock markets. As a result, they are taking away millions of dollars out of the Indian stock markets. Indian companies listed in the stock markets have lost over 3 trillion Indian rupees. At the same time, the value of Indian rupee has fallen to Rs. 63.17 per US Dollar.

The fall in the Indian share markets is nothing extra-ordinary. It is controlled by speculative instincts and intent of the profit seeking FIIs. The fall in the Indian share markets won't affect the Indian economy or the lives of the common people. The rise and fall of the stock markets are expected. However, the fall in the value of the Indian rupee will have a negative impact on the Indian economy.

Friday, January 02, 2015

An open letter to the Prime Minister of India #NITIAayog

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Wish you a very Happy New Year!

At the outset I want to thank you for your team's foresight to include the 15th century social reformer and renaissance saint of Assam Srimanta Sankaradeva and his writing - "To see every being as equivalent to one’s own soul is the supreme means of attaining deliverance" from 'Kirtana Ghosa' in one of the paragraphs of the press note launching NITI Aayog.

I just wished if spellings were correctly written...

I also want to congratulate the team for writing a good piece, smartly comprehensive, modern in its tone and savvy in its formatting. The acronym NITI - National Institution for Transforming India is quite creative as well. It is a document that can have a bright future if understood, implemented and executed well.
  • It stressed on transparency and the use of technology in a parliamentary democracy. It added that transparency about governance will only increase with time.
  • The note clearly indicates the intent that states will be given due importance and representation, by being more consensual and cooperative. It talks about being inclusive of all regions, castes, and tribes.
  • It talks about removing social and economic inequality which I believe is the bane of every evil that we are facing today. It talks about giving opportunities to the weaker sections to influence the choices, the country and the government will make in setting the national agenda. The intent definitely looks pro-people and pro-citizen.
  • It brings out the importance and contribution of the small businesses and how the government should help them at a policy level.
  • It has a mention about environment, climate and resources like water, land and forests and the need to respect them for sustainable progress and their inter-linkages with mankind.
Having said that, I would like to say, and you would surely agree that the press note currently resembles a document written by a smart, aware, blue-eyed MBA graduate who does not have practical experience working in the Government as part of the inter-ministerial, intra-ministerial, judicio-politico-executive machinery. The use of words and phrases like 'think tank', 'directional and policy dynamo', 'one size fits all', 'enabler' and many such words were, at best quite potent in terms of creating a favourable perception and mass acceptance of the press note and of NITI Aayog.

Sir, I understand it is just a press note and so we would wait for NITI Aayog to bloom before really trying to criticize it. All I want to tell you are a few points of caution that you may like to keep in mind. Firstly, you would agree that it assumes public acceptance of a few debatable hypotheses.

  • It eulogizes the private sector as if it is proven that it is the better alternative than the public sector in terms of general welfare and happiness index. It has a statement - "Global economics and geo-politics are getting increasingly integrated, and the private sector is growing in importance as a constituent within that". This practically is a meaningless point successfully praising the private sector. Why can't the public sector go up in importance as a constituent to increasing globalization?
  • It also blatantly assumes that it is a better option that public services be increasingly delivered by private entities, as if it is acceptable to the democracy and as if it is good in the long term to privatize every public service. Your team makes it look as if employees of private companies are from a better planet and the public entities are doomed with inefficient earthlings.
  • It makes a statement that urbanization is irreversible and therefore should be accepted. It indirectly refutes the concept of Swaraj, of small self sufficient villages envisioned by the father of the nation, Mr. Gandhi. It is overlooking the social evils of urbanization across the globe, especially in the capitalist economies of the world. Like me, there are many who are quitting their plum jobs in the metros to come back to their roots, their villages hoping to create a rural sustainable economy. Living in an illuminated concrete match box may be your idea of a good life. Lot of us prefer to stay in real homes in the rural India.
  • Lastly, you seem to be deciding everything in this new institution. You would be the Chair person. You would appoint the Vice-Chairperson, the 4 ex-officio members who would be from the Union Council of Ministers and the Chief Executive Officer. You may be efficient, a hard task master with the population behind you, but a good institution should be process / protocol centric, and definitely not person centric. God forbid, but what would happen if something happens to your health and you can't fulfill your duties. Sorry for saying that, but I am just being practical. I may try to have a little faith on you, but no one else in this country today.
Sir, as Aamir Khan had said in Satyamev Jayate and I too believe that the problem in our country is not about funds. It is about allocation and utilization. I heard a few weeks back that in the DONOR ministry alone, there are over 1500 sanctioned projects where the 'advance money' has been given for good. The North East gets a significant allocation of funds which are returned un-utilized, with the 'utilized' being the amount successfully embezzled into deep pockets. Secondly, it is about inter ministerial and other bureaucratic and diplomatic delays that people lose their motivation in between to keep following up on projects.

I understand that your document stresses on transparency using technology to monitor and evaluate the implementation of programmes and initiatives, but so does all documents of this stature prepared by all Governments, all ministries and all MBA schools in their group projects.

It is pertinent to define universal SLAs, standards and protocols that every public servant will be accountable and bound into. This is where the document lacks primarily perhaps because it is just the first document and a press note. Now that the name is finalized and the press note released, I would request you to finalize the road map strategy as soon as possible. For the road map, we need to execute three things: 1. Organise debates and publish them in media. 2) Organize ministerial meetings and publish the meeting minutes. 3. Initiate online research to get feedback from a wide ranging intelligentsia. All these three things should concentrate on defining the road map for NITI Aayog in the next 3 months. The road map should comprise the following:

  1. Defining the degree of executionary power of NITI Aayog in relation to other ministries and state governments. In China, the new planning commission was much more powerful than the earlier version and it has yielded them results.
  2. Define its reach till the 'gram' level. The document stresses on inclusivity in terms of diversity and geography. So would it have offices till the gram level? Or would it be just an office in New Delhi?
  3. What would be the selection process for independent panels that would be formed for various sectors, regions and domains?
  4. Decisions happen in meetings and so the importance of meeting protocols and expectations is critical. For instance, how many meetings do we need to arrive at one decision and what is the maximum time period to arrive at any decision. How do we arrive at a consensus in a meeting? Three member committees (odd) may become four member committees (even) with 3 hands being counted as a decision. For a six member committee, it would be four hands.
  5. How do we minimize the effect of lobbying by powerful business houses so that decisions can be inclusive to equitable growth. Capitalism is known to increase and rich-poor divide and what India needs is a mixed economy for a sustainable and equitable future. The road map should be clear about this intent of not making 'profiteering' a driving force in decisions regarding the country's welfare. I am sure, Sir that you understand the difference between 'being profitable' and 'profiteering'.
  6. The press note does not have a clear view on the ownership of our natural resources. For instance, I am given to understand that all natural resources under the ground belong to the centre. However, most of the coal mines today are open cast mines controlled by Coal India - a Central Government enterprise. NITI Aayog should have a roadmap regarding the utilization, control and revenue from natural resources and its bi-products. This is a cornerstone argument to bring down inequality and give equal opportunities. Assam had the first petro-chemical refinery in Digboi, but it does not have a petro-chemical economy till date. Gujarat has. Being a PM of the country, Sir I am sure you would empathize with the people of Assam and their lost opportunities, and the fact that they therefore feel exploited (and take guns).
  7. Lastly, the roadmap should define the punitive powers of NITI Aayog to maintain the standard, timelines and quality of execution.
Sir, I would say with humility and respect that if you can put the roadmap in place, including the above points in the next three months, all that your critics could do is to have sleepless nights.

Till then, I would just maintain that NITI Aayog is a well written comprehensive, yet a bit presumptive, written-in-a-haste document. It is yet to justify its change of name.

Joi Ai Axom.
Jai Hind.

Yours Sincerely,

Durlov Baruah
Duliajan, Assam, India

Thursday, January 01, 2015

My Happiest Investment.

In my life of 38 years, I have invested my time and effort to achieve many things at different points of my life. In some, I succeeded. In some I succeeded partially.
I read. I travelled. I helped riot victims.
I worked late nights and whole nights when the office time was 9 to 5.
I quit my corporate life to be with my parents.
I prayed.

My happiest investment so far, however, was one of my new year resolutions many moons back when I was penniless, jobless and directionless. It was after becoming a graduate with a prospect of becoming another educated unemployed youth in Assam.

I had thought that whatever be the case, I will try hard to be a good human being - truthful, helpful, honest and harmless. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice not to be bad, not to lie, to be helpful before self, not to take shortcuts to earning money, not be revengeful, and be honest about your weaknesses.

From a monthly salary of Rs. 1500 in 1998, life conspired to enable me to study at the best communication institute - MICA which charged Rs. 750 for its prospectus (and another Rs. 700 for the CAT prospectus). It gave me the strength to resign as an AVP in Deutsche Bank 15 years later to come back to look after my parents. It has made me positive and courageous to tackle life.
Even believing in being truthful, helpful, honest, harmless and selfless gives you immense power, self belief and a sense of pride.

Today in this new year, I reaffirm my resolution that life is short and the happiest investment is to sacrifice everything to think good, do good and be good.