From Engaged Citizenship to Enlightened Citizenship

August 19, 2015 2 comments

There is a buzz in the city of Bengaluru that reflects the sociological transformation that is becoming evident across different parts of the country.   The elections to the local civic body have not only raised the decibel levels in the city but are also seeing a heightened level of citizen engagement.  From Citizen groups to Resident Welfare Associations to Student’s bodies – everyone seems to have got into the act of being visibly engaged. While elections give a good entry point for citizen action, one needs to explore how citizens can continue to stay engaged even and take forward the momentum gained.

One needs to recognize that citizen engagement is not about confrontation or about expressing restlessness and dissatisfaction. It is more about collaborative partnerships and dialogue.  It is about inclusion, empowerment and is undoubtedly a political process.  And the elections provide just the right recipe for beginning such an engagement.   When one considers the ‘citizen-indifference’ that has existed for many decades, this increasing engagement is indeed welcome news.  But we need to be pragmatic and take a measured view of the state of this engagement. One needs to appreciate that the evolution of citizen engagement is the evolution of democracy itself. Citizen engagement can strengthen governance processes, deepen democracy, and help in not just overcoming income poverty but also in overcoming ‘voice’ poverty and social exclusion. Citizen engagement should neither be viewed as the ‘citizen against the state’ nor as the ‘state against the citizen’, but as two complementary forces working together to ensure overall development of a community or a Nation.

Beyond elections, citizen action should be taken forward to empowering communities, fighting inequities and participating in the development process. Development by the people and for the people is indeed possible. There are however several questions we must deal with to know whether such an ideal is really possible and how we could work towards it. The first among them is whether as citizens, we are ready to constantly step out of our comfort zones and engage with the process of development deeply. Most urban citizens are beneficiaries of a system and of fruits of development that has hidden costs borne often by the economically poor and socially marginalized. From indigenous communities whose forests are sacrificed to unprotected industrial laborers, from people in whose villages our trash is dumped, to victims of industrial pollution and internal displacement, all are contributors to the growth story without necessarily reaping its benefits. Citizen engagement towards democratizing the process of development necessarily involves constructively critiquing the model of development that we have benefitted from and are engaged in furthering. Can such critiquing happen on a scale significant enough to make development meaningful and enriching for all? Can heads of states and Industry leaders do it? Can it be done by a large mass of ordinary people, students, teachers and all others on a sustained basis? Would it be too much to ask for all stakeholders to simply engage in introspection, self-analysis and honest critiquing long enough to make a noticeable difference?

There is a crying need for it as well, as we find ourselves in the midst of a development paradigm where the role of multiple stakeholders is ever increasing. Meaningful dialogue among the stakeholders – the state, citizenry, private sector, media, civil society and academia can sustain only when there is mutual trust. The relationship between and amidst these multiple stakeholders needs to be driven by mutual respect and with an appreciation of interdependence and reciprocity. However, this may involve redrawing boundaries of engagement and roles that stakeholders have traditionally assumed for themselves. Can civil society and people’s movements find ways of constructively engaging with champions of industrialization to find common ground that results in viable and sustainable development? Can corporations recognize peaceful protests against and criticism of their practices and accommodate them as valid democratic voices with which they should engage rather than seek ways of suppressing? Multi-stakeholder engagement would require adopting of the partnership approach by all parties involved, but would it be possible without shedding the biases about each other? Are there any traditional ethics of engagement that are likely to be compromised? These are questions that need collective reflection and sincere introspection. A development paradigm that involves multiple stakeholders is also about giving equal and dignified spaces in the process. What would it take for the powers that be, to accord equal space to ordinary citizens? It is rare that ordinary citizens or even citizens’ associations get the same status as industry bodies or extra-constitutional groups of the elite and the ‘eminent’. These are practices that need to be challenged and even if it requires that traditional structures of engagement and power hierarchy be overhauled to accommodate every last citizen, it might be well worth the effort.

We must further appreciate that citizenry or community is not necessarily a homogenous mass of people and must be conscious of elite capture that happens within citizen groups as well. Furthering democracy is all about constantly finding ways to negate the elite capture and respecting the last citizen’s voice. It may need according a new respect to the identity of citizen itself.  For which, we need to stay not only engaged but be enlightened too.

-Balu

Categories: Musings

Developing Human & Social Capital for Nation Building

July 30, 2015 1 comment

The world of non-profits has been rapidly evolving.  Apart from many other things, the nomenclature has also been changing.  When SVYM began, we were known as a Voluntary organization (VO); a few years later people called us a ‘Non-government Organization’ (NGO); some preferred to call us a ‘Non-profit Organization’ (NPO); later we were christened as a ‘Civil Society Organization’ (CSO) and recently, we decided to call ourselves what we think we truly are – a Development Organization. Beyond the semantics, one also finds that the eco-system in which organizations exist and operate has also been changing rapidly. The skillsets that one needs, to initiate, expand and operate in this dynamic environment is also multiple and complex. The general perception is that this sector does not really demand any specialized skill and the only thing one needs is the passion and commitment to work in the social sector space. While there is no doubt that these are critical ingredients, we cannot be dismissive of the fact that beyond the aptitude, one needs to possess the knowledge, skills and the relevant tools to function efficiently and effectively in this sector.

We at SVYM were also painfully aware that we had to acquire the knowledge and the skills over many years and this was mostly experiential. We were also aware that the talent pool that was available for working in our many projects was limited and scarce. This was not just a problem for SVYM but for all the different organizations working in this field.  It was then, more than 10 years ago that we decided to do something about it. The intent was to help enhance the competence of the people working in the development sector – whether they were doing this in the non-profit world or in the Government or through the many Corporate CSR initiatives. We encapsulated the knowledge, competences and skills that people require for working in the social/development sectors and began to manualise it. This then evolved into a curriculum that could be transacted both by experienced practitioners and academicians in a classroom atmosphere over two years.  What has emerged is a 4-semester master’s level program affiliated with the University of Mysore and run by the Vivekananda Institute for Leadership Development in Hebbal, Mysore. This program is the first of its kind, university degree awarding initiative in India and offers innovative admission options for freshers and people already in the sector. The students who have graduated over the last 10 years have been successfully employed in the NGO, Co-operative, Corporate and Government sectors. Cornell Institute of Public Affairs (CIPA), Cornell University, USA has recognized these courses and students from there can now do a externship semester here at VLEAD. (http://www.cipa.cornell.edu/academics/offcampus/CIPA-SVYM-Mysore-India-Externship-Semester.cfm)

VLEAD also offers many merit cum means for deserving students apart from assuring assistance in placements after graduation. More info about the course is in this flyer below:

MDM course flyerSVYM has not only shaped a new contextually relevant and culturally appropriate development paradigm through its many activities but has also been shaping the development discourse by building a new breed of committed and competent leaders for the sector.

Balu

Categories: General

SVYM bestowed with the Best NGO in India Award, 2015

July 28, 2015 6 comments

In its journey of 30 years, the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement has received quite a few awards for its work – whether it is the National Youth Award, or the UN Award for our work in the field of HIV-AIDS, the ICAI award for best presented financial statements, the best Annual report award, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Award or the Devaraj Urs Award from the Government of Karnataka. Each of these awards has been given to us for a specific reason and for the high standards that we have been able to maintain over all these years.  Whether it is the recognition or the cash awards that accompany the citation, these awards do mean a lot.  Apart from recognizing and affirming our relevance and contribution to society, they also seek to raise the bar, both individually and collectively.  The recent award that was bestowed on SVYM by Resource Alliance is yet another recognition and a critical milestone in the history of SVYM. This award is special as it is given for NGOs at the National level and the winning organization is selected after a long and systematic multi-layered process.  What makes the award all the more special and meaningful is the fact that only people and Institutions from the development and civil society sector are involved in the entire selection process.  SVYM was bestowed with best NGO in the large category for the year 2015.  SVYM was shortlisted out of 300 participants invited for India NGO Awards, organized by ‘The Resource Alliance’, New Delhi and the EdelGive Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the cash prize.   image

The evaluation criteria that the selection process was based on were the following:
1. Effective and sustainable mobilisation of resources in support of programme ?and project work, including support from local communities
2. Demonstration of efficient management of financial and human resources, good governance practices, transparency and accountability, and effective communication.
3. The impact of their work in bringing about tangible benefits to their target communities.
4. Innovative practices within program and project activities, their implementation and measures to ensure sustainability.
5. Gender sensitivity in the planning, implementation and impact of the program/initiative.
6. Sharing of good practices and good policies with other NGOs.

The selection process was also elaborate and done at multiple stages.

Stage 1 was the Internal sifting of entries – Entry forms were scrutinized and checked for all the requested documents.
First level shortlist was done as Stage 2 – Independent Assessors and M/s Grant Thornton reviewed completed entries and shortlisted organisations for the next level of review.
Stage 3 was shortlisting these organizations at the Second level and they were requested to submit a Statement of Support describing the role of innovation, scale, replicability, collaboration and impact of work in enrolling individual/other donors.
Stage 4 were the Site visits – These were done by independent Assessors who evaluated the statement of support and further shortlisted the top 10 organisations for the large category for site visits assessment. The financial statements of shortlisted entries were then evaluated by M/s Grant Thornton and four finalists were shortlisted.
Stage 5: Jury Round – The 4 shortlisted organisations were asked to make a presentation to the Jury in New Delhi on 23 July 2015.

Dr Seetharam and myself had been to Delhi to make these presentations on August 23 and explain to the jury our many activities and respond to the different questions that they had.  The decision of the jury was announced on the 24th evening and the award given to us in a function that was held in New Delhi.

Apart from the joy of receiving this award after such a thorough process of selection, the processes involved also taught us a great deal.  It helped us understand ourselves better from the framework of resource mobilization and utilization, from the perspective of efficiency and effectiveness of our many programs and from the sustainability and scalability angle of SVYM as an organisation and of our many interventions.

More than anything else, this award along with the many other recognitions that SVYM has got over the last three decades once again re-affirms our commitment to our values of Ahimsa, Satya, Seva and Tyaga and to the spirit of togetherness that prevails.

– Balu

Categories: General, Story of SVYM

Will Justice ever get done?

July 25, 2015 6 comments

Basavaiah, a Jenukuruba tribal died a quite death in the month of May 2015…No one would have even noticed his death but for the turn of events that happened after he died.  The Jenukurubas are considered a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG, earlier called as Primitive Tribal Groups) by the Government of India and for good reasons too.  They are one of the finest people that I have met and lived with.  Their wants are small, they have never looked at materialistic acquisitions and they have always lived in near perfect harmony with nature.  That ended with the Government deciding to intervene many decades ago – and all in the name of protecting the forests and building reservoirs and then developing these primitive tribals.  Today they live a life that is difficult to describe – living a subsistence life with little or no support from the forests that they have depended on for centuries.  The forest department thinks of them only when there is a forest fire to douse. At other times, they are seen as encroachers in the forests that they have loved and cherished from time immemorial.   They believe in after life and that the spirits of their forefathers are guiding and overseeing their welfare.   And that is why it was important for the Yajamana and the family members of Basavaiah of Kantananhadi in H D Kote taluk to ensure that his body was buried in their traditional burial ground.  And the Forest Rights Act, 2006, constitutionally protected this right to a dignified burial and all community rights were supposed to be restored by the State.

Unfortunately, this has not happened in Karnataka and people like Ramu, the cousin of Basavaiah were heart broken that he could not give his brother a decent traditional burial.  The local Range Forest Officer was determined not to allow them to enter the forest across their tribal colony where they wanted to bury Basavaiah.  This was in the month of May.  Yajamana Bommiah had consulted the Spirits who advised him on how to atone for not following their time-honored custom.  He was asked to take Ramu and their family to their ‘Holy tree’ and worship it and ask that the spirit of Basavaiah find peace.  Unfortunately, this tree was 5 meters beyond the deep trench that separated Kantanahadi from the forest.  Ramu, who is also the President of the local Forest Rights Committee formally requested the local RFO to permit him to complete the rituals.  Not only was the permission denied, but also the Ranger reached the spot as the tribals began cleaning up the place for doing the pooja.  Angry and irritated that the tribals had encroached on what the RFO called ‘his forest’, he is alleged to have beaten up Ramu. His wife Ambica and sister Manjula who intervened were alleged to have suffered a similar fate.  Ambica in fact is still distraught recollecting what happened that day. She mentions has she was dragged by the hair, her dress torn and she being slapped and kicked. Her ‘karimani mangalsutra’ being snatched is something that she has not been able to come to terms with.  Choked with emotion she asked the Principal Secretary of Forests & Environment and Addnl Chief Secretary of Karnataka, Mr Madanagopal, how is it that women are protected by law from being beaten by their own husbands but the state could not prevent her being beaten up by one of its functionaries?  A profound question indeed for which, the humane and people-centric Madanagopal had no satisfactory answer.
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Mr Madanagopal and his team of senior forest officers were there along with the Deputy Commissioner and the SP of Mysore to enquire into the incident, verify the truth of the complaint of the tribals and ensure that Justice gets done.  After more than a 3 hour-long meeting, the people were left disappointed with no concrete and immediate result in sight.  All that the tribals wanted was to live in harmony with the forests, with their constitutional rights ensured and with peace with the officials of the forest department.  Their only demand was to ask the erring officer to apologize to the women and be treated humanely henceforth.  But then the department officers thought otherwise. Not only did they insist that the incident not take place, but also alleged that the tribals were actually caught smuggling in the forest. It is anybody’s guess how and what these poor Jenukuruba women could be smuggling a mere 10 feet in the forest?   The tribal leaders present at the meeting were justifiably infuriated.  They narrated many incidents of injustice, violent treatment of tribals and how people looting away the forest wealth were getting away scot-free while poor tribals with no livelihood options were being mercilessly targeted.  This and many such questions continue to haunt people like me?  Why is it that the state, not deal with marginalized forest dwellers with compassion and empathy?  Why are the state organs and departments not on the side of ‘people’ when the constitution clearly mandates them to be?  Why is it that the voice of the poor and the marginalized gets crowded and drowned out by that of the rich, the powerful and the mighty reach of the ‘State’?  Will the peace loving and gentle tribals ever be able to live a dignified and respectful life?  Will the Forests Rights Act ever get to see the light of the day and ensure that these tribals are also treated as equal ‘citizens’ of a just state rather than as mere ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘subjects’ of a heartless state?  Kala, one of the educated tribal leaders present said it beautifully and had this simple question that he posed to me.  He asked me if there was any difference between how the British treated Indians before our Independence and from how the Government was treating the tribals today?  All that he wanted to know was, ‘Will Justice ever get done?”

This is a question that both the State and all concerned Citizens need to be asking.

– Balu

Categories: General, Musings, Story of SVYM

Grassroots democracy in Action…beginning of a silent revolution!

July 19, 2015 4 comments

Working with indigenous tribals has been one of the most fulfilling things in my life.  From a small clinic at Brahmagiri to all the diverse projects that SVVM is running, it has been a very enriching experience till now. I have always maintained that development has to be about an expansion in the human and social capital of people and communities, for it to be sustainable and meaningful. While it is easy for one to get carried away by short-term economic gains of the many development interventions that both the Govt and NGOs undertake, we must appreciate that the long drawn and sometimes painful process of building capabilities of people is more permanent and rewarding. As we evolved in the different activities that we undertook in H D Kote for the indigenous forest dwelling tribes, it became increasingly evident that meaningful change would only be possible if the people took on the responsibility of development themselves. This is easier said than done in an eco-system that looks to marginalize already disadvantaged communities. SVYM believes in working with the state at the local level to strengthen the Panchayath Raj Institutions. This will not only strengthen local governance mechanisms but also ensure greater participation of the people at the grassroots level. We were also painfully aware of the challenges that tribals faced in negotiating positions of power in these local bodies in an electoral system that is skewed in favour of the rich and powerful. The recently concluded elections to the Gram Panchayaths are truly a milestone in this long and painful evolution. The quiet revolution that had commenced many years ago in the form of collectivization of the tribals in different forms, including the many self-help groups that SVYM established finally yielded results that far exceeded our expectations.

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Felicitation for the elected members

For the first time in the history of indigenous communities in HD Kote, 35 tribals were elected to the different Panchayaths across the taluk. Most of them are women and a couple of them are former students of VTCL. 6 of them will be presidents and 2 will be vice presidents. The efforts of collectivizing the women that Mamatha began and for which Poshini worked hard in shaping and federating is now visible for all to see. It was a matter of pride for Chikkamani and Bhagyamma, the president and secretary of Prakruthi Mahila Okkoota (the federation of the many self help groups for women set up by SVYM) to participate in felicitating these new members at VLEAD on the 17th of this month.

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Orientation in progress

The day was also used to orient and train these newly elected members in understanding their roles as elected representatives and in appreciating the role of the Panchayaths in the development of their constituents and villages. They also could appreciate the importance of the formidable force that they represented now in the taluk. SVYM and GRAAM will work hand in hand with them as they grow and evolve into people who will not just shift the structure of power but will bring in community centric development into the lives of the thousands of indigenous tribals that they represent. One is hopeful that this manifestation of democracy that we see at the grass roots will be the beginning of a more powerful revolution – a revolution that will put ‘tribals first’ and make them owners of the development that concerns their lives.

Balu

Categories: General, Story of SVYM

Rediscovering SVYM and sharing the joy of togetherness

June 29, 2015 Comments off

Yesterday was a very special day. We had the Annual General Body meeting of SVYM at our VLEAD campus in Mysore. It was a day when more than 25 members of the organization came together for a day of fun, fellowship, formal & informal discussions and reaffirmed our collective commitment to make the world a better place. For me personally, it was also a day to feel energized and further deepen my conviction in the power of a ‘collective’. It was also wonderful to see some of our members bring their families along and share in the joy of service that prevailed all round. Apart from the routine business that gets conducted in such meetings, it was also a day to explore how we could all stay connected – physically & emotionally and be update with all pertinent information regarding the organization and is growing activities.

SVYM AGMWhen SVYM was born thirty-one years ago, things were more linear and less complicated. All that we wanted to do at that point of time was to take rational, ethical and cost effective health care to rural India. It all seemed so straightforward and we set about this task in right earnest. The passing of years has seen us mature and evolve – from a small service provider to becoming one of India’s leading development organizations. Our work is now recognized and we have secured not just the affirmation and goodwill of the communities that we worked with, but also that of the Government and our many donors and well wishers. We now appreciate how creating human and social capital amongst the people we work with, has led to noticeable economic consequences.

As we enter our 31st year, we are also cognizant of the changes in the eco-system that we operate in and the consequences thereof. The FCRA laws have changed and add to the already overburdened administrative requirements. Other statutory and regulatory laws dealing with Income tax, Service tax, Professional tax, ESI, Gratuity, Commercial taxes, Pollution control, Drug Control etc makes one wonder whether the eco-system is deliberately designed to stifle the growth and work of legitimate non-profits. Added to this is the altered financial environment wherein the Central Government has transferred 42% of its revenues to the State Governments. While this is indeed a good step in taking forward the spirit of co-operative federalism, one is worried whether the State Governments have the capacity, the intent, the competence and the fiscal discipline to spend the additional money wisely and on the social sector. This decision is also expected to alter the support that the Central government has been giving to Institutions like SVYM. While one is encouraged by the changes to the corporate laws regarding CSRs, one is yet to see the full benefits flow to the sector. The recent national budget is another indication of the challenges ahead. The allocations to the social sector have been alarmingly cut and this further validates and makes our work that much more needed and relevant.

It is amidst all these challenges that a new SVYM needs to emerge – a SVYM that will not only be able to re-discover itself and its relevance to the communities that we partner with, but also emerge as a leader in the development sector. We need to continue our search to balance professionalism with our passion to make the world a better place; to bring in the intellectual talent that can find solutions to the complex problems that a dynamically evolving environment creates; to mobilize the resources to sustain and grow our existing activities, and to ensure that our standards of delivery are of the highest level and we continue to operate with a high degree of efficiency and effectiveness. Doing this and more will not only change the way we think and operate but also bring in newer paradigms and processes. The next thirty years will see SVYM version 2.0 emerge. It will see a more agile, inter-connected, responsive, citizen centric, socially accountable SVYM with robust partnerships with Governments, responsible corporates and communities. In the coming years, we will be consolidating our activities; dropping some of the less relevant ones; exploring alternate models of revenue generation; strengthening our documentation, reporting and M & E systems; use technology optimally and expand our support base amongst individuals and socially responsible corporates. This phase of consolidation will not be without its share of pains and aches, but I am confident that with the support of well meaning individuals and organizations, we will be able to emerge refreshed and ready to continue our endeavour of serving humanity.

Balu

Categories: General

Measuring the 1st year performance of Mr Modi’s Government*

May 26, 2015 3 comments

*This is a longer version of the article that first appeared in today’s Deccan Herald on page 9.  See attachment below

It is now a year since a new Government has been sworn. The hunger for change, the restlessness of the youth and the oratorical skills of Sri Narendra Modi paid electoral dividends for the BJP and today the Government will be measured by how many of their expectations could be reasonably fulfilled.  People will neither have the patience nor the desire to measure the government’s performance evidentially or give it the latitude of allowing for change to emerge organically.  Most will measure it emotionally using their own yardsticks.  And the Government too will not sit back and patiently try and explain what it could do and not do.  They will use the power of the media and the skills of brand managers to project performances that will feed on a hungry population willing to lap on the hype.  The opposition too will add to the decibel levels and communicate their side of the story. Amidst all the din and confusion, what will be missed is an objective search for the truth.  Can one truly measure the performance of public agencies and goverments?  And what is the reasonable time frame in which such measurements can be done.  Before one actually measures, one needs to understand and appreciate what ‘performance’ actually means.  The dictionary defines Performance as ‘an action, task or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed’. Most of us have a tacit knowledge of Performance. We can recognize and understand that something is indeed working as it should be and from a very young age learn to appreciate performance and quality. How does one translate this tacit understanding into something more structured and measurable? Can one actually measure performance in the public sector?

It is indeed tempting for many to focus on the visible indicators like GDP growth, visible infrastructure, industrial climate etc; but we need to also see deeper and look at the invisible indicators of Governance like functioning of democratic Insitutions & citizenry participation,  growth of the primary sector economy and infrastructure gains in rural areas too.  One also needs to be realistic and take a objective look at what the Government has done or has been attempting to do over the last one year.  While there has surely been a lot of talk on ‘Making in India’, Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, less Government and more Governance, Citizen Engagment and Global visibility for India; we need to look at the intent and end result of some of the actions of what the Govt has been trying to do.   And a good place to begin with will be the avowed intent of the Prime Minister and the manifesto of the BJP.  While his style and manner of functioning can be criticized to be less inclusive and very centralized, one needs to keep in mind that this can also be a virtue, especially when one is trying to negotiate the complex power dynamics of Delhi.  Reining in the Indian bureucracy used to years of inefficiency and incompetence does need a demanding taskmaster  but there is also the danger of his over dependence on a few selected bureaucrats whose only claim to fame is unquestioned loyalty to him rather than any visionary ability or exectuive capacity.   Limiting the focus to a few select programs initiated in the last year indicates that it is a mixed bag of achievements. While the Jan Dhan Yojana is indeed ambititous and welcome, one finds that more than 60% of the 150 million accounts opened remain unused with not a single transaction reported in the last many months. When goes beyond the hype and photo-ops that Swacch Bharat Abhiyan has created, one recognizes that what India needs is not the PM leading the campaign with a broom but the ordinary citizen undergoing a mindset change. If one were to measure the sociological transformation that is critical to the success of this program, India has a long way to go. But one cannot fault the government for this and ordinary citizens have to take the responsibility for this state of affairs.

To make the ‘Make in India’ happen, one needs to understand that  one year is too short to affect a change in the prevailing eco-system. Beyond changing rules, regulations and the policies governing the industrial climate, one also needs to have the skilled labour force in place.  And this can happen only when the education and skill base of the millions of Indians are in place. This is a long drawn process spread over at least two decades and the action of the Government in cutting the budget of both primary and higher education leaves much to be desired.  While skill development programs have been initiated, the nation still does not have a single source where an detailed inventory of skills required and skills available is present.  The Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana is another well thought out scheme, but is yet to take off as originally concieved.  It is a pity that many parliamentarians themselves have not bought into the program.

The NITI Aayog was started with a lot of fanfare but one is still unsure of what this body will end up doing. Will it remain the policy think tank that it claims to be or be the nodal agency to ensure co-operative federalism is still uncertain.  The fact that this body is not fully populated with competent members from different sectors that are required ends up sending confusing signals.  While cooperative federalism is a good indicator of a maturing democracy, one has to appreciate the Government for the bold move of transferring 42% of the revenues to the states and alowing them to spend on programs that really matter for them.  This is indeed laudable and states have to take the responsibility of expending this new channel of funds wisely on social sector programs.  What is difficult to fathom is that the Government of India as a consequence of this decsion has cut its budgetary allocations to critical sectors like health, education, child welfare, rural development and Panchayath Raj while expecting fiscally indisciplined states to do the spending prudently.

Conflicting signals are also being sent out to the NGO sector.  It is not only putting a few large NGOs on the watchlist or cancelling the FCRA registrations of thousands of NGOS (many of them defunct), but the worrisome fact is that several good NGOs are yet to receive their legitimate due of financial support from the Govt of India for more than a year now.   A visible dislike to dissent expressed by citizens groups and civils society actors is acceptable but becomes a matter of concern when it borders on intolerance.  The Government has surely done a remarkable job in the coal and spectrum auction and in curbing corruption at high places, but then the attention given to democratic instiutions like the Vigilance Commision, the Information Commission and other bodies like the DRDO, IITs, NCERT etc leaves a lot of room for doubt about its intent.

The enhanced visibility for India created by the many foreign visits of the Prime Minister is a positive step in ensuring that India secures its rightful place in the comity of Nations. But when one goes deeper than the media hype, one understands that we are yet to clearly formulate a visionary foreign policy that expressedly states the intent and basis of action of India towards our neighbours, the USA, China, Russia, the UN and we are yet to officially articulate what Indian interests will be and how they will be safeguarded in a rapidly changing global order.

Finally we need to  understand that one year is still a short time in a Nation’s history and there will be spill over benefits and setbacks for this government from the many decisions taken by the previous one.   And performance is much more than the kms of road that is built in a day, the ease of business index, or the number of tourists that visit India. It is also about facilitating creation of the human and social capital the country needs and the economic consequences that ensure because of this.  And what matters, is to see whether the intent of policy making,  the many legislations that are being contemplated and the intiation of the several programs over the last one year are truly reflective of utilatiarn and egalitarian values within the framework of the Indian Constitution.  What the overall report card indicates is that the Government is surely moving, but whether this movement is pro-corporate or anti-poor, only the next 2-3 years will show.  And the Indian electorate which has always shown itself to be both responsive and responsible will be unforgiving if it believes that the performance of the Prime Minister and his Government is against their interests.

– Balu
DH article 26 05 2015

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings