The Joy of giving…

June 21, 2017 1 comment

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
– Kahlil Gibran

Running a Non-profit anywhere in the world is not as easy as it sounds and is a difficult proposition. Apart from the image that the sector generates, the constant uncertainties of funding and resource mobilization, the lack of high quality talent, the changing demands of accountability & prevailing statutory laws, and most importantly the evolving nature of the world of social development itself, all pose great survival challenges. While all these factors make high demands, it is resource mobilization that takes away a major chunk of the time and energy of leaders of the non-profits. We at SVYM are also not immune to these pressures and we saw a major crisis that emanated last year.

The Government of India undertook a paradigmatic policy shift 2 years ago and decided to transfer 42% of its resources to the State Governments. While this is a major milestone in the history of India’s federal structure, it affected many non-profits like ours. The Indian Government decided that ‘social development’ is mostly a state subject and the states now needed to fund all such development programs from their own resources. In line with this thinking, funding to SVYM for running the tribal hospital, tribal school and the mobile health unit was abruptly stopped from last year. While this sent our programs into a toss, we could not suddenly stop health and education services to the indigenous communities. We felt truly caught between the ‘devil and the deep sea’ with the Government funding stopping on one side and the communities not being able to or willing to pay for the cost of services on the other. This is the time when we truly understood that in the last three decades and more of SVYM’s existence, Indian philanthropy had also evolved and matured. This was also the time that the people of India in general and of Mysuru in particular, rose to the occasion and donated generously to ensure that our health and education programs do not cease to function.

Though India has a long tradition of philanthropy, most charity has been focused on religious giving. Until the 1800s, giving in India was largely religious in nature and motivated by the search for individual salvation. Later, philanthropy also began to be directed toward social causes such as education and women’s rights. Throughout the 20th century, leading Indian industrialists established foundations and other charitable institutions of national importance, some of which were partly inspired by the country’s freedom movement. The last decade has seen a major shift in the number of people who are donating, the causes that they are supporting, the new CSR act that has come into place and the changing nature of Non-profits themselves. Donors are also contributing more and donating to a larger pool of non-profit organizations, giving philanthropy a much higher public profile. All of this has put philanthropy in India significantly ahead of that in other countries with similar levels of prosperity. This growth trend is showing a continuous upward trajectory. In fact, more than a third of current donors expect their donations to increase in the next five years. And as the nation implements the corporate social responsibility (CSR) regulations under the new Companies Act, there will be a positive disruption in the philanthropy space, bringing in more corporate donors and bringing about greater accountability and transparency.

Bain’s ‘India Philanthropy Report’ mentions that 28% of the adult population donated money and 21% donated their time in 2013. This means a staggering increase of more than 100 million more Indians making donations in cash or time than in 2009.  Media reporting of philanthropy is also now double what it was five years ago. What in 2009 was a tiny sapling is now a resilient tree in bud, awaiting its first blooms. The November 2012 ‘India Giving Report’ by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) found that philanthropy in India has the potential to soar in the next decade, with more than half a billion-people giving for religious and charitable reasons each year. Overall the report found that most people in India—84% of the 836 million adults—give at least once a year. What is remarkable is that philanthropic donations in India are ahead of donations in other developing countries. India is a global outlier, with a larger percentage of its population making charitable donations than other countries at its level of prosperity elsewhere in the world. As a consequence of this growth, India is now No. 91 on the World Giving Index, up from No. 134 in 2010. In a few short years, India has moved from the bottom to the middle of the pack.

To sustain and grow this interest in philanthropy, there are several issues that non-profit organizations also must address. Donor apathy and a general mistrust of non-profit organizations and their operations are widespread. The space is dominated by a large number of “disconnected” donors who donate out of guilt or due to personal relationships rather than a personal connection to the cause. They demand low overheads due to their lack of faith in non-profits and this generally affects the quality of the services rendered by the NGOs. There are also a large number of small non-profits that lack adequate transparency, sophistication and organizational capacity, which make them less credible to donors. Non-profits need to develop better accountability & transparency measures, put in responsive reporting systems, deliver to communities on the social commitments made, build sustainable relationships and learn to use technology and social media to communicate their successes to their stakeholders. Government’s decreasing spending on social development needs alternate but efficient and effective partnerships to emerge in the non-government and private space. This can happen when genuine, transparent and accountable non-profits partner with this growing number socially conscious philanthropic minded individuals, foundations and corporate entities.

The constructive evolution and growth of the Indian Philanthropic scene gives organizations like SVYM much needed confidence that our work will not dry up for want of support. And like the old adage goes, ‘no good work will ever stop due to want of support’ and whether it is the palliative care project that is today fully supported by the people of Mysuru or the tribal development projects that we are implementing, we are confident that resources available locally will be more willingly shared by this growing number of philanthropic minded people and organizations.

-Balu

 

Categories: General, Musings, Story of SVYM

A quiet revolution – ushering in a new vision for tribal development…

June 11, 2017 1 comment

Recently, I was attending a program at the MRA campus at Panchgani in Maharashtra. Here, away from the din and noise of Pune, the nearest large city, around 93 young indigenous tribal youth from different parts of India were huddled together for a week. 67 men and 26 women from 19 different states and from 55 tribal communities were participating in this program. Having lived and worked with indigenous tribal communities for nearly 3 decades, I was overjoyed to see these young people being trained in leadership, in development and having engaging discussions among themselves trying to discover their lost selves and their identities.

 

                  Having fun together                                         Learning together

Though constituting a little more than 8% of the Nation’s population, these indigenous tribals today are neither fully understood nor have they got their entitled due. They continue to struggle to cope with the pressures of modernity while rapidly losing out on their tribal identity. Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are – a) indications of primitive traits; b) distinctive culture; c) shyness of contact with the community at large; d) geographical isolation; and e) economic backwardness. Tribal communities live, in various ecological and Geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains and forests to hills and inaccessible areas. Tribal groups around the country are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. Out of a total of 705 communities, the government of India has classified 75 of them as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). These PVTGs are tribals still using pre-agriculture level of technology; are having a stagnant or declining population; have extremely low levels of literacy; and have a subsistence level of economy. There are 10.43 crore indigenous tribals living in India as per the 2011 census. They vary in strength in different states from a few hundred to several lakhs. 14.7% of the tribal population of India live in the state of Madhya Pradesh whereas 2.5% of them live in Meghalaya. Broadly the STs inhabit two distinct geographical areas – Central India and the North-Eastern Area. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in Central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh (14.69%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Jharkhand (8.29%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), Maharashtra (10.08%), Orissa (9.2%), Gujarat (8.55%) and Rajasthan (8.86%). The other distinct area is the North East (Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The most numerically high are the Gonds (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh)—about 4 million, the Bhils (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh)—about 4 million, and Santhals (Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal)—more than 3 million. The smallest tribal community is the Andamanese with the strength of only 19.

With the objective to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities, the government of India set up an exclusive Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 and has planned to spend around INR 5300 crores in this financial year for the same. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Having made many similar mistakes working with and for the tribals, I can now appreciate the need and importance of engaging with the people before even considering what and how one should be undertaking any development interventions. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual level and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them.

How does one then engage and work in such situations? Even if one is genuinely concerned for their welfare and is willing to bring in enormous resources, can such a person be able to truly appreciate and articulate what the indigenous communities of India are going thru on a day to day basis. How would one be able to understand and capture the width and depth of traditional tribal wisdom into such programs even if one wants to?

Personally, I feel that this can happen only when the leadership to drive the development of these indigenous tribals come from within their own communities. Educated tribal youth with an understanding of the problems that they are currently facing and the challenges that forced integration with the mainstream economy is causing, would be best placed to be part of the solution framework. Gaining legitimacy to solve their problems is not easy to negotiate, either with Government or with the NGOs working with them. These youths need additional skills and a new assertiveness. They need have their human and social capital built before they can become a credible force to contend with.

And this program was doing exactly that. Quietly, a powerful force that will revolutionize the very concept of tribal development in the years to come was being unleashed. This program conceived and wholly sponsored by Tata Steel as part of its CSR activities is possibly a first of its kind. These youths were getting trained in issues related to their culture; the challenges and opportunities that mainstream economy brings in its wake; and the leadership and soft skills that one needs to find solution frameworks for them. Breaking into small groups, they were learning from each other issues that the tribal groups faced locally – whether it was managing local resources, hijacking of reservation by other powerful forces, disappearing traditional systems and practices, health care issues, education opportunities or the problems of forest dwelling tribes. Whether it was the problem of building huge dams or industrialization or the improper forcible resettlement and rehabilitation that many communities were subjected to – everything was spoken about and analyzed. It was joy to watch young minds think this reality through despite the strong emotions that the issues emanated.

Samvaad - 2017

Building social capital…

The true impact of this program will be felt, possibly a decade later…when hopefully a cohort of nearly a 1000 young people across the country will be trained and a network built. A network of like-minded, compassionate, aware and empowered tribal leaders who with determined optimism will not just be mere spectators or sit on the sidelines, but be willing participants of development that they themselves conceive and implement. Moving from traditional economy to the current mixed economy takes time, patience, sustained efforts and knowledge and skills. Finding the balance between holding onto the good of one’s tradition and culture with the best of what today’s reality can bring needs leadership that is mature, pragmatic and positive. It will be a new generation of such tribal leaders that can hope to nurture and build communities to move from one level of skill sets to the next to create a future that is just, humane, equitable and fair. And silently with no fanfare this paradigm shift is being ushered in by a program that is both futuristic while at the same time realistic. In the years to come, we will surely see a generation of young people with the ability to negotiate with the government, local NGOs and other development partners willing to engage and work with them. These young men and women will now be able to communicate to their people that development can be with dignity and without taking away their traditional position. And possibly, these young men and women will also have lessons for rest of humanity to learn from and usher in the sustainable development that all of us are looking for.

-Balu

 

Categories: General, Musings

A citizen’s letter to the Karnataka Chief Minister…

June 7, 2017 3 comments

7th June 2017

Dear Chief Minister,

Last week saw a mega tamasha unfold in our city of Mysuru by your Government… I am sure your officers would not have told you that the main arterial thoroughfares of Mysuru were blocked with buses coming in from all directions putting the city into disarray. Each of your departments and their officials were vying with each other to bring in thousands of people from our rural areas in hundreds of buses. Everyone seemed to be heading towards the Maharaja grounds in anticipation of the mega event that was unfolding. And all this was being done in the name of development of Karnataka. While everyone would agree that this event has actually kicked off your electoral battle for next year’s assembly elections, no one in your Government or in the opposition seemed to ask the question ‘whose development was all this aimed at?’ More than 25,000 families in Mysore district were the recipients of your Government’s largesse when you and your colleagues handed out various benefits of different schemes to them. This event labelled ‘Sarkari Soulabya Vitarana Samarambha’ was like a rural ‘jathre’ (fair), wherein different products were being made available to people. The only difference is that the citizens could not get what they really wanted and needed, but had to take what your patronizing Government gave them. You and your cabinet colleagues in all your finery also promised more such mega events to ‘develop’ the people of Karnataka. I beseech you to let us common people know how much the tab was for this event, which some estimated to be around 25 crores.

I am not trying to make the point that many of the people receiving these much-needed benefits are undeserving of getting them. I am only trying to argue the case that your Government may not have truly understood the difference between political doles and true development. While you may argue that every other party and political leader of the recent past has been guilty of indulging in such theatrics where thousands of crores of rupees worth of goods and services are distributed to ‘beneficiaries’. We have seen many such mega-events take place in different district headquarters, with either yourself or the district minister-in-charge personally ‘gifting’ away these Government benefits. One can understand that it is your Government’s responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the poor do not lose out on the benefits of development. But I would like to have your assurance that it is the poorest and the most deserving that are actually getting these benefits. You may be aware that Karnataka state even today does not have a scientifically validated method of measuring poverty or of identifying people who truly deserve support. There is no clear policy that you have outlined on what is the development approach the state should take nor a strategic vision of where Karnataka and its citizens should be, say by the end of your term. The State Planning Board is more of a notional body with no technical expertise and I am afraid that it has been reduced to a rehabilitation agency housing semi-retired people.

When your Government had the last 4 years to initiate development processes, why is it that you are now doling out freebies? Why could you not have had mechanisms to implement well thought through development interventions that focused on building the human and social capital of the poor and the marginalized. If money spent on such ‘tamashas’ could truly benefit the poor, one wonders why we still have so much poverty around us. A common man like me has begun to feel that most of the decision-making is done based on political realities, rather than on the development consequences that you want to achieve.  Apart from treating our own citizens as mere recipients of your Government’s patronage, I am afraid that these events snatch away people’s dignity and self-respect. How will the MLAs feel if they are made to stand in line and receive their I-pads and Laptops from a more than generous Government under full public and media glare? Our deserving poor cannot be made to feel like mere beneficiaries and be given doles under such visibility and public gaze. They need the help of your Government machinery that understands their poverty and gently facilitates their social and economic mobility upwards towards self-reliance. I am sure that you will remember how Mahatma Gandhi always said that our poor had to be treated with the greatest respect and the State should never make a mockery of their poverty. What events like these do is exactly the opposite. In order to achieve narrow political gains, it makes the poor vulnerable and robs them of their dignity and self-respect. It also dis-empowers them and takes away the human spirit of enterprise. I am hopeful that you having been groomed in the philosophy of Lohia’s socialism surely will understand my pain and agony.

What I would like to request you and your cabinet colleagues to do is to ask yourselves, ‘Whether the numerous schemes that you have launched till date are truly initiating and promoting the much-needed development?’ Is the return on investment proportional to the thousands of crores of rupees spent till now? Who is to ensure accountability in the system? Will the political or the bureaucratic executive take the responsibility of ensuring that this money will be well spent and every person receiving the benefits is truly deserving of the same and will join the economic mainstream? We have had numerous such events happen in the past and we as citizens of this State would like to know how much of poverty have they helped in alleviating. Instead of mere doles, shouldn’t the Government take a fresh look at its own budgetary allocations to the poor, the development of the scheduled castes & tribes and the marginalized?

Isn’t it your Government’s responsibility to inform the citizenry who is paying for these mega events. Is it coming out of the public exchequer and if yes, under which head of account is it accounted for? If not, are the myriad contractors involved in the scheme paying for the same? We do have the right to know.

Unless your Government decides that the concern for development goes beyond petty politics and revolves around genuine social concern for the poor, and is willing to subject itself to measurement and accountability, the good governance that you promised when you came to power will continue to be a casualty. Your schemes will only be helping the citizenry to merely cope with poverty instead of permanently climbing out of it. My fond hope is that a man of your administrative experience and understanding of the problems of the poor will go beyond the politics of poverty and use the next one year to usher in the much-needed development that we had hoped you would give the state.

With regards and hopes for a bright future for the state,-

– Dr R Balasubramaniam,
A concerned citizen’s agonizing cry for human development in Karnataka.

This letter appeared in the Star Of Mysore dated 7th June 2017

Citizen's Letter SOM

Categories: Musings

Most memorable moments for me…

June 1, 2017 2 comments

Something wonderful happened today as I was interacting with 3 students from the University of Iowa – Ashley, Isha and Sarah who were here for a program at our Vivekananda Institute of Indian Studies.  Sarah wanted to know what was the most fulfilling achievement in the last 33 years since I founded SVYM.  Till yesterday, I had always thought that my most memorable achievement was taking the issue of improper rehabilitation of tribals to the National Human Rights Commission and getting the Government of Karnataka to rehabilitate these 154-aggrieved indigenous tribals families on 500 acres of land at Basavanagiri in HD Kote taluk.   But two very touching events happened yesterday that has left me overwhelmed and has made me revise my opinion.

                  With the Entrepreneurs                               The busy sales counter

I had gone to Jaganakotehadi to participate in the inauguration of Prakruthi Food Products.  This is a micro-enterprise that is part of the Social Business experiment that GRAAM is undertaking.  In association and with the support of SVYM, 20 women were locally mobilized and trained over the last 1 year in enterprise building, food technology and producing ragi-based food items.  They were also given inputs in basic accounting and working together as a team.  All these indigenous tribal women are in the age group of 20-35 and many of them are alumni of our tribal school at Hosahalli.  This unit has been registered as a separate independent company owned by these 20 women and the food products will be sold under the Health-Enrich brand.  What makes it special is that this unit is situated in a tribal colony and will be wholly owned and run by these women.  Much water has actually flowed under the bridge in our attempt at engaging women in economically productive activities.  We had earlier set up a bakery at Hosahalli and around 5 kadukuruba women from Kempanahadi led by Kali were employed here.  The moment we insisted on transferring the ownership of this unit to the women, they stopped coming to work and the unit collapsed.  A few years later, we made another attempt by setting up a garment unit.  This unit did very well as long as SVYM was running it.  It too collapsed the moment we transferred the responsibility of running it to the women themselves.  Having been bitten twice, I was unsure of indulging myself again till I could understand how to make such activities a success.  The last 20 years has also seen me evolve and my understanding of development has also matured. Today, I am confident that building human and social capital of people can lead to economic consequences.  The last many years has seen us do exactly this.  Slowly and deliberately the human and social capital of hundreds of tribal women was built and these chosen twenty women are from this cohort.  While SVYM took on the responsibility of mobilizing the women, GRAAM undertook setting up the actual business and building the entrepreneurial spirit in these women.  Despite all the challenges faced and negotiating the harsh realities of rural India and the barriers to business that it poses, we finally managed to have the unit inaugurated in the presence of hundreds of women representing several self-help groups.  Watching these confident women market their tasty and well packaged products left me inspired and overwhelmed.

With VTCL Mahadevi

With young Mahadevi, the proud Karnataka forest department employee

As I was processing all these emotions and thoughts, Puttamma mentioned to me that Mahadevi, a forest guard at the forest gate nearby was waiting to meet me.  I walked with her to meet Mahadevi who rushed out to greet me and gave me a very loving hug.  My mind raced several years into the past and I was reminded of how her father had come running to my residence at Brahmagiri and asked me to come help Mahadevamma, a local mid-wife to attend to the labour of his pregnant wife.  Taking this cute little bundle of joy in my arms and handing it to the nervous father is a sight that I can never forget.  This little child who literally grew in front of my eyes was today explaining proudly to me that her work was widely appreciated in the forest department and that she was now due for promotion.  She also told me how she was getting her sister trained in a beautician course in Mysore and how her younger brother was learning to drive a car.  And she proudly showed me the scooter that she owned and was driving around. As I wished her well and bid her goodbye, Mahadevi asked me in her own childish way if she could give me another hug.  That moment is something that I will cherish and remember for a long time

Development is indeed a long drawn and complex process and manifests itself in many ways.   On one side, the Prakruthi Food Products unit was the culmination of a 2-decade effort and the beginning of something extraordinary.  If this unit could survive and thrive, it could very well be the model that the Nation is looking for.  I believe that India’s growth need not necessarily be driven by large urban based corporates, but should be by small micro economic clusters in rural India.  Feeding the urban craze for millet based food products could very well be the driver of economic progress for rural India.  On the personal level, it is people like Mahadevi who symbolize the growing empowerment of rural women.  Not only was she moving up the socio-economic ladder, but was quietly participating in the larger construct of building a resurgent India.  What more could somebody like me ask for and what could be more memorable and fulfilling than this!

-Balu

Categories: Story of SVYM

My article on Gauging the Performance of our Civil Servants that appeared in the Deccan Herald dated 26th May 2017

May 29, 2017 Comments off

The Civil Services day is celebrated on the 20 and 21st of April and in this year’s celebration, the Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi made an impassioned and articulate speech calling upon the bureaucrats to deliver on the mandate of governance.  His speech was practical, sometimes clothed in wit and sarcasm, and at the same time inspirational.  What stood out was his simplistic way of explaining how it was upto the political class to undertake ‘reforms’; how the bureaucrats had to ‘perform’ and how both working together could ‘transform’ the nation.  Beyond the semantics, this clearly meant that the civil services must deliver.  He gently pointed out how the civil servants need to go beyond mere ‘outputs’ and start to focus on the ‘outcomes’ of their actions.  He asked them to expand their sense of accountability from beyond the CAG and to include the common Indian citizen too.  He also mentioned how a few bureaucrats had limited the use of social media to mere self-aggrandisement and how it could be more efficiently and effectively used for doing public good.   When one goes deep into the Prime Minister’s speech and deconstructs it, one can recognize how emphatic he was in his demand for ‘performance’ from the bureaucracy.

The dictionary defines ‘Performance’ as an action, task or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed and most of us have a tacit knowledge of Performance. We can recognize and understand that something is indeed working as it should be, and learn from a very young age to appreciate performance and quality. How does one translate this tacit understanding into something more structured and measurable? Can one measure performance in the public sector and of public functionaries? One can learn from the private sector that has taken the lead in measuring performances of individuals, teams and entire organizations. The public sector is very diverse in the context in which it operates, has egalitarian objectives and is funded by taxation revenues. Hence civil servants need to be more accountable and transparent but paradoxically one does not find these as the primary drivers of performance. By the very nature of having unlimited resources at its disposal, the public sector also tends to become inefficient and opaque over time.  This very complexity has incentivised the system into taking the easier approach of limiting the measurement to simpler variables like compliance to the instructions of the political bosses, absence of any controversial decision making, numerical achievements in terms of beneficiaries reached and budget expended.

Demanding performance of oneself and an organization is a very exacting process that requires discipline, determination and a strong political will to undertake. It requires not just managerial knowledge but a visionary leadership that is constantly evaluating, refining and improvising processes all the time. Performance processes normally fail because the required discipline and rigor wanes over time – one must have the patience and the perseverance to allow the system to mature for results to be produced. Measuring performance is not like instant coffee – made quickly and giving immediate gratification. These systems take time to initiate, evolve, mature, and become organizational culture. Leadership needs to be constant, consistent and serious till the entire cycle has taken root. It also needs mentoring support from experts who are willing to not only design a review process but also facilitate its implementation in the initial phases. The core leadership should take it as sacred responsibility and be willing to make public disclosure of achievements or variances. One must have public displays of the review process and all stakeholders should have a say in not just the design but also in the actual framing and implementation of the reviews.  Reward and punishment behaviours are indeed critical for human performance and public agencies should move away from not wanting to indulge in them. There is a normative feeling that public jobs are sort of permanent and career growth is not necessarily dependent on performance. One must communicate that ‘mediocrity’ need not necessarily be synonymous with ‘public agencies’ and a culture of valuing performance should be created. This can be done only when good performance is rewarded and poor one punished.

Moving towards more qualitative indicators in line with what the PM is demanding will necessitate major paradigm shifts in the mind-set of not just the bureaucrats and the political system but also in the way the common man views the civil servants and their performance.  Performance, when measured with the attitude of seeing the bureaucrat as a ‘public servant’ being paid out of taxation revenues will be totally different from that of seeing them as ‘elite officers’ overseeing service delivery functions. But can the officers of our civil services, who over the decades have got used to operating with neither the transparency nor public accountability be willing to subject themselves to a complete shift in mind set? Will the PM be able to push thru ‘reforms’ and make ‘social audits’ and ‘citizen initiated performance measurement’ of civil servants a norm rather than the exception?  If the PM and his intent can translate into concrete action and result in these paradigmatic shifts, then one can be sure that the much-touted reforms coupled with the performance of a vibrant and energetic bureaucracy will spear head the rising of a ‘New India’.

In Perspective Dec Herald 26 May 17

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Discontent with democracy and the AAP experiment…

May 3, 2017 2 comments

Towards the end of December 2014, a lot of people asked me if I would be joining  the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).  Having been a key person in Karnataka in the crusade against corruption that Anna Hazare had led, many had presumed that I would also automatically gravitate towards this newly formed political front. When Arvind had met me then in Bengaluru, he did talk about the need for people like me to be in active politics.  Yogendra Yadav and Prashanth Bhushan too had tried to impress on me the need to be actively engaged in AAP and contribute to fine tuning its ideological moorings.   A few newspapers had also announced that I would be their candidate for the Parliament elections that was held in May 2014.  It was around this time that I had posed a few questions to them about the political ideology of AAP; the intent of having structures that demonstrated inner party democracy; what was the governance model that their were having in mind and what economic theory of development that AAP subscribed to.   Though I did not get satisfactory answers, I decided to respectfully observe the growth and trajectory of AAP as I believed that this could possibly be the much-needed paradigm shift in the Indian political scene.  It was also the time that I decided not to associate with any political party but to closely observe how AAP’s existence would affect the quality of all the other political parties. I must confess that I was hopeful that this experiment of the Aam Aadmi Party will bode well not just for Indian politics but for the nation’s progress as well.

It is interesting to understand the underpinnings of what led to the mercurial growth of Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP.   What we saw from 2010 to 2014 in India was a collective expression of the restlessness of the Indian masses.  There was such a deep distrust of the political setup and the common man was desperately looking for a messiah.  Over the previous several decades especially after 1991, growth opportunities and investments in Infrastructure, education and health care seemed to benefit only one particular class of people.  The effects of distributional consequences were beginning to be seen and the social and economic inequities were becoming more and more stark.  State expenditures on health and education were being inconsistent and the private sector was encouraged to consider providing public services for a price.  Cutting of the social benefits was hurting the poor the most and International trade, market policies and technological change over the last many years were resulting in hurting the same people again and again.  There was widespread discontent with democracy and the electoral process due to rampant perversion of the system, use of money & muscle power and using identity politics for electoral benefit.  It was in this scenario, Arvind and company entered and convinced the Nation that corruption was the cause of all their sufferings and that he could provide them with a viable and a fresh alternative.  A nation hungry for change lapped up everything he said and he soon became the poster boy of not just AAP, but also of an emerging new political paradigm.

Arvind soon learnt that he could build political capital for AAP and deal with the pervasive cynicism by constantly pulling down the ‘establishment’ and everyone associated with it.  Little did he realize that it would soon become counter-productive once he became the establishment himself.  Even after being swept into power in Delhi, he continued to denigrate expertise, selectively use ‘filtered’ information and kept projecting himself as the helpless victim of the ‘establishment’, which he equated with the Central Government led by Modi.

Today he and his party are going thru a reality check.  The more he and AAP have become like others, he needs to understand that the people will treat him with the same disdain and distrust that they have treated all political parties and politicians till date.  Inner party democracy cannot just be a sledge hammer with which you beat up others.  One needs to role model it within AAP and then bandy it around.  He needs to not only encourage people to speak up, but he needs to learn to listen with patience, humility and serious intent.  Respect for colleagues cannot not be driven by political expediency and he needs to demonstrate authentic leadership now.  His government’s policies need to be administratively feasible, politically practical and financially viable.  No longer will the people tolerate his constant blaming of ‘others’ and AAP as a party has to learn that the metrics of performance in a democracy like India is electoral success.  Decisions have to be informed by the trade-offs that such decisions entail and he needs to prepare himself and his party to learn to absorb them.  Democracy was questioned and in helping vote the AAP to power in Delhi in 2015, the people saw a redeeming solution.  But today, one cannot fault the common man of Delhi for feeling let down and cheated.  And they responded in the only way that they could – not give AAP their trust as demonstrated in the recently held MCD elections.

The AAP has to put its house in order not just to save their fledgling party, but to save this experiment in Indian democracy.  People are now no longer dissatisfied with AAP alone, but see a justification in their discontent with democracy itself.  The debate should not be whether elections are rigged but should be about whether the political process itself continues to be rigged.  If the evident skew in favour of the rich, the mighty and the powerful had to change, we needed this political experiment to have succeeded.  Questions that still lie unanswered are the challenges of Affluence vs Influence; Public opinion vs Public policy; Interests vs Positions, and Competence vs Values.  And one had hoped that the emergence of AAP on the political spectrum in India would have kick started the debate on finding the answers for these vexatious questions and Indian Democracy would become healthy and vibrant.

– Balu

Read this article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 10th May 2017.

AAP experiment

Categories: General, Musings

Learning ‘fair & compassionate economics’ from a Jenukuruba Chieftain…

April 22, 2017 3 comments

It was the year 1989 and was around the time that I was slowly beginning to understand the indigenous way of life.  These were also some of the best years of my life and I cherish the memories of my association with some of the elderly tribal chieftains of Heggadadevanakote.  I was keen on learning how the Jenukurubas, an indigenous tribe with distinct anthropological features collected ‘Jenu’ (honey) from the forests.  Hostel Masthi (as he was popularly called) was the chieftain of the Jenukurubas living in Hosahalli and surrounding colonies and was a respected elder who used to be sober only when he ventured into the forest.  On learning that I was keen to understand how they collected wild honey, he invited me on his next trip.  Full of anticipation of the adventure ahead, I set out with him, his 10 year old son Mara and 3 other Jenukuruba tribals from the colony. After a walk of around 3-4 kms, Masthi spotted a large bee hive hanging high up on a tall tree.  He asked Kala who was accompanying him to quickly climb up the tree to cut the hive with the sickle that he was carrying.  Kala was a natural and watching him climb up the tree is something that I can never forget.  Within minutes he seemed to reach the hive and shouted out to Masthi to be ready below.  Not sure of what was happening, I stood a little distance away watching the whole scene unfold in front of me.  Masthi and another tribal Mahadeva spread out their towel and placed the broad leaves that they had freshly cut from a nearby teak-wood tree on it.  Holding each end of the towel, they stood underneath the tree in direct line of the hive.   The bees must have sensed Kala’s presence and started buzzing angrily around the hive.  In a split-second Kala seemed to put his hand into the hive and gently extracted out the ‘queen’ and placed it in the middle of his forearm.  All the bees followed the queen and quickly settled down on his forearm.  I stood transfixed staring at the hive that was forming on Kala’s forearm and was left wondering why Kala was not getting stung by these disturbed bees. With his other spare arm, Kala sliced the hive around 6-8 inches below where it was attached to the branch and the rest of the hive with the honey, wax, pupa and all came crashing down.  More adept than a determined fielder on a cricket field, Masthi and his mate caught the falling hive on the teak leaf bed and folded the cloth immediately around it.  Kala in the meanwhile pulled the queen again from the new hive on his hand and gently put her back on to the original base of the hive still hanging from the tree.  And within minutes, all the remaining bees flocked around their queen and the hive formed into the exact shape that it was before Kala had sliced it. Kala came down the tree as quickly as he had climbed it and everything seemed to happen within a few minutes and it looked as though nothing had really changed.

I was left spell bound and unsure of how to respond when Masthi offered me a dripping piece of the crushed hive – honey, wax and possibly some unlucky pupa and larva.  I had never tasted anything like this and it surely was finger licking good. Masthi felt that we had enough adventure for the day and we started to walk back to Hosahalli.   On the way back, I could not contain my curiosity any longer and was keen to know why Kala sliced the hive so low and had left most of the honey back in the hive itself. It seemed economically stupid that someone would leave behind much of the honey back in the hive and still feel that they had completed a good days job.  Masthi’s answer continues to resonate in my ears even today.  For him this was indeed a no-brainer.  He simplistically explained that the honey belonged to the bees and that they were actually thieves stealing it from them.  In fact, the song that they were singing was to seek the bees’ forgiveness for taking away what was rightfully theirs.  He said that since the bees had done all the hard work in collecting the honey, it was only more than fair that they left behind most of it for them to use during the difficult months ahead.   If he and his people did not have to use this part of the hive with the honey in it for food and preparing medicines, he would not even have taken this much too.   And Masthi and his fellow tribals were bringing back this hive not just for themselves but to be shared amongst all his clansmen.   For a person educated in a system that looks to maximizing profits and minimizing labour, this lesson in compassion, fairness and sharing seemed perplexing.  For a world that seems to be rapidly absorbing and celebrating the spirit of market economics and individual attainment, Masthi and his fellow tribals will seem unreal and this anecdote difficult to believe. Masthi and people of his generation are long dead now but along with them has also disappeared this sustainable and meaningful way of living too.  What is worrisome is not just the fact that this lifestyle sounds impractical and difficult to subscribe to for many of us, but is also no longer a part of the culture and life of our indigenous brethren too.  While one may feel that modern existence and the pressure of a consumer economy will neither slow down nor have the space for people like Masthi, we need to contemplate and think on how we can integrate this paradigm into our everyday lives.  For without it, sustainable development will only remain a slogan that is bandied about in international conferences and global summits.

-Balu

The same article appeared in the Star of Mysore dated 26th April 2017  & can be read here:SOM article 26 Apl 17

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