Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Jumpstarting the Rural Indian Economy: Article that appeared in Deccan Herald, dated 29, Jan 2018

January 30, 2018 Comments off

Jumpstarting the Rural EconomyJan18

Read the full article here:

The recent report of Oxfam released at the World Economic Forum reinforces what has been known for the last many years. 1% of Indians owning 73% of India’s wealth is something that should send our policy makers and politicians to do some serious thinking about the much-touted Indian ‘Growth Story’.

To make matters worse, India now stands 62nd in the Inclusive Development Index much behind our neighbouring countries. We need to wake up to the fact that our growth is not only inequitable and favouring a selected few but is mainly limited to urban areas. What is needed now is urgent action to ensure that Rural India joins this economic bandwagon and integrates into the narrative of a ‘New India’ emerging.

It is imperative to look at models that can integrate more rural Indians to start contributing to wealth creation. Traditionally Governments have focused on providing welfare interventions and this is neither sustainable nor desirable. With increasing focus on Skilling India and other programs like Startup India and Standup India, several windows of opportunities have now opened up. We need to think of a new approach that can build on existing skills of rural Indians and manufacture products that can cater to Urban markets. Supporting infrastructure and a facilitatory eco-system ensuring newer and easier access to capital and credit is required.

We also need to face unto the reality that Indian Agriculture is inefficient and there are more people than needed working in small land holdings resulting in lesser per capita return on investment. As agriculture is made profitable and efficient, this freed-up surplus labour needs to be re-skilled and moved into livelihood options that do not demand urban migration.

India is also sitting on the untapped potential of millions of Self-help groups that need to go beyond being mere micro-credit platforms and explore avenues of wealth generation through innovative entrepreneurship. What we need is a different model to ensure that our rural economy is jumpstarted and made as inclusive as possible while at the same time growing the National GDP.

Bringing Business to Rural India: Businesses in the traditional sense are located in urban settings controlled by rich and powerful elements. While rural India is sitting on untapped human potential, it is seen merely as a market that needs to be explored. A paradigm shift where products consumed by urban Indians but manufactured in rural India is the need of the hour. One approach would be to set up Rural Social Business Units that can not only do this, but also help solve an existing societal issue.

Social Business Unit is a hybrid legal form used globally by multimillion-dollar organizations with the primary goal of benefitting society through business. The Rural Social Business Unit that is being proposed will have to be situated in rural locations and promote sustainable and socially beneficial entrepreneurship by allowing greater access to capital that is not typically available to Non-Profits, Community Based Organisations and Self-Help Groups, and reducing limitations intended to regulate for-profit institutions.

It is speculated that India has the most informal social enterprises of any nation, the majority occupying the agriculture, energy, and health sectors. However, India is underutilizing the Rural Social Business Unit by limiting access to capital, which disadvantages its rural poor at a vast national opportunity cost.

To amend this, the government should pass legislation similar to existing corporate laws in other major global economies that would establish the Rural Social Business Unit as its own business class. Such legislation would scale the positive effects of current Rural Social Business Units and liberate a sector of the economy that has immense potential to thrive in rural India.

Beyond mere economic growth and creating jobs & business ownership, such enterprises will also ensure improved social status of rural communities, reduce urban migration and enhance the quality of life in rural areas. Land-based enterprises will not only ensure fair and consistent incomes to local farmers for their produce but will also contribute to making agriculture an aspirational livelihood. It will allow rural communities to penetrate urban markets, grow rural markets, and mitigate urban-rural inequities.

In this way, the Rural Social Business Unit will be a pivotal tool in expanding India’s GDP. Other spinoffs will include the protection of women and consolidating their social capital, creating public infrastructure, providing better health and education facilities and curbing rural poverty.

The legislation should broadly focus on eliminating barriers to entry by providing a single window clearance and facilitating market linkages through government and quasi-government outlets. It should seek to ensure deterrence against mal-administration and mis-governance.

Furthermore, the law should offer protected markets, land & tax concessions, grants, investments, and capital flow through a dedicated Social Business Fund. This will require that the Government see rural areas not merely as recipients of welfare services but as active participants in both their own and the Nation’s progress. This will not only help in pushing our poor up the social and economic ladder but has the potential to be a model for the rest of the world to follow. As the Oxfam report mentions, ‘To end the inequality crisis, we must build an economy for ordinary working people, not the rich and powerful.


Categories: Musings

The population challenge for India…

November 19, 2017 1 comment

Events in India hardly get reported in the global media. But what found space in many of the world’s newspapers and televisions were images of smog filled Delhi and streets clogged with thousands of vehicles. And as usual, we saw the blame game enacted by our politicians, schools closed down, the National Green Tribunal having its say, NGOs coming up with their share of comments and the band-aid solution of odd-even plying of vehicles. Once the winter moves on, so will this crisis, till the onset of the next winter and the whole story will be played all over again. Why is that the underlying, larger systemic reasons not being handled the way that it should be gets little attention or media space? And why is one unwilling to see the larger picture of our burgeoning population being a part of, and the critical undercurrent of many of the problems including pollution that India is facing today?

India is now the home to around 1.32 billion people. Furthermore, India’s population is expected to grow to 1.8 billion before stabilizing around the middle of this century, even if sufficient measures are taken before hand and sustained till then. India is stretched to its limit due to overpopulation on several fronts. The demand on already scarce resources negates any development or progress that the nation attains. Whether it is drinking water or sanitation, the programs that are being initiated by Government will never cease to end. There are always more toilets to be built, more people to be provided with safe drinking water and more houses to be constructed. Apart from the inefficiency and leakages in the system, what makes matters worse is the sheer increase in number of people placing a demand on the system.

Excessive population leads to dysfunctionality of public and private institutions and makes all plans to improve a country’s infrastructure, health care facilities and social welfare initiatives ineffective. This includes the Indian Government which has struggled to enact reforms over the past 70 years since independence. Whether it is public infrastructure in rural or urban areas, or creating spatial and digital connectivity to the teeming millions, investments can never really match the needs. For real progress and the nation to thrive at the current levels of economic growth, the country’s population should ideally have been around 500 million. But we are nearly four times the population that India was when it got its freedom in 1947 without a parallel growth in support facilities. The consequences of population growth are a problem that the whole world will soon face sooner or later, but it is worse for India. Lack of fresh water, whether it is for domestic, industrial or agricultural use; crumbling sewage treatment and waste management systems; rapid depletion of natural resources and increasing use of fossil fuels; increasing urbanization with crumbling civic amenities; extinction of many plant and animal species due to deforestation and loss of Eco-systems; increased levels of life-threatening air and water pollution; inability to maintain public infrastructure; fall in standards of public probity and societal morals; high infant and child mortality rate and hunger due to extreme poverty are some of the results of this over-population that we are already experiencing.

While billions of rupees are being spent by public and private sources, one cannot dismiss away the growing inequality socially and economically. One cannot merely keep repeating the rhetoric of growing the pie, the reality of having less number of people sharing the social and economic pie has to be taken seriously. The issues are even more critical due to the advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Automation. Automation threatens 69 percent job losses with millions of job losses already occurring in the IT and production sectors. Despite all the skill development programs, we must keep in mind that India’s problem of jobless growth is just not going to be wished away by mere sloganeering. With farm labour becoming less and less remunerative, unskilled people are now looking for low skilled jobs that are just not there. Imagine the challenge of India’s social and economic fabric threatened by this growing numbers of dis-enchanted and restless generation of young people with heightened aspirations. While it is customary to see them as law and order issues, let us not forget that the sectors that can absorb some employment – whether it is the police, the judiciary, retailing or hospitality & leisure – they can only assure secure jobs to a small segment of this population, and that too after basic skilling. Even jobs like driving and running taxis are going to disappear as driver-less cars are going to be the reality within the next decade. Let us not forget the fact that the city of Dubai is already experimenting with robot policemen and Walmart in the US has begun to replace low skilled people checking store-inventory with robots.

While many people are already aware of the social and environmental problems due to overpopulation, but only a few are aware of its adverse effects on health. Most Indian cities (and not just Delhi) are badly polluted and have little fresh air. This leads to countless airborne diseases and skin infections. Poor public transport further worsens this as private vehicle are now becoming a necessity and not just seen as a luxury. Whether it is unscientific agriculture, in terms of burning agri-waste or vehicular pollution, reduction of sheer numbers is the only viable solution. And that cannot be managed as our population size coupled with a populist political system, will just not make it feasible or tenable.

While it is easy to wrap our minds around the problem, we need to understand what led to this. Though marriage age has been legally fixed at 18 years for girls, it is still customary for families, especially in rural areas to get their daughters married earlier than that. There is enough statistical evidence to show that girls getting married after 18 are likely to be educated and have less children. Poverty has seen to have a direct correlation to family size but unfortunately it ends up being a chicken and egg story. Growth cannot benefit people as the population is too large while the rich are known to have less number of children. State intervention beyond just doles and welfare are needed to tackle this head on. Whether it is a re-look at other incentives for smaller family size like eligibility to contest elections or getting tax cuts, one has to think out of the box to disincentive large families. Building the human and social capital of the citizens on a war footing is inseparable to the issue of over-population. The cultural narrative of seeing the men as wage earners and women as confined to the kitchen has to be refashioned and a voluntary movement to undo years of conditioning is imperative.

The government, politicians, policy makers, media and civil society groups and activists should come together with a bold population policy so that the human, social and economic growth can keep pace with the demands of a growing population. Major steps which have been already implemented need to be emphasized more and go beyond any political or religious underpinning. It is not about being a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian – it should be about being an Indian and such a population policy should be universal and enforceable across all demographics. Increasing the welfare and status of women and girls, making education and health care universal, increasing awareness for the use of contraceptives and family planning methods for both men & women, sex education in schools, and building safety nets for the socially and economically marginalized – all has to be done together and at the same time for consistently long periods to start making a noticeable difference.

We need to remember that India has 15% of the world’s population with a mere 2.4% of the land area. While it is inconceivable to expand our land area, the only way out is to stabilize the population to manageable levels. And these needs to be done within the next 10-15 years, or we may not have an India to talk about in real terms after that.


This article appeared in the Star of Mysore, dated 22nd Nov 2017. 

SOM Nov 22


Categories: General, Musings

A path breaking transition

October 29, 2017 2 comments

This is the article that appeared in the Star of Mysore  dated 28th October 2017.

SOM Oct 28, 2017You can read this article here:

14 saree clad women in a busy shopping mall in Mysuru are not normally noticed by too many people or do not make headlines. One can agree that this is not breaking news or something that one talks about, but what makes it special is that these women were all in the early thirties and were indigenous forest dwelling tribal women from more than a hundred kilometers away. They were in the Mall to launch their ragi based food products made in a factory that they owned and operated located far away in Jaganakote hadi tribal colony in the fringes of the Bandipur National Park in H D Kote taluk.

Again, one would wonder how would this compare to the many successful woman entrepreneurs around the world. The achievement of these shy and timid indigenous women sounds insignificant when one compares them with these successful woman entrepreneurs running large corporations employing thousands and generating crores of rupees in turnover. But those who know and understand the path traversed by this indigenous tribal communities have traveled over the last 70 years since our independence will be able to appreciate the enormity of the attainment of these women.

These women are from the Jenukuruba, Kadukuruba and Yerava tribes belong to different Self-Help Groups and operate under the name of Prakruthi Food Products. What made this visit of theirs special was the confidence with which they were presenting the products (branded as Health Enrich) to the people visiting the mall on a crowded Saturday evening. Coming from the backgrounds that they did, this was not just a manifestation of their being empowered but of shifting the entire paradigm of how the world sees indigenous tribal communities. Centuries of operating in a traditional hunter-gatherer economy with little or no appreciation of the demands of the ‘market’ have placed the tribal communities at a tremendous disadvantage. Before the onslaught of ‘development projects’, large dams and forest conservation laws; these tribals lived an existence that was both sustainable and minimalistic. Their skillsets were more than adequate to ensure that they had a place to live in and food to eat. Being suddenly uprooted from their traditional habitats and relocated outside their comfort zone of a forest, these tribals are today at crossroads that they never experienced before. They can neither go back to the forests nor have the skillsets to cope and thrive in the modern world. It is in this backdrop that the achievement of these tribal women is worthy of celebration.

From being first generation learners to being people exploited by the system, these women come from mostly landless families that have been uprooted twice in their parent’s life time – by construction of large reservoirs and by the formation of National Parks. Both these times, the state never truly compensated them nor provided any sustainable rehabilitation. An insensitive government machinery with no formal policy for rehabilitation and resettlement had left their families to survive on their own.

The present plethora of government schemes are designed by bureaucrats sitting in the State capital with little or no understanding of the anthropology, culture, traditions or current status of these indigenous tribals. What is needed is not ‘top down’ programs of either the state or humanitarian NGOs but ‘bottom up’ creation of opportunities that can fulfill the current aspirations of these people. Development planners must not just acknowledge tribal voices but must engage actively to seek them out and get them to articulate their true needs. They need to understand that unless one builds on the human and social capital of these communities, economic mobility will only remain a far-fetched dream. What these tribals want are not doles from a patronizing state or NGO but the skill-sets, knowledge and space to participate as equals in a system that has been consistently denying them that. They do need the social safety nets of affirmative action and special development assistance for the initial take off; but beyond that are other social needs – good health care, contextually relevant and culturally appropriate education, livelihood opportunities, political voice, financial & social inclusion, and more importantly the recognition as equal partners in their progress. They need to be recognized as the custodians of local natural resources and made partners in any development projects that are undertaken in their traditional habitats. Beyond the romanticizing, they also need the knowledge and skills to integrate and compete in today’s market driven economy. They need to learn to survive not on the doles of a welfare state, but to live with the dignity and self-esteem that they have been traditionally known for and lived with.

And these women have begun the journey and are assuring themselves of a steady income all year around based on their own enterprise and effort. They are a beacon light for other tribals and serve to demonstrate what can be done if they make up their minds to create a balanced reality for themselves. A position that enabled them to accept their landlessness not with a resigned helplessness but to look for other possible avenues. Along with this growing empowerment came their decision to source their raw materials only from local farmers, to provide nutritional supplements to mal-nourished children in their communities and to differentially price their products so that other tribal and rural women could afford it. What began as an adventure to acquire skills and knowledge to seek social and economic mobility has the potential to become a harbinger of sustainable change that can be made applicable across the country. These women may have come to terms with their challenges, but have refused to tone down their aspirations. And this is what led them to seek out the benefits of modern life with retention of traditional values; helping make choices driven by an empowered existence rather than being dependent on Govt schemes and NGO programs.

More info about their ragi based products is at


Categories: Musings

GDP is passe, Human capital takes center stage for WB, IMF

October 27, 2017 Comments off

This article appeared in Deccan Herald on 27th October, 2017 and can be seen here:

Deccan Herald Fri 27 10 17The article can also be read here –

While the Indian media and political analysts have been talking about how the slowing down Indian economy is likely to hurt the electoral prospects of the BJP and slow down the Modi-Shah juggernaut, a different scene unfolded last week in distant Washington DC. The annual meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was held then and it brought together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, parliamentarians, private sector executives, representatives from civil society organizations and academics. The core agenda was to discuss issues of global concern, including the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development and aid effectiveness.

Only a few years ago, India’s growth story was being touted as the only shining patch in an otherwise depressing economic world order and experts were quick to offer differing explanations for the same. Equally quickly are the experts again explaining the dip as possible outcomes of the demonetization or the introduction of the GST and poor handling of the nation’s economy by the government. Somewhere in this narrative, human development and the fate of the ordinary citizen on the street does not find any mention. It is in this context, the meetings of the WB and IMF offer a shift in the way these global bodies are beginning to view development.

For several decades, the World Bank and its allied Institutions were seen with suspicion and as mere political instruments with very little appreciation of grassroots development and of being insensitive to local community interests. They have also been accused of turning a blind eye to citizen engagement, to environmental concerns and to mis-governance and mal-administration in the implementation of projects funded by them. They have been working over the last decade and more to shed this image and are now actively soliciting engagement with local community groups, in ensuring social accountability of the projects funded by them; and of looking internally to address inherent structural flaws in their aid and loan processes. But despite all this, their primary focus was on income growth and economic development. This year’s meetings saw a quiet and subtle shift which if sustained, could have long term consequences on how the world sees human development and progress.

While the WB President Jim Yong Kim and the IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde stressed on the relevance and effectiveness of Institutions like the WB and IMF, they also conceded that the Multilateral banking systems need to evolve and become more responsive and accepting of the changing geo-political realities of the day. The challenges of the Globalization backlash, of countries becoming fiercely nationalist and losing interest in multilateralism, technology transforming labour, and the global economic slowdown were some of the key concerns articulated. The newly announced Global Concessional Financing Facility appears to make it more strategic and flexible but one needs to see if the Bank can take it forward with the kind of lukewarm response that was shown by the member countries to a call for increased capital infusion. One also needs to appreciate the challenge that the WB will face keeping in mind the view of the United States regarding the WB funding of middle income countries, especially China. It is to be seen whether the World Bank will truly be a bank owned by the member countries and operate in a free, fair, just and democratic manner or continue to stay as extended political arms of powerful governments in the Global North?

Another major shift that was announced was the recognition of expanding human capital before any meaningful economic development can happen. The WB’s decision to publish ‘Human Capital Index’ reports annually like the ‘Ease of doing business index’ reports will push countries to now reassess how they will begin to view human development. Focus on Nutrition and the impact of stunting on the GDP of countries were highlighted in the discussions.

A call for participation of private capital in WB funded projects sounds like a monster waiting to be unleashed and paradoxical to the call for enhanced social accountability frameworks. With many countries including India already grappling with ‘Policy Capture’ by select corporates, this could result in policies being skewed to the advantage of powerful forces and drowning out the needs and voices of the common citizen. Dr Jim also raised the controversial topic of enhancing ‘sin taxes’ and presented the enormous health benefits by making tobacco products increasingly unaffordable. Though agreeing with him was politically correct for many of the finance ministers present, it needs to be seen how many will walk the talk and take on the powerful tobacco lobbies. Focus on women entrepreneurs and creating platforms to promote them is being spoken about for some time now. But it should gain more legitimacy and momentum, now that these Institutions have provided formal space. This welcome change needs to be reflected in clear and specific policies at the country level and presents a unique opportunity for India as untapped potential in millions of Self Help Groups is waiting to be unleashed.

Going by the past, one is hesitant to believe that all these major shifts will get operationalized immediately or if these agencies will be de-politicized soon. For too long have policy debates been distorted by over emphasis on incomes alone. It is indeed a welcome move for these Institutions to focus on other deprivations like poor health, lack of education, stunting, social exclusion and unemployment which reflect in poor human capital within nations. It is in this context that India needs to present a refashioned narrative and look to building the human and social capital of its citizens rather than get lost in the debate of the state of the economy and mere GDP numbers.





Democracy and Development

September 22, 2017 Comments off

Democracy is increasingly being understood in India as elections and voting. The larger role of citizen engagement and the importance of several democratic Institutions in ensuring good governance is rarely internalized by many. Democracy can be meaningful and productive for the people only when Institutions that are created by the legislative frameworks are allowed to operate and deliver on their mandate.  Democratic Institutions are necessary to maintain social order and human progress by creating or enforcing rules. Such Institutions are truly effective only when they are manned by people with both the moral authority and technical capacity to run them. These Institutions have a great role in a particularly ‘noisy’ and ‘unhealthy’ democracy like ours. They are critical in an eco-system like India’s where people are not generally known to follow rules. Most Democratic Institutions play a ‘regulatory-enforcing’ role and their efficacy depends on the extent to which citizens believe that a reward or penalty will be forthcoming if they take or refrain from taking a particular action. Several other Institutions are mandated to deliver on the mandate of human development driven by the local communities that they are expected to serve.

The Institutions can deliver on their functions and role only when both the citizenry and the ‘rule-making’ legislators accord them the respect they deserve. The most evident expression of respecting an Institution is by following the rules that these Institutions are mandated to enforce.  Institutionalized rules and the beliefs they help form enable, guide and motivate most individuals to adopt the behaviour associated with their social position.   Another critical element for the smooth functioning of democratic Institutions is the credibility and reputation of these Institutions themselves.  One of the signs of good governance and human development in a state or country is measured by how effective and efficient are these democratic Institutions.  Going by this standard, India as a country and many individual states have different stories to narrate.

1993 saw the formal recognition of the grassroots democratic Institutions by the notification and implementation of the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments passed by the Indian Parliament in December 1992. After these historic amendments, the Panchayat Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies got legal and constitutional status with far reaching consequences. Though several states implemented this three-tier panchayat system in right earnest, gaps still exist in the terms of empowering them adequately vis-à-vis the functions, funds and functionaries in the system. Grass root bureaucrats are still grappling with the tensions that locally prevail due to vitiated political processes, indirect state controls, inadequate generation of local revenues and a demanding citizenry. Most of the local personnel rarely see the enormous opportunity in democratizing development itself. The recent decision of the Central Government to directly transfer federal funds to Gram Panchayats on the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission is indeed a milestone in empowering the Panchayats and promoting democratized development. The Ward Sabhas and Gram Sabhas are now mandated to decide on their local development needs and appropriately use these funds. While the spirit of this process is appreciable, the ground reality is far from what it needs to be. Most decisions are still led by ‘circulars’ issued by an overbearing State Government on how this money could be spent. Translational loss ultimately converts an advisory circular or guideline into an obligatory directive by the time it flows from the State Secretariat to the village panchayat. The result is that we are yet to see any meaningful development interventions led by local needs and local decision making across most panchayats in India. One needs to appreciate that in a country like India where political doles are the norm and power being traditionally centralized with state legislators and bureaucrats, change will be slow to set in. Along with the empowerment of local governments, there has to be a sensitive and gradual ‘dis-empowerment’ of these traditional power centres for development to become truly democratic and people led.

Moving away to the larger issue of governance at the National level, one has to carefully view various national level democratic institutions. Despite Parliament passing the law on Lok Pal and Lok Ayukta in 2013, we are yet to see the Institution populated. The Prime Minister’s crusade against corruption can find completion only when people with the right qualification, temperament and integrity populate it. One finds it difficult to understand how such an important body is still left empty and non-functional. While several other Institutions like the Election Commission, CVC and CAG play a vital and significant role in ensuring good governance, the challenge to move away from playing favourites and appointing amenable people to head them continues to dog Indian polity in general. The same challenges continue in populating other National and State level Commissions mandated either by the Constitution or by legislative sanction. Appointments to these Commissions, whether it deals with Human Rights, Child Rights or Women’s issues; are no longer based on the ability or the competence of the person being appointed.  Proximity to the Chief Minister or Prime Minister or the ruling party, political affiliation and caste compulsions seem to have become major deciding factors.

Another critical contributor to democracy are academic Institutions and oversight bodies for academia like the Indian Council of Social Science Research or the Indian Council of Historical Research, to name a few. Several of them are again populated and headed by people not necessarily because they have the competence or the qualification & experience but by people who are seen to be politically and ideologically aligned to the powers that be.

Heads of Government at the National and State levels need to realize that Governance will not happen accidentally. One needs to be deliberate, strategic and intentional about providing good governance and development to the people of the country or state.  And Democratic Institutions serve the vital role of not only ensuring checks and balances within the system but also enabling a constructive relationship between the state and the citizenry apart from promoting local development.  Apart from weakening these Democratic Institutions, trivializing them will further erode public faith in them and their functioning.  And the loser will not just be the citizens but the entire country including the political establishment.


This article appeared in Star of Mysore dated 5th October 2017.

Democracy & Devlpt

Categories: Musings

Making Indian democracy dance…

August 30, 2017 1 comment

India is not only the largest democracy in the world but is also known as one of the noisiest and unhealthy ones. Whatever it is, the events of the last couple of months is something that will make Indian democracy qualify as a ‘ugly’ one too. We always knew that the electoral democracy in India made our politicians dance – dance to the tune of the pressures of caste, cash and elite interests. But these recent events do not take much to convince us that our politicians are now making the Indian democracy dance. And that too in its naked form bereft of any decency or dignity and with scant regard to the people for whom this democracy exists.

If formation of a coalition Government in the state of Jammu & Kashmir by parties with two opposing ideological forces was mocking our democracy; its continued existence without a clear action plan to deal with the problem of insurgency, of conflicting interests and of the stagnation of both governance and development in the state leaves one feeling lost and despondent. This situation does not seem to trouble anyone in the Government or in the citizenry beyond issuing emotional expletives and listening to irrelevant politicians and retired bureaucrats on endless television debates.

The state of Bihar saw the change of dancing partners overnight. Partners who had earlier come together to tie the knot knowing fully well that their marriage may not work and with another opportunistic suitor constantly wooing one of them. How could anyone promise good governance and a corruption free administration with having one of India’s most corrupt politicians as a partner? And overnight, we are again promised good governance all over again.

As though the decibel levels are not enough, we have the latest entrant to India’s list of politicians – Arvind Kejriwal striking at the core of our Electoral System. While he seems to be convinced that good governance for him is the constant blaming of the Central Govt for all ills prevailing his state, his antics surrounding the Election Commission of India lies exposed by the fact that he never took up on the challenge that they posed to him. All that he seems to be indulging in are cheap theatrics, but he must be given the credit to make this ‘dance’ a ‘duet’. And the promise of exposing all his opponents and getting them to dance naked seems to be stuck in the court of law while his lawyer saw fit to script his own dance and withdraw from the defamation case that he was representing him in.

The election to the august office of our President and Vice-President was another treat that was scripted by Prime Minister Modi and his chief choreographer, Amit Shah. Together they pulled off one of India’s greatest political Operas. It was so well planned and executed that the opposition could not even get their stage ready, leave alone perform their dance. While one has no opinion on the ability or the capacity of the people elected, one only wonders if merit alone was the factor under consideration. Suddenly being a Dalit or coming from a poor farmer’s family or from south India seemed to matter. Democracy is now spoken of as being healthy as the elites’ of Lutyens Delhi are now being replaced. Are we sure that these replacements are because of democracy working or is it because of a few master puppeteers pulling the strings and making democracy dance to a new tune that one will hear for some more time before this new set of elites will be replaced by the Indian electorate.

Maharashtra presents an altogether different scene. While a coalition government is ruling the state, one of the partners seems to be living in perpetual doubt over whether it is on the dance floor or in the audience. One is unsure of how the Chief Minister keeps assuring the people growth and development, while at the same time battling this everyday distraction and rumors of his cabinet colleagues succumbing to the temptation of corruption.

The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections was surely an anti-climax to what could have become a well-orchestrated performance. One party went overboard to ensure a candidate wins while another tried hard to get him to lose. The ECI not to be outdone also jumped in and disqualified two MLAs. All in all, this dance had so many twists and turns and was performed on so many different stages and with several actors. Karnataka had its share to contribute to this emerging dance-drama and a key protagonist was made to dance to the tune of the Income tax department. One is unsure if the dance has ended or we will soon have a series of sequels. In the same Rajya Sabha elections, another political party refused to endorse the candidature of a star parliamentarian for the third term. One is not sure if this was just democracy in action or a party going by its own constitution or the handiwork of another senior politician in the party who wanted to end the parliamentary role of Sitaram Yechury.

The entire drama of Tamil Nadu is something that defies reason. We have powerful external forces negotiating peace and bringing together warring factions and allowing them to share the spoils of war. All in the name of saving democracy and wanting to provide a stable Government. Not to be left behind we can see dynasty politics establishing itself firmly in both Andhra Pradesh and Telengana with members of the Chief Minister’s family in both the states holding sway. In neighbouring Kerala, we have political differences settled in barbaric ways and end up maiming and killing each other. All this in the name of democracy.

Karnataka has begun its electoral dance in right earnest. From stroking regional sentiments and having a separate flag to starting a debate around forming a religion, the state’s politicians are writing tunes that they will soon lose control over and lead to irretrievable consequences. The cacophony that will emerge will possibly deafen saner voices and we can be assured of some interesting days ahead.  Amidst all this, the fact that 8 MLCs gave false residential addresses to vote in the mayoral elections of BBMP is getting forgotten.

West Bengal is a state that never tires of making democracy visible. From the streetlights, all over Kolkata painted in the ruling party’s colours to ‘Ma, Mati, Manush’ being the slogan scribbled all over, to the everyday fun that the Chief Minister dishes out with her own special touch – the dance is always loaded with contradictions that is so cleverly camouflaged. It is indeed ironical that the TMC keeps talking about grassroots democracy and how the voice of people matters but bans Student’s union and Elections in a reputed University. One needs to follow the social media of the key political leaders of this state to indulge in some real confusing intellectual dancing.

Haryana – how does one even describe what has transpired in this state in the last few days? How do we condone the actions of the Government and the state which acted by not doing anything? How can one describe the Institution of the executive failing to dance along with the Judiciary? How can the state escape the responsibility of not ensuring law and order with its police being one the most top heavy in the country? How will one justify the loss of 38 lives and millions of rupees worth public and private property? How can we pretend that we are living in a democracy when it takes 15 years to prosecute a rapist? We saw how the state works to please a potential electoral constituency while losing sight of the larger responsibility of providing law and order to all citizens alike. And as though this degenerate dance was not enough, we have another parliamentarian arguing that the voice of 5 crore devotees of this God man should have been heard more than that of the court of law.

With elections to several large states around the corner, this dance will not only get more interesting, but unfortunately be baser and degraded. With the Nation having no credible opposition party and motley groups coming together not out of any larger National interest but out of their own need to survive and be relevant, this dance is only going to border on the absurd. We need to remember that the audience always gets the show that it deserves. The quality of this dance will continue to worsen, till we the citizens decide that enough is enough. We need to reclaim the space that we have so negligently given up. We now need to restore dignity and decency to democracy. And this can happen only when each one of us breaks out of our slumber and self-imposed indifference and decide to rid ourselves of our ‘voice poverty’. It is only the citizens voice that can provide the much-needed music to make our democracy healthy and vibrant again. Otherwise we will only have ourselves to blame for the trash that is dished out to us in the name of democracy.


This article appeared in the Star of Mysore, dated 6th Sept, 2017

SOM Making Ind Demo dance

Categories: General, Musings

An interview of mine that appeared in the ‘Weekly’ published by La Sentinelle, Mauritius

August 29, 2017 Comments off

Please read ‘a year’ as ‘a decade’ in this interview.  Sorry for the inadvertent typo in the article.

Mauritius Interview Aug17

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings