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

So many memories…so many stories…

September 11, 2017 9 comments

Laying down office seems so easy when one writes about it without the subjective pressures of emotion and memories. After more than 30 years at the helm, I felt that I had done what needed to be done over the last 30 months to future-proof SVYM. Whether it was Governance or moving SVYM closer to sustainability or streamlining our management functions, bringing in technology, reorienting our programs and making them more relevant to the times – I felt that so much could be done and this was possible only by the emergence of a wonderful and creative team of 16 motivated people from within SVYM. Playing the catalyst and watching the maturation of collective leadership has been so rewarding. I wanted to explain all this to our employees at Saragur and Hosahalli and let them know how I did not have much to offer in terms of real value to SVYM now. I also wanted them to appreciate how I have always lived life with the guidance of my inner voice and also inform them that I would no longer be playing the role of the President from the 1st of October 2017.

Meeting and interacting with our staff showed me how far SVYM has come. So much energy, so much enthusiasm and suddenly I was reminded of how much water has flowed under the bridge over the last 33 years. From our aborted experiment at Chinnadagudihundi to the celebration of our first anniversary at Thumnerale to my meeting Swami Achalanandaji, my spiritual guide and mentor – so many thoughts seemed to rush through my mind. Going to Hosahalli, I was fondly recollecting the challenges that we had faced building the Kenchanahalli hospital and how today it is more relevant to transform this hospital into a rural livelihood center. At Hosahalli, I was reminiscing how Dr Manjukumar (currently a monk at the Ramakrishna Math, Belur) so lovingly planted the raintree saplings which today have grown into such gigantic ones. I was remembering how difficult it was to grow the Ashoka trees around the old school which stood patiently watching the school and the children grow over the last 28 years. And then it stuck me! How change is the only norm that is constant. The Ashoka trees have been cut and all that remain are ugly looking stumps, though some of them are stubbornly refusing to fade away and are slowly rejuvenating. Organizations are also like these trees – the old has to make way for the new or at least the ‘old’ has to grow and re-discover themselves and come back rejuvenated and fresh or they will end up only as ugly looking remnants. Otherwise SVYM will lose its relevance and all that will remain will be memories.

The stumps on one side and the rejuvenation on the other…

Memories that I fondly continue to cherish. Of how we had to drive out the ‘spirits’ from the Hosahalli campus to make it acceptable and safe for our tribal children. How Javaraiah and Jadiya had to have their share of daily battles with us. Or how Thimmaiah would work tirelessly to guard the campus on his own initiative. The teachers who came and went, but some of them still remain in my memory. The extraordinary and silent contributions of so many wonderful people. Just naming all of them will require a book. Of the enormous support that we have been receiving from hundreds of people in the Government, in the private sector, in the communities that we work with and from other well-meaning individuals and Institutions. All this has what made the experiment called SVYM see reasonable success. And all this is what I will take home with me – the stories, the adventures and the memories to reflect on and continue to grow from the energy that SVYM has been giving me.

So many of our donors and friends have appreciated my stand and endorsed it. Many of them feel that the timing could not have been better while some of them feel that I should have waited a few more years for the dust of the enormous change and churning happening by the SDG process to settle down. Whatever it is, the satisfaction and happiness that one feels on seeing that so much has happened and so many have now come together to steer the ship forward makes me believe that there could be no better time than now.

But along with all this, there still remains the question that many have asked me. What next for me? Everyone seems to believe that I will now move and seek other pastures. All that I can honestly say is that I have not applied my mind to anything else at this point of time. The activist in me will never stop doing what it has been doing or retire from any active social engagement. What platform I will now operate from is something that I am confident will reveal itself to me. For the moment, I intend to continue to teach, to train, to write and to focus on building up GRAAM, another great Institution waiting to happen.

I would also like to use this opportunity to thank each one of you for believing in me and for being a part of my adventurous journey of the last three decades and more. Life will go on, memories will fade, some stories may sound stale; but what is priceless is the enormous learning and personal evolution that happened to me, only because I am a part of SVYM. And that is something that will continue forever.



Categories: Story of SVYM

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

Anna Bhagya – Article that appeared in the SOM, dated Aug 3, 2017

August 7, 2017 1 comment
Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘Indigenous tribal communities: Refashioning Development’ – An article that appeared in Deccan Herald dated 27 July 17

July 29, 2017 Comments off

Refashioning tribal devlpt DH July 29, 2017

Find the article below:

A few months ago, the Chhattisgarh government made an announcement that it will now provide 35 kg rice at the doorstep of each tribal family. A thousand kms away, the Karnataka government was grappling with solving the issue of land that the tribals from Diddadahalli had occupied and were claiming as their rightful due. Around the same time, we had Prime Minister Modi announce just after the UP state elections that he would like to see a ‘new India’ arise where the poor and marginalized had access to opportunities and not mere Government doles. While each of these give conflicting signals, one is sad that despite 70 years of independence, the country is still grappling with how to strategize and undertake development of indigenous tribals who constitute a little more than 8% of the nation’s population.

Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes (STs) as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. STs are mainly the indigenous population in India that the Government of India identifies as socially and economically backward and in need of special protection from social injustice and exploitation. The tribals are identified by the Govt. based on a community’s primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness with the public at large, geographical isolation and social and economic backwardness. Tribal communities live in about 15% of the country’s areas in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains to forests, hills and inaccessible areas. There are 705 ethnic groups notified as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India who live across 30 states and union territories. Tribal groups are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. While some tribal communities have adopted a mainstream way of life at one end of the spectrum, there are 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), at the other, who are characterized by a pre-agriculture level of technology, a stagnant or declining population, extremely low literacy and a subsistence level of economy

The central government created the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities and has planned to spend close to INR 5300 crores in the current fiscal year on tribal development. 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’ and bureaucrats are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. 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 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. To make matters worse, most tribal areas are also rich in natural resources and they suffer the collateral damage created by large irrigation projects and extractive industries.

Interventions to develop the indigenous communities needs to begin with an understanding of the tribals themselves. One needs to appreciate that these are communities who have traditionally lived in communes under the leadership of Chieftains and have operated in the traditional economy. Moving from a hunter-gatherer situation to a mixed economy is culturally jarring and can have shocking consequences if not handled sensitively. The state’s planning and executing machinery has little time, patience or competence to understand the dynamics and power structures in the tribal areas and little appreciation of attitudinal and behavioral dimensions. This results in shoddy implementation of schemes and does not provide enough space for meaningful participation of the people. What is further disturbing is that all these schemes are not dynamic or responsive, and seem to be ‘urban solutions’ to ‘tribal problems’. Precious little consideration is given to the skills, knowledge and practices that could help in addressing tribal issues through grassroots perspectives. Seven decades of rapid acculturation and shoddy integration into the mainstream culture has left these communities in confusion. Forest conservation laws that they can neither understand nor find relevance in, has left them at a crossroad with neither a coping mechanism nor an alternate lifestyle. Economic and social demands of mainstream culture and life is forcing them to abandon their traditional methods which kept things simple and sustainable and adopt more expensive, government and NGO driven coping strategies which are neither culturally appropriate nor contextually relevant. These indigenous tribals can neither go back to the past nor have they successfully integrated with the present. The skills that they traditionally had no longer meet the demands of modern existence. All that exists is an insensitive and patronizing system that talks of their development bereft of the dignity that they deserve.


Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘And i was ordained a Jenukuruba…’ – Article that appeared in SOM, dated 19th July, 2017

July 22, 2017 Comments off