Human Kindness in a Feudal Society

I drive from Delhi to Hisar in Haryana state very often. I see a lot of infrastructure development. New 6 lane highways are built. New flyovers are being constructed. All around connectivity is being developed. Haryana is one of the most prosperous states. People here have a lot of money. 

However, Haryana has a dark side. Haryana is a deeply patriarchical society. Her girls are killed even before birth. In this state, there is one of the most skewed male to female ratio. Because there are not enough girls for every boy, not everyone gets a life partner in this state. Frustrated and high on testosterone boys/men go wild and undertake a variety of atrocities directed towards women. Young women are directed and controlled by their family and village elders on whom she can marry. A few months before a dictat was passed by Khap Panchayat that included people from Jat communities residing in Haryana and Western UP, that women cannot carry cell phone and cannot go to market after a time of day without a male member. Women can violete such dictat at their own risk. 

Recently, it came to light that a young woman from a dalit caste was gang raped by a group of upper caste men. To add insult to the injury, the brutal act was filmed and circulated in the village as an act of retribution. Hapless father of the girl, on not being allowed to lodge a complaint, committed suicide. I can feel the helplessness and agony of the unfortunate father. My heart bleeds, I hope there will be justice. It is also important to remember what good is development if we cannot act as human.

In the midst of doom and despair, this story has a subplot that is so refreshing. Even though the girl cannot get her father back, an evidence is emerging that human empathy, fellow feeling, kindness and sense of fairplay and justice is not dead. An upper class jat girl, from the same village as the jat boys accused of rape as well as the dalit girl, went against her community cousins and informed police about one absconding boy. I also read that the whole village is taking the issue as their own and trying to help the girl. May be this jat girl and her village are an exception. However, this is one tiny seedling of human goodness that is growing amid tension among castes, religions, races etc. This tiny seedling must be nurtured with care and grown into a big banyan tree. That is only how our diverse country can progress. I feel so proud of this young girl who could feel pain of another girl from different community. How many of us can do such act of bravery?

Sisterhood triumphs over caste in Hisar – The Times of Indiat.coThe case has roiled Hisar, infamous for jat-dalit tensions. But in small mercies, a dalit girl’s rapist’s arrest — the first in the case — took place on information shared by a jat girl.



Supermarket vs. Neighborhood Stores

In Sep, 2012, UPA II government at the centre, allowed by executive decision FDI in multibrand retail. There was a lot heated protest and principal partner of UPA II, The All India Trina Mool Congress (TMC) withdrew support from the government reducing central government to minority status.
A lot has been said about pros and con of FDI in multibrand retail. I am sure this is not the last word. In a recent article in Times of India, author Sujit John has made very well reasoned argument against FDI in multibrand retail. The author has pointed out that more and more people will be attracted to go to supermarkets, ignoring neighborhood stores. It is important to point out that India is a much more diverse and highly populated country compared to western democracies like USA, Canada, UK and Australia. Our population is 1 billion plus, which is at least 5 times bigger than that of US and at least 40 fold greater than that of Canada and Australia and may be UK. Out of 1 billion plus people, may 100 – 200 million Indians have purchasing power, making it comparable to US population and still bigger than Canada, Australia and UK.  This population with purchasing power may go have the means to go to supermarkets, which will be outside the city and definitely not in towns with less than 10 lac people. Remaining 900 million people may not have means to go to the supermarkets or they may not have means to shop there. A point to remember, many people go to swanky malls, but majority still do their shopping from small markets where things are less expensive.
Another point to consider that shopping habbits of Indians are very different from that of westerners. Many Indians do not do shopping a week or month’s supply of grocery. Even if we want to do, we may not have storage place or electricity to run freezers. On top of this, neighborhood kirana stores offer interest free credit, offer free home delivery and as the author himself suggested offer human touch. So many people will still shop at these neighborhood stores, take this number to be close to 500 – 900 million.
This argument sounds disingenuos.The author suggests that food grain and fruits that are lost between farm to freezer is similar between US and India. The author quotes statistics of McKinsey for India and Natural Resources Defence Committe for US. However, it is not clear if the methodology of loss calculation between US and India were similar or not. It is also a fact that every year we hear how food grains are lost because of lack of storage space. We hear fruits rot because farmers do not have storage space. Farmers have to sell fruits and vegetables cheap to middlemen/wholesale dealer, who in turn sell these at retail market at manifold high price.  to It is argued that super market chains will develop link with farmers and give them reasonable price, setup cold storage and build connectivity. At the same time shoppers will get a cheap fruit and vegetable.
It is important to note that several multibrand retail stores are in operation in Punjab. Besides, several Indian origin multibrand retail shops like Reliance Fresh, Subhiksha, Shoppers Stop, Big Bazaar etc are operational in several states. Many stores are not doing well despite a deep pocket. This could be considered a positive benefit to neighborhood stores. It can be argued that many Indian stores will sell out to foreigners, with much more deep pockets.  However, as argues earlier, many Indians will still shop at local neighborhood stores.

My wife is the one who mostly does our grocery shopping. Till about two years …ago, the word Choice was one that was

Centrifugal vs. Centripetal forces of life

Everyone feels sometime or other that they should be something else. The centripetal force of the unknown and untested pull us outward. Centrifugal force of society, family and friends pull us towards common practice. Majority of us make compromise, some become rebel and others go insane. It is important to balance between our duty and our instinct. Society tells us it is important to earn money, be good to society and take care of family. Instinct tells us to be free. However, those who travel untested path are not necessarily disrepectful towards society or family. If that be so, we cannot have spiritual seekers like Shri Rama Krishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi among others.

Most of us have a real self and an imagined self, made up of aspirations, dreams and desires, which present

Kudamkulum Power Station a Dire Necessity

Given the power situation in India, it is important that Kudankulum plant goes into operation. Without power our economy will come to a grinding halt. Without economic regeneration our young population cannot study, cannot get job, hospitals cannot function, and in short all aspects of modern life will be affected. We can stop this process of power generation at our own peril. At present, nuclear energy is one of the cleanest form of energy. However, nuclear energy has its problem. The same can be said about all other methods of power generation as well. Unless we want to go back to preelectricity days, infact many part of India have not yet seen electricity, we have to decide on a method of power generation by weighing pros and con.
Finally, I think the present protest at Kudankulum is politically motivated. Left being seriously out maneuvered during UPA I on the issue of nuclear deal with US, is trying to get back at the government through people like Mr. Uday Kumar. Come to look at it, Mr. Uday Kumar is not amenable to any reason at all. Besides, all left party members and sympathisers are aligning with Mr. Uday Kumar in the name of solidarity with people.  Question is why left always sympathises with a few thousand to few lac people, when close to a billion people are dying to get electricity?

Dr. Man Mohan Singh : Honest, Decent Prime Minister

In the last couple of weeks of Sep, 2012, to be precise around 14 Sep, 2012, several things happened. Firstly, Prime Minister Mon Mohan Singh, unshakled by Congress party, unleashed a slew of economic measures. These included raising price of diesel, reducing subsidy on cooking gas and inviting FDI in multibrand retail. Direct consequence of these measures was major partner of UPA II government, the All India Trina Mool Congress parting ways with the government. This effectively reduced government to a minority government. However, this did not cowdown our mild mannered prime minister. He promised further reforms even at the risk of losing power. The moves set opposition parties in a tizzy, almost releasing cat among pigeons. Same parties that were accusing Dr. Singh to be an ineffective and incompetent puppet, started branding our prime minister as seller of countries interest to foreigners.
 I have full faith in our Prime Minister, Dr. Man Mohan Singh. Dr. Singh is a good economist, may be a poor administrator. The functional relationship that worked in UPA II, I am guessing, that prime minister will take care of runing government while Mrs. Gandhi will take care of managing the politics. Infact, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee was doing just that – managing politics. As UPA II came on social justice plank, congress party wanted to do more for poor and downtrodden. Congress plan was backed by NAC, an advisory body made of prominent people of society. NAC came up with ambitious plans to help poor. To fund thses programs, money was needed. However, aggressive NGO’s and NAC members were stalling reforms, industrialisation etc. in the name harm to environment and poor. The whole process was complicated by aggressive allies like TMC, that opposed all reform proposal yet demanded a moratorium on interest payment for three years. Prime Minister did not want to have Mr. A Raja as minister, yet coalition compulsion forced him to give Mr. Raja a ministry. All these apparent loss of control over administration probably made Dr. Singh a disillusioned man for most of the second term of UPA. He was unable to control decision making, yet he was to take blame for all mismanagement as head of government. He probably could have resigned. May be that was his fault. However, as things unravelled in last couple of weeks, real Dr. Singh has come out. Backed by his party, Dr. Singh is doing what he does best, that is economic reform.
Can Dr. Singh be accused of selling our country to foreigners? I think this is an ingenious argument. There are many progressgive states that are proreform. States can allocate land without much discussion to industrial houses. Yet these states are not called proindustry or selling out. Yet, when our prime minister proposes a policy that gives option to states to implement it at their will, prime minster becomes proforeigner. Nothing can be further from truth. Left parties had always opposed any move that they consider antipeople and neoliberal. We know where the state of West Bengal stands with respect to any index of development after 30 years of uninterrupted left party rule. So acute is the shortage of fund, that chief minister of state cannot implement any development program in the state. I would have thought BJP and Mr. Modi to come out in support of our prime minister. Because BJP pursues similar philosophy of development, and Mr. Modi is a favorite of industrial houses because of his proindustry agenda. If retail business is good for Ambani’s, Kishore Biyani why it is bad for Mittal’s? If government is worried about Indian players are unable to compete with foreigners, then they should make rules of partnership between Indians and foreigners. If most Indian supermarkets are not doing well, then BJP has nothing to worry for kirana store owners.
I think this selling out to foreigner slogan is being coined by left and right because these parties feel outmaneuvered by our prime miinister – a good economist and an honest and decent prime minister.

Trickle down vs Bottom Up : Correct Growth Model for India

For last 65 years India was not following a trIckle down economy. India was working on a socialist model. In this model, government creates jobs by controlling every aspect of our lives. The consequence is for all of us to see. We were in a perennial shortage economy. We had to bribe for everything starting from getting a birth certificate to getting a death certificate. People were leaving country en masse – a term called brain drain.
India started liberalisation post 1991. A few things that are apparent is mobile phone revolution. Till 1996, I remember, every weekend I had to pay a visit to local area line man to fix our land line telephone. We got that after 10 years of wait. After mobile telephony became popular and affordable, not many thinks twice of getting a mobile phone. These are also available in a variety of custom designed packages. Yes, people that author claims angry and living in squalid condition also own a mobile phone. Most probably Maoists also own a phone, whether preaching urban warfare or in the jungles.
It is too much to expect to bring more thant 600 million people out of poverty in 20 years. But it will be unfair to say standard to living have not improved. The fact that people are moving out of villages in search of jobs to cities may suggest jobs are available. Ask for a maid in Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, one may be surprised at the going rate. By the way, left ruled West Bengal, supposedly bottom up growth model is so bankrupt that chief minister was making regular trip to Delhi for a freeze on moratorium interest payment. Apparently state did not have money to run programs that will benefit citizens.
India needs continuous reform for a long time so that pie for social welfare can be broadened through regular investment flow. Government needs to pay money for education, healthcare, sanitation , population control etc. Government needs to improve delivery of justice to everyone. There are so many things to be done. People cannot come out of poverty unless there is quality education. More academic institutes need to come up. Once we have, a healthy educated population then only we can think of growth that is inclusive and bottom up.

Ever since Ms. Mamata Banerjee has decided to end relationship with UPA II she is coming up with all kind of charges. Some true and veracity of others difficult to judge. But the simple question remains, didi was a part of the same government for at least 6 years. She and her party colleague had occupied one of the most important portfolio of Railways Ministry. How come didi never had any objection to all the scams that started tumbling out of UPAII cupboard? Didi merrily tolerated them because it was suiting her. May be the then finance minister had taken her down the garden path promising Bengal package. Now after leaving the political formation, her cry of political corruption sounds ingenious. Didi claimed she had protested in private about corruption. Knowing didi, anything that is not upto her liking is never a private matter. She always went to town about her grievance. Remember – Ma – Mati – Manush! Didi now claimed her phone was tapped. God knows if it is true or not? Didi is incharge of Bengal, how can anyone tap her phone without her government knowing? If it had happened, it shows TMC government in poor light. How come didi came to know about her phone being tapped only after coming out of UPAII? By her own admission, didi is an open and transparent person. Her position is always clear. She always opposes any proposal of econonic reform. So everyone from Kashmir to Kanyakumari nows her position on all aspects of her politics. One really has to read the news paper to know what didi is thinking. No one needs to tap her phone.
Regarding utility of phone tapping, in many civilized democracies government through spy agencies tap phones and many other details. In most cases it does not come out in public. If phones are not tapped or more sophisticated forms of surveillance on political opponents is not used, how come we come to know in graphic detail about sex lives and dalliances of presidential hopefulls in the US? Besides, many a time when security agencies tap a phone and thwart a terror attack, they do not reveal how they arrived at the intelligence. Because it may kill the goose that lays golden eggs. It may be unfair to say in India phones of terrorists are never tapped.

TMC induced Poverty of Vision in Rail Ministry

TMC ministers have finally resigned from UPA II government on 20 Sep, 2012. With this will end the legacy of absentee railway ministers that started with Mamata Banerjee and hopefully ended with Mukul Roy. It is a sacrilege to have ministers like Mamata Banerjee and Mukul Roy for an important ministry like railways. Being a major transporter of massive number of people across length and breadth of our vast country, railways present its own budget every year signifying its importance and magnitude. Yet our rail ministers from TMC had no interes managing problems of railways, for example dirty platform, dirty toilets, poor unhygienic food, poor unclean beddings, poor safety record among others. No modernisation plan ever came out in public domain for discussion. The profit that railways generated during Mr.Lalu Yadav’s time was wiped out during TMC tenure. Only interest of the TMC duo was to use railways to generate jobs in West Bengal and propagate its populist ideas by not increasing fare. The poverty of vision was so acute that TMC ministers could not even think of raising price and raising standard of service at the same time. In their politics of poverty, TMC ministers could not even visualise people also want a clean environment, clean coaches, and travel on time in a safe manner. Is it beyond comprehension that poor may be ready to tolerate price hike if service of railways is improved. Whole world is modernising railways as a environment friendly transport. Countries have high speed trains that travel at 300 km per hour. Our ministers could not think of cutting travel time between Delhi – Kolkata – Mumbai – Chennai from 18 – 36 hours to 6 – 12 hours. This alone has the potential to wean passengers away from air travel. But this kind of thought needs vision, and vision demands brining investment, and investor would request raising fare. An anathema for our populist ministers. By the way now they are out of UPAII what will happen to their favorite railway projects in West Bengal?

UPA II and Second Generation Reform of 2012

It is not clear if government’s job to undertake reform measures will become any easier with Mamata didi out of alliance or not. However, this is the right thing to do for present government in national interest. Political formation/s that will replace TMC are not out there to do charity. These parties will extract their pound of flesh, and may even leave UPA at the alter. By instinct all political parties prefer populist policies. It is easier to get public attention by dangling carrots of sop, than telling people about hard decisions, even though it is the right decision. Economy of country is in bad shape, our population is young, unless oppurtunities are created now, future looks gloomy therefore economic reforms have to be done. There is no denying there will be difficulties. However, when one is not well, doctor gives strong medicine, hoping for a cure. Once UPA II has made a decision to undertake reform, and bitten the bullet, there should be no going back. This will lead to serious credibility gap for prime minister, for UPA II and in general for Indian political decision making process. I am glad at least one political formation has seen the future and decided to act even at the cost of their our survival.  If government falls, country should go for fresh mandate. There is no point continuing in office like a lame duck. 

Impetuous Mamata Didi

Only history will tell if Mamata Banerjee (affectionately called didi) did the right thing walking out of UPA II in Sep, 2012, and made central government a minority government. She acted on issues that  could have been managed from her end. Till she resigned, didi tolerated 2G, CWG, coalgate and numerous other scams that tumbled out of UPAII’s closet. So her claim of UPAII being corrupt sounds hollow. Didi protested against FDI in retail, citing common peoples interest in mind, an issue she did not even have to implement in her state. Unless didi is assuming the role of chief minister / leader of greater Eastern India, this issue remains non issue from West Bengal point of view. On the point of fuel price hike,  didi could have extended relief to her state by reducing state tax. Infact governments of Delhi and Bihar did exactly that. Didi claimed, may be rightly so, West Bengal state’s financial position is not as strong as that of other states. However, as chief minister of the state, it is imperative that she must do everything to manage her states finances. One solution could be raising revenue and reducing subsidy. There is no doubt didi is one of the most transparent leaders in Indian political scenario. However, politics is not only about all bluster and bravado, but actually getting things done without ruffling feathers. If West Bengal is dependent on centre for running projects and programmes in the state, how is quitting UPA II going to help West Bengal’s cause? May be didi wanted to distance herself from scam tainted UPAII anyway. The FDI in retail and fuel price hike gave her the perfect reason to get out of the alliance. She may win in Bengal, but she made every possible effort that India lost. Finally, she is not all that transparent afterall!