The Great Indian Budget Exercise

Only in India budget exercise  work up so much emotion, passion and enthusiasm. So many experts sit on TV studios and keep on dishing out their nuggets of wisdom about what should be and what should not be. However, people remain where frozen as they were year before and may be sixty years before. 

Common sense dictates, a budget should balance what we earn and what we spend plus what we save. Budget reflects the political philosophy of the ruling party. A budget exercise should be based on year by year small steps that culminates into overall growth, prosperity and well being of country. However, budget in Indian democracy reflects the mindset of politicians about how to stick to power by giving sops to voters. They will never advice or educate voters about the real situation but promise free electricity, free fuel, free meals, etc. But where will the money come from? Moment this question is asked, another bunch of million people will standup and confuse issue by making statements like why subsidise corporates, why not stop scams etc. We fail to realise, corporates create jobs. If you create proper business climate by encouraging free enterprise, then corporates will create more jobs that will benefit common people. Moreover, in this environment, small businessmen will also prosper because they can do business without fear or favor.

 About scams and corruption, what stops us from catching corrupt people. We have not created proper machinery that can catch , prosecute powerfull crooks and put them behind bars. Even sixty five years after independence, common Indians cannot get any government job done without paying a bribe. A common Indian cannot get a government service, which incidentally is their right, without the backing of money or power. So whether we get a big band budget or no lack lustre budget is anything really going to change? A good budget may make industry prosper and some may trickle down to common man. However, what do we do with maximum billionaires, where majority of Indians are malnourished, do not have access to healthcare, education, drinking water, basically anything that is needed for a life of dignity. 

An ordinary budget will be bad in long term for the country, but who cares. A sensible budget should be that builds on last year and year before to make Indian econoy sound, brings about economic and administrative reform that makes lives of ordinary Indians better and safer.No finance minister can do miracle in a budget. He needs to work on a plan year on year and build an economy that is robust yet just over a five year period. 

Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi : Future Prime Minister

Next general election is approaching in 2014. Political parties are tightening their belts in preparation for the great battle ahead. Two main contenders, though yet remain unannounced, are Mr Narendra Modi from BJP and Mr Rahul Gandhi.  Mr Modi is a seasoned player, who has won Gujrat state for three consecutive years. Mr Modi is credited with development of Gujrat economy. Many also consider him to be an autocrat who cannot compromise, a disadvantage in pluralistic society like India. Mr Modi also carries the burden of post Godhra communal riot in Gujrat where many Muslims were killed. Mr Modi has not yet been found guilty, though cases are on going. Mr Modi has not even said sorry for the event that happened under his rule. Mr Modi has famously said he does not see people as Hindus and Muslims but as Gujaratis. Of late, several Gujaratis muslim businessmen have come out in support of Mr Modi. In recent municipal election, BJP had fielded Muslim candidates in Gujarat, a majority of whom won. Does all these mean Mr Modi is ready to takeover India?

I  happen to hear Modi’s speech delivered at Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi. To me it showed hope, to me the speech showed vision, to me it showed what we can do together, even now Inspite of our diversity and red tape. We can wait for some one to cure our problems, but those who help themselves, fortune favours them. India needs to decide we 60% young population do we wait for government to solve our problems, or government should deliver governance by creating opportunities for people, not for select few close to power. 

Many consider Rahul Gandhi, potential contender for leadership of UPA and future prime minister of India,  as a novice, who has not made any significant contribution or participation in Indian politics. Mr Gandhi many believe is busy reconstructing his party at the grassroots level. It is believed that massive subsidy program of UPA government that includes MGNREGA and food security bill have Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s blessing. Mr. Gandhi believes such programs reaching rural poor could be lifeline for corruption ridden UPA government. There is no doubt that in a highly populous country like ours, unless we can lift the levels of our huge unemployed rural poor we are not going anywhere with our 8% growth. However, to employ people in MGNREGA we need to have money that we can spend. In other words, we can only engage in social upliftment, if we have a booming economy. It is governments responsibility to see that economy is growing in a smooth, free and fair manner. Unfortunately, in past 3 – 4 years, government has been saddled with one corruption after another. This there is no decision making, there is no policy creation and economy is growing at 5%. With this kind of prosperity, it is very difficult to sustain MGNREGA and food security bill, even as much government wants to help poor. 

So it should be in governments interest, if it wants to return to power again, to boost ecomomy by creating policy and good business climate and bring in a semblance of governance by booking the people guilty of corruption. If these are done, no one will point finger at government for its social schemes. However, who can do the job better? Narendra Modi has a track record in a limited area. Can he replicate his model all over India? We have not heard from Rahul Gandhi anything of any consequence yet.
Another important point to be considered in a multicultural pluralistic society like India is finding acceptance of majority voters. Many a times, people may reject an efficient person, if they do not like him or her. Will Modi be acceptable as Prime Minister to all communities? No one knows. Equally, will any other prime minister deliver anything to this vast under governed, poorly administered country? Answer is a resolute know. Country has not seen any leader that has any vision of growth and development. Look at Mamata Banerjee, elected with massive mandate, darling of secular media, has no delivery to her state. West Bengal is sinking into anarchy. Look at Akhilesh Yadav, a waste of huge mandate. Rahul Gandhi so far does not look impressive at all. Yes, Muslims will not like Modi. May be Modi has to do extra effort. But it is time, India decides what it wants. Platitudes in the name of vote bank politics, dole in the name of social welfare or a system where citizens are not divided along religion, caste and creed. A society that grows on vision, on hope and a leader that gets the job done even at the expense of personal unpopularity. Do we want to take our place as a progressive, modern and just state or we remain mired in ideas of old political philosophy, old prejudices and old bias against prosperity. Country must decide. Leftist and socialists have always believed poor must be taken care of. No dispute on that, however, a poor father cannot help his lazy son/s, despite good intentions, if he himself is jobless. Decide India, time has come, what you want. A government that is bold and full of hope and vision or a government that continues the way we moved for past 60 years.

Afzal Guru Execution and Hyderabad Blast : Law, Order and Indian Response

I visited Rishikesh for the first time in early seventies. Rishikesh used to be small sleepy town in the foothills of Garhwal Himalayas. Town was small built around railway station. One could come out of town in five to ten minutes. Once outside, one could see free flowing mother Ganges in all her glory. One could see lush green mountains on either side of the river. Many small or large hermitages / monasteries by the river or overlooking the river. On the other side of river was forest covered mountain. My mother told me this is the path legendary pandavas took for their final journey. Looking at the mountain and river flowing through, I fell in love with the Himalayas, the king of mountains. I felt if I could merge with every dust particle, every molecule and be part of Himalayas. I wished I could be a traveller wandering through the mountain all my life. This is the mountain that has a strange vibe. Accumulated over many years of penance by seekers, that gave up ordinary lives in search of real meaning of life. this is the abode of Bholenath and mother Parvati.
Second time I visited Rishikesh was nearly ten years later. I was in final year of college, four of us friends decided to visit Rishikesh. We took a night bus from ISBT and reached Rishikesh early morning. In early eighties of preliberalisation India, Rishikesh appeared to me have not moved much from ten years before. It was still a sleepy, small and peaceful town. May be I am wrong, but did not know any better. After a quick dip in the Ganges at Rishikesh, we walked towards Lashman Jhoola. It was a beautiful and thrilling experience, no responsibility, no worry simply exploration. We stayed in a dharamshala, from the room we had a glimpse of the mountain. Lakshman Jhoola was not very crowded, there were occassional foreigners, but mostly Indians on low budget. There was a transendental meditation centre of Mahesh Yogi near by in the mountains. Next morning, we got up early and started on our trek to Nilkanth, which had a temple of Mahadev. It was to be three hour trek, through mountain that was deeply forested. There was a path used by villagers and locals. Forest cover was dense enough not to allow sunlight to penetrate. As a result the whole trail was cold and that made out hike comfortable. Every other person coming from the opposite side was greeted with Hard hard Mahadev and Jai Nilkanth Mahadev. At the top of the mountain -after which we started descending towards Nilkanth Mahadev temple, was a small dhaba serving tea and pakora. From top of the mountain we could see a grand vista below with flowing mother Ganges. We reached the small village where temple was. There were a few people low by Indian standard, yet quite a few. We offered prayers, sat in meditation and started on our return trek and back to bus station. It was my initiation to a trek in Himalayas, I fervently anticipated many more. King of mountains, nagadhiraj, did not disappoint me. I had my chances to go deep into the mountains, thereafter my destiny decided my course of life.
I had passed through Rishikesh a couple of times, but never really came out of bus station. Last I visited Lakshman Jhoola was in early 2000. Ten years post economic liberalisation, a lot had changed  in Rishikesh.  A massive dam in Tehri had curtailed flow of mother Ganges. Mother was not in her full flow. There were plastic bags on the sandy banks, which earlier used to be washed by fast moving water. A motorable road now connects Lakshman Jhoola to Haridwar bypassing Rishikesh. There were many cars going into Lakshman Jhoola. May be good for local economy. I also heard Nilkanth Mahadev is also connected by motorable road. All these are good for local people, local economy. More devotees can visit Shivji. However, the old charm and mystique of Rishikesh is lost to me. The satisfaction and earnestness of visiting lord Mahadev on foot by an arduous trek is different. I also read people are stealing sand and boulders from the heart of mother Ganges. It depressed me.