Saturday, December 19, 2015

India's Power Reform - New UDAY on the Horizon?


It has been a while since the Power Minister of Government of India, Mr Piyush Goyal, announced the Ujjwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY). The purpose of the programme is to permanently resolve the crisis of indebted state owned power distribution companies (utilities) in India. The crisis is pretty severe - despite a 2012-13 financial restructuring package, the total outstanding debt on the distribution utilities is over INR 4 lakh crore. Most of the debt is ironically concentrated in just eight states, including notable names such as Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana being among these ignonimous leaders.

UDAY tries to target the past legacies of debt by repackaging it as state debt instead of discom debt. This debt, upto 75% of which shall be taken over by the state, shall be repackaged as state bonds and shall be sold with first right to banks and pension funds. While the standard loan interest rate has been at around 14%, the bonds shall be given out at a range of 7.5% for a period of at least ten years. While credit rating agency CRISIL welcomed the move, it notes that the loss of interest income for the power sector may be to the tune of INR 4,300 crore of profit after tax for the fiscal year 2015. However, if all goes well, it is believed that conversion of discom loans into bonds would lead to capital savings of around INR 12,000 crore for public sector banks in particular. In light of the fact that loans to power sector are the third major source of non-performing assets on the loan books of public sector banks, a resolution is necessary. Another component of the problem is to reduce the revenue gap on power. To that extent the government has a proposed a multi-pronged strategy - allowing quarterly tariff revisions, making cheaper power available by removing roadblocks to it (coal supply issues, linkages of plants with mines etc.) and incentivizing states that perform well with greater coal supplies. Also, 2020 is the year when the discoms shall stop getting any more debt from banks for covering losses or working capital. On paper, the plan looks workable in some ways. However, the program seems to be repackaging many of the existing efforts of the government. The coal supply issue shall help irrespective of whether states sign up to the program or not. Tariff revisions can be done even in the current circumstances, and perhaps do not need any special provisions.

The one major thing that UDAY has managed to however do is to recognize the fact that states are directly responsible for the financial mess. Politics of governance has meant that tariff revisions are untimely and wrongly try to cross subsidize consumer categories by shifting the financial burden onto lesser consuming categories. A Power Finance Corporation report of July 2015 has shown how between 2011-12 and 2013-14, the agricultural sector was tied as the largest consumer of electricity with the heavy industry sector, but contributed only one-third of the total revenue earned by discoms. Agricultural subsidy (or even free power in Karnataka, Punjab and Tamil Nadu) has translated into increasing losses for state owned discoms. Much of this is driven by political considerations with no acknowledgment of the impact it subsequently generates on the whole state's power. Tamil Nadu's load shedding and power cut cycles are notoriously famous, and we are seeing a repeat of the same in Karnataka as well. After all, the more power the discom has to sell, the more loss it makes. Political considerations of the state's government forces tariffs to be kept under a leash alongside pressures to not act against power theft and unmetered consumption of electricity. States like Punjab are unable to crack down on power theft due to political patronage to the crooks, and hence despite significant improvement in technical losses the problem persists. Others like Rajasthan withdraw increased tariffs and metering connections of farmers entirely due to political considerations. What is often missed in this hyperbolic politics is the fact that assured power is what farmers seek, for which they shall be willing to pay. Pumps and tubewells are being run on adulterated expensive diesel, and power supply to them shall actually reduce their operating costs significantly. Sadly, populism rules. Because states were not technically responsible for the discom debt but were seen as the sovereign guarantee for it, banks continued to finance this bad politics, and states got away by not showing these losses on their own budget balances. Now that the states will have to absorb the debt and also meet the requirements under their own fiscal deficit targets, we may see a real dent being made in the area.

UDAY potentially has the power to transform not just the power sector but also significantly improve the financial positioning of banks and non-banking financial companies in this country. So far ten states have joined, and this includes the big fish like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The much sought UDAY (sunrise in Hindi) of the power sector may finally be on the horizon; however, the problems can continue forever if this politics of subsidy and shielding bad behaviour is not curbed right away.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Are the Chennai Floods A Signal of Changing Climate?

An ariel view of a submerged Chennai (courtesy: NDTV)

The recent washout that Chennai is nothing short of a catastrophe. It happens on a regular basis in other parts of India; however a Mumbai or Chennai does manage to get our attention in ways we cannot fathom. The severity of the low pressure system has ensured that rain stopped only yesterday, giving the city, the administration and the agencies involved in disaster relief a moment to gasp and bring some semblance of normalcy to people's lives. Of course, the real disaster danger lies once the rain stops and the water begins to subside, as the threat of epidemic manifolds itself in the city. Mind you, so far we have only heard of Chennai - many other cities in Tamil Nadu are faring much worse. Kanchipuram has been completely submerged, and other affected towns are still off-limits to many.

While the rescue and relief operations are going on and the Chennaiites must be commended for rallying together in this time of crisis, a very important question has cropped up due to the timing of this natural disaster with the Climate conference of parties meeting that concluded in Paris only this week. A lot of people are now openly questioning if the events as they unfolded in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu are a signal of a changing climate. The answer is not that simple, because we need a lot of analysis of data that is done by institutes like the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). But what we do know is what needs to be understood in the right perspective.

What we have had in Tamil Nadu is a one in a hundred year event. In hydrology, a one in a hundred year event essentially refers to the likelihood of this quanta of precipitation (rainfall) to occur in a single day. Now what the climate scientists have been saying is that while this particular event may not be a direct result of climate change, the frequency of occurence of such events may change considerably. Instead of one in hundred years, we may see such rainfall once in fifty years or once in twenty five years.

What such events do tell us however is the fact that a changing climate does pose significant problems of a kind we can only imagine. Fighting climate change will have to be a mix of mitigation and adaptation strategies, and our disaster preparedness will have to spruce itself up considerably to manage and respond early to these dangers as and when they are predicted. Another critical aspect is the building up of climate resilience within cities. Currently, our cities are becoming hotbeds of encroachment over natural watersheds, due to which we see repeated incidents across all major cities in India. Guwahati in Assam has to suffer deluges every year, and yet precious little changes there. This has to be rectified especially if we have to be able to live alongside a changing climate. Much of this of course will happen only if we adopt two way channels of communication between the city residents and the respective administration authority that are far more empowered to do so, and are far more aware of the challenges they need to face. A responsive system thus prepared can certainly go a long way in preparing us for climatic eventualities as and when they arrive.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Key Takeaways from Bihar's Elections 2015

In Alliance We Won _ Nitish Hugging Laloo (Courtesy: The Hindu)
The verdict is out, and the combine of Laloo Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and the All India Congress Committee of Rahul Gandhi hanging by the coattails of the other two has swept across Bihar. There are several interesting observations that need to be made in order to understand the trend that was with their alliance against a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led coalition in what was perceived to be a tight race. It is very interesting to note that democracy, equality and liberty are nebulous terms, and their vagueness can be seen in the oddity of the alliances and the outcome of the results. As Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn points out in his book Liberty or Equality, the premise of what constitutes the sense of freedom and the freedom to choose are not necessarily concomitant, and the ideas are certainly at variance as exhibited in the result. That democracy can be imperfect is evident in the fact that RJD is the single largest party in the Bihar legislative assembly, despite all its annals soaked in blood, violence and criminality of the past. A clean slate is what they presumed to start with, but signs emerging within hours from the ground are showing that the old festers may have just opened up if they are any indicators. Nevertheless, the people have chosen. Following key takeaways are however important from this election.

1. The election shows the BJP's inability to increase its voteshare from beyond pre-2014 elections. One must strongly observe how the vote for the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 was not about BJP or its allies; rather it was about putting Narendra Modi in 7 Race Course Road. A comparison from the 2010 position would show that numerically no one moved anywhere. This election eventually became about the others adding up to total more than one side. In states where all key players seem to be hovering around a particular vote share number, the inability to strike harder will hit the BJP. Uttar Pradesh in 2017 will also be an uphill task, even if Mayawati and Mulayam Singh do not ally as was the case in Bihar.

2. Nitish Kumar despite the win of the alliance stands a diminished man. The real victor of this state assembly is Laloo Prasad Yadav. As I had observed earlier, Nitish Kumar's stature is much reduced despite the results, as he compromised on his own principles. However, the dichotomy of how the same people who voted for him voting earlier for the BJP led alliance will certainly not be lost on either Nitish or Laloo. Something similar happened in Delhi earlier this year, and if there were Lok Sabha elections tomorrow we might see the same again, as evidenced in this NDTV coverage of the elections.

3. Since Laloo Prasad is the real winner of Bihar. He will extract his pound of flesh, and would certainly not have forgotten how Nitish Kumar backstabbed him in 1993. The oddity of the combine that has won is clearly not lost on anyone. I would give this government just upto 2019 at best, when a PM-ship carrot shall be dangled before Nitish Kumar to unseat him and place one of Prasad's sons instead. The palace coup is just around the corner for Nitish, and he shall be caught unawares much like King Lear.

4. The BJP needs to perform economically. Period. Getting involved in unnecessary discourse politics when the people are impatient for reforms and its impacts is just not what the doctor has ordered. When Arun Shourie had criticized them with the analogy Congress scaled+cow=BJP, the party was quick to brush them off as the angst of a frustrated man. The fact remains that he had rightly stated that the government needs to unleash reforms and not be subject to state elections, especially when much of what is needed to set India right DO NOT need any Parliamentary action whatsoever. Undertaking reforms only after a defeat is no different than throwing a punch in a bar fight after you got pummelled, and people are certainly frustrated with the party's clumsy, slow, stalling efforts to reform. Reform CANNOT be a marathon in a country that aspires for bullet trains.

5. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are directly responsible for the defeat. Engaging in a street fight each time does not make sense. Paucity of campaigners is not an excuse for indulging in crass exchanges and negative campaigning. The inability to distinguish their product from what Nitish Kumar was selling (to use marketing language)  proved very costly. Packages are a joke, and influence nobody whatsoever. Instead, efforts to explain how private investment and jobs shall be brought into Bihar could have perhaps created an alternate vision for an aspirational Bihar voter. Pitting that against a state-led development agenda belonging to a socialist mindset could have made a difference. That is what won them in other states.

6. Congress party at best managed to hang by the coattails of Laloo Prasad's victory. Despite the sharp rise in seats, the party managed to still be only the fourth largest in the state. That says much about the Congress' inability to use a wave in its favor as it says about Rahul Gandhi's weird strategy. Parachuting in and out certainly did nothing to take up beyond the 21 seat mark, which was around 22 prior to 2005.

Congratulations to the victors. It is your day today.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sri Lanka: The New Country - A Fine Example of Good Reportage


In March earlier this year I had gone to Colombo in Sri Lanka for work. Coincidentally, it followed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's successful visit to the country that had elected a new President, Maithripala Sirisena a few weeks earlier. While I drove around in taxis and visited offices, courteous Sri Lankans, of Sinhalese and Malay descent, kept talking to me in pidgin English about how they find our new PM fascinating, and how Indians generally are seen as good friendly neighbors but for the destructive Sri Lankan Tamil politics practiced by Tamil Nadu politicians. I was witness to a post-engagement lunch in the restaurant where I ate of a Tamil couple, being served with prompt attention by the mostly Sinhala staff. Much of it then made me wonder whether much of the reportage as I saw for Sri Lanka and its problems in the post-LTTE phase deserved attention.

In this context, I decided to pick up a book written by Padma Rao Sundarji, an old Indian hand of South Asian journalism (mostly for the German language media) curiously titled Sri Lanka: A Country Revisited, which confirmed many things that I had on my mind. It also made me partially re-orient my position on specific events of the past, thanks to excellent, objective reportage.

As I follow events in Sri Lanka (for work purposes) I also get to learn about the country's ever-evolving political and social fabric, and much of what I read in the book clearly corroborated the trends that I had been observing personally as a zeitgeist, starting from the time of my visit. While the political economy of Sri Lanka continues to hurt the potential of the country in bad ways, the social dynamics have changed towards the demand for political rehabilitation from Sri Lankan Tamils. Sirisena's election saw nearly the entire cross section of Sri Lanka's politics come together on a platform - Sinhala chauvinists, Tamil separatists, Buddhist fundamentalists and even Muslim groups. This clearly showed the yearning for two things - moving on in the country with a final settlement of disparities and distrust; and also tackling cronyism and corruption within the existing government so that economic growth benefits everyone. Ms Sundarji's talks with a cross-section of society shows the common aspirations that unite into a voice of change across ethnicities and religious groupings. Sri Lanka is seen as a country of two monoliths by lazy journalists and fashionista intellectualists across the world, and even in India (a theory I personally have since junked), and the author does well to highlight these differences through her anecdotes. Justice Vigneswaran's election as Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council is a watershed in Sri Lankan politics, and the sections dealing with that are a prime example of objective reporting. Contrast that with the foolish rhetoric our media undertook with 2014 general elections, and you seethe infantile, facetious, half-hearted and often sloppywork of our so-called eminent journalists. While the book does not explore all the ethnic groupings of Sri Lanka and their understandings due to strict adherence to the theme, it does capture the contradictions that Sri Lanka, much like India, possesses within itself. For instance, her talk with Tamil speaking Muslims of Batticaloa or her chat with Jaffna's Tamil Buddhist Society head are a fascinating insight as to just how complex the country is.





Padma Rao Sunfarji discusses in depth the atrocities committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and meets surrendered senior leaders, many of whom were coopted into the government. While many people had problems with this strategy of Rajapakse, these people's voices were also given a chance to ponder and talk about what really went on within the LTTE. Most people now want a solution within the homeland, and the current government would be wise if it can pay attention to what these voices are saying, which seem to mirror much of the ordinary people on the ground say during her repeated visits to the island nation. Another great section of her book is the story on the rehabilitation of former LTTE cadre by the Sri Lankan Army. Like any South Asian army, the standing force in many areas have to deal with a lot of civilian engagement, and Ms Sundarji's reportage captures that wonderfully. Particularly memorable is the repeated emphasis of people on how difficult the former cadre find to integrate into society, subject as they are to discrimination in the time of peace. Many of the contested claims shoddily thrown around in international media also are debunked with statistics in various rounds of meetings by the Army personnel of importance, and even civilian voices are given their fair share to rail against the armed forces, which is not the case with war weary people. The politically aware Tamil people saw development which was denied to them for long under Mahinda Rajapakse, though cronyism also prevailed. The book also highlights in some depth the problem foreign interlocutors posed during the three decade civil war. Without losing objectivity, Ms Sundarji managed to bring to light just how destructive the LTTE, aid workers and the interlocutors proved to be hindrances to peace and development, and overstated the strength of the LTTE to the world, giving an incorrect picture all the time.

I strongly recommend this book to contemporary history afficionados and those interested in understanding current developments in Sri Lanka. Like the author, I also hope that the country, now seeing rapid development and also economic pains, sees lasting peace. The threats still linger; however, ground realities have changed drastically, something the Tamil diaspora across the world also needs to accept. It is a great weekend read thanks to its crisp writing. Please do give this book a chance amidst other 'objective, unbiased' reportage on Sri Lanka floating around these days.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Arun Shourie's Criticism - How Valid Is It?

Diagnosing the Problem - Arun Shourie (Courtesy The Hans India)
Since yesterday evening there are words and acrimonious exchanges flying thick and fast within and without the right wing sphere. Much brouhaha has to do with Arun Shourie's 'criticism' of the Narendra Modi led government, and many Adarsh Liberal Presstitutes have been trying to give a spin to what he said (and did not say) to imply that there was nothing but bluster for Modi. Irony could die a thousand deaths because the very same bunch of people derided him for attacking holy cows of secularism in the past; such hypocrisy is indeed hard to miss. However, there are several layers of subtext that most people have conveniently ignored, especially if one has been following Arun Shourie's assessments over the past year.

Arun Shourie has criticized the government on economic reforms repeatedly. His repeated diagnosis has been that not enough is being done to free the economy. Now it is no secret that the pace of reforms of this government has not been up to the desired mark. However, his points of criticism were and still are primarily restricted to certain key issues - ending tax terrorism, unnecessary political engagement on land acquisition bills, freeing up of the banking sector through reform, appointment and autonomy, and letting public sector companies realize their true worth through the divestment (direct or through holding company method) so that asset capital can be mobilized. In these respects, Mr Shourie has been consistent, and in my own assessment these are things that need redress.

While it is no secret that I do not think much ground has been lost in the fight for the land acquisition amendment, there has been considerable political energy spent in getting through a bill that even sections of the ruling alliance could not digest despite their state governing units saying otherwise. The government did get some things going, like amendments in the Apprentice Act. R Jagannathan has noted how rectification and progress within India's power sector, transparent coal block allocations and even movement within the road and railways sectors has generated enough praise across the board. However, current stalemates to be seen across this particular problem is entirely self-created. Mr Arun Shourie has repeatedly and rightly said that Parliament is not needed for getting the land issue resolved, and economic corridors can easily be created, provided that governments there are friendly and eager to do so. If labour law amendments can be accepted by the Union government as was the case with Rajasthan, there is no reason why the same strategy cannot be adopted for land reforms. .

It is no secret that many public sector companies lie leaderless in this country, and that has impacted their performance. Public sector banks in particular have been victim to this rudderless steering, and cronyism prevailed through much of the past decade of UPA rule. This government launched INDRADHANUSH, the seven step banking reform programme, with much fanfare in August this year, and that is one good step in the right direction; however the ineptness of the finance ministry was evident when within days of appointing outsiders as directors, Arun Jaitley announced a freeze on lateral hiring. In the name of divestment you cannot force Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India to continue investing in rubbish FPOs.

On the tax terrorism issue, much effort is being spent on issuing stupid notices and fighting useless battles in courts and appellate tribunals even now in an effort to boost revenues. As the economist Omkar Goswami rightly pointed out in the book Getting India Back on Track, our effective tax-GDP ratio is already above 30%, thanks to state levies and duties that are never accounted in central fiscal figures, making us one of the most taxed economies. Thus to discover new money (unless hoardes of black money comes back somehow) is not going to be possible in the near future. Instead, ensuring appointments and autonomy in the public sector companies, banks and enterprises through a holding company pattern could help raise far more capital. However, not much has been done by this government except announcements and cabinet approvals.

Another area where Mr Shourie said the government has failed has been the perceived atmosphere of hatred and minority persecution. Mind you, Mr Shourie has repeatedly used the term perceived about it, and has said that the government needs to say much more. However, as R Jagannathan of Firstpost and Swarajya has noted, despite Prime Minister's repeated statements, there has been an attempt to vitiate the atmosphere by harebrained personnel within several media houses. Also, another points of observation made by him was the absence of enough empowered personnel within the government - political and bureaucratic. However, he has noted in the past how we generally have a lack of administrative talent and performing bureaucrats across the board in government. So on this he should have some patience or exhort the government to rely on talent present but unutilized within the BJP like Yashwant Sinha, other Chief Ministers like Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Vasundhara Raje, and push for lateral recruitment within ministries for key administrative and bureaucratic positions instead of just talking about it.

Much has been said about his analogy of this government with the Congress+Cow epithet and his jocular vein on Dr Manmohan Singh being fondly recalled. However, sometimes it takes style to get attention to key points, and Mr Shourie has also in the past repeatedly criticized the Congress, United Progressive Alliance and even Dr Manmohan Singh for being absolutely ineffectual. Overreading the tea leaves only causes dizziness, and acerbic wit has essentially been misread by a bunch of intellectual pygmies as much more than scathing criticism. An old saying by Chanakya goes that keep those who praise you close and keep those who criticize you even closer to your self, and this government would do well to reach out to him and his prescriptions for serious consideration and action. Narendra Modi needs to perform as promised and not get distracted by unnecessary distractions by stamping his touch, which many people today miss.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Adarsh Liberal Nautanki - Nothing Akademic About It

The Nautanki of Nayantara Sahgal - Much Ado About Nothing (Courtesy - The Hindu)

Of late, we have been seeing writers across the board returning their Sahitya Akademi award for great creations. It all started with the niece of the hallowed Jawaharlal Nehru, Nayantara Sehgal, followed by people like Ashok Vajpayi, Uday Prakash and many other people, including the likes of Surjit Patar joining the list, totaling to a grand number of twenty one. "Freedom of speech being throttled", "no space for free speech", "vitiated communal atmosphere" are phrases that are being bandied about as reasons for the protest. A cursory examination however demolishes many of the facts that are being loosely thrown around recklessly to vitiate the atmosphere.

Most of the writers have just announced returning of awards. A news report by the Indian Express has specifically noted how many of these 'eminent' writers have been more than eager to announce in the media their protest rather than actually formally notifying the Akademi. In fact, hardly any of them have returned the cash reward they received to date. Ironically, many of them who received the award who are also Padma awardees which is awarded directly by the government, have steadfastly held on to them. Manufactured protest, as Arun Jaitley pointed out, is exactly how one can hence describe it.

The major reason why many of these writers are shrilly protesting is the ending of the culture of patronage that had existed since the time of independence. Patronage in fact went to the extent of allowing a free run on encroaching properties. In August this year, Hindustan Times had reported how artists of 27 families including emiment artists like Birju Maharaj and Jatin Das (father of Nandita Das), who had overstayed in government allotted properties by two decades, were finally shown the door by the government. Also, a Parliamentary panel had noted last year how the functioning of cultural bodies associated with the government of India in some way or the other needed clean-up. In the words of the Parliamentary panel (headed by Sitaram Yechury),

"But, unfortunately, these institutions over the time are alleged to have developed the vested interests monopolised by a few persons or groups who have earned titles of culture vultures or culture czars. Their products are described as being uninspiring, not showcasing the composite culture of India,"

which points to serious foul-play going on within these organizations, of whom many of these eminent writers and personalities are active participants, as governing board members, presidents and many other positions of authorities. Clean-up has clearly been initiated, and those whose hands are the dirtiest are perhaps the ones who are screaming the loudest.

The hypocrisy of these people who are returning awards is more than evident. Sample this statement from Nayantara Sehgal. When asked about why she never returned the awards during other riots, she stated that "this is different, now we have a Hindutva government' which can only be described as bizarre if not downright inane and only makes the 'eminent' writer look like a dolt. Another writer returned in protest to say that MM Kalburgi was murdered by Hindu fanatics, whereas none of that has been proven to date. In fact, the person of interest who should really be questioned is the Karnataka state government which could not ensure his safety despite repeated threats. Law and order is a state subject, for which the Union government CANNOT be held responsible. The so called vitiated atmosphere rather is being created by a bunch of retarded media professionals whose ethics along with those of the writers have been rightly questioned by others repeatedly. None of these people had a conscience clearly when Taslima Nasreen was threatened by Akbaruddin Owaisi, when Joe D'Cruz's book was withheld by Navayana as he stood publicly against their position on Narendra Modi, and many other situations where their presence was marked by their repeated silence.

What makes it even more laughable is the fact that all this protest on free speech threatening is generating so much debate and deliberation that the logic flies back into the face of these buffoons. The nautanki of the Adarsh Liberal is more than evident here, and there is clearly nothing Akademic about it. The sooner they stop, the faster they will stop becoming the laughing stock of common people who find them absolutely facetious.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

वीर रस

नव युग के नव प्रभात में
नव पंकज तुमको है खिलना
रंग प्रकाश सुगंध भाव संग
क्षण भर भी विक्षन्न न होना

स्मरण करो उन बलिदानों को
शूल छिन्न उन अपमानों को
मत भूलो इतिहास की वेला
क्या कुछ नहीं है तुमने झेला

चक्र चला है आज अनोखा
समय द्वार पर पालक देखा
सत्य बधिर, मूक कण्ठ धारे
चहुँ ओर माया का फेरा

शब्द असत्य, चित्र असत्य
कण कण में है घोर असत्य
अंतःकरण को कर भ्रमित है
मिथ्या की पाशों ने जकड़ा

अवसर आज, अस्त्र भी साथ
कर में थाम तू कर प्रहार
मिथ्या के पाशों को काट
कर स्वतंत्र तू सत्य को आज

हुई पराजय बीते कल में
छीनो उससे विजय को आज
करके पलटवार पुनः तुम
सत्य का दामन थामो आज

देखना तुम, इस बलिदान से
विजय पताका संग के साथ
नित्य संघर्षरत रहो तुम
अवसर मिलेगा फिर न आज

नव युग के नव प्रभात में
नव पंकज तुमको है खिलना
रंग प्रकाश सुगंध भाव संग
क्षण भर भी विक्षन्न न होना

Monday, October 5, 2015

Indian Media's Unprofessionalism Has Reached New Heights

Isn't it surprising that we have people shouting themselves hoarse on absolute non-issues in India just to ensure a slant in the coverage of India? Well it should not surprise anyone. However the examples are just so many that one can lose track of the shoddiness (perhaps deliberate) in presenting half-researched stories as an 'alarming Hindutva fringe attack on India'. Sample these:

1. A girl in Mumbai who works in a media house shouted herself hoarse claiming she was denied a house because she is Muslim. The media went overboard and pointed how intolerance is rising within India? We had editorials and discussions by the hallowed likes of Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai extolling secular values. However, research done by Mid-Day, a Mumbai based paper showed that the real matter was something else. Apparently, the girl had already lived in the same apartment for over two years and was having problems with the broker of the apartment. In fact, there were Muslim families comfortably living in the building complex, thus throwing cold water on preposterous claims. However, no follow up or apology given to the people for misrepresenting facts.

2. The media lost their mental stability last year over purported vandalism and attack on churches in the capital city of Delhi. News channels such as the shrill Times Now and groups like the Times of India did not even bother to look at statistics when they screamed that Christians are under attack in Modi's India. Protests were also carried out due to the constant screeching that all news channels indulged in, making people wonder what is going on. Particular person of interest in this case was a certain Sreenivasan Jain, who has been known for selective statistical games, which either betrays his poor understanding of mathematics and statistics or shows some vested interest in generating falsehoods. Contrary to the fiction generated however, the cases were just random incidents of robbery or accidental fire. In fact, far more temples and gurudwaras in Delhi have been subject to robbery and vandalism as they cannot afford CCTV cameras unlike the plush churches. Again, we have had not one retraction, apology or even correction on the reports.

3. The whole beef eating controversy raging right now in Dadri is another prime example of really irresponsible, shoddy and vindictive journalism vulgarly displaying itself. Just looking at the khap panchayat of the 'morally conscientious'  Barkha Dutt has once again relied on not even a ground report from a place barely seventy kilometers away. Of course, there is just no chance to believe that the FIR which has no mention of beef eating as a cause for the skirmish, has no validity in Modi's India, even if the police is under the jurisdiction of the 'secular' Samajwadi Party ruled Uttar Pradesh. Of course, there is no need to research - let us just write obituaries to the dead  tolerance of this country, as beautifully worded by Sandiy Roy. Of course, personal vendetta cannot be a cause, since only liberal journalists are allowed to have it, that too against Narendra Modi. The media also does not, in its usual shabby style, tell us that in many states the ban is High Court enforced, and has nothing to do with the government that is now in power either at the Center or in the State. Previous government orders did not even catch the eye of jounalists who are always thinking of 'fine lines and rising intolerance at this point in time', as evidenced in this tight slap that Devendra Fadnavis delivered, if there ever was a literal version of it on the whole Paryushan restriction in one ward of Mumbai for respecting Jains, a miniscule minority with significant population in Mumbai. Neither is there ever any coverage of how mid-day meals were stopped in Malabar region in Kerala during Ramzan.

These are just three cases that I think are essential to highlight just how irresponsible the Indian media has been. The only plausible explanation to it is that some 'eminent journalists' are just blind with rage on not having access to corridors of power anymore. Frustration can lead to lack of attention at work, which is evident in the absolutely facile journalism on display. However, creating an atmosphere of intimidation and spewing venom incessantly based on sheer rumor and misinformation is not only irresponsible but also liable to criminal action, which seriously needs to be examined. It seems like an attempt to create a polarized environment where there is none, and concoct a divide that is artificial just to influence certain events. However, behaving like cretin, the English language media and its eminent personalities are being nothing else but irresponsible. This is not the first time; however it has reached new heights and needs self-censorship. These incidents are just a sample to demonstrate precisely why media's credibility has reached a new abyss of which they are clearly not coming out any time soon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Repo Rate Cut - What Does It Mean for India?

"My name is Raghuram Rajan and I do what I do" - Rajan in a decisive mode (Courtesy NDTV)
Raghuram Rajan, the hallowed Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), caught everyone by surprise today by announcing a 50 basis points (bps) cut in the repo rate, which is down to 6.75%. While the corporate world can sing hosannas about capital now being available and bankers can go gaga in turn while slashing their own rates, there are a couple of points that can get overlooked in this hyperbole, and need to be seen at carefully.

The RBI has clearly noted that the availability of capital can be a potential problem in pushing for economic growth, due to which the forecast was redefined. It is particularly telling that the cut has come at the time of the initiation of disbursal of loans to small and medium enterprises under the MUDRA scheme. The cut complements the initiative of the government and its funded banks very well. This also shows that the RBI governor, unnecessarily labeled as a hawkish governor, has seen enough data to be convinced with the need for a rate cut, and that the rate cut can go towards the correct target audience. The governor has also pointed out that the banks need to pass on the benefit of the previous cuts as well, and has specifically stated that banks need to reduce lending rates by a total of 125 bps, which can bring big relief even for the real estate sector among others.

The RBI has pointed out that their growth forecast for the Indian economy has been slashed downwards from 7.6% to 7.4% . With Mr Rajan clearly stating that the RBI has done all that it can in terms of its monetary policy manoeuvring, the onus is now on the government to remove structural bottlenecks from the economy. The starting point for the same can be the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which can easily boost the GDP by a few percentage points. Another area can be the dilution of government stake in public sector enterprises and market linked re-capitalization of public sector banks, both of which hold promise to reduce government's fiscal targets. The RBI is optimistic about the fiscal deficit target, and it is now upto the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to live up to the hype created by the move. The governor has still sounded a word of caution on the prevailing global turmoil, and Mr Jaitley needs to now rise to the occassion.





Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Overkill of Bihar Elections by Mainstream Media

I am going to stick my neck out and say that the Bihar elections are being oversold by the media as a mandate on one government or the other. There are several reasons to it, and we shall examine them in some depth as follows.

1. Bihar has a footprint on national politics
Not anymore. With the creation of Jharkhand, the number of seats in the Lok Sabha from the state of Bihar came down from fifty six to forty. That makes West Bengal and Maharashtra more important (forty two and forty four respectively) in the national political scenario. Even in terms of Rajya Sabha, Bihar is no different from these states, and even if the state assembly elections are lost by the Bharatiya Janata Party in this state, they can make up for the Rajya Sabha numbers through smaller states that they seem set to sweep (Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir and Uttarakhand) within a short span of time.

2. Bihar will decide Narendra Modi's fate
Bihar already decided his fate in 2014. It does not reflect the national mood, nor does it have any impact on how the government behaves. There is an aspirational voter class that will look beyond caste and community, as it has been exposed to much more through its migrant experiences, and their vote in Bihar will certainly hit Rashtriya Janata Dal- All India Congress Committee-Janata Dal (United) hyperbole on caste, injustice and so called economic growth (entirely state expense driven). To add to their woes, fringe players targeting the same voter base have come together under the Samajwadi Alliance umbrella, causing much nervousness to the alliance. Keeping these things in mind, the real decision of fate is for Nitish Kumar, whose very political survival is at stake, as explained earlier on this blog. Even R Jagannathan has observed similar points in his opinion piece on Firstpost. Even if he loses, Modi remains in the center, whereas Nitish and Lalu have to go into political wilderness together, and failure is always an orphan.

3. Bills have been stalled due to Bihar elections, especially land acquistion
The problem with this argument is that land acqusition acts are as much a state subject as a matter that the center can deliberate on. As I had written earlier, it might be a political masterstroke, as the BJP can create a contiguous corridor of rapid growth forcing other states to introspect. One of these states is Bihar, where private investment has not been headed because of the lack of infrastructure. Being a land locked or mineral starved state does not hold gel when one sees Punjab or Rajasthan move ahead in comparison.Neither are these states that have asked for largesses from the Center in the name of adhikaar - rather, they have created investor friendly zones. Punjab is moving forward despite land being many times more expensive than Bihar and agriculture being a priority sector for water resource allocation. So the man who has to answer the most is the man who ruled with an iron fist as he wanted people to believe - Nitish Kumar.

4. Lalu Yadav is an X factor
Not in the least. A cursory glance on Twitterati's reminisces of Lalu Yadav's jungle raaj in Bihar are indicative enough of the revulsion any mention of him staging a comeback generates in even those who sympathize with Nitish Kumar. On top of that, Nitish Kumar has been cut to size by Lalu's public shenanigans, and it has severely diminished his public image, especially after the acrimonious exchanges of the past between the two of them, including as recent as this. Adding to that his inability to contest due to his convicted status, and it is clear that this is one political horse past his prime. Shenanigans of his kind are not popular with people anymore, who do not want cartoons dictating the discourse in the state.

Hence, the media needs to realize just how lost it is on this particular election and its impact on the national scene. The hyperbole surrounding their shrill debates on the same need to be replaced with some sane coverage of important issues. The nation is not interested in Sheena Bora or Lalu's comeback, but it could do with asking why the aspirations of Bihar's youth continue to remain unaddressed.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Land Acquisition Amendment Withdrawal - Hasty Retreat or Canny Politics?

Hum Saath Saath Hain - NDA Chief Ministers Talking to Narendra Modi at a NITI Aayog Meet (Source: Indian Express)
In the din of the last three weeks in Parliament, the amendment to the Land Acquisition Act (2013) was shelved without much notice. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, during his meeting at NITI Aayog with the respective state Chief Ministers clearly stated that states will have to take the lead on this matter, since the issue cannot be resolved at the federal level very easily. The numbers in the Rajya Sabha would never allow the passage of such a bill; also, constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) expressed their reservations on the bill repeatedly. Contentious clauses such as the ones on Social Impact Assessment and minimum compensation amounts were hot potatoes that most political parties think were too problematic to their electoral prospects.While it is a pity that electability has become an excuse for not taking decisions on 'sensitive issues' or stalling them into perpetuity, one has to wonder if the government has done the right thing by calling off the matter altogether.

Will it be classified as a hasty retreat for the Modi government? Hardly. The government has still not put out any statement where withdrawal of the bill in the form it stands. In fact, clause-wise amendment withdrawal was a last-ditched effort to get the Parliament functioning, which an acrimonious Opposition led by the sanctimonious mother-son duo disallowed at any cost. Rather, the government decided to spare political capital on a non-issue that has turned out only because of misrepresentation of facts and the intellectual bankruptcy and ineptitude of the media to understand where assistance ends and cronyism begins. Since the Indian National Congress (INC) made it personal by dragging Sushma Swaraj's daughter and husband repeatedly into the picture, the carping that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went personal as seen by Sushma and Arun Jaitley's pointed jabs is laughable to say the least. However, the government can carry on through the ordinance route as it has been doing on some provisions, and let no difference occur.

Can we classify this move as canny politics? Certainly. States have, under the Seventh Schedule of Article 246 of the Constitution of India, the right to frame laws that supercede provisions laid out by the federal government at the 'discretion of the President'. As can be seen in the case of Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and increasingly Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, many issues like labour reforms and land acquisition policies under the governments of the states, ruled directly by BJP or its allies, pockets of business friendliness are being created. The specific plan as can be seen and pointed out by several experts, is that the BJP and NDA can create exclusive economic corridors amongst themselves and feed off each others' prosperity and well-being, thus creating stretches of developed zones that put the other states to thinking. For instance, as Mihir Sharma (yes, of the Business Standard fame) had said, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa are all BJP or NDA ruled. An exclusive economic corridor amongst them would do magic on a huge chunk of the country's population, and the resultant synergies can put states like Odisha and West Bengal to serious scrutiny. The model of coopetitive (cooperative+competitive) federalism can be bandided by the BJP as the advantages that states can have with the NDA/BJP rule at the state gelling well with the Center, putting significant political pressure on INC, Trinamool and other state leaders.

In either case, the NDA has all the aces up its sleeve. The impacts can be visible within two years, and the Acche Din for one part of the country can unnerve the state chieftains in other parts. This round goes to the NDA so far, and the INC and its allies, even if they want to, cannot beat this formidable yet unexpected challenge.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Can We End This Mexican Stand-Off in Parliament Please?

Last Man Standing - Sonia Gandhi Protesting Outside Parliament During this Monsoon Session
In Parliamentary democracy, it is not that we do not see stand-offs. Taiwan and South Korea's National Assemblies are notoriously famous for the brawls that the elected representatives regularly indulge in. Turkey, Ukraine, Bulgaria are quite famous for their punch-ups, and Jordan has the unique reputation of a member of parliament firing an AK-47 in the building. Kicks, slaps, moshes (oh yes, they look no different), blockades - you name it, they do it. Despite this confrontational approach of the opposition benches, irrespective of who occupies them, business eventually does get done. Vibrancy of the democratic set up gets displayed in a rather perverse manner however; brazenness is considered to be an undesirable trait by everyone, and efforts are never stopped to reconcile the various parties. The effort never stops - not only because there is no intransigence on the part of the ruling party, but the Opposition too accepts the futility beyond headline grabbing of holding national business up for too long.

For all those who have been shouting themselves hoarse on how the current stand-off in Parliament is the fault of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - you are wrong. The roots of this problem do not lie in 2004. Rather, they lie in 1999, when Sonia Gandhi officially became the Leader of Opposition from the Indian National Congress party, which had a strength of 97 MPs at that time. Does anyone even remember the boycott of George Fernandez - first of its kind in the history of Indian Parliament - that was initiated by Mrs Gandhi and her coterie - on the charges of corruption related to misconducts and commissions for coffins purchased for the Kargil martyrs? That is the real root of the whole stand-off that we see today. Ironically, what one perceives to have worked to good use for the Opposition at one time seems to become the panacea for all ills for the next occupant party as well. Ever since 2004, we have seen quite a ruckus created by the BJP benches too. But to rule out the ruling party's contribution during this period is just not possible. L Rajagopal, the pepper sprayer in Parliament, is one prime example of disruption from the ruling benches. Another was the ruckus created when L K Advani during a debate called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government illegitimate. Neither is suspension something unprecedented - Meira Kumar had suspended 10 Members of Parliament from the Opposition benches in 2010 at the behest of Mrs Gandhi, who seemed to remote control every possible position of authority without taking responsibility. Any attempt to have debates on issues of importance were shouted down and rejected straightaway instead of trying to find a middle path. Even now, despite six all-party meetings by the Speaker the Opposition led by Mrs Gandhi refuses to come to the discussion table. In her false belief that the resignations on the floor of the house of Mr Ashwani Kumar and Mr Pawan Kumar Bansal were victories for the BJP in 2014, she is indulging in the same suicidal game, earning only scorn and disgust of the public in turn for wasting public money. Repeated public surveys online, an indicator of the public mood, has shown that people believe the suspension done by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan is appropriate.

This Mexican stand-off is entirely the fault of the Congress, and the sooner it realizes that it stands o slippery slope on this one, the less political capital it loses. Important bills such as the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which it is stalling even in the Parliamentary panel of Rajya Sabha, shows its lack of intent to let the government function at all. Pretentious cries of "return of Emergency" and 'black day for democracy" sounds hollow when the disruption is entirely your fault Mrs Gandhi.

So Mrs Gandhi, now can we please end this Mexican stand-off in Parliament, since there is only one loser irrespective, and that is you and your son?


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Nitish Kumar - Thy Name is Blind Arrogance

The Original Ghar Wapasi of Nitish Kumar (Courtesy BBC News Hindi)
In the Mahabharata, Kurukshetra Parva brings to highlight the aggrieved arrogance of Dhritrashtra. He let the war happen not because he wanted his son to be king; rather, it was his love of power and his perceived right to be king that was the dharmaprasna that needed resolution. Blindness was not just physical in his case. One must also realize that Dhritrashtra's blindness was not just physical but symbolic too - he became blind to the decay of Hastinapura by becoming oblivious to the affairs of the state and instead indulging in holding on to power at any cost.

The reason why I draw the analogy of the Mahabharata is because of recent happenings in Bihar. In a spur of the moment, Laloo Prasad Yadav, that great scion of politics, compared Narendra Modi to Kamsa, a character overlapping between the Mahabharata and the Srimad Bhagvatam. In the midst of it all, Nitish Kumar started playing his own mindgames within and without by calling some random person a snake and compared himself to sandalwood, though clearly it seems that the ploy to brand Narendra Modi ended up branding his one time bête noire and now ally Laloo Yadav as the black venomous cobra. As the Bihar assembly election heats up, the jibes are only getting sharper, and the rhetoric shriller. However, much has to be made of the man named Nitish Kumar, who is currently the Chief Minister of Bihar, and is witnessing its slide back into ignonimy.

Surviving  the 2014 Tsunami (Courtesy Niti Central and Manoj Kureel)
Bihar is waking up to the same nightmare that it had experienced in the nineties when the might of Laloo Yadav, who was brought in by Nitish Kumar's coterie as a backward candidate like Karpuri Thakur, came to the fore. The term jungle raj is a very mild term for what he managed to achieve - utter disregard for law, scant attention to economics of the state, and complete chaos in terms of trying to turn the tables of caste supremacy. If Mr Yadav is credited for breaking caste monopolies in Bihar, I disagree strongly - one forgets the never ending fight between the Ranvir Sena and the Maoist Communist Cadre (now merged into the Naxal movement) that was witnessed much like Nero fiddled as Rome burnt to ashes.

Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister is not covered in glory either. The Education Department of the state, which reports directly to him, saw a recruitment scam that put the Haryana saga to shame. Twenty thousand teachers with forged degrees were hired by Mr Kumar's government, wilfully blind to what happens to the already dead education sector of Bihar. Unlike Haryana, where the then Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala anda his son went to jail, Mr Nitish Kumar has been chafing in even getting an inquiry started. Ever since Law and Order came back to his party post his divorce from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Parivar Chief Minister's government has seen crime statistics shoot through the roof. All this while he installed a puppet, Jitan Ram Manjhi, in order to kill two birds with a stone - win back Dalit votes while also pretend atonement for the loss of face for Janata Dal (United) in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And in the desperate attempt to hold on to power at any cost, he buried his differences with bête noire Laloo Yadav, at the cost of much public ridicule and loss of face. All this while the state continued to go from one low to another in all areas.

Fact of the matter is that Nitish Kumar today is a pale shadow of his former self. He never had voter credibility, since he comes from the Legislative Council of Bihar, and has not contested Assembly elections to date. His plan of going against Narendra Modi was driven by an over eager media eager to portray him as a consensus candidate for Prime Ministership from the National Democratic Alliance despite having no seats outside Bihar in the Lok Sabha. Nitish Kumar fell for the idea, and since eaten much humble sattu, for which he has paid much politically. His recent dalliances with Arvind Kejriwal is in the hopes that Kejriwal's sway over Purvanchali voters in Delhi may also rub off in Bihar in an effort that is pulling no stops. And in the midst of this attempt to save his relevance in Bihar and in the national political scene, the man is turning a blind eye to the various areas that need immediate attention. However, his sense of being the rightful claimant to the Chief Ministership has been coming to the fore in the arrogant mannerisms on display in recent interviews, which makes one view him with a mix of anger, disgust and utter pity, much of which one feels for Dhritrashtra of Mahabharata.

And so, while the land of Panchala slides into a never ending abyss, the Mahabharata is being scripted all over again. This time, like always, there are no victors - only losers. And Nitish Kumar, whether he wins or loses this battle, lost the perception battle long long ago. Thy name Nitish Kumar is not Nitish Kumar, for you are the modern day Dhritrashtra - blind to the decay taking place, while arrogance of the self assumed right to power has gone to your head.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

फ़सल

बोलो, किसने करी आज
पंजाब की ये फ़सल ख़राब?
मिलता नहीं आज मुझे
कहीं से भी कोई जवाब

डाल किसने कालिख़ आज
ये मिट्टी करी यूं अज़ाब
किसने ज़हर के धुएं से आज
धुंधलाया पूरा दोआब?

ये कैसी खाद लगा गए
है लहलहाते खेतों में
के रोती रहीं है अगलों की
मौत पे सैंकड़ों माएँ आज
ये कैसी सांसें ले रही है
आज की गुमशुदा पीढ़ी
सरसों ने भी खिलखिलाने से
किया आज यहाँ है इनकार?

ये दरिया में आज घोला किसने
है ऐसा जानलेवा सा अज़ाब
के सुबह सवेरे आज लेता
हर कोई घूँट अंग्रेजी शराब?
पनीर दूध दही मक्खन
की रोटियाँ हुईं कहीं ग़ुम
बस चाहिए आज तीनों वक़्त
वो मीठे ज़हर की एक ख़ुराक

बाजरे की इन सिट्टों को
आज कर गया है कौन राख़?
ये काँटों की सेज कैसे
बिन जाने बिछ गयी आज?
किसकी बुरी नज़र लग गयी पंजाब को
सूख के मिट्टी हो गए उम्मीदें बेहिसाब

बोलो, किसने करी आज
पंजाब की ये फ़सल ख़राब?
मिलता नहीं आज मुझे
कहीं से भी कोई जवाब

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Facetiousness of Arvind Kejriwal

I am Big Brother - Arvind Kejriwal in an Accusatory Moment at the Auto Rally in Delhi (courtesy Financial Express)
For all those people who do not quite grasp logic on the subject of Arvind Kejriwal, please close this webpage right now. This is not meant for you, as stinging arrows of criticism are something that thin hides cannot protect. Or you may wish to continue, provided you are no different from a pangolin.

The last ten days have been spent in an unnecessary wrangle, where the government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi have shifted from purging people from the Party to finding newer more exciting ways to stay relevant in the media. A ten day temporary posting has been selected for the battleground, and swords have been drawn against constitutional bodies, using such aide-de-camps as five star legal activists to prove that Mr Arvind Kejriwal is being prevented from ushering in utopia into Delhi. Of course, the truth is far removed from what Mr Kejriwal and his menagerie are insistent to obscure to the greatest extent possible.

Facts fly in the face of argument, as is evident from the chain of events on record. Firstly, the particular IAS officer of the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram and Union Territorie cadre that the Chief Minister of Delhi had requested for the post of Chief Secretary was transferred to Delhi from Goa by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, thus already giving him the officers he wanted. In the meantime, a ten day period was to be filled by appointing a temporary Chief Secretary, and two IAS officers were shortlisted out of a pool of four for the same. Seniority was not the issue in appointing the acting Chief Secretary however; it was a delay till May 15, 2015 by the Government of Delhi in responding to the Lt. Governor's suggestions that Mr Najeeb Jung, the honorable L.G. of Delhi, went ahead and announced the appointment. In the meantime, Rip van Winkle woke up and realized to his horror that governing Delhi is little more than being the mayor of a glorified municipality, and decided to take head on the appointment row by slandering Ms. Shakuntala Gamlin roundedly as being a crony capitalist sympathizer in the garb of Delhi's Power Secretary for so many years. Of course, true to the style of an Orwellian Animal Farm, Mr Kejriwal refused to point out key facts, like the Delhi government being a a board member shareholder of the power distribution companies (discoms) of Delhi.

Whatever one may say, the underlying fact remains that Mr Kejriwal just realized how little he can really do in Delhi. After having promised a flight to paradise aboard Pegasus to Delhiites, he has woken up to the grim reality of the clipped wings of Pegasus. To expect anything of him being an antagonist may be unfair to him. However, truth of the matter remains that none of his promises have taken off ground so far. Having been caught in the maze of authority and jurisdiction, Mr Kejriwal is now squirming for a way out, and the way things move, it would not be astonishing to see him leave the chair in a huff again. Moreover, there has been a drop in the party funds along with the ugly press that he personally garnered thanks to his pursuit of purges of key founders through the route of slander and defamation. A media savvy Kejriwal realized that there is thorough disappointment with him and his government for doing practically nothing, and he needed a dead horse to flog to regain importance in the bazaar, albeit as a mad megalomaniac. Playing the victim card is an old, yawn inducing habit of Mr Kejriwal. However, a trap of his own making is hurting him here. If Mr. Arvind Kejriwal claims he did not know the rules despite becoming Chief Minister for the second time, it speaks volumes of his attitude to governance and administration. Trying to be another Mamata Bannerjee without having a semblance of her political clout is facetious on Mr Kejriwal's part. So while Delhi sweats out in power cuts to satisfy the ego of a dictatorial man, the drama will continue in front of the cameras, much to the chagrin of the people who voted for the Aam Aadmi Party, full of khaas khaas members.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sheher - Ek Nazar

कभी जागते, तो कभी सोते देखा है
इस शहर को हमने ग़ुम होते देखा है  

ईमारतों के पीछे छुपे हुए वो बाग़
हवेलियों महलों के टूटते हुए टाट
अजी दो मंज़िले को ग्यारह मंज़िले से उलझते देखा है

इस शहर को हमने ग़ुम होते देखा है

मोटर और टांगों की खीँचातान भी है
शोर-ओ-ग़ुल में सुकूँ भी कहीं है
नवाबी शौकियों को भी ख़ार खाते  देखा है
इस शहर को हमने ग़ुम होते देखा है

सच का जामा ओढ़े झूठ को
बेपरवाह गश्त लगाते देखा है
तहज़ीब के दायरों में लिपटी
जिस्म की नीलामी को देखा है

रात के सन्नाटों को दिन में
हमने ग़ुम होते हुए देखा है
चाँद की चौदहवीं को कुछ यूं
अमावस से गले मिलते देखा है

बस, चंद लम्हात में हमने
कई ज़िन्दगियाँ गुज़रते देखा है
अजी सभी कुछ यहां होते हुए देखा है
इस शहर को हमने ग़ुम होते देखा है  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था
कुछ ख़्वाबों से भरके झोली
गोया ज़मीन पे उतर आया था
कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

यहीं राह पर उस मुसाफ़िर को
हमने गश्त लगाते देखा था
जाने किस कूचे की फ़िराक़ में
यूँ रात की गहराई में
वो अचानक चला आया था
कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

चंद तारों को काली बुक्कल में
उसने नगीनों से जड़ रखे थे
उस बुक्कल की टाट खड़ी कर
झोली खोल उसने अपनी
ख़्वाबों का बाज़ार लगाया था
कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

कुछ निराश, कुछ हताश
और कुछ सुस्तायी आँखें
उससे नींद उधार ले गये थे
कुछ यादों ने भी उसी टाट में
अपना ठिकाना बनाया था
कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

लम्हों की गुज़ारिश थी
की कुछ देर और कारोबार चले
पर चाँद ख़ामोश इतराया था
और बिन कोई निशां छोड़
सेहेर की अंजान राह पे उसे
हमने ग़ुम होता पाया था

कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था
कुछ ख़्वाबों से भरके झोली
गोया ज़मीन पे उतर आया था
कल रात यहाँ चाँद आया था

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Whole Language Debate is Redundant

I have been reading for ages about how English is killing off other languages in India, and how Hindi hegemony is being used to bully non-Hindi speakers. To me, these myths have no standing in today's India. Let me illustrate my own experiences to explain how.

I essentially belong to a family that has Pahari culture. Our ancestors hail from a region called Kangra. However, Kangra has for the longest time been a part of Punjab, and so both our local Pahari dialects and Punjabi have a lot of cultural and linguistic affinity. Since the Pahari culture extends all the way up to Jammu and Bhaderwah, we can even communicate, and have familial links all the way, with Dogri and Bhaderwahi people. My father speaks Punjabi with his Dogri cousins, who respond in Dogri, and laugh at the same jokes and cry over the same sad stories.

I grew up studying with English being the medium of instruction for all my schooling and English is what I say my first language of thought. I had been a long standing advocate of promoting English for various purposes, and still do. However, with time I started to realize that I lacked woefully in communicating with people at large due to my poor Hindi language skills in North India, especially the kind of official Hindi that I see. I forced myself to read Hindi literature of yore, that was based in the Rasa philosophy of India. I must admit sheepishly that I could not understand much, and Premchand opened my eyes along with translations from other languages, to an India I would never get to see from the comfort of my urban home. Reading Acarya Chatursena's masterpiece on Amrapali opened up a door into a history not discussed today in India.

My study of Sanskrit in school helped me retain certain linguistic abilities. Living in Hyderabad I had nearly picked up the verbal Telugu skills to have decent conversations. Of course, after moving out of the city, I lost it. However, the appreciation of languages came in. Also, it led me to ponder over why I was so far away from my own linguistic roots, and I consciously tried to pick up Punjabi, and feel glad that I have developed some skills in the same. Now I can appreciate Amrita Pritam, Surjit Patar and Shiv Batalvi in their language and realize the gems that they have been. Whenever I travel to Maharashtra or Bengal, I find no problems in understanding what people say in their native languages, and in fact understanding of these languages helps me connect with the people more and more.

In essence, in times where Indians are becoming more and more multilingual, and with good if not excellent command over languages, language debates are dead. Of course, the language propoagation at a personal level has done more than all the jingoists put together to teach people the need to learn and reach out and be a part of their own and each others' lives. Let me end this random rant with my own small anecdote.

In Baramati, our team was searching for a hotel that we had a booking in. However, after some questioning from puzzled people, we eventually reached an old man who despite repeated questioning in Hindi by our drivers was clueless about what we were asking. Eventually, I decided to shout out - Bhau! Ya _____ hotel kudhe aahe?".

We got instantly, much to our relief, the correct directions.  And amidst much stares from my team, I .became the hero for the day

Friday, February 27, 2015

आज सिंह गुर्राया है

आज सिंह गुर्राया है
वन में गर्जन छाया है
छुपे श्वान सब अपने बिल में
एक नवयुग उदय कराया है

कर प्रहार, हुए अनेक वार
चोटिल हुआ है बारम्बार
पर अवसरवाद कर तुमने
केसरी को ललकारा है
आज सिंह जो दहाड़ा है
वन में गर्जन छाया है

करो प्रत्यक्ष पर पर्दा किन्तु
दर्पण आज दिख आया है
क्षीण भाव का परिचय बनकर
अपना स्तर तुमने गिराया है
फेर पंजा वनराज ने किन्तु
क्षद्मों को धूल चटाया है

आज सिंह गुर्राया है
वन में गर्जन छाया है
छुपे श्वान सब अपने बिल में
एक नवयुग उदय कराया है

Sunday, February 22, 2015

मृत्यु तू आरम्भ है

मृत्यु तू आरम्भ है
एक अनभिज्ञ आभास का
अभय हो अब आलिंगन कर
करें त्याग हम श्वास का

जो ज्ञात न हो हमें
क्यों व्यर्थ चिंतन उसपर करें
अंतिम क्षण तो पूर्वविधित है
हर मनुष्य के प्राण का

भ्रांतियाँ घेरें अनेक हैं
इस जीवन के दर्पण पर
मात्र एक सत्य कर स्वीकार
करें आह्वान धर्मराज का

मृत्यु तू आरम्भ है
एक अनभिज्ञ आभास का
अभय हो अब आलिंगन कर
करें त्याग हम श्वास का

Saturday, February 21, 2015

वीर-रस

चलें हैं फिर आज हम तो
पुनः सत्य के शूलों पे
उतरें हैं फिर आज हम तो
पुनः अग्नि के कुंडों में
अवगत थे न हम कभी
जीवन की किसी सरलता से
मरुस्थल में पुष्प को खिलाना
वीरों से सीखा है हमने

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

प्रेरनागान


वीर निराश तू कभी न होना
युद्ध से विचलित कभी न होना
अवगत हो अपने साहस से
अंतिम समय बंधे ढांढस से
अन्त निकट अभी नहीं तुम्हारा
उगा सूरज, हुआ उजियारा

जलती चिता में बुझते प्राण
काल आहुति मांगे बलिदान
किंकर्तव्यविमूढ़ न होना
हँसमुख होकर आगे बढ़ना
जीवन नाव कर तटस्थ तुम
पृथ्वी पे फूलों सा सजना

घाव अनेक, पर मृत्यु एक
स्मरण रहे यह क्षण प्रत्येक
वीरों को शोभा नहीं देता
रणभूमि की वेला छोड़ना
रथ सवार कर धर्मराज का
अंतिम चरण में भागी होना

वीर निराश तू कभी न होना
युद्ध से विचलित कभी न होना

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

नव इतिहास को फिर दोहराएं

थका तन, निराश मन
अश्रु और लहु के कण
अनगिनत बार हमने बहाये
यत्नाग्नि में हारे जाएँ
स्वप्न असंख्य टूटे हर बारी
चिता बुझी छोड़ चिंगारी
रात्रि के अँधेरे घेरें
करें श्वान मृत्यु के फेरे
पथ प्रतिष्ठित मगर हैं त्यागे
पग पग कर बढ़ते हम आगे
आशा के सूरज की ओर
एक पग हम अब और बढ़ाएं
भय को अट्टाहास मान हम
व्यर्थ की चिंता दूर भगाएं
सिंह की भाँति जीवन को
अपना उपवन हम पुनः बनाएं
विजय पराजय संज्ञान करके
नव इतिहास को फिर दोहराएं

Monday, February 2, 2015

Delhi Elections and the Silly 'Power Games'

Among utter mudslinging, maligning and language spins, elections to the legislative assembly of the state of Delhi are going to happen on February 7, 2015. It is impossible to believe that to elect members of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (which includes the Chief Minister) we are seeing right now competitive populism at its worst taking place, with no estimates of money being given from anyone. One key area that we need to examine is the electricty scenario of Delhi, whereby everyone wants to power their autorickshaws to the chair of Chief Minister of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had ridden the first bid at power on the protest of power tariffs in Delhi.

Fact is that the power scenario of Delhi is a mess to begin with, encouraged by the political opportunism of hooligans of the likes of AAP who believe that freeloading is the way to go. Seeing this, both the Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also been making similar pledges, with rates on offer going down to one fourth of the existing tariffs. Encouraging defaulters to not pay for the sake of an 'aandolan' has been It is pertinent to observe that while Tata Power led North Delhi Power Limited (NDPL) which distributes power to North Delhi has also demanded increased tariffs repeatedly, it is always the Anil Ambani owned Bombay Suburban Electricity Supply (BSES) subsidiaries in Delhi that are targeted. Clearly, invoking the Ambani name goes well with a certain bunch of India's 'intellectuals', most of whom are housed out of New Delhi. This is in contrast to the NDMC areas, which freeload on power tariffs being paid are one fourth, but rely heavily on central government's subsidy. Unless the state debt is allowed to balloon, in the light of burgeoning migrant population, Delhi shall join the auspices of Poschim Banga, Kerala and Punjab in racketing up a huge debt. It will of course be great fun to see the CM of Delhi, much to the delight of several other states who think it is like a spoilt brat, sit with a begging bowl in front of the Prime Minister's office.


Paying the correct price for electricity in Delhi has always been a matter of great political debate. Most people don't know that right across the borders of the city of Delhi, residents of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and other nearby states have been paying much higher per unit prices. Despite that, the electricity scenario is for all to see. Also, most of these distribution companies are owned by the government and not private players, creating monopolies. The real method to reduce tariffs in Delhi will be to introduce competition, much like the manner in which mobile services companies have been forced to reduce call charges. If people are interested they can check up the tariffs charged by various power generation companies, which has been a result of two things - grid dependence on coal and increasing demand between states. With the increases of the power generation costs in India, is it any surprise that end user tariffs will increase? Despite claims by several news channels in India like NDTV, one must also realize that most thermal power plants in India are already running past their dates of decomissioning, and that impacts their ability to generate power. So either we all pay more income tax, and all of us including those who claim to be poor or farmers, pay tax, or we finance upgrades and new plants through the increased tariffs.

Another aspect that everyone forgets is that cheap power is one of the contributing factors to the drastic drop in groundwater tables, since the pump dependent water economy of urban and rural India for agriculture has had to its advantage such harebrained ideas as free electricity in the absence of canals and other water harvesting and supply structures. Punjab has seen the impact of free electricity and the overall economic ruin it has had to suffer consequently. Haryana tried this experiment only to realize just how dangerous it was, and is now abandoning it amidst much protestations and outrage leading to litigation.

However, instead of trying to address the elephants in the room, our political parties are hellbent on populism.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Iranian Blind Spot of Intellectuals


The death of the Saudi King Abdullah has generated a lot of debate heat across the world. In love, as in death, the Kings have always been a point of much debate for a large number of those vying to be called intellectuals who decry Saudi Arabia's human rights violations. We are being three days enlightened over Rauf Badawi's shocking sentence, whereby a ten year prison term is to be supplemented with fifty lashes per week every Friday after evening prayers in public. Stories of daughters being imprisoned or of terrorists being funded in some way or the other keep surfacing. Much ridicule is hurled at the kingdom for its medieval thinking about women rights and the rights of modern day slaves.

The problem with much of this much justified criticism is just one. What is sauce for the goose is just not sauce enough for the gander in the eyes of liberal intellectualism. 'Intellectuals' often talk glowingly about Iran's defiance of the West, particularly the hotbed of capitalism and greed, United States. In their admiration for Iran and it's geo political games, there is often times rank ignorance for the heaps of human rights violations that happen on a daily basis. Just as in Saudi, a woman's testimony is considered to be half in worth to that of a man's. Women can't be seen alone in public without a male relative, since single women can't be trusted to be moral enough. Democracy is just as much a sham - the Ayatollah's supreme council can veto anything.

Very few people would know that the institution of Grand Ayatollah itself is racist like much of Iranian society, since only he who can trace his ancestry back to Fathima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), can be anointed one. Hence, only someone who is of Arab descent technically can be good enough to lead Iranians on to the path to spirituality. Any challenge to the insulation, particularly from Qom, the real spiritual center of Iran, is dealt with an iron hand. Sufis, minorities, homosexuals and dark skinned people (kaka seyaheh) are all subject to purges akin to Chairman Mao's regime.

Those decrying the death of Saudi King Abdullah will beat their chests in agony on the death of the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei. This misplaced sense of allying with anyone who really defies the Western powers that be has blinded many of us to the behaviors of regimes. One way or the other, the world has forgotten that the regimes of these two countries are no different in crushing fundamental human rights, and that they are in a battle to the end for supremacy of one sect, one liturgy over the other.

The mirage of an alliance with Islamists to form some kind of Sharia Bolshevik (a term coined by Tarek Fatah) alliance to take on the Devil US had gained quite a bit of credence in recent times. There is a blind spot when it comes to the harassment of liberals in general and Communists in particular, even in Iran. One need not look too far back to know the dangers of trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. To try being a  human Rights advocate when you're begin an apologist of Iran just smacks of double standards. If you can't find fault with one, just shut up.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Ten Lesser Known Places to Visit in Delhi This Winter

It is that time of the year again when the pullovers, shawls and trendy jackets come out in full flair, as people flaunt their stuff across the national capital of Delhi. People love to sit out and bask in the sun, and weekends can see popular destinations dotted by people across the city, like India Gate, Qutb Minar, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Akshardham and Humayun’s tomb among other perennial shopping destinations like Chandni Chowk. But step aside from these popular jaunts, there are innumerable sites that few know about, and tend to be free of the crowds that throng the otherwise popular places.

Chunnamal Haveli, Chandni Chowk
Being the only preserved haveli or old bungalow in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, it belonged to Lala Chunnamal, a Khatri businessman who went on to become the richest man in Delhi and whose wealth was envied even by the likes of Mirza Ghalib. Do check it out for its beautiful architecture and lavish interiors, that take you back in time, thanks to the descendants of Lala Chunnamal who still live in the building.


Yamuna Biodiversity Park, Wazirabad
A quaint home for biologically rich wetlands, grassland communities, a wide variety of fruit yielding species and an abundance of medicinal herbs, it is the last preserve for flora and fauna native to the Gangetic basin in and around the national capital of Delhi, many of which were not seen for more than a century. The Yamuna Biodiversity Park is presently spread over an area of approximately 457 acres near Wazirabad village, and is a refreshing break from the noise and chaos of Delhi as an ideal picnic spot.

Qila Rai Pithora, Saket
Believed to have been built in the twelth century by the legendary Tomar Rajput Prithviraj Chauhan, Rai Pithora, also known as Lal Kot, is the oldest surviving remains that chronicle the city of Delhi. The adjoining area was spruced up into a well maintained garden, and you can stroll through the ruins of the fort. You can soak the sun in plenty, while photography enthusiasts can capture a glorious sunset with great pleasure.

Safdarjung’s Tomb, near Safdarjung airport, Delhi
The last grand Mughal structure to be built in Delhi, it is named after the Mughal governor and later vizier (Chief minister) of the Mughal emperor Safdarjung. Marking the subsequent decline of the Mughals, it is made of sandstone much like a smaller version of Humayun’s tomb, only that it has a brown shade. The beautiful tomb is surrounded by the traditional Mughal char-bagh (four gardens), and is home to an innumerable number of Rose ringed Parakeet, who make up for the lack of noise that this place often has.

Feroz Shah Kotla, near Rajghat
One of the seven cities of Delhi, it was set up by the Tughlaq ruler, Feroz Shah, in the fourteenth century and lies across the road to Rajghat, the crematorium cum memorial of Mahatma Gandhi. A particular but rarely noticed attraction here is an Asokan edict that was moved by Feroz Shah from then Punjab to the tomb, making it the second such edict present in Delhi. Flanked by a garden on one side and the entrance being close to the cricket stadium by the same name, the place has in recent times also become a haunt for several faithful who ask djinns for favours.

Tughlqabad Fort, at Mehrauli-Badarpur Road
Close to the Tughlaqbad institutional cum residential area are ruins of a city that sprawls over six kilometers. Founded by the dynasty founder Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, it was abandoned by Mohammad Bin Tughlaq for the disastrous experiment of Daulatabad soon. Legend has it that the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya had cursed Ghiyas-ud-din that his city would only be occupied by Gujjars, who still live there today.

Asola Bhatti Sanctuary, Mehrauli Badarpur Road
Located on the Southern Ridge, the extension of Aravalli Hills into Delhi, the community land of villages Asola, Shapur, Maidangari, and Bhatti were notified in 1991 as a Sanctuary by Delhi administration. This place is home to several species such as Nilgai, chinkara, porcupines and even Jungle Cat, while being a haven for birdwatchers and lepidopterologists alike especially in winters.

Yogmaya Devi temple and Qutbuddin Kaki’s Dargah, Mehrauli
Two religious places that also signify the communal amity of Delhi, Yogmaya and Qutbuddin’s Dargah are both located in Mehrauli. Yogmaya is an ancient temple where Krishna’s sister who Kamsa had unsuccessfully tried to kill in jail after substitution. The temple dates back to the times of King Hemu, who eventually made way for Akbar’s ascendance to the throne of Delhi. This is the only temple in Delhi to survive Aurangzeb’s onslaught. Around the same time as Akbar, Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, Sufi saint of the Chisti order, came to India and made his base, making it one of the three key centers of Sufi belief in Delhi which is important for Sufis across South Asia. The two are related to each other with a unique festival in October called Phoolwalon ki Sair that signifies the communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims of Mehrauli, and is now Delhi’s official festival.

National Gallery of Modern Art, Janpath (near India Gate Circle)
One of the finest but less discussed places is this gallery that showcases the evolution of modern art in India. It houses some of the rare paintings by the Tagore family, Jamini Roy, Souza, Raza, Hussain and Gaitonde amongst the other Indian masters, and is an oasis of calm in the midst of the anarchic traffic that surrounds India Gate perennially. A must visit for art aficionados and others alike. Of course, pictures are not allowed.

Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial, Singhu Border (GT-Karnal Road)
This is a recent addition to Delhi, and is a tribute to Martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of the Sikhs, who had given up his life against the tyranny of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. The memorial is intended to provide and insight into the life and teachings of the ninth Guru and about Sikhism in general. The place also has a beautiful sound and light show every evening in Hindi English and Punjabi between 6 and 8 p.m.

The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

The Buck Stops With the Duo (Courtesy: Bloombergquint) The fracas in Maharashtra notwithstanding, things are at a critical juncture ...