Funny Things to Ponder

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The power of rupee!

Morning 7 o clock... Amma pulls the bedsheet and says ' Harsha, get up.. its time for your school'.. listening to the last word, I try to think of a reason to avoid going to school.. I say to her that I have a head ache, she shouts back saying ' Its all because of your bad habit of watching TV so closely, now get up and brush your teeth'. I quickly change my mind and say that I have a stomach ache too.. She senses that I am acting and pulls me out from the bed. She puts the towel in my hand and pushes me into the bathroom.
I enter the bathroom and think another day is wasted since I could not make a good reason to skip the school. I take my own sweet time to brush teeth and after some time, a banging sound is heard. Its my younger brother shouting that ' Amma is saying hurry up, come out soon'.
I put my uniform and then head to the hall. Appa gets me ready in no minute and says ' Go out, keep cleaning the scooter. I will come in a minute'. I take out the cloth and start cleaning the good old Bajaj scooter.
After few mins, Appa and amma are at the door with few bags and other stuff. We head to our first pit stop, my school; where the gates are waiting to close on my face to say that ' Boy, you are late again today!'. My dad zooms in his scooter to finally land at the gate at the right time..
As he guides me down to the ground, I say 'Appa, I need some money. I would feel hungry while coming back to home'. He says, "No money. Go home and eat whatever you want'. I stand firm and say I wont go to school. Sensing that gate would close in no time, He quickly searches for loose change and hand over a rupee.
All the pale and gloom in my face transforms into a million dollar smile and I run towards the school gate. The guard shouts 'Run, prayer is about to start'. Tucking the shirt, adjusting the tie with one hand and putting the coin safely into pocket using another hand, I sprint towards the assembly hall. I am there in the Q at the right time before the PT teacher gives me a stare.
All the 8 periods, I kept thinking about how to spend a rupee! I wanted to eat any of bakery items or one of the new chocolate's in town.. I wanted to try the new flavor of lolly or buy one more 'big fun' chewing gum so that I can collect wrappers. I was thinking whether to buy an dilkush, dilpasand, applecake, toast, etc. Actually, the Iyengar bakery had so much to offer that sometimes I felt nice just looking at the glass shelves.
The attender at the Iyengar bakery was little rude and used to cover the glass shelve with an old bedsheet so that boys like us dont end up staring at the shelves. The privileged access was given only when you showed the money to the mean creature behind the shelf.
I was lost in all these thoughts, when the teacher gently tapped on my shoulder and asked me to write my notes in Social science period. I think it was my lucky day since she did not catch me day dreaming.
Looking at my watch (HMT strapazapa one! :-D), I realized it was just one hour left for the final bell. The last one hour looked like one day and finally when the bell rang, I took my bag and ran out from the school.
Without waiting for my friends , I ran across the road and headed straight to the Iyengars bakery. Showing the lone rupee coin in my pocket, I asked him to give one piece of dilpasand. Hot dilpasand with all stuffed coconut, cherries and roasted bread on the top, was one of the favorite at that center. The delightful aroma of these items baking in that center used to attract people around that bakery.
Clutching my dilpasand in the hand, I walked towards home and reached in no time. I was happy to have a dilpasand since I decided what to have and did not have to plead with Appa or Amma about my decision to buy it. I was feeling good about having the dilpasand even though I have eaten it many times before. This was the power of rupee , 15 years before..
A rupee was enough to satisfy all my needs and I used to be happy by having one rupee coin in my pocket. I used to feel enthusiastic about spending it. Today, the same happiness is absent when I munch the 50 rupee pastries in A/C rooms. The same happiness is absent when I visit the numerous coffee days, barista, sweet chariot etc present in every nook and corner of Bangalore.. Bangalore has changed tremendously and sleepy laid back suburbs is a thing of the past. Even the power of rupee !!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Election Introspection

In the 2009 Indian general elections, the Indian National Congress (Congress) won 206 seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 116 seats out of a total of 543 seats. Five years ago, the Congress and the BJP had won 145 and 138 seats respectively.

A jubilant Sonia Gandhi reiterated that Manmohan Singh will be Congress Party’s choice for the prime minister. Manmohan Singh will be the first Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to return to power after a full five-year term. In short, Indian electorate’s love affair with the Nehru-Gandhi family continued.

Most of the poll pundits had predicted a spilt verdict and regional parties would be crucial in forming the government. This was completely dismissed by the “Indian Voter” who chose stability over the change. The rejection of the Left and its brigade would be the best example for the decision made by the Indian electorate.

What went wrong for BJP or what clicked for Congress?

There is a fundamental truth to political communication: it’s never aimed at the society’s elite. I believe that although the campaigns were successful in catching people’s attention once, but they did not convey any message to the public.

Online community is all about conversation and connection. Joining the conversation in a smart, appropriate way, and building those connections is really both an art and a science. It requires very good listening skills, and the ability to show respect to the people who are already in the room, so to speak. Online communities have personalities and inside jokes and dialects that are highly specific to them. So, if we have an ad running where our political leaders are pitching their political campaign, would the user take note of it? It won’t make a difference to the user since he/she is engrossed in the community discussions. Any ad which tries to convey something irrelevant to the community is seen as infringement into the private space.

The BJP ran an aggressive 360 degree campaign on mass media and digital media, but it didn’t work. The Congress ran a traditional campaign with less emphasis on online world; it focused more on movie songs, local rallies and the charisma of the Nehru-Gandhi family, and succeeded. BJP has lost in spite of its brilliant campaign, not because of it. BJP campaign used the right medium: social/digital but calling Manmohan Singh as weak leader made no impact.

The BJP’s campaign was perceived to be negative, filled with personal attacks against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Because the PM is perceived by the electorate to be clean and honest, these personal attacks backfired. Also, the media played a big role in making it look like Singh is handling Advani in tactful way.

BJP campaign managers are always disconnected with reality, if you recollect the India Shining campaign of 2004; it also failed to convert the campaign into votes.

Ok, let’s get back to basics. Five years in opposition should have led to soul-searching within the BJP and the enunciation of a clear strategy to tackle the Congress. That did not happen. The Congress managed public relations and the media better than the BJP. The BJP went for quick fix and tried to position itself in the online world. It failed to connect with youth of India since its campaign did not have a clear strong message. Bringing the black money back to India cannot be a poll issue and does not influence the nation as a whole.

The BJP had no striking agenda. Its issues — terrorism, inflation and unemployment — have ceased to be major issues. The only thing the BJP could think of was speak ominously of money in Swiss bank accounts and this rarely got beyond the English-speaking media.

2009 elections are over. Results are out and introspection has started. Political pundits are wondering whether this is the start of ‘Politics of Youth’ or ‘Death of Communal Politics’. That is the beauty of Indian politics — it is unpredictable. At the end of the day, the BJP was unpleasantly surprised and the Congress pleasantly.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Poverty in India

“60+ years of Independence.” We are still a developing country; we are looked down as place of hungry people. We have enough swanky cars on street; we also have equal number of homeless people on streets of our city. We are posting impressive year on year growth in our GDP, boast about having foreign reserves which runs into billions of dollars. Still, poverty in India is still rampant despite an impressive economic growth. So, why are we not able to eliminate poverty?

In general, Poverty can be defined as a situation when people are unable to satisfy the basic needs of life. According to the definition by Planning Commission of India, poverty line is drawn with an intake of 2400 calories in rural areas and 2100 calories in urban areas. If a person is unable to get that much minimum level of calories, then he/she is considered as being below poverty line. The World Bank uses an income cut off of Rs 21.6 per day in urban areas and Rs 14.3 per day in rural areas (at 2005 prices) to define who is poor.
According to the official estimates, in 2007 there were nearly 220.1 million people living below the poverty line. Nearly 21.1% of the entire rural population and 15% of the urban population of India exists in this difficult physical and financial predicament.

Government has introduced a number of antipoverty programs since Independence to alleviate poverty. One of the major problems with poverty alleviation programs is their implementation. Late Rajiv Gandhi, ex-PM of India once said that out of 100 paisa allocated for poor only 14 paisa reaches them. Even after knowing this, why hasn’t Govt of India taken any measures to plug the loopholes in our system? No political party has come out with figures stating the cost of eliminating poverty and hunger from India?

The reasons could be many and there are many stakeholders to blame. I would concentrate on one of the viewpoints amongst the many existing. The viewpoints which have been repeatedly said “The rich are getting richer” still holds true in our country. This is also the cause for the existence of the poverty.

“The rich are getting richer” not just applies to individuals or wealthy families in India. It is true also in the context of the states and its economic situation prevalent. Competition between the states, especially since the 1991 reforms, has widened the already huge disparities between them. The richer, better-run and more literate states have proved more attractive to investors than the poorer, more chaotic ones. Between 1999 and 2008, the Indian economy grew at an average annual rate of 7.3%. At the same period, let’s have a look at the growth rate of few states in India.

Many richer states grew faster: The top three states clocked an average of 8% growth. From the table below, we can see that the last 3 states in the list grew at an average of around 4.5% These parts of the country are a huge drag on India’s performance.
State Growth Rate (%)
Gujarat 8.8
Haryana 8.7
Delhi 7.4
… …
Bihar 5.1
Uttar Pradesh 4.4
Madhya Pradesh 3.5
Source: The Economist Dec , 2008
Of 260 SEZs that have so far been fully approved, a big majority are in India’s richest states, including 42 in Tamil Nadu, 38 in Maharashtra and 23 in Gujarat.As we read the statistics above, we see that there are 2 trends which lead to reduction in poverty in a state.

One is presence of physical infrastructure which leads to good industrial growth, another is the presence of a highly mobile skilled/semi-skilled work force which would attract the Industries. If a state lacks on both accounts, we see that the poverty is prevalent in larger number. Inspite of having this data,

The Govt of India is yet to realize the effect of Physical infrastructure and Human Resource development in reducing poverty.
This explains, for example, why the World Bank rates India, which is home to many excellent companies, as only the world’s 122nd-best place to do business—45 places behind Pakistan. Inspite of all the tall claims made by the corporate world and the Govt of India about the success in IT and other industries; the reality doesn’t fade away.

“Food Water Shelter”, we are still lagging behind in providing the basic needs of a human being. Without looking at this problem, the Govt is keen on announcing economic packages for Housing, subsidies for the different sectors which do not show a direct impact on the lives and social living of the common man.

Two main approaches to reducing poverty can be identified from India’s experience itself. One is through economic growth which when combined with good initial conditions in physical infrastructure, produced significant reductions in poverty in states such as Punjab and Haryana. The second approach relied on human resource development. This has allowed for instance Kerala to reduce its poverty incidence- through increased exports of relatively skilled labor and the resulting inflow of remittance despite modest economic performance. However, Bihar, failed on both counts; there was too little growth and human resources were underdeveloped. The workforce of Bihar which migrated to other states in India is in news for wrong reasons. The infrastructure in Bihar needs no further comments as the condition is known to all.

Till date, there is no single state which has been able to show equal strides in physical infrastructure and human resource development which has resulted in reduction of poverty. This would be the need of the hour for the future governments to concentrate upon.

Thus, India should reduce poverty in the future, faster and in more effective way than it has done in the past. Higher inclusive growth should be there that increases growth of all sectors and which further leads to faster reduction in poverty. Thus human development and infrastructure development should be followed simultaneously to reduce poverty alleviation. So, the lessons for the future are clear; promote growth and invest in human capital and infrastructure which would lead to reduction in poverty.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Vote for a change this time

I spent the afternoon in the Nehru Park before going to IGNOU campus where a workshop on "Rajiv Gandhi Rojgar Yojna" was being conducted. After the workshop, I took an auto from the Sanjay Gandhi flyover to catch my flight from Indira Gandhi International Airport. The flight landed in Rajiv Gandhi International airport where Jawaharlal Nehru University Vice-Chancellor was waiting to receive me.

Read the above paragraph again. You cannot help but notice that the Nehru family albeit with a Gandhi surname makes up for most of the names for hospitals, airports, convention centers etc., Look around you, and you will find that, most of the government educational institutions, hospitals, roads, libraries etc bear the name of the Nehru family.

India is free from the clutches of British colonial rule. True, but a sneak peek into the Indian history post Independence shows that we are still under the oldest Indian national political party (Congress) dynasty rule. We have witnessed in the past and are also currently seeing a trend where members of Gandhy/Gandhi family are alone who can are portrayed as the only eligible cadre to become the Prime Minister of Indian PM. Dynasty rule is worse than democracy because it does not allow competent leaders to emerge. Why is this family getting all the benefits, perks and the support from the national party which makes tall claims of being secular party?

The Congress party appears to have one aim: to “Be in Power”. To achieve this aim of being in power, it adopts each and every trick in the rule book. Though it calls itself to be a secular party, it has divided the country along the lines of caste, creed and religious lines. It fragments civil society and destroys Hindu school of thought in name of preaching secular values.
The policies made and modulated by it, are calculated to keep the population poor, uneducated and dependent on the government. The license-quota-permit-control-subsidy raj is the monstrous brain-child of the Congress party. The party will go to any length and do whatever it can to restrict freedom — Individual, Political and Economic.

Despite the attempts by of the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) to unite Hindu's under one banner; Congress has made policies to ensure that Hindus are divided for ever. Congress party has made reservations for Hindus based on caste, sect and region, while the rest of the population comprising of Muslims and Christians are divided under the name of minority. It has successfully spilt the Hindus on basis of caste, sectarian and regional differences. It has gone even gone a step ahead and introduced inter-caste conflict within the Hindu fold. The recent measure to extend reservations in Higher education was one such move by Congress. This is primarily targeted at dividing Hindu’s on the basis of castes and creating in a non existent and hitherto unheard of competition for higher education and the jobs created out of it.

For decades since 1947; Congress had a near absolute control of the country. Today, issues affecting common man like terrorism, nuclear deal, systematic attempts to fill all constitutional posts of power, Bangladeshi infiltration, the inability to take on Pakistan, etc have taken a back seat since Congress has shifted its priorities. Considering all these things, I am supporting the BJP in next election. This is the best present available alternative in my opinion to the Congress party. I think that issues put into back seat by Congress would receive a new boost from this alternative. I want to vote for BJP because, I want to see Golden Quadrilateral completed, want to have another mobile revolution, want every state to be developed on lines of Gujarat , want someone who can wield the stick to Pakistan and deal with an iron hand on security issues.

To see the India shining in reality, I have to take some steps and act. The first step is to remove the biggest hurdle to India's growth and development; end the dynastic rule of the Congress party. To ensure that dynasty rule ends, I have to act and exercise my vote in favor of BJP. Also, I will make sure that my family and friends understand why they should support the BJP.
Therefore, I take an oath
"I as a citizen of India, pledge to vote for an alternative that will end the dynasty rule in India and also would request everyone to vote for an alternative".