Friday, 5 September 2014

Modi Sir Ki Paathshala

The afternoon of September 5, 2014 witnessed a landmark event: the Prime Minister's address to students across the country. The innovative experiment was largely seen as a success considering it was the first time a Prime Minister had taken a proactive step to engage with students and the masses through spontaneous speech which emphasised on the role and importance of teachers and their role in strengthening the nation as much as the exercise was aimed to engage with citizens to enroll themselves in the democratic discourse.

Children and youth are a valuable asset as the workforce is determined by the talent and knowledge pool of a country. In 1930, shortly after the celebrated Dandi March, Mahatma Gandhi had said that youth are leaders of tomorrow and it is the young who have to be the salt of the nation. If salt loses its flavour, where shall it be salted? An exercise like the Teachers' Day address will go a long way in making students an important part of the nation building process in a manner where the voters of tomorrow would be self-reliant and wise to map the future of the country. As residents of a mature an thinking democracy, an interaction like the Prime Minister's address to students builds a sense of respect and belonging to the nation, which is vital in a country like India.

India is a country where knowledge is worshipped due to its guru-sishya parampara. An attitude of gratitude raises one's altitude in life as rightly illustrated in the example of Totaka and Adi Sankara. Our teachers are known as gurus and we are taught to revere and treasure their immense contribution towards enriching our lives in our quest to be better individuals. Hence, the renaming of Teachers' Day to a more optimistic "Guru Utsav" brings back a sense of pride which effectively summarises India's guru-sishya parampara. 

The primary focus of the exercise was engagement as the Prime Minister also chose the event to effectively summarise the inclusive aspects of India's democratic culture. As the exercise was simultaneously broadcast in schools across the country, the Guru Utsav address is an effective way to begin with the "Digital India" project that the Prime Minister spoke about. In the first interaction by a Prime Minister, the address did emit positive signals which would allow children to think imaginatively in an environment where even a tea boy could reach the pinnacle of success by being the Prime Minister. The simplicity and honesty with which he answered the questions put to him is indeed commendable, thus proving once again that the moral rejuvenation of any society in any period of history only takes place because of the examples a leader of the nation sets.

The current year brings with it a fresh round of optimism with a government which seeks to engage with all sections promising empowered governance and development. It has been a positive start and would be commendable if such engagement is sought from across societies at regular intervals. Inspiring students to think keeping national interest and acting with a sense of pride and responsibility is a welcome step. As we debate the usefulness of the exercise, it is smaller steps which lead to a larger goal. Hence, beginning with a mission to restore balance in our textbooks and working towards reformation of the education system by making schooling more interactive would be ideal. Until then, we can only look ahead with the hope that the practice continues next year too. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

Modi at 100: Not Out

The concept of "100 Days" was initiated in the United States of America when its President Delano Roosevelt borrowed the term "100 Days" from Napoleonic history to describe the workings of the 73rd US Congress which sat for 100 days from March 9, 1933 to June 17, 1933. Thus, the term came first to be used in a radio address on July 24 that same year. At this juncture, please note that 100 days does not refer to the then US President's tenure but the session of the Congress. 

Since then, 100 days has become an indicator of performance for all US Presidents and is now also being applied to an Indian Prime Minister. A period of 100 days in power is too short for anybody: more so, the Prime Minister of a country especially when Narendra Modi has sought five years to show some results in critical areas like power and the Ganga Clean Up project and ten years, in some areas like infrastructure. While I strongly believe that 100 days is too less a time for announcing major policy decisions or a complete overhaul a bureaucratic system, the least a 100 day stint could do is to set an agenda based on the immediate priorities a government would like to take. 

The country grappled with unprecedented levels of corruption, inflation and paralysis while people sought an escape route to break free from the shackles of the morass. It is, of course possible in the din and euphoria around the possibility of having a new government, we have tasted success in certain key areas. The return of nurses from Kerala who were stranded in Iraq, the refusal to engage with Pakistan for bilateral talks are some of the achievements under the reasonably new Modi Sarkaar. The Prime Minister in his Independence Day Speech also urged investors to make in India, a call which was enough to revive India's sagging GDP growth rate. After nearly 15 years of ruling Gujarat, a challenge set before him was to manage the reigns of a multicultural India and the challenge was to ensure that he delivers within the first 100 days. Now the occasion has past proving both his admirers as well as critics wrong and successfully building a consensus that the incumbent Prime Minister has transitioned from being a chief minister to the most important person in the country smoothly. 

There is no doubt that India five years from now will be a different country from India from what we see today. How and the degree to which the transformation takes place is debatable but there is no doubt that a strong foundation has been laid as the Prime Minister addressed issues of cleanliness, hygiene and women safety. Sure, we are witnessing a new round of nation-building which can be successful only if there is a sense of belonging and individual participation. Summing up, the first 100 days of the Modi Sarkaar have established that Sri. Narendra Modi's focus is more on clearing up the current bottlenecks and expediting decision making rather than interference in major policies. What he will ultimately deliver five years from now is open for debate, but success or failure, it is India that will benefit. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

RIP, Planning Commission!

In his maiden address to the nation on Independence Day, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Planning Commission would meet its end and will promptly be replaced by a policy research think-tank which will be constituted of eminent luminaries in their respective fields. The abolition of the Planning Commission, is a bold step by the government, as it is one of the most important signals which indicate changing priorities as the narrative structure shifts from left-of-centre to a centre-right perspective. The Planning Commission is largely seen as a Nehruvian socialist regime and hence, the end of the Commission is a symbolic gesture to highlight the generational change within the country's polity.

While the media-driven public opinion was certainly that the Planning Commission is an ultimate example for policy paralysis, the reality is different from what the narration says. It is important to clarify that the idea of the new government is not to deride or demolish the legacy left behind by India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru but to fast-track development work in the country and empower the states as our current Prime Minister has consistently emphasised on the need for fast-track growth and development. 

The Planning Commission was initially set up in 1950 by the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to optimise the scarce resource allocation in a newly-independent India. One of the main ideas that the Commission was to draw meticulously done five year plans which are done diligently but rarely implemented. However, India's economic policy underwent a paradigm shift with the 1991 Economic Reforms as we changed from a socialist to a semi-capitalist economy welcoming globalisation, liberalisation and privatisation. The methodology shifted from centralised investment planning to a more directional planning. Thus, the motives with which the Planning Commission was established in March 1950 was becoming redundant as the people quickly adapted to the new changes. 

Throughout the election campaign, the Prime Minister has consistently talked of empowering states by making them equal partners in the growth process. The constant emphasis on the word "federal" represented a key motivation which makes one believe that the abolition of the Planning Commission will mean in restoring the dignity of states and will also simultaneously mean release from the iron grip of the Central Government. The empowerment of states will mean in facilitating economic development within the states. 
The past ten years saw the Planning Commission becoming more of an embarrassment rather than an asset thanks to toilets being constructed, the outrageous debate on poverty lines. The Planning Commission became a political tool which was used conveniently to harass state governments which were ruled by opposition parties and was also seen as a symbol to counter the rise of regional parties. Eventually, the abolition of the Planning Commission comes to a point where states can facilitate regional development through self-sufficiency and proper resource allocation. 

The mandate for the new policy research think-tank should be a holistic vision for the country which could facilitate growth and development on a sustained basis. A state's future is for its government to perform and develop or perish, which is the fundamental point of the incumbent Prime Minister's view on federalism in an era beyond the Planning Commission.  

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Movie Review: Rama Madhav

रमा माधव:नितांत सुंदर प्रेम कहाणी
The 2014 Marathi film "Rama Madhav" by actress-filmmaker Mrinal Kulkarni explores the era of the Peshwa period and particularly from the angles of women. The film is an interesting take on life of Peshwa through a young girl's eyes. The film begins with a 12 year old Rama hailing from a middle-class background in Miraj and being married to the Peshwa prince, Madhavrao during her childhood. The film is a royal love story and it is set against the backdrop of politics, war and the rise of a new era. The film follows the life and coming-of-age Rama and as they grow older, the political scenario changes with the Marathas losing to Ahmedshah Abdali, the Afghan prince in the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, their scheming uncle Raghunathrao who plots Madhavrao's death on not being selected as the heir for the Peshwa throne and the subsequent arrival of the British. 

Shot extensively on sets resembling the Shaniwarwada of Pune, the art direction by Nitin Desai once again stands out. "Rama Madhav" by Mrinal Kulkarni is a film that acquaints us with a lesser known story of selfless love between Rama and her husband Madhavrao Peshwa-I. It is a trip back into the yore with stunning sets, heavy jewellery clad women, finely sketched characters and excellent costume designs. It must be mentioned that the track between Rama and her coming of age is well handled into a narrative which also talks about the political implications for the Marathas. The film's cinematography has been done by Rajiv Jain. The excellence and the fine artistic touch in scenes shot inside the Shaniwarwada in Pune are hard to miss. With a lot of low-angle to mid level shots, the Shaniwarwada looks enormous. The film is rich with interesting characters such as Anandibai (Raghunathrao's wife) whose stories have often been skimmed through in history textbooks. 

Based on the novel "Swami" by Ranjit Desai, Rama Madhav is a rich film with excellent music by the late. Anand Modak. The songs are quite enjoyable and transport us back into the era. The film also sees Ravindra Mankani and filmmaker Mrinal Kulkarni reprising their roles as Nanasaheb and Gopikabai, the roles they played in the TV series "Swami". A special mention to Alok Rajwade as Madhavrao who shines out in a role with his thorough dedication and of course to both the actresses portraying Ramabai (Shruti Karlekar and Parna Pethe) for doing their roles so well.  I want to congratulate Mrinal Kulkarni for successfully accomplishing a movie which involves a lot of research and for living up to the task of completing a period film. 

My only complaint is that while the first half keeps the viewer hooked, the second half tends to loosen and it results in a running time of nearly 147 minutes, which is long by today's standards. Nonetheless, Mrinal Kulkarni's "Rama Madhav" is a commendable effort. Do watch it for its grandeur and also to get acquainted to a part of the Peshwa rule which has been forgotten by history. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Public Private Partnerships: The Road Ahead

The debate on public-private partnerships has largely evoked partisan views. As many developed nations now look at public private partnerships to fund major infrastructure projects, there has been a renewed interest in PPPs not only in India but also worldwide. A public-private partnership offers a wide scope for project financing and innovative delivery approaches through access to capital markets, implementation of new technologies, expedition of project delivery in time-bound phased manners, operations and maintenance in cost-effective ways.
India’s experiment with PPP has been around for roughly 20 years where the focus has been predominantly on asset creation. There is no surprise that most of the PPP concessions have been given to development of national highways and ports. The World Bank cited in its 2011 report that private participation was highly concentrated only in India. It ranks India as the largest market for PPP in the developing world, accounting for over half of the total investments in new PPP projects mapped across developing countries when it implemented 43 projects which attracted a total investment of $20 billion.
The general drivers for interest in PPPs are the use of private finance to provide investment that the public sector otherwise cannot afford, maximising value-for-money through appropriate risk allocations between the private and public sector, attaining greater efficiency, lower costs, higher quality and faster delivery of public infrastructure projects, building capacity of the private sector and promotion of innovation not only in technical and operational matters but also in financial and commercial arrangements.
The country’s first PPP project in railways was the Reliance Infrastructure-led concessionaire Airport Express Line of the Delhi Metro. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had built the basic civil infrastructure and took over operations upon Reliance’s withdrawal. The project had been deep in controversies like failed safety clearances and technical glitches which led to a turf war between Reliance Infrastructure and DMRC on the issue of penalty for delays.
One of the key elements of successful PPP projects is a clear understanding of the proposed asset and prudent risk sharing and rewards associated with the project. Due to inaccuracies in these, risk-sharing and mitigation measures prove inadequate and inappropriate. Better preparation before the bidding process for a PPP project is the key point. It is a known fact that technical data availability and its quality has been a constraint in the way PPP projects are planned across India. Another reason can also be that consultants who are often ill-equipped are selected through the lowest bids.
Public-private partnerships in India fail mainly due to poor preparations, flawed risk sharing, inappropriate business models and poor fiscal uncertainties which are often linked to vested interests thus leading to the rise of a skewed qualification criteria. The solution, therefore, lies in clear understanding of the proposed asset and a careful sharing of risks and rewards associated with the asset to ensure key elements to ensuring a successful PPP project. It is not appropriate to dismiss an entire concept of PPP on the basis of a few failures as each project and the demand it brings forward is different in each sector.
The road ahead for PPP projects in India is proper integration wherein the lesson to learn is that designs and construction should be taken care on the life cycle basis. Better preparation before the process of bidding and transparency with regard to dissemination of technical data and its quality and the elimination of ill-equipped consultants will go a long way to revive investor confidence. Ensuring clearances especially for projects that have led to a slowdown due to delays in decision making. The new government at the helm of affairs in Delhi should mend the problem of delayed decision making and implement projects which have been stuck due to slowdowns even more aggressively.
The time is ripe for initiating adequate safeguards and strict regulatory supervision. Indian cities must draw lessons from the failures of the Delhi Airport Express Line and the subsequent PPP projects like Manila and Kuala Lumpur and must follow it up with effective monitoring and safeguards such that it does not place high-cost public transport projects at risk. 
P.S.: This post was originally written for Centre Right India, a policy research think-tank.  This post was originally published on June 28. You might want to read this post in its unabridged avatar here

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Gopinath Munde (1949-2014)

One of the best known faces of Maharashtra politics and former deputy chief minister, Gopinath Munde died early Tuesday morning following a road accident in Delhi. Munde, a senior politician from Maharashtra, was sworn in as the Union Minister for Panchayati Raj, Rural Development and Drinking Water and Sanitation on May 26. He was also until recently in the reckoning for the position of Maharashtra Chief Minister. His sudden and untimely demise is a rude shock to the turbulence prevailing in Maharashtra politics.
Being an astute politician and a master strategist, he rose from the ranks leaving his imprints on every position he occupied in public life. Credited with the near-impossible task of neutralising the NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Munde won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by a margin of 1.4 lakh votes from the Beed constituency after defeating NCP’s Suresh Dhas. Known for his organisational skills, his career in public life has been characterised by hard work and his ability to retain touch with the masses at the grassroots levels.
As a member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly from 1980 to 2009, he was no doubt the most prominent leader of the BJP in Maharashtra along with his brother-in-law Pramod Mahajan. Widely regarded as the architect of social engineering, Munde had been instrumental in stitching up the grand “Mahayuti” alliance of the Republican Party of India, Swabhimani Shetkari Paksh and Rashtriya Samaj Paksh along with the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the state, which won 42 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the recently concluded General Elections.
Gopinath Munde, who was expected to lead the BJP in the upcoming Assembly polls in Maharashtra, was known as a consensus builder and was expected to meet state leaders and smoothen the rough creases with its long-term ally, the Shiv Sena. Since the death of the Sena supremo Bal Thackeray in 2012, Munde had emerged as the axis of the state’s political affairs.
His sudden death revives the turbulence already prevailing in Maharashtra politics and the void he leaves with is irreparable. In the changed political scenario, the equations with the Sena will need to be redefined and the state's BJP unit will no longer remain the same without his presence.

P.S.: This post was originally written for Centre Right India, a policy research think-tank. This post was published on June 3, 2014. You may want to read the original piece here

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Missing Faces

The swearing-in of a Prime Minister holds the promise of a new growth cycle as much as it illustrates how transfer of power can happen peacefully. May 26, 2014 too heralded the arrival of a new government helmed by Narendra Modi. As curtains fell on the world’s largest democratic elections, the swearing in of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India brought forward the possibility of renewal of ties with representatives of SAARC countries. While the event was attended by the who’s who of Indian politics, there were some omissions who did not make it to the swearing in:
J. Jayalalithaa: The Tamil Nadu CM, J. Jayalalithaa, had hoped that the new Government would be sensitive towards the Tamilians. The CM refused to attend the swearing-in due to the invitation extended to the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, who allegedly oversaw the genocide in Sri Lanka and remained President while innocent Tamilians were killed in the crossfire.
Siddharamaiah: Siddharamaiah, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, did not attend the swearing in as he considered the induction of B.S. Yeddyurappa and his party’s subsequent merger with the BJP as a classic example of double speak on the issue of corruption.
Oommen Chandy: Though Oommen Chandy has personally not launched an all-out attack or taken barbs at Modi, the Kerala CM too did not attend the swearing in as he is most likely aware of the grim situation he faces back home due to his name cropping up in the solar scam. Secondly, Modi is still considered a "communal" figure in Kerala. Many Malayalam newspapers too vehemently condemned his meeting with the Prime Minister designate before elections.
Mamata Banerjee: The election campaign witnessed some steady and high-pitched barbs by Narendra Modi at the West Bengal CM who even dubbed him as a butcher. Her attempt to consolidate and protect her secular image also witnessed her slamming doors for a possible alliance. However, two MPs Mukul Roy and Sougata Roy from the TMC attended the swearing in.
Mayawati: Given the massive drubbings of the BSP at the hustings, the Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati did not attend the swearing in thus reiterating her intense dislike for "communal forces". On the day of the results (May 16), she even went on to term the BJP-led NDA's landslide victory as "the rise of communal forces". 

P.S.: This post was originally written for Centre Right India, a policy research think-tank. It was published on June 3, 2014. You may want to read the original piece here

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Audacity of Change

The 2014 General Elections have been unique in several ways. With the highest number of first time voters, campaigns that focussed on personalities, with elections being fought for the first time on the plank of an economic slowdown, there is little doubt that these general elections have been the most interesting and analysed general elections of recent times. In more ways than one, democracy has triumphed again, though this time with a new accent. In the massive victory of Narendra Modi in 2014, we see the triumphant emergence of a single party rule for the first time after 1984.

The past five years were marked with corruption, inflation, policy paralysis, bad governance and supreme arrogance which were seen as the hallmarks of the UPA-2 regime. In what was clearly a mandate for hope and change, the voice of India's democracy spoke again in a new accent. The BJP-led NDA became the first government to cross the majority mark of 272 seats in the Parliament since 1984. Thus, it brought back stable and empowered governance with a single party rule.

The early days of democracy in India represented the views of the liberal, educated elite marked by ideals like inclusiveness and pluralism. The 1990s brought us to a new trend in Indian politics: coalition politics which saw the rise of an under-represented class. So, 2014 brings in the decisive victory helmed by the man of the moment: Narendra Modi. His astounding rise and victory is a result of the triumphant emergence of a class that lay unnoticed craving for a change and development. The clear dilution of traditional electoral segments which generally rally around the lines of class and caste, the mass support that Narendra Modi got was from an aspirational section of society that is impatient to move on in life beyond the obvious narratives of secularism.

In the age of social media, the victory of Narendra Modi sees expectations rising in the form of a under-represented middle-class. While his appeal has clearly transcended traditional electoral segments that are generally arrayed along the lines of caste and class, his core support base comes from a class that has been described urban that defines everything and causes hope and dread of equal intensity. At this time, without question it is hope that dominates for that is the sentiment of the majority. Of course, the majority never sees itself as merely that, it always equates itself with the whole and accords to itself an air of engaging reasonableness. 

For the first time in three decades, the country has a stable government marked with a decisive mandate that one could rarely envisage. Armed with a decent amount of self-belief, the mature Indian electorate usually has little interest in carping voices of dissent or of issues of those at the margin. Perhaps better days do lie ahead, as the Modi campaign promises, but whether that includes everyone is something that time will tell. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Pluralism vs Prejudice

The past few months have witnessed several "intellectuals" writing petitions on how India's next government is likely to be. With exit polls predicting a victory for the BJP-led NDA, the discourse has largely revolved around protection of India's "secular" ethos and the projection of Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat and his administration's alleged role in failing to control the distressing communal riots of 2002. Since then, there have been many manufactured debates on the road ahead and the supposed polarisation of India's electorate.

Editorials and columns that routinely warn about the manufactured dangers of having Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister have grown even as the general populace eagerly awaits relief from a scam ridden government which presided over unbridled inflation, ensured policy paralysis and a list of unending factors which contributed to an economic morass. There is little doubt that India's intellectual narrative has largely been constructed by individuals who are well-known for having left-centre leanings. The monopoly over India's academics and institutions has led to words like welfare, secularism, inclusiveness being used as virtues of a modern society. The rise of Narendra Modi, therefore in principle, demolishes the pretense that left-leaning academics are the sole defenders of intellectuals and artistic freedom especially against the Hindu right-wing who have been demonised as the ravagers of this space. 

The general tone in many columns and editorials harp on how Narendra Modi undermines his party and sidelining of senior leaders, how personality politics is dangerous for the idea called India etc. The amount of newsprint and airtime wasted discussing this almost makes one believe fears about doomsday which was busted in December 2012 was actually scheduled for May 16, 2014. The op-ed pages inform us how institutions will be undermined, there will be communal riots across the nation, how democracy would be buried and women safety in India will see a new low. Sadly, these are the writers whom many call as "intellectuals".

Surely, everyone has a right to opinion. As a number of intellectuals and academics issue statements, appeal to various individuals and political formations to defend India's secular credentials or illustrate it through editorials and columns, it makes one believe that intellectuals are the sole conscience-keepers of this nation. Launching constant attacks on a man who has done far more for his state than any other leader in contemporary India, reeks of conspiracy and needless paranoia. Thankfully, intellectuals in India are not a force to reckon with in the demographic sphere.

The people of India are recipients of common sense and have more wisdom than self appointed guardians of Indian secularism and pluralism. The people of India may or may not vote for Narendra Modi, the results of which will be clear by Friday, but they surely know what is good for them than these intellectuals. The real test about the idea of India lies in the fact if India can elect Narendra Modi and still hold on to its plural and secular spirit. Of course, if only our intellectuals had some faith in India or Indians. 

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Election Lexicon-II:

In the first part of the Election Lexicon, we covered letters A to O. Now, in this second part, as some of the most important seats of the country go to the polls, the elections have significantly enriched to the political lexicon, spicing it up with a mix of marketing, branding and management terms which have also caused a fair degree of heartburn. These expressions are unlikely to be forgotten soon.

P: Paid Media. Given the highly polarising nature of the elections and with every news channel doing their bit to keep themselves relevant by defaming one politician or admiring the other, there is always an agenda news channels seem to follow. With social media gaining prominence, paid media remains a favourite hashtag which emerged after the public disclosures of the Niira Radia Tapes

Q: Questions. This applies mainly to Arvind Kejriwal who mainly asks questions and never suggests an alternative to the question. It can be something as silly as why is Narendra Modi not responding to his 18 questions or why is he silent about gas pricing in India.

R: Rights. The Congress Party's favourite buzzword. Every election, the voters are subjected to the same old rights-based governance model. In its current avatar, it includes right to food, right to free healthcare and right to housing. Of course, we cannot ignore the favourite buzzwords: RTI, RTE and the Lokpal, systemic changes that came to dominate the narrative regarding the "rights-based governance" model.

S: Shahzada: Narendra Modi's popular reference to the son of Sonia Gandhi who is constantly known for his amateurish speeches.

T: Twitter. The social media which emerged as the battleground everything under the large spectrum of politics and the only site that has helped manufacture opinions for almost every topic. 

U: Ungli. Thanks to social media and massive awareness of messages about asking citizens to participate in the democratic event of elections, the ink stain on the ungli (finger) became a quite a fad with selfies of the finger flooding social media platforms.

V: Vikas. The BJP's tagline for this time is "sabka saath, sabka vikas". Following the despondency faced by India in the past 10 years, this tagline gives a lot of hope and optimism to the defeated Indian. For the first time since Independence, there has appeared a definite possibility of India developing as a normal nation, comfortable with its past and proud of its culture and civilisation. Hence, vikaas means the activity engaged in quickly uplifting its people out of the long phase of deprivation and scarcity. 

W: Wave. The election season got us acquainted with a different type of wave. With Narendra Modi's rousing reception in Varanasi to the favourable crowds in his speeches, there is certainly a lot that is at stake to ensure that this wave survives the tides. 

X: Xaviers. The premier institute of Mumbai which stands for elitist mentalities. The principal of the college who writes a letter using his official position. The letter is published on the college website asking students to vote responsibly by considering all parameters and the dangers of having an ugly marriage between communal forces and corporates. 

Y: Yuva Josh. It was to be a symbol of empowerment. The 40 second advertisement with its punch line: "kattar soch nahin, yuva josh", the face in the ad Hasiba Amin emphasised that only a young leader can connect with the youth of the country. That's another story that it was a 63 year old man who connected much better with the youth and the yuva josh was being used in other important segments.

Z: Z+ Security. An elite security protection group which has over 500 commandos from the National Security Guards being deployed to 15 people in the country who are supposed to have a threat perception. Most notable belonging to this motley group are Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Robert Vadra, Narendra Modi among others. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Election Lexicon-2014

The 2014 elections are underway. These elections with the highest number of first-time voters and campaigns that focus more on personalities rather than the issues confronting us make it one of the most colourful spectacles and the most interesting Indian election in recent times. On that note, here is a rough dummy's guide to the lexicon of 2014 elections:

A: Adani, a conglomerate with business interests in resources, logistics and energy sectors. The conglomerate's role in the ongoing elections has been discussed widely due to the incumbent government's allegations that Adani is the best example of crony capitalism in India especially given how land was given to them at Re. 1/- to which representatives from the Adani group have consistently denied.

B: Baap Beta Government The BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi referred to the incumbent Samajwadi Party government as the baap beta government owing to the Samajwadi Party being led by the father and son duo of Mulayalam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav.

C: Chhappan inch ki chhati. In one of his rallies in Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi quipped, "Netaji (referring to Mulayalam Singh Yadav) has said Modi does not have what it takes to make another Gujarat out of Uttar Pradesh. Do you know what making Gujarat requires? ... It requires a chhappan inch ki chhati (56 inch chest). After winning the 2007 Gujarat elections too, the nominee had boasted about his sizeable chest and if only we could find the metaphoric supermen, India would be a different country.

D: Damaadshri. An eight minute video released by the BJP that accuses the Haryana and former Rajasthan Governments for amending rule to help Robert Vadra grab land across the two states in violation of rules. In Hindi, it is common to have son-in-laws being addressed by mothers as their damaadshri.

E: Election Commission: The Election Commission that is in-charge of scheduling the cycle of elections every five years has become the new agony aunt for constantly accepting the charges levelled by the incumbent government. The amount of whining that goes on almost makes one believe that the government has nothing to campaign to put up in the campaigning phases.

F: Federal Front. In a desperate attempt to stop Narendra Modi and to defeat "communal forces", the collapse of a possible Third Front led to the talk of a new Federal Front emerged with regional satraps positioning themselves as potential options for the country's top job which primarily consisted of the non-Congress, non-BJP parties.

G: Gas Wars. This refers to the Aam Aadmi Party's fight against Reliance Industries which believes that ministers in the UPA government jointly rigged the prices of gas and managed to hog the headlines bringing forward a long-running dispute. 

H: Hindu Nationalist. The projection of Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial aspirant by the BJP in September 2013 led to joy though it evoked shock reactions in another quarters. With posters that proclaimed, "I am a Hindu Nationalist" with a mugshot of Narendra Modi, the secular-liberal activists and intellectuals have been portraying this as the masks of his hardline stance hasn't fallen off.

I: India: Among all the candidates and jibes, it is India that gains in the long run if there is a strong and stable government. Indians eagerly await the dawn of May 16, the day election results will be announced, to know in which direction we would go from here: either progress or regress further.

J: Jijaji. Another reference to Robert Vadra, Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law, who is under the scanner for his alleged land deals in Haryana and Rajasthan.

K: Kejriwal: Arvind Kejriwal, the founder of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, who has emerged as the wild-card entrant for this election, has been a champion of hogging the news media wheels. He sat on dharnas and then took on the establishment, failing to realise he was part of the establishment and eventually "sacrificed" his government 49 days after coming to office.

L: Left Liberals. These are people who are often professors from the humanities and the social sciences who never fail to give lectures to the Indian electorate about "The Idea of India" and how a BJP government at the centre means inviting dangers of having an intolerant and fascist government that is ever ready to curb freedom of speech and expression. 

M: Maa-Beta Government. A popular allusion by Narendra Modi to the UPA government which is largely thought to be run by mother-and-son Sonia and Rahul Gandhi 

N: Narendra Modi. The chief minister of Gujarat who is currently running for the post of Prime Minister as anointed by the BJP. From being a modest tea-seller in Gujarat, his presence has literally charged the political scene where battles are not fought on issues but purely to stop him from coming to power.

O: Opinions. The 2014 elections which have the longest election cycle has led to a personality contest between the candidates rather than issues. Hence, looking at the sheer media presence of  the personalities in the running, everyone seems to have an opinion about the 2014 elections.


P.S.: This is the first part of the two part that seeks to lighten the note of the 2014 General Elections. The second part will cover letters from P to Z. Stay tuned and do write back with your opinions.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Mirage of Free Speech

The true test of a society's commitment to freedom of expression lies in its defence of marginalised forms of speech. Yet, there is a certain amount of fear within me as I choose to highlight that a Delhi based publishing house "Navayana" has withdrawn the English translation of Sahitya Akademi recipient and Tamil writer Joe D'Cruz first novel originally published in Tamil called "Aazhi Soozh Ulagu", which is based on the lives of catamaran fishermen. The reason for withdrawal cited by the publisher is that the said writer declared his support for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial aspirant of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The book's translator V. Geetha, in her statement said, "I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D'Cruz's statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion but I don't want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can't forget Gujarat 2002--no one must be allowed to either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation."

It is distressing to note that constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are now being contested by publishing houses on the basis of differing political perspectives. The intellectual discourse of the country since Independence has largely been populated by left-leaning academics, who hold a monopoly over academic institutions and policy-making institutions, which make India stuck in a self-negating world view. While there is absolutely no doubt that, "secular" intellectuals would jump at an opportunity to condemn an instance like the pulping of Wendy Doniger's book on Hinduism, there is a marked silence on the freedom of speech and expression of Joe D'Cruz's book or when Jitendra Bhargava's book titled "The Descent of Air India," which chronicles the decline of the national airline. The publishers, in the latter's case, issued an unconditional apology to the former civil aviation minister and promptly withdrew copies of the book. However, there was no outrage about it. The matter was hushed up in the media too.

This controversy once again brings alive to the debate whether if political inclinations and literary beliefs can be separated? Can a ideology influence a writer? It is certainly not unreasonable that extreme reactions to writers and their creative expressions must be condemned. However, politics is an immensely personal choice and must remain so. How does a publishing house get affected with a person's political belief? A good novel can be political but politics cannot be simply derived from an author's stated political positions. If we were to begin to impose censorship in the lives of novels and poems written by authors who have said and done things which we disapprove, we would be left with a very feeble reading list. 

The capacity of ideas spreads across to ennoble and appall, uplift and debunk, inspire and outrage should not threaten us but make us respect even more the value of protecting the marketplace of ideas. Commitment to freedom, after all, is just self interest when an individual is promoting it for their own ends. It only becomes a principle when we fight for it tooth and nail to protect someone else. Until we don't get finicky about a person's political belief, it is only then can we even be worthy of the freedom of free speech and expression that we truly seek.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Opinion Polls

The elections of 2014 are widely considered as a watershed election. India today finds itself in a cusp of change confronted with political parties who have no particular ideological anchor or are backed by strong state leaders in national parties, which in many ways, are a blend of regional parties. With the strengthening of intra-party coalition set-ups, it would be safe to say that political parties in India are undergoing a process of major churning. As India goes to polls in less than a week, the role and debate around opinion polls is back in action. 

Opinion polls shape public opinion as much as they reflect it. Opinion polls affect expectations about the outcome and expectations which further align with preferences and parties. Public opinion polls now play an important role in influencing voters. They are used throughout the course of election campaigns by candidates and by the media to see which candidates are ahead and who is likely to emerge victorious. The results of these polls, in turn, largely determine where future campaign monies are to be spent and where each candidate's efforts will be concentrated until the close of the election campaign.

Opinion polls have always been about both business and analysis: about symbiotic relationships between the media and its consumers as much as the relationship between the citizenry and their political choices. There is no doubt that opinion polls affect expectations about the possible outcome after a long election season and expectations often align with preferences and parties. In short, opinion polls play a significant role in shaping the course of politics as it helps gauge public opinion to see which candidates are possibly front-runners and who is likely to clinch the coveted title.

Most polls are a result of fairly robust exercises which are often led by social scientists with a fair degree of experience. Despite embarrassments like the 2004 General Elections, there is little to suggest that opinion polls are not a definitive exercise in election forecasting. Although there might be chances of the final tally being wrong, it is not necessarily due to an inherent bias or a result of poor polling. Rather, it must be seen as a reflection of the differences of distilling into a handful of numbers and the diversity of the Indian electorate and the fickleness of Indian politics. 

It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. The Internet does help in reiterating opinions cannot be divorced from the aspirations of the general public. Opinion polls not only measure public views but also shape them as much as they come to dominate news wheels as it determines attitudes, records disapproval of certain figures and eventually circles back to influence content and weigh the strength of opinions and attitudes. Public understanding flourishes in a variable manner and can certainly influence the course a nation adopts. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Book Review: Aavarana: The Veil

Credits: Rupa Publications
The act of concealing truth in Sanskrit is called "Aavarana" while the act of projecting lies is known as "vikshepa". The 2007 Kannada novel "Aavarana" by S.L. Bhyrappa, recently translated into English by Sandeep Balakrishna, therefore, is one of the few revolutionary novels that deals with an explosive storyline in times where political correctness dominates the public discourse. Aavarana is a compelling read, mainly due to its raw appeal that hits readers at appropriate places like a jolt. On a macro level, the book deals with the constrained relationship between Hinduism and Islam, which as everyone knows is best left unsaid. 

Aavarana's agenda is to restore truth, at all costs. In more ways than one, the book is like an eye-opener which shatters many of our conceived notions that we have been fed with school history textbooks. The debate of truth vs lies has been explored in detail while the objective of the book largely looks like an attempt to restore balance and also to expose historians who distort it by creating the myth that Islamic rulers were tolerant and deny that there were mass temple destruction. 

There is a frame narrative running parallel to the main story, which chronicle the mid-Mughal period and also dwells on several historical aspects like the destruction of the Viswanath Temple in Varanasi by Aurangzeb. The raw and striking descriptions make readers fume in anger and shock. However, that is where the literary merit of this book lies. The bibliography used by Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa as part of his research for the book is quite extensive for a novel and is artfully introduced as part of the main narrative. 

Aavarana does not show any sympathy to reader and is more like an assault on the reader with very thought-provoking and compelling arguments that make a reader think. Perhaps, that is where the literary merit of the book lies. Despite this book being my first exposure to Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa, I must admit that he has done a commendable job both in storytelling and putting up his point. It also reflects the "intellectuals" of the modern day and their efforts of covering historical truths.

Lastly, there is absolutely no doubt that such a gem of a book would have been limited to one state had it not been for the brilliant efforts of Sandeep Balakrishna. Hence, the book is a must read for anyone with some basic understanding of common sense and balance who would like to know the extent to which lies have been fed in the name of history in India. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

National Character

The political scene in the country today has reached a stage where it is inevitable to take sides and work on unity of the nation acquires utmost importance. There is an urgent need to develop a national character. How can national character be developed if there is no nation? We know that individuals are the target as well as the means for social and political change. To bring out basic change in society, the process begins with reformation of the individual and thereafter changing the nation is quite a viable option.

By making politics as the nucleus of change, it can bring about change in all spheres of life as it influences every aspect of life. It has the power to change and control society and individuals. It is unfortunate if those who have authority and those who rule refuse to think in the national context, if they ignore national interest, then how can we expect the common man to develop national character? The government is the root of the state and if the root is diseased, how can the tree (country) remain healthy?

The main problem confronting us today is unity of the country politically and culturally. Without this unity, the eminence of this nation is impossible. We have to restore the nation to its former glory. The disappointment and lack of confidence that the current government has brought among the people, must be removed. We must light the flame of nationalism in every citizen's heart so that if another country casts an evil eye on India's borders, citizens from across India will hold themselves responsible for failing to protect India's borders. For this, first of all, we must dethrone traitors due to whom soldiers struggle at Siachen without kerosene in winter or submarines sink for not replacing batteries leading to loss of two promising lives. India has had to face defeat for the inaction of a few. 

India needs you, she beckons you, whether you respond to her call or not, is up to you. You have to decide. Our votes have the power to write the future of this country. Please do remember that if you are not ready for change, then nothing can be done. You are the medium of change, elections and votes are just the means. If you realise that this nation's eminence is your eminence and if you are ready to sacrifice everything for the eminence of this nation, then nothing can weaken us. Ultimately, a nation's ruler depends on the ambitions, aspirations and faith of individuals of a country as they too are bound by the decisions we take. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Minimum Government, Maximum Governance

In reality, our states need a new system of governance. A system that says: minimum government, maximum governance. A political system which will rise above petty political ambitions and unite the nation into one republic: one family. States are indivisible limbs of a nation. Yet, we see states fighting with each other for survival. Don't we feel the pain when a family member is in pain?  Don't we help our family members in the time of distress? How can we remain aloof from the joys and sorrows faced by our family members? Individuals sacrificing for the good of the society is deep-rooted in our culture. Why did Shiva swallow poison? Why did Sage Dadhichi sacrifice his bones? 

Then, why are individuals not eager to make a sacrifice for society and the society for nation? Why does a society feel that it's progress lies in the downfall of others? Why does a state feel that progress of another state will hinder its own progress? Why does one person feel that it is necessary to be struggling with another for survival? Is the seed ever in struggle with a leaf? Are the roots of a tree in struggle with the branches standing over them? Then, why are we involved in struggle? Don't you think that the leaves, flowers, branches, trunk and the roots have all taken their form from the seed? Yet, we cannot see the seed.

In the same way, we cannot see our nationalism, but it is present and can be felt in every Indian. If you search for your seed, you can feel the nationalism which is within us. If this seed of nationalism is within us, then how can I be any different from you? What is the meaning of freedom? Does it just mean being free from slavery of another person or state? Does freedom mean doing as we please? Doesn't society have to accept rules of the nation? So even after acceptance of the rules of society and state, why do we still feel that we're free? What is the awareness of that freedom which is equally felt by a person, society and nation? What is the thread that binds every individual to a society and nation and yet makes them feel independent?

Who has created this mechanism called freedom which we accept so willingly? What is it that "independence" gives to a person that s/he becomes so eager to lay down his/her life? What is that mechanism which we call independence? Why do we want to be independent and not under the rule of imperial powers? What is the difference between independence and dependence? Why could not we accept the mechanism of dependence on the British? It is because we believe in the mechanism our sages and thinkers have created for us. 

We believe in the eternal values which our ancestors created and practiced. The principle of well-being of all (Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu) which our ancestors have followed has been inherited by us. These are the values created under eternal truth and the light of knowledge by our sages. Values, when created under eternal truth and light of knowledge by our sages, is our mechanism of independence. We have established our social system on the basis of these eternal values. Only the systems created by our ancestors' can be the basis of our personal, social and national life. That is why we seek freedom. 

Is that system, method and freedom any different for Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Maharashtra or Bihar? Can the quest for best values differ from state to state? Can it be different for states based on the same societal values which have been created by our ancestors? It is because we cannot see the seed which is present in every part of the tree. We are failing to see culture flowing in every state. States are branches one giant tree called India that has shaped from one seed. We are unable to see our roots but seeing our outward differences, we are refuting our oneness. We are not able to see unity in diversity or may be, we are ignoring it for our selfish political interests.

I know there are differences in the political system of certain states but the political system is not culture. A political system can at best supplement culture but cannot be a synonym. Culture shows the way for the progress of people, society and the nation. So, the responsibility of politics too is progress of people, society and nation through inclusive growth and empowered governance. Then, why do people fight in the name of the system? Perhaps, they don't identify with the common goal of the people, society and the nation or because of their own selfish interests which motivate them to oppose each other.

This selfishness or lack of unity has compelled us to surrender our self-respect before corrupt governments and invaders. Please remember that our self-respect lies in our hands. We need to invoke our national character and do it for the sake of our country. If all people across the country unite as one and challenge a corrupt regime, would it not be possible for us to stare at a decisive mandate during the elections?

Our borders extend up to the spread of our culture. From the snow-clad Himalayas to the depths of the seas, it is our land and our nation that beckons us. Experience teaches us that more than the actions of wicked people, this nation has been harmed by the inaction of good people. If we do not protect the nation, who will? If we do not unite and cast our vote in the elections and present ourselves as committed to the cause of a developed India, the corrupt government can come back and we might see ourselves staring at another wasted decade. History might repeat again. 

If we don't unite now, the path is wide open for the return of a corrupt regime. The need of the hour therefore is for all of us to unite immediately. This nation can become competent, powerful and glorious only when unity prevails. If people realise that this nation's eminence is our eminence and if you are ready to sacrifice that one holiday for the sake of this nation, then no one can weaken us. We, the children of India, can then proclaim that the path of duty lies wide open with the ability to cast our votes: March ahead! 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Movie Review: Gabhricha Paus

The 2009 Marathi film, "Gabhricha Paus" has a plot that addresses simple aspirations of Indian farmers, the eternal urge in the human race to survive against all odds. The film is temporally set in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra against the backdrop of a drought. In Marathi, the film's title would translate to "The Bastard Rain", which is mostly hurled as an abuse given the unpredictable nature of rains. 

The plot of the movie rotates around the farmer Kisna (Girish Kulkarni) and his struggle to grow cotton. Farmer suicides have become commonplace due to failed rains. Hence, his wife Alka (Sonali Kulkarni) sends her son along with him wherever he goes. The complex and tense character graph of Kisna is portrayed really well by Girish Kulkarni. Girish is effortlessly expressive, moving the audience to feel with him for the failure of the rains in an intricately woven fabric of rural India. The young son too does not over-act unlike other films. 

The film also addresses various contemporary topics such as schools in villages, the economic divide and all this without digressing from the core plot of the movie. The treatment of the film is mature and the use of such contemporary issues only make you compare the realism involved. All characters in the movie have their own roles to play and do not look out of place. 

The filmmaker exerts tremendous grip on his subject without making it depressing. Intelligently, the film uses the tone of dark humour in the film. The cinematography of the film is intriguing and Vidarbha has been captured excellently. The cinematography is quite close to the style of Navdeep Singh's Manorama: Six Feet Under with a neo-noir feel to it. Summing up, the film shows restraint and maturity in storytelling which is rarely seen in regional cinema. In this case, the director holds up a mirror to society, as films are in defined to be in principle. 

For an Indian language film, Gabhricha Paus is a film to be proud of simply for the way the plight of farmers has been addressed. For the non-Marathi speaking population, the English subtitles are more or less accurate. Hence, I would strongly advise you to watch it.  

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Developed India

On this republic day, I'd like to discuss something else. The concept has been on my mind since late last year . It's funny how we tend to think elections are a general thing but when they are not. Come to think of it, it is our one vote that goes on to decide the kind of governance we would have for five years. This elections, however, brings us to an important threshold not just in our life but also in threshold of India, a threshold that divides the best from the rest. 

While it is essential to make an informed opinion based on the predictions of economists, the opinions of leaders and also the voices of businessmen from across the world. The global investment banking and investment management firm Goldman Sachs in 2008 claimed that India will be the second global economic superpower by 2050. Does being the "second best" bring about a mood of elation and pride? Ask yourself is being the second best enough? Is this what we as Indians would want? Is being second the best we can do? Shouldn't we aim to be the first? 

At the Parliament of the World's Religions in 1893, Swami Vivekananda said that our future is built upon our past. Hence, it becomes doubly important for us to look as far as we can. We have to drink deep the eternal fountains that are behind us and after that, look and march forward to make India brighter and greater. Much higher than she ever was with a spirit of "Rashtra Devo Bhava" (My country is my responsibility). In 1930, shortly after the Dandi March, Mahatma Gandhi said that young men are the leaders of tomorrow and it is the young who have to be the salt of this nation. If salt loses its flavour, where shall it be salted? It is therefore important to find peace in the midst of turmoil, light in the midst of darkness and hope in despair. Do not underestimate the power of truth. 

The voyage to being the best is not being undertaken for the first time. Statistics say that India was the global economic leader until as recently as 1800 AD contributing nearly 38.5% of the world's GDP. Then, in just 200 years, we have fallen below 6% today. If we treat these 200 odd years as just a temporary fall in the march of prosperity through millennia, we can shake off the dirt and march ahead towards the goal of a Developed India. It is the Indian civilisation that once extended from Indonesia to Persia and influenced many other civilisations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans and the Chinese. We need to draw pride from this truly global culture. We need to take responsibility for the progress of this country and also the future of this civilisation.

Today, as we fight against each other, we need to arise again thinking of the spirit of oneness. Let all states and the people come together to work towards a common vision: the vision of a developed India. Did Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj fight only for the freedom of Maharashtra from the Mughals or this country whom He revered as his Mother? Think!! 

Sacrifice for the country is not a pain but a privilege. Invoke the countless Indian Army jawans who lay down their lives for the freedom of our motherland. Now, it's our chance to rise above myopic goals and work towards a developed India. Let lions among men accomplish this task of honour. As Rabindranath Tagore in his poem said: 

"Where the mind is without fear and the head held high, 
where knowledge is free and the mind is led forward into 
ever-widening thought and action. 
Into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake..." 

If the world has to be peaceful, the world has to recognise humanity as one family: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Science explains that this is Brahma Vidya. Indians are known to be the custodians of this knowledge. That's the best that India has to offer to the world. Therefore, we have a much greater responsibility in shaping the future of the globe. Everyone looks up to India and the best we can offer is effectively summarised in The Bhagavad Gita, widely recognised across the globe as the most effective book on management:

यत्र योगेश्वर कृष्ण: यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धरः तत्र श्रीः विजयो भूति: ध्रुवः नीतिर मतिर मम ||

Where dynamism and efficiency that is Arjuna are empowered with the depth of spiritual values that is Krishna, there the heights of prosperity, lasting success and fulfilling progress are sure to be reached. 

We are the link between a great past and a grand future. Be proud of India's past and in the present, let us unite to work smartly with inspiration to build a glorious future of developed India. Let there be one vision and one mission of restoring India back to its original glory.  This election promises that and the privilege of casting your vote is yours. Make an informed choice!! Mrityunjaya Bhava! 

Friday, 24 January 2014

Movie Review: Chingaari

Celluloid realism makes waves. Kalpana Lajmi's "Chingaari" is one such film which pushes for socio-religious reform and the ugly nexus between sexual oppression and religion. Based on an Assamese short story titled "The Postman and The Prostitute" by the late. Bhupen Hazarika, Chingaari is filled with flaming colours such as red, green and black. The film explores rural fanaticism through the miseries of a prostitute. It further explores various facades of womanhood. 
The DVD Cover of Chingaari

Set in Rangpur village, the film revolves around a group of prostitutes with Ila Arun as the main head. The house is a feast of raunchy repartees and has terrifying sexual innuendos which reach blood-curdling proportions when the village priest Bhuvan Panda (Mithun Chakraborty) pays a visit to Basanti (Sushmita Sen). The scenes of sexual repression filmed on Sushmita Sen and Mithun Chakraborty become too repressive and graphic. 

To a point, I felt that subtlety in depicting their sexual friction would have added the lyricism and sensitivity the film needed. The romantic chemistry between the postman Chandan Mishra (Anuj Sawhney) and the prostitute (Basanti) is limited due to very few shared scenes. Secondly, Chandan is seen as the lone voice of reason in a village that it is deeply embedded in superstition, fear, bigotry and cultural terrorism propagated by Bhuvan Panda. 

Sushmita Sen has a striking screen presence and comes into her own with an intense performance that is unparalleled in her career. She pulls off the role with great dignity. Some of her best acting abilities are seen in her key confrontation scenes with her tormentor Bhuvan. Her dialogue delivery ranging from hushed whispers in a romantic moment to an spine-chilling growl in the climax, Sushmita Sen takes her character to a dimension that seems impossible.

The brutality and oppression of her life are marked with a fine performance by Sushmita Sen and Mithun Chakraborty. The storyline despite being temporally somewhere in the Bihar-West Bengal border, goes to depict a larger picture of female oppression and gender discrimination. Kalpana Lajmi's film then transcends to become a document of acute suffering in a universal sense. Chingaari undoubtedly belongs to Sushmita Sen and she imbibes the colour and tone of the film very well. 

Her striking screen presence gives this disturbing film on sexual politics a gloriously universal side. At 2 hours and 35 minutes long, the film has a racy pace and is a must see for the darker shades of humanity and the inherent hypocrisy evident through the course of the film. Another reason to watch the film is for Sushmita Sen who creates a magnificent matrix between desire and fulfillment.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Empowered Governance

In reality, our states need a new system of governance. A system that says: minimum government, maximum governance. The idea of empowered governance recognises this conflict between dreams and practice and is shaped by our vision for a developed India. The past ten years in India have seen a stagnating growth rate, policy paralysis, a complete breakdown of communication among the government, industrial slowdown and constant inflation. Thus, making it nearly a wasted decade.

Change is not impossible and it most certainly does not require miracles to get things back. Common sense and political will are the key points that are required now and three months is the minimum time gap to be given in order to reverse the despondency the country is in now. The idea, of course, is to ensure empowered governance. A few ideas that can be implemented to ensure that empowered governance is possible are:

* Subsidies: Our socialist leanings ensure that we cannot deviate from our welfare policies. However, studies conducted in the past have revealed that beneficiaries of subsidies are largely people who do not really require them. If a proportion of the same welfare policies are diverted towards renewable fuel projects, we would alternatives to crude and other related products which would solve India's trade deficit problems in the long run thus making it socially and environmentally viable.

* Mutual Respect: States are an indivisible limbs of the nation. Hence, it is necessary that every state should learn to emulate the success of other state. However, this is only possible if internal conflict among states is reduced and chief ministers of states are made equal stakeholders in ensuring good governance. Reaching out to chief ministers in an effective manner is of utmost important. Central agencies must ensure that they visit the states to ensure that opinions matter and key projects are approved without significant delays and prevention of cost overruns. 

* Outreach: Communication is one of the key things to ensure accountability. In the current phase, we realise that there is a complete breakdown in communication. The idea is to refrain from distancing people. Dialogue with partners, agencies, civil society, bureaucrats as well as the judiciary must be encouraged. For example, judges can be made to visit factories as an industrial visit in order to meet and understand the challenges of the real world. Engagement with agencies, the judiciary as well as the armed forces is necessary on key issues such as development, infrastructure and security in order to end the prevalent logjam.

* Laws: A constant source of worry has been India having too many laws. The point where we are unable to score is the implementation of laws. Implementation has to be done in a manner that would instill respect for laws. Having said that, there is an urgent need to ensure that we desist from passing new laws and creating new institutions. Creation of new laws or institutions does not necessarily problems being addressed. All laws are mostly open to misuse and are often full of loopholes. Loopholes and shortcomings need to be repaired which would help in strengthening existing institutions and laws.

* Chalta Hain: The national culture of unquestioned obedience to authority along with an acceptance of shoddiness through the "chalta hain" attitude must not be used as an excuse to overlook violations. It is in our culture to respect authority. We are taught from childhood to obey our elders. We grow up with the notion that our teachers, our managers, function heads and business heads within our respective organisations know more than us. Hierarchy is revered and authority is seldom questioned. However, the "chalta hain" attitude must be changed by instilling respect for institutions. A conscious effort has to be made in order to desist from mindless perversion of institutions. Having said that, misuse of institutions need to be exposed. The media must be fortresses of good work and there has to be constant pressure on them to ensure that positive news gets highlighted as well. 

The issue of corruption is a major issue in India as it has economic consequences. The causes for corruption in India include excessive regulations, complicated taxes and licencing systems, numerous government departments with opaque bureaucracies and discretionary powers. If there is strong political and legal will to solve the malaise of corruption from public life, it can be done in five simple ways:

* Adjournments: It is often observed that cases in India take several years to reach a definite conclusion. This happens due to multiple adjournments. Adjournments hamper work flow and create a backlog. Therefore, in matters of public service or importance, there must be no adjournments. Adjournments must be necessary only due to medical, mental or physical reasons.

* Proof: One of the major impediments faced by investigating agencies is the collection of evidence. It must also be acknowledged that lack of impunity results in destruction of evidence. A possible way to solve this problem is to reduce the burden of collecting evidence and reversing it back to victim. 

* Talk Less: There have been instances when leaders and lawyers in Parliament and the judiciary tend to speak for an extended period of time. A significant way to ensuring that cases do not lag is to strictly limit all arguments both for and against in the judiciary and Parliament to 30 minutes. This will ensure that cases do not lag and precious time of the Parliament is not wasted in mere speeches.

* Assets: Disproportionate assets, bribery etc. are all forms of corruption. The post 2010 years presented a new facet of corruption reaching impregnable heights. Corruption is a real phenomenon and begins due to a top-down structure. Instead, the issue can be resolved if there is confiscation of all assets owned by an individual who is active in public life, if s/he is accused. Similarly, there should be physical detainment of the accused until there is a conviction/acquittal. In order to send strong precedents, accused members can be barred from public life for the rest of their lives.  

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Cultural Slavery

A nation's ruler depends on the ambitions, aspirations and faith of individuals of a country. Rulers too are bound by the decisions that individuals of a country take. The future and progress of a nation are determined by the dreams few visionaries dare to dream. If the government is incapable of protecting the nation, then it is up to teachers to rise and awaken the nation. We must give up self-interest, pride and petty quarrels for the nation.

If we do not rise above our quarrels and pride, cultural slavery will slowly overtake our society. A nation is not defeated until it can safeguard its culture and values. Can the nation be torn into pieces in the name of caste and religion be able to safeguard its culture from invaders? If conquerors wish to spread their roots here, then they will have to attack our culture that binds our people and they will, if we are not careful. If we let go our cultural heritage, then our downfall is certain. Experience teaches us that defeated nations, minds, kingdoms often accept the culture and values of the victors. Hence, if the nation isn't awakened from its stupor soon, if this nation isn't united, then breaking away from bondage will be very difficult.

Education leads the path towards salvation. If education cannot do it, then it is useless. Will the people of India who seek emancipation from life and death accept the bondage imposed by a corrupt government? This nation must be freed from a corrupt Government and in that alone, lies India's freedom. 

Awaken this sleeping society. Bring up its latent strength! Awaken the courage that is inherent in every individual of this nation. It will demand sacrifice of our self-interest. A vision for a developed India and freedom from a corrupt government is our aim. Sacrificing of personal goals is only the means, not the goal. Do not let your vote go waste. Light the flame and vision of a developed India in every village, every city and every province. A corrupt government has to be sacrificed in this flame of freedom. Make a firm decision that the lamp of freedom must burn in every heart. Only then, can a corrupt government be vanquished. 

P.S.: This is an inspiring monologue by Chanakya, the Indian philosopher and the royal advisor to Prince Chandragupta, the founder of the Maurya dynasty in 326 BCE. This dialogue refers to the dangers of India accepting cultural slavery if it is not able to safeguard itself from its culture and values. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Movie Review: Digant

Digant 
It is not always that one finds movies made in regional dialects. Hence, the 2012 Konkani movie "Digant" based on the Dhangar community is originally based on an adaptation by a story written by Prasad Lolayekar. 

The movie title, "Digant", translates to boundless in Konkani revolves around a man from the Dhangar or shepherd community who is content with his life. However, his seemingly ordinary life takes a turn when his son joins a school and grows to be an architect with an intent to settle down in the city. Movies with such storylines often tend to slip into a preachy mode. Issues such as identity or about the need to be in touch with one's roots are often raised through the medium of movies. Thankfully, Digant is a refreshing change and does not venture into that space. 

There is certainly no doubt that the definition for freedom for each individual is different yet the film tries to define the concept of freedom and stability at multiple levels. For the father, freedom is defined by the shepherd who is in sync with nature while for the son, it is a means to liberate himself from being a shepherd. For the builder, it is a means to hit back at his poverty. There is a dialogue in the movie in which the shepherd says that he has never really understood the meaning of freedom. The shepherds never settle at one place but still remain stable. For the shepherd, his forests mean freedom but they are also diminishing now. Philosophically, he points out that freedom survives only with the recognised and rewarded section of society. In a nutshell, the conflict between different characters lies in the difference between their value systems.

Shot over a period of 26 days with a modest budget of just Rs. 40 lakhs, the film brilliantly explores the conflict between father and son and the clash between their value systems and individual lifestyles and the growing divide between cities and villages. The Konkani movie "Digant" was Goa's official entry for the 43rd International Film Festival of India as also was an entry for the New Faces section of the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) Film Festival in 2012. For lovers of meaningful intellectual cinema, Digant is a must-watch movie.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Movie Review: Amrapali

The story of the legendary dancer Amrapali, renowned for her extraordinary beauty is an immensely fascinating one. For the uninitiated, Amrapali was the royal courtesan of Vaishali, situated roughly around present day Bihar in 500 BCE. Prince Ajatshatru, the king of the Magadha empire, who falls in love with her after he attacks Vaishali. The story of Amrapali and elaborate descriptions of her extraordinary beauty find mention in old Pali and Buddhist traditions. 

The 1966 film made by Lekh Tandon featuring veteran dancer-actress Vyjayanthimala in the title role as Amrapali makes considerable impact. While the story of the film is not built on the standard tale of star-crossed lovers but a clash of ideologies. Ajatshatru (Sunil Dutt), the emperor of Magadha has been unable to get Vaishali into submission. He announces an attack on Vaishali against the wishes of his commander-in-chief Veer (Premnath) citing that the Magadhan army is not ready for full blown battles. He promptly informs the king that the soldiers of Magadha would not be able to resist the army of Vaishali. Ajatshatru pays no heed and is determined to bring Vaishali under the influence of Magadha. It is after the Magadha army is routed that he falls in love with Amrapali. 

Vyjayanthimala as Amrapali is an epitome of beauty and sensuality. Seeing her confidence, independence and beauty which has been portrayed effectively through the film, I was mentally convinced that Amrapali would resemble her. Her dancing background ensures that she holds her own in the film. Sunil Dutt as Ajatshatru is endearing despite being arrogant and yet softened by love at another. He doesn't understand her anguish until the last moment and also that love has to be selfless. For the kind of preparation a role like Ajatshatru demands, Sunil Dutt brought out the conflict beautifully. 

In addition to the main leads, the film has been ably supported by a whole host of others: Premnath, Mridula Rani, K.N. Singh and other actors such as the ones who played the son of the guru, the rajpurohit and the wounded soldier who recognises the emperor. At 1 hour 59 minutes, the film is fast-paced and brilliantly shot by Dwarka Divecha especially as the colours beginning with red and yellow to the darker colours as the story moves from the palace to the battlefield. 

The art direction especially the palaces look rich and elegant without suffering from garish colours unlike other period films. Despite a gripping plot, it is a shame that the film failed at the box office which prompted Vyjayanthimala to quit acting. The story flows in sync and there are no jumps. The music of the film was provided by Shankar-Jaikishen and with just four songs throughout the film, the music has minimal instrumentation and encourages vocals by the eternally timeless Lata Mangeshkar.

My only grudge is that the film deviates the original story. The original story believes that it was Bimbisara who was Amrapali's lover and not Ajatshatru. Hence, the deviation and the interchanging of Bimbisara's son to Ajatashatru made me feel a little discomfort. However, do not let this dampen your enthusiasm of watching the film.