Politics Now

Digital India and Indian Railways

Representative image.

One of the flagship projects of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government has been a marked shift onto the route of digitalisation. The Indian Railways is the single-largest State-owned commercial entity in the entire world, and adaptability is pivotal to its survival in contemporary times. Over the past couple of years, a number of schemes have been initiated, all of which take a step forward to riding the Digital Wave. It is indeed commendable to witness the progress that the Indian Railways has made over the course of the yesteryears, mutating from issuing manual tickets to being a pioneer in the era of paperless tickets, from having the quintessential pantry cars in the long-haul trains to e-catering services seeing the light of the day, a plethora of such success stories have cropped up. An effective analysis of how Indian Railways has transfigured itself as per the changing demands of the passing years is surprisingly remarkable.

To fully comprehend the present, knowing the past is of vital significance. The stride to the journey towards modernisation of the Railways transpired in the early eighties, when in 1982, the railways set up a central organisation named COFOIS (Central Organisation for Freight Operations Information System), to look after the increasing volume of freight operations. Till 1985, all tickets were issued manually. This led to the process being cumbersome and time-consuming, leaving behind a probable scope for errors to creep in. Stand Alone Computerized Ticketing and Reservation System was then rolled out, albeit phase-wise, starting in 1985 as a pilot project in New Delhi and concluding in 1989 with computerized ticketing system being initiated in Secunderabad. Fast forward to today, and there be no more manual tickets in sight.

The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a subsidiary arm of the Indian Railways, has under the present government taken on itself the primary responsibility of ensuring the process of digitalisation of the Railways- a far cry ahead from the days of mere computerization of reservation systems. Today, one can sit back in the comfort of his home and yet reserve tickets from the IRCTC portal. While travelling in train and en-route to some destination, a passenger may opt to purchase meals from the next station halt, via the process of e-catering that has been recently facilitated by the IRCTC. From its inception in 2002, the IRCTC has come a long way ahead: from twenty nine tickets booked in a day to thirteen lakh tickets booked in a single day. In 2016, tickets worth rupees 24,022 crores were purchased via the online platform. All these amenities have been made possible due to the untiring efforts of the Railway Board and the Ministry of Railways, which has continually strived to provide the best-in-class service to the passengers that, in all respects, remain unparalleled.
This razzmatazz around the keyword of digitalisation has proven useful on many counts. Industry major Google, in a bid to tap into the millions who commute by the Railways on a daily basis, had partnered with RailTel to provide free Wi-Fi services at a targeted four hundred stations. Such collaborations have given the Digital India campaign a solid momentum and have been a model example to further the Public-Private partnerships that are equitable for both parties involved. At present, this partnership has materialised brilliantly, with over a hundred stations being connected to the network. This joint effort has been christened the title “Project Nilgiri”. As per latest statistics made available by Google, over ten million Indians now have access to high-speed internet, with an average estimate of around fifteen thousand people connecting to the free networks for the first time every day. Internet penetration in India has thus been effectively catalysed by the Indian Railways, providing the platform for private ventures to provide internet access to millions of Indians.
One significant domain where the Railways have latched onto, is harnessing the power of social media. The Railways have developed an in-house analytics tool that processes complaints and suggestions on a real-time basis. The Indian Railways receives seven thousand tweets on a daily basis, out of which around a thousand are actionable. Through Facebook, it is said to receive around two hundred complaints per day. Honourable Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu, had recently highlighted the fact that the response time to complaints of actionable nature had been reduced to thirty minutes. Such prompt responses to suggestions, and/or feedback by the passengers, have ensured a substantial and appreciable increase in passenger satisfaction. In a recent survey that was launched by the government to let the people rate the services rendered by the government, the results of quick response and follow-up on individual complaints was understandably evident: the Railways had secured the highest possible five-star rating from 74% (seventy-four percent) of the people who participated in the survey.

To build on the noble initiative of Digital India, the Railways have not left any chord untouched. Continuous innovations and development, fuelled by imagination and an acute understanding of the demands of the day, have propelled the Indian Railways into bringing out several applications and services that can be accessed by having a phone. The launch of the UTS App- Unreserved Ticketing System has been a formidable success. On 10th of February, 2016, Shri Suresh Prabhu launched hand-held terminals for Travelling Ticket Examiners (TTEs), which relays information from a running train to the next immediate station. A facility for online booking of disposable linens on trains has also been established.

This expedition towards digitalisation has an inherent positive effect on the finances and economy of the Indian Railways. Digitalisation of essential services would reduce manual operational costs, and thus help to bring down the total expenses. Moreover, facilities such as online booking of tickets and related services have convenience surcharges attached to them that helps bring in additional revenue. Revenue earned through service charges doubled from Rs. 256.34 crore to Rs. 551.49 crore in fiscal 2016. This forms one-third of the entire revenue generated by the IRCTC, as per reports published by the Economic Times. Another matchless example of the unending benefits of digitalisation for the Railways was made clear during the e-auction of scrap materials. More than fifteen thousand wagons, twelve hundred coaches, and around a hundred locomotives are auctioned by the Railway every year. The mandatory e-auction helped to generate around Rs. 3000 crores in 2014-2015. In more ways than one, liberalisation of the Railway finances to accommodate online services will eventually help the Railway resuscitate from its financial woes at present.

This paradigm shift in adopting the digital and cashless as the preferred mode of transactions and services has improved transparency and accountability on the part of the Railways. This has, in turn, has had a chain effect on the common man’s image of the Railways. If passenger satisfaction is ensured, it would immediately convert into rising revenues and better service reviews, with fewer complaints and Grievance Redressal Workload.
As the largest commercial organisation in India, the Railways shoulder colossal social responsibilities. It is indeed heartening to learn that under the able guidance of the Minister of Railways, Shri Suresh Prabhu and the Railway Board, the gargantuan organisation is striving to its last breath to ensure the common man takes the jump towards digitalisation. The Railways is one of the pioneers of change; it wonderfully metamorphoses itself to acclimatise to the dynamic requirements. In this era of globalisation and technological advancement, the Digital Indian campaign has only reinforced the roots of this sesquicentennial organisation: making it better, secure, and ready for the leap towards greater heights of success in the upcoming years.

The Railway Avenue

The Indian Railways is the single largest commercial governmental organisation of the world. However, a perennial problem that has plagued this gargantuan organisation is that of a consistent record of ghastly accidents. The scenario has now become so customary that a predictable pattern of such accidents transpires within a periodic gap of a few months. The Railway is an indispensable service to the nation; a cornerstone of national integration schemes, and backbone to the Indian economy. To see the establishment in such a dismal state of affairs is disheartening, but sitting back and hoping for miracles is not an option either. A series of accidents have stirred the common man into a general sense of insecurity. In 2016 alone, there were seven mishaps, totalling a hundred and fifty deaths. 2015 recorded ten disasters, putting the total death toll at ninety-one. From the onset of the decade, an approximate of forty-five percent of the tragedies involved derailment of the coaches from the tracks.

Leaving aside such accidents, the trend of railway-related crimes have refused to subside over the years, and have rather craned upwards in statistical linguistics. A total of 23,474, 26,620 and 31,609 IPC crimes were reported by GRPs during 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively at the national level reflecting an increase of 13.4% in 2013 over 2012 and an increase of 18.7% in 2014 over 2013. In 2014, two hundred and sixty people were booked under the Indian Railways Act of 1989. Seventy-five cases of dacoity were reported, and theft constituted 96.1% of the property-related crimes in the same year. These figures are alarming and call for immediate attention. When we look forward to analysing the problems faced by the Railways, we need to have a multifarious approach to finding out the probable solutions. We must not look only at the mechanical faults that result in catastrophic disasters but also at the criminal records. Ensuring passenger safety, in the truest sense of the term, is a vital component of any organisation. The Railways cannot be exempted from such a responsibility because of the fact that it is a State-owned concern. Each of the fault lines and glaring red lights is interlinked with the other.

The primary reason for all such mechanical accidents is inadequate maintenance. Over the past years, the number of trains deployed for all purposes has increased on a logarithmic scale, while the number of coaches has remained more or less constant. In a nutshell, the number of coaches added is disproportionately small to the number of trains introduced during the same period. The ramifications are predictably visible in the present future. Hence, due to the tremendous pressure and a tight schedule for maintenance of these coaches, they are overworked and often not looked after well enough. How can the common man expect decent service (which includes cleanliness, hygiene, proper functioning of all features in the rakes, et cetera) when a single train is running for multiple destinations during a diminutive span of twenty-four hours?

This increase in strain can directly be attributed to populist policies by governmental ministers. It is high time that we become aware that the Indian Railways is no longer a suitable sandbox to experiment with, and any further stress in the form of unwarranted populism can drive it to a breaking point. The Railways was on the verge of bankruptcy under Mamata Banerjee’s tenure at the helm of the Ministry of Railway. Pseudo-egalitarian blueprints have made the organisation incur losses at an unprecedented scale. In the financial year 2012-2013, the Railways reported an operating loss of US $4.53 billion (an approximate of Rs. 24,600 crores). Such populist measures translate into rising expenditures and falling revenues. The recent proposals to introduce bullet trains into the foray is absolutely unnecessary. It is important to resuscitate from the financial blows dealt in the past years and only then look to expand into uncharted horizons. Harbouring high ambitions is good, but implementing them at a time there exists a financial crunch for the Railways is in all ways foolish.

The Railways being the most popular means of public transport in India shoulders a huge social responsibility. The pangs of populism are inaccurately justified by this very excuse. Fare hikes are very rare and are met with political brouhaha whenever such steps are initiated. Opposition to such price reforms is condemnable. Although it is essential that the downtrodden be safeguarded with measures like subsidised rates, Indian Railways cannot compromise its very existence by not permitting the hikes.  Back in 2014, the newly incumbent Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu had vowed to breathe new life into the Railways, and he raised the fares by a good 14.6%. Despite all razzmatazz, it was eventually cleared. Three years from hence, we are yet to witness a satisfactory denouement.

There have been suggestions from some corners to metamorphose the Railway model from a State-owned corporation to a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model of commerce. However, the Railways being such a vast organisation expanding into dominions of a thousand intricate complexities, it is difficult to entrust such a radical change of operation within a few years. No one is willing to take the risk, and it may have worked out if it was implemented in the early days. But nowadays, there hardly seems a scope for such private engagement (apart from temporary contractual work): No private concern on its own has the necessary capital to bail out the Indian Railways from the jaws of financial trouble. Thus, it is safe to assume that such a proposal may be altogether rubbished in the near future.

Despite employing more than a million employees, inefficiency and irresponsible behaviour on part of the workforce have proved to be a major drawback for the Indian Railways. Speaking with Railway officials, Politics Now could clearly sense that the usual peskiness of employee unions have pervaded deep into the work culture. Most of the staff members are indolent and look for job benefits, seeking comfort in the permanence of government jobs. There thus exists a shortage of effective personnel to rely on. In many situations, the staffing department does not allot the sufficient number of GRP personnel in trains that have a lower priority. This non-allocation of security staff on trains are a direct consequence of the aforementioned problem of staff shortage. Therefore, it is pertinent that ineffective personnel be discarded and fresh brains replace the positions to provide a dynamic outlook to the organisation at the lower levels.

Regardless of all its flaws, the Government has flagged a green signal to a list of potentially reviving solutions. These include more investments, betting on the Go-Green campaigns, increasing freight operations, and earning back the customer’s trust in the Railways. These are heartening signs of revival amidst an ocean full of economic shipwrecks. The Railways, as I had appropriate pointed out in an article back in 2014, stands handicapped. Positive measures taken in the best interests of Railways by administrators have worked out, while the politically charged PR stunts have failed on a monumental scale. The bottom line is, populism must be wholly eradicated to reinstitute a green on the fiscal reports. Although it is a distant dream, it is possible. Albeit it would take a good number of years, perhaps even decades.
But, it is possible. 

The Deadlock of the Debating Platform

My health is fine but the health of Parliament is not. I feel like resigning.
– LK Advani, 15 December 2016

The Indian Parliament, the Sansad, is the executive abode of the highest tier of legislative officials. This holy sanctuary of debating has been subject to ruthless, deliberate disruption of proceedings. From immature attempts to gain publicity, to mud-slinging and on-the-face slandering, the Parliament has witnessed it all.  The present-day situation does not look exceptionally bright; for it wears the same dull grey of reminiscence of the yesteryears of parliamentary disruption. This phenomenon of stalling the Parliament to push forward demands is downright wrong and immoral: a manner of lackadaisical etiquette by elected representatives of the people should be tantamount to a criminal offence.

Making an approximate estimate, if all the three sessions of the Houses of Parliament are put in order, then it effectively functions for one hundred days a year. According to data put out by the Lok Sabha secretariat, the seventh session of the Lok Sabha under the iron lady, Smt. Indira Gandhi was the most productive, accounting for 120% of the assigned Lok Sabha time worth of constructive debating. What is disheartening, however, is the fact that this consistent record of constructive debating time has now degenerated into a slump that only sees a steep downfall. As per the following graph compiled from official data, it is evident that the last session of the Lok Sabha was the worst of the lot, accounting for only 62% of the time being used for work. The Lower House could not function for the rest of the allotted time due to disruptions and repeated adjournments.

 

Even on discounting items that are difficult to impute costs to (free petrol, subsidies, telephone calls, and much more), the daily expenditure of Parliament sits at a whopping cost of Rs. 2 crores. Hence, each Parliamentary minute is worth Rs. 2.5 lakhs. The exchequer bears this burden to facilitate smooth conduct of legislative business for the betterment and welfare of the nation. These costs are indirectly paid for by the common man on an individual level in the form of taxes levied at different junctures.  Hence, if the stakes are so high, should the Members of Parliament not be accountable to the public for the work they do in the Houses of Legislature? Should the members who serve as repetitive impediments to the functioning of the Lok Sabha not be subject to automatic disqualification? Is it not economically unsustainable to harbour such disinterested people who find pleasure only in deterring the chamber of Indian legislature?

It is important to remember that while the Parliament does lose out on a considerable amount of moolah that could have been preserved, a stalemate condition also hampers the probability of taking the country forward, one step at a time. The Modi government, ever since its inception, has pointed to the need to improve the work culture and an emphasis on indigenous industries. Under the tagline Make in India, he has been successful in attracting investments. This dynamic influx of new investments and the ever-changing economic terrains require vigilant watch and effective laws that are devoid of fatal loopholes. Such laws that need to be put into effect pan-India can only be deliberated upon by the Union Parliament.

Disruptions in Parliament are now a result of cheap vendetta politics. Both the major players, the BJP and the Indian National Congress, are equally guilty of having resorted to such form of unwanted interference. During earlier years of the UPA regime, it was the BJP that had sought refuge in such unorthodox methods to derail the proceedings. Now, as fate would have it, the Congress is paying back the government in its own coin. Back in 2006, the veteran journalist and author Khuswant Singh lamented that the more he saw the Parliament conducting its ‘business’, the more he felt it was on the verge of collapsing. The authenticity of the statement would be applicable for years to come, given the trend of functioning.

This marked change in attitude to parliamentary proceedings must be analysed through pen and paper. It is definitely not easy to be in the boots of a Parliamentarian, and being cynical of such people is a very easy task to do. As is justified by general wit, the first few sessions of the Lok Sabha (1950-early sixties) observed heavy activity in legislative transactions. The time spent by successive sessions of the Lok Sabha has since mellowed down. The First Lok Sabha session devoted forty-nine percent of its time to the legislative business. Successive sessions till the eighth Lok Sabha ranged from twenty-two to twenty-eight percent (22%-28%) for the time dedicated to legislative work, with the Ninth Lok Sabha plunging to an all-time low of 16%. This reduction in legislative work can also be attributed to the emergence of the Cabinet form of government. The Cabinet, which essentially mirrors the Government elected, takes all of the decisions on the guidance of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is in turn responsible to the Lok Sabha. This system was devised to render a smooth edge to the working of the Lower House.

Despite all the advantages that the Cabinet system may possess, it is rendered ineffective and useless if the Parliament itself does not function the way it is meant to be. This sanctum sanctorum of policy debating has been prone to attacks on its system of operation. Of what good is the Cabinet if there are no questions raised on the viability or need of a proposal? Questioning and defending bills are one of the most important tasks assigned to parliamentarians, and it should be their sacred duty to ensure that the sanctity of such a process is accorded its due respect. This provides the essence of democracy, a fundamental right of every Indian citizen.

As responsible citizens, it is definitely heart-wrenching to see the Parliament degrade into such low standards of operation unseen in previous years. It is my earnest hope that things take a turn for the good in days to come, as yet another session of the Parliament draws to a close. Twenty Sixteen has neared its death, and now it is time for Twenty Seventeen to bring in fresh hopes. The reprehensible divisiveness of party politics should not override the devotion of serving in the best interests of the country. It is our India, and only when we become mature enough to take the decisions for ourselves, dumping behind frail temporal loyalties, can we progress.

Illusory Nationalism and its woes

The year 2016 has almost neared its grave, with just a month left to start afresh another new year, bringing in new hopes and possibilities. Politics though would remain as taut as ever: the dynamics of change hardly affect its routine rhetoric. If there is anything that defined the sphere of Indian politics this year, it would undeniably and unquestionably be the contentious issue of patriotism and nationalism.

When ministers from India’s saffron brigade extort money from producers for casting Pakistani actors, it can be branded an act of pretentious nationalism. When innocent Muslims and people from oppressed classes become victims of merciless torture in the name of religion and Bharat Mata, that is deceptive nationalism. When politicians hail the Security Forces on the border for doing a commendable job but engage in nefarious activities behind the public eye, that is pseudo-nationalism. The question is, why should I (and the common man) spare a second for terms that sound intellectual from the very start? The answer is unambiguous and straightforward: the menace of playing with jingoistic sentiments have started producing evident cracks in the societal fabric, and this is serious enough a matter that we need to take up on an individual level.

When Modi was elected in the 2014 General Elections, a ripple of patriotic fervour ran across the length and breadth of the nation. Popularly termed the “Modi wave”, it had its own charisma. Modi was the perfect ambassador of nationalism, blending it with the diktats of the Rashtriya Syamsevak Sangh: strong, firm, intimidating and unrelenting. Right in the first year of his office, the PMO was challenged with the task of responding to inter-religion conflicts that spiralled exponentially everywhere in India. There even were incidents of violence against the Christians, when the holy altars were vandalised in churches, and the PM had to explicitly voice his cajoling message to the community to reassure them. In the wake of the Dadri lynching, Manohar Lal Khattar, a senior BJP member and the Haryana CM, remarked that Muslims would have to give up beef if they were to remain in India. Despite promises, not much has been achieved, and such happenings are becoming even more common by the day.

The government has found an effective weapon in the form of the archaic and demonic sedition law that still finds a mention in the Constitution of the world’s largest democracy. During the Raj, the sedition law was used to bring to book any person suspected of having links with revolutionary movements. Under Modi, section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code breathes its life once again. It bluntly states:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law in 103 [India], shall be punished with 104 [im­prisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

Sedition charges are now being slapped at will without due consideration of the serious nature it beholds. People get labelled with a sedition charge for supporting a rival cricket team, inadvertently liking Facebook posts, and sketching cartoons. The very malice that our founding fathers tried to do away with has struck chords with the government. This provision has now metamorphosed into a tool of vendetta politics more than anything else. Sedition law is one such draconian law from the past that needs to be crushed into the garbage bin of legal archives.

The Supreme Court is considered the apex judicial body for more reasons than one. Over the course of years, it has earned the trust and acclaim of the general populace: some of its judgements have drastically changed India. From granting a clean chit to Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat communal riots to formalising the entry of NOTA (None of the Above) in electoral machines, decisions made by the Supreme Court have mostly been revered. With all due respect to the Supreme Court, I express my sincerest concerns over an order passed by the SC bench yesterday that is outright unjustifiable and appears irrational: a mandatory fifty-two seconds worth of national anthem needs to be played before a movie starts in the theatres. I wonder why all of the “anti-nationals” and alleged traitors from the JNU campus were not subject to such devices of instilling patriotism before? Although I have my highest admiration reserved for the Supreme Court, this is something I cannot comprehend, or rather believe, to be coming from the highest Court of the land. How much of chauvinistic passions can we embed in a person by making him mandatorily sing the National Anthem? Pardon me for this sardonic contrast, but I cannot resist myself from asking how odd it would be to sing the National Anthem moments before a film like Mastizaade or Grand Masti, cheap as they are, starts playing.

Why is Bharat Mata Ki Jai such an important catchphrase for all right-wing elements in the nation? It can be easily deduced that this phrase gives the fustian, pompous ‘nationalistic’ people yet another excuse to justify their otherwise illogical arguments and actions. People who believe themselves as crusaders of “Indian-ness” need to re-evaluate their beliefs. India is an independent entity of 1.2 billion people, diversified by languages, culture, and practices, but united by a common identity of citizenship. The success recipe to great democracies lies in participatory politics and not repressive ones, engaging the masses and walking towards a common goal. There will always be disagreements, but that is a part and parcel of administration work.

To all those people who believe themselves to be agents of propagation of Indian culture and traditionalism, I play your card on your face: We have our security forces manning the borders, defending India with their zeal and vigour. We do not need you to define nationalism for us. 

The Kejriwal Kaleidoscope

There is a fine line between a government that is deemed successful and a government incapable of tending to even the most basic needs of its own citizens. Is Kejriwal a success, or has he proved to be a total failure? Has Kejriwal remained loyal to his pre-election manifesto, or does he still loom among the corridors of uncertainty? Ask any aam aadmi and it does not require much of wit to come up with an answer that bears strict resemblances to the latter proposition of failure.

It would be worthwhile to disclose that I had, on a personal level, supported Kejriwal in his second run for Chief Ministership. Although his previous government had a tenure of a mere count of forty-nine days, that tenure had some glimpses of positive reform in it. President’s Rule followed, and then came the big State elections. People felt that the Aam Aadmi Party deserved a second chance; a chance that pardoned any blunder that the government might have made earlier, and a chance that promised a fresh start to the party. There was an ambient sensation that there was, finally, a political startup that had all the right ingredients: a reputation unblotted by the taint of any unethical offences, and a promise to bring in populist reforms by cutting down on corruption. As history has it, Kejriwal took the vow of office on the fourteenth of February, 2015, pledging to remove all traces of corruption and misgovernance. That pledge now looks no more than a cruel irony to me.

At the end of this period, the only thing that has kept Kejriwal’s party alive is the rhetoric of blame-game politics. From verbal wars with the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to branding the Prime Minister a ‘psychopath’, he has left no stone unturned in this dirty game of his. It is possible that Kejriwal might have had no practical experience of running a government before. It is acceptable that the claims inscribed in his pre-poll manifesto may have been, after all, hollow and rather tall. However, that is no excuse to run away from the responsibilities. Over the present incumbency, instead of trying to rectify the domains of concern and areas that required a vigilant eye, he has played with the victim card. As a Chief Minister, that is an indefensible and lame rationale to justify his position. If you start something, you have to be the person to take the initiative to make it a success, and you have the sole responsibility to bring it to a terminating point. That essentially means to discharge one’s responsibilities in the most efficient way possible. Despite several litigation cases and his personal attacks on State dignitaries, Kejriwal has had no time to rest. Mud-slinging has become his day job, and the common man in Delhi has to bear the brunt of the Centre-State friction. In politics, it is expected that there would be tensions. Although unhealthy, the State administration has no right to put the populace in trouble by trying to point fingers at others. That is not good management, that is poor administration at its height. Going by the rigorous standards, Mr CM has scored a big zero. Perhaps, a negative mark.

The second of the unpardonable mistakes that Kejriwal has committed in his second stint is the failure to realise and implement his manifesto highlights. Plans of installing a million security cameras, making free Wi-Fi a reality in Delhi, establishing nine hundred public health centres, halving electricity bills and a promise to make potable water available free of charge have all gone haywire. The Public Works Department under State control could not carry out repair works pegged at less than two crore rupees, due to an acute lack of funds as per government sources. Is it not ironical that the party had sanctioned 526 crores in its advertisement and media campaigns, from the public exchequer, and then shamelessly professed the cause of severe deficiency of funds? This is a clear case of illicit duplicity and two-facedness. It has also failed on its pillar point in the manifesto: to get rid of the VIP Culture. If a four-hundred percent increase in salary is not a mirror of the VIP culture, I do not know what that means.

Kejriwal has not only politicised the issue of rapes and safety of women in the NCR region but also made a fool of himself in the domestic sphere due to the state of affairs that clearly show the tables have turned. For example, the Muffler Man used to launch diatribes against Sheila Dikshit, the former CM:

More often than not, we find Kejriwal the helpless person. In fact, when questioned about rising deflowering statistics, he has replied with the same rationale of the Delhi police being under the Central government and not directly reporting to the State administration. Under his administration, rapes have gone up by 27% from 6488 in 2014 to 7566 in 2015. Despite assurances of explicit arrangements being made to avoid any excuse or slip-up, only nine fast track courts have been established. What is worrying is that the trial for ninety-three (93%) percent of the accused are pending for the last three years. How perfect an example of hypocrisy is that?

There are a thousand other realms where he has equivalently failed. He has metamorphosed from an idol of reverence to just another uncontended politician looking to serve his own interests. He has transfigured from the ideal democratic figure to the unwanted dictator in the group. The expulsion of senior henchmen like Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan only offered a peek into the divisiveness and factionalism that pervades the group. Their expulsion sent a clear message that Arvind has sought to be the chieftain for his own political mileage; and that he is not ready to sacrifice it for anything else. While going through the news today, I found that Kejriwal has again resorted to hasty decision making, his supreme nemesis and his bete noire, by asking for the rollback of the demonetization move. Is he unaware that a rollback of the demonetization at this point of time is just a silly proposition, and that it has no pragmatic value attached to it? As a responsible politician who uses his office of legislature well, it would be his duty to suggest changes and amendments. Kejriwal, who seeks exclusivity from the rest (but yet finds solace confiding in Mamata and the Thackerays) has made it his signature move now to make such abrupt demands that are difficult to comprehend in any possible interpretation.

As a previous supporter, I feel betrayed, and this is perhaps the case with the vast majority of Delhiites who trusted Kejriwal with sixty-seven out of the seventy seats in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Every Delhiite feels robbed of his voice and feels crushed under the onus of misgovernance. Running a State Government is not a child’s play, and hence Kejriwal should realise immediately that no amount of excuses can render him free from all allegations of poor governance. No one would listen to how the Centre did not cooperate. After all, when life gives you lemons, you ought to make a lemonade. His childish moves and comments have irritated all sane-thinking people (including me), and I would be eagerly awaiting the next State elections. There is no point warring with the Lieutenant Governor when you cannot resolve your internal disputes and cracks. Arvind Kejriwal has mutated into a dictatorial figure with no clear aims, a rudderless tug-boat venturing in the stormy seas of national politics.

If people say he is an anarchist, I would heartily agree with it.

The Victimization of Muslims

One of the most puerile and nascent ways to inspect terrorist attacks is to place the absolute liability of the attack on the entirety of the Mohammedan populace that exists in the community. This worrying trend is now a reality and serves as a brilliant example of religion-based prejudices that still exist in the contemporary society. Ever since the onset of the second millennium, the world has witnessed a host of terror attacks. These attacks have not only annihilated thousands but also have decimated rationality with every dreadful blow.

It is perfectly natural to react outrageously to such strikes. The public perception is an important yardstick to gauge the severity of the attack, and the consequent penalty imposable. The 26/11 attacks were despicable, condemnable, and reviled by all human beings that live in this world. I, too, am a part of this bandwagon: and I will stand up against all forms of terrorism in the future. However, it is equally indispensable to note that popular opinion often bears appreciable resemblances to fickle-mindedness, subject to change with changing whims.

Terrorism is definitely not a post-modern concept, it existed for ages before that. It would also be wrong to categorize terrorism as a war between the Muslim and the Christian ideologue. A Jewish terrorist organization, Sicarii, was established in the first century AD to combat the Romans in the Middle East. This only iterates how terrorism is not a present-day dictionary term. Post the Second World War, terrorism started to be linked with violence to advance political demands. From the seventies, most of the uprisings and revolutions took place in the African landscape, dominated by theological states adopting Islam as its guiding light. Revolutions are chaotic and usher in instability more than anything else; and consequently gives birth to a plethora of other tangible problems. This, unfortunately, is how we know terrorism today: the bloodied face of Muslim fidayeen who devote their lives to a false promise of acceptance into heaven, a stable future, and a good remuneration.

As per the statistics revealed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes against the Muslims have risen 67% from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015 in the United States alone. In the United Kingdom, activist group Tell MAMA reports that religion-based bias against the Muslims witnessed a surge capped at 326% over the course of just one year. It prognosticates ghastly situations after Britain formally declares a clause to exit from the European Union. If we are to look into the domestic situation, tensions are at an all-time high: a string of lynching and cow-vigilantism activities took its due toll on the fragile communal joints in India.

All of these hate crimes can effectively be summed up in one word: Islamophobia. While going through a CNN report during my research work, I found a line that appealed to me: and I shall not refrain myself from sharing it with you all. Daniel Burke, the regional editor of CNN, says:

Muslims live in fear that they will be attacked. Americans live in fear that Muslims will attack them.

How apt is the above line! Islamophobia is for real, and it breathes its life in every corner of the society. As a devout follower of any other religion, one may be inclined to shrug off these concerns. But taking that route would deem one similar to an escapist who eludes the reality. What if we were the innocent Muslims, and at the receiving end of unwarranted brickbats from the entire community? What if our children were dragged out of our homes and abused in front of us, and we were to watch helplessly? What if our wives and sisters were molested in the name of religious prejudice? What if our family members are murdered and all we could do is to watch these fleeting events in cold blood? That would be completely unacceptable, a direct contradiction and a gross violation of our fundamental human rights guaranteed not only by the State but also ratified by the United Nations Charter of Fundamental Rights.

FBI Statistics on Hate Crimes in the United States (2015).

If we cannot internally accept even the remotest thought of such attempts to demean us at an individual level, why do we reciprocate inherently such violent actions towards a minority group? As an enthusiast for all things Afghani, I consider myself fortunate to get hold of a book named “A Fort of Nine Towers“. This book is a revelation of the raw reality that exists: ordinary citizens like you and me trapped in the deluge of war. Incomprehensible, and often tough to believe, the actuality is strikingly difficult to acknowledge. Should it not be that these people be given a fair opportunity to prove themselves, instead of being judgemental and labeling the entire band of these people as traitors?

While the initial fury is justifiable by the tenets of human psychology, continued discriminatory actions are definitely not. As that apt remark by Burke explains, both parties involved in this strenuous relationship are at daggers drawn, which essentially means that fear prevails and there are no winners involved. As the economists forecast, the US and European states would move into a period where they lack sufficient youth population to sustain their behemoth economies. Most of these men and women, of whom many may be immigrants, are resourceful and best of all, in their prime. This would not only provide them employment opportunities, but all of them would act as individual catalysts to propel the res publica forward.

It is in peace that we find prosperity. It is my most humble appeal to my dear readers, to discard the religious card you may have. Think of the infantile children who undergo such a lot of awful hardships. Are these innocent Muslims, whoever they be, not a product of the Lord? I do not care whether I end up taking a note that may brand me as yet another “anti-national” in the eyes of a few jingoistic parties: for I believe these pertinent concerns must be addressed immediately.

As Tagore would plausibly quote,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls…
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

 

 

India and the Nukes

Modi’s love affair with Japan seems to know no boundaries. In his second State visit to Japan in under two years, he has managed to ink a civilian nuclear power deal with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. However, as expected, there were instances of domestic resistance in both the countries: a people’s movement against nuclear plant establishment in India, while a general sentiment that nuclear deals should not be made with non-NPT (Nuclear Proliferation Treaty) states prevailed in Japan.

Although the former is a concern that can be tackled with the count of years, the latter is something to contemplate upon. Would the public opinion in Japan be more disposed to India’s cause if India were a member of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group? Is it not valid to speculate that Japan would have unilaterally decided to permit such a deal had India been a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Bilateral Nuclear Deals

The nuclear deal with Japan has come at a cost that can have dynamic ramifications. In a first of its type, India has explicitly highlighted that it would not conduct nuclear tests in the future. As per media reports, American firms dealing in nuclear technology have significant relationships with Japanese establishments of the same nature.  Commentators have brought out the fact that this bilateral agreement bears many resemblances to the 2005 nuclear deal under the Bush administration. The Indo-US deal was hailed as a game changer in the diplomatic circles, whereby India was not only implicitly recognized as a responsible nuclear state, but also transformed India’s image in the international sphere from a nuclear pariah to a partner. The Bush administration, as per opinions, broke the ice by finding a modus vivendi with India. However, an exception cannot be made everywhere.

The Japanese, on the other hand, also have strategic interests in concluding the agreement. The Sino-Japanese rivalry has only heated up in the last few years, whose credit primarily goes to heightened tensions over the South China Sea dispute. Even if we are to move past the nuclear deal, there are a thousand other ventures where Tokyo would like to cooperate with New Delhi. Take for instance the bullet train, a field where Japan is keen and enthusiastic to invest. All of this essentially boils down to an advantage for India, as it can now effectively snub Chinese attempts of regional ascendancy.

India’s desire to get into the NSG

It must be noted that India has been desperately trying to get into the exclusive NSG club, wherein it would have untold benefits as far as nuclear commerce is concerned. As mentioned earlier, an important consideration of this consortium is that the members must be a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has not signed the treaty for it considers it discriminatory, and rightly so. At this juncture, there is a vital consideration. Should India up the ante to get into the NSG despite opposition from global players? If the answer to that is affirmative, there are perils attached to it.

India’s entry into the NSG as an independent exception cannot bear expected results from the Indian point of view. This is mainly because Pakistan, too, seeks a place in the association: and an unbiased exception is incredibly difficult to justify. China would then pester and lobby for Pakistan’s admission: and thus India’s cardinal intent of joining the NSG would be nullified. Geopolitical tensions are always a top concern in South Asia. A recent development in the form of Parrikar’s personal musings about how India should abandon the “no first use” of nuclear weapons policy would only act as yet another deterrent.

The Last Say

As of now, it seems unlikely that India would get a stamp of approval to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Henceforth, it would be worthwhile to ensure that India lives up responsibly to its image of a peaceful nuclear country. It would be demoralizing on a diplomatic level to vigorously canvas for India’s entry into the exclusive club and then get an outright rejection. Moreover, regardless of any inherent lack of logic, China would always play the rhetoric of “no exceptions”: for India would not sign the NPT in the foreseeable future.  In my opinion, the world would definitely watch how India shapes its strategy as far as the India-Pakistan strains are concerned, as a litmus test for India’s commitment to international conventions.  Thus, the only feasible way to get out of this tangible mess of affairs is to exercise careful restraint in actions on an international level.

The Trump Card

The Big Brother of the World has a new captain in the form of Donald J. Trump. In a sweeping and unanticipated win, Trump has been elected the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.  Claiming the Presidential seat has been a rather tumultuous ride for Trump- or for that matter, Republicans themselves- with the former having to battle a string of sexual assault allegations from women weeks before the elections, apart from the regular outrageous racial comments that provoked criticism from all quarters.

Critics have pondered over whether the world is preferring a transition from the unadventurous and hackneyed politics to choosing extremist politics whose very pillars lie on frustration and anger. Tapping into the subconscious fear has for long been a good way to convince people. The Trump campaign, based on the cornerstone of ‘Make America Great Again’ tried to exploit general concerns over security, and reinstill a sense of belief in the stereotypical ‘Great American Dream’.

Obama, who will be taking the exit to vacate the Presidential office for Trump and co., has said he prefers a smooth changeover. In an official White House release, Obama mentioned about the need to give the President-elect a fair opportunity to lead the people.

“We have to remember that we’re actually all on one team…We’re not Democrats first, we’re not Republicans first, we are Americans first. We’re patriots first. We all want what’s best for this country.” – President Obama, 9th of November, 2016.

The decision was expected to be tight, and indeed it was: the Presidential elections of 2016 would be one to remember for a long time ahead. Although the Democratic nominee won by popular vote, the Electoral College made the last-mile difference in choosing Trump as the inheritor of the White House. Primarily, both candidates had drawbacks. First, Trump had his bohemian way of looking at things. From suggesting a blanket ban on Muslims entering the States to proposing tight restrictions on rights of Latin Americans, he has done it all. Personality, however, proved to be his redeemer: for his image was more of an “I do what I do”-like than his comparatively tamer opponent, Clinton. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was in a spot due to unpardonable questions over her integrity in respect of the email scandal. Despite a whole host of celebrities putting their weight behind Clinton, her glittery speeches failed to gain considerable traction with the masses. And the result is what we presently have at hand: a Republican administration led by Trump at the commanding helm. After the election results were out, Clinton accepted her electoral defeat and echoed Obama. In a public tweet, she asked the populace to accept Trump with an open mind.

From an Indian perspective, questions can be raised on the new bilateral relations that would develop between Washington and New Delhi. Trump has had double standards as far as India is concerned: while he has acknowledged his desire to cooperate and work closely with the Indian government, he has also explicitly made clear his wish to repeal H1B visas. A lot of the Indian diaspora based in the States live on H1B working-class visas, and cutting off the H1B as part of chauvinistic reforms would definitely affect the community. However, there are positives to take as well from the result. Trump’s constant emphasis on eliminating terrorism in all of its ugly forms could result in stronger Indo-US defence ties. Consequently, closer defence ties would give birth to deeper trade relations, currently valued at almost $44.7 billion (2015).

Nevertheless, it is heartening to note that experts in the policy-making circles believe with a sense of complacency that irrespective of whatever temporal cracks that may develop, the bilateral Indo-US relations would be on a positive track. In stark contrast to the pages of history, America’s initial indifference towards India was soon washed away when it became evident that New Delhi could not be ignored if America were to protect her interests in South Asia. Also, Capitol Hill focused its lights on India in a special way after India stepped into the era of globalization, initiated by the late Prime Minister, Rajeev Gandhi. This touched the zenith when in 2005, under the Presidency of George W. Bush, the Civil Nuclear Deal was inked with the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

If we are to assess Trump’s foreign policy in sections that have Indian interests intertwined, we would find that it tilts by a good slant to favour India. His long-standing grudge against China would definitely reflect on the policies, including a probability of drawing sanctions for economic strong-arm tactics that Beijing often uses. Pakistan has woken up to a state of disillusional quandary: for it hesistates to go the distance, given the President-elect’s discountenance with Pakistan’s open secret of using terrorism as a State weapon against India. The threat of Islamic fanaticism and an increasingly authoratarian China also possess security challenges to both India and the States, which if handled well, could assure a safer world. On numerous fronts, he has lambasted Pakistan for being a harbour of terrorists and a safe haven for all activities underground. That is rightly evident from his official Twitter account.

On a personal front, it is my firm conviction, and I believe you would undeniably agree, that with great power comes along a sense of responsibility. The temptation of power is a lot like lust: it can lead people astray. However, when the baton has to be passed on to the next successor, the realization kicks in early: the President of the United States of America can never afford to have a happy-go-lucky attitude in complete disregard of official protocol. The American elections once again reaffirm how unpredictable the popular choice may be. And if all is well, we definitely have one line that sums it all:

Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar

Read also from the same author: India’s growing bonhomie with the United States (June 2016).

Big Bucks Banned

While the stern move is definitely welcome, the dictatorial style of the government is not… There is, at the end of the day, no definite assurance that counterfeit currency would not be produced any further.

The Modi government is good at bowling googlies when one would least expect them: in an unprecedented move, the Prime Minister has announced that the Indian currency notes of denomination worth five hundred and a thousand rupees would cease to be legal tenders from midnight today.

The bold move has been taken in order to curb corruption and reduce the number of transactions involving black money. According to official statistics, 250 out of every 10 lakh notes are identified as counterfeit currency. However, despite the government officials taking yet another opportunity to brag about their radical step, the common man looks to be left in an uncomfortable spot.

The banks remain closed tomorrow, and that has added to the general worry. The order to declare the denominations invalid from midnight of 9th November has come across as the biggest shock. That simplifies the equation to something that is sure to disturb our thoughts: for a minimum of two days, all your five hundred and thousand rupees notes stand worthless: until they are exchanged, that is. The exceptions, where the aforementioned notes would still be valid till the eleventh of November, are airports, railway stations, crematoriums, chemists, bus stands, airline counters, and a few more of such public facilities. Think of all the high-value transactions that falls outside of the domain of the exemption purview that the government has drawn: all such dealings need to be now made in hundred rupee notes within these days. The other concern is the astronomical lines that would plague the bank counters the day they reopen. To make matters worse, ATMs would not function on the ninth and tenth of this month.

The move is sound on paper. However, on a second thought, this would be causing unrivaled tribulation to the public at large, in an unwarranted manner. Things could have been much smoother and the public response more affirmative had the time for the notes being disqualified been extended even by a day. Ironically, the announcement was made at 8 PM to phase out the notes from 12:00 AM. That is overriding the public with your whims. I agree all of this would lead to long-term benefits, but there are more efficient ways to accrue them instead of harassing the public in such a manner. Some have rightly pointed out about the minnows whom we have left out of the equation altogether: the petty vendors, the ones who sell at the bazaars, how would they manage to get so many hundred rupee notes until all those glittery grand notes are exchanged? How would the common man manage? How would the teenager who orders a good sum worth of goods online under Cash on Delivery (COD) pay that amount over hundred rupee notes? That is a point to ponder on. The bank remains closed on the following day. What happens to the people who are desperate to exchange their money at this point? They are left in the lurch. While the stern move is definitely welcome, the dictatorial style of the government is not.

In a nutshell, the pertinent questions that still remain are:

  1. The Government should accept absolute responsibility for the trouble faced by a billion people throughout the nation, and must make last mile arrangements to ensure that no one is denied the right to exchange such currency despite geographical limitations, or otherwise,
  2. I still do not understand the use of the denomination worth Rupees Two Thousand. The RBI could have introduced a new format for the thousand rupee note in a similar way, akin to its counterpart being sacked,
  3. There is, at the end of the day, no definite assurance that counterfeit currency would not be produced further. While it may take some time to duplicate the new patterns, deceiving people is very easy: and cheats are good at this business. What happens then?
  4. Those who stash away their money in Swiss accounts are not imbecile to keep their wealth in liquid cash. They keep their wealth distributed over movable and immovable assets. What impact would the move have over these people?

If this works out, it would indeed be nothing short of a historic move worthy of being recorded in the record books. If not, a failure of monumental scale for the NDA government that is already receiving brickbats from the Opposition for such an insensitive and hasty move.

EDIT: As of now, I can independently confirm that the rumors relating to the notes having GPS tracking abilities are baseless and fake. No such measure would be incorporated into the new notes.

UPDATE: Fake currency notes have been detected within days of the release of the new notes.

 

Politics, made comprehensible

The last time I was having a debate on a political subject, I overheard some bystanders claiming politics is hopeless; that it is a game of luck, a game plagued by the vices loathed by the society. This is an absolutely puerile way of describing the subject matter at hand: politics expands into dominions so large that it can be incomprehensible to many. This remains an undeniable fact, and to deny it would only prove oneself a fool.

Hence, I have taken on myself this endeavor- Politics Now- as a medium to simplify politics into something that is intelligible to the masses. This murky mess of affairs, in reality, offers an excellent scope for analysis, let alone political critique. While you would get your daily dose of news on almost any other news website on the giant network called the Internet, Politics Now would strive to be unique by offering a one-on-one analysis and how that would affect you, or the community, on an individual level.

But this would suffice for the first post on this new venture. I would definitely be looking forward to your active participation in sharing your views which would be more than welcome. And with a good sense of food humour, I thus make my point:

Politics Now- Palatable Politics, served fresh.