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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

On Punjab elections, and why what should be a victory for AAP feels like a defeat

We live in times of instant gratification.

Just look around us.

T20 is the flavor of cricket today. Test cricket is “too slow” for these busy times.
(Typical conversation:
 This goes on for the WHOLE day?
No, not one. Five.
 Five? Five full days?
Yes. And even after that, it could be a draw. No winner or loser.
You want to kill me? Kill me NOW.)

News too has imbibed this supreme sense of urgency, an outcome of this instant gratification urge. Every outlet, in its rush to be “the first” to break the story, is happy to just push it out there, not fact-checked, unedited. As long as it is “the first”.  People’s attention span probably ensures  they’ll just skim through it anyway – assuming they go past the headline first. And news comes at them at such a rapid pace anyway, they’ll forget this piece the moment the next one appears in their inbox, or is delivered on social media.

That’s the world we live in today. And that’s ok – these are fast-paced times.

Patience isn’t a virtue anymore. In fact, it is probably scorned upon.  (See cricket discussion above).

But this also means we sometimes miss the essence of something significant because we are too caught up in our instant gratification trip. It’s not happening fast enough for our minds to appreciate any movement at all. So we conclude, nothing is happening . But it’s happening in ITS time, not ours. Something we will appreciate only if we give it ITS time.

Ok, let me stop talking in this Deepak Chopra-esque lingo and come straight to the point.

I am referring to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its evolution.

When the results of the Punjab Assembly elections were announced today, there was a huge sense of  disappointment amongst AAP supporters. Many of them had worked incredibly hard for the party, giving it their everything. They'd even guarded EVMs, fearing they might be manipulated during the 5-week waiting period between voting and counting. 

AAP came in with "just" 20 seats out of 117. This, when at one time, a few months ago, they were talking of 80+ seats, even 100 seats!

That’s quite a comedown!

The incumbent, the Akalis, did even worse. Expectations from them were very low anyway, so they probably matched, or even surpassed, these low expectations.

The runaway winner was the old hand, the Congress Party. Thanks to a leader the electorate largely trusted, Capt Amarinder Singh. And of course, the organization at ground level that this grand old party has.

So AAP ended up a very distant second. But, even so, having come in second, it is the main opposition party in the Punjab Assembly.

This made me think.

Was I expecting AAP to sweep Punjab? Not really. I certainly expected them to do much better than they did, but I never once underestimated the other two big parties.

 Both Congress and the Akalis are entrenched parties, with cadres loyal to them. They’ve both fought many elections before and are surely aware of the tricks of the trade, especially how to woo the electorate. Both are deep-pocketed and can comfortably call upon resources from outside Punjab whenever required.

Compare this with AAP. It’s a 4-and-a-little-something year old party, with very little experience of contesting elections. Although it did contest general elections in Punjab in 2014, this was the first time it was seeking votes from Punjab voters to govern them in their own state.

AAP’s footprint, at least that which could have been relevant to the Punjab voter, was almost entirely in Delhi. It might claim to have a good report card to show for its two years in Delhi – but it was still a relatively unknown commodity for  the Punjab voter.  Many of the AAP candidates must have been new names for the voters.

Compare this with the Congress and SAD. In 2012, Congress got about 40% of the voteshare, even more than SAD's 35%, though SAD won the elections. So this time even if there was huge anti-incumbency in Punjab, wouldn't it be natural to expect these anti-incumbency votes to go to a party that is already extremely well-entrenched in the state? That has a very strong local leader in Capt Amarinder? 

Why would a voter pick an untested name from an untested party over a familiar, trusted, one?

On what basis then were the predictions of 80-100 seats for AAP based? 

Based purely on euphoria from seeing crowds at campaigns held well before election date?

At least if these crowds had assembled just a few days before election date, one could have made a case for AAP having a realistic chance of winning.

There were probably many reasons for AAP’s less-than-expected performance. I don’t want to dwell on them here.

 I do want to however dwell on the expectation itself. That's because I strongly believe the disappointment stems from this expectation.

Otherwise, getting 20 seats in a state you're contesting for the first time, against two formidable opponents would normally be considered a victory for a new party.
I think it all started with the Delhi landslide.

67/70 is mind-blowingly phenomenal by any standards.

But it is also ripe for the creation of illusions.

Had AAP won Delhi with a more modest 40/70, nobody would've been throwing numbers like 100/117 in Punjab. That is an obscene domination, but when you’ve seen 67/70, a 100/117 looks, well,  doable.

Which, for the party itself, is just fine. You contest to win. And to win every seat you contest.

But when the “new normal” being talked about becomes 80/117 or even more, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.

After all, Delhi is history, Punjab is a fresh election. You need to start from scratch to win over every single voter all over again. One vote at a time, building up to one seat at a time, building up to a majority. It is a painstaking process, requiring huge amount of investment of time and money.  Unlike other deep-pocketed parties, AAP largely depends on volunteers for both their time and money.  It was going to be a real tough ask to harness these resources for 117 constituencies.

Seen this way, AAP should have been an underdog to start with. That it wasn’t, is down entirely to unrealistic expectations, whether created by the party itself or by others.

Also seen from this bottom-up angle, that AAP has managed to get 20 seats, contesting for the first time in Punjab state elections, should be  seen as positive by the neutral observer. Until now, Punjab had seen mostly a bi-party contest. This time, a third party entered the fray – and ended up being the main opposition party in the Assembly.

This might serve as a good experience for AAP in Punjab. By the time the next state elections come along, AAP might have settled in better in the state, and  broadened its base. This is part of the evolution process of a political party.

Which brings me to the evolution of AAP, as whole.

And brings me back to the point I started this piece with. On these fast-paced times and the concomitant lack of patience to allow things to evolve.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that AAP is not even 5 years old. Compare this with entrenched parties, who’ve been around for decades, with strong organization structure and cadres around the country. AAP is nowhere close to this at the moment.

Yet, the buzz is all about where AAP is going to contest next, and how it is going to “shake” the biggies in that state. Gujarat next? Then what?

Much as I appreciate the excitement that seems to follow any AAP indication, or even speculation, of contesting elections,  I think we need to temper our electoral expectations on AAP. Enough of this hype.  It’s not like other parties are sleeping and are just going to let AAP walk all over them.

Yes, by all means, AAP should contest every election it wishes to, if it has the resources to do so. Even if it wins one seat (or, as in the case of Goa, not even that one), it might be a first step to making its presence known in that state. It might have a small vote share which might not translate to seats, but is an encouraging vote of confidence from those few voters.

But, for heaven’s sake, keep the hype down. Put in all the effort to win – but don’t go about making statements like “we’re going to sweep it”. Your volunteers might need pumping up, but there are better ways of motivating them.

Otherwise you set yourself up for situations like today. 

What should be seen as a victory of sorts in Punjab – becoming the second largest party, and therefore the main opposition party – now feels like a defeat.

All because of hype and unrealistic expectations.

AAP is still evolving. It’s still very early days for it – we don’t know how its footprint will be 5 years from today, 10 years from today. It might have a significant presence in many states by then. It might be in government in a few, maybe the main opposition party in others. Especially given the state of the Congress party at the moment, AAP might become the biggest national party after the BJP.

Or it might not. Already, based on just today’s results, some have written the obituary of the party. Somewhat reminiscent of what happened after the LS elections of 2014.

All of this is, of course, in the realm of speculation.

What AAP can do is keep doing its job, and building credibility as a party. This might not win it elections  in the short run, since it is still very much an outsider, fighting for mind space against entrenched parties with established cadres and networks.

But as it gains credibility, as its work gets talked about more, as it builds more institutional strength and capability, it has every reason to hope for more electoral gains too.  This might take time but if it is on the right track, it should eventually see results for all its good work.

In between, there will, of course, be electoral hits and misses. These just need to be taken in its stride, without getting carried away - or agitated - about a hit or a miss. After all, an electoral result is not an absolute reflection of one party, it is relative to how voters perceive others in the fray.

So my advice to AAP would be, just be grounded. And patient. It might be frustrating at times, but play it like a Test match. Build the capabilities that enable you to be that “lambe race ka ghoda”. 

Where you’re in government, let your work speak for you. Where you’re in opposition, be a tough opposition, demanding performance from the government. Either way, the winner will be the people of that state or constituency.

This is what is in your hands.

The rest should just follow. And will, in due course.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Demonetisation, Note Ban - the saga in couplets

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to write about this demonetization, or note ban (whatever you want to call it). If for nothing else, just to get it out of my system. It’s been bothering me for days now – especially when I read about all that’s happening as a result of it, most of it not positive.

But I decided against writing about it here. There’s SO much out there already, written by people far more competent than me, so what additional insight can I provide, that has not already been provided by someone?

I have tweeted rather extensively on the topic – but it continues to bother me. So finally this evening, I decided I’d write SOMETHING. I’d like to say “short and sweet”, but I don’t find anything sweet about this, sorry. Maybe if things get better over time, I’ll commend this move, but for now, I’m staying firmly in the present.

Instead of writing in prose, I decided I’d write some couplets, for a change.

Let me warn you – there’s absolutely nothing new in the content, so if you’re looking for something new here, you’re wasting your time.

So here goes.

An attempt to describe recent events, this thread
And through couplets, show, to what this note ban has led

“Couldn’t have executed it better”, they said
Even as in queues and elsewhere, people were falling dead

“No pain no gain”, they said
Staying ever smug, not a tear shed

 “Minor inconvenience”, they said
Even as across the country, havoc spread

“For long-term good”, they said
What good ,and when, safely left unsaid

“Have to make sacrifices”, they said
For we live in comfort, while our border soldiers lie dead

“Kept it top-secret”, they said
Though there are signs, some did know ahead

“The corrupt are quaking”, they said
But, hey,  it’s the poor who’re breaking instead

“We’ll collect huge black money”, they said
Looking more like it’s turning white instead

“Just go cashless”, they said
Nonchalant, as a cash-heavy nation bled

“Give us fifty days”, they said
Soon revising  it to hundred-and-eighty instead

“Worked on it for ten months”, they said
To show this isn’t a rush of blood to the head

While stories of success to us are daily fed
All we can do is keep banging our head

Indeed fools rush in where angels fear to tread
And thus, in one fell swoop, shatter their very cred!


Friday, May 22, 2015

Delhi: Beyond the Kejriwal - Najeeb Jung debate

In the last week, the headlines in both mainstream and social media have been dominated by news of the turf war between Delhi’s Lieutenant Governor (LG), Najeeb Jung, and the Delhi Government, notably the Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal.

The matter of contention is the appointment by the LG of Shakuntala Gamlin, senior bureaucrat, to the position of acting Chief Secretary of Delhi, standing in for the Chief Secretary, KK Sharma, who is on leave.

Both sides have been vocal and emphatic in stressing their authority. Supporters of both sides have been even more vocal, especially on social media and in TV debates.

Understandably, given the nature of the battle, lawyers have stepped in, both suo moto and on request of both parties, to give their opinion on the subject. Suddenly one hears of the proviso to Article 239AA(4) of the Constitution of India. One hears of the NCT of Delhi Act, 1991. One hears of the “Transaction of Business Rules”.

All of this has been very educational and interesting for a layman like me. I will confess my utter and total ignorance in these matters.

As of the time of writing this piece, the matter is still unresolved. While some respected legal experts like Gopal Subramaniam, Indira Jaising and Rajeev Dhawan seem to be backing the Delhi government’s position, the LG has gone one step further and even annulled bureaucratic postings made by the Delhi Govt, claiming that only he has constitutional power to do transfers and postings.

Clearly the turf war has just got uglier.

No doubt, the decibel levels will only rise further. Not just on social media but also on India’s MSM, where this “story” is being keenly followed and debated in the daily evening primetime debate sessions.  

People will discuss the politics around Gamlin’s appointment. They will discuss the alleged locking out of a bureaucrat from his office. They will discuss all sorts of nitty-gritty issues relating to the bureaucracy. They will quote constitutional provisions, the NCT Act and such, to try to make a case to prove their point.

All of this will happen. We are a country that loves to debate, especially when this gives us a chance to display our knowledge of technicalities. Everyone is suddenly an expert, whether acknowledged or self-professed. In the worst case, if the technicalities are too cumbersome to understand - or too inconvenient to face - we can always switch to generalities, and even ad hominem attacks. “As usual, Kejriwal is doing dramebaazi – making a mountain out of a molehill”, or “Najeeb Jung is a Reliance agent, now being used by BJP only to harass AAP”.

Sadly, this isn’t just the street talk on social media. It is the type of talk you see in discussion panels on mainstream media. Everyone has his knives out, as if his life depended on it.


I think we are missing the woods for the trees.

Honestly, I don’t care who is right or wrong in this matter. We can debate every fine point, get all the legal experts to give their views. And then?

Tomorrow there will be another point of contention between the LG and the government. Another disagreement, another showdown. Both sides seem to believe they are in the right – neither seems to want to cede to the other. So the next flashpoint is just around the corner, waiting to happen. It could be a matter of days, or weeks, but it’s inevitable.

Are we going to get into this mess every single time? The media might not mind it – in fact, it might even relish it.  But we need to ask ourselves – is this good for Delhi?

The answer has got to be an emphatic NO. How can it be good for Delhi in the long run, if so much energy, effort and time is wasted in turf squabbles?

So what’s the solution?

Let me start by stating what I feel is NOT the solution.

The solution is NOT that one party (LG or Delhi government) accepts the other’s authority just to avoid conflict.

I say this, because I have seen comments saying “We never had this problem during Sheila Dikshit’s time. She and the LG always managed to work out their issues through compromise”.

Sorry, but that’s not a solution.  That is sub-optimal performance, by ducking the problem. You avoid conflict, but you also don’t execute the responsibility entrusted to you.

The solution is to address the REAL problem that Delhi faces in this respect. It is not Kejriwal or Aam Aadmi Party or Najeeb Jung.

The REAL problem for Delhi is this “partial statehood” status. 

Now, there might have been very good reasons in the early 1990s for changing Delhi’s status from a pure Union Territory (UT) to a “state”. Since these decisions are not taken overnight, I am sure much thought went into this decision.

I am equally sure plenty of thought went into the decision NOT to make Delhi a full-fledged state, along the lines of other states.

As a result, with appropriate changes in the Constitution and by passing other laws to enable this “state” to be created, we now have Delhi as a “state” – but not a “full state”. It has some federal powers, but is limited in some areas.

This is about as nonsensical as it gets. No amount of creative law-making can get around this basic fact.

That every Delhi government till now has accepted this, and gone with it (even if grudgingly), is a shame. And certainly no reason to justify the perpetuation of this monstrosity of an arrangement.

It is an insult to the electorate that their elected representatives have only limited powers to serve them. It is a travesty of the whole purpose of elections, a farce of democracy.

One of the first principles of management is about authority and accountability. He who is accountable, must have authority to execute. And he, who has authority, is entitled to be held accountable for  use of such authority.

In the Delhi context, the elected members are accountable to their electorate. But they don’t have full authority to execute. The LG has executive powers, but is not accountable to the people – at least not through an election process.

This just cannot be right. I am no legal or political expert, I am just an aam aadmi – but this defies basic logic.

That we have allowed this to happen for 23 years confounds me. I can only conclude that Delhi has been passive all along – most likely indifferent to this blatant joke of a structure. That each Delhi government till now has accepted this, and played along, only baffles me further. To be fair to each previous Delhi government, I understand it has also occasionally expressed its misgivings. But then, this has never been vocal enough. It has never stirred up serious debate on the topic.

That is why I am hoping this gets uglier. 

No, not the Gamlin issue in itself. But the stand the current Delhi government is taking vis-à-vis the LG. The sad reality in India is that unless things get really ugly, they just get brushed under the carpet.

I am hoping this will lead to a bigger debate about roles and responsibilities of the LG vs the Delhi government. Probably wishful thinking, considering Indian media is far more likely to discuss twists and turns of every minor incident, rather than discuss the bigger picture holistically.

That is what we need. A vigorous, holistic discussion about Delhi’s political status.

Should it be given “full state” status?

Should it revert to being a Union Territory?

Should part of it be carved out as a full state, the rest being under the Centre’s control? That way, maybe many of the concerns of giving it full statehood, could be addressed.

It is now 23 years that we’ve had Delhi / NCT in this new avatar. During this period, its population has grown tremendously in all directions.

Surely it is worth taking a step back now and reviewing the situation?

Do we have the political will to do so?  If we did, we would probably not even be having this discussion.

I think we, the people, have to raise our voices. Today, thanks to social media, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard like never before.

So let's do it. Let's force a debate on this. Let's get the concerned parties (and I don't mean political parties) to put their heads together and work out a clean, structural, long-term political structure for Delhi.

We owe it to the people of Delhi.

P.S: For the moment, I am deliberately staying away from expressing a view on what the outcome of such a holistic debate should be, for Delhi. I do have a view (doesn't everybody? :-) ) - and I am happy to discuss it too - but that is NOT the purpose of this piece.

Right now, my main objective is to have this whole discussion elevated to a higher level. Stop discussing the incidents, discuss the cause. Fix the hole in the ceiling, instead of mopping the floor below.

All I ask for now is to find a structural solution to get rid of the scope for confusion that exists currently due to a seemingly dual authority structure. Legal eagles might dispute this, quoting provisions of various laws but this shouldn't even be necessary. Keep structures simple and clear. Keep roles and responsibilities clean and transparent. Marry authority with accountability. That's all I ask for.

If politicians, and the mainstream media, for whatever reasons, will not take the first step, we, the people, must. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

On Feminism and Feminism-bashing : Random Thoughts

Even as I type this I realize it might not be the smartest thing to do – especially since, as a man, I open myself up to accusations of mansplaining, or, of being patronizing towards women.  But , as if to prove true the adage “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, I am going ahead and putting my thoughts out there on a topic that’s been bothering me for a while now.

The trigger for this post is a development that I’ve been observing of late –  of a number of women suddenly going out of their way to trash feminism. I’m not the least bit surprised that men do this – but it does come as a bit of a surprise to see so many women now get into the act. Not only do they seem to consider being called a feminist a grave insult, they do not miss any opportunity to mock feminists and the entire feminist movement.

In a sense, this post is addressed to them.

I see that there’s an entire movement out there called “Women Against Feminism” . On the site by this name one can see pictures of women holding placards explaining why they do not need feminism in their lives. 

Fair enough. Each one of them has a reason not to support the feminist movement.  Either they feel it doesn’t help women, or they think men are being unnecessarily targeted, or they feel they want to fight their battles on their own.

It is of course an individual choice but I think that somewhere they are missing something fundamental to not just feminism, but to any movement.

And that is, you don’t fight only for YOURSELF, the individual – you fight for the rights of a much broader section of society. You fight against injustice to this section of society. You fight against discrimination that this section of society faces.

In the case of feminism, it is about the female gender.  You don’t have to individually have faced injustice or discrimination to know that millions of women all around the world are subject to injustice and discrimination every single day of their lives, purely due to their gender.

This isn’t made-up, it’s a fact. And  if you’re a woman and haven’t faced this, good for you. I’m happy for you. But the world is a little larger than just you – and there are, sadly, many more women out there who aren’t quite as fortunate as you.

So the very least you can do is to acknowledge this fact and not make it all about yourself. If you don’t want to participate in any effort to improve the lot of all those women, fine. Nobody is forcing you to. But by mocking the efforts of those who ARE trying to make a positive change for these women, you are, even if unintentionally, harming the cause of these, less fortunate, women.

Let’s just take stock of the situation for a moment.  

For centuries, women have been suppressed and not treated as equals in society. They’ve been relegated to doing tasks than men did not want to do. Under the pretext of being the persons “bringing home the bacon” (often conveniently appropriating for themselves the sole right to do so), men have dominated family structures, and, by extension, society at large.

Of course, there have been exceptions. But this is exactly what they have been – exceptions. To the norm of male domination.  Anything women have achieved has almost always been INSPITE of the odds being severely stacked against them.  Which is why, when you look at history, you hear of a woman here, or a woman there – when half the world’s population is female.

When this has been happening for centuries, generation after generation, small wonder that in many societies, women have got conditioned to playing second fiddle to men.  Right from their birth, they are made to feel that men are the stronger sex. And not just physically so. They are made to feel that their raison d’etre is to serve men. That they are the “natural nurturers”. That their lives are incomplete without men. That they would be lost without men in their lives. A single woman is either frowned upon, or pitied. She needs to be married off as soon as possible.

Whether we choose to use the term “patriarchy” or not, the fact is that there has been, for centuries, a power imbalance between men and women.  One of the most striking examples of this is that in one of the supposedly most progressive societies of them all, the United States of America, on a national level, women did not have voting rights till 1920!

Today things are better, no doubt. Especially in western societies, the fight for gender equality has presumably made considerable progress, although even today gender-based discrimination is prevalent. It still manifests itself in multiple ways – whether in the form of less compensation for women compared to men, or women being overlooked when it comes to breaking that glass ceiling. And women continue to face harassment and abuse of all sorts – a result of men feeling a sense of entitlement to treat women this way.

In any case, whatever has been achieved, it has not come easy. Giving up power is never easy. And rarely voluntary.  So to make men share power with women has always been a challenge.  Women have had to fight for their rights. They have had to fight to force legislative change.  They have had to fight to get themselves better education, better jobs, more financial independence.

The picture is much bleaker in societies like India where patriarchy is far deeper ingrained. Social mores and conditioning have made life in India incredibly tough for most women. In fact, even before they are born, even as a foetus, many are discriminated against and unwanted.

And then,  right through their lives, it is a struggle for most women.

A struggle to live their life THEIR way instead of having to fit their life to suit other people. (In India, women seem to be perennially living for other people and never for themselves).

A struggle to ward off harassment by men, who seem to have an idea that the sole purpose of existence of a woman is for their (men's) enjoyment.

A struggle to be recognized as equal in society to men (although, as one wise woman said, this is too low a target to aim for).  

A struggle to even be treated as just a person with her own identity, instead of only having an identity as somebody’s mother or sister or wife or daughter.

There’s much more that women go through, all through their lives.  And I’m talking millions of women out there.

It’s an uphill struggle – but thankfully there are people who care to bring about positive change.  They call out gender injustice and gender inequality at every opportunity, they work on improving awareness and reducing conditioning, they fight for legislative change. In general, they do whatever they can, with their limited means, to redress the power imbalance that is still very heavily stacked against women.

If they call themselves feminists it is because it has to do with women’s rights and gender equality. Nothing particularly complicated about the term.

Yes, some of them possibly do this term disservice by making this not about gender equality, but turning it into an anti-men tirade. They may have their motivations and frustrations to do so – I do not wish to speculate on these. 

I'm quite clear about one thing. Not being a woman, however much I might emphathise with women, I do NOT go through the experiences they go through in life. That is why, although I might disagree with the views of some "feminists", I do not let it cloud my view on feminism. I distinguish between feminism (the movement) and feminists (the practitioners). And just like with any movement, not all practitioners get everything right. To find fault with a movement based on the acts of a few, is unfair to the movement. If you fundamentally disagree with the movement because you believe it is completely unnecessary, that's a different thing.

Although feminism gets a lot of flak for coming across as being anti-men, I've never seen it so. To me, it's always been about gender equality. And that means women and men sharing space as equals.

Since historically the affected gender has been female, it is hardly surprising that an overwhelmingly large number of feminists are women. However, there are many men out there too who do understand the need for gender equality. And try to practise it in their own lives. These are just as qualified to be considered feminists and, in my opinion, should not be shut out purely because of their gender. Doing so would only play into the hands of those who claim that feminism is anti-men. After all, men are the cause of the problem and they need to be a big part of the solution. That is why I often wish these men would be more vocal about their views - whether they choose to call themselves feminist or not. 

Finally it doesn't really matter whether you call yourself a feminist or not. It's a tag (much like "capitalist", "socialist",  "communist", "right-wing", "left-wing"). If you don't want to be tagged, fine. What really matters is whether you agree that we need to work towards a more gender-equal society. And that we are still far from it at the moment. At least in some societies. 

If you agree, then doesn’t it make sense not to ridicule efforts of those who are working towards this end? And if you agree with the goal but not with the methods, there are constructive ways of getting that message across. Without just coming up with a blanket “I’m against feminism”  slogan.

For, when we do this, we just make the whole struggle that much harder. Already vested interests ensure that it’s  going to be an uphill struggle.  The last thing we want is for their hand to be strengthened.

I know there are those who feel that sometimes the pendulum might have swung too much to the other side. That there are also men who are disadvantaged by the women’s rights movement.

Let’s be clear about one thing. This is NOT a men vs women thingThis is about gender equality.  So if men are now having to concede ground to women, ground that gave them an unfair advantage until now, I am all for it. But if women are now having an advantage over men, while in the longer-term it might need redressal, in the shorter-term it might be the only way to ensure longer term equality. So I would be less keen to attempt a correction rightaway.

Let’s also remember that any movement has a life only as long as it has a cause. The fight for gender equality is only as long as there is gender inequality. Just as feminism came into existence because of inequality, it will cease to have a purpose to exist, once we have gender equality (although that might be still be a long way away for now, I’m afraid).

Lastly, while this entire piece has been about women, gender equality and feminism, at a higher level, this is about injustice and discrimination in society.

Discrimination can be for a whole host of reasons – religion, region, race, caste, class, sexual orientation, gender. So gender is just one basis for discrimination.

Much of what I’ve said here applies to other forms of discrimination too. One doesn’t have to be specifically discriminated against, whether as an individual or the target group, to know that discrimination exists.

So if you genuinely believe that we need to end such discrimination, even if you are not able to participate in the process, the least you can do is to not hinder the process.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

IPL : In a lighter vein

This post was written on 24th May 2011. The 2011 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament was on then.

For some reason, this post never got posted on my blog. Maybe it was just some lazy writing from me that was never meant for public consumption. I sometimes do that - just dump my thoughts into a Word document (or an e-mail to myself) to get them out of my system and on record somewhere.

Anyway, when I was sorting out old files on my computer, I came across this write-up which I had long since forgotten about.

It is naturally somewhat dated, seeing as it was written in 2011. But I still had a bit of a chuckle, reading it all over again. Am therefore sharing it here on the blog.


*DISCLAIMER: This is not a criticism of the IPL. There’s much more to the IPL than just a casual conversation between two persons, so I would request the reader not to read too much into this. *

One of the many things I enjoy, while in India, is watching TV with my mom.  It is not about what we watch, but just the fact that we’re watching TV together. My mom watches only a few TV programmes and, though they wouldn’t be my first-choice shows otherwise, I do like to watch them along with her.

So here we are, watching one of her programmes today and it is about 8.20 p.m. The IPL play-off game between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) is underway and is being telecast on SetMax. I want to check out the scores quickly and ideally watch the game, rather than the current programme. My mom, ever-obliging, has no problem with my changing the channel.

So here we are, watching the game. I am feeling somewhat guilty for hijacking my mom’s programme. My mom is not at all into cricket - though she surprised me a few days ago with an absolute googly.

It was Shane Warne’s last IPL game and, just for conversation, I asked her whether she’d heard of Warne. 

“Oh yes, he’s a famous Australian cricketer, isn’t he?” 

I was stunned. 

“Wow, I never expected you to know.”

"Oh, he’s been playing for a long time.  His brother also was very good, wasn’t he?” 

After a moment of surprise, I realized she’d got confused. I corrected her.

“That was Steve Waugh. And his brother Mark Waugh.”

“Maybe. But I’ve also heard the name Warne”. 

I was very impressed. 

"Well, this is Warne’s last game today. In the IPL”.

My mom knows the IPL. I mean, she’s heard of it. It's difficult  for anybody who watches TV in India NOT to be have heard of the IPL. A few days ago, she stunned me, when, after dinner, she asked me 
“So is there another IPL game today? It is 20 overs per team, isn’t it?”

I was  taken aback. I knew that she wasn’t interested in the cricket as such. Clearly her interest was more because IPL was clashing with her TV programmes.

Anyway, so here we are today,  watching the IPL game instead of my mom’s preferred TV programme.

In the hope of getting my mom slightly interested in the game (the guilt was beginning to get to me!), I embarked on a rather feeble line of channel-change justification . Here is how our conversation went.

Me:  It’s Bangalore vs Chennai. (Hmm..maybe my mom gets interested. After all, she has a stake in both cities).

Mom: (just as the camera zooms in on Doug Bollinger bowling): He does not look like he's from Chennai. Or from Bangalore. In fact, he does not even look Indian.

Me: He’s not. He’s an Australian. In the IPL, each team is allowed to have four foreign players.

Mom: (looking puzzled) Oh, ok. So you mean the rest are from Chennai and Bangalore?

Me: (after a pause): Hmm..not really.

Mom's looking even more puzzled now, so I decide to explain.

Me: Though the teams are called Bangalore and Chennai, they’re allowed to have any players from all over the world. They can have four foreigners in the team, the remaining players have to be Indians. But they don’t have to belong to Chennai or Bangalore as such.

Mom: (now at a new level of being confused) : But you said it is Bangalore vs Chennai. Based on what are you saying this?

Me: (having to think now): The thing is, Mom, it has to do with franchise and ownership.

Mom: (amazingly still hanging in there): I don’t get it.

Me: (thinking hard, how to explain this in lay terms): You know India Cements in Chennai, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: And you know Mallya here in Bangalore, right?

Mom: Yes.

Me: Well, the owner of India Cements has bought a cricket team in the name of Chennai.  And Mallya has bought a cricket team in the name of Bangalore. Their teams are playing against each other today. 

Mom:  Oh, it is not really Bangaloreans and Chennai-ites? Anybody can play?

Me: There are a few from Bangalore and Chennai but that’s not the main point here.

Mom: How can you call it Bangalore vs Chennai if you don’t have Bangaloreans playing against Chennai-ites?

Me: This is not like playing for your country, Mom. You cannot play for India if you are not an Indian. This is not like that. In fact, you have the same type of thing in football also.

Mom: And this is what is called the IPL, is it?

Me: Yes.

Mom: (getting up and leaving the room) Yeddo. Panum pannartakku yeddaane paninDe irukkunum, illiya? (Whatever! They need to do something to keep on making money, right?) (Excuse my Tamil, it's terrible).

I am left wondering. And watching Bollinger and Albie Morkel bowling to Virat Kohli and Luke Pommersbach. 

Chennai vs Bangalore indeed. 

Friday, May 09, 2014

Namma Bengaluru (Our Bangalore)

The purpose of this poem is not to criticize, but to reflect.
Not just on WHAT we are doing, but HOW we're doing it.
Ask ourselves: Even if what we're doing makes sense, is this the best way?


I remember a Bangalore green
Its roads lined with trees
Its weather, everyone’s envy
All day, a cool breeze

‘Twas the pride of India
Its Garden City, no less
Who could’ve thought this city of charm
Would end up in such a mess

But the state and people alike
Gave in to their innate greed
The once “pensioners’ paradise”
Was left to go to seed

Aye, a city must grow
To modern times, adapt
If only this were done with care
The changes would’ve been apt

But now just bricks and mortar
Stack up each corner and nook
Broken pavements, traffic and crowds
Anywhere you look

The summer sun now burns
As it does the city taunt
No escape from me, it says
Try as hard as you want

Oh, how the heart now yearns
For that cool breeze of yore
But the sad truth for one and all
Is, it’ll return no more

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Open Letter to Arvind Kejriwal

Dear Arvind,

First of all, congratulations on Aam Aadmi Party now forming a government in Delhi. I was waiting for this to happen before writing this piece to you. Now that it has happened (and I hope it will last long enough for you to implement some of your plans), here are some thoughts I’d like you to consider during your governance. I’m sure you must be getting a lot of suggestions from lots of people – here’s another set for you.

As you know, even as you start, you walk a very treacherous path. You have plenty of aam aadmi support, no doubt - but there are plenty of vested interests, waiting to trip you up. So while it’s important to stay focussed on the job, it’s also very important not to give ammunition to these vested interests.

I know you have a detailed manifesto - and you and your team must be working on it with a lot of focus and enthusiasm. I will not get into its details – I am not competent to do so.

At a more general level, however, I’d like to make a few suggestions :

1) Baseline your start.
You are taking over administration of Delhi from a previous government. You need to baseline this – meaning, you should be able to measure your starting point. Make sure you have the social development (and economic) metrics available to you. Get any existing figures re-checked if you like. Statistics can be notoriously off for a whole host of reasons, as you know. When you need to ever measure your government’s achievements (or discuss it with the media or others), you would know its starting point.

2) Use a project management approach.
I do not mean you need to get caught up in all sorts of charts and graphs. But in execution of your plans, whether at mohalla level or a higher level, insist on everything being treated as a project – with tasks, deadlines, budgets, responsibilities and tracking. There’s a lot to be done, and this method will go a long way in bringing about efficiency in delivery on projects, as well as optimal use of resources.

3) Continue to keep things transparent.
One of the biggest pluses of your party’s style of functioning is that it is very transparent. No other political party can claim this. I can assure you this alone has won you a lot, and I mean a lot, of goodwill amongst the people. So please continue with this. I’d suggest the following in this context:

a) If I understand it correctly, in your devolved mohalla sabha approach, each ward is further comprised of mohalla sabhas. Each mohalla sabha is run as an administrative unit, with its management committee, its projects, its budget and so on. Please set up a website where one could navigate easily to the lowest devolution level, see what projects are going on, what funds are being used and so on. Keep it transparent and updated for all to see.  This is not just for the public but also for you. You might want to personally visit mohalla sabhas to catch up with them – this update would be useful for you.

b) Have an Information Officer. It would be his/her responsibility to ensure all the information provided on the Delhi Govt’s website is updated and accurate.

c) Believe in suo moto communication, not just in RTI. I know you championed RTI all those years ago – and it has helped a great deal. But it would be better if people did not even need to ask for basic information – it should already be available to them from the government. In an easy-to-digest format. Especially information on projects, their budgets, delivery deadlines, any cost overruns etc.

So please provide this to the public as their right to know. And please do so in an easy-to-use format (maybe spreadsheet-based) , not hundreds of pages of PDF files that sometimes government documents end up being. We then cannot see the woods for the trees.

4) Ensure the economics side works too.
One of the biggest criticisms about you is about your apparent disregard for the economic impact of your policies. You are seen not just as “left of centre but, even “left of left”. In other words, a mindset of extremely populist policies which could be a major financial burden on the exchequer.

I am not saying I agree with this opinion of you (my opinion doesn’t really matter), but it is very important that your policies always have an economic impact assessment too. Finally you will need to balance your books as part of your governance – and while the people do come first, poor economics in the present only means robbing from the future.

5) Use people power.
In your administration, there may be many a time that you feel you are not able to push something through, for a whole host of reasons. I suspect this might very often be because of entrenched systems. Or vested interests. Or, especially in the case of Delhi’s peculiar situation of being both a state, and the country capital, a conflict with the Central Government. 

In such situations, use people power to put pressure on whatever obstacle comes in your way. You have tremendous goodwill with the people of Delhi (and I daresay, rest of the country too). In the new style politics that you and your party have engineered, people seem to have much more power than they’ve ever had before. This is also making other political parties (and the central government) have to listen more to the public. So use this fully to your advantage.

6) Be firm in dealing with compromised people.
You are seen as a person who wants to bring about a new style of politics in the country. One that is clean, one that cares about the people, one that seeks or uses a position of power only for the people’s good. The people you carry with you also need to reflect this same mindset.

This is not an easy line to walk – and it is possible that, somewhere down the line, some of your associates might get compromised. While that will be personally difficult for you, given your association with them, it is necessary that you do not allow this to sully your image, or distract you from the larger task on hand. Many a political party has turned a blind eye to compromised members. If your party is different, that needs to be demonstrated in those testing times.

7) Keep government and party affairs and finances separate.
AAP is a new party and still evolving. This is also the first time it is forming a government. There is a chance that, in all the enthusiasm and inexperience, there is often an overlap between the two.

Keep them separate. The people of Delhi (even those who didn’t vote for AAP) deserve governance and transparency from the government of Delhi, not from a political party.

At the same time, AAP needs to continue to evolve and establish itself across the country. I am confident it will do that on its own strengths. Of reaching out to the aam aadmi, of being transparent in its dealings and finances, of sticking to its value-based and principled politics.

So while you and others in government can help the party evolve, it is important to keep the two separate and do justice to both.

8) Continue to be yourself.
You are where you are, because of who you are. People respect your sincerity, your humility, your dedication to your cause. People trust you – and trust is one of the most precious assets a person can have. So please ensure you do nothing to lose this trust.

Stay on the side of truth. This might sound like a silly and absurd suggestion, especially in the world of politics, but there’s something to be said for this old-fashioned value that’s sadly fast going out of fashion.

And continue to rant about injustice and corruption. It might make some people queasy but the public needs to know what is going on. Far too often, we have seen politicians, and people in the know, turn a blind eye towards wrongdoings. By being in the know and not speaking out against injustice, you would be indirectly supporting it.

I could think of a few other points that I’d like to share with you – but I think this is already a lot to digest.

I wish you all the very best, Arvind. It is not going to be an easy road – if only because of entrenched interests that will try to thwart you at every step and try to break you and your team’s resolve.

But as long as you have the people’s support with you, I think you can overcome any obstacle in your way. Systems of governance have, after all, been set up only for the people – and therefore need to be changed if the people want this change. Nothing is sacrosanct if it comes in the way of delivering justice to the people.

So, good luck!

Oh, and one last thing. Please do accept the security offered by the state police to you. I know you are refusing it because you think it is a privilege the aam aadmi does not get – but trust me, most of us feel very uncomfortable if you don’t get some sort of security cover. So, please accept this. We would be happy – and relieved.

An aam aadmi