Monday, February 23, 2009

Economic & Governance Blunders of UPA

Some of us always knew and said this in various forums, but excessive focus of our finance minister to stock markets high and intoxication of masses with imaginary wealth kept the lid tightly closed on the can of worms of economic mess which UPA government has led us into.

I am no economist and I do not run a businessman anymore, but I interact with various sections of the society, political leaders, business friends and most importantly, the common man. I can feel the state of despair and hopelessness among masses, educated elite and business community. We all are worried about our economic future, if we have one left.

Recently I came across several articles by eminent economists, industrialists and opinion makers and it will be worthwhile for us to analyze the current situation and evaluate UPA’s performance. This is crucial evaluation as we head in to the polls in the coming months .

We hope that you read these articles and give your comments.

Outlook – Economy : Report Card – ‘How A slips to B Minus’

Book of Blunders – Pratap Bhanu Mehta – UPA squandered the opportunity to deliver on good governance

The Inertia of Motion - Outlook

No Head for Numbers – Rajeev Chandrasekhar – Rajya Sabha MP and Chairman FICCI

Thursday, February 19, 2009

5 most IMPORTANT issues for Election-2009

To choose your 5 most important issues for Elections-2009 please go to - Change India has access and has put-in resurces to work with and make these issues the agenda of 2 national parties - BJP and Congress.

My 5 most important issues for Elections-2009 are Economy, Terrorism, Rural Poverty, Infrastructure & Reforms.

Economy -
UPA inherited a boom economy from NDA and all the hard work and reforms during NDA regime yielded 4 years of unprecedented economic growth. UPA did not make use of this unprecedented opportunity to reduce revenue and fiscal deficits, create a safety net for unorganized sector and given a thrust to infrastructure.

Unfortunately none of this was done. Now we are in an unprecedented global economic slowdown with fiscal deficit reaching around 12% of GDP (Center & States Combined) and we have no money left to pump prime the economy without causing a debt trap. UPA has completely mismanaged the economy and wasted the golden opportunity it had.

Terrorism/Border Security-
UPA's record on terrorism and border security has been a disaster and we need not say much about this area. Intelligence agencies have become puppets in the hands of politicians to spy on opponents, defense agencies do not act on intelligence inputs, no one is held accountable (I have not hard of any official being fired or suspended post 26/11, of course Home Minister was a non-entity anyway) and weak laws have made it impossible to punish terrorists.

Rural Poverty -
NREGA scheme, a good initiative has failed miserably with only 16 days of actual work being provided where money was spent for 100 days worth of work. This is as per the CAG report - a Government of India oversight institution. NREGA anyway is just a temporary measure to give rural poor some work of digging some pits and ponds, just to keep them alive. No effective steps have been taken by UPA to revive rural economy to provide long term sustainable employment and non-agri income generation opportunities in rural India.

Infrastructure -
NDA had visionary infra initiatives of Golden Quadrilateral and NHDP programs in road sector. Telecom reforms, airport and port privatization were the most visible infra initiatives of NDA.

UPA slowed all these programs. GQ is still incomplete. In fact a 'very capable' Minister of Surface Transport has changed 5 Chairmen of NHAI in last 2 years as they did not (could not) comply, since NDA had drafted NHAI act, which does not allow the minister to do what he feels like (?), so he tried changing Chairmen and when that also did not work, he just stopped the work.

Compare this with Mr. Khanduri (NDA Minister), the cleanest politicin you will ever come across and a task master. He was Mr. Vajpayee's choice.

We all know what UPA ministers have done in Telecom. Selling precious GSM spectrum at throw away prices to their favorite companies. 3G is still a dream.

JNNURM was a good initiative to improve urban infrastructure, but here again UPA miserably failed in delivery. No effective oversight mechanism was put in place.

Political/Economic/Judicial Reforms -
UPA has not been able to carry out any reforms, economic or political. They blamed left for economic reforms but there was no desire to do anything on political reforms either. Congress's own leader Mr. Veerappa Moily has drafted a wonderful report on administrative and political reforms but it just remains that, a report.

Judicial reforms are a crying need. Crores of court cases are pending, judges have come under suspicion and we have executive and judiciary clashing so very often. This is not a healthy situation. No party or coalition has spoken openly about this, but we must address this issue.

I give my VOTE to BJP/NDA for this election.

Mr. Advani is the most experienced leader in the country today. He is simple, approachable and is willing to listen. He has grass root understanding of the country, acquired over 70 years of political activities. He has visited and interacted with the people from every nook and corner of the country to understand our nation of great complexity and diversity.

All BJP/NDA Chief Ministers (Gujarat, MP, Orissa, Bihar, Chattisgrah, Uttarakhand & Rajasthan) have done great development work with good governance in their respective states and have got re-elected (except Rajasthan where in-fighting let BJP down).

BJP has internal democracy where even Mr. Advani can be questioned. There is no high command culture and there is no sycophancy. You don't need to be loyal to a family to be recognized nor do you have to have a fancy surname to become a leader.

Though chaotic at times (all democracies are chaotic as all are allowed to express their opinion), BJP/NDA had done a great job during their 5 year tenure from 1999-2004. They brought about visionary ideas (GQ, Privatization, PGSY, River Linking, Telecom & Insurance Reforms) and implemented them with vigor and sincerity. They lost in 2004 because of their city centric election campaign and poor electoral alliances.

So for me, it is BJP/NDA this time.


We Must Engage with the Political Class to Remain Relevant

It is a common belief that 'Educated Civil Society' no longer matters to politicians and policy makers.

Outpouring of public anger post 26/11 in the form of rallies, marches and candle light vigils highlighted the frustration and helplessness of educated middle class. Unfortunately such protests are neither sustainable nor do they provide long term solutions to problems and issues facing our nation.

Failure of governance and lack of development are the two most important issues which our elected representatives and bureaucrats need to focus on. But if people who understand and are concerned about these issues do not engage with the political class, they will continue with the vote bank politics of caste, religion, favours and appeasement.

We have chosen parliamentary democracy system of government and are proud of being the largest democracy. Over past 60 years we have evolved as a robust democracy, which many nations of the world can only hope for. We just need to peep into our neighbourhood to realize as to how fortunate we are to have enjoyed a credible and popular democracy from our birth as an independent nation, except for a brief period of emergency during 1970s.

Democracies depend upon citizen’s participation, to make an informed and collective choice every few years to choose their leaders and the governments which they hope and believe will serve them with honesty and sincerity.

An educated and well informed citizen making the right choice is the basic tenet of a robust democracy. Unfortunately, given the much maligned image of our political class, educated civil society has chosen to stay away from exercising this fundamental right. While we criticize them, we don’t want to be even remotely engaged with the politics or political leaders.

This is the reason why political class ignores the educated civil society and focuses on rural, urban poor and marginalized sections of the society. Politicians entice these sections with favours, appeasement, money and muscle power. They become the vote banks, based on caste, religion, region and language.

This has resulted in a chicken & egg situation. Since we don’t like the current day politicians, we do not engage in the political process. But since we don’t engage in the political process we don’t get politicians of our choice. This vicious circle needs to be broken.

It is obvious that politicians would care only for those who vote for them. Disengaging has only done us harm by producing criminals and thugs as politicians. Time has come for us to engage with political class and make our VOTE count.

Let’s start not just engaging but aligning. If we align with a party or a candidate and assure them of our vote, they will be happy and willing to look into our concerns and issues.

We often hear that educated people are so few that their vote won’t matter. This is a myth.

Post delimitation, 2009 Lok Sabha will have 120 urban constituencies (out of a total of 543), which decide their winner by a margin of just few thousand votes. So a determined and informed educated middle class, voting as a block based on issues of governance and development, will become the swing vote bank, which will be courted by every party. So lets not underestimate the power of SWING VOTE of determined educated civil society.

More on SWING VOTE in the Next Article.

Don’t Just Vote – Make it Count - 'Become SWING VOTE Bank '

There is a myth that the Educated Civil Society, being small in numbers, can not influence the electoral outcome. Consequently majority of us are not motivated to engage with the political class and even abstain from voting because we believe that we are too small in numbers to change the ways of Indian politics. However, a closer analysis will reveal that in this age of coalition politics, with so many parties and candidates, victory margins are very small. In fact, most MPs win by margins of just few thousand votes.

Another myth is that Indian politics is decided by rural India. Hence issues relevant to the city dwellers and educated civil society are of no relevance to political parties as they do not need urban votes to come to power. The fact is that 2009 Lok Sabha will have 120 MPs (out of 543) from Urban Areas. Just concluded delimitation of constituencies has dramatically increased the number of urban constituencies, which will further grow as India urbanizes. 120 is a huge number, given the coalition politics where Mrs. Mayawati with potentially 50 MPs will have the real possibility to stake the claim for Prime Minister’s post.

We also need to note that in 2009 elections we have more than 10 Crore First Time Voters, mainly in urban areas. Compare this with the vote difference between Congress and BJP in 2004 Lok Sabha Elections – 98 Lakh.

ELECTIONs-2009 are DIFFERENT in many ways! Post 26/11 people are willing to get out and get counted. We have the real opportunity to MAKE A DIFFERENCE, this time around.

Each major party and candidate have their own committed vote bank based on ideology, caste, religion, region or language which they nurture and hold by giving sops, favours, appeasement and promises. So during the elections, what all political parties need and fear most are the SWING votes, which usually decide the winner. It is not difficult to bring together 25,000-50,000 educated people in each parliamentary constituency as SWING VOTE BANK, who will vote based on the issues of “Good Governance & Economic Development”. These ‘Educated Swing Votes’ will make every political party reach out to them and ask for their issues to be included in their agenda.

Now the question is, how do we organize these educated people, analyze & interact with major candidates/party and make an informed decision to VOTE with a real possibility of having a winner of our choice.

Use of technology will make it possible, Obama has shown it working. We are technology savvy and quick to adapt.

"Change India" has created a CHANGE platform, which you can join by sending an SMS - CHANGE to 575758.

Our target will be to get around 50,000 people in each of the constituencies across 25 cities of the country, accounting for around 80-100 MPs. Details of the candidates/parties will be shared via SMS and we will also interact with the candidates. Decision will taken via an sms POLL to VOTE for the CANDIDATE/PARTY of our choice.

We can make a BIG impact in the next Lok Sabha election and hold our winners accountable.

‘Choice is Ours’. Opportunity is NOW, as nation is UNITED and wants to bring a CHANGE.