Friday, December 30, 2011

I was an MP not so long ago & I Loved those 6 Years!

nAn Interesting blog by Pritish Nandy........

Everyone called me sir, not because of my age but because I was an MP.

And even though I never travelled anywhere by train during those years, I reveled in the fact that I could have gone anywhere I liked, on any train, first class with a bogey reserved for my family.

Whenever I flew, there were always people around to pick up my baggage, not because I was travelling business class but because I was an MP.

And yes, whenever I wrote to any Government officer to help someone in need, it was done. No, not because I was a journalist but because I was an MP.

The job had many perquisites, apart from the tax free wage of Rs 4,000. Then the wages were suddenly quadrupled to Rs 16,000, with office expenses of Rs 20,000 and a constituency allowance of Rs 20,000 thrown in. I could borrow interest free money to buy a car, get my petrol paid, make as many free phone calls as I wanted. My home came free. So did the furniture, the electricity, the water, the gardeners, the plants. There were also allowances to wash curtains and sofa covers and a rather funny allowance of Rs 1,000 per day to attend Parliament, which I always thought was an MP's job in the first place! And, oh yes, we also got Rs 1 Crore a year (now enhanced to Rs 2 Crore) to spend on our constituencies. More enterprising MPs enjoyed many more perquisites best left to your imagination. While I was embarrassed at being vastly overpaid for the job I was doing, they kept demanding more.

Today, out of 543 MPs in Lok Sabha, 315 are Crorepatis. That's 60%. 43 out of the 54 newly elected Rajya Sabha MPs are also millionaires. Their average declared assets are over Rs 25 Crore each. That's an awfully wealthy lot of people in whose hands we have vested our destiny.

The assets of your average Lok Sabha MP have grown from Rs 1.86 Crore in the last house to Rs 5.33 Crore. That's 200% more. And, as we all know, not all our MPs are known to always declare all their assets. Much of these exist in a colour not recognised by our tax laws. That's fine, I guess. Being an MP gives you certain immunities, not all of them meant to be discussed in a public forum.

If you think it pays to be in the ruling party, you are dead right: 7 out of 10 MPs from the Congress are Crorepatis. The BJP have 5. MPs from some of the smaller parties like SAD, TRS and JD (Secular) are all Crorepatis while the NCP, DMK, RLD, BSP, Shiv Sena, National Conference and Samajwadi Party have more Crorepatis than the 60% average.

Only the CPM and the Trinamool, the two Bengal based parties, don't field Crorepatis. The CPM has 1 correlate out of 16 MPs; the Trinamool has 7 out of 19. This shows in the state-wise average. West Bengal and Kerala have few correlate MPs while Punjab and Delhi have only correlate MPs and Haryana narrowly misses out on this distinction with one MP, poor guy, who's not a correlate.

Do MPs become richer in office? Sure they do. Statistics show that the average assets of 304 MPs who contested in 2004 and then re-contested last year grew 300%. And, yes, we're only talking about declared assets here.

But then, we can't complain. We are the ones who vote for the rich. Over 33% of those with assets above Rs 5 Crore won the last elections while 99.5% of those with assets below Rs 10 lakhs lost! Apart from West Bengal and the North East, every other state voted for correlate MPs. Haryana grabbed first place with its average MP worth Rs 18 Crore. Andhra is not far behind at 16.

But no, this is not enough for our MPs. It's not enough that they are rich, infinitely richer than those who they represent, and every term makes them even richer. It's not enough that they openly perpetuate their families in power. It's not enough that all their vulgar indulgences and more are paid for by you and me through backbreaking taxes. It's not enough that the number of days they actually work in Parliament are barely 60 in a year. The rest of the time goes in squabbling and ranting. Now they want a 500%pay hike and perquisites quadrupled. The Government, to buy peace, has already agreed to a 300% raise but that's not good enough for our MPs. They want more, much more.

And no, I'm not even mentioning that 150 MPs elected last year have criminal cases against them, with 73 serious, very serious cases ranging from rape to murder.

Do you really think these people deserve to earn 104 times what the average Indian does.

Vijaender Takhan vijaender.takhan@gmai…

30 D

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lokpal to Electoral Politics-Let's Treat The Disease not The Symptoms!

As expected, Political class has hoodwinked Civil Society once again. They brought a Lokpal which they wanted - A Toothless Tiger.

I have been of the view all along & have told this in person to Team Anna too - Lokpal is no RTI. Political Class will never let it happen. Though some opposition parties paid a lip services to Team Anna, just to get some political mileage but in the end they don't want or rather can't risk an effective Lokpal.

Corruption is embedded in our Political & Electoral system where Civil Society, an euphemism for Middle Class, has stopped mattering. We brought it upon ourselves, but now is the time to change it. Here is why & how of it?

The defeat of NDA in 2004 had convinced political class that "India Shining", a middle class focused electoral theme, does not translate into votes. Consequently UPA ignored the governance & scuttled NDA era economic reforms, instead focusing on appeasing the poor & marginalized through welfare schemes and subsidies. In absence of reforms, discretion and cronyism ruled, leading to massive corruption in a semi-liberalized Indian economy. Common man suffered & was rendered helpless.

Came along Anna. Millions across the nation supported Anna's movement against corruption. Success of Anna campaign conclusively busted the MYTH, purported by political class, that "Middle class is self-centered and is indifferent to the social & national concerns". Anna movement gave people a credible platform with a hope of change and they responded.

This uprising was against the political class in general, though some opposition parties would like to wishfully believe that this angst was against UPA or Congress. Hence, it was comical to see political leaders gleefully sharing the dais with Anna at Jantar Mantar, hoping to convert the photo opportunity into vote bank arithmetic. Political parties are playing an opportunistic game, trying to ride Anna bandwagon, with no intent of bringing a systemic reforms in the current political system. The fear is that, by aligning or seeming to align with some political parties, Anna movement will loose it's credibility & effectiveness.People are looking for a fundamental change in the way our political parties & electoral systems are run. One law or bill will not bring out the desired systemic change.

Current political system is designed to be corrupt and inefficient. Political parties raise legitimate & illegitimate electoral funding from corporates & businessmen who subsequently dictate the policies of the government. With funding in place, political parties do not involve electorate in deciding the candidates unlike the primary system of USA. If the candidates are not up to the mark, which is usually the case, educated middle class chooses to abstain as they aren't involved or invested in the selection of the candidate.

Coming to candidates, many are forced or choose to buy their party ticket & later they buy their way to the electoral victory. They recover their electoral expenses & much more, through corrupt means. Even a good candidate, having been elected, has no voice of his own to represent his electorate in an assembly or the parliament. He is herded by party syndicates & whipped to vote as per opportunistic political arithmetic dictated by the party. Any dissent leads to disqualification.

This party focused & business funded political system has inherent flaws and is poised for a change. The political awakening through Anna movement presents once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take power from political parties & hand it over to the electorate. In this era of coalition politics, where TMC or DMK with less than 20 MPs control the UPA government, we need no more than 40 MPs, elected on a common platform without the help of the current party system, to change the political discourse of this nation.

Can this happen? Yes, It is imminently possible. We should create a common platform, identify and field 100 credible candidates who have spent years in public life but are loath to enter the current political system. Indian middle class has learned to communicate & organize itself through new age communication tools as is evident throughout Anna campaign. Volunteers & paid office bearers should manage the electoral campaign of these candidates. Campaign funding should be crowd sourced to avoid dependence on few money bags.

If 30 out of 100 win, political parties will be forced to rethink their political & electoral strategy. We have to prove that electoral victory can be achieved by non-corrupt means. No one likes to be corrupt, specially in the age of Lokayukta & Lokpal, but today's electoral system hinges on corruption. By showing the way through a non-corrupt electoral system, parties will be forced to adapt. After all they are the masters of guessing the popular mood!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is Corruption the only way in Public Life?

There is anecdotal evidence that if there is no corruption, India’s GDP will add 3% to it’s annual growth rate & poverty will be a thing of the past in just 5 years.

Let’s not drool over these impossibilities as corruption is not going be removed completely from our country & society, but the larger question beckons –
Is Corruption the Only Way of being in Public Life?

Corruption is all pervasive in our society & daily lives.

Poor are forced to pay officials to get their entitlements but the same poor takes bribe money to pledge his vote. May be his poverty can be his excuse to take money for vote?

Middle class is forced to pay bribe for everything from driving license to land registration but he doesn’t think twice before bribing an official to get a plan sanctioned for an extra floor in his house or getting his house tax reduced. What is his excuse?

The Rich have resources & influence to get their job done bribing or otherwise & they march ahead to their destination of success without caring for the means used to reach there. Don’t care is their excuse?

An official uses the familiar excuse of being forced to collect the bribe to pay the higher-ups in officialdom and politicians. Helplessness is his excuse?

But how about politicians? Who forces them to be corrupt?

I have asked this awkward question to many of my politician friends, some of them sitting MLAs & MPs. First they are shocked to hear such a blunt question as they don’t expect this issue to be spoken about in open. But slowly they open up and start blaming the system, primarily the elections. They lament about the large sums of money they need to spend to buy their ticket from their respective parties and huge election expenses including the money & liquor to secure the votes of poor & slum dwellers.

But, is election the only reason that they are corrupt?
Aren’t there honest politicians? In fact, there are many honest politicians & they win their seats without bribing the party or the voters. Yes, their numbers are few.

The real reason for a politician to be corrupt is his greed, like any other human being.
Politics is their profession & the only means to make money. No doubt, they work hard to get votes and many are sincere too. But most politicians have no other qualification or work experience. Most never had a job nor did they earn money from any business or profession. In fact most ended up in politics as they couldn’t study or get employment. Politics is their only source of money & they need a lot of it. They can’t make it any other way but being corrupt as there is no legitimate way of making money in the profession of politics. Expecting them to live like saints in a materialistic society may be possible but not practical.

Hence, expecting current set of PROFESSIONAL POLITICIANS to become clean & reform the system is not going to happen. While tough laws against corruption will be a deterrent, they won’t root out the corruption from public life.

We need, as in other developed countries, Professionals, who have succeeded in their respective jobs, careers & businesses, to enter public life. They need to work for their community, city & state. They need to spend years working for common man to get the acceptability & recognition. Many do, some as activists & others as thinkers or NGOs. But most of them shy away from entering political fray for fear of unknown & murky world of politics. From among these, we need to identify & promote public figures who should eventually represent us in assemblies & parliament.

Let’s hope that this momentum against corruption leads us to think differently & engage in the matters of public interest & produce “Professionals as Politicians” instead of current “Professional Politicians”.

RK Misra

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Transformation call rings in Village Sonari

Transforming India One Village at a Time

Sonari, 60 km from Lucknow, was like any other Indian village. And so were its youth. With practically no employment avenues available locally, boys and girls, despite having basic education, would chase their job dream by filling countless number of forms with little success and while away their time in narrow bylanes of the village. Things, however, changed four months ago when Lead India winner RK Misra, who hails from the village, started efforts to set up UP's first rural call centre.

Misra, ex-IITian , has launched the project with the cooperation of a Bangalore-based private firm, Rural Shores.

A group of 33 boys and girls, most of them intermediate pass outs, are getting computer training . By next month, they would begin getting procedural training for a project involving data entry for a political organization. These younsters will be trained & employed at Sonari by a company which has set up 10 such BPOs in the villages of Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan , Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

Nitin Sharma, company's regional marketing manager, said: "The villagges youths have surprised us. They have immense potential .'' He said the youths will undergo a six week training before being recruited . During thee training, they will be given aa stipend off Rs 2,500.

The project has motivated these young - sters and brought a smile on their faces. Eighteen-year-old Mukesh Kumar paddles all the way from his village Haripalpur to reach Sonari every morning for computer class. "I had seen the computer only in shops in Lucknow but never touched them,'' Mukesh said, his eyes glued to the monitor and fingers swiftly tabbing on the keyboard. Twenty-year-old Mamta Gupta, who is pursuing graduation, feels the call centre will bring a positivee transformation in her life. "I'll can live here with my parents and also do the job,'' saaid Mamta, a resident of village Sita-Ki-Rasoi , sit uated about 5km m from Sonari.

"One needs to und erstand that even small earning holds significance for villagers" said RK Misra. "Even low but a consistent salary can change the life of rural youth here, that's what we mean by rural empowerment'' he said. But the star was not easy. The bbiggest constraint was availability of power. Sonari rarely received power for more than three to five hours everyday. At times, Sonari would be without electricity for a week or even a month. So, how would computers function under such situation.

The solution came from Gram OOrja, a Pune-based company. Gram OOrja installed solar panels on the roof-top of a two-storyed building. The panels charge 120 batteries, each of 6 volts, connected to the main UPS. But this only provides an 11-hour power backup.

Rural Shores has also installed a radio wave tower for the internet facility, which has a speed of two megabytes per second. However, company officials said the speed may not be enough for a larger workforce at the BPO. The only option then is to get the connectivity through an optical fibre.

Earlier, Misra had successfully experimented with a community dairy project on this one acre land. Villagers were given membership of the dairy where they could sell their milk produce. The dairy and the building, where the BPO is set up, will functions from the same large premises.

Next on the agenda is agriculture. "Villagers need to be convinced that conventional farming does not bring huge returns. They need to grow cash crops like banana, potato, peppermint and medicinal plants like Satawar and Artemisia,'' Misra said.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Great Disconnect - Civil Society & Political Class

Middle India - The Educated Urban Middle Class, accused of usurping more than it's fair share of the shining India & cynical towards politics, has largely been ignored by the political class. Politicians scornfully ridicule Middle India for it’s self-centric obsession & scant regard for the democratic institutions.

The failure of Middle India focused "India Shining" campaign of NDA in 2004 & effectiveness of NREGA & farm loan waivers to bring UPA back to the power in 2009 has given credence to this political belief that courting rural & poor India will yield political dividends where as Middle India can be left to fend for itself & suffer the bad governance.

Given this indifference by Middle India, which has the ability & intelligence to question, political class & bureaucracy were running amok. Corruption reached unimaginable proportions.

While ambivalent to politics, this loot by politicians & bureaucrats made middle India restless. Unfortunately, having no leverage with the political class, this resentment of Middle India remained limited to TV debates & drawing room discussions.

Along came Anna, the man with no baggage & clean image. The same middle India, which had been written off by the politicians, came out in hundreds of thousands to the utter shock & disbelief of the political class. They have no clue as to how to handle this new beast. With general elections 3 years away, unless UPA does further bungling, they are hoping that storm will blow over & they will carry on with their business of politics as usual.

Hopefully this time it will be different. This agitation has brought people from different walks of life on a common platform. With mass media, Face Book & Twitter, Middle India has learned to communicate & organize itself, which it lacked earlier.

New leaders are emerging from this movement who will TRULY represent their electorate & not be held hostage to party affiliations & whips. They will be of independent thinking who will listen to their conscience & will stand by their electorate.

Current 200+ urban Lok Sabha seats will increase in number with rapid urbanization & Middle India will become relevant again, politically.

As Mahatma Gandhi Said - "Initially they will ignore you, then they will laugh at you, then they will fight with you & finally you will win". To Middle India - It is our time & it is our battle to win. Let's march ahead.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It is Emergency like situation!

Arresting Anna Hazare & other Anti-Corruption protesters was undemocratic & reminded us of the days of emergency, though UPA has officially not declared the emergency yet.

In 1975, government headed by Mrs Indira Gandhi was under pressure from JP Movement, when Allahabad High Court invalidated the election of Mrs Indira Gandhi. This was the last straw. When Government saw it'spolicies & position untenable, they resorted to the imposition Emergency, the black spot on our democracy.

Current UPA governement, which is mired in corruption charges, feels the same presseure in Anna's anti-corruption movement. The argument of law & order given by the central government is hollow at best. Arresting Anna is an act of sheer desperation by UPA.

The logic that once a bill is placed in Parliament, public has no right to protest is ridiculus & wrong in law. Public has all the right to voice it's concern & give it's suggestion at any stage of law formulation.

The very fact that government has overruled the suggestions given by the civil society members of the drafting committee is the reason behind this protest. Now asking that since the bill is already in the parliament, hence you should not protest, is beyond comprehension. If a wrong & ineffective bill is being tabled in parliament, should people not protest. The current Lokpal Bill being considered by standing committe of the parliamnet is toothless & will do little to curb corruption.

The other argument that Parliament has the authority to legislate & civil society has no role is also ridiculus. There is a feeling among common citizens that our elected representatives have failed in framing effective anti-corruption laws & governance policies.

People's tolerance & patience is wearing thin. With scams galore, people are loosing faith in government's ability to tackle corruption. Hence they have taken it upon themselves to ensure that this bill is strong & effective against corrution.

There is an all round failure of governance. Many of our ministers & MPs are lodged in jails on corruption charges. Under these circumstances it is natural for people to feel betrayed by their elected representatives. They feel that their MPs may represent them electorally but their ethos are not being represented by current political class. To me it seems the begining of an end to current ways of money & muscle politics. Anna movement has galvanized concerned citizens & educated middle class, which has found a credible leader & worthy cause to rally behind. Nation's mood has changed but unfortunately political class is still refusing to see the writing on the wall. Sooner they do, better for us all.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Morality of Anti Corruption Movement - Is this the Fight to Finish ?

As the saying goes, any struggle with a strong Moral Imperative is bound to succeed.

When Mahatma Gandhi took on almighty British, he had conviction of morality & power of truth on his side. Whole nation was united & finally British had to leave. "Freedom from British" had a strong moral narrative & Gandhi ji was a perfect messenger of this narrative.

In today's India, divided & being exploited on social, economic & cultural ideologies, Anti-Corruption happens to be one such strong & unifying moral narrative, which evokes strong righteous sentiment among the masses. It has a convincing moral imperative which will help us to sustain this FIGHT, hopefully to the FINISH.

Like Mahatma Gandhi, in Anna Hazare we have a Man, who has the moral authority to lead this struggle & unite the nation in this fight against modern day colonizers - The corrupt Politicians, Bureaucrats & Industrialists, who have a formed a nexus & exercise a vice like grip on our psyche & life.

We, the common man, feel helpless as we see high & mighty indulge in brazen corruption & getting away without being punished. Laws have been made to suit these rulers, as was the case with the British, and we the ruled suffer in silence.

It is no surprise that leaders like Sonia Gandhi, whose writ runs large in Congress, has chosen not to act against corrupt who have brazenly looted this nation & siphoned off the loot to tax heavens for decades. We also haven't heard from the next generation LEADER of Congress on the issue of corruption. Karnataka fiasco has toppled the BJP from the moral high ground they occupied on corruption.

UPA government's tenure has undoubtedly been the MOST CORRUPT. UPA has made no sincere efforts to investigate & punish the culprits who have looted the nation. Look at Hasan Ali Khan, no action was taken by UPA for 3 years. In fact the officials who had unearthed the scam, were shown the door. CWG probe is stalled as Kalmadi has threatened to spill the beans and drag high & mighty along with him. Similarly government shielded A Raja as long as it could.

The collusion & complicity of UPA leaders in corruption is obvious. Even Swiss Ambassador has categorically said that Government of India did not ask for the details of those who have kept illegal & criminal money in Swiss Bank Accounts. We may wonder why? The reason is simple, "The Thief won't Police itself".

Finally it was COMMON Citizens like Lawyer Shanti Bhushan & Dr. Subramanyam Swamy, who filed criminal cases against powerful politicians & Supreme Court forced the hand of disgraced UPA regime to act against their corrupt colleagues.

But how long & how often can we expect citizens & judiciary to do the job of executive & legislature. The UPA government has systematically corrupted & misused the institutions like CVC & CBI, who are supposed to fight the corruption & punish the corrupt.

Sensing the nation's mood & anger, UPA is making another eyewash attempt to introduce LOKPAL BILL, which has no teeth. It can't PUNISH, only RECOMMEND. It needs permission from Politicians to Probe other POLITICIANS. It can't PROBE Prime Minister, who like our current PM may always pretend to be unaware of the CORRUPT PRACTICES of his government & cabinet colleagues. This LOKPAL BILL is a FARCE.

Proactive Citizens & Judiciary have shown to the nation that if we unite, we can defeat the Corrupt system. JAN LOKPAL Movement of Civil Society, spearheaded by Sri Anna Hazare, has a MORAL IMPERATIVE to unite & galvanize nation's conscience to get rid of this monster called CORRUPTION. While odds may seem unfavorable now, but they were unfavorable when Gandhi Ji started in 1920. Finally British left!

So lets join hands in this Anti-Corruption Drive & make it a FIGHT to FINISH!

Monday, March 21, 2011

21st March - The-Week-Gone-By - Japan Tragedy & Lessons for India

I was at Lucknow airport, when I saw some news flash on TV about Japan. Having lived in Japan for 8 years, with many close friends, I was keen to know the details, but had to board a flight. Reaching Bangalore late in the night, I got to know of the massive earthquake & resulting Tsunami (A Japanese word).

Over last one week, a lot has been seen & said about "Quiet Stoicism & Resilience of Japanese People", who have braved this tragedy which is unprecedented in scale & consequences.

Japanese are most prepared of any nation, in fact the Only nation, with most sophisticated 'Early Warning System for Earthquake & Tsunami'. In fact I used to work in a Building called Kajima Intelligent Building, which was designed to withstand earthquake of this magnitude. Because of such high level of engineering & preparedness, Japan managed to limit the loss of life despite such massive Earthquake & Tsunami.

However, Nuclear Disaster has exposed the limits of man made engineering to tame & effectively use this massive source of energy, Nuclear Energy. Radioactive Elements have been all around us, in their natural form. But nature has taken care & kept them hidden miles below in earth's crust under layers of rocks to save humans from harmful effects of radiation. We, humans, have unleashed this destructive power of nature by digging & deploying these Radio Active Substances for Bombs (Hiroshima/Nagasaki) & our energy needs.

Questions are now being asked by Japanese themselves as to why Japan, the only country which suffered Nuclear Holocaust, did not look at alternate & renewable energy sources. Was there a hidden agenda or pure shortsightedness?

After all Japan, which supplies most efficient solar panels to the world, could have researched & deployed SOLAR ENERGY. Japan also sits on Geothermal Minefield, with hot springs all around, which could have been used for GEOTHERMAL ENERGY, like Iceland does. Japan could have gone for WIND ENERGY by placing Wind Turbines in Seas surrounding Japan like Denmark does or even harnessed Tidal Wave Energy.

A research & deployment by Japan of all these Renewable Energy sources could have not only benefited Japan, but our planet as a whole. Japan had technical prowess & economic wherewithal to research & deploy these options. But Nuclear option was pursued by Japan, despite huge opposition from Japanese public, because of heavy handed sales push by USA.

US companies like GE had been ahead in the Nuclear Game and were looking at virgin markets, with huge energy appetite. GE supplied most Nuclear Plants to Japan, including the troubled Fukushima plant.

GE is a leading Nuclear Power Plant Vendor in the world now, which will be supplying Nuclear Power Plants to India too.

There has been NO NEW NUCLEAR PLANT IN THE USA from 1996 due to radiation concerns & huge cost. Hence US Companies are desperately lobbying to sell ABROAD. INDIA was egged on by Nuclear Lobby in the USA and we sign NUCLEAR PACT with USA. We took this as a GIFT from Uncle Sam & proudly joined "The Nuclear Club". This access to Nuclear Technology in itself is OK, but my fear is, Whether India is capable of taming this NUCLEAR BEAST with unimaginable Destructive Power, given our careless attitude, lackluster R&D & corrupt systems.

REAL COST OF NUCLEAR POWER - Nuclear Power is not just the Very Expensive Power but also has the Most Destructive Potential. Can a country like India afford this, both from monetary & risk management perspective.

Another fear is "Too Many Foreign Vendors with no Local Expertise". We have GIFTED First 4 Mega Nuclear Power Plants to US, France & Russia with all using different & some even unproven technologies & operational procedures. Will we be able to manage this diversity & risk, given that we have capped the liability of the supplier to a pittance & operator in our own NPCL, a PSU, with limited expertise of only Indigenous Reactors.

After Japan tragedy, India, like China, Germany & many other nations, should STOP, take a hard & close look at various options, evaluate safety issues & choose the RIGHT WAY FORWARD to ensure our ENERGY SECURITY.

JAPAN incident is an eye opener and as they say - We should not waste any opportunity which arises out of a Tragedy. Hope our politicians & bureaucrats will not let the country down. This nation should fear the worst in the hands of corrupt & inept Netas & Babus.