Today, India is at a critical juncture with all socio-economic as well as political ills engulfing the nation from almost all possible directions. Starting from a series of bribery scams that are being exposed, to our plummeting ranks in almost all economic indicators – everything corroborates the hope for the rise of a fourth front (considering the third front still exists and is potent) in the form of Arvind Kejriwal’s political debut with India Against Corruption, along with an emerging coterie of social activists, who are gradually morphing the political landscape and are all collectively reshaping the political couture of the nation.
Without even an iota of apprehension, Kejriwal has been able to create a wave of passion and excitement among common Indians for a probable better political future. Through his campaign against political parties and leaders, he has been instrumental in giving a vent to the pent up anger of the public against the corrupt, inefficient and slothful political outfits. However, the top brass of such parties can get their feet wet and get away with it, because even today, there is a dearth of intra-party democracy in almost all political parties in India. This very opacity guards the elite big bosses of the parties, who thus can never be replaced from their esteemed chairs, which eventually provides an incubation environment to corruption, favouritism and intra-party dictatorship. The most potent example of such perceived bravado is the Indian National Congress’s obsession with the Nehru-Gandhi family, whose grip on the party is absolute. Therefore, despite the Congress party and their allies getting embroiled in one expose’ after another involving multibillion bucks, no eyebrows are raised and no fingers are pointed against its leadership from within. None of the Congress members have ever demanded explanations or enquires for the series of scams. The same is true for almost all political parties, except a few... in fact, except too few – which again is a temporary phenomenon. The dictatorial and dynastic rule of political parties is endemic to India; it is just the baton that gets passed from generation to generation.
The root cause for such a contest of attrition of democracy is that our Constitution does not enforce a structure for inner-party democracy and does not account for the fact that the electorate should have the right to choose the leader of every political party. This very loophole of our Constitution is undermined and exploited by almost every political party, who treat their fiefdom as a new business venture to stash up piles of cash and benefit their personal interest. Consequently, the recruitment and development of party members are not based on competencies but rather on loyalty and lobbying. Read more....

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So the fiery and often unpredictable “Didi” of Indian politics, Mamata Banerjee is all set to do what many felt was inevitable. Even as I write this, I honestly don’t know if the Trinamool Congress will actually walk out of the UPA or not. Nor do I know how Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and Karunanidhi will act. Some friends tell me that the countdown to the end of this UPA regime has begun and that it is a matter of time before the Manmohan Singh government falls without completing its full term. Some other friends tell me that the Congress has legendary “management” skills in this field and will ride out of the storm. They point out to how a minority Manmohan Singh government won the trust vote in 2008 and how a minority P.V. Narashima Rao government won the trust vote in 1992.

I really don’t believe that the survival-or-not of the UPA government is the most significant problem confronting India at this time. I think the real problem and the real challenge is the direction that economic policy making is taking in the country. Let us look at the grievances publicly aired by Mamata Banerjee. She has slammed the UPA government as being anti-people and is convinced that the diesel price hike, the rationing of LPG cylinders and allowing FDI in multi-brand retail will harm the common man of India. If they are actually harmful for common Indians, then I am all for the stance taken by Didi.

The thing is, I have repeatedly said that India is awash with unnecessary and unsustainable subsidies. I have repeatedly said that we have to both reduce and eliminate subsidies that often end up being gobbled up by the rich instead of the poor for which they are meant. So in principle, I would tend to agree with a reduction of subsidies for both diesel and LPG. But the problem is the manner in which this UPA government has been behaving since 2009. It has been so brazenly practising crony capitalism that nobody believes it when it talks about good intentions. Let me just give one example of how the common Indian views this latest LPG controversy. The latest decision stipulates that a family will be entitled to just one subsidized LPG cylinder every two months. Any cylinders required beyond this limit need to be purchased at market prices. The government claims that an average family uses one cylinder every two months. That is absolute nonsense. An average family almost always uses one LPG cylinder every month. Worse, this arbitrary decision – given the famed ability of Indians to indulge in corruption – will lead to massive black marketing. Already, when people are calling for booking an LPG refill, dealers are claiming that they have no stock. Of course, the stock is there if you want to buy at black market rates. This is taking India back to the notorious days of rationing where rice, sugar, cooking oil, cement, phone connections and Bajaj scooters were always out of stock but available to those who had enough money to pay black market rates. This is not reforms or a forward moving decision. It is downright regressive. Why can’t the government find a way to ensure that those who can afford will pay market prices for LPG? We have had the UIAD project going on since 2009. Of what use is so much expense on it if we can’t solve even the simple problem of targeting subsidies to those who really deserve them?   Read More....

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UP elections have always been intriguing and most of the times for the wrong reasons. This is one state where political leaders have always been riddled with controversies, be it from criminalized and caste-based politics, to corruption and scams. But this year, controversy seems to have taken a new shape. With the rise of a young and dynamic leader in UP, the scenario here would change soon. Against expectations, Samajwadi Party (SP) suddenly came out and swept the elections. This sweeping victory cannot be credited to anyone else other than Akhilesh Yadav – a young politician who never projected himself as the Chief Minister, even after the victory. But then, SP read the minds and hearts of the electorate and decided to make Akhilesh the CM. And thus a new star was born in Uttar Pradesh!

Akhilesh Yadav, son of UP strongman Mulayam Singh Yadav, steered SP to a sensational victory in the state assembly, a victory that decimated all their political rivals. Uttar Pradesh may be the biggest state in India (and hence politically most important) but certainly, it is not the best governed state. Even though the state sends the maximum number of MPs to the Centre, it has been perpetually ripped apart through generations (how else would one describe the agenda of UP’s division) by the communal, casteist, self-indulgent, and shortsighted chieftains to meet their short term goals. The last two decades probably have been the worst for the state when Mayawati and Mulayam Singh reduced the politics in the state to nothing but a jungle raj! The battle was almost lost for UP, had it not been Akhilesh Yadav taking centre stage to rechristen the state with long-lost optimism and hope. His performance speaks for itself for he is the one who rightly represents today’s youth. Amidst many other young politicians, his one young face shines the brightest, and all because of his calm, pleasant, confident and positive attitude which most of the other young politicians in India comprehensively lack.

Amidst the praise and starry eyes of hope that surround him, one cannot undermine the immensely difficult and daunting task ahead. And that’s exactly what happened within days of his winning. The same media, which lavished much praise on this young man for winning, wrote him off overnight the moment he announced his cabinet. Along with the infamous Raja Bhaiya, his cabinet of 47 ministers (that is much smaller than his father’s jumbo cabinet of 97 ministers) had as many as 28 with a criminal background. All I can say is that it’s not easy to win elections in a state like UP and any other party’s cabinet would have looked quite the same if history and Indian politics are things to go by. Akhilesh inherited a party, which had a history of harbouring thugs and goons. Their inbred nature certainly cannot be changed by merely snapping off ties! And if Akhilesh tries to replace them abruptly, it will create such an upheaval that his government could even fall. Akhilesh in his campaign did stress repeatedly of clean and transparent governance by scientifically sidelining the criminals. However, let’s as of now assume this cabinet to be his political compulsion! He perhaps had no choice but to induct these people to safeguard his government.
But to his credit, he smartly and cleverly kept the ‘head’ of all thugs away from his cabinet. Despite huge pressure, he didn’t allow DP Yadav to become part of his team – smartly cutting the umbilical cord of all thugs from their mastermind.

This allowed him to win support and confidence of all minorities and those pockets of population that underwent immense subjection during the reign of DP Yadav and the likes. Akhilesh cleverly kept all key ministries with himself (that would allow him to keep a track of all funds and curtail embezzlement). More than 100 contestants of SP were below 40 years of age with many having professional degrees of medicine, engineering, management and science.

The first name in team Akhilesh that must find a place in any reference is Abhishek Mishra, a 35-year old gentleman with a PhD from Cambridge and a professor at IIM Ahmedabad. A friend of Akhilesh, Abhishek was persuaded by the former to join his team after 6 years of teaching at IIM-A in the field of strategy and innovation. And what an astounding strategy he made in Akhilesh’s manifesto and campaign! He was the man behind the criticism-free election campaign strategy and the ploy of advertising in the media outlets.

Then comes Tej Narayan Pandey, a close friend of Akhilesh, an ex-student union vice president in UP with a resounding influence on student unions. He was instrumental in mobilizing the student unions in favour of Akhilesh. He is all set to head the Home and Finance ministries besides key departments like administration, vigilance, tax and registration, education, housing, IT and many others. A quick glance would be enough to gauge the intelligence and technocracy Akhilesh possesses. He cleverly gave the less-important ministries to old and non-performing cabinet ministers and gave specialized ministries to talented and educated ministers. Something that the Centre also needs to learn.     Read More....

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My colleagues tell me that India changed decisively in 1982. I was in school so I don’t really remember the detailed newspaper headlines of those days. But I do know that the politics of Andhra Pradesh changed forever in 1982. Apparently, the then Chief Minister of AP T. Anjaiah wanted to pick up the slippers of Rajiv Gandhi. And history was made. Rajiv Gandhi was the anointed leader of Congress and somehow, fact or not, that gesture to please Rajiv Gandhi prompted a film star called NT Rama Rao to launch a movement and a party to reclaim Telugu pride. Rao and his Telugu Desam party swept the assembly elections in 1983.

Cut to about 30 years down the line and you see something dramatically different; and yet dramatically similar. Despite the huge hype that surrounded the Congress campaign led by Rahul Gandhi, it is Akhilesh Yadav of a regional outfit called Samajwadi Party who has won. In 1982, when Rajiv Gandhi took over the reins, Tamil Nadu was the only major state where the Congress party had been pushed to the sidelines as a fringe player dependent on outfits like AIADMK for votes and seats. In 2012, as Rahul Gandhi takes over the party, Congress has become a fringe player in almost one third of India.

Many political pundits and scholars are ascribing many reasons for this latest series of defeats confronting the Congress. Quite a few have gone on to say that the charisma of the Gandhi dynasty is irrevocably fading away. Some uncharitable analysts have even started questioning the credentials of the Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi to lead the party during 2014 Lok Sabha elections. I personally think it is too simplistic to start drawing such conclusions every time an election happens. In 2009, when the Congress won more than 200 seats in Lok Sabha elections and about 21 seats in Uttar Pradesh, everyone hailed Rahul Gandhi as a miracle man. Now, with such heavy defeats in the assembly elections, the same sets of people are writing off Rahul Gandhi.

A better way would be to look at the undercurrents of change that have been sweeping across India since 1982; some very visible and noisy and some low profile and silent. These changes are what have made things more difficult for Rahul Gandhi than they were for his father Rajiv Gandhi in 1982. It is for Rahul Gandhi and his advisors to understand and interpret the significance of these changes if they want the Congress to perform well in 2014 and beyond. I would list 10 major changes that have transformed India between the Rajiv era of the Congress and the present Rahul era. A lot of these changes are interlinked and have reinforced each other, without a doubt making India a more mature democracy despite all its flaws and blemishes.
 
1. Everyone talks and writes about the miracle of Indian democracy; about how free and fair elections have always been a plus for the country. I personally don’t think Indian elections were always free and fair in the true sense of the term. Booth capturing and rigging were often the norm. In a state like West Bengal, rigging had been developed into a fine art. That was mainly because the Chief Election Commissioner of India and the Election Commission were often hesitant to challenge the power of money and muscle during elections. That was till a gentleman called T.N Seshan took over the Election Commission. It was T.N Seshan who actually started the process whereby the Election Commission became a truly independent body. Seshan ended up offending many political parties and even challenged many goons openly. So powerful was his impact that politicians actually tweaked the law to ensure India has three election commissioners at one time rather than one. But there is simply no doubt that a more independent and fearless election commission marks the difference between 1982 and 2012. The process has moved so far ahead that the commission now takes on even the media when it comes to the dirty practice of ‘paid news’.
 
2. Back in 1982, telephones were a luxury that only the rich or the powerful could afford. People had to book a trunk call and wait for hours for a conversation. And phone calls were terribly expensive. It often cost Rs 90 for a 3 minute telephone call between Mumbai and Delhi. But the communications revolution – many ascribe it to the original vision of Rajiv Gandhi – has completely changed India. Today, the country has more than 800 million mobile phone subscribers who are constantly interacting with each other not just through voice but also text, chat and many other ways. In just a few years, India will have more than 400 million active users of the internet. In contrast to the India of Rajiv Gandhi, today’s India is all about instant and continuous communication. Both good and bad news spread instantly and no political party can now claim a monopoly over communication channels. Till not too far back, Mulayam Singh Yadav was known for publicly asking for a ban on English and on computers. In these elections, his son Akhilesh Yadav actually promised computers and tablets to voters. That is the power of the communications revolution in India.
3. Along with the communications revolution, India has also witnessed an unprecedented revolution in media. Back in 1982, the whole of India was in a tizzy when Rajiv Gandhi announced the launch of colour televisions on the eve of the Asian Games. In 2012, more than 100 news channels are round-the-clock telecasting bad news for the Congress and analyzing the performance of Rahul Gandhi. There is no doubt that India has enjoyed a free media since 1947, but it is only the advent of electronic media and private news channels that has made a deep impact. No doubt, private news channels go overboard, but it is their relentless coverage of scams and scandals that has ensured that even Akhilesh Yadav publicly distances himself from an alleged bahubali like DP Yadav. You may recall that DP Yadav’s son has been convicted for the murder of Nitish Katara and no one can deny the role played by media in highlighting and following up this crime to its logical conclusion. Already, every major town in India has a local news channel and this process will deepen even further in the future.     Read More....

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The future of the inheritor, and more importantly, of India, depends on fighting corruption. Here is how Pranabda can use the Budget to tame the monster

February 28, 1958: “While we should always be prepared to reconsider the methods we adopt, should this become necessary, we have to strive with all our strength for our planned development by conserving all our resources, increasing production and trying to ensure progressively a more equitable distribution and to thus raise the standards of the great mass of our people,”

- Jawaharlal Nehru as Union Finance Minister

February 28, 1970: “It is generally accepted that social, economic and political stability is not possible without the growth of productive forces and the augmentation of national wealth. Also, that such growth and increase in wealth cannot be sustained without due regard to the welfare of the weaker sections of the community,”

- Indira Gandhi as Union Finance Minister

February 28, 1987: “Twenty nine years ago, presenting the country's Budget, Jawaharlal Nehru told this house [that...] we have to strive with all our strength for our planned development by conserving all our resources, increasing production and trying to ensure progressively a more equitable distribution and to thus raise the standards of the great mass of our people…Our principal objectives are the elimination of poverty and the building of a strong, modern, self reliant independent economy,”

- Rajiv Gandhi as Union Finance Minister

Some of you would be aware of how and why these three former prime ministers also had to don the hat of a Union Finance Minister. For those who haven't found time to check out this bit of deliciously ironical history, here is a brief recap. In 1958, the son-in-law of Nehru and Indira Gandhi's husband raised uncomfortable questions about the role of the then Finance Minister T.T Krishnamachari in what became the “Mundhra scam”. TTK, as he was popularly known, was forced to resign in February 1958 and Nehru had to temporarily take over as the Finance Minister. In 1969, the Congress party split and the then Union Finance Minister Morarji Desai quit the government. Desai was strongly opposed to the “socialist” vision being gradually adopted by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She preferred to take over the Finance portfolio after the exit of Desai. Her titanic tussle with Desai and its consequences resulted in the ‘license permit' and ‘inspector raj' era, issues that continue to haunt India till date. In 1987, V.P Singh, a loyal and trusted aide of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, was ready to present his third successive budget to the nation. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for reasons future historians will be better able to explain, shifted Singh and chose to present the budget. Within a few weeks, the Bofors scam started tormenting him.

Many of you who have been waiting for my 12th successive Alternative Budget this time must be wondering why I have taken a historical detour even before talking about the proposals I have in mind this year. Many of you might even be wondering about the headline for this year's Alternative Budget: “A Budget for Rahul Gandhi”. I'll address the second issue first. One fine day in August 2010, out of nowhere, I got a call from the office of Rahul Gandhi informing me that he wanted to meet me. I was taken aback as I had made no such request to meet him. Despite my initial surprise, I decided to go and meet Rahul to see what he had in his mind. In the brief meeting we had, he kept asking me what I wanted from him and since I had gone with no expectations, I spoke to him about the Alternative Budgets that IIPM Think Tank comes out with every year. I didn't expect him to give it much of a thought but I was pleasantly surprised to see him quite interested in it and asking me several questions around it. The meeting ended with him requesting me to send a copy of my next Alternative Budget in time for his perusal. Come February 2011, I did that. However, there was no response from his office and the real budget hardly took note of my suggestions, which were all to do with changing the plight of the farmers in our country (http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/do-dooni-chaar-budget/12869/). So this time, keeping in mind that in any case, there is a very high probability of Rahul Gandhi becoming Prime Minister in 2014 (and since history repeats itself endlessly in India, I wouldn't be shocked to see Rahul Gandhi like his great grandfather, his grandmother and his father present a Union Budget in the future), I thought of addressing the budget directly to him; Rahul being young, I believe he has a higher probability of taking a note of it than Pranabda! Moreover, I am certain even Pranabda will be presenting this year's budget with Rahul Gandhi's future Prime Ministerial prospect in mind!

But it is my historical detour quoted at the start that I think holds more relevance for the future of India. The reasons I have quoted Nehru, Indira and Rajiv in their avatars as finance ministers are twofold. The first: there is no doubt that all three were passionate about India and did try their best in their own ways to at least minimize, if not eliminate poverty from India. No objective analyst can doubt their intentions. The second: the primary reason why all three largely failed in their efforts is because of corruption that started as a harmful disease in the Nehru era and now is a malignant cancer that is corroding the insides of India, even as Rahul Gandhi makes a pitch for his personal tryst with destiny. As Dr Pranab Mukherjee makes the final preparations to read his speech as Finance Minister on March 16, 2012, and as Rahul Gandhi gets ready to absorb the import of the verdict delivered by the voters of Uttar Pradesh, both surely must be aware of two things. Corruption and good governance will most definitely play a big role in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And that it could well be a kind of a last chance for Dr Mukhrejee and the Gandhi scion to use the two remaining budgets before 2014 to send a loud and clear message to voters that the two (and Congress per se) actually walk the talk when it comes to curing India of corruption. On this hinges the political future of Rahul Gandhi. More importantly, on this hinges the future of India. Quite simply, India can no longer afford tall promises and noble intentions even as we march towards hell for the poor.

In 2009, when the UPA surprise, surprise stormed back to power and the Congress an even bigger surprise won more than 200 Lok Sabha seats for the first time since 1991, I presented my Alternative Budget with a headline that raised quite a few eyebrows. The headline was “Khao aur Khilao Budget”. My premise was simple: it is impossible to change a rotten system overnight in an electoral democracy and yet Dr Mukherjee should be able to implement many proposals that would make a huge difference to poverty, inequality, education, healthcare and governance “even if corruption continued, albeit on a lower scale”. That Alternative Budget surprise, surprise again was a huge ‘hit'; and many economists, analysts and bureaucrats, and even politicians, appreciated some of my ‘realistic' proposals. One such proposal went with the following headline: “A census, a national database and biometric cards for the Poor.” I further wrote, “The FM must allocate another Rs 2000 crore and rope in the Election Commission to provide the poor with biometric photo identity cards. Smart card technology is easily available... I estimate that at least 250 million Indians will get these smart cards and claim welfare scheme funds and resources. Knowing Indians, many undeserving people will sneak into this database while many deserving ones will get left out. But we are not talking about achieving perfection in this budget.” (For more details, log on to http://www.thesundayindian.com/en/story/arindam-chaudhuri-presents-the-khao-aur-khilao-budget/19/7719/)

I doubt if Dr Mukherjee and the former Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani found time to read my Alternative Budget in 2009 in this magazine and our sister publication Business and Economy. And yet, I was delighted a few months later when UPA-2 actually announced the UIAD project that was all about biometric cards. I feel a little sad when I read newspaper reports about how vested interests are trying to stall, or even kill the UIAD project. And yet, it made me think that there are people in policy making who are genuinely thinking about tackling ‘leakages', which is a polite word for blatant, shameless and parasitic corruption. As with everything else in India, when it comes to corruption, there is a lot of despair; and a lot of hope. The very fact that biometric cards are now a reality for the poor in many districts of India makes me concentrate more on hope than despair.

But to give the devil her due, I have no choice but to highlight some statistics and studies that reveal how corruption must be a cause of despair for all well-meaning citizens of this country. The primary reason for a country being ranked very low on ‘the quality of life indicators' is not poverty or lack of resources but corruption and poor governance. Despite tall promises and about 65 Union budgets some presented by charismatic prime ministers India's ranking continues to be pathetic at just about 125. Not surprising because 400 million Indians are still illiterate, 750 million Indians lack access to basic sanitation and 1,000 million Indians spend their own family money on healthcare because the State has failed to act in that area. Look at the Transparency Index, or the Competitiveness Index or any other damn index and you will realize that India has a pathetic record of taking care of its poor and underprivileged. And it continues to do so despite so many social welfare programmes launched by this UPA government since 2004 when it came to power. The astonishing thing is that Indians still appear to be largely optimistic when we see results of global surveys. And then I realize those survey guys probably never went to slums or villages where farmers were committing suicide.

There is another way to look at how corruption is corroding our innards. Back in the 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi said that about 85% of the money meant for social welfare schemes was eaten away by corruption. If anything, despite RTI and the rise of social activism, media activism and judicial activism, corruption has only gotten worse. One interesting data here. Together, the Centre and all the states have spent close to Rs 20 lakh crore on education since the UPA came to power. This includes plan and non plan expenditures. Assume that Rajiv Gandhi was exaggerating and only 50% of the funds get ‘diverted', you still have a figure of close to Rs 10 lakh crores siphoned away in the name of education. Add health, irrigation, rural electrification, roadways et al and you can well imagine the extent of corruption in India. And almost all of it could have been used to lift the desperately poor above the poverty line. Forget Swiss Banks and black money. I honestly think we in the media should start an audit of expenditures on these schemes meant for the poor and prove how much was actually ‘diverted'. I know activists and the media are already doing it. But no positive outcome seems to come out despite judicial intervention. That brings me close to my proposals this year in my Alternative Budget.

But before I start presenting my proposals, let me share something that we all know. Corruption is flourishing in India because the corrupt are more likely get away with it. I have nothing personal against the former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram who has been convicted again and again on charges of corruption. But the case has dragged on for so long that he is now in his late eighties. I felt troubled about the future of India when I read in a paper that the 96 year old Sheila Kaul a former Congress minister who faces corruption charges was summoned to appear in court despite her lawyer arguing about her age and health. I think Indians are so fed up with corruption and the system that encourages it that they might think that people in their late eighties and nineties are getting just desserts. The simple reason why corruption flourishes in India is that our judicial system is completely broken down and paralysed. We get occasional glimpses of what the judiciary can do like in the cases of Priyadarshani Matto, Jessica Lal, the 2G scam and many others. But they are not even a drop in the ocean.

So what can Pranabda do if he presents a budget for Rahul Gandhi?

Well, he should tackle the key issue of corruption that has rattled the government this year, in particular during the Anna Hazare movement and the Ramdev fiasco! Yes, as of now, both the issues have been managed, but the truth is that it won't be long before more agitations rock the country if it is not tackled properly. Thus, this budget keeps tackling corruption as its top priority! The biggest sufferers of corruption are the poor as the high and mighty use corruption to their benefit.

Here are my suggestions for this year's Alternative Budget.

Key resource allocations:
Transform the judiciary
The Lokpal has been given its silent burial with a completely manipulative and flawed bill. Though the Lokpal bill in its ideal best had the power to make a big impact to deter corruption, I never believed that this was the first priority when it came to tackling corruption. The first priority as I also told Arvind Kejrival during one of our interactions has to be necessarily a massive focus on judicial reforms. Unfortunately, most people don't understand its real relevance and those who do are sitting in power and thus keeping it dysfunctional so that the corrupt can make merry! If Rahul Gandhi is really keen to change this country and make an impact in the field of reducing corruption, he has to awaken the sleeping and completely dysfunctional judiciary of this country!

I was truly shocked when a colleague pointed out that less than 1% is allocated by the Central and State budgets every year for the judiciary. In the Ninth Five Year Plan, the government set aside Rs 385 crore for the judiciary. That works out to 0.078% of total plan expenditure. In the tenth Five year Plan, the allocation was increased to Rs 700 crores; about 0.071% of total plan expenditure. In the Eleventh Five Year Plan which is in progress, the allocation was ‘generously' raised to Rs 1470 crore. As a percentage of total plan expenditure, things haven't improved at all. These figures are so laughably small that I marvel at how the judiciary functions at all!

All this, while new laws, amendments to existing laws, a massive increase in corruption and the rise of activism have led to more and more cases piling up even as old cases continue to languish. As I stated earlier, and have often stated in the past, the only way to reduce corruption in India is to make the judiciary more effective. Till the corrupt remain convinced that they can either escape punishment or delay it indefinitely, corruption will continue to increase. The one and only solution for corruption is a functional judicial system. Corruption and greed are globally prevalent, yet it touches far less lives in the USA than in India simply because the American judicial system is functional and ours is dysfunctional. In America, they have ten times more judges per million people than in India. If we are to try and achieve such standards we need to have about 100,000 more judges. It sounds huge but is surely achievable in a span of five years. And to have 20,000 additional judges per year, we have to budget for an additional amount of approximately Rs.6,000 crores per year, assuming that the expenses around a judge and his office assistants put together is definitely not more than Rs.30,00,000 per year.

So if I were Pranabda, I would use the 2012 Budget to announce that Rs 6,000 crores have been allocated for the judiciary in the coming fiscal, with a commitment to increase it to Rs 10,000 crores in the next fiscal. India desperately needs such a big ticket and transformational move. The budget must unveil a concrete plan whereby the Law Ministry works with Supreme Court and High Court judges to draw up firstly a concrete blueprint to “quadruple” the number of judges and courts before the general elections in 2014; and secondly, to draw up a blueprint that will compel litigants, lawyers and judges to commit to a time frame to settle cases. First, this will send a huge message to voters that the government actually means business. Second, it will actually transform governance in India. If those facing corruption charges know that they could be convicted in less than a year and their property confiscated and auctioned as it has started happening in some isolated cases the incentives for corruption will vastly diminish, if not disappear altogether. This is far more important than making noise about a Lokpal. This is very doable. No progress was made for almost two decades in Bihar when it came to tackling corruption cases. Then Chief Minister Nitish Kumar set up fast track courts and lo and behold, the corrupt actually started getting convicted quickly.

These massive allocations for the judiciary will ensure that ‘fast track' courts do not remain exceptions but become the norm in Indian judiciary.

Focus on education and healthcare
For close to a decade, I have been repeating the simple fact that without education and healthcare, there is just no way that India can ever hope or dream of catching up with China. It is a disgrace that public expenditure on health and education at less than 2% of GDP is less than the share taken away by myriad subsidies and exemptions. The only way out is a massive increase in allocations for schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan and National Rural health Mission. But as I have often pointed out, merely allotting more money without improving governance and reducing corruption will not help. For a more detailed perusal of my proposals, do read my 2010 Alternative Budget that went with the headline “A Budget for Three Idiots” (http://www.thesundayindian.com/article.php?category_id=28&article_id=637). The recommendations I have made in that proposal are even more relevant today.     Read More....

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As I sit down on the eve of my 40th birthday to write this editorial, I couldn’t have thought of writing on a more important aspect – as great political leadership is what India requires more than anything else today. And though I have written considerably on leadership, it has mainly been about corporate leadership. Leadership in corporations is massively different from political leadership, and therefore it requires a special model and a special line of thinking. While in corporations the final aim is profit maximization in most cases, in politics the final objective is necessarily social welfare maximization. While in corporations the best leaders are often the best marketing guys, in politics the best leaders necessarily have to be the people who are the sincerest and most hard working. While in business you can make do without the knowledge of economics, in politics that can be suicidal. While in business being unethical can harm you and at most your stake holders, in politics the lack of ethics ruins an entire nation’s future. And most importantly, while in corporations leadership is about commitment to the strongest and survival of the fittest, in political leadership, the focus always is about commitment to the weakest and survival of the weakest – concepts about which I wrote a few issues back in Business & Economy (a Planman Media group publication), when I wrote about responsible leadership (please do log on to our website and check out the link for the same: http://www.businessandeconomy.org/27102011/storyd.asp?sid=6462&pageno=1). Thus, for me, political leadership is not just about having certain qualities but also simultaneously about not having various qualities. Rather, what is important is to ensure that one does not possess certain specific qualities first; if that is taken care of, the rest would then automatically fall in place.

Keeping all the above in mind, I believe the model of the 7 winning virtues of political leadership (viz Credibility, Compassion, Clairvoyance, Camaraderie, Commitment, Charisma and Competence) that I have developed is most suited for Politicians in general and Indian politicians in particular, keeping in mind the spate of massive corruption scandals of late! So what is so special about these 7 Cs of leadership that has not been read before? After all, is it not just another word play?

Well, the difference in this model and any other such model is that in this model, each element or virtue is actually the opposite of one of the 7 sins of life – the seven deadly sins that we are supposed to avoid; to a large extent, as normal human beings and to an almost extreme extent, as a political leader! The seven sins originally are Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Lust, Pride and Wrath! So how are these related, you must be wondering! Let’s go one by one!

The first sin that a leader must avoid is that of greed. This is what seems to be the biggest problem with political leaders in India. Greed. The reason behind all the lack of development in India at the cost of swelling Swiss bank accounts. Every politician looks at politics as a source of making quick money at the cost of the nation. And thus, instead of looking at the Commonwealth Games as a brilliant chance to develop the nation and its sports facilities – the way China looked at Olympics – they looked at the games as an opportunity to create a massive scam and looted the nation shamefully. So instead of looking at telecommunications as a big chance of taking the country towards better development, our leaders looked at it as a chance to loot and plunder. And this is where my first C of leadership gains importance. The virtue of credibility! Instead of greed, and dishonesty, political leadership is about credibility. That’s what defines a political leader’s true character. Once you lose credibility, you can still continue thanks to various reasons, but with no respect. That’s what most Indian politicians today suffer: the problem of credibility.     Read More....

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Growing up in a Bengali neighborhood, in Delhi's C.R.Park, meant even at an early age of ten, there were friends who knew the basic difference between capitalism and communism, and had clear-cut preferences! Of course, these preferences would be heavily influenced by their parents! And my father is perhaps the only Indian who did a full fledged Master’s Degree in National Economic Planning from an erstwhile communist nation, the erstwhile East Germany. Needless to say, my first story books were on Lenin's life and I had been totally charmed by him into believing in the positive aspects of communism, and till date remain so. And on the giant world map that hung in front of his study table, the country that I heard and studied most about till I passed out of my school in 1989 was a country many of my readers today aren't even aware of! A country called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics! Ruled by leaders who followed and most importantly understood to a large extent the ideology of Karl Marx – voted by the BBC as the world’s greatest intellectual of the last millennium – USSR on the world map looked like half of the world; and for Indians then, they were the nation which was there to protect us finally in the eventuality of any real war.

They had given us steel plants, military aircraft and were our biggest friends. And for those of us who used to hate the Americans for their military aid to Pakistan, celebrating every success of USSR was a must! Actually, India still was a distant ally, if one were to take a look at the East European countries that USSR protected and developed like their own nation. Those who have visited the East European regions in those days, would swear that the benevolence of USSR was such that they gave those countries invariably a better standard of living than that enjoyed by the Soviet people. To understand what USSR was in all its glory and magnanimity, one really needed to compare its development with that of USA till 1989! From CIA to topmost economists and historians of that time, all used to agree then that USSR had become 40% of the Americans in terms of standards of living. What it meant in essence was that despite bearing the biggest brunt of the second world war, thereafter investing about 33% of their GDP on defense, taking care of the entire Eastern Europe – from East Germany to Poland – USSR, in a short span of 45 years, had reached the enviable position of being 40% of the American per capita income; but more importantly, absolutely equal, if not superior, as far as military might and space war were concerned. It also meant that it was technologically extremely advanced, just that it had not yet started using that ability to make the consumer’s life more luxurious. But on the streets of USSR you could never spot a malnutritioned child, someone without full access to education or healthcare! That was USSR, the saviour of the world from greedy capitalist aggression, humane in terms of its development priorities and a country that was reason why the world spent 45 years in complete peace; compare that with the next 20 years that we have seen of unbridled capitalist greed driven aggression.

This difference between the far, far more peaceful time post the second world war and now, is a direct result of what happened exactly twenty years back! History was literally rewritten on December 25, 1991, at 7:20 pm when Mikhail Gorbachev – doubted by many as an ideological spy of CIA, if not an actual one – aired his speech announcing his resignation as President of the Soviet Union. A couple of minutes later, the flag of the Soviet Union from Kremlin was replaced with a new tricoloured flag of Russia. And thus, the whole world map was reconstructed with a demise of not only a union, but the demise of a political ideology in itself. The massive Soviet Union that had stood tall for seventy four years acting as a bulwark to the hegemony of United States and its allies, was broken to pieces as Mikhail Gorbachev (the General Secretary or the first secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union) could not handle a pro-democratic wave in the streets of Moscow and elsewhere led by Boris Yeltsin – later clearly branded as a fun-loving drunkard devoid of any ideology. Boris Yeltsin aspired to become the President of independent Russia, a country which till then was ruled by a spate of extremely ideologically driven leaders, who, albeit authoritarianism, were committed to not just their country but the globe on the whole.

During Gorbachev’s rule, the iron curtain and strict state control of political, economic and administrative machinery that was beyond all pedestal of criticism was liberalized under the set of reforms Gorbachev named “Perestroika" (restructuring) and "Glasnost" (openness); these were brought into the Soviet system in 1985. Concurrently, the oil prices dropped sharply in 1985 and 1986, thus lowering the country’s revenue and foreign exchange reserves that led to the import crisis of grains, attracting widespread public ire. The dried up revenue stream eventually portended the country’s bankruptcy and the end of the regime! In a nutshell, the bumbling rush to enjoy the glitters of prosperity that the US-led West enjoyed, along with the influence of Yeltsin who was a diehard crusader of democracy, brought the Soviet era to an unfortunate end.

Contrary to the popular belief, and despite him being a key factor in the disintegration of USSR, Gorbachev did try to keep Soviet Union united and bring in a transition through economic, social and cultural reforms – but was thwarted by Yeltsin’s intent who wanted a drastic change to democratization – the pro-West groups keep on hammering the point that it was an inevitable trajectory; yet, one should take lessons from China on how they managed the transition that the Soviet Union couldn’t. Gorbachev concurred with this point as he emphasized again and again on August 21, 1991 (the day the coup was orchestrated) that the Union could be preserved! Even though the coup didn’t last more than two days, it brought in the death knell for the Communist Party and demise of Soviet Union. Gorbachev couldn’t prevent the Soviet Union from being splintered, and history was made.     Read More....

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When I went to China a decade back, what I saw hit me very hard. I felt that if all of us in Delhi were to work 24x7 for 25 years, it would still be tough to convert Delhi into Beijing. That’s the China I was expecting to see when I went there again last month. What I saw instead was an extra 25 years of growth in the last 10 years!!! If ten years back, there were gigantic roads but less cars, this time the roads were filled with American cars; brands which American companies haven’t even cared to launch in India! If the last time I saw high-rise buildings, then this time I saw ten times more of them! If the last time I was amazed with Beijing, then this time I realized that we couldn’t even become Guangzhou if we worked 24x7 for the next 50 years. I believe that every Indian politician must have a visit to China as a mandatory part of his induction process into the Parliament (especially the Communists of India who have also so shamefully cheated their respective states year after year), so that they are firstly aware of how they and their predecessors have cheated this country and secondly to know where a country can reach in no time!

They say now that the Chinese economy has caught up with the American economy. In our book The Great Indian Dream, we had written ten years back about the same concept; and today I write that the Chinese economy has left the American economy far behind. Their products are so undervalued that no kind of calculation can show the real value of their humongous economy! And come to think of it, even a few decades back, China was seen with lot of scepticism owing to their political structure and a gargantuan population which was increasing by the day! But when we look at the nation today we realize that it took China just a few years’ time to give this huge population a purchasing power and lifestyle that even many in the West are deprived of and to create an unfathomable miracle! What China did and is doing now is beyond the imagination of many nations; they created this gigantic economy by systematically planning at every micro level – and most importantly, taking its citizen along this growth path! Today, an average Chinese living in Beijing, or Shanghai is almost as well off as an average American living in New York or an average British living in London! So what exactly did China do?

Amongst a host of other things, China’s opening up of its Iron Curtain and freeing its economy from the shackles of central control in the late 1970s while still retaining its commitment to the poor literally brought about the miracle. Unlike in India, their very carefully planned liberalization allowed the nation to experience rapid strides in growth and above all lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty! Millions of peasants were granted freedom from the massive poverty by being allowed to follow their dreams. This freedom and shackle-free life led to rapid development in the� manufacturing and service sectors in the last 20 years! All this came as a celebration of new hope for Chinese masses and a new beginning of entrepreneurial freedom! The new spirit and the new mission were well supported by increasing investments in infrastructure, education and various other social sectors that symbolized the Chinese rise in world forums and made China one of the most sought-after investment destinations. The freedom from poverty in turn also helped develop the agricultural sector – as the policy of ‘farmers can make their own economic decision’ led to millions of farmers’ poverty cycle being alleviated! The rural household income doubled from 343.4 RMB ($55) in 1978 to 735.7 RMB in 2003. Between 1990 and 2005 the average per capita growth of Chinese economy was a staggering 8.7 per cent (highest among major economies)! The World Bank’s stipulated poverty line of $1 a day in Purchasing Power Parity corresponds to around 2,836 RMB per year (as per 2007 estimate)! As per this definition, China’s proportion of population below poverty line was 64 per cent in 1981; this dropped to an unbelievable 10 per cent by 2004 (India still has more than 40% of its population languishing below the poverty line as per purchasing power parity)! That’s Chinese poverty eradication – an exemplary and remarkable performance which is often quoted as a miracle – and an inspiration and case study for all developing countries across the globe.


The poverty alleviation programs undertaken by the authorities in the last three decades have contoured the modern China that is sparkling with confidence. Today, every Chinese is free to travel to any city to try and make a living there (Of course, cities do have resident permits; holders of such permits get subsidies in health facilities etc). Yet, one cannot find a single, real, poor person in the cities. No beggars, no slums and nobody sleeping on the streets! When poor can migrate freely, cities are bound to have slums if real poverty exists. In China, people come to cities for a better life and not because they were dying in the villages. The programs for poverty alleviation in China are carried out in 592 key counties over and above 74 counties in Tibet. In the distribution of prosperity, the Central and Western counties were the weakest links always. To address the economic gap, the central authorities from 1986 issued subsidized loans to the poor people – that was augmented from 1.05 billion RMB in 1986 to 5.5 billion RMB in 1996! Similarly, the “Food for Work” scheme was another flagship program in China where government spent 33.6 billion RMB between 1986 and 1997. Unlike other parts of the world where most of such programs are littered with corruption, the Chinese were successful in creating productive assets like roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructures across the nation. In the agricultural sector, reforms in agricultural taxes and other fees were implemented to relieve the farmers. In 2000, all the fees were abolished and replaced with a single slab agricultural tax – and later on in March 2004, amidst fear of WTO repercussions, the central government decided to eliminate the agricultural tax completely within the next 5 years. In the same year, more agricultural subsidies were introduced, which was followed by increased spending on rural infrastructure amounting to $25 billion!      Read More....

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The strength of the Chinese population can be gauged by the very fact that today around 19.3 per cent of world population is Chinese.

But then, such a figure based on the law of averages hides more than what it reveals. The figure that talks volumes about the Chinese sphere of influence, at least with respect to human capital, is that of 50 million plus overseas Chinese who are settled in various parts of the world and playing their bit in accelerating the fast-paced Chinese economy. Today, overseas Chinese not only pump money into the Chinese economy but also facilitate Chinese ambitions of global cultural and political colonisation. Overseas Chinese have made themselves inimitable in almost all spheres of influences – from heading many hard power areas by chairing vital positions in global forums, military and political institutions of many nations to being the face of various soft power areas of influence. One may not be well versed with the Chinese powers-that-be, but at the same time, very few would be not well versed with the likes of Jackie Chan!

The emigration of Chinese dates back to the Ming dynasty, but the real wave of Chinese diaspora started in 1840s when thousands of Chinese left China and made their way to the United States, especially after the discovery of gold in California. Initially, uneducated and unemployed Chinese labourers left their homes and moved to the US (for mining and railroad jobs); but then, during the late nineteenth century, the scenario changed. Instead of labourers, those were skilled and educated Chinese who moved out to avoid the ill effects of poverty and famine – which were haunting China in the late nineteenth century. However, this time the destination was not confined to the US or the West; many Asian nations suddenly made it to the destination list of Chinese. Among all the nations, Southeast Asia and Australia (apart from US) attracted the most Chinese. With more and more Chinese moving out of China, most of the big cities across the world saw a huge inflow of Chinese.

Gradually, these people moved and settled down in a more organised manner and formed strong communities across the globe. So much so that most of the renowned cities (in almost all nations) have a China located somewhere – which today we call ‘Chinatown.’     Read More....

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I was too young then to really remember it all; but I have heard from many people that the mass protests generated by the arrest of Anna Hazare are similar to the uprising called Total Revolution led by the late Jaiprakash Narayan in the early 1970s. In fact, it was the Total Revolution and the chaos that followed – and a historic blunder by Indira Gandhi – that led to the imposition of the Emergency in India in 1975. Many people are comparing today’s situation to the Emergency days.

The people of India are so fed up and so disgusted with corruption and our rotten and corrupt system that the wave of protests we see is hardly surprising. I have often publicly called India not a democracy but a demonocracy where crooked politicians and their criminal cohorts are openly plundering the nation; well aware that a dysfunctional judicial system will allow them to get away. In almost all cases, they have actually got away and have hence acquired the arrogance and swagger of pirates who know they are above and beyond the law. To that extent, the waves of protests, demonstrations, candle lit vigils and passionate slogans that are being witnessed across the nation were inevitable. And there is little doubt that the simplicity and stark clarity of the message being delivered by Anna Hazare has convinced thousands and thousands of Indians that Anna Hazare is a modern day messiah. I still remember the Jantar Mantar fast of April when even I was moved to write very strongly in favour of Anna Hazare and even bring out a special supplement on the power of civil society protests. I still think that there is enormous power and truth in the anti-corruption message that Anna Hazare is delivering.


And yet, I must confess that I do find some things a little disturbing. I know, passions and emotions are running so high at the moment that I run the risk of being vilified as a government stooge if I dare criticize Anna Hazare and his methods (Anyone who has been reading my editorials and columns over the years will, I am sure, laugh at the suggestion that I am a pro-establishment man!) . But just as I have often gone against the tide and slammed the government for many policies and actions, I feel strongly enough about this issue to point out to all passionate and emotionally charged Indians some basic home truths about this controversy.

Across India, people young and old are lambasting the government for being arrogant as well as adamant. Often rightly, they are accusing the government of not even bothering to listen to other viewpoints. There is no doubt that some highly irresponsible and uncalled for statements by senior leaders of the ruling alliance have strengthened this perception and further fuelled anger amongst people already fed up with corruption. And yet, if the government is guilty of being adamant and arrogant, is not Anna Hazare guilty of being the same? Anna Hazare and his supporters accuse the government of being intolerant and insensitive because it is refusing to accept their version of the Lok Pal Bill. But are they not displaying similar intolerance and insensitivity when they routinely brand anyone who expresses doubts about their version of the Lok Pal Bill as a traitor and a stooge? How can Anna and his team declare so confidently that it is only their version of the Lok Pal Bill that is perfect and no one else can say anything critical about it? If the government is hiding behind the fig leaf of a ‘popular mandate’ and the supreme authority of the Parliament, isn’t Team Anna guilty of hiding behind the fig leaf of sanctimoniousness? I fully support the right of Anna and his team to criticize the ham-handed manner in which the government is treating the Lok Pal Bill. But I also fully support the right of any Indian to criticize the draft prepared by Team Anna. Surely, not blindly agreeing to whatever Anna says doesn’t make a traitor out of an Indian? Quite frankly, over the last few months, both the government and Team Anna have been guilty of being intolerant, inflexible and insensitive. So many thousands of Indians are genuinely angry because some Congress leaders have publicly abused Anna and his team and accused them of being corrupt. But what has Team Anna been doing since April, if not publicly abusing the Prime Minister, the Parliament, Indian elections and even Indian democracy? And yes, I do agree that many should be abused in the government; but at the end of the day, there has to be a democratic way to it. It can’t be imposed through the dictatorial will of one group just because they are able to rake up popular frenzy. There is a Constitution; there is a court; there is an elected Parliament, and things have to happen as per its guidelines. Anna must protest. But he can’t be adamant about imposing it. Protests have their own effect and change does happen. But it can’t happen without the support of our Constitution and democratic machinery.