Sunday, 31 May 2015

Foreign Policy Under Narendra Modi - Part 1


A lot of euphoria and hero-worshipping is doing the rounds regarding our Foreign Policy under the new dispensation; in this article, I make an attempt to place things in the proper perspective, and highlight the problem areas as well as the successes in a relatively contained and short article. All is not hunky-dory; a lot remains to be revealed, and lot of it is pure hype which has no basis or substance whatsoever. We need to be able to differentiate the wheat from the chaff; this is what I have attempted.

               
A lot is being made about the improved image; In FP, image means almost nothing; it is relatively immaterial. FP is a matter of hardcore strategy, deliverance on words, hard power, and economic give and take. How a nation is perceived is of no relevance; what matters is its economic performance and security paradigms and direction. Thus, a better global image makes us feels better as Indians, but counts for precisely nothing in Diplomacy, and that is an absolute. If you sift away the hyperbole and focus on the hard facts, there are no achievements - precisely zero as on date in FP by this Government. FP changes take time to reveal themselves; let us wait and see.



To be frank, there is a decided lack of direction in the current foreign policy; this may be due to the churning that inevitably takes place when course is altered; that is true - but, as on date, from a strategic perspective it is all mixed up. India’s established course over the past 67 years has been fundamentally altered; some needed steps - long overdue - taken; but a lot of confusion prevails – and that is the way it should be in FP for a new Government with high expectations. What matters is the absence of gaffes, and presence of definable good steps. Only time will tell regarding FP, it is way too early.


As on date, there are demonstrably no achievements that would not have taken place otherwise {without NaMo}, apart from the hoopla among the Non-Resident population and the PIO population, who are immaterial insofaras strategy is concerned.  The direction is unclear as on date; remains to be seen what the net result is. NaMo has changed many a paradigm of our FP, and the effects in FP can only be observed over a long period of time. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the FP as on date; at least insofaras USA, Israel and China are concerned.


There is no record of even one nation {non-European / Developing} that has benefited from a close association with the USA; quite the opposite. Add to that the recent revelations on arms aids, and the billions of dollars worth of Arms being given to Pakistan, which decidedly harms Indian interests,  and the differences on intelligence sharing- the net result seems negative. To top it all are the manifest differences on Economic and Trade issues where we are lined on diametrically opposite sides of the debate, added to the pressure tactics of the USA. It is still supplying arms to Pakistan - in fact, it has actually increased them, I think; the pressure game in various economic fields remains as it is- AMS, IPR et al. Sensitive technologies still not being given. No change - whatever happened would have happened anyway, had anyone else been in charge, and that is a fact. India and the USA are not going to be friends anytime soon!


USA is playing upto India not due to NaMo, but due to China, and that is also a fact; history repeats itself – read the period 1954-1960 and the Tibet imbroglio. The preceding silence to these elections was due to the elections themselves; everyone was hedging their bets. The global economy is in a major downswing, making India an attractive bet in terms of markets. China's rise is making Unka Sammie mighty hot under the collar, and the Japanese look askance, In this scenario, regardless of who was in charge, insofaras USA, China are concerned, there has been no positive or negative impact – except hype and hyperbole, driven by an NRI/PIO population, and an indigenous population which for some strange reason idolizes these Non-Indians and Non-Residents Indians.



Recall the previous time India and China tried to come close. On China, I am afraid he may be wrong. I cannot forget the last time we went into Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai. The situation is the same; the precise same as in the Mid-50s, with USA gunning for China, wanting India on board. The Armed Forces in need of Weapons, and a general euphoria of Bhai-Bhai. The only saving grace is NaMo is far more pragmatic than other Indian leaders. Let us see; I have high hopes that he will handle it in an adroit fashion; judging from his China visit. But he as a leader can afford to play two roles- Security, and trade whereas we, as people, need to avoid euphoria in the case of China, and not hope for dramatic changes; they wont happen.



And ME-Israel? That is a sea-change : requires deep analysis for a thorough perspective. Let us all keep silent here; this is complicated and will require time to manifest. It seems a natural, an Israel with whom we have a deep scientific {Agriculture, Defence} and security commonality,  and one which has been courting India quietly all these years, as well as openly supporting it. But we have to factor in The Middle East, and that is what makes this matter complex. Silence is best on this; time will tell. My personal view is that the shift towards Israel was long overdue.


Nothing has changed fundamentally. Russia is still our only friend; and will remain our only friend in the near future. The USA, for all its pointless words, has not changed even one small sub-sub-paragraph of either its security policy or its economic policy, a few unimportant trinkets here and there apart. On a basic level, if you remove all trappings, as I observed above a lot remains unexplained. Only time will tell. The rest is all hoopla, and has no substance whatsoever. Rather than celebrate and jump for joy, let us not create a hype and hoopla, and give this Government time, as at long last, there is an aggressive government in FP, one which is taking long-overdue decisions, one of which I alluded to above.


As regards money and investments- given the Global Scenario, you cant expect anything else. Will it actually happen? Extremely doubtful. Project implementation has to pick up, and that requires police, political and administrative reform. Land Bill etc wont change one single iota of the on-ground reality. What matters is how we develop our own internal capabilities; if that is in line, the money and the investments will come.


Monday, 25 May 2015

AAP, Delhi, BJP : Why The NDA has failed

The events in Delhi, with the confrontation between the ruling NDA Government and the AAP Government over the matter of who has the say in Delhi is a vital one, one that holds almost paramount importance and priority for us as a people and as a nation, and for more reasons than one. It is the 2nd test for a fledgling government at the center, a test of their skills in democracy.



NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC ALLIANCE
I refer to the NDA Government. It is an acid test of their ability to take along diverse and at times conflicting interests towards a common goal – which is, I respectfully submit, the single most vital ingredient for a good and successful central government in a land as diverse as ours. In order that all programmes get smoothly implemented, it is vital that the centre handle even state opinions opposed to them; it is also a test of their honesty and integrity as well as their maturity.


In only the first year, we have already seen major flare-ups in two states : Jammu & Kashmir, and New Delhi. In both cases, it is manifest that it is an intransigence on the part of the BJP that is at the root of the flare-up. The point isn’t that who is or who is not right : the point is firstly, the irresponsible statements of party members and leaders, and secondly & more importantly, the inability of the center to bring diverse opinions on board for the greater common good. Being the leader, you have no right to complain about the intransigence of the other party : you are the national government, the prerogative to exacerbate or solve the issue is yours and yours alone. You cannot devolve that prerogative on your political partner and/or opponent.


Being the national leader, if you take a confrontational stance once – it is ok; quite understandable, given the challenges and difficulties, as also the diversities involved. But if you do so again and again, the suspicion will arise that you are a party that is good at the state level, but a failure when it comes to the question of running a diverse nation with variegated political ideologies and views – a task which requires political maturity of a very high grade, as well as an empathy towards and respect for local issues, ground realities and problems. This has now happened twice; and only in the short space of 10 or 11 months.


For a nation like India, you cannot pontificate sitting in New Delhi – you cant even do that for New Delhi, let alone the whole country. The great leaders who wrote our constitution wrote a Union with a federal structure for a reason; there is a reason why there are segregation of tasks and powers between the center and the states. Ground realities require someone close to the people, who can understand the issues and craft solutions. And pontification is precisely what any number of NDA leaders have been doing – with comments like people should forget caste and vote for progress and things like that. The entire Article 370 brouhaha is yet another example of pontification and irresponsible talk, given the well documented opposition to the same in several parts of India as well as Jammu & Kashmir.


A third example was seen in New Delhi, with statements calling the ability of the State Government, and that they have to be taught. Such remarks in a situation as razor-edge {constitutionally} as New Delhi only make a solution that much more difficult as both sides of the debate further firm-up their positions. A fourth example is the repeated statements that can be called polarizing statements from various BJP leaders, compounded by the centers inability to reign in their own people – leading at least me to wonder – just who is in command? We have already seen what happens when the PM is not in total but mature command; I certainly do not want a repetition! While the PM is certainly in command in terms of programmes and tasks, he is not doing anything overt to control the people within.


High time the NDA learnt that confrontation is not the way forward, of which there are any number of examples. Where was the need for the recent statement of a leader on how we shall tackle terrorism, leading to a rejoinder from Pakistan that we are fomenting terror there? Cant this have been implemented quietly? What good has been served? And, in matter relating to Center-State relations, given the nature of the division of duties of each, it is absolutely vital that the center shows the maturity in handling states, which so far it hasn’t, and this is a manifest fact.


Such matters cannot be sorted by irresponsible nonsense – which BJP leaders are wont to do {and which the Government simply is unable to crack down on}; they require building a consensus, and crafting a quiet path away from polarizing statements, utterances and Media glare. As things stand, New Delhi is a relatively minor matter; and this Government has completely failed to craft a solution with its manifest confrontational stance, which is debatable given the divergence of legal and constitutional opinion on this matter, as well as the past history, wherein even an BJP Government has asked the LG to consult the Chief Minister, and in a case which is already in the President’s House.



THE AAP
It cannot be blamed in this entire matter : it is merely asking for something that is available to all other State Governments as a matter of right. It is also a democratically elected Government, and no one – especially not the center – has the moral, ethical right to say we can teach them {or words to that effect}; that is the task of the people through the vote. You cannot teach; you can guide, help, direct – but not instruct; that is the task of the election and the people. Such statements only underscore the impression of arrogance.


Neither is the claim of New Delhi being a special case valid, given the manifest ambiguity in the matter in constitutional terms, as has been brought out by the remarkably diffused legal opinions we have read, as also this excellent article in the Indian Express : Explained Kejriwal v Jung. The need of the hour was a mature handling : sitting with both, conceding some demands of AAP, as was done with previous governments of Delhi,{ Discussed here on how reverse was done earlier } and crafting a permanent solution to end the ambiguity, or letting the President or the Supreme Court settle the matter.


The AAP, on the other hand, has shown incredible maturity in handling the situation; sure – it is confrontatational as well  - but first, it is a new party, and is only learning the ropes. You have to cut them some slack for that. Second, you have to understand the promises they have made- which requires a level playing field, and independence. Third, you also have to account that historically, there has been a precedent of cooperation between the LG and the Delhi State Government, as also a historical precedent of the ruling party backing the full statehood demand : BJP’s volte-face on full statehood for Delhi and The State of Delhi Bill in 2003


As things stand, the BJP is the one that is being exposed as being opportunistic, and two-faced in this matter, as also confrontational, given the historical precedents. And the AAP comes out clean as a whistle despite is confrontational stance, which was in fact in predicated upon the constant treatment by the centre and the overriding to its objections; it was that over-ride that precipitated the problem – this could have been avoided and nipped in the bud had the NDA shown the maturity to step in at the start, rather than precipitate a problem- this would have proven itself as far ahead and mature of a confrontational AAP!


THE CONCLUSION
In conclusion, it seems that the more experienced and older party, with extensive experience of Governance, is being taken on by a newer party not used to administration, and learning the ropes- and is being exposed for its confrontational mindset quite conclusively. In light of the events of the 90s and the early 00s :  { deputy prime minister LK Advani who had stressed that the consultation was not just a formality in 2002 when then chief minister Sheila Dikshit asked Shailaja Chandra be appointed to the top post. }. Why this duality of stance? Why grant it to one State Government, and deny it to another? On what basis? Why this ham-handed approach? And what does this confrontational, ham-handed and immature handling of center-state relations hold for us as a nation? I cannot recall such unbelievable duality in my memory; this exposes the BJP, as also raised serious questions on its ability. 


This is one of the most important reasons why I regard this Government as a failure and as a zero, despite its many successes that are far ahead of most governments! We need mature handling from the Central Government, not duality, partiality, opaque decision making and confrontation! The NDA Government has some explaining to do in this matter; quite a bit in fact. The AAP – I can only say it has grown a lot of maturity in the past one year, and is now learning the ropes very fast indeed. With time and experience, given their focus, I am sure we have a national party that can deliver the governance India needs. All the best to the AAP!




Sunday, 24 May 2015

Doing Something Real And Current About Poverty

The Curse Of Poverty… one can see it all around us; I have myself written about both how hopeless and helpless I feel, as well as how horrifying the poverty trap is… this is something that I cant get over,  can’t forget, and can’t overlook. And the reason is simple : wherever I go, wherever I visit, wherever I turn in any place in India, my lovely India, I can find the same gut-wrenching and heart-stopping scenes of abject poverty, and the total helplessness of the people trapped in it.


I was just walking out from a Bakery {My Choice, Annapurna Road, Indore} when I was approached by a lady with her clothes in tatters, and was solicited for alms. I looked at her, and could not say no… I had just spent 117/- Rupees on a Pizza Topping and Butter purchase, and had in addition visited Dominoes. If I could spend that much, surely I can give her 10/-, which I did. I don’t feel guilty about my expenses – I work all day for it, all week and all year; but… I cannot forget that this is due to the benefit of education, parentage, opportunity and providence…


And, yet again, the same thoughts crash through my mind, as I have written earlier as well : why, God, why? What have we as a people done that is so horrible that millions of my countrymen and women have to suffer such terrifying indignities and conditions? What have we done to deserve this? My mind goes vacant for a moment…


The sight of beggars on the streets, the young children with no hope and no future, the labourers working all day for a few rupees just to keep alive, the slums which dot the landscape, the poverty in the villages, the mud and slush in the villages’ approaches, the lack of amenities, the huts and dwellings which offer scant true protection make for a chilling sight that shock me into numbness and an infinite and indefinable sadness at the complete hopelessness of it all…


AND THEN…
And then, I turn around – to see a very different, vibrant and tenacious India – the one of Education, Opportunity, Growth, Development, Cars, Bikes, Swank Offices, Rush-Hour Traffic, Malls & Theatres, fast-improving facilities and amenities, and a hope arises in my mind : firstly, there is still hope; a hope that one day the majority of my countrymen can enjoy the same facilities; that all of my countrymen can live a life of respect, sufficiency, confidence, and honour…


Secondly, a hope arises when I see people who have given their all for the betterment of the downtrodden – naming any one as an example would be insufficient – and understand that while I am still at the stage of shock and sadness, there are others who have shown the courage to act on their convictions, and place the lives, their careers on the line for these people.


To all such people – thank you; you are the future of India; you are the real hope for our India – you, the people who could have had cushy corporate jobs, but are doing what your heart tells you to do – a story that will go unknown and unwritten. But, collectively, when the results begin to show, you people will have done more than almost anyone else…


You are the people who highlight injustices, and, staying within legal limits, points systematic shortcomings; you are the people to reach out to these poor people and attempt to educate, treat them and help them or their children learn to grow. You are the people that drive change in the rest of society through the sheer power of your sacrifices, convictions and actions. You are the people who force the uncaring majority of Urban India and make them face their attitudes, selfishness and indefensible and deliberate ignorance of the plight of the poor of India. Verily, you are the people actually driving change – knowing fully well you will never get the credit. You are the people who are driving systemic change, forcing the uncaring and careless Urban Indian to abandon corruption, become more community conscious.


WILL THIS ALONE SUFFICE?
The question that now occurs to me is : will this alone suffice? How can we solve the problem of poverty if the poor are not in a position to either get employment, or start a business that can ensure respect and money enough to earn a decent living? Will the famed trickle-down theory actually work? The evidence of my eyes, as well as some data I have read, has led me to question the very basis of this theory; is the pace of change fast enough? How many more poor ladies and gentlemen {and their coming generations} will be forced into such terrifying conditions?


The development versus growth debate misses this one point : what will happen to the millions who are currently in distress? By not investing in capability development of this vast sea of manpower at the basic level, aren’t we creating a sea of future problems, aren’t we postponing the day of reckoning? How will increased factories and Urban Amenities benefit the poor, who aren’t educated enough to take advantage of the development? The conclusion is obvious : it the Urban Indian who stands to gain; while the poor will gain : the process will by definition be slow, as their growth will be through increased menial tasks become available, which will result in a slow improvement.


But this process creates a divergence: the Urban and Educated, through greater access to education and benefits, will clearly gain immediately. That is good – it will engender growth; but – it leaves the problem of the immediate amelioration of the conditions of the current lot of poor people. While the development – versus – growth angle is an unsettled economic debate, there can be no debate about this : that the current lot will not benefit. Therein lies the problem.  


One one side, we have a tribe of selfless people who are tirelessly working to ameliorate the conditions of these people, on the other side we have a growing economy, a vibrant democracy and increasing confidence in us as a people and as a civilization. Caught in between are the millions upon millions of poor people with no education, no hope and no chances – people whom life has never given any chances.   


The question for all of us Urban & Educated people should be – What Can We Do In Addition To What Is Being Done That Can Help? As Individuals, As People, As A Community, And As A Civilization? Isnt this worth doing? Shouldn’t there be a way where we can contribute? Our Mother, Our India gave birth to us; and gave us some benefits not available to others : how should we be using these benefits?






Choice is Yours, and Mine. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Modi Sarkar : The First Year... Worrisome Portends and Trends

This is a short and truncated analyses; the full analysis will take time, and will be rather long - and will appear on my main blog, @Reflections in the due course of time. I am only covering the main points here. Please follow me if interested. 

Before I present the negatives : Let me state that it is too early to call this Government good or bad; one year just isnt enough. The following points are indicators that can be used as guides. I am not presenting the positives; there arent very many, as per me. There is far more to worry about, and far more that needs to be explained. 

My View : Negative at worst, and Zero at best... {First time I find myself in agreement with the Congress / Rahul Gandhi!}

Note : All Block-quotes are from my own articles

A lot has been said - and repeated ad nauseum by media and fans alike - way too much of the positives, which may or may not have any bearing with reality. Let me present the other side... the worrying aspect...

1) CENTRALISATION OF POWER
There is a clear and marked trend of centralisation of power; this brings uncomfortable memories from the past. This Government is decidedly about one man, and one centre. Not my idea of an ideal Government, frankly. For a distributed and diverse nation, centralisation is not the answer; a judicious mix of central command with a federated approach is the need of the nation. This is clearly absent; where present - as in Economics, the follow-through is exceptionally poor. This Government is about one man. And that is bad, period.

2) URBAN FOCUS

Read : Farmers see income gains vanish in Narendra Modi’s inflation war

Not one of the problems of Agriculture has been dealt with; as a matter of fact, there is rising discontent within the farming and rural community that is going to hit the electoral prospects of this Government in the near future. What do we need more : Smart Cities, Bullet Trains - or Rural Roads, Seeds, Canals, Schools, Connectivity, Market Access, Fair Remuneration and Price Realisation?

The villages of India have clear priorities : they are primarily agrarian economies, with farming and related activities as a base. The fact of the matter is that digitisation, urbanisation etc are not their primary concerns, Their primary concerns are bread and butter - same as everyone. And in that, they require bridging lab-to-farm knowledge, irrigation, better and faster access to markets, credit terms and avenues, seeds, better price realisation at farmgate... what is being done in these fields with the same level of Government attention, focus, speed and execution urgency? Nothing!

Take Smart Cities Concept as an example. There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early.

As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%. Statement of Simple Fact.

Now try and fit a smart city somewhere in all that.

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities?

Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Wow. Fantastic priorities.

We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?



Besides, a Smart City requires - DATA CONNECTION. Being a Telecom guy, I now how ridiculous and ill-conceived that notion is; We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections - this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69 Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.

The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed - but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.

The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority - upto 90% - of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik,Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard.

The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.

The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.

What nonsense are we talking about?


We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.


3) DEFENCE, EDUCATION AND HEALTH
Let us take just one - Education as an example  :---->
Is This Government On The Wrong Path? :


Now look at education. You first shout to all and then some - education is the focus, we need a school every so-and-so Kms... And then dont budget for it. And on top of it all, in a classic mark of crass stupidity, increase allocation to states - without ensuring a mechanism for extracting value of this excess fund flow to the states, quite a few of whom are known for fiscal profligacy of the worst kind. And then, you expect the states to implement what is in essence a centrally thought plan. While the plan to devolve to states is laudable, there is a dire need to pull up recalcitrant state governments. Interested people can go through this report : State Finances - RBI Report


What has been done to ensure buy-in by stakeholders at the state level? What has been done to improve efficiency of monetary utilization in the states, and ensure that the excess funds dont get spent in idiotic schemes, for which quite a few of our states are famous? If the states were so efficient, they would have already improved on-ground governance, which they havent. One look at state budgets is enough. What mechanism has been implemented - or is being planned to be implemented - to ensure that the states' budgetary health improves, and that real value for money spent is obtained? This is what I expect a good PM to do, a good central government to do! 


4) FOREIGN POLICY
Too early to state anything here : results - positive or negative - require time to present themselves. I only state this : 

In FP, image means nothing; it is immaterial. FP is a matter of hardcore strategy, deliverance on words, hard power, and economic give and take. How a nation is perceived is of no relevance. Thus, a better global image makes us feels better as Indians, but counts for precisely nothing in Diplomacy, and that is an absolute.

If you sift away the hyperbole and focus on the hard facts, there are no achievements - precisely zero as on date in FP by this Government. FP changes take time to reveal themselves; let us wait and see.

Now, for example, if the Government had played hardball with USA, and negotiated well with EU, taking Brics along there was an even chance of splitting the combine straight down the middle; in FP, the $$$$$ reigns supreme. It matters little if you are an asshole or a murderer {Read history for real examples of both - Pakistan, or any number of other evil leaders who were hailed by The West} : if you can deliver $$$$, you are a good man, Read the 1971 war and its prelude, or Iraq or any number of other facts. This is beyond debate, I am afraid - and is not open to question.

So far, I have seen nothing except talk talk and more talk.

Talk is cheap. Even I can talk! Look above {EU example} for proof! Where;s the real action????? He has changed many a paradigm of our FP, and the effects in FP can only be observed over a long period of time. Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the FP as on date; at least insofaras USA, Israel and China are concerned.

There is no record of even one nation {non-European / Developing} that has benefited from a close association with the USA; quite the opposite. Add to that the recent revelations on arms aids, intelligence - the net result seems negative. Recall the previous time India and China tried to come close.

And ME-Israel? That is a sea-change : requires deep analysis for a thorough perspective. I am worried.


5) BUDGET

The budget document is also a strategy document, it reveals your real priorities. If you are not putting your money where your mouth is, it clearly raises the suspicion that you are insincere in your words, or you have no idea what you are doing - or you have compromised. And dont have the guts to say so openly. And that is precisely what this Government's actions in totality are stating to me as a worried and concerned citizen. I am already on record accepting that this is the best Government we have had in a long time - and if this is the best we can do, we had better get seriously worried!

Full analysis here : The Union Budget 2015-2016 : Glaring Holes

This budget has been justifiably praised on any number of points; sadly, it has got no praise for the two biggest points in its favour : The focus on the unincorporated sector, and the change in the duty structures. But most critically, there has been little critical appraisal of its faults, which are numerous.


This is a budget for Corporate India, and the top 20% of society. As I noted in my previous article on this budget,  Defence, Education, Health and Rural India are the priority sectors for us.

If poverty is reduced, in addition to a growing economy, we also require an educated and healthy population, which means an effectively functioning primary and secondary school set up, increase in facilities and so on. We already have an excellent higher education set up. If on the one hand you are pitching yourself as pro-poor, and on the other, you are increasing focus on high education and cutting on schooling spends in terms of a percentage, this does beget the question : are the priorities correct?

What we are in effect saying is, Corporate India, Middle Classes can reap immediate benefit, while making no efforts to tackle the real problems beings faced by Rural India, like reducing middlemen, education, etc. This is a majority government, they can easily take hard decisions. And yet they are not doing so - as I had foretold much earlier. And that is what makes this budget completely unimpressive, and very UPA 3-ish.

My rating : 2 stars. As I expected....

Asia's third-largest economy spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on public health, compared with 3 percent in China and 8.3 percent in the United States. Indian states manage their health budgets separately. From : India keeps tight rein on public health spending in 2015-16 budget



6) HIGH DECIBEL PROGRAMMES WITH POOR FOLLOW-THROUGH

Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan and the Toilet Scheme are just two example that  have now been on for one year almost, and already shoddy implementation, and fanfare and media attention. Enough said; that said, like FP above, early days. Let us not criticize unduly!


7) ARROGANT AND UGLY UTTERANCES AT ALL LEVELS
The most worrisome aspect. It is not acceptable for leaders of a nation to belittle the past leaders at every stage and platform with utterances that reek of sheer arrogance and bravado, like "Good Government after 10/60 years"; "Indians now feel proud", and any number of other examples. These are statements we should be making - this is proof positive of a total lack of humility and sheer arrogance; it is also unacceptable - as it is beoynd debate that at least UPA-1 made many a good decision. Give credit where credit is due- which this Government doesnt. To top it all come the polarising and deeply offensive voices from people connected with the ruling party - I have heard more than a few. 

THIS IS NOT MY IDEA OF A GOOD GOVERNMENT... THE 7th POINT ALONE IS WHAT HAS DRIVEN ME COMPLETELY AWAY - note the capitalisation. I dont support a set of arrogant people, howsoever good may they be.  


Was the UPA better? I honestly dont have an answer. 
My recent studies have led me to a rather uncomfortable possibility that UPA-1 at least was a good Government, but to be honest, I need to study a lot more before I can make any such assertion!  

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Smart Cities : More Questions Than Answers

SMART CITY
A 'smart city' is an urban region that is highly advanced in terms of overall infrastructure, sustainable real estate, communications and market viability. It is a city where information technology is the principal infrastructure and the basis for providing essential services to residents. A Smart City, should have Power, Water, Cleanliness, Seamless Information, 24/7 Utility Services, WiFi zones, Recreational Spaces, Waste Management, Connectivity in transport as well as communication, Speedy Service, Transparency and Accountability etc.



While there are good points & it is also a good and needed step, but.... firstly, it doesnt take into account the realities of the Indian Demography, Polity, Bureaucracy, Governance and Systems. it doesnt take into account the Indian Economy, and its doesnt take into account the status of the real estate sector, as also any number of other realities that beset the Indian Economy.



ECONOMIC STRUCTURE

Economic output by the entire corporate contributes just 18% or thereabouts to the Indian Economy. The rest is Agriculture, and unorganised sector. A smart city implies high doses of technological capability, which scores upon scores of our companies do not possess, and the gap is too large for them to plug, given the history and the monetary requirements. Other nations enjoy economies of scale and can produce whatever we can at cheaper rates. If we keep a purchase local condition, we are finished before we start, like the FDI in retail brouhaha.


If we cant compete in a commodity like Stainless Steel, it is foolish to believe we can compete in high-tech sectors. We have skills aplenty; they have the economies of scale, which is what is needed. For that, we have to dismantle a large part of our taxation structure, which is inverted in more than a few categories.




Next, how do you fit in the small variables like the thelaa-gaadis, small eateries, roadside stores etc - all the things that define a lovely Indian City in a Smart City concept? Is it clear? What happens to these small support services? They are a cultural reality; I wouldnt be caught dead in a 5-star; too stuffy and showy for my taste, Give me the fantastic Idli-Vada at Sion Station; given a choice, I would eat Idli Vada over those showy dishes in a Marriott any day! The point is that these minor details need to be idenitified and clarified before we start, or we run the risk of overzealous officials banning or relegating such activities to the backburner, leading to loss of livelihood to thousands, and an erosion of uniqueness and attractiveness as well.




Next, Sustainable Real Estate. End of Story. Take a gander at the real estate market in India. It is controlled and cartelised, beset by crime and corruption. TIll last year, prices were holding in Urban India depsite their being a 50% vacancy rate of unsold inventory. What happens when the Smart City Ball gets rolling? Sustainable? That it isnt. Valuations will go through the roof, and that is a fact. 


It completely ignores the structure of the Economy, which is characterised by small entrepreneurs. I would like to understand how the small entrepreneur with 50000 seed capital can make a mark in your smart cities. These ventures are capital intensive, and import oriented, which is the real reason why everyone from China to USA is agog; they see $$$$Kaching$$$$! Study the incomparable report on the Indian Economy by Prof Vaidyanathan - India, Uninc; it gives figures from Government sources and introduces you to the real India.




There are two data points available : 5th Economic Survey, 2005 and NSSO 2011, Both tell the same story: Smart Cities are nothing but a fantasy. They are premature, they are the future, but very premature. The Idea is right, but a decade or two too early. As per the first, there are 41.83 Million establishments in India; 76% of these worked without any power; employing 100.9 Million; 46% were own account establishments. As per NSSO 2011, 66% were OAE; retail trade slipped from 42% to 30% and ,manufacturing grew from 23% to 31%. Own Account Establishments were 60% of retail, 72% of Manufacturing, and 63% of service. Contribution to the GDP : between 46-58%.


Given the Smart City definition, a good number of them don’t fit – and largely for no fault of theirs. These organizations do not have the money to upgrade – they will upgrade eventually : a process that is currently underway. That is the time these concepts can work. And this will happen in tandem with improvements in education etc basic facilities in India, not before.




PRIORITIES & REQUIREMENTS

What does the nation require? Research shows that nearly 93Million of our farmers are losing 800-odd per crop; data shows the level of poverty in our nation; consumption trends corroborate, with the top 10% growing at a rate of 3% as opposed to 1% consumption growth for the bottom 40%. Farmer suicides are going up; the economic fundamentals are shaky; the global economy is in unprecedented turmoil, and all we can think of is Smart Cities? Our Armed Forces are in dire need of funds; and all we can think of is Smart Cities? We spend the lowest in GDP terms on Education, Defence and Health, and all we can think of are Smart Cities?




We dont need Smart Cities, We need Schools, Colleges, Primary Health Centers, Rockets, Mortars, Fighter Aircraft, Missiles, Satellites, Seed Research, Irrigation, Water Purity for Agriculture, Extension Workers to teach our Small and Marginal Farmers, Redoing our Duty and Taxation Structures, Fair prices for farmers at farm-gate, cement or pukka roads, etc etc. A smart city can come after that.




Besides, a Smart City requires – data connection. We in India have average & unreliable speeds of around 1,5mbps; the developed nations have a speed of upwards of 22mbps. They have high penetration of credit and debit cards and acceptability of online commerce; we dont. India has precisely 73Million broadband connections - this is including individuals with a double connection; I have three. Less than 69Million Indians consume more than 512mbps of data on a monthly basis; and cashless transactions are unknown outside the protected environs of top places.


The logic is sound, I clearly stated that concept is needed - but a decade or two too early. This will work in a relatively corruption-free atmosphere, where the Land issues are under control. That we dont have. Next, this works in economic reality which enable the above, which again we dont have, as I have been at pains to point out.




The shift to the small cities will not happen in the industrial sector; the vast majority - upto 90% - of the actual producers are concentrated in only a select few agglomerations, namely Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Ahmedabad. Other second-level sites are Nashik, Meerut, Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Kanpur, Rajkot,Surat. No one else comes even close to these cities, although Jaipur, Chandigarh, Hissar, Nagpur and a couple others do try hard. These are further populated by small enterprises.




The shift will not happen from these established centers; there is in existence an ecosystem that now is impossible to replace,. with manufacturing facilities being deeply interlinked with their vendors and suppliers who have now set up in the same or nearby areas. In B2B industries, a symbiotic relationship has started with the consumers and the manufacturers sometimes co-located, or located within 8-10Kms of each other.




The proof is in the manifest failure of industrial areas in other wannabe metros, like Indore and Bhopal, which have simple failed to take off. They remain consumption and trading centers, not producers, despite an incredible level of support given to them by successive Governments. The failure of Bhilai to rise as a comparable center to even Nagpur, let alone Surat & Rajkot, is a case in point.



MY FEAR
We are only exacerbating the rural-urban divide. As on date, few Urban Indians show the same level of passion for rural development, which is the only thing we need. Rest will take care of itself! We are asking people to focus their valuable- sorry, waste their valuable time on cities, where the conditions are utopic in comparison to villages and that is a fact! Large numbers of villagers would willingly settle for facilities comparable to our current "stupid cities" and that is also undeniable.




No amount of planning will overcome the serious objections there are, some of which are enlisted below. I dont buy visions; they are a dime a dozen. I buy execution - call it my sales instinct, but I am not impressed by Grand Visions without a proper execution document, which contains detailed studies & steps.  And this is not made after finalising the plan; that is stupid, blunt and straight. Typically, that is to be visualised before finalising the plan and the execution.




Where is that plan? If it exists, why isnt it in the public domain? Where is the detail on what exactly a "Smart City" means in practical terms - real world terms, not meaningless jargon, which even I can write, given I am a part-techie and a part-telecom / business person to boot?????? Give a person time and opportunity, and out comes a logical sounding plan! That is dead easy; doesnt require any great skill whatsoever. What will be the mode of transport in a Smart City? Residence and Commercial Areas? Connectivity in Roads? Size of internal roads? Drainage?




What will be the connectivity in terms of data and communication? What technology will be adopted? How will the technologies communicate with the other "stupid' cities? What will it cost the residents?What happens to the slums? Or doesnt the concept apply to the slums? If they are in a smart city, they should be smart slums too! Each city has bylanes with crowded marketplaces; these are the epicenter of business in India, commanding a lion's share of the business volume pan-India. What does this mean for them? What is in it for them?




How will rural India benefit? Please give specifics : not general statements like find jobs, or employment generation. Jobs in which industry, at what level paying what? Where will they stay? Where will the land come from? What will it do to land prices? How will you ensure proper settlement for dues - and if you think this is not important, I can produce 40 years worth of terrifying tales of neglect? How will you ensure Land Mafia is controlled - without real and serious administrative reform which no government - AAP apart- has shown any appetite for?




A Smart City means Power, Water round the clock, Where will that come from? We dont have enough power now, wont have for another 2 decades. Who will sacrifice their power for these Smart Cities? And why should any stupid city sacrifice even one kilowatt for a smart city, pray tell? Where will water come from? Any number of cities are seriously water deficient. Where is the plan for all this?????????




A Smart City implies a certain level of data connection backbone; which we dont have, and wont for a minimum 5-10 years more. It also means seamless information availability. How will you ensure that, given the various data collection points, formats, protocols? When your land records are not computerised? When any number of public facilities are not online fully, and there are no plans for them either? When you still have no common information system in the Government? When there is a redundancy in several documents?  I could go on and on... Where is the real plan?



Why does this generate this level of interest? Why doesnt the question of farmer suicides, famers earnings, rural facilities, etc generate the same level of attention, interest, passion in Urban Indians? Arent they Indians? What is being done for them, pray tell? We are still focussing on cities, not on the villages where the situation is decidedly bad. Why hasnt the same level of euphoria, the same level of passion, the same vision, the same money been generated for setting things right in Rural India? The government is hard selling this concept abroad, showcasing our development, whereas we require basic steps like Education, Health, Governance and Defence!



What it should have done is launched rural programmes with the same fervor, passion, vision and attention - which is not the case. We have finite resources both in terms of money as well as other aspects. How we spend those resources is the key.


In point of fact, Smart Cities is the last thing we need; we dont have the ground realities even in urban India for it, and that is a fact. Not one person anywhere in India has even tried to meet the serious and potent objections being raised by any number of people; and are focussing on the vision. 





Remember : Great plans fail on execution as, among other reasons, it turns out that the ground realities did not support the plan in the first place.