Saturday, 14 May 2016

Why I abhor the idea of Rahul Gandhi coming to power

This article was prompted by this article I saw being shared on Facebook member, Chaitanya Chinchlikar. Of late I have been in two minds on writing about politics. However this article really got my ranting juices flowing.

As Chinchlikar pointed out it very much looks as if the writer has his head in buried beneath soil. However what really got my goat was the entitlement or inheritance that the author seems to be talking about. It fills me with disgust that we have people like Rahul Gandhi as part of our "leaders" today.

Rahul Gandhi has never held any public position of responsibility in the country till date. His government was in power for ten years. He had a golden opportunity to work as a minister and learn the ropes of administration. His family has been in politics for much longer. He could have been a minister in any of the Congress state governments. Had he asked for it, possibly he would have been the Chief Minister of a state also. But no, he shirked all responsibility. To Congress sycophants this may seem to be abstinence from power. Sorry, to me it seems to be arrogance to hold the top post in the country without the humility or willingness to serve at any lower level.

He insists on speaking out on topics that seem populist to him. He spoke about Dadri, JNU etc., wherever he had an opportunity to target the ruling dispensation. He did not speak a word on the recent Kerala rapes. He has not commented anything on the recent murders of a student and a journalist in Bihar. He is visible typically only when he has an opportunity to target the government, that too which is not manned by his party. 

He does not seem to have a clue about international affairs. I do not recall any statements worth remembering having been made by him on the Italian Marines affair (I even did a quick Internet search). Though some foreign leaders seem to meet him in occasion I am not sure what is his actual awareness of what happens on the international stage. He seems to want to become a messiah for the masses. While the masses have to be addressed he should remember that there are today a huge middle class and educated youngsters who do want his dole. They want opportunities. They don't want huge statements. They want things to change. They want the situation to improve. 

Rahul Gandhi has lent his voice in support to the JNU agitation. It is now coming out that the protests which also spoke about Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad were funded by the Congress and the Left. ISIS recruits arrested recently are also revealing how they are mingling with these crowds to foment unrest. So is this guy doing anything productive? I do not think so.

We have had three major changes in the recent past which offered a ray of hope to many disillusioned Indians. One was the victory of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi. However, now the less said about Kejriwal, the better. While there seems to be some good work (with regard to school fees) being done, Kejriwal is making a spectacle of himself by targeting the PM at every available instance and with his daily theatrics. The other was Nitish Kumar who first came to power with the BJP's help, promising change from Lalu's administration. He either miscalculated Modi's appeal or wanted to become the PM himself and broke up with the BJP. He is now an ally of the much-maligned Lalu. Lalu's sons seem to be getting more press of late today than the CM. It will be interesting to see what happens during the next state elections. I hope Bihar does not slip back into its erstwhile lawlessness. 

The third was Narendra Modi coming to power. There have been occasional weird outbursts from extreme right wing elements which Modi has not said much/anything about. However in general the government seems to be trying many new things - reforms in bureaucracy, making it accountable, reducing red tape and corruption, renewed focus on energy savings, reforming the railways etc. Shrill voices from the opposition, and absolute non-cooperation from the Congress are putting a spanner into the works. Many Indians will be happy if Rahul Gandhi uses his "power" and cooperates with the government to bring out changes in the country. Let him claim credit after that. That seems to be one department where he needs absolutely no training.

The aforementioned article seems more akin to a paid news article which has a semblance of balance thrown in to avoid exactly this kind of accusation. I hope the writer analyses better before he writes such stuff.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Can this technology reduce traffic offences?

As an Indian living in a large city I am a daily victim of traffic jams. Funnily enough in the midst of the national debate on "intolerance" someone did point out that we are actually very tolerant as we live peacefully with our roads and traffic. Also India is an impatient country. How often do we see people jumping queues and vehicles jumping lanes often even in the wrong way?

Like any large city Chennai implemented a lot of one-way routes to manage traffic. There is one such bridge/flyover in Chennai, a Y-shaped one. The leg is two-way while one is supposed to only go up one arm and only come down the other - which increases the distance. I have seen autos, two-wheelers and even heavier vehicles happily go down the up-route which used to irritate me to no end. I did see a few police personnel a few times, however the offenders were mostly free to do as they wished. The genesis for this post was this irritation.

The Delhi AAP government is also in the news about its proposed measures to curb pollution in the national capital. One question being raised is that how this would be implemented, especially given that Kejriwal has no control over the Delhi Police. The odd-and-even registration plate rule being proposed needs a big increase in the police force for it to be effectively enforced.

Given the above two scenarios I suggest the following tracking solution. As I am not very savvy electronics-wise I will not be able to go into details. I will try to address a few concerns which may be raised.

1. EVERY vehicle sold will have a certain chip/RFID tag containing certain information - owner's name, vehicle details etc. This has to be implemented by each manufacturer. Today every vehicle has a unique chassis number and engine number. However this information has to be transferred to a readable device. There should be certain designated devices only which can write information onto these chips/tags.
2. The second step would be to implement a sensor network. These sensors should be able to only read the information from the chips/tags. 
3. The third is to integrate the data read in this way to a back-end network. To avoid privacy concerns users should not be able to browse through the data stored. Alternatively data access should be controlled via court warrants etc. The system should only be able to generate alerts based on certain events.
   a. A stolen vehicle's registration number turns up
   b. Two consecutive sensors detect a vehicle going in the wrong direction
   c. The vehicle is not supposed to be on the road
4. Implementing the sensor network will definitely be expensive, especially given the number of sensors that have to be implemented. One idea is to mount these sensors onto street lights. True, there are many places which do not have street lights. However via this method the government can implement two solutions. The sensors can be powered via solar panels mounted on the light towers. 
5. Obvious parameters to be covered:
   a. The power consumption should be low
   b. Devices should not be removable from vehicles
  c. Write access to the chips/tags should be available only with designated people like vehicle manufacturers, RTOs etc. 
   d. Personal data will be stored in the system, so privacy safeguards should be watertight.
  e. This is an obvious candidate for an IoT application. However to keep cost and power requirements low technology like RFID should also be involved.
6. This solution will obviously not work if the tag/chip is removed. So the solution should also involve measures to prevent this.
   a. random checks on vehicles
   b. the chip/device being able to send an alert when it is removed

I end this post here. Hope to see something like this on the roads, for that matter anything that will better our lives!

Friday, 23 October 2015

Why the country can't afford fringe elements now, and why the government has to act, now

Politically I am a moderate right winger. I support causes like stopping cow slaughter, putting an end to forced/induced conversions etc. However I prefer dialogue rather than banning things outright, or taking law into our hands. Hence the moderate qualifier to my right wing tilt.

Today we have a government whose Prime Minister is admired by many people, both inside and outside the country. The young in India especially seem to believe in him, that he can bring about a change. I don't think I would be wrong in saying that the mandate which brought the present government into power was more in favour of Narendra Modi than the BJP or the NDA. Also the electorate was fed up with the perceived corruption and inefficiencies of UPA 2 and booted them out. 

Thus Narendra Modi was the right person at the right time and place. Hence he has a delicate balance to maintain. After a long time there is a strong central government. After a long time there is a government which is not left or left-of-centre-leaning like the Congress. There is a real chance to make a break from the past and chart new paths. Things are beginning to change. Piyush Goyal has made a lot of changes at his ministry - power, coal and renewable energy. There are visionary goals ready for the government - Make in India, Digital India, Swachh Bharat etc. The Defence Ministry is a different animal today as compared to the past. Government clearances and file movement are much faster today. It is almost like Modi knows that he does not have much time and is a man in a hurry. Only God knows for how long he will remain productive. However he is being hampered by fringe elements, whether from the BJP, the Sangh Parivar or from other sections of the society bent on creating mischief. 

Today the government has to face issues on two fronts. On the one hand there are many who seem to have a permanent foot-in-the-mouth. These include people part of the ruling dispensation/government (General VK Singh, certain sadhus and sadhvis et al). They talk about highly charged and avoidable topics, embarrass the government and give ammunition to the opposition to bay for the government's blood. On the other hand there is the entire opposition and news-hungry media. They pick up issues, both significant and trivial and give major coverage. Some sections are either so blindly anti-government or pro some other side that they have to make mountains out of molehills also.

The people of this country, especially the young, and the hopefully-not-blindly-biased have to decide what is good for it. For the sake of the future, for the sake of the country the PM and government need to pull their act together. If a few heads have to roll, let them. But it is high time that the PM and government stop non-issues from derailing an agenda of good governance.

Let Modi not go down as a person who could have done a lot, but did not!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

On Malayalis in the Gulf

An alumnus of IIFT Delhi, and a Malayali himself, Abhijith Bhadran had posted this article on Facebook. It got me thinking. I am putting in writing a few thoughts which came to my mind. I would invite comments on them, and definitely wherever people think I am misinformed or wrong.

In India we have three states where the Left has traditionally been strong - Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. However compared to Kerala the other two states are not that well off. I feel there are a number of factors behind this.

Agriculture and manufacturing are two segments of the economy which can employ a lot of people. In all three states there probably have been no major (successful) efforts towards industrialization after the Left came to power. This means that the workforce had to find jobs mostly in agriculture. West Bengal and Kerala have been blessed with fertile soils and water supply to support agriculture. However beyond a point people would not want to remain farmers. Now the next step is either the services industry or manufacturing. IT services were not so popular in the pre-liberalization and pre-dotcom boom days. Tourism and allied industries were also just hobbling along. Hence manufacturing was the obvious other candidate for employment. There were no industries available to gainfully employ the workforce. Hence people were forced to look outside.

For Kerala the Gulf was the closest place which was prosperous economy-wise and stable geopolitically. They seized this opportunity and moved. Bengal and Tripura did not have any such areas like the Gulf closeby. The closest were Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. However I believe a Bengali Singapore (like a Malayali Gulf) did not come up because of a few reasons. Generally (many earlier generation) Bengalis were a content lot and did not aspire for prosperity the way others did. They did not want to move from their hometowns to a new place. Further Singapore developed more because of financial services and trade which require more skilled manpower rather than the Gulf where oil production, a labour-intensive industry dominated. For Tripura the available option was Myanmar, which well, was probably not that great an option, especially after the junta came into power.

I believe another reason for Malayalis' success in the Gulf is religion. Kerala has a significant percentage of Muslim population. As the ET article points out Muslims in Kerala are probably the most prosperous compared to anywhere else in India today. A Muslim Gulf probably was a significant reason why Malayalis were able to prosper. I cannot make a similar case for Bengal or Tripura.

Tripura may not have been able to prosper for another reason - logistics. It is in a landlocked corner of the country. Though Kerala is also at an extreme end this is a very active area, historically, right from Roman times. Due to its location Kerala has been a major gateway throughout history. This also may have had a role to play in Keralites going out the way they have. I am not sure why but traditionally (Hindu) Indians were against crossing the sea. There are still people who hold to this belief. It was said to be polluting or something on those lines, I am not sure what it is exactly.

To summarize, lack of local opportunities, religion (to whatever small extent), a desire to prosper and openness to travel played key roles in Kerala prospering by emigration to the Gulf.

In light of this there are a few things that we need to be cautious about or that we need to do:
1. The Gulf is slowly moving out of oil production into logistics, tourism, financial services etc. This can have a direct effect on our people employed there and forex infows. However I believe, that Indians have happily diversified into these already.
2. Bengal seems to have moved from a militant Left to an equally militant Mamta. She should realize this for the state to prosper. 
3. As part of our engagement with Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh we should focus on majorly boosting infra and trade with the north-eastern states to begin with. The rest of the country can follow after that.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

To practice or to preach, that is the question

This article may offend some, and will definitely bore some, be warned. If it does, do forgive this article as the ranting of an ignoramus.

I was prompted to write this after hearing "Noor-un-ala-noor" from Meenaxi (I love the song) and reading its translation on the Internet. This song forced MF Husain to pull the movie from theatres. I am unable to locate the first page where I saw the translation but this page explains the meaning beautifully.

I have been reading the Aghora Series by Robert Svoboda of late. I would recommend this as a must-read for everyone of all faiths, and for those without faith too. One caveat is that these have to be read with an open mind. Any strait-jacketed mind, irrespective of faith (or the lack of it) may not be able to digest these books. Books like these, Autobiography of a Yogi (Paramahamsa Yogananda) keep reminding us about the unity behind various faiths in the world today. 

At the same time we have people trying to blindly propagate their faith or impose their beliefs on others dogmatically. Here I am referring to proselytizers. Further, on one side we have westerners claiming scholarship on India and her languages, faith etc. imposing their view backed by "scholarship". On the other we have people like Rajiv Malhotra countering them via Indian responses to western views. On another side we have people like Robert Svoboda, westerners who have experienced this land and have shared their experiences. Every religion today seems to have two aspects - one which is strictly religious and "by the book", rigid. The other is more spiritual dealing with the Supreme Power rather than a personal or manifested God.

The song, though Islamic in origin will probably not be liked by many Muslims, especially those following the narrow interpretation of the Taliban and their ilk (remember terrorists banning music in the Kashmir valley?). It talks about the singer seeing God everywhere, as divine light. He sees God in everything. In Hinduism this is the state of the enlightened person, the Gnani, who does not see any distinction between various forms in this creation. He has realized that everything in this creation is God, including himself. There is a line in the song where there is mention of a veil being lifted, after which the singer is able to behold the divine beauty. The Hindu calls this veil, maya. Once this is lifted realization dawns, that he is one with the power behind this creation.

This would sound blasphemous to those who follow strict interpretations of the Abrahamic religions. According to my understanding these do not allow normal people to reach a state of prophethood, a person who has realized God. However I also understand that Jesus himself talks about the Kingdom of God being within us. Look at this interpretation. This externalizes God's kingdom. However I feel the interpretation is much simpler, here, now and actually within reach. Every being irrespective of faith is inherently divine and just needs to realize that (not bookishly like I am saying now, but by experience). Once this realization dawns the person becomes one with the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent power in the universe - one may call it by any name, it is beyond names.

Now coming back to another inspiration for this article. I used to read scholarly views, doubting the origin, authenticity etc. of the religious and spiritual practices of India. I harboured some doubt myself. Then I also heard discourses by people like Chaganti Koteswara Rao, read books like the Aghora ones. Honestly I hated the book Asura and the Ramayana series by Ashok Banker which sought to retell the Ramayana. I am not saying I am free of doubt now. However, I also realize that some things are beyond argument. Apparently Adi Sankara composed the Bhaja Govindam when he saw an old man talking about grammatical principles. His advice is to go beyond texts, arguments, debates and worship the Lord before it is too late. I am guilty of what the old man did too, also I do not profess any great qualities like self control, humility, lack of egosim etc. which are the basics needed on the spiritual path. However I felt this is something which has to be put out today, when all that people seem to be doing is to debate, rather than try and experience or realize themselves. Of what use are scholarly debates, apart from dividing people? One should realize the unity behind what we see in the world today and try to improve, help oneself.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

What the Salman Khan case tells us about our society

Anyone who watches news will be aware of the details of the case. Hence I will not delve into them here. I want to put forward a few observations on the basis of the events surrounding this case. These are disturbing to say the least and need attention from all stakeholders.

  1. Pending cases - It says a lot about our judicial system when it takes 13 years for a verdict to come out and that too at the trial court level. We have the High Court and Supreme Court above this and hence there is no clarity as to when the final decision will come out. Just one of the many graphics detailing this sorry state is this. The government and judiciary are at loggerheads over the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC). One prays for the country's sake that this gets resolved soon and that we set up courts to free up the backlog.
  2. Hero worship - Hero worship is probably present everywhere in the world. However India must be unique in the extent to which we carry this mania to. Salman Khan may be a good person at heart, I do not know. Fortunately or unfortunately one cannot (or should not) buy one's way out of legal trouble by simply good behaviour. There is a very simple reason. We do not have a society  which accepts blood money and lets the guilty go scot-free. However to his many fans Salman is beyond reproach. This is a very dangerous thing to have in society. Recall the similar reaction when Jayalalitha was convicted and jailed. Society should not give an impression to its prominent citizens that they are above the law.
  3. Ivory towers - There have been a few reactions, especially from the rich which seem to sympathise with Salman Khan rather than with the victim. The singer Abhijeet and the jewellery designer and daughter of Sanjay Khan, Farah Khan Ali immediately come to mind. There is a certain disdain which is apparent towards the weaker and poorer sections of society.
     Take the latter for example. She is Sanjay Khan's daughter. I understand that this gentleman owns a resort in Bangalore where the rates are higher than those charged in five-star hotels. So possibly this lady has known only wealth from her childhood. One wishes that such people at least spare a thought for the poor people in our society. Alia Bhatt had a more balanced reaction, where she expressed sadness but did also say that Salman was in the wrong.
  4. Parental upbringing and the role of values - This is a more controversial point. What upbringing do we have in our societies when we have reactions of disdain towards the poor, and open admiration for our "idols" in spite of they being in the wrong? We have examples of people like Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji in India itself who are known for their simple living and values in spite of their immense wealth. These are the models I would like to have. 
I strongly believe in individual freedoms. However I feel that we have a lot of misplaced admiration. We seem to admire people for all the wrong reasons. Salman Khan, Rajinikanth et al are after all people. I do not understand the mania of their followers. Do admire them, but how does one justify the mania? Do respect the good they have done, but what benefit does the fan (short for fanatic, by the way) gain via his "hero worship"?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Time for a Radical Re-think on Agriculture?

This post has taken help from the articles mentioned at the bottom and has been written inspired by some posts by Anshuman Narain on Facebook.

Food in India has been associated with divinity for a long time. It is said to be the sacrificial offering to the fire in the human body. Krishna says in the Gita that he is this fire. He also talks about how food ultimately comes because of our deeds. There are concepts like annapoorNaa, Saakambharee and annalakshmee. Hence in this land, as an extension the producer of this food (the farmer) deserves a place of honour.

Of late and over many years, we have heard tales of farmer distress, crops getting destroyed due to various reasons, suicides etc. We see this happening year on year. Every time this happens there is a huge hue and cry by whoever is in the opposition, the media highlight and furiously debate it, the government promises relief measures and then everything is forgotten till the next calamity. Rightly or wrongly farmers are one of the largest voting groups and hence wield immense power. Many of our political leaders were farmers (they still claim to be when one asks them for their profession, the latest example being the Karnataka CM). I am not an expert but some of our problems are well known:

  1. Fragmented land-holdings
  2. Poor irrigation and hence over dependance on rains
  3. Low penetration of crop insurance (the other side of the coin being insurance frauds)
  4. Poor efficiency and hidden unemployment (GDP contribution ratio to employment ratio is low vis-a-vis, say, service).
  5. Skewed markets favouring middle men.
  6. Controversial procuring mechanisms (think of the debates over MSP or minimum support price)
  7. Inefficient and insufficient storage for procured items.
  8. Poor transportation measures increasing time gap from farm to plate.
When we are under the Britishers we had them to blame. Who do we blame today? On one hand we have hailed dams as the temples of modern India, on the other hand we have the Narmada Bachao Andolan and opposition to the Tehri Dam. Further I understand that in today's India, where there is huge discussion going on about tax evasion and black money, agricultural income is not taxed at all.

We have seen a huge movement against corruption which was apolitical. It is a different matter that this led to the formation of another political party. We have a PM who seems to be in a hurry to change the country. Can he not ask for a radical overhaul of our agricultural system?

  1. Completely decentralize agriculture - the central government is too far, empower the gram panchayats.
  2. Keep a stringent central monitoring mechanism in place - the local bodies should not monitor their own activities.
  3. Comprehensively EDUCATE people, especially farmers on the benefits of pooling resources, ensure formation and efficient working of farmer cooperatives - better bargaining power. Also we have to ensure that farmers are actually educated and not left illiterates.
  4. Invite public and private companies to invest in roads and storage infrastructure (both normal for dry crops and cold chain-related for fruits and vegetables).
  5. Link NREGA and farming comprehensively. NREGA should be comprehensively linked with developmental and productive activities.
  6. FINISH the discussion on inter-linking rivers and either dump it or start it. Lot of rivers, especially the non-Himalayan rivers see significant drop in their flows during the dry season. Interlinking can probably help to even out the flow and reduce dependance on dams - we can focus on irrigation canals only instead. These canals can be used in two other ways - to cover them with solar panels like it has been done in Gujarat, and also as transportation channels revolutionizing rural transport.
  7. Apart from helping improve irrigation we should also focus on drip irrigation. Imagine the increase in productivity and production if we can convert areas like the Kutch, Thar Desert and interiors of Odisha, Telangana etc. for agriculture!
  8. Increase efficiency and reduce over employment - for this we need extensive coverage of high yield varieties, access to fertilizers and pesticides, good farming practices.
  9. At the same time we should protect our bio-diversity and increase use of natural and organic methods. We have an abundance of cattle wealth. Their dung and urine can be useful as manure. Further varieties which have been traditionally used may be more resistant to heat, pests etc. Traditional knowledge should be tapped to the fullest extent possible.
  10. Inform people about crop insurance. However this alone will not help as many may not be able to afford it or may become ineligible for insurance payouts once they default on their loans. This is the reason I keep coming to consolidation and cooperatives. 
  11. There should be clarity on MSP. Increasing MSP can help farmers, however this leads to inflation which will impact the normal middle class anyway. The increased inflation may come back to hurt farmers again.
  12. We also need to realize that we are a country where only a small percentage of the population today pays income tax. At least the larger farmers who own significant holdings should be brought under taxation. This is not related to agricultural reform. However I wanted to bring this up while I am on this topic.
  13. Get comprehensive changes to the PDS (public distribution system). There is no point in procuring huge quantities and then squandering them. The correct recipients should be properly targeted. Aadhaar can play a huge role here.
  14. Rationalize our APMC system, reduce the role of middle men and ensure benefits go directly to farmers. The efficiency-related savings can be passed on to consumers.
  15. To do all of this there is a comprehensive centre-state debate required. People have to sit together and hammer things out.

We have people like APJ Abdul Kalam, MS Swaminathan and Narendra Modi who have vision. It is high time we think big, think radical and change our agriculture for good.