Amend Constitution to Regain Voter’s interest

It is an undeniable fact that some serious measures are necessary for the smooth functioning of Indian democracy. All our efforts should be directed to make electoral processes simpler and easier to understand, so that people vote, and vote for the right candidate.Voters in QueueIndia is the world’s largest democracy. We have the highest number of voters. However, in the last few years, the number of people participating in the electoral process has gone down by huge numbers. While residents of rural areas come in large number to cast their votes, the same cannot be said about the urban people. It is shocking to see that less than 50 per cent of the people participate in the democratic process in which India takes great pride.

The learned and the right-minded strongly feel that there is a need to amend the Constitution, in order to attract more number of people and encourage them to vote. The politicians can be blamed for this trend as they have discouraged the people from voting, having made false promises year after year. The Constitution needs to be more electorate friendly as times have changed. The young population of India is getting more alienated, as they are getting busier with their jobs and shifting from one place to another.

The Government needs to think on new lines and make amendments with respect to the right to vote and bring some changes in the electoral process. In India, we have at least four to six elections every year. The expenditure incurred to carry out these elections results in sheer wastage of public money. Considering the present case, after the 2004 General Elections, there have been elections in at least eight states and there are a few more lined up before the 2009 elections. In this scenario, what happens is that the political parties are busy working on strategies for the next elections and cannot concentrate on the developmental policies and issues of national interest. This can be done by having all the elections at the same time, which will save public money, their time and enable our ‘netas’ to work on some worthy issues.

In India, the participation of young people in the election process is declining. One reason is that many young students move from their home location to other places for studies and subsequently get jobs in different places. Therefore they are unable to vote. Hence, proxy voting facility should be introduced, so that the people living in states other than their home states can also use their right to vote in that state. They are earning in that state and equally share the advantages and disadvantages of that state.

PAN cards could be an effective solution, they could serve as personal identity for all purposes and several offences could also be controlled.

The other important thing is that we need to make elections a simple process. For the convenience, we may think of introducing Internet voting. Healthy skepticism about Internet voting is good, but Estonia has shown how it could be a shot in the arm for a democracy. During the presidential elections this year, Estonians sat in their homes and offices, logged on to a particular website and used a smart card reader to vote. This can be introduced in India too. Though this media is vulnerable, but we can at least give it a try in the municipal elections.

Some serious measures are necessary for the smooth functioning of Indian democracy. All our efforts should be directed to make these electoral processes simpler and easier to understand and practice so that we can choose the right leaders.

Political Games being Played all Over!!

MUMBAI IS in headlines for last few days and we have seen some very parochial politics being played in Mumbai and in the country over all. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) activists are on rampage against North Indian migrants in Mumbai and Maharashtra.

Amar SinghThe ‘bhaiyyas’, common pejorative for North Indians living in Mumbai, are being targeted because MNS believes that these migrants, especially from Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Bihar are creating nuisance in the city and are taking the share of Marathi people.

Raj Thackeray is struggling to gain some political relevance and ahead of 2009 assembly polls, he has aroused regionalism to meet his vested interests. He wants to project himself as a true saviour ‘Marathi manus’. But he has touched a new low in the politics by pitting people of one region against another. Such tactics can be very deadly and may lead to total chaos and unrest in Mumbai.

RajThe state government also kept quiet for a week, chief minister and deputy chief minister were busy attending functions, while police commissioner of the city hosted Thackeray at his daughter’s wedding. There is an allegation that Congress-NCP (National Congress Party) kept quiet because it knew that it would be difficult to regain power in Maharashtra after ten years in the office. If Thackeray can eat some of the Marathi vote bank of Shiv Sena, it will ultimately help Congress-NCP.

Mumbai ViolenceOn the other hand, Samajwadi Party (SP) wants to expand its base in Maharashtra following the large population of North Indians in the city, and this tirade of Thackeray has provided SP a golden goose they were looking for. They are leaving no stone unturned to project themselves as saviours of North Indians.

Both MNS and SP are at loggerheads in order to woo the voters. BJP, a national party that is struggling to project its pan India outlook, is reluctant to change the hollow and illiberal outlook in Maharashtra. The criticism of Thackeray by BJP appears hollow. Instead of mentioning Thackeray for his ugly remarks, they demanded the resignation of the chief minister. It seems that they are on some other track. They need to be told that the resignation of the chief minister is not going to diffuse the tension, which is primary at the moment.

The notion that a particular city belongs to its natives and the people from other states or regions cannot work in that city is totally against the very essence of our Constitution and concept of national unity. Our Constitution has given right to every citizen to work and earn living anywhere in the country. But the recent incident has made me think on two points.

Firstly, what makes people leave their homes?

Herein lies another aspect of our politics. In the last 60 years, our political leaders and political parties have succeeded in enjoying themselves in the politics of non-development. The national parties are mainly responsible for this. They never paid heed to the development of India as a whole. In fact, the little development that has happened is centered around the state capitals and mostly around Delhi and Mumbai. The non-development in the other cities leads to birth of regional outfits and parties, which have no sensitivity towards the nation as a whole. No one can deny the fact that maximum job opportunities are available in these two metros only. Therefore, people migrate to make better living. In Mumbai, there is 70 per cent population of migrants who have come from every nook and corner of the country. Thus, Mumbai, South Asia’s biggest city, is choking. Everyday over 40 families arrive in Mumbai.

United Nations (UN) report says that Mumbai will have 30 million people by the year 2015, which makes it the world’s second most crowded city after Tokyo. This rising population stretches the infrastructure such as roads, water, railways, electricity, residences, law enforcement, etc. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is considered to be the best in the country, has failed miserably to create better infrastructure. The hindrances from various political outfits are also making life difficult for BMC. If it tries to replace slum, there are protests; if it takes action against illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, there are protests; if it takes steps against unauthorised settlements, it is not allowed to do so.

Mumbai is crumbling but none of the politicians are taking any comprehensive review of this chronic situation. They are unable to act tough, as they may loose something politically. Mumbai requires Rs 2,34,000 crores for infrastructure development but New Delhi has budgeted Rs 35,100 crore for whole Maharashtra. We need to be more practical and focus on the solutions rather than aggravating it. A more inclusive approach is required, and driving away immigrants is not going to help anyway. One of the approaches can be to decentralise the jobs from Mumbai to nearby areas such as Panvel and Vasai. The world’s largest cities like New York, Shanghai, Tokyo that faced similar problems have successfully implemented this solution. Then why can’t Mumbai? Political will is required.

Secondly, why people from UP and Bihar migrate most?

If you observe closely, you will find people from these two states all over the country. Punjab, Assam, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, to name few. One reason is that the labour from these two states is cheap and hardworking, ready to do jobs such as driving taxi, housekeeping, milkman etc. The main reason, though, is that the politicians of UP and Bihar are worthless with no self respect. The elections in these two states are never fought on the agenda of development, but on the petty issues of caste, community and religion. The politicos are so corrupted that they eat all funds diverted by centre for development. Mayawati government stalled Anil Ambani’s power project in Dadri, probably because it was cleared by her political rival. When a private player is meted with such a treatment, how can you expect him to set a factory in the state? This politics of ‘vendetta’ has led to dearth of private sector in UP and Bihar. There is no infrastructure in these two states and the politicos have no knowledge of the economics. For them, development is restricted to opening of new parks, lawns, memorials, etc. They never ponder to encourage the growth rate, number of private players, boosting agriculture, small-scale industries, and power plants in the state. With no option left at their disposal, the people of these two states are also needed to be blamed for the condition of the state. They always fall prey to vested motives and are very happy with underdevelopment in the state. Otherwise, they should have made their elected representatives more accountable.

The politicians from UP and Bihar are baying for Thackeray’s arrest but if they feel so insulted, then they should take the daunting task to provide job opportunities to people in their own state. Instead of expanding their political base in other state, they should concentrate on the well being of the people in their own state. Every regional party wants to go national but their motives are regional centric only. I would be more happy if Amar Singh, Mayawati, Lalu Prasad, who are ‘true saviours’ of the people from their state, do something to improve the living standards in UP and Bihar. The people of UP-Bihar have immense potential and are showed by their success stories with reference to number of engineers, doctors, and civil servants. But unfortunately, their own state cannot tap their talent. I will be happy to sacrifice my multinational corporation (MNC) job and work for upliftment of my state, provided government shows some positive signs.

Whatever is happening in Mumbai is very sad. It is basically part of regional chauvinism and parochial politics played at the expense of some very poor people. Nothing will come out of this situation and only poor will suffer. Political games are such that the people never understand these but they do play and become a part of it.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal is DEAD?

HOW OFTEN we have seen the Indian cricket team being beaten in the game after getting on top of the opposition. The same thing is happening with the Indo-US nuclear deal, which was cleared by Senate in the United States and then Indian Prime Minister went on to risk his government to move forward with the deal. But then some behind-the-stage drama led to curtains on the deal. Where is the nuke deal heading now? The issue, which dominated foreign policy in 2007, has lost its way somewhere after Left parties threatened to withdraw support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) if the deal was finalised.

Nuke DealUS ambassador David Mulford has said, “If this is not processed in the present Congress, it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India. It certainly would not be revived and offered by any administration, Democratic or Republican, before the year 2010, which is after the life of this administration.”

Flash back to 1950, when India was offered the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council but the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru refused to accept the offer because he believed it was aimed at “creating trouble between India and China.” Ever since, India has been trying very hard to get the place in Security Council. That seat eventually went to China. China grabbed it with both hands and now is the staunchest opponent on the expansion of Security Council. It seems that time has rolled on and we are back at the same stage as before. The government might have bought time to convince the dissatisfied colleagues of UPA on the deal. But till date no positive step has been taken towards the finalisation of the deal.

The top nuke scientists believe that India has got a fair deal. A major component of any clean energy strategy must be nuclear power and I strongly believe that the civil nuclear agreement that was negotiated was good for India. India is already facing crisis on the energy front and the deal could have solved the problem for India. There are several other advantages, which have been highlighted time and again.

The US is continuously warning India that it is “now or never” for India as non-proliferation groups may force additional conditions on it, considering that they are too unhappy with the deal in its present form. The political atmosphere in India and US is changing and we might not get another deal in near future if it fails this time. The backing down from the deal has also caused an international embarrassment to the Prime Minister and he will have to personally face a two-sided attack for this foreign policy failure that he himself had nurtured and gone against the tide.

The times have changed but it seems that the Left are still living in the past. The Left, which has its presence only in the three Indian states and with only 60 MPs in Parliament, has caused the government to change its stance on such an important issue.

The lack of will on the part of Congress is also surprising because it was Congress’s government that refused the Security Council seat in United Nations in 1950 and now this deal in 2007. The inability to operationalise the deal would hurt the government’s image. The prime reason for silence over the deal is that every step taken in Indian politics is backed by political mileage and economy and international business has never been on that list. I don’t think political parties think about India’s benefit while they take a stand.

Lead India Contest: Who Do You Want to Win?

Amul’s Take on Lead India Contest

Amul’s Take on Lead India Contest :)
Well, to be honest I have not been meticulously following the contest trail till recently.

Nevertheless, Lead India contest gives hopes to incorrigible optimists like me. It is an initiative by Times of India to give opportunity to a honest, enthusiastic citizens within 25-45 age group to dream a leadership project.

The prize? One year leadership programme at Harvard University and a grant of Rs. 50 lakh towards a project of the winner’s choice.

Out of 32, 682 applications received from all over India, now 8 finalists from 8 cities have been selected. The selection is based on 50% jury judgment, 25% audience jury judgment, and rest sms poll. Here is a brief about each of the candidates:

1. Sanjiv Kaura, Delhi: A 42-year-old who served part-time as Territorial army, with a track record of being in public service. This social entrepreneur is said to be “a perfect blend of experience and idealism.”

2. Abha Singh, Lucknow: 42-year-old Director of Indian Postal Services division at Lucknow. Her dream project is to curb corruption. Other issues she feels strongly about are communalisation and castism, gradual erosion of systems and values, educational backwardness, especially rural areas and particularly women, and terrorism. She believs we can do it.

3. Devang Nanavati, Ahmedabad: 36-year-old top notch lawyer from Gujrat. He is a senior partner in Ahmedabad’s leading law firm of Nanavati & Nanavati, Advocates. Likes of Arun Jaitley and P.Chidambaram have fought cases on behalf of his firm. His interests: Billiards, human rights, and constitutional laws. Plans to embark a political career.

4. Dipayan Dey, Kolkata: 44-year-old environmentalist. He has indisputably won expert jury points, audience jury points and sms polls. He is a biotechnologist trained in sustainable development from the United Nations University in Tokyo. He has founded a NGO called SAFE that aims for poverty alleviation and protection of natural resources (such as water bodies) are judiciously exploited and the local population can earn more money. His take “curb defense budget, first fight hunger and poverty.”

5. Soumya Mishra, Hyderabad: 40-year-old IPS officer at Warangal. Has first hand experience of leadership and counseling at work. Her dream project? To start a community welfare project primarily to help redress the problems faced by people at the grass-root level due to naxalism. Not surprising choice, as she is a police officer from Naxalite-rampaged Warangal.

6. Rajendra K. Misra, Bangalore: 42-year-old entrepreneur. He retired willfully at 40 when he was MD of a successful company to devote time to public policy domain. Writing a book called Retire at 40 And Do What? Inicdentally, more can be found about him at his blog.

7. Ranjit Gadgil, Pune: 36-year-old programme director of Janwani is a technocrat-turned social activist. He returned to serve India quitting his IT consultancy job in US for. He was involved in education of underprivileged children. involved with organisations like the Nagrik Chetna Manch (NCM) and the Pune Traffic and Transportation Forum (PTTF). Talks about solid waste management and ragpickers issue (something you can read more about in this blog.) With his Lead India prize money wants to set up an organisation that can deal with urban planning and act as a source of information and support for slum dwellers.

8. Ujjwal Banerjee, Mumbai: 27-year-old, married to lawyer is an engineer-cum-MBA. Like most of us, started with MNC (in his case, TCS) and then later switched to work in a NGO after a through thoughtfulness. HE is now serving as an HR Manager in a NGO Akansha that shelters and educates street kids. He was involved to protect innocence of kids in a murkly world of brothels. His dream project? Opening internet kiosks in a couple of Indian villages to educate, benefit farmers, schoolchildren and adult learners.

My personal picks:
Abha Singh from Lucknow who aims to fight corruption. Ujjawal Banerjee from Mumbai, who gives up full-time lucrative job at young age to work for NGOs. Ranajit Gadgil for handling solid waste management system and rag picker’s protection.

Source: Check out more about finalists from Lead India contest.

Read more:

I also write at Visceral Observations.