ಎರಡು ದಿನಗಳ ಹಿಂದೆ ನಮ್ಮ ಕುಟುಂಬದ ಹತ್ತಿರ ಸಂಬಂಧಿಗಳಲ್ಲಿ ಒಬ್ಬ ಹಿರಿಯರು ತೀರಿಕೊಂಡ ಸುದ್ದಿ ತಲುಪಿತು. ಸುದ್ದಿ ಸಹಜ ನೋವು ಆ ಕ್ಷಣಕ್ಕೆ ನನ್ನ ಅನುಭವಕ್ಕೆ ಬಂತು. ನಾನು ಸಣ್ಣವನಿದ್ದಾಗ ಅವರು ಅಪರೂಪಕ್ಕೆ ಸಿಕ್ಕಾಗಲೆಲ್ಲಾ (ಸರ್ವೇ ಸಾಧಾರಣವಾಗಿ ಎಲ್ಲರೂ ಮಾಡುವಂತೆ) ನನ್ನನ್ನು ಎತ್ತಿ ಆಡಿಸುತ್ತಿದ್ದುದು ನೆನಪಿದೆ. ಅವರು ಯಾವಾಗ ಸಿಕ್ಕರೂ ಸೌಜನ್ಯಯುತವಾಗಿ, ಆಪ್ತವಾಗಿ ಮಾತನಾಡಿಸುತ್ತಿದುದರ ಬಗ್ಗೆ ನನ್ನಲ್ಲಿ ಯಾವತ್ತೂ ಗೌರವವಿತ್ತು. ಅಪರೂಪಕ್ಕೆ ವರ್ಷ ಅಥವಾ ಎರಡು ವರ್ಷಕ್ಕೊಮ್ಮೆ ಬೇಸಿಗೆ ರಜೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ಅವರ ಮನೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಿ ನಾಲ್ಕು ದಿನ ಖುಷಿಯಾಗಿ ಕಾಲ ಕಳೆದುದನ್ನೂ ನಾನು ಮರೆತಿಲ್ಲ. ಹೀಗಿದ್ದೂ ಸಹ, ನನ್ನ ಅವರ ನಡುವೆ ಅಪೂರ್ವವಾದ ಬಾಂಧವ್ಯ ಎಂದು ಹೇಳುವಂಥದ್ದು ಏನೂ ಇರಲಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂಬುದೂ ನಿಜ. ಹೀಗೆ ಔಪಚಾರಿಕತೆಗಿಂತ ಹತ್ತು ಸೇರು ಹೆಚ್ಚು, ಹೃದಯ ಸಂಬಂಧಕ್ಕೆ ಎರಡು ಸೇರು ಕಡಿಮೆ ತೂಗುವ ಇಂತಹ ಸಂಬಂಧಿಕ, ಹಿರಿಯರ ಸಾವಿನ ಸುದ್ದಿ ನೋವನ್ನುಂಟು ಮಾಡಿದ್ದೂ ಅಷ್ಟೇ ನಿಜ. ಅವರನ್ನು ಕೊನೆಯದಾಗಿ ನೋಡಲೂ ಸಹ ದೂರದ ಊರಿನಲ್ಲಿದ್ದ ನನ್ನಿಂದ ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಲಿಲ್ಲ.
ಸುದ್ದಿ ತಿಳಿದ ರಾತ್ರಿ ಚೆನ್ನಾಗಿ ನಿದ್ದೆ ಬಂದಿರಬಹುದು ಎನಿಸಿತ್ತು. ಕನಸಿನಲ್ಲಿ ನಾನು ಯಾರದ್ದೋ ಮನೆಗೆ ಹೋಗಿದ್ದೆ. ಯಾರದೆಂದು ಗುರುತಿಸಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಲಿಲ್ಲ. ಅಜ್ಜಿಯೊಬ್ಬರು ಅಂಗಳದಲ್ಲಿ ಕುರ್ಚಿಯ ಮೇಲೆ ಕುಳಿತು ದೊಡ್ಡ ತುರಿಯುವ ಮಣೆಯನ್ನು ತೊಡೆಗೆ ಆನಿಸಿಕೊಂಡು ಕೊಬ್ಬರಿ ತುರಿಯುತ್ತಿದ್ದರು. ಪಕ್ಕದ ಕಟ್ಟೆಯ ಮೇಲೆ ನನ್ನ ಸೋದರ ಸಂಬಂಧಿ (ತೀರಿಹೋದ ಹಿರಿಯ ಸಂಬಂಧಿಕರ ಮಗ) ಕುಳಿತಿದ್ದ. ನಾನು ಅವನ ಬಳಿ ಹೋಗಿ ಪಕ್ಕದಲ್ಲೇ ಕುಳಿತು ಹೆಗಲ ಮೇಲೆ ಕೈಹಾಕಿ ಮಾತನಾಡಲು ತಿರುಗಿದೆ. ಕ್ಷಣಾರ್ಧದಲ್ಲಿ ಅವನು ಅವರಪ್ಪನಾಗಿ ಬದಲಾಗಿದ್ದ! ನಾನು ಸಣ್ಣವನಿದ್ದಾಗ ಅವರಪ್ಪ ತಮ್ಮ ಹಣೆಯ ಮೇಲಿದ್ದ ಪುಟ್ಟ ಚುಕ್ಕಿಯಾಕಾರದ ಕುಳಿಯನ್ನು ತೋರಿಸುತ್ತಾ “ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಚಂದಿರ ಇದೆ, ಕೊಡುತ್ತೇನೆ ಬಾ” ಎಂದು ಹೇಳಿ ನನ್ನನು ಕರೆಯುತ್ತ ಇದ್ದುದು ನೆನಪಾಯ್ತು. ಅವರೂ ತಮ್ಮ ಎಂದಿನ ಸೌಜನ್ಯದೊಂದಿಗೆ ಆ ಚುಕ್ಕಿಯ ತೋರಿಸುವಂತೆಯೇ ನನ್ನೊಂದಿಗೆ ಮಾತನಾಡುವರೇನೋ ಎನ್ನುವಂತೆ ನನ್ನ ಕಡೆ ತಿರುಗಿದರು. ನಾನು ಮಾತನಾಡುವ ಬದಲಾಗಿ ಜೋರಾಗಿ ಅತ್ತು ಬಿಟ್ಟೆ. ನನ್ನ ಅಳು ನಿಂತ ಕ್ಷಣ ಅವರು ಮತ್ತೆ ನನ್ನ ಸಮಕಾಲೀನ ಸೋದರ ಸಂಬಂಧಿಯಾಗಿ ಬದಲಾಗಿದ್ದರು. ನಾನು ಮಾತು ಮುಗಿಸಿದವನಂತೆ ಎದ್ದೆ. ಸುಪ್ತ ಶೋಕದಿಂದ ಎದ್ದ ನಂತರ ಮನಸ್ಸು ಹಗುರಾಗಿದ್ದಂತೆ ಅನಿಸಿತು.
ನನ್ನ ಇದುವರೆಗಿನ ಜೀವನದಲ್ಲಿ ರಾತ್ರಿ ಕಂಡ ಕನಸುಗಳನ್ನು ನೆನಪಿಸಿಕೊಂಡು ಅವುಗಳಿಂದ ಹಗಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಹೊಸದನ್ನು ಕಲಿಯುವುದರ ಪಾತ್ರ ಬಹಳ ದೊಡ್ಡದು. ಇರುಳು ಕಂಡ ಬಾವಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಹಗಲು ಬೀಳುವುದೆಂದರೂ ಚಿಂತೆಯಿಲ್ಲ. ನೂರರಲ್ಲಿ ೯೫ ಕನಸುಗಳು ಸಂಪೂರ್ಣವಾಗಿ ನೆನಪಿಗೆ ಬಾರದೆ ಹೋಗುತ್ತವೆ. ಹಲವು ಕನಸುಗಳಿಗೆ ಅರ್ಥ ಹುಡುಕುವುದೇ ಕಷ್ಟವಾಗುತ್ತವೆ (ಹಗಲುಗನಸುಗಳಿಗೂ ಕೊರತೆಯಿಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನಿ). ಆದರೆ ನಾನು ಮೇಲೆ ವಿವರಿಸಿದ ದೃಶ್ಯದಷ್ಟು ಸರಳವಾದ ಕನಸು, ನೆನೆಪಿನಲ್ಲುಳಿಯುವಂಥ ಅಪರೂಪದ ಅನುಭವವವನ್ನುಂಟು ಮಾಡಿ, ಎದ್ದ ಮೇಲೂ ವಿವರವಾಗಿ ಜ್ಞಾಪಕವಿರುವುದು ವಿಶೇಷ ಎನಿಸಿತು. ಹೀಗೆ ಹಿಂದೆಯೂ ಕೆಲವೊಮ್ಮೆ ಆಗಿದೆ.
ಸರಳವಾದ ಈ ಮೇಲ್ಕಂಡ ಕನಸಿಗೆ ಕಾರಣವನ್ನು ಹುಡುಕುವ ಕಷ್ಟ ಇಲ್ಲದಿದ್ದರೂ, ಆ ಕನಸಿನ ಅರ್ಥವನ್ನು ಗ್ರಹಿಸಲು ನಾನು ಪ್ರಯತ್ನಪಟ್ಟೆ. ಆಗ ನನಗೆ ತೋಚಿದ ಸಮರ್ಥನೆ ನಿಮ್ಮೊಂದಿಗೆ ಹಂಚಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ಎರಡನೇ ತರಗತಿಯಲ್ಲಿದ್ದಾಗ ನಮಗೆ ಕನ್ನಡದ ಪಠ್ಯ ಪುಸ್ತಕದಲ್ಲಿ ಒಂದು ಪುಟ್ಟ ಗದ್ಯವಿತ್ತು. ಅದರಲ್ಲಿ ಬಾಲಕನೊಬ್ಬ ಹಣ್ಣಿನಂಗಡಿಯ ಮುಂದೆ ನಿಂತುಕೊಂಡು, ಹಿಸಿದ ಹಲಸಿನ ಹಣ್ಣನ್ನು ನೋಡುತ್ತಾ ಏನೋ ಯೋಚಿಸುತ್ತಿರುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಅಂಗಡಿಯವನು ಬಾಲಕನನ್ನು “ಹಣ್ಣು ಕೊಳ್ಳುವೆಯಾ?” ಎಂದು ಕೇಳುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಬಾಲಕ ಇಲ್ಲ ಎನ್ನುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಆಗ ಅಂಗಡಿಯವನು “ಈ ಹಣ್ಣುಗಳ ವಾಸನೆಯನ್ನು ನೀನು ಅಷ್ಟು ಹೊತ್ತಿನಿಂದ ಸೇವಿಸಿದ್ದೀಯೆ. ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ನೀನು ಹಣ ಕೊಡಬೇಕು” ಎಂದು ಚೇಷ್ಟೆ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಆ ಬಾಲಕ ಒಂದು ಕ್ಷಣ ಯೋಚಿಸಿ ತನ್ನ ಜೇಬಿನಲ್ಲಿದ್ದ ಚಿಲ್ಲರೆಯನ್ನು ಕುಲುಕಿ “ಝಣಝಣ” ಎಂದು ಸದ್ದು ಮಾಡಿಸಿ “ವಾಸನೆಯ ಬೆಲೆ ಇದೇ” ಎಂದು ಹೇಳುತ್ತಾನೆ. “ಹಣ್ಣು ಬಂದಿದೆ, ಜನರು ಹಣ್ಣು ಕೊಳ್ಳಿರೊ, ಪುರಂದರವಿಠಲನೆಂಬೋ ಹಣ್ಣು ಬಂದಿದೆ” ಎಂದು ಪುರಂದರ ದಾಸರು ಪ್ರೊಮೋಟ್ ಮಾಡಿದ ಹಣ್ಣನ್ನು ಕೊಂಡು, ಸರಾಗವಾಗಿ ಎಲ್ಲವನ್ನೂ ಜೀರ್ಣಿಸಿಕೊಂಡು ಹೋದವರಿದ್ದಾರೆ, ಮುಂದೂ ಬರುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಇರುವ ತನಕ ಝಣಝಣ ಸದ್ದು ಮಾಡುತ್ತಲೇ ಹಣ್ಣನ್ನು ಕೊಂಡೂ ಕೊಳ್ಳದಂತೆ ಆನಂದಪಡುವುದೂ ತಪ್ಪಲ್ಲ. “ಝಣಝಣ” ಶಬ್ದ ಮಾಡುವುದೂ ಸುಪ್ತ ಶೋಕ ವ್ಯಕ್ತಪಡಿಸುವುದೂ ಎಲ್ಲವೂ ಆರೋಗ್ಯಕ್ಕೆ ಒಳ್ಳೆಯದು.
The Shivagange Hill (ಶಿವಗಂಗೆ ಬೆಟ್ಟ) is a rocky outcrop (around 800 m above ground level and 1300 m above sea level) in Bengaluru rural district in Karnataka, South India. These boulders have ancient volcanic origin (are at least 2.5 billion years old) and are some of the oldest geological formations in India.
We come across situations where different versions of any event or anything are narrated to us by different people. Is truth just a perceived construction of the world by human mind? Is there only one ‘version’ of truth? Here, I wish to use the Shivagange Hill as an example to dissect the problem of truth, wonder whether truth is singular or can we have multiple versions of truth. This is also my attempts to superficially understand prominent theories of truth in philosophical studies.
When viewed from a distance of a few km, the peak of Shivagange appears to us in the form of a bull from one of its faces. When viewed from another side, the hill gives us the impression of an eeshwara linga (a Hindu God). It apparently also gives the impression of an elephant and a snake from other angles and I have not personally seen the hill from all possible angles. Of course, it may appear as other things to people of other faiths or non-faith. There is the correspondence theory of truth, which says that a belief or a notion is true if and only if it corresponds to an existing appropriate entity, i.e., a fact. If there is no such entity, the belief is false. If truth has a corresponding fact, then our perception of a bull or a linga in Shivagange hill must be corroborated with the fact of a large rocky statue of a bull or an elephant. But, any such impression of things that are familiar to us, vanish when we get closer to the hill and if we climb the hill, we will notice that the rocks are just rocks. Does that mean our perception of a bull (nandi) or of a linga from a distance are false or untruths? What about the views from directions other than these four, from where the hill in all likeliness looks merely like a pile of boulders?
The only fact that is probably verifiable about the Shivagange hill will be that a pile of boulders exists at such and such geographical coordinates and if we go there, we may find it. So, the hill does exist and it is true that the hill exists. But whether our notions of a nandi, or a shivalinga from a distance are true or not true are not as easy to address. Some semanticists and redundancy theorists will find fault with the term ‘true’ itself since the usage of the word ‘true’ does not add anything to our perception of the hill’s existence. But, the word ‘true’ has some weight and it gains importance when we use it in more complex collection of statements about this hill.
The process of getting to the ‘truth’ is more or less formulaic if you are in the field of science. It is like watching a hill from a distance, then making one’s way towards it and finally climbing it. Someone holds a belief that has some tangible evidence based on some observations. In other words, he sees the hill of Shivagange from a distance and sees objects that he is familiar with. He will go there to verify his belief. To do that, he will have to conduct some measurements and experiments. In some cases, more experiments, and even more experiments are needed under different conditions. Any opinion or hypothesis gets closer to truth and can become absolute truth (a natural law in this case) when experiments are repeatable and the observations provide no exceptions (assuming theorising and experimenting feed off each other).
It is often assumed that truth is singular, and a scientific method helps us get there. At any given time, the most formidable and evidence based consensus on anything or non-thing is said to be the closest to the absolute truth we aspire to know. It is indeed repeatable that you or any number of people who view the Shivagange from different angles, can come to the same conclusion (i.e. the hill resembles a bull, a snake, a shivalinga among other things). If someone makes some accurate measurements of the boulders in situ, and do some spatial modeling, they may find that a random spatial distribution of rocks have given rise to impression of objects familiar to human imagination (common sense, ah!). Are such perceptions part of an incomplete truth? Are they all part of a coherent whole? Hmm.
Most of us will probably accept that our knowledge of things around us changes everyday and a small fraction of our beliefs and hypotheses, which we thought were truths, no longer remain true. Truth as an evolving and verifiable consensus at a given instance of time, constitutes the pragmatist’s theory of truth. I find that idea attractive.
I am no expert on this subject, and hence I have to rely on expert opinion to understand the implications of demonetisation. I have put-together a selection of reactions on ‘demonetisation’ from some of the leading names in India’s contemporary discourse on India, its society, economy and peoples. Therefore, the title of this blog article may appear misleading to some of you. But, it is also true that while utilising expert opinions to get clarity on what’s going on (see the quote graphic below), I will share with you my own views as well. Therefore, mine will be a reasonably informed layman’s reaction.
I have tried to contrast opinions as pro (green) vs. against (red) the decision to demonetise the economy. Some experts are obviously politically inclined while others express their views as ideologues of certain kind of policies. From first reading, it will be clear that all of them have made equally meritorious comments and assessments. We will look at them in greater detail in their relevant contexts. As a non-expert lay person, I am not as apolitical as Mr Narayana Murthy (Infosys chairman) is. I need not be.
All of us, rich or poor, female or male, scheduled caste or upper-caste, urban or rural…all of us acknowledge that the country as a whole is struggling because of cash-crunch. Most people including me share Mr Murthy’s sentiments that the society should try to help and accommodate the needs of the most disadvantaged, especially under these trying circumstances. The Prime Minister (Mr Narendra Modi) himself has time and again acknowledged the difficulties faced mainly by the rural citizens and workers in the unorganised sectors of the economy. Mr Arun Jaitley, the Union Finance Minister made a statement at the Hindustan Times leadership summit a few days ago that “with such a large population, there will be long queues [in front of banks and ATMs]”. While it was made as a jokingly rhetorical comment, it also casts doubts on the central government’s attitude when it took the decision to demonetise the economy on the fateful night of November the 8th, 2016.
Dr Surjith Bhalla (commentator and economist) and others like him have expressed cautious optimism at the government’s move to demonetise the economy and he hopes that the PM will back this up with other necessary steps. Former Finance Minister Mr Chidambaram while vehemently opposing demonetisation, agrees that more tax reforms are necessary. What those steps should be is debatable. Mr Chidambaram and Mr Arun Jaitley are in opposite political parties but those who have followed their careers know that they are quite cordial with each other and have common economic policy views. But on the matter of demonetisation Mr Chidambaram’s criticism of the government are well placed. He says in a TV interview that the government did not consult anyone and did not obtain an adequately grounded view of the situation before taking such an unprecedented decision. He rightly identifies that maintenance of secrecy would not have been affected if the PM had consulted top experts and opposition leaders after swearing them to secrecy.
Dr Manmohan Singh (former RBI governor and former PM) made a fiery intervention in the Rajya Sabha during the debate on demonetisation when the current PM was in the house and listening. It was an extraordinary 7 minutes in my view and I openly expressed my joy (on facebook) of hearing him speak after so long. He made some excellent points in his incisive statement, which he later elaborated in an opinion written for the English daily The Hindu. The quote I have reproduced in the graphic is an excerpt from his article. I was deeply touched when Dr Singh recollected his years of standing in long queues for rationed food during the war years (mid 1940s). Many of us, especially the current young voters (born after the 1991 liberalisation), don’t realise what our country has been through to reach a state it is in today. They know UPA II, they vaguely remember UPA I and probably just know the name of Mr AB Vajapayee (NDA I). They may not know their own state’s political history. We have taken three steps forward and two steps back all the way but we have made some progress. Long queues have always been the norm in India, and strangely enough there were also long queues to buy some useless mobile SIM card recently in India! Was Mr Arun Jaitley just reflecting on this fact? I am not so sure.
Dr Singh along with Prof Amartya Sen (Economist and Teacher) have made a philosophical assessment of a decision of such magnitude and repercussions. Prof Sen is well known for his anti-capitalist views. Those who don’t know that he has stood for social equality and dignity (consistently over many decades) are quick to rubbish him saying that he is anti-right. His point about “economy of trust” is fundamental to any civilization and key to this discussion. Demonetisation has made many wary of the banks for sure. While many bank employees are working doubly hard to ensure that new currency notes reach the last man in the queue, there are some rats who are further damaging the central and state banks’ legitimacy. Before you dismiss Prof Sen’s view, please imagine what ‘economy of trust’ means and why we have not progressed towards “politics of trust” even after 69 years of independence (see postscript). This also hits at the core of Mr Chidambaram’s criticism of the government, which lacked trust in the opposition (the feeling was perhaps mutual).
Ever since he has taken oath (May 2014), Mr Narendra Modi has been stressing at every opportunity that his government is for the poor. Even after taking this latest decision, the PM has invoked “justice for the poor and benefits for the poor” in his rallies and speeches in Uttar Pradesh citing demonetisation as the panacea for corruption related diseases. In his latest radio soliloquy, he again asked his 1.25 billion countrymen to help the poor, the elderly, and disadvantaged to get online and be part of a digital economy. Many in my parents’ generation and certainly a large majority of my grand parents’ generation have never used a bank card in their life and they should not be forced to do so at this stage. What the PM must realise is the society adapts slowly to most technological innovations. As my grandmother in her mid-80s used to tell me, “don’t try to change me now. I am too old”.
Going back to Dr Bhalla, it is useful to note that he is also known for his antipathy towards “doing politics in the name of the poor”. I share Dr Bhalla’s general view that India has suffered a lot over the decades because of povertarian politics. Yes. Economic policy in India must work towards alleviating the ills of poverty and hunger and all political parties have at least this in common. In India, the left and the right and the centrists, all political parties are socialists to different degrees and it is a necessity. But, claiming that every policy decision is made thinking of the poor is not only illogical but also disingenuous. The PM cannot say that demonetisation was undertaken to benefit the poor. At the same time, policies meant to support someone can have significant consequences for someone else. Let me make this clear to one and all. Demonetisation had nothing to do with the poor in our country, yet the poor have taken the brunt of this, they have bravely embraced the PM’s decision partly because they have no choice. Again, Mr Narayana Murthy’s words are relevant. He regrets that sacrifices are coming from the most disadvantaged in our society. The poor have embraced the PM’s decision also because they share a bit of optimism that Dr Bhalla expresses. They are hopeful that the PM will follow up this ‘high-risk’ but well-intended carpet bombing (to quote the Supreme court) with other less-risky things to curb systemic corruption. I remember the online survey done on mygov.in by the PM’s event team. While most correspondents had given positive reviews on most parameters (even if we ignore the fact that the respondents were loyalists of a certain type), the one thing that received relatively poor ratings overall was the central government’s inaction on corruption. Was Mr Modi anxious to do something? Mr Arun Jaitley sounded optimistic about the steps the government has taken. The genuineness of the intentions expressed by the Prime Minister (on Nov 8th) will be tested in the coming months and years.
PS: I know this is slightly off the point here but may be relevant nonetheless. The demise of Ms Jayalalithaa (Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) made many praise her for upholding federalism in India and showing how regional prominence can propel someone to national significance and thus obtain economic dividends for a state. Some have even mourned the demise of federal politics in South India. What they don’t realise is regionalists have imposed their views on the nation too. Let me give you an example (a silly one). The current Chief Minister of West Bengal Ms Mamatha Banerjee was once a Union railway minister. She introduced new superfast trains and called them “Duronto Express”. Duronto is a Bengaali version of the the Hindi word “turant” (origin: Sanskrit; ‘twarita’ meaning “urgently”). What she did not realise is the word Duronto and its variant Duranta has a different meaning in Kannada (again the word duranta is of Sanskrit origin). Duranta means “tragic end” in Kannada and may be in other languages too. It was indeed a tragedy that Bengali was imposed on us. She was championing her regional identity. Let her name a regional express in West Bengal a tragic express. Who cares?
I am afraid people like me do not trust our representatives and less so of other states. I do not like this distrust and this political distrust stems from economic distrust between the states, and between the state and the centre. My home state (Karnataka) is suffering in the hands of the Hindiwallahs. I strongly support greater autonomy for state governments in everything (except national security). I hope a day will come when we spend our money in our state for our people and not send crores to New Delhi (Hindiwallahs), who will use that money to destroy our identity and misuse our resources. Is there a peaceful way of getting a better deal for Karnataka and Kannada? I certainly hope so.
Last year around this time, I had posted a subjective report card for the Indian central government after it had completed one year in office (see here). In that report, I had complemented the government’s emphasis on strengthening relationships with regional powers (SAARC nations). I had also given the prime minister (Narendra Modi) the benefit of the doubt when it came to representing India adequately while he was abroad, although he was still on campaign mode after one year in government. I also thought Mr Modi had done well in curbing corruption at the top level within government. Another year has passed and where do I see India and its government heading now?
I will start with foreign and home affairs. In my view, foreign affairs and internal security are two wings of any central government that are going to be the legacy makers after the government’s term is over. Narendra Modi’s strength is his global visibility. He has made good use of it so far and I thought India’s strategic partnerships with Iran (beginning work on a new Iranian port dedicated to Indian trade) and Afghanistan (the building of a friendship dam by Indian investment) have reached new heights under Mr Modi. I am very happy about such developments. Mr Modi also did well in going to the USA to complete some formalities regarding the Nuclear deal. However, the equation with Nepal has suffered and the government has to do something to restore normalcy soon.
The central government has not let a major security lapse to affect India’s internal security (barring a couple of cases involving military bases). The home ministry (as best done) appears to have gone on with its job quietly but steadily. There is of course an urgent need for police reforms in India and not doing it until now has hurt India badly. I do not know when our government will wake up to see what ordinary people go through when they visit their local police station. The chronic and toxic nexus between political parties, politicians and police officers needs to be acknowledged before it can be tackled. I am disappointed that Union government, particularly Mr Modi has not taken up police reforms as a priority. Sorry, I get it now. Police is a state subject (the famous line by our Chief ministers). I will come back to federalism and where it is needed later.
Economy is the third most important sector controlled by the central government. It is general knowledge that when foreign and home affairs are addressed sufficiently, economy takes care of itself. The current government came to power on its promises on economic reforms. As the Indian RBI governor (unfortunately his outgoing and honest views made him the outgoing governor) has often said (to paraphrase him) “reforms should improve ease of doing legitimate business and such reforms require stable policies with long term vision”. The government, despite all the hype, has been blowing hot and cold when it comes to economic reforms. It has done too little for those who voted for the government, and it has done too little also for those who did not vote for them. The Make in India initiative, the Prime Minister’s mudra scheme (funding for start-ups) and various other schemes have received a lot of air time on Indian media. I am afraid I have not seen or met a single person (I don’t meet many, I admit) who has benefited from these schemes. The advertisements always interview beneficiaries but they don’t show the millions who are lurching in the dark. The mudra scheme may be a start-up from the government (ironically intended to fund start-ups) and only time will tell if this was not just another flash in the pan. Before I forget (ironically the very people lurching in the dark), let me commend the rural electrification scheme as well. I am not sure how much of the current achievement is a culmination of work started during NDA-I and UPA-I. Never mind the details. I celebrate, with some sadness, that it has taken independent India almost seven decades to electrify some of her villages.
The fourth important ministry is the ministry of environment. I had in my last year’s report cited the promise of our prime minister that he will ensure that the river Ganga will see better days. I noticed that just before the government completed its second year, one of the ministers again made a statement to similar effects. The prime minister himself went to his constituency in Varanasi to inaugurate eco-friendly transport. I am sure he knows that the river does not start and end in Varanasi. Do you remember what the art of living extravaganza on the banks of river Yamuna did to the river? I am yet to see any concrete action that convinces me that the prime minister and the government are serious about cleaning our rivers and stopping water pollution. The river Ganga is symptomatic of a large problem. Forests and natural resources are national assets (I would say world assets) and no state should cite economic reasons for compromising environmental norms.
You may wonder why I did not place rural employment, health care, and education as the priority for the government. I keep a close watch on those too and social sector reform, as a subject is close to my heart. I fully support for example the Prime Minister’s phasal bima (crop insurance) scheme. It is a great initiative and needs all the publicity it can get. I do not understand the full details of how the scheme is going to work. But, the thought that a government is willing to cover the losses incurred by our farmers (for a nominal premium) is wonderful. However, our system is flawed. Social reforms need to be decentralised. The central government should not be running schools, colleges and hospitals. These should be run by state governments, perhaps even district and village panchayats. I am not for once saying that we need to privatise social sectors in India. In fact, I am saying just the opposite. The government should invest more in the social sector, more in primary schools and such investments should come from state governments and not from New Delhi (the evil centre, in my view).
The prime minister seems to be very keen on absurd acronyms. Let me offer him one. DDD (sorry for diluting the subject but I am not talking about the size of a bra cup). D for decentralize, D for decentralize and D for decentralize. All you need to do is to visit a remote place in South India. The situation in a local state-run school or a primary health centre is appalling. The central government is promoting the building of toilets (I hear adds on radio every day). Great initiative in principle. However, the central government should not be involved in building toilets. New Delhi does not speak my native language (Kannada in my case, it can be any other regional language). The central officers do not understand regional problems. Co-operative federalism is highlighted all the time by the Union government. I want to see some tangible action. Empower the states. Give them more funds to empower district and gram panchayats to deliver health care and education. That will transform India. Not a few bureaucrats sitting in New Delhi. The very fact that I am writing a report card for the central government and not for the government running my home state (Karnataka) clearly tells me that there is a serious imbalance of power. The state politics all across India, unfortunately, has not covered itself in glory. The corruption allegations are stinking (the way Bangalore’s solid waste is stinking to high-hell; click here for an article on political scene in Karnataka that I wrote six years ago).
A former minister in the old NDA (Vajapayee) government may add another D (disinvestment) to my list of Ds. The situation of Air India exemplifies how PSUs are in ICU. The public sector industries and banks are doing a service to this nation. Indian railway is the life line of our country and it must continue to be a state run unit. No private sector in this world can do what railways does for India and if someone thinks that private railways is the answer, they are living in a fool’s paradise. I will write a separate article on the railways some other time. In an ideal world PSUs should be better than their private counterparts given the privileges and support PSU’s receive from tax payers’ money. I also hope for such a day but I might also be living in a fool’s paradise.
Finally, I will come to communication, an area where the current government is supposedly very strong. Narendra Modi has been heard many times on the radio through the usual mann ki baat programme. Although I did not listen to all of them, I did make it a point to go to their recordings whenever possible to understand a prime minister’s mind. As always, the message and the theme of some of mann ki baat were laudable (e.g. rain water harvesting, building toilets, prevention of maternal mortality during child birth, recognising ordinary people by name and highlighting their achievements etc). However, when he asked people to post selfies with daughter, he really put me off. Such symbolism might enthuse some urbane (=superficial) people and most of them are already posting too many selfies anyway. Dare I say the prime minister should stop posting selfies too. Don’t we remember the mindless minister who posted a selfie while touring distressed drought-hit areas? Don’t we hear news almost every day that some young boy lost his life trying to take a dangerous selfie? Selfies are a modern day disease and the prime minister of a country should not be promoting bad habits. To be fair, the government has been promoting ‘bEti bachao bEti paDao” (save the girl child and educate the girl child) as a nationwide scheme, which is a commendable idea. The prime minister must leave soft promotion of government schemes to some bureaucrat and he should focus on improving governance. The previous union governments were busy naming schemes after a political family (I despise that attitude), the current government seems to be busy renaming old schemes.
One of the main criticisms I have for the union government (Modi Sarkar sounds feudal and I don’t like that phrase), is for the government’s one-way communication strategy. The song played by All India Radio every day (before 8 am morning news) to celebrate two years of NDA-II is okay but why every day? Can the government ask the state radio to play a song of unanswered questions every day? The news headlines almost invariably begin with the phrase “Prime Minister Narendra Modi….”. For heaven’s sake, can we have one day where the news begins with some other thing? I thought the second year of a newly elected government will be its best year in terms of handling tough questions facing Indian economy, Indian forests, Indian farmers and Indian Science. However, the government has not taken the challenges head on. They don’t answer questions. The opposition has failed in all fronts to hold the government to account. Most chief ministers are busy taking pot shots at central ministers and vice versa. India seems to be on a perpetual election mode, which is very unhealthy for a democracy.
The prime minister always invites people to ask him questions before a mann ki baat programme and chooses to answer some of them. I am afraid he has never chosen tough questions. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh made a serious mistake by not answering questions that were flinging at him. However, at least he had once in a while taken direct questions from the press. I am really concerned that the current prime minister is damaging his own credibility by not convening press conferences all by himself at regular intervals. He must take questions when he is not briefed what the questions are going to be. The parliamentary debate in our country has hit very low standards and often the questions are so boring that the person who raised the question sleeps while someone (if present) gives an answer. I have heard many MPs from the Rajya sabha (upper house) complain to the media that the best speeches and debates are not covered by the press. I don’t know. The prime minister should lead a change in this attitude. He should take questions on unprepared. He should speak his real mann ki baat and not be fixated on prepared radio speeches. May we see some change in this respect in 2016-17? A mixed bag of a year, I conclude.
While I was writing this article, I got the news that the Union government is closing down the Ministry of Panchayati Raj. It is a disturbing development. It is okay if the idea leads to something else e.g. a new name for an old ministry, e.g. Ministry of Gram Swaraj. However, I doubt the intentions of our government in this matter and am hoping against hope that the government understands the gravity of the problem. (added on July 5th)…I also learnt that the World Bank is investing >600 million dollars into India’s renewable energy programme. President of the World Bank has acknowledged that the decision was approved because Mr Modi has given a personal commitment to making India a solar super power. I congratulate our Prime Minister for taking the lead and a firm stand. I also thought India played a constructive role during the climate discussions in Paris last year.
ನಾನು ನನ್ನವಳೊಂದಿಗೆ ರೈಲಿನಲ್ಲಿ ಹೊರಟಿದ್ದೆ. ದೀರ್ಘ ಪ್ರಯಾಣ ಆಗಿನ್ನೂ ಆರಂಭವಾಗಿತ್ತು. ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಯಾವುದೋ ಒಂದು ನಿಲ್ದಾಣದಲ್ಲಿ ರೈಲು ಸುಮಾರು ಐದು ನಿಮಿಷ ನಿಂತಿತ್ತು. ನಮ್ಮ ಬೋಗಿಗೆ ಒಬ್ಬ ಅಜ್ಜ ಮತ್ತು ಒಬ್ಬ ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಹತ್ತಿದರು. ಅವರು ನಮಗಿಂತ ಮೂರ್ನಾಲ್ಕು ಸಾಲು ಮುಂದೆ ಕಿಟಕಿಯ ಪಕ್ಕ ಕುಳಿತರು. ರೈಲಿನ ಹೊರಗೆ ಅವರ ಕಿಟಕಿಯ ಪಕ್ಕ ಮಧ್ಯ ವಯಸ್ಸಿನ ಹೆಂಗಸೊಬ್ಬರು ಇಬ್ಬರು ಪುಟ್ಟ ಬಾಲಕಿಯರೊಂದಿಗೆ ನಿಂತಿದ್ದರು. ಅವರ ಪಕ್ಕ ಅಷ್ಟೇ ವಯಸ್ಸಿನ ಗಂಡಸು ಒಂದು ಸಣ್ಣ ಮಗುವನ್ನು ಕಂಕುಳಲ್ಲಿ ಎತ್ತಿಕೊಂಡು ನಿಂತಿದ್ದರು. ಆ ಇಬ್ಬರು ಬಾಲಕಿಯರಲ್ಲಿ ಸಣ್ಣವಳು (೫ ವರ್ಷ ಇರಬಹದು) ಅರಚಿ ರಂಪ ಮಾಡುತ್ತಿದ್ದಳು. ರೈಲಿನ ಹತ್ತಿರ ಬಂದು ಅಜ್ಜಿಯ ಕೈ ಎಳೆದು ಅಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದಳು. (ಬಹುಶಃ) ಅವಳ ಅಕ್ಕ (ಸು ೧೦ ವರ್ಷ) ದೂರದಲ್ಲಿಯೇ ನಿಂತಿದ್ದಳು. ಅವಳ ಮುಖದಲ್ಲಿ ದುಗುಡ ತುಂಬಿತ್ತು. ಅಜ್ಜಿ ಮಾತ್ರ ನಗುತ್ತ ಆ ಹೆಂಗಸಿಗೆ ಏನನ್ನೋ ಹೇಳುತ್ತಿದ್ದರು. ಆ ಕಂಕುಳ ಕೂಸನ್ನು ಹತ್ತಿರ ಕರೆಸಿಕೊಂಡು ಕಿಟಕಿಯಿಂದಲೇ ಮೈ ದಡವಿದರು. ಸುಮಾರು ೨ ವರ್ಷದ ಆ ಮಗು ತನ್ನ ಇಬ್ಬರು ಅಕ್ಕಂದಿರನ್ನೂ ಅಜ್ಜಿಯನ್ನೂ ಪಿಳಿ ಪಿಳಿ ನೋಡುತ್ತಾ …”ಏನಿದೆಲ್ಲಾ ರಗಳೆ?“…ಎಂದು ನಾನು ನನಗನ್ನಿಸಿದ್ದನ್ನು ನನ್ನವಳೊಂದಿಗೆ ಹಂಚಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ತಿರುಗಿದೆ. ರೈಲು ಹೊರಟಿತು.