Friday, December 31, 2010

A Congressman’s Report on Political Crisis in Andhra Pradesh (10 Dec 2009)

In view of the report of Justice Srikrishna committee, I thought I woud share this report submitted by one of the congressmen to the party before all this happened. This report was submitted on 10 Dec 2009 right after the center gave a positive signal for Telangana and before the appointment of SriKrishna Committee.

1. Present Situation

The situation in the state is not conducive to good decision making at present. No side is ready even to listen to the other side. People and the leaders are not clear in stating the concerns and issues that are the root cause of their discontent. Efforts to create at least a window of opportunity for the crisis managers to salvage the situation are very few and completely uncoordinated. Conspiracy theorists and mongers of despair are having a field day in the state. This is resulting in ‘People-to-people hatred’ and saner voices are becoming
irrelevant with each passing day.

2. Perceived Injustice

Common perception in the state is that the voices of non Telangana people were never heard. I am not saying it is true but this is the perception I am noticing everywhere. The leaders and people from Non-Telangana region are feeling that they were taken for granted. This perceived injustice and Hyderabad City as main bone of contention are the basic reasons that are getting manifested in various forms of arguments that are complicating the situation in the state.
Till recently the Non-Telangana leaders were restrained as they were asked not to escalate tensions. Suddenly when they realized that the decision is made, there is a feeling of complete neglect and marginalization of them. There were angry reactions from the people of other regions. Unfortunately our leaders instead of leading the people in the right direction were actually following the mob psyche.

In fact the people were mentally prepared for the separation of the state in due course of time but expected that they will get a chance to express their concerns. Unfortunately for us people did not look at the assembly debate on the resolution as a forum to voice their concerns. The collective wisdom in the state is showing that the situation during Mr. KCR’s fast is not as grave as it was believed to be portrayed. Many people are feeling that a small piece of favorable statement would have brought the fast to a close. The surprise expressed even by supporters of Mr. KCR shows that the bargain he got was hugely in his favor at the cost of congress party.

My read of the political situation suggests that the impact of a sudden announcement and the need for it was not conveyed to the central leadership appropriately. The party leadership in the state is expected to carry the inputs and impact on the other regions of the state along with the one line resolution from the CLP. Unfortunately it is being perceived by majority of non-Telangana people that the state leadership has only taken a piece of paper but not the spirit behind the paper to Delhi.

Once we address the above described perception of injustice, we can address the remaining political and administrative issues/concerns easily.

Once again it reminds us that, in politics it is not enough to do the right things but we should also be seen as doing the right things.

3. Other Concerns and Issues
  • Hyderabad City is the main contentious point in the whole episode. People from different regions of the state have their role in the development of the city and have woven their future with that of the city.
  • Stereo typing of Non-Telangana people as exploiters and colonizers as done by TRS is one of the main reasons for the emotional backlash in the other regions.
  • Concern on the plan of separation, and time frame is confusing the people on all the sides.
  • Future of irrigation projects and sharing of water resources, mechanism for protection of investments in various regions
4. One main reason for the chaos 

Complete polarization of the state on the lines of region can be attributed to a large extent to the lack of statesmanship and vacuum in the political leadership. This is true for all the parties but we need to address it in our party. MLAs are just following the demands of the people. None of them are showing the gumption to be the thought leaders. At present nobody is in a position even to listen to different views. In a more generic description of this problem, most of our MLAs are just bound by their group and regional loyalties but not by ideological and policy bonding.

Personally, I was disappointed when the official party meetings are conducted region wise for the MPs. Leaders at the level of an MP shall be matured enough to be open amongst themselves at least in party forums. But I reserve my conclusions on this to a future date until I understand more about our politics and am sufficiently experienced.

At this moment, there is no leader in the state whose sense of justice inspires a degree of trust in the eyes of all the sections. The problem is a result of lack of political leadership in the state.
5. Basis for a solution

I am sure we will find a solution to this problem and we will be solving much complicated problems also in future. However, we need to ensure that all the stakeholders understand the basis on which our solution is going to be built and they should work on their side to get an acceptable solution with in a basic framework.

I am proposing the following as the basis for a solution to this problem:
  • Democratic and just aspirations of any section of the society cannot be bulldozed by majority
  • Sentiments and emotions are taken into account while taking decisions and will be accommodated to the extent possible but sentiments and emotions cannot form the basis for our decisions
  • Peace and order shall be ensured in the state before we take any steps. No move that fuels hatred in people is acceptable All parties shall take a clear stand and make it public.
  • Large sections of the society cannot be hold to ransom by a few sentiments
  • A list of critical issues to be agreed by all stakeholders on which an honorable solution shall be eked out. All parties shall agree that the next steps will be taken only after a consensus on critical issues
6. Action Plan and Approach

Within the above framework I propose the following action plan in a phased approach:

Restoring Normalcy
  1. Eminent people of the party shall give a call to the people to get back to their daily routine and assure them that all the interests will be taken care of.
  2. Party leaders shall take lead in restoring normalcy and calling off public movements. Leaders shall issue a call to the people that they will voice their concerns.
  3. Our MLA’s and MPs from both regions shall issue a joint statement and shall start functioning together. The leaders shall be asked to demonstrate it publicly.
Removing perceptions of Injustice
  1. Make a gesture that boosts the confidence in both regions. (May be we can give national status to a project in each region)
  2. A few leaders of eminence shall tour both the regions and hear the voices and concerns of all the stakeholders
  3. Call for a special session of the assembly for 3 or 5 days just for discussion on the Telangana issue. This will allow the opinions to come out.
Next moves
  1. Engage the stakeholders in preparing the list of critical issues
  2. Establish a commission that verifies the feasibility of a solution for all critical issues
  3. Address the basic questions raised in the next section of this report and start policy interventions at the national level
  4. Communicate a vision on how the life of common citizen gets better and gather public support for the idea
7. Basic questions raised

This crisis has thrown some very basic and important questions for us to ponder.
  1. Why only Hyderabad city witnessed so much of development that it became the main issue of contention? This opens up the question on regional disparities. Perhaps, we need to think of a policy to treat these big cities on par with critical installations not belonging to any one state or region. I can see the pattern that warrants it through Mumbai and Hyderabad. We need to review the devolution of power to different levels with more urgency
  2. Why were the general public in all the regions silent when the parties took a stand? And why were the people suddenly turned against the stated positions of the parties? Statements and positions of political leaders do not have much credibility in the eyes of the people. This is a grave danger to our democracy that shall be addressed.
  3. Why did our party leadership in the state fail to gauge the people’s mood? Ability to read the peoples mood and sound judgment to choose between different alternatives are the basic qualities for a political leader. Our party organization is blinded by divisive politics on the lines of their respective groups, castes and regions. It is evident that the analysis communicated to our central leadership is way off the mark in accuracy and degree of the gravity. While this can happen once in a while, we need to ensure that the leaders own the accountability for their misreading and are ready to pay the political price.
  4. What are the ways and means for the citizen to express their protest other than through vandalism? It is time for all of us to think about a mechanism at the national level that facilitates registration of protest by citizens. We cannot have the amount of destruction and the number of torched busses as the only measure of discontent. Executive in this country shall start taking notice of civilized protests and shall act on them. Otherwise we are just encouraging people on the wrong path.
8. Lessons for the party
  1. On crucial issues we should be putting efforts in carefully taking the issue to the people just as we did in the case of 123-agreement. Issuing gag orders and relying on information from few people is complicating the matters and is weakening our democracy. I personally feel that the rationale behind our position of appointing a 2nd SRC would have been well received by the people had we tried hard enough to explain.
  2. Political read and the ability to grasp the pulse of people by our state level leadership and MLAs is found wanting
  3. We need to put more emphasis on preparedness in the party while taking critical decisions
  4. There is a huge difference in the level of intellect between the first and the second line of leadership in the party. We need to address this at the earliest through good training.
9. Conclusion

This report is a sincere attempt to objectively analyze the situation. The main intent is to bring out the injustice perceived to the party so that the party can address it suitably. I have full confidence in the leadership of Congress party and am hopeful of a solution as I know better people than me are handling the crisis. I am just fulfilling the duty of a congressman by providing my analysis to the party.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

India, Maoists and the Citizens - PART 3

For addressing the issue of Maoism and continuing the fight on behalf of our democracy, it is important to understand various facets and perspectives. We need to think why there are so many people who are against our democracy.

It is very easy for the comfortable middle class to think that Maoists or their supporters are just a handful of people who are holding the significant majority of the population for ransom. It is the way many of the empowered India might want to believe.

Maoists as such who are the advocates and believers in their doctrine are only a handful. But there are many people who are flocking to them. Why? There are huge numbers of people who are denied justice in our society and are short of any decent avenues to express their concerns leave alone redressal of their grievances. These people have no other option but to join whoever fights with the system.

When the corpses of CRPF men or the innocent train travelers are shown on TV, people want the government to launch an outright war to eliminate the Maoists and their supporters in one fell swoop. Wait.. people will also clamor for putting all those Human Right’s activists in jail for ever.

Will that solve our problem? Above all, will it deliver justice?

Why were so many millions not getting justice in our democracy? Why there were no avenues for all these people except the Maoist banner? Do we want to kill all these people and ensure that all the resources of this country are kept for the fortunate few who constitute the empowered India?

I am sure, one side will use the anger and frustration of common people to justify their hasty actions just as, the Maoists are using the plight of tribal people to justify their fight.

One side wants development and peace while the other demands justice and space to live. There are wolves around these two groups of people who want to encourage one against the other and then devour both of them.

Some might identify Maoists as the wolves and some others might identify the greedy capitalists as the wolves. who do you think are the wolves? …Yes. Both of them.

We need to address the issues and wean the support away from Maoists. We need to show that our system of governance can deliver justice to the people. That is the only way to win our battle with the Maoists. With or without this fight with the Maoists, isn’t it our endeavor to deliver justice to all the Indians? So how do we ensure justice to all these people? We need not go anywhere in search of the answers. Just look at the preamble of our constitution which we gave to ourselves. That is the obligation we made to each other.  When that obligation is fulfilled only for some and the others are seen as a hindrance to the fortunate few in their onward march there will be a fight. That is what is going on now.

Why can’t we first stop those mining leases in Dandakaaranya? Why can’t we stop those big dams for the time being? Do we need to have air conditioners running at the cost of evacuating millions of people from their habitat just because we are powerful and we think that those millions of people are just not fit for survival? Do we need to fill the coffers of treasury with the foreign exchange earned by exporting raw ore, at the cost of displacing and demoralizing millions of our fellows? Can’t we wait till we evolve a shared understanding?  

Think about it. Choose the right path. Correct path many a times in human history is not the easy one. Yes.. we need to pressurize our governments to make this a more inclusive society as that is the only way for peace or for development.

Weekend Politician Note: In simple I would agree more with Mr. Digvijay Singh rather than our Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram on the way we should be conducting this fight.

Monday, June 21, 2010

India, Maoists and the Citizens - PART 2

Continuing from our discussion in Part 1...

Who are Maoists and what do they want?
Maoists as they stand in India today are members of the party called Communist Party of India (Maoists). They achieved a sense of unity in 2004 by merging the two major groups called Maoist Communist Center (MCC) and People’s War Group.

Maoists do not believe in our constitution or in our parliamentary form of democracy and want to establish a new people’s democracy where there is no exploitation of masses by the few. Ultimately their objective is to overthrow this system and install a dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e. workers, peasants and masses) for leading the people’s democracy of India. Maoists believe that the current system of democracy cannot deliver justice and can only facilitate the exploitation of masses by the few sections of rich, bourgeoisies and capitalists.

Historical perspective
Maoism in India has its roots in communist philosophy. Voices that support their extreme view of armed rebellion were present even during the pre-independence era. However, the armed struggle of Telangana during the early years of independence is one of the significant events where extreme leftist had a major role in a public issue of great importance.

Maoism popularly known as Naxalite movement had its beginnings in a small village by name Naxalbari in west Bengal. On 2nd March 1967, a poor peasant by name Bimal Kissan after winning a case in the court for his land went to till his land. However, the landlords prevented the execution of judicial order by using brute force. All the poor peasants of the village stood by Bimal Kissan and rebelled against the landlords. This act of defiance spread like a wild fire and the poor peasants in many areas took to arms and tried to take their lands by force. Such was the beginning of mass support for the movement. 

From that point onwards, the movement grew and weakened in different phases. One of the main reasons for their strength is the strategy they adopted to try and enlist the support of people who are denied justice and are untouched by our democratic system. Their approach to build mass movements about the issues that concern large masses of the people yielded more support to Maoists. Main reasons that contributed to their weakening are ideological and strategic differences between themselves. Congress adopting a policy of welfare state with the establishment of socialistic society as the objective has contributed to reduce support for the Naxalite/Maoist movement. 

Understanding the main ideological and strategic differences between the Maoists is important to understand the nature of the movement. Some of the contradictions that contributed to the differences can be listed out as follows:
  1. Who should lead the revolution? Is it peasants (as in the Chinese Model)? Is it workers (as in the Russian Model)? OR is it a mixture of both?
  2. Whether to participate in the parliamentary democracy while building the movement OR to completely denounce and ignore the present system of democracy?
  3. Whether to adopt a military strategy as the only means OR mass movements OR a mixture of both?
  4. Whether to establish a common front with other mass movements (e.g. Dalit movement, feminism, environment protection etc.)?
  5. Who are the class enemies? Are they landlords? Are they capitalists? OR both?
  6. Whether to adopt an aggressive military approach? OR to build the military capability for future while focusing on mass movements in the short term?
These and many other contradictions in thinking lead to many splinter groups in Maoists. However, the common thread in their ideology and consensus on what they want to establish resulted in a major unification in 2004 in which majority of the groups merged together to form CPI (Maoist). CPI (Maoist) released a document and the program of what they want to establish and how they want to sustain the people’s revolution in their new democracy.

What do Maoists want to establish?
Their ultimate goal is to overthrow the current system of democracy and establish a communist state in India which will be a dictatorship of the masses over the few. New People’s Democracy, will have all the principal means of production under the control of the state, tillers will have the rights over the land, establishment of local independence to different regions even with the right to secede from India. The political establishment is envisaged as a monopoly of the party of masses which functions democratically with liberty to discuss within the party but the control of the party central committee will be absolute.

Where do they draw support from?
Apart from the ideologues that support and believe in their ideology, there are many sections which are supporting or being perceived as part of them in the country. These are the sections which have genuine and perceived grievances against the current system. Sections of people who have been exploited and have no chance of fair treatment in the system are flocking to Maoists since a new system can provide them hope. The support base of Maoists can be broadly categorized as follows:
  1. The sections in our society which are grossly neglected and are out of the reach of the state are being exploited by scrupulous elements in the current system and these sections see Maoists as their protectors from their immediate oppressors. These sections do not know much about parliamentary system or communism. The tribals in Dandakaranya are an example of these sections.
  2. Marginalized sections of our society who do not have enough voice or clout to make their perspective visible to the state. All the available legal and democratic means comes to nothing while they are getting bulldozed by the dominant and powerful sections of the society. These sections are looking up to Maoists to make the state listen to their concerns. People unjustly displaced by the development projects, people who are being exploited by the arms of state like Police, Forest officials and Army are the examples for these sections.
  3. The sections which got some justice as a result of the mass movements of Maoists are supporting their movement. People who are freed from bondage and undue influence of landlords with the help of Maoists fall into this category.
What’s the problem India has with Maoists?The state of India sees many basic caveats of the system being broken by the Maoists. The following are the main principles that are forcing the state to act and resolve this issue:
  1. In a democracy, ‘State’ (read as Government) is the only entity that is entitled to use force. (Even the State cannot use force arbitrarily. The people of this country are the masters of the State. The government can only act in ways that are authorized by the people of the country.). Non state actors are not supposed to use force except to protect their lives and that too when no other provisions are available.
  2. Maoists are defying the authority of the state that is established by the free will of the majority of the people.
  3. Maoists are preventing the state from performing it’s duties
  4. Avowed principle of Maoists to overthrow the current system by force against the wishes of the majority of the people.
  5. Maoists running an unauthorized parallel government in certain areas and declaring a war on the State
To be continued in Part 3...

Weekend Politician Note: Emphasis of this post is to provide a simple and easy synopsis of the nature of the problem so that some of the questions raised in Part 1 can be answered by the readers themselves. The nature of the solution and the ways and means of delivering justice will be discussed in Part 3. I apologize for the delay in posting Part 2. It took a while for me to gather and analyze the information so that I can present in the simplest way possible. I promise the readers that Part 3 will not take this long…since I have completed information collection to a large extent.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

India, Maoists and the Citizens - PART 1

Demands for action, frustration and impatience at the intellectual dillydallying are the flavors of most of the drawing rooms and coffee tables in the country. One section of the society wants correction of the root causes before the fight and another section is advocating an aggressive annihilation of Maoists and all their supporters.

I discussed this issue with one of my friends. My friend was actually in a good mood that evening. He returned home from his cushy job in an MNC and had a couple aspersions cast on his boss and the politicians mainly due to the irritation of traffic on the way home. He got connected to internet and completed online booking of movie tickets for the coming weekend. As he was completing the homework of his kids, I stepped in for a friendly chat. He switched on the Television while we are settling down in the comfortable sofa in his recently purchased three bedroom house. He lured me into a conversation on the educational policy of the government (mainly as a continuation of the homework). Sensing the unromantic air in the room his wife steered my wife away to show the newly made up kitchen.

TV news bulletin is covering the killing of CRPF personnel in Dantewada. My friend was moved by the gruesome attack and was upset with the politicians and the authorities for not being able to wipe out Maoists in one fell swoop. I tried to comfort my friend (slipping into my political avatar of course) and told him that this may be a deeper issue and might take some time for getting resolved.

He replied angrily to me, “If we handle it that way, it will take a hundred years. By that time these people will destroy our country.

It is their country too. Why do you think they will destroy it?” I asked, nonchalantly while sipping the fruit juice in front of me.

My friend fell silent. Judging by the length of silence, it looked like it never occurred to him. My friend wanted to understand, but he is not sure whom to believe and where to get the facts and how to decipher the truth.

My friend looked hopefully at the TV for an answer. The civil rights activist and the retired police officer in the studio are arguing about the importance of rule of law and human rights?

I don’t know all these things. But what happened in Dantewada is not acceptable”, snapped my friend with a jeering look to see if I dare to voice any other opinion.

I nodded approvingly and kept my silence. Emboldened by my silence, my friend switched off the TV. “If it requires Army and AirForce, then ‘so be it’” concluded my friend while ushering me to the table for dinner with the air of an Army general who has just won a battle.

This is the mood in which most of the ordinary and common people are in. Utter mindlessness of Maoist attacks is clearly visible to everybody. Hence that is what the people are reacting to.

Who are these Maoists? Why are they fighting Indian State? Why can’t the mighty Indian State just crush them away? These are the questions that are bothering most of the common people. Are there other things to be understood? If there are, then most of the people are not aware of them. Ordinary people do not have the time and energy to understand these complex problems in their lives of self content. That job is entrusted to political leadership. I am afraid politicians are not doing a great job of it.

What is the truth? Whom to believe? Are we getting all the information? How are the Maoists able to withstand the might of Indian State? How to solve the issue? What is the guarantee that the same issues does not resurface again?

We need to get answers for all these questions. Let’s understand the nature and context of Maoism in India. Let’s analyze where we went wrong and how to make our democracy work better since understanding the truth is a necessary precondition for delivering justice.

To be continued…

Friday, May 14, 2010

Summary of recent Parliament Session

Well… one more session of parliament is completed. Let’s summarize and see what happened during the session and understand how the country is being run. We all have seen a lot of cynical reports on the parliament session about shouting matches, disruptions and the amount of money that is being wasted etc. etc. Is this all that is happening or is it the only thing we are interested in!

Isn’t it important for us to take an objective look? It is not about shedding the cynical view but more about understanding and evaluating what is happening before forming an opinion. This is important especially when judging on systems and the institutions that run the country. If we have to take a cynical view then let’s at least take an informed and considered cynical view.

The Budget session of parliament was held between 22 Feb and 07 May with a break of one month in the middle. The session started as usual with the presidential address to the parliament members as the curtain raiser. The main intent of this session is to review and approve the Budget (Annual Plan) for the year 2010-2011. Let’s see what our legislators have worked on in the just concluded session of parliament.

Significant Bills discussed in the session
I am just listing out the highlights of the session and a small synopsis of the Bills considered in this session. What is a bill? A Bill is the draft of a legislative proposal. The process starts with the introduction of a Bill in either House of Parliament—LokSabha or RajyaSabha. A Bill can be introduced either by a Minister or by a member. In the former case it is known as a Government Bill and in the latter case it is known as a Private Member’s Bill. The bill undergoes extensive analysis and discussion by the members. The discussions happen in various stages to analyze the underlying principles and a detailed clause by clause discussion. Amendments proposed by the members will become part of the bill if accepted by the majority in the house. A bill which gets approval from both the houses and the president of India becomes an Act.

President’s Address to Joint session: The president gave a speech to provide the general direction of the government, immediate priorities and preferences on policy matters.

Railway and General Budgets: The budget for the year 2010-2011 is presented with the overall policy, revenue and implementation details. Appropriation bills and finance bills for various departments and ministries are discussed and passed.

Woman Reservation Bill (Constitution 108th Amendment): The bill seeks to reserve 33% of seats in LokSabha and state Assemblies for women. The bill is passed by RajyaSabha and deliberations are going on to bring everybody on board before introducing this in LokSabha.

Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill: Amended the 2001 Act to empower the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) to specify the qualifications, criteria and conditions for certifying energy auditors which is presently being done by government officials. It also empowers the central government to prescribe, the procedure for issue of energy saving certificate to consumers and the value of metric ton of oil equivalent of energy consumed. It levies additional penalty for failure to comply with the legal provisions.

National Green Tribunal (NGT) Bill 2010: The bill to set up special omnibus tribunals that would become the sole adjudicators on all `green laws'. Basic principles of green jurisprudence are established. The polluter pays (polluter to pay for any financial liability) and precautionary principle (onus on the group or party under the scrutiny to prove that their actions will not cause harm to public or environment) will now be the basic framework against which the tribunals will adjudicate.

Employees’ State Insurance (Amendment) Bill: Amendments to ensure coverage of more workers under the ESI Scheme in the organized sector, and to enable the ESI Corporation to participate in schemes that may be framed for the workers in the unorganized sector.  The amendments are also aimed at improving service delivery to the existing members of ESI Scheme as well as bringing the provisions of the Act in tune with the changing circumstances.

Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill: Amendments to the definition of employees in the 1972 legislation for covering about 60 lakh teachers in private institutions.

Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill: Aims to bring in uniformity in the healthcare delivery sector by making the registration of all clinical establishments mandatory and prescribing enhanced penalty for the defaulters.

Ancient Monuments and Archaeological sites (Amendment and Validation) Bill: To set up a National Monuments Authority to preserve and protect the country’s historical and archaeological sites. The bill stipulates that no construction work will take place in the protected areas without the permission of the authority consisting of archaeological and heritage experts.

Land Ports Authority of India Bill: This bill proposes to establish Land Ports Authority and Integrated Check Posts on the international land borders of the country. The bill seeks to put in place systems, which address security imperatives while also facilitating trade and commerce

Prevention of Torture Bill: India had signed the UN Convention against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment in October 1997, which required an enabling legislation to be adopted to reflect the definition and punishment for torture.

Right to Education Bill: Enabling legislation for the constitutional amendment of 2002 is passed and came into force now. You can refer to my earlier posting for further details on this.

Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill: The bill seeks to allow establishment of foreign education institutions in India and is laying down the regulations and other safeguards in their operations.

National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill: The Bill envisages constitution of an authority to process the accreditation of higher educational institutions. The accreditation is compulsory for existing and new educational institutions and universities.

Educational Tribunals Bill: To establish a tribunal to resolve issues related to regulation, accreditation, and quality of education and admission process. Many disputes would crop up with increased participation of the private sector in higher education and there was a need to set up tribunal at the national, regional and State levels

Summary of other business of the parliament
Apart from regular discussion and statements on matters of urgent public importance, there were numerous private members bills that were considered. About 150 reports of various parliamentary committees are tabled. Public Enterprises Survey, Economic Survey and 13th Finance Commission report are the notable surveys presented to the people.

Weekend Politician Note: It’s actually an awful lot of work. One important thing that is missing is participation from the most important stakeholder (I mean ‘We’). We need to form our opinions on these matters and set expectations. If we fail to give enough importance to what the parliament is doing, then we are weakening our democracy in our own capacity. I will be posting detailed articles on some of these bills later. Let me know if you are particularly interested in any of them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why people vote for winning parties only...

During the and after 2009 elections we heard many people talking about this trend. Some of the smaller parties even tried to project this trend as irrational and ignorant behavior of voters. For me, it makes logical sense and confirms the belief that, man by nature is rational. Our rationality and decisions depend on how much we know and understand.
For the ordinary voter, it is all about electing the best among the available choices. That’s why ordinary voters many a times, want to see if the party they like has a decent chance of winning.  (as simple as people liking a fancy car but still buying the best one amongst the popularly accepted cars as that will give them a wider service network and re-sale option) Let’s examine this in the context of our “First past the post system” with an example.

Take a scenario of two main parties A and B and a start up PartyC. If the voter likes partyC and knows that C did not have a decent chance to win:

Option I: Vote for Party C and express where he stands
Staunch supporters of PartyC who do not see any difference between the other two parties will choose Option I

Option II: Vote for party A, and prevent party B from winning (Thinking A is a better party than B)
Most of the common voters will choose option II and hope that PartyC will gather the critical mass in future. Most of the fence sitters and neutral voters will end up taking option II. (Mind you they are not simply joining the band wagon of winning party)

("Not voting at all" is not an option anyway in my opinion and it is totally a different subject, hopefully to be discussed in my future posts.)

What are the options for PartyC? Do we have a fair chance to challenge the Status quo?
This is a legitimate and important question. We can take a radically different approach and clamor for a proportional representation system. That’s a bigger question, hopefully we might discuss in this blog in future. 

But the more sensible approach is to see how we address this in the existing system. A smaller party is supposed to represent some aspirations and ideas in the society. They have to convince enough number of people and create the momentum for themselves. But this is too difficult and is giving an unfair advantage to existing parties. The smaller party will get the required support from people in due course of time, if they have enough patience and commitment to their ideas.

Another option in our system is to merge with one of the mainstream parties and work as a pressure group within that party. Suppose PartyC in our case with 3 lakh votes across the state, ends up losing the election badly. In this case party C will not have any influence on the ruling party and the government. This means 3 lakh people are not getting their fair share of participation. But a group which has 3 lakh supporters will have enough power and influence on any mainstream party, if it is a part of it. That way the idea can garner its fair share of consideration and can definitely influence the existing parties. After all political parties are supposed to represent various thoughts in the society and balance them to deliver the results.

Weekend Politician Note: I hope this post is helpful to at least some of the readers. Please feel free to post your opinions and questions so that we can discuss various aspects of this issue. I would be delighted to see different perspectives as that gives us a chance to understand the issue better.  

Friday, April 30, 2010

Right to Education (RTE) - ABC and XYZ of it

Right to Education (RTE), Is it really a great legislation that will help change this nation? Or is it one of those high sounding utopian papers to be mentioned in future Independence Day and Republic Day speeches?
Time can only tell which way it will go but time cannot decide the outcome. We the people of this country (aam admi) have the choice to determine whether to park it in many of those boring speeches or to make it really work for us. Before determining the XYZ (Is it good or bad? How is it going to change our life? What needs to be done? Alternatives etc.), let’s see the ABC (What it actually is) of this piece of legislation.

ABC of Right to Education – what exactly is this in common parlance!
Every child of this country who is between 6 and 14 years of age is legally entitled to receive free and compulsory elementary education (Class VIII). The Government is responsible and accountable for ensuring this.
By the way, what is the meaning of Free and Compulsory education?  The intent is not to compel anybody forcibly to go to school. It is compulsory for the government to provide opportunity, resources, facilities and infrastructure for all the future citizens. Main features of the Act through which the government is supposed to ensure the right to education for all the children are:

For improving Infrastructure (to be ensured within 3 years from now)
·         The governments shall ensure a school for class 1 to 5 within a distance of 1 KM in every neighborhood and in the case of classes 6 to 8 within a distance of 3 KM.  
·         It is the fundamental right of every child to have access to a school with the following facilities:
1.       An all weather building (at least one room per teacher, kitchen, store room)
2.       Separate toilet facilities for Girls and Boys
3.       Necessary teaching staff (At least one teacher for 40 Children and a Head teacher in case of total number of Children exceed 100)
4.       Safe Drinking Water
5.       Library (providing newspapers, magazines and books on all subjects including story books)
6.       Play ground (Play material, games and sports equipment shall be provided to the children by the school)

For Standardization of Basic education:
·         Central government will develop a framework of national curriculum
·         Development  and enforcement of standards for training the teachers by the government
·         Center to provide technical support and resources for innovation and capacity building

To provide better opportunities for underprivileged and disadvantaged sections, this law stipulates:

·         Private schools to admit at least 25% of their class strength with children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in their schools without any fee in class 1 every year. Private schools will receive reimbursements for such admissions from the government on the basis of per-child expenditure in government schools. (With effect from 2011 Academic year. State Governments to identify the vulnerable groups which includes children of single mothers)

To improve management and regulation of schools:
·         All schools (exclude Private unaided schools) shall be managed by school management committees (SMC). (75% of SMC members are to be the parents and guardians of children.)
·         All private schools need to get themselves recognized by meeting the specified norms and standards of RTE within 3 years. Failing to do so will lead to closure of such a private school.

Immediate changes in the life of aam aadmi due to RTE are:
·         Your child’s admission into a school cannot be denied for the delay in getting Transfer Certificate or Proof of age.
·         Children and their parents cannot be subjected to screening tests. Violation of this provision is punishable.
·         No Teacher shall engage in private tuition or private teaching activity
·         No Child shall be required to pass a board examination till the completion of Elementary education. Basically the school management cannot stop promotion to the next class by sighting failure in exams as the reason
·         Children above the age of 6 years shall be admitted to appropriate class for their age in the government schools. The Schools shall provide special facility to train the children to bring them up to speed

Show me the money honey!
Well… This requires lots of money and first of all need reasonable estimates. Central and State governments are going to share the expenses for this. After a lot of bickering which almost threatened the realization of this legislation, finally the arrangement is 65% from center and 35 % from States (Subject to change based on further deliberations).

·         Out of the existing teaching staff, about 7 lakh teachers need to be trained
·         12 lakh new teachers need to be appointed
·         Many new schools to be built and existing ones to be upgraded

Government of India estimates an expenditure of 1,70,000 Crores over next five years for implementation of the Act. The Prime Minister and HRD minister have assured that funding is not going to impede this initiative.

XYZ of Right to Education – analysis of impact and intent!

This is a good legislation that has the potential to change the country. In fact this is what probably many of the tax payers were hoping the governments to spend their money on. As you can see from the features, this can be summarized three points:

·         Now the children of this country have a right to expect a decent school and other facilities freely available within a reasonable distance. The governments are accountable for providing this.
·         All the private schools can no more be exclusive clubs of rich and powerful folks. They need to open up at least 25 % of their seats to children from disadvantaged sections.
·         People’s participation in administration is sought to be improved

First of all this is a step in the direction of ensuring equal opportunity for all the children of this country. We have a long way to go before claiming there is equal opportunity and level playing field in the country. But this certainly can be the beginning.

Other benefits that accrue are
·         Huge recruitment and skill upgrade for teachers
·         Standardization of elementary education across the country
·         Participation and involvement of aam aadmi have the potential to make the system clean
·         Quality of Government schools to be improved; in the long run Government school becoming the default choice for every child seems to be the vision

Implementation is crucial as we have seen many a good plan torn apart by our failure in implementation. Many times lack of clarity on who is responsible for what is landing the aam aadmi in that complicated maze of different government departments. Grey areas that are left to the discretion of lower level government staff is a recipe for rampant corruption especially when the participation of informed public is very low.

In this law there is a clear definition of responsibility on various arms of the government which gives hope that this dream can be realized. The center is responsible for coordination and provision of funds. States to work out the implementation details based on their local conditions. Center has issued module rules which are guidelines for the states to make the implementation laws. Local governments (Panchayat, Municipality etc.) are given the responsibility to maintain a register of all the children in their area and their schooling status.

How are the disadvantaged sections identified and by whom?
As of now SC, ST, Minority, economically backward, children of single mothers etc are being considered. States governments will finalize the details. Selection of these children into 25% quota of private schools has to be random or according to a specified scheme.

Who will provide the study material and other costly equipment required by children admitted in to private schools?
Ideally, the school itself shall provide that as the requirement is going to be different from school to school. State laws must specify and track this.

What the vigilant aam aadmi can do to ensure success
·         Get involved in SMCs and watch out how things are progressing
·         Watch-out and involve in the selection process of disadvantaged children into private schools
·         Do not try and get undue benefits by exploiting and engineering loopholes in this
·         Encourage every child you know of to enroll into a school
·         Watch-out, what our state governments are doing in terms of detailed provisions and rules

Weekend Politician Note: I hope this post is helpful to at least some of the readers. Please feel free to seek clarifications if you need any. Your suggestions and concerns on this can also be posted. I will definitely be making a few trips to the concerned authorities to ensure aam aadmi voice is heard and reflected in implementation.