Monday, November 5, 2018

A Fantastic panel of three Chief Ministers and an ode to Cooperative Federalism


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:


About three week ago, Hindustan Times conducted their annual Leadership Summit. This easy interview of Rahul Gandhi hogged all the limelight. However, just a couple of days back, thanks to YouTube’s recommendation, I viewed this awesome session with the Chief Ministers of three states – Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The session was very enlightening, and I would like to share with you some of the very salient points shared especially by the Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh.
The anchor’s first question to this esteemed panel (starting with Capt. Amarinder Singh) is – “Is it easy working with the center?”. Pat comes the reply from Captain Amarinder Singh – “I have no problems. I am getting full co-operation”.  The shocked anchor continues to prod – “But there are issues”. Captain Amarinder Singh responds saying, “Well, which state doesn’t have issues.” He then goes on to cite financial issues that will arise after 2022 because of GST and how because of a Supreme Court ruling, the states have lost the power to appoint a DGP of their choice. Infact, he had to clarify that the DGP problem is because of the SC ruling and not because of the central government.
Later, during the interaction, Devendra Fadnavis had also endorsed Captain’s view that the states must have the power to choose their own DGP. This is a very good point that both the Chief Ministers (belonging to different parties) have bought out. However, since this is not a news worthy debate, we will never hear about a solution for this problem!
A question from the audience to Capt. Amarinder Singh was regarding the crop burning by the farmers of Punjab. Captain’s answer in its entirety is a treat to listen to. He explains how nearly 10 lakh of the 17 lakh farmers have less than 5 acres of land holdings, and how they cannot be asked to do a 3rdoperation in one season (because each operation costs 2000 rupees). Capt. Amarinder Singh has asked the PM to give an additional 100 rupees per quintal so that the farmers can use that money to dig up, and not burn. The Prime Minister had sanctioned this amount, but for a different purpose – and that is to buy machines that dig better and therefore help enable one of the solution for this problem. I am fascinated by the kind of conversations that would have happened between the CM and PM on this topic – the nitty gritty of the policy to solve a long pending problem. However, our media can never be bothered to headline such important decisions and discussions! It is a real pity that these policy interventions by various government are never highlighted.
Since GST on petroleum is the flavor of the month, the eminent panel was asked this question. Capt. Amarinder Singh was very straight forward in saying that putting fuel under GST will further burden states because a very important source of revenue for the state is gone. H.D.Kumaraswamy agreed with him. So, a Congress Chief Minister and a Congress ally have both publicly disagreed with the continuous rant of Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Yet, the English media didn’t find this tidbit newsworthy. By the way, even Devendra Fadnavis has partially agreed that source of revenue for states will be dried up, but with appropriate safeguards, it can be bought under GST.
While watching this interview, I was reminded of this interview of Kerala Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan. Despite all that clamor of social media during the Kerala floods, he has publicly said “it shows how supportive the Centre has been towards Kerala”. In this session, H.D.Kumaraswamy had also claimed that he had no problems working with the center. I had mentioned earlier too that co-operative federalism is one of the biggest achievements of the Modi government. Equal credit must also go the Chief Ministers of states ruled by the opposition parties, who have acknowledged this relationship. Perennial rabble rousers like Arvind Kejriwal and Chandrababu Naidu can be ignored. Infact, for the first 4 years in this term, CBN was gung ho about the center too.
This session in the leadership summit must rank as one of the best sessions ever. Three Chief Ministers belonging to three different political dispensations discussed state specific issues on a wide range of topics and giving credit where it is due, is a rarity in today’s noisy newsroom. This session should have made headlines and should have been the talking point across newsrooms. Instead, what we got was, yet another hyped up interview which Rahul Gandhi himself found so easy!

After 36 years of anti-Congress legacy of NTR’s TDP, Chandrababu Naidu joins hands with Congress


The following article was published in MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

NTR is equivalent to an icon for me, and CBN is someone I very deeply admire and like” – this is something I wrote in the year 2012. But of course the admiration was much older than 2012. Chandrababu Naidu was one of my childhood heroes. It was devastating to watch him lose the 2004 elections. I have had many debates on twitter with many folks who had tried to devalue the role Chandrababu Naidu has played in the growth of AP.
In my 2012 blog, I had identified 3 watershed moments in TDP’s history – the 1984 Lok Sabha elections; the 1995 coup when CBN took over NTR; the tectonic policy shift in 2008-09. The 4th watershed moment was today, November 1st, 2018, when Chandrababu Naidu joined hands with the Congress party. The very birth of TDP was against the Congress party. Every single moment of TDP’s 36 year old existence has been spent fighting the ideology of the Congress party, tooth and nail. The TDP cadre was built on an anti-Congress platform. TDP cadre have given up their life fighting this Congress party. For many, the iconic image of NTR leading a procession of a slain legislator to the Raj Bhavan remains etched in memory. Chandrababu Naidu himself got emotional many times, speaking about how his cadre are being killed by this Congress party. The Congress party has also accused the TDP of killing their cadre too!
This Congress party has no vision for the country. No vision for the state. No vision even for even a gram panchayat. This Congress party epitomizes corruption. Epitomizes nepotism. Epitomizes laziness. Epitomizes arrogance. Epitomizes ignorance. A part of all this opinion was formed because I saw my childhood hero in action, trying to show us a vision. Trying to lead us through extreme hard work. Trying to be amidst people, shedding arrogance.
And it is with this very Congress party that my childhood hero has today joined hands. TDP folks have tried to invent a new theory – the TDP’s fight has always been with a high-handed Delhi party and today it is the BJP that is being high-handed. I wonder how they want us to forget all those acrimonious assembly debates between CBN and YSR. I wonder how they want us to forget all those acrimonious exchanges of TDP and Congress MLAs over the years. I wonder how they want us to forget the fat booklets TDP has printed telling us how the corrupt Congress party has looted the entire state of Andhra Pradesh.
For folks outside of the telugu states, this might look like another day in politics. This might look like yet another political party doing what they do best – change their stance. However, please allow me to clarify that this is not a mere change in stance. This is a blow to the very foundation of TDP. This is a blow to the very strength of the TDP. For the entire 36 years of TDP’s existence, the only thing consistent about them has been the anti-Congress stand. Am sure there are a lot of folks who are angry and shocked with Chandrababu Naidu joining hands with Rahul Gandhi.
Let’s for a moment keep all this emotion aside, and look at this electorally. The Congress is a spent force in Andhra Pradesh. They have performed disastrously even in local body elections. The TDP has no say on any political formation outside of the telugu states – they don’t bring any electoral advantage outside of just one state.
Rahul Gandhi and Chandrababu Naidu have claimed that they have joined hands to “save democracy”. The continuous rants of CBN in recent times against the BJP have reached nauseating levels. A series of articles on this issue have been published in MyInd Makers too. Chandrababu Naidu needed a big villain to make him look like a hero. He chose Modi to be that villain. However, in making that choice, he chose to ally with a poison called Congress. Looking at what TDP was going through in 2012, I had then wondered if TDP was being Nai”doom”ed. Today, for me, it has become devastatingly Nai”doom”ed.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rahul Gandhi’s interview which was easy by even his standards


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

I watched Rahul Gandhi’s “interview” at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit and was left fuming at how meek the interviewer was. Even before I finished watching  the interview, I asked on twitter if the interviewer was on twitter. At the end of the interview, Rahul Gandhi himself told the interviewer – You asked me easy questions.
Can you imagine how easy an interview would have been if Rahul Gandhi himself said “You asked me easy questions?”. Since I took the pain of watching the interview and would not want you to go through the pain, I will share some of the “easy questions”.
Q: They say it is very lonely at the top. Do you have anyone special in your life?
A: I have many special people in my life. My mother, my sister and many others.
Q: There is no one special person?
A: haha, no.
Or sample this:
Q: What is the difference between the working styles of you and your mother
A: She goes by feeling and I go by thinking.
If you thought that these were some passing questions and the rest of the interview had a lot of content, then let me reveal something to you. I am purposely placing my statement in capitals. THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE QUESTION ON RAFALE LIES. NOT A SINGLE QUESTION! Can you imagine someone getting a chance to interview Rahul and missing out on Rafale? No wonder Rahul himself said – You asked me easy questions!
Rahul Gandhi’s condescending attitude towards problems was on full display too. For example, he thinks that the Indian farmer will be content, if the political leadership goes, listens to him, hugs him and says “I can’t do anything about your problem!”. This is *actually* what he said. He thinks it is ok if you don’t solve problems, but it is enough if you have a “conversation”. Indian farmer apparently is merely content with someone listening to his/her problem. Do we really want a political leadership that takes this kind of pathetic approach towards our problems?
Till about a couple of years back, everything Rahul Gandhi said centered around women empowerment. The answer to every question ended up in talking about women empowerment. That has now changed. Today, the answer to any and every question is “We should have a conversation”. That’s his solution to all the problems he himself is tom-toming regularly. Apparently, all we need to do is have the farmers and the industry have a conversation. All we need to do is have the small enterprises have a conversation.
His monologue on GST went unchallenged. His monologue on demonetization went unchallenged. His monologue on “building new institutions” went unchallenged. For example, he called AIIMS an 1950s institution. And then he told us that we don’t need more AIIMS, but we need more 21st century institution. Nobody knows what he even means by that. He himself doesn’t know what he means by that!
While commenting on UPA, he refers to his mom and says, “The boss is here”. This is the respect they have towards the post of the Prime Minister. Speaking of which, he was asked that question too – Would he be the PM? He goes on to say that if all allies agree then “Sure, why not”. The casual and condescending approach towards such important queries is simply outstanding.
We have written many times as to how Rahul Gandhi escapes serious scrutiny. In this interview, he boasts about how he is always open to taking questions and Narendra Modi is not. Even here, he was not challenged on the many number of interviews that Prime Minister Modi has given. No wonder he himself was patting the interviewer that she asked him easy questions.
Through twitter I came to know that the interviewer was the daughter of K.K.Birla who owns the Hindustan Times. She was appointed to the Rajya Sabha by “the boss”, Sonia Gandhi in the “literature” quota. Through this interview, it seems like she has repaid her debt.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Fact checking the Fact checkers on UDAN! How selective facts are being used to negate some unique programs.


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

A site www.factchecker.in published an article that another site named www.boomlive.in copied on their site, and then this story started to show up on my timeline because some AAP and Congress members started sharing it. The story is about “Were 35 Airports Built Over The Last 4 Years As PM Modi Claimed?
And the “fact check” concludes that “No more than seven airports were made operational over the last four years, according to official data.
Now, that’s some disturbing detail. It propelled me to do some searching, and I have found out some very interesting facts (actual facts) that I would like to share. Let’s first take a quick look at the summary of this “fact check” based on various official documents (annual reports and replies to questions in Parliament).
  • In 2014, Airport Authority of India (AAI) owned 125 airports  out of which 31 were non-operational.
  • In 2018, Airport Authority of India (AAI) owned 129 airports out of which 28 are non-operational.

In summary, 7 new airports have been operationalized. The “fact check” sites used PM’s tweet in which he claims 35 new airports were added (exact Hindi word he used was “jhud gaye”). The tweet also talks about how 9 airports per year got ready, since 2014. Let’s get back to this speech later. For now, let’s discuss the search results!
One of the first results I get is based on a reply by the Civil Aviation minister on April 28, 2016 in Parliament, as duly reported here - there are “25 airports across the country … were technically operational but did not handle a single scheduled flight”.
25 airports that are “technically operational” but did NOT handle a single scheduled flight! So that would effectively mean a total of 31+25 = 56 airports that are not being used. The terminology you want to use for this is left to you,  but according to the same official sources that the “fact check” sites are basing their reports on, we had 56 airports *owned by AAI* that are NOT in commercial use!
The next obvious question is if we can find out the list of these airports. Some more searching yielded even more interesting results. As of 2016, India had 16 “Underserved” airports (Annexure 1A). Underserved, as the name suggests, the frequency of scheduled commercial operations is very low.
 India has a whopping 398 “unserved airports/airstrips”. Yes, Three Hundred and Ninety Eight (Annexure 1B). What is as unserved airport? Typically it is referred so, if there are no scheduled commercial operations. We have 398 such airports/airstrips! Not all of them are owned by the AAI. Many of these would lie in dilapated conditions for sure. Many of them may just be airstrips.
So an airport that exists can be termed “operational”, and yet not have scheduled commercial flights thus making it “unserved”, or may have extremely low commercial flights, making it “underserved”. Therefore when ministers are asked questions on “List of Airports owned by AAI and the list of non-operational airports”, information pertaining to unserved and underserved will not be provided. If we were to follow only the Parliament speeches, then our base should be 56 and not 31 in the first place.
Let’s take a couple of examples. The airports in Kadapa (AP) and Bhavnagar (Gujarat) are owned by AAI (as indicated here) and are technically operational (because they are not present in this list here), but are “underserved”. Ludhiana and Jalagaon are “operational” airports but are “unserved”. All these airports got included into the RCS-UDAN scheme, thereby increasing the connectivity of residents of these towns. If the “fact check” sites simply did a search for “UDAN scheme” in the Lok Sabha website, they would have come to know that as of Sept, 2017, five airline carriers will operate from 43 airports (12 underserved + 31 unserved).  Regular flight services have begunfor 27 such airports (as of June 2018).  As of August 2018, 31 airports have been added to the RCS-UDAN scheme.
Wait, I keep mentioning the RCS-UDAN scheme, but don’t give any details regarding it. Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) is a unique and revolutionary scheme that has been introduced by the Modi government. The broad objective of the scheme is that the common citizen of India can fly (UDAN -Ude Desh ki Aam Nagrik). To achieve this (amongst other things) – airports that show commitment shall be included (Page 6, Guiding Principles), irrespective of whether they are owned by AAI. Irrespective of ownership!
So the basic premise of the “fact check” site (that when the Modi government is talking about airports, they automatically refer to the ones onwed by AAI) is fundamentally flawed! Let’s come back to original headline – “Were 35 airports built”?
I heard the speech too. The Prime Minister has said “35 airports have been ready for flying”. Elsewhere, he had also said that 35 new airports were ready. He had also used the hindi “ban gaye” might have led some to believe that he is talking about building airports from scratch. The PMO tweet clearly refers to “jhud gaye”, meaning they got added/integrated.
Should the PM have been more extra careful with the choice of his words? Before you answer that question, answer this: Is this what we want to debate? Would a Prime Minister use simple terminology to explain achievements or the exact legal terminology to sound politically correct?! Would you want to ignore the actual rapid strides we are making in aviation - Nearly 120 new routes are operational; nearly 30 airports have scheduled regular commercial flights. In the year 2017, the number of people travelling in flights was more than the number of people who travelled in AC trains! Domestic aviation has been witnessing a consistent month-on-month increase. All this can only point out to a robust economy and an equally robust connectivity – propelled by unique schemes such as UDAN.
 Or would you want to haggle over terminology based on limited “fact checks”?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Shekhar Gupta is the most pusillanimous and unimaginative master of propaganda India has ever seen


The following article was written for OpIndia. Pasting it here for reference:

We had earlier discussed how Shekhar Gupta’s multiple rants have displayed his repelling hatred towards Prime Minister Modi. So I wasn’t very surprised when the headline for his latest rant read as follows – “The Modi government is the most faceless, nameless & talent-averse India has seen.”
While trying to decipher what is it that was bothering him so much, I stumbled upon another of his vacuous pieces– “Rafale deal is no scam. It’s just a glaring example of the BJP government’s pusillanimous, unimaginative, over-cautious and unsuccessful handling of defence purchases”
Pusillanimous. Unimaginative. Over-Cautious. Unsuccessful. Faceless. Nameless. Talent averse. Impatient.
That’s quite an exhaustive list of adjectives he has pulled out from his dictionary. Tucked away in his tirade, was a crucial line that perhaps explains Shekhar Gupta’s incoherent rants – “I do not believe I have seen a cabinet minister admonish and tick off journalists as this defence minister routinely does”.
One is forced to wonder whether this is the root cause of his anger. Now, if the Defence Minister of India is “routinely” admonishing journalists, shouldn’t Shekhar Gupta (who doubles up as Chairman of Editors Guilt, oops Editors Guild) intercede “routinely” on behalf of journalists and seek clarifications from the Defense Minister? Or is he merely content with making sweeping generalizations and passing the buck to nameless and faceless journalists?
One might be tempted to ask if that is the only basis for his splendid assertion of the nature of this cabinet. No, he has more serious reasons. Apparently when he goes to “public speaking interactions”, he asks his audience to name India’s ministers for Agriculture, Health, Chemicals and Fertilizers, Heavy Industries, Science and Technology, and MSME. And nobody from the audience can name any of them, and voila!
By this same yardstick, every previous government was as “faceless, nameless and talent-averse” as this one. But then Shekhar Gupta has a solution for that logic too – bring in the appointment of Dr C. Subramaniam as Agriculture minister by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Well, as is his wont, he goes on to credit Indira Gandhi also for appointments Lal Bahadur Shastri had made, but let’s give that a pass.
After being able to recollect the only “talent” from nearly 50 years ago, he is now left wondering who will lead India’s march towards Green Revolution 2.0? No one in government has spoken about Green Revolution 2.0. Shekhar Gupta is coining that term equating it to the PM’s goal of doubling farm income by 2022. Does Shekhar Gupta suggest an alternative name to Radha Mohan Singh? No, he doesn’t. Instead tell us this – “Indira Gandhi too ran her government from her office, but think of the talent she collected around her.”
Going by Shekhar Gupta’s yardstick, you would assume that his “diverse audience” would be able to name all “the talent she collected around her”. Unfortunately, he provides no such insights on this list and it is left to the reader’s imagination.
His article on the “pusillanimous, unimaginative, over-cautious and unsuccessful handling of defence purchases” is another treat to read and gives great insights into the hatred that seems to be building up within him.
Irked with the government not disclosing the exact price of Rafale jets, he tells us that “Today’s arms bazaar carries almost no secrets about platforms, weapons and accessories.” Then, isn’t Shekhar Gupta’s job very easy? He just has to go to the arms bazaar and get us an exclusive? Ok, let’s assume he is too busy to go the bazaar and needs to get the information from someone else. He tells us who that someone is –
“If you are buying the Meteor missile to go with the Rafale, not just the Pakistani and Chinese air forces, but any teenaged defence nerd with a smartphone can give you a tutorial on it.”
All you need is a “teenaged defence nerd” or a trip to “arms bazaar”. Shekhar Gupta does neither, because he doesn’t tell us what the actual price is. But he also tells that “What you can, and must, keep secret in this is sensitive electronics and tactics.”. Come on, Shekhar Gupta! That’s what the Government of India has been saying too – an itemized billing cannot be provided. It only sounds like he is very upset that Rahul Gandhi’s demands are not being met by this “pusillanimous” government.
Shekhar Gupta recently tweeted that the “deification of HAL” is the “worst damage” caused by this Rafale storm. In his article though, he tells us “Any reasonable person would know that HAL would still be better equipped for licenced production than any other company…” Now is Shekhar Gupta calling himself unreasonable? He goes on to say that HAL had a monopoly and has not done things “particularly efficiently”.
If your argument is that HAL is “not efficient”, then why would you call a government “pusillanimous” for not awarding a hypothetical contract? If in your belief, “HAL is an opaque, profiteering, license-production PSU monopoly”, then why would you call a government as “unimaginative” for not awarding a hypothetical contract? Because in Shekhar Gupta’s own words – “But nobody would diss a defence PSU”. So HAL is very bad but Modi is “stupid” to have ignored HAL, according to Gupta.
All of Shekhar Gupta’s rants are riddled with such contradictions. All of his rants cite an example here, an example there to make rank generalizations. And all of his rants contain so many lies that it is just difficult to keep track of them. Sample this for example – “Surely the prime minister is brilliant, has travelled through every district of the country as he says,”. The Prime Minister has never claimed this. In an interview with Zee News, he has claimed that he has spent at least one night in 80% of districts in the country before he even became the Prime Minister. Shekhar Gupta conveniently twists this fact to make sarcastic comments against Modi. Elsewhere, he blames the Modi government for the “cease and desist” notice that Anil Ambani has sent. Surely, we all must ponder who is being “unimaginative” here!

Rahul Gandhi has lied again and again on Rafale deal and no one has investigated deep into his lies


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference: 

I couldn’t help but notice how not a single Indian English media publication bothered to do even a single investigative piece of Rahul Gandhi’s continuous and absurd allegations on the Rafale Deal. In my opinion, that itself was a big give away that there was no scam involved. Because basic investigation would have revealed that Rahul Gandhi has lied again and again, in Parliament and outside. Publishing news that shows Rahul Gandhi is extremely poor light is highly detrimental to their agenda of bringing down the Modi Government, and therefore they have stayed away from questioning the government.
The best way to make my case is to cite the editorial, “The plane truth”, from The Hindu on September 24th, 2018. The Hindu is also a good example to cite because of their pivotal role in bringing out the actual Bofors scam. Given how they have a proven record of investigative journalism, one would have expected them to investigate deep into Rahul Gandhi’s lies. Instead, they make a startling claim.
“… the clarificatory statements issued — by the Centre, the French Foreign Ministry and Dassault — did little to clearly address what Mr. Hollande had said.  
But what did Mr. Hollande say? We don’t have to search elsewhere, because the editorial gives us an insight into the same – “…it was India that suggested the Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence Ltd. as the offset partner for the deal.”
Serious charge indeed! To which all the involved parties issue separate statements (All of them captured in the article here). Dassault saying that Indian government had no role. Indian government reiterating that they had no role in Dassault choosing any partner. French government saying that this was a government to government deal – every one of them has reiterated oft stated positions. Every single statement has directly contradicted what Mr. Hollande has said. Leave all these – even Mr. Hollande has told an agency AFP that he isn’t aware of any pressure on Dassault.
Amidst all this – why does The Hindu think that the clarificatory statements did “little to clearly address what Mr. Hollande had said”? They go on to repeat the question yet again:
But all this merely begs the question: did the Centre suggest a partnership with Reliance Defence as Mr. Hollande said?
I am still trying to understand the question! The Centre has said NO. Why does it “beg” the same question again and again? Is The Hindu expecting an answer they want to hear, and will not accept any other answer? Because they continue their tirade.
Also, if so, what form did it take? A firm nudge in that direction? A quiet whisper in someone’s ear?”
If so? The answer is already a NO. Language such as nudge and whisper may make for good dramatic reading but is no substitute to hide the glaring agenda peddling happening in the garb of news! The tirade doesn’t stop
Who suggested to who? And when?”
When the clarification reads an emphatic NO, why this constant barrage of irrelevant questions? Why doesn’t The Hindu don the role of investigative agencies and grill Mr. Hollande on his alleged claim? But since a result of such a work will put Rahul Gandhi at a loss, The Hindu is merely happy with telling us that “It remains to be seen whether Mr. Hollande will now choose to complete his half-finished remarks to the French investigative website.”
We are also told that “the corruption allegations have persisted in the absence — unlike in the case of some other defence deals such as Bofors — of a financial trail
The allegations have persisted because Rahul Gandhi continued to invent lie after lie, and you folks found extraordinary pleasure in parroting all those lies. Your suggestion that “private briefings to Opposition leaders and the disclosure of all information that doesn’t jeopardize national security or impact the aircrafts’ operational capability are good starting points” is really amusing.
Amusing because do you really think the likes of Rahul Gandhi will stop peddling lies even after being briefed? Have you not heard Rahul Gandhi demand that every single point that will jeopardize national security be made public, so that our enemies know what exactly we are buying? Rahul Gandhi has persisted with the Doklam lie even after signing a report that said government did a good job with Doklam – yet The Hindu miraculously believe a private briefing to him will do a world of good!
Every single allegation was responded to, by the government. Counter questions were posed to Rahul Gandhi, and he just did not bother to respond to them. Instead of calling him out for his chicanery, The Hindu senses an opportunity to further his demand for a “Joint Parliamentary Committee”!
Amidst all this clutter, it is social media that rose to the occasion. Various articles have given us detailed explanations of the deal and easy to understand explanations of the allegations. The mainstream media meanwhile is searching for that elusive headline from their leader.


Monday, September 24, 2018

A R Rahman’s Harmony- Ode to unsung Musicians of India


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference: 

I do not recollect a single interview of A.R.Rahman that talks about music. Now don’t get me wrong – there are zillions of interviews that ask him about Roja, Bombay, Slumdog Millionaire etc. Zillions of interviews that ask him about “inspiration” for his movie songs. And of course, no dearth of commentators that tell us that Rahman’s music is finished, after every movie that is released!
I haven’t learned music either. Like many, I just enjoy listening and trying to appreciate some nuances. In this context, when my brother first alerted me to his new show titled Harmony, I was really hoping it will not turn out to be another of those “interviews” where we don’t get to learn anything new about Rahman. And when we watched the first episode with friends at home, I was literally speechless. Because not only was this was the kind of show I always yearned to watch Rahman in, it also involved Rahman hosting, interviewing and discussing music!
Harmony is a 5-episode series on Amazon Prime. Rahman visits “non-popular” musicians from different parts of our country and interacts with them on their music. He then blends in with his music, to give us all an unforgettable experience. In the final episode, he brings them all onto one stage and does a concert – Harmony! 
Why are these episodes and stories unforgettable? Because they give us a great glimpse into the grit and determination of exceptionally talented artists who have struggled against odds to keep alive regional traditional music. Because they make us feel humble in front of the great sacrifices they have made, in pursuance of something so close to their heart.
We first meet Sajith Vijayan, in a stunning shot – playing an ancient musical instrument called Mizhavu alone on a riverbed. We know that the show will be only about music when one of the first questions Rahman asks when introduced to Mizhavu, is where does the reflection of sound come from? And that sets the stage for an engrossing discussion between both Rahman and Sajith, and some superlative performances of Sajith that will take your breath away! As we hear the story of Sajith, we are also introduced to his guru Shri PK Narayanan Nambiar.
The genuine warmth and happiness in Shri Nambiar’s eyes when he welcome Rahman must be seen to be believed. We are then told  how Shri Nambiar bought Mizhavu to the masses. Prior to that, this instrument was only played in temples. Shri Nambiar explains how he faced resistance when he wanted to bring it out. His logic? “If we confine something to one place, it will only get ruined”. So when Rahman compliments him for being very brave to have done that in those times, you can’t help but nod your head along in appreciation of Shri Nambiar’s actions to break the conventional mould.
A similar story, of safeguarding traditional music, plays out in Episode 3 – this time in Manipur. This story is of singer Laurenbam Bedabati Devi! Am sure you will also fall in love with bubbly nature and her voice once you watch the episode! To dedicate her life to the Manipuri traditional folk song - Khunung Eshei, Ms. Bedabati Devi chose to stay as a spinster. As cliché as it may sound, her struggle, her music and her efforts are truly inspiring, and Harmony provided the perfect platform for the world to know about them! By the way, watching Rahman try to imitate Ms.Bedabati’s unique singing style brought a large smile too!
Since we directly jumped to Episode 3 from Episode 1, please do not assume Episode 2 was uneventful! Here, we meet Ustad Mohi Bahauddin, who prays to his rudraveena before beginning to play. I was amazed to know that he has only 6 students, and only accepts students if they can only spend around 8-9 years to learn just one or two ragas! The conversation between Rahman and Ustad Bahauddin veers around the depth to which one can go with just mastering one or two ragas, and has Rahman playing a music bit from Tu Hi Re!
The 4th episode takes us to Sikkim, where we meet Mickma who plays the Panthong (Bamboo flute)! We are even shown how this flute is made, from scratch! This was the first time I saw a flute being made and was fascinated by the whole process. Mickma’s story is similar to the others – he chose to further the art of using the declining traditional Panthong, amidst very trying financial circumstances. Mickma also doubles up as the singer in his small yet lively band! We are treated to a performance by them too!
In all the 4 episodes, A.R.Rahman introduces a new instrument, and plays that instrument along with each of the musician, without overpowering any of their performances. However, the final episode left me a little confusing – perhaps because am not familiar with many nuances of music! I was expecting an encore by all 4 of them together, but I felt that the chorus overpowered the 4 musicians. Or perhaps the expectations after 4 episodes were so high, that it was natural to be disappointed? Either way, this episode doesn’t take away the awesomeness of the first 4 episodes.
In today’s world of fake reality show, we are treated to an actual reality show that brings forth true talent sans any of the melodrama. Harmony brings to us, the untold stories of many brave heroes who have sacrificed much to follow their passion. Harmony brings to us many life lessons that can be learnt. Kudos to Rahman for travelling to them and then making us travel along with them.
PS: Another simple observation for which I believe Harmony stands out - the non-dramatic nature of how the participants react when Rahman is around. For example - Sajith introduces his students to Rahman, and going by their reaction, he had to ask them if they recognized Rahman!

In 2013 I had changed my mind about Narendra Modi, In 2018 my belief in Modi has strengthened.


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference: 

5 years ago, I had written an article for Niti Central on “Why I changed my mind about Modi". I detailed how I was among those who got carried away by the English media’s representation of Modi. I had viewed him as someone cold who was only winning election after election in Gujarat based on religious polarization alone.  His 2007 election victory in the State broke some myths about his governance model but did not shatter any of the serious allegations that gullible folks like me continued to believe. I always had one question on my mind — Of what use is this development if there is no security?
And then Social media happened. Reading various blogs and tweets, I often wondered – how could the big media players have done this to us? How could they have deliberately cheated us? Then the SIT report happened; social media revolution had picked up steam; Modi had started talking more, giving us a glimpse into his work – and the party finally announced him as its Prime Ministerial candidate. His candidacy energized both the cadre and outside supporters of the party – and the rest as they say is history!
Now that he was the Prime Minister, it is but natural that skepticism will clog the mind – How will he do what he promised? Or worse yet – will he do what he promised? Right from his first decision, which took the world by surprise, he has given us a glimpse into what can be expected! For the first time in our history, heads of all SAARC countries were invited to be part of the swearing-in ceremony of the new government. The Foreign policy had seen only rapid strides ever since – with India playing a pivotal role in the formation of the unique and prestigious International Solar Alliance; with India joining the many key alliances of the world; and more importantly the unique ways in which Prime Minister Modi developed a personal rapport with many world leaders.
During the campaign, he released a video in which he said “Mein Desh Jhukne nahi doonga”. Whilst many would want to show *the* surgical strikesare proof enough of his commitment to keep the country’s flag flying high, his most understated achievement is the improved internal security situation of the country. Outside of J&K and Punjab, we haven’t had a terrorist attack in our towns and cities. The violence in the North Eastern states has come down by 50%, which has also prompted the removal of the AFSPA; the drastic reduction in the number of naxals and their activities in the country – all point to a robust improvement that was precisely what was expected from this government.
Earlier, if you heard the name Bastar, it would have been only because of Naxal activity. Bastar was the hotbed of Naxal activity and counted as one of the most backward regions of the country. Today, the place where we could not even build proper roads, there is an operational airport in the Bastar region (in addition to many other programs)! Not just Bastar, in the last 4 years, through a unique UDAN program, 25 new airports have been made operational in the country (compare that to 70 airports in the 70 years since Independence!). The year 2017 saw more number of people take flights than those who travelled in AC Trains! If this isn’t reflective of our economic growth and improved connectivity, then I don’t know what is!
Many years ago, a friend once told me that a leader should be capable of showing the mirror to the society. In my opinion Modi did it twice – when he stood up in Parliament and asked – “Can’t we keep our country clean?”. Swachh Bharat was not a mere slogan – today we have nearly 75% of our villages proudly declaring themselves to be ODF (Open Defecation Free); we have toilets built across all schools; we have a healthy competition amongst cities to vie for the cleanest city award; we have schools imbibing this culture in students from a young age. Is this enough? Of course, there is a lot of work to do – instead of being cynical I’d rather we buck up and do whatever we can keep our village/town/city clean. After all, the question is indeed very pertinent – “Can’t we keep our country clean?”
The second time he showed us the mirror was both during the launch of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and one of his Independence Day speeches. He asked us – “Who gave you the right to kill a girl child before she is born?”. And also – “Why don’t we ever question the boy where he went to and what he is doing? Why do we always question the girl?” Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao was mocked as usual, but today nearly 100 districts across the country have shown improved sex ratio; increased enrollment of girl child is seen across the country; and significant investments are being made for the betterment of the girl child.
NO JOBS added screamed every opposition leader and the English media followed suit. Not one media wanted to point out the fact that the Modi government has put significant focus on entrepreneurship through revolutionary schemes like MUDRA and Standup India, and this data is traditionally not captured as parts of “Jobs”.
Make in India” was mocked to no end, but today when you buy a cell phone, instead of a “Made in China”, today we see a Made in India label. That’s possible because there are about 120 mobile manufacturing units in India, as opposed to just 2 in the year 2014. Make in India hasn’t been limited to phones alone – it’s across variety of fields ranging from mobiles to automobiles to aerospace! Friends, my knowledge on the full scale of Make in India is very limited but it feels very good when I see items of regular use prominently displayed in Made in India labels!
I can list out many such initiatives. I suddenly remembered that I missed talking about the significantly improved electricity situation in the country. A special mention needs to be made of a heartening and unparalleled achievement of the Narendra Modi government – the mainstreaming of the North East. The point is - One tweet or one article cannot do justice. Infact my twitter thread has already listed 88 such initiatives. These include the biggest disruptions of all time, GST and Demonetization; the 10s of benefitsto the middle class; financial inclusion; the small things that create a big impact; the resolution of long pending problems; the war on corruption ; and more.
In 2014, Narendra Modi had enthused the people of this country like never before, as is evident from the election results. And in the past 4 ½ years, he has shown us how he means business and beyond; how he is receptive to feedback; he has oft reminded us about our duties; questioned the status quo and has led from the front to bring in changes to our system; and has encouraged us to dream big to contribute towards a New India by 2022.
For him to guide us towards the dream of New India, it is imperative that he wins in 2019. The noise and the clutter created by the opposition must be drowned in the rain of his achievements. Narendrabhai - like in 2014, I will do whatever I can, to spread your message and help you w

With the opposition in tatters, TRS led by KCR is all set to sweep Telangana in the upcoming Elections


The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference:

One of the biggest conundrums of Indian politics is the unpredictability of our political parties. Just days after submitting to the Law commission that the TRS party supports simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, Chief Minister KCR called for the early dissolution of Telangana Assembly! This also shows us why it will be near impossible to get anywhere closer to simultaneous elections, in the near future. However, this article is not about the concept of simultaneous elections!
Chief Minister KCR is riding a wave of popularity currently. The party has already scored impressive victories in various by-elections held so far too. Along with MLAs who have jumped ship from other parties, the TRS currently boasts of nearly 90 MLAs in the 119member Assembly. An earlier articledetails how TRS has increased its strength from 63 in 2014 to nearly 90 by 2016! There is no constitutional crisis in sight. No one has threatened the downfall of the government, nor have there been widespread protests – so the obvious question anyone would have is, why now?
For starters, KCR would want to very strongly delink the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections for the moment. The agenda setting would get so confusing, and potential allies at national level would pose a big problem if simultaneous elections are held. For example, TRS is so strong that they would not want to ally with anyone at the state level. But there is also this possibility that the BJP would want to ally with TRS for the Lok Sabha polls (KCR and Modi enjoy a cordial relationship). If simultaneous elections are held, this alliance cannot take place.
But then why would KCR, who thundered angrily that regional parties are the future and he will lead an anti-Congress, anti-BJP front at the center, want to ally with the NDA? The answer is simple – no regional party is ready to fight at the national stage without the support of the Congress party. As of today, KCR and the TRS detests the Congress party. KCR did not even attend the swearing-in ceremony of H.D. Kumaraswamy because he did not want to be seen sharing stage with the Congress party.
Secondly, KCR and the TRS would want to cash in immensely on the popularity wave they are riding on, currently. This is their best chance to decimate the opposition parties and establish a strong hold – the decision has not been a sudden on and has been on the cards from around April-May timeframe itself.
Now comes the next obvious question. Why is he so popular? Because he is solving the basic problems of Water and electricity for Telangana. Today, Telangana supplies 24 hour free current to agricultural lands! At one point of time, we were reeling under a severe power crisis and the turnaround has been nothing short of a miracle.
He has also put a massive focus on water, through two flagship programs – Mission Bhagiratha, that will supply drinking water to every home. KCR claims that 46% of homes already have this supply. When reminded about his promise that he will not ask for votes if 100% is not done, he shot back asking why the questioner is worried – if people don’t like it, they will anyway vote me out!
The second program is Mission Kakateeya – a project aimed at restoring lakes and tanks in Telangana. This has been a huge success, with nearly 25,000 lakes and tanks revived, which in turn have provided for water to lakhs of hectares. 25,000 lakes and tanks friends! No mean achievement this, and no wonder English media doesn’t evince any interest.
In addition to these there have been many programs that disbursed money to farmers, poor and the weaker sections. KCR infact is claiming that he has done things that he hasn’t even mentioned in the manifesto!
KCR and the TRS party were also blessed with another advantage – a heavily compliant media. I do not recollect any detailed articles in any regional media that had criticized any single policy or even utterance of the Chief Minister or the ministers. In fact the only time any uproar was seen when the government proposed to implement some law for using “harsh language”. I had even wondered that though Andhra Pradesh also has a compliant media, there is at least Sakshi channel run by the YSRCP. Anyone wanting to protest in Hyderabad were placed under preventive house arrest!
The opposition is anyway in tatters. Only the Congress party has shown a minimum semblance of being an opposition party. Even then, it is no position to win the state. The BJP, for reasons best known to local leadership, has not been as active as it should have been. This was a golden opportunity to grab enough opposition space at least. Meanwhile, KCR is all set to regain power by end of this year.