Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Why and How did Atal Bihari Vajpayee inspired a generation of Indians?

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

My friend and I reached home well in time to listen to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s speech during the 1999 Confidence motion he had to bring in (and eventually lost by 1 vote). And then there was a power cut! I went berserk, and threw around stuff, angry at the electricity department! Then I called another friend’s house, to check if he had power. And when my friend’s mom confirmed they had power, but my friend was not at home, it still didn’t matter. We drove to his home and watched the speech there.
Looking back, I always wondered, how does one man evoke so much emotion in an 18 year old boy? One of the top reasons I could of was those two brilliant (did I say brilliant?) speeches in 1996 during his first motion of confidence. Up until that point of time in 1996, most of the citizens only read or heard about how Vajpayee’s oratory is mesmerizing. The 1996 speeches were the first time we got to see it real time, for considerable length of time, what effect Vajpayee’s oratory can have. He may have lost the vote in the Lok Sabha, but the countless votes he gained in the country because of these performances are testimony to his oratory.
The 1996 speeches (both while introducing the motion, and replying at the end of two day debate) show him at his expressive best; at his combative best; at his argumentative best; and at his statesmanly best. The manner in which he counters the opposition and their constant barbs can be watched countless times just so as to learn a lesson in debating skills!
But adulation through oratory can only take you up to a point. At some point we would want good speakers to even perform. And his second tenure that lasted 13 months (1998-1999) gave us all a glimpse of what can be achieved if this man will be at the helm of affairs. When he walked out into his lawns on 11th May, 1998 and calmly announced that “Today, at 15:45 hrs, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in Pokhran”, he had proved to the world how serious he is with his promises. Whilst the world was still reeling under the shock, we announced again on the 13th of May that two more tests were conducted! And large scale sanctions followed on the country. The Kargil war was also fought when he was the Prime Minister in this tenure – and yet when two such big events had occurred, he had managed the economy so well that we didn’t face any financial emergencies (like how we did from 1962 to 1970).
But then this is politics – so political games implied that he had to lose the confidence of the Lok Sabha by a mere 1 vote. Just 1 vote, and the country had to face elections again! And this time he came back with a full majority – the pre-poll alliance of NDA won 299 seats (pertinent to note here that UPA never won 272 seats with pre-poll alliances).
After he passed away a couple of days back, a number of eulogies now are telling us that he was the best PM India had. Of course, it is another matter that many of those writing these eulogies spent most of their time trying to defeat him in the 2004 elections! Why would you want India’s best PM to lose an election? But this article is not about the chicanery of these people. It is about how Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed the lives of an entire generation of Indians.
He rued back in the early 90s itself as to why we cannot provide something as basic as roads to our citizens! Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana thus became a reality during his third tenure. Roads were built with breakneck speeds. No need to provide statistics here – the roads in our villages are living proof of this. I felt very proud back then when my village got a road too, and the board simply read – “Built with Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana funds”. Villages were getting connected to their nearest town, thereby enhancing the opportunities of the villagers! This scheme also led to the reduction in Naxalism in a few districts – afterall why will Naxalism thrive when villagers prosper?
The Golden Quadrilateral was another revolution, both in scale and progress. Our highways started becoming wider, and opportunities started getting bigger! The telecom boom and revolution also happened during this time – the new telecom policy was unveiled, and mobile revolution took off in late 2003. The essence of all this was improving connectivity of the citizens of the country.
Even today, when you visit government schools, there are paintings on the wall talking about “Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan”. Launched in this tenure, the Prime Minister himself was part of the promotional campaign. The campaign envisaged a Right to Education to all, and ensured that children were joining schools and not going to work with their parents. Sarva Siksha Abhiyan created a revolution of sorts in rural India, the results of which are quite evident.
I can list more and more – the concept of a single unique number to every Indian (known as Aadhar today); freedom to information; disinvestments; new pension scheme etc – a lot of schemes still in vogue today were born during Vajpayee’s tenure only.
However, one my most favorite achievements of his is the 8% growth rate in 2004. Why does this rank so high in my list? At a time when India’s GDP was growing at 3 to 4% a year, Vajpayee declared that we will make sure India will grow at 7 to 8 %, Sonia Gandhi stood up in Parliament and called this has “Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapne”. And when Vajpayee demitted office in 2004, take a guess what was India’s growth rate? 8%. That’s right, “Mungeri Lal ke haseen sapne” after all became a reality. That is what Vajpayee taught us – that you should dream; that you should build your success brick by brick; that you should never lose hope; and that you must always remain Atal.
Because I followed his speeches and politics closely only after 1996, I didn’t know of a lot of stories about his pre-1990 days. Today, I learnt about the umpteen number of places he has visited, the lakhs of cadre he has personally met, and the lakhs of people he has personally inspired.
For all his niceties, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to face one of the most virulent opposition ever. Please don’t get fooled by the niceties being employed today – even Atalji would have squirmed hearing all these things about him from these guys.  For a life that was so well lived, it was unfortunate that he had to go through a lot of pain in his last years (nearly 10 years, which by no stretch is a small period). However, he got one of the most befitting farewells one can every give him. His entire shishyagan, starting from Prime Minister Modi, his cabinet, the nearly 15 CMs, MPs, MLAs, party cadre – all walked alongside his mortal remains to see him off.
Thank you for all that you have done for us. We will never have someone like you walk amongst us again. Na bhootho, Na bhavishyath Atalji.

The only way to counter Online abuse is to unequivocally condemn all abuse

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

“Aunty National” screamed The Telegraph’s front page headline. The entire Congress ecosystem (i.e, Congress party + Sitaram Yechury’s coterie + English media) were silent over this blatantly sexist attack on Smriti Irani. Various headlines of The Telegraph were cheered on by this ecosystem, but none of them even dared to utter one word against the headline by The Telegraph.
A well-known pro- Congress tweeter, Tehseen Poonawala tweeted some abuse about using a condom on a 56 inch pole when the decision to hoist India’s flag in universities was taken. When Smriti Irani showed this tweet to an interviewer on TV, she was shocked. I was shocked too – that the interviewer didn’t actually know this abuse from a popular social media Congressman. Do any of you remember any outrage by the Congress ecosystem? Do any of you remember the “me too victim” tweets by members of the ecosystem?
Several women who support Modi’s initiatives have been constantly abused on twitter; have been dished out death threats on a weekly basis; and have been called names consistently – do any of you remember the “me too victim” tweets and articles by members of the ecosystem?
What I remember is an open letter by a leading member of the ecosystem – Barkha Dutt – in which she has suggested that all this is Smriti Irani’s doing only. “In so many ways, your responses to other women - often vicious and lacking in any empathy - have represented exactly the same prejudice you have been damned with - I suppose that's what you call cruel irony.”
And to give examples of “same prejudice”, Barkha merely cites a couple of instances where Smriti Irani wasn’t polite enough to fellow women. Sushma Swaraj once tweeted, “Look who is preaching propriety - of all the persons Navika Kumar!”. By the ecosystem’s own logic, Sushma Swaraj is also “vicious” towards other women then?
No, this article is not about Smriti Irani vs Sushma Swaraj. This article is not debating the quantum of abuse between Smriti Irani vs Sushma Swaraj. Actually, I wouldn’t even think of doing anything like that! The abuse they, and many women have received is reprehensible to the core (these days, if we don’t repeatedly state the obvious, then aspersions are further cast on us!)
This article is about the woefully orchestrated campaign by the ecosystem to make the Congress look like a saint in this entire sordid episode. Senior party bearers of the Congress, starting from the top have often exhibited traits of abuse and trolling. Arun Jaitley is recuperating from a kidney ailment and Rahul Gandhi thinks he is “locked in his room”. If this is not viciousness and cheap trolling then what is?
Prime Minister Modi hugs world leaders’ affectionately, like how you and I do, when we meet friends. Congress releases an abusive and insinuating video, making fun of this simple gesture – but the entire ecosystem goes silent on this. And waited for the next “funny” tweet from Rahul Gandhi to go gaga over it.
Congress workers in Kerala slaughtered a calf and posted a video on Saturday morning. Until Rahul Gandhi tweeted on Sunday night saying he doesn’t accept this behavior, the entire Congress ecosystem was silent on this. And after he tweeted, they went gaga over Rahul Gandhi’s condemnation! I can list umpteen such examples where the Congress ecosystem chose whom to align with and whom not to, when it came to abuse, but I believe it will belabor my point.
The abuse directed towards those who support the BJP comes from the top of the Congress ecosystem. This is in direct contrast to ordinary citizens abusing ministers (irrespective of gender) and then the ecosystem jumping in to party on it. So dear Congress party – please stay away from trying to score phony political points over some real issues.

Irrelevant Controversy manufactured around Arvind Subramanian's exit is ludicrous

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

First a confession. Neither do I understand theories in economics nor do I follow the business sections of newspapers. I haven’t ever read in detail the Economic Survey that is released every year because many topics just go over my head! However, the moment news came out of our Chief Economic Adviser, Mr. Arvind Subramanian resigned and expressed interest to go back to the US, I knew our English media will go berserk. Irrespective of when Mr. Arvind Subramanian did a good job or not for nearly 4 full years, I just instinctively knew that our English media will conjure up all kinds of conspiracy theories to try and show this news as yet another blow to Modi.
True to my expectation, The Hindu published an op-ed , with an headline that screamed - “An adviser with nobody to advise”
Since I don’t understand economic theory, I almost skipped reading this piece. But I saw the byline -  Arvind Subramanian brought heft and pizzazz to his role as CEA — but who was listening? - and figured out that this will be a very peripheral piece
I thought to myself - Who uses the word pizza when talking about economics! Then re-read the correct word, “pizzazz” and looked up on google which told me that pizzazz meant “an attractive combination of vitality and glamour.” Now I burst out laughing, because who uses the word glamour for the Chief Economic Adviser! This argument was like the “rock star” status that Raghuram Rajan was given.
If you read the headline and the byline, you will be tempted to believe that for the full 4 years, the Modi government didn’t heed to the CEA’s advice. Allow me to summarize what has been said in the article that was headlined – “An adviser with nobody to advise”.
1.      The Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity was Mr. Arvind Subramanian’s idea in the Economic Survey of 2014.-2015. And in the author’s own words – “The idea has since taken off, with the government wholeheartedly embracing Aadhaar
2.      Next, the author says – “The next Economic Survey saw the CEA bring to light an issue with doing business in India that few had actively thought or talked about until then: the difficulty of exit.” And concludes thus – “The Central government has since then taken decisive steps, such as bringing out the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, to address this issue
I was desperately trying to co-relate the headline to the first couple of paragraphs. The “JAM” idea nearly eliminated the corruption in benefits transfer. The role of middle men has come to a naught, and this idea has saved thousands of crores of money for the tax payer. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code has already bought in nearly 85,000 crores back into our banks. The author himself acknowledges that the government listened to the CEA, so tell me again - why the diametrically opposite headline then?
The author then moves to every one’s favorite topic – Demonetization. His analysis of Mr. Arvind Subramanian’s role is nothing short of hilarious. “the chapter on demonetisation was far more vanilla in its critique than previous analyses overseen by the CEA on other topics. Maybe it was still too early to gauge the impact of the move in any real sense. Or perhaps he had been instructed to go easy. “
Previous analyses overseen by the CEA on other topics” – guess what? At this point of time, the article lists only one such topic from four economic survey. 
Or perhaps he had been instructed to go easy” – Ah, that is the main grouse! According to the cabal, anybody with a remote connection to economics must spend every writing space they get, to criticize demonetization. If they don’t, then their caliber, integrity and knowledge are all suspect. The cabal loses sleep the moment someone praises or doesn’t criticize demonetization.
The author ends this section with a generic observation that is now getting boring to read – “Either way, the demonetisation episode brought to the fore the extent to which the CEA’s office was becoming sidelined in the current dispensation.” If it was being sidelined, why would his two big ideas be implemented? But then we are tying ourselves into knots.
So what are the ideas that weren’t taken forward, according to the author? He lists three of them:
1.      To create a “bad bank” to solve the high levels of bad loans were having on the abilities of banks to lend.
2.      The idea of a Universal Basic Income, mooted in the 2016-17 Survey, also met the same fate.
3.      The problems with public-private partnerships (PPPs) in India and suggested ways to improve them
That’s it – 3 examples where Mr. Arvind Subramanian’s ideas were not taken forward. I actually read the article to make sure the author only had 3 examples to cite in defense of his headline and byline.
Essentially, summarizing the author – 2 ideas of Mr. Arvind Subramanian were accepted by the Government, 3 were not, and he didn’t criticize Demonetization to the satisfaction of the cabal!
Is this how an article is written, to summarize FOUR years of the CEA? Is this how an article is headlined, just based on 5 random points, for something as big as the CEA’s work years? The article doesn’t give any historical sense too – how did the other governments fare when it came to CEA’s role? This CEA has been in this position for 3.5 years  - one of the longest anyone has stayed – and yet we are being led to believe that he wasn’t given any prominence?
The author also makes the standard reference to Raghuram Rajan’s “exit”? I still don’t understand the obsession with Mr. Raghuram Rajan. He served his term. He didn’t resign and neither was he asked to leave before his term expired. The cabal is talking as if the Modi government has no right to appoint new people at the helm of various institutions. And in talking like this, they come up with articles which show the government in more positive light than they intend to! And in talking like this, they come up with articles which show them in the poorest of lights than they ever imagined!