Monday, 14 April 2014

Curious Case of Corruption

There may be a debate on whether corruption is indeed the most dangerous threat to our nation or not, but there can simply be no debate about the fact that no other threat can materialize without help of corruption. Few days back, I was chatting with a friend. When we were talking about the ongoing general election, he asked me, “What do you think? Why do we have so much corruption?” After much deliberation on various topics, we settled on some points on which we both agreed. I wish to document that conversation through this article.

The issue with rampant corruption that we face today is fueled by multiple issues and causes. The mistake we (Government and citizens in general) all are doing is; looking at corruption through same old pair of lenses. Though it is true that corruption of any kind should not be tolerated, but trying to handle all kinds of corruption in same way might not prove to be a good idea in the long run, as it won't be sustainable. To understand this better, let us categorize corruption based on its origin.
We are well aware about the first type of corruption; that is a person filling up his coffers by looting public money. Fixing government bid processes, leasing out public land to big industrial houses for meager amounts, selling public property like spectrum, coal blocks, and gas blocks all come under Greed based Corruption. The only way to check this menace is by legislating strong anti-corruption law and enforcing it swiftly. We all are more or less already aware about this type of corruption. Moving on to the next type of corruption which, I feel, has more wide reach and which affects our day-today life in a more profound way.

Let us take a simple example from our daily life, getting a travel ticket from city X to city Y. There are 20 odd trains running between these two cities, each having around 18 coaches and each coach having 72 berths for passengers. I will skip the mathematics here, but I hope by now you have calculated the number of passengers which our system can support. We do not need to apply any rocket science to understand that the main culprit is the poor infrastructure, which force us (yes, you and me) to bribe a railway official for a paltry sum of 500-1000. I believe, here we (the passenger and the Railway ticket checker) are not looting the public money or killing someone to fill our coffers by swindling government contracts, but we are just making a compromise with the poor standard of infrastructure we have even after half a century after gaining independence (oh! that reminds me, weren’t the public services much better under British Raj?). The bottom line is; if you have more demand and less supply, then this type of corruption is bound to happen, which I feel can be aptly named as Need based Corruption.

We have a shortage of supply in traveling, water, electricity, and every other public service that we can think of; still most of these commodities operate through state machinery, whose performance is hidden by none. The frustrating paradox here is the fact that, we (middle class ordinary citizen of India) earn and thrive on the well-known and well acknowledged concept of capitalism, where we want better services and are ready to pay for it. But, we are at the same time expected to be utopian and socialistic to the core when it comes to availing public services. Why on earth, would a hard working salaried person wait for a railway ticket that will never reach him through legal means, when he can get the desired service through illegal means? For reasons obvious you can't justify one person's need to travel as more urgent than other (thanks to our forefathers that we are not living in a communist state), the only solution is have more seats available to passengers at reasonable costs and services.

Like a simple railway berth, there are many things which we need to lead a healthy and happy life. We may/can check the Greed based corruption through legislation and laws. But, if we seriously wish to remove the Need based corruption, then we need to have our complete focus on growth of infrastructure and economy or simply choosing a government which features this quality. Of course, we all have to be an integral part of this journey, just assuming that one superman will emancipate us all of all our sorrows and problems will not work.

Edit: I found this very informative and enlightening blog by Mr. Alex Paul Menon, IAS

Feel free to share your experience with corruption, where you have felt that it could have been avoided if we had enough for all.

Jai Hind,

Disclaimer: All images are copyrights of their respective owner(s)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Let's take a break

Alright! Tell me what pops in your head if I ask you "What makes you happy?"
Sounds childish? Or too silly? Then it's cool, because that was the intent.
There is no dearth of topics and thoughts if we sit down to discuss about how to live life, spread positivity and happiness. Hence, for limiting my thoughts, I have zeroed in on two trends/concepts that I found really worth taking note of and which make an impact on lives of people.

1. Concept of Gross National Happiness Index (GNH)

            "Gross national happiness is more important than gross national product"
                                                         - His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan

Let us first see how most of the nations calculate their development. The most commonly used scale is the GDP or Gross Domestic Product. Which roughly is the sum of all goods and services produced in an economy or say the total amount earned or spent. Some countries calculate their PCI or Per Capita Income, which is, again in simple terms, the sum of all earnings of a country divided by total population. The latest in economics terminology is HDI or Human Development Index, it is a more comprehensive scaling index calculation based upon composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and of course the regular economic stuff.

But, a country, nestled in the calmness of Himalayas calculate its development and growth not upon these monetary terms but upon how happy her people are!! Yes, it is true and you can know more about it here. The idea is not based upon some lofty ideology that all her people must be smiling and laughing all the time. Instead, it is calculated upon several factors which not necessarily absolutely quantifiable but is defined more by the intangible and emotional aspect of things like psychological well-being, time use by people, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, ecological resilience and general living standards.
The central idea of Bhutan's pursuance of GNH is the belief that, to be happy one does not need to be in the mad rush of getting all the physical comfort available on the planet and in the process leave behind the true human value of empathy and compassion. Though, Bhutan certainly don't have all the material luxury present on earth, but I think they surely have one; Peace of mind.

2. Concept of Slow Down Culture

Ever wondered why do we need to rush for things? Why do we need to eat fast? Drink fast? Listen to our favourite music on a go? Visit a place haphazardly? And virtually do everything as fast as we can. The answer lies in the sense of urgency created by us. Now, let me express here that in no way I am saying that we should slow down the manufacturing process of an automated car production plant or a response to medical emergency. What I am referring here is the idea of appreciating finer things in life.
Now, one may have a question in mind,"Why do we need to slow down and appreciate things?". For this I would urge one to take a step back, zoom out and see our planet from space. What do you see? It is a planet with few thousand different type of creatures roaming around. Then how do we humans stand apart? Yes, there lies the, answer; we humans don't do things just to survive. Just take a look around yourself, do you need all that just to survive? Now that we have established this fact, we should ponder as to why don't we appreciate things in all its glory? Why are we mechanizing ourselves? Robots are fine, let them do their work, but we are humans.. let's not forget that. Let's not make our little lives so much short on time.

You might be aware of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries and the quality of life there. I feel it's worth  mentioning here that the headline of this paragraph actually comes from Sweden. There is a movement going on in that part of globe, where people already are getting more and more aware about their human nature and appreciating life as it should be. Eating a meal within 20 minutes in a restaurant is considered rude to the chef, He will personally come to you, thinking that you didn't like the food! And if you think that with such mindset they will be left out in this Industrialized world, think again, because Sweden houses few of the world's best known enterprises like Electrolux and Ericsson known for their 'innovation' and quality. No wonder many of these are suppliers of NASA for its space missions.

Imagine grabbing a burger on the go and munching while talking on phone. Now, let's imagine a good lunch/dinner with family, disconnected from virtual world and enjoying the meal in every bite. Discussing about spices and how they taste. Which one seems more attractive to the human in you?
We must be thankful to our age old Indian traditions that we still can enjoy such moments in our lives. But the rate at which we are pursuing individualistic life style and modern culture, this would soon become a luxury. So next time you are on visit to an art gallery, an eatery, a hike with friends or a music concert, before rushing to get back, do remember why you were there in the first place.

I hope you read the whole article without rushing down directly to the conclusive paragraph. ;)


Disclaimer: All images are copyrights of their respective owners.

Monday, 9 December 2013

AAP: Dawn of True Democratic Politics

"Who is Arvind Kejriwal?" was the question that Mrs. Dixit, the then CM of Delhi, asked to reporters on being asked about the prospect of Aam Aadmi Party and Arvind Kejriwal on morning of election day for Delhi assembly. 4 days and 6 hrs later, on 8th Dec 2013 1700 hrs IST, history was written by sheer courage and conviction of the dedicated tribe of AAP when Mrs. Dixit, three time CM of Delhi was not just thrashed but wiped out following a massive defeat of over 22000 vote's margin at the hands of AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal. Not only Arvind Kejriwal, but many novice unknown faces proved to the country and world that with rock solid conviction and popular public support, one can beat an old player at his very game that too without breaking any set rules. AAP scores victory on 28 seats and emerged as second largest party, just three seats behind BJP, a party of national stature and acclaim. Not only this, AAP finished second on as many as 22 seats! Creating a hung house in the capital of India! If you know even a zilch about politics and political equations of the world's largest democracy, by now you must be having goose bumps realizing the national and historical importance of this achievement. 

Let us quickly revise the formation of AAP, this people's party is outcome of a national level stir which caught the eyes of every India alike, the India Against Corruption movement of 2011 spearheaded by Anna Hazare and many other eminent citizen and socialist of India. Arvind Kejriwal was being credited to be the brains behind making the movement popular and making more and more people aware. He was also chosen as one of the member in the Lokpal drafting committee formed by Govt. to eyewash citizens. After being betrayed by central govt., which rejected the draft Lokpal bill out rightly asking Arvind Kejriwal to come and get the bill by constitutional method. He took up the challenge to cleanse the country's political scenario by actually getting into the river instead of standing on the bridge and shouting on someone to clean the river, formed a political party 'AAP' and contested Assembly Poll on all 70 seats of Delhi state that too by fielding many candidates who were contesting election for first time in their life!! 

Though the looser here appears to be a single person and single party, the underlying and firm truth behind this thumping victory of AAP is that now the imagination of people has been fired up, conventional parties having the mindset of conventional politics will have to fall in line or else they will be thrown off the line. The traditional voting pattern on the line religion, caste, creed and money is slowly but steadily being replaced by the issue of price rise and good governance. People are awaking to the fact that it is not the national abstract agenda of an individual but the current price of onion and petrol that will affect them and their children. Corruption, which was till now being mutely accepted as unintentional byproduct of politics, is now seen as an intentionally generated product of same and people are not shying away from asking WHY? The young voters of India are sensitive about their freedom and any encroachment upon their right to speak on or offline is taken very seriously. People are waking up to this fact that they need not vote for a party distributing alcohol on one night before election day, when they can vote for a honest party > get good governance > low prices > less corruption and hence ability to spend on booze every week themselves round the year !!

The best example that i can think of on how this win will help creating a better politics in India is the fact that now people are not shying away from talking politics. IT professionals, students, merchants, housewives even central govt. employees are getting involved in stand up discussions over who, why and how of election process. I can't remember any time before AAP and Arvind Kejriwal when my family discussed politics and election over dinner table! For sure, India is set to be a great and vibrant democracy in true sense. As people will get more and more educated and participatory in mainstream politics, more and more such success stories will see daylight. Mind you, being participatory is as important as being educated; simply washing our hands off is not going to help us. AAP has certainly being successful in spreading two important messages:
1. Politics is not bad, there might be bad politicians but politics is not and now it is everyone’s cup of tea.
2. Every vote matters and you can actually change the system by simply exercising your right to vote in favor of good people.

Finally, being aware of the open ended politics that AAP advocates, I would like to voice my opinion for the new people's representative as well as Arvind Kejriwal. Just like any other successful winner, you guys too will face the challenge of remaining as the top after reaching the top. Just ensure that in the rat race of winning, you guys don't compromise on the quality of promise you made to people. The denial of supporting any one to form Govt. and rule stands as a testimony to the iron will of all the newly selected MLAs, at the same time, please ensure that these MLAs get proper training and tools like a course in governance and public administration to perform efficiently. Being honest is one thing and being an efficient honest representative who delivers is altogether a different story, as we have learned from our own current incumbent of Prime Minister office; Shri Manmohan Singh. 

Last but not the least; I thank you all for making us believe in our dream even more.

Jai Hind

Declaimer: All photographs used in this blog are property of their respective owners. 

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cyber Episode: Understanding the Difference

Recent, two day summit meeting between America’s president Barack Obama and his counterpart Xi JinPing in California has bought focus to cyber security and regulation again. Time and again, we have heard about many cyber-space related issues. Here I want to explore the difference between three major verticals of cyber conflict and their significance in layman’s language: 

1.Cyber Attack, Hacking and Terrorism
Most common, in some way or other we all have experience or at least heard of someone’s
digital identity stolen or bank account phished. Un-ethical hacking of some body’s account or machine in order to use the data to harm the individual and/or organization economically/socially or politically. There are many cases related to massive hacking and jeopardizing the basic functioning of an organization/ enterprise in order to gain economically and/or politically.
Cyber hacking and terrorism can be state sponsored as in cases like this or even individual/organization based, as in cases like this.
Primary significance: Loss of money or other intangible assets.

2. State Sponsored Cyber Censorship in Homeland
Wikipedia says, “Internet censorship is the
control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the internet. It may be carried out by governments, private organizations at the behest of government, regulators, or on their own initiative”. As we see from available facts, communist countries as well as monarchies around the world are the usual practitioners of internet monitoring & regulation (of course, with exceptions). We need to understand here that, there is huge difference between regulation and monitoring.

Recently our I&B Ministry had sought data and control over Facebook which had drawn strong criticism from civic societies. Here you can see a lump-sum report on Internet censorship in India.
Primary significance: Suppression of freedom of speech and expression of displeasure with government.

3. State Sponsored Data Collection,
Monitoring and Analysis

This is the most tricky of all, on paper, government sponsored data collection and monitoring programmes are initiated and are
set with objective to counter terrorism and other cyber crimes without affecting the ordinary internet user in any way. But in reality, they may end up being used to influence popular opinions in homeland as well as establishing cyber supremacy over other states and agencies and espionage. There is no doubt that in current dynamic scenario where most of the terror and economical attacks are mounted or supported by advance cyber tools and expertise; we need a system in place to counter the growing threat and effect of bad elements. But the question that arises here is more of social and legal in nature than technical, programmes like America’s PRISM has drawn widespread criticism and questions regarding the authority of an individual state and/or agency over world’s cyberspace. It is worthy to note here that such programmes are not new and many cases like these have been uncovered in past also, including names of major economic powers such as the UK, Russia, China and France.

In my opinion, it is inevitable for an emerging economy as well as developed nations to have a monitoring and surveillance system in place. But the authority and jurisdiction of each shall be properly defined and should be governed by internationally mutually agreed laws which should be applicable uniformly to all. The cyber surveillance and monitoring issue is uncharted water, with none of us having expertise and thumb rules regarding it. It is a matter of great national and international significance and hence a common approach with universal collaboration and acceptance is need of the hour.

Jai Hind.