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Tag Government

Shades of Chanakya 3

Dec18

It is for not for nothing that Nitish Kumar was called ‘Chanankya’ of undivided Janta Dal in the early ’90s. In his present avatar too, he has mixed up a fair dose of realpolitik with his developmental plank. From the very beginning of his term he strategically targeted the vote banks of his two chief opponents in the state – Lalu Yadav (RJD) & Ramvilas Paswan (LJP).
New Bihar Graphics
He began by assiduously wooing the Muslim Community to break the Muslim-Yadav (MY) axis of Lalu Yadav. Apart from symbolic gestures of admitting a large number of Muslim Leaders to his party (JDU), attending Muslim festivities, drafting a Muslim bureaucrat for the critical Home Secretary position ( rarity for a BJP ruled/partnered state) etc., he also has also launched several schemes for the Muslim community (such as ‘Hunar’) and recruited ‘urdu’ teachers in bulk . He took credit for finally convicting the main accused of Bhagalpur riots of 1989 and distributing relief to its victims on the lines of Delhi 1984 Sikh riots. He has cleverly positioned himself as a ‘doer’ versus Lalu who he says, only provided ‘lip service’ to the community. His recent decision of allocating 250 acres of land for establishing a center of Aligarh Muslim University in Bihar too, has been a step in the same direction..

At the same time he also targeted the ‘Dalit’ vote bank of Ramvilas Paswan. He first broke off a large chunk of the community by branding them as ‘Maha-Dalits’ as they had not received the benefits due to them while all their benefits were being cornered by the more well off communities among Dalits. A separate “Mahadalit Vikas Mission‘ was founded under his supervision and a flood of schemes have been launched to directly target succour to this community. To add injury to salt, he has slowly expanded the ambit of ‘Mahadalits’ leaving only the ‘Paswans’ in the dalit community. This move has been greatly resented by Ramvilas Paswan who has seen his electoral fortunes dwindle.

He has even tried to neutralize Congress with his demand for a special state status for Bihar. He strategically voiced this demand just before the declaration of the results of General Parliamentary Elections, at the time when Congress was fishing for more allies. The Congress was initially sympathetic but backtracked later after they were able to cobble up a comfortable majority on their own. Nitish now periodically uses this demand as a stick to beat Congress apart from his usual lament of insufficient central assistance. He has not even spared his partners in the government – BJP. Starting off as junior partners with BJP in the undivided Bihar, he has slowly pushed them to a corner and assumed the role of big brother in the state. He also asserts his authority clearly in matters of protecting his secular credentials such as the recent land allocation to AMU.

Internally he has moved swiftly against detractors in his own party. Early dissenters like Upendra Kumar Kushwaha were promptly shown the door. ( He has recently rejoined Nitish after unsuccessfully trying his luck with NCP for past 4 years). Even the party patriarch, George Fernandis who was also the convener of NDA, was kept at bay. Fernandis was denied a Loksabha ticket on grounds of ill health, though he was later accommodated in the Rajya Sabha. Other detractors such Nagmani were thrown out or the ones like Prabhunath Singh were neutralised through election defeat.

However despite all his brilliant strategies, Nitish received a body blow in the last bye-election for 18 assembly seats in September 2009. He along with BJP could only manage to win 5 setas whereas RJD+LJP won 9 and Congress 2. This has exposed his razor thin lead in the deeply divided caste equations of Bihar. While the marginalisation of Ramvilas Paswan has pushed him firmly into the Lalu camp, the rejuvenation of Congress nationally and the decline of BJP (his partner in the state) together have the potential of stinging him badly in the next assembly elections slated for late 2010. Only saving grace for him is that there is still another year to go and if he heeds to the warning signals of the recent bye-election defeat, he can still re-work the magic next year.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Wings of Education 6

Dec6

Literacy rate in Bihar has consistently been the lowest in India and it has been responsible for the state being a laggard in all developmental indicators. Education in Bihar is characterised by poor quality of infrastructure, lackadaisical attitude of teachers, rampant corruption in student welfare schemes, teacher absenteeism and chronic session delays. As a result many students migrate out of the state for higher education. Migrant bihari students have even become the main stay of several private professional colleges nationwide. Anyone who has had the discomfort of traveling in Bihar during examination or interview dates, when entire trains are taken over by examinees, would also be witness to the longing and yearning of students who wish to flee the clutches of poverty on the wings of education.
New Bihar Image
Another manifestation of this hunger for education is the widely acclaimed Super 30 which is a free residential JEE coaching program for extremely poor students that has turned out 100% success rates in last two years.

When Nitish Kumar took office, mending education was one of his key priorities. To fix the prevailing teacher student ratio of 73 : 1, he plunged headlong into recruitment of 2.35 lac school teachers at one go. Such a scale of recruitment was previously unheard of. Simultaneously he also reserved 50% positions for women and decentralised recruitment down to the panchayat level. The ensuing period has been anything but smooth, with systems creaking under record 10 million applications, post offices running out of stamps, fake degree rackets being busted, charges of corruption at ‘mukhiya’ levels, court cases being filed by disgruntled candidates, protests, ‘dharnas’ et all. Yet unfazed, the government has recruited more than 2 lac school teachers in the last 4 years and is still trying to recruit many more. While it is true that quality has given way to quantity and the endemic problems of teacher absenteeism, inadequate infrastructure etc are yet to be addressed satisfactorily, the resolve and priorities of the government have shone through. Another key development has been the realisation that gender differential (large female illiteracy) is the main culprit behind the abysmally low literacy rate in the state. Hence a number of schemes specially targeted at girl students have been launched. These include a free dress scheme & a popular bicycle gift scheme for every girl student (recently extended to boys too), ‘Hunar – a vocational training program for girls from marginalised community, and a scheme to improve sanitation facilities (Poor or lack of sanitation facilities forces many girls to drop school out of shame) in schools.

The success in higher education has been more visible. Within 6 months of coming to power an MOU with BIT, Mesra (the Private Engineering College that ceded to Jharkhand during bifurcation of state), which was hanging fire for a couple of years was signed promptly. The first batch of students will pass out in 2010 from its spanking new campus with adjoining housing facility for staff and students. Its . Another two new impressive institutions were started by the state government, albeit from temporary campuses. One of them is Chanakya National Law University that provides an integrated 5 year degree course in Law. Another one is the Chandra Gupta Institute of Management that aspires to model itself on the IIMs pattern. More good news followed when IIT and NIFT started functioning from Patna in quick succession last year.

IIT Patna Gate Image

The dream project of Nitish Kumar is however the Nalanda University. He has roped in two distinguished patrons to pilot the project – Nobel laureate Amartya Sen & Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The project has also attracted funding interest from several budhist circuit countries . Once it comes to life, it will transport Bihar back to the glorious days at the dawn of civilization when it was a global center of learning. Other notable institutions that have begun operations in Bihar are Amity Business School & ICFAI Business School. Yet others in pipeline include AMU, IGNOU Regional Office, Aryabhatta Knowledge University etc. However not everything has worked out well . AIIMS type institute that was promised long ago has failed to take off. There are no other new Medical Colleges that are coming up. Even existing Medical Colleges are being threatened of de-recognition by MCI for lack of facilities. In case of Engineering & Management institutes too, the demand far outstrips supply. Also, most of the new institutions are operating from temporary premises. Soft infrastructure such as housing and entertainment for staff and students is still missing.

To put things in perspective, whereas during the earlier regime ‘Lathi Ghumawan, Tel Pilawan’ rallies ( Oil and wave the stick, ostensibly to ward off communal forces) were the order of the day and teachers & educationists were treated with scant respect, today education is the crown jewel of the government strategy to put the state back on track . The battle on the education front is far from over but at least it is moving in the right direction.

Part: 1 2 3 4 5

Gandhi’s Monkeys 5

Aug18

Out of the many advices that Gandhiji gave to the nation, none has been turned on its head more completely than his three monkeys sermon. His three monkeys symbolised the purity of inner self with ‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil’ . The bureaucrats and the politicians have conveniently taken two of his three advices to their hearts - See No Evil and Hear No Evil.  That is what prevents them from seeing any corruption or hearing about any either.

Indian Poitics Image

Governments routinely go about their work with blinkers on, paying scant attention to the rampant corruption all around them. While government can’t find corruption, people can’t seem to lose it. A common man meets corruption everywhere. To him, government itself has become the fountainhead of corruption. Wherever citizens come in contact with government, corruption potentially happens. The incidence of corruption is so pervasive in the day to day life that it is ironical that government vigilance departments have to work so hard to nail corruption. When corruption is present everywhere, all one needs is the determination to confront it. Yet the charade of catching and releasing culprits goes on, while the malady of corruption festers and grows by the day.

If the government is serious about confronting corruption, first of all, it needs to get its head out of the sand and boldly acknowledge the existence of the problem. Any solution can only emanate from there. The government can then begin its war on corruption by holding ‘Anti Corruption Weeks’ for promoting awareness and informing about future corruption control methods.  This should be followed by ‘Corruption Audits’ of departments for both the people as well as the processes. The aim of these audits should be to locate those departments that can be easily rid of corruption and used as models for the rest of the departments. The audits should review official documentation and the procedures that are being followed, especially with respect to common citizens. It should also review the financial status of the officials to match their known sources of income. Most importantly public comments should be invited to gauge the perception about the department. Wherever feasible social media should be used for the purpose. The audits should certify certain departments as ‘Corruption Free’ based on their findings. The rest of the  departments should be asked to draw a migration plan for being certified ‘corruption free’ after repeat future audits.Once certified, the departments should be subject to even higher standards of accountability and any transgressions should be severely punished. All this may seem like a fairy tale but a driven person like T. N. Sheshan or A. P. J. Kalam, as our ‘Corruption Czar’ can quickly turn fairy tales into reality.

Part: 1 2 3

Gods of Corruption 8

Jul29

Guru Nanak had once famously remarked to his disciples – Tell me which direction there is no God and I will point my feet there. Corruption  too has acquired similar proportions.  There is nowhere to hide from Corruption. It is becoming omnipresent.

The next time you happen to pass by a roadside Traffic Police ‘May I Help You’ booth, on way to your office in the morning, look closely.

Corruption in India Image

You just might see the Traffic Policeman doing puja with ‘Aggarbatti’ (incense sticks) in his hands. No! he is not merely being religious. He is also acknowledging the fact that apart from this being his duty station, it is also his seat of business. He is beginning his workday like any other shopkeeper by propitiating goddess Laxmi.  He then proceeds to be on the lookout for candidates to extort money from. The more entrepreneurial of the lot, even hire an assistant at their cost to receive bribe money on their behalf. This is to protect themselves from getting caught red handed. Is it any secret then, that many of these booths at strategic locations are prized possessions and transfer postings to them take place after considerable sums of money exchange hands.

continue reading »

Emperor’s Clothes 0

Jul12

Corruption India Graphics A recent CAG sample survey report stated that only 3.2% of the target households of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme have benefited from the scheme. This means that 96.8% of the corpus spent on this most ambitious social sector scheme launched in Independent India’s history, might be going down the drain. Even though it was only a sample study and its results can not not be uniformly extrapolated, the statistics are still staggering. Decades after the famous confession of the then neophyte Rajiv Gandhi that for every Rupee spent by the government, only 15 paise reaches its intended recipients, things have only gotten worse. Subsequent studies have shown that the average utilisation figure may be still lower at around 6% only. Slowly but surely, the veneer of public good that’s draped around all government schemes is now coming off and the ‘emperor stands exposed with no clothes  on’.  All the rhetoric about caring for the poor is just that – rhetoric. These schemes are nothing but ingenuous machinations of the politicians, by the bureaucrats for their cronies. Government spending in India has become the fountainhead of corruption and any benefits to the needy sections of society is largely cosmetic and unintended.

If things have to improve, more and more technology needs to be brought into the distribution process. Technology can be used to better target subsidies and ensure transparency. continue reading »