Posted in India

Republic Day: look back in awe… look forward in anguish

I make it a point to post something on this blog every 26th of January, to commemorate the day “we, the people of India” gave to ourselves a brand new Constitution. 

A Constitution that was to become the template for the healing of a bruised, battered and partitioned motherland, which promised a unified, caring and modern home to its children of every persuasion, weaving their diversities into the fabric of nationhood, embroidered with the silks of optimism, hope and learning.

It had the gumption to include in its Fundamental Duties, Article 51A(h): “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. Towards this end, the most world renowned institutions of learning were born like TIFR, BARC, ICAR, ISRO, IISc, IITs, IIMs etc whose alumni adorn so many global corporates today. 

Social research too was given its due and Indian research organisations soon acquired the reputation of providing the most reliable social and demographic data among the developing countries. Such data are a boost to coherent policy-making and scientific planning, resulting in the optimum utilisation of scarce resources. The lynchpin, of course, was to be the decadal Census of India, and its conduct became a Union subject under Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, and it is listed at serial number 69 of its Seventh Schedule.

A census essentially reveals the demographic profile of the nation which is vital for many reasons like the conduct of health, education, and agriculture surveys, the design and implementation of policy, and for administrative decision-making. The data collected through the Census is also used for the management and evaluation of various programmes run or to be introduced by the Government, NGOs, academics, researchers, as well as commercial and private enterprises. 

Census data is also used for the demarcation of constituencies and allocation of representation to the Parliament, State Legislative Assemblies and local bodies. And the Finance Commission gives grants to the States on the basis of population figures available from the Census data.

Ever since the First Census of 1881, India kept its date with the Census – once a decade, hundreds of thousands of enumerators visited every household in one of the most populous countries on the planet, to gather information about individuals, families, livelihoods, economic conditions, migration status, societies and cultures. 

Sadly it took a pandemic like Covid to disrupt this schedule. However, what would have been a short disruption of a few months has unfortunately become a deliberate postponement of indefinite length. Politics once more trumps development and governance – if there is no Census, it will be difficult to hold the incumbents accountable for the rising poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and declining labour ratios at the next General Election. Not to mention that political interference in the statistical institutions of the country calls into question the integrity of Indian data and does untold harm to India’s reputation globally.

As expected, it’s always the poorest of the poor who pay the price. For instance, since the government still depends on population figures from the 2011 census to determine who is eligible for aid, more than 100 million people are estimated to be excluded from the subsidised food grain Public Distribution System, and millions of children are left with inadequate schooling and nutrition. What’s left to say…

I sometimes wonder why every post which begins as a celebration of our nationhood on every Republic Day becomes a lamentation by the end.

I am beginning to despair… 

Jai Hind!

Posted in Development, India, Published Article

How British Rule changed our Cities and Towns forever

Published in Times of India, Pune in November 2018. Lost and found. Posted here for you.

As one grows older, one realizes that life has no ‘undo’ button. Life happens – and our best intentions and greatest plans finally amount to little. The same is true with the life of nations. We can, at best, understand history – not change it. So even as we lament about the excesses of colonial rule, there is no escaping the fact that British rule had an irreversible and far-reaching impact on the way we live and work in our cities today.

In the pre-colonial days, our cities grew organically from the soil and represented old pieties and practices – so we had temple towns, pilgrim centres, handicraft hubs, agricultural market towns, fortresses and royal capitals studding every corner of India. The British, however, were to greatly change this timeless landscape with the addition of 5 new types of urbanization: port cities, railway towns, cantonments, hill stations and mining centres.

As the British consolidated their dominion over India, the growing railway network provided connectivity and allowed them to centralise their two essential functions of maintaining law and order, and collecting taxes. This required a centralised bureaucracy and the ‘steel frame’ is still with us today – rusty, creaking and neither trained nor qualified to tackle the immense challenges of unplanned urbanization and growing informalisation.

The centralization of power and authority, coupled with a deep distrust of the ‘natives’ was formalized in the mother of all municipal laws – the Bombay Municipal Act of 1888. And its archaic provisions still govern our cities and towns, through the various Acts it has spawned on the sub-continent. Even today, despite modifying the Constitution through the 74th Amendment in 1992, little or no true power has percolated down to our municipal bodies – which are the third tier of government. Their powers to raise taxes have eroded through the years, with the GST regime dealing the final blow, and State and Central allocations to municipal bodies remain largely arbitrary and politically coloured.

The third deep impact of British rule has been on our town planning and urban land use. With the British nostalgia for creating ‘a green and pleasant land’ in the distant tropics, the planning laws were too short-sighted for a country as densely populated as India where low-form urbanization would be entirely unsuitable. To now densify Indian cities by raising FSI just isn’t practical because there is a limit to how much the existing infrastructure can cope with (water supply, sewerage, power lines) and retrofitting infrastructure is extremely expensive – and chaotic. The result has been urban sprawl – and in the absence of efficient public transport, expensive and time-consuming commuting.

With these planning norms, we also inherited strict development control rules which require such high standards of construction that the poor have no option but to go informal, simply because they build their houses incrementally, as and when they have the resources. Our town plans also do not provide for informal enterprise, hawking areas, or waste collection and processing within the city limits.

We also continue to be bound by that other British gem – the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. Despite attempts to modify it in 2013 and remodify it two years later, its interpretation has been left largely to the discretion of State Governments and is consequently mired in controversies, scams, litigation and land mafias.

Finally, the most ticklish and controversial legacy of the British – Cantonments. And who better to understand the problems this creates for urban governance than the people of the Pune Metropolitan Region, blessed as we are with 2 Municipal Corporations and 3 Cantonment Boards. How can any wizard conjure up a Development Plan for this city without stepping on a thousand toes?

Pune is indeed proud to host so many techno-military establishments, but why can’t these establishments be part of a common urban landscape, availing the services and paying the taxes of a SINGLE municipal body, as other civilian and scientific establishments do? Isn’t it time to ‘trust the natives’ 70 years after Independence? Imagine the CBD that a Singapore planner could develop in that vast swathe of prime urban land from Sachapir Street to the Race Course and from Poona Club to St Mary’s – it is, after all, almost entirely under civilian use, so why can’t it have a civilian makeover? It is said that the cantonments are the lungs of Pune, but there are alternatives. Planned high rise development interspersed with vast open and green eco-friendly public spaces are the modern option in cities across the world, and would sit well with Pune’s hills and dales.

To end, let us give the devil his due: The British formalized urban governance in India, and municipalities were endowed with powers of taxation as far back as 1850. The creation and development of port cities put India on the map for world trade, while industrial technologies and the railways speeded up our modernization. Finally, the legacy of modern education, scientific temper and the English language has put India at the forefront of a globalized world and on a trajectory to the future. All thanks to those firangis


Development and the Rural-Urban Continuum

Development and the Informal Urban Economy

Posted in India

Independence Day 2022: 75 years of growth or dissolution?

15 August is just a date, and 75 is just a number, but this year, as India celebrates the diamond jubilee of its freedom from oppressive colonial rule, these numbers focus our minds sharply on what has been gained… and lost.

India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru delivered his dreams and hopes in one of the most famous speeches of the English language (Tryst with Destiny) at midnight on 15 August 1947; and for the next 17 years, he endeavoured to strengthen India’s Independence in every sense of the word:

The first priority was to provide self-sufficiency in food – hence the Green Revolution and the foundations of a vast network of irrigation and hydro-electric power stations in rural areas.

Equally important was the consolidation of India’s natural resources through the creation of various Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) in Mining, Energy, Infrastructure, Communication and Transport. Several Public Sector manufacturing units also came up, and were dubbed the temples of New India – industrial and urban India was on the cusp of a great revolution.

Then came an ambitious programme to strengthen human resources through the creation of world class institutions of learning in everything from the Pure Sciences, to Technology, to Business Management and the Liberal Arts, to Medicine and Space Research, to Defence R&D to the Nuclear Sciences.

Internationally, Nehruvian India stood proud and tall as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the country which everyone had expected to disintegrate within a decade of Independence, found its rightful place on the world stage as an arbiter of good common sense, an exemplar of unity in diversity, and a proponent of peace and goodwill among nations.

There was a simultaneous effort to improve the quality of life of the country’s citizens through various poverty alleviation programmes, and the vast improvement in Human Development Indicators in the second half of the last century, are evidence of their success.

However, the world caught up with India and after the oil shock and various wars of the 1970s, came the ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s, and inevitably, the dawn of an era of globalisation accompanied by liberalisation and privatisation.

Ironically the great economic reforms which were ushered in by Pandit Nehru’s own party were to sound the death knell of the great Nehruvian dream of planned development, and pave the way for a right-wing government under A B Vajpayee, which merrily went on to sell some precious gems from India’s public sector, to private investors. Between 1999 and 2004, the BJP privatized the Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO), Hindustan Zinc (both to Sterlite Industries), Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Limited (to Reliance Industries) and VSNL (to the Tata group) and various state government establishments as well. While the track record and future of these companies were considered good at the time of sale, they have all failed under the private establishments that they were sold to.

Between 2014 and 2018 the present government divested a total of ₹1,94,646 crore – and as most of these PSUs were literally run into the ground to justify their sale, it led to a loss to the taxpayer of over ₹69,575.64 crores over the past decade.

So much for Indian independence and self-sufficiency in key areas of manufacturing.

Ditto with the human resources which have leached away to foreign shores with full support of the government, which has done little or nothing to staunch the brain drain and incentivize investment in India by its expatriates. Studies have found that 23,000 Indian millionaires have left India since 2014 and that nearly 7,000 millionaires left in 2019 alone, costing the country billions in tax revenue. Since 2015, nearly 9 lakh Indians have given up their citizenship.

So much for Indian independence and self-sufficiency in key areas of learning and knowledge.

And the final loss of independence stares us in the face in the arena of foreign relations, as India scuttles embarrassingly from this side to that – swinging from BRICS to QUAD, with no principled reasoning to support either side. And with a world on the verge of moving away from the unipolarity of the last 30 years to a distinctly multipolar order, we are very much in danger of being utterly marginalized in world affairs. Sad but true.

The coming decades will be crucial and here’s hoping we can overcome the growing poverty, the immoral inequality, the increasing divisiveness, and our marginal global profile, so that we can celebrate the Centenary of our Independence as a truly great nation in 2047. Amen!

Posted in Governance, India

Ethical Consumption and Indian Industry 2.0

First published on 8 February 2015

I started this blog to counter the current Indian Government’s proclivity for mega pronouncements without thinking through the implications. The latest buzz phrase is ‘Make in India’. But make in India for whom? The domestic consumer or the European and American consumer, where India hopes to replace China as the key provider of the basic essentials of life?

Update 1:

Despite various bans and boycotts imposed by the Government of India on Chinese goods following a border clash, Indian imports from China in 2021 reached a whopping $97.5 Billion, a 30% rise from 2019. Moreover, these imports are largely ‘manufactured’ goods like electrical and mechanical machinery, auto components, pharmaceutical ingredients, and medical supplies like oxygen concentrators and PPEs.

So much for ‘Make in India’…

India is also not able to compete in export markets for manufactured goods because of its relatively poor infrastructure and tedious red tape, widespread petty corruption, an ill-educated workforce (by international standards) and the prevalence of child labour and forced labour somewhere in every corporate supply chain, which creates a very negative image of the country in the minds of the western consumer, who is tech-savvy, globally connected, well-informed and increasingly believes in conscious consumerism.

Update 2:

Need for Regulating Supply Chains

In the early years of this century, the movements for ethical supply chain management gathered momentum, and every time there was a furore in the western media about environmental damage, animal experimentation, poor labour practices, or unsafe working conditions anywhere down a long and trailing multinational supply chain, the most high-profile retailer bore the brunt of boycotts and protests. This was unacceptable in economic terms and extremely expensive in transnational legal terms, and so a global standard had to be put in place to assure ethical supply chain management.

The best known of these is the SA8000 initiated by Social Accountability International, a US-based non-profit. The SA8000 looks at human rights in the workplace, worker safety, child labour and forced labour and other issues, based upon ILO guidelines, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the UNICEF Convention on Rights of the Child.

Its 9 principles for certifying a business as SA8000 compliant are:

  1. Child Labour: No child labour; remediation of any child found working
  2. Forced Labour: No forced labour; no lodging of deposits or identity papers at employers or outside recruiters; no trafficking
  3. Health and Safety: Safe and healthy work environment; system to detect and prevent threats to health and safety; regular health and safety worker training; access to clean toilet facilities and potable water
  4. Freedom of Association and Right to Collective Bargaining: All personnel have the right to form and join trades unions and bargain collectively; where these rights are restricted under law, the company shall allow workers to freely elect their own representatives
  5. Discrimination: No discrimination based on gender, race, caste, origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities, trade union or political affiliation, or age; no sexual harassment
  6. Discipline: No corporal punishment, mental or physical coercion or verbal abuse
  7. Working Hours: Compliant with applicable law, but, in any event, no more than 48 hours per week with at least one day off following every six consecutive days or work; voluntary overtime paid at a premium rate and not to exceed 12 hours per week; overtime may be mandatory if part of a collective bargaining agreement
  8. Remuneration: Wages paid for a standard work week must meet legal and industry standards and be sufficient to meet the basic needs of workers and their families and to provide some discretionary income
  9. Management Systems: To earn and sustain certification, facilities must go beyond simple compliance to integrate the requirements into documented management systems and into their supply chain, including complaints response, workplace dialogue, and stakeholder engagement.

Compliance with SA8000 includes compliance with ILO conventions, local and national law, openness to worker concerns, and a commitment to continuous improvement. Research I undertook in 2012 threw up the following interesting facts about the 614 SA8000 compliant businesses in India at that time:

  • The most common businesses opting for SA 8000 were small and medium enterprises, (the reasoning is that large, heavy manufacturing businesses already have the statutory framework in place in compliance with the existing labour legislation in India, and therefore do not require an SA 8000 type of certification for their international trade activity).
  • Most of the SA 8000 certified Indian businesses are essentially part of the supply chain of large multi-national retailers, who insist on such certification, while domestic retailers seldom do
  • Most of the SA 8000 certified Indian businesses manufacture consumer nondurables like apparel, textiles, footwear, processed foods, leather and sports goods
  • Most of the SA 8000 certified Indian businesses are likely to be located in the States with niche manufacturing small and medium sector enterprises, like Tamil Nadu, where the overwhelming number of SA8000 compliant companies were in Tirupur, a cotton apparel town, sometimes called the ‘ganji’ or capital of the world for its exclusive production of men’s vests and T-shirts.

However, just 600-700 ‘ethical’ businesses in a country with hundreds of thousands of small and medium enterprises is indeed laughable, and this ‘tokenism’ in the name of ethical supply chains by the manufacturing sector is bound to take its toll in the international market, where the conscious consumer is now king.

Whatever claims of equitable work conditions are made by corporate India, the sad fact is that India’s image abroad has steadily declined as it continues its downward slide in various international rankings like the World Hunger Index and the World Press Freedom Index; besides the negative press it gets abroad for its growing communalism, casteism, curtailment of dissent, and treatment of protesters.

The aftermath of the COVID19 pandemic too has added to India’s woes as huge masses of rural children have dropped out of the education system into forced and child labour, and general poverty, unemployment, informalisation and inequality have reached frightening levels.


Thus, before proclaiming grandiose schemes like ‘Make in India’, perhaps the Government should overcome its aversion to ‘leftist’ ideals of a rights-based approach to human development – especially, education, vocational training, and public health. This was the path so successfully followed by Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China. Let India not go down in history as the country which so carelessly threw away its priceless demographic dividend.

Posted in India

Republic Day 2022: Speaking of Inequality…

The 26th of January is celebrated as Republic Day to mark the date on which Independent India’s Constitution came into effect.

The Indian Constitution is a remarkable articulation of a post-colonial dream – to reshape the very matrix of socio-political interactions in a country enslaved by the inequities of caste and class stratification, religious strife, foreign occupation, and endemic poverty.

Its awe-inspiring PREAMBLE leaves no one in doubt of these intentions:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation …

And to be fair, successive Indian governments have made numerous inclusive laws, implemented social justice schemes, and formulated multiple programmes and projects to ensure that Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity prevail.

However, in recent years, the emergence of right-wing governments across the globe with their concomitant Neocon free market economic policies, and the growth of individual innovators in technology has seen unprecedented growth in the wealth of a few at the cost of the many – and India is no exception.

As the India Supplement 2022 of the Oxfam Report INEQUALITY KILLS reveals:

  • Despite it being the worst year yet for India during the pandemic, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 in 2020, to 142 in 2021. This was also the year when the share of the bottom 50% of the population in national wealth was a mere 6%.
  • The combined wealth of the richest hundred Indians on the Forbes list stands at more than half a trillion US$.
  • In 2020, India’s top 10% held close to 45% of the country’s total national wealth.
  • The richest 98 Indian billionaires had the same wealth (USD 657 billion) as the poorest 555,000,000 people in India, who also constitute the poorest 40%.
  • India is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide. The 2021 FAO report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World states that there are over 200 million undernourished people in India.
  • Daily wage workers topped the categories of people who died of suicide in 2020, followed by self-employed and unemployed individuals.

These inequalities have been exacerbated by indifference, inaction and even deliberate pro-rich biases of the present regime:

  • The chronic neglect of the healthcare system in India is clear when one looks at the poor budgetary allocations to the sector made by successive governments. Other middle-income countries (MICs) like Brazil (9.51), China (5.35), Russia (5.32) and South Africa (8.25) have allocations much higher than India (3.54). This consistently poor spending on health has also created gross inequalities in the healthcare system: for example, the life expectancy of a Dalit woman is approximately 15 years less than that of an upper caste woman.
  • Despite a recognition of the value of spending on education, India’s governmental expenditure on education has stagnated, remaining around 3% of GDP between 2014-15 to 2018-19, against the historic target of 6% of GDP. Other MICs like Brazil (6.1), Russia (4.7), and South Africa (6.8) allocate far more in comparison. A bad situation was made infinitely worse by the COVID 19 Pandemic, when only 4% of rural SC/ST students were able to study online on a regular basis.
  • The pandemic also saw many children pushed out of school and into child labour. (A study by Aide et Action found that 50% of migrant children were engaged in work to help their parents, and 67% accompany their parents on worksites.)
  • Between June and October 2020, child marriages reportedly increased by more than 33%.
  • Awareness of PDS among respondents was at 66%, but one-third of the respondents with a ration card were unable to buy ration at a PDS outlet.
  • Only 8% had heard of Ayushman Bharat and just 1% had a health card.
  • Additionally, the awareness of labour codes was close to zero.

Inadequate expenditure on health, education and social security go hand-in-hand with the rise in privatisation of the provision of essential goods and services, thus increasing inequality in the country. 

The proportion of India’s children attending a government school has now declined to 45% – this number is 85%  in the USA, 90%  in England, and 95% in Japan. Sending a child to a private school is approximately NINE times the cost of a government school.

The growing inequality in the country with the wealthiest 10% amassing 45% of the national wealth, while the poor struggle for access to health, education and social security, calls for specific policy responses to tackle the issue.

The Oxfam Report makes the following suggestions to address this growing inequality:

  • Redistribute India’s wealth from the super-rich to generate resources for the majority: A 4% wealth tax on the 98 richest families in India can take care of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for more than 2 years, the Mid-Day-Meal programme of the country for 17 years OR the Samagra Siksha Abhiyan for 6 years. Similarly, estimates suggest that a 1% wealth tax on 98 richest billionaire families can finance the Ayushman Bharat scheme for more than SEVEN years OR the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Government of India for one year.
  • Generate revenue to invest in the education and health of future generations: A temporary 1% surcharge on the richest 10% population could help raise an additional INR 8.7 lakh crore, which could be utilised to increase the education and health budget.
  • Enact and Enforce Statutory Social Security Provisions for Informal Sector Workers: While the government is recognising gig economy workers, it also needs to focus on laying the legal groundwork of basic social sector protections for 93% percent of India’s workforce. It is time to reverse privatisation and commercialisation of public services, address jobless growth and bring back stronger social protection measures for India’s informal sector workers.

Who can argue with that!

Jai Hind!

Posted in India

Independence Day 2021 : Redeeming the Pledge

At Midnight on the 15th of August 1947, India won its freedom from British Colonial Rule and on that historic occasion, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India delivered the famous Tryst with Destiny speech, which ranks amongst one of the greatest speeches of the last century, in any language.

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

He went on to outline the many challenges the new nation, bent and broken by centuries of servitude, more diverse and ungovernable than any other on the planet, faced…

Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this Assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom, we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons us now.

That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means, the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and poverty and disease and inequality of opportunity.

And it was this Nehruvian Vision which makes it possible for every Indian to look back with pride at what has been so painstakingly and assiduously achieved, in the face of adversity, scarcity, conflict and constraint:

Lately however, it is becoming more and more difficult to keep India’s tryst with destiny, as we seem to be moving backward from the road to human development, which changed a billion lives for the better, over 75 long years.

Some indications:

  • The Pew Research Centre, using World Bank data, has estimated that the number of poor in India (with income of $2 per day or less in purchasing power parity) has more than doubled to 134 million from 60 million in just a year due to the pandemic-induced recession. This means, India is back in a situation to be called a “country of mass poverty” after 45 years
  • As manufacturing jobs dry up, workers are returning to the low-productivity farm sector. Getting back to a higher growth trajectory will require getting people out of this disguised unemployment and into more gainful productive employment. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has been monitoring these numbers and its Consumer Pyramids Household Survey shows that these numbers have been steadily rising in recent years. The government’s own Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) shows that employment in agriculture, as a percentage of total employment, has gone up from 42.5% in 2018-19 to 45.6% in 2019-20. In other words, our labour force is in reverse gear and the situation can only grow worse, resulting in India forfeiting its demographic dividend
  • Globally, India fell 20 places in ten years on the WORLD PRESS FREEDOM INDEX – from 122 in 2010 to 142 in 2020. This story is becoming all too familiar, whether it is the World Development Index, the Social Progress Index, the Human Development Index and a myriad other global indices and criteria

Nehruji ended his speech with rousing words indeed:

We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be. We are citizens of a great country on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.

To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.

And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service.


Posted in India

Republic Day 2021

India marks 26 January as its Republic Day – the day WE THE PEOPLE gave unto ourselves a Constitution wherein we resolved that India was to be a SOVEREIGN, SOCIALIST, SECULAR, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, which would secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.

To bring about a just, free, egalitarian and fraternal society, the Constitution of India granted ALL its citizens, certain FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS:

The Right to Equality is one of the chief guarantees of the Constitution. It is embodied in Articles 14–16, which collectively encompass the general principles of equality before law and non-discrimination, and Articles 17–18 which collectively further the philosophy of social equality.

Right to Freedom: Article 19 guarantees six freedoms in the nature of civil rights, which are available only to citizens of India. These include the freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly without arms, freedom of association, freedom of movement throughout the territory of India, freedom to reside and settle in any part of the country of India and the freedom to practise any profession.

The Right against Exploitation, contained in Articles 23–24, lays down certain provisions to prevent exploitation of the weaker sections of the society by individuals or the State. Article 23 prohibits human trafficking, making it an offence punishable by law, and also prohibits forced labour, or any act of compelling a person to work without wages where he was legally entitled not to work or to receive remuneration for it.

The Right to Freedom of Religion, covered in Articles 25–28, provides religious freedom to all citizens and ensures a secular state in India. According to the Constitution, there is no official State religion, and the State is required to treat all religions impartially and neutrally. Article 25 guarantees all persons the freedom of conscience and the right to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice.

The Cultural and Educational Rights, given in Articles 29 and 30, are measures to protect the rights of cultural, linguistic and religious minorities, by enabling them to conserve their heritage and protecting them against discrimination.

In a year burned into human memory by the Corona Pandemic, India has added several cuts and bruises of its own to its fragile social fabric, with scant regard for these fundamental rights, or even basic human rights.

Yet one lives in hope of things stabilizing for the better in the new year.

Happy Republic Day. Jai Hind!

Posted in India

Independence Day 2020: Nothing to be happy about

I wrote my last Independence Day post from a hotel room in Singapore. And it was essentially a Requiem for my beloved country, adapted from Gurudev Tagore’s famous prayer.

From a distance, any sentient Indian would have known that something was deeply troubling the soul of India in August 2019 – a sense of foreboding and impending doom… and a great churning was in the offing. And that did come to pass. The CAA, NRC and NPR may have been the trigger, but the protests across the country and across all sections of society spoke of a much, much deeper malaise – of lost opportunities and the inevitability of failure. Of an uncertain future and an unchangeable past. Of love and hate and cuts and slashes in the social fabric. Of bleeding wounds and breaking hearts…

And then this happened… An exodus of biblical proportions as the migrant labourers, left stranded by the CORONA Lockdown, began their long journey home.

The Indian middle classes were shocked to the core. The seamless services that we city dwellers were so used to had vanished. The urban informal economy was stripped naked to reveal the odious exploitation of man by man. The poor, so long invisibilized,were made visible. And we were left shaking our heads and looking for reasons of where we went wrong.

It was then that I recalled something I had written in these pages in November 2014:

And here were my meanderings made flesh in this most brutal fashion. No writer with even an iota of sensitivity wishes to be vindicated in such a distressing way. Nor do I.

That was why I could not bring myself to put pen to tablet for such a long time.

But as these brave forgotten armies trudge back to the same satanic mills and construction sites, surely we too can find the courage to spread the word and record our fads and foibles for perpetuity.

Jai Hind!

Posted in India

Republic Day 2020 : Time for stocktaking

When I started this blog in November 2014, I wanted to make occasional assessments of how the incoming Government of India would deliver good governance – one of its major campaign promises.

And what better occasion than today, when a Republic celebrates a Constitution that has been in effect for 70 glorious years, which has transformed a post-colonial basket case into a proud member of the comity of nations, which binds together more ethnicities and diversities than any other nation-state on the planet, and where a vast swathe of the population is suddenly feeling so vulnerable that the eyes of the world are watching every move of its elected government.

So let’s begin with the UN Paradigm of good governance, and assess the Indian Government‘s performance objectively for each indicator, based upon reliable media reports and facts and data…

Good Governance Indicators Performance of Indian Government (2014-19) from media headlines Assessing Government Performance Remarks
Efficiency 355 Infrastructure projects with cost overrun of ₹3880 billion: Economic Times Nov 2019 FAIL INEFFICIENT
Effectiveness Demonetisation drive that cost 1.5 m jobs, failed to uncover black money: The Guardian August 2018 FAIL INEFFECTIVE
Participation Most schemes like SBA, Smart Cities, PMAY etc have not produced the desired results because their design, implementation and monitoring have been left entirely to bureaucrats and consultants with little or no public participation: Various Media Reports FAIL CENTRALIZED
Accountability Umpteen examples of corruption cases against politicians being dropped once they switch allegiance to the ruling party. BJP campaigners proudly claim their party is a ‘washing machine’ : HW News, The Wire Oct 2019 FAIL UNACCOUNTABLE
Responsiveness Not ONE senior minister deputed to discuss grievances with protesters, even after a month : All media reporting on Shaheen Bagh Protests, January 2020 FAIL UNRESPONSIVE
Transparency Right to Information Act modified to curtail its independence : Economic Times Oct 2019 FAIL OPAQUE
Inclusion Citizenship Amendment Act perceived as exclusionary and discriminatory : UN Human Rights Commission FAIL MAJORITARIAN
Consensus Orientation Governance by brute majority, not consensus building : Parliamentary Proceedings FAIL MONOLITHIC
Rule of Law Disregard for Rule of Law in crushing protest and dissent : Media Reports from UP, JMI, AMU, JNU : December 2019 FAIL AGGRESSIVE
Equity Heightened disparity : Oxfam Report on growing disparity in India: ‘… economic inequality is being added to a society that is already fractured along the lines of caste, religion, region and gender.’ January 2020 FAIL DISCRIMINATORY

Sadly, this means that we have ended up with a government that is monolithic, majoritarian, aggressive, and discriminatory in attitude, unaccountable, opaque and unresponsive in action, centralized in its decision making,  and incompetent and ineffective in its outcomes. Certainly not good governance…

Happy Republic Day all the same.

Posted in India

Indian Independence Day 2019


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

(Guru Rabindranath Tagore)


Where the mind is full of fear and the head is bowed low before the mighty

Where knowledge is for sale to the highest bidder

Where the world has been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

Where words are more likely to be fake news than the truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms to point out the imperfections of others

Where the clear stream of reason has lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit and irrationality

Where the mind is led backward in thy name into ever-narrowing thought and obscurantism

From this nightmare of servitude my Father, let my country awake