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Monthly Archives: May 2018

INDIA’S TRANSFORMATION UNDER MODI – IMPLICATIONS

indianeconomy2The growth in the Indian economy has attracted a lot of attention. India has emerged as the fasted growing large economy, pipping China. It is expected to clock a GDP growth rate higher than 7.2% in 2018. Many international agencies that monitor key economies around the world have been sanguine in their projections on India.

A recent study published by UK based Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) states that India’s consistent GDP growth rate will push it to prominence in 2018. It has forecast that India will join the elite group of the top five largest economies of the world. This is a full year ahead of projections by International Monetary Fund (IMF) that India will make it to the top five in 2019.

India’s rise in global prominence has not come easy. In the last four years, Prime Minister Modi’s government has put in an unbelievable number of policy reforms and public investments in hundreds of projects that have borne fruit. This smorgasbord of reforms and investments have deeply impacted key sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, and services like never before. The gamut of initiatives – many of which have longer gestation periods – will continue to deliver results over an extended time horizon

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A dispassionate analysis throws up three key pillars that have provided the bulwark for the emergence of the economy.  Firstly, Prime Minister Modi, shedding ideological baggage, has incorporated best practices in economic management that are pragmatic and more importantly, well suited for the country. This is indeed refreshing, since for many decades India was hamstrung by ill-advised ideological paradigms that only resulted in poor growth rates and endemic poverty.

Secondly and more importantly, we are witness to an unparalleled excellence in executing these economic reforms and policies. Modi’s personal leadership qualities – acquired mostly as Chief Minister of Gujarat where he was virtually baptized by fire – have played an important role. The recent inauguration (May 2018) of the smart Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) is but one example of this mastery over execution. Built at a cost of Rs.11,000 crore in Delhi, this 135 KM long solar power lit expressway was completed in 18 months.

Thirdly, and most notably, the government has ensured that, at least at the political level, there is no corruption, pilferage or fraud. These have been the core secrets of the swift economic transformation we see today. It is well known that India’s track record in delivering government services, particularly welfare benefits to the poor has been dismal. Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is on record saying that for every rupee the government spent on welfare only 15% actually reached the beneficiary.

But Modi had stopped all that by directly transferring benefits to beneficiary’s bank account. According to data published by the government, welfare benefits of Rs.3,65,996 crores were directly transferred to beneficiaries’ accounts in the last four years (www.narendamodi.in). This is an example of Modi choosing the appropriate service delivery vehicle and executing it well in a given time fame.

Modi’s developmental paradigm and governance strategy are built around these three pillars. Hence his schemes and initiatives, just to name a few –   GST, Indian Bankruptcy Code (IBC), recapitalization of public sector banks, unprecedented investments in national highways and railways, 100% electrification, transfer of welfare benefits directly to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts –  are runaway successes.

What is even more striking is the fact that the government has used existing laws, existing civil and administrative machinery, existing staff and officers to execute its vast number of projects. The same machinery has in many cases achieved the project objectives ahead of schedule without cost overruns.

Like all previous governments, Modi too had the low risk option of choosing reforms on a smaller scale that do not tend to rock the boat. But these changes would have yielded only incremental results or benefits that would have continued to keep India hostage to a pernicious low growth cycle, depriving huge sections of society a decent livelihood. But Modi apparently has taken a calculated risk and has instead, boldly opted to choose the transformation route, a high risk option, to achieve big results in as diverse areas as possible. The gamble, as seen from the optimistic projections by international institutions, seems to have paid off.

Many compare Modi’s transformation exercise to the reforms of 1991 initiated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Rao’s reforms were no doubt extremely critical for India then, but were more in the nature of a rescue mission. They were focused on deregulation and attracting foreign direct investments to shore up dangerously low levels of forex reserves. They were incremental and definitely on a smaller scale in comparison.

As already pointed out, Modi’s reforms are transformational. Further his efforts must be seen as part of a master plan that includes securing India from internal and external threats as well as forging bilateral ties with various countries around the world to deepen India’s trade and commerce. The truth is that both Rao and Modi have succeeded in untethering the native economic sinews of the country.

Despite the din, distorted and mostly negative reporting in the media, Modi’s developmental agenda has the backing of large sections of society. For them the economic resurgence passes the smell test, at least anecdotally. For instance, in high growth states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, there is a noticeable absence of beggars on the streets or on railway platforms. Long gone are the days when people could not afford footwear or wore torn clothes. The so called ‘trickle down’ effect which was a just a dribble for several decades, now seems to be drenching vast sections of poor people. Of course this is not to gainsay the fact that poverty continues to pervade vast sections of society in many states.

The economic survey for 2018 has highlighted the strengths of economy. But it has also warned of potential risks and threats to the economy, both internal and external that need to be carefully watched. However, the good news is that key statistics and relevant data point to continued robust growth in the economy. Modi’s biggest achievement seems to be the setting up of right the ecosystem via a conducive policy environment, infrastructure building and massive public investments that has since unleashed the economy.

The silent changes that are sweeping across the country– mostly at the lowest levels of the economy – are creating huge impact on the very fabric of India – economically, politically and socially. The enthusiasm and expectations of the people – particularly the under 35 demographic segment that forms over 60% of India – seem be scaling up.

The clamor for corruption-free and swift delivery of government services – be it provision of electricity, sanitation, public health services or any service for that matter – is ratcheting up. While citizen experience is positive, this may not be a welcome change for the political ecosystem in India.

Modi’s iron will and mastery of execution is unmatched across the whole political spectrum in India today. He has given India a new mantra to the political class- perform or perish. He has set the bar for performance high enough that many in the current political scene may not be able to achieve. This probably explains the collective hatred seen for Modi among his political opponents and their proxies. But the impact of Modi’s transformations will continue to reverberate for years to come.

 

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A scandal unfolds in Tirumala Hills

A scandal unfolds in Tirumala Hills

The recent revelations of financial irregularities at Tirupathi Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateswara is indeed troubling. Dr. A V Ramana Dikshitulu, the former chief priest, who has served the temple for more than twenty years, has come out with a series of stunning allegations that has literally thrown the Tirupathi Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD) Board as well as the Andhra government under the bus. Ever since he went public, a continuous steam of alleged serious irregularities are tumbling out indicating that all is not well in the management of the famed temple of Lord Venkateswara.

The allegations range from missing jewels offered to the temple by various kings in the past to diversion of cash donations by devotees to fund government projects and expenses. Also the  discontinuation of the age old practice of annual public audits of the temple’s jewels and the secret digging up of the prasadam kitchen where huge treasure of  jewels were purportedly hidden during Muslim invasion around circa 1150 AD have stunned the public. Further, the TTD management seems to have deliberately employed non-Hindus at the temple in direct violation of its own rules and the matter is said to be in the courts.

The ‘Raj Pink’, a rare 37.3 carat diamond considered as the rarest of the rare variety of diamonds, donated by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore is also mired in deep controversy. The former chief priest claims that while a vigilance report by a senior IPS officer recorded it as ‘broken due to pilgrims throwing coins at it’, the actual stone was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

The allegation of diversion of temple funds to non-temple related expenses is nothing new. This has been going on for several decades in almost every temple in south India. For example, in Tamil Nadu, there have been several allegations of using temple funds to buy official cars for the use of government officers, building bus terminals etc. Many fear that the scale of diversion of funds and jewelry theft at Tirumala may be massive.

So what is happening at Tirumala? Some of the allegations are very serious. The TTD administration is yet to issue a convincing point by point clarification on the alleged irregularities – particularly the issue of jewels offered to the temple by Chola, Pallava and Vijayanagara kings – specifically Krishnadeva Raya.

The response of the Andhra government to these allegations is also far from satisfactory. The deputy chief minister has issued a statement warning the former Chief Priest, but has obviously not said anything about the allegations per se. This is on expected lines from a political party in India and unfortunately no one is buying it.

Secondly, in another response (TOI 5/21/2018,) the executive officer (EO) of the temple has offered to display the temple jewels if the Agama shastras so permit. While this is indeed a welcome move, this has raised more questions than it answers. For example why now and not earlier? Many question the timing of the offer too. The EO’s statement also conspicuously does not address the concerns or explain how huge ruby that bedecked the Lord was broken by impact of coins thrown by the devotees.

Thirdly, the Andhra government, in a move to punish Dikshitulu, has sacked the chief priest by changing retirement rules of priests. This is nothing short of political vendetta and a blatant attempt to silence him. Dr. Ramana Dikshitulu has vowed to fight it legally in the courts. Given that temple priests have no formal retirement age, it is unclear how this action by the state government will stand legal scrutiny.

To view the unsavory happenings at Tirumala in isolation is to miss the woods for the trees. Every temple in India has been violated and its jewels and offerings by public stolen. With nauseating regularity precious statues and deities have disappeared in India and reappeared in museums in the developed world or on the sale tables of world’s leading auctioneers. Yet this should not be dismissed as mere petty and isolated criminal offences but part of a larger design to desecrate holy temples of the Hindus.

India’s treasures have been repeatedly plundered – from the Muslim invaders to the systematic draining of the country’s wealth by the British. Now it is the turn of the corrupt political class to pillage. This hemorrhaging of India has to stop now. Period.

The unfolding scandal at Tirumala is yet another wakeup call for the Hindus who, over the ages, have suffered direct and indirect threats to practicing their religion in India. Despite all the hogwash of religious freedom and constitutional guarantees, the fact is that today the practice of the Hindu faith is under great pressure. It is fighting for its very survival in its own land.

The problem here is that the political ecosystem in India stinks and anything short of an impartial enquiry by a retired or sitting Supreme Court judge will only heighten the suspicion of the people. The findings of the inquiry must be published immediately to create confidence in the public. If the allegations prove true, the guilty – however high and mighty they may be – should face the full force of the law.

Regardless of the outcome of this inquiry, the central and state governments must bring in a new administrative body for the efficient and transparent management of temples all over India. It should be noted here that eminent Indians like Dr. Subramanian Swamy have advocated the return of control of temples from the government to the worshipping community, albeit with sufficient safeguards to prevent financial irregularities.

While the jury is still out on the veracity of the allegations of Dr. Ramana Dikshitulu, the TTD move to sack him only hints at a cover up on a massive scale. This has now made him into a martyr and endeared him to millions of devotees of Lord Venkateswara.

In another recent development Dr. Subramanian Swamy has tweeted (May 21st 2018) that he will seek   a Court monitored CBI investigation into the financial misappropriation of temple funds by TTD. He has also termed the sacking of the chief priest as illegal. This scales the problems to a new level of complexity and embarrassment for TTD. Given Dr.Swamy’s track record in filing public interest litigations and achieving the desired judicial outcomes, it could spell disaster for the TTD.

The unfolding Tirumala scandal also has a larger message for the Hindus. The price of religious freedom is eternal vigilance and never can they take it as a god given right, for mere mortals – be it the barbarians or the vile politicians – can pillage this precious right.

The scandal in the hills of Tirumala will be keenly watched. Most certainly, this will wind its way to the highest court of the land, and will also determine the future management of all temples in India. But for the present Hindus can only hope the Lord’s jewels and offerings by millions of devotees over hundreds of years are safe.

 

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Hinduism, India

 

MODI ATTENDS COMMONWEALTH MEET IN LONDON

MODI ATTENDS COMMONWEALTH MEET IN LONDON

The recently concluded 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) summit in London saw the participation of fifty three countries. Of these, only two countries (Rwanda and Mozambique) do not have a colonial past or a constitutional link to Britain. All Commonwealth members avow the leadership of the British royals. This biennial gathering of leaders from round the world is indeed a grand show of pomp and splendor.

This year’s Commonwealth Summit has been billed as a grand opportunity for India not only to showcase its growing economy but also project its leadership in an emerging new world order. It has been further argued that it provides a unique platform of influence for India where China is conspicuously absent. No wonder, Prince Charles air dashed to New Delhi on a charm offensive to invite Prime Minister Modi in person to attend the Summit.

But there is more than meets the eye. Many see the Commonwealth as a vestige of the past, conceived by Britain to arrest its declining influence in the world. Despite its large membership, it continues to be high on optics and low on influence as it struggles to find relevance in an ever changing world order.

India’s relationship with this body can best be described as lukewarm. From India’s perspective, despite being home to over 50% of the population of the Commonwealth and with the second largest economy, next only to the UK, it has never enjoyed pride of place. That the Prime Minister Modi decided to even attend the CHOGM 2018 Summit came as a surprise to many, given that he had declined to attend the previous Summit.

Large sections of Indians, given its track record, are not exactly enamored by the Commonwealth and even view it with suspicious. For instance the Commonwealth provides that no bilateral or internal issues should be raised by members in its meetings. Despite this, Pakistan has been allowed to raise the Kashmir issue on multiple occasions, angering the Indian establishment.

Secondly, the UK’s anti-India stance as seen from its support of Pakistan in its wars against India has not endeared itself to Indians. Its support of Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 conflicts are well documented. In peace time too, for example during the cold war era, it worked against India’s interest. In the eighties, it had actively supported Kashmiri separatists and refused to crackdown and deport them despite official requests from India.

So the average Indian cannot be faulted for a lack of interest in the Commonwealth or its affairs. Despite the slick campaign to project the CHOGM 2018 Summit as an economic and leadership opportunity for India, the disinterest is obvious.

The Commonwealth’s claim of providing economic opportunity for India is doubtful. This is because it is difficult to ascertain how much of India’s trade with fellow members came from bilateral dealings or directly as a result of the membership. Also there is no exclusivity clause that binds members to trade with fellow members. India’s policy makers are acutely aware that with or without the Commonwealth, its growth trajectory will stay its course for many years to come.

But what could be the reason for this desperation in rejuvenating a moribund organization? The truth probably lies in the sinking economic fortunes of Britain itself. That the UK economy is in the pits is by no means a secret.

Firstly, Britain is having major economic upheavals on the domestic front amidst an unfriendly European Union following Brexit. According to UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), its economy grew slower than expected. Its annual GDP growth for 2017 was put at 1.7%.  Secondly, UK’s Office for Budget responsibility (OBR) forecasts that its economy is expected to see an average growth of 1.4% over the next five years. This is indeed bad news for the Brits.

According to an analysis (The Guardian ,Feb 22nd 2018), the British economy continues to show fresh signs of deterioration. It has been pointed out that economic activity in multiple sectors have lost “momentum”. The alarming rise in unemployment, low wage growth and weak consumer spending are now part of Britain’s new normal.

The only saving grace, according to the UK’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), was a robust global economy which helped its exports, thanks to a weaker Pound. Post BREXIT, Britain is seeking new economic pastures to revive its economy. It is common knowledge that many developed countries are courting India to kick start their own economies. Thus it is no surprise that the Brits went all out to woo India.

As far as Modi’s trip to London was concerned, the CHOGM 2018 Summit itself did not make much of an impact or news in India. The strong anti-British sentiments in India – largely due to the colonial rule as well as UK’s long anti-India stance after 1947 – provides a powerful overhang that will not be easy to dissipate.

What really captured the minds of Indians was Modi’s meeting with the diaspora at an event of invited guests at the Central Hall, Westminster. Although attended by smaller audience, the event was telecast live around the world and as expected had a huge viewership. Modi smartly used the opportunity to convey what many believe is the clarion call for the 2019 general elections in India. This dominated his London trip, rather than the meetings with heads of fifty three governments from around the world.

The Commonwealth’s impact in providing tangible benefits to the member nations is debatable. The benefits, if any, are skewed unduly in favor of the UK. This is an unsustainable model in today’s world where China and India are fast emerging as economic power houses. Britain has pumped tons of good money in keeping alive an organization that is long past its shelf life. With a failing economy, Britain too may quietly bid goodbye to an institution that stood as a grand testimony to a bygone era. That being said, the Commonwealth, despite bold statements to the contrary, is probably in its last innings.

 

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2018 in #Brexit, India, Modi, Uncategorized

 

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