Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Voyage through History

Book Review: Non-fiction/Current Affairs, Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan by M.J.Akbar, Harper Collins publishers, 376 pp; Rs399 (Paperback)

M.J Akbar is one among the iconic journalists, India has produced. He contributed immensely for the nation, both as journalist and writer of many remarkable books. His uncountable articles written in the last three decades and some of his books are very important contributions to contemporary history, which shows his early interests and inclinations for regular reading and meticulous independent research.

As having fortune to know him from close (mostly through reading and listening him for years), can say this humble man’s journey started in journalism through honest aspirations and he rose to the crest of success by following the path of sheer excellence. In his teenage and during college days in Calcutta, like many young writers, he started writing letter and later unsolicited articles to the editor, The Statesman (then Sunanda Datta Ray was the editor)-the concern of writings used to be varied, from the shortage of fish in Bada Bajar to jams at college street etc.

Like his many earlier works, this book is seriously focussed on the liberal and modernist discourses and also about their weak formulations in the specific context of Islam in South Asia. The book has written with deep research, so details are very nuanced and proliferated but without ever loosing the focus in narrative. This work needs high level of concentration from readers, as the history of Islam in South Asia and the genesis of Pakistan have entirely covered throughout its pages with degree of high seriousness. The liberal and enlightened impulses of the author is being evident through the kind of effort he has placed for sincerely documenting the every essential facts in the formation of Pakistan

As chronicler of historical journey of an idea, M.J Akbar gives Tinderbox the touch of first-hand authenticity on events, peoples, circumstances and the rigid mindsets that divided India. For finding the mainframe, his overtures spans a thousand years and with the both good and bad factors, such as-visionaries, opportunists, statesmen, tyrants, plunderers, generals and numbers of unkind theologians beginning with Shah Waliulah who propagated “theory of distance “to protect Islamic identity from then still socio-culturally dominant Hinduism.

The book gives unprecedented insight to know Shah Waliullah’s intervention in the 18th century not be taken complex, rather it should be seen for very much directed with virulent aims to corner the liberal discourses-for now, this book should be considered authentic before Shah Waliullah’s works in Arabic and Persian is translated into English. Contrary to this, Syed Ahmad Khan was a modernist in conviction but inconsistent with same in action, though his works overall benefitted emphatically to atleast elite sections of Muslims under the Aligarh Muslim University, an institution of repute he founded at the height of independence movement. Despite few historic blunders, he deserves to be known as modernist, strongly for his exemplary contribution in education and also for his sporadic display of political prudence that assisted in strengthening anti British sentiment at crucial times.

The chapters, Gandhi’s Maulanas and The Non-violent Jehad explores very well about the Gandhi’s agenda for common struggle to meet the independence and further looking forward for a free nation out of the narrow religious confinements. Akbar seems doing right act with balancing the events of past that bloodied the nation and drawn the unfortunate boundaries over its fate. It’s true that non-conformity of few Congress leaders was the prime reason for the formation of obstinate and lustful greeds among high rank Muslim League leaders, particularly with M.A.Jinnah, who had his own dreams formatting and deformatting under huge fluctuations.

Jinnah was the man, who stood with all anti-thesis possible against the Islam. He was religiously non-practicing, English speaking, consistent drinker and married with a woman of different religion-moreover, his best friends were Hindus/Parsis until he seen the dream for modern secular Pakistan that unfortunately never realised. Why Jinnah moved under the aegis of blind religious faith and later in remorse, after triumphing Pakistan is still need to be reckoned?

Here, the major competitor of Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru alone gives frank account of the reasons why the Congress and the Muslim League couldn’t settle rights lucidly implied in the Act of 1935. Nehru noted in 1938 that Jinnah didn’t show much interest in the economic demands of the masses and shown no concern for issues like-poverty and unemployment, damaging even minimum attempts to propose democratic reforms and modern economic policies.

The essay on contemporary Pakistan highlights the over grown impact of religious conventionalism burdening the architects of the new nation. Those practices are being continues under the confused mental state giving fillip to all imagined misnomer about anything beyond that “defined and restricted construct”. That somehow makes stronger the blockade of mind and progressive policies with equal vigour. The new chapter/ Dark Side of the Moon on the events leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden and its realised and potential impact on US-Pakistan relations are giving the picture of Pakistan till present day. Tinderbox has enough space and erudite range of narration to cover the every possible details related to formation, shattering of beliefs to the level of chaos in Pakistan.

This is a sort of work, which is not written to subvert the existence of Pakistan. If this book will be read by readers with rational angle, sure the crux would be very worthy for them, as here is concern for a nation consistently moving towards instability-the leaders of global politics will be hardly show off their concern for this fall. So, at some point solutions and good thoughts have to be come and accepted from the homeland or neighbourhood-this work should be taken in the same context!
Atul Kumar Thakur
April 06, 2011, Friday, 2012, New Delhi

Essential Etiquettes

Book Review: Business-Self Help/Business Etiquette by Shital Kakkar Mehra, Collins Business/Harper Collins publishers, 2944 pp; Rs250 (Paperback)

Shital Mehra is the lone figure in Indian corporate, who thought sincerely to write and spread awareness on Corporate Etiquette...for last four years, she has been writing a column for Economic Times-Corporate Dossier on soft business skills and now with her book, she is allowing a chance to those who found lesser pastime to read pink papers quite regularly but never feel short to do business. For doing business, etiquette is very essential-that can be to an extant enhanced and optimized by reading this book and further keeping ideas in practice..!

I have been reading Shital Kakkar Mehra's columns on business etiquette in Economic Times/Corporate Dossier for years and one morning was glad to found her on my blog's followers list. Her book “Business Etiquette” deserves to be read by all aspiring/and established folks in corporate world, who either lacks collective demeanour or knows it little...and also by those who wants to confirm their actual hold on behavioral action.

Under the consistent bad fluctuations in global market, the overall morale of working class has badly deteriorated. Peoples management lacking the essence of functional etiquette from top towards the middle to the bottom Shital’s book would be of great help in specially bringing some basic redefinition of much needed etiquette among influential authorities.I read the book and found it very-very useful, those who are less savvy with the ET, will be more benefited with reading Shital's take on business etiquette!

The new world of open trade has substantial binding over many paradigms of life. Under its guise, sphere of culture is also passing through a very new situation that was never so compulsive for an integrated existence-even though with many direct or indirect disclaimers. In the last two decades, world has changed rapidly and made peoples more and more close in terms with all things superly activated in search of accomplishing hyped anticipated commercial goals. By its effects, productivity being taken only in price terms and values are thought for sidelining…lately, such tendency marring even the lowest possible ethics in behavioural terms.

Here is need of immediate relooking on the sidelined essential etiquettes for making business sustainable and more decent that what it is in present form. Also, etiquettes should be known and practiced more as a universally applicable quality rather categorizing it among the many blocks. Hence, for practicing business etiquettes, learning social norms would be remain imperative. With subtle details, this work would endow its readers some very important basics of etiquettes…its prolongations from business to the different domains will be highly desirable.

Learning always helps in finding the maximum insights and in most of cases, it never comes too early or late. Only matters, how one take the success in commerce or in other field as for transitory sake or look for a stable landmark! In fair world, that up to extant being decided by etiquette…in alternative world, terms and conditions hardly exists-we all know this open secret!
Atul Kumar Thakur
March 31, 2012, Saturday, New Delhi

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Odds on Mahatma

Book Review: Non-fiction/Biography, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld, Harper Collins, 425 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)

Joseph Lelyveld has written a generally timid book with lot of superstitious opulence’s about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi-infact his level of concentration is not applied on Mahatma Gandhi or Bapu of the world’s most successful democracy. Doing this, he starkly fails to see the persona of Mahatma in proper light who lead India to independence from Britain in 1947. With strict shortsightedness, Lelyveld’s "Great Soul" habitually over informed readers that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical practitioner-one who was often downright cruel to those around him. What this book exerts, Gandhi was closer to the 20th-century typical progressive intellectual, professing his love for mankind as a broader concept while actually marginalising people as individuals.

On his journalistic assignments with New York Times, Joseph Lelyveld covered South Africa (winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for his book about apartheid, “Move Your Shadow”), and spent several years in the late 1960s reporting from India also. But that doesn’t make Lelyveld evidently enough qualified to write about Gandhi’s career on both sides of the Indian Ocean in the absence of fresh insights or simply relying on the fantasies rather much needed facts. So, he misses to bring his subject a reporter’s healthy skepticism and an old India hand’s stubborn fascination with the subcontinent and its people. This is not a proper biography, as it has enough elements of distracting less informed minds on Mahatma and keeping in prolong irritation to those who knows his works and life very deeply.

As desired by the author, even before the release of book, furore was sparked by local media reports, based on early reviews in the western press, some of which were extra focussed on passages in the book that suggested Gandhi had an intimate relationship with a German man named Hermann Kallenbach. Lelyveld has said his work was taken out of context. "I do not allege that Gandhi is a racist or bisexual in Great Soul," he told the Times of India. He added "The word 'bisexual' nowhere appears in the book" which is technically somehow right but absolutely false if the meaning of letters could be taken in basic account. These two unconfirmed references ideally streamline the subversive preoccupation of Lelyveld on Gandhi- that "how completely you have taken ­possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance." Gandhi nicknamed himself "Upper House" and Kallenbach "Lower House," and he made Lower House promise not to "look lustfully upon any woman." The two then pledged "more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen."

Also "you are always ­before my mind's eye." Later, on his ashram, where even married "inmates" had to swear celibacy, Gandhi said: "I cannot imagine a thing as ugly as the intercourse of men and women." You could even be thrown off the ashram for "excessive tickling." (Salt was also forbidden, because it "arouses the senses.") Throughout the book, Lelyveld has an unknown suspicion over Gandhi’s action…he reminds readers that Gandhi was very much an ordinary aspirant of material world once as he arrived in Durban from Bombay in 1893. Henceforth, he blindly wish to see the contradiction of early modern academic and professional grooming of Gandhi with his life after even his turning into Mahatma-the real case is, no such rift ever existed is his conviction or action!

Lelyveld’s easiest identification of Gandhi is as a “brown man”, and his struggle in South Africa nothing more than for living the common aspiration of the race, he belonged. His racial firmness stays further with taking the outcomes of Gandhi’s campaigns there, neither clear-cut nor long-lasting. More frequently, Lelyveld confuses the struggle with “weakness” and Gandhi’s search for a peaceful revolutionary idea which later made Britain a most ordinary entity after 1947 as “vocation.” Ruthlessly, he also tries to corner the history’s most egalitarian campaigns under Gandhi as the sort of indifferent acts from the motives of consensus that were as par him required to be in sync with ultra left, right and reactionaries. Moreover, against the will of history, Lelyveld seems trying hard to forge Ambedkar’s advent in Indian politics as the anti-thesis of Gandhi, which is worst treatment of the real conflict of interests that existed between two and their stands on caste.

In balancing return, Lelyveld also writes, while he may have “struggled with doubt and self until his last days,” Gandhi “made the predicament of the millions his own, whatever the tensions among them, as no other leader of modern times have.” He adds, Gandhi even with all his inconsistencies, his dream for India remained constant throughout his life. “Today,” Gandhi wrote less than three weeks before he was murdered, “we must forget that we are Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims or Parsis…It is of no consequence by what name we call God in our homes.” Gandhi was always willing to stand up for the Untouchables, just not at the crucial moment when they were demanding the right to enter in temples in 1920’s and ahead.

But soon, Lelyveld returns with the unfortunate citings, that he was equally worried about alienating high caste Hindus. "Would you teach the Gospel to a cow?" he asked a visiting missionary in 1936. "Well, some of the Untouchables are worse than cows in their understanding." But two sentences fall too short to level a charge for establishing him a dualist, what Lelyveld has virulently tries to assert as regular interference throughout the book and remains unsuccessful. Leaning opposite the departing covert rage, lastly Lelyveld hesitatingly admits that, revolutionary tone set by Gandhi through his incessant struggle based on unity against the oppressors from South Africa to India extended a rational model of resistance to the world. Question arises, why then hyper twists followed in his work before knowing his subject from close quarter?

Great Soul could be hardly called a serious work on Gandhi-its central argument is unclear and distortive that makes it vulnerable to be fall at the proper destination. Though who tempted to play with the history in their own terms, may like to call it a work of substance. There should be no surprise, even if Ben Kingsley’s impact on the image of Gandhi would be tried by few to compare with Great Soul in nasty effort of idolizing Gandhi in different unsafe frame! However, if India has its own long history, so it has her own history tellers...on Gandhi, Ramchandra Guha would be remain the authentic voice-his upcoming multi volume biography will certainly clear many unrealistic fogs surrounding the great Gandhi.

Atul Kumar Thakur
March 28, 2012, Wednesday, New Delhi

Deviant lines

Book Review: Non-fiction/Economics, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram G.Rajan, Collins Business/Harper Collins publishers, 354 pp; Rs350 (Paperback)

I have read many books on the financial crisis including of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail, Michael Lewis’s The Big Short and Hank Paulson’s On the Brink besides being in consistent touch with numerous papers written on the concerned theme by scholars from the nook and crannies of the world. But in most impartial opinion, will rate Raghuram G.Rajan’s Fault Lines as the best ever written book not only on ongoing financial crisis but also over the behavioural macroeconomic policies.

His international exposures before returning to India for IIT education made his path later more seamless with his metamorphosis from a technical man to overgrown economist over the years while living mostly in USA. He rose to be the chief economist of IMF but fortunately, at no cost, he deserves to be called the stereotypical economic genius. Rajan’s observations are very pragmatic and it’s hard to confine them in the shackles of any rigid ideological frame, and obviously for knowing his contention better, such firmness should not be applied in any condition. Instead polarizing his views in three easier optional blocks-leftist, rightist and centrist; he chooses rather a less travelled path which determines by the ground realities, rather by the preoccupied convictions.

So, he thought to act hard on the down sides/greeds of finance rather conceiving high finance itself harmful-that might be an insane position for the puritan leftists, with colour and tags. Similar contradiction arises though with constructive tantalizing mirage, when he talks of welfare measures, with them citizens must be entitled by the government might be enough for causing embarrassment for rightist or to a large extant among the centrists as well. Raguhram Rajan’s expectation is very rational as far he sees that “government” can’t solve the every persisting problem for citizens but he too miserably fails exploring in general, what should be the optimum government intervention?

Though atleast on USA, his findings are pertinent, in which he correlates the popular pressure on government for providing cheap credits in unsafe hands. That indeed was a major cause of sub-prime crisis besides the greed ridden adventures emanated from the exotic financial constructs, which shattered the overall confidence of capitalist triumph to a lowest possible label. At the height of financial failures, democratic governments were in deep trouble, not only in solving its own puzzle of governance but also about the whole deterioration of falling businesses that causing the interests of corporate with big money in complete antagonism of mass welfare programmes.

The big dilemma remains with the democratic governments to choose between bailouts and debt waive off? Undoubtedly, capitalist prudence orders for previous. So often its interface comes more frequent than mass waivers of debt, albeit on similar point, a country like India presents little difference with its distinct polity and populist commitments. This book also remarkably underlines how USA government met toughly with the financial failure and succeeded well to retrieve jobs within a short span of time, however Rajan cautions that it should not be considered a complete recovery. Indeed, complete financial recovery could be a desired endgame, though conquering it would be merely a pipedream under the present set of circumstances on regulators, governments and financial institutions are functioning across the powerful economies.

So what’s to be done now? Broadening of Rajan’s statement, “I (the author) have been frank in pointing out the pitfalls (in India’s policy and politics), not because I am pessimistic about India but because I think self-delusion is the first step towards disaster for individuals as for countries” gives the clear picture of whole scenario that constitutes the basis of socio-economic superstructure. The cheap flow of foreign capitals made Asian economies like China, Japan exclusively powerful in the region for long time before opening of other economies, significantly of India. But lately both the Chinese and Japanese economies are under excessive strain because of their over integration with western economies in every possible terms-case with India is still somehow different, as here the liberalisation came late and with active regulatory restraints.

Fault Lines end with a very scintillating Afterword: What Lies Ahead for India. Rajan mentions India’s growing income inequality and the dangers that a social underclass poses to economic future. His strong emphasis on the ills of maturing cronyism in India’s power centre is worthy enough to be considered a grave threat to the essence of India’s constitutional mandate. He appears exactly right is pointing out the growing numbers of Indian billionaires, more as products of the networking than of enterprise. His stand is very important not only as sophisticated Chicago economist but more as the man in government working with none lesser than the practicing economist Prime Minister of India.

Fault Lines deserves to be read widely in this imprint-in international market, it has already registered huge success, now Indian readers would found this paperback edition worth of reading and knowing the innumerable fault lines of the global economic system. Personally, I am in agreement with the crux of Rajan throughout the book but essentially not with all his beliefs, especially when he justifies conformism in retrieving the lost shine of western economies through the same outshined financial models that wrecking the normalcy of economies. Here more radicalism of ideas, though not of obstinate ideology was needed to solve some of the very damaging fault lines!

Atul Kumar Thakur
March 27, 2012, Tuesday, New Delhi

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tragedies of budgetary show

As finance minister of union cabinet, Pranab Mukherjee forgot to elaborate about the much awaited 12th five year plan during his budget speech in parliament, which is aimed to strive for “more financial inclusion”. Instead, he chosen a horrific quote from foregone Shakespearian drama “Helmet” that “being cruel to be kind” in quite dramatic fashion…moreover, his exuberant declamation of Indian cinema’s centenary year with service tax holiday for a year was among the height of deviant financial planning of the economy that was waiting for a slew of measures for retrieving its desired tune!

Unfortunately that remained complete amiss and further counterpoints overshadowed the all prominent expectations were attached to this budget. For year 2012-13, GDP has projected at 7.6%, fiscal deficit-5.1% and subsidy to 1.9%, which is completely irrational from the fiscal discipline point of view and constitutional mandate of this country as it would be toughest to expect that these figures would substantially lowered the government’s borrowing in next few years. This economics from planning commission and finance ministry is very questionable, as they never have even second thought in prioritizing the beleaguered IT industry by allowing UDI, headed by Nandan Nilekani to be black pearl with incessant flow of many billion dollars every year in their favour and leaving aside the masses adrift from the dividend of state.

So there should be no surprise, have if the new definition will term “subsidy” as the biggest threat to the imaginative blooming economy which produced a Vijay Mallaya for few years with all notoriety of insane wealth! Further showing the overview of economy, finance minister has set the target of Rs 30,000 crore for disinvestment of PSUs, which is quite amateurish and shocking-even after the worst performance of stake selling of these state run companies few months back, the morale should have been never so weak. Instead rushing for sordid professional expertise, as Monetk Singh Ahulwalia often relies over before taking sides on major policy matters from the ghost house of socialism-Planning commission; a simple thought would be rather more convincing-why this unexpected undermining of one’s own assets?

Here the basic notion “good sale is always good” should be in the state of mind seeing the impressive consumerist size of Indian economy which allows a $2billion house (own by Mukesh Ambani whose literal meaning is too ambitious to live alone in its surroundings) and 56% urban slums in the same city, which for only few months and only by few, once seen as the potential global finance hub. That never happened alas! For a more pragmatic shift, the crucial policy circles must draw a line-between progressivism and reform, I am sure even the performing corporate besides the common men would chose earlier as it would allow them to be close of a sustainable model rather maligning with very ambiguous web of “reform” which is itself needed a new dossier of reform very sooner than later.

Under the regime of confused state, this year, no big announcements have made. Infact, announcements have no culture to be backed by the timeline in India, so even the tall promises of allowing few more private banks as promised by the last budget is still in the ideation of hibernation state. Another major component of financial sector-Insurance has given tough time with increased services tax and no touch of much needed regulatory changes. Mutual funds industry had long back have heard off regulatory eulogy, so it’s no longer an exciting domain like its peers Private Equity or Venture Capital Funds which are breathing existential crisis more acute than a fish out of water!

Although a sycophant scheme, Rajiv Gandhi Equity Scheme with allowing income tax deduction of 50% to new retail investors, who will invest up to RS50,000 directly in equity and whose annual income is below Rs10lakh would boost the temptations for legalized gambling rather invoking the confidence of retail investors who have lost too much in the recent past. Even in overall ambit of financial businesses, it would be very tough in the days ahead to draw back the retailers to the business as they used to be till year 2010. Only the bond market has gained, if say in monosyllabic mode-Rs 60,000 crore worth of tax free infrastructure bond from financial institutions would carve some niche here, even though for a temporary period.

Regional Rural Banks, which are doing fabulously fine, were hardly needed any new financial infusion, rather their unification and making them on all counts at par with the PSBs were sincerely expected for bridging the gap of rural financing and making an unique financial institution of strength. So, unusual touches of exotic “reform” simply abstaining financial sector to get on cheering spree. The gain indeed shifted to infrastructure and slumbering bond market, where allocations under Rural Infrastructure Development Funds (RIDF), increased to Rs20,000 crore from preceding year’s Rs18, 000 crore.

Further for addressing the warehousing shortage in the country, an amount of Rs 5,000 crore earmarked from the above allocation exclusively for creating warehousing facilities under RIDF. Under 12th five year plan, $12 billion dollar would be spend on infrastructure and this will be done on Public Private Partnership basis, so more of commercially exciting time is awaiting ahead than the real infrastructural development. Taxation remained disappointing with increase in service tax and excise duty by 2% which will have very adverse effects on the price rise…slight cut of .25%in Security Transaction Tax(STT)is hardly suffice, so is true with the token increase of initial income tax slab by Rs20,000 to 2lakh.

Adding retrospective claws in checking the tax evasion is completely erroneous, as the timely practices of existing laws are quite suffice to handle the Vodafone like situation where the loss of $2billion dollars has suffered by the exchequer. Other bizarre targets are the fuel and fertilizer subsidies which have larger binding over the agrarian classes, could create a big survival crisis among the majority of peoples involved in primary sector. Rationalisation of diesel/LPG s would not be entirely wrong but it should be come only with giving ample room for targeted subsidies to weaker sections. Albeit in broader framework, it’s interesting to know, that the government is not loosing much by oil imports with excessive revenue that coming through the existing importing duties, here too chances are alive of big correction for letting breather to an average oil consumer.

Social sectors, which constitute the pivotal roles in equitable growth, have suffered immensely by the consistent flaws in policy orientation and bad execution of ongoing flagship programmes, which is cause of grave concern. The severe human development deficits confronting India in various sectors require a major stepping up of public provisioning for inclusive development; but that would require the government to adopt progressive policies in policy framework and execution. Ironically whose chances appears very feeble as par now. On different social sectors, India has only 7%allocation of its total GDP unlike the OECD countries average that is totally stark.

This year, total allocation on Rural Development has fallen to Rs 73, 175 crore from Rs 74,100 crore last year. Decline of total outlay on MGNREGS to Rs33,000 crore from Rs40,000 is utterly shocking though it also shows the changed polity of UPA-II which is no longer rural centric even symbolically. The marginal rise in allocations for Ajeevika (National Rural Livelihood Mission) to Rs3915 crore from 2681.3 crore, Indira Awas Yojna to Rs11075 crore from Rs10,000 crore and PMGSY to Rs18172crore from Rs17412.5crore can be only said the tip of iceberg against the real needs.

As proportion of total expenditure from the Union budget, share of agriculture has fallen from 11.21 to 9.3%. Though total outlay for the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation has been marked by an increase of 18%to Rs17,123 from Rs20,208 crore but again this tokenism is too little. Additional provisioning for Bringing Green Revolution to Eastern India (BGREI) to Rs1000 crore from Rs400crore is somehow satisfying but slashing on corp insurance to Rs1136crore from Rs3135crore shows the classic case of black comedy. Rest, target of credit flow to farmers to Rs5.75lakh crore from Rs4.75lakh crore will only encourage the targeted segments, if the compliance of Priority Sector Lendings would be made hard fast, but there is no such assurance supporting this change.

Its proven that per capita food consumption is declining in India, in this scenario declined provisioning to Rs 1,79,554 crore from Rs 2,08, 503crore is the cruelest act from a government claims to stand for marginalised classes. Public Distribution System (PDS) stood with Rs75,000crore allocation and many populist burdens like universal distribution of rice/wheat, the extra pressure of lowered petroleum subsidy to Rs43,580 crore from Rs 68,481crore will make life more difficult for rural inhabitants based on local incomes. A very much related theme, climate change found no sincere attention in entire budget document however, economic surveys have added a separate chapter on climate change but without any overt working guidelines.

The total magnitude of the gender budget has declined to 5.8% from 5.9% and allocations for the Ministry of Women and Child Development has increased to Rs18,500crore from Rs16,100crore, which is too short from anticipated enhancement. Budgetary allocation on children have grew up modestly to 4.8%from 4.6% last year-in total spending on child specific schemes have set out on Rs71,028.11crore. Allocations on ICDS and ICPS have marginally stepped up though both the amount and execution of schemes are in worrying conditions.

Health still accounts only2.31% of total GDP, many plans for new hospitals, urban health care on the line of NRHM will be in bad state grappling with no extra allocations. NRHM got 15% hike toRs20,822crore from Rs 18,115crore but overall financing public health couldn't merely be an act of tokenism, that has missed in consideration. Allocation on water and sanitation has moved up to Rs14,005.2crore from Rs11,005.2crore, rural drinking and sanitation have given priorities, which is only half good. Budgetary spending on education has increased to 4.97% from 4.65%-but allocation for SSA has gone up by just Rs21,000crore to Rs25,555 crore, which is discouraging, similar are the cases of primary, middle or even higher level of educational plans.

Allocation under Scheduled Caste sub plan has increased to Rs37,113.03crore from Rs31,434.46 crore and for Schedule Tribal sub plan, allocation has increased to Rs 21710.11 crore from Rs18,466.23crore-though most of the genuine demands related to their welfare were rejected. Though “minorities” found no mention in budget but a slight hike in allocation came to Rs3135crore from Rs 2750 crore...disabled people got no or very feeble specified assistance through this budget.

MSME Sector-
In this budget, it's well to see basic custom duty coming down to 2.5%from earlier exorbitant6% on specified parts and machinery components. To setting up a Rs5,000crore India Opportunities Venture Fund with SIDBI is a right step but the real question of financial access is related with the cooperation of banks at bottom level, where is need of greater changes. Mention of two newly created MSMEs exchanges and MSMEs being called as "building blocks" of our economy by the finance minister in his budget speech was symbolically appreciable for this hitherto marginalised segment of industry.

Though it would have better, if the procurement policy for micro&small enterprises would have broaden to private sector along with the proposed change for CPSE to make a minimum of 20%of their annual purchases from MSEs.-of this, four business deals will be earmarked for procurement from MSE owned by SC/ST enterprises.
At the moment of political and financial adverseness, there was much expectation attached with this budget, which is completely shattered now as neither market nor the mass sentiments seems uplifted even in tint after the all statistical deliverance. So, it would be right, if we will still believe more in our edge of “economies of scale” rather on statistical commentary of budget. After twenty years of liberalisation, India is lagging behind in spirit rather in fundamentals…that’s the cause of maximum worries!

(Courtesy-Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) - a New Delhi based research organisation for some of the data’s used in this piece)

Atul Kumar Thakur
March 23, 2012, Friday, New Delhi

Wariness and hope in UP!

Neither Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian search of “maximum happiness” in a democracy, or Marxist’s approach for classless society within a complete socialistic state fit well to idealise the Samajwadi Party’s sudden emphatic and unprecedented rise in recently held UP assembly election. Instead Machiavellian aspirations seems more closely working behind the modestly deserving transfer of baton to once this unholy entity and now a less worse option, which still believe much ahead from auxiliary terms on the effectiveness of crime and criminals!

Whose early sign is induction of well known history-sheeter Raja Bhaiya in Akhilesh Yadav’s front placed cabinet. If also adding some early hooliganism of flamboyant Samajwadi Party workers in Lucknow and various other parts of the state in the wake of unexpected poll victory, the fallacy of change appears more quickly. At this point, arguing against the statistical over performance of SP is really very daunting but hardly the same dilemma would be haunting, if one will dare to see the political change in UP not very genuine unlike Bihar in 2005.

If then Nitish Kumar was chosen with BJP as the resort of last hope in crumbling Bihar, it was because the situation indeed so far became so much starker in the hand of corrupt RJD, indifferent Congress, distracted LJP, weak Communist parties, that it had to be an inevitable occurrence. But the same is still not true in UP with BSP stands with 26% votes even in the dire anti-incumbency wave unlike the principle opposition parties in Bihar which touched the brink of extinction in last assembly election held in 2010. That refers, BSP will be remain a major political force in UP despite this fall and for securing SP from BSP’s potential revival in future, Akhilesh has to fight hard against his own party’s shortcomings beside ensuring the governance and investment in state instead of luring peoples with harmful freebies alone.

As young scion of almost a family run party, SP, Akhilesh too didn't have any magical wand to supersede Rahul Gandhi but his symbolic gestures of averseness with crime and sacking of infamous liability, D.P.Yadav in last moments worked miraculously very well. Earlier too, he played sensible part in sidelining Mohan Singh, throwing Amar Singh out from the party and in pacifying the parochial ambitions of old party carders including of his two uncles who lately shown discomfort for his leadership. As an aging father and leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav couldn't have better time than this to secure his family domination continues. And ofcourse, Akhislesh was the sole hope for him, same thought by the hapless masses and history was made differently in haste!

Moreover BSP has shown in recent past how India's democracy could be participative and spoiling platform for identity activism. Over the years, under excessive personified command of Mayawati, party left merely with a shadow of its earlier self and ironically, its core afflicted with all feudal tracts against those the Bahujan Samaj movement was once formed and propelled. That lead to spoiling resentment against the party’s fortune, and finally a broad base of support fragmented, alienated and rejected the BSP as a party to rule any longer in Lucknow.

However, in snapshot, consistent follies of Congress could be solely attributed for atleast seventy-five more seats and increasing one sided support for SP. Rest BJP and RLD fought and gain as par their conserving capacities, so shocks and awes in their camps are naturally restricted. State politics acts like mirror of Indian democracy; it has proven again with the verdict of UP elections...the basic functional ideas won over the structured and over surfacial political shrewdness of BSP, Congress, BJP, and RLD!

So far known for his clean and progressive image, if the new chief minister as par promises would have no disinterest with being the anti-thesis of his own party’s practicing ideologies, then indeed his stint will make people hopeful. For now, it would be desirable for him to keep the maligned components within the party and outside of it on its toe, for completely concentrating on the much needed developmental priorities. So far, he has clean image and that’s encouraging even amidst the approaching uncertainties of performances lying ahead. If he will win the small races, he would sure be more acceptable as leader among masses.

As grooming prudent practitioner of grassroot politics, here need is for him or anyone else in fray to not confuse statistical supremacy as absolute beingness, instead for permanency, political ideas should always chase the long term capabilities that lie in securing consistent mass base. He is more fortunate than Nitish Kumar in Bihar, as he have not succeeded a bankrupt state economy but still many challenges are umpteenth and identical, for that looking on Bihar model of revival would not be a wasted attempt for him. Beyond the essential execution of governance policies and infrastructure development, fetching industrial investment would be a challenging task for Akhilesh Yadav.

Here a conscious effort have to be made from his side, as the closeness of respective cohorts have did immensely harm to the UP’s industrial prospects in past. Notwithstanding the old paradigms would be desirable from mass point of views, so it will be healthy for new government too. Afterall the reasons of jubilation have come from people and rationally, it should be reverted back if the windblown was really pragmatic.

In my preceding piece (The Boisterous UP Election Scene, Mainstream, February 11, 2012) on similar theme, I was close with my opinion for SP lead government in UP but in numbers terms neither I had speculated nor felt it essential. What for me the basis of change was after feeling the fragility of political acts that done by all rest parties barring SP-this was the sole party in contest which had a fresh and clean leader to offer. Between wariness and hope, the new leadership was accepted, rest time will set the course in UP!
Atul Kumar Thakur
March 23, 2012, Friday, New Delhi
(Published in Mainstream Weekly,June 09,2012)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Material extremes!

Book Review: Non-fiction/Business, Extreme Money by Satyajit Das, Penguin, 514 pp; Rs699 (Hardback)
More than misnomer, it would be a tragical travesty of long standing exercise if someone tries to see the world of finance through a different prism, away from western policy dominance! A long slavery of impure and irreverent economic policies has already stocked abundant flaws in the entire financial system whose risks are being maximised by the unrealistic integration of global trades. However, against that slapped backdrop, some voices have started appearing very resolutely, which are pragmatic, less pontified and chasing the way out of pervasive financial gloom.

Also it must not be considered a sacrilege, if someone defies the non-holy motives of Adam Smith’s texts including little anti-literature of his own basic thoughts “Theories of Moral Sentiments” or naturally opportunist courtesan economist, Kautilya’s “Arthshashtra”. Even beyond these two economic scribes, most of economic theories and its propunders too need a very articulate revisiting, better if much as stern as Jacques Derida demands in “textual rereading” framework. But certainly, this practice should not be sanctified like the way bandwagon tradition, it has confronted.

Satyajit Das, an internationally renowned expert of finance with earthly understanding of actual happenings in the global financial world, has come out with “Extreme Money”-a detailed work on monetary evolution, its rise and now the questionable survival. His views are formed through inside exposures in working with giant financial conglomerates and central banks across the world, especially in advanced western economies which possess capacity to make or mar the potential of financial growth outside of its terrain too.

Before the catastrophe broke at Wall Street in 2007, Satyajit has written celebrated book “Traders, Guns and Money”, as the name suggests, he exposed the unethical and undeserving derivatives trading with insightful inside account. Like Nouriel Roubini, he too sensed the impending financial failures ahead, in tune many others also felt so but alas their apprehensions were succumbed under the heavy acts of sidelining by the greedy financial experts and sadly passive regulators. Rest is history, how black acts drove financial markets initially weird and later over-vulnerable to be in tussle of surviving an unforeseen bizarre “hand to mouth like situation”.

As financial evolution and its rapid growth is a sort of declaration by human race for its supremacy over the rest participants of the whole ecosystem, so its perilous binding over the modern world could be easily conceived. En route this, questionable money games have lead to massive yet incoherent bubbles of fake growth, exotic financial plans like Ponzi and whole allowed gambling of capital markets denounced the all minimum values of business altogether at bay. That affected innumerable losses of jobs, private savings and overall the beliefs of common men from the financial sector. This is very alarming per say, if this sector really wants to rebound gracefully, though its chances are very minimal.

Author of this book has tried very well to encompass how the trap of financialising everything, from home mortgages to climate change have made selected fortunes and affected many. In his judicious conviction, Satyajit Das tells very realistically how “extreme money” is unreal, how still exotic financial instruments are generating huge profits and the exorbitant acceptance of Ivy League trained financial jovial minds leading the stream finance towards black whole from where return would be as exciting and unrealistic as beating the enemy nation in a Bond’s cinema!

It would be wrong to presume Indian economy emerging unscratched through the ongoing financial crisis began with subprime lending failures and now reaching another round of debacle with Euro zone crisis. The governing policies for reckless financial adventurism have still not getting the consideration it deserves, the prolonging of lackluster regulatory overtures further jeopardizing the chances of recovery and making the world truly wary from its havocking affects. The valid question arises, why central bankers are not converging with the actual scenario in western world?

The multilateral organisations are long back stopped performing any rational role to make international financial system harmonic and less risky. So it should be considered by the central banks, including RBI that the dividend of open trade is not restricted for equal sharing among the stakeholders but the downfall is very fairly attributed on them when the economies worldwide touches tailspin. No matter, how much international trade is integrated the role of national regulators and government is as much crucial as they used to before liberalisation wave in 1991.

Unrealistic euphoria may be destined to short-lived like financial bubbles generated by manipulated financial policies, so time is to think with proper imagination rather getting accustomed to be fall thinker and its myopic practitioner. Extreme Money is a serious step forward in this regard with well researched symptoms and solution of global finance within its fold, this work should be essentially read by the enthusiasts of finance and normally timid academic, who teaches finance-with or without real zest!
Atul Kumar Thakur
March 20, 2012, Tuesday, New Delhi

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Palpasa’s trail!

Book Review: Fiction/Palpasa Cafe by Narayan Wagle, Random House India, 256 pp; Rs199 (Paperback)
The English fiction writing in Nepal has not yet entered into a matured phase from where the mass issues can be broadly presented for meaningful orientations. This is little bizarre, as in the category of non-fiction English writing, especially those done by the leading journalists have found accolades both in the country and outside. In absolute terms, Nepali literature is quite rich with an amazing consistency of its development-even in present time, the pace is intact and that is the matter of great solace. Though in recent times, Manjushree Thapa and few others have also did sporadically well to bridge the gap in English fiction writing…this work/Palpasa Cafe of Nepal’s leading journalist, Narayan Wagle is also appears very refreshing in a sensible English translation of Bikash Sangruala.

Set in the backdrop of Nepal’s transitory democratic scene, this novel could be termed very much the replica of those painful years started with the royal massacre of 2001. That brutally mysterious incident left the balance of royalty, mass belief, democracy and approaching radicalism in a prolong state of weirdness whose signs are still very much visible in Nepal. Palpasa CafĂ© is a sort of original work, that’s completely woven around the realities, with those the Nepalese lives have suffered immensely in last two decades. Inside the novel, Palpasa is a female protagonist, representing the insecure generation of her country with vivid charm and bewilderness. Her muse like involvement with the artist assures at some point, love can take lead even in the deep darkness of war and uncertainty!

But also is truth, those adversities tests the relations on its own hard terms where emotions alone don’t last long before the extreme convictions. Under the guise of unpleasant circumstances, Palpasa meets untimely but faithful end, and her better half part relies on artistic continuance and follow up ethical bearings. Which overall reaffirms that the benign functionalism of bond can be easily also coexists beyond the conventionally restricted trees of relationships. Being familiar with both the India and Nepal’s length and width, Narayan Wagle’s description from Goa to the valleys of turbulent Kathmndu allows readers to know and sense the events with comfortable ease. On individual characters, his reliance to assert his news centric opinion also creates interest rather confusion, that’s definitely a big win for this debutant author at quite ripe age.

Those who have enthusiasms for knowing the political history of Modern Nepal, advent and shaping of democracy in the nation can be more blessed entwining with this highly factualised fiction. Practically, like a scribe and astutely as an editor, Narayan Wagle delineates Nepal’s essential events of last few decades through a very balance vigour, which keeps reader informed and entitled with the development in envisaged plots. Moreover, better concentration over the conflicts among community and vested political interests of different political groups necessitates knowing the ongoing struggle of Nepal’s democracy not in monolith frame. If Palpasa’s end comes so easily, that it can be taken less than a loss of a human for the strife believer Maoists or other insensitive political participants, then atleast momentously it looks more believable to accept “disenchantment “from the existing institutional frameworks as “mainstream move”!

The book tries well to establish those disenchanting urges with the directionless political development in Nepal. This gives the effort of author a much desired broadness. Through knowing by one’s own impulses or getting in term with a work like this, views strengthens that the pain of Nepal’s democratic transition is far being over in the days to come. The big gulf that created with the end of monarchy or even much before, from the royal massacre, is still haunting the prospects of political normalization in the country. A nation with rich cultural past and gifted human and natural resources, Nepal certainly deserves to retrieve its normalcy and peace back. Over the years, Nepali journalists have been playing the vital role in forming balanced international consensus in favour of Nepal, time has still not lapse have they start thinking to concentrate more on homeland!
Atul Kumar Thakur
March 15, 2012, Thursday, New Delhi