The Indian Parliamentarian and Accountability

In many ways, the Parliament is the keystone, the chief flag-bearer of democracy in India.It’s the forum where legislation is enacted, where pressing civic issues are debated and where the government is held accountable. The Parliament, constituted of people’s representatives, directly or indirectly elected, represents the voice of the nation.However, even though the architects of the Indian constitution gave a lot of thought into designing several innovative checks and balances amongst the various government institutions, the Parliament and the Parliamentarians were surprisingly given a lot of leeway.The Parliament functions as one of those institutions that’s accountable neither to the executive nor to the judiciary. And as for the Parliamentarian, the only time they are held accountable is at the end of their 5-yr or 6-yr term when elections come knocking, and even then their performance within the parliament is almost never a voting issue.

The Parliament is in several rudimentary ways a business house, where the daily business is to debate issues and pass legislation after deliberating on the pros/cons.The effectiveness of any business house is ensured by demanding accountability from the corporation as a whole, which in turn is ensured by demanding accountability from every single employee.And this accountability is measured informally on a day-to-day basis, and formally during the annual/bi-annual appraisals.So why should the Parliament be any different? In fact, the accountability demanded from the parliamentarians should be even more stringent, since they are responsible to the whole nation, while a business corporation is accountable only to it’s shareholders.

One of the ways of fixing accountability is by ensuring transparency.On this count, our parliament scores quite well. The daily proceedings and records of the parliament are open to public scrutiny through live telecasts and information published on the parliament’s website. It is also possible to view the record of every individual parliamentarian on these same websites. Although it can be argued that most of the data is in raw form and not entirely suited for direct interpretation by the masses. Apart from transparency, independent monitoring is another way of ensuring transparency.While transparency lays the onus of preparing the report-card on vigilant citizens, monitoring ensures that report-cards are drawn in a professional manner and with authority.

While the Parliament as a institution does have a lot of transparency built in, it’s the individual parliamentarians who are hardly ever held accountable for their functioning and performance in the Parliament. It is in that context that I suggest the following bullet-points for fixing accountability on our parliamentarians.

  • Just like every publicly traded company has to be audited by independent firms on an annual basis, likewise, the parliament too should be monitored by an independent statutory body.
  • The findings of this independent monitoring body should be captured in an annual report and placed in the public knowledge. It should also be adequately broadcast through press conferences and media briefings.This report should be the final word of authority as far as the functioning of the individual parliamentarians are concerned.
  • The suggestions, recommendations and punitive measures contained in the report should be considered as binding on both the houses, and it should be the obligation of the House Speaker to implement the same, probably after due consideration from a Standing Committee.
  • In this age of open governance, it should be made mandatory for every parliamentarian to maintain their personal websites, where they constantly provide updates on the debates they participated in, their opinion on crucial legislations and the manner in which they disbursed of their MPLAD funds.They should be provided with all the support and assistance needed to accomplish the same.
  • Attendance is something which is enforced religiously in our academic and business houses. So why should exceptions be made for our parliamentarians? Monitoring the attendance of individual parliamentarians is not enough. Punitive action should be taken on erring members by means of levying hefty penalty fees.
  • Every election, our politicians do a lot of drum beating on their supposed achievements.Nothing is wrong with this, but no one verifies their statements. So it should be made mandatory for every sitting MP and MLA to submit their individual records on their performance in the parliament and status of their MPLAD-funded projects, along with the affidavit that they currently submit.All these personal statements should be ratified by the Election Commission and any discrepancy should attract punitive action.
  • The same records that are mentioned in the point above should be condensed into pamphlet advertisements and mandatorily distributed in their constituency along with the daily newspaper.

Some of the measures suggested above may be too radical to be implemented. But in these days of adjournments, unruly behaviour, parliament stalling, walkouts staged by opposition,passing of important bills without a reasonable debate,demanding of resignations on smallest of pretexts etc etc, only stringent measures can bring about decorum in the house. While it’s perfectly alright for the parliament to exercise oversight on the functioning of the executive, a breakdown in governance by the executive should not lead to a ripple effect of causing a breakdown in the functioning of the Parliament. Only by demanding accountability from our elected representatives can we ensure that our Parliament functions in the spirit that was conceived by the founders of our constitution. And only by demanding accountability, can we ensure that laws are made to protect the common man and not to protect the tainted politicians and crony capitalists.Only be demanding accountability, can we ensure that landmark reforms such as the Lokpal Bill, Land Acquisition Bill, Representation of the People Bill and the Communal Violence Bill, all see the light of day without being diluted beyond the point of being effective.

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Why Secularism and not Democracy should be the First Goal in Middle East ?

The Arab Spring, which began with the intention of securing greater political freedoms and overthrowing autocratic regimes in the Middle East, is soon going to complete three years. Popular protests with sometimes violent overtones led to political reversals in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Libya. Protests still continue in Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon and they show no signs of abating quickly.While it may have begun with good intentions, we would be living in denial if we still believe that the Arab Spring continues to be a force of justice and freedom.The motivations behind the Arab Spring have slowly but surely been hijacked and overshadowed by external factors aimed at stamping their dominance in an area of strategic importance to the rest of the world.

Democracy may be good in general, but is the Middle East ready to adopt democracy? This is the bigger question. Democracy may be easy to obtain as the Arab Spring has shown, but much more difficult to sustain.Middle East has always seen tensions and power struggles because of Shia Sunni factionalism. Countries that are Sunni controlled tend to ally with each other, and likewise for Shia dominated countries. In some countries, Shia minorities rule over Sunni majority populations and vice versa. This situation of minorities ruling over majorities has become possible as a result of outside support from either Shia dominated Iran or Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia, whichever the case may be.Hence, the Arab Spring has directly resulted in a rise of opportunism for changing these power balances.It has become a breeding ground for yet another civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and is no longer a just revolution.And funding for these revolutions comes easily from oil money.

In such a factional environment, it is possible for only two kinds of political orders to survive and rule. Either one has to be rich and autocratic or one has to be an Islamist. Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi etc were all rich and autocratic leaders who would crush any political opposition by force.On the positive side, they were also more secular. But since the Arab Spring is being fought for greater political freedom, the autocrats are sidestepped, and the Islamists are alleviated to power.This only further stokes religious tensions, and results in sectarian clashes.However, if the country has a homogeneous population and is either overwhelmingly Sunni or Shia, then these tensions are either absent or very low-key.

So should democracy be the goal for Arab Spring? My answer is NO. Any democratic implementations in the Middle East will only bring Islamists to power and deliver a killer blow to reformist and liberal movements.It would indeed mean taking several steps back and not forward.

What is needed more urgently is a Secular order.Middle East politics should learn to grow above Shia Sunni factionalism and be inclusive towards people of all castes and creeds.Let there be a Unity government in all these countries with appropriate representations from all factions.Let geopolitical alliances stop being governed by factional agendas, but by economic relations.And this change cannot come from the top. It requires an overwhelming change in social and religious mindset.Th bravehearts of Middle East who came out in the streets to protest, need to make sure that they do not let their movement for freedom be hijacked by vested interests.Let the Arab Spring be a social movement for Secularism first and Democracy only second.Because Democracy in Middle East cannot survive without Secularism.Turkey is proof of this!!

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Early Trends for General Elections

As we all know, General Elections in India are very much around the corner. As the political climate heats up, we will soon start to see political debates picking up steam on online media. So the other day, I just did a quick random check on Google Trends to see which political camp is trending online. Here are some results.

Namo_Rahul

Narendra Modi vs. Rahul Gandhi

From the BJP camp, Narendra Modi is pretty much crowned as their Prime Ministerial candidate. However, from the Congress side, there are still confusing signals, so I have randomly selected Rahul Gandhi as the next major opponent.As the graph shows, Namo far outruns Rahul Gandhi, as far as public interest goes.

Congress_BJP

Congress vs. BJP

The two major national parties, Congress and BJP are almost neck to neck, with the BJP having a narrow lead.

Rahul_Congress

Rahul Gandhi vs. Congress

Now, ever since Narendra Modi was crowned as the BJP Campaign Committee head, there has been a lot of buzz and debate about the emergence of the personality cult in Indian Politics. So I also decided to generate a trending graph of Rahul Gandhi vs his party, the Congress. As can be seen, both are trending at same pace.

Namo_BJP

Narendra Modi vs. BJP

Now this is the interesting graph, albeit not a surprising one. A trending comparison of Narendra Modi vs his party, shows that Narendra Modi is generating far more interest in the public imagination than the BJP.

Personally, I feel that the emergence of the personality cult in Indian Politics is not a new phenomenon. Political parties in India have traditionally fought elections in the name of their most charismatic leader. eg Congress has been fighting elections under the Gandhi family name since ages.Similarly, for the numerous other regional parties, their leader is often the most recognizable face of the party.And greater the charisma of their leader, the better are the winning chances for that party.Well, as the trends above clearly show, Narendra Modi is generating not only more interest than his closest contender, but also more interest than his own party.

 

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Indian Secularism : A Taste of Fusion

Recipe : Indian Secularism

Ingredients :

  • Plain Rice : Indian Elections
  • Oil : Political Campaigns
  • Tadka of spices : The Singh Parivar (Digvijay Singh, Rajnath Singh,Mulayam Singh)
  • Red Chilli Powder : Narendra Modi
  • Lemon Juice : Advaniji
  • Salt : Congress
  • Sugar : Nitish Kumar
  • Coriander Leaves : Lalu Prasad
  • Mushrooms (optional) : Manmohan Singh

Procedure :

  • Heat some oil in a traditional Indian kadhai over a traditional koele ka chulha. Selecting a variety of oils is recommended as this country prides itself in it’s diversity.Be aware that you may face some difficulty in getting hold of coal though.I am sure I don’t need to explain the reason behind that.
  • Once the oil is sufficiently hot and dainty plumes of smoke can be seen rising, add some tadka eg mustard seeds, zeera, crushed peppercorns etc. The role of the tadka is to get the initial flavour going. Here, by flavour I of course mean secularism.
  • Once the tadka has done it’s job, it’s time to add the cooked white rice.You know, the rice has to be the star of the dish, in fact it’s the only basis of the dish.All the fuss and tamasha happens around it.
  • Stir the rice so that it is thoroughly coated with oil and takes on the initial flavouring from our tadka.I hope you see the analogy here.Elections have to be well greased by campaigns, if they are to make any difference.
  • Now is the time to add the main flavour agents.Well I am thinking…Spicy food is always popular, salt is a necessary ingredient…as for sugar and lemon juice, they can always be used to create a well balanced dish.So there you have the magic formula.Hurrah!!And yes, the salt is not meant to be rubbed into somebody’s wound, as the Congress is inclined to do these days to it’s rival.
  • You might as well throw in some sauted mushrooms now.Well, they are so bland, they not going to make a difference anyway. They are only supposed to give a meaty texture.
  • And no Indian dish can be complete without the evergreen Coriander Leaves. They can lift any dish from the depths of mediocrity.Add  it as a final garnish.

Serve :

  • Serve this authentic dish of Indian Secularism with Tamarind Chutney from Tamil Nadu, Rosogolla from West Bengal and Aam ka Achaar from Punjab.
  • It would be wise to give the first serving to Uttar Pradesh.They say that the nation votes as UP votes. This gives the cook an opportunity to correct calculation mistakes early on.
  • When serving the dish to the Media, make sure the flavours and the plating are upto the mark.Because they are the opinion makers.You wouldn’t want to be on their wrong side now, would you?

Source of the Recipe : Past 65 years of experience

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They Were All Honourable Men…

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

Collage1

Yes, they were all honourable men.Men who had fought their way to the top; Men who were known for their hard work and integrity as much for their philanthropic contributions to society;Men who one could not speak of without a mark of reverence and awe;Men who had become household names for all the right reasons.That is, until their fall from grace.

And in almost all cases, GREED proved to be their undoing.Greed for money, Greed for power, even Greed for sex.Well, as Gordon Gekko would say, there was nothing wrong in their greed; if anything it only indicated their ambition; and ambition is good;it motivates you and takes you far.After all, who doesn’t want to be a Billionaire??

However, when this greed starts getting replaced with greed for making easy money, instead of creating wealth; When this greed starts to operate with scant respect for the laws of the land;When this greed requires the sacrifice of moral and ethical values as collateral; Then it is safe to say that the decline has begun!

And we the public who have reverred them, have an obligation not to let our passions get the better of us.We can feel sorry for them;But we should not let them become martyrs in our imaginations.We should not try to defend them on the basis of their good conduct or on the basis of their contribution to society.We should let the Law take it’s course;So that a strong message is sent to other wrong-doers who are also contemplating taking a plunge into this filth of greed under the expectation that they will not get caught.

Finally, I would like to recall the quote of the judge who indicted Rajat Gupta..

He is a good man.But the history of this country and the history of the world is full of examples of good men who did bad things

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After Diggy, it’s now Mamata..

 

Mamata Banerjee seems to have taken center stage for standup comedy yet again.It’s people like her and Digvijay Singh that put chaar chand on Indian politics. And now that she is heading some banana government in her home state, she seems to be completely irrepresible. This promises to be a long and entertaining performance :) .

 

The latest Mamataism doing rounds,

  • I love the media. But don´t enter hospital premises. Even I take permission of the hospital superintendent before entering the premises. I don´t need permission but still I do since it´s a basic courtesy and also may be some infection can spread because of me
  • Do not watch the two television channels that are spreading falsehood against us. Instead listen to songs and watch entertainment channels like Star Jalsa, Tara and Channel 10
  • I do not care if fingers are pointed against me. I do not care for anybody. I only care for Ma, Mati, Manush of West Bengal
  • Intelligent people should use their intelligence for doing good.Instead they are using it to conspire against me
  • How will we run the state if they (Centre) take away all the money? They are trying to cripple the state. A lot has been said about us receiving huge amounts of money from the Centre. This is not true. We have not received a single penny
  • I don’t care for anybody but the common man. There is no point in scaring me. I am not a person to get scared. I will not stick to my chair. If I can’t work I shall quit
  • In the next five years I will do so much work that it will make the CPM jealous. We have done ten years’ work in ten months

My question is….Do we need Bollywood when we have Mamata Banerjee?And yes didi, we dont need to listen to songs and watch entertainment channels. Because you are a complete entertainment package yourself :)

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The Bouffant Crown

Bouffant Crown

The Iron Ladies

Recently, I watched the movie “Iron Lady” which is based on the life of Margaret Thatcher. The movie gives significant detailing of Margaret Thatcher’s hairstyle which was restyled to give her a softer but more powerful look. Her hairstyle is popularly called as Bouffant and has been adopted by many powerful women with short hair, including Indira Gandhi. While Margaret Thatcher’s hair was adorned by lots of curls, Indira Gandhi’s white streaks of hair gave her a rather unique look.

Besides the hair, both the women were nicknamed as Iron Lady, both were the first female Prime Minister’s of their country, both were known for their authoritarianism and both guided their countries through wars.But I guess nothing stands out as much as the striking similarity of their hairdo :) .

I am marvelling at the magic that can be woven by the unpretentious scissors. It’s a hairy business, indeed :) .

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Middle-class Appetite for Social Activism

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; Indeed it is the only thing that ever does

Civil movements with a middle class flavour were a major highlight this year. While the Arab spring in the middle east dominated the international news, closer home we had our own anti-corruption mass movement that was expertly led by eminent social activists like Anna Hazare, Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. These movements though completely independent of each other and triggered for different reasons, had a noticeable common thread running through them. At the centrestage of these protests was a hitherto reluctant middle class directing it’s ire at an arrogant officialdom. The middle class which has mostly been an invisible entity in mass protests and demonstrations in India, was suddenly in the forefront of the movement, taking up the lost cause of battling corruption that has slowly but steadily been eating it’s way into the very moral fibre of our society.

As the movement grew in proportion, most of us belonging to the middle class strata took to the streets, holding placards, shouting slogans, waving flags and participating in group fasts. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter were pivotal to the movement participation, organization and recruitment. In fact, spontaneous protests erupting in several pockets of the country, marked a major turning point in the movement, forcing the incumbent government to sit up and take notice. The political class of the country which so far had faced pressure either from the business enterprises or the BPL community,initially wrote off this middle class unrest as a harmless protest. But when it started becoming clear that the movement won’t just die down silently and that the people on the streets meant business, the government machinery finally started churning and cabinet leaders were found on the backfoot. They soon realized that this was not the middle class with the trademark “chalta hai” attitude; this was not a scared lot; on the streets were law abiding citizens who had decided they were not going to tolerate the government’s complicity in corruption any more;this was a society finally out of it’s inertia and establishing it’s assertiveness in public and political causes with an uncharacteristic firmness.

Middle class involvement in public protests has largely been unheard of in the history of this nation. They were not a prominent force during the freedom struggle; in fact the middle class had not yet evolved at the time. The middle class was never a driving force behind the most important reforms this country has seen. The only time some feeble protests could be heard from them, was whenever there was a fuel hike or food inflation. Even on such occasions, the opposition political parties would be the ones leading the protests, and the middle class would be largely inconspicuous on the streets.Of late, officialdom excess and delayed justice as was in the case of Jessica Lal murder or Ruchika Girhotra molestation, has sparked protests from the middle class. But once again this has been mostly sustained by the growing social activism of the media and press and not by any leadership demonstrated by the middle class.Middle class hesitation in getting involved with political causes, or issues that resonate with them, or for that matter their reluctance to even stand up for each other has been only too apparent to ignore and brush aside. Fuelling this apathy has been a lack of awareness and a sadly absent public opinion. The middle class has been neutral at best, and it won’t be a far-fetched thought to say that they have even been co-conspirators with the powers at worst.

Given this background,one would instantly question the seriousness and sustainability of middle class social activism that has of late been dominating our news headlines.Has the middle class come of age? Is it drawing it’s strength from it’s growing numbers? Is the middle class ready to realign it’s interests away from the political system? Is the middle class evolving into an influential constituency and effective pressure group? Is it becoming a clout to be reckoned with?

Only time will tell us, whether what we saw this year was just a flash in the pan or was it the beginning of the demonstration of strength by the middle class. This country has so far been witness to a complex relationship between governance, political democracy and the middle class. But the Anna Hazare movement has proved that the middle class can come out of it’s shell and take part in movements that are not limited in scope by their apolitical colour but which in fact aim to reform the political system. This was not a movement driven by a mad fit of rage. This was a middle class movement that was well thought of and driven by a long term vision of change.

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Classroom Teaching in India

Every truth has four corners; As a teacher I give you one corner and it is for you to find the other three” – Confucius

The teaching profession is widely considered to lay the foundation stone for nation building.Teachers have the immense responsibility to nurture students who are capable of thinking out of the box and taking independent decisions so that they can face the toughest of life’s challenges and become leaders of tomorrow.With teachers having such an immensely important role to play, it is only fit to introspect on whether our education system and specifically our classroom teaching techniques live up to expectations of the 21st century.Are traditional modes of imparting learning to students within a classroom worthy enough to be continued in the near future or do we need an urgent course correction? Has the time come to adopt a different set of tools to prepare students for the ever burgeoning competitiveness that is becoming so ingrained in our social fabric ?

Below is a list of different methods of teaching and the retention rates they produce,

  1. Lecture = 5%
  2. Reading  = 10%
  3. Audiovisual  = 20%
  4. Demonstration = 30%
  5. Discussion Groups = 50%
  6. Practise by doing = 75%
  7. Teach others = 90%

Traditional modes of classroom teaching in India have primarily revolved around lecturing and reading with limited focus on practicals.The driving intent behind teaching has largely been to complete the ever growing curriculum instead of fostering comprehension of the subject matter.Reading out the chapters from the book line by line interspersed with answers to queries from a few inquisitive students and ultimately rounding up everything by discussing answers to the questions in the Exercise section at the end of the chapter has largely been the modus operandi of teaching in any average classroom in the country.This is finally followed up by testing the student’s learning through internals,tests,exams etc. where questions are mostly formulated in straightforward and predictable ways and in fact, sometimes are just copied from the Exercise section. Answers are evaluated on the basis of whether all the points from the text have been covered or not.Sometimes even this is sacrificed due to the huge backlog of papers to be corrected, and random marks are rewarded based on superficial things such as handwriting,presentation,direct quotations from the book, quality of introduction and conclusion etc.All this leaves little room to guess that our prevalent education system lays more emphasis on raw memorization of facts and figures than on strengthening student’s analytical skills,creativity and ingenuity in approaching a problem.

As most of us would have already experienced that text and lecture based teaching encourages only rote-based learning , besides offering little stimuli to capture the student’s attention in the classroom.By easily falling into the trap of monologue, this style of teaching is almost unavoidably characterised by minimum student participation.In fact, our archaic modes of classroom teaching suffer from so many loopholes and drawbacks that having a detailed discussion on the topic would easily run into several pages.So leaving that aside, the question we should be asking ourselves is “Are traditional teaching styles sustainable in the long run? What are the other alternatives? And how urgently do we need to change our education system?”

With passing years, school and college curriculum is only bound to increase and entrance exams will become more competitive.If we were to continue down the existing path, teachers will find it increasingly difficult to complete the curriculum within deadline and students will be simply swamped and over-burdened with study material.There’s only an extent to which memorization can work without the assistance of comprehension.The pace of study will become so fast that all the joys associated with learning will be nipped from the bud and students will become more exam-oriented as opposed to learning-oriented.

So there’s enough evidence on the table to suggest that we need to start looking at other alternatives.As per the tabular data cited above, teaching others, practicals and discussions are the most effective teaching methodologies.Encompassing all these three is a newly emerging teaching strategy called Cased-based teaching  that has currently been adopted, albeit in a smaller way,  in the premier management institutions in the country.The principal hallmarks of this style are,

  1. Students are divided into small groups of 5-10 people. Each of these forms a study group.
  2. Students are apprised of the study material prior to the classroom session.
  3. After individually going through the study material, the study group meets to further discuss the topic so that as many points can be laid on the table as possible.
  4. During the classroom session, each study group puts forth their viewpoints.
  5. The teacher is responsible for guiding the discussion towards a logical conclusion, while prodding students for a 360 degree analysis.
  6. Most of the time discussions are open-ended and more often than not there is more than one possible solution to the problem.

Since case-based teaching is very student-centric as opposed to lecture-centric, it successfully creates a breeding ground for student participation.Under this, spoon feeding and a passive flow of information from the instructor to the student is replaced by an environment that is conducive to letting the students construct their own knowledge, challenge assumptions, expose contradictions and ultimately leading to new knowledge.During the classroom session, students are actively processing the information,instead of just absorbing the information.The results of this collaborative learning model is that we nurture quality students with a strong understanding of fundamentals and having the ability to critically appreciate a problem and it’s solutions.

While case-based teaching is a good fit for social science based courses, science and maths related subjects require a blend of case-based teaching and lectures. This is so, as in the case of the latter, significant work needs to be done by the teacher on the classroom board by way of demonstrating theorems, formulae etc.Nevertheless, case-based teaching seems to be a more valuable way of utilizing time within the classroom as the focus is more on fostering comprehension and analysing the topic from all possible perspectives. Once students understand the topic, memorising becomes so much easier, probably even fun !

The fact that a paradigm shift is needed in our classroom teaching styles is more than evident.Teaching methodologies that encourage students to think independently, enables them to handle pressure and nurtures their confidence are the need of the hour.As we get surrounded by more competitive times, it’s become necessary that we stem the rot in our education system that currently seems all but poised to becoming a breeding ground for mediocrity.Because, Thinkers and not Nerds is what we need from our future generations !

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