Farmers’ Agitation

Being in Assam it is difficult to understand and appreciate the farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur and Nashik. The problem of plenty in these places as reported is not reflected in the vegetable market of Guwahati even if we take into account the benchmark items viz potato, onion and tomato. Having learnt that Assam is the “emerging state in agricultural growth” as per India Today group and given that there is record agricultural production in  major Indian states and there is  record low level inflation in the country my natural expectation was some  relief in food and vegetable expenses , which has not come true till date.

But articles and opinions published across media on agrarian crisis have not convinced me much. Experts summarize that agriculture currently is an unviable activity in India. If agriculture employs more than half of India’s workforce and contributes less than one fifth to the GDP then more than half of Indian population is underemployed and contributing insignificantly to the national income. If the statement is true then the story that India is an emerging economic powerhouse is redundant.

India’s central bank is primarily focused in controlling inflation. The present RBI governor is continuing the legacy of Raghuram Rajan, who took a rigid stand on inflation and we may recall his inflation vs dosa analogy. As per reports the  country  is  through  the lowest rate of inflation and there is  free fall of food and vegetable prices  and that in turn boomeranged as farmers did not  get right price for their produce. So can we say that the crisis is due to RBI’s mismanagement of the economy?

Various reasons identified by experts include higher input costs and small land holding in agriculture. But the recent problem is in higher output and higher output should have had counter effect to mitigate the problem.  Also both are controllable parameters. If there is indeed overproduction then there has to be a relook at the agricultural policy which at the moment talks about increasing farm productivity and provides various state sponsored incentives.

As possible solutions many are suggesting steps such as loan waiver and minimum support price or MSP. But the banking sector is already in trouble due to bad loan. Also a progressive government should have talked about price discovery through efficient commodity exchanges rather than the archaic MSP.

A new idea suggested in one place is a “decentralized futures market by agri entrepreneurs”. The idea is not clearly elaborated but the reason why existing commodities exchanges can’t be developed to address the problem is not understood. The state policy on agricultural commodity derivative market has been inconsistent since independence and current crisis is probably an opportunity to correct it.


The Power of English Language

It was a pleasant surprise watching a girl from our neighborhood on TV being interviewed as she is one of the successful candidates in the recently declared all India civil services examination. She looked ecstatic but composed and talked very intelligently. Still I could not understand why she had to use a Hindi  word “Kyunki” while talking in decently good Assamese. Perhaps this is the effect of long years of stay in Delhi for exam preparation or may be like “Hinglish” ,“Hassamese” is also developing fast.

Had she been interviewed in English, perhaps we would have heard clear and complete English without a word borrowed from any other language. Here lies the strength of English language which is only because of us, the natives of the former British colony.

The power of English language is so massive that we can conveniently communicate any difficult ideas through it.  For example the Naga rebel leaders said that “shared sovereignty” is the premise of Indo Naga peace agreement. But not many would understand the meaning of “shared sovereignty” and the Government of India can easily avoid giving an explanation.

“Layoff” is a word heard and seen regularly in recent days which means “termination”. Termination sounds harsh but layoff is trendy but consequences are the same. The response of the IT industry regarding layoff is beautifully crafted as “workforce realignment is a normal part of the internal process of companies based on their operational imperatives”.   A well written sentence but can’t mitigate the devastation of layoff.

Commenting on hyper-nationalism by some TV channels in recent times a scholar wrote “Pornography gratifies but fails to satisfy”.  I am yet to understand the comment fully but perhaps the writer would have found it difficult to put across his point in any other language.

AG, LG and the Transformation of Assam Youth

In the late eighties and nineties there used be doubts over the  loyalty of Assamese people  to the Indian State and therefore the central  government at that time whispered  the UPSC to filter out Assamese candidates.  This is what I overheard in a conversation of important individuals long time ago. Any way things have changed completely now and today at least two gentlemen from Assam, AG and LG  are  holding the patriotic flag up and high.

AG  in his new avatar has successfully overtaken the role of Ministry of Home Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office and all investigating agencies. The very first day we learnt from him that Bihar is governed by somebody behind the bar, the second day Sunanda death mystery revealed and so on and so forth. Even we were shown live the movement of maoists in Bastar.

But LG’s case is vexing and I doubt if he himself had anticipated to be a national hero. No doubt as an army man he is a great patriot. But even the army general made a public statement that what LG did was not a professional conduct  and must not be repeated.

But the unfortunate part is that some sections are making him a brave national hero, some are comparing him with the great Ahom general Lachit Barphukan and some elements are trying to crack a joke that “LG is Assam’s Lion”.

Business Correspondents and Payment Banks

Many bank officials are of the view that Business Correspondents or BC  channel is a loss making proposition for banks. But I could not validate the assessment as the BC channel is currently engaged primarily to collect deposits and do small value transactions and the channel is not being engaged to do the core banking activity of lending. However the deposits mobilized by BCs can be used by banks for lending or doing other investment activities. Therefore BCs can’t be held accountable for utilization of deposits by banks.

Like the BC channel, Payment Bank is another project by the Government of India to promote financial inclusion. Eleven entities got payment bank licenses, three of them have already opted out and three have just started working. Since the very beginning experts have been skeptical about the viability of Payment bank business model.Like BCs, payment banks can collect limited deposits, do transactions but can’t lend.

Without a sustainable business model, Payment Bank is not likely to become a success story. Government may perhaps look at expanding the scope of activities of Payment Bank and bring in priority sector lending and micro finance under it.

As per emerging trends we observe that the payment banks that have started operations are converting their wallet/app businesses into payment banking which means it would essentially become an urban business and financial inclusion would take a backseat.

Why no army action against Maoists

General  V K Singh sounded like a statesman when he said “ Army should not be used against our own people”. It is great to see a consensus in political and defense establishments on not deploying army against Maoists, despite Maoists carrying out regular massacre of paramilitary personnel.

Though we do not discuss much, the Maoists ideology is not unknown. The Maoists do not accept the Indian constitution and they want to overthrow the current government structure. So it is a war against the state.

The restraint shown in acting against Maoists is unique and similar restraint was totally missing when

  • Battle tanks moved on the street of Punjab  and Indian army shelled holy shrines of Sikhs during operation Bluestar.
  • Aizawl was bombed by Indain Air Force in March 1966.
  • Army is given a free hand to contain militancy in Kashmir.

Perhaps militarily there was no choice for the government but to resort to such extreme measures. But why army is repeatedly called out to fight insurgency in Assam is a mystery. Though I am not a military expert, I can tell with conviction that Assam insurgency was never a military threat. The first Assam based  anti  India  militant outfit ULFA was largely involved in political killings and extortions. The Bodo militancy was initially nurtured by the intelligence agencies of Govt of India to counter the ULFA-AGP nexus.

The Indian state must not be a cruel state, but it has to be a fair state also.

What is in a Name

I never liked the NITI Aayog and the BHIM App just for the names. If NITI is abbreviated version of National Institution for Transforming India, then Aayog behind it is a misfit. If the government is trying to convey “Policy” through the word NITI then the NITI Aayog in English should be called “Policy Commission”.
Bhim Rao Ambedkar or the great Pandava warrior Bhim perhaps never thought that they would be called Bharat Interface for Payment (BHIM) in digital India and that they would have to take on Vijay Shekhar Sharma’s Paytm or Oxigen wallet. I am yet to fully understand why a minimalist government is on the job of promoting an App which is also done by so many private players.
Despite my reverence for the Vaishnav saints I am not happy to learn that GS Road is renamed as Srimanta Sankardev Path as it is unlikely to improve the road condition. Also I am pained to see a dirty galli in Ganeshguri called as Sankardev Path and a congested lane in Hatigaon area called as Mula Gabharu Path. Years ago I saw a dusty village road near Mukalmua in Nalbari district named as Raghunath Chaudhary path.
Whenever I am in Kolkata I feel homely primarily because the city is a bigger and a more chaotic version of Guwahati. Also there is great pleasure in walking along the Park Street, Camac Street, Little Russel Street and Ho Chi Min Sarani as I feel like a truly global citizen then.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in Assam

I have no option but to walk along the pavement everyday beside the “metro taxi stand”. The metro taxis are Tata magic or similar vehicles all painted with pictures of prominent temples and other landmarks in Guwahati . The standardized painting on these vehicles is perhaps mandated by the government to promote tourism. But the taxi stand and the beautifully painted Tata magic vehicles are unlikely to contribute anything to the tourism initiative primarily for the stink caused by open urination by public near the metro taxi stand. Interestingly the location I am referring to is just within a radius of 500 meters of Assam state capital complex. The scenario only re confirms   that the Government of India’s much touted flagship   program “ Swachh Bharat Abhiyan “ is just a pipedream.

When the program was launched many ruling party workers were seen holding broomsticks and sweeping city lanes and by lanes. It was a nice symbolic gesture but the Abhiyan has not moved beyond symbolism. Meanwhile the government started collecting tax from public by way of “Swachh Bharat Cess”. But beyond government proclaimed figures of “ODF “regions and number of toilets constructed the daily experiences  of a pedestrian should  also be taken into consideration in reviewing achievements of the Abhiyan.

We have talked about tourism and to see Assam tourism flourishing the state run Assam State Transport Corporation will have to play its part. The present Transport Minister readily lists out corruption, inefficiency and bankruptcy in the corporation. But let’s not forget that a state run public transport entity is unlikely to be profitable in normal course.  Let’s also not forget about the assets owned by ASTC in different places of Assam. But do we see any innovative steps by the government to utilize these assets ?

I am a frequent inter district traveler by public road transport. To see ruined ASTC buildings and badly maintained premises across towns is very depressing.  In most cases parts of the ASTC premises are open toilets.  “Disgusting” will be a  mild word to describe the experience of  visiting  such open toilets out of helplessness  as we have failed to construct dignified urinals and toilets even for travelers.













Tales of Babas and Yogis

“The big companies had more or less a monopoly in their respective fields. They did not have to sell. They merely allocated”…. …. “ That’s changed now. The targets are worked out on a counter basis for each town. We might say of a dealer. He is good  500  TV set counter , I must get to sell  200 of mine. That is the kind of thinking that is taking place in an executive’s mind. And once he returns to his base city or town with his head muzzy with too much drink and travel……”  Excerpts  from “ India a Million Mutinies Now” by VS Naipaul, telling about the transition of the boxwallah (British time company  executive ) to a present day Indian company executive.

But I presumed a possible paradigm shift in the functioning of  Indian corporate sector after learning the Patanjali success story. If we compare Patanjali Ayurved Ltd with its natural and well established rival Dabur India Ltd the following contrasting points emerge.

  • The head of Dabur went to  University of Wisconsin and University of Kansas while Patanjali in charge studied in some little known Sanskrit University.
  • Annual turnover of Dabur is at some 8000 crores after being in the business for over 100 years, while Patanjali crossed 5000 crores annual turnover after 10 years of its existence.
  • Dabur uses all modern tools to promote its products but Patanjali apparently has only one thing in hand, its brand ambassador and founder Baba Ramdev.

I  saw Baba Ramdev talking in a  business news channel. He said Patanjali Ayurved is a not for profit organization. When the interviewer commented that it was a social enterprise he said that Patanjali is a spiritual organization and even employees of Patanjali  are required to lead ascetic lifestyles.

Then I imagined a Patanjali sales executive  dressed like Baba Ramdev or Acharya Balakrishna going around Patanjali stores motivating the retailers to sell more by reciting slokas or doing some other  spiritually motivating things.

But the feedback from the field is different. Patajali at the ground level is just like its FMCG peer companies .  So perhaps Baba Ramdev while talking in the interview was not telling the truth or may be he does not have control over daily activities of Patanjali.

However I will be happy to see Patanjali Ayurved Ltd scaling new heights in its spiritual journey. But the elevation of the Mahant of Gorakhnath Math as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh had  upset me. Expectedly the Mahant (Yogi Adityanath) has started in a curious style by raiding “Meat Shops” (Beef Shops?). Regarding the subject  I would like to  rewind the Lok Sabha speech by G C Swell, the former  MP from Shillong in the no confidence motion against  the Vajpayee Government in 1996 , in which he said  ““In the North East, beef is the cheapest source of protein for the majority of the people”. Interestingly GC Swell was a BJP supported candidate in the 1992 Presidential elections. I am sure Babas and Yogis would not even listen to such views.

I also do not understand how can a religious person say “ If they kill one we will kill hundred” and “if they take away one girl from us we will take away their hundred girls”.

No doubt that the Chief Minister of UP is chosen based on Islam phobia. Many of us believe that Islam spreads terror and hatred.  I believe we should consciously oppose such stereotyping. I recollect listening to an informal speech by Hafij Giasuddin Ahmed , an Islamic scholar from North Guwahati  in which  he discussed at length the Islamic  teaching of humility and openness.  Hafij Ahmed ended his speech by saying “The only one thing I know is that I don’t know anything”.

2017 Elections

It is celebration time for the BJP as it won an unprecedented victory in Uttar Pradesh-325 seats in a house of 403.  Near home, Irom Sharmila who fought for a cause for over 16 years got less than 100 votes and suffered a humiliating defeat.

Numbers indicate victory and defeat but numbers not necessarily represent everything.

In 2017 elections in UP, 61% electorates voted. The BJP secured 40% of the total votes polled, which indicates that the BJP is supported by just 24% of the eligible voters. 24% is no big mandate by any yardstick.

In Assam elections 2016, the candidate with the highest academic attainment and superior intellect polled less than 1000 votes put together in two highly literate constituencies. But is this an endorsement of mediocrity in Assam politics?

Elections held in Assam in the year 1983 were controversial, but legally valid as per Supreme Court verdict.  In the election a congressman who won and became a minister secured just 260 votes.

Irom Sharmila’s defeat has drawn special social media attention and many inferences are being drawn. Her iconic image is created by the media. But the core issue of AFSPA or simply, whether the state is justified in resorting to extra judicial measures to contain militancy is being overlooked.

No doubt her commitment to the cause got diluted when she gave up her fast and joined politics. In Manipur politics there is a “consensus” among political parties including the state BJP and the state Congress  to revoke AFSPA . Perhaps the distinction between her commitment to the cause and lip services by politicians got too blurred. Also unlike activists such as Arvind Kejriwal , she lacked organizational skill to win over people.

I am not sure if discussion around Irom Sharmila is any indication of public understanding of AFSPA and human rights issues. In all probability AFSPA will continue. But even without AFSPA,  the state can do extra judicial killings like “Assam secret killings” which took place between 1998 and 2001,and did not get enough attention in the national media.

Chembur and Silapathar

Some years ago I happened to land up in a locality called Pestom Sagar in Chembur, Mumbai. To reach the exact location the taxi driver asked a man passing by, but did not get a proper reply. Then he told me that in the locality people understand only Tamil and do not understand Hindi, English or even Marathi. I wondered that just like Assam has many Bangladeshs, West Bengals, Muzaffarpurs and Bikaners in it, Mumbai also has many Bihars, UPs and Tamil Nadus. But I doubt if any Tamil organization would ever venture out to vandalize a Shiv Sena office in Chembur.

But Assam is a unique land. Perhaps there is hardly a square kilometer area left in the state in which one cannot  arouse communal sentiments based on language, religion or ethnicity.

I also recall a train journey from Dimapur to Guwahati. My co passenger was talking to me in Bengali. I tried to take part in the conversation with the little bit of Bengali I can manage. On similar circumstances earlier, the other speakers had switched over to more convenient languages, but this gentleman was different and was perhaps satisfied with my proficiency of Bengali language. He continued lecturing and soon after started “Assamese bashing”. He went on to say that the extinction of “Assamese people” is a matter of time.  I decided to avoid any confrontation and kept nodding on whatever he said. He alighted the train before reaching Guwahati , perhaps believing that he had a great chat with a fellow Bengali passenger.

I am still not sure about the provocation behind the attack on AASU’s office in Silapathar by an unknown organization but apparently a political agenda is evident.

We can only hope that the society is mature enough and would avoid any retribution.