A weak opposition is the greatest threat to Democracy

Last November a #24Hour #NewsChannel that has been known to be vocal in it’s criticism of the present government was taken off air (#Ban was the actual word used) for a whole day. It was unprecedented having never happened in the #PostIndependence #India. The reason given was that some broadcasts by the channel in question had endangered national security. Amidst widespread condemnation of this ill conceived move, the channel approached the #ApexCourt of the country to get this inexplicable ban lifted. Now at the start of this week the top investigative agency of the country raided the residence of the folks behind the same news channel and quite expectedly large sections of the Indian media expressed their outrage. At what they felt was a blatant attempt to curb the freedom of the press. Now we all know the value that free and fearless media has, especially in a thriving democracy. But truth be told this is something that was waiting to happen. Just that opportunity presented itself to the right wingers only now.

So what has changed since #2014? That was when the #GrandOldParty of India (the #Congress) was voted out in favour of what has been known as a party of hardliners. In these three years since PM Modi came to power though there have been sporadic incidents of violence against the minorities and those from the marginalised sections of society, by and large the focus has been on development. Or at least that has been the image that this government has tried to create. But in the last month equations have changed drastically. That is, after the elections in the largest state of the country, #UttarPradesh. The way in which the BJP was able to decimate all it’s opponents in that election has two huge implications. One, the ruling party is looking quite invincible so much so that a reelection in less than two years time seems almost inevitable. And two, the opposition has been cut down to size. And how!

Contrary to popular belief that an authoritarian government can cause terrible harm to a healthy democracy it is actually the lack of credible opposition in the #Parliament and outside it that is a bigger threat. Look around and you will realise that the #BJP has benefited immensely from the fact that the principle opposition party, that is Congress, seems in such a disarray. Bereft of a leader with the pedigree and/or charisma to take on a popular Prime Minister like #NarendraModi, the Congress has simply been incapable of pinning down the ruling party. Be it on important policy decisions or even on alleged attempts to subvert democracy by targeting individuals, organisation or the media Congress simply does not seem to have the stomach for it. The Communists have become virtually irrelevant with the exception of a state or two. And regional parties like the #SP, JD(U), #TMC and #AAP who have been extremely critical of this government have simply been unable to make much headway nationally.

In the last few weeks we have seen how the ruling regime has stepped on the gas when it comes to
controversial albeit trivial issues like that of #AnimalSlaughter while conveniently side stepping on more critical ones like that of #Unemployment. Law and order in the largest state of the country has taken a backseat. The #RuralEconomy of the country is in tatters, #Farmers all over are finding it impossible to make a living and independent voices of dissent are being throttled. But who will take up cudgels for them is the million rupee question. With the pillars of democracy like the #Judiciary and the media becoming increasingly weakened, there is no better time than now for the opposition to unite. Not just for the sake of democracy but also for the future of this country and it’s citizens. #WeThePeople.

GST – Everything you wanted to know (and didn’t know who to ask)

 GST stands for Goods and Services Tax. And with the present regime set to implement it across the
country by the first of #July there is perhaps no better time to know what it entails. For all of us, the people. Those in the know are calling it the biggest #TaxReform of post independence India. But a lot of confusion reigns in the minds of the common man many of whom are worried that the GST will mean paying more taxes. Than we already are, for just about everything. Equally wary is the business community which hopes that it is implemented properly lest their revenues take a hit. First things first. #GST is only applicable to those businesses whose annual #Turnover exceeds a sum of #TwentyLakhs. The two main goals that the GST hopes to achieve is one, to facilitate the ease of doing business. And two, to shore up the #GDP. Here is how.

A new word that many of us learnt thanks to the GST is ‘subsume’ consume one was familiar with but not this one. The basic idea behind the GST is to subsume (meaning absorb) various other taxes like service tax, #VAT(value added tax) Entertainment Tax, #Octroi and Luxury Tax just to name a few. GST was first implemented in the European country of #France way back in the 1950s. For the record more than 150 countries of the world has already enforced GST. And quite interestingly in many of these places GST has led to high inflation, citizen led protests and small businesses suffering, to begin with. That the current government carries a popular mandate and is led by a charismatic Prime Minister who is seen as someone unafraid to make bold decisions which is just as well. #PuertoRico introduced VAT last year to boost it’s sagging economy but the disastrous implementation only ended up making things worse for itself and the economy. In that sense the GST could not have been timed any better.

One reason for confusion surrounding the GST has to do with it’s #FourFold tax structure (0-5%, 5-12%, 12-18% and 18-28%) So while some items are not taxed at all there are many others that are taxed as high as 28%. So how is it decided where and under which slab to place which item? That is where the GST council comes into the picture. It consists of representatives from both the Centre and all states where it is to be implemented. So for decision taken 75% of the members have to give their explicit approval. In other words 18 out of 29 states have to agree with the Centre which is perhaps reason why getting GST off the ground has taken a long and sustained effort. That the ruling regime is in power in 14 of the total states (and more after the recent Assembly elections) surely gave it more breathing space. Also that the GST is expected to have a ripple effect on both domestic and international trade cannot be ignored. By even conservative estimates #6.5LakhCrore is what the gains from increase in external and internal trade are approximated to be. And that is huge.

For the consumer the news is not that good. Look around at all the countries around and you will realise that as far as indirect taxes go (which is what the GST is) India is all set to become the most taxed country in the world. Our main competitor #China has it’s highest tax slab pegged at 17% with just 6% for telecom, insurance & financial services. #Sweden which is usually quoted by the ruling regime when talking about such reforms charges only 12% on food and 6% on cinema. Be it Asia, the Americas or Europe nobody is close to 28% (struggling economies like Argentina & Greece are the only ones close)So while GST might be good for many in the long run, expect no relief in the short term.

Tighten your belts folks. We are heading into choppy waters.

Ten years of a juggernaut called the IPL

  As we look back at ten years of the zany cricketing extravanza called the Indian Premier League (IPL) must admit that it has been one roller coaster of a ride for one and all. For the franchisee owners, for the cricketers (and ex cricketers) the sponsors & advertisers and above all the paying public. It has been a heady decade filled with fun, frolic, controversy, colour, glamour and big bucks. And a bit of cricket along the way. But more about that later. The IPL owes it’s inception to a rebel league called the Indian Cricket League (‎ICL) started an year before, in 2007 to be exact. Also modelled on Twenty20 format, the ICL was threatening the very existence of the official cricket board in India (read BCCI) and the BCCI got controversial businessman and sports administrator Lalit Modi on board. He proposed the IPL which was evidently inspired by the franchisee model of the NFL in the US (right down to the cheerleaders) The year was 2008.

It was high drama (some would call it cacophony) it was completely unpredictable and it was superb entertainment. It was organised chaos. It was reality television in the best sense of the term. The world of cricket (and it is not a big world with seven and a half countries playing it really) had not seen anything like the IPL, not even close. And if you thought that watching an IPL match on the telly was great fun, make sure to watch one live in a stadium. The atmosphere in these places is quite electric & not all that different from a carnival. Here you have lots of people dancing, singing, drinking and making merry while egging on their favorite team. More often than not, the accent is on having a jolly good time and less about who won in the end. In most Twenty20 matches, there are so many twists and turns that at the end of it all it is the enthralled crowd that turns out to be the winner. The first season of the IPL was a historic success.

The second season ran into trouble with dates (of March 2009) of the IPL clashing with the general elections in India. At what was the nth hour, the chairman of IPL Modi took an unprecedented decision to move the whole tournament to South Africa. Belying all expectations the tournament was well received with those in the know saying that it made more money for all than the first time around. IPL was the darling of the advertisers as well with unheard of sums being asked for and paid to back the event. The biggest of cricketers got auctioned (happily) and made the kind of money that would put an investment banker to shame. By the end of the third year there were widespread rumors of match fixing and black money in IPL. The chairman of the IPL found himself at the centre of all the allegations, was made to resign and subsequently as legal cases resumed in court, Lalit Modi left for London.

In the middle of all this what kept IPL going (and strong) was the quality of talent that the tourney was able to unearth, year after year. Purists would scoff at the slam-bam variety of bombastic cricket that Twenty20 seems to espouse but truth is that this 50 day (or is it 45?)long cricketing spectacle has proved to be a great platform for uncapped players to rub shoulders with the best in the game. Of course the big bucks is a part of the attraction too but be that as it may the world of cricket owes it to the IPL for making it a sport to pursue professionally and make a career out of. That is no less achievement. The range of shots that batsmen have in their armour nowadays, the deception that bowlers have added to their skills and the high standards of fielding that has become a norm all must give due credit to Twenty20 cricket in general and IPL in particular.

Now in the year 2017 that the IPL completes ten glorious years, there is a new question doing the
rounds. Is it time for DRS (Decision Review System) in IPL? Watch this space for more. Much more.

EVMs – What is the whole fuss about?

In the last one month, the one word that has dominated the Indian political landscape has to be EVMs. Short for Electronic Voting Machines, they have been in sharp focus since results in some state elections were announced a few weeks ago. Things have come to such a head that some political parties have approached the Apex Court of the country alleging large scale tampering of these EVMs. No prizes for guessing that all those complaining about the lack of reliability when it comes to these vote counting machines are the ones that lost in the elections. So while the government of the day sees these allegations of #EVMTampering by the opposition as a sign of being sore losers, the #ElectionCommission of India aka the EC has take a firm stand on the matter. Not only has it stated categorically that the EVMs are totally trustworthy but now it has thrown the gauntlet at critics of EVMs to have a go at trying to rig these machines in a #Hackathon event. The ball is firmly in the court of the cynics.

It was at the turn of the century, in 1999 to be exact that electronic voting first began in Indian elections and since then it has become the norm. In all the years since, there have enough people who have raised an alarm about the efficacy of these EVMs and an important ruling on this matter was of the Delhi High Court that admitted in the year 2012 that indeed these Electronic Voting Machines were not tamper proof. In this regard the EC had been proactively undertalking steps to make #EVMs better for which it appointed a committee of experts and technicians who recommended the introduction of what is called the VVPAT system. VVPAT which is short for Vote Verified Paper Audit Trail and what it does is to give the concerned voters an acknowledgement of sorts. Which is nothing but a printout that has details of who the vote was cast for. In this way it is envisaged that #VVPAT will make EVMs even more trustworthy than they already are.

Now let us examine this a bit more closely. Fact is that EVMs leave a lot of power in the hands of an election official who could access the complete profile of a voter, tamper with the election software and manage the results of an election. If he/she was sufficiently motivated to. Which is perhaps a big reason why EVMs without paper trails (read VVPAT) are a strict no-no in many of the developed countries including Germany, Ireland, England, France and several states in the US too. There have also been reports of massive rigging of EVMs in countries like Ukraine and Venezuela after which they were discontinued. So it is not like the opposition parties do not have a case at all and the latest salvo from them has been to use the good offices of the Apex Court to remind the government. It was a good four years ago that the same courts had instructed the EC to include VVPAT with every EVM. Cut to 2017 and progress has been painfully slow.

The Election Commission on it’s part has informed the authorities that it has written more than half a dozen letters to the center asking for funds (to the tune of 3000 crores) to ensure that VVPAT is made a part of every EVM. Most worryingly the petitioners in court have asked for the old system of ballot paper to be reverted back to. At least till VVPATs become the norm. One only hope that the courts do not heed this request. Otherwise it will be back to the dark ages. Of violence, arson and #BoothCapturing. And that is something all of the country can do without.

“India makes me to come back again….”

India is one of such kind of places that unbelievably attract at the same time can disappoint people.There are  so many places in the world that are so appealing, wonderful and mysterious. In fact, whole the world is incredible and mysterious in our life. But India is specifically incredible country.

There are overwhelming evidence to suggest that foreigners, tourists and particularly students who are doing their studies abroad persuaded the fact that they love India as well as it irritates and tension them. It is very interesting to know here how it can give two controversy impression on  people. In most cases , people’s first impression about India do not come out the thing that they expected from…it’s usually desperation , frustration, irritation…

As a matter of fact, there are too many facts that make you sad and you can’t ignore, when we speak about country of romance and love.  The main one is that, most of the cities of India are polluted and dirty, more worse citizens do it themselves. Surprisingly, most of the people worship people, cricketers so badly that makes you think they are crazy. It’s a pity to see even after several years of independence people, in particular children suffering from starvation , eating leftovers in the streets, disrespect to women ,violence, protests, urinating outsides, spitting, big queues in  banks and  governmental offices…Regretfully, despite all these facts, people continue to live in  utter ignorance….  These are sorrowful reality that you come across in India, real life besides the curtain, besides the films that they produce where life is beautiful.

Here is the words of the student who came to Hyderabad for the first time to study: “After the pick  up of all students at the airport by EFLU university transport we started our way towards hostel. Everyone with emotions was looking around  to see what India shows about itself. Airport was amazing, however from the time when the bus came inside Hyderabad city, everyone’s eyes become bigger and bigger from astonishment….dark, dirty, slums, people sleeping outside; walking without shoes, cooking at the streets, men’s taking a leak outside without any shamelessness….    oooh, it is nightmare, where  we came? This is India we dreamed? “- everyone was asking these questions. Unexplainably, it knocked me out more , when I saw in people and experienced myself during the period of living , I loved India, I felt like my home. When  first time I came to India for a short period, after some months of culture shock, it draws me more. It was difficult to separate with the place , where I was happy. It made me to come back again. And I know more people who do this…”

It is not only one person’s confession, many foreigners acknowledge that whenever they want to make a trip or change the atmosphere they come to India in spite of the fact that they have been here before.

India is magical and romantic. India is happiness. India is incredible. It ties down without the threads to itself. It’s colorful culture, various delicious cuisine, beautiful landscapes, specialty of mountains and beaches, bright holidays and festivals that you cannot see in another place, different national costumes…. These are all the principal features that are unique and has brought India up in the popularity charts all over the world. Moreover, Indian nation are very friendly, lovely kind and hospitable, as well as there are more good people in India than anywhere else. You hear  anywhere that they habitually ready to help people, especially if it is foreigners.

One more  interesting fact is that, maybe it is the only country which have so much issues such as poverty, suicides, rapes, society problems…but the people consider it positive and take it easy. They know the way how to solve these problems; even though most of them are starving and have nothing to wear, they are happy.

All in all , it can be concluded with the words that India is a place of inspiration, plenty of inspiration. Everything inspires you , the Himalayas, holidays, people, the beaches, cuisine, culture, even the smell of the land…..