Sunday, 30 August 2015

A solution to U-turns by political parties

Elizabeth Swann: Whose side is Jack on?
Will Turner: At the moment? 

Just like Elizabeth and Will from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, are not aware of Jack's allegiance, citizens of India are also not sure of their candidates's allegiance when it comes to taking a side on an issue. 

News channels have named these political turnarounds "U Turns". Although they should ideally be called 'Breaching the trust of the people who voted for them' but U turns are better for the headlines.

In the recent past we have seen so many political parties completely change their stance on issues before and after elections. Some of these issues are: Land Acquisition by the government,  One Rank One Pension (OROP), Goods and Servies Tax (GST), Direct Cash Transfers, political toughness against Pakistan's incessant ceasefire violations, Jan Lok Pal Bill, FDI in retail etc. 

This is not limited to a particular political party and neither is it a recent phenomenon. Political parties take different stands on issues depending on whether they are in power or in the opposition. It is made possible because in India, even though we vote for individual during elections, their decisions are taken by the party as a whole and not individually. 

It means that if I am a MLA who got elected by being a member of Party ABC, my vote in the parliament on all issues will be what the party decides and not what I personally believe. Hence, sometimes I will vote against something even when I am actually not against it. 

What happens if a MLA votes against his party? He is disqualified under the Anti Defection Law. The law clearly states that if a member of parliament decides to give up his/her membership or votes against or abstains from voting against the directions given by his/her political party then he/she will be disqualified. 

This means that sometimes some politicians might be forced to take a U-turn just because their political party asks them to do so unless they want to get disqualified. This law was brought in to ensure political stability and because it was believed that citizens vote for the party and the candidate is just a representative. 

Political parties in India don't follow any particular ideology like the ones in the USA (Democrats and Republicans) and neither have they stuck to their pre-elections stands on issues. So there is almost no way to determine the stand of different political parties on issues which might arise in the future. 

The solution is to modify the anti defection law. It would ensure every individual MLA would be free to vote as he/she may choose to on all issues. This would increase the accountability of the MLA to his/her constituents and also give him/her a chance to actively participate in the parliament based on his/her beliefs. 

Would this affect the political stability of the parliament? It won't if we restrict the anti defection law only to confidence motions in the parliament. 

Would this give MLA a chance to take bribes for their votes? Maybe. If you can't trust a person to remain honest then why vote for that person in the first place? If they still flip flop on issues, citizens have the opportunity of not voting for that person during the next election.

Modifying the anti defection law will make sure that debates on all new bills will be centered around the merits of the proposed bill and not be decided based on which political party has put it forward. It will ensure that opposition parties don't just blindly oppose everything the government proposes. It will ensure that politicians actually get to express their opinions on different issues in the parliament. 

"Parliament can be effective only if individual MPs have a significant role as law makers, and if they can be held accountable for their actions by their electorate." - M R Madhavan, Co-founder of PRS Legislative Research in the article 'The Anti-Defection Law needs a relook'

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

An open letter to Mr Hardik Patel

Respected Mr Hardik Patel,

I am a common citizen of Gujarat. I would like to make it clear right at the beginning that reservations are something I don't support. I think that caste based reservation increase caste difference rather than remove them as was the original intention. 

I did not know who you were until a few days ago. I have a feeling I will be seeing a lot more of you now. I have read that your organisation, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), came into existence less than a month ago. I have been told that you believe that the Patidar community is losing out in the development race because of reservation quota. 

I completely agree with you. Reservations are the problem. One thing I don't understand is, if you think reservations are a problem, why are you asking for it? In a television interview you said that the government should either give reservation to the patidars or remove reservation all together. This is like saying "Give me a piece of the cake or throw the entire cake away." On one hand you are saying that reservation causes problems and on the other hand you are demanding it too. If the Patidar community gets reservations, it will still be a problem for the rest of the citizens and the Patidar community will go from being against the problem to being a part of it. As someone who is a strong supporter of the Patidar community, why are you letting this happen to the reputation of the community? 

I was also curious about a few thing that I saw during your rally. In a state where majority of your audience speaks in Gujarati, your speech was completely in Hindi. Who was your real audience? You have photos with political leaders from BJP, Congress and AAP. Have you decided which party you are supporting? Your past and present actions don't look apolitical to me.

Anyways, coming back to what happened yesterday. You wanted to hold a rally to demand reservations for Patidar. It is your right to demand anything you want to from the government as long as it is peaceful. Government told you that they would give you official permission to use the GMDC ground to hold your meeting and even permitted that you walk all the way to the government office from that place. The road blocks and crazy honking by your friends caused a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people but the government still let you do it because it did not want to be called 'autocratic' for rejecting your application to disrupt more than half the city. 

You got the ground. You got the permission for a rally right through the heart of the city. You even got the state to bring in thousands of police personnel to ensure that no one disrupted your rally and everything was peaceful. Great. 

You were given permission to use the GMDC ground till 8pm. No one questioned or stopped you from using it till that time. At 8pm, when the police asked you to vacate government property, why did you not agree? Why are there photos and videos of your fellow patidars shouting slogans and destroying public property? Doesn't the government have the right to ask you to move out after the permission expires? 

You refused to vacate and so the police arrested you and took you to the police station which had jurisdiction. You were let go after sometime. You alleged that you were man handled inside the police station. I suppose we just have to trust you on that one. While you were in the police station, your supporters burned a lot of private vehicles and buses which belong to the city transport department. They even vandalised a few shops. 

I don't see how your supporters think any of these things will help their case. If they were angry at you being arrested, there are legal ways to go about it. Those are the ways everyone follows if they feel an arrest was illegal. If they were angry that they are not in the reserved category then as they already know, there is a pre defined procedure to ask for it. Government authorities get to decide on a case by case basis if your community is eligible for reservation. There are set guidelines/checklists to do this. 

Any individual citizen or group of citizens cannot hold the government hostage. If it tries to, government has every right to neutralize the situation to ensure the safety of the other citizens.

I don't know how you can, with a straight face, say government lathi charging your people is wrong when the people who were being lathi charged were destroying public and private property. 

Freedom of expression is a great thing to use but government has the right to stop it when it clearly violates other citizen's freedom to live peacefully and feel safe. 

It was also great to see people come in really expensive cars to rallies and then claim to be 'under priviledged'. As a lot of people have noted, a 'show of strength' to prove that you are one of the 'weaker castes' is hilariously ironic. If the money spent in organizing this rally was used to help the poor brethren of your community, no one in the community would even need reservation. 

At 22, you have a lot of good years ahead of you. I would suggest improving your knowledge atleast on topics that you are fighting for. I would suggest reading 'Falling Over Backwards' by Arun Shourie to understand the issue of reservation. 

I will break down the above things for you in simpler terms just so that there is no doubt:

Burning public/private property - BAD
Peacefully putting forward your views/demands - GOOD
Holding the government hostage and blackmailing it - BAD
Fighting elections and changing things - GOOD

I hope I have made my point. I have a feeling I will see you more often atleast till the 2017 elections in Gujarat. I hope you use your power to bring positive change in the country. Youth in India rarely get this chance, don't spoil it for the rest of us. Don't malign the reputation of your community/city/state.

If you ever take start a peaceful campaign to remove reservations, I will stand by you. For now, lets stop this and bring back normalcy to our city and state.

Here's to hoping for a more peaceful tomorrow.

Thank you


A common citizen.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Judiciary, Government and Education

In a 'landmark' judgment, the Allahabad High Court directed the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary "to ensure that all government servants send their children to primary schools run by the state basic education board. The list includes members of the judiciary, government officials, semi-government employees, employees of local bodies and representatives of people." Read the news article here.

This judgment has been celebrated all over different social media platforms with everyone thinking that this is the best thing that could happen to our government schools. Almost everyone seems to be convinced that this will 'force' government employees to improve the condition of public schools because now their children also study there.  

The order seems unconstitutional at first glance. If I am not wrong, it violates Article 19 (c) of the Constitution of India. It is in violation of the Supreme Court judgment in Divisional Manager, Aravali Golf Course vs Chander Haas which stated that judges must not ordinarily enter into the domain of the legislature or executive. This is a classic example of judicial over reach.

How can the judiciary decide which school someone's kids go to? It doesn't matter that this someone is a government employee. Every citizen of the country has the freedom to choose which organisation he/she wants to join and under it, choose the school for their children. It is very likely that this order will be squashed by a higher court. 

It is interesting to note how this news has been perceived by the citizens of the country and how everyone is celebrating. People are saying that this is the 'punishment' that government employees should get for being inefficient in their job. It is almost comical when I ask a government employee to send his/her kid to a school over which he/she has direct/indirect control, I am literally asking them to create a conflict of interest. 

There are many ways to build accountability in the government system. First, the government should be the one initiating changes and not the judiciary. Secondly, when a system of accountability is being created, it should keep the employees at the center and should in no way involve the family of the employee. 

Also, why should the kids be 'punished' for the inefficiency of their parents? Children will be, for the lack of a better word, collateral damage in this attack on government employees. It doesn't seem logical. 

Another important thing to note is how are we running our government schools? Why are they so inefficient and ill managed? ASER data shows that private schools can get similar or even better results in less than a third of the money that government spends per child. 

Why is the government not able to manage schools? Or more importantly, if the government is not able to manage its schools, why is it running them in the first place? 

Privatisation is something we have tried in almost every sector but in education it is still only tried halfheartedly. Schools can only be started by trusts and hence cannot be for profit. The process of starting a school is still in the license-raj stage and hence starting a new school is even more difficult than running a school! 

The reason why privatization of government schools comes up from time to time is because of years of evidence of how inefficiently most of these schools are run. The growing frustration among different factions of the society with regard to this is understandable. Government's inaction on this is because of a plethora of other reasons. This in no way gives the judiciary the right to over reach and definitely doesn't give it the right to breach the fundamental rights of any citizen. 

Government schools are in shambles and something needs to be done about it. No one can argue against that. There are various steps that the government can take but forcing government employees to send their children to government schools is not the most appropriate step. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

New Job? Here's something you might want to know

Every day, thousands of us start new jobs. It can be in various different sectors and at various different posts. It doesn't matter who you are and what you do, you will most probably have 'new job' jitters. Its very natural and also difficult to deal with sometimes.

Ofcourse you don't want to create a bad impression on your new colleagues or boss or juniors. Everyone wants to be liked at the office along with being effective at their work. There are so many things that can go wrong in the first few weeks but fortunately, we get to learn from other people's experiences. 

Here's a list of things you might want to keep in mind when you start any new job:

You don't need to have an opinion about everything 
More often than not, whenever you join a new job, you want your colleagues to see how smart you are or well informed you are. To prove this, you might start giving an opinion about everything. It might make you feel involved but it can get irritating after a point of time. No one expects you to know everything as soon as you join. Actually, everyone expects you to know more about the working of the organisation before you start passing out opinions on everything and everything. 

Observe. Observe. Observe.
Jobs are not like classrooms. No one will come to you and explain everything to you every time. You have got to learn things on your own. Observation is the best way to learn new things. Observe how each process is done. Observe how people behave in different situations. Observe the social norms of the office. Observation and introspection will teach you more in the office than any training session. 

Don't judge people.
The people you are going to work with have probably never worked with you before. You probably don't know them at all. This might be the first time you are working with/for them. Don't be quick to form judgments. It can not only play out in your actions but it might limit your development. You might judge someone and not mingle with them that much and you might miss out on meeting an interesting person. This is not just for the beginning few weeks. This is for life. 

Listen more than you speak.
Another mistake that most people make is to speak more than listen. You have joined a new place. You are the one who needs to know more about the work and the people. Every time you speak, you are missing an opportunity to listen. Be patient and listen to people. Listen to everyone. It will help you get an idea of the work environment and work culture. 

Trust the system.
You might feel the need to bring about radical changes in a lot of things at the work place. Don't do it. This mindset will stop you from understanding the rationale behind the work process currently in place. All might not seem right from the beginning but you have got to trust the system. After some time if you think its not working out, figure out a solution but don't go to work with solutions and then look for problems. 

Work Hard. Be Nice. 
The motto that never fails. If you work hard everyday and are nice to people, your chances of learning and doing well at your job increase manifold. It might seem like a very simple thing to do but it is the most important. Hardwork and empathy  have never caused anyone any problems. 

These are some of the 'rules' that you might want to follow throughout your work life but especially at the beginning. This is not an exhaustive list. There are lots of things that you need to take care of when you start a job and you will discover new things everyday. 

All the best.