The Government of India has set in motion reforms which will lead to the eventual development of a very large number of private markets near the agricultural produce growing regions. The village level agri-marketing infrastructure is the last remaining piece in this giant jigsaw puzzle which has remained unfixed in India for the last 70 years. This missing link at the bottom of the pyramid, which would be in the form of storage and transportation and other agriculture-related infrastructure at the panchayat level, has to be plugged in.
The Government of India needs to move away from schemes which dole out subsidies to individual rich farmers. It is time to make the intellectual and philosophical shift to building infrastructure on the post-production storage, logistics and marketing fronts and leave individual economic agents, including farmers, to function on the basis of the demand and supply of various commodities. A production mindset creates perverse incentives for the production of certain commodities including what is happening in the case of wheat, paddy, sugarcane and some other commodities which suffer the overhang of this mindset. Having said that, risk mitigation mechanisms like MSP procurement and PDS distribution systems would need to continue for a long time to accord protection to growers as well as consumers from a food and nutrition security perspective.
The Standing Committee on Agriculture (Chair: Hukumdev Narayan Yadav) submitted its report on ‘Agriculture Marketing and Role of Weekly Gramin Haats’ on January 3, 2019, and recommended that the Central Government (i) increase the number of haats being targeted under the scheme and ensure presence of a haat in each panchayat of the country, and (ii) make the scheme a fully funded central scheme. As against the 22,000 haats mentioned in the Committee report, other sources quote there being 47,000 haats across India with no or very rudimentary infrastructure with produce lying on the ground for sale, etc. The presence of such vast numbers of unregulated village cluster level markets establishes the need for panchayat-level infrastructure as also recommended by the Committee.
According to a National Centre for Cold-Chain Development (NCCD), GoI report, there is a very large gap in the case of pre-cooling/pack-houses (99% gap in demand – 70,080 vs supply – 249), reefer transport (85%) and ripening units (91%) at the level of villages/village clusters. Currently, the post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables are huge, with a substantial chunk being contributed by potatoes, onions, tomatoes and mangoes which contribute to more than 60% of the overall losses. The lack of cold chain facilities in India is a major reason for losses besides a host of other factors. The percentage movement of fruits and vegetables through cold chain infrastructure in India is near zero, while in the US it is around 80-85% with countries like Thailand being of the order of 30-40%. The orientation of farmers in all states is geared towards production. Not enough attention and steps have been taken to mitigate post-harvest losses. Because of the low number of reefer transportation vehicles in India and the lack of backhaul loads, the cost of cold chain transportation is very high (about 2/3 times) than the normal transportation trucking infrastructure. We have negligible pre-cooling of fruits and vegetables at the village level since infrastructure is non-existent.
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
Given both the recommendations and the ground level needs, the Government of India may consider a gigantic infrastructure project to ensure that there would be adequate infrastructure for storage and basic value addition. In larger villages, there would also be a need for auctioning platforms, weighing systems, quality assaying machines, training centres and transportation vehicles in the form of reefer vans as well as normal trucks for movement of agriculture produce. The core of this infrastructure which will also provide it with a self-sustainability revenue stream would be the pre-cooling, ripening, micro cold storage, dry storage and transportation infrastructure. This would be like an advanced version of a haat and more like a full-fledged mandi at the level of every Gram Panchayat in the country with infrastructure as required by fruits/vegetables (@315 million tons) which today exceed the production of grain/pulses/oilseeds (@280 million tons) in India. This requires an integrated pan-India cold chain infrastructure starting from the villages of India without which it makes no sense to have a cold chain infrastructure in just the towns and cities with no such facilities at the growing centres where most of the value destruction and wastage happens in case of fruits and vegetables. Starting a basic cold chain from the Gram Panchayats needs an analysis of the type of cold chain infrastructure that is viable and needed in the villages. There have been incentives and a bias in favour of larger cold storages in India with the trade and industry, which needs to be corrected in favour of micro cold storages at village or village cluster levels.
WHY ARE SMALL OR MICRO COLD STORAGES NEEDED?
It is not viable to store common fruits and vegetables in large cold storages, so small or micro cold storages are required at the farm level. There is a dire need for micro cold storages (MCS) despite the fact that they have a higher capital cost per ton of storage and have a higher running cost per ton of storage. This is because their usage is very different compared to a large cold storage.
The MCS can be used to aggregate and store fruits and vegetables for a few days until a financially viable transport quantity is available. Buyers typically need a truck load every few days. Demand keeps fluctuating according to which harvest of produce from given geographies in season is huge. There is a need for storage so that there are short time windows in which they can be stored during times of crashes in prices. The MCS also allows for longer term storage of two to three months, wherein prices can increase by five to ten times in cases of items like lemons and many other commodities.
MCS can also be used as ripening centres, whenever required. MCS can also become a spoke for large cold storages to ensure value preservation at the time of harvest. Since storage in MCS is normally in 20 kg crates which allow farmers to sell the produce at a higher rate in semi retail using his own or hired transportation. The MCS can also double up as village level pack house, which is nonexistent in Indian villages today, for sorting, cleaning, grading, packing and some basic value addition for vegetables and fruits.
SUGGESTED COMPONENTS OF GRAM MANDI/HAAT
The built area of each GMH unit may be a maximum of 5000 ft² which would make it one of the most imposing structures in each panchayat. There may be another thousand square feet which may be added in the form of training centres and rooms for other community activities. Part of the facility may also serve as a banquet hall for weddings and such functions at the village level. The concept of lawn marriages with the entire integrated package of services being provided by a third-party service provider has also taken root in the villages of India.
The GMH will serve as a one-stop shop for the farmers that cater to a range of relevant services and activities. They would be designed in a way so as to be equipped to locally deliver the immediate needs of the farmers. The promotion of best cultivation practices to enhance production and productivity of major field crops, vegetables, fruits and fodder crops of the region, including the introduction of new and useful plant species, can also be accessed at the GMH.
In addition to agri business units, the project can also initiate social development units including a Primary Health Centre, Women’s Skill Development Centre, Computer Education Centre and Children’s Recreation Centre.
These GMH would serve farmers through a range of services and facilities:
• Micro cold storage and dry storage for non-perishables
• Sorting, cleaning, grading, packing, and some basic value addition for fruits, vegetables and also non-perishable goods.
• Business/processing unit like seed processing units, a honey processing unit, daal mills, spice grinding units, etc.
• Provision of farm machinery on custom hiring (pay and use) basis
• Technical and expert support for cultivation of different crops
• Strengthening product value and its market integration through pulses milling facility, apiary processing and seed procurement
• Social development units such as Skill Development Centre, Computer Training Centre and Children’s play area, Primary Health Centre, etc.
• Every module within the GMH must be available on demand to the respective Gram Panchayat except for the core modules like cold storage, the dry storage, sorting/packaging/grading stations, processing unit and the training centre which should be compulsory with every GMH.
• One acre of land near the GMH should be dedicated to a technology demonstration unit which should have the latest technologies as well as the ICAR system demonstrating their technologies directly to the village. Start-ups as well as ICAR are struggling with the challenge of taking technologies from POC or subscale to mass scale implementation in the villages. The GMH could be a mechanism to facilitate this lab to land transfer system which has broken down today.
The micro cold storages could also function as bulk milk chillers at the village level which would add value to 180 odd million tons of milk which is produced all across India and whose supply chain also suffers from a lack of BMC infrastructure at the village level.
Assuming a production of 2500 tons per panchayat, storage may need to be built around 250 tons which would require a warehousing space of around 3000 sq ft.² for dry storage. Micro cold storage unit of the capacity of 30 tons rotated 12 times a year would provide storage for almost 360 tons of fruits and vegetables.
In order to fill this gap, market storage and logistic infrastructure should be built at every Gram Panchayat level in India which is at 250,000 odd locations with slightly bigger infrastructure at the block level which number around 6,600 in India.
The GMH should also provide physical space for village level workers in extension, livestock, healthcare (ANM), CSC, digital/physical training centre to ensure footfall and ensure that the facilities become a hub for all community activities in the village and the surrounding feeder villages.
Infrastructure under the SWAN Initiative of the GoI and the Common Service Centre Initiative of the GoI could also be converged for physical location within the same facilities.
FOLLOWING MODALITIES COULD BE FOLLOWED FOR ROLLING OUT GMH
Every Gram Panchayat would need to submit a proper DPR to the GoI for grant funding to set up a GMH in the respective village. The various criteria and the guidelines of the scheme would ensure the automatic self-selection of capable Gram Panchayats and would be the first off the blocks in rolling out the infrastructure first in the villages which would be capable of monetising the assets built under the project. This process would take time just like what has been envisaged for the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund scheme of Rs 100,000 crore from the GoI. GMH implementation would follow the same trajectory and may take three years to roll out to all the Gram Panchayats of India.
Gram Panchayats may need to give a written commitment to contribute two acres of land to this project and offer labour time to the project as a contribution of the villagers. This facility should include both dry storage and micro cold storage.
Gram Panchayats would also necessarily have to house the management (including the revenues and expenses) of these entities into a pre-existing village level primary agricultural cooperative society or create a new one with broad representation from the local communities for the purpose of the administration and management of these units. Some revenue rich Gram Panchayats may also opt for setting up a Farmer Producer Company with members drawn from the Gram Panchayat village as well as the feeder villages (two to every Gram Panchayat) which are in proximity to every Gram Panchayat. The entities (PACS or other COOPs) which would be engaged in management of the GMH infrastructure should be given the status of FPOs as being set up under a large programme by the GoI.
The Gram Sabha in each village would need to pass a resolution handing over a minimum of two acres of land for the GMH project. The Gram Sabha could upload all the details required directly onto a GoI portal along with the request for construction of the GMH complex in their village. These requests should be made by them directly to the Prime Minister of India.
This entire project needs to be tendered out all over India so good infrastructure companies take up the execution of creating great on-ground infrastructure. The nature and design may be customised depending on the geography. For example, the GMH in Ladakh and the GMH in Kerala would not be the same.
FUNDING FOR GMH
Presence in 250,000 Gram Panchayats and 6600 blocks would require funds to the order of 2.5 lakh crores (Rs1 crore per Gram Panchayat) for the GMH infrastructure at the panchayat level and @ 33,000 crores at the block level (@ Rs 5 crore per block). There could be direct financial support of INR 75 lakhs from the GoI coffers to every eligible Gram Panchayat in India with labour and land being contributed by the local communities under each Gram Panchayat. The GoI would raise another Rs 25 lakhs for each Gram Panchayat from CSR/grants/individual donations from domestic and international sources, making this a USD 40 billion project with the GoI funding it to the tune of USD 30 billion. The project could be implemented over three financial years from FY 21-22, 22-23 and 23-24.
The money for the scheme can be pulled in from schemes like MPLADS, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Mission on Horticulture, NFSM, Krishi Bhandaran Yojana and other such major/minor schemes under MoRD and MoFPI. MGNREGA may be used to partly fund the labour cost component of the project which will be rolled out in all Gram Panchayats of India.
The GoI could also appeal to PSUs and private companies with CSR budgets to help in building this infrastructure between 1 to 100 villages depending on the CSR budgets of each corporate. There are also large international donor organisations which could be approached to provide very substantial funds to a project of this scale. Non-resident Indians as well as persons of Indian origin can also contribute towards building this infrastructure in the villages of their ancestors. The GMH will provide a structured platform to ensure that any PIO/NRI with emotional connections to their villages would be able to donate for changing the lives of their brethren in the villages in a tangible way.
ECONOMIC OUTCOMES OF BUILDING VILLAGE LEVEL INFRASTRUCTURE
All the village level infrastructure needs to be connected institutionally with the new private markets coming up all over India which may be in the form of physical private markets or even electronic markets functioning on a regional or national basis.
The infrastructure on the ground could feed into these private markets where buyers from all over India could be attracted. Private markets could be run by the FPO or cooperative societies in partnership with organisations like NAFED, GCMMF or any such successful federation or public body with large-scale interfaces with farmers. This will revive the thousands of defunct or dormant Primary Agriculture Societies across India. It would give a fillip to the FPO movement if they have the status of being FPOs with the attendant benefits as available to FPOs through various State Government and GoI schemes and facilities.
Anything monetisable by the hands of the local communities through the mechanism of the bodies owned and controlled by them creates business models and economic opportunities for millions who would be engaged with the facilities built all over India. Many Indian companies including startups would be major beneficiaries of the GMH which would mean thousands of crores of rupees as revenue for these Indian-owned organizations.
Since the cold chain and sorting/packing/grading/cleaning would start from the villages, there would be huge savings in supply chain losses which may amount to billions of dollars on an annual basis. Since there would be a sudden boost in the number of reefer transportation assets all over India, the country would reach a tipping point in terms of their usage and also freight costs moving the country from zero to approaching the levels of Thailand at 40% percent of the output being transported in these types of vehicles. Since there would be a massive jump in the number of micro cold storages in India, their unit costs would go down from the current levels of Rs 10-15 lakhs for every 15-30 tons of storage to 1/3rd of that cost, furthering triggering their adoption by even large farmers.
The GMH can also be integrated with the ‘One District, One Product’ initiative of the Government of India with there being some level of value addition at the village level to the specialty produce from the village, which may be the processing of seed spices like cumin, coriander, fennel or other such items which are grown in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. There could be value addition to milk in the form of paneer, ghee and other products.
The project could also change the mindsets of the GoI and state governments from the current production focus to a market-driven approach. As a natural corollary of the One District One Product programme, the GoI could guide the country towards ‘One Village One Product’. There could be village wise commodity specialisation which could become the reason of renown for the village.
This will become a huge pump priming project for the economy which is suffering the effects of Covid and the turmoil in the global environment. The solution for the varied problems of the farm sector and the peasant community lies not in subsidies but in building a robust post-harvest infrastructure. It will help facilitate the journey to the doubling of farmers’ income in India.
The writer is founder and chairman, Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals and Indigram Labs Foundation. The views expressed are personal.
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INDIA MUST KEEP ITS OPTIONS OPEN ON BRICS
There is some speculation about the direction that the BRICS platform comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China, is taking. The “three pillars” of BRICS are “Political and Security”, “Economic and Financial” and “Cultural and People-to-people exchanges”. In reality, the thrust of BRICS has always been economic—specifically, encouraging commercial and developmental cooperation. A result of this has been the BRICS bank, now known as the New Development Bank, a multilateral development bank headquartered in Shanghai, whose motto is resource mobilization for setting up infrastructure and development projects, both in BRICS countries and in other emerging economies and developing countries, apart from complementing the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. The “political and security pillar” has an apparent multilateral thrust, with its focus being the enhancement of “cooperation and dialogue on issues of global and regional security, developments in the global political space as well as the reform of the multilateral system to make it relevant for the 21st century”. This “pillar” also talks of countering terrorism and its financing. However, on the political and security front BRICS has nothing to show, except for the platform’s utility as a “tool” that can be used by India to make a rather aggressive China give the concession of lowering tensions along the LAC ahead of a BRICS summit. As for countering terrorism, China has a long history of blocking India from getting known Pakistan-backed terrorists designated as global terrorists by the United Nations Security Council. As a result of which, it took a decade of lobbying by India to get Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed listed as a global terrorist. Even as recently as last month, China put a hold on the Indian—as well as American—proposal to sanction a Lashkar e Tayyaba terrorist, Abdul Rehman Makki under the Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the UNSC. Given such a track record, it’s no wonder that the “political and security pillar” of the BRICS is wobbly.
And now China is pushing for the expansion of the platform to include countries such as Iran and Argentina on board. Post the virtual BRICS summit hosted by Beijing in June 2022, Russia announced that these two countries were on track to become BRICS members. On the margins of the Beijing summit, China hosted a meeting of leaders from Algeria, Argentina, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Senegal, Thailand and Uzbekistan to discuss developmental issues. Pakistan too, apparently, wanted to be part of this “BRICS-plus” meeting, but alleged that it could not, because of opposition from a BRICS member, presumably India. There is already speculation that all these countries are potential BRICS members, Pakistan included—countries that are considered to be part of China’s orbit of influence, with Pakistan being actually anti-India. Hence, the entry of these countries can only strengthen China’s hands to turn this forum into an anti-western, anti-American bloc. In this, Russia too will be with China, given the antipathy that Vladimir Putin already had against the West, with his dislike exacerbating with the sanctions that have been pouring down on him post the invasion of Ukraine. Analysts are speculating that Xi Jinping may now attempt to push his “Global Security Initiative” into the BRICS. In April 2022, Xi, while speaking at the “Boao Forum for Asia’s” annual meeting, proposed a new “Global Security Initiative” that would be against the “Cold War mentality” and superpower hegemony, which, according to him are endangering world peace. It is an obviously anti-US move, apart from being anti-Quad. China, anyway, has been railing against forums like the Quad and AUKUS, accusing them of being anti-China in their focus. Broadly, GSI is about shutting out the US from the Indo-Pacific and making the Indian Ocean Region Beijing’s—the new hegemon’s—playing field. There is speculation that China will but naturally want the expanded BRICS to be a part of his Initiative—in fact, it is being said that this is the reason why it wants to expand the BRICS platform. It is a different matter that while railing against “hegemony” and “unilateralism”, China is guilty of practising exactly what it accuses the US of, and much worse—its aggression against India and Taiwan and its belligerence in the South China Sea being cases in point. In such a scenario, what will India do? As China pushes to make BRICS an anti-US bloc—which it inevitably will—what future does India have in such a forum, given the depth of its own strategic partnership with the US, its close ties with the western hemisphere, and given the fact that it’s an important player in the Indo-Pacific as a member of the Quad? Even otherwise, such an anti-US forum will go against the grain of India’s foreign policy, which is multilateralism. India may be a founding member of the BRICS, but it needs to keep all options open, including leaving in case it becomes difficult for New Delhi to continue to be a part of such a platform.
Harassment of ‘cannabis offenders’ calls for amendment of the Narcotics Act
One of the major concerns is how police treats the offenders caught under the NDPS Act. A big question arises: why don’t we legalise cannabis and tax it like tobacco and alcohol?
India brought the Narcotics and Psychotropic Act (NDPS) legislation in 1985 under the Congress regime, succumbing to pressure by the Americans who spearheaded a worldwide campaign against drugs, resulting in adoption of single convention on Narcotics drugs in 1961. Before 1985, all the banned substances such as ganja, charas, hashish, opium were sold freely and used enthusiastically in India. India has had a rich tradition of cannabis consumption since the vedic ages. The earliest reference to cannabis is contained in the fourth book of the Vedas, the Atharveda, which refers to it as one of the “five kingdoms of herbs that release us from anxiety”. A reference in the Ashtadhyayi of Panini reinforces the view that cannabis was known to Indians even 2,300 years ago. Some call is as “food of god”, some as “amrit”, in various texts.
Weed and charas are popularly called in today’s context as the “intoxication of the poor”, and one in every 11 Indians is directly addicted to cannabis. There are a volley of questions as to whether the passed legislation has regulated the proliferation of consumption of cannabis or whether there has been no gain . Central government in 2021 filled an affidavit in the Delhi High court replying to a petition claiming that it has “adopted a balanced approach on cannabis” by empowering the state governments to “permit, control and regulate the cultivation of any cannabis plant, production, manufacture, possession, transport, import inter-state, export inter-state, sale, purchase, consumption or use of cannabis (excluding charas) for medical, scientific and industrial purposes”. A big question arises: why don’t we legalise cannabis and tax it like tobacco and alcohol? India earned a whopping Rs 1,75,000 crore and Rs 53,000 crore in 2019-2020 from taxes on alcohol and tobacco.
In 2019 alone, 72,000 people were arrested in the whole country under the NDPS Act with the vast majority criminalized for cannabis consumption and procurement. Many crimes and accidents are committed under the influence of alcohol and a 2015 study by Lachenmeie and Rehm found that alcohol and nicotine were far riskier in consumption than cannabis. This study prompted many US states and other countries to legalise cannabis for recreational use. So, a big argument is this, on whose pressure we brought the NDPS Act are themselves legislated, legalizing its recreational use, how are we justified with the present NDPS Act?
One of the major concerns is how police treats the offenders caught under the NDPS Act. On the condition of anonymity, a source revealed that he was caught with a very small amount of hash for recreational use and he smoked it once in a while. He was caught smoking and the police checked his purse wherein a very small amount of hash was found from his purse. Later, the police harassed him and extorted Rs 27,000 rupees on the pretext of not filing a case. The social stigma attached to it and the whole burden of criminal justice system and the ill-treatment meted out to a person caught under the NDPS Act can traumatize anyone which gives an undue advantage to the police to harass and extort money from the offender. A person is treated as a hardened criminal and is made to get mixed up with hardened criminals inside the jail if he is remanded to custody. People also get a hard time getting bail under the NDPS Act and even first time offenders are not shown much by the judges.
What we want is an amendment in the NDPS Act of 1985 and a popular debate on reason for uplifting the ban on cannabis. Any mature functioning democracy should have proper debate on issues such as this which is affecting the lives of millions of people. The only beneficiary in this whole ordeal are the policemen who can extort anything out of a person caught.
(Shitij Rao is a political commentator)
Maharashtra thriller is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last
Maybe it’s a good time to remember the celebrated playwright George Bernard Shaw’s words: “Any man who is not a communist at the age of 20 is a fool. Any man who is still a communist at 30 is an even bigger fool. We should have had socialism already, but for the socialists.”
Often when asked why he miserably failed in making his political fortune despite his high intellect and people connect, Bernard Shaw’s response used to be that “possessing knowledge” and “pursuing politics as a career” are oxymorons. He said, “He knows nothing; he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career”.
Like Samuel Johnson once said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” He meant that every crime and every misbehavior was tolerated as long as the perpetrator screamed that he loved his country. On the other hand, if you questioned the behavior of the country or government, you were promptly dubbed a traitor, no matter how noble you were.”
In spirit of this discussion, Nation and State are to be treated interchangeably as a governance unit. Interesting to note the latest twist to the ongoing Maharashtra Political Thriller: Yes, you heard it right—Eknath Shinde becoming the Chief Minister of the state. While it almost came out of syllabus, in hindsight it looks politically not just expedient, even otherwise prudent given the political equation between major players active on the ground.
This move is expected to achieve more than just one objective and if some can be detailed: (i) BJP would go to the next election with an absolute clean slate; (ii) All issues internal to the Sena and BJP was not fishing in the troubled water; (iii) Aligned to the principle “eliminate the competition” is the best way to deal with the competition; (iv) Gels well with the critical factors relevant to so called caste politics—widely prevalent in the Indian context for all states.
But all said and done, as always, the country has been caught off guard when it comes to BJP’s strategic moves and hope those who underestimate the acumen of the political class in general would introspect.
The political drama is reminiscent of many past political events. Analysts would draw an analogy from the defection engineered in 1978 when Sharad Pawar pulled himself away from the ruling Congress legislative party to become chief minister. He was just 38 and had upstaged the incumbent, Vasantdada Patil. Of course, that was long before the anti-defection law kicked in in 1985 through the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution. It’s another matter that Indira Gandhi dismissed his government when he did not heed her call to merge with Congress (I).
Several such separation events have happened in different states as well. Nonetheless, the peculiarity embedded in the current instance is that the breakaway faction is in the majority, which puts it on a different footing in terms of legality in getting the party symbol. But such situations are likely to be eased out by the judiciary in supersonic speed and rightfully so to avoid a potential anarchy.
One other exciting aspect is the unfolding race to appropriate Bala Saheb’s name and legacy. This reminded me of 2000 when Naveen Patnaik formed the Biju Janata Dal carved out of the erstwhile Janata Dal, of which his father Biju Patnaik was part. The president of the state unit of Janata Dal then, Ashok Das, developed issues with Naveen Patnaik primarily around who has a higher right to Biju’s legacy apart from sharing party coffers. In fact, Ashok Das went to the election in 2000 by coining the below tag line with the hope of confusing the electorate that it’s he who represented Biju’s Bonafide political heir:
(Translation: We do not know who is from which party & whose symbol is what? The country knows we are the true heirs of Biju & our symbol is Chakra!) Of course, this emotive assertion did not cut ice with the electorate. Instead, Naveen Patnaik won in 2000 and has been in charge of governance since. That’s the power of inheritance and more significantly possessing the art of using it to one’s advantage to keep rivals away from the hot seat of power.
Recall what happened recently in the case of the LJP after the demise of its founder Ram Vilas Paswan. The brother and the son of the late leader, Chacha and Bhatija, split, and eventually, the majority group got the party symbol from the EC after a long-drawn process though. In short, the Maharashtra imbroglio is not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last. The fact is that every time such political drama unfolds, some new challenging aspects do emerge not just in terms of constitutionality, but even with political implications. In a way, this may signal some formidable message for the satraps of regional parties who often draw comfort of enjoying absolute control of the respective party.
The least that can be said is that Maharashtra, as the financial nerve center of India, deserves better, though the masala that emerges from such fiascos is entertaining in the short run.
BJP HERE TO STAY
At the BJP National Executive in Hyderabad, Home Minister Amit Shah made an interesting comment—that the way he sees it the BJP is here to stay for the next three decades. There is no breaking news in this statement for the way the Congress is going it is clear that there is no stopping the BJP. But at the same time it would be interesting to see what kind of a governance model the BJP has in plan for the next three years. Will he be able to promote India as a vishwa-guru? Will the BJP be able to end the politics of jaatiwad and parivarwaad?
Well Maharashtra seems a step in the right direction if the limited goal is to strike at dynasty politics. For the short term, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has shown that there can be a Sena without the Thackerays—though we have to see how this plays out in the courts which will take into account the strength of Shiv Sainiks outside the House as well. But if Eknath Shinde (aided and abetted by the BJP) is able to wrest the party symbol from the Thackerays then that sends a very strong message to other political dynasties.
Already Akhilesh Yadav is feeling the heat. In the recent bypolls, the Samajwadi Party lost two Muslim dominated strongholds Azamgarh and Rampur to the BJP. Akhilesh’s silence on the hijab controversy during the recent assembly polls was noticed by the minority community. And now during the national executive Prime Minister Modi pointed out that they need to woo backwards amongst the Muslim community as well. Already the party leadership is divided between Akhilesh and his Uncle Shivpal Yadav. The young SP chief has a tough task ahead and he made the right decision when he gave up his Lok Sabha seat for the MLA one. He has to show he is serious about state politics. Then comes the curious and curiouser case of Rahul Gandhi, the dynast who doesn’t know what to do with his silver spoon. Should he shake it or stir it or exchange it! Party sources claim that the Congress is still not sure as to whether it would be holding its inner party polls in September as planned. Which means that Rahul’s elevation could get further delayed. Which means the confusion will further continue over the leadership issue. Well, on one side, there is a party that has the next three decades chalked out and, on the other side, is a party that is to come up with a definite plan for the next three months!
Team Modi should involve end stakeholders to push reforms
If PM Modi’s natural style is ‘just do it, and do it fast’, now the government needs to pay greater attention to change management to make the reforms more acceptable.
In response to the Agnipath scheme, when people took to the streets, it seemed like a familiar sight. One more “good” reform scheme of the Narendra Modi government was being opposed vehemently by the masses. And this time, many noticed a trend in terms of repeat of protests against government schemes— demonetisation, CAA, farm laws and, now, the Agnipath scheme. Even genuine Modi supporters, in a way, felt the fatigue of “defeat” of one more Modi scheme in the durbar of the masses.
Interestingly, team Modi itself had not anticipated the kind of resistance that we have seen repeatedly. So why is it that Team Modi that seems to understand the voters’ mind fairly well when seeking votes fails to predict the pushback to their reforms from the masses? Why has this government failed in pushing through quite a few big reforms despite PM Modi’s popularity and his supposed positive intent? There are a few theories. The first theory is that PM Modi does not involve experts when forming policies. While this seemed true at the beginning of his tenure as PM, learning from the demonetisation “fiasco”, over a period of time, Modi has surely increased the level of consultation—at least the technical aspects, if not other aspects like change management required–with experts when designing big reform policies. GST was almost entirely designed and detailed by “experts”. The scrapping of Article 370 was thought through to the last level of details, including the push back and potential riots. The Agnipath scheme was evidently reviewed and detailed by the heads of Armed forces as mentioned by themselves in various forums.
The second theory is that the government isn’t communicating enough about their reform policies. This seems to be true to a fair extent. The government does make grand announcements and circulates information about the features and (supposed) benefits of their schemes on traditional and social media. But the problem is, people don’t get to hear what they want to hear in those communications. The communications aren’t convincingly conveying “what’s-in-it-for-me”, and, on the contrary, are giving rise to “why-it’s-not-for-me”, which the government has not been able to address. Generally, people of no country like sudden changes—more so Indian masses, a large section of whom are economically vulnerable and hovering around the poverty levels. In a zeal to announce “big transformative” changes, the government might actually be scaring the stakeholders who may not be prepared for reforms like open market competition (farmers, MSMEs) or short-term contractual arrangement (for army) rather than lifelong safe jobs. There are tactics on effective political messaging to push through reforms with relatively lesser resistance like those used in 1991 liberalization which the government might want to deploy.
The third theory is that the government is trying to do “too much too soon”. Team Modi seems to be in a hurry, which could arguably be a good thing, but the changes are probably appearing too suddenly and happening too fast for the people to keep pace with. If a relatively small reform like increasing FDI limit in the insurance sector took more than a decade, the present government aspires to push through big reforms like CAA and GST (from planning to launch to stabilisation) in 4-5 years. That also means that big reforms are not spaced out or phased adequately. The Agnipath scheme could have coexisted with regular recruitment for a few years before it completely replaced the regular recruitment to reduce the pain and fear among the young aspirants. Further, the government could have avoided launching the Agnipath scheme now when Army recruitment had been on hold for a few years due to Covid and lakhs of young aspirants were eagerly waiting for their dream jobs. Balancing speedy reforms with minimising pain of the stakeholders involves careful trade-offs which this government doesn’t seem to be making effectively.
The fourth theory is that this government isn’t seeking feedback from the beneficiaries. This, too, seems to be often true and probably the biggest of their shortcomings. If adequate inputs are taken from “beneficiaries” during the design stage and pilots are conducted, then policy related communications could be smarter and initiatives could be phased better. Be it GST, CAA or the farm laws, the government was caught off-guard for not knowing upfront what beneficiaries or stakeholders would actually want and how they would react.
The root cause of the above flaws in implementing big reforms could be PM Modi’s overconfidence or overenthusiasm or a combination both. Also, if PM Modi’s natural style is “Just do it, and do it fast”, he needs to learn from the experience of the last eight years and do more to alter his natural style with the goal to take the stakeholders along by being more empathetic and sensitive to their real and perceived needs. The government needs to pay greater attention to change management to make the reforms more acceptable. Nothing to take away the government’s efforts in pushing probably the maximum number of reforms and initiatives in India’s history within just eight years even in the challenging times of Covid pandemic and Ukraine conflict. The Modi government has initiated big reforms like Cooperative Banks Regulation Act, disbanding of Ordinance Board, privatisation of Air India, public listing of LIC, merger of PSU banks, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, scrapping ofArticle 370 and implementing GST. History shows that it is relatively easier to push through reforms relating to businesses and corporates compared to those relating to citizens and it is no different for the Modi government. It has faced maximum opposition and failures in reforms relating to farmers, labour laws, land laws, army recruitment and citizenship status of people of India. The Modi government has eight years to look back at, reflect upon, draw lessons from and get better at pushing through reforms successfully. For this, Team Modi needs to ensure greater involvement of end stakeholders when designing reforms, pay greater attention to managing change, have a more palliative communication strategy and phase the reforms better. India needs more reforms from this government and a little more effort towards this will do the trick.
Alpesh Patel is a tech entrepreneur and has been a management consultant with Big4. He is the author of the book ‘Chalta Hai India’ by Bloomsbury, India.
Team Modi seems to be in a hurry, which could arguably be a good thing, but the changes are probably appearing too suddenly and happening too fast for the people to keep pace with. If a relatively small reform like increasing FDI limit in the insurance sector took more than a decade, the present government aspires to push through big reforms like CAA and GST (from planning to launch to stabilisation) in 4-5 years. That also means that big reforms are not spaced out or phased adequately. The Agnipath scheme could have coexisted with regular recruitment for a few years before it completely replaced the regular recruitment to reduce the pain and fear among the young aspirants.
ALL LIVES MATTER, HINDU LIVES INCLUDED
Just when one thought that western legacy media had already hit the nadir with its tendentious coverage of India and India’s majority community, in comes another report that is so mendacious in its interpretation of facts that it plumbs new depths of insensitivity and treads into the territory of religiophobia. We are talking about a new article from the famous—or infamous, seen from an Indian perspective—Time magazine, which has found the social media trend “Hindu Lives Matter” to be dangerous. The headline of the report written by a Kashmiri lady (according to her Twitter bio) blatantly says, “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ Emerges as Dangerous Slogan After Horrific Killing in India” (1 July 2022). It is as if the token use of “horrific” to describe the gruesome beheading of a Hindu tailor by two Islamist terrorists is enough lip service paid, and the main issue is the reaction to the incident on social media, inspired by the movement “Black Lives Matter”. Does one of the world’s best-known news weeklies realise that by publishing such a report it is essentially implying that the lives of people belonging to a particular religion—Hinduism—do not matter? That they could die like flies for all Time cared, as long as the mantle of victimhood stayed with a particular minority community in India. It is as if Hindu victimhood in the face of radical terrorism must be “cancelled”, as Time editors have pre-supposed that Hindus being in a majority in India are naturally oppressors. An Indian/Indian origin leftist commentator quoted in the article has this to say: “‘Hindu Lives Matter’ presumes those lives have been overlooked. Hindu lives have not been overlooked in a Hindu majoritarian state. This is a revisionist fabrication of history and the present.” This is a rather appalling and fabricated narrative where one community is the perpetual victim and another the oppressor, when in reality, India has had a history of conquest and subjugation of the majority community, and the resultant troubled inter-community relations. Even in the present, the situation is anything but black and white. There is nothing revisionist about a beheading on account of “blasphemy”. It is a reality. It happened, and no claims of victimhood by anyone can justify such an action. Instead of acknowledging this, the article normalises violence against Hindus. If this is not Hinduphobia, then what is? That one of the most well-known international news weeklies is providing a platform to such a phobia, and thus legitimising it, is extremely problematic.
In fact, it is the same Time that published another extremely problematic piece on the film, The Kashmir Files—The Kashmir Files: How a New Bollywood Film Marks India’s Further Descent Into Bigotry, 30 March 2022—where the Indian/Indian-origin author claimed the film to be a part of “Indian cinema’s revisionist trend, used to justify the brazen Hindu extremism of the present”. To say that a film on the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits is revisionist is itself a revisionist claim. Hence, one can argue that the trend is now for woke leftists to delegitimise all that India’s majority community has suffered as “revisionist history”.
In journalism, there is a practice of writing the headline before writing the story, where the story is tailored to fit the headline. The problem is that, in such cases, facts often get sacrificed at the altar of a pre-determined agenda or narrative. When it comes to western media’s coverage of India’s current government, and increasingly of the majority population—presumably because the western media sees them as supportive of the government—a template of bigotry and majoritarianism has been pre-decided. This confirmation bias has just to be fed by those who know how to do it, and are willing to do it. This antagonism of the western mainstream media could be because of actual ignorance or plain laziness to learn about the ground situation. It could be ideological, or may have elements of racism in it. It could also be inspired by forces inimical to India, who want to show this country as a cauldron of hatred and thus not a stable investment destination. It could be any of these reasons, or a combination of some or all of these, but the bottom line is that the demonisation of India sells with the western legacy media, resulting in a one-way street of negative coverage.
But the mistake these people make is not realising that India is too big a power to be felled by keyboard warriors. It may be dented, but not felled. It is just that it is sad to see institutions such as Time, instead of promoting “All Lives Matter”, should find “Hindu Lives Matter” to be a dangerous slogan. What a downfall.
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