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Analysis

Rahul Gandhi’s US takeaways positive, but rejuvenating Congress still a task

The role that the NRIs could play in boosting Gandhi’s prospects as a credible rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rather limited.

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Rahul Gandhi

Two weeks of a well-orchestrated tour of the US may not be enough to determine whether Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi is a reflective and seriously analytical politician, as his supporters insist, or a privileged nincompoop, as social media so churlishly characterises him.

However, what it appears to have done somewhat successfully is lend him some sheen for the urban constituencies that have been missing in his public engagements in India. At the very least, the tour helped him reboot — even though it remains to be seen if all apps fire up subsequently.

His visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Princeton and New York exposed him to a diversity of opinion makers but, put together, the audiences were no more than 5,000 people. While the numbers do not necessarily tell the whole story, what they do say was that the attendees were mainly props to transmit a more credible message back home, where his voice is either instantly derided by a frenzied social media trolling culture, or ignored altogether.

Unfortunately for Gandhi, the people with whom he interacted with sobriety and substance — to the pleasant surprise of many of them — are of no consequence to him in his larger political strategy back in India. Even his much-emphasised message to the 21st century non-resident Indians (NRIs) of India’s independence movement being propelled by the early 20th century NRIs such as Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Vallabhbhai Patel, had only limited resonance.

His first public speech, at the University of California-Berkeley, the famed home of unfettered US liberalism, did make some news in India because of Gandhi’s clarity of purpose on subjects such as the rate of growth versus very low job creation, and the country’s syncretic culture coming under a serious strain by divisive political forces. Ironically, what made most news was his rather glib dismissal of dynastic politics, saying that had become the way things are done in India even in professions beyond politics.

From all available accounts, his interactions with the mainstream political and policy communities in Washington left most of them rather impressed by his understated but substantive style. The image of Gandhi within these fraternities has been one of an absentee politician riding his family name. However, the Washington meetings seemed to have changed that uncharitable point of view.

Perhaps the most extensive policy-focused engagement that he had was in front of some 200 students at Princeton University where he displayed a grasp of broader economic, political, cultural and social trends. His central point was about the need to create large-scale jobs as a vehicle to impart a broader vision to India’s increasingly frustrated population. He kept citing the number of 30,000 Indians entering the job market every 24 hours and barely 450 of them managing to find employment.

The thrust of his argument was that unless this dire statistic was urgently addressed it would be impossible to think in terms of a vision for a great future. To his credit, he acknowledged his own party’s failure to meet that number even while saying that the current government too had failed. He did speak in terms of working unitedly to address the central question of jobs.

One recurring feature of his interactions was India’s reputation as a tolerant and harmonious culture having suffered a major setback in recent months. He said he was asked throughout his tour what had gone wrong with the country — and his response was to speak of “a divisive politics”.

The showcasing of the 47-year-old’s serious side outside the relentless ridicule he faces in India may help him personally in attending to the Congress Party’s decline with renewed vigour. However, the scale of the party’s disaffection is so great that its rejuvenation is unlikely to come via Berkeley or Princeton, but through his unfailing engagement across the length and breadth of India.

The role that the NRIs could play in boosting Gandhi’s prospects as a credible rival to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is rather limited, but to the extent their positive attention can lift his personal spirits in a way he can achieve that goal, the tour could be particularly useful.

My : Mayank Chhaya

(Mayank Chhaya is a Chicago-based senior journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Bank with Amit Shah as a director collected highest amount of banned notes among DCCBs: RTI reply

The Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the spiked notes — in just five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the demonetisation announcement. All the district cooperative banks were banned from accepting deposits of the banned currency notes from the public after November 14, 2016, — five days after demonetisation — on fears that black money would be laundered through this route.

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Amit Shah BJP

Mumbai, June 21 (IANS) A district cooperative bank, which has Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah as a director, netted the highest deposits among such banks of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes that were abruptly demonetised on November 8, 2016, according to RTI replies received by a Mumbai activist.

The Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank (ADCB) secured deposits of Rs 745.59 crore of the spiked notes — in just five days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the demonetisation announcement. All the district cooperative banks were banned from accepting deposits of the banned currency notes from the public after November 14, 2016, — five days after demonetisation — on fears that black money would be laundered through this route.

According to the bank’s website, Shah continues to be a director with the bank and has been in that position for several years. He was also the bank’s chairman in 2000. ADCB’s total deposits on March 31, 2017, were Rs 5,050 crore and its net profit for 2016-17 was Rs 14.31 crore.

Right behind ADCB, is the Rajkot District Cooperative Bank, whose chairman Jayeshbhai Vitthalbhai Radadiya is a cabinet minister in Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s government. It got deposits of old currencies worth Rs 693.19 crore.

Interestingly, Rajkot is the hub of Gujarat BJP politics — Prime Minister Modi was first elected from there as a legislator in 2001.

Incidentally, the figures of Ahmedabad-Rajkot DCCBs are much higher than the apex Gujarat State Cooperative Bank Ltd, which got deposits of a mere Rs 1.11 crore.

“The amount of deposits made in the State Cooperative Banks (SCBs) and District Central Cooperative Banks (DCCBs) — revealed under RTI for first time since demonetisation — are astounding,” Manoranjan S. Roy, the RTI activist who made the effort to get the information, told IANS.

The RTI information was given by the Chief General Manager and Appellate Authority, S. Saravanavel, of the National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD).

It has also come to light, through the RTI queries, that only seven public sector banks (PSBs), 32 SCBs, 370 DCCBs, and a little over three-dozen post offices across India collected Rs 7.91 lakh crore — more than half (52 per cent) of the total amount of old currencies of Rs 15.28 lakh crore deposited with the RBI.

The break-up of Rs 7.91 lakh crore mentioned in the RTI replies shows that the value of spiked notes deposited with the RBI by the seven PSBs was Rs 7.57 lakh crore, the 32 SCBs gave in Rs 6,407 crore and the 370 DCCBs brought in Rs 22,271 crore. Old notes deposited by 39 post offices were worth Rs 4,408 crore.

Information from all the SCBs and DCCBs across India were received through the replies. The seven PSBs account for around 29,000 branches — out of the over 92,500 branches of the 21 PSBs in India — according to data published by the RBI. The 14 other PSBs declined to gave information on one ground or the other. There are around 155,000 post offices in the country.

Fifteen months after demonetisation, the government had announced that Rs 15.28 Lakh crore — or 99 per cent of the cancelled notes worth Rs 15.44 lakh crore — were returned to the RBI treasury.

Roy said it was a serious matter if only a few banks and their branches and a handful post offices, apart from SCBs and DCCBs, accounted for over half the old currency notes.

“At this rate, serious questions arise about the actual collection of spiked notes through the remaining 14 mega-PSBs, besides rural-urban banks, private banks (like ICICI, HDFC and others), local cooperatives, Jankalyan Banks and credit cooperatives and other entities with banking licenses, the figures of which are not made available under RTI,” he said.

The SCBs were allowed to exchange or take deposits of banned notes till December 30, 2016 — for a little over seven weeks, in contrast to district cooperative banks which were allowed only five days of transactions.

The prime minister during his demonetisation speech had said that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes could be deposited in bank or post office accounts from November 10 till close of banking hours on December 30, 2016, without any limit. “Thus you will have 50 days to deposit your notes and there is no need for panic,” he had said.

After an uproar, mostly from BJP allies, the government also opened a small window in mid-2017, during the presidential elections, allowing the 32 SCBs and 370 DCCBs — largely owned, managed or controlled by politicians of various parties — to deposit their stocks of the spiked notes with the RBI. The move was strongly criticised by the Congress and other major Opposition parties.

Among the SCBs, the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank topped the list of depositors with Rs 1,128 crore from 55 branches and the smallest share of Rs 5.94 crore came from just five branches of Jharkhand State Cooperative Bank, according to the replies.

Surprisingly, the Andaman & Nicobar State Cooperative Bank’s share (from 29 branches) was Rs 85.76 crore.

While Maharashtra has a population of 12 crore, Jharkhand’s population is 3.6 crore. Andaman & Nicobar Islands have less than four lakh residents.

The poorest of all the cooperative banks in the country is Banki Central Cooperative Bank Ltd in Odisha, which admitted to receiving zero deposits of the spiked currency.

Of the total 21 PSBs, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Bank of Maharashtra, Central Bank of India, Dena Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Punjab & Sindh Bank, Vijaya Bank, Andhra Bank, Syndicate Bank, UCO Bank, United Bank of India, Oriental Bank of Commerce, and IDBI Bank (14 banks) — with over 63,500 branches amongst them — did not give any information on deposits.

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Analysis

Can yoga make the cut for Olympics?

It’s only natural that the voices for and against will get louder and more competitive. Being the unofficial benefactor of yoga, India is expected to take an unequivocal call.

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Yoga

On a day when yoga is having to jostle for mind space with a hugely popular sporting event like the FIFA World Cup, many fans of the ancient regimen are seriously dreaming up for a world cup of their own. Are they getting too carried away by the euphoria around of the 4th International Day of Yoga? Or is it a case of trusting yoga’s extreme versatility to adapt itself to the demands of the time?

Will there ever be a time when a Yoga World Cup driving up a mania like the FIFA World Cup does? As yoga gets mainstreamed big time in the last four years, a debate on whether it can become a competitive sport has actually begun. The jury is still out with both sides of the divide putting out equally tenable and credible arguments.

It’s only natural that the voices for and against will get louder and more competitive. Being the unofficial benefactor of yoga, India is expected to take an unequivocal call.

Unfortunately, we have seen quite a flip-flop on this. After deciding to treat yoga as a sport in 2015, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS) reversed the decision in the following year.

Giving in to the Puritans who frowned at any dilution of its spiritual core, it concluded yoga has quite a many subtle elements in which competitions are not possible. Many watchers see a not-so-yogic hand in this change of heart. Some of them ascribe to it a compromised arraignment to end a tug of war between MYAS and the Ministry of AYUSH over the control of yoga.

Surely, yoga isn’t just about asanas or body postures. According to the eight-limb (Ashtanga) paradigm of yoga, the other dimensions include such subtle things as adherence to social and personal ethics, control of breathing and senses and one-pointedness and meditation. It will be next to impossible to draw up a championship format for these realms of activities. Yet, sport-yoga is not a dead dream.

While it wouldn’t be possible to adapt the whole philosophy of yoga into competitive sports, we shouldn’t underestimate yoga’s flexibility to adapt itself. From being an ancient spiritual pursuit for those seeking enlightenment and becoming a hippies’ fad, yoga has shown remarkable flexibility to become the most-chanted lifestyle mantra of today.

The point is that some kind of competitive sports based on one or more limbs of yoga is a distinct possibility. Though it may not live up to the loftier promises, yoga-based games and sports will do no harm. Instead, they will do a lot of good to the cause of yoga promotion. Yoga as a sport will comfort quite a many who see a baggage of faith and welcome the greatest number of people.

Though some fear a dilution, not all yoga protagonists are against such an innovation. Big names have openly spoken about taking yoga to the Olympics. Going by the rising global craze for yoga, mats are going to roll sooner in the sporting arena. The real challenge will be in drawing up a competitive format that not only conforms to the definition of modern sports, but also doesn’t dilute the core. I don’t see any difficulties in making yoga “amusing”, “leisurely”, or “entertaining”. When martial arts and gymnastics can qualify and even make it to Olympics, asanas, the most primed candidate for being turned into competitive sports, can definitely make the cut!

Traditional yogis who swear by the spiritual and philosophical lineage of yoga need not worry. The tradition is on their side. The eight limbs of yoga are so interconnected that even if one does asanas, and that too as an exercise or a game, the practitioner is most likely to experience other dimensions like meditation, one-pointedness and bliss.

Even asanas, the most gross form of yoga, hold out endless promises. Maharishi’s Patanjali Yoga Sutra envisions asanas as a means of attaining what’s beyond the obvious. That means that adapting them into competitive sports isn’t likely to rob them of the power to unveil the Infinity.

Is it time then to tick a Perfect 10 on that gravity-defying Sirsasana?

(A former journalist, M. Rajaque Rahman is a full-time volunteer of the Art of Living. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Analysis

A view through an infrastructure investor’s prism

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

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investment returns

Perspectives on infrastructure assets vary widely: While investors focus on investment returns, policymakers analyse both financial and socio-economic benefits. It would be worthwhile for policymakers to view things through an investor’s investment prism because an understanding of the critical factors that shape investment decisions will help frame better policies to expedite Indian infrastructure creation.

The “raw value” of an infrastructure project is what a potential investor evaluates first. For example, in a renewable energy wind project, the wind potential of a site is what an investor evaluates. For a transportation project, the investor evaluates the potential passenger traffic. This so-called “raw value” is a huge determinant of the financial viability of a project.

Segregating infrastructure sectors and projects by such “raw value” can help government and industry alike to work towards directing infrastructure capital more optimally. Additionally, such analysis helps in framing policies for those sectors that deliver very substantial social and economic value but are not financially viable on their own.

A robust framework that helps determine “raw value” can aid all the stakeholders, especially the government, to work with investors and multilateral trade agencies to find financing solutions for such socially and economically relevant projects. Eventually, India needs to create an information repository of sorts that provides the global investor base information and access by asset type and investment potential.

Once the “raw value” of a project is determined, an investor tries to gauge what is called its “scarcity value”. Take, for instance, transportation projects. If the transportation potential of connecting City “A” with City “B” is attractive, then is building an airport to connect the two cities the most optimal infrastructure asset? That is, in spite of the traffic potential, is an airport a “scarce” enough asset to deliver attractive returns?

The investor will gauge whether the airport is likely to face competition from a competing train network or a highway. Being cognizant of the long-dated nature of infrastructure assets is important. Hence investors will have to gauge the “scarcity value” of the asset to determine the attractiveness of the asset over the long investment horizon and, therefore, eventually decide on their willingness to invest in the asset.

It is essential for the government to find a balance between allowing investors to make returns commensurate with the risk taken and allowing the public to have access to a well-priced and high-quality infrastructure asset. The twin objectives of consistency and transparency in policy are crucial in this regard.

The government’s ability to formulate and communicate the strategy effectively regarding not just sectors but individual assets is vital. To indeed expedite infrastructure creation, granular policy across industries will be needed, more so for much-needed greenfield infrastructure projects.

Apart from “raw value” and “scarcity value”, an investor considers a third factor: The quality of the underlying contracts signed for the asset. Investors look for high-quality counter-parties with whom to sign contracts. More importantly, the government’s ability to deliver a robust legal system for contract-enforcement, as also a more efficient system for conflict-resolution, will attract more significant investments.

Lowering the risk perception for Indian infrastructure assets is essential not merely to attract more investments but also to attract investments at lower financing costs. Reducing the cost of capital is going to be a significant driver of infrastructure projects through their improved financial viability.

Another area that merits attention is the possibility of the government working even more closely with Export Credit Agencies of various countries to offer foreign exchange hedges, while “importing infrastructure investments”. Solutions that not only reduce the legal risk in investments but also partially eliminate the foreign exchange risk can help boost investments significantly.

Active policies to address the three issues revolving around the value, scarcity and contract enforcement that investors utilise to determine both investments and the required rate of return can help make policies useful.

Policy frameworks can potentially be refined using these three key factors that shape investment decisions. Most importantly, one does not need to improve concurrently on all three fronts for all infrastructure sectors; incremental improvement on one element can provide a significant fillip to infrastructure investments.

(Taponeel Mukherjee heads Development Tracks, an infrastructure advisory firm. Views expressed are personal. He can contacted at [email protected] or @Taponeel on Twitter)

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