Gujarat

Where does Modi go from this Bihar high? Is this bugle of triumph also one of warning?

(It’s a reprint from NewsBred).

There is a reason for prime minister Narendra Modi to have an extra cup of tea which he loves so much in the morning. There are breakthroughs in Telangana and Manipur; a reaffirmation in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh; and Madhya Pradesh sealed for years to come. And then there is Bihar.

And he could afford to smell roses too in his garden now that the foul air of Covid-19, migrants trek, China-at-gate, economic tsunami, engineered anti-CAA etc harnessed by the devil siblings of Opposition and prepaid media has blown back on their faces. Even Hathras didn’t work.

This morning though the tea won’t be the same for regional satraps of Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu who have an assembly election to defend in next few months. A couple of them are allies who suspect they would be soon out of breath in keeping pace with such a driven partner. They don’t have to speak to Uddhav Thackeray or Nitish Kumar. They know it in heart.

It brings us to two existential questions in India’s political landscape: Are BJP and allies actually enemies sleeping in the same bed?

The basic premise of this puzzle of course is whether the two need each other. BJP didn’t concede to Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and I am sure there must be second thoughts within if it was judicious. Hindu vote is divided in any case, if not stupid. Why fragment it further? It has allowed the Pawars and Gandhis a stroll in the power corridors. Shiromani Akal Dal (SAD) was better to be without since it was cohabiting with farmer mafia while BJP is committed to rid India of weeds on the ground.

Politics is vision. But it’s also about staying in the present. BJP need to be both pragmatic and principled with allies. Only a fool can’t see that the Rest are coming together en masse: It doesn’t matter if they were enemies (BSP-SP; NCP-Congress, JD (S)-Congress, PDP-NC) only till recently. They are sinking and would hold on to any straw. They would get wiser—if not by 2017 UP then surely by 2020 Bihar–that caste piper isn’t quite belting out the chartbusters. They would band aid the pockmarks of corruption. They would woo the masses which so far were not even worthy of their contempt. They would rely less on media and friends-in-courtrooms now that it no longer is cutting the ice.

They of course are on the pitch of anarchy for some time. To their minds, they have already dispensed with umpires, third umpires and DRS etc. It has helped them in paralyzing the Centre, bound as it is by its Constitutional vows. What voters can’t deliver, villains might.

All those who stand with you, matter

It ought to be BJP’s goal to be in power, state after state. It can’t do without allies. It would have to allay their reasonable fears. Like it can’t afford to let go both Chirag Paswan and Nitish Kumar in Bihar. BJP might have a vision for India and its friends might suffer from cataract but then who said it’s an ideal world. You need every that voice, every that whiff, every that ray which could brighten your cause. Most have baser instincts, shallow interests, malleable emotions. But even those who just stand with you, matter.

So instead of a mere blinkered vision, BJP needs to look around and greet those who could say hello in return. It must account for inadequacies of others. It’s too straight-jacket and regimented with its friends. It can’t be that BJP is afraid of criticisms. If it was so, Yogi Adityanath wouldn’t have become CM of Uttar Pradesh; Article 370 would still have been a thorn, CAA-NRC would have gone into files by now. But BJP only harps on development. It doesn’t on discourse. They need to cultivate allies; they need to empower voices rooting for them to do good to Mother India.

It’s a seminal moment in India’s history. In millenniums. BJP can’t let it go only because its rulebook is cast in stone. It has to take every single voice along. And it has to stamp the hood of serpent into ground. It would be a Prithviraj Chauhan if it lets go the moment against Muhammad Ghori.  It would be a mistake to think that chorus is not contributing to the melody. Keep them in the background but keep them on the dais. Rise to their defence even if it’s unsavoury to your style. Men like Arnab Goswami, for instance, need you now. Niceties could wait.

So take your time as you finish your tea, Mr Modi. But open your gates a little wider, your drawing room a little more spacious, and summon extra chairs in the garden. There are more hues in the painting than just winning elections on the plank of bettering masses. There are independent voices, perhaps too stray and too disparate to matter to you or BJP. But they are helping the wider discourse. It would matter to you and India in longer run. Embrace them as you go forward.

 

 

 

How good has India been in E-education in this Summer of Corona?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Kids have numbers. I mean there are 25 crore children who visit 15 lakh schools in India—or when they last visited before March 16 shut them down.

Most liked the break. Some didn’t. For India had found an alternative to physical classes. It moved online. Government and educational bodies launched several e-learning portals and apps such as DIKSHA portal, e-Pathshala, Swayam, STEM-based games etc.

Hawks were keen to found out if much-touted India’s 4G network spread would hold up. Yes, the 4G data is very affordable, it’s said to be robust enough to cover the entire country, but India is that dark abyss for marginalized communities, those stuck in deep interiors, who don’t have smartphones, leave alone laptops and desktops.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) tells us that although 78 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population have mobile phones, the tele-density hasn’t seeped beyond 57 percent.  The rest are innocents to such advances. Then not everyone at home has access to smartphones. How could a family of three teenagers with one smartphone fall into a lockstep to study online?

Well, some did. There is a Kumar family in Ghaziabad, in Delhi NCR itself, where three teenagers worked out a schedule to use their solitary smartphone to good use. Nidhi, 15, begins the day with an hour’s coaching on a WhatsApp video call; the younger brother gets hold of the phone next, and finally the older brother pushes his applications to colleges.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ishan Khandelwal from a privileged background who isn’t able to come to terms with the final XII paper he missed due to Corona suspension of exams. He still has emerged with a grade to envy, booked his berth in a premier US educational institution and hopes Donald Trump would smile one of these days.

There is no end to such stirring tales of defiance. Pravinsinh Jadeja, a primary school teacher in Gujarat’s tribal district of Dahod, has turned an open space into an e-learning school of his own. The kids in their two-room school, now shut, don’t have internet or access to TV. So Jadeja, all of 43, has done his own smart bit.

Every morning, Jadeja, armed with his 5.5 inch Android smartphone holds a live session on DD Girnar’s YouTube channel. The students sit on cots while the winds blow and cows moo in the background. Jadeja is not alone. There are 30 other teachers across 10 villages in Dahod who do similarly and hold a shining light on the community of teachers. In Chennai, class 10 students in corporation schools have been temporarily provided with Android phones.

Similarly, at least 20 percent students don’t have e-access to the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) online classes even though 8 million others do. The body has now arranged for 500 colleges to provide access of internet to any student living nearby, even if he or she is not a student of that institution.

Pakistan a disturbing contrast

Sometime, we don’t realize how good India has been with education in this distressing spell of Corona Virus pandemic. Lakhs and lakhs of students are being taught at home. Contrast this with Pakistan where students are being put in jail for demonstrating against the e-learning diktat even as they don’t have access to internet.

Quetta is one of the largest and most impoverished districts in Pakistan. Nine out of 32 districts are completely devoid of mobile internet services due to security reasons. Schools in Pakistan are closed since March 13. Students are holding demonstrations, sitting on hunger strikes, and subjected to violence, for demanding e-access to studies. Some have gone to High Court.

Quetta isn’t a stand-alone district in Pakistan. Much of the country doesn’t have internet infrastructure. Where it’s available, the network quality is poor. Only 35 percent of population have access to internet. Mostly it’s 3G connections. According to The Inclusive Internet Index 2020, Pakistan is 76th ranked country out of 100 nations. It’s the lowest among all Asian countries.

India, despite its multiple challenges, is among the top 50 countries on quality internet access. It’s only 13 rungs below China, now that a comparison between the two is regularly sought.  India has massively bridged the gap vis-à-vis China in recent years.

At the time of independence of the two countries in late 1940s, the two population-behemoths suffered from massive illiteracy. India’s rulers lacked resources, if not the will, to put education as priority. Thus, just a generation ago in 1982, China’s literacy rate was almost double at 64 percent to India’s 37. Today, in 2020, India’s literacy rate has jumped to 81.3 percent compared to China’s 96.84 percent. India is in a hurry to make up the lost years.

So when Corona pandemic threatened this march, India was up to the task. Not just the government or commercial ventures but even NGOs like Pratham are pushing their digital, radio and SMS-based programmes via village administration in 10 Indian states. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) is busy disseminating lessons through radio and television. State education departments are innovating new models to reach their local populace.

There is also intense involvement at the school, parents and the government level. In Karnataka, the state government stopped online classes for children below six, citing an advice by NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), a premier Bengaluru-based mental health institution, that it could affect the mental health of kids.

The furious schools—goaded by parents–though would’ve none of it. After the state government banned online classes up to Class 5 on June 15, they challenged the decision in the Karnataka High Court. The court has quietly asked the state government to take a walk as its act is a violation of students’ fundamental rights to life and education.

The syllabus for next year has been reduced by 30 percent. The HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” has tentatively put the reopening of schools after August 15. But India is undeterred by the delay. If the present pandemic is any guide, India could make virtual education a norm, and not an exception, in the next five years.

 

Gadkari has shown a mirror to We-the-Dodgers of traffic rules

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

A typical day when I hit roads in my car in the Capital. The roads themselves have three types of variations.

One is in the neighbourhood which teems with shops, cows, pedestrians, vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Here you could find our Virat Kohlis and Saina Nahiwals of future under the benign doting glances of their parents on the balcony.  Schools-buses come every afternoon in the weekdays; alien cars make a stop in front of floors which rent young lives that celebrate weekends with booze, music and dance.  Navigation requires yogic-contortions. Baring smiles on ladies who occupy a patch of lane for their daily round of gossip is a daily act. Here are no traffic lights.

Out of my sector are the big, bad roads. Traffic here is always slow, a bane of our municipal corporations who hadn’t accounted for a future of burgeoning cars, lakhs of flats and millions of residents. Now there is a scramble to collect the daily waste, roads dug to wire our homes with competing WiFis, multiple gaps in dividers for vehicles to switch over from left to right and vice-versa.  Not that it matters to we the citizens: We simply opt for wrong side of traffic flow, braving ugly glances, gesticulating hands and showers of curse. How does it matter when a second of time and an ounce of fuel has been successfully saved?

All this before you hit your first traffic lights of the day. They usually take offs half a week. You can’t blame them either: We the traffic are colour-blind to their signals. It’s indiscreet to press on accelerators when it’s Green; It’s too idealistic to stop on Reds unless and until shrivelled beggars and their acrobat sons and daughters fulfil your idea of charity; or desperate men with fake editions of Sidney Sheldon and Irving Stone in your face reflect your educated background.

The next hour is a tribute to your ever-growing vocabulary on abuses. English swear-words are too polite. They are no match to our Punjabi and Hindi lexicons. The worst ones are reserved for the two-wheelers who swarm around your vehicle; darting from left and write, brushing your bumpers, navigating a gap you thought didn’t exist between two cars. Invariably you are forced to move out of right-most lane where the slowest of vehicle is lording over the lane meant for the fastest. There are three-wheelers who couldn’t care less if their iron frames scratch your newly-painted car or goods carriers who move slower than a bicycle and make you swerve wildly to the hail of abuses in the background.

The irony is, all of these troubles could actually be your work to the others. You too jump traffic lights; you too speak on your mobile as you drive; you too drive against the traffic once in a while and it’s been ages since you submitted your car for a pollution check. You too subdue the traffic police with your rank and position if a folded 100-rupee note isn’t a good-enough grease to his palms.

So you too are part of the problem. Other traffic violators have turned you into one. Or it could be you who has turned others into traffic violators. Daily we hit the roads, daily we come back cursing the jungle that is out there on the roads. We are not wrong too when we curse the rogue mobike-rider who you nearly killed or one who ran a scratch across the length of your car. You also swear at the governance which leaves huge potholes and unmanned traffic lights out there. Submerged roads could test out the lungs of your car; or worse you could’ve an idea how a submarine floats under the water.

So, on the terrifying jungle out there which could maim or kill you and your dear ones, all the stakeholders- people, traffic planners and regulators—are guilty. Planners don’t have a vision for future; Enforcers are corrupt and we the people have turned monsters on the road. Like millions of gods we have on different aspects of our lives, we need to invent a traffic Ganesha too for our wellbeing.

Let’s now view the new whip which has angered most in this country. Most of us are either dipping deep into our pockets or crowding the Pollution Control centres on gas stations. We find the measures too draconian what if our registration, insurance and pollution papers are not in order. We aren’t counting the benefits which discipline would bring on our roads and provides umbrella against pelting hefty medical bills.

At the outset there is every reason to applaud the transport minister Nitin Gadkari. He has been vocal on the Motor Vehicles Amendment bill for more than two years. He spent months in consultations with the states before finalizing and winning the ascent from the Parliament. He has shown a bloody-mindedness ignoring populism and discomfiture within his own ranks.

Three states go for elections in next three months and are all headed by BJP—Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand. But for Haryana, the other two aren’t willing to face people’s wrath. Gujarat has brought down the fines by almost 90 per cent; Karnataka and Uttarakhand would implement the Act but reduce the fines to just a slap on the wrist. Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Tripura haven’t even implemented it.

Non-BJP states have only poured scorn on the new Motor Vehicles Act. Congress, which runs Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Punjab have put the new Act on hold. Rajasthan would implement it but the fines would be reduced to a minimum.

There is no second-guessing the “non-BJP” states of West Bengal, Kerala and Odisha. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee is vocal that she wouldn’t implement the Act and burden her people. Kerala initially implemented the bill but now has put it on hold. The Odisha government of Naveen Patnaik has announced a three-month moratorium on the new Act. Interestingly, the Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal is all in support of the Act.

It’s clear populism and politics would finally prevail over prudence. Our dharnas, noise and cribs matter to politicians. Asking us to wear seat belts, ride with helmets, follow zebra-crossing is too much of an ask. As it is to the tilted-heads on mobikes, using shoulders to attend calls on their mobile-phones.

Is this the entire truth? Doesn’t a couple with two small children, an old mobike and a few thousand rupees for a salary have a compulsion of their own on roads? Don’t we have faulty traffic signals? Don’t poor people buy a spluttering vehicle for a pittance only because it’s without papers? Don’t we have bus-stops right after the traffic-lights? Does the new Act take into account the last man on the road?

Good governance is one thing; populism is another. One leaves us with standardized conduct out on the streets; the other leaves us with chaos and anarchy. Good governance is never a zero-sum game: A few would always suffer in a society of extreme disparity. We have always longed for a government which governs for the good of the people. Now that we have it, we should strengthen and not weaken it.