Category: Book Review & Summary

A Story of Courage & Hope

Far, far away, someone was weeping, but the world was sleeping, any dream will do.

Andrew lloyd Webber & Timothy Rice

“No women wants to get into sex work. It’s not that they made a choice, but rather that they had no choice to make. Their life is tough but sex workers so often just to live to create a better future for their kids. It is the single overriding reason why they carry on.”

Excerpt from the Book

I read this book last year and it hit me quite hard. We can never understand what circumstances makes someone choose the profession of sex work especially for the people who are at the bottom of the pyramid. However, I didn’t get enough peace and thinking space for writing the review of this book. I know nothing about the life of sex-workers to comment on their profession. Honestly, I am feeling perplexed because this book shows that they are doing sex work out of desperation and poverty. A woman is forced to sell her body for fifty rupees or even for a meal or some milk for their infant. Thinking of this situation makes me sad and empty. Still, these people despite facing struggles and problems in their lives, show us the courage, resilience, strength, hope, and optimism towards life.

Recently I also read this book called, “A People’s Constitution” where the author has dedicated one whole chapter that talks about sex-work and freedom in the Constitution. In this chapter, many women sex-workers assert that this is their livelihood and they have the fundamental right to practice their profession guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. However, the author of this book-Rohit Dey also informed that the term ‘prostitution’ in India was entirely a creation of colonial law.

As the author of this book shows that there were many myths and misconceptions about sex work in India. There were absolute denial, apathy and stigma towards the idea of sex and sexuality. As per one survey, about five women in every thousand involved in sex work.

This book gives you practical lessons about public health and dealing with people and the community when they are in the most vulnerable and desperate situations. This book makes you realize how public health can be delivered through successful community participation. The role of people is very important in dealing with any virus. And we can see even during this current pandemic, the prevention of this virus is dependent on people’s following of some basic rules. And when people have the ownership and they are engaged in dealing with the problem, they will come up with innovative solutions.

As the author shows the successful role of the community in the Sonagachi area in Kolkata. And the best thing is that they have organised themselves to deliver services safely, addressing the root cause of their vulnerability and also emerged as prime agents of change. They have created their own association named Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Cooperative (DMSC) which has three parts: Service provision including clinics, a cooperative bank, and a cultural wing. And this association is also quite vocal about recognition of sex work as an occupation and preserving & protecting their occupational rights asserting that it’s their fundamental rights.

However, there are some revelations in the book: For instance, brothel sex is very minimal in the country. In fact, it is dominated by street-based sex work and also practiced in homes by middle-class women to keep their houses running and sometimes for funding the education of their kids. The author also talks about ‘Devadasi tradition’ and also met various Devadasis who practice sex-work. As the author finds out during his travel to these places and speaking to affected women, the Devadasi tradition has become a front for impoverished parents to get their young daughters into sex work. In fact, as per the Policy Brief on Devadasi legislations published by CLPR, shows that poverty, caste domination, patriarchy & religion are the main causes for the Devdasi system to still flourish.

The best thing mentioned in this book about the Avahan mission led by the author Ashok Alexander with the support of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that it made a substantial improvement in the lives of sex-workers and halted the HIV virus among the most vulnerable people in the country. The Avahan movement helped India to achieve one of the Millenium Development Goals (Goal 6-To combat HIV/AIDS). However, this achievement was never celebrated due to the stigma attached to this disease.

The most touching part of this book was narration of those stories of hope and courage. Despite all odds and facing so many challenges, these people show us how to smile even if you are in the most desperate and vulnerable situation and how not to lose hope anytime. The story of Parvati ( an acid attack victim & also a sex worker), Kamla (who was raped by five men), Danny (got infected to HIV in his mother’s womb), Kavita( a sex-worker from Shimoga who later on became part of Avahan and Ashodaya), Shahid ( a HIV positive who later on became director of program for Ashodaya) and many others are stories of hope and courage. Our lives look so easy and comfortable as compared to their lives and even after this, we crib about many things but they are struggling and smiling and spending each day living a life of dignity in so much adversity.

And in the end, you have nothing but these moving & memorable stories to think about and remember.

If this post resonated with you, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

How to eradicate poverty from the world?

Nothing is more dreadfully painful than poverty, and gripping poverty robs a man of the lofty nobility of his descent”- Thiruvallur

On July 10th, 2020, a six-year-old girl fell into a stormwater drain in the Marathahalli area while playing with her friends. She is the daughter of Nityananda and Boni Koli. They are migrants from Assam, living in the nearby slum area. Her father works as a security guard and mother as a domestic worker. There has been no update on this incident as of now. Who is responsible for this tragic incident? This incident shows the ‘hazards of being poor’ as also mentioned in the book. The poor people’s lives inextricably linked to huge amounts of risks not only related to income/food but also related to health, political violence, crime, and different kinds of shocks like the recently declared lock down amid the covid-19 pandemic.

This book has always been part of my reading list but when both the authors of this book won the Nobel prize last year, I decided that I have to finish this book soon. The curiosity and the zeal to find solutions how to eradicate poverty and why they do whatever they do in their lives and why policies world over fail to bring about a substantial difference in their lives, has always intrigued me.

“Poverty leads to an intolerable waste of talent. Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one’s full potential as a human being.”

Amartya Sen

I have always been moved by people’s lives. If I see people living in difficult circumstances, I always ask myself why life is so unfair for a few people and a bed of roses for some. And many times I felt like crying inside because I am helpless as if I can’t do anything about it. Why someone has to lose its dignity because of a lack of resources. This is inhuman. Poverty is itself so inhuman. It makes you miserable from inside and you don’t have the strength to face the world.

These are some of the pertinent questions asked by the authors in this book. Why is there still poverty in the world or India? Why well thought out policies of the government of India have been failing to eradicate poverty for a long time? Why does no one ask the poor about their choices, their priorities, and why they are making the choices what are they making? It is absolutely necessary to understand the reasons behind their choices/decisions in life to frame better policies for eradicating poverty?

It’s not that the world has not tried to eradicate poverty. However, there are different ideologies/views present in the world to solve the problem of poverty. Jeffrey Sachs in his book, “The End of Poverty” says that ‘foreign aid’ is the key. Even aid establishment institutions like the United Nations and the World Health Organization believe in spending money on aid. William Easterly, Dambisa Moyo & others are not in favor of providing aid as they both argue that aid does more harm than good. They believe that we should respect people’s freedom if they don’t want anything, there is no point in forcing it upon them. Darren Acemoglu & James A Robinson’s theory of institutions given in his famous book-“Why Nations Fail”, believes in a fundamental change of the institutions to bring about any positive change in the country. However, there is hardly any focus on understanding the choices of the people and why they do what they do.

Mostly we judge poor people about the choices they make in their lives. Why don’t they save enough for them for the difficult period? Why do they produce many kids if they can’t afford a better life for them? Why don’t they take benefits of the government schemes? Why poor people don’t want health insurance? Do the poor really have a choice to control their fertility decisions? Why children of the poor don’t learn anything despite going to schools? Why don’t they get enough nutrients?

The authors had made it clear that there is really no difference between the decision-making of the poor and other people because they are also normal human beings. They also have the same problems of temptations, lack of self-control, weak beliefs, procrastination, and the problem of ‘time inconsistency’. Through various surveys, interviews and other evidence, the authors have shown that somehow the whole system is designed or exists in a way that makes it really impossible for the poor to come out of the vicious circle of poverty. For instance, they don’t have access to formal banking institutions and if they have, they have to pay higher interest rates, they don’t have any fallback option in the condition of shocks like demonetization or the recent lockdown, poor children are not wanted in schools unless they show some exceptional capabilities and also forced to drop out, they don’t have faith in the public health system because of the combination of beliefs as well as psychological sunk cost effect. And because of all these things, the poor may become skeptical about supposed opportunities and the possibility of any radical change in their lives, and also since they suffer from low depression, they lack the capacity to make sound decisions. And the vicious circle continues.

However, it’s not all doomsday scenario as the authors have also provided ways that can be used to bring about substantial change in the lives of the people. The fundamental argument of the authors is that ‘it is not always necessary to fundamentally change the institutions to bring about any positive difference rather change can also happen at the margin.’ According to the authors, though they didn’t find any magic bullet, they certainly found out few ways to improve the lives of the poor:

  1. Poor lack of credible information. So there is a need for innovative, credible, and simple information campaigns to make people aware of various schemes and their benefits and also their rights.
  2. Use the default options and nudges to enforce positive behaviors as they don’t have enough time & resources to think about themselves to make decisions.
  3. There are reasons like moral hazards, adverse selection, and lack of self-control that prevent markets to exist for the poor.
  4. Policies are failed in poor countries because of three Is-Ideology, Inertia and Ignorance and there is a need to realize the fact that change can also happen at the margin.
  5. There is a need to change the expectations of people. There was evidence that when villagers in remote areas of Karnataka got to know that girls can get jobs if they are skilled in computers, they started sending their girls to school.

Not only this, micro-credit, better education for their children, good jobs, insurance against health & weather disasters, social safety-net and minimum income support can help the poor to get out of the trap. And these small initiatives will bring a little bit of hope and comfort in their lives which will give them strength and courage to think about their future. However, as even authors of this book agree that there is a lot more to know and understand regarding the lives of people. The authors talked about all the basic problems that keep the poor in the vicious circle and what can be done and how we should not reduce all the problems to the same set of general principles. The time has come to listen the poor and the understand the logic of their choices.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

Finding Meaning in Life!!

“The salvation of man is through love and in love”

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”- Nietzsche

The human mind is an enigma. It’s nearly impossible to understand the complexity of the human mind. I feel we create assumptions, theories and try to predict the nature of human beings but we can never be one hundred percent certain what’s going on in someone’s mind. I might be wrong. But till now my experiences of extremity in my life, readings of Behavioral sciences/self-help books, and also studying a little bit of psychology make me think like this. One of my aunts who did post-graduation in psychology also narrated various stories to me in my childhood that made me believe mystifying nature of the human mind.

The recent passing away of Sushant Singh Rajput will always be a riddle because no one knows what was going on in his bright mind. Why would he do something like this? When he was like an inspiration to the younger generation and also quite intelligent, driven, hardworking, passionate about his work. Then how he didn’t find one reason to make his life meaningful at that moment when he felt broken from inside. Why did he feel emptiness and meaninglessness in his life? By the way, I am not here to comment on his life. Because even I also used to look up to him as an inspiration. The author of this book and Sushant Singh Rajput had one common thing. They both quoted Nietzsche. The author has used the above-mentioned quote( “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”) many times in the book. The main message of this book is hidden in this quote. If we have found out our ‘why’ to live, we can survive any circumstances in our life.

The author narrates his personal experience living as a prisoner in a concentration camp during the Holocaust period and makes the reader believe that whatever conditions and circumstances you face in your life, it’s up to you how you respond to it. It’s up to you not to give up and have hope. Because “You cannot control what happens to you in life. but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you,says the author. As the author kept himself alive and also kept himself hopeful, thinking about his wife and meeting her again and also dreamt of giving lectures about the psychological sessions to be learned from the Auschwitz experience.

As per the author’s finding, life is a quest for meaning and not a quest for pleasure or power as believed by Freud and Alfred Adler respectively. There are three sources of meaning to life, according to the author:

  • In work-doing something significant
  • In love-care for another person or by experiencing something; love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire for
  • In courage-in difficult time; the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering

This book has tremendously changed my perspective on life, love, suffering, and courage. Your work/passion can be the reason for your happiness and you don’t have to run for it, you have to dedicate yourself towards it. The author has a unique perspective on love. He was deeply in love with his wife even when he was not aware of her whereabouts or sure about her being alive. Because loving someone can be the reason for your life and you don’t need that person physically present or even alive to love that person, tells the author.

His thoughts about ‘suffering’ take you on a spiritual journey. If life has a meaning, then there must be a meaning in suffering. And if suffering has a meaning or a reason, it will not remain as suffering. I don’t know what best example I can give for this but somehow, when I was preparing for Civil services, It was really tough emotionally and financially both but I still remember those days as one of the best days of my life because I had one reason: I was chasing my dream. And no power on earth can take that ‘experience’ from me even if I didn’t get final selection in that examination even after appearing for interview twice.

“That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Nietzsche

And the best thing about suffering as told by the author is that we can never fathom someone else’s suffering because the size of human suffering is absolutely relative. But the most amazing thing is that a tiny thing/incident can give you the greatest joys of your life.

I really can’t compare this current pandemic to the situation of concentration camps but an analogy can definitely be drawn. Even in a terrible situation like living in a concentration camp when you never know when you will be sent to gas chambers, the author kept himself sane. Similarly, surviving during this pandemic is quite hard for everyone because it has turned everyone’s life upside down. However, this is the time we need to have the courage to survive and maybe narrate the ordeals of this pandemic to our future generations or to fulfill our dreams.

So the crux of this seven-decade old book is that “never-give-up” and keep faith in any kind of situation because it’s you who is in charge and it’s you who can control how you respond to that particular situation. Because as the author shows through his experience of dealing with patients, his fellow prisoners, and also with people who had attempted ‘self-harm’ in past that there is a close linkage between loss of hope and the state of immunity of the body and how it can have a lethal effect on your body. In the last few pages of his book, he also talks about his logo-therapy which literally means ‘to find a meaning in one’s life’ and how this therapy re-humanized psychiatry and became the third stream of psychotherapy.

If you have not found ‘meaning’ still in this blog, let me make it more clear to you: It’s us who have to change our ‘attitude’ towards life and it really does not matter what we expect from our life but rather what life expects from us. It’s us who will have to give meaning to our lives by taking the responsibility in finding the right answers to our quest to live.

If you like reading this post, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

What matters in the End?

“Death is inevitable; Each moment is precious; Nothing matters in the End”

Recently, in a light conversation, I said, “We all are going to die” in the context of this dreaded pandemic. I could see the expression of people disliking that comment because no one wants to talk about death in our society. Death is seen as inauspicious. We all want to live in a fantasy and don’t want to think that we all have limited time. This thinking has repercussions not only on our health but also on our future. As the author says, “how we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive you will live forever.”

This book is actually about the experience of death and how the medical system has failed to understand what it means to deal with a finite life and make final years a joyful experience. Do we forget the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life? When we become old, we don’t want to talk about death, we talk about living.

The beauty of this book is that it has been written by a surgeon who is also a professor at Harvard Medical School. This book has his personal accounts of dealing with terminal patients and also the death of his own father. The author has shown how the medical system has failed to educate medical professionals about aging, frailty, or dying. Gawande speaks about the failure of the medical system in informing or educating a patient about his condition? There is a need to understand the unfolding of the whole process and its impacts on people around them.

Death had no meaning to me until someone close died in my family. Our society teaches people “not so important things” – make a lot of money, buy a big house, pass every exam in the world by memorizing every formula, cram an entire dictionary for the GRE and go abroad. However, no one teaches us how to live our lives. What does death mean? Especially as we grow older, we have no idea what we are fighting for. What are our priorities? What are the trade-offs we are willing to make? We don’t talk about our worries or hopes for the future. How much are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to give up?

How care of the elderly has changed from ‘multi-generational systems support’ provided by the family to institutionalized nursing homes. Nursing homes today act as prisons. The elderly don’t feel comfortable in them. They feel chained and restricted. The elderly living here always yearned for privacy at home.

We are so engrossed in living this life that we forget to ask the question what’s the purpose of our lives? Did we ever ask this question to ourselves? What makes life worth living when we will become old and unable to care for ourselves? To answer this question, the author discusses psychologist Abraham Maslow‘s influential paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation” which is depicted in the form of a pyramid and talks about the hierarchy of needs of people. According to Maslow, ‘safety’ and ‘survival’ remain the primary and fundamental goals of our life even in our old age.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

People in old age focus on being rather than doing and they live in ‘the present than the future. Old age generally functions at the peak of this pyramid and focuses on ‘self-actualization.’ “Living is a kind of skill. The calm and wisdom of old are achieved over time,” says the author. As per various experiments (discussed in this book by the author) conducted during some crises like the 9/11 attacks, the SARS epidemic 2003, etc., old and young both valued the bliss of life and focused on being rather than doing. This might be true for the current pandemic also. People these days from all generations are slowly realizing the meaning of life.

This book also shows the results of experiments of assisted living done on various old people where they were given small freedoms in terms of taking care of plants, spending time with a cat, a dog or a bird, etc., helped them to live a longer life. The most important finding of the experiment was “having a reason to live” which reduced the death rate. Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce in his book, “The Philosophy of Loyalty,” informs us that people seek a cause beyond themselves. That cause could be anything: it can be small or very big. ‘We all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.’

The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror. But if you do, it is not.

Josiah Royce(The Philosophy of Loyalty)

The biggest problem in the medical sector is that they never focused on the well-being of the people, rather they focused on physical health. They concentrated on the repair of body parts and not the nurturing of the human soul. Not only the medical field but society as a whole needs to understand this, as people grow old and become aware of their fleeting life, they are more interested in writing the story of their lives and believe in living in the moment.

Amid this pandemic, there is a need to remember our old traditions of the ‘art of dying’ and accept death and decline as normal and eternal truth. We must accept our lives of old age that will come along with sickness, frailty, isolation. Ultimately, we will need the support and care of others. We would rather spend the last days of our lives with our family members than in ICU. In a nutshell, Gawande has said a lot of things about life and death and most importantly how medical science/field can correct the wrong committed till today not accepting the inevitability of old age and death in this book. Acceptance will lead to finding solutions that can make old people’s lives better and joyful in their last days.

If you liked reading this post, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in a Classroom

Education is meaningless without happiness” – Manish Sisodia
Image Credit: Clicked by me

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony”

Mahatma Gandhi

It took one microorganism to make us aware of the fleeting nature of this life. There is a sense of realization among all of us about a lot of things. How all of us were just running a rat race to reach somewhere which we didn’t even know? We wanted to be productive 24*7 and 365 days of the year. We were collecting all material resources but we didn’t have enough time to experience the pleasure of those things. The current lockdown forced us to slow down. This pandemic made us realize the value of happiness, satisfaction and living our life in the moment. This whole crisis is reminding us to be sensitive towards other human beings, nature and, especially towards our own lives.

However, a lot of us are not happy now. When things were so-called normal, we had other problems to talk about. Now in this ‘new normal’, we are not happy because our movement is restricted, we are not able to go out and do whatever we want. As per the World Happiness Report 2020, India was ranked 144 out of 156 countries. Why Indians do not perceive themselves to be happy? What is the reason behind it? Did we ever learn about happiness in our schools or colleges? Did someone from our family ever talked about happiness or being mindful of our thoughts and emotions?

Though whenever we touched the feet of our elders, they told us to ‘be happy’, no one taught us how to be happy and what is happiness and what needs to be done to achieve happiness. We realize the value of happiness as we grow or when we face some difficult phases in our life or maybe some people might be realizing the value of happiness during this lock down amid the unprecedented corona virus pandemic.

Nevertheless, the Delhi government’s experiment to start a happiness class in schools for class I to VIII has not only inspired the other Indian states but also other countries. During the recent visit by the US President, the first lady Millenia Trump visited one of the schools of Delhi government. She attended the happiness class and found it “very inspiring”. This book tells the story of Delhi education model. It’s written by the education minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of the Delhi government. Written in a very simple language, he covers all the radical reforms as well as innovative ideas taken by his team. He, along with his colleagues Atishi Marlena and Shailendra Sharma took this experiment of bringing radical reforms in the education system of the Delhi government.

These reforms are holistic as it covered almost every aspect be it infrastructure, allocation of the budget towards the education sector, empowering the principal to appoint estate managers and providing high- quality training to teachers, engaging parents through mega-Parents-Teacher Meetings(PTM) and School Management Committee(SMC) , and most importantly creating the education model of coexistence through happiness classes and entrepreneurship mindset curriculum.

Starting a happiness class with a curriculum in a government school of India is a path-breaking step by the Delhi government towards pursuing contentment not only as a State but as a nation. Happiness curriculum is based on the “co existential thought” (Madhasth Darshan) inspired by education philosopher A Nagraj. This thought is based on understanding all aspects of life, including spiritual, intellectual behaviour, and material. The idea is to address the mental and emotional needs of the children by creating a stimulating environment through mindfulness, critical thinking, story-telling, and activity-based discussions where children reflect on their thoughts and reactions scientifically. Through these processes, the child becomes self-aware and also towards family, society, and its surroundings.

Anecdotal evidence shows that there has been noticeable changes happening among the children. Behavior of students is changing towards their teachers and parents. They are becoming inquisitive towards learning other subjects. This book mentions some interesting anecdotes from happiness class. One child started asking his mother if there is any food for her before eating dinner and one kid became aware of his father’s financial situation and stopped asking for an expensive school bag.

It is so ironic for us as a society as well as a nation that we teach our children mathematics, science, history, geography, economics, business, etc, but we never teach them how to be happy, how to be mindful of our thoughts, how to critically analyze any issue before making any judgement and how to live in harmony with nature. We learned how to make money but we don’t know how to live our lives with satisfaction and enjoyment because it’s not about material things, a high paying job or, a big house we have but its about how we do feel inside? Are we able to understand our emotions? Why are we feeling what we are feeling?

Amid this pandemic leading to this moment of reflection, we as a family, as a society and as a nation need to realize the value of inculcating happiness, self-awareness, satisfaction, and how to live in harmony with nature. So, this is the moment we should start pursuing the feeling of happiness forever as an individual, as a family, as a society, and as a nation.

This blog has been republished by The Arm Chair Journal. Please find the link here.

If you enjoyed reading this post, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

India and the World

“India is a country harder to describe than to explain, and easier to explain than to understand and also India is a place for seeking, not concluding”

Anand Giridharadas (2009)

Review of Globalization of World Politics: This is one of the most amazing books I have ever read on international relations. This is a very thick book of more than 500 pages and looks quite heavy from outside. But if you are an IR geek, you will absolutely love this book and will not put it down till you finish reading it. And if you are preparing for civil services and your optional subject is ‘Political Science and International Relations, this book will help you to cover the second part of this paper and also help in fetching good marks. Most importantly, this book helped me to build a strong understanding of IR concepts. This book is divided into five parts: The historical context, Theories of world politics, Structures and Processes, International issues, and Globalization in the future. My favorites are ‘Theories of world politics’ and ‘International issues’ sections. Theories of world politics discuss realism, liberalism, neorealism, Marxism, post-colonialism, etc. in a very detailed manner and the beauty of international issues section is that it took one important issue and entwine its’ trajectory with international relations that help you to see these issues from a unique angle. For instance- culture in world affairs and terrorism & globalization.

Review of Global Politics: This book is very similar to the Globalization of world politics but the style of writing is very different as it’s written by Andrew Heywood. I would suggest reading both books because both give a very different perspective on similar issues. This book is insightful if you are an IR geek or preparing for civil services. I can bet that all those news articles related to foreign issues will make more sense if you have already read these books.

Review of Does the Elephant dance?: This is one of the best books I ever read on Indian Foreign Policy. David Malone served as the High Commissioner of Canada to India from 2006 to 2008. Though this book came out in 2010, it is still relevant because the author has deeply examined how Indian history, culture, internal domestic politics has an important role to play in India’s relations with other countries. This book is quite comprehensive where the author has dealt with India’s relations with all its neighbors as well as the USA, China, West Asia, East Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America, and Russia. I really found the last chapter- “The Evolution of Indian Multilateralism: From High Ground to High Table” of this book quite interesting where the author has written about India’s evolution from idealist moralizer to the often-pragmatic deal maker and how India’s soft power has an important role to play in the philosophy of Indian multilateralism.

“Indian diplomacy is like the love-making of an elephant: it is conducted at a very high level, accompanied by much bellowing, and the results are not known for two years”- A veteran diplomat

Review of Pax Indica: This book came in the year 2012 when I was in full preparation mode for the civil services examination. And it also came just after David Malone’s book Does the Elephant dance? So it was a kind of continuation read on Indian Foreign Policy with all updated facts. Except for the last chapter, other chapters are the same thing as in other books on relation of India vis, a vis other countries, and obviously in a super-refined language of Shashi Tharoor. In the last chapter, he talks about ‘multi-alignment’ as a grand strategy for India in the 21st century. According to the author, the name of the book Pax Indica has no similarity to Pax Romana or Pax Britannica rather it must be built and sustained on the principles and norms that India holds dear at home and abroad.

Review of Challenge and Strategy: This was the first book I read on Indian foreign policy when I started preparing for the Civil services examination. Rajiv Sikri was an Indian diplomat with more than 36 years with Indian Foreign Service and though this book is quite old and a lot of things have happened in Indian foreign policy since this book was written. However, as this book has been written by a seasoned diplomat, it gives you a lot of insights into India’s relations with other countries and especially focuses on policies and strategies that can be used by Indian diplomats and policymakers to make India a major player at the International level.

Review of Flying Blind: India’s Quest for Global Leadership: This is the latest book written on Indian foreign policy, by a young and bright author Mohamed Zeeshan. He is a prolific writer who regularly writes on Indian foreign policy. The author asks many difficult questions in this book: Does India have a grand strategy? Does India have a strategic vision to become the “Vishwaguru”? According to Zeeshan, India’s foreign policy lacks vision and it has consistently shown acting in a panic mode. India’s relations with other countries are overshadowed by domestic/local interests and also Indian diplomatic establishment postures fence-sitting many times when it should take a firm stand on various issues. He argues that India needs a more coherent strategy of international relations through which the country should champion the cause of global good. This book can serve as a starter for those who want to deep dive into the field of Indian Foreign policy.

Miscellaneous Books/Reading Materials: And even if you read all books related to IR in the world and have not read IGNOUs booklets, then I would suggest you to stop reading this blog and go download all IGNOU materials right now. And one more very important thing, you need to read the history of India and the world before plunging into the field of International Relations because as someone said:

“Know the history of these countries before getting to know their relations.”

I will also suggest one nice strategy for everyone who is trying to understand any concept in totality, then must not stick to one book rather explore all kinds of books, articles, newspapers, magazines, etc. written on that topic. Please find some of the books/magazines/newspapers below I referred to during my preparation:

  1. The Hindu ( follow Suhasini Haider) and it’s Foreign Affairs page
  2. Indian Express and it’s coverage on international issues
  3. World Focus magazines
  4. Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) policy briefs and articles are must-read to understand strategic perspective
  5. International Relations by Aneek Chaterjee: Only a few topics(Decision-making theory, Systems Theory) from this.

I always believed that India as a nation had something unique. As a birth-place of Buddha, Gandhi, and Ambedkar, India has shown and will always show the path of peace, harmony and also live up to the spirit of the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam’. I will end with this beautiful quote by Mark Twain.

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most artistic materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”

Mark Twain, writer, America

Please also read the following post where I have written the review of all the books related to Modern India and Indian Government and Politics:

If you gained something from this post, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

Indian Government and Politics

If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions, I should Point to India.

Max Mueller (German Scholar)

Indian Polity: M Laxmikant: Indian Polity by Laxmikant is the bible for UPSC aspirants. It is not only helpful for prelims but also helpful for mains examination. Indian Government and Politics section of the Political Science & International Relations (PSIR) require you to be aware of all constitutional provisions. Most importantly, you have to be aware of the current happenings of Indian politics and constantly try to see the bigger picture and what happened in the history of Indian politics with respect to that particular issue. For instance: If President’s rule is declared in some states, you should know under what article of the Constitution of India , it is declared and what is the Supreme Court judgement on President’s rule and what is something about this particular president’s rule.

Indian Government and Politics: B L Fadia: This book by B L Fadia is a kind of guide book for the section on Indian Government and Politics. It almost covers the whole syllabus. It is a quite methodical and full of text, so it can help you to summarize or to have many view points on a particular issue. However, the book is quite boring.

Indian Government and Politics: A S Narang: This book is very similar to B L Fadia’s book. However, two things are different: one is that the book is quite old, so it is not updated as per current happenings and the second thing is that the writing style is totally different as compared to the B L Fadia’s book. Just have this book to get an idea of how the author has written on a particular issue. It’s not compulsory to buy.

Series of Books by Subhash Kashyap: Subhash Kashyap is a well known political scientist, India Constitution expert and a distinguished scholar and a writer. He has written extensively on parliament, the constitution of India and Indian political system. His books on Indian Constitution and Parliament gives you a lucid perspective on legal and political issues which helps in writing answers for mains examination. I would highly recommend reading these books if anyone has taken PSIR as an optional for the Civil Services Examination.

The Constitution of India: P M Bakshi: This book has all the acts of the Constitution along with the important cases. Keep this book with you whenever you want to refer some important case related to any specific article of the Constitution of India.

The Oxford Companion to Politics in India: Niraja Gopal Jayal & Pratap Bhanu Mehta This book is very important and highly recommended. It can help you to analyze the important issues of Indian politics. This book is divided into eight parts comprehensively covering all important issues starting from the institutions, the society, political processes, ideological contestations, social movements, political economy and different ways of looking at Indian Politics. I would recommend this book reading as many times as you can and if possible also make notes from this book that will be useful for revision just before the mains examination.

Miscellaneous: (Highly Recommended) : The Indian Government and Politics section of the PSIR optional is quite dynamic and also need a lot of analysis and interlinking of many concepts for better understanding. So, I will also recommend reading unconventional books on Indian politics, history and memoirs or autobiography of politicians to understand the political dynamics and the nuances of Indian politics.

  • NCERT Books on Indian Politics, Democracy and Constitution of India
  • IGNOU Notes on Indian Government and Politics
  • Read 2-3 newspapers daily. The Hindu, The Indian Express, Times of India
  • Watch Rajya Sabha Debates. Big Picture and also the Samvidhhan series
  • Watch out important Supreme Court judgements
  • Check out the PRS website for all new bills, Standing committee reports and their summaries

Please find my other blogs on Political Science and International Relations here:

If you enjoyed reading this post, click the link below to buy me a coffee.

Buy Me A Coffee

My Journey through Modern India

Review of India’s Struggle for Independence This was my first history book which I read during civil services preparation. It’s an interesting read with nice anecdotes, stories and, quotes weaved into small chapters. This book is an easy read. It can be easily finished if someone targets to read one or two chapters in a day. Since Bipin Chandra, the main author of this book, is a historian with a left-leaning perspective, he gives a one-sided picture of the modern India. This book is special as it made me aware of the freedom struggle for India’s Independence.

Review of Modern India: This is a book on India’s freedom struggle written from a subaltern perspective. This perspective challenges the elite perspective of Indian nationalism and has been critical of Congress driven nationalism. Sumit Sarkar has narrated the story of Indian nationalism from the perspective of masses. Though a different perspective, I found this book a little tedious. However, it is a must-read if someone wants to understand the history from the perspective of masses.

Review of From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India: This book changed my perspective of reading history books. It made me realize that history is written by the writers and not the victors. The whole concept of historiography is so important if someone is reading history or trying to make any conclusions from the history book. Writers write history based on the information available and also interpret the historical event from their own lenses. However, this book is a piece of art. I found it very unbiased, quite nuanced with a lot of details, and thousands of citations as if you are reading a research paper. This book makes you understand with a lot of clarity the conflicting questions present in our politics. For instance- How Indian masses were hardly in sync with the leadership of Congress at the national level? The concept of popular consciousness was absent. Local grievances and the local leadership played an important role in any national movement started at that time. Indian national movement was very vague so that each group could interpret it in their own ways. This book is a must-read for all history lovers. The first few chapters are little dense but slowly you will not feel like putting the book down.

Review of Social Background of Indian Nationalism: This is also one of the best books ever written on Modern India. As the title depicts, this book is written from a social perspective. Someone should read this book to understand how did feudalism evolve in Indian society? How did new classes emerge? What was the role of means of transport and modern education in the development of Indian nationalism? What were the factors which played an important role in the crusade against the caste system and untouchability?

Review of India After Gandhi: This book is very special to me because it was a gift from Chaitanya. It was a superb read. I read this book in 2012 and finished it in 15-20 days. It has around 1000 pages but I wanted to finish it as early as possible. This book was unputdownable. It was one of the best books I ever read. Reading this book created a kind for urgency to me to read more books if you want to get selected for civil services. Since then I never stopped reading non-fiction books. Ram Chandra Guha, the author of the book has so vividly narrated the story of post-Independence India that it feels like you are watching a movie. It also helps you in understanding the current day politics because whatever is happening, it has its background in history. This book is a masterpiece and one of the best books to know about the post-independence history of India. It tries to answer some difficult questions like Why India has survived as well as succeeded as a nation despite having huge diversity and differences? However, the author has also been criticized as being pro-congress in depicting the post-independence history and politics.

Review of India since Independence: This book is similar to India After Gandhi by different authors. Some chapters of the book explaining the consolidation of India as a Nation and Land Reforms are very insightful. However, this book is written in academic form rather than like a story. It might not be an easy read but if someone wants to understand the left perspective of Indian politics since Independence, this is one of the best books.

Review of Modern Indian History: This book is like a guide book to help you remember all the historical events and helps you write better and structured answers for modern India history questions. The best thing about this book I liked is that it has created separate chapters for different Governor Generals of India, and the events happened during their tenure that makes you clearly remember different acts and treaties signed between British India and different rulers of that time.

Till today, I only remember reading these books on Modern and Post-Independence India. When I read more books or remember my old books, will update this blog. Till then, keep reading guys!!

Book Review of Capital

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.

Plutarch
Migrants returning to their home walking hundreds of km due to lock down declared by the government due to corona virus crisis.

The present migrant crisis in India is a stark reminder of the economic inequities existing in our society. When rich and middle-class people are spending their time in the comfort of their homes doing various activities, poor and marginalized migrants are walking for a hundred thousand kilometres to reach their homes. Some also died on the way because of hunger and exhaustion. In this context, I thought to write a short review of the book, “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty. How income inequalities are going to hurt us in the longer-term unless some concrete steps are not taken by the State and its people.

I never read the whole book but managed to give a paper presentation on it in my final year of public policy course. Whatever critics say, this book has brought the issue of income inequality at the forefront. Income inequality is not only an issue based on some statistics but also it’s a moral issue that will always pinch the conscience of the people. This book became popular since it got published. Piketty also hailed as “the Modern Marx” by “The Economist” magazine. He is a French economist who also taught at MIT for two years. His major work is a compilation of historical data about economic inequality. He is critical of economics discipline.

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.”

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

The core concern of the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context. The author’s main argument is that in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. He also adds that the concentration of wealth at one level is incompatible to democracy and social justice.

The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms.

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

He rejects the Simon Kuznets hypothesis which says that though societies become more unequal in the first stages of industrialization, inequality reduces as they achieve maturity. However, Piketty does not think like that. According to him, demography, low taxation and weak labor organizations will fundamentally lead to greater inequality.

The author feels that unless we do something, ‘free-market economy’ will become a ‘patrimonial system’ with an entrenched hereditary upper class and the rest of the population. He is highly critical of higher compensation paid to senior executives of MNCs that is responsible for extreme inequality in the wake of 2008 financial crisis. To save the world from this ‘doomsday scenario’, the author proposes various measures namely a global tax on inherited wealth, changes in income taxes, use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards and also enforced transparency of banks.

His paper -,“Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj”? co-authored with Lucas Chancel argues that income inequality was highest in India in 2014 since the creation of Indian Income -tax in 1922. They concluded that the top 1 percent earners in 2014 earned 22% of India’s national income. Though there are various counter- arguments to it. Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Pangariya refuted this argument in their book, ‘Why growth matters’. Swaminath Aiyar also disapproved of his idea of stark inequality in India in one of his articles on the grounds of statistics and his failure to distinguish between different kinds of inequality.

Thomas Piketty’s hypothesis criticized by many economists. According to them, his approach to economics is anti-mathematical. As per the paper, “Income Inequality, Catastrophe Predictions, Thomas Piketty, How income and economic unit are defined can create significant differences in the data produced and in the interpretation of the data? For instance, Stephen Rose and Thomas Piketty reached different conclusions about the status of the middle class based on the definition of income and economic unit. Generally, there is no correlation between increasing income inequality and general welfare. His use of tax records to approximate income is convenient and allows easy comparison across different countries and at different times and he also not considered the social security payments as part of his data.

Though income inequality is a complicated issue, Piketty’s biggest contribution is to elevate the income inequality issue to the forefront of both public and scholarly attention. Whatever is the reason behind stark inequality existing in society, the issue of inequality will always be debated as a moral issue.


This quarantine period, find your Ikigai

Image Credit: Clicked by me

ONLY STAYING ACTIVE WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO LIVE A HUNDRED YEARS-

Japanese Proverb

I read this book a few months back but thought to write this review now because this quarantine period is the best time to find your ‘Ikigai’. Today is the 18th day of the lockdown and it is expected that lockdown will get extended for two more weeks until April 30. Though a lot of good things are happening due to this unprecedented lockdown, people are also feeling bored and frustrated. This lockdown can be used as a ‘reflection time’ to find out what is that one thing which anyone can do with full happiness, love, and satisfaction.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept which means ‘reason for being’. What is the purpose of your life or what gives you the utmost satisfaction? As per the centenarians from Okinawa, Ikigai is the reason we get up in the morning. When you are so engrossed in your work that nothing around you matters, it means you have found your Ikigai. But it does not apply to any Netflix series 😉 It means that you have immersed yourself into the work that you are doing. You forget about your surroundings. For instance- it can be writing, painting, gardening, photography, dancing, singing, decorating, coding, etc.

Image Source: Forbes article

This diagram sums the whole concept of Ikigai. What you love doing is your Ikigai. If your job is your Ikigai, you will not think of it as work. You will love doing it. That’s the most important thing. Some just don’t enjoy their jobs because they have no interest in it or they are just not good at it. That is why the whole problem of stress which consumes our body and mind from inside. As per the American Institute of Stress, most health problems are caused by stress.

I liked the way the authors of this book explained how stress functions. Modern humans are alert most of the time, stuck in the epidemic of multi-tasking, sitting in front of their laptop, having junk food, and waiting for notifications from their mobile phones 24 hours a day. The human brain equates the ping of a cell phone or an email notification with threat of a predator which has huge health implications on the body leading to adrenal fatigue, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

Though a little stress is good for you, you need to be mindful of reducing stress by having a stoic attitude. A high degree of emotional awareness and ultimately finding meaning of your life and going with the flow is required to reduce the stress level. When we achieve flow in our work, we have full concentration without any distractions.

The flow is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi (Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience)

The book also provides some useful suggestions to achieve the state of flow:

  • No screen time for the first hour after waking up and the last hour before going to bed
  • Switch off the phone before you achieve flow
  • Do technological fasting for one day of the week
  • Check and respond to your email once or twice per day
  • Start your work with something you enjoy
  • Find a less distracting place to work
  • Divide your work into small activities

These days, we all are doing mundane tasks of cleaning, washing utensils, doing the laundry, etc, and the question is how to make these mundane tasks enjoyable. Turning routine tasks into moments of flow is key to our happiness. This is called the micro-flow. Even Bill Gates enjoys washing his dishes every night as it helps him relax and clear his mind. I don’t how others do it but I generally play some nice songs while cleaning my house.

This book is for those who want to find their Ikigai and also want to know the secret of a long and happy life. Just to provide an easy list for everyone, it provides the ten rules of Ikigai:

  1. Whatever you do, don’t retire
  2. Take it slow and you will go far
  3. Don’t fill your stomach. Fill your belly to 80%
  4. Surround yourself with good friends and stay away from toxic people
  5. Connect with communities
  6. Walk a lot and do Yoga
  7. Reconnect with nature
  8. Do mental work out
  9. Be grateful for things you have
  10. Live in the moment (Carpe Diem)
  11. Have a purpose(Ikigai) in life

“Simple Living and High Thinking” has always been the motto of our country’s ancient traditions and also reiterated by inspiring personalities like Swami Vivekanand, Gautam Budhha, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. So now when the whole world is slowing down during this quarantine period, find your Ikigai and make your life more meaningful and happy.

Be fluid and follow your passion

Pic Credit:
http://www.ashishjaiswal.com/

Be formless, shapeless like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now the water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend-

BRUCE LEE, The Lost Interview, 1971

This is the season of results. I am not talking about election results but the results of high school and intermediate students in the country. On one side marks of the students are skyrocketing touching 90 to 99 percent and on the other side, around 22 students of Telangana Board of Intermediate Education (TBIE) has committed suicide because they were failed or did not get expected marks due to some goof-ups in giving marks by the board. Recently, one Delhi woman’s Facebook post became viral as she was feeling proud when her son scored 60% marks in high school examination of CBSE board. Not only this, as per the recent ASER report 2018, 75% of the Std III students of the government schools across the country can not read and perform basic calculations. It shows the grim picture of the Indian education system. In fact, this is the key idea of this book written by Ashish Jaiswal, a scholar from the University of Oxford. He is a humble and down to earth human being.

The title of the book is so intriguing that I had not thought in my wildest dream that the author is going to discuss the education system of India. How the Indian education system is creating rote learners, unemployable and unskilled graduates? There is one more peculiarity how the so-called best education system provided by IIT-IIM and foreign degrees creating money minting machines. These people have no concern and responsibility for the “Lok Kalyan” means public welfare the term used by the author to answer the question- ‘what should be the ultimate purpose of our life’? The sad example of this rat race is suicide of Sarveshresthra Gupta, graduate from one of the Ivy League colleges. He ended his life due to stress and work pressure.

Why India despite being the oldest civilization in the world is still behind its counterparts at various fronts? Why no Indian university has achieved the feat of the best rankings in the world ? Why there is a massive “brain drain” from India to western countries? Why we are still talking about poverty elimination in our country even after seven decades of Independence? Why our education system are not able to produce more number of people like Amartya Sen, Rabindranath Tagore & E Sreedharan and producing mediocre engineers, doctors and social scientists. Why do we Indians still feel inferior to western people in culture, language and heritage of our country?  There might be a number of reasons behind these questions. But I am confident that the way Indian education system evolved over the years is one of the most important reasons which drags India behind. Why this is so?

This book tries to answers these questions. Being fluid means be more than what you are taught to be. As per the author, you become fluid specialist when you explore the universe in integrative form, learn from your surroundings and take the inter-disciplinary approach to create knowledge and wisdom. Anti-fluidity in terms of compartmentalization of the streams in different subjects taught in the school has made us unimaginative. We are told to choose our specialization after our high school exam when we are hardly aware of the world around us. Everyone hear this conversation. Choose science and mathematics and your life will be set. Go for engineering or medical or commerce, you will earn good money. Go abroad and earn in US dollars. Nobody tells us, “follow your passion and do something for the greater good”. Not only this, when you want to explore the world or you want to take a gap in your studies, this decision is looked down upon by the society in general and family in particular. The author mentioned about Rene Descartes, father of modern Western philosophy who once left his education for the sake of travel. He is the one who wrote- ‘I think, therefore I am’.

In fact, the author has shown how the whole theory of right-brain and left-brain is complete non-sense. The author quoted Neil deGrasse Tyson, american astrophysicist who completely rejected this theory saying that these fake divisions between science and art is taking our civilization away from true learning. Charles Percy Snow, British scientist and novelist in his book, ” The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” highlighted the huge gap between those studying sciences and arts and concluded that lack of exposure to other academic circles led to hostile and distorted image of each other.The sheer categorization of subjects into STEM and non-STEM shows the stereotype mindset towards social sciences subjects.

This book tells us to be fluid in our approach towards the process of learning. Spontaneous learning is the most beautiful thing. It not only makes you a better person but also gives you various perspectives to understand the world. The author of the book mentioned many learned people like Charles Darwin, Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Goethe, Amartya Sen, C V Raman, Peter Geddes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edwin Land, Steve Jobs, etc who did not follow a set path and explored the universe.They exposed themselves to diverse fields of education. The fluid approach which was depicted in the form of charkha(wheel) by the author appreciates the ‘integrative nature of the universe’. In the era of digital technology and artificial intelligence, when there will be more monotony and job losses, the people who are fluid in their approach will have more chances to survive because of their exploratory nature and never-ending desire to challenge the defined boundaries.

One of the most important findings of Jaiswal is that India should get credit for Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. The undiscovered Hans Purush from Vishnudharmottaram Puranam mentioned by Rishi Markendeya was one of the perfect men discussed in the Purana. In fact, the author wants to stress the point that human knowledge is circulatory. The world has been benefited not by one single country or race but by the combined intelligence of all spread over the thousands of years. For instance- architectures around the world are the best example of combined intelligence and cultures of humanity. The best example mentioned by the author is our India Gate which not only incorporated western architectural influences but also the elements of Indian architecture in terms of the dome on the top and canopy structure in front. Indians should not feel inferior of their history, culture, language, etc because we have a lot more to offer to the world not only with respect to new knowledge but also we gave the idea of spiritualism and simplicity to the world.

This book is a culmination of out-of-the-box thinking. The author tried to challenge the stereotypes and boundaries built by society. He wants readers to be a learner who explores the universe, gets inspired by the surroundings and creates a melting pot of intelligence to work for the public welfare. Most importantly, as a public policy student, I always look for solutions keeping in mind that world is full of complex problems. I agree with the author that there are many issues plaguing the Indian education system but what are the solutions. How can we inspire everyone to be fluid in their approach?

Please find the author’s Comment on this review:

Dear Ritambhara, The review reads absolutely fantastic. It does summarises ‘fluid’ brilliantly. I also do understand the importance of your last line – the question. Our mind is an amazing construct. My learning journey has taught me that every dimension of knowledge for mind is locked inside a web just held together by a loose knot. A idea/thought/reflection/event/experience , if powerful enough, causes that knot to open. This is the beginning but most crucial step in acquiring any wisdom. Fluid is that first step in acquiring wisdom over multi-dimensionality. Once, you realise there is something like fluidity in specialisation , you will never go back to walking on a uni-dimensional path 🙂

WHY GROWTH MATTERS ?

The book starts with “Tryst with Destiny speech” given by the first Prime Minister of India J. L. Nehru from the ramparts of the red fort in August 1947. This was the time when India started a new journey towards nation-building and fulfilling the aspirations of million Indians. The authors mentioned this to reinforce the idea that the ‘goal of poverty’ elimination had always been the part of India’s national strategy.  The whole book gives a feel of strategy document which is divided into three parts: first is about debunking various myths related to economic growth and development of India, second talks about the Track I reforms that produce growth which has a direct impact on poverty and finally, third discusses the most important reforms in the areas of health care, education and guaranteed employment under the Track II reforms.

The authors of the book: Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya are the professor of economics at Columbia University. In fact, Panagariya is a protégé of Jagdish Bhagwati and he was recently appointed as the first Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog by the present BJP government. The authors of the book believe in the ideas of globalization, free trade, and especially full-fledged reforms.

In the first part of the book, the author has tried to debunk various myths- about early development strategy, inclusion of health and education, focus on redistribution to reduce poverty as compared to growth emphasising the point that the early development strategy also focussed on these goals. The authors challenged the myths about the reforms launched in 1991 and its impact on poverty reduction, farmer suicides, development of socially disadvantaged groups, the controversies surrounding poverty lines and vociferously the impact of trade and globalization on poor.

They have debunked the myth of increasing inequalities due to reforms launched in the country in 1991. The authors disapproved the “Kerala Model of Development” saying that it had a historical advantage in terms of literacy, health infrastructure, trade linkages and the dominance of the private sector. In fact, the author mentions the account of Robin Jeffrey (1992) who highlighted the key factors- matrilineal tradition, the role of various rulers, caste and religion-based groups and trade linkages with various countries which played an important role in growth and development of Kerala. The author lauded the “Gujarat Model of Development” and quashed the myth that despite high growth, Gujarat has performed poorly in health and education.

The Part II of the book talks about the Track I reform in the areas of Labor laws, Land acquisition, Infrastructure, Higher Education & Agricultural Market reforms which are aimed accelerating and sustaining growth. In fact, the recent Economic Surveys released by the Government of India discussed these critical issues which act as an impediment in the growth process. The current NDA government has launched various labor reforms like allowing fixed-term employment in all sectors, removing the arbitrary inspection system, providing EPF number portability, six-months maternity leaves to increase the female labor force participation rate, amending the apprentice law and child labor law etc. They focused on infrastructure development launching ‘Bharatmala Project’, ‘Sagarmala Project’, UDAN scheme, rural electrification, and road development. e-NAM(National Agriculture Market) and various other agricultural reforms launched to focus on doubling the farmers’ income. It has proposed the Higher Education Commission of India bill 2018 to abolish the UGC to provide more freedom and autonomy to various universities of India to reform the higher education system in India. However, according to me,  there is still a long way to go in the areas of labor reforms and land acquisition act which are still archaic and create hurdles in the ease of doing business in India.

Track II reforms discussed in Part III of the book are focussed on effective and inclusive redistribution process through providing guaranteeing employment, adult nutrition, and food security, reforming health care and universalizing elementary education. However, the authors’ main idea is that “growth will act as an instrument for poverty alleviation”. It will help in creating substantial economic resources to fund the redistribution goals. As per the author’s reasoning, “Track II reforms can stand only on the shoulders of Track I reforms; without the latter, the former cannot be financed. The whole viewpoint of authors of the book can be seen in terms of “trickle-down theory” which is labeled as “pull-up growth” strategy in the book. 

The authors completely disagree with the model of redistribution proposed by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze because they think that it cannot be the answer to removing poverty in countries of India, Brazil, and China which has a huge population to cater. Under the Track II reforms, the author discussed the design of the redistribution programmes in terms of cash or kind transfers targeted or universal, public versus private provision, conditional versus unconditional transfers and recommends the strategy of policy mix consisting of targeted unconditional cash transfers for most needs, vouchers for elementary education and insurance for major illnesses with government covering the premiums.  In fact, the present government implemented the idea of Direct Cash Transfers (DBT) through the help of “JAM (Jan-Dhan Aadhar Mobile) trinity” for cooking gas subsidy transfers, scholarship reimbursement etc. However, targeting any cash transfers or kind transfers is a complex task in India because of lack of identification mechanism where Aadhar can play a major role.

This book came into limelight after the whole Sen-Bhagwati debate started around 2013-2014. At the same time, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winner in Economics and recipient of Bharat Ratna and Jean Dreze book, “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” published. Amartya Sen has given the ‘idea of capability-based approach’ to human development and he argues that ‘redistribution as a strategy’ will help in the elimination of poverty. In fact, he proposes the participatory growth and broad-based development model where rights are given to the people and there is freedom and agency for the people to bring about development for them. That is why Amartya Sen praises the “Kerala Experience of development” where all the social indicators are equal to the developed countries of the world. They also emphasize and compare India’s growth story to Bangladesh which has improved the social indicators in less time duration than India. Women have played an important role in improving the social indicators of Bangladesh because of the increasing employment of women in labor-intensive manufacturing sectors like apparel, textiles etc. It also indicates that providing agency to women creates a conducive climate for improving all the social indicators not only for the present generations but also future generations.

In fact, Bhagwati and Panagariya have not even discussed the gender issues in their book which is the biggest criticism of their whole strategy of growth. India being a patriarchal society has a very low labor force participation rate which needs to be improved to make the growth more inclusive and broad-based. Another criticism of the whole strategy proposed in the book is that there should not be any dependence of Track II reforms on Track I reforms as the author consistently pitched that Track II reforms will be implemented with the help of resources generated from Track I reforms. What will happen when the Indian economy is not growing at all in a doomsday scenario? In that case, the Government of India should work on both the fronts stimulating the growth process as well as creating a sustainable and humane mechanism to support and redistribute the resources to the poorest sections of the society. However, the model proposed by Sen in terms of State-led development has not resulted in substantial achievements before India has turned towards the strategy of liberalization, privatization, and globalization.

On the face of it, choosing one strategy among the two is not the option but choosing the better strategy for the overall and inclusive development of the country will be the right option. There is no option to go back and adopt the state-led development and there is a danger in leaving everything for market forces to do. The pitfalls from both the approaches are very much visible all over the world where state-led development is almost abandoned by countries around the world and pure market fundamentalism has led to the severe crisis and unrest even in the developed world.

Therefore, India should find a “middle-path” propounded by the Gautam Buddha whereby India takes the help of globalization to unleash the animal spirit of market forces to create growth and development. Along with creating a mechanism of participatory development where every individual of the country develop its capabilities to achieve the goal of sustainable development because development is not a singular concept of infrastructure, economic growth, poverty reduction, education, and health but it is a multi-dimensional concept where there is a substantial change not only in material and physical aspects but also change in social structures, popular attitudes, and national institutions.

Government’s work is God’s work?

milan

It is ironic to see that “Government’s work is God’s work” is written on the Vidhan Soudha, the seat of the State Government of Karnataka but the 24% of newly elected MLAs of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly face serious criminal charges. Even  India’s temple of democracy ie. parliament is filled with lawmakers who have criminal backgrounds and more disturbing thing is that the percent of legislators facing criminal charges have increased in the subsequent General Elections. For instance, 34% of MPs elected in 2014 faced criminal cases as compared to 24% of MPs elected in 2004. 

On the face of increasing criminalization of politics, Milan Vaishnav, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC, book “When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics” is an eye-opener in terms of understanding the puzzling co-existence of criminality in politics along with the democratic accountability. The author has tried to address the questions of their co-existence since the beginning when they acted as “anti-social elements” to mobilize the voters for their masters(politicians) to becoming the lawmakers themselves.The author has beautifully applied the concept of a market in terms of ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ to understand the “electoral marketplace” where voters play a ‘role of buyers’ and political parties play a ‘role of sellers’. And the most interesting thing is that all these players are guided by their self-interest. Voters want the governance vacuum to be filled, political parties want self-financed candidates and criminal candidates want self-preservation and self-protection.  

The origin of this whole criminality in Indian politics which has deep historical linkages in the post-independence era when these anti-social elements acted as a facilitator to the politicians. However, these elements entered into the political fray due to the breakdown of the Congress party’s patronage networks, vacuum created in the governance process due to the emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975, increasing social demands in terms of ‘identity politics’, the huge ‘crisis of governability’ when Indian state fails to deliver basic services to the citizens. However, the author has provided an important insight into the book,

“Electoral support for the politicians with criminal records is not necessiarily symptomatic of a breakdown in democratic accountability. Instead, malfeasant politicians and popular accountability can in fact be compatible to each other”. 

“When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics”-Milan Vaishnav

In fact, this whole idea refuted the concept of “ignorant voter scenario hypothesis”. In fact, the voters are not ignorant or uninformed, they are simply looking for candidates who can best fill a perceived vacuum of representation and protect the status of the community. The author through his various field surveys, as well as interviews of the candidates, provided interesting details of the criminalization of politics in India and what are the causes as well as how it is sustained in the strong society like India. 

The supply of criminal politicians and money power is intertwined to each other as money plays an important role in the election expenditure. This also has historical underpinnings when the corporate donation was banned by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to appear harsh on ‘crony capitalism’ which in turn created the pathway for black money and hard cash to enter into the election financial regime. Not only this, India’s grand corruption in terms of ‘regulatory rents’, ‘extractive rents’ and ‘political rents’ created a linkage and interaction among them created more ground for criminal politicians to emerge. The author has quoted the example of ‘Reddy Brothers‘ in Karnataka, Madhu Koda of Jharkhand, YSR & Jagan Reddy from Andhra Pradesh showing that how they have extracted rents from natural resources taking advantage of severe gaps in India’s governance system. This whole corruption and hard cash create a lot of money power which helps in winning the elections. In fact, as per the analysis provided by the author, candidate’s wealth and electoral success are highly linked, richer is the candidate, more chances of winning. It answers the questions of why political parties select the candidates from the criminal backgrounds.

There is also calculated reasoning on the political parties to select ‘self-financing candidates’ who do not drain the party coffers but can provide rents to the party in the wake of costly elections, increasing competition etc. Criminal Politicians are like “Robinhood- one who robs the rich and gives to the poor” who act as a credible representative in a multi-ethnic society like India. The idea of Robinhood has been a recurring theme of Bollywood movies sometimes inspired by the real characters of Indian politics.  That is why the author has named one of his chapters- doing good by doing bad to address the demand side of criminality. In fact, this shows that these bad politicians use various tools like ‘redistribution’, ‘coercion’, ‘social insurance’ and ‘dispute resolution’ to signal their credibility to protect the interest of their community. This whole politics of dignity rhetoric creates an extensive ground for “defensive criminality” to flourish.

The failure of the state to maintain rule of law, deeper social cleavages and ethnic differences create demand for criminal politicians to protect the interests of their community. The author has also provided an interesting insight in terms of the role of ethnicity in creating push of criminality as it was found that less number of criminal candidates contest from reserved constituencies as compared to general constituencies. The less criminality in reserved constituencies is due to the need of appealing to all section of voters for winning the election.

Ultimately, the conclusion of the author in the book is that the real factor of the emergence of criminality in politics is ‘institutional erosion’ of the Indian state. In fact, the capacity of the Indian state was questioned many times by various authors. Gunnar Myrdal in his book “Asian Drama” called India as a “soft state” because of its failure to implement basic economic and social policies efficiently and effectively. There is also a paradox of “weak strong state” as called by Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph where the Indian State is able to send Mars Mission in its maiden attempt but it is not able to fulfill the basic necessities of its citizens. 

In fact, most of the book related to Indian politics reach this conclusion that we have achieved so much but our ‘institutions’ need radical reform to strengthen the capacity of the state. That is why the author also says, “Downsizing the state” or “enlarging the state” are imperfect catchphrases; what is needed, in a nutshell, is for the Indian state to be “right-sized”. It means that we need a radical restructuring of the institutions like the police, courts, political parties, the election system in terms of funding etc to make it more strongly to perform the role of a strong state who is not mocked when it can do more difficult things but not able to provide basic necessities of the people. 

The author in just 311 pages has provided a comprehensive study of the nexus between crime and politics which also has implications for other countries of the world. As the author also wrote about the other countries like Brazil, Mexico and many African countries where similar scenario exists. This book was quoted by the recent Supreme Court Judgement on the criminalization of politics where the Supreme Court has ordered the Parliament to legislate to bar the criminals entering the mainstream politics. It is also the winner of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya NIF Book Prize for Best Non-Fiction Book of 2017. 

However, as per my understanding, the book has fallen short in providing concrete solutions to deal with the problem of criminalization of politics. It has provided broad solutions which are already there in the public domain regarding the strengthening the institutions, reforming the whole governance process which is, in fact, an ongoing process. The criminalization of politics is a deep malaise also agreed by author reflects the overall attitude of society in terms of voting behavior guided by narrow interests of self-preservation, development and quick success. We obviously need the restructuring of the institutions along with that there is a need to inculcate good values, ethics, and morality in the society since childhood to make India a better nation because of it’s the people who constitute nation and state. 

 

 

 

 

We are irrational beings?

new image

Nobel laureate Herbert Simon gave the concept of “bounded rationality” which tells us that the human mind can not cope with the complexity of the world due to the limitations in their mental capacity. To make sense of this complexity, we create a simplified mental model of reality and work with this model. Obviously, the model created by us is full of biases, stereotypes and irrational views. On similar lines, the author of this book-Dan Ariely tries to understand the rationale behind irrational decisions taken by human beings who are termed as the most intelligent species of their time. He was motivated to write about this because of his personal tragedy.

The quote “Man is not truly one, but truly two” by Dr. Jekyll tells the crux of human behaviours. We always wonder after seeing various newspaper reports related to irrational crimes like teenage pregnancy, rape of children, extreme violence etc committed by sane individuals. Generally, it happens in a fit of arousal which can vary from hunger, anger, excitement, jealousy and importantly sexual arousal. This happens because human beings are not only irrational but systematically and predictably irrational. MIT Behavioral economist Dan Ariely proved in his book through various experiments which makes you understand irrationality in human behavior so that we can design our choices for the better decision-making process.

Dan Ariely in this book has tried to substantiate through various experiments that despite all achievements and wonders achieved by human beings, we behave irrationally in our daily life because of wiring in our brains. We behave irrationally because its easy for our brain to make things clear in a complex world. He talks about relativity and tells that we don’t have ‘internal value meter’ that can evaluate the worth of any product or other emotional things also. We always compare things to understand its worth. In fact, relativity helps in the decision-making process but it also makes life miserable because of never-ending quest of getting physical and other emotional things in life better than others.

These ideas are very much visible in our daily life. We all experience the phenomenon of comparing with our neighbors, friends, colleagues etc. In fact, we also get suggestions from others that don’t compare yourself with others. However, we can’t stop doing this because we don’t have any other way to measure things.  Not only this, we make very crucial decisions in our life like buying things, subscribing magazines, choosing the life-partner etc with the help of relativity.

The zero-price effect creates an emotional pull for all human beings to participate in the processes which offer things for free. We automatically accept the free beer or Pepsi or energy drink not because we liked it or we needed it but because it’s free. At times, the zero price can affect our decision-making process in a negative manner also as seen in terms of wastage of common resources owned by humanity.

One of the interesting findings in the book is that “we live simultaneously in two different worlds -one where social norms prevail and other where market norms make the rules”. In fact, social norms and market norms exist together in the society but whenever they collide, it creates a lot of problems. We can not measure the value of emotions and other social norms in monetary terms. When the social norms are converted into market norms, it is very difficult to go back. Here the author gave the example of a study conducted in a school in Israel where parents were penalized if they came late to pick up their children. The result was disastrous after this, as parents now didn’t feel guilty about coming late to pick up their kids, as social norms were converted into market norms.

The author also talks about the rampant consumerism, procrastination, problem of self-control, the high price of ownership not only in terms of physical products but also in terms of ideas, point of views. When we agree to one point of view, we just don’t want to change it because of the fallacy of high valuation of whatever we have. And he also proves that due to our stereotypes and expectations, we get in what we expect. The value of price is very important in our life. We lavishly enjoyed the food in a high-end restaurant even if the food is bland because we have paid more for it. That’s why the author mentions that our headache disappears when we take a 50 cent aspirin but it persists when we take an aspirin worth of a penny.

At the end of this book, the author spoke about the character of human beings and why we are dishonest? In fact, as per the author, we are honest till the moment it suits our requirements. When there is an opportunity, many honest people will cheat. It happens because small transgressions do not wake up our conscience and super-ego as propounded by Sigmund Freud. We cheat on small things because of the absence of internal honesty monitor.

In the era of digital banking, the author provides a radical perspective that people are more prone to cheat when they are not dealing with cash. He makes the argument that when we cheat under electronic transactions, we don’t feel it in our hands and therefore we don’t even realize that we are doing something wrong. In fact, it is so true that when we spend money through credit cards, we don’t feel the pinch but when we buy things through cash, we feel about spending money. In fact, this can be the reason behind various electronic frauds happening in various parts of the world. Daniel also revealed one interesting thing about honesty. That is when someone reminds us about moral values and principles, we follow it immediately.

The author also talks about our behavior to influence others and sacrifice ‘ personal utility’ to gain ‘reputational utility’. It happens because we want to show others that we are ‘unique’ and different.

However, the realization that we are predictably irrational also creates opportunities to frame our choices and influence the decision-making process of individuals to make better decisions in life. The zero-price effect can be used to frame good policies in terms of making it free to travel in public transport, using electric vehicles etc. Social norms are cheap and have a strong emotional backing which can be used to influence people to pay taxes, to take care of the elderly etc. In fact, we need to be reminded of moral codes every now and then so that our super-ego does not sleep and makes us aware whenever we try to commit any dishonesty.

In this book, the author provided stimulating and thought-provoking details of human behavior and how human beings are systematically irrational because we repeat our behaviors again and again. This book along with “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness” authored by Richard H. Thaler & Cass R. Sunstein and “The Art of Thinking Clearly” written by Rolf Dobelli provides  a holistic understanding of human behaviour, its irrationality and how to capitalise on this irrationality by using incentives, nudges, social norms, default options, providing feedback etc to improve decision-making process.