Redesigning primary schools: Beyond toilets by Anil K. Gupta

It is extremely encouraging to see the emphasis the Prime Minister put on the provision of toilets in every primary school. He exhorted the Members of Parliament as well as corporations to allocate their resources at least for one year to provide toilets in all the six lacs primary and secondary schools [20 per cent of the total]. The schools in the cities may not need the support but in villages a large number of schools may need it. This can be done in one year. A mission mode approach will ensure that while meeting this goal, one does not ignore certain other basic needs too.

A large number of primary schools have only one hand pump. By fitting a simple pipe with six taps to the hand pump, within `.400 per pump, we can increase the availability of tax seven times. We came across such an example in Jharkhand. Most schools don’t have boundary wall, play ground, library, educational posters on the wall, benches for the children and clean drinking water facility. One doesn’t have to mention that in many schools the regular teachers don’t go at all and in some, they outsource teaching to temporary teachers hired by them. We have come across such schools all over the country.

My colleague, Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand has developed an outstanding database of innovative and experimental teachers viz.,teachersastransformers.org. Several teachers have tried to improve quality of education through their own efforts. Some of them have mobilised resources from community and some have taken donations from rich alumni as well as other companies. If donations for specific activities for primary and secondary education can be exempt 100 per cent for three years with very strong penalties for false claims or improper utilization, we can create excellent facilities in each school in the next three years. Every investment should be uploaded on educatedindia portal and photographs of changes made should be uploaded. The contact numbers of the teachers, donors and community leaders should be given in each case so that independent verification can be made by the tax authorities through random checks.

Ideally, each school should also have a playground, lab, library, workshop and a tinkering room where local artisans, mechanics and retired engineers or other professionals can work with children to build their capacity to experiment and innovate. Hundred hours of such service can entitle a volunteer for certain medical and transport benefits so that those people who are needy and have service orientation come forward to spend time with children. The volunteers who do not want any compensation can be recognized for their outstanding service on the independence day by each village, taluka and district panchayat.

One needs three major voluntary service corps for innovation, education, health and sanitation. Every citizen should be encouraged to opt for one of the three voluntary corps so that everybody feels part of a nation building process. There are many countries which have compulsory military service to prepare citizens for national defence and emergencies. Time has come to encourage people come forward to contribute rather than only crib about various anomalies. This should be through the involvement of all political parties so that nobody works at cross-purpose.

Dr.K.L.Munshi had talked about Land Army way back in 1952. The first unit of the Land Army comprising students from Delhi University had cleaned up the Chhatarpur drain [in highly clogged and stinking condition] at that time. We need similar movement for mobilizing masses to transform social imagination and engagement with persistent problems.

Just a day before Rural Development Minister and Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam appreciated the contribution of the National Innovation Foundation [NIF] and Honey Bee Network by launching Bank of Ideas and Innovations. If the budgetary announcements of District Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship Centres have to become the part of the National Innovation Service [ignored by the previous government], then the NIF can play an active role in fertilizing the imagination of local innovators and community members for making schools the hub of innovative activities.

The Independence Day Speech by Aseem Prakash

Until August 14, it seemed that Narendra Modi had lost his magic touch. I wondered about the “mon vrata” of the great communicator. Modi seemed to act like a head clerk instead of a visionary leader. He was not able to (or decided not to) recruit solid individuals to his Council of Ministers. For example, it was puzzling that a single individual continues to holds two extremely important portfolios, Defense and Finance. Can Modi not trust beyond Amit Shah and Arun Jaitely? Or, is he a micro-manager and cannot delegate? It almost seemed that the BJP lacks talented and experienced administrators. The BJP’s drubbing in Uttrakhand by-elections seemed to suggest that the Modi magic is no longer working. On August 12, the venerable New York Times carried a major story entitled “Narendra Modi’s Quiet Beginning Dims India’s Hopes for Swift Change.” Several pundits and self-proclaimed campaign advisors to Modi were quoted as expressing their disappointment.

His August 15 speech was a game changer for both symbolic and substantive reasons. First, the symbolic aspects. Doing away with bullet proof glass projected enormous confidence. Speaking extemporaneously was a brilliant idea as well, especially given the possibility for the media-types to distort and misinterpret. Yet, Modi decided not to rely on a teleprompter or written text. In addition to demonstrating his command over facts, and that he is in charge, his speech reflected sincerity of purpose. It had the flavor of FDR’s “fireside chats”.

The speech was important for several substantive reasons as well. He was magnanimous towards his predecessors. He focused on real issues, not the superficial ones that Delhi’s chattering classes tend to favor. His emphasis on cleanliness and on toilets was wonderful and so was his criticism of casteism and communalism. On rapes and the declining sex ratio, he scolded the people of India, and correctly so. While he spoke from his heart, he laid out his vision clearly. His logic was compelling.

What next? How will Modi translate “zero defect, zero effect” into actual policies? Clearly, there are tradeoffs — how will he make them? For example, will the government allow mining of coal in forested areas? How about global warming? How will the government enforce pollution laws? These are real challenges.

August 15 speech has rekindled the magic which swept the BJP to power. The expectations of people are sky high. I hope the Modi government can deliver.

On Amit Shah’s Elevation as the next BJP President by Aseem Prakash

It seems Amit Shah will be named as the next President of the BJP. This apparently is to reward him for the BJP’s excellent performance in UP in the 2014 LS elections.

I have no problems if Amit Shah is elevated to this position. He seems like a capable person. Yet, I do have a problem of giving him credit for the BJP’s performance in UP.

Why so? This is a sort of problem we often discuss in the introductory class in Research Design and Causal Inference. The core issue is: How to assess the claim that an “intervention” (Amit Shah) has had a causal impact on the observed outcome (BJP’s performance in UP)? These sorts of questions are routinely examined in testing for the efficacy of new drugs. Unfortunately we cannot undertake field experiments/RCTs in the context of 2014 LS elections. We can, however, think of “matching” samples with the objective to compare the outcome in the “treated sample” with outcomes in the ones that were not treated.

Think of two states where the BJP performed quite poorly (in terms of number of seats) in the 2009 LS elections. Assume Amit Shah is assigned to oversee 2014 LS elections in State 1 while somebody else is assigned the same job in State 2. Think of two scenarios.

Scenario 1: The BJP’s performance in State 1 is vastly superior to its performance in State 2. Only in this situation can Amit Shah be given credit for BJP’s performance in State 1.

Scenario 2: The BJP has done equally well in both State 1 and State 2. Can Shah be given credit still? He cannot. Because the presence and absence of Shah does not correlate with the BJP’s performance across these states. One can even fit a regression and I’m quite sure that the Shah “dummy” will not be statistically significant in explaining the BJP’s performance.

BJP certainly did very well in UP (from 15/80 in 2009 to 71/80 in 2014). But it did very well in several other states where Amit Shah had no role, and where in the previous elections, it has done as dismally as it had in UP. Think of Haryana where the BJP did well (from 0/10 in 2009 to 7/10 in 2014). Think of Bihar. The BJP was the junior partner in the coalition with Nitish Kumar. Nitish walked out and the BJP essentially fought the 2014 LS alone with LJP as the junior partner. See the performance in Assam (from 4/14 in 2009 to 7/14 in 2014), Delhi (from 0/7 in 2009 to 7/7 in 2014) or J&K (from 0/6 in 2009 to 3/6 in 2014). Or, see the dramatic increase in vote share in West Bengal (from 6% in 2009 to 17% in 2014).

What contributed to the BJP’s performance across several states was the Modi wave. Roughly speaking, thanks to Modi, the BJP’s national vote share increased from 20% to 30%. This is what the Modi brand has done to the BJP.

It does not mean that Amit Shah should not be named as the BJP’s next President. He should be but for a different reason.

Given the context of Indian politics and Modi’s path to power, it will be dysfunctional to have two power centers; one controlling the government and the other controlling the party. If JP Nadda, Om Mathur or somebodyelse who owes their position to Rajnath Singh or Gadkari or the RSS were to be named as the BJP President, this would create a problem. It would force Modi always to look for Rajnath Singh’s/Gakari’s next move to ease him out become the PM himself.

Modi needs to be given a free hand. He should not worry about his own party stabbing him in the back.

Indians want good governance. As opinion polls and exit polls show, good governance was the top reason for favoring Modi. If Modi wants to deliver, he will need to take tough decisions such as the Railway price hike. Hence, he needs his own man as the BJP President.

In sum, Amit Shah is the appropriate person as the next BJP President not because he is responsible for the BJP’s victory in UP. Amit Shah needs to be made BJP President because he enjoys Modi’s complete trust and will make sure that the BJP supports the tough decisions Modi will need to make.

An afterthought: I think Rajnath Singh will do well as the next CM of UP, and Nitin Gadkari as the next CM of Maharasthra. Think about it….

Mr. Aam Aadmi moves to a palatial bungalow by Aseem Prakash

Tasting power is dangerous. In addition to getting used to throwing your weight around, having throngs of chamchas around you, driven around in government cars, one tends to get used to spacious government accommodation. Reverting back to the “civilian mode” is difficult and painful.

Apparently, self-proclaimed Mr. Aam Aadmi, Arvind Kejriwal, is moving to one of the most exclusive areas of Delhi, Civil Lines. He will be renting the house, 4-B Flagstaff Road, owned by Naren Jain. Initially, the rent was Rs 1 but after the media story, it seems the rent will be higher. I grew up in the area and vaguely remember the house. Kejriwal has expensive but good taste.

Arguably, this is a transaction between two private individuals and should not be subjected public scrutiny. If Naren Jain is willing to charge Rs 1 as “rent” instead of charging the real market value of several lakhs, this is his problem.

Of course, if a Congress or BJP politician were do that, the AAP would scream corruption. They would ask and rightly so: what is the quid pro quo? But if the “party supremo “(this is phrase the AAP’s self proclaimed Chankya, Yogendra Yadav, used to describe Kejriwal) does it, it is ok.

But Kejriwal is supposed to be aam aadmi. He has made a lot of song and dance about it. He insists on driving his Maruti Wagon; for his swearing-in ceremony, he took the Delhi Metro. So what is happening? I think symptoms of affluenza starting emerging within a few days of being named as the CM of Delhi. Kejriwal wanted a bit more comfortable lifestyle; the aam aadmi stuff was not good enough. Initially, he wanted two spacious flats in Tilak Lane to be joined so that he could reside there. Media furor forced him to back track and he had stick to one flat only. Poor soul; world simply will not allow him to have fun.

Kejriwal tries to mimic Mahatma Gandhi. See the the topi he wears, his reaction to getting slapped, etc. Yet, the two could not be more different. Gandhi walked the talk. Kejriwal only talks.

While I’m surprised how quickly Kejriwal has gotten used to the trappings of power, perhaps, I should not be surprised. In the last three to four decades, most political leaders who emerged from anti-corruption movements including the JP movement have quickly succumbed to the temptations of power. Communist parties were supposed to represent the working class. Yet, their leaders had lavish lifestyles.

Those espousing the cause of the common man are quite susceptible to adopt the life style of the elite, given the opportunity. Kejriwal is no exception. But in any case, enjoy the bungalow!

Violence against Women in India by Jamil

The issue of violence against women in India was brought to the forefront once again after the recent brutal gang-rape and hanging of teenage cousins in the most populous state in India ruled by a misogynistic regional party.

Although considered a private moment, relieving oneself has become one of the most contentious issues in the aftermath of the spate of gruesome rapes. The new Prime Minister who won the largest electoral mandate in three decades last month, promised to build a toilet in every home in a nation where half of India’s 1.25 billion people currently defecate in the open. However, the possibility of conquering the moon and building the largest statue of a political leader seems to capture the popular imagination of the privileged political elite far more than providing sanitation to majority of its citizens.

Rape is one of India’s most common crimes against women – a new case is reported every 22 minutes resulting in >26,000 cases per year. Rape and violence against girls and women are among the most under-reported crimes in India because of the social stigma attached to the nature of the crime. In the past few years, there has been an increase in rape cases in India which could be due to an upsurge in reporting on the crime. The rise in reporting of crimes against women is welcome but the country still has a long way to go to improve the criminal justice system. The cooperation of the police in assisting the victims is poor and there are an alarmingly high number of cases awaiting trial.
India, a poor nation with countless challenges, managed 24.2% conviction rate in 2012 (while conviction rate in UK is only 7% and US is 18%). That’s thanks to the heroic efforts of a lot of good people — civil-society groups, women’s rights activists, victims and their families, lawyers and police — working with very limited resources in a constrained political environment.

Since independence, India has been struggling to extend political, legal, and economic rights to women. India ranks 129th in the world in the “gender-inequality index” based on reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. India’s performance on this measure is comparable to the country’s overall economic and “human development.” For example, annual GPD per-capita of $1500 ranks India 140th in the world; and based on the human development index – an aggregate measure of health, education, and income — India ranks 134th. While India fares poorly on gender issues, it performs no better when looking at the population at large.

The persistent violence against women and girls in India is an issue rooted in societal norms and economic reliance. Much of the violence against women is in the form of domestic violence, acid attacks, abduction, sex-trafficking, cruelty by husbands and in-laws, rape, dowry deaths and honor killings. The challenges women face in both rural and urban India include conservative society, outdated and sometimes repressive governance structures, inefficient legal justice system, lax enforcement of law, skewed sex ratio between men and women resulting from sex-selective abortion and socio-political structures that are heavily male-centric. The safety and security of women varies within India. Women from the north-eastern and southern states tend to be in a better position. One reason is that the share of the female work force, especially in the service sector seems to be quite high in these regions.

The tragedy of recurrent horrific rapes also has an economic impact. The damage such an act perpetrates on India’s reputation is real. Investors and travelers around the world would hesitate and pause while considering basic safety.

Although female participation in public life is increasing and laws have been formulated and amended, India still has a long way to go to make women equal citizens in their own country. Discriminatory practices favoring men and hardened attitudes should be challenged by the citizens in their homes, neighborhoods, and public spaces. The recruitment of more women police officers might help in dealing with the problems most women encounter in reporting cases of rape, violence or harassment. The hope is that the current regime would make the criminal justice system more effective and accountable, both at the crime investigation and trial level. Otherwise, women will continue to be let down in the land of goddesses.

The Article 370 Debate by Aseem Prakash

Some prominent individuals love basking in media attention. I suspect it makes them feel important; after all, it is wonderful to see your name in the newspaper. They start believing that they are thought leaders and shape important discussions. Keeping quite and speaking less is a virtue that they clearly do not recognize.

Think of Jairam Ramesh, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Baba Ramdev.

Jitendra Singh statement about revoking Article 370 is an example of a loose and irresponsible remark.Ministers do not have the luxury of airing their personal opinions. They represent the government.

Did the citizens of India vote for the BJP thinking that revoking Article 370 will be on the top of its agenda? Does revoking Article 370 solve India’s major economic and social problem? Is this where the BJP ought to be investing its political capital?

BJP ministers need some adult supervision. A gag order would be nice. Debates are helpful and important in democracies. But debates on less relevant issues can crowd out debates on relevant issues.

Modi demonstrated tremendous discipline in his election campaign by focusing on growth and governance. He did not mention Ayodhya issue even once. He must ensure that his ministers now exercise similar discipline.

Yes, at some point in the future, India should probably debate the usefulness of Article 370. For the next couple of years, however, India must focus on growth and governance. It should not allow itself to be distracted by issues which have no bearing on the core national agenda.

Educational qualifications for Cabinet Ministers by Aseem Prakash

Ajay Maken and Madhu Kishwar have ignited a major debate on the educational qualifications for cabinet ministers. They believe that Smirti Irani should not be named the HRD minister because she does not have a college degree.

Manish Tiwari is already trying to diffuse the debate. Maken will probably backtrack soon because the BJP has raised the question of educational qualifications of Sonia Gandhi, a sensitive subject for Congress (recall Maken’s somersault, first defending the Ordinance on convicted lawmakers and then opposing it once Rahul Gandhi “rubbished” it).

I’m disappointed that a sensible person such as Madhu made this remark.

The issue is more profound. What makes a good minister? To what extent technical knowledge is necessary for specific ministries?

In my perspective, the necessity of formal educational qualifications for Ministerial positions is overblown. For one, the quality of education varies dramatically across Indian universities. I don’t want to offend anyone but there are large number of Indian universities which should not be allowed to serve as universities. Teachers do not teach classes. Over the years, I have heard this from a very large number of people who have studied even in the prestigious Delhi University.

Cheating in exams is rampant. When Rajnath Singh was the Education Ministers of UP (Kalyan Singh was the CM), he cracked down on cheating. There was a massive protest. Some of the prominent present day politicians lead the protest. Thus, BA or MA degrees are poor signals of levels of education, and certainly poor predictors of Ministerial competence.

Irani or anybody else should be judged by their performance. To the best of my knowledge, the HRD Minister is not required to have specialized technical knowledge to serve as an effective minister.

Irani is articulate and smart. I’m sure she can handle the Vice Chancellors and other functionaries which the HRD Minister has to deal with (as somebody said, sabko line per rakhegee).

Hopefully, India has moved beyond pedigree-focused mentality. When Vijay Kumar won a silver medal in 2012 Olympics, the Army Chief said: “We will provide all help to him as he is very capable … he talks in English and is very educated and has the capabilities to become an officer.” This sort of elitism might be tolerated in the Army; it will not be tolerated in contemporary politics. I wonder what the Army Chief will think of the accent of the new PM. Would he consider Modi to be officer material?

2014 elections signal the end of an old order. New Delhi elites will not reconcile easily. I expect more of this in the future.

Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/sports/army-for-making-vijay-kumar-an-officer/article3778889.ece

Delhi Politics: Majboori ka naam Kiran Bedi? by Aseem Prakash

Thanks to Nitin Gadhkari’s tweet (which he subsequently disowned) the BJP is seriously considering Bedi as its CM candidate. Bedi has openly expressed her interest in the job.

Politics is a strange animal. Bedi was in the forefront of bashing the BJP and the Congress at the Ram Lila Maidan show of Anna Hazare. She bordered on being obnoxious. Then Kejriwal outsmarted her and Anna, and took over the anti-corruption andolan. I was surprised that Kejri and Bedi, two prima donnas with inflated egos, managed to share platform even for a short time.

BJP is desperate in Delhi. I thought HarshVaradhan would have been a splendid candidate for the position of CM. For some strange reason, he was made to contest LS elections. He won and now has a cabinet position. It is good to see that decent and competent individuals can still do well in Indian politics.

Who are the other CM aspirants? Vijay Goel? Vijendra Gupta? Jagdish Mukhi? Clearly there is no one who has the charisma to match Kejriwal (down but not out; don’t under estimate him). I was hoping that the BJP would put Smriti Irani in charge of Delhi. After all, she has contested LS election from Delhi in the past. But Irani has been included in Modi’s cabinet.

So, the BJP is stuck. While Bedi is nobody’s favorite, they need a charismatic leader who can take on Kejriwal. I suppose Majboori ka naam Kiran Bedi!

Modi’s Slim Cabinet: No other Chai Wala or Wali on the team by Kirit Patel

As compared to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s first jumbo cabinet of 79 ministers in 2004, Modi’s cabinet is slim and young. The attendance of the head of SAARC nations opened a new page for bilateral and regional relationship, peace, and economic development. Following are few observations on the new cabinet of ministers for gossips, until all portfolios are allocated.

Electoral politics: Large number of ministerial candidates from Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Bihar, and Seemandhra clearly indicate Modi’s eyes are on the upcoming assembly elections in these states. Reshuffling of cabinet is inevitable by the end of year to adjust geographical representation from other states.

Unfair geographical representation: If Modi, as a Prime Minister, is truly considering himself a representative of the entire nation rather than his home state or parliamentary constituencies (Vadodara and Varansi), Gujarat should have representation in the cabinet. Gujarat does not have a single minister in the cabinet, despite the BJP having won 26 out of 26 seats in Gujarat. BJP is considering Gujarat and Rajasthan as secured belt for at least the next 10 years and thus easier to park them on side. On the other hand, the UP has been generously rewarded to sustain the surge and strengthen Amit Shah’s foothold as an outsider in the state. Further, Mulayam and Mayawati have potential to bounce back in UP while in Gujarat Congress is completely dismantled and may take at least decade to recover.

Women members: Seven women took oath as a part of Modi’s council of the ministers. As compared to outgoing cabinet of Manmohan Singh, it jumped from 10 to 15 per cent. Najma, Shushma, Uma and Maneka are veteran politicians while Smriti Irani, Harsimat Kaur, and Nirmala Sitharaman are relatively new entrants in administration. Except Uma Bharti, all are coming from privilege family background with education from elite institutions. Most of these new members have been either public face of the party or have had a career in media. For the senior women members, their most pertinent qualification appears to be rivalry against Sonia Gandhi. Sonia destroyed Najma Heptulla’s dream for becoming the president and that led her to quit Congress.

An Excellent list of Dropouts (Good control on Type II Error!): The impression of Modi’s master stroke is clear on the list of candidates kept out of the Cabinet. This includes Advani, Joshi, Subramanian Swami, Akbar, Shourie, Kiran Bedi, and Yeddyurappa. These intellectuals should know that Modi is a horse for a long race and they better start planning their retirements soon. Modi also kept Bollywood out and let them continue to use their creativity in Bollywood and mass gathering.

Swearing-in Ceremony: It was amazing to see politicians and leaders from across parties, keeping their political differences aside. Mulayam and Amit Shah were holding their hands while walking together! Of course, Rahul became matured and graciously attended the ceremony. Kejriwal was sadly missed but I am sure he must have penned a letter from the judiciary custody.

Moral Hazards and the Congress party by Aseem Prakash

Well functioning democracies have strong opposition parties. The BJP has secured an absolute majority and the country has begun its love affair with Narendra Modi. I truly hope the BJP can address critical economic and social issues the country is facing. At the same time, we need a solid opposition to challenge the BJP, hold it accountable, and offer and alternative model of governance. Congress seems to be the only national level party which can do this job. But would it? Can it?

The term moral hazard has gained currency after the wake of the 2007 financial crisis. The argument is that if actors are not held responsible for their actions, they undertake risky behavior. The banking industry is widely assumed to be guilty of such practices. They gave out loans without due diligence. The bankers reaped super normal profits; the salaries and bonuses they received were staggering. Yet, as the debtors defaulted, the banks were not adequately punished. They were deemed too big to fail and received public bailouts. Their gains were cornered by a select few but their losses are socialized. I’ll not be surprised if this sort of crisis repeats itself again notwithstanding the banking reforms that have been introduced in the US and the EU.

The Congress party is also behaving like the banking sector and suffering from a similar moral hazard problem. If the party wins election, it is credited to Rahul G and Sonia G (recall 2009 LS or Karnataka Assembly polls). But when the party does not do well (although Rahul G is projected to be the future PM; his pictures seem to be on every Congress poster and hoarding), the responsibility is deemed to be collective. Rahul G cannot be blamed; he can do no wrong.

Leadership requires taking responsibility especially if the team has lost. Leaders who blame their subordinates or others for losses do not inspire confidence. Such basic lessons of history seemed to be lost on the Congress party – which is a shame because we do need a strong and robust opposition party.

Another unsolicited advice to Rahul G. Show some humility; the LS elections were a significant vote of no confidence in your leadership. If the outgoing PM is giving a farewell dinner, show up instead of holidaying in some foreign location. He might be totally useless but he was the PM and is of your parent’s age. These sorts of actions reinforce the impression that you have sense of entitlement and are not capable of mature behavior.