January 4, 2016

Dear Friends

Wish you all a peaceful 2016!

  1. As we enter another new year, two types of human responses have almost been conditioned. First, sending greetings to family and friends for ‘happiness, prosperity, health and peace’; or whatever else makes the recipients joyous. As friends and family are digital these days, so are the greetings. Most audio-video clips and text messages containing these greetings are ‘borrowed’ from someone else, and merely forwarded. Second, we try to make fresh New Year pledges to change our behaviour. These range from daily exercise to eating healthy to taking care of elderly parents to becoming humorous, or sober or easy-going, or whatever! The content of these pledges hardly changes over the years, but the ritual carries on. Have you done so already?
  2. The latest Human Development Report from UNDP ranks India at 130 on the Human Development Index (HDI). Since the turn of this century, India’s GDP, per capita income and number of millionaires/billionaires have increased many-fold due to rapid economic growth. But, India’s ranking in HDI has remained around 130. This is India’s paradox; it implies that basic social sector indicators – education and health in particular – have not improved much during the past 15 years. At the heart of this paradox is the Indian government’s inability to implement any development programme effectively on the ground. Severe and rapid reforms of institutions, processes and people in the government at all levels are crucial in this regard. Though the solution is known since the turn of the century, the political energy to do so has been largely missing!
  3. When slave trade began from Africa to North America five centuries ago, which commodities were exchanged for trading with slaves? Ships from UK carried manufactured goods to the African markets; then loaded human slaves as cargo to take them to the Caribbean Islands. After offloading the slaves, tobacco was loaded on these ships as they sailed back to UK. Bristol in UK became one of the key ports for this tobacco-slave trading link. And nearly four centuries ago, major tobacco and cigarette companies began in this city. History may well be repeating itself as a new wave of forced migration is taking place from Africa to Europe?
  4. As the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM) completed a year, several ground-level reports suggest that focus on construction of toilets had been so pronounced that not much attention was given to its usage and related attitudinal changes required in the population. Perhaps providing a spiritual thrust to SBM may make it more effective? Large newspapers advertisements recently announced a gathering ‘Swachch Bharat, Sachh Bharat’ with spiritual entities as partners of SBM. If ‘sachh’ (truth) could indeed be practised in our deeds and speech, India and Indians may get transformed radically, not just SBM!
  5. In the political scene of Canada and UK, people of Indian origin seem to be gaining clout. Many new ministers in the federal government of Canada are non-resident Indians (NRIs). Several recent senior political and official appointments in UK have given people of Indian origin major responsibilities. It seems that the political economy of these countries is recognising the talents, resources and networks of NRIs. This is a major shift in social and political perceptions of NRIs from the previous century. In the earlier era, Indian society and government considered emigrants a drain; the recipient societies considered them a burden! Prime Minister Modi’s Gujarati roots (source of emigration for centuries) have perhaps encouraged him to give visibility to Indian diaspora in every country he has visited during the past 18 months!

All the very best

Sincerely

Rajesh Tandon