April 1, 2017

Dear Colleagues,

Here is another round of random reflections for your perusal on this April Fool’s Day:

  • The national government of Canada has a full-time Minister for Democratic Institutions. This is a unique portfolio in the parliamentary cabinet system anywhere in the world. This Minister is expected to focus on reforms and renewal of various institutions, primarily at national level, that make formal democracy work in Canada. The tradition of having a minister in the national cabinet of Canada to focus on renewal of democracy began in 2003. The main focus of the mandate of this minister in the new government is to improve the quality of participation of MPs in the legislative affairs of parliament and quality of functioning of its various committees. How much we need that in many parliamentary democracies, including India’s?
  • In many societies, a major part of service sector economy comprises of religious services. A visit to Chitrakoot in Bundelkhand region makes this phenomenon very visible. Nearly twenty million religious tourists come to this town annually. From direct religious services of prayers and worship to support industry of transport, guest houses, religious gifts and holy food, the economy of Chitrakoot is booming, despite official apathy towards basic infrastructure. However, local youth do not seem to be interested in participating in and contributing to this economy. The local educational institutions and skill training centres do not focus on preparing them for employment and entrepreneurship in the economic eco-system of Chitrakoot. Imagine hundreds of such economic centres in the country, as all religions flourish in India?
  • The biggest bone of contention at the time of creation of separate state of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh was control over the city of Hyderabad, which now contributes more than a third to the state GDP. However, Hyderabad’s once efficient infrastructure is now beginning to crumble. The passenger check- in and security check areas of the ‘new’ Hyderabad airport are congested, chaotic and painful to navigate. The ease of commuting inside the city has become more difficult. Perhaps being the only city of some ‘shine’ in the new state of Telengana, it is now being crowded with new migrants from all over the state. A similar fate befell on Dehradun, Ranchi & Raipur when new states made them their capitals in 2000.
  • The folk traditions of music, dance and other arts have historically been an integral part of local festivals. The colour festival of Holi was celebrated recently in many parts of the country. An integral part of this festival, coming as the transition from spring to summer, is singing ‘phag’ –a form of folk music that retells stories of Lord Krishna playing Holi with his female friends. One contemporary singing of this form of folk music heard recently narrated the ‘story of demonetisation’.
  • Many observers of Indian democracy have expressed their ‘discomfort’ at the outcomes of recent assembly elections and appointment of new Chief Ministers by the ruling party. Many ascetics, clerics, priests and various other religious and spiritual leaders have been establishing and leading businesses, universities, hospitals and social welfare agencies for decades in this country. Since running the government is an essential feature of modern Indian society, it should be no surprise that they are now entering this field as well!

All the very best

Sincerely

Rajesh Tandon