Monday, July 18, 2011

(Not Enough) Ado about Aadhaar

For those of you who are Hindi illiterate, Aadhaar is a Hindi word that means foundation. Aadhaar is also the brand name of the Unique Identification (UID) Number - the plan is to provide every Indian resident with one.

When Aadhaar was being instituted, we were told (and I am quoting from UIDAI - UID Authority of India - website), "Aadhaar will empower poor and underprivileged residents in accessing services such as the formal banking system and give them the opportunity to easily avail various other services provided by the Government and the private sector", and "Aadhaar will ensure increased trust between public and private agencies and residents." Both good reasons to adopt a system of identification in a country where a bulk of the population is reeling with poverty and has limited access to some very basic services, right?

Moreover, the whole UID project was going to be spearheaded by one of the most successful Indian entrepreneurs of our generation, Mr. Nandan Nilekani. Forbes Magazine called Mr. Nilekani the Governtrepreneur, for he had given up his job as co-Chairman of Infosys Technologies, and was going to chair the UIDAI project. To understand the significance of Mr. Nilekani's appointment to the top job in UIDAI, you have to understand two things: 1. In India private sector and its abilities (vs. those of Indian government's) to be "efficient" and "get things done" are revered (perhaps mistakenly so, but that is for another discussion another time) 2. Mr. Nilekani is to India's technocrat community what Warren Buffet is to US investors. This seemed like a match made in heaven - one of India's best technical minds was going to lead an effort that would help tackle one of India's most pressing issues - that of delivery of services to India's poorest. So there was almost no reason to question the UID project and what it set out to accomplish, and not many did. Now I have no intention of questioning Mr. Nilekani's commitment to the UID project. In fact, I am certain that if anyone can get UID implemented he can. My only worry however is that the rest of us in India may have hopped on the UID bandwagon far too quickly and without thinking this completely through.

Over the years 'The Hindu', an English language Indian news daily has published some insightful articles about issues relating to UID that haven't been sufficiently addressed. A couple of those articles are linked-to here:
1. Aadhaar: on a platform of myths
2. High-cost, high-risk
3. UID: doubts, concerns and confusions

If you consider yourself an informed citizen of India, I implore you to read these articles, and I promise you that you'll come out informed, if not reformed, at the other end. And yeah, don't forget to spread the word, for this is one of those issues that is going to impact lives of us Indians for generations to come, and we cannot just let it be without a purposeful discussion.

Jai Hind.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The young Indian politicians - not there yet.

Rajdeep Sardesai, IBN Network's Editor-In-Chief, says here that India lacks involvement of young politicians at the highest levels. He says that the recent cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did almost nothing to suggest otherwise either, and rightly so. He also goes on to cite examples of US President Barack Obama and English Prime Minister David Cameron as prominent world leaders who are still to cross over into the latter half of their lives, but are already leading respective countries. Whereas the young guns of India, the likes of *Rahul Gandhi, Varun Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia, and many others, are either just unable to or are reluctant to join and raise the level of national conversation as is desired of them.

Most of the young breed of Indian politicians have just been parachuted into their roles as leaders. They never had to work their way up through the ranks. No wonder that not many beyond their immediate posse are in their awe. Come to think of it, their lineage seems to be the only qualification that they possess to be a politician. Most of them, if not all of them, may have chosen to be in politics because most of the work had already been done for them. They had the right last names, the parliamentary constituencies were invariably set aside for them without any competition, the organizational structure of respective political parties was already in place, and all they had to do was show up.

I think it is because of their lack of experience as grass roots activists and the fact that they did not have to work hard to rise through the ranks that they are having a hard time connecting with people. They should have a hard time getting to the top jobs as politicians, shouldn't they? If this is the reason they are reluctant to begin participating wholeheartedly, then I don't blame them. In fact, I am encouraged that they know their limitations and are willing to work hard to overcome those limitations. May be this baptism by fire will help them grow not just as politicians, but as leaders too.

Without doubt, with age comes experience and wisdom, and it may be especially true of politicians. But, on the job training that these young politicians are getting by virtue of being MPs and leaders in their respective parties may not be enough to make quality politicians out of them. Because it is not just about the ability to wheel and deal in the pressure cooker that is today's coalition politics. It is not just about being visible to the people every so often so they recognize you by face come election day. It has to be about substantive issues, and ideas about tackling those issues. Politics is not just about seeing to it that the country's GDP grows at a rate of >8% year on year. It has to be about ones heartfelt desire to serve the people, and making sure that the lowest common denominator of our socioeconomic setup is not left behind.

*The spaghetti that is world politics: Many saw the padyatra that Rahul Gandhi embarked upon recently as a publicity stunt, and their cynicism may not be entirely misplaced. After all he did work for a consulting firm before coming back to India and making his foray into Indian politics. This firm that Rahul Gandhi worked for, Monitor Group, is the same firm that had Muammar Gadaffi as a client. The work that they were hired for was primarily public relations related. I am not suggesting any guilt by association. All I am suggesting is that may be public relations is something that he is more comfortable doing.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The (Wobbly) Wheel of Fortune

I don't know why, but each time I go to a grocery store, I get a cart that has atleast one wheel that is wobbly. The periodic jerks of the handlebar and the persistent clank definitely draws some attention. People look at me as if I am stopped at a traffic light and the loud bangs from my car's broken muffler are rattling their car's windows.

The Gods of grocery stores seem to be pissed with me at the moment. May be it is that I enjoy letting the shopping carts go really fast when I go to return them in their parking space, and that pisses the powers that be off. Or may be, the Walmart/Target Gods are just racist and don't like it when a brown skinned person from Indian subcontinent does only part of his groceries at their stores and the rest of it at an ethnic food store. Or may be they are pissed because on multiple occasions I have checked out my groceries at the register that says '20 Items or Less' even though I have counted multiple units of one thing as one item to make the cut.

I've even tried to take a cart that is two, three or four deep in the train, but to no avail. I hope the law of averages catches up soon and that one of these days I'll find a shopping cart whose wheels ride smooth.

The wobbly wheeled carts in grocery stores used to annoy me, but not anymore. May be because the ride hasn't been particularly smooth on the personal front either, and I am in the midst of a confluence of events that are hell bent on going wrong howsoever hard I may try. I am keeping my fingers crossed though, and I will keep pushing the damn cart till I've crossed everything off from my shopping list.

I hate grocery shopping.