Musings for a responsible society

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The Bangalore Literature Festival and a few thoughts to ponder

After spending a few hours last weekend at the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), I do not have any hesitation to shower my appreciation for the excellent effort by the organizers in making it lively, informative, and entertaining. The team led by Vikram Sampath, Srikrishna Ramamoorthy , and Shinie Antony and others did a wonderful job.  
The emblem of BLF

In this article, my attempt is to showcase the key intellectual conversations that reverberated in the highly intellectual environment at the Crowne Plaza, Electronic City.  Literature was always a driving force for change globally. Authors and thinkers, by joining together, can trigger revolutionary changes in society.

As mentioned by  Ashok Vajpeyi in his address,  literature militates against all kinds of tyranny. He said: ‘Literature offers you alternate ways of looking at reality, man, and universe. Literature survives on the notion of plurality. Literature keeps the possibility and desirability of change alive and it offers a lesson in humility. These are times were everything is so aggressive and noisy. Only literature can bring about enduring change through humble action.’

Three speakers shared their vision of India
(Read below what they spoke. Some of their ideas, if implemented,  can make India strong)

Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, Lt. Gen. Ramesh Halagali, and T V Mohandas Pai spoke about their vision of India in a discussion moderated by T M Veeraraghav. They presented a few unique thoughts. It is worthwhile to share their unique views and ideas with the readers of Cyber Diary.

Photo: Sibichen K Mathew

Here is the Great Indian Dream by Mohandas Pai

Google image
A global citizen but a Bangalorean at heart. Head of Aarin Capital Partners and a member of BPAC Bangalore. He works with the Union and State Governments in the fields of education, information technology and business. Mr. Pai served as the Head of Human Resources, Head of Education, Research & Administration and Head of Finacle Infosys Leadership Institute at Infosys Ltd. since 1996. He served as the Chief Financial Officer at Infosys Ltd. from 1994 to 2006.

I have a very simple vision of India: An India where every citizen has bare necessities of life.
A house to stay in, water in the taps, a sewage connection, toilet, food on the table, education for children, a road to the house, security for the life and property, a country where there is justice for everyone, prevalence of law, (which implies that the courts work), quick disposal of cases, country where everybody can practice the religion of their choice, life with full liberty where all rights guaranteed under the constitution are available. The vision is to have a society where women can walk in the late evenings, and a country where parliament functions (not a dysfunctional parliament).
 A country where every Indian can go for the great Indian dream: This is my vision of India. This was also the vision of the founders of Indian constitution.

We need to reform politics: Said  Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda
Member of Indian Parliament in the Lok Sabha. He belongs to the Biju Janata Dal party. Previously, he had served in Rajya Sabha, from 2000 to 2009. Jay Panda is a member of the Citizens’ Alliance against Malnutrition, a high level advocacy group composed of young parliamentarians, from various parties and other influential personalities. He is a 1046 hr pilot, columnist, passionate about adventure sports and an avid nonfiction reader.

Following are the key excerpts from his talk:

There is a saying that for a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. My vision for India is essentially political reforms. I come from a non-political background. But I am involved in politics for last several years. Democracy is always criticized because we see lot failures all around. We find corruption everywhere. A cursory glance at the non-democratic countries shows that they are worse than the democratic countries. As Winston Churchill used to say, democracy is the worst system except for all the other systems all out there. We should be aware that the rest of the world sees the glory of our democracy. Other democracies have also gone through exactly the problems we face today. In US from the middle of the 19th century to the 20th century there were fights, wrestling matches etc. inside their legislature. There was huge corruption. As they progressed from a predominantly agricultural economy to industrial economy there was the rise of middle class. But in the next 50 years, during what generally called the progressive era, things changed and the politics and democracy became more open and transparent. We also need to achieve that progressive stage where democracy is more transparent. There should be a political transformation in the country. With technology, rapid growth of internet, social media, it is possible for a candidate with non-political background to mobilize the voters. 
The author Patrick French wrote in his book ‘India: A Portrait’ that almost all political parties have MPs because of family connections. The stark finding: 75% of MPs below the age of 45 are hereditary MPs, 100% of  MPs under 30 are the hereditary MPs, where either their parents, grandparents or uncles or aunts were politicians. The younger the MP, the greater the likelihood that he or she has inherited the seat. It is like joining the family business. The growth of middle class and the spread of middle class values such as thrift, emphasis for meritocracy etc. are gradually changing the scenario. Public should engage in the battle to bring political parties under the Right to Information Act and to make elected representatives quit the job once they are convicted.

National Security and development are in danger in a declining state: Warns  Lt. General  Ramesh Halagali.                         

Lt. General  Ramesh Halagali
(After his retirement he is a full-time social worker in rural Karnataka)

My vision of India gravitates towards national security. National security is not primarily securing our frontiers against external aggressions and also defending the country from internal fissures, but more importantly it stems from the fact that the armed forces are not merely a fist in a velvet glove. The whole anatomical body of this nation, the civil societies, and various appendages of this nation together make India strong.  Unless India spearheads itself with a strong security framework and enable itself to cast its international shadow deep beyond its frontiers we probably will remain mediocre. But what we see on the horizon today is that there are vistas of great wisdom and these wisdoms are clearly indicating that national securities are getting stronger irrespective of what we are reading in the media in the recent past. India today not only secures its frontiers but has also enabled the entire political framework to function and allow the geopolitical environment to enable itself for the fructification of the socio economic development. But somewhere down the line we say that there is a declining state. This is where we have to focus on.
Unless the instrumentalities that make our nation’s securities are strong, the armed forces alone cannot project power. We need to have strong leaders:  Leaders who are self-less, leaders who are honest, leaders who have a vision to take India forward and those who take the tri colour of India over the horizon. Unless the character of the nation becomes strong, the national security will take a beating. My view is that the national security and internal growth and development are intrinsic to each other for growth. We must continue to focus on spreading the knowledge so that it shapes the future of our country.  

The Discussion

‘If we mess up the governance, we will lose the opportunity to grow’ Said Mohandas Pai

We are a two Trillion Dollar economy. We are the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and 7th largest economy in the world in nominal terms. If we continue to grow at 7% annually, we will become close to 10 trillion dollar economy in 20 years.  In 10 years, we will grow by five times.  We are going through a democratic transition.  We have 650 million people below 35 years.  If we can create work for them, we can create economic output.  We are a country with high savings rate, which is around 30% of GDP. 4 years ago, we used to invest 37% of GDP and grew at 9%.  This growth will throw-up enormous opportunities in the next 20 years. We can see rapid economic growth, huge productivity, changes in living standards of people, fulfilment of great dream of every citizen, provided we set the governance right in this country.  We can create lot of Indian multi-nationals in many areas. This is a first world in the third world country.  We are sitting at the intersection of many scientific discoveries and abilities, which give us innovative ability to develop this country. If we ‘mess up’ this due to bad governance, this opportunity will never come back.  We will be one of the global powers, if we take this vision forward.

We need to increase judges by four times, said Jay Panda

The economic potential will be handicapped if our cases are continued in the courts for more than 20 years. Our police are not responsive in detecting crime. These are not the roots of the problem, these are symptoms. What is the root of the problem?
In our judicial system, we have a dismally low ratio of judges. If we look at the developed countries, there are at least 50 judges per a million people. Some of the more developed countries have 100 judges for a million people.  We have just 13 judges for a million people.  We need to quadruple the number of judges we have.  It is both in terms of quantity and quality.  Quantity is necessary but not sufficient. We need to have qualitative improvements in the process as well.
We cannot have indefinite adjournments.  Fortunately, the fast track courts, which we have set-up are setting the good example by disposing about 84% of the cases entrusted with them in the last few years.  We do not have consensus to earmark budget for setting-up large number of fast track courts. These are the kind of changes that we need.

Some people do not want their  cases disposed : Mohandas Pai

Why we do not have many judges because some of the political parties want the cases to be pending for more than 20 years. May be they can get away from murder, rape and other crimes.  Some people would like to have an ordinance to get protection. Political parties do not want to ensure justice for the people. (edited to avoid specific references)

If armed forces can deliver justice in 3 months why can’t other courts too? 
Asks Lt. Gen. Ramesh Halagali

It is amazing that if the armed forces are islands of excellence in delivery of justice, why the country is not looking at the modalities that they are following? Judicial system has to produce excellence.  If military courts can be so clean and so fast, why can’t the regular courts follow this?  In our own country, we have such shining example of armed forces.  There are reasons why we do not want follow.   I would not like to delve that.

The only solution: Make the educated middle class vote in elections, argues Jay Panda

We have to actually come-up with the solution to the problem of political inefficiency rather than just criticizing it. India has a unique democracy where once people become middle class, they will disengage with the system. They don’t vote.  In other democracy, it is the people who are from the middle class, who vote in greater numbers. 
In many developed countries, middle class enthusiastically vote.  It is the opposite for us.  It is poor, who vote here, when the educated middle class stay away.  People should come out and vote for the least bad candidate.  This is the way we can bring out changes in the country.

It is the middle class people who got us freedom from the colonial rule 
reminds Mohandas Pai

Who got us the freedom in this country? It was the educated middle class and the accomplished people. They led this country to independence. Where are those educated middle class today?  Middle class does not want to engage into politics.  The reason is that they do not want to get their hands dirty.

We need populism too. We can’t ignore the common people: Said Jay Panda

We are the only democracy in the world that had universal adult franchise on day one. Every other democracy took hundreds of years. But, we do not give value to this right. In a country like India with 1.2 million people, we need to have some degree of populism. But the corporates oppose this.  We need to have a balance between formulation of long term economic policies and short term measures to satisfy the people.

We do not have a national leader now: Mohan Das Pai

We do not have  tall figures to represent India as a whole like Gandhi was and also how Nehru was, to tell people what is required. We have this feudal concept of taxation and revenue disbursement. The government unilaterally decides how the taxes are to be utilized. The tax payer has no role in that.  Unless the middle class comes forward to the decision making process of the country, we cannot ensure good governance.

More than 90% of my colleagues were against the new button on the Ballet machine 
said Jay Panda
After the independence, the middle class engaged mainly on two occasions. One was during the national emergency and the other was during the recent protests against corruption and rape.  The recent good news is that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has ruled that the Election Commission must have a new button on the ballot machine for rejecting all the candidates if the voters so wish.  I can tell you that more than 90% of my colleagues are against this.  They are horrified. A small minority like us in politics welcome it.  The reality is that some of these progressive steps have been taken by the Courts and not by politicians.
I do believe that middle class will always on the edge of setting agenda. The clout of middle class will keep increasing. Their responsibility is greater, but they won’t succeed if they act in isolated silos.

Our rural leaders need training: 
Said Lt.General Ramesh Halagali (Retd)

Why is the political leadership not demonstrating the skills and aspirations of the yester-year leadership?  You can keep arguing that they are corrupt, they are incapable and they are inefficient. You could call them anything, but ultimately the leader requires training, the leader requires motivation, the leader requires a set of parameters to function. There should be systems in place that enable him to move in a channel and not allowing drifting. The nation needs to create a system that ensures transparency and accountability of every action they take and they should be subjected to enquiry and investigation for any deviance. 
The entire focus of the IT sector is on banks, insurance companies and other businesses. There is no technological investment in rural areas where 80% of people live. Is there any automation in education, health and services in rural areas? Are the leaders in rural areas motivated enough? The answer is NO.

Facebook, Twitter etc. becoming crucial in Indian democratic politics, said Jay Panda

In the upcoming election, social media is going to make its presence felt. But it won’t be a game changer. But in one or maximum two more elections social media especially twitter, facebook etc. going to be the game changers. India has 300 million middle class people. Another 300 million is aspirational middle class. These 600 million people will be and can be mobilized through social media. We have seen the influence of social media in organizing flash mobs against Delhi rape, corruption etc. for instance. Social media is blurring the line between urban and rural with increased internet penetration across the country. We grew up with less information from just a few newspapers or the government run TV channel. `Now we have close to 800 TV channels and the internet subscriptions have crossed about 15 million.    
If we can bring about voting through online using some biometric system it will be a game changer.

Citizens should fund the political parties in elections 
Said Mohandas Pai

How many of you have given money to candidates for election? You should give them money and then ask them to be accountable once they are elected by doing what they promised. Election commission should revise this absurd limits or ceiling for election expenditure: 25 lakhs for assembly election and  45 lakhs for parliament election. Every MP in parliament tells a big lie that they have spent less than the ceiling. There are MPs who have spent 15 cr in Bangalore for their elections. Nandan Nilekani has to spent this much if he contests election. Do you think he will win by just spending 45 lakhs?  And he does not have any black money. How will he spend for his election because of this ceiling?
Parliament froze the seats based on the census of 1971. Later on the basis of 2001 census it amended the rural-urban ratio in seats. Since only 28% people were urban, seats in urban areas were restricted to 28%. They froze this till 2030. But by 2025 there will be almost 50 % urbanized population whereas the seats will be only 28%. It means the middle class people, urban people and the educated people will be disenfranchised for 20 years, because politicians know that the educated people will demand performance and they cannot be manipulated with populism.

Views for transformation 

All above speakers have given their valuable viewpoints that can definitely transform this country. Their statements are not theoretical and hypothetical, but are crucial for radical progress of the country. There should be a debate across the country on the suggestions given by them. My only critical observation is that most of the views expressed in the discussion were tilted towards the educated middle class. But I am sure that none of them have any bias towards any particular economic category)

Some suggestions to the organizers of BLF

1 . It is suggested that organizers consider arranging for author interactions at various locations simultaneously within the festival premises so that visitors can interact with their favourite authors informally.
2.    There can be workshops for budding writers (children and adults). The literature quiz for children was a good initiative.
3.   One could also think of discussing specific titles that showcased unique ideas (a new genre or an extraordinary work)
4.   There was scope to have some more titles on display. Books from many established publishers  were missing in the display. Considering the fact this is not a book fair, at least the best sellers or  unique titles from leading publishers could be displayed.
5.     For future BLFs, organizers can think of having an exclusive session on Indian blog literature.
6.    More space should be covered, as many visitors could not tolerate the hot sunlight during most of the day.
7.   Celebrities who have an association with literature or any related area are more welcome for the visitors than others.

 © Sibichen K Mathew.   Views are personal. I do not necessarily subscribe to the views of any of the speakers mentioned above. However, I am responsible for the errors in summarizing the discussion. The objective of this report is to create awareness among the readers about various viewpoints aiming at a better nation and a responsible society.  Comments on the above views are welcome. (Post comments below or e-mail sibi5555(gmail))


  1. Thanks for sharing the transcripts. I appreciate your contribution in spreading these viewpoints.

    1. Thanks Shiju. Sometimes, we feel people stopped thinking ! Ideas can work miracles

  2. It was truly interesting and thoughtful !
    BLF came out with a great initiative and discussed various aspects.
    Thank you so much fro sharing it with us.

    1. BLF showed its commitment to society. It has spread the message that writers and readers do think and worry about the state of the nation.

  3. Excellent work by Sibichen in bringing out the view points of such eminent personalities to us. My few thoughts- Vision of Mohandas Pai is not simple, it is the ultimate aim of any human society but most challenging to achieve in a country like ours- we have to take step by step just as happened during last few months through judgements of SC and by forced withdrawal of ordinance and bills by the Govt. The next big step in this direction would be taken when the middle class people would vote as visioned by Jay Panda. This will force the polity to change miraculously. Judicial process (Appeals) will now get in fast forward mode, as visioned by Lt Gen (Retd.) Halagali, as the politicians had started losing seats on lower court conviction. The lower court judiciary will also get in fast forward mode if Politicians are debarred from fighting election and they lose seats in legislature after charges are framed against them in hienous crimes. Hopefully SC will again come up with another historic judgement in this regard. Our legislature is very efficient in law making and bringing in reforms in the system if through this they stand benefitted.

    1. Good analysis Anil. Let us hope that some of these ideas will be translated to concrete policy formulation and implementation in the near future.


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