Karnataka today, India tomorrow !!!

democracy-circus3In this election season, you cannot be blamed for mistaking the title of this post for a war cry of one of the National political parties say the Congress or the BJP. I.e. to capture Karnataka today and India soon after. After all, as Karnataka votes today for its destiny driver for the next 5 years (hopefully), the ball has been set rolling for a string of state elections to follow and then the final Loksabha election mid next year i.e. if the present dispensation lasts its full term. War cry of a party is last of my bother. But, loud cry I keep hearing of the Mango people is.

I cannot but avoid sympathizing with my Karnataka friends as they brave the hot may be not so hot sun and exercise their democratic right today. What is the choice they have?

• Do they again vote and bring back BJP – which made a royal mess of its maiden Southern venture?? 3 Chief Ministers in 5 years, rampant factionalism and infighting, the honour of making “Garden city” a pitiable “Garbage City” today, Corruption charges galore, No governance… have made BJP a party with No difference.

• Do the people of Karnataka repose their faith on Congress – which must take responsibility for the lack of basic infrastructure like roads,… even after ruling the state for more than 50 years since independence? Is there a leader in Congress in the state who can make it happen in the “IT” State?

• Or they throw their weight behind Janata Dal (Secular) helmed by Kumaraswamy Gowda an Ex- Chief Minister himself. If Bangalore is sick and languishing at the bottom of the economic growth table, this secular party has to take fair share of the blame.

• Or finally will the Karnataka praja make my worst nightmare true? Is he actually readying to make Yeddyurappa of Karnataka Janata Party the King or a Kingmaker?

For the citizens, today is a stressful day. The choice they have is to choose the Best among the Worst. As a nation did we opt for democracy to choose the good among the rotten? No wonder there is so much apathy among people today to go and vote. Frankly, if I feel that the candidates in the fray are not worthy of my vote, do I have a choice to express the same?

Though sitting in Mumbai I’m not in a quandary today, I’m worried. Worried because what my Karnataka mates are going through today, many of us have to endure when the time comes to vote for the party/front at the Centre. It looks like “A scam a day may soon keep Dr.Manmohan Singh away”. With an early election looking imminent, the dilemma for the voter gets bigger.

I presume that most fellow Indians have had enough of this Congress led UPA and are craving for a change. For them to satisfy their craving, they need options to vote for in the next General elections. In states where BJP is strong (and that is only 6-7 states I guess) may be they have the option of voting for BJP. But in most of the other states one has to dive into deep-sea to escape from the Congress Devil. In many states where BJP is absent or present in absentia, the people have no choice but to exercise their “Best among the Worst” rule while voting. When they do that, they give fillip by default to parties like the Trinamool Congress, CPI/CPM, YSR Congress, Janata Dal (Secular), Shiv Sena, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party,…,…which again start extracting their pound of flesh when the Government formation time comes. Irrespective of the national sentiment for change we may yet get a Government we never wanted. Because under the present system who will rule is decided not by “National mood” but by “Rational Greed” (Money bags, ATM Ministries, Rajya Sabha nominations,…) of the fringe parties who claim to promote the cause of Regional and Sectarian aspirations but in reality have been furthering their own “cases”.

I call this the “Democracy by stealth”. So does this “Democracy by stealth” provide the famous “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”??? I doubt.

Problem definition is always easy. Finding solution is not. Yet, let me attempt. The way forward is certainly to “CHANGE” the present system. That could be in the form of electoral reforms which include

• Clearly defining and identifying National parties which have an influence in more than few states

• Mandating only “National” parties to take part in Lok Sabha elections

• Government formations only based on declared “Pre Poll Alliances” and not by convenient “Post Poll Alignments”

• Election Commission to define a template and minimum criteria for an “Election Manifesto” essentially making the document a “Minimum Agenda for Governance” for the party coming to power.

• Election Manifestos of parties once released during election campaigns must be registered with the Election Commission

• Parties not fulfilling 70% of their manifesto promises should be disqualified from contesting in the next elections. So that there is accountability along with accounts.

Some of the above ideas are indeed outrageous and outside the realm of today’s political imagination. However I strongly feel that small changes may not work. We need paradigm shifts. So that we actually see Democracy at work and not some “Democrazy”!!!

Advertisements

Kabini – where Nature Unwinds!!!

Kabini – heard the name  for the 1st time when the TV commercial for Orange County Resorts was playing again and again a year ago.  The flute bit (check this out)was enchanting and inviting. The next course of action followed naturally – Google ‘Kabini’.  200 odd Kms from Bangalore Bengaluru, amidst forest area, natural serene place and the name of Orange County were reasons enough to lock this for the next holiday. Having missed the opportunity in summer, didn’t want to miss the second opportunity which came last week in the form of “Durga Puja” holiday and there we were off to Bengaluru en route to Kabini.

Signs of “Your kind of Airport – Coming soon” welcome you as you touchdown in Bengaluru.  For an airport which was just thrown open to public I guess 3-4 years ago, going for an expansion so soon means either the traffic has exploded or the planning was woefully shortsighted.  Both are not of surprise in Incredible India! Weather in Bengaluru is one among the many things I love of the city and as expected it was pleasant and just great.  As we navigated out of the airport one hoped that the distance of 208 kms would be covered in 4 hours.  The reality was different. 

A light shower started glazing the Bengaluru – Mysore highway as we drove past the town Ramanagara where folklore has it that “Kitne Admi The?” the most enduring line of Bollywood and many memorable scenes of the iconic film Sholay were shot with the rocky terrain of this town as backdrop!!   As we take a turn from Srirangapatna and on the final stretch towards Kabini, the scenic beauty just enthralls you. Away from the hustle bustle of the city and its smoke, a lazy charm engulfs you as you drive on what is just ‘R’ of a Road!!!  As you keep seeing the signs of Airtel, Sun Direct and Videocon on top of houses, one cannot but feel impressed at the Dish TV penetration in small towns of India. DTH – Direct to Hinterland???

Maddening traffic before hitting the outskirts of the Bengaluru city, a 30 min. lunch break and the last ‘No Road’ stretch of 40 kms leading to the resort means we took in all 6 hours to cover 208 kms.!!! You need more than a normal welcome as you reach the resort after the long drive and we were not disappointed. Within few minutes in the resort, the journey and its tiredness are all forgiven and forgotten. The staff and the Nature start working their charm on you!

The resort is right at the banks of River Kabini and has a breathtaking view. 

View of the River Kabini

The rooms are in individual hut style and meshes completely with the ecosystem.   We are told that they have been styled in the Kadu Kurubastyle which is the local tribe in this part of the world. 

Kuruba Syled Huts

An Activity instructor briefs you of the various activity options for the next 3 days. But he missed one important activity which was on top of our minds – Just lazing around!  There was another activity which seemed missing. The jungle safari and the lake safari which take you to the Nagarhole forest reserve for some wildlife sightings of the ‘natural’ type have been banned by the Supreme Court.  Though the ban has been lifted recently the local government is still skeptical of the ‘wild’ human types creating inconvenience to the actual wild types.  So we had to make do with the captive elephant in the resort for some time pass.  Sunset cruise in the lake, bird watching walks, Ayurveda therapy,…,… are all there to fill your time.  A Coracle ride in the river brings you memories of Maniratnam’s classic ‘Roja’.  One cannot escape thinking of the captivating sequence of Chinna Chinna Aasai (Choti si Aasha)” as the coracle swirls in water aided by the breeze.  Take a row oops bow – Maniratnam, Rahman & Santosh Sivan!! 

Coracle Ride

The resort has a captivating “Reading lounge” with a collection of books centering around wildlife, nature,… I found it an amazing place – tranquil, with a stunning view of Nature and a collection of books.  And free flowing Coffee!!!  Yes, pure coffee from the hills of Coorg of the ‘filter’ type is served hot and you don’t need a better incentive to keep walking up to the lounge again and again!

Invariably there were light showers in the evenings making the coffee tastier. In one of the evening we were shown glimpses of the “Kuruba” tribal culture with some folk songs and dance by the local men. Just realized that it’s a routine they have to go through every now and then for the urban ‘matter of fact’ people like us seeking some peace of mind there.  However their enthusiasm and commitment were infectious.

Food at the resort was great with the chefs paying personal attention to your specific needs.  As the ‘holiday fat’ kept on adding itself to various parts of the body, you realize that it is time to wind up and leave.  A line about the staff. The resort has some great people who were extremely genial, highly motivated with great passion for serving the guests.   They went out of the way in making our stay extremely comfortable and memorable. Many ‘Namaskaras‘ to this tribe’ and may it get bigger! (The staff has been trained to greet you with “Namaskara” whenever they see you)

The way back was more predictable as it always happens. You know what is coming ahead.  Except for a pleasant surprise when we stopped by at the town Maddur for lunch. As I was launching myself into “Maddur Vada” a local snack at “Adigas” – suddenly I could hear the enchanting sounds of “Santoor” instrument in the air. Pandit Shivkumar Sharma the great exponent of Santoor was walking in to have a bite there. The boy who was waiting his table had little clue that he was serving a living legend of our country – well can’t blame him. He is not of the Doordarshan generation and between Balaji’s emotional hatyachaar there is no ‘Bhaje Sargam Har Taraf Se’   fillers these days!  The excitement of having the legend for company compensated for the food at Adigas which was certainly disappointing.

On the Jet airways plane while returning– one couldn’t help think of the days when India had 2 world class domestic airlines. One (Kingfisher’s) future is uncertain and the other (Jet Airways) is living in past glory!

Kabini? Kabhi Nahin! Was the refrain as we endured the 6 hour drive on our onward journey. But the place, the resort, its people, the sights, the serenity, coffee …,… meant it was all worth it. After all you don’t want to miss a place where Nature also unwinds and takes a break!!!

Please take a look at the short video I’ve put together when you have the time :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Eph2IZIO0&feature=g-upl

Kabini By Night

It’s not just a car!!!

“It’s not just a car, it’s a caaaaar” goes the TV commercial for Nissan Sunny in India.  A drive from Chennai city towards Oragadam the place where this CAAAAR is manufactured in India throws quite a few pleasant surprises for an outsider.  Like getting to see tall residential projects by big Mumbai names like Hiranandanis and still further down of Godrejs in such off city places or stumbling upon a  Korean restaurant or for that matter  a Japanese snack/food/essentials joint in a remote place which has nothing to do with Korea or Japan.  Or is it?  For the locals these are not of any surprise though. We are in India’s car manufacturing hub in Chennai which now houses production facilities of big names like Ford, Hyundai, Renault-Nissan, Benz,..

It’s amazing to see what one car production facility can do to the area, the whole city, the state and its people.  And here we are talking of not just one but quite a few.  Car manufacturing while it generates direct jobs in 1000’s for the skilled factory workers,  engineers, middle level supervisors and managers it generates another few thousand indirect jobs.  Right from security people manning the gates, drivers / assistants/cleaners for the containers which ferry raw material inside and finished cars to the ports, catering people who have the onus of providing food to the workers in thousands, sundry contract labour for carrying out the odd jobs, in-house but outsourced maintenance workers/engineers, tailors who supply uniforms to the 1000’s of workers..,…  Also as Car production happens always in clusters, around it you have the whole campus of ancillary units which produce the various parts and so employ again a few thousands.    I also realized as I saw in Chennai, companies have a separate subsidiary to take care of the spare parts for after-market and its logistics. Then the effect spreads to the ecosystem which throws up things like the eateries – Korean/ Japanese,.. which I mentioned before to take care of the needs of the 100’s of expat Korean/ Japanese/ French/ American/ German staff who sweat it out in Chennai ( literally )as part of the production units of their respective companies.   Smart entrepreneurs start working around the needs of these expats and build highly profitable businesses just ‘catering’ to the needs of the expats may it be groceries/ food items/ their language newspapers/magazines and the works.  ( Heard ‘Saravana Bhavan’ will have a Japanese joint shortly to add to its list- wonder what will be the name though – ‘Sarazu’ may be??? ) While it does all this as far as jobs are concerned, Car production (unlike a chemical factory or pharma factory) doesn’t pollute the environment!

A huge IT park while it generates 1000’s of white collared jobs, it doesn’t do much to elevate the overall economy.  (It does elevate the cost of living as young things try to dispose their sudden rush of income in ingenious ways)  Unlike its southern counterparts AP and Karnataka which pursued an IT led growth and are now stuttering, TN derives its growth from a combination of Manufacturing, IT services and Agriculture.  It’s really unfortunate that though Karnataka houses the production facility of a global car giant like Toyota, it still couldn’t make ‘Bidadi’ where Toyota car is produced in India, a car hub by aggressively pitching for other car manufacturers.  ( Bidadi is now a tourist attraction thanks to Swami Nityananda!!!) It’s another matter that Toyota set up its facility in Bangalore due to reasons relating to history and not economics or geography.  It’s JV partner in India for a long time the Kirloskars were Bangalore based.  In the case of Andhra while Chandrababu Naidu, it’s erstwhile energetic Chief Minister was keen on getting the F1 track in AP and to get many of the IT majors set up base in Hyderabad,was not pursuing (or I don’t recall) any car manufacturer to put up a factory there!

Some may say that it’s not easy to set up car production anywhere and it needs an ecosystem of auto component suppliers, skilled workers, supply of engineers, access to ports, and continuous supply of electricity,…,..  Well it’s a question of whether the egg comes 1st or the chicken!  In today’s world if you order the egg 1st, it comes 1st and if you order the chicken 1st, you get the chicken 1st!!  So it’s up to the state to put the ecosystem in place and pitch for investments or get the investments and build the ecosystem around.  ‘Gurgaon’ before Maruti was well, just a ‘Gaon’!!!

The effect of these in the economy of Tamil Nadu is quite visible.  It is the 2nd largest economy among the states in India and it is the 2nd industrialized state in India.  It also leads the urbanization (44%) in India.

Soon it will be the turn of Gujarat to enjoy the benefits as it starts providing stiff competition to Chennai in becoming the next preferred car manufacturing hub in India.    Thanks to the Tata Nano unit in ‘Sanand,  we hear that already many car manufacturers have planned to put their units around ‘Sanand’. As Chennai battles its woes without power, there are opportunities for other states to get the car manufacturing pie as India with its advantages of low-cost skilled labour, domestic growth, ancillary base,…,… is poised to become one of world’s largest car manufacturing base in the next 2 decades.

While I mentioned about the so many benefits a Car production unit brings to the economy, I must not forget the effect it brings to the pride of people associated with it as well.  Most of the car plants in Chennai while they produce for India are also big time exporters of the finished cars not only to developing countries but also to developed nations.  So much so that while I was in Hyundai the gentleman I met proudly said “if you see an i20 anywhere in the world, it would have rolled out of the Chennai factory!!!”   And somebody else said “Chennai is the Detroit of Asia”!

So Chief Ministers, if you want to pursue hi growth in your state, go after a car manufacturer!

Because “its not just a car, it’s a caaaaaaaaaaar!!!