Monday, August 29, 2016

The Balochistan issue 2016

A common question doing the rounds in India is the possible manner in which reactions to the reference to Balochistan (by the Indian PM in the 15th August independence day speech) will play itself out. As everyone knows, the constant meddling by Pakistan in creating unrest in Kashmir, and the handlers of Mumbai terror attack (and many more attacks) openly operating from its soil has worsened relations between the two South Asian neighbours. 

It is very unlikely that the chain of events will immediately lead to any violent skirmishes, but there is little doubt that a process to balance out perceptions has been started by India. Let us take a look at the issue in totality now.

Here is the Indian tricolour in the hands of Baloch activists in Germany. They have seized the moment to voice their concerns worldwide.
Human rights violation, Balochistan, India, Pakistan, Germany, China, Kashmir unrest, BrightSparks blog

We all know the strategic importance of both Balochistan as well as the CPEC passing through it and the PoK, which is an integral part of India. The debate heated up in past 5 years due to the two ports coming into limelight, and the recent trouble in Kashmir, fomented by Pakistan. The Baloch fear more oppression and resource-grabbing than earlier.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Olympics Success – our Soft-Power ladder

Olympics, India at the Olympics, Olympics medals tally, Excellence, hard power, soft power, India, PT education, PT's IAS Academy, BrightSparks blog, Sandeep Manudhane
Excellence all the way
In the interconnected world of today, a nation can display its might in two ways – Hard Power and Soft Power. For example, in the digital world of the internet, approximately 80 percent leading brands are American, and the common man (user) unquestioningly accepts that country’s supremacy. India, similarly, has become a big brand in information technology. In military power (hard), Indian definitely figures in the top 5, and even China hesistates to take it head-on in several matters. Likewise, in manufacturing (hard power), even America finds it tough to compete with China. Many strategic global marathons like these are incessantly being run, and a huge nation weaving the dream of emerging a superpower, cannot stay aloof.

In this background, let us attempt an unbiased and neutral analysis of India’s Olympics performance.

In India, the common population stays indifferent to what happens at the Olympics, normally. Several reasons account for it – Olympics’ not being in the governments’ priorities, the expensive nature of many games and sports, and the youth being involved in studies or livelihood activities rather than making games the aim of their lives. Every four years, when this mega global competition happens, the national media suddenly changes focus to issues like national glory and priorities. This year was special – a society that habitually carries out female foeticide and burns its brides for dowries, wan in rapture when girls won many medals at Rio. Suddenly, slogans like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, Beti Khilao (Save the girl child, educate her, let her play) became the rage. It will be worth seeing if those raising such slogans and updating their social media status accordingly, will celebrate if a girl child arrives in their families!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why are well-planned Indian cities so rare?

As urbanisation picks up pace across India, albeit not matching global levels, this is one question that we are forced to confront frequently.

In my opinion, India is so bad at planning cities because we have no ‘one’ effective, central urbanisation plan at all. We do not have state-level urbanisation plans either. And till recently, we did not even have effective, functional district level comprehensive urbanisation plans. Though there have been ministries and departments, but their power to make deep dents in the system was negligible.

Sounds shocking, right? The only plans we have had so far have been after random, haphazard growth in Indian cities has already happened. Then, authorities would scramble to make it work, turn it revenue-positive and make it look less dis-organised. This story repeated itself countlessly over and over, time and again. It was only post 1991–92, after the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were carried out, that Rural local bodies and Urban local bodies gained prominence.

But why is there such a mess? Three prime reasons - basically a rural nation + no effectively funded centralised plan + huge regional variations.

. . . . .

REASON 1. Primarily a Rural nation - In 1951, India had only 5 cities with a population more than 10 lacs, and only 41 cities with more than 1 lac people. Villages were more than 5.6 lacs. Today in 2016–17, more than 65 percent of our people live in rural areas, or just-above rural towns. These are the prime focus of all governments, due to sheer numbers, and the political meaning it carries. The fact that rural folks are primarily agriculturists makes it simpler for the policy-makers to focus largely on them. The figures are tell-tale.

Urbanisation in India, Rural India, Ministry of Urban Development, AMRUT, Housing for All, Government of India, Smart Cities, PT education, PT's IAS Academy, Sandeep Manudhane, BrightSparks blog, Indore, India
Indian urbanisation has a long way to go yet

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Our unhealthy GDP (an article in Hindi)

चकित न हों - मुझे पता है भारत की जीडीपी वृद्धि दर विश्व में फिलहाल सर्वाधिक है (चीन से भी अधिक) और अनेक अंतर्राष्ट्रीय निकाय हमें शाबाशी दे रहे हैं. हमारे आर्थिक सर्वेक्षण 2016 एवं बजट 2016-17 में भी इस आधार पर अनेक योजनागत विश्लेषण व अनुमान लगाये गए हैं. अच्छा है, जीडीपी का परिमाण बढ़ना ही चाहिए अन्यथा हर साल सुरसा के मुंह की भांति बढ़ रही हमारी आबादी खपेगी कहाँ, नौकरियां आएँगी कहाँ से और प्रति व्यक्ति आय बढ़ेगी कैसे. ये सब तो ठीक है, किन्तु हमारी पूरी व्यवस्था 5  ऐसी बीमारियों से ग्रसित हो गई है जिनका इलाज नहीं हुआ तो वृद्धि के लाभ केवल कागज़ों पर रह जायेंगे.

प्रसिद्ध चिंतक प्रोफेसर एंगस मेडिसन ने अपने अध्ययन से ये सिद्ध किया कि ऐतिहासिक रूप से भारत और चीन विश्व के सर्वाधिक समृद्ध देश रहे हैं. इन दोनों का जीडीपी विश्व के कुल का साठ प्रतिशत से अधिक हुआ करता था. प्रसिद्ध पत्रिका द इकोनॉमिस्ट ने इस चित्र के ज़रिये इस सच्चाई को बताया -

Angus Madisson, The Economist, India, China, GDP, Economy
विश्व इतिहास का अदभुत सच 

किन्तु जैसा हम जानते हैं, और जी रहे हैं, आज की स्थिति बिलकुल उलट है.

How can I stop being average in life?

How can I stop being average? A great answer is possible for “How can I be excellent at anything?”
~ A practical guide to creating excellence in daily life ~
  • Do work you love to do. That is the indispensable first condition.
  • If you are stuck in a profile you hate, leave. Or, begin loving it. No third way.
  • Everyday, try to be a bit faster and more efficient that the earlier day.Consciously. Don’t ask your boss, do it on your own.
  • Constantly imagine what you desire others should say of your work - “average”, “chalta hai”, “professional”, “wow!”, “reliable”, …
  • Make formats (small and big) that you can replicate the next time - for everything possible. It saves amazing amounts of time and makes you very fast.
    Excellence, Work culture, Success, Professional, Happy, Prosperity, Sandeep Manudhane, PT education, PT's IAS Academy
  • Organize your stuff. Files, papers, software, hardware, everything. Acid test - how much time you take to retrieve anything.
  • Read about your area of work regularly. It keeps you alarmed enough to never lose the incentive to learn new things.
  • New skills take time to learn and master. Be very patient, but aggressive all the while. Find an accomplished guru who’s willing to mentor you (fastest and surest way, but very difficult to find)
  • Inquisitiveness killed the cat, but it’ll build your excellence. Ask, inquire, search, sift, collate, reject, edit, absorb.
  • Keep your silliness at bay - don’t smirk when someone points out your shortcomings, don’t laugh when someone fails, be willing to dish out money on great books/literature (of immediate use), etc.
  • Don’t envy the accomplished. Praise them whole-heartedly.
And if you find all this tedious and useless, there’s no compulsion at all. Just don’t complain the next time you miss the pay hike or bonus, and are unable to achieve your material goals. Settle at a lower orbit, and if you can be happy with it, perfect.
Life does not expect excellence for survival. It is stuff dreams are made of.

Friday, August 19, 2016

How would Indian civilisation be different today had Nalanda not been destroyed?

Indians often wonder how things would be, had the great centres of learning like Nalanda, Takshashila and Vikramshila would still be around, flourishing. These and more fell to the invaders from time to time, and only a small part of the glory exists today.
How would Indian civilization be different today had Nalanda University not been destroyed?
A simple, straight, innocent but incomplete answer would be -
Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji was a warrior with weapons, who upon encountering the mighty Nalanda, saw thousands of savants who intellectually were centuries ahead of anything he had experienced. Nalanda was using the formal Vedic systems of learning since 5th c. A.D., like Takshashila and Vikramshila. Khilji had two choices - bow his head, learn from them, exceed them in knowledge. Or, burn them down. In ca.1193 AD, he chose to end Nalanda. And had this monster not done so, this University would be better and bigger than the Harvards and Stanfords of this world. India would have had a big education brand to flaunt globally, and so on and so forth.
Modern day ruins of Nalanda, and a reconstruction of the University seal -

Khilji and the end of the Buddhist monks -

BUT Such an answer will be not only superficial, it will be a grave injustice to the ancient Indians who built a magnificent civilization second to none.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thinking of Independence Day 2016, and more!

Every independence day is special. It's a reminder for both Pakistan and India that entire generations were swallowed by the monster called colonialism, and a hard-earned freedom was achieved after grit and determination paid off in 1947.
Unfortunately, the subcontinent's history took rather unsavoury turns after that, and demons of poverty, hunger, malnutrition and under-development still roam free. Our people who deserve the best, make do with poor per capita incomes in challenging circumstances.
What a united approach to development could have achieved for everyone in south Asia, is marred by acrimony and discord. In light of this historical reality, and the present day troubles at the border, the speech of PM Narendra Modi from Red Fort on 15-August 2016 was an important one. Modi is trying to make governance more responsive and quick, against all prevailing odds. In a boisterous democracy with a free press and a multitude of opinions that disagree with anything a PM (any PM) may try to do, the task of leading India is not easy!
I know that India is facing many problems that affect citizens' quality of life. We have to find solutions together.
In addition to tens of regularly important points made by the prime minister in an energetic Independence Day speech 2016, the following three struck me hard -
  1. Reminding Indians of something called “Work Culture” - We Indians are proud of our ancient culture and legacy. PM Modi made it a point to repeatedly mention “work culture” to remind us that unless we work to improve our present through productivity and decisiveness, we won’t have a justified claim on a glorious future. His references to the countless (and some already successful) new schemes and initiatives was interlaced with the work culture dna. In my study of the past 25 years, he is the first PM to speak thus. Indira Gandhi - the iron lady - had used it earlier through a famous slogan “Baatein kum, kaam zyada” meaning talk less, do more. But that had fizzled out. Modi must have learnt his lessons, and his trying to ensure that IT can be used to ensure transparency in delivery.

Monday, August 15, 2016

This independence day, a call for Digital Independence

With tremendous grit, determination and zeal, millions of Indians led by some of the finest leaders struggled for, and were able to, freeing the Indian subcontinent from the clutches of one of the most rapacious colonial masters ever, 70 years ago.

Jai Hind, Vande Mataram, Indian independence, 1947, 15th August, Freedom, Democracy
Vande Mataram
India was free, on 15th of August, exactly 69 years ago. The biggest, bulkiest and the most promising democracy of 130 crore citizens is now entering its 70th year of freedom.

These seven decades have been tumultuous for India, which has swerved through the highways of disorder, confusion, conflicts, evolution but definite progress on all fronts. All, but one that's defining global discourse and power today.

Times have changed dramatically in the last few years, however. From a purely brick-and-mortar model of economy dominating the discourse on what freedom and achievement could mean, we are now witnessing a profound shift towards click-and-mortar or pure-click models dominating not just individual national economies, but spanning the oceans at literally the click of a mouse.

Today, digital assets define some crucial aspects of a national economy like
  • Ability to share information (email, messengers, chat tools, social media)
  • Ability to transact commercially online (marketplaces, payment gateways)
  • Ability to connect to the world and showcase one's work (social media)
  • Project national power through platforms everyone uses daily (Apps, Software)
  • Running parts of the real, hard economy (giant digital corporations)

And in the middle of this profound change, India has emerged as with many natural advantages. A growing nation of 1.3 billion individuals where the per capita income can only improve with time represents the biggest commercial and strategic opportunity for any brand or company. That is the reason for almost every large global brand to make a beeline for starting operations in India where they need to be physically present here in a large way, or to operate with minimum physical presence where the nature of things do not require them to.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to maximise scores in UPSC Prelims exam - detailed analysis

As I do each year, here is the comprehensive solution to both papers of UPSC Civil Services exam 2016. Each session is of 2 hours.

What you should learn from these sessions 

  1. Macro approach to tackling a tough test like this
  2. How to budget your time across the 100 or 80 questions
  3. Basic test-taking-techniques (TTT)
  4. Scan - Search - Select - Solve techniques to maximise your score
  5. Staying positive throughout till the last moment
  6. Tricks and Test-smarts e.g. using options to quickly get the answer

UPSC Prelims 2016 - Paper I (GS) 
Here is the complete questionwise analysis

UPSC Prelims 2016 - Paper II (GS - CSAT) 
Here is the complete questionwise analysis 

To read detailed analysis, go to this page.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

UPSC exam - a mirror to the Nation

Recently, the preliminary stage of renowned civil services exam of Union Public Services Commission was held across India. Lacs of young women and men, desirous of getting into the topmost services like IAS and others, participated enthusiastically. These youngsters, full of passion and hopes, have a heartfelt desire to contribute positively to a transformation of the nation.The number of aspirants is growing by the year, and it is interesting to observe that in an era of rapid privatisation of economy, the longing for government jobs is growing! I analyse this exam each year, and try to decipher and learn/explain the trends behind the questions.

UPSC, IAS exams, Civil Services, Narendra Modi, transparency, UDAY scheme, Aadhar card, PT's IAS Academy, PT education, Sandeep ManudhaneWe will now focus on a special aspect of this, which is the fact that the flavour of questions included this year in the examination clearly reflected the changing parameters of administrative services in the country. The manner in which the present government, in keeping with a changing world, is trying to inculcate a completely new paradigm, was visible through the questions. A sincere student, and every citizen for that matter, should try to understand this.

Five aspects related to this become clear.

First : Environment and ecology has not only become a sensitive issue, to keep pace with the various global treaties and institutions has become essential for India. A nation that would always listen to other, proposed the creation of an "International Solar Alliance" headquartered in India, and this was quite stunning for not only the common people, but also world powers. The manner in which India, bound by various complex treaties and conventions of the United Nations, is having to modify its laws, is interesting to watch. Many questions reflected the complex nature of the environmental issues confronting the Western Ghats in India.

Second : The government is connecting administration with technology to enable faster processes, and this has become a ground reality now. The multiple elements of Digital India are not just showcased in reports, they are entering our lives. An example is "Digilocker". Who could have imagined just 10 years ago that school certificates of students would be stored in authenticated digital lockers which they'd be able to use anytime, anywhere? The manner in which neem-coated Urea (fertilizer) will reduce corruption and increase productivity, is interesting to watch. Core-banking is now an established technique, and students were reminded of Payment Banks also. It is clear that the government wants future civil servants to not only be sensitive towards grassroot realities, but also have the courage to accept technology to deliver quick governance processes.

Third : The Modi government, on one hand gave a huge platform to Aadhar authentication services, and at the same time launched a list of Schemes (Yojanas) with the potential to transform India's administrative and current framework. Questions were asked pertaining to many schemes, indicating the UPSC's desire to select students aware of them. Examples include the "UDAY" scheme for power distribution companies, "SWAYAM" scheme for large scale online courses, Stand-up India scheme for the backward classes and women, crop insurance scheme for farmers, Rashtriya Garima scheme for Dalit-dignity, etc. That India's administrative discourse will revolve around these schemes in the coming future, is certain.

Fourth : It was clear that global developments are leaving their sure marks on India, and we have no choice but to engage with them. How the "Project Loon" of Google could deliver 4G-internet through balloons was visible, how China's renminbi made it to the IMF's SDR, what are the controversial subsidy 'boxes' of WTO, how does the European stability mechanism work; what's the relationship between RCEP, ASEAN and India, India and the Ease of Doing Business Index, China's One Belt One Road prohject, etc. - were enough for us to understand that the coming years will be quite different from the decades gone by. Indians, and civil servants, will have to be ready to tackle these issues.

Fifth : We cannot afford to forget out roots, in the midst of all these changes. Our history, world history, our cultural legacy, our our democratic and parliamentary framework and rules, procedures to make new laws - all these hint at the fact that Indians can never turn away from their roots. More so for UPSC IAS exam aspirants!

In addition, the reading comprehension passage and basic aptitude questions in the second paper ascertained the ability to successfully battle with numbers. Hindi medium students had, through protests in 2014, ensured that the second paper was made qualifying, rather than scoring. The allegation was that the English reading comprehension passages being asked (not the bilingual ones), were doing injustice. Also that the logical reasoning and mathematics questions were favouring students from the engineering background. If you observe the working style of top administration officials today, you'll find that preparing Schemes based on facts/numbers and logically argued reports, and getting them executed using technology has become the government norm now. The numbers of all departments are being fed into online dashboards, for transparent public scrutiny. It is important to love one's own languages, but we should not deprive ourselves from learning English. Youth desirous of making a career in any field should not try to escape maths and logical reasoning. Sooner or later, they'll confront you for sure.

So we see how an exam can judge not only students' static knowledge and bookish insights, but also their grip on national developments and the intense desire to contribute to nation-building. One hopes that these talented students will, in the coming years, avoid being victims of corruption and longing for favourable postings, and will contribute to making India a great nation in the 21st century.

I have prepared a comprehensive question-wise analyses of both papers. Check here!

My Hindi article on the same here -

IAS exams, IAS coaching, PT's IAS Academy, PT education, Civil Services in India, Sandeep Manudhane, IAS articles, UPSC

Jai Hind!