Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Raisina Hills Gets An Deserving Occupant

By: Subhadeep Bhattacharjee

There has been a lot of debate about Pranab Mukherjee’s rise to become the 13th President of India and perhaps the stature of the man has alone led to many of those debates. Some saw this as a tactical move by the Congress ahead of the 2014 elections while others argue that UPA government has made a gamble sacrificing its chief trouble-shooter, manager and above all an authority on Indian politics and constitution. However the country can rejoice the fact that Raisina Hills has got one of its most deserving occupants especially as Mukherjee’s predecessor Smti. Prathiba Patil was seen by many as a historical accident by the Congress party and merely a compromise candidate when its initial choices were rejected by the allies. 

Pranab who many saw as one of the best Prime Ministers India never had would surely bring in dignity and grace to the office. A glimpse of which was seen in the way he managed his election campaign when he stayed away from personal attacks on his opponent Mr. PA Sangma who was all out against Pranab framing charges one after the other. The veteran from Bengal well knew the cards were stacked in his favour and refrained from acting childish like Mr. Sangma who was all along claiming a miracle would make him win. And what a poor tagline had he picked up for the campaign “I am a Christians, I am a tribal, vote for me” He was claiming the support of some Tribal forum in India however the results in North East and his own state Meghalaya should serve as an eye-opener for him as tribals didn't see him as their representative. It seemed like one of those agitations for reservations!

Now came the surprise came in from the BJP who many throught would support Pranab. It didn’t want to risk one of its names against the stature of Pranab and choose the second best deal of supporting Sangma who was blowing the trumpet of Tribal background and Christianity both of which are alien to BJP’s ideologies. So it was merely opposition for the sake of it. The party which has been out of power for 8 years seems to have lost the magnanimity which had earned it the tag of ‘party with a difference’. If the strategy was merely to be anti-Congress and attract AIADMK and BJD the leaders of BJP seems to putting their apples in the wrong basket. 

The greatest surprise perhaps came from none other than the 'icon of insanity' Mamata Banerjee. She not only rejected Pranab’s name but kind of humiliated the Congress by suggesting the name of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the post of President. This was an unprecedented move considering this was Bengal’s first shot at Presidency and Mamata risked going against the sentiments of the people of her state. This is why she is the ‘icon of insanity’. The insanity continued till the very end when Mamata made a U-turn and promised her support for Pranab with ‘pain’ in her heart.  She would shame many leading ladies in Tollywood with her melodrama.

And lastly Madam Sonia Gandhi made the biggest gamble as the Chairperson of the UPA.  She put a key man in the Rashtirpati Bhavan for 2014 and also removed Rahul Gandhi’s greatest roadblock in becoming the Prime Minister in 2014 if Congress makes it through. After all Mukherjee had worked under his grandmother, father and would never have liked to have a third-generation ‘reporting head’ from the same family. It remains to be seen if the mistake proves too costly for the Congress knowing Pranab Mukherjee he might strictly follow the constitution and not take a partisan decision if there is a hung Parliament in 2014. For now Raisina Hills is the address of the most seasoned politician and statesman in the country.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How Indian Railways Can Increase Profits, Yet Care For the Poor

By: Subhadeep Bhattacharjee

Does the title sound misleading? It might in a country which isn’t famous for streamlining costs and increasing profits. We have reached that time of the year when everyone is anxiously waiting for the Railway Budget and the Union Budget with the former setting the tone of the season. Not sure how many countries in the world do have a budget for a single entity. But such is the importance of the Indian Railways in our lives. Even the high flying people who might never have stepped into a station show some academic interest on the Rail Budget.

Over the years the Railway Budget has fallen victim to populist politics and diplomatic appeasement of different states and non-logic driven expansion. We have embarked on some challenging projects which have overrun costs and deadlines and ignored one of the most important things such as security. As 2012 budget approaches and there are talks of fare hike lots of arguments and counter arguments are emerging from different quarters. Let us look at some of the ways in which the Indian Railways can increase profits and yet not dent an Aam Aadmi’s pocket.
  • First things first, get populism out of this ministry and prevent lunatic people from helming affairs. To woe voters these people announce projects, start new trains, freeze fare hikes and give unnecessary discounts. The policies of Mamatas, Lalus and Paswans have restricted the Railways from evolving into a modern unit. All these have ensured that the fourth largest railway is below international standards. 
  • Increase the number of 2AC and 3AC coaches in the trains and reduce the number of sleeper coaches. This would sound anti-poor! Non-sense try booking any reservations 3 days after it opens and you find all the AC tickets booked. What does it prove? Most Indians where were used to travelling Sleeper Class a decade ago have upgraded, the brains which run railways have failed to take note of that. A 3AC ticket is approximately 2.5 times more than a Sleeper ticket and thus would increase the revenue (considering railways don’t incur 2.5 times hire expanses on operations and coach building).
  • Introduce full AC trains at par Rajdhani Express between important stations. For instance a busy route like Howrah-Chennai doesn’t have one. It’s funny that some railway planners think every Indian would fly and low cost airlines would kill the AC trains. The 3AC fare on this route is 1250 and minimum flight fair is of the tune of 3500. The maths shows the opportunity as this distance could be covered in less 24 hours with smaller (less coaches) Rajdhani like trains.
  • Hike fare on tourist trains such as the Darjeeling Toy Train, Kalka-Shimla Train. These are being run at huge losses. Such tickets are priced at one-fifth of what they should be. The logic behind this is that the locals should get a cheap transport. The fact is more tourists than locals use these trains. So hike fare and locals could be rather issues passes so as to not hurt their pocket.
  • Start selling space in trains, railway stations and along tracks. This is being done but such is the model that small advertisers are barred from entry. Outsource it to an agency which allows people to buy advertisement spaces bypassing license raj system of tenders, applications and all possible models which prevent fair play.
Such steps taken can increase the operational profitability of the Indian Railways substantially with marginal increase in fare. These measures aren’t anything out of the box but driven by logic. India is changing and so should the railways. We Indians should also be willing to shell out a few extra rupees for this entity which is the lifeline of the country. After all we have not seen any hikes in the past 8 years which itself is some sort of a record!


Monday, February 27, 2012

Are We Going Back to Greg Chappel Ways of Indian Cricket?

By: Subhadeep Bhattacharjee

It is quite surprising that Team India which was favourites to win the World Cup (which they did) just about a year back is fighting hard to stay united on a cricket field. A team which rightly claimed Cricket’s most coveted title defeating Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in do or die games is falling like a pack of cards. Why is this happening? How is it that a team of talented players who were fighting it out as a cohesive unit just about a year back look in complete disarray? Well it seems we are going back to the Greg Chappel ways of playing the game! 

Let’s rewind into the past when the Aussie legend was in charge of the Indian Cricket (sorry but Rahul Dravid seemed more like an assistant in the team) we were encountering such lows with first round exit from the 2007 World Cup being the lowest point. There is one thing common between then and now – ‘uncertainty’ and such environments can lead to teams fragmenting which happened then and which is happening now. And the results are for everyone to see the team doesn’t look like one irrespective to the PR campaign that the BCCI and the team management is running. The team stands divided on thoughts, vision and perception. 

Greg Chappel had come with a plan to build a ‘team for the future’ but he ignored the present and his stint was one of the most disastrous phases in recent memory of Indian cricket. Although our new coach seems to be in the background the captain MS Dhoni seems to have got into the same though process. He wants to win the 2015 World Cup in Australia-New Zealand and is sacrificing the present. What else would explain the logic of rotation when there isn’t any guarantee that some of the youngsters playing in this tour would be in form and fitness to play the World Cup which is more than three years away? Rotating between Sachin, Sehwag and Gambhir has done little good to the team as did Greg’s ways of changing batting order and having different team meetings with seniors and juniors and starting an infamous battle ‘seniors versus juniors'.

Fielding is definitely one of the drawbacks of Team India and it also always been so but Dhoni’s argument of not being able to play the ‘Top 3’ for their friending abilities defies logic.  If good fielding sides would result in sure wins New Zealand which has consistently been one of the best friending sides would have definitely had much better record. So having good fielders won’t necessarily win you matches which are decided by batsman and bowlers with fielding playing a supporting role. Yes Sachin and Sehwag have been in awful form in the series but dropping them for their solely fielding abilities is insane. Saving 20 odd runs make no difference when your team bundles out below 200 on a regular basis.

Captaincy is as much of skills as it is diplomacy. A captain should know what to speak in a press conference and what to hide from the media. Dhoni’s honest attitude and revealing it all to the media hasn’t worked in favour of the team. He has lost his calmness, Midas touch and should find ways to adjust with the situation around him. Being candid isn’t always the right thing to do especially when the odd are stacked against you. It’s time that we try taking each series as it comes and forget about building a team for the 2015 World Cup or else a 2007 like early exit isn’t unlikely.


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