September 1, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

Here is another round of random reflections for your perusal:

  1. Situated on the eastern coast of Java Island, Surabaya is Indonesia’s second largest city with a population of about 5 million. Once ruled for centuries by powerful Hindu kings of Majapahit dynasty, Surabaya is one of the cleanest and safest cities in Asia. Its current mayor is a non-nonsense woman who earned her second term with overwhelming support for her leadership in making this old urban inhabitation into a modern vibrant city.
  2. Recent public debate about the ‘charitable’ activities of Bill and Hillary Clinton through the Clinton Foundation have attracted a lot of public attention. With corpus of several hundred million dollars collected through donations from big corporations and wealthy individuals around the world, and enormous fees received by Bill Clinton for public speaking engagements, Clinton Foundation staff and activities have been ‘accused’ of facilitating ‘quid-pro-quo’ in political influence. One may ask similar questions about the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in India, which has a corpus of Rs 100 crores ($20 mn) provided by the corporate foundations and companies like Birlas, Tatas, Godrej, Bharati etc. This corpus doubled during the UPA government regime, when Congress president, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Finance Minister (Sonia, Rahul & Priyanka Gandhi, Manmohan Singh & P Chidambram) served as Trustees of this Foundation. Political influence through charity?
  3. A recent report from Canada identified causes for radicalisation of students who appear reasonably well integrated into the local society. It identified two main causes: first, a ‘feeling of estrangement or search for identity’ by youth and ‘shady charismatic figures’ exploiting the same. Its conclusions could be relevant to all societies where growing radicalisation of youth is a major concern…”the jihadist movement cannot be combatted with passive tolerance”.
  4. Singapore’s economic success is supported by an excellent digital infrastructure. It is global leader in internet speed index at 61 mbps; Japan at 42, USA at 22 and China at 18 mbps follow behind it. Its public places—malls, parks, airport, metro stations—all have free and good connectivity for all. No mobile number is asked, no password is required. Similar access exists in public places in Canada—no email id, mobile number or password needed. If we are serious about Digital India, we need to create that infrastructure which gives free and rapid access to all, irrespective of their device and identity.
  5. Since many government agencies do not do their job properly in the country, there is now a well established tradition for civil society to approach judiciary to pass strictures on the executive and mandate compliance of government’s own laws and duties. The High Courts and Supreme Court have passed several such strictures in the past decade—from child labour to pollution. What is the outcome? A media report, some temporary ‘claims to victory’, and soon back to ‘square one’. The Supreme Court recently told a petitioner asking the judiciary to get Delhi’s pavements cleared of hawkers and vendors to instead use citizens’ power to influence the government, as the only durable solution to our malaise.


Rajesh Tandon