CategoryGovernance

Brown Traitors

The Devyani Khobragade incident is almost forgotten now and people have moved on to outraging about other things. But I’ve always wondered what about the incident prompted such visceral reactions from folks in India. The tweet above by actress and now-avid Twitterer/activist, Gul Panag [1] unwittingly encapsulates why the issue made Indians reflexively hate the United States.

At the heart of the issue, it was a very simple law and order problem. Khobragade lied on her visa application, underpaid her maid, and implored the maid to lie about it, all of which are serious crimes in the United States. However, the ensuing hullaballoo failed to highlight these issues and instead chose to dwell on conspiracy theories and debates on diplomatic immunity. If diplomatic immunity was in fact valid, India should’ve clamped down on the noise and keep repeating diplomatic immunity ad naseum and whisk Khobrgade out of the country. Other countries go to extreme lengths to protect their citizens charged with crimes in foreign lands but never is the crime excused. Debates on Twitter and the media pontificated on the differences in wages in the two country for both the maid and the consulate staff.

However, the most ridiculous theory thrown out even by prominent journalists and TV anchors in India was how Preet Bharara, the prosecuting U.S. Attorney was conducting a witch-hunt to prove his “American-ness” by punishing “fellow Indians”. Even otherwise educated and aware Indians subscribed to this view and brushed it off as not trusting politicians. The thinly veiled racism was evident but was shrouded in subtleties unlike Gul Panag’s tweet above. Why would a U.S. citizen albeit a brown person be deliberately prosecuting other brown people to prove his “Indianness”? Are all brown people always Indian regardless of what their passport says? Isn’t that similar to likening the norm of being American as being an Anglo Saxon White Protestant (WASP)?

In the history of the United States, the norm has never been more different. It is the ultimate melting pot and although the corridors of power are still dominated by white men, increasingly people of other races and backgrounds have been making their way in there. People like Preet Bharara who otherwise would be lauded on India Shining slideshows on Rediff and Times of India have worked their asses off often in face of still-prevalent institutional discrimination to get to their position.

There were other socioeconomic issues [2] at play too but this painting of Bharara as a “brown traitor” troubled me the most. I fail to understand the underlying sentiment (resentment?) that leads to such reactions. At what point is a brown person no longer an Indian? Does it take 3-4 generations? Any person is free to hold on to his or her ethnic or cultural background as long as they want but is it the right of others to claim such people as their own?

When other brown people who have lived outside India dare to point out inefficiencies in India, it is mostly because they’ve had the opportunity to see better. They’ve had the opportunity to witness a well-functioning government which for the most part takes care of its citizens and provides the basic amenities without much hassle. In today’s globalized age, most urban Indians also seem to be aware of these shortcomings so why the reflexive anger when an NRI points them out? Improvements start with criticisms and that’s how political change comes through e.g. Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral success. So next time, when your cousin from the U.S. come visiting and dares to utter a barely negative remark about India, don’t label him a traitor and ask him to go back to “his” country.

Footnotes:
  1. This post is not intended to target Gul Panag specifically but in fact, just to point out how otherwise sensible people harbor deep rooted resentment []
  2. underage and underpaid labor class in India and at times, among Indians outside of India []

What prompts a change of heart in public policy issues?

This week, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on Proposition 8 in California that banned gay marriage. Rumors are circulating that if nothing else, the SCOTUS will not uphold Prop.8, which if you’re aware of the composition of the Court is surprising. Over the past couple of years, gay marriage has reached a tipping point in public opinion with a majority supporting it. Only as recent as 2004, opposition to gay marriage was so strong that it was credited to have reelected George W. Bush.Merely having it on the ballot of battleground states brought out hordes of conservative hell bent on preserving ‘traditional’ marriage [1].

It is 2013 now and nearly 67% of Californians and more than a majority across the nation support gay marriage. The tipping point, I think, was when the Vice President Joe Biden came out in favor which led to President Obama also overcoming his reluctant opposition. This admittedly may have been due to overwhelming pressure from big donors in Hollywood and NYC who are dedicated to the cause. Earlier this month, the governor of Senator from Ohio, a perennial battleground state, Rob Portman, also came out in favor of gay marriage. However, his motivations, at least publicly, were different. His son is gay and he considered his personal duty to support gay marriage.

Comparing the motivations of these two groups i.e. Biden-Obama and Portman, the latter’s change of heart seems genuine and as a better catalyst for a change in heart. But in terms of public policy and civil rights, is it really? In terms of advocacy and bringing about change among elected officials, what would you prefer to be a more desirable process? Although we look down upon politicians and their changing ways, it is an integral part of a democratic process. Politicians are motivated by their chances of getting reelected and their legacy, if under a term-limit. Most politicians want to be in the forefront of an inevitable wave of change. The public cannot be fooled by someone who just jumps on a bandwagon. At the same time, the politician has to be careful so as to not bet on change that may happen. It is a carefully calculated risk.

In terms of influencing change either through lobbying efforts or threatening to not donate to their next campaign, people can cause politicians to hasten their decision. Although money gets a bad rap, it is often a powerful tool, if harnessed correctly, in the hands of the people. Either that or using tools of publicity campaigns through social media. Politicians respond to external influences. That’s how the political and democratic process work. At least in such case, we know we have a chance.

Now if you consider Rob Portman’s influences, it was personal. It was his son who came out to him as gay and in turn brought him in touch with the issues that face the gay community. He would’ve no chance of knowing that had his son not been gay. So as a public, how are we supposed to deal with such influencing factors? Should we hope that children of politicians who make policy that affect millions are gay? or unemployed? or poor? or disabled? For them to support those issues. There are no external factors that aid us in changing the minds of such politicians. Dick Cheney famously was in favor of gay marriage way back in 2004 coincidentally also because his daughter was gay. But apart from saying so, he didn’t do anything about it. Given our experience with the Iraq war, we know that his voice wasn’t one of the less influential ones in the White House and the policy makers of that time.

While it is appreciable that both Biden-Obama and Portman chose to support gay marriage, it is also important to understand the motivations and subsequently, the opportunities in the future, for influencing such motivations.

Footnotes:
  1. all puns not intended []

Freedom to create discomfort

ARTICLE 19 (A) of the Constitution enshrines our right to free speech. But Article 19.2 restricts it on the grounds of public order, morality and decency, security of the State, sedition, friendly relations with foreign countries, defamation, contempt of court and incitement to an offence. Unfortunately, these clauses are very loosely worded and have become a baggy hideout for weak governments. If we are to preserve our precious right to freedom of speech, then, we must debate 19.2 and narrow its meaning more precisely. Or insist governments emerge from its shadows.

Source: Tehelka.

The above-quoted paragraph highlights what is the key issue in rampant and often random restrictions on free speech in India. I have written on this in the past. The other reason is the reluctance to charge the ones acting on the speech with violence. It needs to be inculcated that no matter how gravely you’re offended, if you resort to violence or issue a actionable threat to do so, you will be dealt with first. There should be no tolerance for violence regardless of the incitement. Start enforcing this law strictly and uniformly and you’ll see how quickly people will stop being offended. Most offenses taken are purely for publicity sake which in turn they use for political gain. Clamp down on this behavior and we may have a semblance of reasonable discussion in the country. One of my ex-professors suggested this:

And I agree.

Twitter Handles Blocked in India

There is much anguish in progress right now on Indian Twitter over a government order that lists several YouTube, Facebook, and blog URLs to be blocked. Also included are several Twitter handles. Presumably this blocking has been done to prevent ‘hate speech’ on the Internet from inciting violence that has affected Assam and Mumbai. Without getting into the whole muddle of ‘speech isn’t hateful, actions are’ argument, this government order begs the question whether it is legal or not.

The Constitution of India states freedom of speech as one of the rights granted to its citizens (the government cannot ‘grant’ but merely ‘affirm’ but whatever). But..but, there are certain caveats to this whole freedom of speech thing in India. What are those caveats?

“These rights are limited so as not to effect – the integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”

Ever see a more succinct yet all-encompassing list? So on constitutional grounds, you really don’t have any freedom of speech rights since your rights can easily be infringed upon using any of these restrictions. ‘Decency or morality’ and ‘defamation or incitement to an offence’ are my favorites. If I was a government babu, I bet I can classify anything you say as under those exceptions.

So however angry we are, let us not be mistaken that our Constitution is in anyway protecting us. On legal grounds, we have violated this ‘right’ many times. All it boils down to is begging the government to not block our URLs or Twitter handles. The government can start by, say pretty please. I have been to this dance before where then-bloggers took up arms against a flimsy third-grade management institute. Ultimately in the long run, the management institute prevailed. This is the government of India. There is no winning here; especially if it has the Constitution on its side.

The farce of free speech

The Indian constitution doesn’t guarantee free speech. The Indian constitution provides for “the right to freedom of speech and expression” (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under subclause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence” [via Wikipedia] So effectively the subclause (2) withdraws any freedoms that it grants in the original Article because any Tom, Dick, and Harry can voice their protest under the excuse that your words will offend their religious sentiments. Also, note that the government is also responsible for “preserving morality” which effectively means it may cater to the most conservative of the lot (no hand-holding, celebration of Valentines’, etc.)

While all of the above has been common knowledge and most of the Indians live with this “minor inconvenience”, it again reared its head when Salman Rushdie was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival because some asshat Muslim cleric reminded us of the fatwa imposed on him for writing Satanic Verses (Rushdie attended the same festival couple of years ago without any incident). Also, it is worth remembering that the book, Satanic Verses still remains banned in India which incidentally is not an Islamic Republic, the last time I checked. If you ignore the shock-worthy possibility that the Rajasthan police made up stories that a team of hit men from Bombay were headed to assassinate Rushdie, the real travesty was when the police tried to arrest two other authors who dared to read from the Satanic Verses in protest.

If you think about it, the free speech subclause is intended to prevent speech that provokes violence by the offended party and as illogical as that sounds, the offended party must resort to violence for the speaker to be in trouble. Here, only the threat of violence sends the police scampering. Instead of enforcing law and order and issuing a stern warning that any violence will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, the police chooses to silence the authors. Now, the authors already were done reading from the Satanic Verses and as of now, no violence was reported, so why are the police so hell bent on arresting the authors? Will be the police be just as willing to arrest the Islamic cleric if the authors say that they are offended by his lack of morality in asking for violent acts?

Although a vast majority of Indians will disagree, free speech should be unhindered and any illegal actions such as violence and destruction of property resulting from any speech should be punished. The excuse that “I was so angry by what he said that I burned a bus” should automatically land the perpetrator in an anger management class within an insane asylum housed in the fire department. But then I’m expecting too much if this becomes a reality in the near future.

Instead, the lit festival should be held on a cruise ship 12 miles off the Indian coast and anyone should be free to read from any blasphemous text if they should choose to do so. If that becomes a reality, it would be a shame on India.

Opposition? What opposition?

Putting a price on carbon, however, is a concept the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress indefinitely postponed all the way back in 2009. Such a step would have imposed costs on voters, and in bad economic times, the politicians flinched [emphasis mine].

[Source: National Post]

President Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline based on environmental concerns. While I agree with Frum’s basic point that putting a price on carbon-based fuels will offer disincentives to the consumer helping us move away from fossil fuels. But the hypocrisy in the above excerpted quote is glaring. So the Democrats and the Obama administration punted on the decision to implement cap-n-trade in 2009. Just as the government offers subsidies to encourage use of a particular technology (solar, wind, etc.), it also taxes the technology it prefers the public doesn’t use. In fact, I prefer the latter to the former because it lets the market free to decide on the alternative rather than the government deciding what we should be using. By taxing, it sends a signal that it prefers we rather not use carbon-based fuels and if we are really partial to such fuels, we wouldn’t mind forking out extra for our preference.

Gee, I wonder which other party in Congress at the time vehemently opposed such a legislation. The ‘politicians’ flinched because the other party painted the legislation as business-killing when it was merely proposing a market solution to the oil addiction problem. If the consumers so love oil-based products, they would continue paying the slightly higher prices and not seek alternatives, right? However, it is the generally accepted notion that when a legislation fails, the opposing party that caused it to fail is never mentioned.

Turning the Corner?

The December jobs report is good news. Very good news. Payrolls increased by 200,000 — and the growth was spread relatively evenly across the economy. Retail added 28,000 jobs. Manufacturing added 23,000 jobs. Transportation and warehousing added 50,000 jobs — 43,000 of them in the “couriers and messenging” subcategory, which suggests some of those gains are temporary holiday hires. Health care added 23,000 jobs. Food services added 24,000. Mining added 7,000 jobs. The only payrolls that shrunk in December were government payrolls: we lost another 12,000 public-sector jobs.

The December numbers also give us an opportunity to step back and look at 2011 as a whole. The economy gained 1.9 million private-sector jobs and lost 280,000 public-sector jobs. The unemployment rate dropped from 9 percent to 8.5 percent.

[Source: The Washington Post]

This news definitely comes as a relief to all of us; even the ones without a job yet as it gives them hope that the U.S. economy might be turning a corner. Obviously, do not underestimate the GOP’s resolve to screw things up or to dampen the spirits because a lousy economy is their best chance at regaining the presidency. I hope the American public is at least smart enough to see past this charade and obvious attempts to halt all efforts that might seem to be helping the economy. The chart below [source: The Washington Post] is a friendly reminder to efforts at painting this president as a big government socialist when in fact on his watch nearly quarter million public-sector jobs were cut.

Jobs public private 2011

However, if you step back a little and plot this chart over the past four years to include the final Bush year, we gain a little more perspective. The bottom of the barrel in this graph is December-January 2009 where things were looking desperate. George Bush in spite of his conservative leanings still offered the biggest bailout in history but this current crop of conservatives are to the right of Bush so imagine the plight if one of them takes office. We just might see a classic sine curve. By then, things might be too late.

Jobs growth in last four years

[source; red are the Bush years and blue are the Obama years]. I hope every American sees these two graphs before they vote in November. Ultimately, they’ll get the government they deserve.

Update: For even a better perspective on the lag in recovery, check out the following graph that shows the severity of the recession we are/were in. The improvement is steady but slow. However, as Jim Tankersley at the Atlantic warns, this growth can be disrupted due to any tumultuous news such as an U.S.-Iran confrontation. However, 2011 has been quite a rocky year and that did not stem the improvement so we can hope.

Recoverygraph banner CR

Primer on H.R. 3012

H.R. 3012 for dummies – and what you can do:

This is for those of you who are in the green card process (especially from countries like India and China) Actually, it even applies to you if you plan to apply for a green card in future through your employer.

(Via aditya’s posterous)

An excellent primer by Aditya on H.R.3012, an immigration-related bill, that will ease a lot of problems and help millions of legal immigrants in this country. However, if you are affected by this bill or know someone who is, we need action on your part in form of letters and phone calls to the Congressmen and Senators and financial contribution to Immigration Voice, who is lobbying for this pro-business bill. Please do your part.

The End of DADT

Barack Obama signed the DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) Repeal bill into law today morning. This effectively ended one of the surprising remnants of discrimination in the United States Armed Forces. After a long battle with the Republicans who insisted on holding on to this despicable law, the Democrats finally managed to fulfill one of Obama’s campaign promises. The gay community rightly kept up the pressure and Congress eventually drafted the repeal as a standalone bill before the 111th Congress is dissolved in January. History will look back at this time and wonder why such a no-brainer was delayed for such a long time.

The most despicable opposition came from the so-called defender of the military, John McCain who in his umpteen campaigns for the Presidency had displayed an illusion of moderation. He was exposed and was flailing badly as toward the end of the debate, he predicted Marines might lose their feet if DADT was repealed (WTF, right?) Aren’t we all glad that McCain didn’t win any of his campaigns and now I feel we dodged a bullet in not Sarah Palin as Vice-President but in fact, in John McCain as President. The man has clearly abandoned any values he pretended to have and has descended into senility. I hope history remembers him for the vile double-faced geezer that he is.

As far as the gay community is concerned, this is a major victory and will bring them back to the Democratic fold. No individual should be ever refused an opportunity to fight for his or her country especially in a time, as Republicans keep reminding us, of war. As Chris Rock astutely observed, “if they want to fight, let them fight coz I ain’t fighting”. Amen to that.

Want to Govern or Just be in Power?

The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it’s doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party’s cooperation — cooperation that won’t be forthcoming.

[Source: There Will Be Blood] And why not; the party that was widely labeled the ‘Party of No’ just won the House in a landslide. Of course, the Republicans will interpret this as a mandate to create gridlock. In the meantime, America suffers.

Compassionate Conservatism?

I recently asked my friends’ little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President of the United States . Both of her parents, liberal Democrats, were standing there. So I asked her, “If you were President, what would be the first thing you would do?” She replied, “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed.

“Wow…what a worthy goal,” I told her. “But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my driveway, and I’ll pay you $50. Then I’ll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.”

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?”

I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.” Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.

[Source: FROM A LISTENER: – Nealz Nuze on boortz.com]

I found this link among Google Reader’s Popular links. The comments on the link easily find holes in this apparently fictional story. But the mere fact that this link proved to be popular shows the current nature of discourse in the United States. When it isn’t about prejudice or discriminating against minorities, the dialogue is focused on such naive interpretation of economic incentives. Both positions – liberal and conservative – are rooted in ideology that doesn’t recognize the true nature of the issue. Giving food and houses to all homeless people compared to asking why homeless people aren’t working to earn a livelihood skirts almost all issues related to homelessness and merely uses them as props to further their narrow ideology. At least the liberal position is espoused by a child albeit supported by her parents (heck, your parents didn’t say a word when you say you wanted to join the circus as a little kid).

One two-term Republican president used the plank of compassionate conservatism adroitly to fool an electorate when in fact, his base still considers empathy as a sign of weakness. The issue of homelessness isn’t really even about empathy but rather a question for misplaced priorities on treating mental illness especially for returning veterans which most of the homeless are. Talking about supporting the troops is easy; doing it is another matter.

Triggering a Recession

You may have heard the conservatives’ favorite complaint – government interference not only exacerbates an economic downturn but also creates it. Without getting into Keynesian or Miltonian economics, I would like to say I agree. At least on an anecdotal level. Hear me out.

Not too long ago when the country was reeling under the threat of one of the most severe recessions since the Depression, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas made a bold statement. When asked about the economic condition of Texas, he replied:

Why is Texas kind of recession-proof, if you will? As a matter of fact, just today I think, Michael, you said someone had put a report out that the first state that’s coming out of the recession is going to be the State of Texas. I told him, I said, ‘We’re in one?’

As arrogant as that may have seemed not to mention the 95,000-odd jobs Texas had lost by then leading to 8% rate of unemployment, I kinda agreed with his basic premise. Compared to California, Florida, and other states, Texas given its size was not as badly hit because the housing crisis that had primarily caused the economic recession hadn’t hit Texas as bad. Ironically, some aspects of the State of Texas Constitution that limited “cash-out” refinancing and home-equity lending which if introduced at the federal level would be decried as socialism had helped. So Texas looked in great shape, right? Even if parts of Texas suffered, towns like College Station that relied on education and research industry at the university seemed immune.

Unfortunately Rick Perry bought into the hype of his other Republican colleagues and among crazy talk of secession, he announced an across-the-board 10% budget cut for state agencies; one of which also happened to be Texas A&M University. Located in College Station, Texas A&M University is the primary employer of the town’s 70-80,000 population; not including the people living in the twin city of Bryan. This directive from the Governor’s Office led to much debate and consternation at the university where even tenured faculty jobs were not considered safe.

Following initial rounds of layoffs mostly among lower levels of staff like at the physical plant and other related departments, it led to a feeling of apprehension and unease in the town. Although the university will end up slashing less than 1% jobs, almost everyone was afraid that they too might lose their job. Other measures like hiring freezes, pay hike freezes, and reduction in other benefits although health insurance premiums rose, were also enforced. This in spite of the fact that student enrollment has significantly risen as it always does during an economic downturn and for some strange albeit political reason, tuitions and other fees have been frozen for two years too.

After an uncertain summer, the housing report for July for Bryan-College Station came out last week. It turned out that housing sales had fallen by 56%, the steepest drop in years. The expiration of the homebuyer tax credit hadn’t helped either. Realtors in the region were frustrated that due to the uncertainty in the employment market, even those who were still employed did not want to step into the housing market although July is historically the busiest month for real estate since school year begins in August. Now we know that downturn in the housing market is often the harbinger for downturn in other aspects of the economy like home services, home improvement, food & dining, electronics and appliances, etc triggering a slowing down of an economy that was otherwise quite robust and thriving. The 10% cut that the university was forced to implement while freezing tuition and fees that started all this might not even make much of a difference in the state’s finances. Obviously, this does not even scratch the surface of the effect on the quality of education and research for Texas A&M.

So yes, anecdotally, I’ve seen how the government can trigger a potential recession where previously none existed. Or it has just been a strange coincidence. You decide.

Sports and Government Bureaucracy

Why I relate these stories, though, is to give a sense of how hard it was to make it in any Indian sport apart from cricket. Most of those sports are run by the government, and I don’t need to elaborate on the inevitable inefficiencies that result, and the hardships and bureaucracy that young sportspeople have to battle. You always feel that you’re fighting against the system, and whatever you achieve is in spite of it. I cannot stress this enough: To just survive the damn system, to keep playing the sport you love through years of this crap, you have to be made of stern stuff.

[Source: The Man with the Maruti 800]. Amit Varma in his weekly column for Yahoo India narrates his personal experiences on dealing with horrific conditions in order to compete at the state and national level. While I never competed at that level, my brother Aditya had similar experiences when he traveled to the Maharashtra hinterland (Kolhapur or Sangli I forget) for football. Fithly living conditions, inadequate food (brinjal was the staple food), and even more horrible sanitary conditions so much so that we had to unearth some remote acquantance in that town so he could use a decent toilet. Predictably, he never went back for the national selection.

Amit is right in pointing to government-run bureaucracies in sports. You only have to look at the state of hockey and compare it to cricket. However, Amit also points to East European countries in his column for their excellence in chess during the 80s. As we know, those countries weren’t exactly free-market utopias with privately-run sports bodies. Heck, China even today is a completely state-run machinery and manages to give the U.S. a run for its medals in the Olympics. While I don’t condone that model of nurturing sports either, why this disconnect? Why did India have the worst of both worlds?

Threatening to Quit

Remember it was social mobility that made America great—the ability to earn and get ahead. If Congress continues to buy votes at the expense of social mobility we will no longer be a great nation. The truly rich will stay that way but many "Henrys" (high earners, not rich yet) like me will quit. We may be only a small percentage of the population but we pay a large portion of the taxes and employ many. If you take the incentives away you will lose Henrys.

I love reading such rants but I would like them more if 'Henry' had written this AFTER he had quit. Threatening to quit because of high taxes is just drama; at least try and emulate your hero John Galt, and I will truly admire you.

How Fundamental is the Right to Education?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the Right of Children to
Free and Compulsory Education Act that enshrines education as a fundamental right for children. But how significant is this development? Indian Express tells us that India joined the league of 130 nations that provide legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to children. So probably it was long overdue and much-needed step in achieving tangible goals of actually providing education. But remember, 129 nations had already done it before so India isn’t doing anything pathbreaking.

While no one I know argues against granting children a fundamental right to education, the Indian government’s experiments in public education has been pathetic. The Congress government’s self-praise at introducing the 86th Constitutional Amendment is premature considering that implementation of truly extending this right to children is hazy at best. One of my objections to this act is the mandate that private unaided education institutions have to reserve 25 percent seats for children for weaker sections. While a noble goal, the schools will be reimbursed by the government at the rate it decides is necessary for educating a child. This rate may be far lower than the fees certain schools charge the other 75% of students. While I am not fundamentally opposed to reserving 25% of seats in a private school for children from ‘weaker sections’, it would be far less burdensome on the schools if the government pays them the fees it charges other students. Of course, how does the government plan to define ‘weaker sections’ or how does it plan to fund the act’s implementation are largely ignored aspects.

The government of course, is free to build and run public schools that give free education to all but we all know how that experiment has turned out. Even people from ‘weaker sections’ will not voluntarily send their kids to such government schools who are open to paying private school fees just because of the quality of education and the returns it guarantees post-graduation. The government must stop thinking of education as a solely non-profit field. Did you know that even for a private school, you cannot register your school as a profit-making institution? It should be registered as a non-profit or a charitable institution. Never mind, the fact that private schools are hardly run as such and is the direct result of such stifling regulation.

The government rightly understands that education is the core of development but errs greatly in its implementation. It should allow private players to unleash their entrepreneurial ideas and instead focus on accreditation to maintain standards. Legislate standards both academic and infrastructure-wise that schools must ensure it provides students and then get out of the way. More private schools will mean more opportunities for all sections of the society. Why spend tax payer money on building government schools when it is clear that they are not achieving their desired outcomes? Why hire teachers that never show up to work? Why build schools that are never maintained or upgraded? Let private entrepreneurs do the daily nitty-gritty and spend their money in exchange for a little premium for their hard work. Encourage charitable donations that give to such efforts and foster venture capital that funds primary education. This applies both in cities and villages.

Although I seriously doubt it, I hope this Act starts a national dialogue on reforming education and providing opportunities to all sections of societies without the micromanagement of the government.