Common man Grappling with Distorted Democracies:

A broken democracy.

Democracy is the system in most of the countries around the world. Democracy helps citizens to choose their leaders to run the government, where a party with majority that is more than half will get to rule. We were taught this, since our school days. I still remember a subject called ‘Civics’ in my primary school curriculum, exclusively meant for teaching democracy, constitution, executive, judiciary, bureaucracy and elections. 

Prime Minister Modi met US president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris in Washington, a day before UN general assembly, where they underlined the need for strengthening democracy and respecting human rights. Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi termed India as “the mother of all democracies”, in his address on 25 September 2021, in United Nations general assembly. I don’t agree with his statement completely.

Photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing United Nations General Assembly.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 76th session of the 
United Nations General Assembly.
The idea of this article is not to creep about a statement made by our Prime Minister. It is meant to reveal the lack of integrity in democratic values, across the globe.

India could be “mother of all the democracies” in books, but what is practiced is distorted democracy. It is same in all the countries where democracy is the system including India, United Kingdom, USA and Pakistan. Afghanistan also had democracy a couple of days ago. In all these countries, distorted democracy is the order, although the level of distortion differs depending on the factors like education, maturity, law enforcement and so on.

The world where we live is changing rapidly. We use advanced technology in our daily lives. It makes our life a lot more easier than what it was in the past. We get used to it and it becomes part of our lifestyle. We use 5G mobiles and internet which enables us to do a surgery remotely. We use advanced gadgets like smart phones, smart speakers, smart watches, headphones, TV’s and augmented reality.  Insurance companies will give discount on health insurance premium based on number of steps you walk everyday and they track your footsteps using smart wrest band. Doctors can monitor our cardiac health condition remotely with the use of technology. Google assistance and machine learning allows us to live carefree to some great extent. But with all these comforts and luxury comes a new age threat to our privacy, where someone can literally track and monitor everything we do in our lives.  

Pegasus software from NSO, an Israeli company is the most recent cyber surveillance that has come into light.

Illustrative image of cyber surveillance software Pegasus.
Illustrative image of cyber surveillance software Pegasus.
Hundreds of phones belonging to journalists, activists, politicians and diplomats has been hacked by governments, using this Pegasus software. Pegasus is classified as a weapon. It can read messages, can record and monitor calls, it can turn on the phone remotely and record videos and take pictures, without the knowledge of the target. It is said that the Pegasus technology was used by government of India, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Hungry,  Mexico, Morocco, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, France and the list goes. Most of these countries have ordered enquiry into it after the revelation. In India the government informed supreme court that they cannot reveal information which could be a threat to our national security. Same could be the explanation by other governments who used this software. I don’t understand the logic in several nations sharing the information which could be a threat to their national security with Israel. A Israeli company having access to information about diplomats and politicians from different nations is a bigger threat than espionage. Such technology used on foreign diplomats meant to detect espionage, to track dreaded criminals and terrorists is good, if it is indigenously developed by a nation. But Israel having access to information from several countries who purchased their software to snoop people around the world is not at all acceptable. More than fifty thousand people were on list, including French President Immanuel Macron. This is not the first revelation of such snooping. Edward Snowden’s revelation in 2013 about NSA snooping and Wikileaks tells that it’s primary target could be dreaded criminals and terrorists. But we see a kind of insecurity among the ruling class across the globe and it makes them target activists, journalists and public figures through cyber surveillance.

Along with such snooping, the governments are trying to control main stream media and social media websites. Social media feeds are being controlled by governments, where they decide what people should see and shouldn’t see on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Facebook is engaged in submissive business practice where they tend to be biased. Lawmakers in United State grilled Google CEO Sundar Pichai, before US presidential election to ensure that Google is not biased in feeding news about the election. 
Google is impartial and is among the online platforms which are trustworthy. Other platforms will be a nightmare for those who doubt Google. 

All democratic countries in the world will have elections, once in four or five years, where people get to vote for a political party of their choice. People make their choice based on what they see on internet and in news. Governments exerting pressure on media, internet, snooping and targeting journalists and activists will make elections and democracy meaningless.

Would you believe, if you were to read something like Ranil Wickremesinghe became the Prime Minister of Srilanka on 9th January 2015 and it was due to some fixing job from outside Srilanka to help some powers in the corridor? We have super powers and semi powers in the world. But it shouldn’t come in their way, when people get to elect their representatives once in four or five years. It cannot be a score settling game to adjust with their strategies. This is just an imaginary example, but those in the fray knows what I am explaining. This scenario is just an example of how external forces will influence elections. And that makes it a distorted democracy. 


India:

Distorted Democracy in India, a poison for farmers:  

India is a democratic country, where a party with majority will get to rule. Even today 65% to 70% of voters in India are farmers. Since independence, there was only one major reform to regulate the market for selling agricultural produces, which is APMC Act. If one were to look at the number of scams the ruling governments were involved, starting from Bofors scam, then it is more than one scam per each elected term. And APMC Act did not do much to protect farmers from “buyers market” , than making it legal. Then came the  new farm laws in September 2020. It change the beneficiary of exploiting farmers. Farmers went on protest for several months and there wasn’t any assurance so far by the government. The concept of silencing the voices of majority and neglecting their genuine need is actually distorted democracy.

In India we have agricultural ministry and several departments like irrigation department, horticulture department, agriculture department etc. Despite their existence, there are several ways in which the farmers are being taken for a damn ride. So there is a need for a central agency to regulate these department’s activities. A central agency which will focus more on research and development in agriculture and to dictate norms for agricultural inputs. 

We have finance ministry in every state and in union government and there are hundreds of bureaucrats under finance ministry. Yet, we have RBI to regulate banks, IRDA to regulate insurance and SEBI to regulate stock brokers and traders. Then why don’t we have a central agency for agricultural sector, which is the occupation of at least 65% of our population?

It is not possible to depend completely on organic farming. It is inevitable to use chemical fertilizers to produce food stuff in adequate quantity. However, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be reduced as much as possible. The pesticides sprayed on vegetables will leave a residue, which can remain in it even after washing them and we end up consuming them. People should understand that a tomato with a worm in it, is more edible than those which are rich in pesticides. Excessive use of pesticides on vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, for which pesticides are sprayed once in two days are actually not good for human consumption. Indian pesticides market is free for any company to sell any pesticides. Some of those pesticides are harmful and will cause ailments like cancer. Existing departments are not successful in containing it. Often people get to know about the adverse effects of such harmful chemicals only after using it for years and will have hundreds of victims.

Picture of Endosulfan victims in Kerala.
Picture of Endosulfan victims.
Endosulfan tragedy in Kerala is an example and it takes years of legal battle to ban the use of such chemicals. And companies who sell them use different names after court banning a particular brand. Hence, there should be a central agency, who can check the stocks at any chemical pesticides seller and can take punitive action against those engaged in such malpractice. The agency should be the governing body under whom the research and development happen and should be entitled to ban the sale of any such harmful chemicals. These harmful chemicals used in the farm will not only destroy the vegetation, water bodies and affect the health of farmers who are 65% to 70% of our population, but they will affect the consumers as well. 

We have agricultural department to help farmers in testing the soil to use fertilizers appropriately and to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. But the uneducated farmers are either unaware of it or the people in agriculture department are not helpful in educating them. Excessive use of fertilizers will increase the input cost of farming, other than spoiling the fertility of soil. So a central agency in every state who will have a team to do research, to help farmers, to audit the works of Agriculture department and to regulate farm inputs is inevitable. 

 We see American companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemicals (company responsible for Bhopal gas tragedy) selling pesticides which are banned in USA and several other countries. Monsanto is known for BT cotton, where farmers who purchased cotton seeds were used for research for several years, to develop BT cotton on trial and error method. We also see them selling GM mustard by silencing the court, committees and concerned departments.
Agent Orange is a harmful chemical used by US air force to spray on bushes to destroy the hideouts of Vietnam Guerrilla fighters. Now the left over is diluted and sold in countries like India by name Round-up. Round-up is a herbicide meant to destroy unnecessary weed and grass. The Round-up will also destroy the fertility of soil, because it kills microorganisms and agents who help nitrogen fixation and various other natural process. It kills butterflies, insects and bees, who help pollination. All this practices are harmful for farmers as well as for those who consume farm produces and to the nature. Poor uneducated farmers cannot really fight against these issues. Therefore, the union government and our Prime Minister who believes in democracy should consider forming a central agency for helping farmers who are majority of voters.

USSR and USA were after Afghanistan for opium:

Would you believe that USSR and USA were after Afghanistan for opium?  Popy cultivation in Afghanistan. Afghanistan would have been a far better place for human existence, if the world around was ready to accept USSR having close relationship with Afghanistan. Afghanistan could have been a developing country with lot of employment and business opportunities.  … Read more

Diminishing Glory of UK and USA

Shifting Global Power Dynamics

The British empire had colonies across the globe. They were there everywhere on earth. Thus, there was a saying that, ‘the sun never set on British Empire’, because always it was daytime somewhere in the empire. Today United Kingdom is a developed country but is losing its significance day by day. 

The national flag of the United Kingdom.
The national flag of the United Kingdom.
USA emerged as world leader, after British Empire. USA the superpower helped several poor nations and been a true world leader. Now, we see both USA and UK moving in the direction which will make them insignificant in few decades.

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty.

The sole purpose of controversial Brexit’s was not just to end mango and curry war. It was an ambitious decision with an intention to make UK a more sustainable economy. But the people in UK and their lawmakers are still in the hangover of Brexit. They of course can blame Covid-19 and lockdown. USA on the other hand didn’t make any such remarkable change in the recent past, other than voting out former US president Donald J Trump, after his first term in office.

Today the world order is capitalism, which is accepted by most of the countries in the world. So, it is not the ideology, but a radical change is need of the hour, for both USA and UK to make their economy flourish and to continue as world leaders. 

Import Export deficit in UK and USA:

The outbreak of covid-19 worked like a litmus test for both UK and USA. It was a deadly virus and not a war. Both UK and USA banked heavily on other countries like China, Turkey etc. for PPE kits. USA had quite a few companies manufacturing ventilators, while UK had to import them from other countries. This is a textbook example of how bad the manufacturing sector in both countries and how prepared they are to face an emergency like Covid-19. Those countries who supplied it, has manufacturing units which provides employment for many. Promoting manufacturing sector is one good way to create employment and to reduce dependency. 

In 2019, United Kingdom exported for a total of $446 billion, making it the number 10 exporter in the world. And their import in the same year was for an amount of $664 billion. Similarly, for USA the total exports was for an amount of $2.5 trillion, while the import of goods and services stood at $3.1 trillion. The manufacturing cost may be equal or little more than the price for which they import from a country like China, due to increased tax and cost of labour in USA and UK. But that is an issue which local governments can deal, with increased duty on imported goods, when it’s available from local vendors. 

Firms in USA and UK reducing business operation cost:

Couple of years ago, I used to work in call centers. My job was to speak with customers from USA, UK and Canada. Few callers used to say; ‘you Indians have taken away our jobs’. Call centers, software development and whole bunch of jobs in service sector is being outsourced to India, Philippines and some African countries. It’s been a practice for more than two decades or more. And it cannot be reversed now, because credit card companies agreed to give their customers in USA or UK, a low APR (Interest rate), a toll-free number to call, assuming that the call will be answered by someone in India for a much lower wage than their counterparts in USA or UK. Similarly, insurance companies agreed to give insurance cover for a reasonable premium because backend works like underwriting (risk calculation), checking records will be done from India and service calls will be answered by someone in India or Philippines for a lower wage. But there is something more to it.

On 17 August 2021, labour market overview released data from ‘office for National Statistics’ which says unemployment rate in UK as 4.7%. 
National unemployment rate in USA stands at 5.2. Most of the jobs in service industry is outsourced to other countries from USA and UK. USA is in world’s second position with global manufacturing output of 16.8%, next to China. UK stands at ninth position in global manufacturing output with 1.8%. And the unemployment rate in China is at 5% with a global manufacturing output of 28.7%, Japan’s unemployment rate is at 2.9% with global manufacturing output of 7.5% and in Germany the unemployment rate is at 5.6% with global manufacturing output of 5.3%.  China, Japan and Germany don’t outsource their jobs in service industry to other countries. So the above figures states that the parameters used to calculate unemployment rate in USA and UK is either wrong or misleading. 

Furthermore, the poverty rate in USA as per the ‘United States census Bureau’ is at 10.5% in 2019. And poverty rate in UK is well above 10% in all people, children, working-age adults and pensioners as well. This tells us that the unemployment rate excludes those under-employed and the employment rate is calculated including jobs which cannot be considered as a day job. For example; those who say things like; I am a blogger, I am a Youtuber and so on cannot be considered as a day job, unless it helps them to earn the national minimum wage of £8.91 and earns amount equivalent to that of at least 30 hours a week. 
     

In United States, the minimum wage itself is not uniform across all states. In few states it is $15 an hour and in many states it is $12 an hour or less. There were protests for pay rise in USA. Several business owners in USA said that they had difficulty in getting workers after pandemic, till they offered to pay $15 an hour. If employers are ready to pay $15 an hour even in states where the minimum wage is less than $15, then the government should raise the minimum wage across United States to  $15 an hour.  American workers cannot come out of debt trap, unless the government raises their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In the above picture, those states in Saffron color had increase in minimum wage.

America cannot be the superpower for long, unless they stop spending American taxpayers’ money on waging war against other countries to create market for weapon lobby. America cannot afford to wage war for helping oil lobby, using taxpayers money. America and all other G7 countries cannot think of sustainable development through heavy tax exemption for large corporates like Amazon, McDonalds, KFC and so on. A fundamental change in the way they handle their economy is the only way ahead for progress.

Another major issue which comes in the way of development is debt trap. American lawmaker Bernie Sanders  once said on CNN that American workers are living pay check to pay check and they don’t have a nickel to put into their bank for their future. Pay rise alone will not help Americans to save money for tomorrow, unless government makes some policy changes.

The average American debt total is $52,940.
Average total debt per UK household in June 2021 is £62,706.

Someone who is out of college or got separated from parents and is doing part time job while studying will get a magic card at the age of eighteen. He or she who was taught that building and maintaining a great credit history will help them to live a great life will readily accept it. And they know a credit card is necessary to rent a car, to rent a hotel room and to avail various service. 

On a weekend, they will use the card for shopping, party and movies. The card will soon reach it’s limit of $300 and will start paying interest, which will continue for the rest of their life. A better job after education may help them to pay off all the card balance. So they get cards from other banks and will take personal loan, even without knowing what it is for. The bank offering personal loan is to collect interest, but the borrower often borrows it even without a real need for money. And they will end up using their credit cards for an expensive vacation or honey moon. And a loss of job will end in bankruptcy, sordid relationship or even divorce. Then they start spending their hard earned money on lawyers and financial consultants who help them in debt consolidation. One will get to see many youngsters deceiving others for a $100 bill for weekend party. It is time for us to teach values for them to be successful in their lives and to avoid expensive therapies for depression. 

We need to understand that our lives are not meant to maintain a burden. Our lives are not meant to get a score for effective management of a burden. And this is applicable not just for UK and USA, but to all those countries, where credit history matters. 

We teach our young ones that maintaining a great credit score will help us to get an expensive car, house and whatever we want. Instead, we should teach our young ones to save money for tomorrow. And in order to make this a habit, the government should make laws to accept savings as much as they accept credit history. If credit score is an aggregate of repayment history, assets and liabilities of an individual, then credit card shouldn’t be a prerequisite for availing any service like car rentals. Any sort of insurance provided for using credit card for a transaction should be made available on debit cards as well. There shouldn’t be a service, which one cannot avail without a credit card, when he or she has money in the bank account. We are not meant to work through out our lives to pay interest, past due fee, over limit fees to banks and financial institutions. 

Most of these issues I have listed in this article like poverty, unemployment, etc. existed in USA and UK. And one could see a remarkable improvement in the last four or five decades. However, many developing countries who were worse in all this metrics are doing far better than USA and UK.  So it is time for a course correction to stay relevant and to be the world leaders.

India

India declared nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020. It’s been eighteen months since then. Now more than 50% of our population has been vaccinated. Yet we see restrictions here and there, which depends on increase in Covid-19 infection rate. Mass gatherings like wedding and parties are not allowed. Movie theatres and shopping malls in India are either shut or are open with restricted COVID norms. Soon we will be going back to normalcy.

Our union government and every state governments have helped people with basic necessities like an increase in groceries supplied through PDS. Few states did extremely well, while others did not do much. Kerala did extremely well in supplying quality food stuffs and essential commodities through PDS till last month. In Kerala, it was extended to all, regardless of their financial status. 
On 12 May 2020, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 20 lakh crores Athmanirbar Bharath Abiyan (self-reliant India campaign). Athmanibar Bharath Abiyan was projected as a major economic relief package from our Union government.  Union finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman and our prime minister made many announcements about various measures meant to help the poor during lockdown. But most of them remained as mere campaign. Of course, there were some relaxations in penalty for not filing GST and income tax. The package offered certain loan schemes for MSMEs in manufacturing industry. Those in manufacturing sector were eligible for such loans even without this special scheme. Rest of the scheme were to help power corporation and so on, which meant nothing to the middle class and the poor.

In the last eighteen months, lockdown was on and off in India. Shops, factories and offices were closed. And all those employed in private sector, who could not do they job remotely from home  and the  small shop owners are the worst affected. Many of them had credit card bills, personal loans, home and car loan. Those who had savings to repay their credit, despite unemployment have done that. But there are thousands who couldn’t do it. 

Union government of India should consider making policies to waive all the interest, late fee and other penalties from banks to enable the working class and small business owners to repay their debt, without ruining their credit history. Complete waiver of interest, late fee and any penalty from March 2020 to October 2021 for those who are delinquent will help them to repay. Not doing so will make many decide not to repay their debt, which is too much for them. It will be a huge loss for banks. Other than that it will lead to collection agents harassing the working class and the poor. Paying to collection agents will not help the banks to recover even the principle amount and the borrower’s credit history will remain bad. And that could mean denying credit to a large population of our country. Punishing the public or denying opportunities for a section of society, due to a calamity is not right.

How far India can tolerate Chinese aggression?

 How far India can tolerate Chinese aggression after 1962 war, standoff at Dokhlam in 2017 and the skirmishes at Galwan valley last year? The 1962 war, the skirmishes at Dokhlam and in Galwan valley put together has killed hundreds of brave Indian army men. And I am of the opinion that a friendly relationship and … Read more