Tag Archives: Prime Minister

Decoding Modi’s Resounding Victory

Prime Minister Narendra Modi achieved a super-sized victory in the recently held Lok Sabha elections in India. This is his second consecutive term in office and he won it by a whopping majority. His party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has crossed the 300-seat mark in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

Let’s begin by looking at the state of the economy in which people have voted for PM Modi. During his election campaign in 2013-14, Modi raised expectations of a great economic revival, high growth and tens of millions of new jobs for the ever-growing workforce. The new government hit the ground running and the first two years were action-packed with new programs and plans.  But, at the end of his five-year term, the economic slowdown is visible even through the fog of official statistics. Exports, barring a modest recent pickup, have been stagnant for the last five years, creating pressure on the economy, and reflecting growing lack of global competitiveness. Manufacturing is sluggish. Banking and the power sectors require urgent reform. Further, India’s unemployment rate hit 6.1% in the fiscal year ending 2018; reportedly the country’s highest in over four decades. An estimated 12 million young Indians join the workforce every year, and the country needs to grow much faster in order to provide jobs for all of them. Another set of figures released by the government showed that gross domestic product expanded 5.8% in the quarter ending March, 2019. That’s a sharp decline from 6.6% growth in the previous quarter and the weakest rate in last five years.

As a result, the state of the economy is sharply diminishing living conditions of millions of people in India, a country that is already home to some of the world’s poorest and hungriest people. More than half of India’s population (around 700 million) is still living under ‘multi-dimensional poverty’ compared to 5.2 per cent in China.

But, Modi, who first swept to power in 2014 on promises to revive India’s economy and boost growth and job market, won election again by even bigger margin.  

Why did the people repose faith in him?  Well, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

There were no serious corruption charges against the government and inflation was managed well during the first term (but faces upward pressure now). Further, one could attribute BJP’s success to better administration of welfare schemes/projects, and the Balakot strikes just before the election which retaliated against Pakistan’s sponsorship of terror groups and that pushed   the spirit of nationalism. While all these factors may have played a role they do not, even in combination, satisfactorily account for the magnitude of BJP’s sweeping victory in the frustrating job market and skidding economy.

What may have worked for BJP is that it succeeded to a large extent in turning this election into a referendum on PM Modi. Opposition parties appear to have helped in this process as their campaigns have primarily been about ousting Modi, rather than offering positive alternative visions of what they will do if elected to power. As the opposition was fragmented and offered no obvious PM candidate, this cemented the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor in favor of Modi.

But that is not the only reason behind his whopping success.  It’s possible some deep structural shifts are taking place in the Indian polity and Modi was smart enough to comprehend these in his favor. Indians, especially the young ones, are in a hurry to move away from ‘Third World’ space it currently occupies. And, they sensed that Modi can do it. India could be second ‘China’ under his leadership!  The BJP’s election manifesto, which was released just three days before the general election, aimed to make India a ‘developed’ nation by 2047, on completion of 100 years of Independence. “Our aim (is) to change India from a developing country to a developed country. We want to fight poverty rather than sit inside air conditioned rooms. Nationalism is our inspiration and inclusion and good governance is our mantra”.

Despite many problems people are confident that India’s ‘tryst with destiny’ could be achieved under Modi’s leadership. They consider him as a ‘messiah’ or expected deliverer of achieving the goal of developed and prosperous India.  Here, the media played a very active and vital role in promoting that image. In fact, Modi was in virtual reality due to digital excesses. Possibly, voters might have thought that Modi would do wonders in his second term.  We have to remember that Indians generally have hope when the situation appears to be hopeless. And, five years later in 2019, India has again placed high hopes in Narendra Modi. Will he deliver?

In 2014, Modi asked the Indians to give him 10 years to transform India. Well, here is his chance. So what should PM Modi do? A top American corporate leader, John Chambers, has asserted, while   congratulating him on his election victory that “in the next five years, PM Modi will lay the groundwork for India’s economic growth and prosperity for the next quarter century.”  And, there is no reason to doubt his observations.

First of all, two issues need urgent attention: agrarian unrest and the related job crisis. Any durable solution to agrarian crises requires non-farm jobs. The agrarian sector generates less than 15% of GDP but employed around 45% of the workers. It means that output per worker in this sector is less than one-fourth of that in industry and services combined. “With output per worker in industry and services itself low, per-worker output in agriculture is truly tiny”, noted by the economist Arvind Panagariya of Columbia University. One cannot resolve agrarian unrest without absorbing at least two-thirds of those dependent on the farm in non-farm jobs. So, generating non-agrarian jobs that provide adequate wages is the biggest issue.   

Secondly, there needs to be a concurrent increase in productivity. India became the fifth largest economy in the world in terms of GDP in 2018 but still it has a very-very low per capita GDP, as per IMF. It is placed at 122nd position among 187 countries.

What is needed now is a new generation of economic reforms which will unleash productive forces and generate jobs.

Modi has to recognize that the export-oriented, low-skill, large-scale manufacturing jobs that developing economies have relied upon (and that was the key to much of China’s success) are on the wane around the world. Automation and AI are reducing the amount of low-skill work that the manufacturing sector requires and is adversely affecting the job market.  Thus, there are many reforms that India is required to carry out to attain competitive strength in manufacturing and reducing the level of unemployment and underemployment. These would require changes in labor and land laws, cutting corporate and general taxes, and improving basic infrastructure especially uninterrupted cheap power supply. The availability of the water is another crucial issue.

Most importantly, unlocking the human potential to enhance productivity is a must and it should be India’s priority, since India’s Unique Selling Point (USP) is its people.

Let us consider some facts. India has done well over the past decade or so to get most of its children into school. It has done less well at getting them to learn anything. Analysts are, therefore, already worrying that India’s demographic dividend — its vast pool of young people — will become a curse: Without jobs, all those young people could drag down the country instead of pushing it towards upper-middle income status. The problem is that they are desperately short of preparation for both the old economy and the new. In addition, the population growth is also a worrying factor.  The current population growth in India is mainly caused by unwanted fertility.  Around five in ten live births are unintended/unplanned or simply unwanted by the women who experience them which    trigger continued high population growth. Around 26 million children were born in India in 2018, and out of this about 13 million births could be classified as unwanted. Further, based on the National Family Health Surveys (1 to 4), it is estimated that in 2018 around 445 million people out of 1,350 million in India were a result of unwanted pregnancies.  With a large number of people resulting from unwanted pregnancies, how can one think about using them for nation building?   

What India does in the next five years will determine not only the destiny of the country but also of PM Modi? A person like Modi knows about it that the people elected him with immense hope that he will change their lives for better. Investments in education, health, living environment and its determinants – the social sector – therefore, should be made a priority in the next five years to lay the foundation for a developed India by 100th birth anniversary of India. For this, PM Modi must use unmatched political capital to make it happen today!  

After obtaining formal degrees from Harvard and Australian National universities, Dr. Devendra Kothari has been working on issues pertaining to population and development. He can be contacted at: dkothari42@gmail.c9om or 09829119868.   Last year, his comments on “Population and Climate Change” appeared in the New York Times (Sept. 11, 2018). Also see his Blog at: kotharionindia.blogspot.com

Overseas Friends Of BJP congratulates Modi

Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP)-USA congratulates Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, Party President Shri Amit Shah, BJP leaders, millions of BJP volunteers, and volunteers of OFBJP and NRIs4Modi across the globe who have toiled hard for this stupendous victory. Millions of voters including first time voters have participated enthusiastically in this world’s largest democratic elections to elect an able and proven leader, Shri Narendra Modi.
Indian voters have stamped their approval for continuing the all-round development with pro-poor, pro-farmer, and pro-business policies of Modi government. The voters have rejected the unholy alliance of selfish regional leaders and the Congress party mostly led by dynastic families.
NRIs4Modi and OFBJP teams have organized more than one hundred programs in the USA during the last 4 months across the nation, from coast-to-coast. Every single week from February through May, various programs were organized around the country. The programs include Chai Pe Charchas, Call-A-Thons, “Chowkidar” Marches, Car Rallies, Yagnas, Flash Mob Dance shows, Snow Mobile Rally, “Ghar Ghar Modi”, Sampark Abhiyan programs and more. Also, the teams have made approximately one million calls to voters in India.
OFBJP is planning to organize victory celebrations in more than 20 cities around the country, including Boston, New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Tampa, Houston, Austin, Dallas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Seattle, and other cities.
OFBJP president Shri Krishna Reddy Anugula Said, “I would like to congratulate BJP and Shri Narendra Modi ji, Shri Amit Shah ji for the massive victory. Prime Minister Modi ji will transform the country and improve the livelihood of the people. NDA government has provided basic amenities like toilets, electricity, gas cylinders etc. in the last 5 years. During the next 5 years, NDA govt is going to take India to the next level with the proposed investments in infrastructure, health care, and farming sectors.”
OFBJP Vice President Shri Adapa Prasad has said that the people of India have chosen a strong and incorruptible leader Modi and his vision of New India even as they rejected divisive caste and dynastic politics of the self-indulging “Maha-Milavat” opposition. OFBJP Organizational Secretary Shri Vasudev Patel Said “These results support the policies of Shri Narendra Modi led NDA govt. Based on the experience I had on the ground, I was expecting this massive victory”

Evolution of the Saree

From our archives. First published in April 1994.

To people from the West, the most familiar and paradoxical images of Indian women come from the extremes of a very broad and compli­cated spectrum. One is the image of In­dira Gandhi, clad in a starched white sari, serving as the powerful leader of a largely patriarchal society. The other is that of an anonymous, thin, overburdened woman in a dirty sari, holding one undernour­ished child on her hip, while others gather round her legs. The women in these two images tread very divergent paths. Yet on closer examination, they share a powerful cultural symbol: the sari.

On the left a village woman dons a traditional saree, on the right then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, dons a much more tailored and formal saree
On the left a village woman dons a traditional saree, on the right then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, dons a much more tailored and formal saree

Throughout the world, women of most nationalities have adopted Western clothing for daily wear. But a majority of Indian women continue to wear the sari or its variants daily as well as on special occasions. More striking is the fact that it is only the women for whom traditional clothing is still a daily wear. Indian men adopted Western garments a long time ago.

Little research has gone into the tradition of the sari, and the factors that have helped to keep it in fashion for centuries. Historians trace the beginning of the sari to approximately 1500 BC and later. The manner of wearing a sari in those days varied among classes and occupations, and from region to region. Women of the higher classes wore two garments, one for the upper body, and an­other for the lower. Some would wear a bodice, breast-band, or shawl to cover the upper body. When worn separately, the lower garment was either wrapped as a full skirt and held at the waist with a girdle, or wrapped with pleats at the back. Women of the lower class and courtesans appear to have been bare-­breasted.

Under Muslim rule (1200-1850 CE), North Indian Hindu women learned to wear clothes more akin to Persian costumes, with loose pants and a long top (known today as the salwar kameez). Onto this foreign costume, a sari-derived scarf, the dupatta, was added to serve as head covering.

The advent of British rule (1858 CE) also resulted in significant changes in the manner of wearing a sari. In the past, the finer and more diaphanous the sari, the more valuable it was. The British disap­proved of this sari style: for them, the sheerness was too titillating and thus im­moral. The petticoat worn under the sari carne into place to deflect the intense criticism made by “British missionaries about the “immodesty” of Indian woman’s clothing. During the same time, and apparently for the same reasons, the blouse or bodice—which had not been standardized or used throughout India— became a fixed upper garment for most Indian women.

While still extremely young, a little girl still wears a blouse with her sari
While still extremely young, a little girl still wears a blouse with her sari

Perhaps the single most important his­torical impact on the sari during British Rule in India was the British policy of non-assimi­lation. Indian men, who were members of the imperial bureaucracy, earned to wear Western clothes. But with no opportunity to move in Western society, there was little likelihood of the women developing a taste for foreign clothes. Therefore, custom retained its hold, and even today, despite outside influences, the sari remains a primary force.

Most women begin wearing a sari regularly when they are 16 to 18 years old. A younger girl is allowed to wear Western-style dresses, or in some parts of the country, an Indian-style long skirt tied at the waist. When she reaches puberty, this may become part of a more modest cos­tume—a combination of a blouse, a long skirt, and a “half-sari” or a piece of cloth three yards long, tucked in the front and draped over the shoulder. In some parts of India, this continues to be the costume of most rural women throughout their adult life.

In North India, women gener­ally wear the salwar kameez or chudidar kurta which consists of loose or tight pants, worn under a knee-length tunic, with a scarf half the length of the sari flung casually across the shoulders, or draped round the head and upper body. In most other parts of India, once a woman reaches marriageable age (18-24), the sari is her usual attire.

One aspect of wearing a sari has remained constant through time: the tucked in pleats. Sanskrit literature from the Vedic period insists that the pleats are absolutely necessary for a woman to be truly a woman. These pleats must be tucked in at the waist, front or back, so that the presiding deity, Vayu, the wind god, can whisk away any evil influence that may strike the woman in two important regions, the stomach and the re­productive organs.

The brilliant colors of the sari are also partly ruled by custom: colors are held to represent moods. Yellow, green, and red are festive and auspicious colors, which stand for fertility. Red, which also evokes passion, is a bri­dal color in some parts of the country and a part of rituals associ­ated with pregnancy. Pale cream is soothing in the summer and also symbolizes bridal purity. A married Hindu woman will not wear a completely white sari, as it is only for widows: Life without a husband is a life without color. Black alone is thought to bring misfortune and must be mixed with another color. Blue evokes the thirst-quenching, life-giving force of the monsoon and visions of the beautiful boy-God, Krishna.

Indian women have always recycled their saris. Old saris are cut up and sown into pil­lowcases or quilts, redyed, exchanged for stainless steel pots and pans, or given to loyal servants. Sometimes gold borders are re­moved and used on children’s dresses. How­ever, traditionally, the clothes of a dead woman are usually not part of her children’s inheritance; they are either burned or given to servants. Custom places a premium on new clothing as a symbol of renewal; old clothes are not valued as heirlooms.

More recently, fashion and a changing cultural climate have affected the sari and front pleats have become the norm. The sari size has decreased from seven to nine yards to five and a half to six yards. Women today also prefer blouses which match the sari; pre­viously, blouses with contrasting patterns and colors were preferred.

Not surprisingly, economics has affected the evolution of the sari. Lengths of Japanese nylon made to the same width as the sari have been in vogue for nearly three decades. This trend began with increased travel between countries and gradual depletion in the ranks of dhobis, who traditionally washed clothes for the community. Nylon saris are easier to keep clean and need no starch or ironing. But for religious, social, and festive occasions, cotton and silk saris retain their position of impor­tance.

Popular culture also influences sari fash­ions. Often an actress in a particular film may wear a distinctive blouse, sari, or a color com­bination which soon becomes a popular fashion. In the film Sagara Sangamam, the actress Jaya Prada wore a fuchsia pink and royal blue Kanchipuram sari that became instantly fash­ionable.

Custom and fashion may have shaped the sari, but cultural perceptions pro­mote its continued use. When a woman wears a sari, she acquires honor. An episode from the Hindu epic, the Mahab­harata (400 BC to 400 AD) illustrates this idea.

After losing his own freedom in a rigged dice game to his Kaurava enemies, Yud­hishthir, the eldest among Draupadi’s five Pandava husbands, also loses her. When the Kauravas attempt to disrobe Draupadi, she calls upon Lord Krishna for protection. Each time one fold of Draupadi’s sari unravels, Krishna graces her with another. By giving Draupadi a sari of unending length, Krishna saves her honor.

The symbolism is obvious. Rather than whisking Draupadi away or striking down her tor­mentor, Krishna pro­vides her with a limitless sari both as a symbol of his grace and of his in­tent to protect feminine modesty.

By wearing a sari, women fulfill another cultural ideal by ac­quiring the related feminine characteristics of beauty and sensuality. Various poems, scenes, and images from the large store of ancient Indian literature celebrate the beauty of the sari-clad woman. “Who is she? Carefully veiled to barely reveal her body’s beauty sur­rounded by the ascetics like a bud among withered leaves?” wonders King Dushyant at his first glimpse of Shakuntala, in Kalidasa’s renowned play of the same name (circa 400 BC)

The imagery is frequently repeated in another form in popular romantic films of today, where the seductive heroine appears in a diaphanous sari and the excitement of the chase is enhanced both for the hero and the audience! The hero begins the chase by tug­ging at the end of her sari. The audience knows that the sari is the ideal garment for the pursuit of sensual love—it can be so easily unraveled—and waits for the cut to the closed door which is the visual code that suggests the woman’s surrender. In the Hindu cultural context, Western clothing is never used to suggest seduction.

Actresses wearing their sarees
Actresses wearing their sarees

The sari also compensates for any physi­cal shortcomings. It gives fullness to the thin figure and is equally good at camouflaging extra fat when required—something West­ern clothes cannot aspire to.

The cultural ideal of decorum and dig­nity is also satisfied by the sari. In the pres­ence of God, husband, in-laws, or strangers, the married woman is often required to cover her head. The sari readily fulfills this func­tion.

Another important reason behind the continued usage of the sari is the recently established cultural ideal of nationalism. During India’s struggle for independence from Britain, Mahatma Gandhi carried out a campaign of civil disobedience, particularly to inflict economic pain on the colonizer. Textiles, an industry integrally related to the history of the sari, be­came an important sym­bol of this fight for inde­pendence. Since the 19th cen­tury, the British had taken up the practice of exporting inexpensive Indian cotton to Eng­land, turning it into cloth, and reselling it for enormous profit in In­dia. Gandhi decided to combat this practice by boycotting English cloth and starting the “Home­Spun” movement. Yarn would be made by each individual for personal use. At mid-century, the patriotic symbolism attached to indigenous cloth and clothing still continued. A woman or a man who wore traditional clothing was more “Indian” than one who adopted Western attire.

For Indian women, to be Indian is to wear a sari. Indira Gandhi, with her Western education, frequently wore Western clothes in her youth. She gave them up for the sari the moment she took on a political persona. The sari has also made her Italian daughter­-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, politically more ac­ceptable to Indians. Both these women, who were constantly in the public eye, succeeded in diminishing the significance of foreign in­fluence from their background primarily by adhering to the traditional sari dress code.

The sari is the most visible example of Indian cultural ideals surrounding women. The sari-clad woman is both dignified and alluring, honorable and sensual. The sari forges a strong link between the lives of women across the country, be they leaders, activists, and professionals, or homemakers, mothers, students, and laborers.

Vandana Kumar has won the Asian American Hero award from the County of Santa Clara and the Leadership in Business award from the California Legislature Assembly.