Thursday, March 7, 2013


The All Women Bank needs to be free of bureaucratic hurdles

In a budget speech that looks more mundane than otherwise, the proposal of setting up an All Women’s Bank was one of the high points among the declarations. It invariably drew applause from all stakeholders and parties involved – from the political opponents to women’s rights groups to NGOs. The area of women’s issues is one of the most case sensitive ones in India – the other one being minority issues. However, it may turn out to be all empty promises and no substance! There is, without doubt, bipartisan benefit here with the government scoring brownie points on women electorates and women at large.

The All Women Bank will start off with six unspecified branches across the country. It should well be set up in the rural and backward hinterland rather than in the metropolises. The former’s need for the project far exceeds the latter! There are far more illiterate women in the rural belt than in their urban counterpart. According to the 2011 Census, the rural female literacy stands at 58.75 per cent compared to urban female literacy rate of 79.92 per cent. On top of it, generically rural women are less independent than urban women along with lower employment rate. Therefore, the government should shed its  stereotype metro-first attitude towards anything that catches media hype and set up the units in the areas where status of women are at its lowest ebb. If it does, the project can head towards certain degree of success relating to empowerment of  rural women. It will also create new employment for women and new avenues for their self-sufficiency. With all these potential merits lined up, it is sure to attract accolades from different quarters, and it did! The director of SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), spokesperson of Akshara, a renowned NGO related to women’s cause and even the founder of Mann Desi Mahila Sahakari Bank, the first rural bank for women established in Maharashtra in 1997 sounded optimistically towards the decision.

However, one wonders how much difference realistically can the women’s bank make to the condition of women? Could the government have diverted the funds towards more pressing problems that women are facing – like maternal care, child development, malnutrition – which are more direct problems for women and must be tackled discreetly? The accrued benefits that the government is talking about, like extending loans only to women and access to credits, could have been extended through unisex banks as well. In case of increasing the loan amount to women only, the government could have created a quota for women or could have spent money on campaigns encouraging women to access the banking services and so on. This would have had a stalling effect on the opportunity cost incurred from excluding the male customers that these women’s banks will reject. Further, the poor and illiterate women that these banks should be targeting will invariably face red tape and bureaucratic entanglement that can have an off setting effect on its efficacy. The illiterate or semi-educated women might face enormous hassles to comply with the complex and oft en painstaking formalities that go with accessing public sector banking enterprises.

As if Mr. Chidambaram doesn’t know it! But still his decision probably is the carrot to win over the very important women electorate segment, which can prove to be crucial in the forthcoming election. A gimmick that can even raise concerns regarding the government pathway of gender apartheid!


Thursday, February 28, 2013


Elections are more about luring voters!

Unlike many post-colonial nations, which have descended to dictatorships or sham democracies, India has wedded to a reasonably stable democracy unhindered throughout its post-independence stint. However, the success of very essence of democracy in India were largely held off , especially if benchmarked against the best examples of it, because of certain challenges caused by the some basic deficiency in the country’s social and political dynamics. India’s political outfits have time and again exploited the short memories of poor and illiterate (or at best the semi educated) masses that forms the basis of the country’s electoral pattern. Therefore, the inefficiency and status quo of the country’s/state’s incumbent governments are ratified by the voters on the merit of just few months of developmental work before the election. It is an enigma why the voters are such crassly swayed by the otherwise pillaging politicians and cannot see the devil in their stealth! So, projects worth hundreds of crores are announced and brandished before election to tilt the electoral balance in favor of the ruling parties. And such is India’s electorates’ psychographics that in many instances it works too! The best example of it has been in West Bengal, where for 34 years of Left Front rule there were no anti-incumbency factors at all despite their shoddy and slapdash work during the tenure. They derived latitudes by tall talks and announcing projects before elections that were either never implemented or remained incomplete once the election was over. The flaunting of projects and schemes just before election has become a norm throughout the nation in the hope of shaving down opposition’s margins. Before the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) election this year projects worth Rs. 519 crores were announced along with major reforms in the transport sector worth hundreds of crores.

To beat these faltering, the Election Commission of India in its model ‘Code of Conduct’ has specified strict Do’s and Don’ts for the political parties: it has banned announcement of new schemes, projects, financial grants and laying foundation stones that are rooted in the sole effort to influence the voters. Yet, the parties escape these rules by announcing schemes just before they come into effect, as has been the case in West Bengal, Gujarat and other places. One of the reasons why the incumbent parties can create firewall by these announcements even though the voters know it to be a bogus is because they hardly have any other options! The cliché is followed by each and every party, which provides no alternatives for the voters that can crystalize into a realistic change in governance. And most importantly, the election in India in most instances are not fought on developmental issues at all – they are fought on the flimsy lines of caste, creed, religion…et al. The illiterate or semi-literate electoral base cannot believe any paradigm change in their lives is possible at all – so their voting decision is not based on positive signals of developmental issues, but on the regressive demographic matters.

Another interesting signal that helps decipher a phenomenon before election is the unearthing increasing cases of scams and financial embezzlement! That’s because it is most accurately foretold that the politicians would resort to corrupt practices when implementing welfare schemes for their voters.