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Friday, November 28, 2014

India - on the road to excellence

The launch of electronic visa for nationals of forty three countries yesterday is one of the brightest moments for the tourism industry of the country. That it will spur inbound tourism is not in doubt, but that it displays the intent of the new government to give a fillip to this so far almost neglected sector is the powerful message that comes across clearly. Railways and tourism, the two sectors that were on the radar of the ruling party even much before the last general elections now appear poised for a major upturn. The use of the word “appear” is because with governments it is always wise not to count chickens before one actually sees them hatching.

My stint in the federal ministry of tourism began with me wondering why we crave a national impact even before being able to do anything substantial about the city of Agra, often christened as the mecca of Indian tourism. Why this city still remains the epitome of civic mal-governance is what bothers me even at such moments that for all of us even remotely linked with the sector are moments of rejoicing.

The economic impact and the multiplier effect of tourism on the national economy has always been fairly well touted so far and why not – there are glaring examples of many national economies surviving on and also thriving on mere tourism. Yet our nation that has the finest and most diverse collection of destinations and climates, culture and heritage, lifestyles, cuisines and shopping has not been really successful in taking full advantage of its endowments. 

The reason really lies in our inability to let the private sector adequately delve in areas that directly impinge upon tourism. The reason also lies in lack of cleanliness almost across the national spectrum, our penchant to fleece and bureaucratic apathy to development. Perhaps the realization that a plethora of small steps if allowed to flourish are much more potent that grandiose plans that usually do not see the light of the day, needs to sink in deeper. And the almost surreptitious acceptance of the fact that governments have miserably failed in running their small tourism businesses combined with lofty proclamations of grand intent really does not make any sense to me.

Achieving excellence in whatever we do has to be the aim and the tourism sector offers us a big enough plate to do that.  It is one sector that does not really need major investments exclusively for itself but can thrive merely with commitment and intent is a reality that needs acceptance. Like tourists, the entire sector only needs to be facilitated with favourable policies and mind-sets. The introduction of electronic visa for increasing tourism and various other measures to facilitate economic growth are displaying the road ahead rather favorably.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mother Tongue in the Mother Land

The half baked sarkari attempts to implement hindi in Hindustan have always saddened me. I always regarded it blasphemous to implement the mother tongue in the mother land. Yet the efforts have continued since the nation came on its own during its tryst with destiny. And we created establishments whose primary job was to promote Rajbhasha, or the commonly spoken hindi within the plethora of sarkari setups in the country. Yet despite these attempts marked by a casual approach in almost all associated activities, the usage of our mother tongue has remained barely confined to name-boards, signage’s, noting sheets, a few official communiques and some ceremonial functions. The march of English on the other hand has continued unabated.

I often wonder whether there is any other country in the world other than ours where such attempts are being made, and despite my best efforts could not locate any so far. Perhaps our dabbling in the absurd is regarded as such by the rest of the world or maybe it is regarded as illogical and beyond comprehension by those who look upon their motherland and everything associated with it with a sense of national pride. Yet if our intentions were indeed genuine, we would have achieved the target a long time ago.

And almost everything retains the flavour and bias for English, beginning from infancy till we kick the bucket, to the extent that even in social interactions, people conversing in the mother tongue are looked down and often frowned upon. So is it in conferences, seminars and even discourses when one finds someone rarely using the mother tongue to communicate. And why not – our educational system is grounded in English with the hindi medium schools not qualifying even as a distant cousin to their English counterparts.

Even the authors and also the readers of hindi literature are regarded many notches below their counterparts in other languages. This bias permeates even the bureaucracy with the hindi speaking bureaucrats called “desi” in local parlance being regarded inferior to the one who frequently and also fluently dabbles in English.

During trysts abroad we notice foreigners generally communicating in their mother tongue without much concern for the ability of the receiver to absorb a language he may be unfamiliar with.  And the best part is that they are never apologetic about that, because for them it is the most normal thing to do. Indeed it should be!

And therefore the recent change with the chief executive of the nation speaking in hindi even during his visits overseas is gratifying to say the least. His stress on the mother tongue almost always in all his interactions is indeed genuine and also rare if we take into consideration many of those who earlier adorned the highest chair in the land. And that is what has given many of us that rare feeling of national pride surfacing after a long time. After all, only identifying ourselves with the core values and culture this nation stands for is going to give our society happiness and progress in the truest sense.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The land of the rising sun

Pun intended India is indeed the land of the rising sun. Spelt otherwise with an “o” replacing the “u”, the line defining the nation still holds good.

Almost all of us offer water to the morning sun, as a religious ritual as well as a daily practice borne out of habit, yet we never perform this ritual for the sun at dawn. And the penchant for a son also far outstrips the desire for a progeny from the fairer sex.

The massive national tilt and adulation for Modi even months before the battle for the ballot is also indicative of the national culture of caring only for the rising sun and consigning to the dustbins of history, the setting sun. On the other end of the political spectrum, the fortunes of the numero uno political dynasty of the nation, is on an all-time low right now and the tilt away from the family in favour of the rising sun was therefore on expected lines. The official working environment cutting across sectors and states also moves on similar lines and allegiances keep on getting shuffled around on considerations of who is the rising and who the setting sun is.

While some may call this adulation of the rising sun as unfortunate, perhaps it is the most natural thing for a human being except otherwise in those rare cases when greatness is achieved by one’s own acts of omission or commission and not merely resting backsides on a chair of authority. In such cases the sun never sets, it only rises and keeps on rising forever, Mahatma Gandhi being a fairly well entrenched example of this kind.

Perhaps therein lies the difference between power and authority. While the chair grants authority that men generally flaunt, power always remains personal. Men for whom the sun sets merely had authority, not an iota of power and that is the reason for their fading into oblivion after leaving the chair they enjoyed resting their backsides on.

The massive national shift of power and the emergence of a true leader after almost a decade of blatant mal-governance may indeed make the country the land of the rising sun almost literally.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Learning from the past


Tuesday, 11 November 2014 | Ashwani Lohani | in Oped
Human ego is the biggest stumbling block to progress and growth in today’s era. Bigger the ego, the lesser the delivery
The national penchant for re-inventing the wheel and invariably showcasing efforts as the first of its kind is as damaging as it is hilarious. I vividly remember the beginning of my tenure in the tourism sector when I was asked to take steps to prepare State-level master plans for the development of tourism. I tumbled upon a bookshelf and found that similar reports were prepared many times over in the past.
Yet, in our efforts that are directed towards self-perpetuation, we never learn, nor seem to be inclined to, despite the fact that there is really much that can be gleaned from the affairs of history. Napoleon’s conquests and his emergence as the emperor of France when he was merely 35, the rise of Germany as the most powerful nation in the world within 70 years of its being totally vanquished during the World War I and the ejection of the British Empire from the sub-continent almost single-handedly by Mahatma Gandhi, are classical examples from history that should  inspire us towards achieving greatness.
And it is not merely these great examples. There are many other equally important examples, albeit on a lower scale, that are within the realm of realisation by mere mortals. How many of us know that the great architectural masterpiece, Red Fort, took only 10 years to build — that too almost four centuries ago — and the iconic Howrah bridge took just five? That the three hill railways, namely, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Kangra Valley Railway and the Kalka Simla Railway, each took less than three years to build, is also beyond the realm of comprehension. Unthinkable indeed in the present era, when the skills, technological as well as managerial, are far more advanced than the time when those masterpieces were created.
Perhaps then delivery was as sacrosanct as processes are today. And therein lies the folly of the systems of present times. And it is also about ego. “The bigger the ego, the lesser the delivery”, a statement that symbolises the working of all the enterprises today, says it all about the causes that underline our most glaring failures. That human ego is the biggest stumbling block to progress and growth is a fact that needs appreciation. Yet what really surprises me is adjustable egos that do not even whimper when a superior pulls one up but flare up in the presence of a subordinate at the slightest pretext. And the tantra is perhaps the finest example of egos that remain elastic throughout ones lifetime. What a great waste of life, human life that according to the Hindushastra is conferred after passing through 84 lakh life forms.
The great Indus Valley civilisation of the 5th century BC is an outstanding example of what our ancestors were capable of even in those days that were bereft of technological advancements of the kind that exist today. The strides that this civilisation made in the fields of town planning, trade and culture are really an eye-opener and make us wonder with awe — if so much could be achieved in those days, why not now?
Perhaps it is all about our ability to dream and having a single-minded focus and determination to convert the same into reality. Yet the same would not be possible without three things — leadership, absolute integrity and ethical behavior, the void of which this great nation had been experiencing for quite some time now.  Yet we remain engrossed in trivialities, things that really do not matter in the long-run or even in the short-run. Moreover self-gratification and an absolute lack of concern for the collective can never propel a nation forward.