Friday, 9 November 2018

Maharana Pratap: The Invincible Warrior by Rima Hooja (Juggernaut 2018) Book Review by Ajay Singha. The author Prof. Rima Hooja(Ph.D Cambridge) is an Archaeologist and a leading authority on the history of Rajasthan. She has written several books including the Comprehensive History of Rajasthan.

Accounts relating to famous personalities in India tend to be hagiographic and distance the hero from the social and historical realities of that period. This account of Maharana Pratap is written by a scholar-historian of repute who narrates a great story while maintaining academic sobriety. The imagination stops short of becoming historical fiction and the book is an account based on sound research yet very interesting for the lay reader.

It is 1572, the 54th custodian of the illustrious house of Mewar has inherited a seat of stone instead of a gilded throne accompanied by an open air anointment. In spite of being his father’s eldest son, Pratap has not been appointed heir but unlike his arrogant ancestor Vikramaditya, he has powerful friends both among his own clan members as well as other castes and tribes. This positive trait has ensured Pratap’s quick accession and will hold him in good stead in coming times. Brought up with tales of valour, honour and pride, Pratap is profoundly influenced by these lofty ideals which are deeply ingrained in his persona and will dominate his destiny. The age old adage that impressions from early upbringing have a profound impact on adult life stands confirmed.

Akbar’s Rajput policy encouraged co-opting enemies, near enemies or potential enemies as friends in order to use them as proficient warriors and allies for future campaigns. Forging bonds through matrimony, some of the kings saw political advantage and acknowledged Mughal supremacy. Following an alliance with Amber, several Rajput rulers reached amicable arrangements with the Mughals. Once again, Pratap like his father and grandfather refused imperial dominance and stood as the odd one out. The years of resistance and conflict that followed produced a rubric around which legends, stories and poems were composed both around his persona as well as the principles and ideals he upheld.

In 1576 Pratap confronted the imperial Mughal army at Haldighati using a traditional battle formation. Experience would teach him to change his attack tactics and adopt innovative strategies in future. He stood steadfast and unchanged only on his core beliefs and commitments.  The travel writer Badayuni who witnessed the event reported 500 slain. Later accounts would quote much higher figures possibly to emphasise the gravitas associated with the chief protagonists. Both sides claimed victory as there was no surrender by Mewar and the Mughals continued in the field. The author points out the important role played by Raja Mansingh of Amber who was in charge of the Mughal forces. This resulted in the Maharana’s escape from the battlefield and on the Raja’s part attracted severe censure from the emperor. 

Pratap continued to evade capture and remained a profound symbol of defiance to the mighty Mughals. Attracted by the very desperations of Pratap’s fortunes several others pressed to his standard. He was supported by the wealth and fidelity of his relatives, clansmen and well wishers. The famous Bhama Shah came up with a large amount of wealth which would sustain the Maharana’s war efforts. When faced with insurmountable challenges assistance from sympathisers and supporters would soon be forthcoming. Pratap like his ancestors shifted the command and control to locations inaccessible to the unwieldy Mughal army. To commemorate the desolation of Chittor, the Maharana interdicted to himself and his followers all articles of luxury and pomp until their honour was restored. Why was it so important for Akbar to subdue Mewar? As explained, the reasons went beyond the obvious and had deeper roots in the individual psyche of the opposing protagonists.

Much later Col. James Tod would write “Mewar pride themselves as having preserved their blood uncontaminated and became an object of respect and envy to those who had forfeited the pretensions of a Rajput”. Chittor may have been sacked before and during the reign of Pratap but the spirit of the Mewar rulers always remained undefeated. Social scientists and teachers alike would draw much value and inspiration from this and other veracities of Pratap’s life. Much after his death his stand would yield dividends for his successors as none would dare challenge the illustrious house of Mewar. Rahim the 16th Century poet in Akbar’s court who is famous for his couplets would write “Land and wealth will disappear but the virtue of a great name lives forever”

The author points out that trade and the arts continued to survive if not flourish in this difficult period. The Chavand school produced unique miniature paintings and various Ragamalas depicting the changing moods and seasons were composed. This is an interesting feature which underlines the popular support Pratap received and sustains the belief that conflict and social change can coexist and flourish. The book refers to periods before and after the incident of Haldighati and provides a rich canvas to understand the enigma of Pratap as well as the social history of those times. The Maharana was most certainly an inspiration for Shivaji in the following century. Though Chittor was not won back during his life time Pratap’s son was able to get it back albeit under terms of a treaty which saved face and prevented further bloodshed.

Courage in the face of adversity, death before dishonour and other lofty ideals of valour and bravery were deeply embedded in Pratap’s psyche. He so impressed and mesmerised his opponents that on his death the poet Dursa Charan lamented “ Now as the Badshah learns of your passing he does not rejoice. All know (the Emperor) has fallen into a deep silence”. The author concludes that this was indeed Pratap’s final victory. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

“Frontiers” (A historical saga of the battle of wit and might between two arch nemeses, Shivaji and Aurangzeb) by Medha Deshmukh Bhaskaran (Penguin 2018). Book Review by Ajay Singha

It is 1648 and the young Maratha warrior Shivaji has successfully repulsed an attack by the Adil Shahi forces on Purandar hill, a fort nestled in the Western Ghats. Further away Mughal forces successfully enter Hyderabad, capital of the Qutub Shahi kingdom. The diamond mines, control of tobacco trade and forests teeming with elephants are under imperial control. 17th century Hindustan is in turmoil and the Mughal empire has reached its zenith. Kings and Sultans have accumulated untold wealth as Shivaji enters the scene to fulfil his dream of self rule through “Swaraj”.

This book is a well researched historical fiction based on two personalities, Shivaji and Aurangzeb, who for diametrically opposed reasons, find themselves grappling with their personal frontiers. It is an account of the high level of determination and resource fullness the young Maratha leader mustered when faced with impossible odds. Aurangzeb the last of the great Mughals will forcefully take over a throne soaked in the blood of his kin. He is reminded by his uncle Shaista Khan that Aurangzeb’s frontiers are waging war against his father, brothers and perhaps even his sons. Shivaji’s duty was to serve the masters of his father but he has chosen another path. He has drawn new frontiers of “Swaraj” that did not exist before. Conflict between the two is imminent.

This book is written in a style which takes the reader up close to the principal characters and shares the action as momentous events in their lives unfold.

As a child, Shivaji remembers being woken up one night by his mother with cries of “mughal armies” and is bundled up quickly to escape imminent capture. Later, as he leads Maratha armies into battle, Shivaji infuses valour and determination in the minds of his people by visions of victory, divine blessings and personal valour.  With cries of “HarHar Mahadev” the Marathas recapture several forts and generate the much needed revenue for financing their war effort.

 For Aurangzeb the battle of Ujjain is decisive to determine who will succeed to the Mughal throne. Descriptions of the battle and its aftermath are interesting and keep the reader engaged.  The author describes the fate of Humayun’s chosen heir Dara Shikoh who is routed and on the run. Aurangzeb lays siege to the Agra fort imprisoning his own father. Murad Baksh, his younger brother who was loyal to Aurangzeb till the end is also treacherously imprisoned. Dara Shikoh is captured by Mirza Raja Jai Singh and put to death after a mock trial, accused amongst other crimes for writing a treatise on the virtues of Hinduism and Sufism “The Mingling of Two Oceans”. Observing a fatally wounded bird Aurangzeb has penned a verse: “The world changes - In a twinkle, in a breath!  A moment ago it was life! Now it is death!”

The scene shifts to the Deccan where Afzal Khan, the General of the Adil Shahi kingdom is lured by Shivaji to meet and discuss the terms of Shiva’s surrender. Both are aware that the very nature of this mission calls for treachery, cunning and fraudulence but are left with no options but to meet. Shivaji gets the better of the Khan and slays him, using a “baghnach”, concealed tiger claws. Aurangzeb is furious with this news and deploys the imperial forces in full strength against the Marathas. Their lands are systematically laid waste and Shivaji is forced to seek compromise. He is invited to attend Aurangzeb’s coronation and discuss a lasting settlement. Both Shivaji and his son Sambhaji are treacherously trapped by the Mughals in Agra but manage to escape using a most ingenious trick of impersonation.

The story concludes leaving the Mughal emperor deeply frustrated and Shivaji and his son parted. The war is on. Aurangzeb has decided that that this will be his final frontier and he will bathe the Deccan with Bhosale blood.  The “Frontiers” is not just a story of who Shivaji was but who he was up against. Exchange of witty dialogues between the principal protagonists makes it an interesting read. The ending of this book promises scope for a sequel by a writer who successfully infuses life into historical characters and shares their personal fears and trepidations with the reader.

Ajay Singha, October 2018 - India

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Putting Consumers First: Essays in honour of Pradeep Mehta. (CUTS 2018) Book Review by Ajay Singha former Head of AmCham India and former Deputy DG Indo-German Chamber.

This book celebrates the 70th birthday of Mr. Pradeep Mehta, the founder of CUTS International.  Written by prominent personalities who have shaped economic policies in the global trading regime, the authors represent a lot for those engaged in international business and multilateral institutions. Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati outlines the range of activities undertaken by CUTS and concludes his foreword by regarding Pradeep Mehta as a “Living Treasure”. Views expressed appear personal but in fact reflect a lifetime of experiences in each writers’ career and their own interaction with the CUTS movement. Noted political economist Dr Sanjay Baru has edited the book along with Abhishek Kumar and refers to Pradeep as a great advocate for competition reforms in the developing world. He goes on to add that he was best Chairman that the Competition Commission of India never had.

Consumer interest is central to the book and essays reflect the critical nature of this subject in the well being of functioning democracies globally. There is common understanding that better governance, effective regulations and rules based trade nurtures and protects consumer interest across continents.  The essays collectively reflect the core ethos of CUTS, namely: Creating value for the People. The book confirms that across nations there is a basic convergence on issues which promote the concept of: “Putting Consumers First”.

The power pendulum has now shifted from the West to the East. Distrust caused by the North South divide has perhaps led to the present state of affairs in the global trading order. Multilateral trading systems are stressed like never before and likely to give way if further deterioration goes unchecked. The WTO and other global organisations have come into existence after tremendous deliberations between nations over a sustained period of time. Nations realize that at the core of each country’s democratic values lies consumer interest of their ordinary citizens. The Nation State has come a long way from the policy of “Caveat Emptor” to multiple regulations protecting not only individual consumer interest but collective national issues relating to competition and freedom of choice.

Global trading and regulatory organisations reflect the realities of the time when they were created and may no longer be relevant to the present world order. An important reality pointed out by C Raja Mohan is that today no region in the world can be an exclusive area of influence. Greater collaboration is the need of the hour, when in fact the world is moving away from multilateralism. Suresh Prabhu’s efforts at converting railway passengers to active consumers and co-creators is a welcome initiative. It should be replicated in other spheres where consumers interact with government.

Ashok Ganguly rightly states that every aspect of Globalisation was not necessarily positive. The liberalisation of banking regulations generated a sense of unnatural exuberance which led to the banking crisis of 2008. Unprecedented growth of wealth in advanced countries rewarded a small fraction of the already well to do. The bulk of the population received only the dregs and there was no significant impact on the health, nutrition and poverty levels of the people. Globalisation also witnessed the Arab Spring which soon became a nightmare, terrorist attacks in New York and war with Iraq were other notable setbacks.

Some of the authors have suggested specific solutions emanating from their individual area of expertise in order to address larger socio-economic challenges. Isher Judge Ahluwalia projects Cities as engines of growth, Shakti Sinha emphasises Green power and Pawan Munjal suggests housing as a great multiplier. What all should be included in the ambit of consumer welfare remains debatable and offers a wide scope for discussion. Signals suggest that the world might be slipping from the lofty goals of globalisation into a period of disorder and uncertainty. UK’s Brexit, political developments in Europe and the American position on WTO are key pointers in this direction.

Pradeep Mehta’s favourite line: “There are no failures only deferred success” gives hope for succour to the multilateralists.  Pradeep’s life story of showing the way when odds confront progress could do its bit in motivating many of us. His advice of “Converting every setback into an opportunity” is most relevant for addressing the unfolding global economic challenges today. The book is recommended for scholars of economics, development studies and international relations as well as officials engaged in trade and economic diplomacy.
September 2018, Jaipur-India.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

“Pakistan At the Helm” by Tilak Devasher (Harper Collins 2018). A book review by Ajay P Singha

Peppered with anecdotes and incidents from the lives of those who ruled Pakistan, the book shares some deep insights into human nature. Personalities matter more than policies in this part of the world, becomes evident from this study in emotions, complexes, strengths and weaknesses of individual characters. As political leaders move from high prominence into most certain ruin, history seems to repeat itself over and over again.

Tilak, an alumnus of the Mayo College and St. Stephen’s is indeed a great story teller and has infused good interest into a subject of concern to those watching the constantly evolving politics of the Indian subcontinent.  As former Special Secretary Cabinet (Government of India), Tilak had a ringside view of foreign and political affairs unfolding in the region.  Based on evidence supporting his research, the author takes us on a chronological course through uncertain and perilous times which Pakistan seems to perpetually find itself in. Through snapshots of individual lives we move from one momentous event in the country’s history to the other. He weaves a story which is well grounded in facts and skillfully interwoven with interesting vignettes.

Tilak argues that right from the beginning the Pakistani leadership had a “tactical” mindset, seeking short term solutions rather than looking at the long term picture. With the demise of Jinnah in 1948, the Muslim League was driven into low level intrigues and factions emerged with the sole aim of capturing personal power and wealth.  The constitution of Pakistan was unceremoniously abrogated in 1958. The one who ordered this act, the first President of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza found himself ousted from the country and later died a pauper in England.  As it turns out President Mirza was a descendant of Mir Jafer of Plassey notoriety.

“One suffering from megalomania in it’s worst form” is how Lord Mountbatten describes MA Jinnah, the central figure in Pakistan’s hall of fame.  The author points out that while the country had seven PMs during 1951 to 1958 the army chief remained the same. The army had undoubtedly got well entrenched, much before any democratic institutions took root in the country. The two Indo-Pak wars and the Kargil intrusions reflect the troubling mindsets of Pakistani Generals. An astonishing act of betrayal and deceit with India was that PM Nawaz Sharif knew about Pakistan’s planned intrusion into Kargil well before the friendly Lahore bus yatra with Indian PM Vajyapayee.

A strange paradox becomes evident to the reader when Pakistani dictators seem to move from a one man show towards a faux democracy whereas elected civilians tend to shift in the reverse direction ending up as autocrats. Another reality which gets highlighted is the continuous close meddling by the Americans in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is reported to have spoken six times in one day to sort out certain differences between Parvez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto shortly before she was assassinated.

Pakistan continues to be a deeply feudalistic State and there are mentions of several degenerate celebrations which took place to further social relations between members of the ruling class. Shikar parties and bacchanalia dating to colonial times stick like dead weight and continue to dominate the life styles of the power elite in the country.

The deadly ingredients of corruption, crime, embezzlement and political machinations create a heady mix and emerge as the preferred choice of the country’s political leadership. This cruel and uncertain reality is yet to be effaced from their history and exemplifies the old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

Scholars of history will appreciate that human nature has indeed remained unchanged over the centuries. Political personalities appearing in this book bear uncanny similarities with historical characters from the past. Greed, avarice, ruthlessness and a single minded devotion to personal wealth seem to dominate the minds of the so called great leaders from our neighboring nation.

“The entire empire was the personal estate of the ruler, instead of the rule of law there was the law of the ruler” this sums up the state of affairs in present day Pakistan. This continuing tale is therefore of grave relevance for India in the present geopolitical context and the undulating power play in our neighborhood. The book is recommended for everyone interested in a deeper understanding of Pakistani politics and their relations with India.  (September 2018, Ajay P Singha)

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

“THE SPY CHRONICLES: RAW ISI and the Illusion of Peace” by AS Dulat, Asad Durrani and Aditya Sinha. (Book Review by Ajay P Singha)

Pointing to the horizon where the sea and sky appear to merge, Saadat Munto the Pakistani playwright said, “It is only an illusion because they can’t really meet, but isn’t it beautiful the union which isn’t really there”. This quote pretty much captures the spirit under which this book was written and addresses concerns on Indo-Pak relations which dominate the minds of several generations in both countries.

As Chiefs of their respective Spy agencies Dulat and Durrani had ringside views of the constantly changing colours and engagement levels in security matters of the subcontinent and beyond. The book is written by super spooks who rarely came out in the open and operate behind the scenes 24x7. Consequently this book must not be read literally. The authors very often state something but actually imply a much deeper meaning in related contexts. An understanding of contemporary security concerns as well as the evolving international balance of power would be useful for a better appreciation of the book. The lay reader is advised to read between the lines, notice which questions are ignored and which ones are answered through standard diplomatic jargon.

Both Dulat and Durrani are past masters in the ancient art of spying and one can well imagine their poker faced expressions while responding to matters of State to their political masters. In this game only so much, as has been expressed, can be said and not beyond. After that actions overtake words and history is created. As a result, this book is not sufficiently hawkish for the less informed reader looking for scandals, whodunits and political intrigue. Fortunately the book is not boringly academic and has adopted a fine literary style in common with Dulat’s previous work.  

The dialogue format used in the book is an ancient method of communication and has roots in ancient civilisations including the Greek and Indian traditions for imparting knowledge. Though seldom used in present times, this uniquely light style allows readers to engage and disengage with a book at will, without losing track of the main story line. The dialogue format traditionally follows a somewhat disjointed approach as the story unfolds and is also reflected in the present book under review. With the prevailing low attention spans and even shorter focus periods, this style of writing will find very high acceptance with the younger readership globally. The dialogue format has enabled to uncover ugly truths about ISI’s support for Kashmir militants, double crossing the US and support for the Taliban. On a broader note it provides an excellent study of the geo-politics & prevailing security issues in the Indian subcontinent, presented in a format for which credit must be given to Aditya Sinha. 

Choreographed surgical strikes and the reality behind the US action on Bin Laden can be compared somewhat ludicrously to canned lion hunts, conducted by trophy hunters in Africa. A major difference between RAW and ISI gets inadvertently highlighted. Whereas both focus on analysis and intelligence, the latter unlike the former provides core support to the Deep State that actually runs Pakistan.    

The efforts of RAW and ISI also seem to contribute towards managing perceptions, a key ingredient for satisfying the expectations of the electorates in both countries. It sadly emerges that Pakistan may no longer have the ability to bear the political cost of reining in terrorists like Hafiz Saeed. Another development is confirmed by the authors when they agree that ever since Kashmiri militancy started the movement has now become pretty much indigenous to the valley. Dulat says that any discussion on Article 370 has become meaningless and it has been gutted to the extent that nothing is left in the matter.  

The solutions offered for regaining normalcy between India and Pakistan are on expected lines and may offer succour to a beleaguered populace but it is apparent that a lot more needs to be done to open new avenues for future dialogue and cooperation. A fascinating chimera emerges from a correspondence between the US and Russian Presidents: “Tell the people there is a bridge across the river and if people start believing there is a bridge, then even if there is no bridge it will serve the purpose”.  Such is the reality dotting the entire matrix of Indo-Pak relations that the reader ends up asking more questions than the book addresses in the dialogue.    

An interactive session is planned with Mr. AS Dulat in Jaipur, India later this month (17th August 2018) . He was Special Director IB and later Chief of Raw and will be in conversation with Mr. Amitabh Mathur, former Special Secretary RAW. In addition to discussions on the book the session will address the way forward in the light of the recent changes in Pakistan’s political dispensation and the road ahead.
Participation in the forthcoming session at Jaipur is by invitation.

Friday, 4 May 2018

BOOK REVIEW by Ajay Singha of “When Crime Pays – Money & Muscle in Indian Politics” Author Milan Vaishnav.

India is perpetually on election mode and the country continues to witness a disturbing alliance between crime and politics. How did this phenomena creep into the Indian electoral process? What transpired over the years in Indian politics, that crime and politics became willing bed partners? Why would criminals contest elections leaving their murky business aside?  Why do political parties accept such tainted individuals and most baffling of all – why would honest people vote for such individuals when they are fully aware of their criminal antecedents? These are questions addressed by the author, Milan Viashnav, in this painstakingly well researched book.

Milan is Senior Associate at the Carnegie Foundation in Washington DC and has been a Fellow at the Centre for Global Development Studies. He has taught at Columbia, George Washington and Georgetown Universities. This book is an extension of his Research Thesis and includes almost nothing which is not supported by empirical evidence, statistical analysis and credible references, the hallmark of an erudite scholar-academic. 

As the next round of elections is around the corner, the informed public in India will do well to read this book and improve their insight into this expanding unholy nexus across political formations between politics and crime. According to data compiled by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), 24% of Members of Parliament elected in 20014 faced criminal charges, this figure grew to 30 % in 2009 and climbed to 34 % in 2014.

The book highlights a major factor supporting this rising phenomena, namely that criminals self finance their political campaign. Political parties are invariably short of finances and such offers topped with additional contributions helps plug the fiscal gap albeit at the cost of overlooking their criminal antecedents.

Over time the criminal politician’s capability to resolve local issues and get things done projects them in a modern Robin Hood image. Pappu Yadav, Mohammad Shahbuddin, Arun Gawli, Madhu Koda, Raja Bhaiya, Phoolan Devi are names synonymous with this rising phenomena. A quintile analysis of the poorest to richest candidates in past election reveals that the richest have substantially higher chances of election victory but only if combined with a tag of high criminality. Viewed from the context of Indian political history a jail term may not have extreme negative connotations but it would be excessive to suggest that the common voter cannot differentiate between the reasons for incarceration for Jawaharlal Nehru and Pappu Yadav.

Indian democracy, as it turns out, comprises of individuals steeped in the world of crime.....not white-collar crimes like corruption and bribery, but serious offenses like murder, kidnapping, arson etc.  Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria, Pakistan and Philippines suffer similar challenges and moot the questions - Is this the price citizens must pay for democracy? and how did the US and other democratic nations cope with this phenomena?

This book is not about illiterate and ignorant voters being misled into voting for criminal candidates or the information gap between fact and reality. The book presents evidence supporting a strong correlation between constituencies of criminal candidates and localities with caste identity issues. A notable exception being West Bengal where party-identification overrides caste and religious identity. 

The author retains the academic gravitas associated with research and incorporates desk work with field study examples and interviews. The book discusses the rot which set into the grand old party from its early inception, as the power base shifted from visionaries and statesmen to opportunistic rent seekers. Complex aspects of political science, sociology, economics and history have been used with multiple references, notes and appendix. The lay reader may find this a bit intimidating but it is quite essential for supporting view points, defending stated positions and stand the scrutiny of critics. 

What remains unexplored is the effect criminality in politics will have on people’s attitudes, their trust and belief in the rule of law, their basic perceptions of politics may get adversely influenced and will impact their decisions for joining politics. In a country with a close to zero transparency in political contributions the road ahead looks quite murky and only political reforms can determine the direction for democracy and public institutions. India can provide one billion people with unique biometric identification numbers but struggles to enforce the rule of law and basic facilities for the common man, this duality, according to Lloyd and Sussan Rudolh is the paradox of the “Weak-Strong State”.

In conclusion the author quotes Francis Fukuyama’s three essentials for a healthy democracy - effective State apparatus - adherence to the Rule of Law and - democratic Accountability. The informed citizenry is advised to read such a well researched book and draw their own lessons for further debate on the subject under review. It is also high time that a nation with the motto “Satyameva Jayate: Truth alone triumphs” acts decisively to prevent the entry of criminals into the country’s political main stream.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Public Affairs Practitioners in India and the road ahead

Public Affairs Practitioners in India and the road ahead
(A note prepared by Ajay Singha, member PAFI,
former Executive Director AMCHAM & Deputy DG Indo-German Chamber)

Public Affairs practitioners are now the external face for a corporation which has multiple stakeholder engagements across functions. In a fast evolving economic-political landscape in  Emerging Economies like India, the Government, Regulator, NGOs, Media and institutions play a crucial role in economic policy formulation and impacting the business landscape. The Public Affairs professional has become the fall guy for countering all challenges faced by a corporation in its growth and business expansion plans in the country. 

Today the pace of change in the economic policy environment has further accelerated and continues to evolve the world over. Real time monitoring of change and managing the subsequent reactions by managements has become a daunting challenge for Public Affairs practitioners. The PA function has therefore become critical to the success of the corporation and is being accorded increasing importance by the corporate leadership across continents.

In order to be effective the Public Affairs practitioners must strive to maintain relations either directly or through multiple intermediaries to:
·        Political leadership at the Local, State and Central Government levels.
·        Bureaucracy at various levels and at multiple geographical locations.
·        Consumer organisations, Local communities, Trade Union leaders, Pressure groups.
·        Mainstream media and Social media.
·        Prominent client leadership.
·        Chambers of Commerce and Industry associations.
·        Not-for-profit organisations and NGOs.
·        Think tanks, Foundations and Policy Advocacy organisations.
·        Parliamentary committees and empowered committees.

In carrying out their duties the PA practitioners must oversee the following functions either directly, through designated colleagues or intermediaries:
·        Guide and oversee writing of briefing papers and research documents as inputs for senior management.
·        Produce media briefings and if required act as the Spokesperson.
·        Interact with and ensure compliance for Regulatory Affairs with various Regulators.
·        Network with stakeholders and public policy influencers.
·        Create and maintain channels for public outreach and stakeholder participation.
·        Initiate and manage Events and related activities for stakeholder and public outreach.
·        Oversight on corporate communication and ensure homogeneity.
·        Participate in public debate on issues of importance to the corporation.
·        Maintain a line of communication to think tanks and policy influencers.
·        Public Advocacy work and related coordination with external partners.
·        Monitor and guide economic policy legislation and ensure policy issues are addressed well in time. 
·        Keep a tab on international treaties, bilateral, pluri-lateral or multilateral arrangements impacting trade policy, market access and related business in the near and medium term.
·        Influence public perception, image and reputation of the corporation.
·        Articulate and explain the organisation’s point of view on emerging government policies.
·        Assist the top management to take studied and balanced stands and positions on policy announcements by the Government.
·        Provide strategic advice on issues of economic importance with political undertones.
·        Provide strategic advice on issues of political importance with economic undertones.
·        Check counter lobbying efforts of pressure groups and competitors.
·        Build a public narrative or a counter narrative to address emerging policy challenges.
·        Coordinate the crisis management team and work closely with media and PR outfits for strategic government and media intervention during crisis situations.
·        Build a common ground for taking industry positions and collective stands on issues of common interest to industry, trade and globally acceptable business practices.
·        Care for the overall reputation of the organisation in the public domain and stakeholder perceptions.
·        Maintain real time communication with the corporate leadership on issues strategic importance.
·        Promote transparency and internal compliance as per international standards.

The strategic importance of the Public Affairs function is now deeply embedded in every aspect of a corporation as the fast evolving economic-political scenario requires speed and accuracy in policy development, compliance and subsequent course of action. In view of the changed, expanded and evolving work profile of Public Affairs, professionals in the field must deliberate and discuss issues enumerated above and find synergies for working together to collectively address common challenges. They must move to consolidate their thoughts and develop a consensus on the course of action for the PA profession in general. The PA professionals must collectively indulge in some “Crystal Ball” gazing to figure out the future direction and work trajectory which they are expected to take globally.
April 2018

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Perspectives for Growth & Development - Tourism in Rajasthan, India

Tourism in Rajasthan
Perspectives for Growth and Development- by Ajay Singha
In 2015 tourism created 107 million jobs worldwide and supported 284 million other jobs. The ILO estimates that this number will grow to 136 million and 370 million respectively by 2026. Policymakers must appreciate the immense potential in this sector for job creation and employment opportunities for the less skilled work force available in the State of Rajasthan. With this background a brief report has been prepared on what can be done to further improve the attractiveness of tourism sector in the State. Rajasthan is a leading tourism destination of India and in 2014, the annual growth of tourist arrivals in the state was 8.9% for domestic and 7.1% for foreign tourists.
Visitors to Rajasthan now comprise new as well as conventional segments of tourists. Visitors increasingly come for business and conference meetings, wedding parties, music and dance festivals, film shooting programs, ecotourism, nature walks, wildlife sighting and health rejuvenation. This is in addition to the traditional heritage, culture, shopping and related segments. As the reason for travel varies the expectations from existing infrastructure and service providers also differs.
To sustain and further attract the varied and non-conventional tourist flow to the State a number of additional initiatives are required. Implementation of these recommendations would result in increase in arrival numbers, job creation and prosperity for the people of Rajasthan.
Special impetus may be given to develop the following:
·        Adventure tourism
·        Eco-tourism
·        Film Shootings
·        Health medical and wellness tourism
·        MICE and Weekend Tourism
·        Night tourism
·        Religious festivals and special events
·        Rural Heritage, Handicrafts and Farm tourism
·        Weddings tourism

·        Wildlife tourism in Special zones

General recommendations:
·        Identify and Promote lesser known destinations
·        Develop and Provide Innovative, non-conventional and emerging tourism products and services
·        Facilitate infrastructure development on PPP and other models
·        Sustain the recently commenced Regional AirConnectivity with small aircrafts in the State
·        Skill development in terms of language, heritage knowledge and professionalism in tourism sector
·        Develop Chinese tourism by taking necessary steps
·        Constant and regular meetings and interaction of all governmental agencies with entire Rajasthan tourism trade. Ensure that such meetings are organised when industry is available before the tourist season starts
·        Encourage small guest houses, home stay B&B facilities by increasing the number of rooms allowed under such schemes and monitor their services to ensure quality

Administrative action:
·        Develop an “Implementation tracking” mechanism which must submit periodic reports to the CMO on work progress by different departments on tourism.
·        Ensure effective inter-departmental coordination within various arms of the administration.
·        Forest, PWD, UDH, Local Self Government and Panchayati Raj/ Rural Development Departments should be used for Tourism Development. What they do specifically for tourism must be tracked and reported.
·        Guest houses of PHED, PWD, Fisheries, Forest and other Departments across the State must be identified for privatization. The quality of service and facilities can be improved by leasing out to private operators and then offered for use by tourists. The facilities will continue to be used for government officials against minimal payment.
·        Government gardens and Heritage properties of the State and open space in offices of government undertakings and departments to be identified, listed and subsequently offered for hosting events, MICE or weddings. One window clearance for all permissions for using such venues.
·        Identify remote Heritage monuments which are not in good condition and which can be out sourced for maintenance and exterior lighting to corporate giants in return for branding opportunity at the monument.
·        Increase number of rooms allowed for small guest houses and home stay B&B while introducing a self-regulatory system
·        Coordination meetings between tourism industry stakeholders and officials of DOT, Civil Aviation, Water Resources, Transport, Police, PWD, LSG Departments for resolving issues, developing guidelines, obtaining clearances, identification of sites and other tourism related work to ensure transparent decision making and stakeholder participation in all activities.
·        Make special cell and websites in Chinese for focus on China and Chinese speaking tourists.
·        Approach Central Government on harmonization of tax rates for the entire tourism industry and do away with slabs for various segments.
·        Reduce excise fee for outlets serving beer and wine with food.
·        System to encourage and also improve small guest houses, home stay B&B to ensure rooms and facilities meet expectations.

Adventure Tourism: Aero Tourism(Hot Air Ballooning, Paragliding etc.), Aqua Tourism(Boating, Paddle Boating etc.) Land Tourism(Trekking, Nature safaris, Rappelling etc) and Equestrian Tourism(Horse riding trails and Camel safari paths) are on an increase worldwide. Adventure tourism is done from special locations requiring camping sites and support facilities. Activities like bike riding, cycling and other recreational exertions can be added by identifying cycling paths and safe areas.
·        Training courses for skill development in executing adventure tours, imparting knowledge of equipment, safety and emergency procedures and developing Standard Operating Procedures SOPs.
·        Offer incentives to registered operators of Adventure Sports by way of reimbursements of equipment cost and long-term project financing on special terms.
·        Water Resource Department to notify and issue safety certification of places suitable for aqua tourism and issue guidelines for conducting water sports.
·        Identify and earmark Horse riding trails and camel safari paths in rural areas with help from equestrian association, local people and special operators in this field.
·        Identify locations and give necessary approvals for Hot Air ballooning, Para gliding, Rappelling etc.
·        Local Horse shows and Camel livestock shows to be identified and listed in publicity materials.

Contemporary Music, dance, art and literary festivals: These festivals are emerging all over the country and very popular with the young travelers. Rajasthan is best suited for hosting such events due to various factors in favor of the State.
·        Approach organisers of dance, art and music festivals globally through Indian embassies abroad and directly through associations and DOT for organising shows in Rajasthan.
·        Financial incentives may be offered to event management companies who can put together a festival and sustain it for three years at new destinations.
·        Care to be taken not to offer established destinations and only new destinations must be encouraged.
·        Upcoming Indian musicians and bands with established fan following should be approached through event organisers for holding the festivals in new destinations.
·        Private marketing agencies should be roped on to ensure outreach and information dissemination.  

Eco Tourism: Identifying Eco-tourism sites, access routes by public transport with last mile connectivity must be put in place to reach the location. Ensure other factors like wildlife sighting, heritage monuments in vicinity, availability of medical facility etc. Involvement and acceptance by local population are met when selecting sites.
·        Identify and select Eco-tourism sites on the periphery of nature parks and sanctuaries.
·        Ensure involvement and support of local population.
·        Allow and permit only Zero pollution modes of transport in Ecological areas.

·        Forest Department to form a management and eco development committee in collaboration with NGOs and environmental specialists to identify, conserve and operate specific forest and wildlife areas for tourism.
·        Development of Herbal Gardens in various locations in the state through PPP mode.
·        Organize village home visits for interaction with local people and increase acceptance of eco-tourism.

Film Shooting: Film shooting in Rajasthan has been made easy by waiving application fees, security deposit and processing charges by amending Rajasthan Film Shooting Regulations, 2012 (As amended in 2016).
·        List of film shooting locations, details of various film shoots, information of facilities, approved agents etc. should be made available online.
·        Time bound “Single Window Clearance” to film makers should be provided.
·        Film shooting permission may be deemed if not issued after 15 days of applying. Single window for fee collection and bringing uniformity in charges levied by different Departments.
·        Nodal officer in DOT must be designated and suitably empowered for this purpose.

·        Approved hospitals and doctors to be included in a list which should be uploaded on DOT website.
·        Meeting of management of all major hospitals in the State with the DOT, tour operators, travel agents and officials to take steps for making Rajasthan attractive for medical tourism.

Rural Heritage, Handicrafts and Farm Tourism: Villages with Heritage hotels should be declared as Heritage villages and special incentives to be offered to villagers to encourage them to sustain, maintain and encourage the special attractiveness of the heritage destination.  Lesser known arts and crafts, traditional clothing and skills should be promoted along with Heritage walks, Rural cuisine and local Fairs and Festivals as part of Heritage Culture Tourism.

·        Identifying heritage and handicraft rich village locations and artisan clusters in tribal and rural areas.
·        Marketing of their handicrafts products through NGOs promoting job creation at local level.
·        Give financial incentives for home visits, interaction with Indian families at private homes.
·        Culinary programs to offer learning Indian cooking at private homes.
·        Incentives for these activities may be offered by the MSME Department.
·        NGOs to develop Craft Based Tourism for sustainable livelihoods: Financial support to private thematic museums which showcase diverse cultural heritage. Exclusive local souvenir shops located in private homes to be encouraged to sell local handicrafts exclusively.
·        Self-help groups and NGOs to develop Heritage Walk routes, identify local sites of religious, cultural and historic importance. Registered NGOs or private players organizing Heritage Walks on Government Property must be incentivized by revenue sharing of tickets.
·        Rural Home stays to be incentivized by reimbursement of partial cost of building the additional accommodation by villagers for tourists.
·        Training programs through NGOs for activities such as pottery making, animal care, black smithy, weaving, basket making, handicrafts and similar village based activities.
·        Use of vintage cars to ferry tourist on designated routes. Incentives must be given to Vintage Cars owners who provide their cars for such use.

MICE & Weekend Tourism: MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) operators are constantly looking at new destinations. With increased connectivity weekend tourism specially for people from high pollution cities will increase as Rajasthan offers pollution free locations.
·        Identification of weekend circuits, educational circuits, business traveler weekend circuits in consultation with stakeholder groups.
·        Identification and development of new MICE locations with stakeholders for MICE tourism and facilitation of approvals for establishing convention centers.
·        One window clearance for music and dance festivals on the weekend at rural locations.

Night Tourism: Contrary to popular belief night tourism is not restricted to alcohol consumption and food. It is an extension of weekend tourism as busy people from polluted cities take a break in Rajasthan and make use of night time to enjoy full range of handicrafts show, dance and music festivals etc.
·        Night markets should be specially organized at all major tourist cities of Rajasthan.
·        Local administration must give clearance for operating night markets on designated days.
·        Ensure Police, LSG and other authorities cooperate and not hinder the night market and their organisers.
·        Mechanism to be in place to report any untoward happenings and incidents.

Religious festivals and special events: This is an extension of traditional tourism but has found high acceptability and interest from national and international tourists.
·        Identification of Religious tourism circuits in consultation with stakeholders.
·        Persuade private trusts for maintaining surroundings of temples to attract tourists.
·        Arrange Regional Air connectivity to small new airports.
·        Visitors should be briefed on participation etiquette acceptable to local population.
·        Every religious festival or celebration of a festival should be highlighted on websites.
·        Special arrangements for tourist enclosure at such festivals and safety to be made.

Wedding Tourism: Wedding Tourism is on the increase as big cities are getting polluted and prices of hotels and related arrangements are competitive in smaller destinations.
·        New wedding destinations to be identified and listed in all advertisement and promotional materials.
·        Market list of wedding destinations to wedding planners and event management firms through private operators and professional marketing outfits.

Wellness and Rejuvenation tourism:  This is a new and high growth segment for tourism world wide.
·        Identify new properties offering Wellness and rejuvenation programs.
·        DOT to monitor these Centres and their activities to ensure facilities are functional and not just on paper.
·        List out therapeutic centers which offer physiotherapy, Ayurveda, naturopathy, yoga and herbal treatment and sensitize them on handling tourists.
·        Incentivize spiritual, wellness and rejuvenation centers. Private players should be encouraged to provide services at international standards and a certification program installed.

Wildlife tourism in Special Zones: Special zones around nature parks and periphery of wildlife reserves (10 km radius) can be encouraged.
·        Eco Certification Scheme for hotels, restaurants and tourism related establishments in these zones.
·        Environmental awareness workshops in collaboration with Eco-tourism society of India can be conducted.
·        Elephant village in Jaipur and Sambhar can be developed as stand-alone tourist destinations.
·        Develop special Birding circuits and wildlife circuits with advice of WWF and similar agencies.
·        Wildlife tourism and special zones must operate in conjunction with eco-tourism and weekend tourism activities.

Improvements in infrastructure and Ecosystem:
·        Development of wayside amenities, toilets, drinking water, cafeteria, souvenir shops etc.
·        Air Connectivity: To connect different cities in the State through private small aircrafts by increasing connectivity and lowering taxes and duties while underwriting seats to promote airline operations.
·        PWD to ensure last mile connectivity to tourist destinations and approach roads to Heritage Hotels.
·        Drainage system of heritage villages to be improved and sewage treatment plants installed.
·        IT department to identify and provide high speed WiFi at selected tourism sites.

Skill development and Capacity building:
·        Stakeholders such as hotel service providers, travel service enablers, tourism service providers, public agencies and state officials to be trained by identified trainers on tourist expectations, handling and business execution.
·        Developing curriculum for tourism services related courses and diploma certificates in tourism from accredited universities and institutions.
·        Start Chinese language courses for tour guides and service providers to tap the Chinese speaking market.
·        Redefining of syllabus in accordance with the potential areas of employment in tourism sector.

Government of Rajasthan may take note that the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report ranked India 40th among 136 countries in 2017. The ranking was based on price competitiveness, availability of historic sites and strong cultural base.
India ranked low on the parameters of an enabling environment for tourism and how actively the Government promotes the sector. Safety and security was also a concern along with environment sustainability.Tourism is now a “global constant” as every country markets their destinations in an effort to increase tourist arrivals and the resulting benefits to society through job creation and economic improvement. There is no reason why India, particularly Rajasthan cannot do well on all parameters impacting tourism which is a proven job creator and economic growth engine.