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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 8

July 18th, 2012 · 1 Comment

The role of government in education is the third topic I’d like to address.   There are three important facts we have to keep in mind.   First,   at the core of the system of education is  a human being, an individual, a person.  He or  she learns skills during the process of education and becomes a more useful  member of society.   Education thus makes the individual more productive and therefore promotes general social welfare.  Education therefore has  both private and social returns.   So,  it is in the interest of society to make sure that everyone is educated to the degree  that one has the ability to.

Professor Kaushik Basu talked about it in the morning –  that we underinvested in basic education post- independence. In fact, I was talking to a friend  and he put it very well.   He said all we had to do in India  post- independence was to educate one generation of Indians well.   If you are educated,  then you will ensure that the next generation probably will   get more  education than you.   But, we did not do that well.

Second, the returns to education takes time. The   investment has to be made first and then some years later the benefits arise.   Because of the time lag between the investment,   the net present value of the future gains,  depends on the rate one uses to discount the future,  which is related to paying for it now and enjoying the returns later.

This leads us to the third fact  –   that some people are poor enough, they cannot afford to invest in education.    If they had the money,  they could have paid for education now and recovered their investment later.

These facts define what the role of government fundamentally has  to be in education. The role is simply this – to make funds available to those who don’t have the ability to invest in education.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 7

July 17th, 2012 · 1 Comment

There’s another relationship between  information and education. Education gives people the skill to transform information into knowledge.   Sometimes we tend to confuse what information  is,  and what knowledge is.   Information may be presented in books or over the internet. Regardless of that,  how effectively one uses the information,  depends on how good the education system is  in training people to use that information.  So the role of technology in education has to be understood as that of a tool  or an  instrument.   Tools enable us to do tasks more effectively.

Let’s take an example.    A spreadsheet makes manipulating data – tabular data – easy.  How to use the spreadsheet is a skill that can be learnt.  We are teaching that today in many computer courses.  How quickly one learns that depends on how educated,  that person is.  But how to calculate is the basic skill.  The more advanced skill is what to calculate.   And finally,  education teaches us to appreciate what the result of that calculation means.

Technology certainly  speeds up the  information  dissemination and access,  but because technology is a tool,  it can only  be as effective as the skill of the user.   Most importantly,  a broken education system cannot be fixed by introduction of technology.   An analogy  is useful here. You know you have a roomful of mediocre writers and we give them computers,  word processors and printing software, printers   —   that’s not going to make their writing any better.  Their writing will stay as poor as it is.

So,  digital technology cannot fix a problem that is not digital in nature.   Computer hardware and software, PCs, laptops, search engines, softwares, broadband connections, internet  are neither necessary nor sufficient for education.     That   they are not necessary is clear from the fact that billions of people were educated before these tools were invented.   That these tools are not sufficient  is also clear.   There are thousands of schools in rich countries that have all of these and yet fail to adequately educate their students.

Essentially, technology is not the answer to problems that are not technological in nature.  I think we need to keep this in mind when going out there, and going overboard on technology and devices.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 6

July 16th, 2012 · No Comments

The second topic I want to talk about is the role of technology in education.

In India, somewhere we got our focus wrong. In schools, it is all about setting up computer labs. It’s about getting those ten computers in there – a mix of  thin clients, desktops with some connectivity. Content is always given an after-thought,  and I’ve seen this happen in states,  multiple states, time and again.   If one state does it,  then other states just replicate the tender  and repeat it all over. Content  is an afterthought.  It is getting the hardware infrastructure in place.

The same stupidity is being replicated in the higher education system, where we are now looking at devices, all sorts of devices out there.  And we’ll talk about that in a minute. So thousands of crores are being spent, there’s no assessment, of whether this really  makes a difference in education.   I mean all of us got educated without computers!

This spend on free devices helps to win elections, and perhaps its good pocket money for the value chain, but a different perspective needs to be understood.

Technology has always had a role in education.  In the history of the use of technology in  education, technological advance in printing was the most radical and innovative.    Books were the first of the information  and communications technology. They were the  means to store, disseminate and access information.  The modern innovation  – the internet  – which helps production, distribution and consumption of information on a large scale.   The role    information plays in education has to be recognised. What we know, our knowledge, is a function of what information we internalise. We need access to information together with the ability to comprehend that information. Education requires that information is available  for internalisation and conversion into knowledge.

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Blog Past: A Journey and A Conversation

July 15th, 2012 · 2 Comments

From a post a year ago about a visit to Nageshwar temple in Madhya Pradesh:

I asked the driver and the watchman about the government. They said the government made no difference to them. The MPs and MLAs only came to ask for votes and were never seen again. Both voted, and would flip their vote each time because they saw no progress.

Many of the 12-15 year-olds end up going to Mumbai, taken up typically by a family which wants a domestic help or someone to help at the shop. Employment opportunities locally are few and far between – there is no manufacturing happening. NREGA provides some employment once in a while, but it only ends up being at best a few days in a month.

For the most part, little has changed in the lives of this India. As a nation, we have failed them – by not being able to provide a decent education and by not providing adequate employment opportunities. The time has come for India’s politics of votebanks to be replaced by the politics of development. We need to get Zakirbhai and Radheshyam dreaming about a New India for their children.

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Weekend Reading

July 14th, 2012 · 1 Comment

This week’s reading:

  • Natural Gas: A survey in The Economist. “New sources of gas could transform the world’s energy markets —but it won’t be quick or easy.”
  • India and China’s Growth Challenges: from WSJ. “China doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes—such as triggering a property bubble—that it made in its all-out response to the global financial crisis of 2009. India, meanwhile, is struggling to carry out structural economic reforms it failed to enact during its recent boom years.”
  • Why Walmart is like a Forest: from strategy+business. “Thinking about your company as an ecosystem yields lessons for innovation, growth, and renewal.”
  • The Opportunity Gap: by David Brooks. “Equal opportunity, once core to the nation’s identity, is now a tertiary concern.” In India, we need to shift focus from equality of outcome to equality of opportunity.
  • Urban World: A Mckinsey study. “Understanding cities and their shifting demographics is critical to reaching urban consumers and to preparing for the challenges that will arise from increasing demand for natural resources (such as water and energy) and for capital to invest in new housing, office buildings, and port capacity.”

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 5

July 13th, 2012 · 3 Comments

Critical thinking skills, ability to ask meaningful questions, how to  ask questions right, ability to seek out answers from sources , ability to communicate effectively,   ability to work together,   to collaborate effectively  — these are skills which are going to be much more increasingly important going forward,  irrespective of what kind of jobs people are doing.

This latticework of skills is really changing and  has to really change  what higher education looks at.   So whether its basic economics, numerical literacy, finance, sales, the best ideas in psychology, history, a bit of software programming , manipulating data, writing macros and Excel, these things are very important today as we go forward.

Writing, presenting – these are skills needed for success in tomorrow’s world,  and very little of this is actually being taught today.   In fact education has not changed as much in the last 20 years since I graduated from IIT Bombay in 1988.   In my own education, we had the Humanities department teaching economics courses. I realise the value of economics now,  in the last few years.  And at that time it was almost looked down upon, the arts and humanities.  It’s one of those courses where the lectures were skippable, you could just learn up something, the grades did not matter and  all that stuff.

It took me  nearly 15 years to really undo that bias against economics, sociology and some of these subjects and that’s a big big  drawback in the world that we’re living in today.   What you need to get across to people,  when you talk about multi-disciplinary skills,  is a mix of humanities, business and technology. It needs to be drilled into people at a much earlier age.

You have today,    6-7-8 year old  kids, very familiar with computing, they play video games , they are on facebook with email addresses and so on,   uploading photos, and so on. That’s the world we have to really  look at. These are the kids  who are going to be the customers of higher education going forward.   Are our schools and  universities preparing us for this?   This is one fundamental point which needs to be thought about.  It is almost  that we need to hack  education for tomorrow’s world, and that is not happening.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 4

July 12th, 2012 · 1 Comment

The world has changed and the education system has to reflect that change. Earlier,  information was hard to access and distribute.  Now it’s possible to, quite cheaply,  have all the information that we need  out there.  You don’t have to memorise when  the first battle of Panipat happened — just go to Wikipedia and it’s all out there.  One search and it gets you right there.     You have YouTube,  Khan Academy, you have US universities like MIT, Harvard spending tens of millions of dollars  putting their lectures online.

The role of the system is therefore to teach students how to learn and how to critically evaluate information. Rote learning is not at all useful in a context where facts are easily available, but understanding what the implications of facts are is what  matters.    In fact, if you look at many of us as parents,  especially when I look in Bombay,  at some of my colleagues, we all have gone through the rote learning system in India, we have all done professionally very well, but given the  choice,  we want to send our kids to ‘IB’ schools.

There is a much wider set of learning that is taking place, and in a way it is reflective of how we are seeing the world change outside.   These are a set of skills that are important in the world going forward.    There’s a book I was reading recently The Art of the Sale’, and in there towards the end,  a friend of the author asks the author “ You have a young kid,  if you were to die tomorrow and you wanted  your kid to know one ability, what would it be?”    And the author answers, “The art of Selling.”    He says it is all about —  a lot of what you’re  doing here — persuading.  Even here, over the next two days,   the idea is to try and persuade different people to a set  of ideas which we can then go out and implement.    Is that  taught   in schools and colleges? Not really.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 3

July 11th, 2012 · 2 Comments

I think one of the most important things we can teach children and students is to get rid of the fear of failure and we are not doing enough of that for going forward.     The fear of failure should not act as an inhibitor.   I was talking to someone the other day and he made a very interesting comment. He set up a company in the US and he is hiring a lot of people in  Chennai. He said, “I see all these resumes of people with 6-7-8- years of experience  – and you know – the shocking thing,  is that instead of  really being 7 years of experience, it is 1 year of experience done 7 times over,  because they have changed jobs every year!    And he says you just cannot call that experience.”

Experience is very important, and we’ll come back to that.    We need to do  a lot more deeper thinking and introspection on the future, on what we want to create in India.   We are at  a very interesting time. It’s great we’re having this discussion here today. I think we have a singular opportunity in India to really redefine what next generation higher education should look like.    Whether you want to do imitation or innovation  is really something we have to decide.   Innovation needs skills, and skills need the combination of these three E’s that I just referred to – education, entrepreneurship and experience.   And the core of it is,  how do you get high quality education.

I want to cover three topics — the type of education, the role of technology in education, and the role of government in education.   These are large areas,  but I’ll cover brief aspects of these.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 2

July 10th, 2012 · 1 Comment

I’d like to start with a small story.   I was at Columbia University about 3 weeks ago giving a talk on transforming India.   Columbia is my Alma Mater where I did my masters in EE about 23 years ago.  The talk  was in the Lowe Library. I was a student of the School of Enginering  and the Lowe Library,  the biggest structure  and pretty much visible as you enter the campus.

I realised I’d never been in there throughout the time that I was in Columbia.    My focus was so narrow  — School of Engineering and my room.  And when I look back over my last 20 years,   most of what I have learnt has come outside the school of engineering! I should have spent a lot more time in the Low Library, because a lot of things which are in there, are what I have used afterwards.    And that’s something you don’t realise when the education process is going on, but hopefully we can make some changes when I talk about some of these things.

So this informal learning, the ability to learn outside the classroom, I think is very important.  I became an entrepreneur, I tried multiple things.   I failed many times over;  I succeeded a few times. Much of that entrepreneurship  stuff,  I did not learn from the educational institutions.   I learnt it from my father, and ironically,  it is something which we could have probably focused on a lot more in our educational system,  because what India needs going forward is a lot more innovation.

These are some facets which we  will explore as we go along.   In today’s India, we are really  not letting that education happen. This can really make a difference and which people can make the best use of in their lives. That needs to change.   We are not really encouraging people. In many cases, we are actually discouraging people from becoming entrepreneurs by stigmatising failure and not creating a climate where people are willing to accept risk.

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Higher Education Innovation Speech – Part 1

July 9th, 2012 · 1 Comment

This is a lightly edited transcript of the Higher Education Conference speech I gave in early May 2012.

Before we start off on the main theme, I thought I  would   give a couple of suggestions on how we can make conferences very interesting.   We have been doing conferences probably the same way we have been doing it for the last 20 years.

We have two screens here, and I have tried this idea out at conferences which I have helped organise in Bombay and they have made a world of difference. One screen could actually be used to show real-time feedback from speakers.   Everyone’s got a computer, mobile phone;. So they can send an sms, tweet, email or go to a web page and leave a comment. I can tell you, it completely changes the dynamic of the  conference.

We have got some great  inputs today morning. As we think about them sitting in the audience, we also get a number of ideas. These go away since there is no way to give them back linked to the context. By enabling people to provide real-time feedback, we can make them more engaged and create a richer interaction.

Here is a second idea. I attended the DEMO in Santa Clara recently.  Six minutes was the time limit  given to every presenter. There were  company launches, product launches. It is amazing what can be said in six minutes. I tried the same at my company yesterday morning.  Normally these presentations would be 15-20 minutes long and go on –  rambling stuff. It’s amazing the focus which came in because I’d put a time limit-hard limit – six minutes. You enforce that limit by having a timer out here, a countdown timer. Again, these things are done abroad, and I think it’s time we got some of these things so the speaker knows exactly how much time is left.

Hopefully we can do some of these things in the future. The point to think is how do you reinvent and start innovating with the flow of the conference itself.

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Blog Past: State of the Nation

July 8th, 2012 · 1 Comment

I wrote this series a year ago:

We need to understand that change in India can only happen through the ballot box. We cannot think of overthrowing governments  through  coups like some of our neighbours have done in the past. We cannot have military intervention. We have only one instrument in our hands – our vote. That vote has been so far exercised without adequate thought or understanding of its power.  That is what needs to change.

Two elements need to be combined to change India’s political and policy future. The first is the need for awareness – people need to understand that we are on the wrong track. Some of this has started to seep into public consciousness, but the reasons and solutions are not clear. What is needed are neighbourhood “networks and conversations” to educate people. We don’t necessarily need mass media to support us – and they are unlikely to, since the government remains the richest advertiser.

The second element is to aggregate citizens together into votebanks. This is the idea of United Voters of India, proposed by Atanu Dey. Parties have their diehard supporters – we don’t need to bother about them. What we need to focus on are the ones in the centre (undecided) and those on the margins (less convinced supporters of specific political parties). This is the segment that can swing the election.

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Weekend Reading

July 7th, 2012 · 1 Comment

This week’s links:

  • Rise of the Enterprise “Toys”: by Aaron Levie. “Who would have thought that something as simple as status messages shared between colleagues would evolve to become such an important strategic product for Microsoft and the enterprise?”
  • Mobile is where the growth is: by Fred Wilson. “There is a significant shift going on this year, much more significant than we saw last year, from web to mobile. It is most noticeable in games, social networking, music, and news, but it is happening across the board and it presents both great opportunity and great challenges.”
  • Science’s great leap forward: The Economist on the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. “Without the Higgs there would be no mass. And without mass, there would be no stars, no planets and no atoms. And certainly no human beings. Indeed, there would be no history.”
  • It takes a city: by Edward Glaeser. “The future of India lies in its cities, not in its villages, and that fact creates both enormous opportunities and significant challenges.”
  • India’s dire states: by Pratap Bhanu Mehta. “Despite some manifest successes, most states have been unable to tackle certain fundamental challenges holding India back.”

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Transforming India Speech – Part 9

July 6th, 2012 · 2 Comments

To summarise:    to transform India,    it requires us to persuade this 25%, these 200 million people or  a large fraction thereof,  that development matters,  that good economic policies matter,   that poverty can be conquered and our problems can be solved –   not between two generations,   but between two elections.

Some chief ministers in India have done this, like we saw earlier. With the same people,  within the same system,  the same bureaucracy .   So it is doable, and  we need to make this happen and replicate theses good examples  nationally.

My focus is really on playing a role in this transformation.   As an entrepreneur,  I realise that the largest/ biggest problem or biggest challenge in India that any entrepreneur can look for solving  is that of governance and creating a better future for India.

I woke up to this when a friend of mine, Atanu, asked me a question 3 years ago.  He said, “Rajesh you have everything. When Abhishek, who was  then 4 years old, grows up, and asks you a question,   ‘Dad,   you  saw all that was happening around you. Why didn’t you do something about it?’, what will your answer?”

My work will hopefully be that answer,  and I hope many of you will also participate in bringing about this  transformation in India.

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Transforming India Speech – Part 8

July 5th, 2012 · 1 Comment

This technology reachable and powered base can make a huge difference in the next elections.    There will be about 150-200 million  people on the internet in India , there’ll be the same numbers on Facebook.   Youtube is likely to be among  the top three Indian channels.

Technology can be now used to target and get out the vote. Taken together, this can make 2014 a game-changing election in India.

What this really means   is that there are about 200 million people, 25% of the voting base in 2014,  which now has the ability to determine India’s future.  But what they are going to  look for  is leadership, organisation  and message.    They are going to look for leaders who can make difficult decisions, who can lead.   They are going to look for grassroot organisations in  political parties who at multiple levels,   who can intervene if things are going wrong. They are going to look for a message which really addresses the aspirations of people and also at the same time addresses the fears of a majority of Indians.

This persuadable 25% can determine the future of India.

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Transforming India Speech – Part 7

July 4th, 2012 · 1 Comment

2014 is going be different.   I’m going to  tell you the reasons why it’s going to be different., and why  2014 can really change the future of India.

Firstly, urban seats are increasing —  there are now about 200 out of the 543 seats in India that can be classified as urban seats where the urban population is more than 35%.    And that’s a fact of the rising urbanisation which we have heard earlier today.

Secondly, first-time voters. These are people who have basically grown up in the post or under the reforms era of 1991. These first-time voters don’t remember  what it was like to be in the past. People who are older think what we have today is so much better than what  was there  in the 1970s and 1980s.   But the first-time voters have incredible aspirations.

They are the ones who if they register and go out and vote will account for 10-15% of the voter base.  Middle India doesn’t vote in large numbers today. But they have substantially large numbers because of the reforms. They have education, and for the first time, they are reachable through technology – Internet, mobile, social and video (YouTube).

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Transforming India Speech – Part 6

July 3rd, 2012 · 2 Comments

What India needs to do is something it hasn’t done in 30 years.   It needs to deliver a majority  to a single party. It needs to deliver 272 out of 543 seats to one of the national political parties.   This is because, right now,  what we have in India is  where parties of 10-20 members  of parliament, who hold policy making to a ransom.   And that cannot go on.

What this means,   is that 2014 has to become a wave election.   There has to be a national wave.    It cannot be what everyone talks about  today,  — a summation of state elections,   where every state really makes its own local decisions.

So you  got to have a situation where,  it almost becomes a presidential form of election —  where people are voting for leaders, and   ideologies and ideas, transcending across the country.

It’s not going to be easy.  You talk to political analysts today;   they will basically tell you  that it will be a coalition government once again.  One of the national parties will get 160-170 and it will have to cobble-together  another 100 seats from 5-7 political parties.   And that’s not going to work.

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Transforming India Speech – Part 5

July 2nd, 2012 · 1 Comment

Changing people’s voting behavior requires changing what they know, changing what they are  aware of, changing their understanding. What they need to understand is that India is poor not by an act of God but because of poor economic policies which have been followed for the most part,  since independence.   What we see in India today is   “British Raj 2.0.”

The British left,  and all  we changed was the colour of the skin of our rulers.   The same policies, the same institutions which were there to  extract and exploit,  and divide and rule,   are still very much intact.   For the most part,  what we have in India,  is not a democracy but a kakistocracy. A kakistocracy is rule by the least principled and the most corrupt.

That is the unfortunate reality of our country.   For change,  people in India need to demand good governance. Only then are we going to get a supply of good governance.   So the fundamental question really about the “HOW”   is changing people’s minds  and changing people’s votes.   And in this context,   the next elections which will be held in India-   probably in 2014 or may be a little  earlier –  are a pivotal  moment in our history.

The last few years  we have been buffeted by scams of incredible magnitude.   But there are some people doing very good work in India.   We will come back to that.

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Blog Past: Why I am not more active on Twitter and Facebook

July 1st, 2012 · 2 Comments

Nothing has changed from what I wrote a year ago:

A friend recently asked me why the only I do on Twitter and Facebook is repost by blog posts. Why didn’t I do more? Why wasn’t I more active?

There are three reasons. First, I like to write slightly longer posts. Second, I like to take my time thinking through what I write. Third, given the nature of my work, I like uninterrupted periods of time. Let me explain all the points.

Twitter’s 140-char limit and real-time interaction has terrific advantages. But for me, I like my reactions to be a bit more measured. The blog, for me, gives me the time and space to write how I feel. Like I have said below, I write the blog to help myself think better. If others benefit from it, that is great. For me, writing has always been something which has made me more attentive and thoughtful. The blog gives me the room I need to clarify my own thought processes in a way Twitter cannot.

Also, in today’s world, where there is a near constant spate of interruptions, we are not getting enough chunky amounts of thinking time.  Thinking is very critical for what I need to do – both in NetCore and for the political ideas. That needs less interruption and more continuous stretches of time. Email and SMS anyways beckon regularly. I don’t want to, at least for now, add tweets and Facebook status updates and news feeds to that list.

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Weekend Reading

June 30th, 2012 · 2 Comments

This week’s links:

  • Local will be the biggest opportunity: by Bill Gurley. “Over the next five years, this massive opportunity will come into focus as local businesses embrace the Internet and adopt new interactive technologies that increasingly automate the connections between their customers and themselves.”
  • South East Asia Mobility Report: from Mobile Monday, by Madanmohan Rao. “Southeast Asia accounts for one tenth of the world’s population, with Indonesia’s population alone around 240 million. The region reflects a diverse mix of cultures, economies, innovation dynamics andmobile/Internet diffusion patterns.”
  • Peter Diamandis Interview: from Wired. Peter is the X-Prize founder. “He soon realized that the same forces that enabled a small team of amateurs to make a lunar lander could empower cadres of bright, idealistic people to solve earthly problems.”
  • The Voice of the Storyteller: from NYTimes, the last in a series on better writing. “Writing style begins with clarity: Find the right words, and decide what to leave out. Then shape your sentences. Turn a phrase, play with sound, listen for cadence. Think about tone, and select a point of view.”
  • India needs drastic reforms, not cosmetic ones: by SL Rao in The Telegraph. “The needed reforms are structural and systemic, prioritizing decentralized governance, and administrative reform. “

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Transforming India Speech – Part 4

June 29th, 2012 · 3 Comments

Policy change is not going to happen   until we have political change.    India needs a new leadership.   India needs new politicians who believe in these new objectives —   good governance and development.

Policy change  needs the politicians in India to change.   And that will only happen through one way – changing people’s voting behavior.

India is a democracy at the end of the day.    We get a chance to elect our leaders every few years.  The ballot box is the way the change needs to be done.   Middle India, for the most part, doesn’t bother to go out and vote.  It’s probably about 20-25% of people in middle India who actually go and vote.   You know a long time ago, there was  an apocryphal  story in which someone asked Laloo Prasad Yadav, who stayed as  the chief minister of Bihar,one of the poorer states of India  for about 15 years, “How do you think you got   re-elected?  You kept getting re-elected  without even  doing any substantial work”.    He said,  “It is not the people who vote for me;    it is the people who don’t vote for me who have kept me in power.”

They did not vote against him, and that’s the reality again and again in India.   That needs to change.

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