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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Wonder How Sonia’s Magic Always Works…???

I was reading this news article today (click to read, source Reuters, India) and like always wondered how does Sonia work her magic. Is it her own personality that wounds her magic, or is it the “Gandhi” in her name, or is it the Rajiv factor? Even if we think that people cannot be as na├»ve as to think that she is a descendent of the great Gandhi family, Gandhi as in MK Gandhi, such large gatherings are only a matter of insane adulation (or) gimmick politics. Most of you reading this post know who Sonia Gandhi is? But how is she such a charismatic figure? That is something we shall try to discover here.

Between April 16 and May 13 India is holding its 15th national elections. Who is likely to win and form the next government? In my view, unless trends change dramatically, India is headed for another hung Parliament.

Our Present political Situation…

The last decade in India has been one of profound changes. Four foundations of post independence India have been altered, or fundamentally challenged, by developments of recent years. First, secularism, a key political principle which traditionally provided considerable psychological and political security to religious minorities, has been vigorously attacked by Hindu nationalists. Secularism is shaken as a result, but it is neither dead nor likely to die. Since the destruction of the Babri mosque by the Hindu nationalists, votes for them have not risen. And though a right-wing Hindu nationalists want to move or destroy two more un-specified mosques, the BJP is unlikely to sponsor another wanton destruction of a contested holy site. However, the fact that minority rights are no longer a certainty is a mighty change in Indian politics.

Second, the caste hierarchy that marked Hindu social order for centuries is beginning to crumble. Political mobilization of the so-called lower castes is undermining, perhaps decisively, the caste hierarchy, though not eliminating caste consciousness. A vast majority of India is Hindu, and a vast majority of Hindu society is lower caste. The rise of lower castes has been a remarkable consequence of India's democracy and has changed the political attitudes of all parties. This result is clearly a triumph of the democratic principle, given that, though more urban than before, India is still 65 percent rural and lower castes constitute its majority by a wide margin.

Third, Since 1999 India has come closer to the United States but not embraced it wholeheartedly. India is looking for what may be called a mature friendship--a friendship that emphasizes, even celebrates, what is common between the two nations, but can also survive their differences.

Few societies rebuild their founding pillars without serious political turbulence. In extreme cases not only the political system but the nation breaks down. India is developing but still poor, primarily agricultural, and ethnically highly diverse, but, with the exception of the 18-month suspension of political freedoms by Indira Gandhi, it has remained democratic.

In short, compared to its past, India today is less secular, less Moscow-friendly, less dominated by the upper castes, more democratic, and more market-oriented. All of these trends are likely to deepen in the coming years, with one exception. Secularism is unlikely to have a continuing fall. Even a BJP in power will not find it easy to undermine secularism, for it is a constitutional matter and a simple legislative majority is not enough to change the constitution. More importantly, the BJP is unlikely to come to power, now or later, if it appears too threatening to the minorities and does not discipline the visceral anti-Muslim instincts of many of its cadres.

So what about the Congress & Sonia’s influence?

The Congress is basically a victim of its own success. It kept winning for so long that it began to attract those interested only in power and the benefits of office, legitimate or illegitimate. Ideological rectitude has been a rarity in Congress politics for the last two decades, and the party's organization has been in a state of disarray for some time. Can the Congress win back the minorities, especially the Muslims, who constitute 12 percent of India's population?

These imperatives have been clear for some time, but the Congress has lacked the leadership to tackle the ideological and organizational revitalization of the party. The Congress was demoralized and desperate. It was looking for alliances to save itself in many parts of India. Then Sonia Gandhi appeared on the scene.

Sonia Gandhi's entry into campaign politics has been serendipitous for Congress Party members, who were looking for a charismatic savior. Over the last seven decades, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has been a virtually inexhaustible source of charisma in India. Part of the charisma is built on genuine contributions of the family, and part is based on myth. Sonia Gandhi is the widow of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, daughter-in-law of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and granddaughter-in-law of Prime Minister Nehru.

Yet Sonia Gandhi's charisma was not a foregone conclusion. Her marriage into the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty was a plus, but other tests remained. Could she make public speeches and establish a rapport with audiences? How would she deal with the fact that she was Italian by birth and Indian only by citizenship?

Her campaign had also disarmed BJP politicians. More than any other party, the BJP stands for India's traditional family values and culture. So the BJP couldn't really attack a daughter-in-law making an argument for traditional values. In the cultural politics of the family, it is irrelevant where the daughter-in-law came from, so long as she maintains family values.

When Sonia Gandhi announced that she would campaign for the Congress Party, the BJP had thought of undermining her by invoking the xenophobic notion of a "Rome Raj." By presenting herself as a woman more traditional than many Indian women, Sonia Gandhi has turned the tables on the BJP.

Why has Sonia Gandhi received such a popular reception? Is it that minorities are beginning to return to the Congress, or is her image as a great mother, a devoted wife, a good daughter-in-law, and a dignified widow so credible and effective as to pull large support? As more disaggregated polls come out, we will know more about the reasons for her popularity. As of this writing, the hypothesis that both of these factors are playing an important role cannot be ruled out.

Will her charisma last, or does her popularity signal only intense mass curiosity about a mysterious public figure? If it is lasting charisma, will she be able to institutionalize it into a restructured, revived party organization? In the Nehru-Gandhi family there are two political styles. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister used his charisma to build party organization; Indira Gandhi, his daughter, used her charisma in a personalistic way, undermining the Congress organization. Which model is Sonia Gandhi adhering to? These questions and more need to be answered to get the weight off my chest.

Probably the movie on Sonia played by Katrina Kaif would give us some answers...Some more insight please…

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gimmick Yourself in the name of Self-Governance

I was actually preparing myself to post an article that I have been wanting to post for a long time now, a post on Ronaldinho Gacho – a “phenomenon” as described by his coach and a great inspiration to any professional practice. But then, I thought by making it more generic in nature, I would reach out to a wider & a better audience. I know how my dear football friends would crib about this one line itself; forget the prospect of agreeing to an entire article dedicated to the man from Brazil. I still have it on my desktop though, so might as well post it any day.

So, why the thought of relating “motivation & self-governance” to Ronaldinho? Its very simple, he is one man who I admired and adored, and I still do, for his passion for the beautiful game and desire to be the best in the World, and in a flash, over 3years everything tumbled from He being branded the “World’s Best Player’ to “Football’s Bugs Bunny”, and how ironic that media played a pivotal role for such a dramatic turn around. But lets not discuss that for now, I shall come back to illustrate his case at a later part in this post.

Self-motivation & self-discipline, how important parameters are these in our day to day lives. Could we ever understand the need to be self-governed with these principles? So, what exactly is Self-discipline? It is an ability to control your behavior. That’s it, simple isn’t it? Yet, most of us don’t feel that we own our behaviors. We feel out of control, that we can’t subject our own actions to our conscious minds. The picture portrays a sense of joy and emotions driving her senses. The act of joy can sometimes motivate you more than anything else.

When you define self-discipline that way, then the common equation that binds self-discipline to the ability to stick some rigid regime disappears. Of course, self-disciplined people can stick to rigid structures. But when you gain true mastery over your own actions, then you don’t need some set of rules or protocols to decide how you act. You don’t let any other entity beside your conscious mind to drive your actions, except for carefully chosen habits that you either leave in or instill in your system. This creates the sense of freedom you are finally free to decide exactly what to do with yourself. You’re not enslaved to some habits that you can’t unlearn or emotions that you can’t suppress.

Self-discipline and self-motivation can be quite hyper-intentional, yet floating around like a leaf in the wind may be equally harmful. The difficult thing about self discipline (at least in most cases) is that it feels like something one should force him/herself into it. Of course you can do it. And you must have done it many times, but the problem is that, in the long run you shall inevitable slip. Why? Because you can force yourself out of your balance only for period of time. And that’s it. You can’t keep a sustained effort indefinitely.The moment you relax, you naturally return to you point of origin. The solution is obviously changing your “point of balance”, changing your habits instead of forcing yourself not to follow them. That of course is very challenging path that will require lots of “self discipline” again, at least at the beginning.

Mastery over your own actions can be practiced and cultivated by challenging yourself to a certain routine, like any physical or mental action. The more victory you experience over other forces trying to control your behavior, the more you trust your consciousness to control your actions. Besides, habits can be formed even around things you initially think are hard to do.

I do believe, however, that you make a case for balance within the frame of what I refer to as “mind vs brain.” Over the course of time, the will of the mind can overcome the desires of the brain. Forming good habits takes time and attempting to do this quickly may be self-destructive. Each of us have a certain potential and we cannot reach it without some form of self-discipline. Success is no accident. We simply need to find our own balance to find it.

Now here comes my favorite section of this post, cribbing about my adulation and inspiration for Ronaldinho. Wow wow wow…do not be apprehended, as it wouldn’t be too long. I am reminded of the Engineering Management course during the final spring of my Graduate studies at University of Tulsa. A course taught by Dr. Marcus O Durham, which involved two business attire presentations to improve corporate management and control. One of those presentations was to be on any topic chosen from his test book, and I chose “Motivation”, rather changed it to “Self Motivation”.

And I remember, taking Ronaldinho as an example for a reason that was justified based on his accolades and achievements at that time. A 5min time frame which was not suited for my style of presentation and given my adulation for Ronaldinho, 5mins was too short. Towards the end of the presentation, annoyingly Dr. Durham was fizzling his hand asking to crop it short. To his surprise I did not even look at him and continued staging on how self-motivated could Ronaldinho be for him to perform at the highest level week and week out.

To perform at the level that he does is something no ordinary sports person can dream about. For those who are not aware of club football in Europe, there are National Club Championships, League Cups and also the glorifying European Club Championship. And take all this away you still have the World Cup Qualifiers, International Friendlies, etc. So for him to perform at his best in all these competitions without fatigue and with enthusiasm and given how erratic could Spanish fans get, he had to be very well motivated and disciplined in himself. But for such quality to deter and ruin his career, it would only take his own actions. His fanfare and celebrity status overtook his impulsive play and brought him well below the ground in shame. His move from FC Barcelona was not liked by his and Barca fans, but lack of fitness and motivation led to his exit.

His then coach at FC Barcelona, Frank Rijkaard said on Catalan TV: "You would have to think so. It is a shame, but I am with him. Nobody should forget everything that he has done for this club. I truly hope that he can go out and show the world that he can still play. That time will come and he will need to react well. One must remember everything the way it happened. I did not over-protect him. He is a player that never caused any problems."

He grew fat and was not able to move around freely. People thought that his desire for football is no more and his actions had proven their words more so often. The picture on the right compares Ronnie before and after an injury cum pleasure driven ride. He was often seen clubbing late nights before a game and would always turn in late to the training. Like you read above, Frank was only trying to protect him but not over-protect him. I now wonder if the only cloud on the Ronaldinho horizon is whether he will be deemed too ugly to advertise Viagra in his retirement.
Although I boast about writing this post, some of my goals are still in the waiting. I have hit the gym after a year long gap and feels very nice to be able to do things my way. There are still certain things I crave about doing and disciplining. Waking up early is still a challenge. The earliest I have been able to do on a daily basis is 6:30AM. I believe I could use the hour if I do 5:30AM.

I always recall the following quote:

“The price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret”

Burn this quote into your memory, and recall it whenever you find yourself being tested. It may change your life.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My List of Top 10 Powerful Countries - 2009

1.      The United States of America

It is the world's biggest economy and by far in terms of spending and power. The World’s strongest army, the most powerful democracy, and the media centre of the world, plus in many ways the centre of world diplomacy and foreign relations. This easily makes USA the worlds most powerful country. One may always deny it, but the fact remains placid.

2.      Russian Federation

It has the second largest army and a puppeteer of many Central Asian states. The largest European population, and largest world area, which gives it immense control over itself, and immense levels of independence. The size of Russia helps give it extra resources and abilities that make it such a big power.

3.      Peoples Republic of China

The 4th or 2nd largest GNP (Gross National Product) depending on different measures (Either normal measures, or ones which cancel out misleading totals for currency values, in that later case China places second) a recent riser, above France and Britain, It also has established itself as having nukes. A huge army, and is becoming even more of an international power, as of the resource hungry booming economy, though even if that stalled, it would still be 3rd, as of other advantages.

Plus massively the largest population in the world, and like the above 2 is a UN Security council member.

4.      France

The fifth republic has UN Security Council membership, is a nuclear power and has a lot of influence over Africa. It is also a G7 economy, a leading democracy, and has a quite large army; one of world’s most powerful in fact. Added to this EU membership gives it extra power.

5.      Great Britain

UN security council status, nuclear weapons, G7 economy, a leading democratic state, and a media from music, to actors centre, that has a lot of influence over the world as of its popularity. Membership of the EU adds to its power.

6.      Republic of India

The most populous democracy, a growing economy, a nuke weapons carrier, and as the Second most populous country on Earth it has the morals way. 

7.      Japan

The State of Japan has the second largest economy, and a big democracy, but rammed in by China, and the USA, so below France, Britain and India.

8.      Federal Republic of Germany

It is the World's third largest economy. EU member, of the 27 European Union countries, but hampered in influence of World War II, and World War I, which affected Germany's moral position in the world, and reduced German influence on many areas of the world,

9.      Republic of Pakistan

Second largest Muslim country, largest in the area where most Muslim lands are, has nuclear weapons, and a quite united nationality.

Beats Indonesia, as that land is to far away from other Muslim lands, so carries less weight. Pakistan spends so much on its military dictatorship, while Indonesia grows as a more civil democratic land. Its power tussles with India, make it keep a high arms budget, but could weaken it in the long term, as army spending in the long term is a inefficient use of economic resources.

10.  Republic of Brazil

It is the largest Latin American country, Largest Portuguese speaking land, good relations globally. It is also the biggest power in Africa, South Africa, via the support for the ANC (African National Congress) and its huge economy.

Changes expected for 2009 include India and China continuing their advance towards their new world power status, but all these lands essentially keep their positions for the year because of each nation's innate strengths. The European Union could be called a new superpower, if it carries on progressing, and if its members continue pooling more powers. The links between North America and Europe across the Atlantic, should keep these areas strong in the world. Will USA keep its place as the hyper power for few more years???...Now that is to be patiently waited for and seen.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Freedom's Untidy...Shoes Happen!!!

Many of us were not even born during the 1984 riots but the hurt still runs deep with many Sikhs introspecting on events of 25 years ago and empathizing with journalist Jarnail Singh for throwing a shoe at Home Minister P.Chidambaram. The emotions ran high when I was talking to a colleague today who happens to have seen the riots when he was in India.

‘I think it was a very bold and strong step. It not only showed the anguish and frustration of an individual but voiced the sentiments of the entire Sikh community against the judgment regarding the 1984 Sikh riots,’ a sikh student had to say.

If we as Indians, for a moment leave behind the regional bias which we always tend to carry, direct our opinion towards this event, we could say that Mr. P Chidambaram was at the loose end of an emotional collapse of the Sikh Journo and it would also be fair to comment that our political structure is loosing its ground day by day. The actions in the parliament reflect the insane and disorderly behavior of the elected, but for an Indian Journo to act the way he did speaks volumes of the emotional stress an ordinary Indian is succumbing to. The following is a sneak peak into the happening, and later we shall discuss the shoe throwing as a phenomenon and from a broader angle refreshing our memories to the Bush incident.

Chidambaram was replying to a question posed by a Sikh journalist on the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) clean chit to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

The shoe missed Palaniappan Chidambaram, who leaned back to avoid it. He later smiled and asked security guards to take the reporter out of the room.

"Please take him away," the minister said after the missile was thrown at him. Congress party workers immediately took the white turbaned journalist away.

The irate journalist, Jarnail Singh, who threw the shoe, has justified his action. Singh works at Hindi daily Dainik Jagran.

As the action caused a flutter in the hall, a composed Chidambaram appealed to the reporters, "let not the action of one emotional person hijack the entire press conference. I have answered his questions to the best of my ability."

Responding to a question on the clean chit to Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Chidambaram said, "First of all let me make it clear that CBI is not under the home ministry. To my knowledge neither the mome ministry nor any ministry of the government had put any pressure on the CBI."

"CBI has only given a report to the court. It is for the court to accept or reject or ask for further investigation by CBI. Let us wait for the court decision," he said.

As the journalist persisted with his questions, Chidambaram told him "no arguments, you are using this forum..." following which the journalist hurled his shoe.

An unapologetic Singh said he will not apologise for his action, though his manner of protest might have been wrong.

"My manner of protest might have been wrong, but I did not intend to hurt anyone," he said.

Flying footwear has suddenly become the world's favorite protest statement. The trend began in December, when an Iraqi journalist hurled both his shoes and a torrent of abuse at George W. Bush during his last Baghdad press conference.

Shoe throwing has since become a globalised phenomenon. (“Bootslapping (future verb): to express political displeasure by throwing footwear.”...Lolz.) The antiwar group Code Pink pelted a Bush effigy with shoes outside the White House. A Ukrainian protester tossed his loafers at a politician, declaring that the “shoe is going to become an important means for ordinary people to influence their leaders”.

In the future of political protest the shoes will continue to fly, but with varying significance. In Arab culture, hitting someone with a shoe is an extreme form of insult. Throwing a shoe at the Chinese Prime Minister in China would be an act of suicidal bravery. The same act in a Cambridge lecture hall required little courage: merely a good throwing arm, a reasonable aim and a desire to be noticed.

Shoe hurling may be hugely symbolic or plain silly, but its significance lies less in the intentions of the thrower than the reaction to it. How a state and society respond to this sort of deliberately offensive act says an enormous amount about a country, its notions of individual freedom, justice and sense of humour.

Gandhi would never have lobbed his sandals to make a point, but shoe throwing is hardly the most violent form of protest either, which is what makes it a strange sort of political litmus. A country's very soul may be reflected in its response to a smelly insole chucked at an important person: this is the “the shoe test”.

This is the civilised, measured approach to protest, even protest that involves flinging shoes around and insulting foreign dignitaries. Mr Bush, oddly, put it best, after ducking two size-ten missiles hurled by an angry Iraqi in his socks: “It's a way to draw attention... I believe that a free society is emerging.”…Huh what a joke.

As Donald Rumsfeld might have put it: Freedom's Untidy. Free people are free to do bad things. Shoes happen.

As for the Indian shoe protester, he was taken to the police station after the incident but was let off without any charges slapped against him. He left the conference asking his community to be calm, he said: "Nothing should be done to break the peace of the country... Country comes first."


Friday, April 3, 2009

Revisiting the Incredible 'Secular' INDIA!!!

Not that I am a pessimistic prick always trying to pull back the notion of a developing India, but I very rarely feel that India is actually developing as a Secular Socialistic state. But when ever I dream of such things, invariably something nice has to happen and for a change I have some positive blood flowing in my post today. I have this friend of mine who calls himself ‘The Monk’ and who does not waste time in finding the where and how of my posts. Definite adulation but sometimes way too much insurgence. What say!!!...But to tell the truth, he always gets me tied to the hook and makes me think hard before I write my next post. So, this one purely dedicated to his way of thinking and for a change being positive about the prospects and helms of my country India.

"India doesn't accommodate you, You have to learn to accommodate to it." 

says Nicholas Vreeland, a'Dalai Lamist', and a New Yorker living in India for the past 14 years. When he can, why can't we?

Every time I read the articles of our ex-president APJ Abdul Kalam and his vision for India I become nostalgic. He tells us that if we persevere with hard work and smart strategy, despite current difficulties we could make India a world class nation.

Cannot stop my mind flashing back to my student days in high school in my hometown, Hyderabad, South India. In those days far fewer creature comforts and modern goods were available to people from middle class families such as mine. Yet, reading about the planned industrialization and modernization of the country imbued much enthusiasm in me and my friends.

As I began my engineering phase, I came across many diverse and motivated young men and women from all over the country. The common thread among us was our optimism and vision of technological progress of India, of eradicating poverty and backwardness, of implementing social justice, of removing hang-ups of religious and ethnic differences; in short a future of moving ahead with confidence.

In those days religion was a private affair for us – my friends were mostly Hindus, a couple of Sikhs and Christians and Muslims. We mingled freely especially on each others’ religious festivals, such as Dasera, Diwali, Holi, Eid, Christmas which all of us enjoyed equally as our common events.

In US during my years in graduate studies and as a young professional, again I found myself in a circle of friends who were from a variety of backgrounds in India, with whom I had most commonality and with whom I felt most comfortable. While satisfying our curiosity for the many Western elements, we often thought and talked aboutIndia and its developing infrastructure and industrial base. One of my dearest friends here in the US - Anoop, and I must mention his zeal and enthusiasm for a Secular, Socialistic and Prospering India, who always enlightened me more and more on the diverse and yet common culture of optimism among Indians. This trend was so lacking in me before I moved out from my homeland, a culture that gave me the respect and adulation that my Country deserves. Of course, one who has been at a place for 20 long years is in one way or the other attracted to the comfort and habitual nature of the place. But to realize what the place actually meant to me took longer than it should. His perception on things that were far away from my genre of thinking made me feel a complete Indian and more importantly a responsible citizen. But the fact remains that he does not want to return home for various reasons that may be completely primal to him.

I soon realized that whenever India looked good as a result of some remarkable achievement of either India or an Indian, my American colleagues paid greater attention to me. That encouraged me to paint a positive image ofIndia among the Americans whenever I could.

However, in these years of absence from India it bothered me to observe that the elements that are at the core of the development of any country, such as law and order, corruption-free administration, social justice, fair treatment of the weaker sections of society, were not getting adequate attention from the government and the leaders of the nation.

While sporadic Hindu-Muslim tension and violence in certain parts of India has been an endemic problem since independence in 1947, generally the major political parties did not encourage it. But in the early 1980s the picture changed radically. A major political party started openly spreading false stories and venom against the Muslim community. Also caste-based politics mushroomed across the nation.

At the same time watching the upsurge of the violence of the misled Muslim terrorists against their fellow Hindus in Kashmir in God’s own paradise, where they had lived in harmony for centuries, was hard to believe. Similarly, it was very painful to watch the 1984 anti-Sikh violence, the 1992 demolition of Babri mosque and the sectarian attacks on the peaceful Christians staring in 2002. All these grew with me and in me over a period of time. These are facts that are hard to digest and also knowing that these were carried out by biased and rational groups is even more hurting.

The unprecedented anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 with which the Gujarat state government openly connived, and the subsequent total loss of recourse to justice for the Muslim victims of the carnage shook me to my bones. In this dark hour my spirits lifted when I saw the mainstream Indian media, the Supreme Court of India, many Indian Non Government Organizations, and a majority of Hindus, speak up to help the Muslim victims and to condemn the Gujarat state BJP government. Hope my dear friend and my best critic agrees with me.

However, I kept faith that the enlightenment of a majority of Hindus will overcome the zealotry of a few among them. As I watch hordes of young Indian Information Technology engineers and other professionals flood the shining offices of major corporations and government all over U.S., and get respect for the quality of their work, my chest swells with pride at being an Indian. As I hear of the growth of hi-technology and industrial and infrastructure development in India’s various cities, and India’s 8 percent annual economic growth in 2007-08 (which of course might well shrink given this year’s fatal economic crisis), I wonder if the quarter century old vision for India that I dreamt as a boy and that has stayed with me ever since, is now becoming a reality.

As I stand in front of the mirror from my boyhood of my bright and hopeful vision of an economically advanced and social justice oriented India, I notice that a few cracks are staring hard at me. I am unable to understand the dichotomy that while India has made phenomenal progress in the spread of education, great technological infrastructure and economic progress, at the same time indifference towards one-third of the population that lives below poverty line, and religious minorities, and frequent organized anti-minority violence has also become a visible part of India’s landscape.

Today my vision for India as an Indian is the same as that of my fellow Indians from other backgrounds. That is to repair these cracks and move forward with renewed enthusiasm to build that egalitarian and modern India that three generations of Indians – my grand father’s generation that actively participated in the freedom struggle, my father’s generation that was born in post-independence India, and my generation that has been seeing this growth - have dreamt for more than half a century.

I want to hold my head high and shout ‘Jai Hind’, but by selling myself to a nation other than my homeland I deprive myself from doing so. But still, I am and will be proud to be born Indian and live Indian. And as responsible humans and citizens of India, one can always hope and dream to see India progress to the helms of super power, take the care and responsibility in supporting its dream. Just like someone said, “Dare to Dream & Care to Achieve”.