21-Dec-2005

In A Spot - 211205

The next installment. Seeking to downplay the money-for-questions episode, Ms Tavleen Singh offers this cure:
Systems need to be put in place that would permit legitimate lobbying and more transparency generally in the way our elected representatives and governments function.
Perhaps she would care to go through the travails of a Mr Jack Abramoff in the heaven of legalised lobbying, the US. The New York Times has provided just the concise summary of it here. There are no passionate arguments and denouncements that blogs like this carry. Just the facts. An excerpt:
Prominent party officials, including the former House majority leader, Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, are under scrutiny involving trips and other gifts from Mr. Abramoff and his clients. The case has shaken the Republican establishment, with the threat of testimony from Mr. Abramoff, once a ubiquitous and well-connected Republican star, sowing anxiety throughout the party ranks.
Shaken and not merely stirred? When lobbying is legitimate? How can that be?

Incredible India

Of course, as soon as that alert was out, there had to be a new post immediately.

Looks like the unthinking are at large again. And they have brought the 'India Shining' fiasco back. Only, it is now 'Incredible India'. Agreed, the latter is from the Tourism Ministry. But when an Incredible India ad just shows up on TV, apropos nothing in particular, it is difficult to differentiate between the two.

Still, the adjective is well chosen. One cannot question the incredible'ness of India. A country which has more than half of its people illiterate and suffers from dire poverty, but is still counted as an emerging power. Pretty incredible. And India was shining too. All it needed was the light to fall on the correct places for the shine to appear.

Update: There is a website too.
Sporadic blogging alert, valid for a month or so, as I catch up with some 'work'. Will be posting, but a bit infrequently.

13-Dec-2005

Anirudha Bahal

Now, many more people must be swearing against Bahal, formerly of Tehelka.

Another aspect to this sting is that we seem to be taking the Westminster model too literally. Three British MPs were accused of similar money-for-questions scams in 1994 according to Vijay Times (reg'n required).

Boiled Brains Politicos

It is said about India that we never rejected invaders - we just assimilated them into our society. The British left fifty years ago, we're still assimilating them. U R Ananthamurthy, noted Kannada writer, to NDTV:
We can bring any word from English into Kannada. We just need to add a 'u'. Chair - chairu. Table - Table-u. Bangalore - Bangaluru.
Because that is what it is - taking an English word and adding a Kannada suffix to it. Bangaluru is not the original name for Bangalore. The original word, if one goes by accepted historial accounts, is Bendakaluru - boiled beans grains town. A bit different from Chennai, Mumbai, Thiruvantapuram. Politicos.

09-Dec-2005

Ghost Story

This I just present as something I enjoyed reading though I don't believe in ghosts.

State Of Parliament

DH rues the state of parliament. All this ruckus being raised because someone made some money on the side from a foreign government, with no real implications for the country's policy - they were out of power anyway. And all this from a party that hounded a news website into oblivion for showing its president accepting bribes on TV.

True, it was unethical if public figures accepted oil vouchers from the Iraqi government. But the person named in the report has resigned, though belatedly. Why not wait for the inquiries to be completed? What is the point asking for someone who has not even been named in the report to resign now?

Editors With Coloured Glasses

kmp writes in re Dayal, Pathak, ED:
The “mail-me-comments” is missing in your recent posts. Have the comments subsided?

Anyway, with reference to the above topic – the editor of “The Pioneer” is Chandan Mitra. He is an MP nominated by BJP. Chandan, Swapandas Gupta of India Today (maybe erstwhile I guess) are all BJP folks. Obviously they don’t see eye-to-eye with the Government (I mean the current one) irrespective of the policies.
That explains it.

And no the comments have not subsided - because they weren't too many to start with :-) I have removed the 'Mail me' link from my posts because I have reason to believe evil robots are roaming the web looking for mail-ids to which spam can be sent. And they don't understand that there are only so many 'Sexually-explicit' sites that one can visit given that a day has only 24 hours. And that I don't want any software products.

08-Dec-2005

From ET editorial:
We need not just greater allocations for the social sectors but an integrated agenda of socio-economic development. Its success would, however, ultimately depend on the ability of political parties to conscientise people into citizens, and then mediate between their aspirations and the state.
No denying that. But where are the ideas to accomplish that - to conscientise people into citizens?

Down-side Of Hygiene

A Nobel laureate's opinion from DH:
I know it’s not politically correct, but the biological fact is that the more hygienic conditions you live in, the more you become susceptible to diseases.
So it is true. Mum was right!

07-Dec-2005

Dayal, Pathak, ED

Staying with The Pioneer, it doesn't see eye-to-eye with the government on the issue of sending a separate ED team to Iraq to snoop around:
Looking at all the diversionary tactics being employed, it seems an attempt is being made to expand the ambit of the probe and deflect attention from the political aspects.
I don't see eye-to-eye with The Pioneer. After all, a long list of companies are mentioned in the Volcker report. Other delegations, including at least a NDA delegation, went to Iraq. Why not clear up everything? Of course, easier said than done, clearing up everything. But why not give the ED a chance?

The Editors Are At It Again

I noted how great editors think alike here. It's happened again. Today (7 Dec '05)'s editorial titled 'Diversions, distractions' in Vijay Times (registration req'd), is identical to The Pioneer's editorial of 6 Dec '05.

Do the two papers have some kind of agreement to share editorials? A quick mail is being shot off as we speak, to the editor of VT.

06-Dec-2005

Scapegoats

Natwar to go, which is as it should be if he did take the oil vouchers - either for himself or for his son. His going will not matter much since anyway he was being overridden in many foreign policy decisions. But the bigger question is: what is all this talk about being made scapegoats? His son is very clear that they are being made scapegoats. Scapegoats for whom? Very mysterious indeed.

Update: The Telegraph finds it inexplicable that Mr Singh took so long.

No Mobiles Please

I share my lack of mobile with these people. My reason for not carrying one would be closest to Mr A Ramachandra's. He says :
Humankind has managed all these years without a mobile phone in hand, why is it that we now regard cellphones as indispensable?
In other words, I'm an extreme late-adopter. And a bit too lazy to put in the effort of buying one.

05-Dec-2005

Means Are Important. Too

Not just the ends. From HT:
...should the BJP have brought someone like Uma Bharti into active politics in the first place? Most political observers would have strong reservations on this but then, the BJP used every conceivable method to come to power, whether using sadhvis and religious leaders or bringing in film stars. Having lost power, some of these leaders have become liabilities and the party does not know how to deal with them. If the BJP finds itself unable to stop the creation of political frankensteins, it will realise in due course that the people may find a way of dealing with it in future.
Relatedly, a BJP spokesperson (Javdekar I think) asked rhetorically with regard to Uma Bharti: "The party was good till last week, but then suddenly she says the party became bad. How is that possible?". Maybe it did not occur to him that she could put the same question to the party: "I was a good party leader till last week, suddenly they say I'm bad. Please explain it to me."

Deja Vu

Another flood situation made worse by man-made factors. Encroachments take the blame again as they did in Bangalore, in addition to other factors. From The Hindu:

District authorities and Public Works Department (PWD) engineers single out breaches in rivers, tanks, lakes, ponds, and canals as the major cause of the all-round devastation. While some breaches were natural — owing to excess storage and weakened bunds — many were man-made. Many encroachments have come up all along the Cauvery and its network of tributaries. The well-designed flood plains, called the padugai, have either been widened to form part of the riverbed or have been used up for cultivation and illegal construction. So what was meant to be a natural protective barrier against flooding became the first casualty. With this barrier gone, roads and farmland quickly went under the floodwaters. Even the normally bone-dry river Coleroon carrying well over three lakh cusecs of water!

The PWD engineers say under the old, somewhat rundown irrigation system that still exists in many parts of the composite Thanjavur district, the Cauvery was linked to a network of tanks through feeder channels. During a bountiful monsoon, all the tanks were filled up and the excess water drained into the irrigation system. Over the years — because such floods are not common — encroachments came up on riverbeds, feeder canals, and the draining system. These were not just huts or houses, but sometimes even constructions by the Government and local bodies. They came in the way of water flow and redirected the floodwaters to habitations and paddy fields, causing extensive damage. "When the natural flow of water is obstructed, it finds its level in other ways," explains a retired PWD Chief Engineer.

NURM

Launched. Will it change anything or will it develop snags mid-way and drop out of the sky?

03-Dec-2005

O Tempora

Samosa sans aloo, Bihar sans Laloo, Playboy sans nudity. Changing times. What good would the last be though?

02-Dec-2005

Electoral Reform

Return of the fast unto death, in a good cause. Though I do agree with the Oct 17 editorial that the writer takes such a dim view of in his opening paragraph, his point in the rest of this editorial is worth giving a thought to:
Corruption has become institutionalised over the years, and has crept into the judiciary, executive and legislatures. People have now come to accept it as a way of life. To capture power, and stay in power, all parties appear to be dependent on chargesheeters, criminals and dons.

Is there a way out? For quite a number of years, a group of very concerned citizens has been campaigning to inject probity into public life through electoral reform. Among other measures, they have recommended the compulsory audit of the accounts of political parties, the state funding of elections, the disqualification of tainted politicians from contesting elections, and above all the appointment of a Lok Pal with teeth.
Electoral reform seems to be the core problem crying for a solution if corruption has to go.

Far away from us, electoral reform has taken a first step in a tiny US state (via TPMCafe):
The legislation bans contributions by lobbyists, their spouses, and state contractors, limits political action committees, closes a loophole that permits corporate donations and creates a voluntary system of public financing.

By overhauling campaign laws crafted 30 years ago after the Watergate scandal, the bill upends long-established relationships between power and money, though few would predict precisely what might rise in their place.
Familiar problem, and a straightforward solution. Will the ripple reach and touch us?

Farmers Still Dying

The Hindu highlights the sorry state of the cotton farmers in one of Maharashtra's districts. High input costs, collapsed output prices due to dumping of subsidised cotton by rich countries, no access to bank loans. How will they make money?
Meanwhile, the advance bonus normally paid to cotton farmers has been scrapped. This amount of roughly Rs.500 used to be added on to the minimum support price for cotton declared by the Centre. The State admits it costs around Rs.2200 to produce a quintal of cotton. Yet the scrapping of the advance bonus means farmers will get Rs.1700 a quintal. A price last seen in 1994.
And the government responds like this:
No MP or MLA tried to even meet the NCF [National Commission on Farmers] team led by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. This, although the team had in tow the young Rana Patil, Maharashtra's Minister of State for Agriculture. It gets worse. The MLAs from the districts most affected are mainly from the Shiv Sena and the BJP. Why help your rivals?
Why indeed.

01-Dec-2005

High Oil Prices

Bush blames India (and China) for the high oil prices. The facts are:
The United States is the world's largest energy consumer, far outstripping China and India. U.S. demand for oil is about 21 million barrels per day, compared with 7.4 million barrels per day projected this year for China, according to the U.S. Energy Department. India's oil consumption was 2.2 million barrels per day in 2003 and is projected to grow to 2.8 million by 2010, according to the department.

The Real Money

While Mr Gowda cribs about a few hundred acres of non-prime land being given (at market rates) to Infosys, the real money is being given out by New York City to Goldman Sachs, about $1.75 billion (via Atrios).

30-Nov-2005

Two Scripts

From The Hindu:
In the Congress party the script is that the MLAs first say they leave the choice of leader to the high command; then an elaborate exercise is done to ascertain the wishes of the MLAs; and finally, a "leader" is elected who then takes office as Chief Minister.

The BJP turned the procedure on its head. The central leadership pronounced its wishes and "anointed" the leader, and then the MLAs went through the motion of electing him. To that extent Ms. Bharti's charge has some merit. But then she did not protest when she was "anointed" in a similar fashion.

A Half-Step Forward

The PMO has tried to disincentivise the adulterers by this step. But why not go the whole distance and remove the difference fully? Sloppy thinking?

Unions In BPO Industry

Union leaders may be dialling the wrong number in trying to unionise BPO workers, says The Telegraph. This is good inspite of the mixed metaphors:
...the unions are on a wild goose chase. Unless, of course, they are able to organize white-collar unions, customized for the BPO sector, with monthly meetings slated in local discotheques to discuss issues such as triple digit increments.
The article also notes that the BPO industry is now more than just call-centres:

The nature of the BPO industry itself is undergoing a radical change. Some of the best Mumbai law firms are now working for swish legal outfits based in New York and getting paid top dollar. European design houses are migrating high-end products to India, while Fortune 500 companies are increasingly relying on Indian firms to do data modelling, gather business intelligence and help them take the next big investment step in Dow using sophisticated software applications.

Would these well-qualified professionals spend their time in forming unions? Unlikely. But are unions needed in the BPO industry? I would say yes. How else would they organize themselves for the fight over that coffee maker that hasn't been working since last night?

Bitter Fruit

Lust for power says Mr Vajpayee. That settles the fruits-of-victory question.

29-Nov-2005

Land Rights For Tribals

The Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Land Rights) Bill 2005 is attracting passionate criticism. I didn't know what to believe, before I read this in The Hindu. The article prompted me to go through the bill itself - why not see this evil bill with my own eyes, I thought. And the bill gives the lie to much of what the writer writes, in my opinion.

He says:
It may end up as a ploy to get the forestland in the name of the tribal people and then grab it from them.
I say: The bill clearly specifies that the rights are inheritable but not 'alienable or transferable'. Unless the legal meaning of 'alienable or transferable' are different from the dictionary meanings, grabbing the land from the tribals would not be possible. Not much more so than now, when the forest department owns the land.

He provides anecdotal evidence of how the forest tribes' conventional livelihoods may be vanishing, and suggests the tribals may not remain guardians of the forests. In fact they may destroy the very forests:
However, such is the force of technology, industry and development that in a few decades these sections [forest dwelling tribals] have aggressively exploited all the forest they could lay their hands on. They have drilled into the forest to mine for stone or ore. They have logged for wood and bamboo. They have, for their use, pushed for more monoculture plantations like eucalyptus. In short, they have brutally laid the forest low.
He does not specify where the things he mentions happened - are they isolated incidents or widespread? Judging by his citing the Gujjars, this does appear to be isolated. Whatever be the case, the Bill specifically prohibits such activities. It makes it clear that the land is for habitation or self-cultivation only, including use for grazing. Using the land for exclusively commercial purposes is nor allowed. Also, they can use only minor forest produce which is defined as:
all non-timber forest produce of plant origin including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers and the like;
All other activities are offences and can lead to loss of the right to the land. The tribals also get the additional responsibility of protection, conservation and regeneration of forests, along with the authority of ownership.

Mr Soni admits that forests have been ravaged for development and that the diminishing habitat is the problem. He then surprisingly agrees "that the forest dwellers would not have allowed the pernicious forces of development to pillage the forests." If he believes that then why all the scare-mongering about mining and logging by the tribals?

Mr Soni then goes on to another point:
Reportedly, about seven per cent of India's population is tribal or wilderness based and only 8 per cent of the country's area is left with dense forest cover. If these two are to go together our prime wilderness will have the average population density of the country. By no account is this the definition of a wilderness and by all accounts it is a recipe for disaster.
...
Certainly, tribal people should have a stake in the management of the forests; the Bishnois in Rajasthan with their conservation ethos are some of the most passionate and effective protectors of forests and wildlife, but it is clear that all forest dwellers cannot live in the prime forests.
The Bill differs (9. Checks and Balances):
There is no distribution of land involved at all and Bill will not cover the entire 8.2 % ST population. Only tribes scheduled for the area living in the forests will benefit. A tribal from an outside area/State will not benefit. The Bill in actual terms will only benefit the tribal population on “as is where is basis”.
Who is already there, stays - so the situation won't change due to the bill. They already are in the forested areas. According to this from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs:
More than half the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and Gujarat. The main concentration of tribal population is in central India and in the North-Eastern States.
That taken along with this map, makes that clear. And nowhere does the Bill say that the tribals will be given only prime wilderness. The overall forest cover is around twenty one percent. Presumably some of it may be inhabited currently by the scheduled tribes.

Like he says, giving land rights to the scheduled tribes and cooperative effort by the tribes and the forest department seems to be the way to go. So why exactly is the Bill evil?

Tone It Down

Says The Hindu about the very visible endorsement of Karzai by the Manmohan Singh govt, that has led, it suggests, to the Taliban targeting Indians and hence the Maniappan killing:
It is well within the grasp of Indian diplomacy to tread softly when it treads on other peoples' dreams. India could do well by emulating other regional powers or, better still, by reverting to the traditional policy toward Afghanistan followed by Delhi till the mid-1990s: emphasise people-to-people relations; proceed vigorously with technical and economic cooperation; maintain correct government-to-government relations but on a low key at least till the anarchic conditions change for the better.

26-Nov-2005

More Things Change - 2

More they remain the same. As it is in politics, so it is in sports. From IE:
...the Indian team came across an unusually greenish pitch that favoured the superior South African pace attack. While curator Prabir Mukherjee claimed that it was a ‘‘sporting wicket’’, it’s learnt that Dravid and coach Greg Chappell had wanted the grass to be cut.
One understood Ganguly when he asked for the grass to be cut, which he was reported as asking for many a time and loudly. Now, when He Who Is Afraid Of The Fast'ish Ball is not playing, one fails to understand why the new captain and coach are following in his footmarks.

PS: One worries about the Indian team after reading this in IE. Its members seem to have such fragile minds that they almost seem neurotic. Most of all, one worries for Laxman after reading about his tenuous (thin/dilute/flimsy) psyche.

25-Nov-2005

Numbers Didn't Add Up

For the UPA since they were anything but 'United' says The Telegraph. Link via Amit Varma.

A Life Like Any Other

With a plan for the future and a hope for happier times spent with wife and children:
When Maniappan was posted in Afghanistan he nurtured the hope that he would get that little extra cash as foreign posting allowance and risk allowance. (Even this was a pittance since he was a low-rung employee.) He wanted to build a house, set up an automobile workshop and look after his wife and two little children when his 20-year service with the BRO ended five years from now. In one fell swoop, a machete ended all his dreams in a pool of blood in the wasteland of ethnic conflict.
Why is there so much of a fuss about pre-marital sex but not about this death? Why are we in Afghanistan and Iraq anyway with the security situation as it is in both places?

Better Than Nuclear

Thermonuclear power. But it is at least 25 years away. Meantime, why is it that countries like the US impose such tight restrictions on nuclear power which could solve to a great degree the problems of countries like India?

False Dichotomy

T K Arun in ET, noting that it cannot be empowerment vs development, but both together for either to succeed. Along the way he has points out the short-sightedness of political parties as entities only meant for fighting and winning elections:
If [the Congress] thinks that investing big in health, education and social security, as promised by the Common Minimum Programme, will get it the votes it needs, it is sadly mistaken. Only when political parties actively lead, do sarkari measures deliver on the ground and people make a connection between leaderspeak and the actions of babus.

In other words, salvation lies in resurrection of the political party as an institution and redemption of political practice from the combination of rent-a-crowd and muscular influence-peddling it has been reduced to.Politics as patronage attracts opportunists and those on the make to the party.

Such people cannot perform a political party’s essential job of constantly mediating between the state and the people in a fashion that changes their lives for the better. That calls for people with a sense of public purpose, of commitment to society’s collective welfare. Such party workers can be attracted and retained only when the party stands for a goal over and above power and pelf.

Queer Pitch

I nearly did a delayed double-take after watching Arun Lal prod the pitch pensively. How come so much grass on it? Ravi Shastri had caught on: 'Remember, Ganguly is not playing this match. If the groundsman prepared more of these kind of pitches for the local matches, Bengal would be a far better team". Not much guessing needed as to what was going on in his mind. In another intriguing development, Ntini pulls out after falling down during a friendly football session, just twenty minutes before the toss. Meantime, it is official, NDTV has it straight from the bookies mouth:Indian: 77 paise, SA : 125 paise. India favourites.

24-Nov-2005

Laloo And Saurav

The inevitable comparison in this editorial form Hindustan Times. It also notes the anti-incumbency increasing rearing its head:
the macro picture presents a disconcerting fact that increasingly elections are not being ‘won’ by parties in India; rather they are being ‘lost’ by the incumbent. Barring West Bengal, where the word ‘change’ has become archaic in the context of political choices, most elections in the past decade have been negative votes. Among the handful of ‘positive’ mandates, the BJP’s victory in Gujarat was different to Sheila Dikshit’s return in Delhi because Narendra Modi rode to victory on the combination of the explicit slogan of ‘Gujarati asmita’ and the implicit plea of “vote me because I have taught ‘them’ a lesson”. Be it the case of the UPA at the Centre, the Congress in Andhra Pradesh or the BJP in Madhya Pradesh, all of them came to power because of the negative sentiment against the party in power.
It also notes that political parties become lethargic once they are voted out:
This brings us to the worrisome fact that political parties are increasingly getting struck by paralysis once they are made by the electorate to sit in the opposition benches. When the NDA ruled at the Centre, its best ally was the Congress and for the past year and a half, the BJP has spent more time to exorcise itself of ‘evil spirits’ than trying to combat the UPA government. Opposition parties have also limited their role to rumpus managers in Parliament and state assemblies while the more back-bending job of building mass movements is left to peripheral players — be it the jholawallahs, the anti-dam lobby or even Naxalites. We are thus becoming a nation of lethargic politicians who would rather wait for the adversary to make a mistake than try to take the bull by its horns. That even this strategy is succeeding must be noted by all leaders — especially Mulayam Singh Yadav, as Uttar Pradesh after Bihar might want to cast a ‘no’ against exclusivist politics and demand ‘development’ when polls are next held.
I think they are also struck by paralysis once they are made to sit in the government. Nothing happens for 5 years. Then they are voted out - anti-incumbency.

23-Nov-2005

The Voters Have Spoken

Now the editors have at it. DH and TOI call it a vote for change. DH urges the new government to concentrate on development and genuine social justice. The Economic Times calls it a defeat for identity politics, but add that caste still played a role - I need to think that one over. The Hindu counts the governor's rule and assembly dissolution as the main reasons for the defeat. It rues the decline in voter turnout - a measly 45% this time round. The Telegraph sees the defeat as the failure of a small-time politician - Laloo - who rose to power holding out a huge promise. It points out that law and order and keeping caste clashes in check need to be the top priorities, but hesitates to predict the impact on the centre. Elsewhere it calls the decision to stick with the RJD a fatal shift for the Congress, and notes that the poor also look for an alternative. Ashok Desai Malik of the Indian Express vents his anger against the Congress here, but for a more balanced view IE also carries an editorial from someone from the state itself, Prakash Jha, here.

More Things Change

More they remain the same. Tucked away in the corner of page 8 in DH, this nugget:
‘Criminals’ come up trumps
Patna, ians

Barring a few exceptions, most known criminal-politicians who contested the Bihar assembly polls emerged winners on Tuesday.

The JD (U), which is set to become the state’s ruling party, tops the list of parties with poll winners who have a criminal background.

Laloo Prasad’s RJD, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and the BJP follow JD (U). These criminal-politicians are locally called “bahubalis” for their combination of political and muscle power.
Italics, of course, mine. A political party does not arise out of nowhere, nor does it exist in a vacuum. It draws on the conditions surrounding it if it wants to contest and win elections. What is needed is a person who can change the conditions. Will Nitish Kumar be that person? Maybe. Will we shortly start hearing excuses like "It is difficult to change in five years what was in place for 15 years"? Again, maybe.

22-Nov-2005

Great Editors Think Alike

I read an editorial today in the Vijay Times dated 22 Nov 2005, which started off like this:
Day after tomorrowTomorrow, when Parliament's Winter Session begins, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Ministers will discover just how wrong things have gone for the UPA Government and, consequently, for the country in the past couple of months.

The Congress has managed to paint itself into a corner over issues ranging from corruption at high places to compromising India's national security and conceding ground to terrorists.
And it goes on. It is not very difficult to discern which way this paper leans politically - even before the owner joined the JD(S) - so the editorial was not very surprising. But what was surprising was what happened later. Deccan Herald has a 'What others say' column in its Panorama section. Today it had this extract:
When Parliament's Winter Session begins, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Ministers will discover just how wrong things have gone for the UPA Government and, consequently, for the country in the past couple of months. The Congress has managed to paint itself into a corner over issues ranging from corruption at high places to compromising India's national security and conceding ground to terrorists.
Yes, it is the same as the Vijay Times editorial. But wait! DH attributes this to The Pioneer! And truth be told, The Pioneer almost the same editorial. Here. I said "almost" because there is a difference. Day after tomorrow in The Pioneer editorial has become Tomorrow in the Vijay Times editorial. Makes sense, since The Pioneer's editorial appeared on November 21. Also, the Vijay Times editorial appears to be truncated and some passages from the original left out - at least in the epaper version. I'm not sure it is not so in the hard copy.

So what is happening? Editors thinking alike to the exact words? Someone handing out editorials to selected newspapers? Or plagiarism?

NDA Ahead

Trends in 155 seats, NDA combine ahead in 95, Laloo in just 38.

Update: Laloo routed comprehensively.

20-Nov-2005

Information, Propaganda

Via Poorman.
A recent congressional report suggests that the Pentagon may be relying on “covert psychological operations affecting audiences within friendly nations.” In a “secret amendment” to Pentagon policy, the report warns, “psyops funds might be used to publish stories favorable to American policies, or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of administration policies.” The report also concludes that military planners are shifting away from the Cold War view that power comes from superior weapons systems. Instead, the Pentagon now believes that “combat power can be enhanced by communications networks and technologies that control access to, and directly manipulate, information. As a result, information itself is now both a tool and a target of warfare.”
Italics added. Truly the Information Age has dawned. Or maybe afternoon'ed. Or whatever, like Sania says.

19-Nov-2005

14-Nov-2005

School Interviews

Back from an interview at a school for my son's admission. Phew! Hope that's the last one. Won't know till mid-December though.

Demilitarisation For Peace? Bah!

The Pakistani Prime Minister puts forward a ridiculous suggestion - that demilitarisation could be a step towards peace in the sub-continent. Doesn't he know that Punjabiat could be the key?

PS: If you don't want to wade through my verbiage here is the direct link to Ms Tavleen Singh's article. The issue-clinching quote is of course this:
Meanwhile, let us celebrate Punjabiat because, as analysts cleverer than I have pointed out, it could be the key to peace on our benighted sub-continent.

Power To The People

An glimpse into some steps proposed for private players' entry into the electricity industry and the lessons learnt thus far, by Prem Shankar Jha in DH.

12-Nov-2005

The Prodigal Son Returns

My ongoing thought on the continuing unsuccessful extradition of Salem was : Hell. Do India's concerns matter at all outside its borders? Hence naturally, my first reaction yesterday on hearing of the successful extradition of Salem and his lady was : So. India's voice is also carries some weight. Good show folks!

There is always the worm in the fruit though. It turns out the extradition was based on two conditions. No life sentence, no death sentence. The decision to accept these was the UPA NDA government's, NDTV newspapers report. The government will go on the mat once again, though it really shouldn't have to. Already there are reports of the court reacting angrily to the conditions.

The Portuguese must have a pretty low opinion of our judicial system if they put these conditions right? And our government must have displayed unpardonable weakness by accepting the conditions, no? No. The facts are different. The Portuguese have a law that bans extradition for crimes which are punishable by death. And Portugal has banned life sentences itself. So, it isn't such a bad deal at all, is it? The choice to me looks like this:
Abu Salem in India facing jail for a maximum of 25 years and the potentially huge amount of information he brings OR nothing.
Is it a really difficult choice to make? I think not.

11-Nov-2005

Mutlabi PM

Whose parliament votes against a measure to detain people without a charge for 90 days, up from the current 14. Who do we copy now?

09-Nov-2005

Metro Rail Meets Its End

So long, it was good to know you.
“The government is not against Metro Rail. But the project in its present form would increase the financial burden on the state government beyond its capacity,” Mr Sindhia [Finance and Industries Minister] said.

08-Nov-2005

Natwar Goes

Vijay Times said it best I think: Natwar becomes 'External' Minister. Of course why he still remains a minister without any work is good question. Why spend public money on him? They can't even take credit for doing the right thing - removing him from his External Affairs post.

Not to be outdone, the BJP has shot off a letter to the UN. They are acting like cats on a hot tin roof. Jumpy is the word. The Congress has too, but as Shashi Tharoor said on NDTV yesterday, it can't be blamed since the report mentions its name.

Also, a short history of the oil-for-food scandal. Some excerpts from a blog regarding the documents on which the Volcker report is based:
The alledged documents come from the Oil Ministry. You know, the one that Ahmed Chalabi heads. It seems strange in a country where oil output is about half of capacity during a time of high oil prices that the first thing he would do is fish Galloway's name out of a mass of paper. Particularly when Galloway had already won one libel suit. This is coming out of the Republican Congress because that is the only entity on the planet that wouldn't be sued for defamation on this.
...
Note that the memos haven't been produced, and will never be produced in such a form as to be open to examination. Given the long sordid history of manufactured memos, for example Yellowcake Forgery, it should be fairly clear that the credibility of self-serving documents from Ahmed Chalabi or anyone associated with the Administrations Iraq agenda are, to put it mildly, highly suspect.
Ahmed Chalabi being the guy who fed stories of Saddam having WMD to the US media and intelligence agencies and administration.

Staying with Iraq, U.S. Should Repay Millions to Iraq, a U.N. Audit Finds.

04-Nov-2005

Why Even Bother

Talking to the Americans? They keep coming up with more and more demands. On the other hand, this could be one more arm-bender for the upcoming Iran vote.

Most Misrepresented Report

Says the WB though not so explicitly. I was meaning to post on this sometime ago with link to a related presentation by the World Bank. But I the WB people have done it now. It was all based on a survey of 200 firms, half of them 'small firms'.

Silly Gowda.

03-Nov-2005

Volcker And The Oil-for-Food Probe

I refuse to believe anyone who looks like Natwar Singh could have ever taken kickbacks. I mean, surely that permanent angry look must stand for something? Most crooks flash wide smiles as they are led away by the constabulary. Not Mr Singh. He has something more serious on his mind than money and oil and even food perhaps.

If you are looking for more, let's say, mundane reasons for why he could not be involved, The Hindu has them here. I'll give a short excerpt here:
The second major problem with the investigative exercise was the composition of the "Independent Inquiry Committee." It was headed by Paul A.Volcker, former chairman of the chief occupying power's Federal Reserve Board. The two other members were Justice Richard J. Goldstone, a former judge of the South African Supreme Court and Constitutional Court who had made his mark in the law during the days of apartheid; and Mark Pieth, a Swiss law professor specialising in the tracking of transnational corruption, money laundering, and organised crime.

This composition explains the part Spanish inquisitional, part modern investigative, and, in consequence, biased and insufficiently transparent approach of the Committee. It explains the snap judgments and the loaded vocabulary of the report, starting with "manipulation" of the OFFP, "illicit income," and "humanitarian kickbacks." Functioning in the shadow of the U.S.-led military occupation of Iraq, the exercise fails to come clean on all its data sources, above all on the evidentiary basis of its listing of non-contractual political and other beneficiaries of Iraqi oil sales.
As an aside, the right-wing in the US has been tracking this probe with great anticipation. They don't want the UN to exist as it is. The president's nomination to the UN, Mr Bolton, has even said that nothing much would have been lost even if the top 13 floors (or thereabouts) of the UN building in New York is bombed. Mr Volcker himself is not very much in favour of it. This report could be so much red meat thrown to the packs.

Also, this episode has thrown up another joker. The reporter of the article asks him lots of question but one: why was he offered those millions by Saddam? What was the quid pro quo?

PS: I had Mr Bolton's comment on the UN wrong what he actually said was :
"If you lost 10 storeys, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."
More fun quotes here.

IBM Acquires Land In Bangalore

Why, oh why can't they work out of rented apartments? Why do they need land? Aren't companies working out of rented premises providing jobs to Kannadigas? Why don't they listen? Are they going to start a malicious campaign too? Where will it all end?

02-Nov-2005

In A Spot - 021105

Next in the series. This time Tavleen Singh sees a grandiose clash between civil society and the political class in the Deve Gowda-Infosys spat. Like a true sage she foresees that the clash will only widen. Yeah, I'm sure people like Ramesh Ramanathan, who are working towards a partnership between these two, just don't get it.

Ms Singh recalls a recent visit to Bangalore and how she was impressed by the mid-day scheme run by ISKCON, and supported by Infosys. Enough to say airily:
It is my view that if Akshay Patra could be replicated in every district in India we could eliminate malnutrition and illiteracy.
Welcome to the real world ma'am. The political class beat you to it by at least 25 years, if not 50 years. They realised it and acted on the realisation, though learned people thought not very highly of their doing so. As one of the writers says:
Watching the 2004 drama unfold brought to mind a visit my colleague and I had made many years ago — 1980 to be specific — to Chingleput district, near Chennai. We made a round of visits to schools in villages run in sheds or under a tree to make a study of the Midday Meal scheme launched by the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu M.G. Ramachandran. Of course, the learned scoffed at the idea and the newspapers had dismissed it as a populist stunt.
Italics mine. One can always count on the learned to know better I guess. Also, the GOI launched the mid-day scheme in 1995 apparently, though the SC had to get into the act to force some states to go with it.

As for libraries, the government seems to have thought of that too. We used to and still have have City Central Libraries run by the government. There were no restrictions on who could go there. I myself finished reading Home's Iliad in one such library, a bit pretentiously I should add. They were good once upon a time, before the masses (including me) tore the books up and dog-eared them and wrote on them and then openly stole them.

This is not to say that Infosys, Infosys Foundation, Mohandas Pai, Sudha Murthy or Rohini Nilekani are not doing good. I have the utmost respect for what they are doing and are able to do. My crib is with Ms Singh who can be so "humbled" by individual private acts of goodness, but can only see government actions through a prism of negativity. I don't mean Mr Gowda when I say 'government'.

Blind Justice

Another development over the weekend was the indictment of a top government official, Scooter Libby, in the Bush administration. The background is this:

In the run-up to the Iraq war, as the Bush government tried to make the case for the war, some documents surfaced that seemed to show that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy some stuff in Africa that could be used for making WMD. The CIA sent a former diplomat to verify those claims. He found that the claims were false. But Bush had already included those claims in an important speech he made. The diplomat went to the press alleging that the administration falsified information to make the case for war stronger. The administration then started a campaign to discredit this person, by claiming that he was sent on the recommendation of his wife who worked at the CIA, and hence he was somehow not fit enough for the task and his opinion was worthless. Apparently, 'outing' a CIA agent is a felony in the US. The CIA asked for an inquiry as to how the name got leaked. After a 2-year investigation a special prosecutor has indicted the chief-of-staff of the vice-president. He is still investigating the political adviser to Bush, who may also be indicted. The current indictment is not for the act of 'outing' the agent, apparently there wasn't sufficient proof to bring that charge. It is for 5 other counts, one of them is obstruction of justice. Libby apparently tried to lead investigators down the wrong alley by lying at the beginning of the probe.

I watched the press conference of the special investigator. It was inspiring. He spoke in simple words. But the message was quite powerful. The guilty will be punished. At least in the US.

Republicans, even before the much-anticipated indictment were trying to spin it, saying that the indictment would not be for the actual crime, but would be based on 'technicalities', and so he should not bring the indictments. This is what the prosecutor had to say when a reporter asked him about this :
I'll be blunt.

That talking point won't fly. If you're doing a national security investigation, if you're trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven ... that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.

And I'd say this: I think people might not understand this. We, as prosecutors and FBI agents, have to deal with false statements, obstruction of justice and perjury all the time. The Department of Justice charges those statutes all the time.

When I was in New York working as a prosecutor, we brought those cases because we realized that the truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.

...

And if a truck driver pays a bribe or someone else does something where they go into a grand jury afterward and lie about it, they get indicted all the time.

Any notion that anyone might have that there's a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.

If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it's a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.

Take that, youse! Now a criminal trial will start, but the indicted person has already resigned. For some more on the signifance of the forthcoming trial, read this from The Guardian, via DH.

The Delhi Blasts

One more attack. The K-problem needs to be solved fast, because it is very unlikely that our neighbour will help stop these attacks. One way not to go about it is what a front-page editorial in TOI (couldn't find the URL though) recommended. It concluded that this is war and that we need to put in place some tough laws, like the US has. This is not war, it is an act of terrorism. As for strict laws, what laws could we put in place that we don't have now? This Indian Express editorial, elaborates, taking lessons from Mr Blair's handling of the post-London bombing situation:
the message the government sent out was that there would be no compromising on national safety, whether at the political, social or legal level, even if it meant reversing some of the more liberal laws of entry, citizenship and prosecution.
It is difficult to disagree with that, but let me try. It is easy for the British and Americans to reverse 'liberal' laws of entry - they just hold people that don't look like them to a stricter scrutiny. We can't do that in our country - we all look alike, like south Asians. And even if we made entry tough - we have long borders where an entry could be affected, though not as easily. Laws of citizenship - the British say that they will send back anyone who preaches extremism. We are a country of 1 billion. Who will monitor who is saying what. As for laws of prosecution - the editorial is probably referring to holding suspects in secret, with recourse to legal help, with a little torture thrown in, a la Guantanamo. We already have that.

The Indian Express editorial is also funny in its belief that Mr Blair did something worthy of emulation post-bombings. Apart from the above, it notes:
The most important message sent out by the Tony Blair government was that it would not rest until it systematically got to the bottom of the entire episode and dug out the origins, methodology and purpose of the perpetrators. That steely determination was in itself a confidence building measure for a nation that had briefly lost its bearings.
Yeah, so he said he would find out what happened. Why does that even need to be said? What 'steely determination'? I think all he did was speechify in his usual high-sounding way. The changes to the laws effected may not suffice either. After all, the London bombers were British-born, British-educated citizens.

Of course, we need to catch the perpetrators before they do harm, but to rely only on that is to treat the symptom only leaving the root cause unattended to. And the root is finding a mutually acceptable solution to the core issue. The Hindu could be more relevant here.

Back

From a short visit to Hyderabad. Kingfisher does not provide their famous beer on this flights, but they do run on time. Hyderabad itself is nice - whatever we saw of it. Lots of things to see and do. We couldn't do too many things in the time we had, just a few. NTR park in the evening, washed out by the cyclone though. The award-winning Nehru zoo, clean and well-tended. It is huge, and we walked through all of it. It will leave you with a keen appetite, but extremely happy, especially if you have a wife and a 2-year-old with you. After that, you can take the safari ride and say hello to the lions and lionesses. Then Charminar, crowded beyond belief on account of Ramzan. The monument has been allowed to go to seed a bit, which is a tragedy. But the shopping around there is good. Lots of colourful things on sale during this season, and more than a handful people. Salarjung museum, very much worth the visit. The nice'ish drive along Hussein Sagar lake. The nicely-lit up Birla Mandir which we couldn't visit though. Boards advertising a mysterious Lasa and Lamsa Tea.

The place to quench that keen appetite is Paradise Hotel. We gorged ourselves with its biryanies. Apparently no one does anything else there. Three floors of seating and people still throng the takeaway counters. It does not even close during the late afternoon like we're used to in Bangalore. Maybe it was because of Ramzan. Whatever. I'm still pining for that biryani. And the kalmi kabab.

27-Oct-2005

The Morning After

The Karnataka state government wakes up:
The State government will study the largescale violation of building by-laws in City Municipal Council limits around Bangalore, Chief Minister Dharam Singh said on Wednesday. The study has been prompted by the floods and human misery witnessed in the CMC areas in the last few days due to encroachment of lake beds and natural drains, he said. “We will look into why it happened... On what basis the CMCs sanctioned the buildings on the lakes, ” the chief minister said.
Why was the government sleeping in the first place? Is it not their job to see that the law is followed? (Update): I notice this happened with Mumbai too after their nightmare last month (or was it earlier?) - the HC had to ask the government to do a study on lake/natual drainage areas being used for development. I'm sure it will happen with Chennai too. Is it too difficult for those in charge to come up with and stick to a good plan for their respective cities?

Also, Bangalore roads to get a facelift with help from the Centre. The word 'facelift' is chosen well. It describes what they were getting thus far and what they could expect to get in the future. They were definitely not getting a comprehensive rejuvenation package. They could do without the facelift at all. It will only mean more money landing in the pockets of the shamelessly corrupt authorities and contractors.

26-Oct-2005

Son Of The Soil

This letter-writer to DH says it well (the title means: son of Bangalore's soil, a take on the self-given title of Mr Deve Gowda : son of the soil):
Bangalore Mannina Maga!

Sir, I have been watching the political life of Mr Deve Gowda after he lost the prime ministership and can only pity him. As an ex-prime minister, he is expected to air his comments on international and national issues. On the contrary most of the time his concern seems to be real estate in and around Bangalore, so much so that he crusaded the exit of eminent people from important agencies. The people of Karnataka lost the services of Mr Jayakar Jerome soon after Mr Deve Gowda formed the government with Congress. Now it is Mr Narayana Murthy.

Mr Gowda calls himself a “Mannina Maga”. Does ‘mannu’ refer only to the land in and around Bangalore?

SUBBU HEGDE Bangalore

Getting Worse

The misery deepens. Now look at the picture in the middle which is of the IT.in venue. That does justice to the absurdity. But unfortunately Mr Gowda, knowing what is good for him, has decided not to attend. OK, I need to go get an extra cup of coffee.

Update: Rain records broken. And Mr Gowda did attend.

25-Oct-2005

Innundated

Bangalore. The amount of rainfall during this month is expected to surpass all previous highs. The blame game is on. People blaming the authorities and the authorities blaming the people. Both are to blame obviously and I would lay more of the blame on the people. Hopefully people will stop littering and encroaching and the authorities will try to sincerely curb development which creates this waterlogging mess. But that hope breathes its last as soon as it is born.

Meanwhile, IT.in kicks off tomorrow. The picture is presented in all seriousness I suppose. Though the one in DH's print version is better - it is in color and makes the contrast between the building and the water funnier. Note the chief guest's name too.

Tangentially, we always hear about the effect we may be having on the environment. But what about the effect on cows? Today morning, driving during the morning rush hour, I saw a cow hurrying along beside the rest of the cars and two-wheelers. It had started to rain, again. The cow was alone and there was no apparent reason for it to be running. But there it was running, head bowed, with an expression exactly like someone late for work. Strange.

Then there was this mini-truck driver. He had a wiper in his hand, his hand pushed out throught the driver's window, wiping the windshield with the broken wiper as he drove. And finally, the traffic cops earning their, very bad by all accounts, pay. What a thankless job they have.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

That's Steve Jobs, in his Commencement address at Stanford. (via pankaj).

24-Oct-2005

It's The Real Thing

Vijay Mallya has the name "Kingfisher" all over TV (and print media too I presume). He must be a happy man. No one can call this surrogate advertising can they?

23-Oct-2005

Big Man Talking - Again

DH has the details. I am still groping in the dark as to the reasons for this whole outburst by Mr Gowda. Thus far I have these potential candidates:

1. The alleged 'malicious campaign' against him by 'some quarters' in the IT Industry. An reference most probably to Infosys. The whole things explains itself then as a grudge against the company.

2. Apprehension on his part that he (and the politicians in general) may lose control to the people.

3. Something that actually occurred during the original meeting which blew his lid off.

Reading today's DH article, linked above, my antenna pointed towards No. 3 again, since the presentation on local government for urban areas seems to have been only one of the topics discussed. Mr Gowda:
“I had also asked him for his suggestions on what is best for Bangalore – the Bangalore Metro, monorail or ELRTS. In what way have I hurt him?”
So he asked Mr Murthy about the metro rail. But why the second setence? It is well-known that Mr Gowda has been against the Metro rail and in favour of the monorail. Did he try to get a endorsement from Mr Murthy for the monorail, but was rebuffed and did that get his hackles up?

Further down the article this occurred - No. 1 this time.
Barring Infosys, no other IT company in the city was interfering in the State’s administration. This is because some officials and vested interests had invested in Infosys, he alleged.
The second sentence can be safely ignored - whatever the 'officials and vested interests' do or don't, their investment is safe. Nothing they do is going to affect the company. It is too big for them. He is basically complaining against Infosys. And some 'quarters in the IT ind.' are, as he seems to think, indulging in 'malicious campaigning'. Thus No. 1.

Or probably it is a mix of all three. Who knows?

He makes a new point in the article - that Infosys has asked some land in Yelahanka and that this will render many farmers landless. It would be good to hear what the farmers themselves have to say. And I wonder how many have already sold their land to real estate developers. Anekal farmers started the process of selling their land some time ago. I know. I had been to see some of it myself last year.

It is the turn of BDA and BMP next. Mr Gowda believes in giving sufficient notice before he strikes. The Bangalore Development Authority and the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike better watch out:
Today, I have discussed issues of infrastructure and airport; next will be BMP, BDA.
Update: Adding reason No. 4 which is : Alll this is the result of Infosys getting caught up in politics unintentionally, or more corrrectly, with good intentions. Going back to the days of the S M Krishna government, one recalls the erstwhile BATF and also that Nandan Nilekani (CEO of Infosys) was associated with it. His intentions must have been entirely blameless - to contribute his mite to Bangalore with the help of a progressive Chief Miniser. As it happens, Mr Krishna and Deve Gowda are close to being sworn enemies of each other. And in addition, Janaagraha too got going during those days, and Nandan was associated with that too (along with others). Unfortunately, S M Krishna was voted out. And your enemy's friend is your enemy. Infosys is left out in the cold now, at least where Mr Gowda is concerned.

Update 2: Reason No. 5: Mr Gowda is doing this to gain political capital - comes across as a common man's fearless hero by taking on renowned companies and personalities.

Update 3: Read this post from another blog (link via Amit Varma).

21-Oct-2005

Infosys Rebuttal

Infosys responds to Mr Gowda's charges. This blog has the details.

Futures Trading With A Difference

The process by which a judge gets to sit on the Supreme Court in the US is a bit different than ours. I'd lightheartedly commented on it here. But I found out today that there is a futures market which trades in such things (link via Talking Points Memo). Real money changes hands apparently.

While you are there, note this contract which is also trading - OSAMA.CAPTURE.DEC05 (Osama Bin Laden to be captured/neutralised by 31 December 2005). The bid is 5.6 - that is, a probability of 5.6% of him being captured by that date.

Can He See The Future?

I asked here what happened in the meeting that made Mr Gowda get so worked up. Well, I wonder. Is he a visionary? Does he see the power of ideas such as this and this and this? Can he envision the transparency which would set in if firms like this have their way? Can he imagine these ideas spreading all over the state? Does the thought of all that make him afraid? Does he fear losing control to the people?

20-Oct-2005

And A Resignation

Mr Murthy resigns as the Chairman of Bangalore International Airport Limited. The IT industry's cup of woe is filled to the brim.

Who Wants To Be A Mill-Owner?

In Mumbai, not many I suppose. A bit stale news, but here it is. HC distributes NTC land in Mumbai equally between mother nature, the oppressed slum-dwellers, and the mill-owners. Nice and refreshing.

Junk those glitzy malls.

Now, A Panel

Now there will be a panel to see if the land was 'given' to Infosys following the government's norms. Even if the answer if yes, the panel will revamp the norms such that it will look shady in retrospect and make sure no more land can be given. Unless the company goes through the normal channels and bows in obeisance to the big man himself presumably. And there is no doubt that the target here is Infosys. And the person heading the panel is M P Prakash who was handpicked by the big man for the Deputy Chief Minister's post recently. Anyone can guess whose inputs will go into those ears.

Whether anything will come of it or not, it leads one to ask - what exactly pricked the big man during the meeting that day? There must have been something. Apart from all the "malicious campaign" by the IT companies against his party. Why else would he wake up so suddenly to the land issue?

18-Oct-2005

Party With Differences

This article spins the simmering leadership crisis in the BJP and notes that it may not be such a bad thing for the party after all. An excerpt:
The crux of the matter is that a spell in government changes the outlook and approach of party members and leaders, especially if they had been in the wilderness for long, as in the case of the BJP top brass. But while the Congress had taken over two decades to be reduced to that position, the BJP lost its morale and ethos after just six years in government.

A more crucial question in this context is whether a divergence of opinion in a party is unhealthy per se and its absence should therefore be celebrated.
It digs (a bit deeply) into the history of the Congress and comes up with instances of dissidence - and concludes:
If ... a party struggles to practise internal democracy and a periodical change of leadership and suffers a setback in the process, it is not its end. It can be a new beginning, in fact.
I agree. I came to the same conclusion before reading this article. Still, there is a difference. The instances he quotes were surely not played out so openly and surely not with such bitterness. And this is after all the party with a difference. Iron discipline and all that I mean.

FDI In Retail

Prem Shankar Jha makes some points in this article. It would be a pity if the corner shops vanished. But will they really go a way once the big stores come, given the unique Indian context? Will Indians be able to manage once-a-week shopping from the big stores? Difficult to imagine that happening given our unique context. Bad roads, bad traffic, no one-car-per-family. We ourselves avoid shopping on saturdays and sundays as far as possible and our stores are located less than half-a-kilometer away. The rush is almost unbearable and we can't use our car because getting parking is impossible. But for durables - my better-half would travel half the city to get the best buy without doubt.

17-Oct-2005

JEEZ - How Is That Possible?

News report on the rationale for the new entrance scheme for IITs. Apparently a study was conducted which led to the changes. This is interesting though:
...the screening test and the main examination have been selecting the same 4,000 students since 2000, the study found.

Pimples

Mr Deve Gowda strikes back.
A day after a close-door meeting with Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda ridiculed Mr Murthy for his suggestion on urban governance ...

At a press conference in Bangalore on Sunday, Mr Gowda was critical of Mr Murthy’s suggestion for shifting the focus in the State to urban governance and setting up urban bodies on the lines of grama sabhas. Mr Gowda remarked that “the views of high-profile and elite personalities are different from ground reality.” Mr Gowda wondered if Mr Murthy knew the problems of rural life.

He also sought comparison of employment generated by such companies including Infosys, which have taken government land, with other IT firms like Wipro, HP and IBM which have not been provided any government land.

Mr Gowda said: “I am sure companies like Wipro, Intel, Accenture, IBM, HP and Honeywell, which have not been allotted government land and functioning mostly in rented buildings, account for more than 85 per cent jobs provided by the IT firms in Bangalore.”
...
He alleged that a number of companies, including a few IT firms, had not fully utilised the government land allotted to them to preserve the land for real estate purpose.
Let's try to enumerate the problems with his statements.

1. Just saying that "high-profile" and "elite" personalities (as he puts it) are not aware of the ground realities is not enough. He needs to specify what exactly are the facts on the ground that make the proposal ineffective. The presentation was by Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha who has been working extremely closely with the government and local bodies for more than five years. What exactly has eluded him that hasn't escaped Deve Gowda?

Let's see what the proposal was. From the previous day's DH:
Mr Ramanathan mooted the concept of urban citizen bodies, wherein citizens would have a greater say in urban governance. He also made a strong pitch for urban decentralisation and a “credible coordination mechanism” between civic agencies.

The Infosys chief said today Bangalore was hobbled by myriad problems. Tomorrow, it could be the turn of smaller cities like Mysore and Hubli. “We need to think beyond infrastructure and Bangalore. We need to tackle urban issues such as poor quality of life, housing, education, water and sanitation. We need to put our heads together, look ahead and plan accordingly,” Mr Murthy told reporters after the meeting. Mr Murthy said Karnataka had a concrete system for rural governance, but lacked the same for urban areas. He felt the economic opportunities in cities could be leveraged by putting in place a robust structure for urban governance.
I don't see anything elitist in that. Mr Ramanathan has been putting out these ideas for sometime now. Here and here for instance. He also has the figures: With a population of 3.2 crores, rural Karnataka has 84,168 representatives - at the zilla, taluk, gram panchayat levels. With 1.7 crore people, urban Karnataka has 5,023 representatives - at the city corporation, city municipal corporation, town municipal council, and town panchayat levels. That is a representative for every 380 rural persons, but one for every 3,400 urbal persons. 100 rimes more representation in the rural areas than at the urban areas. As he puts it:
Measured one way, the distance between citizens and their elected representatives is almost 10 times greater in urban areas than rural Karnataka; in Bangalore, 100 times greater, explaining the relative anonymity of local governments in towns and cities.

In addition to this, the gram sabha in the rural areas has got legitimacy, if not actual on-the-ground usage, with the idea that every registered voter should participate in decision-making. In contrast, the urban areas have a concept of the wards committee, hampered by the combination of a debatable nomination process, limited citizen representation and an ambiguous mandate.
So where is the problem with this idea? What are the realities that intrude?

2. He asks if Mr Murthy knows the problems of rural life. Not relevant to this conversation. I don't think Mr Murthy is suggesting that the government ignore rural areas. He is suggesting a way to ease the urban situation. The two need not be mutually exclusive.

3. He links the land allegedly "given" by the government to Infosys to the employment generated by the latter. I give up on this one. I don't understand what he is trying to say.

4. His accusation that "some" IT companies are playing the real estate game on the side too doesn't make too much sense. Are these individuals in the companies making hay? I can't believe that. On the other hand, if it is the entire company making killings in the real estate market - that does not hold much water either. A $2 billion company doesn't need to make a few crores on land. It has no material impact on anything.

So one can only conclude that Mr Gowda is talking through his hat. But it is not hard to see where this angst comes from :
He alleged that there was a systematic malicious campaign from some quarters in the IT sector to brand the coalition government as anti-IT and one with no interest to improve Bangalore infrastructure.
Politicking as usual.

Reading this news report on the front page of DH today I was reminded of one thing. In the preface to Volume 1 of Anton Chekhov's short stories by Raduga Publications, Maxim Gorky recalls his impressions of Chekhov. In it he recounts a visit of a government prosecutor to Chekhov at his house. The prosecutor begins by trying to engage Chekhov with his analysis of one of Chekhov's characters. Realising that he is putting it on, Chekhov switches to lighter topics which really engage the prosecutor. After the prosecutor leaves, Chekhov says this about him (a bit unfairly according to me):

"And it's pimples like that on the backside of justice who dispose of the destinies of men."

One would be hardpressed to think of something which would make the above description not fit people like Mr Gowda.

Attack Of The Salesgirls

I need help desperately. Salesgirls selling battery-operated electric shavers knock on my door during broad daylight. Opening the door and checking the rising panic, I tell them no, I don't want them since I only shave once a week and five minutes in a week is not enough of a trouble to warrant investment in a possibly very short-lived contraption. But they say just see how easy it is to use and suddenly lunge towards me with the shavers held out in front of them, going for the few days-old stubble on my face. I dodge them only to have them shave off the hair on my forearms in a smooth move.

I have only one question: have they lost all sense of what is right?

04-Oct-2005

Chimp Quits Smoking

Spare a thought for our dumb chums and their problems. Solitude and grief affect them badly too. This chimp took to smoke after his two partners passed away and his daughter left him. Thankfully his zoo keepers have cured him by making his life more colourful. Sony would have hardly had chimpanzees in mind when they designed the Walkman though.

Perceptions Of India

L K Sharma, DH's man in the US, is keeping a close eye on proceedings affecting the nuclear deal in Washington. And writing down his thoughts with a tongue firmly in cheek as usual. He notes the three groups India is up against
  • Those who objected to India hobnobbing with Iran [but] had no problem with the accord itself because they believe that President Bush can do no wrong.
  • The non-proliferation lobby that is not afraid to speak out against Mr Bush and, of course, against the Indo-US agreement.
  • Then there are sarkari academics analysing the world’s trouble spots for the good of their country, either having worked for the government or hoping to work. They are shocked by the Indo-US agreement because they had never expected it.
One academic having "close friends both in India and Pakistan" has apparently disturbed Indian diplomats by telling lawmakers that
"the presence of very large arsenals raises the possibility of India and Pakistan sharing their nuclear weapons with other states, perhaps by extending a protective umbrella over them or simply giving them to other states.”
Full testimony here. Read it. It is definitely interesting - some facts and figures, sometimes down to earth, sometimes peppered with sudden bursts of imagination like the suggestion of India's space program being suddenly diverted for military purposes and used to 'blind' US satellites!

03-Oct-2005

We The People

This column by Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha was lying in my mail box for some time before I read it today. In it he tries to draw some lessons from the recent confrontation between the Delhi government and the people. Stressing on the importance of getting people to participate in the process of decision-making he says:
Lesson 4—It is better to work from the front foot than be cornered into these positions: allowing participation is not only morally right, it is also strategically useful. Citizens today are getting away with taking pot-shots at government, with no accountability of their own, either in taking tough decisions on reforms, or in being honest participants in public services. For example, one of the sore points in the power crisis is the 50% power theft. While the responsibility to ensure compliance is the service providers’, in a society where contractual enforcement will take time, local stakeholders can exert far more pressure than a discom. Being completely open also allows the government to demand responsibility from citizens and constructive solutions from critics, rather than allow procedural criticism to obfuscate fundamental reform debate.
Exactly. Someone has already said it - we get the government we deserve. We as a people are challenged (as in mentally challenged, visually challenged) when it comes to doing the right thing - we break traffic rules, building rules, evade taxes, steal power, sell borewell water on the sly, dump waste at the street corner. Who knows, many a politicians may be saying: "Look at these people, they break rules themselves, and they expect us to be upright. People are all inherently bad, corrupt, and interested only in themselves and their families. They have no time to think of the public good. I've completely lost faith in them".

Maybe we as people need to change along with or before the politicians change.

02-Oct-2005

In A Spot - 011005

This is not another one in the series. Not the usual one at least, because Ms Tavleen Singh shows that she can write sensible articles if only she doesn't try to drag her favourites peeves into it - like Sonia Gandhi and her allegedly rubber-stamp PM and her dynastic and decaying party.

She still cannot prevent the occasional slip like this, but that's ok I guess:
Had they paid attention then instead of slums in Chembur there would have been affordable housing for the poor. Instead of evil slum lords there would have been legitimate real estate companies controlling the housing market.
Right. Slum lords evil. Real estate companies pure as the driven snow. Tell us another one please.

01-Oct-2005

Surging Ahead In Road Accidents

Every country wants to be the first in number of road accidents apparently. This report from DH says

A sharp increase in the number of road accidents resulting in more than 90,000 deaths in the country has given India the dubious distinction of accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s total road accident deaths, highest for any country.

No source mentioned. And this from China's People Daily Online dated June 25, 2004

Lastest research shows that every day in China at least 300 people are killed in traffic accidents, ranking the country top in the world for both the death toll and the death rate. And the figure is accelerating by 10 percent every year.
... in 2001 [the figure for all accidents] had leapt to 750,000. Last year the figure was more than 770,000, with 110,000 people losing their lives and 560,000 injured.

30-Sep-2005

A Principled Stand?

Then there is this article by TK Arun in TOI's sister in which he tries to retrofit principles on the Iran vote. Why is this necessary? He argues that the interesting question which is getting overlooked in the whole Iran vote criticism is this: how India’s voting serves India’s interests, rather than Washington’s or Teheran’s. He blames the Left for ignoring this point and blames the government for allowing this side-stepping of the interesting point to occur. The government (he says) should have plugged a good nuclear doctrine acceptable to the political class and the people. If only they had done that then (according to him) the above question would've been addressed. Then we would have had a debate, or so he seems to sugggest.

He then presents a principle to serve this purpose passing through some impossible hoops in the process:
What can be a principled position on Iran’s nuclear programme? There is no quibble over a peaceful, energy programme. But should India endorse Iran’s sovereign right to develop its own nuclear weapons? How can India oppose such a right, after having become a nuclear power itself?

India stayed out of the non-proliferation treaty because India stood for universal disarmament and was not willing to accept asymmetrical rights of certain nations alone to have nuclear weapons. Universal disarmament remained a dream. India is too large a nation and too complex and diverse a polity to become anyone’s client state. So it developed/ is developing its own nuclear capability, both bombs and delivery vehicles. This is not all that absurd.

Second-best options are, at times, radically different from the best possible solution, rather than its close approximations. The way to the unchanged goal of universal disarmament probably lies in effective deterrence constituted by dispersal of countervailing force in a number of power centres that together provide equipoise, enabling gradual roll-back. Proliferation will only hinder, rather than help this process.
Boiling it down over a medium flame for 20 minutes we get this:
India wanted universal disarmament once upon a time. But it was a dream. We thought it was not right that only some nations should have nukes and not others. And we were too proud to become anyone's client state. So we developed nukes. Agreed, this is not anywhere close to universal disarmament, but now we've changed our minds. Now we think it is better that certain select countries have nukes (of course including us). This will make it possible for everyone to start rolling back towards nuclear disarmament. If countries other than us get nukes it will make things difficult.
That does not make sense to me. It suggests to me that if a country believes in nuclear disarmament and is proud it can go right ahead and develop nuclear weapons. I mean, disarmament is still a dream - a far bigger one if I may say so. A nightmare in fact.

As for Iran in the current context specifically:
Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty. It has signed away its right to develop nuclear weapons.
So what if Iran walks out of the NPT like North Korea did? He has an answer to that too:
And it is not in India’s interest for another country in its neighbourhood to develop nuclear capability.
Two close friends of ours have nukes and we share a border with one and are at a stone's throw distance from the other. How would Iran getting nukes be different? And we are supposed to be friends! Get real sir.

No, the only justification for the vote is what someone in this newspaper's editorial (no link, they don't put the edit out on the web) today had the sense to suggest:
We need the nuclear fuel because we are getting crippled without power. If the nuclear deal is aborted we will feel much pain.
Also, there is some spin being spun, that we prevented the immediate referral of Iran to the Security Council. This is a Reuters report from the days before the vote. It says the EU backed away from immediate referral on account of pressure from Russia and China. The report may not be fully accurate, but I heard no news to the effect that India prevented that thing from happening. (Note: No news until after the vote itself I meant).

Note 2: I'm not sure if it wouldn't be the best thing the govt can do - to actually explain the vote in terms making the power situation better. Makes a forceful argument. But there is always the issue of how to explain it away if the US still refuses to play along.

Note 3: Worth noting once again what The Hindu wrote about the resolution: "It is possible that it is designed to short-circuit the prospect of a negotiated solution, and to push the world towards another major confrontation...The U.S. and its allies want to rewrite the rules so that they will be able to control both the nuclear fuel cycle and the commerce around nuclear fuel and reactors". Now mull this: The nuclear industry has donated $8 million to Bush and his party since the 2000 elections.

Note 4: And this too:
India's position on the Iranian nuclear question at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) appears to have been one of the key conditions to the successful negotiation of the India-U.S. nuclear deal on July 19.