29-Apr-2005

Done Deal

The AI-Boeing deal is done, via Indian Express. This has been followed by Airbus complaints. But why did Bush call the Prime Minister to back Boeing before the decision? Cannot Boeing stand on its own? Is this how the free market works? Bush should know I believe he is a ardent admirer.

27-Apr-2005

Left Gets It Right Quietly?

Read a very pleasantly surprising editorial, in TOI, today. About a state which is normally roundly denounced in articles like one which I'm going to link to below. But the numbers in the editorial surprised me pleasantly.
  • for the last 10 years, the state's domestic product has jumped 7.1 per cent every year, ahead of Karnataka's 6.4 per cent, Gujarat's 6.1 per cent or Haryana's 5.8 per cent.
  • the average person's income in the state has grown 5.5 per cent, the fastest in India.
  • rural people of the state spent Rs 17,000 crore last year on non-farm goods and services.
  • over the last 13 years, according to the Planning Commission, the state has got a staggering Rs 27,000 crore worth of private industrial investment, second only to Gujarat, ahead of Maharashtra.
What I found most heartening was this (emphasis added)
...farm tenancy reforms implemented in 1978 — the same year China allowed farmers to sell their produce — have paid off. In India, people who actually work 85 per cent of all farmland own only 33 per cent land. In Bengal, tillers own 80 per cent of farmland. Unsurprisingly, holdings are hugely productive, churning out four crops a year. For about 10 years, farm output has jumped more than 5 per cent annually, the fastest clip in the country. Long India's biggest rice producer, Bengal is now the largest grower of pineapples and vegetables, the second-largest producer of potatoes and a big grower of quality mangoes.
If India lives in her villages, the state seems to have done well by her - better than the country as a whole has done at least. Kudos are in order I think.

The name of the state? Left-ruled West Bengal. Here is a cry of despair about the Left driving WB poor to suicide and here is the editorial from TOI from which the above figures and quotes are taken. As the editorial notes, there are problems - below-par job creation, worker militancy among other things. And there is a rare opportunity too as it points out.

25-Apr-2005

Tavleen Goes To Bollywood

And discovers a "wonderfully indegenous form of entertainment"!

Not really, but almost. Here is the column from Sunday's DH. In her words
He led me towards the door from behind which the music was coming and when he opened it I felt as if I had been suddenly transported onto a Hindi film set in the middle of the dream sequence.
It's not really Bollywood but a dance bar. He is the owner of the dance bar which will remain unnamed due to his "fear of repercussions". The gist of the column is that Ms Tavleen Singh goes to a dance bar and meets the owner. She tells him upfront that she
... wanted to write a story that supported the cause of the dancers because I believed that their right to livelihood was being violated by the Maharashtra government.
He "relaxes visibly" - and why not? It would've hardly surprised me if he had done a quick jive - and orders juice as well as buttermilk for the inquiring journalist in search of the truth irrespective of her convictions.

He tells her how "these girls come from the poorest families" and how "nearly, every girl here has a story to tell that is so sad it makes you cry." He also appraises her of their dire situation: "they earn barely enough to keep body and soul together." The writer even meets a few of the "girls" who explain how they are supporting large families. In a touching conclusion the writer sings a paean to the dance bars - "wonderfully indigenous form of entertainment" - and calls for the government to promote them instead of banning them.

Ignorant me. I"d thought dance bars were ever so slightly disrespectable, no doubt by lines like this from a column by a columnist named - wait - Tavleen Singh!
If a girl is over the age of consent she has a right to earn a living any way she chooses...why should she want to be a maid servant for less than Rs 3000 a month? ...Besides, can a government ban on dance bars really work? ... Will there not develop the speakeasy situation that existed in Maharashtra when there was prohibition?
Dance bars and prohibition mentioned in the same breath? Both must be bad, bad vices! But no, Ms Tavleen says dance bars are wonderful.

I'd also thought the dance girls were making a tidy sum every night because the same columnist wrote this in the same column :
... if a dancing girl can earn between Rs 500 and Rs 25,000 a night why should she want to be a maid servant for less than Rs 3000 a month?
Where did she come up with those figures when all the time they are living hand to mouth?

Why does she work the visit to the dance bar into the column anyway? She has made her main point - let the dance bars be - in her previous column quoted above without the visit - except for how wonderful entertainment it is.

If she wanted to be "On The Spot" she should have given more points of view. One dance bar is not a good sample size for "1300 bars in the state" and one dance bar owner's view is not the complete picture. Did she expect him moreover to tell her that he is in it just for the money, and the sad backgrounds of the girls are a convenient backdrop to the whole thing?

Where is the interview with the police and government? We hear nothing from them apart from "his excuse for the ban is that the bars encourage corruption and criminality." Why does he think so?

The latest issue of Tehelka has some answers. We learn that the CM "cites a high crime rate and complaints from neighbourhoods where dance bars exist for the closure". We also learn that the prosperity of the dance bars is supported by the police "who allow bars to stay open after the 1.30 am deadline, and ignore trafficking, conducted in a few bars, for a fee". Further, "policemen collect bribes equivalent to the amount of annual tax the owner pays. Forty percent of the bars are owned by the police, and by Patil (Dy CM)'s own admission, policemen ask to be posted in dance bars neighbourhoods". So there is some truth, after all, to the "excuse" that the "bars encourage corruption and criminality". True the deputy CM is putting a morality spin to it for political gain. But why lose the big picture?

As to the sad stories behind every girl and large families that they support, I know of a big retail store where the same situation prevails and the owner overworks his employees like hell. I think exploitation thrives on these sad stories and large families - especially where women are concerned. What will the women do after they are forced to quit, a question raised here?

Last word to Tehelka:
If it (the government) really cares about exploitation of women, it should regularise and legalise not just bargirl dancing, but prostitution. What will follow will be issues of governance : health care, state support, right to work and life.
And as to the complaining neighbours - who wouldn't complain in their place - they could be made happy by moving all the dance bars to the outskirts of the city. Maybe the crime would go down too.

23-Apr-2005

Another View

So where have the 4,00,000 homeless people gone? Difficult to know sitting in Bangalore. And no one writes about that aspect.
"exiled in cremation grounds among the remains of dead, near garbage dumps,"
from the Tehelka article doesn't really account for that huge number. I ask my nephew from Bombay who is here for the holidays. A 16 year old boy. He says the poorest must have gone back to their villages - about half of the total. He also says the people living in the slums are not all that poor. Why? They have bank accounts. His logic must be if they have bank accounts they must have enough money in them. I too have heard tell of cable TV in each home. So why don't they move out of the slums? They don't want to pay anything for it, he says.

So does some of the blame fall on them? Who knows.

A Nice Middle

Found this great story in today's DH edit page middle section.

Another Promise Being Kept

By the UPA. Details from IE
In the name of ‘‘suppressing’’ communal violence, the UPA Government has drafted a controversial Bill that not only gives the Centre unprecedented powers over states but also equips the armed forces with draconian powers of arrest, search and seizure. It calls for special courts to try cases and arms them with the power to order externment of people ‘‘likely to commit a scheduled offence.’’
...

According to the preamble to the Communal Violence (Suppression) Bill 2005—a promise made by the UPA in its Common Minimum Programme—the Bill is in exercise of the constitutional ‘‘duty of the Union to protect States against external aggression and internal disturbance.’’

However, it turns established constitutional principle on its head by allowing the Centre to ‘‘prevail’’ over the state in declaring any area as ‘‘communally disturbed.’’

Will it work?

It is obviously a response to the Gujarat episode. So would it have helped if the bill was in place then? Let's see. A PM unable even to criticize the CM of the state where it all happened beyond asking him to maintain raj dharma and then taking all the sting out of it the next day. No one in the CM's party - also the party ruling at the centre along with sundry others - seeing it fit to issue a firm criticism as far as I can recollect. These people using the provisions of the bill to declare parts of Gujarat 'communally disturbed', restoring order and trying the guilty in special courts? Very unlikely.

And what would happen if, say, the whole thing happened in Gujarat now? Can you imagine the scale of the political mess that would then ensue? Would decisions take place fast enough to actually help the affected people? I don't think so.

And see this:
... Clause 7 to Clause 10 ... reads like a virtual reprint of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, an act which, ironically, the Centre—after the Manipur protests—has committed to reviewing.
Will sense prevail and the bill be buried?

22-Apr-2005

Greed

How greedy can people be. You dig a borewell in your house for your personal use. Then you realise that there are people in other areas of the city who are ready to pay for water. So you sell the borewell water to private water tanker firms. Pump water out from the early hours of day to late night intothe tankers. The water may not be potable - at least our borewell water is not, and we live just a few metres from these people. But either they don't know or don't care. They are people who are comfortably off, living in a well-off area of the city. But they know there is nothing in the law to stop them - everything under their land is theirs for the taking. Related article from DH.

Did She Really Say That?

A warning before the link. The link points to a pretty gory story. Threats of slaying kin, of making someone lie on a bed of arrows. Hints about dead bodies lying around unattended, attracting vultures and dogs. Best avoided. But if you decide to go ahead, pay attention to this excerpt from the article
"...I even risked my life to ensure BJP’s victory and now when it is time to enjoy the fruits of victory, I have been sidelined”, she said.
Uma Bharti. Enjoy the fruits of victory? What are the fruits of victory? The ability to serve the people who elected her? To change the lives of any stray disadvantaged people still left in the country/state? Hope that is what she is referring to, though I'm not too optimistic about it. The statement has a certain air to it that does not inspire, and the word 'enjoy' is a cause of acute worry.

21-Apr-2005

Could I Encash My IOU Now, Please

From Tehelka, 23 April issue.
2005. Bombay. ... More than 90,000 homes bulldozed by the Congress-NCP regime, under pressure by the big builders' lobby, tacitly backed by the BJP/Shiv Sena. Almost 4,00,000 people homeless, the living, exiled in cremation grounds among the remains of dead, near garbage dumps, scorched by the sun.
This by a government supposedly elected on a pro-poor plank. It is a callous act. There must have been a better way of doing it, even if it was absolutely essential that it be done. Like providing sufficient time and alternate housing. But that would be too much to expect I suppose.

Reading the above column I was struck by the number of homeless - four lakhs. And I was reminded of another recent tragedy - the tsunami. The latter was marked by the large amounts of aid that ordinary people from all round the world contributed. So why not start a relief fund for the displaced? Why depend on the government, why not take humanity into our own hands? The money from the relief fund could be used to construct low-cost flats for the people who lost their homes. The Indian middle class is widely estimated to be 200 million strong - 20 crore. If each person contributes ten rupees, that would be 200 crore rupees. That is a big amount. I'm sure the government would at least donate land on the outskirts from where it would still be easy to commute into the city. And I'm sure there would be NGOs ready to take up the task of overseeing the construction.

That would be much better than turning a dairy farm and a blind school into more luxury apartments as suggested here. Even New York City has its green patches.

As for the government, it would not be too surprising if it had in fact buckled under pressure from the builders. IOUs being cashed, that's all. The demolitions were stopped by the UPA chairperson eventually. But it was too late by then, at least for the 4,00,000 homeless.

19-Apr-2005

India Rising

Yes, India is no longer shining. It is on the rise. See this editorial from The Times of India by a McKinsey mind. It argues that it is time India came up with few great companies. OK, I'm sure India Inc is listening. But why open the article with this?
Everywhere, India is on the rise. Our economy is among the fastest-growing in the world, with foreign money pouring into the Indian stock market. We are bidding for a permanent Security Council seat as a full-blown nuclear power. India is an aid provider, not a recipient. Bollywood is charming the world and Indian novelists are capturing shelf space in every bookstore. Now the time has come for India to produce a few truly great companies.
So upbeat. So with the spirit of the new India. So like TOI itself.

One of the fastest-growing economies in the world - with the bulk of people still out of the loop. Foreign money pouring into the Indian stock market - making a fast buck and pouring promptly out. And the bid for a permanent Secuity Council seat. Without the vote, supported by precious few other countries.

Then we have Bollywood charming the world. Really? I know Japanese are keen on Rajnikant movies, and our close neighbours are keen on Bollywood movies, and Indian expatriates all round the world are keen on Hindi movies set in foreign locales. But the world? I don't think so. Not when all we have is a Lagaan to send to the Oscars. Or is he talking about the ice-maiden Rai? Tehelka questions if she is 'Indian Cinema's Biggest PR Trick' in its April 23 issue. The conclusion is a yes, unless the writer was hiding his real feelings.

Indian novelists are capturing shelf space in every bookstore. That's wise. He does not go overboard and say how much shelf space exactly or even enter that area at all.

Why is it necessary to hype things up even for a serious article like the above?

Damned If He Plays

No link, since it is only on TOI's today's hardcopy, but it now turns out that the writing was on the wall for Ganguly all along! An extract from the article "Sourav had it coming; ban holds" on the front page:
To be honest, just about everyone in the BCCI was convinced that Sourav had it coming. “If Pakistan can complete their overs in time, why not our bowlers?
Our bowlers cannot complete their overs in time, so Sourav had it coming. The only ways that makes sense is a) if he had instructed them to go slow or b) they were going slow on their own and he either carelessly or wilfully allowed them.

Why would he instruct his players to go slow or let them do it without intervening? So that he could be banned for six matches and he'd been wanting a rest for some time now? Or because he did not want to play since he knew beforehand the team would lose the remaining two matches pathetically and the coming four matches against SL and he wanted no part of it? Or he because he wanted to regain his batting form in the rough and tumble of his living room? Seems farfetched.

On the other hand, if he let it happen carelessly, then he deserves to be banned, and the entire team. Also just about everyone in the BCCI. For knowing he had it coming but not warning him - as the article notes. Admittedly, it would be difficult to ban the entire Indian team. Who would actually play the banned matches then? But it would be fun to watch how they do it at least.


Inzy has some thoughts on penalising the whole team for slow over rates. He badly needs some talking to from someone in the BCCI.

Then there is an inset in the same article; it discusses What's in store for Ganguly. It's main point is that Ganguly will return but very probably not as captain. The article ends with a nice sting in its tail:
That India failed miserably in the last two ODIs under Dravid has only queered the pitch for Sourav. For, it is a team that Dravid has inherited from Sourav.
So, when Ganguly is in the team, he is single-handedly responsible for failure - poor batting, which also impairs his ability to lead. When he is out of the team and it still fails, it is because of the team that he handed over. Damned if he plays, damned if he doesn't! It is a neat way of explaining the two losses without him!

Finally, here's one for the road. Just before leaving India, Woolmer repays our hospitality by calling the Kotla pitch "terrible" and "not fit for cricket". The pitch on which Pakistan made more than 300 runs. One which the commentators kept praising for 'holding up well' contrary to what everyone had expected. Forget all that, now we know why India lost. The rotten pitch.

The General's Visit and the People's Voice

Rajdeep Sardesai, on NDTV, as Shahid Afridi blasts away in the nearby stadium : "The Delhi crowd is cheering as Afridi hits fours and sixes. The popular mood has changed!". He is putting the General's visit in the context of the changed atmosphere of Indo-Pak relations. The point he is making is that it is all friendliness and love between the two countries now, and not in the least at the level of the common people of India and Pakistan. The cheers for Afridi are one more sign of this.

Later in the day, around late afternoon. The General and the PM have left the ground. The Indian batting is wobbling at the knees. The crowd is enraged. Bottles are hurled at a Pakistani fielder by the same crowd. The popular mood has changed once again.

To be fair to Rajdeep, maybe the crowd was genuinely applauding Afridi as a member of a loved neighbour, and the bottle may not mean much. Dravid's and Ganguly's families have got worse treatment in their cities of birth. But again, they might have been cheering out of pure joie de vivre - it is a Sunday morning, the first hour of a Indo-Pak odi, the sun is not that hot, runs are flowing - it promises to be a run-filled day. The crowd would have cheered for a martian if he - or she - had been playing.

Barkha Dutt, covering the joint declaration at 11 am, on the other hand avoided the cliche. She was pressed repeatedly and earnestly by the anchor, Amitabh, on the issue. He seemed to be getting really desperate to know if the people's voice was the cause of all this bonhomie and if the leaders were acknowledging it. But he got no joy from her.

Then there was this fleeting NDTV headline: "Musharraf: Peace not possible without solving issues" - and the core issue, of course, is Kashmir. What, inspite of the people being so well-disposed towards each other? What would Tavleen Singh think?

The headline was probably referring to this. The relevant part here :
Musharraf asserted that unless the Kashmir dispute was resolved it can erupt in the future under "different leadership and different environment" in the two countries.

"Right now, we are having a very good relationship with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But nobody is permanent in this world," said Musharraf.

"We have to reflect forward 10 years from now...we have to resolve the issue acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir."