31-May-2005

IITs And Nation-building

L K Sharma writes in the Deccan Herald about the recent conference of IIT alumni in the US. He notes that IITs are a "great source of human resources for American companies". Then he recounts a joke told at the conference:
The engineers are not oblivious of the weaknesses of the system. One of the IIT directors referred to Nehru’s vision about the IITs contributing to technological self-reliance and to nation-building. “Nehru forgot to say which nation,” he said amid a roar of laughter.
Hmmm. If they thought the statement was true shouldn't they have mixed in some embarassed silence too? Just for propriety's sake?

No Drunken Counting

Liquor sales banned on two days in a Bangalore constituency on account of the by-elections. The ban from 31st May to 2nd June is understandable - election days. But why the ban during the counting of votes - 4th to 5th June? Who counts these votes anyway?

Bad Days In The Office

For the Karnataka CM. The High Court admonishes him. Again.

The story is this: the Commissioner of Kolar is accused of irregularities and transferred to some other place. Then Chief Minister Dharam Singh's colleague (the Agriculture minister) requests him to transfer the official back to Kolar. So that he could destroy evidence and prejudice people who might give evidence against him - if he wanted to of course. The HC does not like this:
The court said it was satisfied that Mr. Hanumanthappa was transferred for reasons other than public interest. "... the Agriculture Minister ... had no business to request the Chief Minister to transfer him back to Kolar." ... It said the request obviously was motivated by political consideration and the Chief Minister should not have mechanically passed the order. It said the Chief Minister must have gone through the file and found that there were serious charges against Mr. Hanumanthappa. The Chief Minister should have realised that the transfer was not in public interest and the petitioner was not wrong in saying that Mr. Hanumanthappa was being protected by the Government.
And the HC observes:
The Karnataka High Court on Monday observed that every action of the State, the Chief Minister and his colleagues ought to be in public interest and there should be probity in their functioning.
The tip of a huge iceberg is momentarily exposed before the iceberg sinks into the depths.

Sati Trail

From the Indian Express. The MP Tourism department is inviting tourists to visit 'some of the best Sati temples in the country'. In other words:
As the Uttar Pradesh government tries to put behind its embarrassment over the Banda Sati incident, the Rajasthan Tourism Development has made Sati the state’s USP.
And London has its Jack the Ripper trail too. Viva tourism.

Correction: The state is Rajasthan not MP.

30-May-2005

Unbundling Power

And just when I had written this here
On some things the Left position seems antiquated and wrong. But they are not too rigid on these. Thus BHEL is now up for some divestment.
this news item appears. Should be interesting to see how it goes.

Bye-Elections?

This report from Deccan Herald notes that it may be curtains for the coalition in Karnataka if the results of the by-elections go against the Congress. After almost two weeks of non-existent power it seems a good idea.

And look at this excerpt from a report card for the coalitioon from DH:
Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Siddaramaiah stole the limelight this March by increasing allocations to almost all departments in the state budget. But a closer look at the budget revealed that of the Rs 28,364 cr which is the total revenue of the government, a meagre Rs 680.63 cr went into creating assets in the core areas such as education, housing, water supply and rural development. So, 85 per cent of budgetary allocation just goes towards meeting day-to-day expenses.
Italics mine. The percentage should be more than 85 by a simple calculation - but the reporter probably knows something more. And yes, I did mean to scare you - especially if you are from hereabout. Even if not, the situation would be, at the most, the same whereever you are.

29-May-2005

Evaluating The Report Card

kmp writes in, in response to NDA's Report Card Is Out :
“Devaluation” of Prime Minister's post
I will have to agree with this…connecting this to my earlier remark on whether a leader requires “Authority and Aura”. If one Minister can brow-beat the Government (or PMO or Cabinet) to take decisions at 2 am in the night (even when Prez is out of country), or call for a meeting and release a statement at 10 in the night on “attack on life” (and not about the accident) and make a man known for “Personal integrity” to defend tainted ministers…[BTW, NDA had tainted ministers (political or otherwise – and Congress boycotted George when he was re-instated after resignation). It was wrong then, it is wrong now.]

Left's Position...
Left definitely are in an enviable position…I mean they are Omnipresent – they are in “Ruling Camp” and they are in “Opposition” and they are the core of “Third front” etc. Aren’t they are like arm-chair (like our company's online bulletin board) critics? Now they can get all their policies implemented thru some kind of “black-mailing” and if the policy backfires (like NDA’s “fast-paced” reforms), it affects Congress (or UPA) than the Left, isn’t it? that’s Accountability (or lack of it). But, Congress should worry about that, not NDA.
Valid points. I'm not defending Laloo or what he is doing to the government. However, I don't know which current leader would have done otherwise when Laloo (or someone in his position) came calling. Just see what George Fernandes did to the erstwhile government - he was not dropped for a long time and then reinstated without any change in circumstances. Inspite of the Tehelka tapes. This, though everyone agrees that Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a leader. True there were no 2 a.m. action items, but that is all that can be said.

Devaluation of the PM's office may be happening - but then it is a vague and subjective thing. See the Governor's office. Everyone agrees that some governors have acted dubiously. Yet I have not seen anyone saying the office is devalued. Governors (apart from the suspects) are still respected I think. And if the PM were sincere (like The Hindu's opinion writer) then the 2 a.m. thing would be justified. Even if he was not others may still not think the PM's office is being devalued - they would put it down to the fact that coalition politics is a leveller. Everyone is mowed down.

These are bad precedents being set and that is a serious issue. But unless the two major parties sit down and talk about it, nothing will change.

As for the Left - they have won a big chunk of seats. They have their constituency. They have their own ideas. The opportunity is golden. And they are pushing for their ideas. They are giving in on many things. The government is giving in on many things. Parliamentary democracy - however flawed it may be! On some things the Left position seems antiquated and wrong. But they are not too rigid on these. Thus BHEL is now up for some divestment. FDI hike in telecom went through. The stake allowed in private banks for foreign institutions went up. FDI in retail should go through, inspite of the Left's opposition. Yes the EPF rate hike to 9.5 was their doing. It is an unsustainable increase I believe. But it may be just a precondition for Pension "reform". Quid pro quo.

I also think the Left is letting out a lot of hot air too - they may not want to be seen to be giving in against their perceived policies and principles - playing to their constituency's galleries as it were. They may be slowing down things - specifically divestment - and that is definitely a problem. On the other hand, I'm not sure which Left policy was taken as a whole and implemented. Let me know.

Coalitions And Horse-trading

kmp writes in, in response to the Let There Be Elections post:
The Hindu, is like Tavleen sometimes…Gets worked up (or does not) based on which political formation is responsible.

Having said that, Was there any Alternative to Dissolution – No. But, the timing makes it partisan. Instead of ‘Suspended Animation” it should have been Dissolution, and give me a break – wasn’t the President rule imposed (that too in Bihar) to encourage the “Horse trading”?

While on the subject? As on The Hindu reader pointed out, would the Government have dissolved the assembly if the “re-allignment” (or horse-trading) was towards RJD?

And as another reader pointed out (with the dictionary meaning of “Horse-trading” ) that isn’t the coalition governments by definition is result of horse trading?
Let me reiterate: I thought the dissolution was partisan - solely because of the timing - and said so in the post. Would the assembly have been dissolved if the 're-alignment' was towards the RJD - I think the answer is a definitely No. And no, I don't believe the The Hindu is a completely unbiased paper either.

I think coalitions are not horse-trading in the narrow sense. That is because almost all of the NDA and UPA coalitions were formed prior to the elections - they were pre-poll alliances to use the correct terminology - correct me if I'm off the mark here. One could argue that they were thinking of principles and common ideologies when they formed the pre-poll alliances. Of course, desperation or cold calculation could be another motive. Whatever the reasons, they were existing before the parties involved knew the outcome - hence probably not horse-trading in the strict sense - since no money changed hands and neither did any other bartering take place. But once the results are out - then of course things get a bit steamy and some media-posturing and pressurising occurs definitely - for the right ministries. Glorified horse-trading?

Coming to The Hindu opinion piece - the writer takes a idealistic view about government formation with fractured verdicts (as I did here), when he justifies 'suspended animation'. He believes (as he writes in the piece) that the legitimate route open to both the Congress-RJD and BJP-JD(U) groups was to persuade Paswan to join them. I would say, they could have tried to persuade the rest of the LJP folks too - why only Paswan? He is simply against any inducements being offered - he probably feels that is when the line is crossed into horse-territory.

But yes, if one is pragmatic, one would have to agree that President's rule was imposed for horse-trading. That is how it goes. That is the politics we have currently.

Tractors, Sadak, And K-serials

An email in response to the Bijli, Sadak, Pani post:
Tavleen thinks:

Park your tractor on the newly laid Sadak, Watch K-Serials with the tractor’s battery…That’s “progress” because policy was from “Opposition to Congress”
She certainly seems to think so.

Leaders And Our Democracy

An email from a reader (and friend) from this post had questioned Manmohan Singh's leadership abilities and had posed broader questions. I'd added my thoughts on the topic too. And then I came across a piece by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in which he discusses the evanescence of leadership, Dr Singh's abilities in that direction, and proposes that we may no more get leaders of stature as we move forward. The full piece here.
We then end up with a prime minister whose policy competence and unimpeachable integrity are beyond doubt. His personal qualities, a subtle and thinking mind, a calming patience, a self-effacing humility, and a real commitment to public service are laudatory by any measure. But is he a leader? By any yardstick of popularity, by any measure of an ability to move large numbers of people or have a hold over mass organization the answer is a clear No.

If leadership is defined by the ability to seize the initiative, then Manmohan Singh’s record as a government official gives no clear indication on this score. He was the finance minister who ushered in a new era of economic reforms, but he had the cover of an economic crisis and there is some debate over whether he made the most of it. But if he can put the stamp of his justly famous integrity on government, and can prevent sound economic convictions from being hijacked by unruly coalition politics, there is no reason why he cannot emerge from under Sonia Gandhi’s shadow. Now that greatness has been thrust upon him, he has an opportunity to rise to the occasion. But all the early indications are that this is going to be difficult to achieve.

He also notes:
Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh could, many are hoping, be a great double act. One is a leader with mass popularity, control over the party, and increasing moral authority. The other is a person quintessentially suited for government: a morally serious policy wonk, and one who represents the best traditions of public service.
On the likelihood of getting big leaders in the near future, he writes:
One thing is increasingly becoming clear. It is unlikely that a mature parliamentary democracy will have room for leaders with commanding authority like Nehru or even Indira Gandhi. In our zeal to elevate Vajpayee to leadership status, we forgot the elementary fact that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a presidential system. In our system, it is highly unlikely that single individuals can have a decisive outcome on elections. The circumstances under which extraordinary leaders are produced are rare indeed. Nehru and his colleagues were the products of a mass movement spanning decades, and this sort of social mobilization is unlikely to be replicated in the course of normal politics. Indira Gandhi was as much an artifact of a single party dominance that is also unlikely to be replicated in the near future. And even Atal Behari Vajpayee acquired the status that he had after nearly five decades in politics.

27-May-2005

On The Spot - Again

Tavleen Singh is on the spot again with this column. She wades in directly into her favourite waters - criticising Sonia Gandhi and increasingly Manmohan Singh as well.
If there is a defining characteristic of the Sonia-Manmohan government it is prissy morality. First, there was all that business about inner voices and renunciation and the evolution of Sonia Gandhi into Santa Sonia in the eyes of an electorate desperate for political heroes.

Then, there was the emergence of the most self-effacing prime minister we have ever seen. So self-effacing that his opponents call him ‘invisible’ and ‘common minimum prime minister’.

He responds with a goody-goody smile and more self-effacement. This is what makes what happened in Bihar last week that much more interesting.
One good thing about 'defining characteristics' is that they can be changed to suit the occasion as it unfolds. Today it is morality, tomorrow it could be something else.

And why prissy morality? What has morality to do with inner voices and renunciation? I don't think there were any moral questions involved. No one said it was morally wrong for Sonia Gandhi to become the PM. The main argument was the lack of desirability of having a "foreigner" as PM and the "national shame" which would result. Following the argument closely, no one, including the foreign lady herself, could have then claimed that rejecting the PM post was a morally right thing to do. Historic and saintly - whether justified or not - were the adjectives used. And what has self-effacement to do with morality - I would have though it has much to do with personality. And what if one's opponents calls one invisible and minimum etc? The PM has already indicated what he thinks of that as I mentioned here.

Having got all that business of morality behind, we move on to Bihar, about which the column anyway is all about. We immediately come across something that was long due. The linking of Sonia Gandhi with the dissolution decision. And then Ms Singh feeds us this rumour:
From the day that Bihar threw up a hung assembly there have been rumours that Sonia Gandhi would ensure that Rabri Devi became chief minister again no matter what.
This report contradicts the linking but Ms Singh doesn't read The Hindu I suppose. But Ms Singh really reveals herself with this line:
The only good thing is that the garb of morality that Sonia-Manmohan clothed themselves in now lies in tatters. It is sad this happened at the cost of Bihar.
Why is it good that the 'garb of morality' is in tatters? How does it help the work of government? Could it be because Ms Singh is against these people for her own private reasons? If not, why is Ms Singh so personally against these two, especially the first that she keeps bringing them up in column after column?

Could it be because of the foreigner issue - Ms Singh was quite vehemently against her becoming the PM. But then she didn't. So that can't be it. Could it be because Ms Singh hates her for being in the position she is just because of family? But she doesn't let that get in the way of meeting Vasundhara Raje and complimenting her style of governing - one could equally well claim that she is what she is today only because of her royal background. Or could it be that Ms Singh has been wrong about the lady more than once and is letting us reap what her wrong predictions have sown - an unrequitable anger?

Look at some instances. One from Sept 1 2002 from her Fifth Column series for Indian Express:
Moreover, as recent polls indicate, Sonia appears to have already become a liability for the Congress. Sick and tired of the BJP’s rabid Hindutva and its greedy, petrol-pump grabbing politicians the Indian voter is showing signs of wanting to return to Congress but then appears before him the image of Prime Minister Sonia and confusion sets in. If the BJP manages to cobble together another government in 2004 it will be almost entirely because of the Sonia factor.
Well, many would agree with that last sentence, though not in the intended sense. Then this from Jan 18 2004:
.. enjoy the cow dust hour Soniaji, but if you think a few tours of rural India can make you Prime Minister please think again.
I mean - it must hurt badly. Hell hath no fury etc. But as someone with such a lot of experience and who is not ashamed of flaunting it, Ms Singh could come up with more objective analysis fewer personal attacks and do herself and her readers a favour.

Revenue Generation Vs Tax Evastion

An editorial from ET by an Ernst & Young partner. He argues that the Cash Transaction Tax - the tax one has to pay when withdrawing cash over Rs 25,000 at any bank - is more for revenue generation than for helping to battle tax evasion. Well, good luck to the FM. Hope he uses the revenue well.

Related to which is the statistic he keeps popping during interviews. Only 80-85000 people in the country declaring an income of over Rs 10,00,000. Well, I looked at the latest Infosys report (which lists 118 people whose gross income is over Rs 25,00,000) and felt that at least a quarter of those who declare this must be from the IT sector. So are only 50,000 people in the rest of the country earning over Rs 10,00,000 per year? Hard to believe. And so, it is said, we get the government we deserve.

North-East And The 60:40 Rule

The latest Tehelka (29 may 05) brings some news about the North-East - that invisible since out-of-sight is out-of-mind region. Can't link to it since Tehelka online is only for the chosen few. From the hardcopy:
The Eight states of the Northeast may be unique in most respects but when it comes to big-time financial scams, the region is no different than the rest of India: Politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen gang up to rob the exchequer of big amounts in the Northeast as they do across the country.
...

Financial irregularities, running into hundreds of crores of rupees, have been uncovered in the region more frequently than anywhere else. The Rs 300-crore lottery scandal in Nagaland; the Rs 250-crore import of palmoline oil scandal; the Rs 197-crore FCI supply scam, the list is endless.
Apparently people have been coined a name for these scams. The 60:40 scandals!
This is how they work. The well-informed bureaucrat proposes a scheme, the politician endorses it and the ubiquitous businessman implements it - all on paper! Then the spoils are shared 60:40 - 30 percent each goes to the politician and the bureaucrat and the rest is pocketed by the trader

...
Being outside the radar of New Delhi, most corrupt practices that take place in the Northeast go unnoticed and unreported. In come cases, the watchdog in Delhi get co-opted. The Opposition in the state does not raise a voice since its members have shared the loot during their time in power. The media, in most Northeast states is weak, dependent, with a few exceptions, upon government largesse and therefore subservient.
And so it goes. I think I badly need that cup of coffee and soon.

26-May-2005

Corporate Agriculture

And then there is this editorial from Deccan Herald on what the government is in a hurry to do. Some specifics would have been welcome though.

Personalities Vs Policies

This editorial (via India Uncut) from The Telegraph. On how the recent assessment of the UPA's one year by the BJP focuses more on personalities than policies.

I have always felt we in our country have far from enough discussion of actual policies. We're content to discuss individual or group of politicians and their doings and their characters. For example, what discussion has happened in the public domain about, say, any of the recent Bills passed? Has any TV channel had any discussion of any of the Bills? Some newspapers do carry analyses sometimes but that is all.

I have closely watched a favourite reform of the current US presiden, pushed by the powerful investment banking lobby, being stalled right in its tracks. The people got their information through various channels - TV, newspaper, blogs, radio - and they didn't like what they heard. The opinion polls said so. The people also put pressure on their representatives who were then forced to take sides. The President himself had to go on a 60-day tour to sell his idea. But so far, no joy to him. But here we are so focussed on politicians that I think we tend not to know what they are doing by way of actual governance itself. For example, the Pension Reform Bill is apparently all set to sink money in the stock market (of course, that is just the little I've been able to gather) but what do we actually know about it?

Unexplored Side Of The PM

Got the link to this article from a friend. It is passionately written. The gist is:
The dismissal of the Bihar assembly is staggering. While the PM pretends to be the sole repository of rectitude in public life, he has put power and self above honour and honesty by defending tainted ministers and by the Bihar action. The Bihar dissolution was taken on the basis of a report by Buta Singh - the master fixer himself. The PM is to blame because the Bihar governor transferred two upright officers. And all that bull about 'pressures of coalition politics' is completely so. And the Left are a bunch of no-gooders. And finally, the PM has lost his moral high ground.
The dismissal of the Bihar assembly is staggering only for people with short memories - which includes me I'm afraid. But to those with a better memory it should not be. Because there have been previous instances. One of them is here. Same cast though the roles of all the actors are completely reversed. The denouement of the drama is here. The aurora borealis may be an constant source of wonder, but probably not staggering on a daily basis, to residents of the northern regions.

The writer is a bit too harsh on the PM. I definitely would not accuse him of lust of power . That may be just me though. And about Buta Singh - the fact that he did it (horse-trading) once should be a good qualification. You need to be a thief (even an ex- would do I guess) to catch a thief!

More seriously, there is the issue of tainted ministers and corruption and criminilisation of politics. It needs at least one political party to set the benchmark here. I used to think the "party with a difference" would indeed be different. The recent hounding of Tehelka convinced me otherwise. And, more recently, the same party was willing to take the support of two jailbirds to form the government in Bihar. What does that tell us about our political situation as of now?

Innocent Till Proven Guilty?

Arun Jaitley is defending Ketan Parekh and his constituency does not like it. Parekh is the man who is alleged to have used someone else's money to play the stock market. It all ended with the 2001 stock market crash.
Parekh is alleged to be one of the persons behind the fall of Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank that left thousands of depositors affected. Parekh and others did not pay their dues to the bank as a result of which the MMCB had to down its shutters in 2001...According to information, Parekh defaulted in paying over Rs 12,000 crore to the bank. The bank still has to pay more than Rs 15,000 crore to depositors and other co-operative banks over a period of six years.
The people whom Jaitley represents think he has no right defending thus guy. But does he or doesn't he? After all, though SEBI debarred him for 14 years, and a Joint Parliamentary Committee indicted him, he is innocent till the SC says otherwise, and Mr Jaitley is a lawyer who has the right to choose his clients. But is there a bigger question hidden here somewhere - whom can former ministers and future ministers represent? Chidambaram is already hearing about this for once representing an retail MNC and now planning for FDI in retail.

25-May-2005

NDA's Report Card Is Out

And the UPA fails I think. Related news item here. Most of it to be expected from any Opposition, some of it true like misusing Governors, failing to contain naxalites (though this has been happening for longer than one year). Some of it I think misplaced. Like this:
The NDA criticised the ``extra-constitutional position of power'' attained by Congress president Sonia Gandhi as Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and ``devaluation'' of the Prime Minister's post.

A major demand made by the NDA was to disband the NAC or make the Chairperson accountable to Parliament.
I'm not a constitutional expert and don't claim any familarity with it - sadly and very unfortunately - so it could really be extra-constitutional. But apparently the Left is also acting as an "extra-constitutional centre of power". I don't get it - what has the Left done apart from forcing the government to address their concerns? Whether their concerns are universally approved or not is another matter, but what is extra-constitutional about it?

Well, it doesn't matter, I say, as long as the two are not unconstitutional. And the Supreme Court is there to decide that.

As for me, I think it is a good idea and indicates a fresh approach. I find nothing in the stated functions to cause alarm:
a). To monitor the progress of the implementation of the Common Minimum Programme;
b) To provide inputs for the formulation of policy by the Government and to provide support to the Government in its legislative business
And the working of the NAC over the last year has not given grounds for the charges being made. The inputs thus far seem to be in certain areas that it apparently has expertise in. It is staying out of a lot of other areas like finance, commerce. So why disband it? Any government should be glad for all the inputs it gets. As for making the Chairperson accountable to Parliament, how would that help? The group is just giving inputs (and pretty transparently at that - it is all out there online). The government will take a call on the inputs and is anyway accountable to Parliament. At least in theory and when Parliament works as intended, which is not very often.

Along with the release of the report card, it was also announced that the NDA is apparently thinking of challenging the Bihar assembly dissolution in court. The dust is yet to settle. Hate to keep bringing it up, but it would have been easier to sympathise with all this if the NDA had taken other issues equally to heart. Or is power the only game in town?

PS: This just as an aside. When thinking about extra-constitutional stuff governments do, I recalled the NDA appointing an ambassador at-large in New York City. That may or may not have been extra-constitutional, but I remember disapproving of it at that time. It seemed such a curious (note: requires free registration) thing to do. And look who agrees. And the whole thing was illegal as per US law at that time. One more link here. But the ambassador-at-large's future was beautiful apparently.

24-May-2005

Bijli, Sadak, Pani

Tavleen Singh writes that she gets no satisfaction from the UPA's one year. She writes
Let us begin with the eternal cry of the Indian voter at election time: bijli, sadak, paani. In my view the main reason why governments lose elections is because of their failure in these areas.
Then she goes on to show that the UPA government has not done anything at all in the above areas in its one year. The power situation is dire, road building has stopped, the water situation is apparently dire as well, the PDS system is bad and anti-poverty programmes are leaking, no improvement in healthcare and eduction, no administrative reforms as promised by the CMP. Depressing, right?

Right. And here is the lady writing about the previous government:
The fair-minded in the Congress Party admit that Atal Behari Vajpayee ran a good government and did much in terms of development. Just building eleven kilometers of road a day compared to eleven kilometers a year in earlier Congress times is indication of this. But, there was more. There was a concerted attempt to loosen government controls on private enterprise, attempts to open India to foreign investment, to new technologies and the effects could be felt – despite what you hear to the contrary – all the way down to the villages. In a village in Bihar that had never seen electricity for a single day since Independence I found mobile phones and an ISD-STD booth from which I managed to call Mumbai. There was still no electricity but there was cable TV watched with the help of tractor batteries.

Satellite dishes had arrived too and although only a handful of people had televisions in their homes there was awareness of progress and the need for change such as could not have been imagined ten years ago.
Apart from addressing sadak I don't see anything else in the Indian voter's eternal cry being addressed. And nothing at all about the bad PDS, anti-poverty programmes leaking, healthcare and education. And yet Ms Singh does not find it in herself get all worked up about it. As she has now. Strange.

More On Inquiries

By Vir Sanghvi here via India Uncut.

One more link via the same source on good news coming quietly.

Let There Be Elections

In Bihar. Again a fun episode in our ongoing experiments with democracy. MLAs are flown to safe lands, and charges of democracy being murdered are traded freely. Two of the four newly elected MLAs who are in jail send letters of support. What a state of affairs.

Beyond all that it's an obviously partisan decision by the Centre. The Hindu though thinks there was no alternative to dissolution. Still, the whole thing may it may not fly according to IE.

Powerless In Silicon City

Ran accompanied by gusty winds wash away power from my area. From around seven in the evening yesterday till four in the evening today. Fair enough. Silicon chips are supposed to consume low power.

23-May-2005

What WMD!

More evidence of faulty evidence about WMD in the build up to the Iraqi war, on my other blog.

Patent Law - Another View

The Patents Bill was introduced in 2005.
Much of the mainstream press has emphasized a business perspective when reporting this development, focusing on India's opportunity to tap the Western generic drug market while only briefly acknowledging the potentially devastating impact of the new rule on vulnerable populations.
From here. Two people - Sandeep Junnarkar and Srinivas Kuruganti plan to
... create a baseline record that establishes how India's HIV-infected populations depend on the Indian versions of Western patented Anti-retro Viral (ARV) drugs to survive.

RTI Bill, Phukan, And An Irony

An email in response to my RTI Bill posts (here and here):
I haven’t really understood this “Right to Information Bill” …It is ironical that the Government passes this bill and during the same parliament session the Opposition demands (albeit outside parliament) tabling of the few reports and Government refuses to do so !!! (say Nanavathi, Phukan etc)

BTW, Another funny thing is a retired judge (of SC?) is investigating a multi-crore scandal and he goes to inspect some stuff on oan official duty in a VVIP aircraft and on the sidelines goes to Shirdi and Ajanta Ellora during that time (on road not on VVIP air-craft), which probably costs him few hundred rupees, and he will be happy to give a clean chit to a Minister on this crores of rupees…
My response for what its worth :

First the Phukan report. The report was tabled in Parliament last week but the government rejected it for various reasons mentioned here and, I'm sure, many other reasons which are unmentionable. The Opposition who could have prevented this were outside parliament. As for the Nanavati commision report, I believe the report was to be tabled in the budget session, but wasn't (related news items here and here). Now it is promised in the monsoon session. But not everyone believes the government. The government is using a technicality (about the ATR) to delay it apparently. The reasons are obvious I think. But they do have six months to do it.

Now, I don't place too much significance that one report was tabled, on the last day of the session, or that the other one is held up for some tenuous reaons. The above things are happening in the political realm. The commissions/inquiries have political implications. And, being smart, the politicians have devised a set of rules and parameters for the comissions. Not only are the actual aspects to be looked into defined by the politicians but also what happens to the reports. For instance, reports can be tabled in parliament, but they can be rejected too. Reports need to be tabled, but only when the Action Taken Reports are ready. And so on.

But the fact that reports like the above are not being tabled for political reasons should not detract from the RTI bill. As I see it, this bill is to let people get information about the working of public authorities. It is for the citizenry, the people at large. The original bill itself says as much: it is to provide for "people to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority". It is to promote transparency and accountability - (optimistically) resulting in reduced corruption, inefficiency, etc. And this is good - of course, if people start exercising their right.

Now to Phukan. It is is more than the trip to Shirdi. He was not entitled to the IAF aircraft he got even on his tour of inspections. It is also more than a hundred rupees - it is the heat and dust of travelling like ordinary citizens (or whatever retired judges who are a Commission now are allowed) and having to wait at some out of the way railway station as the water tank is refilled. Whether the man let that influence him - I don't know. Having worked in a software company I know how clients are pampered. I'm sure that is the case in any firm. Why? True, they don't give projects (or business) based on that - because it is a question of money. But what does Phukan have at stake? And what if the NDA had come back to power as widely expected? Couldn't he have expected some more quid pro quo?

There are also instances like sending the Tehelka tapes for forensic analysis (to determine if they were doctored) even tough his predecessor (Venkataswami) had done that twice and found the tapes genuine. Also, in most of the cases Phukan suggests internal probes though in each case. According to at least one actor - Tehelka - in this whole affair these are questionable.

I don't know if he let anything other than the truth guide him - that is the reason I did not post anything on this topic. But one thing is for sure - he should have been more discreet.

21-May-2005

Administrators And Leaders

An email in response to this post:
Yes, I too wish the order should be standardized. Having said that, I don't think anybody had any doubts over the "Administrative" capabilities of Manmohan i.e. without any hyphenated associations. However, is he a Leader? And, more pertinently, does the PM (of a country) have to be a great administrator or a great leader? If you take current context of India, I guess good administrator is more apt. What I meant by current context is "state of affairs" rather than the political discourse.

(As for his being a Leader) I don't know, I did not see much of "Leadership" qualities in Manmohan yet - perhaps the leadership requires authority and aura which he seems to lack or did not exhibit last year and 4 moreyears to go.

Now, Is Sonia a leader? I don't know.
Apart from the 'state of affairs' bit and how an administrator is best which I did not get fully, all perfectly valid points for a good debate.

My views on this:

1. Who should occupty a country's top post - an administrator or a leader? Some people have said none of the above, but a philosopher king, but they were unaware of parliamentary democracies. As for me, I don't know. I don't know about administrators, but one can argue for and against 'leaders'.

2. Prime Ministers who are not acknowledged as leaders have achieved much. PVN for instance. He knew enough to allow tough steps to be taken and to stand by his team. Finally he refused to realise the significance of what he had done - that is his failure. Ms Indira Gandhi on the other hand had authority and aura but she clamped emergency for two years. Mr Vajpayee I suppose had the authority and aura to begin with but I'm not sure about his legacy. Some people call George Bush a good leader too and look what he is out to do the underprivileged in his own country - tax cuts for the wealthy, and selling social security to the stock markets.

3. I'm not sure I would describe Manmohan Singh as just a good administrator. Looking at his profile one finds a career involving teaching and a series of jobs requiring thinking more than organizational skills. So I prefer to call him a thinker.

4. I would plump for a person who understands problems the country faces, has a vision of the future, and the expertise in diverse fields to help him find or at least understand solutions to get to the future. Then of course he needs to be honest.

5. To me the most important problem currently in the country is : poverty. Solve this and we'd have taken a giant leap forward. What has the most bearing on poverty? The economy. And Manmohan Singh is an economist and thus presumably understands the economy, how it works, what is required to give it a leg up. That single virtue counts for a lot in my book.

6. It would be easier for people like the finance minister, commerce minister, planning people, bureaucrats to explain their ideas, policies to him - he would readily understand what they are talking about. Another big plus.

7. However, there is no doubt that a leader is definitely the person to head a political party. During election times and during normal times. Inspire the party workers and the voters, keep the party flock together and all that.

8. Is Sonia is a leader - I would say she has proven it thus far. Many people gave her a major role in her party's showing in the last elections. She has kept her flock mostly intact - as Mr Aiyar himself notes, defections away from the Congress stopped after she took over. She has both the authority and the aura, within her party at least, more so after she gave up the PM's post. Would she be a good leader of some other party - say the BJP? I doubt it very much - she wouldn't have that kind influence there. She luckily happens to be in the right place at the right time. But then I don't believe a lot in luck - not without a big of hard work.

20-May-2005

She Really Shouldn't

Indian Express reports that Sonia Gandhi will make an approximately ten minute speech on DD on May 22, after Manmohan Singh.

She really shouldn't.

Have A Seat Koizumisan

The US endorses Japan for a Security Council seat. Germany can forget it as far as Rice is concerned. They are still wondering about India and Brazil.
"... we've made no further judgments about who else should or should not be added to the council, nor are we taking a position pro or con on any one of these specific proposals at this point.
Why did Japan get the green light first and so early?
"The goal (of the expansion of the coucil) has to be to make the Security Council a more effective instrument for these times ..."
Of course it is just a coincidence that Japan was the only member to support the US in Iraq with boots on the ground. And that Germany actively opposed the US going into Iraq. Carrots and sticks.

More Anniversary Fare

This via India Uncut compares the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi to a two-headed mule at a country fair. As an aside, the hyphen is here to stay I guess, but I wish they standardised the order of the names soon. Then we could just abbreviate the whole thing and refer to it as MSSG or SGMS or whatever.

Then there is this article marking the return of statism. It faults a Rs 174,000 crore allocation for rural infrastructure predicting that corruption will eat up this money with nothing to show. The news item here. I'm not sure what the alternatives are. Would the private sector be willing to take up projects in rural electricity, rural water supply, rural roads, rural housing? Will they be able to break even? I hope the writer had given some answers.

Update: I was surprised by this passage in Ashok Malik's article above:
If you point out any contradiction or make noises about “delivery systems”, you are socially ostracised. The government, of course, couldn’t be bothered with cutting its own expenses.
I distinctly remembered the problem of delivery systems being mentioned by someone in the government. Maybe Chidambaram in the Union Budget I thought. And yes, it was him. Look at this excerpt from the budget speech:
Outlays versus Outcomes

100. At the same time, I must caution that outlays do not necessarily mean outcomes. The people of the country are concerned with outcomes. The Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized the need to improve the quality of implementation and enhance the efficiency and accountability of the delivery mechanism. During the course of the year, together with the Planning Commission, we shall put in place a mechanism to measure the development outcomes of all major programmes. We shall also ensure that programmes and schemes are not allowed to continue indefinitely from one Plan period to the next without an independent and in-depth evaluation. Civil society should also engage Government in a healthy debate on the efficiency of the delivery mechanism.
So who is doing the ostracising? And look at this more recent news about District Collectors / Magistrates from across the country meeting up with the government:
Though, according to the press release, the idea was to discuss how the delivery system at the district level can be improved, sources said a second reason was to get direct feedback about the administrative problems in non-Congress-ruled states.
If you ignore the sorry title and the second reason provided by the anonymous 'source', it does seem like the concerned people are worried about delivery systems contrary to the impression one gets on reading the excerpt from Malik's article. Of course, I'm not trying to make the case that just an awareness and/or concern about this problem implies that it will not happen or even that the intentions are good. I'm just saying that when civil society is called on to 'engage government in a healthy debate' on the issue by the government, it is difficult to believe that it would ostracise someone who 'engages' it on the topic. Unless it is someone else who is doing the ostracising.

Dismal Friday

The Hindu carries a depressing editorial on the stand-off in Parliament. Some interested parties perceive a silver lining, but it may be an illusion it warns
There is, of course, another way of looking at the acrimonious boycott of Parliament by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, the principal Opposition. Thanks to it, claim some stalwarts of the United Progressive Alliance, several crucial pieces of legislation — such as the Right to Information Bill and the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery System (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Bill — could be enacted speedily. Otherwise, these would have been delayed unduly. There is substance in this, but laws passed and decisions approved by Parliament in the absence of the bulk of the Opposition cannot have the same legitimacy as those adopted by the whole House.

19-May-2005

A One Year-Old Man

The UPA government completes a year on May 22. A person acknowledged as highly qualified for the job in the PM's seat. A group of mostly well qualified people to keep him and his cabinet honest - with respect to the government's programme - and to advise him. The PM, who is not too political anyway, saved the task of attending to inter-party and intra-party politics and the party's day to day operations. The party president takes care of it. Performance wise a six out of ten is what he gives himself. Probably fair.

So what do the columnists say about all this? S Anklesaria Aiyar writes about it here (link via India Uncut).

The starting paragraph of Mr Aiyar's eulogy :
Journalists galore are pontificating over the first year of Manmohan Singh’s rule. But the issue itself is wrongly phrased. It assumes that Manmohan Singh is the ruler. That is not and cannot be the case in the Congress party. Only members of the Gandhi family may rule. Others act at their pleasure.
I don't know about the wrong phrasing but the issue is definitely wrongly worded by Mr Aiyar. The word 'rule' conjures up visions of a Maharaja moving about in his gilded finery among the fawning populace. Move with the times. No one refers to Bush's rule. They do refer to Blair's rule though. Ah, the old colonial hangover.

Anyway. Mr Aiyar does some deft framing of the question to suit his hypothesis himself. Suddenly the question becomes one the answer to which goes into the distant past and touches but fleetingly on the present. H N Bahuguna, Gundu Rao! That was then and the person incharge was Indira Gandhi, who had could hold the entire country hostage for two years.

We come to the present on a pit stop and learn that the current family head is not as bad as history would foretell
The situation under Sonia Gandhi is not as bad. Yet, see the shameful mistreatment of Sheila Dikshit. She is among the most successful Congress CMs. Yet, she was almost sacked at the behest of Ram Babu Sharma, a non-entity who managed to get an inside line to 10 Janpath.
'Almost sacked' - well you are either sacked or not sacked. What is almost sacked? How close to sacking did she come?

But it is suddenly time to time travel into the past again. We meet PVN and Sitaram Kesri. Eventually, we come to Manmohan Singh to learn that
When he was made PM, he knew what the dynasty needed from him. Sonia, never keen on politics, had taken over simply to keep the dynastic business intact for her children to inherit. The dynasty most certainly did not need an aggressive newcomer asserting himself as boss. It needed a number two to hold the fort, one who had no ambition of becoming number one.
Is Mr Aiyar Dr Singh's psychiatrist by any chance (if he has one)? Or is he a close friend whom the PM called up immediately after being sworn in and confessed his innermost thoughts? Or is this all pure conjecture? And there's more:
... one reason why the regent always goes the extra mile to accommodate the Left Front and Laloo Yadav: this buys time for Rahul and Priyanka. When L K Advani accuses him of being an invisible PM, Manmohan Singh can smilingly take this as a compliment. He knows that dynasties do not like highly visible regents.
Italics mine. So is this what Dr Singh actually thinks - that it is a compliment to be called an invisible PM? I think it is time to get some information from someone who has actually talked to the Man himself. From the article by Vir Sanghvi where he recollects a meeting he, Rajdeep Sardesai and TOI's Arindam Sengupta had with Dr Singh:
Rajdeep asked him how he felt about being described as the invisible Prime Minister by L K Advani. Did it worry him that the Opposition was intent on portraying him as a mere cipher while Sonia Gandhi remained the power behind the throne?

He seemed remarkably unperturbed. That’s just politics, he said. He recalled the fuss that had surrounded his second Budget as finance minister. The press had alleged that it had been dictated by Washington and the Opposition had moved a privilege motion against him.

Of course, he said, there was nothing to the charge but he had been extremely upset and it had showed in his responses within the House.

Later, he said, A B Vajpayee came up to him and told him not to be so upset. You are new to this game, Vajpayee said, but you’ll have to get used to it. This is what politics is like.

He had taken Vajpayee’s advice, Dr Singh said. And now, no matter what the Opposition alleged, he brushed it off as just being politics.

What about the pressures of the PM’s job, I asked. I had interviewed him during the campaign and had told him that he would probably be Prime Minister if the Congress won. At that stage, he had seemed unwilling to take the job. What had made the difference?

Dr Singh recalled the interview. But he also recalled the interview I had done with him in 1996 and reminded me of it. I had asked, “Do you want to be Prime Minister?” He had responded, “Who doesn’t want to be Prime Minister?”

Sure, it may be politics. But why is Mr Aiyar playing it? What is going on in his mind?

Derailing Growth

L K Advani warning Manmohan Singh
“In national interest , I wish to caution Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh that your dependence on Communist support will prove to be a liablility for anything good you may wish to do,”
The Left a liability. The Opposition a liability. Tough job for the PM indeed.

Update: A friend writes in rephrasing my last sentence as follows:
PM has problems Left, Right, and at Center
That's sounds right to me!

Update 2: What he actually wrote and meant was this which sounds right too!
PM has problems from Left, Right at Center

18-May-2005

We're Left Waiting

For the recently passed Right To Information Bill - after a week. Meantime, a view from IE (link via India Uncut and Spontaneous Order). The distinction the writer makes between Duty to Publish (suo moto) and Duty to Furnish (on request) is a handy one and a nice tool with which to think about the whole thing. Noting that the Bill's emphasis is on the latter, the article says this
The sub-section ... which deals with the mandatory suo moto disclosure of information, includes functions and responsibility of the government organisations, rules, regulations governing its employees. But it has left out suo moto publishing of important items like public and utility contracts, disaster management projects and official travel expenses.
I would add a few more items left out - mundane things like the lists of public officials elected and otherwise, details (like addresses - physical and online, timings, etc) about all the public authorities that exist, what is the process to be followed by citizens to interact with them. All of the above starting at the level of each locality and going upwards.
The RTI Act seems to work in many developed democracies, not because of high penalties to bureaucrats or more transparent adjudication of denials, but because most of the information citizens would like to acquire is already available. A high quality democracy would hence make it incumbent on the state to make public all information which affects a citizen.
And how is this large amount of information to be made accessible to people? Put it online of course.
Though the RTI bill has come out, it is not available for viewing online or at departments. A DTP Act would have made it obligatory for the state to have put it up online and also made departments have a copy. Ironically, one may have to file a request for the RTI bill!
Internet penetration is low, true, but still, the information would be out there.

Will the Bill make a real difference? Are people ready to use it? 5-6 states already had their own Right to Information Bills in place, including Karnataka. The article notes a success story in the PDS system in Delhi. I'm sure there are more. The Airport Road-Koramangala Flyover nearby, though, is still in limbo. But if there were more information about this project in the public domain, maybe, just maybe, there would have been some pressure on the Government? At the very least, I would have the satisfaction of knowing what happened.

15-May-2005

Inquiries

Shekar Gupta in the Indian Express on
our continuing slide into this politics of inquiries, where governance takes the back-seat, political debate and discourse are forgotten and where acquisition of power is reduced primarily to an opportunity to fix your rivals.
He traces the beginnings of this kind of politics to the VP Singh government and its BJP backers in 1989. He notes a more recent instance in the revival of the Bofors story by the last government. According to him many in the Congress want to pay back their opponents for all these things.

I may be taking a simplistic view but I think the roots are more recent. The NDA wanted to paint the UPA government as corrupt - or at least associate it with corruption in the people's mind. After all, the Congress has been perceived for sometime as having a cosy relationship with corruption. What better time to bring the country's memory back - a bit of advanced electioneering shall we say? And the UPA wants to at least insinuate that the NDA government was not very saintly either. They don't want to lose the next elections on the issue of corruption neither. And so they come and go - the inquiries.

I also believe people who want to work in the government are quietly going on without letting this bother them. The inquiries are probably more of a sideshow to them. The bills are getting passed aren't they?

An editorial in IE itself calls for an end to the witch-hunt - referring to the inquiry into the Centaur deal.
By announcing an inquiry into the disinvestment of Mumbai’s Centaur hotels, the government has made short shrift of due process. The finance minister said in Parliament on Friday that the decision to order the probe is based on an examination of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report. This is startling. The established procedure is for the CAG report to be first scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee. After examining what it perceives to be “the most important paragraphs from the Audit Reports”, the PAC submits its findings to Parliament. The government is then required to act upon these recommendations and give an account of follow-up action.
Tavleen Singh of course prefers to shoot the messenger. After bashing the usual suspect (suspects rather - Sonia-Manmohan: another hyphenated relationship like India-Pakistan?) and the Left she writes:
Frankly, what is a huge disappointment is the CAG report’s comments on the sale of the Centaur Hotels. It shows a frightening lack of comprehension and the worrying thing is that if there is incomprehension in something as simple as the sale of a couple of hotels how much more incomprehension there must be when it comes to complicated defence deals.
In other words, shoot the CAG, off with his head. But one question is still bothering me: if there was only one bidder, why was the its offer "considerably more than the reserve price the hotel"?

TOI Group Picks Another Dud

From Deccan Herald. How do the Times Group people do it?

Governments Lie

The Karnataka government did it recently - according to the High Court at least. Now the MP government. Look at this report in Deccan Herald. A government worker's hands are cut off as she is carrying out the state government's campaign to stop child marriages. The government lies first and then backtracks:
..the Madhya Pradesh government has, belatedly, admitted that both the hands of the woman official were chopped off because she tried to stop child marriages. Earlier, the government sought to underplay the incident, saying it was the result of “personal enmity”.
Why so inhuman?

And the Chief Minister, what does he say?
Mr Gaur had reportedly remarked: “When even Mahatma Gandhi could not stop child marriages, how could she do it”.
'Reportedly' - maybe politics has crept in and he did not say it at all. But if he did, then why did he not just shut down the special campaign to stop child marriages?

A Clarification

Got a mail in response to this post - apparently I'd not made myself clear. So here goes (from my reply):
My criticism ... was entirely directed towards TOI. TOI is supposed to be a 'news'paper. My grouse was (and is) that they should (and don't) take more care about their 'news' being accurate. They can't just trawl the net for news without verifying if the news is true. (On the other hand) I wouldn't expect an individual who posts on an online forum in good faith to be a 100% accurate - especially if we are talking movies and any harm resulting from the post would be near zero.
Why not? That is not the individual's job (presumably). Nor would he have the time (presumably) or the resources (presumably) to verify the facts. And he is not asking the reader to believe him is he?

14-May-2005

One Man In A Palace

The President of India in Rashtrapati Bhavan. From Tehelka (14 May 05):
...340 rooms that took 17 years to build. One man, with a retinue of around 1000 aides at his command. One man, served by 150 gardeners, 110 sweepers, 35 butlers, 18 cooks, 10 bakers, 16 drivers, five mechanics, 180 bodyguards, 60 horses and a private estate spread over 360 acres in the heart of the Capital... The president of a third world country who costs the national exchequer over Rs 60 crore per annum and stays in a presidential estate worth Rs 11,880 crore (and that's just the land according to the current market value), which houses one of the three largest residences on earth... The constitutional head of one of the world's poorest countries who carves his dinner with exquisite silver cutlery...
All this for a ceremonial office.
Yet, the office still commands considerable weight and his opinions and advice, if they are publicly aired, are taken seriously,particularly by the media, the people, and occasionally the courts as well. This is also because of the trappings of the extravagant paraphernalia surrounding the presidency, which has continued to endow it with an imperial mystique. The President is maintained by the Indian State in no less a manner than the British monarch or a Mughal emperor.
I would add politicians to the list of people taking the President seriously - after the recent spate of presidential petitions by politicians on issues ranging from Jharkhand to tainted ministers. But is the president able to pull his weight only on account of his house? What if he stayed in a 5 BHK? He would have to be a man with a big personality I guess.

However that may be look at the value of the real estate - Rs 11,880 crores! I know what one person would say : SELL IT OFF TO LUXURY APARTMENT BUILDERS!

13-May-2005

Feel Good Stories

Two of them in this editorial from ET - one from 1977 and one from 1946. I liked the Tatab Industries story better.

Mira Nair's Gangsta Movie

Remember I pointed out a bizarre TOI link about Munnabhai being made in English by Mira Nair in this post? At that time, I thought: the people at TOI anyway think that the Net contains pearls, pebbles, and dung - they just decided to add some more, ummm, pebbles to it, so what? They would surely not sully the pristine pages of the hardcopy so carelessly? It turns out that they would. Today's copy has the story proudly staring out at the reader from its own pretty box. It is difficult to know where to start.

I'll start with the timeline of the story. What on earth took them so long? This story was broken by this website on December 1, 2004. This blog refers to it on January 18th, 2005. A flurry of activity erupts on April 14th, 2005, like here and here and here. And for heaven's sake the venerable sister Economic Times carries this news under a suitably sober headline "Will the next decade of entertainment belong to India?" here.

OK they were not quick on the uptake. Not a big deal. They were probably busy chasing other stories like 14-year-olds topping NASA entrance tests. Anyway, lets move on. An excerpt from the Economic Times article:
It took six months of negotiating with Hollywood’s Twentieth Century Fox for Chopra to close the deal. “It took so long because I insisted that the movie carry a line saying that it had been adapted from ‘an Indian film Munnabhai MBBS written by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Raju Hirani and Abbas Tyrewala’. “That was crucial for me. And that is going global. Now Hollywood will be inspired by us,” says Chopra.
It really doesn't matter if Mr Chopra is having ET or ET is having us. Shouldn't TOI have checked why searches on the movie name bring back no results on the 20th Century Fox site, nor searches on Mira Nair?

OK that is just sloppy journalism. But why Mira Nair as the director? Did they see a thread of suppressed dumbed-down comic flair running through all her movies made till now? Wait, that could be it. I have seen three of her movies. All of them had the same inane air. And her bio here seem to justify her choice as director of another senseless comedy. Who cares about all those international awards anyway? Lastly, why Munnabhai? A Hollywood version of a Hindi movie inspired by various other Hollywood movies - Patch Adams being one?

OK they are just morons out there. Wait, did I really say that? Got carried away. Of course, if it turns out that the movie happens as described, the mud would be on me. But I would wager a biggish amount against that happening. Takers welcome.

Paranoid, Depressed About 9/11

Funny with a underlying base of seriousness. Read it here.

Spinning Wars

We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals ... killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead
Iraq? No, World War II. Who are 'we'? The Allied forces. Read more about it here.

12-May-2005

Right To Information Bull

The Right To Information Bill was passed today. Could this be the answer to the request in this post of mine? Can I just request Mr Saptharishi to mail me his report?

I thought reading the bill itself might give some clue. So I went searching for it. I am still doing so. I got a pdf of the original bill. But there were 146 amendments to that according to reports including The Hindu's - most of the amendments diluting the provisions of the bill apparently. I got a version from the National Advisory Council site containing the amendments proposed by it. But those are just 32 amendments. So where is the final bill as it was passed? Someone I hope is keying it in even as I type this post.

Meantime I ended up at this site of the Ministry responsible for the bill. Not finding anything much there I clicked on this - the website of the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances. Desperate by now for some kind of silver lining I clicked on the "Ideas that have worked" link there. I mean, who wouldn't? This is what I found:
Ideas that have Worked
  • Events
  • Have you noticed any ideas that have worked?
  • Have you got any idea / suggestion that may work?
I don't know what I was looking for, but this was not remotely like anything I had expected. True the Events link contained links to lectures given by eminent people on their ideas which clicked - including APJ Kalam, NR Narayanmurthy, Azim Premji and others - but nothing connected to the department or its ideas. Even ideas that failed would have been OK by me. Failure is the stepping stone etc... But no. Nothing.

As for the question at the beginning of the post: apparently yes, Mr S has to mail me the report if I ask him. After all, the Bill's objective is to:
to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for people to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promotetransparency and accountability in the working of every public authority
Or maybe I really need to get hold of the right Bill.

TOI's Views On The Internet

In this editorial. The theme is that the Internet has lots of information floating around. Unfortuntely lots of misinformation too, so beware, and someone needs to do something about it, now. Beginning thus:
The Internet no doubt challenges ignorance, but it is also a purveyor of false information. It is decentralised and anarchic, since nobody controls or owns it. To borrow a phrase from al Biruni, it is a mixture of pearls, pebbles and dung. Yet, many people utterly believe what is posted on the Net. Newspapers tap the Net for background information.
the article goes on to quote specific instances of bad information. For example,
A newspaper described Aryabhata as "a scholar at the Nalanda university" ... Some speculate that Aryabhata was head of Nalanda university. Even if this were true, it does not necessarily mean that he was a student there...
Hate to split hairs, but the word scholar has at least two meanings : 1. a learned person 2. a student. So the newspaper could have been right you know. But then I got the two meanings from dictionary.com - another piece of bad information? Have to check that one with TOI.

Touching though the editorial is in its concern for exposing the Internet for what it is, one would expect TOI not to be misled. So what is this (via India Uncut - a blog by Amit Varma) all about? A spoof reported as a news item by the very same TOI?

If you do follow the above link, you will see that the TOI link no longer points to the Aishwarya story but an equally bizarre Munnabhai story! Mira Nair to direct an English version of Munnabhai MBBS? Is TOI spreading misinformation itself? Whom do we turn to now!

And the solution offered is as ludicrous as the spoof-as-news:
Indian newspapers should form a consortium to set up an online Indipaedia or encyclopaedia Indica. A committed band of editors and contributors should prepare entries. This might seem like an ambitious and long-drawn affair but may be worth the effort.
I agree with the "long-drawn" but not so much with the "may be worth the effort". Who gave Indian newspapers the right to the "Indian perspective" anyway!

10-May-2005

Second Thoughts - 2

There are two parts to the Saptharishi story. His
  • allegations of 'casteist' remarks against Mr Tandon and Mr Gopalaswamy
  • allegations of 'extraneous grounds' factors in countermanding elections in Chapra
The second is more easily dealt with - make Mr Saptharishi's report public. Which brings me to a question - why doesn't the government use the net better - why doesn't it put all the information about the decisions they take out there? Let people know. But easier said than done.

As for the first, it is hardly inconceivable that such remarks were made. Our country is large, its people are diverse, and divisions between them are many. I'm sure such remarks, and remarks based on regional divides, religion, language and other individual peculiarities are made everyday in many a public office in the country - in jest, in seriousness, in malice, in good-humour. But while it is not inconceivable that two top officials whose essential quality should have been an indifference to such things made such remarks, it would be surprising if they aired such thoughs in an official meeting. They would have better sense that that I think. If such feelings influenced anything they did in their official capacity then it is sad. Whatever Lalloo has done, the EC is hardly the body to try to remove him from Parliament. Leave it to the people I say. But the people, oh, they keep putting him back. Again and again. And again.

09-May-2005

Second Thoughts

And two men who are having them. Pramod Mahajan in re Godhra and L V Saptharishi in re Chapra. Why so late - several years in Mr Mahajan's case and a year in the latter's case? The wheels of politics grind slowly but surely I suppose. Or do they? What exactly is Mr Mahajan saying that has got the Indian Express so worked up - here and here? He is blaming civilised society (of Gujarat, presumably) for the riots: the people did it and they should be ashamed of themselves. He notes that the BJP was in power both at the centre and the state - but he hands out no blame to it, only a feeling of regret. Or maybe he blaming the party too but in a careful and suitably vague manner that will allow a bit of wriggle room on the talk shows. Who knows!

And only three regrets? And one of them not being able to build the Ram temple? He is writing for the party faithful - in BJP Today. That explains it.

As for Mr Saptharishi - he is very late. However, there is a way out to check if he in fact did not recommend "countermanding elections in the entire constituency" in his report. Make it public so people can read and judge for themselves.

06-May-2005

Pollsters Continue To Grope In The Dark

They're all over the place in the British elections too - here and here. Though every opinion poll predicted a Labour win correctly, the actual size of the majority for Labour seems to have eluded most. The number ranged from just under 100 to 158. The actual majority is around 70 with some 9 seats yet to be declared (most sites are calling the majority around 60 though, for instance here and here - don't know what I'm missing).

The BBC exit poll seems to have done a lot better predicting a majority of 66.

05-May-2005

Polls Apart

A friend wrote in, in response to this post of mine, asking if I still believed in polls after the last general election fiasco. No, I don't believe in them too much. So what was I thinking of? I included it just because it was out there I think - a link to an article I mostly agreed with. On checking further it apparently refers to the online poll in the Indian Express homepage. This is what Indian Express calls the people's verdict. Hmm.

And it turns out 74% are now blaming the UPA!

Blogs A Hidden Tech Boom?

This idea proposed here, link via Instapundit.

I think now is the time, when the talk of a tech boom is starting, for all bloggers to shut shop and leave. Save a lot of pain for investors. All except the Amazons, Yahoos, eBays and such.

Humiliated Opposition

The NDA says that its leaders are being humiliated. "If we are not allowed to raise the issues, what's the point in remaining inside (parliament)." I think they have it backwards. They are not allowing the issues to be raised - since they remain outside the two houses of parliament. Even if they were shouted down earlier, I just saw today on TV the Speaker guarantee a hearing for all issues if the prodigals return and Pranab Mukherjee do the same. Will the rest of the opposition go back - the TDP has.

And a poll by Indian Express seems to suggest that 55% of people feel the NDA boycott is not justified. A poll about which not many details are provided though and a very funny kind of poll - no margin of error, no other issues raised, no details on who did the poll, what methodology was used.

More Delays Down The Road

Instead of deciding to help NICE complete the work expeditiously - as the High Court has implicitly ordered - the Karnataka government decides to appeal to the Supreme Court! Makes one wish almost that there were no Supreme Court.

04-May-2005

Chargesheets And Ministers

So the argument goes on. Laloo won't go because he is not yet proven guilty. The NDA justifies Advani's own continuation as Dy Prime Minister in the previous government in spite of a chargesheet against him, by saying 'Ayodhya was a "political movement"'.

As The Hindu calls it here, the argument is specious. It was not a harmless movement. People died as a result of the political movement. As one journalist writes
For a month, the subcontinent was plunged into another communal bloodbath, which took around 1,500 lives, with worse aftershocks to follow, in Mumbai and elsewhere.
There were other consequences too. As this article says, it
made minority-bashing and the expression of religious prejudice respectable, even in educated, middle-class society.
And what was the political movement all about? Using the emotive issue of a place of worship to divide the country into 'them' and 'us'? Causing a large group of people to feel that they were not true Indians because of their religion? And for what? Political gain, as this article (via BBC) notes?
The internal contradictions of the Hindu nationalist project are obvious whenever caste becomes an issue in Indian politics, with the BJP's appeal limited largely to the upper castes.

As a result, communal feelings were deliberately encouraged in order to avoid any divisions among Hindus on the basis of caste.

Rather than the image of a tolerant, secular nation, attempts began to portray India using the Hindu symbols of the trident and crown.

And Mark Tully, an Indophile without doubt, says this, recalling the incident on its tenth anniversary:
I witnessed those and many other tragedies often involving people whose names will not be recorded in history, but, asked to recollect one incident I reported for the BBC, I've chosen Ayodhya because it was a denial of something which I regard as quintessentially Indian.

The culture of India is by its very nature accommodating, and for centuries it has allowed all the great religions of the world to make their homes here.

Hindus traditionally accept there are many ways to god and, as one 20th Century Western scholar has put it, "for the dogmatic certainty that has racked the religions of semitic origin Hindus feel nothing but shocked incomprehension."

So India with its Hindu majority should be the last place to find religious fanaticism. It should be an outstanding example of religious pluralism in a world where people of different faiths still so often find it difficult to live with each other.
As he also notes: "... Lal Krishan Advani ... (was) ... then in the opposition and the leader of the campaign to pull down the mosque and build a temple".

If intangibles are, well, too intangible, we could even probably put a rupee figure on the cost of this political movement to India - then we would see if it is actually higher than what Laloo took away by his corruption. The cost of lost lives, of energies misdirected, of the shift of focus away from the real needs of the country. If the BJP had its priorities right - say, highlighting the prevalent corruption, lack of development of a majority of people over fifty years since independence - which is a pretty strong argument anyway - it would have probably taken a bit longer for it to come to power, but it would have eventually I think.

However that may be, I for one would rather not hear any more about this distinction between chargesheets for political movements and those for corruption.

Birds Of The Same Feather

Are flocking together at Tony Blair's campaign stops. And they are all birds hired and 'bussed in' by the Labour Party. Mysterious because no one knows where the next campaign stop will be - apart from the party cogs. Read about how Blair is using a trick from His Master's bag here (via Deccan Herald). More generally, the article illustrates how politicians, the wily lot, are busy sharing tricks and techniques in politics and electioneering.

The trick - apart from vote fraud which in its different forms is fairly well entrenched in all great and not so great nations by now - which Bush has handed over to his good friend Blair is this: only those people who will cheer for him should be present at his public meetings. All those nitwits who are likely to pose tough, uncomfortable questions are to be excluded.

Relevant excerpt from the article :
Prime Minister Blair ensures that he does not come face to face with the electorate or the politicians. He achieves this by refusing to advertise in advance where he will be campaigning on any given day. Like all great dictators he hides behind the excuse that his security is the issue, and that he is not trying to avoid questions from hostile voters or acerbic members of the Press.
...
When Mr Blair turns up at some pre-arranged meeting place, the party makes sure that the crowd consists exclusively of loyal supporters who have been bussed in specially. For the most part they consist of canvassers in a particular constituency who are told not to bother putting leaflets through doors, but to turn up at the local town hall for a special event. From there they are taken to where Mr Blair will be present.

Labour's successful pre-election tactics are now being copied by Conservative opposition leader Michael Howard. What neither Mr Blair nor Mr Howard want is for their appearance at a school or a factory to be hijacked by the Press asking uncomfortable questions about the issue of the day.
...
Analysts believe Mr Blair's tactics are modelled on those of US President George Bush whose own pre-election strategy was to avoid any possible ambush by hostile voters. Each audience before whom he appeared was allowed to be filmed, but no reporters were allowed to ask questions.
The part about people being 'bussed in' rings a faint bell - could Blair have got this idea from the land of snakes and elephants?

The article fails to mention one thing though. Bush has apparently found this technique so successful that he is still using it to sell his ideas to his countrymen. And it consists not just in denying reporters the chance to ask questions, but in actually throwing out anyone who could be expected to do so - ask questions I mean. Read about it here!

I think part of the problem is television. It wouldn't look good - the PM being asked tiresome questions again and again and not having a really good answer. What about the WMD, Mr Prime Minister? And the postal vote fraud down in Birmingham? Anyone who has seen the White House press conferences would have noticed it. The choice of who asks the next question is with Bush, or the White House official, or whoever is taking the questions. And thus a tough one could be followed by a friendly one which allows the spin to be put right back in. The whole thing rings hollow.

Blair and the Labour Party have a good enough lead over their rivals so they would have probably won even if the muzzle was not on. They just could "not resist the temptation" I guess.

How long before our politicians stop taking tough questions?