23-Dec-2006

Some More Cricketing Fun

kmp sends in a bunch of mails about a bunch of cricket posts. I'll copy them below first, and later discuss them in the same order.

Re Harmless Fun he writes:
I was watching the TV night before these headlines ( I mean when he[Ganguly] was selected, but not yet in SA)…Rajdeep Sardesai’s prime time select panel included Mohinder Amarnath (understandable – original comeback-man ), Saurav’s biographer, and CPI-M MP Gurudas Dasgupta. Now, I don’t know what this groaning Marxist was doing there to discuss capitalistic cricket, and a rich main’s come-back (both out of place with their ideology). His point was, he was thrown out “un-ceremoniously” but he agreed that he should be dropped if he does not play well in future. As far as I know, he was not playing well when he was dropped so I attached more importance to the “ceremony” part. Next time, Greg should give more importance to that – my opinion. The biographer was almost crying (adding to that his Bengali accent made me feel that he was really crying) and his only concern was how he will be welcomed in the dressing room by two men – Captain and Coach. And, he repeated it three times. Again, the “ceremony” part crossed my mind ;-)

Now, with this background – I was bit more curious than usual with the newspapers and I found the “news” apt – although I was disappointed not to find any mention about the ceremony in the news.
Re Good Old Movie Plot he writes:
I differ. It still makes a “Good-Old-Movie-Plot” though – in many movies the protagonists are not always the good guys in the beginning, they become one later ;-)

I do not think dropping Ganguly was wrong then, he was not playing well – period. I did not believe that it was cricketing reason that made him to be picked, and I thought “they” were doing wrong again, however I was proved wrong (mind you, that does not mean I was wrong earlier – the dropping part). Anyway, it was good to see him among the runs, and those flowing vintage offside drives. In fact this makes me believe that dropping him has done him good, if nothing else the *grit* is back (coz I haven’t seen him playing with the same grit when he was out of form and in those matches we lost after the world cup)
And finally re And The Brickbats Keep Pouring In he has this to say:
Consider the awfulness of what might have been. If Yuvraj Singh hadn’t ruptured himself playing kho-kho or kabaddi or whatever else Chappell considers a necessary cricketing skill, he would have played the ODI series. Had we won or even drawn the ODI series, Yuvraj would have been a certainty for the tests, and had Raina managed a couple of fifties, he would have been rapidly translated into the test squad too. Ganguly wouldn’t have been recalled, nor would Zaheer, and Laxman would still have been the wallflower in the dressing room, not the vice-captain of the Indian team. Harbhajan, had he taken a handful of wickets in the ODIs, would have been preferred to Kumble and the first test at the Wanderers wouldn’t have had a happy ending.

Usually you should not use as many “ifs” to prove-a-point. With all the ”if”’s he says the first test at the Wander’s would not be a happy ending. My question is what’s the point if (oh, not again) we add one more “if” at the end: “if India had won the wanders test” with those 50s, 100s and couple of wins in ODI… ;-)
1. I haven't watched Rajdeep, and neither - to keep it balanced - whoever is his counterpart at his ex-employer, for a long time. They strain my brain cells. Thus I missed this humour-fest. But the MP was on probably because Rajdeep - always an eye on the TRP - invited him. And, hey, Das Kapital does not mention cricket - it does refer fleetingly to BCCI hoarding money in its grubby fists, but definitely not cricket. However, should an MP be spending time gassing about cricket on national TV at all? I'm not sure.

I don't know what the biographer was expecting, but the point I was making here was that the reports were mostly probably inaccurate. The Deccan Herald line I quoted has to be an outright lie. If the think-tank weren't averse, they would have said so, and DH would have reported so long before Ganguly landed up for match practice. I didn't read anything remotely suggested that the think-tank thought so. Even the warmth mentioned in The Hindu is a bit hard to believe exists. They are all professionals - and being one myself, I know that one cannot go around with scowls on one's face and mouthing personal invective when one is putting in a day at the office. All I was saying was: spare me the false sentimentality. And Indian Express actually did that in a report titled "Ganguly back: handshakes but no happy family photo-ops yet" (italics mine throughout the post):

Around 10.30 am, Ganguly walked into the Willows hotel, two kilometres away, blazer in place, the smile, too. A quick change of clothes, one final turn towards the ground, and he stepped out quietly, specks of bright grey glowing beneath the India cap.

Where is Greg Chappell?

The Australian coach, whose leaked email spelt the beginning of the end, was a short sprint away, studiously watching the nets, calling up young pacer VRV Singh for a chat. He never turned this way.

Unfazed, Ganguly dragged his kitbag across, knelt down and started unpacking, stopping briefly to exchange quick handshakes and smiles with Munaf Patel, MS Dhoni, and Sreesanth - Dhoni had made his debut under Ganguly, the India captain.

Then, the big moment. Ganguly got up, walked across to Chappell.

As they shook hands, ears perked up all around the wire mesh, struggling to catch the few words that were exchanged. “He said, Welcome back, mate.” “No, he asked is it good to be back.” “I don’t think so.” Chappell smiled, Ganguly, too, a quick handshake and it was down to cricket.

... Just before he went in to bat, Ganguly did walk up to Rahul Dravid. They had a small chat of their own, both struggling to meet each other’s eyes. Remember Dravid the wicket-keeper?

A much more realistic report. Note especially the lack of "Welcome back" shouts and warm handshakes.

2. I believe no one is good or bad - one's actions are. Leaving that profound philosophical statement aside, I was thinking more of a good 'old' movie plot, indian movies at that. The norm there: heroes start good and remain good whereas the villain starts bad, meets his comeuppance and turns over a new leaf :-) And I believe I had not even brought in morality - just a wrong done to a man. Whether he was good or bad - not mine to know!

I have to point out one thing in kmp's response however. This is not consistent: when Ganguly is dropped it is because of cricketing reasons, but when he is picked it is just politics. If you concede that players get picked to the Indian cricket team for non-cricketing reasons, then you need to concede that players get dropped for non-cricketing reasons too - unless the facts say otherwise. And I don't see many facts out there to suggesting that he was recalled due to politics, in the newspapers which had cooked up all kinds of canards against Ganguly when he was dropped (For instance, the big argument with Dravid as Chappell watched, before a test in Pakistan when Ganguly was reportedly arguing vehemently against opening the batting. Needless to say this turned out to be false). And nothing else has changed apart from the chairman of selectors. The comrades are still holding up the government, same then as now. But there is a lot to suggest that his recall for for cricketing reaons. The editor of Cricinfo himself takes over:
Not much should be read into the meeting between Sharad Pawar, the BCCI president, and the selection committee this morning, because Ganguly's fate had been decided earlier. Indeed, Cricinfo broke the story on Tuesday.

So what does one make of it? A knee-jerk reaction to a batting crisis? The irony cannot be missed: Ganguly, whose decline as a batsman has been attributed primarily to his vulnerability to the short ball, has now been picked to strengthen a batting lineup that has been systematically dismantled by the surgical, relentless use of bounce.

It can also be seen, however, as a pragmatic, immediate measure that wagers heavily on Ganguly's Test-match experience and his innate fighting abilities. His finest hundred came at Brisbane in 2003, the first Test of a hard tour, when India were four down for 80 in the first innings and Australia's fast bowlers were smelling blood. It was a brave and a scintillating hundred, compiled as much through skill as through sheer mental strength.

But by the time he'd lost his place in the Test team, he was back to chasing ghosts: even medium pacers were bouncing him out. India will hope that the time in the wilderness would have created a will strong enough to carry him past his shortcomings.
...
While it is inevitable that Ganguly will dominate the headlines, the much bigger issue is why and how his selection was necessitated. The truth is that once again Indian batsmen have been mercilessly exposed on harder pitches, and the selectors didn't really have too many options after the young men in whom they'd placed their faith failed make the grade. The selectors had the choice to let them learn from their failures or opt to try damage control. The passions involved in cricket in India are just too high for the selectors to be able to ignore the immediate. And the reality is that beyond Ganguly there was not much to look at anyway.
And as it happens I hold the converse view hence the movie storyline : I believe his being dropped was for non-cricketing reasons and that his recall was for cricketing reasons. And I think the facts bear me out. I've given the argument for the second part of that view in the preceding excert from Cricinfo.

Now, about his being dropped. As I'd mentioned here, I fully agreed with Ganguly being dropped when it first happened. But when he was toyed with during the Pakistan tour and after doing quite well in the one test match he played (according to Cricinfo, which I'd quoted in my post then), was dropped again, that suggested batting form was the least of it. He had shown that he had the determination and the ability too. He could have been retained for the Test side at least - if the coach was keen on youth and building a team for the World Cup. Yet he was dropped. And Chappell's email itself confirms this viewpoint. Bad attitude, deviousness, selfishness, cowardice, lack of respect. All there, bad batting form being just one reason, and not the main reason at all according to it.

And there is the Laxman angle too - he was dropped soon enough after Chappell had claimed that he was an 'integral part of the team'. And knowing how that worked out for Laxman, one wonders about the email. Whatever. There were non-cricketing reasons. In addition to the above there was a new coach with revolution on his mind. Add More to the mix and the picture is complete. And it can't be cricket when others were and are still given a free pass in spite of their non-performance. Tendulkar and Sehwag coming to mind immediately. As Ganguly said in his interview after the SA test - 'Tendulkar will never be dropped'. Envy maybe. But true.

3. Like Siddhu says - If 'ifs' and 'buts' are pots and pans then there would be no tinkers. In this case, if kmp's 'if' were added to the scenario, we wouldn't be discussing Ganguly's recall, and Laxman would still be watching the match on telly instead of being the vice-captain. And I wouldn't be writing this post at 2 am!

To clarify again, my main point was about the coach and his gobbledygook, and his willing doppelganger. Handing it over to the Editor at Cricinfo again from the same piece (italic not mine):
Indian cricket, you could say after reading the names in the Test squad, has completed a full circle. Prima facie, it would seem that the Greg Chappell-Rahul Dravid revolution has ended, or at least been temporarily suspended, and India are back to where they were 14 months ago.

Youth has been jettisoned, the process has been buried and, quite incredibly, Sourav Ganguly is back. And all this has happened so suddenly that it has left a lot of us struggling to comprehend its wider implications.

Let me go out on an limb and suggest one implication: this coach has wasted our time till now.
But having said that, these arguments will go on. I think it is futile for us to take Indian cricket as it stands right now seriously. Whether the team wins or loses, it really doesn't matter. It is just a circus.

21-Dec-2006

An Exhibition

Please do come.

And The Brickbats Keep Pouring In

Like here. Fair enough - there were bouquets aplenty once.

Update: Actually the title could do with a bit of rework. "One Lone Brickbat Is Thrown" looks more like it.

20-Dec-2006

Bush Does It Again

Removes some of the sticking points in the nuclear-cooperation act - or at least makes them basically not worth the paper they are presumably written on:
In an effort to allay official Indian concerns about several aspects of the nuclear cooperation legislation passed by the U.S. Congress earlier this month, President George W. Bush declared on Monday that he would not be bound by some of the law's provisions.

In a formal statement issued shortly after signing into law the Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006, Mr. Bush introduced three specific caveats based on the executive's constitutional prerogative to conduct foreign policy.

This is a president who rules more like a king, and uses signing statements - the above is an instance of them - to do it. Or abuses them, though I'm not complaining in this case.

The Prime Minister seemed uncannily confident about India's conditions being met - maybe his people had done their homework on Bush. I'm not sure if all the criticisms have been allayed by this signing statement - it does not look like it. But things probably bode better for the 123 agreement which is in the works.

Promises

Kept and unkept. A point worth noting:
Starting with the Second Plan, for the last 50 years our policy-makers have insisted that the salvation of India's countryside lies in urbanisation and industrialisation. Completely overlooking that for a nation whose cities are its biggest emerging disasters and where more than 700 million people are engaged in farming, there can be no escape from improving its agriculture — a sound agrarian base on which could develop a whole range of other nature-based livelihoods.
Also, I always thought our politicians were the new maharajahs. But no, there are others too.

Good Old Movie Plot

Man wronged, suffers but perseveres against heavy odds, a new dawn and the wrong set right, main villain capitulates in the final scene, The End. Ganguly's story :-)

12-Dec-2006

Tharoor's Question

Writing about Indian doctors serving America's poor, he asks:
The easier route to a green card may not, however, be the only incentive for the foreign doctors. The New York Times wrote that many found greater professional opportunity in these blighted rural communities, less professional discrimination — and greater material comforts. Typical earnings, the newspaper reported, ranged from $80,000 to $2,00,000 a year. Only in America can you make that much by serving the poor.

No wonder Indian doctors prefer to work in Welch than in Warangal or Wardha. But must the Indian taxpayer subsidise them for seven years to do so? That's the question on which I'd welcome readers' views.

And though he leaves out "engineers and economists, scientists and scholars", I think the question should include them too. In a lot of cases they too are just following the money.

Here's a suggestion : let the government open new medicals colleges, provide them with good infrastructure, pay the faculty well, allow the best of only the non-general category students in - and have a clause making it mandatory for all students who study in them to serve in the villages for five years after finishing. Kill two birds with one stone.

08-Dec-2006

Braindead Media

Pretty much.

1 FU = 6 Months

The flat worlder gets his own unit of measurement. The Friedman Unit.

Harmless Fun

It is amusing to read news reports on Ganguly's reception by the team and its management. Deccan Herald puts it like this:
It is no secret that the think-tank wasn’t averse to the idea of Ganguly flying out as a Test reinforcement.
The Hindu writes:
"Welcome back," shouted Greg Chappell, monitoring the nets as Ganguly walked up to the coach. The smiles were followed by a warm handshake.
Amusing because the Editor at Cricinfo had this to say last year (and he was reflecting a widely held opinion of those days):
Ganguly might not be able to see it now, but it does him no justice to be picked, not as an automatic choice, but through a process that's bound to create some delicate situations in Pakistan. It is no secret that neither the coach nor the captain wanted him on board.
And I remember seeing the coach's derisive laugh on the teevee after Ganguly completed a - for him - very difficult catch. This was during the Pakistan tour mentioned above. It was very evident that the coach's opinion of this particular player could not get very much lower than it was already.

And suddenly everything is warm and cosy between everyone concerned?

Bad Civics

In the IT capital people score badly in civics:
The country’s IT Capital of Bangalore may be on the information highway. But when it comes to civic awareness of its denizens, the performance seems to be “abysmally poor”.
...
Among those interviewed, only 20 per cent had interacted with the ward corporator and 85 per cent are not members of any resident welfare associations (there are over 300 resident welfare association in Bangalore).

The survey has also tried to dig into details of why people failed to exercise their democratic right of voting. While 22 per cent have said they were not in station, 32 per cent have said that their names were not in the voters list, 18 per cent were not interested, 15 per cent were not aware of the elections and 8 per cent have said there were no good candidates.
My excuse: I had no clue. I'm with the 15% then. And the 20% and the 85%. Never mind, help is at hand.

I'm All Shaken Up

In one of his articles, Ramesh Ramanathan notes:
bureaucrats and politicians tell me, "You have a romantic view of public participation. Most people are selfish, and care only about their own interest, not about the larger common good.”
Honestly, I was just joking when I wrote this back in October:
Who knows, many a politicians may be saying: "Look at these people, they break rules themselves, and they expect us to be upright. People are all inherently bad, corrupt, and interested only in themselves and their families. They have no time to think of the public good. I've completely lost faith in them".

Muslims and Education

The Hindu quotes the Sachar report:
only four per cent of all Muslim students are enrolled in madrasas; and Muslim parents are not averse to modern or mainstream education, and would, in fact, prefer to send their children to "regular school education that is open to any other child in India."
I thought so. At least the modern/mainstream/regular school education part.

04-Dec-2006

Now They Tell Me

From The Hindu:
It is no secret that Indian cricket is in decline, in both forms of the game. Rahul Dravid's side did not board the flight to Johannesburg promising awe-inspiring feats on the hard, bouncy pitches of South Africa. With the most gifted Indian batsman of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, in a state of natural decline, with a once formidable top-order in disarray, with the bowling lacking firepower as well as discipline much of the time, and with the fielding lacking consistency, it will take a miracle to convert this team into a serious contender for next year's World Cup.
That is a rapid climbdown from the highs of less than a year ago, and the fond hopes the same vintage:
After scaling some peaks, Indian cricket plateaued and then entered what looks very much like a slump. Chappell can be trusted to guide the team through this challenging phase. He needs to be given a free hand to work out his philosophy and method of coaching. He will almost certainly have a greater say in team selection than his predecessor did. Indian cricket has the talent but it will take all that Chappell asks for to scale the higher peaks.
What is funny is that The Process does not seem to have had the almighty power of deliverance that it seemed to possess early in the day. Winning or losing was not important but The Process was, Dravid used to say. Nowadays it is one excuse after the other. It is the same with the coach - the author of The Process presumably - saying that it is all within the players themselves. They have to do it themselves, not he. Agreed, but what about The Process?

19-Nov-2006

In A Spot - 191106

The series continues, with Ms Tavleen Singh's latest column.

Ms Singh in August 2005, getting angry about the ugliness of our towns and villages:
I ... find myself getting angry about the filthy living conditions in our own towns and villages and their ugliness. This is not, as some may think, because we are inherently a filthy people with a culture that disdains basic hygiene. Neither is it because Indian civilisation produced no great cities.

Some racist Westerners like to portray us that way but the truth is that even I (and I am not as old as all that) can remember that the India of my childhood was not a place of villages that looked like cesspools and towns that looked like garbage dumps. I can remember towns and cities with beautiful, leafy avenues and fine public buildings. I can remember my own Punjabi village as a place of genteel, rural elegance. So what went wrong? Why do we now live in such appalling filth and misery? Ask this question of our officials and politicians and the answer usually is: population. Too many people, they say, absolving themselves of blame.

Our infrastructure simply cannot cope. Of all the lies they tell us this is among the most barefaced. The truth is that the misguided socialism that was our creed for far too long made everything beyond the most basic idea of living seem like a sinful luxury.
Nehruvian, fabian, misguided socialism to blame for the ugliness. Right.

Ms Singh yesterday:
More than eighty per cent of diseases in India are caused by public defecation and primitive ideas of public hygiene. As someone who lives part-time in a village I have done some rudimentary research on the subject and found that our toilet habits have more to do with the social acceptance of public defecation and misconceptions of public hygiene than poverty. The residents of the seaside village in which I live are not poor. They are mostly middle class with middle class aspirations. The houses in which they live are all 'pucca' and clean with tiled roofs and charming verandahs. Many have small gardens planted with hibiscus and bougainvillaea, nearly every home has access to cable TV and consumer goods and all kitchens are indoors and spotlessly clean but almost not a single house has an indoor toilet. The beach is the village toilet. Villagers who baulk at the sight of women in shorts and swimsuits have no problem with their women squatting along the beach in full view of visiting tourists from the city.

Men are even less embarrassed about exposing themselves and squat happily on the edge of the ocean so that they are saved the need to carry a 'lota'. Public defecation is such an acceptable social habit that it continues despite the village having aspirations to become a seaside resort.
So, could it after all have something to do with us rather than Nehruvian, fabian...socialism? My research in Ms Singh's columns shows that it could. Yet how - how - can - that - be?

12-Nov-2006

Shall We Ever?

Someone asks here. I don't know. I like to think that we are a young nation - after all we've been on country only for fifty years - and we'll improve given time. But another part of me is stumped just as the above writer says he is.

Poetic Justice

Remember this post which mentioned a US politician using an racial epithet? Well, he lost. And the downslide started with that very incident. That may not have been the only reason for him to lose as this DH article says, but it was the trigger. And it helped the Democrats to take control of the senate - a double-barrelled victory for them. It also helped the man himself to get a college admission, in the processing yielding what must be one of the shortest essays ever in English.

08-Nov-2006

The Bad Guys Lost

The morons. And much of the world's wish is granted. From The Hindu last week:
The political landscape of the United States could change dramatically in the next few days if the Democratic Party is able to overcome the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
...
With so much at stake, much of the world will fervently hope that the Democrats have it in them to deliver the knockout.

22-Oct-2006

The Capital of Narcoanalysis

Watching the steady stream of high-profile shady criminals and glamorous molls coming into Bangalore to have their lies called, I was proud for my city. Now some party-pooper comes along and tells me that all that may have happened was that these assorted liars got a free high, while the police got a heady mix of fact and fantasy:
Some of what has emerged from suspects' statements seems liberally laced with fantasy. For example, key suspect Faisal Sheikh told interrogators that one member of his cell received instructions from the "ISI chief" to assassinate the former Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani. To anyone even remotely familiar with the workings of covert services, it seems unlikely that the then Director-General of the ISI, Lieutenant-General Ehsan-ul-Haq, would have met with a low-level agent to discuss such plans. Another suspect, CNN-IBN television recently reported, claimed to have seen top Al-Qaeda operative Mohammad Atta while training in Pakistan — a disclosure that would have been sensational were it not for the fact that the terrorist died during the New York terror bombings of 2001.

Several points of detail also need clarification. Suspects, for example, have told the Mumbai Police that a Pakistani national fabricated the devices used in the bombing — a somewhat mystifying act, since the suspects themselves are stated to have received training in Pakistan. Finally, why so many Pakistani nationals were despatched to carry out the strikes when local Lashkar cadre were available needs to be explained.

My personal favourite is the Mohammad Atta sighting. Maybe these guys were always a bit delusional and in the clouds.

28-Sep-2006

In A Spot - 240906

Again. Tavleen Singh weaves together a column filled with inaccuracies and flawed reasoning.

Commenting on the SC issuing notices to the J&K High Court Bar Association, she writes:
The Chief Justice of India made an important comment last week that went unnoticed except by one newspaper...

Justice Y K Sabharwal reprimanded the J & K Bar Association for its decision to deny legal aid to the defendants and for saying that the sex scandal showed the “entire world the real face of India in Kashmir”. Justice Sabharwal said, “It is only in India that despite these comments you are being heard. In no other democracy will it be heard”.

With this comment the Chief Justice becomes the first high official in India to acknowledge that our homegrown Islamists are taking advantage of Indian democracy to propagate unacceptably retrograde views on a wide range of subjects.

First off, I searched for the one newspaper which seems to have "noticed the comment" as she puts it. I expected that there would be an exact quote of the SC acknowledging that homegrown Islamists are taking advantage of Indian democracy etc. My search threw up reports on the SC order in Indian Express, The Hindu, MSN, Zee News, The Telegraph. None of the reports mentioned this comment at all. All they mentioned was the SC chastising the J&K Bar Assocation - the "it is only in India..." quote was missing from all of them. Possibly the SC order did contain the sentence. But still no report implied that the SC was talking in general about Indian Muslims. Ms Singh seems to strangely believe that the J&K Bar Association and Indian muslims are synonymous.

Next she writes:
The atmosphere of Islamist orthodoxy ... results in ordinary Indian Muslims identifying with pan-Islamism to such an extent that thousands took to the streets of Mumbai to protest against George Bush’s visit to India but it was hard to get even a hundred into the streets to condemn the bombings that killed nearly 200 people on Mumbai’s commuter trains in July.
Mr George Bush is perhaps the most hated head of government across the world currently. He was possibly only a shade less hated when he visited India. Is it surprising that "a few thousands" turned up to protest a visit of this guy? And whatever muslims turned up had enough reason to do so without needing to be brainwashed into pan-Islamism. George Bush invaded and basically screwed up Iraq in which are some of the most holy Muslim places like Najaf and Karbala. Why wouldn't they turn up to protest? It is very surprising that the numbers weren't larger. A few thousands out of 150 million muslims? That's like 0.1%! That's a miserable failure on the part of the "priests" - if what she says about the "priests" is true. And it is surprising that more non-Muslims didn't join in. But we Indians seem to have a soft spot for the cowboy. The way I remember it, when he visits a country - which he does very rarely - a security bubble needs to be created around him to shield him from the people who he has come to visit. And the protesters are a varied bunch. UK and Australia which he also visited then had much more massive protests. And they were not fanatic Islamists smothered in Islamist orthodoxy. Not by a long shot.

As for protesting the Mumbai blasts - I don't remember seeing too many of those. There were prayer meetings, sure. And what is the point in protesting such a thing? One could hope that protests would make a Bush reconsider his actions by showing him that people are angry or displeased. But a terrorist - that's what they want to do isn't it - make people angry, miserable? I don't think there were too many protests when the twin towers fell. Or when the Gujarat riots happened. But then, maybe my memory fails me.

Then she talks about a 'sense of persecution' being felt by muslims in India and how it is "beginning to dangerously influence the way Indian Muslims see themselves". Why shouldn't they feel persecuted? Gujarat, Malegaon, Iraq, Palestine, and people like Ms Singh who are ever ready to spout venom, and the politics of the recent past which seemed to revel in alienating them. But is the sense of persecution really there ? Some muslims I know are busy making ends meet and others are sending their kids to school where they learn and top in Sanskrit. Do the acts of a few terrorists represent a whole community?

She then writes,
The Prime Minister did just this last week when he told chief ministers that the terrorist threat was so serious that our nuclear installations could be targeted but quickly added that Muslims must not be targeted as a community. Think of the message that goes to the police? Does it not indicate that the Prime Minister wants them to continue fighting only a defensive war? This is all they have done so far and yet there is a deep sense of grievance in the community that is being fed constantly by sympathy from high officials in Delhi.
No it doesn't indicate that, it only indicates that do they job correctly by going after the real cultprits and their accomplices whoever they are, and not target people because they happen to belong to the same religion as the suspects. The exact quote is here. She goes on,
We need to ask ourselves if we are not carrying things too far. We know that the bombers on Mumbai’s trains were all Muslim. We know that they would have taken shelter in one of this city’s Muslim areas, possibly even in mosques, but when the Mumbai police started detaining Muslims for questioning we in the media spoke in one voice against the “targeting of a particular community”.

The cry was taken up by Muslim MPs in Parliament and last week Mumbai’s Police Commissioner, A N Roy, wrote a letter virtually apologising for his law enforcement measures to such patently Islamist organisations as the Raza Academy and the Dar ul Uloom Mohammadiya.
Let's read how the affected people see it,
Most Muslims leaders whom DNA spoke to felt that the letter was mere rhetoric, and that the police would be better served finding the actual culprits. There is undoubtedly fear in the city’s Muslim community that innocent people were being targeted, often on the basis of their appearance.

Said Abu Asim Azim, MP and president of Quami Majlis Shoora, “Roy is trying to be a politician. On the one hand, he assures us that the community would not be hounded. On the other, innocent Muslims continue to be at the receiving end of a prejudiced probe. We don’t want assurances on paper. We want the real culprits to be brought to justice.”

This is a view shared by many. Those responsible should be caught. However, some also see that the current climate in the world also plays a role in perpetuating prejudices. Rizvan Haider, president, Youth Citizen’s Forum said, “Those involved in terrorist activities have no religion. They are contract killers. Look at Pakistan and other Muslim countries which are also reeling under terrorism. Islam does not preach violence. A true Muslim will never get involved in such activities. This is rhetoric by superpowers (read the United States) to keep us alienated from the world.”

Many leaders repeat the point that religion has nothing to do with terrorism, ironically, the point with which Roy opened his letter. According to Adul Latif, executive member, human rights protection under UN Charter, India, “No real Muslim will be a votary of violence. I have faith in the judicial system of this country. Indian Muslims are basically religious and it’s only the misguided ones from other countries who get into terrorism.”

One viewpoint that agrees with the commissioner comes from Safdar H Karmali, president, Khoja Siya Jammath who said, “So far, I have not received any complaint about police harassment from Muslims in my area. We wish the real culprits are caught and the innocents not harassed. I trust the police to be just in their role.”

That feeling is extended and reiterated by Abraham Mathai, vice president of the Minorities Commission who said, “The Mumbai police commissioner’s letter is an important confidence-building initiative. These are times when a healing touch needs to be extended to one and all to foil the evil designs of those that seek to divide and destroy.”

But the healingtouch is not going to come from Ms Tavleen Singh. Nor from Mr Sudheendra Kulkarni who writes this:
We must remember that many Muslims too suffered in the terror attack. Many Muslims too came forward to help wounded and stranded passengers. I know a little bit about the Muslim community in my city, and I have no doubt that this attack will further cement Hindu-Muslim relations.
But perhaps remembering his Advice to L K Advani on a certain matter involving Jinnah and the after effects, hastens to add a point very similar to the one raised by Ms Singh:
Why did certain Muslim (along with leftist) organizations in Bombay showcase the largest ever Muslim mobilization in the city to protest US President Bush’s visit to India and, why, in contrast, they have never mobilized even a few thousands to condemn those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam?
PS: I was meaning to post about it since Sep 9 when it appeared but was unable to for the usual reasons - laziness, not-in-the-moodness, and so on.

Reliance Gets 25,000 Acres

For an SEZ. Fine. But what makes me gasp is that all of Bangalore is just 50,000 acres. So Reliance is getting half a Bangalore? And we are complaining about the tribals? Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, and now JNURM, discusses SEZs here.

His latest article which is not only yet, is fully reproduced here:
SEZs – STOP THE RUNAWAY TRAIN

I wrote an article in this publication a few weeks ago that was critical of SEZs. Among the responses were a surprising number from professionals in the corporate sector – those who were involved in working on SEZs. And their sentiments were deeply disturbing: without exception, the common refrain was that the SEZ idea was a runaway train, and that it was using the singular, concentrated force of greed and self-interest to rip open the land market in the country. An executive from one of the big four consulting firms told me, “I advise my clients on succeeding in being a part of these SEZs, but I am selling my soul.” Another lawyer said, “Unfortunately, it’s the biggest money-making opportunity we have ever seen.” A senior IT industry executive said, “I agree that it’s a land scam, and it shouldn’t be happening. But we ourselves are bidding for them, because we can’t be left behind. I have my shareholders’ interests to protect – they would tell me, ‘You want to be Gandhi, don’t do it on our money.’” So much for Munnabhai.

I consider myself a middle-of-the-road person: I believe in the potential of the market, but also in an affirmative state that regulates the market vigorously and transparently. I recognise that public policy choices are not black-or-white, and need to balance various views, while always keeping the citizens’ and the nation’s interests in mind. But for the life of me, I cannot figure out the compelling argument for SEZs in India . Their stated benefits are debatable. On the promise of job creation, five lakh jobs is too trivial a target for the incentives being provided – close to 50,000 hectares of subsidised and clean-title land, leaving aside the tax-breaks. These jobs - and more - could surely be created through other, cheaper means. On catalysing economic devel opm ent, there is little credible evidence that SEZs actually make a difference by themselves, unless accompanied by a slew of accompanying actions.

I have tried to educate myself by talking to people, and reading up material related to SEZs. There are some successful examples across the world, and there is apparently far greater understanding today of the conditions to make SEZs more effective – one trend seems to be to make them bigger, with more mixed use – almost like private cities with their own governance environment. Even supporters of SEZs concede, “When evaluating the success of an SEZ, it is important to determine how the resources would have been used in the absence of the zones. Would capital have remained in the country and would employment be created in more productive areas? When there has been a failure to put in place adequate legal and regulatory frameworks, and a trained administration to oversee its correct implementation, the cost of SEZs outweighs the benefits since the benefits such as job creation are short-term and considerable amount of existing revenue is lost through avoidance.” This is from a World Bank site on debate about SEZs.

Shenzhen, arguably among the most “successful” of China ’s SEZs, raises more questions than answers for us. A sampling:

“ The costs to the state for developing Shenzhen will not be recaptured until probably the second decade of the 21st Century. The size of the net loss was projected in 1990 to be US $131 billion by 2003.” (Wu, China’s Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, 1990).

“Early on, manufacturing took on the most important focus. The following few years saw more real estate speculation than industrial devel opm ent. Speculation in the property market has been “little short of anarchic.” (Studwell, Unlocking China : A Key to Investment Regions)

I looked up the list of countries that have SEZs: Brazil , China , Hong Kong, Kazhakstan, Leichtenstein , Monaco , Philipines , Russia , Singapore , Srilanka. I thought of India ’s buzzword in Davos 2006, when we made the big splash – “The world’s fastest growing democracy”, emphasis on democracy. Examine our august SEZ company when it comes to this qualifier: there is not one mature, functioning democracy in that list – with Kazhakstan, we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. So have we reduced democracy to a tagline now?

There is an old proverb – “cross the river by feeling the stones”, meaning do it carefully. As we gingerly tread the path to economic prosperity, our democracy is what is holding us together. We do have a system of checks and balances – however inefficient it may seem to an outsider or a layman. Clearly, there is an urgent national economic imperative especially given our demographics, and what seems like an opportunity to capitalise on the current momentum. But we are also beginning to slowly rip apart into two countries, with the naxalite movement spreading across more than 30% of the districts.
There is an 85 km. barrier fence with check-points that separates Shenzhen SEZ from the rest of Shenzhen municipality. Is this what we want our cities to look like, walled-off economic fortresses? These boundaries will become the contested terrain of conflict between the two Indias , one globalised and competitive, the other left behind, with no tools to participate and only the rage of disaffection. This is besides other distortions like the use of fertile agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, or skewed spatial planning outcomes.

I have a great deal of faith in the sensitivity of our business leaders to know that they are aware of this. But the SEZ concept is a dangerous force that aligns self-interest in a particularly intense manner, and corrodes checks-and-balances, as the earlier statements from those involved in these structures shows.

So, if the executive and legislature have failed us, should we – as we are beginning to do with increasing regularity – turn to the judiciary? If this be so, I hope that an effective case is made, because I am not sure that we can afford the price that SEZs will extract. This runaway train must be stopped.

24-Sep-2006

The Tribal Bill - Let's Face Reality

And recognise that there is a price to pay for 'development'. Says Pankaj Sekhsaria, talking about the criticism of the Tribal Bill:

Thousands of acres of productive land are being acquired to create Special Economic Zones at the cost of thousands of families and millions of existing livelihoods; traditional tribal lands (many which are thickly forested) are being mined and drowned with impunity across the length and breadth of the country; huge infrastructure projects are being created in some of the most sensitive ecological systems and dollar-earning tourism projects are being advocated in lands where traditional communities are being displaced in the name of wildlife conservation. There was an interesting report a couple of years ago of encroachment and tree felling by tribals deep inside the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Orissa. Investigation revealed that these were people who had been recently displaced by huge mining projects in neighbouring Jharkhand. These, we have to realise, are human beings and cannot be expected to vanish into thin air. They have to go somewhere; they have to do something to ensure their survival and that of their families!

Still tiger vs. tribal?

It has also been argued that the tiger has no votes, the tribal is a huge vote bank and that is why vested interests with short-term political horizons are willing to sacrifice the forests and the tiger. That's true. The tiger has no votes, but incidentally, neither does the huge "capital" (increasingly foreign) that wants to mine the tiger and elephant-rich forests of Niyamgiri, construct a port at Dhamra right in midst of Olive Ridley turtle habitat (both in Orissa), rip apart critical wildlife migratory corridors for coal in the Jharkhand's North Karanpura Valley or ensure fast moving rail and road traffic that has claimed a number of wild elephants in forests across North Bengal. Gujarat Forest Department figures, for instance, reveal that nearly 150 wild animals, including leopards, hyena and neelgai were killed in road accidents between 1998 and 2004 in the Vadodara Forest Circle of the State alone. This is not an isolated case and is happening across the country. An animal killed by a tribal can at least be eaten. Of what use is one that is flattened within minutes between fast moving rubber and rock hard bitumen?

Let's accept the fact that development, speed and GDP growth will come with a price. Let's be honest about it. We've eaten the cake (certainly eating it at the present) and we are also crying that we are losing it. We, obviously, cannot have both things at the same time. What's worse, however, is we want to pass the responsibility of what is happening on to somebody else — the tribal, the tiger, the elephant... those that don't really have a voice, have never had a voice.

A major criticism of the Tribal Bill is that once the people get ownership of the land, there will be a virtual stampede to sell it to the highest bidder and/or a virtual carnage in which the forests are decimated. As I'd noted here, it is not at all clear that the situation will be worse than it is now, when the forest department/government owns the land. The above article gives a lot of instances to prove the point, from someone who seems to be in a position to know. As did a
serendipitous discovery of a dysfunctional website.

Maybe we really should, as the above writer suggests, realize that development has its side-effects and get used to losing our forests, instead of blaming tribals.

29-Aug-2006

Leadership

The PM provides it at least in this instance (from The Hindu):
He made it clear that there was no question of his Government approaching terror as a phenomenon linked to any particular community: when there was terrorism in Punjab, it did not mean the Sikh community had a propensity to it; likewise, the Tamil community could not be held suspect because of the implication of the LTTE in terrorist crimes.
I read somewhere that a leader thinks differently. Mr Singh certainly does that here.

The editorial piece also talks about "...the paranoid attitudes and political styles towards Muslims — encountered in several western countries". Well, that's an interesting story, of how
The American Right, having created the Mujahideen and having mightily contributed to the creation of al-Qaeda, abruptly announced that there was something deeply wrong with Islam, that it kept producing terrorists.
It is well told here.

15-Aug-2006

In Which I Discover A New Racial Slur

And a site which documents all of them. The slur is 'macaca' and it was used, not that it is really important, by a US politician against an Indian. The video is here. The story is here and here.

20-Jul-2006

Dictionary updates

Time to clean up the dictionary. The word "moral" has to be expunged. It is meaningless. Read this and see this. Maybe the links aren't needed at all. The very fact that a leader who launched an entirely unjustified war and killed thousands of civilians including innocent children is still at large is enough to justify the clean-up. And of course we from India don't need to go so far at all. All we need to do is reflect on the plight of the poor kids in our own country. What a stupid state for the world to be in.

09-Jun-2006

Election Fraud

In the US? Well read this written by Robert Kennedy, an US senator. Via Kung Fu Monkey. An excerpt:
After carefully examining the evidence, I've become convinced that the president's [i.e., George W Bush's Republican] party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004. Across the country, Republican election officials and party stalwarts employed a wide range of illegal and unethical tactics to fix the election. A review of the available data reveals that in Ohio alone, at least 357,000 voters, the overwhelming majority of them Democratic, were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted in 2004(12) -- more than enough to shift the results of an election decided by 118,601 votes.(13) (See Ohio's Missing Votes) In what may be the single most astounding fact from the election, one in every four Ohio citizens who registered to vote in 2004 showed up at the polls only to discover that they were not listed on the rolls, thanks to GOP efforts to stem the unprecedented flood of Democrats eager to cast ballots.(14) And that doesn?t even take into account the troubling evidence of outright fraud, which indicates that upwards of 80,000 votes for Kerry were counted instead for Bush. That alone is a swing of more than 160,000 votes -- enough to have put John Kerry in the White House.(15)
Oh, the great democracies of the world.

23-May-2006

A Solution

To the reservation issue is proposed in The Hindu. This is a follow-up to the column I'd mentioned in my previous post. Sounds reasonable.

22-May-2006

Merit

Count on The Hindu to sober things down a bit:
... if we understand merit as sheer innate ability, it is difficult to explain why it should seem to be an upper caste monopoly. Whatever people may believe privately, it is now beyond doubt that arguments for the genetic or natural inferiority of social groups are unacceptable. If so, how is it that, roughly speaking, one quarter of our population supplies three quarters of our elite professionals? The explanation has to lie in the social mechanisms through which innate ability is translated into certifiable skill and encashable competence. This points to intended or unintended systemic exclusions in the educational system, and to inequalities in the background resources that education presupposes.

It is their confidence in having monopolised the educational system and its prerequisites that sustains the upper caste demand to consider only merit and not caste. If educational opportunities were truly equalised, the upper castes' share in professional education would be roughly in proportion to their population share, that is, between one fourth and one third. This would not only be roughly one third of their present strength in higher education; it would also be much less than the 50 per cent share they are assured of even after implementation of OBC reservations!

20-May-2006

Valuing Family

Above others. Our politicians do it. Apparently other politicians do it too. The Vice-President of the US, too, in fact.

18-May-2006

The Flat Worlder

On Iraq and the decisive moment/turning point in that situation - for him that moment is always six months away! Via Atrios.

12-May-2006

Scientific Rigging

Said some. Way back.
If democracy is to survive, it has to get rid of the menace of scientific rigging in West Bengal because of which the State is suffering under the Marxist yoke for more than 28 years.

The term scientific rigging was first used by former chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan as he too failed to conduct free and fair elections in the State. Bureaucracy and the police in West Bengal are totally under the thumb of CPM. Its control and command system works in accordance with the wishes of party bosses, leaving the Opposition in pitiable helplessness. For the last three Assembly and Panchayat elections, the entire Opposition in West Bengal has been crying foul.
The Telegraph gloats. Now:
The psephologists too have been sure that some hanky-panky must be involved, otherwise the results could not have been so monotonously the same. Ponderous editorials in newspapers have expressed similar concerns.

The major initiative taken by the Election Commission this year with regard to the assembly polls in West Bengal is obviously in response to this collective disquiet. It took altogether unprecedented measures to improve surveillance over the poll process. Voting was staggered over five widely-dispersed dates. Paramilitary personnel were imported from the rest of the country. There was a massive mobilization of observers at different levels, drawn from the pool of serving government officials all over the country. The vigil enforced during the campaign and on the polling dates deserves to be described as belonging to the Z-category.

And yet, confound it all, the Left Front has romped home victorious for the seventh time in succession, even as everybody, including the rabble of opposition parties, agrees that the elections have been scrupulously free and fair. For the moment, along with the opposition parties, the psephologists as well as leader writers are stunned into silence.

Painting The Town Red

June 20 2004:
In neighbouring West Bengal we see the even more scary spectacle of the Marxist government managing to stay in power for nearly thirty years despite doing so little for the poor that starvation deaths were reported from some districts last week. Marxist ideologues, ever ready with their talk of the ‘poorest of the poor’, dismissed the deaths as a localised problem.

Starvation deaths maybe, but poverty is not. West Bengal used to be, in that long ago time before the Marxists came, our most industrialised state. Our biggest industrialists were based there before Marxist trade unions forced them to move to Maharashtra. Even this would be fine if the Marxists had succeeded in providing ordinary Bengalis with schools, hospitals, clean drinking water but not only did this not happen but West Bengal’s ranking fell from being one of India’s richest states to being among today among its poorest.
May 11 2006:
The .. L[eft] F[ront] won a three-fourths’ majority in the 294-member state Assembly. It is the seventh successive term for the LF.
Now, will Tavleen Singh be so scared that she stops writing her columns or will she yet come up with a good explanation. Rigging seems to be readily at-hand, as it was in Bihar.

07-May-2006

Doctors

I asked in this post who (it should've been whom though) the doctors who get subsidised education serve once they're done with their degrees. I found the answer unexpectedly in this column by a novelist and surgeon in today's The Hindu:
Of the 4,70,000 doctors (of allopathy) in the country, 85 per cent are in private practice. Barring a few exceptions, they are busy making money and have no time for what they consider the dreary routine of prevention of disease, and health at the village level. Even professional bodies like the IMA and the various medical fraternities have ignored this larger problem.
Why should my money go towards subsidizing these people?

The column itself is a look at the prospects of the National Rual Health Mission which seeks to, among other things, train nearly five lakh health workers for the rural areas.

06-May-2006

Interesting Times In The US

The ruling party seems to be partying hard. Via digby:
From shoplifiting to accidentally shooting people in the face, to graft, corruption, perjury, gay hookers, straight hookers, illegal wiretaps, dirty tricks and more, the list of crimes is getting so long that it would be easier to identify the Republican politicians who aren't crooks, than try to name all the ones who are.
Indian politicians are more focussed going by the press coverage: all they want is to see and tuck away the money.

03-May-2006

Ramesh Ramanathan In Defence of Government

Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha and now an advisor to JNURM writes in Financial Express (don't have thelink though - I get these in my mail):

In defence of Government

On a recent trip to Delhi, I visited an IAS officer acquaintance who had just begun a stint in a Ministry with the Government of India. I enjoy these occasional visits, learning about the challenges that those in government are facing - the intellectual debates, the public policy choices, the genuine political divides. My friend waved me in warmly as he completed his conversation on the telephone. It was my first visit to his new office, and as I gazed around I spotted a photograph of a cricket team. I recognised many officers from the same state cadre, all dressed in white, enjoying what had clearly been a pleasant weekend afternoon. I smiled and told my host, “I didn’t know you played cricket, when did this start?” He laughed at the photograph, and replied, “Oh, this began about a year ago. We had a ragtag team until one officer said we needed to get our act together and stop being such an apology - some of us were so out of shape, we would have had to pass a government order to stop the ball before it got to the boundary. He cracked the whip, and quite amazingly we actually started to come together quite well. Our first match was against the forestry team who fancied themselves and we beat the daylight out of them!”

He smiled at the memory of the event, and said, “We’ve gone from strength to strength, and along with it, an interesting bond has formed among us.”

“So which match was this photo taken at?” I asked.

“This was against the CFOs of the corporate sector. We lost, but by barely a whisker”, he said, adding in his self-deprecating style, “Government nowadays loses to the market, you know.”

I was intrigued by what the dynamics of this cricket team among the officers had done to the functioning of government. I inquired about this and he said, “It’s quite extraordinary - interdepartmental files that involve us get processed a lot quicker, not because we are doing someone a favour, but because so much of the context can be provided by just a phone call. It is almost as if this group has a special wireless connection.”

Indians disagree with each other on many issues, but there is one topic on which we have complete unanimity: our low opinion of government, both politicians and bureaucrats. I am frequently astonished at the sweeping generalisations that articulate and educated people make when it comes to describing what is wrong with our government. I find that this tendency is especially true among those in the corporate sector, and indeed rises with the level of accomplishment: an almost inverse relationship between private success and public disdain. Our general ignorance about the institutional design and constraints of government would be disturbing enough, but what is worse is our unwillingness to even acknowledge this fact or seek more information. In my continuing journey of learning about government, I have been struck by how almost every aspect of the institutional arrangement that we take for granted in the private sector is missing in government: the ability to specialise, the recognition for a job well done, the space to speak freely in front of a superior… the list is endless. These constraints are not just for bureaucrats, but are true for politicians as well.

This does not mean that government is filled only with well-intentioned, hard-working individuals; there are large numbers of corrupt people, those who misuse the power and position that their offices offer them. Even more frustrating than these blatantly corrupt are the seemingly well-intentioned ones who are adamantly closed-minded, refusing to allow the spark of new ideas to percolate in. But despite this, we need to avoid the blithe broad brushes that we so carelessly apply when criticising government. Because we do disservice to those champions within the system, the ones who are catalysing change every day. Every institutional arrangement has its own particular ethos; government is no exception. The relationship that exists between various layers of the bureaucracy, and more importantly, between the administration and elected representatives is a complex one. Political compulsions place many pressures on those inside government, forcing an almost daily examination of right and wrong. The Lakshman Rekha is drawn at different places by different actors; sometimes, the level of compromise is greater, sometimes less. Invariably, every individual has a personal threshold, beyond which compromise is not allowed.

For myself, the more I learn about government, the less willing I am to criticise it. This is despite the deep frustration that I feel about many of the shortcomings of government. But I sense an equal, if not greater, degree of frustration on the part of those who are within government. We have vast challenges in our society; many of the answers will have to come from government, and it must change the way it works on many fronts. With Indian democracy maturing, we cannot let up the pressure for change, but we definitely need a more sophisticated articulation of what is wrong, going beyond the black-and-white barcodes to see the shades of grey in our government.

As I walked out of my friend’s office, I couldn’t help wondering how many such people there were, scattered across union and state and local governments. Senior officers to second division assistants, Members of Parliament to municipal councillors, all chipping away, playing their role, bearing the burden of public cynicism every day, being indicted by people who have little understanding of the extent and scope of the constraints under which they operate, while they quietly clear files, sometimes faster because of a special bond of camaraderie formed by a cricket team.

28-Apr-2006

A Different View Of L'affaire Kaavya

Here from an American blogger. Notice the title of post : Meritocracy. And note this:
...she was able to pay $20,000 for a college counselor who put her into contact with a publisher. In short, she was lucky enough to be able to pay for connections.
I will let this commenter balance that out:
Wait a damn minute - we have nothing to go on except the story and the money to say she or anyone else did not work hard. You don't know that she didn't and to assume she didn't because she has parents with money is - well, - prejudiced.

I don't know what happened except what I've read and the girl could not be more apologetic over the purported plagiarism.
But it still doesn't make a bee in my bonnet go away, a bee that sneaked in as I watcheda news segment on CNN-IBN about the student protests against reservation. One student had this to say, paraphrasing completely:
a person who gets into an medical course through the reservation quota will not be able to learn all that well, since he will not have the skills for it. So what kind of doctors will we produce with this policy of reservation?
Fair point. But the same argument could be made against the system of getting seats in private engineering and medical colleges based on paying power. So why is it not made so vigorously? And isn't it also true that the student who fails to measure up won't pass his exams and thus will not be able to practice?

On a different note, how many of these students who get subsidised education and free experience in government institutions end up serving in the villages where the real need is? And how many end up with fat practices in the cities or abroad? We already know where the IIM graduates end up. Who do the doctors serve?

Update: Read the other side of the story, strongly put, here. Why indeed?

24-Apr-2006

Human Trafficking

By US contractors in Iraq. Shoe is on the wrong foot I think. Via Juan Cole, who in fact calls it the revival of slavery.

Update: And that after their government and President lied to start a war on the same country, and hoodwinked their own people into supporting the war. If this is what democracy is in the greatest democracy in the world, god help us. Via TPM.

22-Apr-2006

Adivasis And Forests

Found this on the net - the website of a group called Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee. This group seems to be fighting for the adivasis' land rights. The site itself is a bit quirky requiring some working around/URL manipulation to get to where you want to go. But it gives an idea of the things happening in the area, mostly far away from the TV screens and newspaper headlines. They have a report on the Kalinga killings which recently spurted across the news horizons of the rest of the country. Factual, not very heavy on emotions, and eye-opening. It also touches on the forest protection and destruction issue and why it would not be welcome in some quarters that the Adivasis get legal ownership of their lands. It reflects on how well governments take care of forest lands. An excerpt:
Kalinga Nagar core zone comprises of 13,000 acres where the industries are situated. The remaining 17,000 acres are earmarked for the townships and civic amenities [pk: i.e.,a total of 121 sq km]. Sourrounding this is a greenbelt of dense forests spread over an additional area of 75 sq k.m.s. The flora includes sal, kurum, vandan, ashan and piasal. The forests of Nakasa, Natimara, Barsuli etc, all within ten kilometers of the project area, are also home to rich and diverse wildlife like leopard, deer, scaly ant-eater, python, cobra etc. This is also an elephant corridor zone as it comes within the larger Saranda Sal Forest area.

What is noteworthy is that the people in these forty Adivasi villages have been protecting this forest zone even prior to 1946. Their protection plan included what we call today ‘Community vigilant groups’. It is for this reason that the forest and wild animals stayed protected from forest mafia, poachers’ et al. Interestingly the practice of these community vigilant groups is older than our present day environmental NGO’s claiming to protect the forest.

The Bone of Contention
A known fact is that the first and last land survey was undertaken in 1928 under the then British Raj. That land survey did not include the Adivasi areas, thus, a majority of the Adivasi population in Orissa was never given land papers. Despite a Supreme Court ruling in favour of the Adivasi, the government has not moved a finger to grant papers to the Adivasis. The advantage of maintaining the status quo by the upper dominant caste and class is manifold. One such advantage is seen here in Duburi where only those who had land papers were given compensation in 1994. The rest of the land the government got for free.

The Tata Factor
The Tata Steel Ltd (TSL), a late-comer in the project, has been allotted 2400 acres in Kalinga Nagar, for the construction of a six million tonne plant. The land that the government purchased at the rate of Rs. 37,000/- per acre in 1994, was sold to the Tata Co. for Rs. 3,35,000/- thus making a net profit of Rs 715,200,000 and at the same time giving the Tata Company a savings of over Rs. 87,600,000 over the market price. The market price is between Rs. 5,00,000 to 7,00,000 per acre.

It was this dispute over compensation that was on the negotiation table till 2nd January and was the reason why the people had assembled to prevent the bull-dozers from destroying their houses and taking over their lands that fatal day.

There were other reasons for this dispute. The Government had paid only for those lands for which the people had ownership papers; amounting to 13,000 acres, For the remaining 17,000 acres, which were in part common land and in part lands belonging to the Adivasis --though the papers due to them by the Supreme court ruling had never materialized-- the government did not pay any money. Within the category of common lands comes forest land. Traditionally the Khunkhatidars also had large amounts of forest lands and hence the ownership of these forest lands, and the question as to whether they belonged to the Forest Department (Government) or to the Khunkhatidars, or how much belonged to each, had been in dispute. While this amounts to another staggering mathematical figure, in terms of blood, it has taken the lives of the twelve killed, injured dozens, and the trauma of the repression that has followed and the burden of collective memory is going to linger on.

In A Spot - 220406

The next one in the series, though it her Fifth Column in IE - not the usual On The Spot in DH - which I discuss here. She tackles the Naxalite problem taking some time out to bash the Rural Employment Guarantee Act(REGA) along the way. First, the latter:
On account of the deletrious influence of Leftist NGOs on the UPA Government, all we have had by way of rural development are madcap schemes like the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Thousands and thousands of crores will be spent on setting up a massive bureaucracy that seeks to provide a hundred days of employment a year to the destitute. A hundred days, if they can be provided, will continue to leave them destitute.

If those who invent these grandiose schemes travelled in rural India, they would have noticed that even those who have 200 days of employment a year are destitute. I have met whole families who live on less than Rs 10 a day when the breadwinner has 15 days of work a month.

It is not a 'Scheme'. It is an Act. There are differences between the two I believe. And nix on the deletrious effect of leftist NGOs on the UPA - the 100 day guarantee is part of the CMP based on which the UPA came to power. But why should keeping up electoral promises matter in this brave new world of rightist opinion-makers.

Now for some maths. How much would each of the families that she mentions earn in a year? 10*15*12= Rs 1800. How much does 100 days of work under the act give? Remember that the workers need to be given at least the minimum agricultural wage per day as per the act. That is around Rs 60. So, 100 * 60 = Rs 6000. More than three times what they would earn otherwise. If those who columnise their opinions weekly had a ready grasp of elementary mathematical calculations, we would get better informed reading material on weekends.

Then Ms Singh writes:
What we need in the Naxalite districts is investment in real development. Roads, schools, clean water, electricity, irrigation and above all jobs.
'Above all jobs'? Is she by any chance asking for employment for the rural people? Probably even a guarantee for a certain number of days of employment?`Like the Act under discussion here? No, that can't be. Must be she is asking for regular 9-5 jobs for everyone. And I'm not sure what kind of work she thinks will get done. Probably digging up a hole in the morning and filling it up in the afternoon following by the rustling of newly-minted notes before everyone says bye to each other? That need not necessarily be it as these folks mention:
Second, it must be remembered that such a programme does not involve an expenditure of resources for the sole purpose of creating employment. Rather, the idea is to use the workers productively in activities which will build or maintain assets in the countryside, or provide important social or economic services. So such expenditure will yield dividends not only in terms of higher levels of economic activity in the present but also through improving the conditions of production in rural areas. There are many such potential activities which can have important effects on supply conditions, productivity and sustainability of rural economic activities, in both agriculture and non-agriculture.

For example, constructing and maintaining roads and other connectivity (which has thus far been the most popular form of activity in such schemes) has direct and indirect effects in agricultural marketing and a whole range of other economic activities, besides generally improving the conditions of rural residents. But other activities, which are often far less captial-intensive, such as building and maintaining bundhs, minor irrigation works, clearing out and desilting ponds and rivers, also have very positive short run and long run effects on production conditions and can also improve the sustainability of cultivation patterns generally, implying important social gains.
It would be worthwhile for Ms Singh to read the thing in full.

The act is surely not a silver bullet, but it can't be all bad and needs to be given a chance.

Now to the Naxalite issue about which she is talking all along
If the Prime Minister were serious about dealing with our single biggest internal security challenge, he needs to put his money where his mouth is. Policemen in Naxalite districts need the sort of weapons that are used to protect VIPs in Delhi and they need to be trained along with the commandos responsible for VIP security.
I think it is clear. The Naxalite problem is not going to be solved by firepower. Else the US would be done in Iraq and subjugating Iran or even Syria by now. The police in the rural areas are always going to be outnumbered. And outnumbered, they are practically at the mercy of the Naxalites. Short of guarding each police chowki with one or two armoured tanks, I don't see how the policemen can be protected. And even the tanks will not guarantee anything.

So we move on to the socio-economic problem underlying the Naxalite problem. We've already seen how providing food in the mouths of the rural needy is not going to help. Next the lady notes that the tribals and adivasis are mostly the people being recruited by the Naxalites. But she does not think it would be a good idea to allow them to legally own the land that they live on. You might think it is a good idea - make them feel a little more like they belong and a little more secure, maybe even put the land to good use. But no, Tavleen Singh does not agree. She think the forests will vanish. This apprehension is ill-founded according to me, as I noted in this post. But the hypocrisy is killing. Mr Mittal can take 32 square kilometres (8000 acres) of land for his steel plant in Jharkhand - which has some of the best forest cover in the country - without harming the forests, but not the adivasis and dalits who have been there all along. Break please.

16-Apr-2006

The South As Foreign Country

From an opinion piece in The Telegraph:
There was bloodshed and loss of life as the inexplicable violence continued for nearly two days. The word “inexplicable” is used advisedly since the occasion was that of mourning. Sorrow-driven violence is not a common cultural phenomenon. Rajkumar had died of natural causes at a ripe old age. Yet there was a bizarre exhibition of popular anger. What were the people angry with? With death, the one thing that is certain in life? Did they expect that the matinee idol would never die? What triggered off the violence? These questions will continue to haunt sociologists and cultural anthropologists who study popular behaviour.
It was inevitable that sociologists and anthropologists were dragged into it. I am surprised that psychiatrists, psychoanalists, historians and others were not.

They need not be. The questions - at least the main question : What triggered off the violence? - can be equally well-addressed by the police and the authorities who were in charge of law and order. As I noted in this post, and as local opinion is stressing, the violence was most probably not the work of fans - at least not to a major extent. To the extent that it was - which could be said of the violence in and around Kanteerava Stadium where the body was kept for public viewing - it was possible to explain it by the ineptitude displayed by the authorities, as this report from DH notes, though troublemakers were probably at work there too. As for the rest, the latter were most likely to be blamed. Deccan Herald - Karnataka's daily - notes as much in this editorial:
Rajkumar held sway over the minds and hearts of the people of the state, and it was only natural that thousands of them turned up to pay their homage to him. The state government and the police should have anticipated the crowd control problems and deployed police personnel in sufficient strength.
...
It is a known fact that rowdy-sheeters and other anti-social elements take advantage of crowds to kill people, loot shops and houses, and set fire to vehicles and shops. As soon as the government received information about the death of Rajkumar, the police ought to have rounded up all rowdy-sheeters in Bangalore. But they did not as they failed to realise the gravity of the situation, though they have in the past — particularly during the period Rajkumar was a hostage of Veerappan — faced trouble from a section of fans and anti-social elements.
I'm not justifying violence by the fans - if it indeed occurred - whatever the pretext, but point it out as a possible explanation of what happened.

It is not surprising though that The Telegraph takes the view that it does. As it notes at the beginning of the article itself:
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Many north Indians feel that the statement would lose none of its significance, if the word “past” were to be substituted by “south”. Such prejudices have perhaps been fortified by what has happened in Bangalore in the aftermath of the death of the famous film star, Rajkumar.
In other words: those crazy southerners.

Dispensable Citizens?

From The Hindu:
Every time a rehabilitation policy is mooted by the state, it is in fact an admission that the process of development has got too lopsided and cannot do without a correction. But as should need no reiteration, it is not policy alone, but its practice that makes the difference. Those strident in their condemnation of the dam-affected resisters are demanding that they, the dam-affected, accept their status as dispensable citizens. There is no call for the state to perform according to standards that the state has itself set. There is instead an anger that the indefinite fast has prevented the wishing away of the non-performance on rehabilitation and misrepresentation in official documents. In other words, along with the dispensability of the displaced, impunity is being advocated when the state breaches the dictum of the law — that the state has itself made! This is not then merely about whether the dam should be constructed or not. It is about creating the dispensable citizen, condoning state inaction, and then blaming the victim.
More from The Hindu on the same here.

14-Apr-2006

State Honours

Raj Kumar was buried with full state honours but neither state nor honour was present. There were all of five or six policemen apparently playing the role of spectators, representing the state. The Deputy Chief Minister and some of his party colleagues scurried to and from the burial scene in undue haste. Not a word to the sons who were left quite alone. As for the gun salute it might have happened in Mysore for all one could discern in the commotion. Honour too was absent. What honour when the sons of the man had to cry and plead to be allowed to finish the burial rites before sundown. They were completely helpless. The crowd was thick and deep till the very edge of the pit.

As for the place where the actor's body was kept in state for public viewing earlier in the day - there was hardly any dignity or grace in that. It was a sordid, harsh and dispiriting scene. Only the line of people silently trailing past the barricades gave an indication that here was a man who was not ordinary. Surely this man who had earned the love of so many deserved more?

Once again the difference between the common people and the rest was shown up. The real fans - who had bought the tickets to their hero's movies these many days - were left outside the gates everywhere. If they were not following the cortege so closely they would have been far from the actual burial too. The politicians who were looking for photo-ops and to doing the right thing more than anything else - I saw Mr Deve Gowda even smile as he got out of his car - walked right in and out.

Why did the violence happen? I think there must be more than one reason. Miscreants who were not fans, fans who were angry, and poor management by the authorities.

There were people who were not fans in the crowd. They couldn't be fans - they were dancing into the cameras with wide grins. What kind of fans could they be? As to the people who caused the trouble - how could they be fans of the gentle star (as Deccan Herald put it somewhere)? They had to be rowdy elements waiting for such events to do their handiwork. And our current political culture thrives on these kind of people. Every political party cultivates them. And they all pay for the culture when they are in power. How many miscreants does it take to cause damage by throwing stones and setting vehicles ablaze?

Fans had probably sufficient reasons to feel angry. There was enough mismanagement going around. One has to look at a map of Bangalore to see how stupid the choice of place for public viewing was. Palace grounds would have been far nearer and more convenient from the hospital, and to the final resting place too. Maybe the police had other objections like difficulty in monitoring access, but with the size of the crowd, anyplace would have been a problem.

And the police exacerbate things. They needed to treat the people who came to the Kanteerava stadium with decency. They should have been informed and managed better. Hitting out indiscriminately with lathis was no way to handle the situation. Again dignity was lacking - it was beaten up with canes. And if it is true that many fans couldn't have a last glimpse of their hero, then that's one more reason for feeling aggrieved. But did angry fans do any damage? Maybe the police will confirm in the days ahead. I too like many others think they didn't.

NB: I was not at the scene, but at home watching the live TV coverage.