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.