Friday, June 26, 2009
Maya and her fascination for statues
It is common knowledge that Dalits in India were a oppressed lot (and still are), being treated as a political base by the Congress party. It was the emergence of Kanshi Ram, who resigned from his Government service and setup the Bahujan Samaj Party for giving the Dalits a voice. In our modern word, it is hard to believe that a politician would not have ulterior motives for doing what he did, and it was not easy to understand fully the acts of Kanshi Ram, but his actions (including the fact that he did not actively seek any political power for himself) lead to a suggestion that he did in fact not hanker for power for himself.
It was Kanshi Ram who started the process of making the Dalits believe that they could wield political power, and as a part of taking this process forward Kanshi Ram handed over the actual power wielding to Mayawati (wikipedia). It has been Mayawati who has taken the party much further in its quest to become a major political power in the country, starting with the critical state of Uttar Pradesh. It is also true that among the urban class, there is a certain negative feeling against Mayawati. Mayawati projects that as an upper class-lower class divide, and there may be some truth in that; at the same time, there is also a deep feeling of rejection against the image that Mayawati projects. She flaunts her corruption, she flaunts her grab of power, she flaunts her image of wanting to make it big (the images of big diamonds, asking partymen to contribute money for election tickets and for her birthday party), all of these are images that people do not normally see in politicians. It would be that she is like any other politician in corruption, but she does not hide it like others do.
This is further exemplified by her fixation on setting up statues for herself, something that no other politician in India would encourage while they are alive, to the degree that she does:
Opposition parties on Friday slammed Mayawati for unveiling statues and parks of Dalit leaders ahead of schedule, saying it was aimed at pre-empting the Supreme Court from putting these projects on hold. “The manner in which the Chief Minister hurriedly unveiled the statues and parks yesterday is indicative of her guilt at misusing government funds for party work,” Congress spokesman Akhilesh Pratap Singh said in Lucknow.
Mayawati had unveiled the 15 statues, which included that of BSP founder late Kanshi Ram and her own, and parks at a hurriedly-organised function in Lucknow on Thursday, nine days ahead of schedule.
Mayawati does this statue making and naming of parks to an incredible degree, naming them primarily for Kanshi Ram and for herself. The level to which she does this, and the money and effort spent on these efforts is remarkable. Naming objects after leaders is not new, given that the Congress names almost all things after Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, but they do name projects; they do not destroy existing structures for this. Mayawati has destroyed existing green areas for setting up huge statues as for example in Noida, and tried to pull down sections of a stadium in Lucknow for the same reason. But who would stop her ? Do people expect her to spend effort on development, or to create memorials for herself ?
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Lalgarh operation - security forces seemingly successful
There are several sections of India that are semi-controlled by the Red Army, by the Naxalites. When I mean semi-controlled, it essentially means that they are regions where Naxalites and Maoists can move around without much fear of being encountered by security forces, and where they can in turn strike at state presence such as Government officers and police stations. Lalgarh is one such region, located in Bengal that seems to be in the control of ultra-left forces (need to make the distinction, since West Bengal is actually ruled by a Left / Communist party which is the enemy of the ultra-left forces).
Many states have declared the Maoists as an illegal force, with West Bengal being a notable exception (maybe because it would be hard for a Communist party to justify calling another Communist leaning organization as illegal). However, it really cannot continue to have a condition where a region of the state is a no-go zone for arms of the State. If they let such a situation continue, the CPM sets itself up to be a target of media all over the country, they let a situation fester where the Maoists have time to consolidate and again target other CPM regions, they are under pressure from the Center to take some action, and so on. So, finally, the combined forces of the state police, specialized force called COBRA, and the para-military forces seem to be having success in their operation to the extent that the Maoists leaders are willing to talk peace now (link to article):
Maoist leader Koteswar Rao said on Saturday the West Bengal Government should stop the police operation in Lalgarh and hold talks with the people to find a solution to their problems. "If the Left Front government wants to have discussion with the people of Lalgarh, the operation by the police and security forces against them should end by this afternoon," Rao, a politburo member of the CPI(Maoist), told a TV channel.
Referring to the ongoing joint operation by the state police and the para-military forces, he advised the Left Front government "not to dance to the tune of the Prime Minister or the Union Home Minister".
No matter what the timing of making this security operation a success really is, the fact remains that in their hearts, the governments of most states infested by ultra-left violence know what the basic problems are - not enough welfare, abject poverty and exploitation (especially of tribals), wide-spread corruption among the government apparatus, no real security and law and order, and numerous other reasons that give a lot of support base to the ultra-left forces (most of whom are people with a similar background to these oppressed folks). Governments however do very little to address these concerns and actually provide development support (and in fact accept that there is a huge amount of siphoning of development money through the government apparatus).
As long as Governments are not able to make the necessary development steps and show their success in doing so, they will be unable to stop these Naxalite forces. That would be a real show since these ultra-left forces do not really have a credible plan to increase development, and instead believe in a class struggle that only turns the poorer classes into canon fodder (remember the other struggler, Prabhakaran who killed so many of his fellow Tamils but did nothing concrete to better the lot of his people).
Sunday, June 14, 2009
BJP in huge trouble and internal turmoil after the 2009 elections
When the results for the 2009 Indian Lok Sabha (Parliament) elections were out, everybody was surprised by the scope of the Congress victory. The Left would have been shell-shocked by the scope of their reduction in seats and dramatic bad run in both West Bengal and Kerala, but it was the BJP that was most badly affected. The BJP, which once ruled India for 5 years, had just lost its second general elections (and both of them were lost under the leadership of Lal Krishna Advani - this election was his last attempt to be the Prime Minister of India, since he would be too old the next time).
For the first few weeks after the election, it seemed like the BJP was literally in shell-shock, the party quickly resisted a half-hearted attempt by Advani to resign as the leader of the party (given that there is no clear demarcated second line leader - the presumed next generation leader, Modi, could not carry his state to a complete sweep (which was almost a rejection for him), and all the others are in full fighting mode, it would have been difficult for the party to select a new leader agreeable to all). Murli Manohar Joshi tried to stake a brief claim, but that was quickly thwarted.
Now the voices in the party are being heard loud and clear, and there is a demand for an accountability of the defeat of the party. After all, the party has lost badly in many of the states that were supposed to be good for the party (or had been in the past), such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand, Delhi. For a party that was called the natural party of the middle class and the urban section, not being able to make a mark in Delhi and Bombay shows how much the party seems to have swayed away from being an effective contender for power.
In the last 2 days, there has been a sudden jump in the demand for accountability, and this seems to be related to the recent movements of Advani retaining the leadership of the party, Arun Jaitely becoming the leader in the upper house, and Sushma Swaraj being the deputy leader in the lower house. Other leaders who have been left out and who are seen as having been left out such as Jaswant Singh, Arun Shourie, and Yashwant Sinha have been demanding for more accountability and also that people who had a leadership role in the elections should have to bear the cross for the defeat (targeted at Jaitely, since he was the de-facto head of the campaign and the election effort).
If the BJP wants to come back to being taken as a serious contender for power, it needs to focus more on being an inclusive party. People, even those who were attracted by the earlier Hindutva campaign, are repelled by the hard-line stances on many areas such as the attack on people in a pub in Mangalore, the attacks on churches, the utterances of Varun Gandhi (and their not being condemned). The party needs to show how it can be seen as having a vision for the future, and needs to focus on development (and they have 2 chief ministers who are still there on the basis of their development platform - Modi in Gujarat, and Raman Singh of Chattisgarh).
The party also needs to be more realistic and pragmatic on their policies, as being seen on the side of the Left parties in opposing the nuclear deal was an idiotic posture that disillusioned many of their supporters, and their refusal to cooperate with the Government on accelerating some of the reforms after the exit of the Left parties was also a policy doomed to showing them in poor light. The party can still make good, but it requires a lot of inner look, and self-effort. There is discussion going around about problems in ties with the RSS, but the party needs to fine-tune those ties so that they can use the committed cadre of the RSS while not adopting the reprehensible policies of many of the sister organizations such as the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.
Not a totally easy path ahead for divestment, aim for strategic sales
When the Congress Government came back to power with an enhanced mandate and higher numbers (and consequently, a less dependence on allies to make up its numbers), the markets welcomed the step, with people talking about a re-start of the earlier stalled divestment process. In fact, with the amount of money that the Government has committed towards its ambitious social welfare programs, it needs to arrange for large sums of money to fund these programs. The disinvestment program seems a good way to arrange money for these programs. However, not everything seems to be going the same way for the Congress; even though the allies are lower in number, the opposition from them is still prevalent.
Right now, the 2 main allies of the Congress, the Trinamool Congress of Mamta Banerjee, and the DMK of Karunanidhi seem to have problems with the policy of disinvestment. The DMK is opposed to the policy of disinvestment for those Public Sector Units that are located in Tamil Nadu (these PSU's are a source of public patronage, and the DMK needs to ensure that continuous patronage opportunities remain). The poltician belonging to DMK and Karunanidhi's daughter, Kanimozhi, made a statement against the process of disinvestment as well (link to article):
In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress-led government's new agenda for disinvestment faced opposition from its key ally DMK. The DMK's opposition to the government's disinvestment policy echoed in the Upper House with party MP Kanimozhi arguing that generating revenue by divesting the PSUs would not help. "I welcome that the UPA government has laid a lot of emphasis on welfare schemes and on social sector spending. But we also have to keep away from the temptation of generating revenue by disinvesting our PSUs," Kanimozhi said
Another important ally, Trinamool Congress, has already made it clear that it would not allow rampant disinvestment of the PSUs. Though the party has not yet made its stand clear in the House, party chief Mamata Banerjee opposed some of the `radical' ideas when the draft of the President's address was discussed among the cabinet ministers, Trinamool sources said.
Principally, the Government has no role to play in many of the sectors of industry ? After all, why is the Government in the business of running airlines and having to spend huge amounts from taxpayer's money to prop up Air India, or be in the business of telecom, or in financial industry, or many other similar areas. These are then totally dependent on the whims and fancies of the Minister (even for a critical area such as Road building where the previous Minister had a big hand in the slow down of road expansion).
Further, when the Government does want to disinvest, for sectors of industry where the Government should have a zero role, it should get optimum return. This is not possible through the normal case where the Government disinvests its shares while maintaining a 51% stake in some of the PSU's. For PSU's where a Government stake is not critical, it is better to follow the earlier Government (NDA) policy of strategic sale whereby the Government sells its controlling stake to bidders. This results in a much higher return, and is the optimum way to get returns from the disinvestment process.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
RTI empowering differently abled citizens
We are typically more sympathetic to the concerns and feelings of differently abled people (or who used to be called as handicapped people), and one expects that Government departments, who act as enablers for providing support and services to the citizenry of this country, would also act the same way for differently abled citizens. However, it is no surprise that Government departments are as unconcerned to these special citizens as they are towards normal citizens. But now, citizens have a weapon to get what they want, and that is using the power of RTI. The RTI Act enables citizens to get information on many aspects of the workings of the Government, and this includes the status of any item pending with the Government, and so it was in this particular case when the citizen used RTI to get the required action (link to article):
For almost a year, Rudrakshi Pandya, a differently-abled was pushed around when she demanded her right to a family pension after her father, a retired headmaster of a city-based school, died few years ago. Rudrakshi, was entitled by the government for a pension, under Gujarat civil services (pension) rules as she was unable to fend for herself. Interestingly, pension department had all the requisite documents, including Rudrakshi's medical certificate and even the clearance from the district education office.
It was here that Rudrakshi's mentor, Falguni Mehta, filed an RTI application under Section 7(1) of the RTI Act, which pertains to information being provided within 48 hours of the application with the pensions department. Mehta wanted to know reasons why Rudrakshi's pension was delayed, officers responsible for the delay, the grounds on which pensions for the differently-abled were rejected since 1980 and what punitive actions would be taken if the officers were found guilty. The case finally came up for hearing before state information commission. State chief information commissioner RN Das ruled in Rudrakshi's favour and directed pensions department to provide information within 48 hours.
One wishes that cases like not come up, since they show the bureaucracy in pretty bad light; however, this is also another depiction of the power of the RTI Act in getting the concerned Government departments to act. Also, recent punishments against officials for denying or delaying information should also act as a warning to Government officials in this regard.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
The deceit of discount offers outside stores
I wonder how many times people would have noticed things like this. It was just yesterday that I went to 2 different stores - one of them had advertised for a Flat 50% discount (this was a store called Fab Creations in the Cross River Mall in East Delhi), and the other store was the Reebok store in the same mall. The Reebok store had a similar offer, with the different being that the offer was described as 'Upto 50% off'.
First, we went to the clothes stores, there was no problem whatsoever, the clothes were indeed available at 50% off as a flat rate of discount, and the store was full of people willing to buy (and the people purchasing were not cribbing about the rate having been inflated earlier, a tactic that stores such as Cantabil, Priknit, and Kouton seem to have adopted (I wrote about this earlier - Priknit had jackets at 80% off, but the jacket that would normally have cost Rs. 1500 was priced at Rs. 5000 plus and I walked out in disgust at the horrible anti-consumer attitude of the store owners)). People were satisfied at the purchases, with the price and quality seeming right.
Next to the Reebok sale, the sale being advertised at upto 50% off. Last year, I had bought at a similar sale, but was apprehensive about the 'About' in the sale part this year. And to my disgust, this was exactly the case. The sale was only on the T-shirts (and the sign outside did not specify this; Reebok makes shows primarily, and the sale was not on shoes). Now, as a result, I am less likely to walk into a Reebok store when I see a sign about a sale, since I am slotting it into the same category as Woodlands (Woodlands has been in my constant no-go store list, since while I find the shoes fine, their thought process seems to be to hoodwink consumers - their sales are typically on almost discarded ranges of shoes, and the attitude they show when I ask about sale shoes is positively bad).
Is this normal behavior ? Is this right for a store to increase the expectations of consumers like this, and then let down so badly. Does it not seem that consumers will be less trusting of such brands later ?
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Studying fish stocks from the past in order to figure out the future
Scientists know that fishing stocks the world over are at risk, both from changes due to global warming, and due to over-fishing (and there have been many reports and articles predicting dire forecasts for the health of the fishing stock in the world's oceans). However, in a more detailed and back-looking approach, researchers are studying historical records to see what fish stocks were like just hundreds of years ago, and try to use that data to correlate into estimates of what the future will hold. They are getting hold of historical tax records and logs maintained by sailors, and studying them to determine the long-term impact.
The research was carried out by Members of the History of Marine Animals Project (HMAP), and they came out with results detailing the change in fish species over the past few hundred years that shocked them, and about which they believe that the level of public awareness is low (link to article):
The scale of humanity's impact has shocked them. "I was surprised by the magnitude of the depletion of species and its universality around the globe," Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, an HMAP project leader told CNN. "The extent of it was really quite dramatic. We've fundamentally changed ecosystems without realizing that was possible." HMAP research has revealed a picture of a remarkable wealth of life in the seas as recently as 200 years ago, which has now largely been lost.
Before whaling began in the waters to the south of New Zealand around 1800, the population of whales was roughly 30 times higher than today. In the 17th century the waters around southwest England were home to blue whales, as well as large numbers of porpoise, dolphins, and blue and thresher sharks. Around the world the inshore regions of our seas are estimated to have on average held 10 times the amount of life two or three hundred years ago than they do today.
The oceans are a fundamental factor in the continuance of the human species, whether that be due to the effect they have on global climate, or due to the fact that many geographical concentrations of humanity are dependent on sea life as a major source of nutrition. For the fisheries around the world to have lost so much correlates with earlier research from a couple of years back that stipulated the dangerous position that many of the world's fishing stocks are in. We already see this in the restrictions on the amount of fishing allowed in many regions around the Atlantic in order to conserve the fish population.
At the same time, the research also found that there is hope. If scientifically imposed restrictions on fishing are imposed, fish stocks have bounced back, with the example of the regeneration of the North Sea (Atlantic) herring stocks. If Governments have the courage to thwart the short term interests of the commercial fishing industry, then fish stocks (and the larger species such as whales and other larger fish) can come back.
Government claims that it will investigate seats for money scam
Image the situation; a private college in a state run by a political party; the college is owned by a member of the same political party who is now also a central minister of the Government of India. The same college demands money for admitting students (and not some small sum, but the sum of Rs. 20 lakhs). A media team plans a sting and shows the administrative officer of one of the colleges (the college is Shree Balaji Medical College owned by Union minister of state for information and broadcasting S Jagathrakshakan); in the other college, the registrar asks for Rs. 40 lakhs for students to be allowed admission into the medical college.
This seems perfectly realistic, inspite of Supreme Court judgments and Government policy, capitation based admission is a reality which the Government and the education ministry is perfectly fine to let happen. After all, for Governments that are able to sniff out the movements of opposition parties through their internal intelligence agencies, how hard would it be to find out which all colleges are charging capitation fees ? But when you consider that colleges are owned by politicians and important people, there is no effort that is going to happen to stop such practices from happening.
Why is it important to curb capitation ? Capitation means that a person will enter an important institution such as a medical college or engineering college without a validation of their basic ability to be capable of completing the course. These are colleges that will turn out doctors and engineers, all important elements of society (and if a college can charge Rs. 40 lakh for entry, it would charge a bit more and let these people also complete the course). In addition, poorer but capable students would not be able to pay these huge amounts. And if they took money from somewhere, the huge amount of repayment required would mean that they would bend corners to make the required money.
With this sting, the Government has sprung into action and promised all sort of actions (refer this article):
The Times of India's shocking expose of medical seats being put on sale for Rs 20-40 lakh by medical colleges in Tamil Nadu has triggered a probe into the scam by the Union government. Both HRD and health ministries on Wednesday said that they were examining the expose, and if found correct, would take action against these colleges, including their derecognition.
Union health ministry secretary Naresh Dayal said the two colleges would be derecognised if the veracity of the evidence is established. The Medical Council of India, the regulator for medical education, called the sale of medical seats an "unpardonable act" and has called a meeting of its executive committee next week to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, the Tamil Nadu health department decided on Wednesday to issue show-cause notices to Sri Ramachandra University (SRU) and Shree Balaji Medical College whose officials were caught on camera asking for capitation fees of Rs 20-40 lakh, for violating the Tamil Nadu Educational Institutions (Prohibition of Collection Capitation Fee) Act 1992 and Supreme Court rulings against capitation fee.
Sounds like action is immediate, right ? Well, one is really not sure. For colleges belonging to important people, especially those close to parties that are part of the Government, I am skeptical that the Congress will take this a step further and actually take action. After some time, the college would claim that the sting was a fake sting and then the case would move into different circles.