Saturday, November 26, 2011

Following due process with Kasab is in your own interest!


Ajmal Kasab
Image from Wikipedia 
"Why is he still alive?"
"16 crores? Give me 16 crores instead of him"
"We have no security but he has the best security in the country"
"It has been THREE YEARS!! Justice delayed is justice denied"
Now that the third anniversary of the horrendous 26/11 attacks has dawned, many of today's conversations, be it at the watercooler, while hanging in a Bombay local, while drinking chai or in a classroom, will have the sentences mentioned above. Almost everyone shall vent out their frustration about their tax rupees (those which they absolutely had to pay after exhausting 9999 methods of avoiding tax) being used keep Kasab alive and secure, three years after he was caught. In such cases, the legal community should be pointing out how following the due process of law is the righteous way of doing justice (as opposed to Guantanamo Bay). Sadly however, many within the legal community shall be baying for Kasab's blood too. Here is my little attempt to counter the situation in order to show why following the due process of law with Kasab is in the common man's own interest.

The possibility of police complacency
If the principle is laid down that in terrorism cases such as Kasab's, the trial shall be a summary trial with relaxed rules of evidence and no appeal, the police might get complacent. Here is how - If a terrorist attack takes place again, the police will be under enormous pressure to make some arrests. In order to show that they weren't caught with their pants down, the police maybe very tempted to randomly arrest some poor guy and claim they caught a terrorist. With a summary trial, this shall become really easy and therefore tempting. Even when there is scope for thorough investigation the police maybe tempted to just make someone a scape goat if they know that they wont have to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.

All other Indians apart from those who were the victims have only seen Kasab on TV. They are convinced of his guilt merely because all news stories about him tally. If there were to be no thorough trials for the terrorism accused, he police would just need a good PR team to tell the country that any guy they catch is the real terrorist and their job would be done.  WHAT IF THAT SCAPEGOAT IS YOU?

Present : You say - Who cares if Kasab gets a fair trial? He is guilty as hell!
Future : Will you say - I dont want a trial even though I have been falsely implicated?

Even today there are alleged cases of shoddy investigation in terror related cases (and many more in naxal related cases). I am not saying that all police will definitely turn complacent but why create the possibility?

The progress isn't really slow
The special court proceedings are over and Kasab has been sentenced to death. His appeal has been turned down by the Bombay High Court. The matter is now before the SC. The pace with which the case is moving is not actually slow by Indian standards. Indira Gandhi's assassin was also hung only after about five years.

The Money
Well, 16 crores might be a big deal for you and me but it is not for the Union of India or the State of Maharashtra. It is a miniscule part of the budget. The government spends far far more on just paying interests on its loans to foreign banks which is also a head of spending where your tax ruppees go without benefiting you. The money is not being handed over to him. It is being spent on housing him, feeding him and for his security. You may say even one rupee is too many, but then it is the cost of doing justice. Just be secure in the knowledge that if you or I are ever undertrials, the state will still feed us and try to keep us secure as far as possible too.

In conclusion, the due process is being followed and justice shall be done. There is no point in hollering for Kasab to be hung instantly. When due process is followed with him, it prevents complacency and is thus in our own interest. Furthermore, we can show the world that even terrorism can be dealt with in a humane and a fair manner without resorting to unconstitutional prisons and murders.

***
This post was first posted on Legally India website

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Great Divide


The Great Divide


Nasa recently released this picture taken from the International Space Station. Perhaps for the first time in history, the subcontinent has been photographed in a single shot. It is heartbreaking to see that the political differences which divide more than 1.5 billion cricket-loving, film-loving and generally peaceloving people of the subcontinent are obvious even from space.


Much blood has been meaninglessly spilled along this border that separates people who were essentially one, less than a hundred years ago. Now with modern weapons and nuclear arsenals backing the two huge conventional forces of the two nations, any future conflict shall only be worse. No conflict, however small or large, regardless of the result leaves behind ugly scars of unforgettable human suffering.  Over the past two years I happened to have the opportunity of interacting and making friends with sons and daughters of men who fought in the shortest Indo-Pak war, the Kargil conflict (in which India emerged ‘victorious’) and these interactions have only strengthened this view.


Had there been no partition in 1947, inter alia, we would have been able to see the dream team of players like Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad, and Sachin Tendulkar play alongside each other. While there is no real point in looking back at such “what if” scenarios, I do hope that at the very least, the subcontinent does not have to witness any more bloodshed over this border. 


It is sad that these days, whenever a list of the most important issues that the government needs to urgently deal with is prepared, “The Indo-Pak peace process” rarely finds a place in it. It has been assumed by much of the Indian society that the Indo-Pak ‘problem’ cannot be solved and the peace process shall never meet success. In my opinion it should be the topmost priority of any government that comes to power in either country.


A very encouraging initiative that Times of India and the Jung group of Pakistan had launched a while ago was the ‘Aman ki Asha’ campaign to encourage people to people ties between the two nations. I hope they are still continuing this unique effort. Only when the people of each country forget the militaristic nationalism encouraged by the political parties and realise how similar the cultures of the two nations are shall there be a real hope of peace and fraternity between the two.


Looking at the great divide today, I wish that I, not only not see any Indo-Pak war in my lifetime but also that I see a time when such conflict is unimaginable and the great prominent border in the picture is largely meaningless. I fervently hope this wish of mine comes true. 





SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR...
Lahore and Amritsar : So close, yet so far!

Note: The border is prominent as an orange line in the NASA picture as a 2000km section of the border has been fenced and also floodlit by the Indian government to stop militants from infiltrating into India.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Is India ready for a permanent seat at the UNSC?

The reform of the UN Security Council to amend or do away with its system of five veto wielding permanent members is widely advocated across the world these days. That the UNSC is archaic is blatantly obvious since the permanent members are the permanent members by the virtue of being victors of a war that ended more than six decades ago. India, along with fellow emerging powers like Brazil and South Africa is now lobbying hard for a  to gain a permanent seat (hopefully with a veto) at that coveted table. The Indian media says much about the unfairness of the current system but hardly gives much justification for why India should be made a permanent member. Instead of simply demanding a UNSC permanent seat for being an emerging economy with the second largest population in the world, we should try to analyse if we will really benefit from it.

Ever since independence, India’s foreign policy has been one of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations (except perhaps Pakistan & Sri Lanka). That policy has served us well. Off the top of your mind, can you tell what is India’s official position on Iranian nuclear programme, Darfur genocide or democracy in Burma? Most probably, you cant. That is because when any crisis occurs, a non-UNSC member can get away with saying nothing beyond symbolic statements like “We urge all parties to maintain restraint and seek a political solution.” That is exactly what Indian Ministry of External Affairs does when the world is discussing an issue that hardly affects Indian interests. The five permanent members on the other hand have to take rigid stances on every issue that comes before the council.

India has strategic interests in two so called “problem states”, Iran and Burma (the junta has renamed it to Myanmar). It is a fact that despite India always highlighting its status as the world’s most populous democracy, India maintains close relations with these two largely undemocratic authoritarian regimes. With India’s thirst for oil only about to get worse with increasing prosperity, India obviously needs to keep Iran close. India is one of Burma’s largest trading partners and with China eager to curry favour with the junta, India cant afford to antagonise relations with this neighbour. At present India can afford to pay lip service to the ideals of spreading democracy and still enjoy good relations with Burma and Iran because there is hardly any need to publicly reveal its relations with these nations. Once India is a permanent UNSC member, India’s votes with regard to resolutions concerning these countries will be closely scrutinised and India will have to make a choice between its strategic interests and Western goodwill.

Secondly, a study of the UNSC resolutions passed till date shows that one of the most commonly discussed issues in the UNSC is the Israel-Palestine conflict. In recent years, India has committed to establishing good relations with Israel including co-operation in many matters including defence. Similarly, India also has close relations with the gulf and arab states which are a home to a very large Indian diaspora. Thus, in any matter relating to the middle east India would have to abstain if it becomes a permanent UNSC member.

Since 1st Jan 2011, India has been a non-permanent UNSC member. The most important issue that the UNSC voted on since then was the one authorising air action over Libiya. India abstained. There is hardly any point in lobbying for a UNSC permanent seat if the over arching foreign policy doctrine of the nation is one of non-interference. Thus, in my opinion, instead of spending its political capital over lobbying for a UNSC seat, India’s foreign policy should focus on building better bilateral ties with other emerging and less developed nations.

Lastly, before urging UNSC expansion, the G-4 states should actually analyse how effective a huge UNSC with 9 or 10 veto wielding member will be. No point getting a permanent seat at an ineffective and powerless Security Council. 


What do you think? Does India need a permanent UNSC seat? Do comment and let me know …

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The forgotten hunger strike...

I am sure that you have heard a great deal about Anna Hazare’s hunger strike for the Lokpal Bill. I am also sure that you have heard about Baba Ramdev’s bizarre fast and its fallout. However, does the name Irom Sharmila ring a bell? No? what about AFSPA? No idea? Get idea! You really need to read this post…

Friday, May 27, 2011

Interesting reads from around the web

It has been a long time since I last blogged. Last minute studying for the impending law school entrance exams did not leave me much time to write after the two posts about the Singapore General Election 2011.

However, no writing does not mean no reading. I was surfing the internet as much as ever and here are some interesting articles that I recently came across -

  • The Economist - $100,000 dropouts
    • The article talks about a real programme which actually encourages students to drop out of college!!
  • Yawning Bread - Counting Agent Me
    • A very insightful chronicle of a counting agent at the Singapore General Election. How do you think a vote where a person has written "Go to Hell" across the name of a party will be counted in Singapore?
  • Times of India - Debunking six myths about Narendra Modi
    • Famous novelist Chetan Bhagat clears the myths surrounding one of the most controversial politicians in India. The Debate continues - Religious zealot or the most successful chief minister focused on industrial development?
  • TIME - Top Five False Statistics
    • TIME magazine makes a list of the top five false statistics that we often see being quoted in even some of the well renowned publications.
  • Daily News and Analysis - Get basic policing right first
    • Nitin Pai talks about why the Mumbai Police should not be teaching martial arts to women.
And on a lighter note...
Do comment and let me know which one of these articles you liked the most...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

S'pore GE2011 Roundup– My take on the hot issues

 

National PAP vote share reduced to 60.14%
While opposition winning a GRC and having 6 elected members in the parliament is definitely significant, the reduction in its national vote share will also put some significant pressure on the PAP. In 2006 WP team polled more than 42% but lost in Aljunied. Five years later they won. In 2011, opposition parties have gained more than 40% votes in several constituencies including Joo Chiat SMC, Potong Pasir SMC, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and East Coast GRC. The close finishes will put PAP under pressure to ensure that the policies that they frame in the next five years must be absolutely well thought out and suitable for the common man or they will risk losing these close fought seats in 2016. Secondly, PAP must now deal with the policies targeted by the opposition including the housing and immigration issues amongst others because looking at the results, it is obvious that these matter a lot to the voters. Thirdly, PAP must choose its next generation leaders better because GE2011 shows that the voters will now analyse the candidates carefully and wont just follow anyone who contests under the lightning bolt banner. Marine Parade where PAP fielded Ms Tin Pei Ling in its team saw PAP's gain only 56.7% votes which is below its national average of 60%.

Aljunied dares to pick up the hammer in the high stake game
The much awaited contest in Aljunied GRC finally ended up with the voters picking the Workers Party 'A' team which included WP's veteran leaders Mr. Low and Ms. Sylvia Lim. While I am pleased that Workers Party won, I agree with the PM who said that the residents were being asked not just to select best representatives for themselves but were being forced to choose based on the much larger and abstract issue of whether they desired to have more opposition in the parliament to keep a check on the PAP government. However, I do not think that WP is at fault for pooling its resources and fielding an A team in Aljunied because generally the flaws in the GRC system (Which I have blogged about earlier) tend to favour the party in power.

About Cabinet Minister Mr George Yeo losing his seat
The WP victory in Aljunied GRC means that a couple of MPs who served the previous term as ministers will be out of the parliament for the next five years. This is not regrettable per se as many Singaporeans believe but in the specific case of Mr George Yeo, it is indeed unfortunate as he was a very highly regarded and much loved foreign minister. However, this should not have any direct impact on the Aljunied GRC residents. In theory, he was serving as Singapore's foreign minister, and he was working for his constituents in his capacity as a MP only. Hence, Aljunied residents will still have enough attention paid to their needs. Having a minister as your MP does not have any special significance as far as dealing with your local problems is concerned.

Ms Tin Pei Ling, Mr George Yeo and the GRC system
It can be credibly said that it is the fault of the GRC system that a popular and much experienced PAP leader, Mr George Yeo has been voted out while a young, inexperienced PAP candidate Ms Tin Pei Ling has been voted into the Parliament.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

S’pore GE 2011 – Is the GRC system fair?

As has been common in the last few general elections, the opposition is once again clamouring about how the Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) system of Singapore is flawed. GRC system is a unique system present in Singapore and has no direct counterpart in other Westminster style democracies like United Kingdom and India. Here is my critique of the GRC system -

Some Background Information
GRCs were first introduced in 1988 Singapore in elections. GRCs are super constituencies which are larger than Single Member Constituencies and send 3 or more representatives to the Singapore parliament. In a GRC, political parties must field a team of candidates and the voters only have a choice of choosing the party slate that they prefer and cannot vote for the individual(s) like in a normal constituency. At least one member of each team contesting a GRC must be from a minority community.

Are special provisions for minorities necessary?
GRCs were first introduced as 3 member constituencies to ensure minority representation in the Singapore Parliament. However, I am sceptical about the fundamental assumption that minorities need special provisions for representation. If one takes a good look at the electoral history of Singapore, it is evident that many politicians from the minority communities were elected to political office even in the pre-GRC days. Some prominent examples would be S. Rajaratnam of the People's Action Party (PAP) who was Singapore's first foreign minister and the then Workers' Party candidate Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam who won a by-election in 1988 in the chinese majority Anson constituency. If these politicians from the Indian community and Singapore's first Chief Minister David Marshall (who was Jewish) could get elected on their own merit without any special provisions, why are special provisions required now when infact there now exists better racial harmony today. After further amendments to the rules, GRCs can now be either 3, 4, 5 or 6 member constituencies but all require only one minority candidate. Hence, it can be said that the minority community members' representation has now been diluted due to increase in GRC sizes.

Hanging on to the coat tails of others
Here lies on of the greatest flaws of the GRCs. Voters must vote for a party team and cant choose between the individuals. Opposition has rightly pointed out that this makes it possible for PAP newcomers to get elected by riding on to the popularity of the more experienced leaders. If the two former prime ministers of Singapore who are still much respected leaders contest along with newcomers the voters do not have the choice of voting in the senior leaders but rejecting the other members of the team. Voters who like some but not all members of both (or more) teams contesting do not have the choice of voting for the exact individuals who they think can represent them the best. If a person is faced with a scenario where he likes one team member a lot but thinks that the others are no good will have to choose between not sending the person he likes the best to the Parliament or sending that person but also sending 3 or 4 other MPs along with him. One must remember that once they are in the parliament, each member has equal voting rights and the team leader is not more special. Single Member Constituencies which are the norm in most countries force no such dilemmas on the voters and present them with a clear choice.

Unequal vote power
Most countries try to adjust constituency population sizes in such a way that each vote has hypothetically the same 'power'. GRCs do not allow this principal to apply in Singapore. Hypothetically speaking each constituency be it a SMC or 3 member GRC or 6 member GRC could be decided one way or the other by a single vote. However, with the GRC system, a deciding vote cast in a GRC can send 3 members to the legislature while a SMC deciding vote can send only one. A 6 member GRC vote can be said to be six times as powerful as a SMC vote. This theoretically creates a perverse incentive for governments to focus development and other projects in GRCs because a swing of 1% there can be 3 or 6 times as damaging as a swing of 1% in a SMC.

The By-Election Question
During the term of the previous parliament, a member of parliament for Jurong GRC passed away. However, unlike in other countries, no by-election was held to fill his seat. It was claimed that the other GRC MPs could fill in for him. This invites the question "Was Jurong GRC overrepresented?". Why was it a X-member GRC when (X-1) members can infact represent it well enough? Holding by-elections for vacant seats is the norm in most legislatures. Large 5 and 6 member GRCs can make by-elections infeasible even though the residents of those GRCs have an equal right to equal representation. Absence of by-elections may drastically alter political equations if the government in future is holding only a razor thin majority in the parliament.

Verdict
It would be wise for Singapore to scrap the GRC system. GRCs create unfair opportunities for some contestants to become MPs by riding on other teammates' popularity and achievements because many voters do not analyse the entire team but just focus on the achievements of the team leaders especially when the team leaders have held ministerial positions. An all SMC system like the olden days would help to ensure that each candidate is well analysed separately by the voters. I am sure that the Singapore society is mature enough to vote for candidates from minority communities even in SMCs.

***

This is a post about the GRC system and not about GE2011 as a whole. I am following political happenings with interest and will probably post about the interesting Marine Parade and Aljunied races after the election. But do comment and let me know what do you feel about the GRC system…

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stop throwing good money after bad…

Despite modernisation of the aircraft fleet, repeated bailouts and multiple rebranding exercises Air India remains an abject failure and is mired in debt. The pilots are on strike again. Here are some stats from an Economic Times article which highlight just how bad the situation is -

  • Daily Earning – Rs. 36 crore, Daily Expenditure – Rs. 62 crore. (These are general figures. Right now, it must be worse because of the strike.) So the airline has to borrow not just to buy aircrafts but for working capital as well.
  • Outstanding unsecured short term working capital loan of Rs 20,763 crore and an annual interest burden of Rs 2,400 crore .
  • The airline is only able to borrow at high rates like 12-14% due to its existing debt burden and dire state of finances.
  • Overdue payment to oil companies - Rs 3,320 crore.

With frequent strikes by Air India staff and strong competition from the private airlines, it is obvious that the company does not have much of a chance of recovering to healthy financial state. Thus the central government will be forced to bailout the company and pay off its debts yet again. Since, Air India has been a recipient of taxpayer funds more than once and still continues to be a loss making PSU, I think it is high time that the government sell off the airline or shut it down and auction off its assets.
It is the time for the
Maharaja to bow out.

What is the use of having a national carrier?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why is ‘The Pledge’ so weird??

According to the dictionary ‘to pledge’ means “to promise solemnly and formally”. Going by this definition, it is questionable whether the random set of facts recited every morning by students should even be called “The Pledge” in the first place. In case that you have forgotten what you mindlessly recited during your schooldays, it is as follows:

India is my country.
All Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall respect my parents, teachers and all elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness.

While the entire pledge has always baffled me, the most ridiculous line is definitely the fifth one. Why should the fifth line of the national pledge arbitrarily define a personal code of ethics that has absolutely nothing to do with the nation as a whole? My courteous nature and the amount of respect I show to elders has absolutely nothing to do at all with my love for the nation. While most people might agree that respecting elders and teachers are good qualities, are they so crucial as to warrant their inclusion in the national pledge? I would even say that blind devotion and respect should never be considered good qualities. Doesn’t anyone remember the story of Eklavya? How did respecting elders and teachers work out for him? The concept of the state imposing morality on the common man is a feature of authoritarian regimes and should have no place in a democratic society. Furthermore, the word ‘devotion’ strikes me as a tad bit too strong. It seems to be implying the need to have blind faith and intense nationalism rather than rational and reasonable patriotism.

Secondly, the pledge falls far short of being ideal, not because of its random inclusion of respect to elders but because of its omission of the critical aspects of that define the modern Indian nation state. Where is the mention of Democracy and the rule of law? Why doesn’t equality and regional and religious harmony find a place in the pledge? Doesn’t it seem to be common sense that we should pledge to uphold democratic ideals and maintain religious harmony in India?

Lastly, the pledge is so badly drafted that the first three lines as well as the last line does not involve making any solemn promises at all! They are mere statements of fact which I don’t think should be included in a National Pledge. The inclusion of the ‘respect to elders’ line has also restricted its usage to schools and colleges. Rarely, if ever, is the pledge recited at any events like the Republic Day and the Independence Day celebrations. Hence, I think it is high time to consider replacing the Indian national pledge with a better phrased version. However, before that we also need to debate the underlying issue of whether we need to have a national pledge in the first place and does it serve any good purpose.

I think that the Singapore pledge would be a good model for our pledge since it is also a multi-ethnic society. The pledge of Jamaica is particularly interesting as it makes a promise to play a part in advancing the welfare of the entire human race. The pledges of some of the other nations of the world are -

SINGAPORE

We, the citizens of Singapore,
pledge ourselves as one united people,
regardless of race, language or religion,
to build a democratic society
based on justice and equality
so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
progress for our nation.

JAMAICA

Before God and All mankind.
I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart
The wisdom and courage of my mind,
The strength and vigour of my body
in the service of my fellow citizens.

I promise to stand up for justice,
Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively,
To think generously and honestly, so that,
Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship
and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare
of the whole human race.

SIERRA LEONE -

I pledge my love and loyalty to my country Sierra Leone;
I vow to serve her faithfully at all times;
I promise to defend her honour and good name;
Always work for her unity peace, freedom and prosperity;
And put her interest above all else.
So help me God.

NIGERIA -

I pledge to Nigeria my country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her unity and uphold her honour and glory
So help me God.

So, what do you think of the Indian national pledge? Do you think that it needs to be rewritten? If so, how would you rather have it? Please comment and share your thoughts…


Monday, April 11, 2011

The war has only just begun and you are at the frontlines…

India Against Corruption“Anna Hazare has won it.” This was what I heard someone say this morning. A naive sense of euphoria spread amongst the anti corruption activists when Anna Hazare finally ended his fast. People are reacting as if the demon of corruption has finally been slayed. However, in reality after almost four days of India wide protests by the masses agitated with the widespread corruption, all that we have achieved is the formation of a ten member government-civil society joint panel to draft the Lokpal bill. Although commendable, it is just the first step in eradicating corruption.

Not a panacea
One must realise that even if the Lokpal bill takes form exactly like how Anna has envisioned it, it will not eradicate the problem of corruption all by itself. There have been innumerable brilliant initiatives which have been rendered ineffective by improper or half hearted implementation. So it remains to be seen if the Lokpal authority will be really be really effective once it officially comes onto the books. If it manages to be effective and goes after corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and judges in the higher echelons, it will still fall short of completely slaying the corruption monster. The ones prosecuted and weeded out will only be replaced by other corrupt ones from the lower levels. The corruption problem in India is not just at the top. It is prevalent at the lower levels as well. While corruption by union cabinet ministers gets more publicity, it is true that corruption also exists at the lower levels of governance like in zilla parishads, gram panchayats and municipal corporations.

You get the government that you deserve
A conversation that I heard -

Person A: Your son is doing his MBA in X business school, isn’t he? How did you manage to get admission there? I heard that they have a strict selection process with interviews.

Person B: Yes, it is ridiculously hard to get admission. I think more than a hundred students had turned up for the interview for 20 seats. Thankfully, I know my local municipal corporator. On my request, he stormed into the principal’s office and demanded that she give admission to my son. So my son got in straight away. No interview, direct admission! The corporator is a good man!

I am pretty sure that such incidents take place all over India. It is unreasonable to expect our elected representatives to help us gain unfairly but stay completely incorruptible at all other times. Every person who is willing to bend the law of the land to help you out will also bend the law to line his own pockets.

The common man is not only willing but in many cases even eager to gain a dishonest and unfair advantage through ‘connections’. More often than not our conscience stays silent when we are the beneficiaries, and it is only when we are forced to pay bribes does our moral righteousness come to the fore.

You cant clap with one hand 
Especially in a democracy like ours, politics is merely the reflection of the society. It is a fallacy to think that corruption begins in the secret deals when ministers allocate mining and telecom licenses after taking bribes from conglomerates. It begins when you slip a hundred rupee note to get a driving license without giving the test. It begins when you forge your caste certificate to avail affirmative action. It begins when you vote for your friend so that he will help you get MBA admission. Corruption starts from us.

The Lokpal at its best can only weed out this generation of corrupt officials but only a change in our own attitudes can ensure that a new generation of corrupt and corruptible officials does not get created to take their place.

What can we do

  1. Refuse to pay bribes
  2. Report offences
    1. Mumbai Anti Corruption Bureau Telphone Nos – 24942618, 24921212 (from website - http://www.mumbaipolice.org/imp_telnfax.htm)
    2. Central Vigilance Commission - Toll Free No: 1800-11-0180
  3. Use The Right to Information Act to know status of public projects - http://rti.gov.in/

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Is enriching Dhoni the purpose behind taxation?

While I am delighted that I got to witness the Indian Team finally lift the much coveted Cricket World Cup, I agree with the sentiment that it is absolutely ridiculous for the politicians to dole out cash rewards to the team from the state coffers.

The cash rewards announced till date include a total of Rs. 6 crores (sixty million) by the Delhi government and Rs. 2 crores (twenty million) each by the Maharashtra and Punjab state governments. The players will also be able to avail free First Class AC travel on any Indian Railways route. A much less known fact is that the government has already forgone a tremendous amount of tax revenue by granting the ICC a tax waiver on its income from the World Cup. Some estimates put the tax waived at a whopping Rs. 45 crores (450 million). <link here> I think that this waiver itself was a mistake and further gifts from the honest taxpayers’ money are unwarranted.

I do agree that the players have achieved something significant but I do not think that they deserve to be specially rewarded with cash. The governments should follow the established practice and can confer the Arjuna or maybe the Padma awards (which by the way I think should be reformed) as recognition of their achievement. Though the amounts are not a significant proportion of state budgets, almost all the states are debt ridden and could use these funds for better purposes elsewhere. The most interesting justification I have heard is that handing out monetary awards is the politicians’ way of thanking the players for taking the spotlight off all the scams. Oh and I haven’t even yet started on how miserably the state fails to promote and develop other sports….

I strongly recommend the ‘The Acorn’ article <link here> which brilliantly makes the case against cash rewards by showing how they are akin to the medieval practise of kings handing out gifts. A quote from it -

India’s treasury is not their  (politicians’) personal purse to do with as they please. They are the custodians of the taxes we pay to be used for purposes we have pre-approved.

Some critics have gone on to say that the players should not even be specially rewarded by companies or the BCCI. I strongly disagree with this. The most important BCCI revenue source is the sale of television rights and they are worth more as long as the national team plays well. So it is reasonable that they award the players and the supporting staff which brought home world cup glory. The BCCI has no obligation to support other sports. Though a case could be made that they should use the money for supporting grassroot cricketers, it is not a strong one. Cricket continues to flourish and there are many patrons who organise local tournaments without needing BCCI support. Similarly, companies and brands have much to gain by associating with the World Cup heroes. The socialist argument that they should refrain from enriching the cricketers who are rich already does not appeal to me at all.

Lastly, while the mood of national pride over our worldcup victory still persists, you should take your time out to find out if you are as disappointing a fan as this article suggests all Indians are. <link here> I don’t agree with most of it but it is an engrossing and interesting read anyway. Hope you enjoy reading it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A billion dreams come true!

The time was about 10:55pm and as I stepped out onto the streets I realised that I wasn’t alone. I could see several others equally delirious with joy and unable to believe that their long cherished dream had finally come true. The moment I hit the street a couple of complete strangers ran towards me, gave me a high-fi. They were screaming INDIAA INDIAAAA!! at the top of their lungs to ensure that they were heard over the then ubiquitous and incredible loud din of firecrackers being lit in almost every single housing colony in my area. More and more people kept pouring out into the street till it became a huge procession. Out of nowhere, there materialised a set of drums and two huge Indian flags and we set out to the nearest important thoroughfare, Vile Parle's Hanuman Road where a kind cricket loving shop owner had put up a large screen at a crossroad.

In the less than 2 mins that it took us to get there, I must have seen at least about fifty other people pass us in their vehicles and as far as I could make out no one apart from the driver was bothering to sit 'inside' any of them. Every SUV had men sitting on top and shouting slogans, many others had their torsos out of the windows and were waving flags. Every single motorcycle around was carrying 3 or more people and almost every other one had a flag. The big screen had become a gathering point and almost everyone from Vile Parle assembled in front of it. By the time I reached the place, the sound of fire crackers was dying down and the drums took over. Almost a hundred delirious fans were already dancing in front of the screen in jubilation and the crowed continued to swell because every person witnessing the scene called up and exhorted his friends to join. Men, women and children from all around converged in front of the screen. While most just came shouting 'INDIAAA!!!' others had grabbed their whistles and IPL horns which were being blown loudly. Everybody was congratulating everybody else as if all of us had hit the winning six ourselves.

The numbers multiplied till there were about thirty to forty Indian flags and I estimate probably more than five hundred people.The big screen began to look rather small compared to the crowd in front of it. Some creative genius then brought a styroform replica of the world cup and placed it atop an Innova car at the centre of the crowd. The crowd danced with renewed vigour at the sight (albeit a replica) of what the country had gained on the historic night. It was delightful to see the senior citizens, old men and women break a leg and do a jig as well. The world cup is a matter of national pride in our cricket crazy land and the fans dancing were of all ages, various communities and both genders. The unity and national pride (and the number of flags as well) on display was greater than I have ever seen before. Greater definitely than even that of 15th August and 26th January.

Then the presentation ceremony began. We cheered as loudly as possible every time an Indian player stepped up to take his medal. Just when it seemed that everyone had lost their voices by shouting till they were hoarse, the city-boy was called to the podium and chants of SACHINNN SAAACHIN!!!! became so loud that the sound of the drums was momentarily drowned out. The moment the presentation ceremony ended the dancing began anew as if it had never stopped. We, the under-30 generation which had never witnessed a world cup triumph were high on joy and energy seemed limitless. Almost an hour after the big crowd had first gathered, dancing and flag waving was continuing unabated with only the chants varying between BHARAT MATA KI JAI!, INDIA INDIAA!! and the all time favourite  SACHINNN SAAACHIN!!!! 

Only after much efforts and requests from the police did the crowd disperse enough to let the traffic flow again. However, most fans were only moving to other places rather than returning home and most of the traffic was jubilant fans going on a victory lap of the city. I am told that the scene I witnessed was replicated across Mumbai and probably all over India as well.

It is a night that I will never forgot the passion on the street was something that I had only read about before. A person unfamiliar with cricket could be forgiven for thinking that it was something like a revolution that Egypt saw a few days ago with streets overflowing with people and people riding atop cars and waving massive flags out of the windows.

To say that this post paints an exact picture would be utterly wrong. My writing skills fall woefully short and are completely inadequate to accurately describe the passion on the streets. I wish that most of my beloved friends who were unfortunately away from Bombay were here with me to witness the night of extraordinary celebrations. I hope that the Indian team will give us more cause for such wild celebration again when all my friends are in Bombay. So now begins the wait for the third one...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The big match on Twitter!!

The frenzy which swept the nation on Wednesday was also on display on Twitter. Here is a compilation of some of the most interesting tweets in case you missed them.

Poonam Pandey’s announcement (in the news here and here) that she would shed her clothes if India wins the match and Dhoni’s controversial selection of Ashish Nehra was the fodder for some of the most funny tweets.

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The celebrities attending the match were also at the receiving end of many taunts. The best was J&K CM Abdullah Omar (who was at Jammu) chiding famous reporter Barkha Dutt for being at Mohali and paying attention to politics instead of cricket.image

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As the match began, the onfield events became the focus:

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Seems like J&K CM also realised that the voters wont be too happy if they miss out on the big match, so when the J&K grid started tripping he made an appeal to conserve energy so that more TVs work!

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When India won, apart from the expected cries of joy and tears on the other side, Afridi was showered with much appreciation and praise from both sides of the border.

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Even the “Faking News” which generally talks rubbish, got serious about this…

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I wholeheartedly agree with the final sentiment on twitter. Pakistan really played exceptionally well during this world cup and Afridi’s leadership in making men out of his young boys must be praised. Though they lost yesterday, they played rather well and Riaz was exceptional. I hope that at least the cricketing ties will get back to normal after this and I’d like to see an Ind-Pak series soon, atleast at a neutral venue if not India or Pakistan.

Do comment and let me know if you found this tweet collection interesting and also if you are or planning to get active on twitter! Last, but not the least, remember to cheer your heart out during the World Cup final on Saturday.

INDIAAAA!! INDIAAAA!!!!!

NOTE: All the pictures in this post are screenshots taken from the website http://www.twitter.com. All the posts are the intellectual property of the people who posted them on twitter.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Internal Party Elections should be made mandatory!

Here are the stats that author Patrick French unearthed while researching his book India: A Portrait – published in January 2011 by Penguin -

  • All MPs whose age is less than 30 years have other family members in politics.
  • More than two-thirds of MPs aged under 40 have other family members in politics.
  • An alarming 69.5% of women MPs have other family members in politics.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Browser Wars! Is Chrome winning?

Just as the launch of iPhone suddenly heated up the smartphone sector, the launch of Google Chrome greatly heated up the browser war which till then was simply a competition between IE and Firefox with IE having a massive lead.

I was one of the first ones to download Google Chrome when it was released on 2nd September 2008. It was love at first sight. I never went back to IE after using Chrome for just one day. What pleased me the most back then was the ultra minimal interface. I simply loved the fact that there were no space wasting toolbars and that there was a single box for both search and address bar.

While stats from http://j.mp/usageshare indicate that IE still leads with 45% and is followed by Firefox 36% and Google Chrome 16%, I am pleased to know that most of my friends prefer Chrome like me. Here are the browser stats of my blog:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

English is an Indian Language!

New York Times recently published a letter titled  “India Faces a Linguistic Truth: English Spoken Here” which succinctly makes the case for how English is the de-facto national language of India. I couldn’t agree more. All around India you can see signs of how English is omnipresent in every walk of life and only politicians and extremist activists portray English as an undesirable colonial imposition on the people of India.

The much lauded 9% growth rate of India is driven mostly by growth in knowledge intensive sectors like IT and the services sector in which knowledge of English is the most basic prerequisite. Even in small towns and villages, there is much demand for English language education and English medium schools as well as private English tuition centres are raking in huge amounts of money.  English is the route to every aspiration that the common man of India.

English is as Indian as Mehendi, Cricket or Tea

The most common and often the only argument against usage of English is that it is a “foreign” language. But how do you define what is ‘Indian’? The tradition of applying mehendi or heena, seen at almost every Indian wedding (both Hindu & Muslim) was brought to India by Persian invaders. Cricket, also a British import, is now an integral part of contemporary Indian culture. It is played, watched and discussed in the smallest of the Indian villages. Any suggestion of Cricket being an undesirable foreign import would sound absurd to any average Indian who has grown up watching and playing it. Tea, the afternoon drink of choice for most office workers in India is always served the British way, with milk and sugar but hardly any one on protests this British influence in Indian lifestyle.

The last but most telling sign of English being as much an Indian language as any other is that most Indians liberally use several English words while speaking their own mother tongues even when local alternatives exist. For example while discussing cricket in Hindi, most people (including the ones who have never learnt English) will still use the words ‘batsman’, ‘bowler’ and ‘boundary’ instead of the Hindi words बल्लेबाज़, गेंदबाज़ and चौका. As far as I know, there are no widely used Hindi/Marathi synonyms at all for words like ‘table’, ‘railway’ and ‘camera’. The practise of using English words for modern tools is specific to India because we feel comfortable with using English. Other languages like Chinese and Korean have developed local words for these modern inventions.

Culture evolves

So, I think that the criticism that English is a foreign and alien language is completely unfounded and wrong. Something that has been a part of Indian culture for atleast a hundred and fifty years cannot be called an alien language. Today, English has has assimilated into our culture to become a part of it just the same way that mehendi did over the years. So English belongs to India as much as it does to Britain, America or Australia.

While whether English should be adopted as the only official language and/or the national language is another different debate altogether, I hope politicians accept the reality and instead of promoting regionalist pride, take steps to use to use and enhance India’s advantage of being comfortable with English. While Indian government schools continue to educate only in unmarketable local languages, surprisingly enough, our neighbour has realised the advantage of English and is leading the way!

Article from Pakistani newspaper - http://bit.ly/pakenglish

Image source : Amazon.co.uk - Front Cover of the book, Indian English Language and Culture (Lonely Planet Language Reference)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Let us not steal credit!

Daily News and Analysis has recently started a campaign where it labels the positive news stories as ‘India Positive’. While this is indeed a commendable initiative, I just hope that they dont get carried away as in the past where media has celebrated as ‘Indian’, feats and events of people who are only nominally Indian or related to India. Also we must take care not to create false positives by glossing over facts and taking pride in small things. 

India had a female PM and female President before the United States
In 2008 when Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was making headlines, I often heard some people point out with pride that India already had a woman president (Pratibha Patil became the first woman president of India in 2007). While the above is factually true, it is a gross misrepresentation to then go on to conclude that India is more accepting of women in power.

Pratibha Patil was indirectly elected to a largely ceremonial post and ironically Indira Gandhi is the exact opposite of being an example of how women can easily make to the highest echelons of power. She is the fine example of how family ties and connections are the most important political assets in India. Ours remains a patriarchal society and women still face gross discrimination and lack of opportunities in India. We must not kid ourselves and gloss over these facts by idle boasts about Indira Gandhi.

Sunita Williams & Bobby Jindal
I am always amused to hear the name of Sunita Williams as an Indian who has been to space. Here is a woman who is a US citizen, who was born and brought up in the US and who went to space as a part of the US space programme. Yet the Indian media played up the event with a lot of hype. She is Indian only by race (ethnicity) and has no link to the modern Indian nation. I feel that it is completely inappropriate to hail her as an Indian icon. Same case with Bobby Jindal often mentioned as the first Indian to be a state governor in the US.

India has low divorce rate = Indians are happy people
Another argument that I have heard, mostly from elderly Indians is that since India has a super low divorce rate as compared to Western countries where it is very very high, it is a sign that Indian culture is much better and Indians are a happy lot. One must be rather wary of this argument because while at first look it seems very true, the underlying assumption is not really solid.

A lower divorce rate does not necessarily indicate happy marriages. It could also mean that Indians just tend to avoid divorce and endure with bad marriages, which is not a very heartening thought. NGOs claim that the incidence of domestic violence in India is not very low so. This along with the fact that divorces are harder to get due to the lethargy and complex rules of the Indian judiciary might be evidence that the low divorce rate is not necessarily a cause for celebration. While divorce rates of US and western Europe are extremes which I hope India never reaches, I feel that there is no point being over excited in the current low rates.

Stats from http://www.divorcerate.org/ -
India – 1.1%
United States – 50%

There are a lot of things in Indian culture and Indian heritage to be proud of and we should rightfully take pride in them but let us just make sure that we do not get carried away!

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

IF…

Until very recently, the only poetry that I had read was the poetry found in school textbooks. I read lots of fiction but never even thought that poetry could be interesting. So I was surprised that when my friend recently showed me a poem, not only did I read it to the end without getting bored, I also liked it! Turns out that this is a really really famous poem, but just incase there are others who like me have never had the pleasure of reading it before, here it is -

‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;