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 -


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.


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.


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.


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 -
    2. Central Vigilance Commission - Toll Free No: 1800-11-0180
  3. Use The Right to Information Act to know status of public projects -

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...