Riaz Haq writes this data-driven blog to provide information, express his opinions and make comments on many topics. Subjects include personal activities, education, South Asia, South Asian community, regional and international affairs and US politics to financial markets. For investors interested in South Asia, Riaz has another blog called South Asia Investor at http://www.southasiainvestor.com and a YouTube video channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkrIDyFbC9N9evXYb9cA_gQ
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Challenges of Indian Democracy
With the clear mandate for his Congress Party in recently concluded general elections, Indian Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh has won the right and responsibility to deal with huge challenges in front of him. In addition to the well-known social problems of hunger, poverty, lack of sanitation and poor infrastructure, Mr. Singh has to contend with the effects of the oppressive and ingrained caste system and religious intolerance as well as the growing nexus between crime and politics in Indian democracy. The new parliament has elected 153 tainted members, some of whom have been convicted or accused of serious crimes, including murder and rape.
Nexus of Crime and Politics:
About 153 members of the new Indian parliament have either been convicted and appealed or currently accused of various crimes. A major problem is that individuals charged with even the most serious crimes are allowed to stand if they have been convicted but their cases are under appeal, according to Times Online. “The speed of the Indian judicial system means it can take 30 years to complete a case – easily long enough to live out a full political career,” Mr Himanshu Jha, of the National Social Watch Coalition, said to the Times Online recently.
This nexus of crime and politics in India developed in two stages - in the first stage, Indian politicians used criminal elements and gangsters to control polling stations and intimidate their rivals; this gave legitimacy to these people and they decided to contest elections for themselves rather than merely act as muscle men (baahubali) for other politicians. There are many examples of this pattern, such as Munna Shukla and Shahabudin in Bihar, Raju Bhaiyya in U.P and Arun Gawli of Mumbai.
Most Indian politicians have used their election wins to significantly enrich themselves, according to their own pre-election declarations of assets. For example, the comparison of assets of candidates who won in 2004 and sought re-elections in 2009 shows that the wealth of UP politicians has grown by 559%, over five times, in five years, second only to their Karnataka counterparts who registered a growth of 693% in the same period, according to Sulekha.com.
The Caste System:
The entire culture and governance of India is heavily influenced by the caste system that legitimizes abuse and exploitation of one group of people by another. It plays a significant role in voting patterns as well. Indians usually vote their caste rather than cast their votes. There is a counter argument to this concept of oppression: What about the lower caste politicians who also have risen to authority? The response is: Can they be different from the social milieu they belong to? Other issues include the lack of democratic structures inside India’s political parties and a culture of corruption fostered by a stifling level of bureaucracy.
India, often described as peaceful, stable and prosperous in the Western media, remains home to the largest number of poor and hungry people in the world.
The UN Millennium Develop Goals listed below remain distant for the Indian people:
1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2 Achieve universal primary education
3 Promote gender equality and empower women
4 Reduce child mortality
5 Improve maternal health
6 Combat HIV/Aids, malaria, and other diseases
7 Ensure environmental sustainability
8 Develop a global partnership for development
About one-third of the world's extremely poor people live in India. More than 450 million Indians exist on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank. It also has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $2 per day than even sub-Saharan Africa. India has about 42% of the population living below the new international poverty line of $1.25 per day. The number of Indian poor also constitute 33% of the global poor, which is pegged at 1.4 billion people, according to a Times of India news report. More than 6 million of those desperately poor Indians live in Mumbai alone, representing about half the residents of the nation's financial capital. They live in super-sized slums and improvised housing juxtaposed with the shining new skyscrapers that symbolize India's resurgence. According to the World Bank and the UN Development Program (UNDP), 22% of Pakistan's population is classified as poor.
There is widespread hunger and malnutrition in all parts of India. India ranks 66th on the 2008 Global Hunger Index of 88 countries while Pakistan is slightly better at 61 and Bangladesh slightly worse at 70. The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) report in 2008 found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. "Affluent" Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.
India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.
Lizette Burgers, chief of water and environment sanitation of the Unicef, recently said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia. A former Indian minister Mr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh told the BBC that more than 65% of India's rural population defecated in the open, along roadsides, railway tracks and fields, generating huge amounts of excrement every day.
Comparison with Pakistan:
Unlike Indian democracy where middle class has a bigger role, Pakistani democracy remains largely dominated by the feudal class. Pakistani parliament is dominated by big landowners who have a sense of entitlement to rule, even though they pay no taxes on their farm income. They routinely escape prosecution for the crimes they commit against their own people. When they do get caught and charged with serious crimes, they use political influence and their deal-making power to beat the rap. Musharraf's US-sponsored amnesty (dubbed NRO) for late Benazir Bhutto, her widower Asif Zardari and other political leaders now in power offers a prime example of how the politicians are not held to account for serious crimes of corruption and murder. Some of the Taliban in Swat used the widespread grievances of the tenant farmers against their landlords as justification for Shariah-based Nizam-e-Adl to provide speedy justice.
Future of Indian Democracy:
Majority of the poor and rural Indians are sustaining democracy at a great cost to themselves in terms of the grinding poverty that defines their meager existence. Contrasting Indian democracy with Chinese one-party rule, a British minister recently said that the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%. No one knows how long will the average Indian have to wait before the fruits of democracy to reach him or her. In the meanwhile, Maoists (and other revolutionaries) are gaining momentum and threatening a revolution to bring about a visible improvement in the lives of the poor.
At a minimum, Indian government should make the necessary investments to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals. As the UNICEF said last year, unless India achieves major improvements in health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, gender equality and child protection, the global efforts to reach the MDGs will fail.
Here's a video clip on grinding poverty in India:
Here's a video clip on India's massive corruption:
Here's a video about Maoists in India:
Is Indian Democracy Overrated?
Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire
Can India Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?
Poor Sanitation in India
UN MDGs in Pakistan
Stable, Peaceful, Prosperous India
No Toilet, No Seat in India
Poverty Tours in India, Brazil and South Africa
South Asia's War on Hunger Takes Back Seat
Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India
Pakistani Children's Plight
Poverty in Pakistan
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Here's more from today's Financial Times:
UNICEF ATTACKS INDIA's RECORD ON POVERTY:
India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday.
Unicef, the UN’s child development agency, said India, Asia’s third largest economy, had not followed the example of other regional economies such as China, South Korea and Singapore in investing in its people during an economic boom. It said this failure spelled trouble as the global economy deteriorated, while volatile fuel and food prices had already deepened deprivation over the past two years.
The stinging criticism of India’s performance comes only two weeks after the Congress party-led alliance was overwhelmingly voted back into office. Its leaders had campaigned strongly on their achievement of raising India’s economic growth to 9 per cent and boosting rural welfare.
An unfavourable comparison with Beijing’s development record will rile New Delhi. Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, has argued that the country’s economic development is more durable than that of China because it is forged in a democracy rather than by a one-party state.
In a report on the impact of the global financial crisis on women and children in south Asia, Unicef said that food and fuel price shocks had increased the number of people suffering chronic hunger by 100m to more than 400m people. Of these, 230m are in India, where 76 per cent of the country’s 1.2bn people live on less than $2 a day. Among many households, as much as 80 per cent of income is spent on food, making them highly sensitive to rice and wheat price fluctuations.
Aniruddha Bonnerjee, an economic and social policy consultant for Unicef, said there had been “stagnation” in the fight against malnutrition and that stubbornly high food prices posed a growing threat to poor families. He warned that with India’s growth rates now almost half what they were two years ago, New Delhi would find it more difficult to boost spending on health, education and food to nurture its human capital.
“If there was no progress against malnutrition and hunger when growth was higher, how are you going to do it now?” he asked.
Mr Bonnerjee said some Asian countries had managed to halve poverty over five years during times of high economic growth; India was falling far short of that achievement. Mr Singh’s championing of “inclusive growth” was electioneering and had left large swathes of the population untouched, he said.
Unicef was also critical of high military budgets in the region at the cost of social protection. India is modernising its armed forces and projecting its power more widely than in the past.
“A number of countries in south Asia decide to invest in the military and not to increase investment in their people.” said Daniel Toole, Unicef’s regional director “Budgetary allocations can be more than 10 per cent in the military, while education is only 2 per cent.”
Riaz, Wiki is not too kind on Pakistan's stats.
check the figure for 2003, ie latest. India is faring slightly better.
Once the daily dose of suicide bombings come down in Pakistan, probably we will get a more updated number on malnourishment in Pakistan
you have copy pasted an entire article. shouldn't you give the link?
These are both my blogs, I do cross postings of my articles regularly on both.
my profound apologies. i only came across it cuz your post has been copy pasted elsewhere, http://karachi-kool.blogspot.com/2009/07/can-sub-continent-democracy-serve-its.html
sorry for the accusation
Here's a BBC report about Indian police brutalities:
The US-based group Human Rights Watch says India's policing system facilitates and even encourages abuses.
It says there has been little change in attitudes, training or equipment since the police was formed in colonial times with the aim to control the population.
It says the government must take major steps to overhaul a failing system.
There was no immediate response from the Indian authorities.
The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Delhi says the catalogue of abuses by India's police detailed in this report is long and shocking - arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture to force confessions, even the cold-blooded gunning down of innocent people.
Speaking about India's identity last April, the US South Asia expert Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution said, " But there is no all-Indian Hindu identity—India is riven by caste and linguistic differences, and Aishwarya Rai and Sachin Tendulkar are more relevant rallying points for more Indians than any Hindu caste or sect, let alone the Sanskritized Hindi that is officially promulgated".
It seems a war of words has broken out between Sachin Tendulkar and Bal Thackeray:
"Mumbai belongs to India. That is how I look at it. I am a Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud of that. But, I am an Indian first," Sachin had said.
It's this comment by Maharashtra's own mulga Sachin Tendulkar that angered Bal Thackeray.
In an editorial published in Saamna, Thackeray targeted Tendulkar saying: "You said you are proud of being Marathi but are an Indian first. This has hurt the Marathi people. From the cricket pitch you have entered the political pitch. You also said that all Indians have an equal right on Mumbai. What was the need for this? You have become "run-out" on the Marathi pitch. People praise you when you hit fours and sixes. But if you speak against the rights of Marathi people, they will not tolerate it." Read: Shiv Sena to Sachin: Play cricket, not politics
Here are excerpts from a BBC report by veteran correspondent Mark Tully:
Being central government forces and recruited from all over India they will be strangers, not speaking the tribal languages or understanding their ways.
The central forces are not exactly known for their softly, softly approach.
When they were very active in Kashmir, I remember having several conversations with the governor about the failure to punish police responsible for human rights abuses.
The governor was a humane man himself, and he had the honesty to admit the government feared the forces would be demoralized if action was taken against them every time they went too far.
The tribal people, who both sides claim to be representing, will be crushed between security forces demanding they provide information about Maoist movements, and the Maoists themselves who have already shown how brutally they treat anyone they believe has betrayed them.
Once again, the root of the problem is the Indian government's inability to provide what those they govern rightly feel is their entitlement.
Nowhere is this more manifest than in the callous handling of tribals who have been dispossessed of their land.
Reading Arundhati Roy, I was reminded of a visit I made to a resettlement villages for tribals, who had twice been evicted in order to make way for power stations.
When they complained to the official accompanying me that they were not being provided with electricity, he shot back: "Well you cannot afford it, can you?"
With that sort of callousness all too common amongst officials, is it any wonder that tribals support Maoists who promise to protect their lands?
Last year, Indian Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed acknowledged that India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement.
Speaking at a conference on "Malnutrition an emergency: what it costs the nation", she said even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during interactions with the Planning Commission has described malnourishment as the "blackest mark".
"I should not compare. But countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are better," she said. The conference was organized last year by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region.
According to India's Family Health Survey, almost 46 percent of children under the age of three are undernourished - an improvement of just one percent in the last seven years. This is only a shade better than Sub-Saharan Africa where about 35 percent of children are malnourished.
India has recently been described as a "nutritional weakling" by a British report.
Here's an LA Times report on the vicious cycle of poverty in rural India:
India has long been plagued by unscrupulous moneylenders who exploit impoverished farmers. But with crops failing more frequently, farmers are left even more desperate and vulnerable.
Reporting from Jhansi, India - She stops for long stretches, lost in thought, trying to make sense of how she's been left half a person.
Sunita, 18, who requested that her family name not be used to preserve her chance of getting married, said her nightmare started in early 2007 after her father took a loan for her sister's wedding. The local moneylender charged 60% annual interest.
When the family was unable to make the exorbitant interest payments, she said, the moneylender forced himself on her, not once or twice but repeatedly over many months.
"I used to cry a lot and became a living corpse," she said.
Sunita's allegations, which the moneylender denies, cast a harsh light on widespread abuses in rural India, where a highly bureaucratic banking system, corruption and widespread illiteracy allow unethical people with extra income to exploit poor villagers, activists say.
But here in the Bundelkhand region in central India that is among the nation's more impoverished areas, the problem is exacerbated by climate change and environmental mismanagement, they say, suggesting that ecological degradation and global warming are changing human life in more ways than just elevated sea levels and melting glaciers.
"Before, a bad year would lead to a good year," said Bharat Dogra, a fellow at New Delhi's Institute of Social Sciences specializing in the Bundelkhand region. "Now climate change is giving us seven or eight bad years in a row, putting local people deeper and deeper in debt. I expect the situation will only get worse."
An estimated 200,000 Indian farmers have ended their lives since 1997, including many in this area, largely because of debt.
A 2007 study of 13 Bundelkhand villages found that up to 45% of farming families had forfeited their land, and in extreme cases some were forced into indentured servitude. Tractor companies, land mafia and bankers routinely collude, encouraging farmers to take loans they can't afford, a 2008 report by India's Supreme Court found, knowing they'll default and be forced to sell their land.
"While a few people borrow for social status or a desire to buy a new motorcycle, in most cases it's for sheer survival," Dogra said. "When they see their children starving after several years of crop failures, many feel they have no choice."
Recent amendments to a 1976 law in Uttar Pradesh state have increased the maximum punishment for unauthorized money-lending to three years in jail, up from six months, but many loan sharks are well-connected and elude prosecution. The law specifies that lenders must obtain a state license, but the requirements for obtaining it can be vague, a situation that critics say gives bureaucrats significant leeway to enact arbitrary rules and exact questionable fees.
"I take occasional loans when we're desperate," says Jhagdu, 50, a farmer in Barora, 60 miles south of Jhansi, sitting on his haunches with teeth stained red from chewing betel nut. "When there's no rain, like now, you can't repay for a year, so the amounts can double."
President Asif Zardari's total assets are estimated at $1.5 billion, according to a NAB filing with Pakistan Supreme Court, reports the News:
ISLAMABAD: The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Tuesday submitted in the Supreme Court the list of the NRO beneficiaries, which showed President Asif Ali Zardari possessing assets worth $1.5 billion (Rs 120 billion) abroad and worth Rs 24.14 billion in the country.
Deputy Prosecutor General Abdul Baseer Qureshi presented the list of 248 NRO beneficiaries before the full court, hearing the petitions challenging the infamous ordinance, promulgated in 2007 giving legal cover to the corruption of politicians and bureaucrats
A 17-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had directed the NAB the other day to submit authentic details of the NRO beneficiaries. According to the list, there are at least seven abolished references against President Zardari. The list indicates that the assets of President Asif Ali Zardari in foreign countries stand at $1.5 billion, including houses and bank accounts in Spain, France, the US and Britain while his assets in the country stand at Rs 24.14 billion.
In the list, President Zardari’s assets worth Rs 22 billion were mentioned as beyond means and the cases in this regard were withdrawn by the Accountability Court on March 5, 2008, under the controversial NRO.
Similarly, cases of corruption of Rs 268.3 million regarding the purchase of Ursus Tractors (Awami Scheme) and illegal construction of the polo ground at the PM House at the cost of Rs 52.297 million were terminated under the NRO in March 2008.Likewise, the list also includes allegedly causing loss of Rs 1.822 billion to the national exchequer by President Zardari by granting licence to the ARY Gold. The said case was also terminated under the NRO ordinance.
The NAB deputy prosecutor general told the court that information regarding the misuse of authority in affairs of SGS PSI Company by Asif Ali Zardari as well as illegal award of contract to Cotecna for pre-shipment was being collected.
The NAB list included names of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Pakistan’s Ambassador to United States Hussain Haqqani, Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, former NWFP chief minister Aftab Sherpao Khan, ex MNAs Nawab Yousaf Talpur, Anwar Saifullah Khan, Sardar Mansoor Leghari, Haji Nawaz Khokhar, Pir Mukarramul Haq, Brig (retd) Imtiaz, Usman Farooqi, Salman Farooqi, former president Habib Bank Younus Dalmia, Mirbaz Khetran and many others.
He submitted that the National Assembly’s standing committee approved the NRO, however, the concerned minister took it back from the assembly. During the proceedings, advocates general of the Punjab, the NWFP and Balochistan informed the court that under Section 2-A of NRO, no review boards were constituted in their respective provinces to decide the murder cases.
Advocate General Sindh Yousaf Leghari, however, informed the court that 8,000 cases were dropped under the NRO in Sindh, of which 3,000 were murder cases. He sought time to provide details of the cases decided under Section 2-A of the NRO in Sindh. The court directed the AG Sindh to submit report before the court today (Wednesday).
Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, counsel for Dr Mubashar Hassan, submitted the ordinance as whole was void because it was a fraud ordinance as it violated many substantial provisions of the Constitution.
He submitted that reconciliation meant reconciliation between husband and wife, between parents but this National Reconciliation Ordinance had trampled the rights of the entire nation. Pirzada contended that all stakeholders were not taken into confidence before its promulgation. “The nation is threatened with fragmentation,” Pirzada maintained.
Here are "Reflections on India" published by an American traveler-blogger:
First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don't know how cultural the filth is, but it's really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump. Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight. Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one's health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. The only two cities that could be considered sanitary in my journey were Trivandrum--the capital of Kerala--and Calicut. I don't know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India's productivity, if it already hasn't. The pollution will hobble India's growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small 'c' sense.)
The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. With out regular electricity, productivity, again, falls. The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older. Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It's awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses. At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that waitlists of 500 or more people are common now. The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like Sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the overutilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit. Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US I guess.
Here's a BBC report about rising food prices in India:
Food prices in India have risen to a high of nearly 20% over last year, the highest rate in a decade.
The federal finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the government was planning to import food to ease prices.
A short supply of food due to lower farm produce following drought and floods has led to the rising prices.
Overall inflation in India has risen to 4.78% in November, up from 1.34% in October. Economists say this could trigger a rise in interest rates.
Correspondents say that the price rises are bound to increase concerns that poorer people in the country may be more exposed to food shortages and malnourishment.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the food prices were an "area of concern."
"We have to take appropriate measures to see what best could be done by augmenting the supply through imports," he was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.
Reports say that despite easing of import restrictions to bolster food supplies, food inflation had soared to nearly 20%.
The prices of pulses, milk, wheat and rice - and vegetables like potatoes - have risen sharply.
Potato prices have gone up by 136% and pulses have risen by over 40% over last year.
Senior government officials have said that overall inflation in India could be close to 7% by end of March next year.
Here's an interesting commentary by Kapil Komireddi published in the Guardian earlier this year:
Indian Muslims in particular have rarely known a life uninterrupted by communal conflict or unimpaired by poverty and prejudice. Their grievances are legion, and the list of atrocities committed against them by the Indian state is long. In 2002 at least 1,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Hindu mobs in the western state of Gujarat in what was the second state-sponsored pogrom in India (Sikhs were the object of the first, in 1984).
For decades Indian intellectuals have claimed that religion, particularly Hinduism, is perfectly compatible with secularism. Indian secularism, they said repeatedly, is not a total rejection of religion by the state but rather an equal appreciation of every faith. Even though no faith is in principle privileged by the state, this approach made it possible for religion to find expression in the public sphere, and, since Hindus in India outnumber adherents of every other faith, Hinduism dominated it. Almost every government building in India has a prominently positioned picture of a Hindu deity. Hindu rituals accompany the inauguration of all public works, without exception.
The novelist Shashi Tharoor tried to burnish this certifiably sectarian phenomenon with a facile analogy: Indian Muslims, he wrote, accept Hindu rituals at state ceremonies in the same spirit as teetotallers accept champagne in western celebrations. This self-affirming explanation is characteristic of someone who belongs to the majority community. Muslims I interviewed took a different view, but understandably, they were unwilling to protest for the fear of being labelled as "angry Muslims" in a country famous for its tolerant Hindus.
The failure of secularism in India – or, more accurately, the failure of the Indian model of secularism – may be just one aspect of the gamut of failures, but it has the potential to bring down the country. Secularism in India rests entirely upon the goodwill of the Hindu majority. Can this kind of secularism really survive a Narendra Modi as prime minister? As Hindus are increasingly infected by the kind of hatred that Varun Gandhi's speech displayed, maybe it is time for Indian secularists to embrace a new, more radical kind of secularism that is not afraid to recognise and reject the principal source of this strife: religion itself.
Here's an OpEd by Prof Radhakrishnan on recent scandals in Andhra Pradesh:
SPS Rathore, a top police officer as sexual tormentor and killer of a young student; ND Tiwari, Governor of Andhra Pradesh who was caught on the camera in his sleazy sexual exploits, and forced to resign on 'Moral Grounds' - as the Congress party would have it, and Dinakaran, Chief Justice of Karnataka High Court, involved in another scandal, but continues to be fortified, using among other things, the anti-Dalit bogey of Udit Raj, will continue to haunt Indian democracy and its psyche for a long time.
The sexual perversity of SPS Rathore, former police officer convicted of molesting Ruchika Girhotra after nearly two decades of the inhuman event, which caused her suicide and snuffed out a young life of playful innocence must have shaken all people of any conscience. It has raised more questions about the credibility and integrity of our law and order system and of men occupying responsible positions in India's governance's structures.
While, the debate on the issue anchored by Barkha Dutt on the NDTV channel was moving, serious and comprehensive, what of next, and how do we protect our more vulnerable children from the poacher-turned game-keepers, are serious questions which have no answers yet.
Though different yet related are the sexual exploits of Andhra Pradesh Governor, ND Tiwari [in Congress-Gandhi cap?], which going by reports have been going on for several years. That raises larger questions about what goes on in the Raj Bhavans, whether they are dens of sleaze, and the relevance of gubernatorial positions in the country. Should a democracy where about half the population are illiterate, homeless, and struggling to eke out a living, be allowed to waste its scarce resources on them who seem to make no positive contribution to the nation calls for a fresh look at our Constitutional provisions.
The claim of the Congress party that Tiwari resigned on "moral grounds" is a national joke! He resigned on "immoral grounds" as a person of depravity and debasement. One is not sure if he was caught on the camera with his Pyjamas and depressing things down and in what sort of perverted acts. The nation has a right to know what went on in the Raj Bhavan and the media should show it to the viewers so that they will know what kind of debased democracy we are living in. Tiwari should also be prosecuted for misusing his power and position and should return all the perks he enjoyed as Governor to the national exchequer.
The electronic media will do well to expose his exploits, contempt of court or not, which again is a fig-leaf and big national joke.
Though not related to sex as yet, Justice Dinakaran's scandal of corruption is also deeply immoral and anti-social. When hapless persons are picked up in thousands and harassed by the police and the judiciary on flimsy grounds, it is a national shame that this person continues to be fortified. Impeachment is no answer, as it has never worked and is not likely to work in India. He should be treated like any other criminal and prosecuted. That the scandal against him is "anti-Dalit" is a bogey. He crossed the Dalit Rubicon several years ago, and cannot be treated as a Dalit, in any sense of the term. In this context one might also probe who is funding Udit Raj, a self-proclaimed Dalit upstart.
Here's an ExpressIndia story of a Gujarati Muslim killed in Surat:
Mehboob Pathan (50) of Valak village on Surat’s outskirts wanted was a job in the city. Having a Muslim name, he felt, came in the way. So, to get himself a job in Surat’s diamond units, he passed himself off as Jayenti Bhatti, and managed to find work in two separate units in the Kapodara area.
Early this week, his “cover” was blown, after he was brutally killed over a monetary dispute. As the distraught family stepped forward to admit that Jayenti Bhatti was indeed Mehboob Pathan, they worried that having been cremated as a Hindu, the practising Muslim’s soul may not find peace.
In the ledgers of Surat’s diamond units, there are many leading a double life like Pathan. His son Mushtaq is registered as Mukesh and daughter Samina as Sharmila, and both are afraid of losing their jobs if the fact was known.
Diamond industry sources and workers say many Muslims assume Hindu names to find work in the city’s lucrative diamond business.
One of them, Allarakha Khan, admits to having passed himself off as a Hindu like many others from his village. “We would not get a job if we are known to be Muslims. We have been doing this for a long time, and we take great care not to reveal our real names or addresses at work,” he told The Indian Express.
Rohit Mehta, president of the Surat Diamond Association, however, denied knowledge of Muslims passing themselves off as Hindus for jobs. “We will inquire into this,” he said.
Pathan’s story came to be known after his body was found in a farm at Antroli last Monday, with the head smashed in. The police registered a case and kept the unclaimed body in the Palsana Primary Health Centre mortuary till Thursday. Then they arranged to give Pathan alias Bhatti a Hindu funeral, with all the rites.
His family, who had been looking for Pathan, had filed a missing complaint. Then, seeing news stories in local newspapers about an unclaimed body, Mehboob’s brother-in-law Iqbal Pathan decided to check. By that time, Pathan had been cremated, but the brother-in-law identified him from a photo of the body.
The family says Pathan was a pious Muslim and the change of name was just so that he and his children could find and keep a job. “We are too poor to do anything, but how could the police dispose of his body the Hindu way?” asks son Mushtaq. “A genital examination would have shown he was a Muslim.”
Sub-Inspector of Kadodara police V R Malhotra said they had kept the body in the mortuary hoping someone would turn up. “We disposed it of according to Hindu rites not knowing he was a Muslim. The family turned up too late and we are now helpless.”
Kapodara police inspector S J Tirmizi, who is probing the murder, confirmed that Pathan had passed himself off as Bhatti for work. Manoj Rokad, who is the manager of the Varachha unit in which Pathan’s daughter Samina works as a diamond polisher, has reportedly confessed to the murder.
According to the police, Rokad had become a family friend of the Pathans and knew their real identities. Two years ago, Pathan had reportedly loaned Rokad Rs 60,000 for an emergency, which he never returned. Pathan used to call Rokad repeatedly asking him to return the same, and the latter reportedly asked Pathan to meet him on December 20. They went to Antroli village, where Rokad allegedly killed Pathan with the help of two other diamond polishers, who have been identified as Chhanya Rathod and Sanjay.
While Rokad has been held, and has reportedly admitted that they beat Pathan to death, Rathod and Sanjay are on the run.
Here's a recent post by BBC's Soutik Biswas:
A sobering thought to keep in mind though. Impressive growth figures are unlikely to stun the poor into mindless optimism about their future. India has long been used to illustrate how extensive poverty coexists with growth. It has a shabby record in pulling people out of poverty - in the last two decades the number of absolutely poor in India has declined by 17 percentage points compared to China, which brought down its absolutely poor by some 45 percentage points. The number of Indian billionaires rose from nine in 2004 to 40 in 2007, says Forbes magazine. That's higher than Japan which had 24, while France and Italy had 14 billionaires each. When one of the world's highest number of billionaires coexist with what one economist calls the world's "largest number of homeless, ill-fed illiterates", something is gravely wrong. This is what rankles many in this happy season of positive thinking.
Here's a Bloomberg report on India's sanitation crisis:
March 4 (Bloomberg) -- Until May 2007, Meera Devi rose before dawn each day and walked a half mile to a vegetable patch outside the village of Kachpura to find a secluded place.
Dodging leering men and stick-wielding farmers and avoiding spots that her neighbors had soiled, the mother of three pulled up her sari and defecated with the Taj Mahal in plain view.
With that act, she added to the estimated 100,000 tons of human excrement that Indians leave each day in fields of potatoes, carrots and spinach, on banks that line rivers used for drinking and bathing and along roads jammed with scooters, trucks and pedestrians. Devi looks back on her routine with pain and embarrassment.
“As a woman, I would have to check where the males were going to the toilet and then go in a different direction,” says Devi, 37, standing outside her one-room mud-brick home. “We used to avoid the daytimes, but if we were really pressured, we would have to go any time of the day, even if it was raining. During the harvest season, people would have sticks in the fields. If somebody had to go, people would beat them up or chase them.”
In the shadow of its new suburbs, torrid growth and 300- million-plus-strong middle class, India is struggling with a sanitation emergency. From the stream in Devi’s village to the nation’s holiest river, the Ganges, 75 percent of the country’s surface water is contaminated by human and agricultural waste and industrial effluent. Everyone in Indian cities is at risk of consuming human feces, if they’re not already, the Ministry of Urban Development concluded in September.
Illness, lost productivity and other consequences of fouled water and inadequate sewage treatment trimmed 1.4-7.2 percent from the gross domestic product of Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam in 2005, according to a study last year by the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program.
Sanitation and hygiene-related issues may have a similar if not greater impact on India’s $1.2 trillion economy, says Guy Hutton, a senior water and sanitation economist with the program in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Snarled transportation and unreliable power further damp the nation’s growth. Companies that locate in India pay hardship wages and ensconce employees in self- sufficient compounds.
The toll on human health is grim. Every day, 1,000 children younger than 5 years old die in India from diarrhea, hepatitis- causing pathogens and other sanitation-related diseases, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
For girls, the crisis is especially acute: Many drop out of school once they reach puberty because of inadequate lavatories, depriving the country of a generation of possible leaders.
“India cannot reach its full economic potential unless they do something about this sanitation crisis,” says Clarissa Brocklehurst, Unicef’s New York-based chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, who worked in New Delhi from 1999 to 2001.
Here's a recent piece by Arundhati Roy about India's war against Maoists:
"The government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in–the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists that the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.
Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single largest internal security threat" to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on 6 January, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only "modest capabilities", doesn't seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June, 2009, when he told parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."
Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.
If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have – their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to "develop" their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms."
The BBC is reporting that the Church of England has pulled its investments from India mining company Vedanta after criticism of its Orissa bauxite project:
The decision has been welcomed by campaigning groups including Survival International (SI) which has been lobbying the church to disinvest from Vedanta for more than a year.
SI says that the bauxite mine will destroy a large part of the Niyamgiri Mountain in Orissa, damaging the lives of Kondh tribes people who live in the area.
Vedanta has been accused of forcing tribal people off the land, damaging the environment and destroying wildlife.
No-one from the company was available to comment on the decision of the church.
But last year Vedanta argued that it had the support of the Orissa state government and the Indian judiciary - and that before it went ahead with the project it consulted exhaustively to assess its environmental and social impact.
The company accused campaigning groups of focusing their objections solely on the concerns of the tribal community and ignoring the needs of other people in the area for jobs and improvements in education and healthcare.
Here's a recent BBC report on increasing Maoists violence:
At least 21 troops were killed when armed Maoists attacked a camp of the paramilitary forces in India's West Bengal state, officials said.
Nearly 50 rebels on motorcycles encircled the camp of the Eastern Frontier Rifles (ERF) at Silda village on Monday and started firing on it.
More fighters joined the assault on foot, firing from automatic weapons.
More than 6,000 people have died during the rebels' 20-year fight for communist rule in many Indian states.
The Indian government recently began a major offensive against the rebels in several states.
Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh has described the Maoist insurgency as India's "greatest internal security challenge".
The rebels now have a presence in 223 of India's 600-odd districts.
The camp was overrun by the Maoists after the troops put up brief initial resistance, district magistrate of West Midnapore district NS Nigam told the BBC.
"The Maoists then burnt down the camp and planted landmines on the entire length of the road leading to the camp. Reinforcements with night vision and anti-landmine vehicles reached the camp late at night," Mr Nigam said.
At least 21 bodies have been recovered from in and around the camp and some of them are badly charred, he said.
Here is a Christian Science Monitor report about politicians' corruption and violence in India:
New Delhi, India
When Ajay Kumar asked New Delhi authorities last fall why a local politician had authorized the construction of private houses and shops on public land, he didn’t imagine the question would land him in the hospital.
The activist had inquired using India’s 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act, which allows any citizen to ask for information from any level of government, from village leaders to the office of the prime minister. It presents a cultural sea change in India, where for more than 60 years state bureaucrats have acted more like colonial masters than servants of the people.
Mr. Kumar was stonewalled by the public information officer at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, so he followed procedure and appealed to a higher-level public information office in the MCD. When he still heard nothing back, he went to the federal authorities, the Central Information Commission, which directed the MCD together with the police to jointly inspect the property.
But when Kumar arrived on site in January, he was attacked by a mob of two dozen that backed the local politician.
“Neither the police nor the people helped me,” says Kumar, who was beaten in the head repeatedly by an iron rod, leaving him unconscious and bleeding profusely. Kumar is now pursuing the matter in court.
Despite the attack, Kumar says, “RTI is the only tool that can bring an end to a corruption in India. Previously there was no point in asking [for information] because the applications were not replied to. At least now, since 2005, these public authorities are in some way compelled to answer queries of the public. It is a starting point.”
Kumar is optimistic that he will one day see justice, but critics say attacks like these are becoming increasingly common. In the past two months two respected information activists have been killed, and reports are emerging of many others who are threatened, bullied, and intimidated to silence their inquiries into government misconduct.
Attacks will likely increase
The RTI Act is among the most robust for information seekers around the world, and its strength is becoming clear in the backlash against people seeking to expose corruption.
"What has happened with the RTI Act is that it is threatening people in power,” says Colin Gonzalves, a Supreme Court lawyer and director of the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network. “We cannot underestimate how hostile the administration is to the implementation to this Act – not just the politicians but also the judiciary. RTI empowers people to say that the administration is the servant of the people that you are answerable to us. The physical attacks on the people I think are going to increase over the years."
In rural areas, the act is often utilized to uncover scams involving federal- and state-funded initiatives to provide employment, housing, food, and other services to the poorest segments of society. “You ask for a list of beneficiaries," says prominent New Delhi-based RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal. "Then you check that list and find out that many peope are dead and the list is bogus.”
Here's a BBC report about Kerala's economy and social indicators:
Kerala defies all stereotypes of a "socially backward" Indian state - swathes of people living in abject poverty, men outnumbering women because of female foeticide, internecine caste politics.
Many of its social indicators are on par with the developed world and it has the highest human development index in India.
It also has the highest literacy rate (more than 90%) and life expectancy in India, lowest infant mortality, lowest school drop-out rate, and a fairly prosperous countryside.
That's not all.
In contrast to India's more prosperous states, like Punjab and Haryana, Kerala can boast a very healthy gender ratio - women outnumber men here.
Life expectancy for women is also higher than for men, as in most developed countries. Thanks to a matrilineal society, women, by and large, are more empowered than in most places in India.
When it comes to low population growth, Kerala competes with Europe and the US. And all but two districts of the state have a lower fertility rate than that needed to maintain current population levels.
And thanks to pioneering land reforms initiated by a Communist government in the late 1950s, the levels of rural poverty here are the lowest in India. Decent state-funded health care and education even made it the best welfare state in India.
Yet, today, Kerala is a straggler economy almost entirely dependent on tourism and remittances sent back by two million of its people who live and work abroad, mostly in the Gulf.
Joblessness is rife due to the lack of a robust manufacturing base - more than 15% in urban areas, three times the national average. More than 30 million people live in the densely populated state, a third of which is covered by forests
More people here are taking their lives than anywhere else in India. Alcoholism is a dire social problem - the state has India's highest per capita alcohol consumption. People migrate because there are no jobs at home.
Clearly, Kerala needs a new contract between the state and its people to move ahead and build upon its enviable gains.
Here is a Times of India report on how India's ruling Congress party politicians have been enriching themselves:
NEW DELHI: Being in power pays. Congress's declared assets of Rs 340 crore for 2007-08, with an opening balance of Rs 271 crore, puts the party way ahead of rival BJP and regional powerhouses like Samajwadi Party, BSP and CPM. Even for the assessed year, BJP lagged Congress by more than Rs 100 crore.
According to income tax returns of political parties for the assessment year 2008-09 - for which an expenditure-income account
of 2007-08 is considered - Congress spent more than Rs 110 crore on elections, meetings and publicity. Its expenses under just these three heads are more than the total income generated by smaller parties. CPM showed Rs 69 crore as income while BSP and SP showed Rs 79 crore and Rs 22 crore. BJP's earnings at Rs 120 crore were only slightly higher.
Clearly, being in power since 2004 has seen the Congress coffers swell. Its total assets were valued at Rs 65 crore in 2002, rose to Rs 136 crore in 2004, to Rs 229 crore in 2006, Rs 271 crore in 2007 and touched Rs 340 crore in 2008. Also, while Congress made nearly Rs 200 crore just from sale of coupons and donations in 2007-08, BJP earned Rs 120 crore from donations and membership fees.
The figures shown by parties are believed to be a fraction of actual expenses, but serve to reflect a trend. IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus and national coordinator of Association of Democratic Reforms Anil Bairwal said there was a huge gap between bottomlines of parties and expenditure incurred during polls.
Congress's income swelled to nearly Rs 500 crore, taking into account its Rs 270 crore opening balance. BJP's opening balance was Rs 104 crore, BSP's was Rs 68 crore, SP's Rs 140 crore and CPM, Rs 102 crore. It is clear Congress's income appreciated most sharply. BJP's balancesheet for this year read Rs 177 crore, for CPM, it was Rs 156 crore, SP Rs 144 crore and BSP Rs 118 crore.
The SP's lead over rival BSP may be attributed that it was still in power in UP, a situation that changed during the course of the year. With I-T returns reflecting the electoral fortunes of parties, the assessments may change if SP remains out of power for longer. CPM's relatively sound finances may be based on its wins in Kerala and West Bengal in 2007. BJP's assets in 2004 were worth Rs 155 crore while Congress's were Rs 136 crore but the situation changed dramatically after NDA was ousted.
Here's a report from The News about Pakistani politicians assets:
The PPP leadership has also added millions upon millions in just one year and they also have to explain it either to the tax authorities, the FBR, the NAB or even the Public Accounts Committee, if these organisations have to disprove that they are not just impotent forums.
For instance, Prime Minister Gilani claims that he bought a house by selling his property but his wife, under a plea bargain, paid off Rs 570 million loan by giving Rs 45 million. Where did that huge chunk come from is not explained.
The few politicians who have almost doubled or quadrupled their declared assets in just one year have to do a lot of explaining. These include PPP Minister Aijaz Jakhrani (Rs 15.6m to Rs 61m), Syed Khurshid Shah (Rs 24.6m to Rs 51.6m), Manzoor Wattoo (Rs 74m to Rs 156m) and Hazar Khan Bijarani (Rs 34.4 to Rs 40.7m).
Assets have grown by leaps and bounds in some other cases. For instance, Farahnaz Ispahani has added US$466,000 (a cool Rs 4 crores) to her income, some of which was used to pay off mortgage ($300,000) or invested in stocks ($60,000); MQM’s Dr AQ Khanzada has shown an increase from Rs 6.2 million in 2008 to Rs 17.7 million in 2009 or more than a crore; Khushbakht Shujaat owned property worth Rs 6 million last year which has grown to Rs 18 million in a year while her loan has come down from Rs 14 million to Rs 9 million, or a net gain of Rs 17 million; MNA Faryal Talpur’s income jumped by Rs 23 million while sister Azra also added Rs 11 million.
Likewise, Babar Ghauri of MQM has a declared worth of just under Rs 200 million. We all know how he started in the KPT before joining the MQM but will he or his party explain whether he was such a rich man before he joined the party and how he has amassed this much wealth and property and whether he has paid the due taxes. His declarations do not mention any private business, so how is his wealth snowballing.
In comparison, a known businessman of the Sharif family, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, has declared his net assets as Rs 211 million and he gives all the liabilities and loans that he owes plus his assets. Whether Hamza Sharif can justify his assets before the tax and accountability authorities is another matter but he is ahead of Babar Ghauri by a few million only.
Another curious admission has come from Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is under fire for the rental power plants. He says he has to receive Rs 8 million from his brother, why and for what has not been explained. Astonishingly, the famous Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI, known better for his petrol and diesel links, only has a worth of Rs 3.5 million.
All these random examples prove that the declarations of assets are a total fraud and a farce unless it is backed up by credible and serious efforts to counter check the claims and pin down the culprits.
For instance, these assets are not supposed to reflect the ill-gotten wealth by anyone. But if people of modest means, at least a few years ago, are now confident enough to claim that they own millions, it is but obvious that they have not declared their full worth. So if someone has Rs 20 crore to declare, how many more would he or she be hiding in local, Benami (fake names) or foreign accounts.
The process of declaring assets is absolutely essential, no matter how deceptive the claims are. This process needs to be extended to all sections of the society; the judges, generals, journalists (I am ready to file at any time), lawyers, businessmen, Ulema, bureaucrats and even non-elected politicians.
But more important is the need to set up a national structure where these claims are scrutinised. Either the tax authorities could do the job or the proposed independent and autonomous NAB should automatically take this responsibility. If these institutions are not trustworthy, let the Supreme Court name one judge to carry out this annual exercise.
Mr Haq, why do you masquerade under the garb of a techno-management guru when you are really no better than the madarsa teachers in the Pakistani hinterland? Your blog is supposed to comment on investment, management, and technology but it ends up being a monologue on India bashing.
Perhaps it's fun for you to dig out facts on India's failings, and I will be the first one to admit that India does have many. However, Pakistan is not exactly the mecca of progress and prosperity either. Spewing unsolicited venom is just a waste of your time, and I suspect, your talents too. I strongly hope that you will use your blog to prove that you were capable not just of attaining your education, but are also capable of using it. Your energies are much better utilized in promoting the growth of your nation, rather than highlighting the negatives of India, most of which few read, and even fewer believe.
Here's BBC commentary by Soutik Biswas on India's "rights revolution":
Ensuring the basics in life remains the biggest challenge for India, six decades after independence.
Take food. Some 43% of Indian children younger than five are underweight - far above the global average of 25% or sub-Saharan Africa's 28%. India is a lowly 65th among 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index. Half of the world's hungry people live in India.
So the proposed right to food, entitling a poor family to 25kg of rice or wheat at three rupees (seven cents) a kilogram is good news. The bad news is that identifying the deserving poor is a challenge - there are four different government estimates of the very poor or below poverty line (BPL) people floating around. States may inflate numbers of beneficiaries to corner more federal benefits. Then there is the notoriously leaky public distribution system, from where food is often siphoned off by a triad of low-level bureaucrats, shop owners and middlemen.
Nobody can deny that the right to education - every child aged 6-14 can demand free schooling - is critical: an estimated eight million children in that age group do not attend school in India. India's 61% literacy rate lags behind Kenya's 85%. But critics point to a lack of teachers - India would need more than a million teachers just to implement the right - and say there are simply not enough schools to cope with the increased demand.
Rights don't work miracles. But activists say they are an urgent social intervention to empower the poor in a highly iniquitous society, where it is difficult for the poor to access officials to air their grievances and secure their entitlements. "In a hierarchical society, rights-based movements are a way of moving towards equality," says leading political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan. Also, they put pressure on the state to deliver - the right to information, despite glitches, is making government more accountable.
Studies show that sensitive political and bureaucratic leadership combined with grassroots awareness and an engaged local media can translate rights into reality and improve the lives of the poor. Activists point out that money is not a problem - the economy is doing well, revenues are buoyant, federal health and education outlays have been increased. The government has pledged more than $5bn to send 10 million poor children to school.
The cynicism over rights mainly comes from India's burgeoning educated upper middle class. It is mostly not engaged with public institutions at all - its members rarely serve in the lower ranks of the armed forces, teach in state schools or work for the government. Yes, there are valid concerns about whether the state has the capacity to deliver on rights. Yes, the Indian state continues to focus on maintaining law and order and collecting revenue. Delivering services is not its strength. Rights could actually help it move towards a functioning welfare state. I would like to hear stories from you - and people you may know - who are reaping the benefits of the rights revolution.
India(49) has more than twice as many billionaires as Japan (22) which is a far richer country.
Indian and UNICEF officials concur that Indians are much worse off than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in basic nutrition and sanitation.
Meanwhile, India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement in the area despite big money being spent on it, says Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed.
India might be an emerging economic power, but it is way behind Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan in providing basic sanitation facilities, a key reason behind the death of 2.1 million children under five in the country.Lizette Burgers, chief water and environment sanitation of the UNICEF, said India is making progress in providing sanitation but it lags behind most of the other countries in South Asia.
Most of the 8-9% growth has fattened the bottom line of a small percentage of India's population, with the rest getting poorer. India's Gini Index has increased from about 32 to 36 from 2000 to 2007.
India now has 100 million more people living below the poverty line than in 2004, according to official estimates released on Sunday. The poverty rate has risen to 37.2 percent of the population from 27.5 percent in 2004, according to a Reuters report.
The rising gap between abject poverty and obscene wealth in India is fueling anger, and insurgencies such as the Maoists'.
It seems that the Hindutva aligned Indian intelligence in Lucknow is stepping up its harassment of Indian Muslims. Here's a forwarded email from Dr. Mustafa Kamal Shewani, Chairman of All-India Muslim Forum and former deputy VC of Zanzibar University in Tanazania:
Keeping a proper surveillance and vigil over each of the persons is the prerogative of all the governments, and whithout it, the effective administration cannot be ensured. However, when only one group or community is targetted for this purpose, it definitely depicts some presuppositions and prejudices against it.
The same is exactly true about Indian Muslims. On 3rd this month after sunset two L.I.U.( Local Intelligence Unit) persons came to me, saying that they want to collect my personal details and political activities. When I asked them the reason, they simply said that they have instructions to gather information about all the prominent Muslims of the city who are involved in Muslim politics.Anyhow, they evaded the reply when I asked them ' Is it about non-Muslims also'?. From my residence they proceeded to Mr. Manzoor Ahmed, a Retired IPS officer and former Vice Chancellor of Agra University who stays a little distant away from me for the same purpose.
Here is Soutik Biswas of the BBC on India's vast bureaucracy:
Like the UK and other countries, India hires it civil service recruits through competitive examinations. But its bureaucrats also face being moved around much more frequently than elsewhere. At least half of those working for the Indian Administrative Service - the country's fabled "steel frame" - spend less than a year in a single position, studies have found.
They can also end up working for India's vast number of state-run factories, hotels and airlines without much experience. So an official administering a small north-eastern state ends up running an ailing airline or a senior policeman can head up a liquor company. Most state-run companies - Air India is a good example - are poorly run, critics say, and perpetually in the red.
Bureaucrats are also hobbled by interference as politicians promote, demote or transfer them at will. There is corruption among a section of officers. Few alternate between state and federal governments, leading to accusations of provincialism in the ranks. More worryingly, some officers are perceived as champions of their religious or caste-based communities and act as "protectors" of their group's interests.
India has a range of forward-looking policies but a poor record on implementing them - for which many say bureaucrats must take a major share of the blame.
It's not as if those in charge are blind to the need for civil service reform: I have counted nearly three dozen reports and committees set up by the government since 1947 to streamline and modernise the bureaucracy. "There is growing concern that our civil services and administration in general have become wooden, inflexible, self-perpetuating and inward-looking," said one government paper.
The question is why does a bureaucracy which does a fine job in some areas - rehabilitating tsunami victims, managing millions at religious festivals, conducting the world's biggest elections - struggle to conduct day-to-day affairs of the state smoothly?
The answer may be simple. India's bureaucrats need to be insulated from political influence, observers say. They deserve transparent appointments and promotions and fixed tenures. The civil service needs a code of ethics. But most important, as one analyst says, is the need to develop a "climate of probity in public life".
Many of these observations apply to Pakistani bureaucracy as well.
Here are some excerpts from a recent piece "Is the Nation in a Coma?" in the Hindu Businessline by Mohan Murti:
It is a fact that the problem of corruption in India has assumed enormous and embarrassing proportions in recent years, although it has been with us for decades.
In a popular prime-time television discussion in Germany, the panellist, a member of the German Parliament quoting a blog said: “If all the scams of the last five years are added up, they are likely to rival and exceed the British colonial loot of India of about a trillion dollars.”
One German business daily which wrote an editorial on India said: “India is becoming a Banana Republic instead of being an economic superpower. To get the cut motion designated out, assurances are made to political allays. Special treatment is promised at the expense of the people. So, Ms Mayawati who is Chief Minister of the most densely inhabited state, is calmed when an intelligence agency probe is scrapped. The multi-million dollars fodder scam by another former chief minister wielding enormous power is put in cold storage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chairs over this kind of unparalleled loot.”
An article in a French newspaper titled “Playing the Game, Indian Style” wrote: “Investigations into the shadowy financial deals of the Indian cricket league have revealed a web of transactions across tax havens like Switzerland, the Virgin Islands, Mauritius and Cyprus.” In the same article, the name of one Hassan Ali of Pune is mentioned as operating with his wife a one-billion-dollar illegal Swiss account with “sanction of the Indian regime”.
A third story narrated in the damaging article is that of the former chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, who was reported to have funds in various tax havens that were partly used to buy mines in Liberia. “Unfortunately, the Indian public do not know the status of that enquiry,” the article concluded.
“In the nastiest business scam in Indian records (Satyam) the government adroitly covered up the political aspects of the swindle — predominantly involving real estate,” wrote an Austrian newspaper. “If the Indian Prime Minister knows nothing about these scandals, he is ignorant of ground realities and does not deserve to be Prime Minister. If he does, is he a collaborator in crime?”
The Telegraph of the UK reported the 2G scam saying: “Naturally, India's elephantine legal system will ensure culpability, is delayed.”
This seems true. In the European mind, caricature of a typical Indian encompasses qualities of falsification, telling lies, being fraudulent, dishonest, corrupt, arrogant, boastful, speaking loudly and bothering others in public places or, while travelling, swindling when the slightest of opportunity arises and spreading rumours about others. The list is truly incessant.
My father, who is 81 years old, is utterly frustrated, shocked and disgruntled with whatever is happening and said in a recent discussion that our country's motto should truly be Asatyameva Jayete.
Europeans believe that Indian leaders in politics and business are so blissfully blinded by the new, sometimes ill-gotten, wealth and deceit that they are living in defiance, insolence and denial to comprehend that the day will come, sooner than later, when the have-nots would hit the streets.
Talking about human rights and equality, here's a report from India that all modern professions in India are dominated by Hindu Brahmins. Below is an excerpt from an interview of Dr P Radhakrishnan of the Madras Institute of Development Studies as published by rediff news:
Q: Why do you say that in a hierarchical society, the gene theory won't work?
A: It can only happen randomly. In a hierarchical society, the cultural capital is concentrated at the top. Brahmins are at the summit of the social hierarchy. So, they had all the advantages of society traditionally, though they may not be having the same advantages now.
Cultural capital gets transmitted from generation to generation and over generations, this transmission makes its recipients well-entrenched.
As early as the 1880s, the British administration had reported that a poor Brahmin cannot be compared to a poor untouchable for the simple reason that the poverty of a Brahmin is only economic, but the poverty of an untouchable is both economic and cultural.
Brahmins have cultural capital. That is also the reason that where talent has to be used persistently and assiduously, Brahmins have been shining. It is not that others are dullards. Universally, intelligence is distributed across the entire society. But opportunities are not.
Here's a report in Pakistan's "the News" about Pakistan lagging in achieving MDG goals:
The report, titled “MDGs report 2010”, launched by Planning Commission reveals that the country was lagging behind or moving slow on 25 most crucial targets out of total 33 for gauging performance on social sectors such as eradication of poverty, literacy, mortality rates and safe drinking water etc for achieving MDGs targets till 2015 envisaged under United Nations umbrella. Pakistan is ahead on six indicators while it is on track on two. The country is off the track on infant mortality-rate indicator. Pakistan is going to present the MDG report 2010 before the special session of UN next week.
“Pakistan faces numerous challenges and is unlikely to achieve MDGs targets,” says the report launched here at the Planning Commission’s Auditorium on Friday afternoon in the presence of deputy chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeem Ul Haq, United Nations resident coordinator Onder Yucer and UNDP’s country head in Pakistan.
The report was prepared and launched after a gap of four years by Centre for Poverty Reduction and Social Policy Development (CPRSPD), a joint venture of the Planning Commission and the UNDP but it did not incorporate the latest available poverty figures of 17.2 per cent on the basis of survey done in 2007-08 that was also validated by the World Bank. However, the report has used the poverty figure of 22.3 per cent on the basis of survey done in 2005-06.
Speaking on the occasion, the resident coordinator of UN said that Pakistan lost achievements of last one decade in the wake of recent flood.
But Dr Nadeem Ul Haq was of the view that the failure of public service delivery and unsustainable growth were the main reasons for missing the MDGs targets. He said there was need to bring desired structural changes in the social service delivery as the old paradigm has failed to deliver in the last six decades.
The MDGs report 2010 says that militancy, political instability in 2007-08 and transition from a military-led regime to a democratically elected government caused severe disruptions in economic and social development.
“Furthermore, the most recent catastrophic flood has affected approximately more than 12 million people, ravaged different rural and urban areas and caused immense damage to the infrastructure and agriculture of the country. This will adversely impact the overall economy and achievement of many of MDGs over the next few years.”
On MDGs target to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Pakistan is lagging behind on proportion of population living below the poverty line and the situation had worsened since 2006.
Pakistan also lags behind on prevalence of underweight children under 5 years of age and proportion of population below minimum level of dietary energy consumption.
On net primary enrolment ratio, Pakistan was lagging behind at 57 per cent by 2008-09 against the MDGs envisaged target of 100 per cent by 2015. The country is far behind in terms of literacy rate on completion of grade 1 to 5.
For promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, Pakistan’s progress on Gender Parity Index (GPI) for primary and secondary education was slow while progress on youth literacy GPI has also fallen.
Pakistan is ahead on proportion of seats held by women in Parliament.
On MDGs targets of reducing child mortality, Pakistan lags behind in under five-year age group mortality rate, off-track on infant mortality rate, far behind on fully immunized children aged between 12 to 23 months and other indicators.
On improving maternal health target, the country is lagging behind in terms of maternal mortality rate, proportion of birth attended by skilled birth attendants, contraceptive prevalence rate and total fertility rate related indicators.
Here's a report indicating India has failed to make significant progress in MDGs:
PTI | 09:09 PM,Sep 16,2010
D Ravi Kanth Geneva, Sept 16 (PTI) India has performed poorly in meeting the Millennium Development Goals despite sustained growth, with high levels of maternal and child mortality rates amidst very low public spending on health, analysts have said ahead of next week's UN summit on MDGs in New York.India is not going to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- sharp reduction in extreme poverty and hunger, improvement in maternal health, reducing child mortality, and HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by 2015.The MDGs are both global and local, tailored by each country to suit specific development needs and they were adopted by world leaders in the year 2000.The deadline for achieving MDGs is 2015 and leaders when they congregate in New York will discuss the overall progress and what steps to take during the next five years.A new report- 'Trends in Maternal Mortality:1990-2008' prepared by the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, UNFPA, and The World Bank suggests that India continues to have high maternal mortality as well as child mortality.The report says around 1,000 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and child birth in the world. The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a pregnancy-related cause during her lifetime is about 36 times higher as compared to a woman living in a developed countries.Though the maternal mortality (MMR) rate has dropped by 34 per cent from an estimated 5,46,000 in 1990 to 3,58,000 in 2008, it continues to be a major problem in India with the highest maternal deaths occurring due to severe bleeding after childbirth, infections, hypertensive disorders and unsafe abortion."To achieve our global goal of improving maternal health and to save women's lives we need to do more to reach those who are most at risk," says Anthony Lake, UNICEF's executive director."India has low investment around 3 per cent in health" as compared to many African countries, which had decided to scale up investments for health to about 15 per cent of GDP, says Michel Kazatchkine, the Global Fund's executive director.Kazatchkine, who visited India recently, told reporters that India has to increase its outlay for the health sector adding that the government is responsive to the needs in health and other social sectors.The Global Funds has provided about USD 1.1 billion to address HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.Though India makes an annual contribution of USD 10 million to The Global Fund, it managed to be one of its highest recipients.The Global Fund chief said he made a special appeal to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to increase India's contribution in line with its economic growth and change. PTI DRK
It seems that in India, too, the Army is more honest and competent than the civilians. Here's a rediff report about rapid rebuilding of the collapsed footbridge at Commonwalth Games in Delhi:
It took seven years and Rs. 5 crore for a company to build a Foot Over Bridge (FOB) near the Jawaharlal Nehru [ Images ] Stadium, which then collapsed. The Indian Army [ Images ], which was called in to salvage the Delhi's [ Images ] pride and build a temporary FOB, has done the same job in four days flat and at a fraction of the original cost.
The Indian Army is now applying finishing touches to a Bailey Bridge, after a desperate Commonwealth Games [ Images ] Organising Committee and the Delhi government called them in to erect the temporary structure. The Bailey bridge will be used by spectators to reach the stadium after parking their cars at Safdarjung Airport.
Army officials said that the main structure had been erected by Monday evening, with three piers of varying heights under 20-feet each fixed to support the bridge. Jawans were seen hard at work on the steps going down to the stadium, which technically is the only work remaining to be done. The steps from the parking lot to the bridge had been put in place on Monday. The 12-feet floor of the bridge has also been put in place.
Security personnel from the Delhi police and the Army were seen guarding the worksite. Traffic police had also been deployed to control the traffic on the elevated Barapullah Nullah road to allow the army to carry on with their work.
Over 700 combat engineers from The Madras Engineer Group, informally known as the Madras Sappers (a regiment of the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army) began work on the bridge on Saturday afternoon. The Indian Army and the Delhi government had said that the bridge, which has three piers and have four spans spread over 250 feet, was expected to be delivered in five days.
"We will conduct a mandatory security test before handing over the bridge.The only addition to a standard Bailey bridge is the insertion of three piers, which we did for safety," Commanding Officer, Colonel Dinesh Khanna told rediff.com
The Bailey bridge is being built at the exact spot where its collapsed predecessor stood. The concrete pillars on either side of Barapullah Nallah road were not damaged when the earlier bridge collapsed and the Bailey bridge will use these pillars as its base, Khanna said.
A Bailey bridge is a temporary military structure used for relief operations like flood or collapsed bridges. All its components are made of metal and are portable. The newly constructed Bailey bridge will be able to accommodate more people than what was estimated of the collapsed bridge, Khanna said.
"The floor of the bridge is about 12-feet wide and can even accommodate vehicles. It will be able to take the weight of more spectators than the current estimates," Khanna added.
The decision to erect the temporary structure was taken after security agencies told civic agencies that the walking route from the parking to the stadium without the bridge would be about a kilometer long.
The 95 metre-long hanging foot-over bridge had collapsed on September 21, injuring 27 people. The bridge was being built along with another over bridge at the cost of Rs 10.5 crore by Chandigarh-based company PNR Infra, which has been blacklisted by the Delhi government.
Here's an excerpt from a Businessweek article titled "Why India's Singh Can't Reform?"
Just as they did after the terrorist siege in Mumbai in 2008, Indians have seen the government's failure to handle the Games efficiently and effectively as a metaphor for how it handles the country. What Indians want to know is very simple: When confronted with a challenge, can their government get it right?
Under Singh, the answer often has been no. His second term as Prime Minister and head of a coalition built around the Congress Party, which runs until 2014, started with great expectations. In the 2009 election Congress had managed to assemble a strong enough majority in Parliament that it no longer needed its Communist allies, who had been an obstructive force during Singh's first term.
Instead, Singh's promises to reform rigid labor markets and ease the difficulties that manufacturers encounter in acquiring land have gone nowhere. Efforts to introduce banking reform have failed, as have halfhearted attempts to tamp down double-digit food inflation, leaving India's poor buffeted by global commodity markets.
A long-running guerrilla war in India's mineral-rich central states has gotten worse, claiming more lives in 2010 than at any other point in the 33-year struggle. More than 100 people have been killed in recent street protests in Kashmir. "What we've seen since the  elections are minuscule reforms—dropping petroleum subsidies, higher education reform at the margin," says Razeen Sally, director of the Brussels-based European Center for International Political Economy. "The bigger things that are needed are things he hasn't even tried for." A spokesman for the Congress Party did not return calls.
Many critics wonder how such an able man could achieve so little. As Finance Minister in 1991, Singh cut import tariffs, allowed foreign companies such as Ford Motor (F) to set up factories, and removed regulations requiring government authorizations for new plants. The result was a burst of growth that ended the acute fiscal crisis threatening India.
One reason Singh has not repeated this performance may be his tendency to bore in on details—a useful trait when you're fixing a single ministry, less so when you're running an entire country. Singh showed this side of himself when he jumped into the Games mess, personally inspecting sites and ordering investigations. "It should not be the Prime Minister's problem to see if the loos are clean or the ceilings of a stadium are solid," says Lord Meghnad Desai, a professor emeritus of the London School of Economics and a member of the British House of Lords who knows and admires Singh.
Structural issues are hobbling Singh, too. India's raucous politics have never been amenable to the kind of discipline China's one-party state is capable of displaying, especially in economic development. Finally, the dynamics of the Congress Party may have affected the Prime Minister's performance. Rahul Gandhi, the 40-year-old son of the assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is being groomed by his mother, Sonia, to take over as Prime Minister in a Congress government someday soon. (Rahul is grandson of Indira Gandhi, who was also Prime Minister, and also assassinated.) Both mother and son have shown a tendency for well-meaning yet expensive social programs, including food subsidies, rural work programs, and farm loan waivers. "The most significant change has come about in the social sphere, and one wonders how much that has to do with Singh," says Prior-Wandesforde, the HSBC economist. "The 2009 election was a vote in favor of social reform rather than a vote for massive economic reform."
Here's an LA Times story on "Chalta Hai" attitude that was at the root of the mess in lead up to the CWG 2010:
The international embarrassment that India suffered in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games — marred by massive cost overruns, a collapsed bridge and widespread corruption allegations — has focused attention on a stubborn cultural condition that if not checked, analysts here say, could undercut India's superpower ambitions.
An attitude referred to in Hindi as "chalta hai," which translates to "it goes" but can mean "don't be bothered," "whatever," "it'll do," or "don't fret (such problems as corruption, delays, shoddy quality)."
Or in the words of one commentator: "It's OK dude, who cares?"
As the Games' closing ceremony wrapped up Thursday, the attitude appeared to be borne out. Chaos reigned until opening day of the international sports competition, but India ultimately pulled it off. There were no major terrorist attacks, India won 38 gold medals and dancing and marching bands wowed the closing crowd.
As the hangover sets in, however, some wonder why it took prime ministerial intercession to get toilets cleaned in the athletes village, why Indian planning compared so poorly with neighboring China's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics and whether a wing-it attitude befits a nation with such talent, potential and prospects.
"It doesn't matter if we're a growing superpower or the stock market's at record levels," said Vinod Mehta, editor in chief of the Outlook media group. "What these Games showed is that we've hit the limit on chalta hai."
Some see the attitude growing out of Hindu fatalism and rigid social hierarchies.
"It's a sense of 'que sera, sera,' pre-destination, you're born upper or lower caste," said Ravinder Kaur, a sociologist at the Indian Institute of Technology.
Others cite India's huge population and limited resources, which can leave individuals feeling powerless. "It's a coping device," said Amita Baviskar, a sociology professor at Delhi's Institute of Economic Growth.
For Santosh Desai, president of McCann-Erickson India, chalta hai is epitomized by a story his father recounted of a classmate who stole test answers, then only bothered to memorize the bare minimum required to pass.
Most cultures have something similar of sorts, including the Latin American "manana" and the Middle Eastern "bukrah, insha Allah" ("tomorrow, God willing") attitudes.
India's slack Games preparations epitomized chalta hai thinking, analysts said, but examples are widespread in India.
Here is an excerpt from a piece by Girish Shahane, Mumbai-based freelance journalist. He writes the blog Shoot First, Mumble Later:
...These sorts of errors bothered me far less than the constant highlighting of atrocities, often fictional ones, by Muslim rulers. The entry on Konark read, "The massive Sun Temple was constructed in mid-13th century, probably by Orissan king Narashimhadev I to celebrate his military victory over the Muslims. In use for maybe only three centuries, the first blow occurred in the late 16th century when marauding Mughals removed the copper over the cupola. This vandalism may have dislodged the loadstone leading to the partial collapse of the 40m-high sikhara." As a child, I'd heard the tale of a giant magnet holding the Sun Temple's girders in place. By the time I was in my late teens, I knew Indian temples were made of stone and used little metal. The idea of a lodestone atop the Sun Temple keeping the structure together, while making compasses on passing ships go haywire, was manifestly absurd. Not too absurd for Lonely Planet, though, which lays blame for this imaginary vandalism at the door of Mughals, whose only connection with Konark in the late 16th century was a laudatory passage about the structure composed by Abul Fazl in the Ain-i-Akbari.
Temples, even grand ones can collapse from natural causes, as evidenced by the recent fall of the 500 year old gopuram of the Srikalahasti temple.
In India, however, any damage to old Hindu religious structures is reflexively attributed to 'the Muslims'. That phrase itself is objectionable, in my view. Lonely Planet never clubs the British and Portuguese together as 'the Christians', so why place rulers from varied ethnic backgrounds and historical eras into a hold all category such as 'the Muslims'?
The Sun Temple isn't the only instance of Lonely Planet inventing acts of Muslim vandalism. The entry for Himachal's Brajeshwari Temple states, "Famous for its wealth, the temple was looted by a string of invaders, from Mahmud of Ghazni to Jehangir". Mahmud did, indeed, loot the Brajeshwari temple. But Jehangir was neither an invader, having been born and bred in India, nor a plunderer of holy sites. He loved that region of the country, and did much to improve it.
Mughals keep unjustly getting the wrong end of the stick throughout the book. The background to Amritsar and its Golden Temple reads, "The original site for the city was granted by the Mughal emperor Akbar, but another Mughal, Ahmad Shah Durani, sacked Amritsar in 1761 and destroyed the temple." Durrani was, of course, not a Mughal at all. But hey, these guys are all Muslims, right? Mughal, Turk, Afghan, big difference. That attitude is probably why Allaudin Khilji is wrongly labelled a Pathan: "Chittor's first defeat occurred in 1303 when Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Pathan king of Delhi, besieged the fort, apparently to capture the beautiful Padmini, wife of the rana's (king's) uncle, Bhim Singh." Actually, misidentifying a Turko-Afghan as a Pathan is a minor error. The big howler in the sentence is LP's propagation of the myth of Rani Padmini. Back in the early 14th century, Khilji was on a campaign in Rajputana, capturing one fort after another, and Chittor was on his list. He didn't need a special reason to besiege it. The great poet and mystic Amir Khusro, who chronicled Khilji's campaign, made no mention of any Padmini. The story was dreamt up much later to contrast the treachery and lasciviousness of the Muslim ruler against the bravery and chivalry of his Hindu Rajput antagonists. I feel like saying to the Rajputs, "Guys, Khilji won, you lost, get over it."
Here's what Roy told the Guardian after the reports of her planned arrest today:
"I spoke about justice for the people of Kashmir who live under one of the most brutal military occupations in the world; for Kashmiri Pandits who live out the tragedy of having been driven out of their homeland; for Dalit soldiers killed in Kashmir whose graves I visited on garbage heaps in their villages in Cuddalore; for the Indian poor who pay the price of this occupation in material ways and who are now learning to live in the terror of what is becoming a police state."
Here's a BBC report about leaked tapes exposing Indian journalists unethical dealings with corporate lobbyists:
Senior editors in India are considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism.
The move follows a scandal involving high-profile journalists after tapes of revealing phone conversations with an influential lobbyist were leaked.
At the centre of the controversy are two well-known journalists, Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt. Critics say they acted like deal-makers, not journalists.
Neither denies the conversations took place, but they deny any wrongdoing.
Ms Dutt is heard on tape offering to relay messages from the corporate lobbyist to politicians to influence the process of forming a cabinet.
Columnist Vir Sanghvi is heard offering a businessman a "rehearsed" interview.
'No grey areas'
"Journalists need to exercise their judgement and verify everything that is said by a source. There are no grey areas, it's black and white," Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook magazine which published the tapes, said.
"Corporate lobbyists represent certain interests which should be clear to everyone."
Mr Mehta was among a number of participants who spoke in a debate held at the Press Club of India.
Rajdeep Sardesai, the editor of the TV channel CNN-Ibn, said: "Let us not overlook the fact that it is the media's unflinching attempts that have exposed these scams. Most of us are doing a very good job.
"This rot is not new - it's been around for three decades at least.
"In this competitive age, access is information which is where the politicians have co-opted the journalists. Corporate India and politicians are subverting the system," he said.
More than 100 tapes of conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and leading journalists were recorded as part of an authorised police tap.
Police were acting on a request from income tax authorities investigating the alleged mis-selling of mobile telephone licences.
Last month, federal auditors said former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja had undersold mobile phone licences worth billions of dollars, resulting in an estimated loss of $39bn to the exchequer.
It is not clear who leaked the tapes to the media. Transcripts of the conversations have appeared in the Open and Outlook magazines and have angered many Indians.
In the tape recorded in the summer of 2009, Ms Dutt is heard discussing with Ms Radia who should be in the cabinet. Ms Radia was pushing for Mr Raja to be reinstated as a minister.
Ms Dutt, currently group editor at NDTV is heard assuring Ms Radia that she would speak to a senior Congress party leader on her behalf.
Barkha Dutt has apologised for "an error of judgement", but she insists that she has not done anything wrong.
Mr Sanghvi - who is heard offering a "fully scripted" and "rehearsed" television interview to Ms Radia's client, India's richest man Mukesh Ambani - says he was "just stringing her along".
Ms Radia works as a lobbyist for two of India's biggest industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata.
Since the leaks, Mr Tata has gone to court saying that conversations between him and Ms Radia were "personal" and that the leaks violated his right to privacy.
Here are some details from the leaked tapes on Indian media's collusion with big business, as published in The Hindu:
In one tape, HT Media advisor Vir Sanghvi has a follow-up conversation with Ms. Radia regarding his June 21, 2009 column in the Hindustan Times on the tussle between the Ambani brothers over gas pricing, framed as an article about oligarchs taking over natural resources.
“Wrote it… I've dressed it up as a piece about how the public will not stand for resources being cornered, how we're creating a new list of oligarchs,” Mr. Sanghvi tells Ms. Radia. “Very nice, lovely, thank you, Vir,” she says, while he adds: “It's dressed up as a plea to Manmohan Singh, so it won't look like an inter-Ambani battle except to people in the know.”
Confronted with this tape, Mr. Sanghvi still insists he was just stringing her along, “sweet-talking” a news source. In an interview to TheHindu, he claims the final published column included elements that Ms. Radia was unhappy about, proof that he was not exclusively pandering to her agenda.
While this particular column seemed to have elements taken word-for-word from a previous conversation with Ms. Radia, the lobbyist's efforts to ensure the publication of favourable articles took various other forms.
In other tapes, she is heard instructing an IAS officer to do an interview with a journalist for a story critical of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, and telling a subordinate to compile questions for Mr. Sanghvi's interviews with Mr. Mukesh Ambani or Mr. Tata, both of whom are represented by Ms. Radia.
In another conversation, she seems to be directing the entire restructuring of the channel News X, which raises questions about her editorial influence there as well.
She does not hesitate to take negative action either, the most striking example of which is the discussion of a communication plan for the Reliance Industries group, which includes a proposal to “blacklist” news agency PTI, possibly in cooperation with the Tata group.
Ms. Radia's conversations include an attempt to manipulate the media and the police into providing bad publicity for rival Anil Ambani's Reliance Communications in Jammu. She also discusses “incorrect edits” and “a serious problem with [ET's] desk in Delhi”, and gloats about shifting a Noel Tata interview from a resistant Businessworld to a seemingly more cooperative Business Today magazine. However, the final laugh seemed to be on her in that particular case, with Business Today's former editor, Rohit Saran, pointing out that he went ahead with his own editorial agenda in the final published version of the interview, much to Ms. Radia's chagrin.
Here's BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of "India: A Portrait" by historian Patrick French arguing that India is becoming a hereditary monarchy:
Is India sliding into a pseudo monarchy of sorts? In his splendid new book, India: A Portrait, historian Patrick French dredges up some startling data on the stranglehold of family and lineage on Indian politics.
The research finds that though less than a third of India's parliamentarians had a hereditary connection, things get worse with the younger MPs. Consider this:
Every MP in the Lok Sabha or the lower house of the Indian parliament under the age of 30 had inherited a seat.
More than two thirds of the 66 MPs aged 40 or under are hereditary MPs.
Every Congress MP under the age of 35 was a hereditary MP.
Nearly 40% of the 66 ministers who are members of the Lok Sabha were hereditary members.
Nearly 70% of the women MPs have family connections.
Interestingly, for MPs over 50, the proportion with a father or relative in politics was a rather modest 17.9%. But when you looked at those aged 50 or under, this increased by more than two and a half times to nearly half, or 47.2%.
Also most of the younger hereditary MPs - and ministers - have not made a mark and sometimes have been shockingly conservative in their actions. A young MP from feudal Haryana, for example, was seen to be cosying up to extra-constitutional village councils in the state which were punishing couples for marrying outside their caste and clan.
"If the trend continued," concludes French, "it was possible that most members of the Indian Parliament would be there by heredity alone, and the nation would be back to where it had started before the freedom struggle, with rule by a hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings." He also worries the next Lok Sabha will be a "house of dynasts".
Most agree that growing nepotistic and lineage-based power in the world's largest democracy is a matter of concern. "The idea of India," political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan told me, "is rent apart by these two contradictory impulses."
But nepotism is a part of India life; and politics mirrors society. Power, wealth, land and status have hinged to a large extent on who your parents were, what they owned and where they stood in society. Most Indian businesses continue to be owned and run by families though the new economy is throwing up more first generation entrepreneurs. Bollywood, India's thriving film industry, is dominated by sons and daughters of famous actors and producers. Three members of one family - Nehru-Gandhi - have held the post of prime minister. If the Congress party wins the next elections and PM Manmohan Singh steps down, there is a likelihood of the dynast Rahul Gandhi becoming India's next prime minister. (It is no surprise that 37% of the MPs - 78 of 208 - in Congress are hereditary compared to only 19% hereditary MPs - 22 of the 116 - in the main opposition BJP.)
Despite French's troubling data, all may not be lost. "Please remember," Dr Rangarajan told me, "the MPs have lineage as a huge plus, but the posts are not hereditary." In other words, if they fail to deliver, they will be voted out of power. Merit triumphed over dynasty in the recent elections in dirt-poor Bihar. So though lineage remains a key factor in politics, remind analysts, it can only give a headstart, and nothing more. Thank democracy for that.
India's corporate mafia is fuelling corruption, says Prashant Bhushan, according to newKerala.com:
"The corporate mafia has come to control every institution of power and governance, be it politicians, bureaucracy, police and, to an extent, judiciary also," Bhushan told IANS in an exclusive interview.
"The corporate houses have become monstrously large and a law unto themselves. They get the law and policies made and decision taken including judicial decisions," he said, adding "very often they decide what the media will report or not report".
Bhushan, the son of eminent jurist and former law minister Shanti Bhushan, said any fight against corruption and for redeeming democratic institutions had to commence with transparency.
"The situation today is much worse than what it was in the early 1970s. At that time we did not have the corporate mafia controlling all the institutions. That was a situation when a powerful prime minister temporarily choked off democracy. Today, this corporate mafia is accountable and more dangerous," Bhushan asserted.
"This system is so bad. There is no point in preserving the illusion of functional democracy when it is clear that most institutions of democracy have crumbled or are non-functional. We need to restore proper democracy in the country and not preserve an illusion of democracy."
The lawyer said the only prescription for rescuing Indian governance from "corporate mafia" was "transparency" and people's right to know about the functioning of the state apparatus.
"Unless we wake up and start engaging in public issues and affairs, we are heading towards disaster," said Bhushan, who is facing contempt of court proceedings for highlighting the alleged misconduct of an apex court judge.
It was Bhushan who convinced the Supreme Court to monitor the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the allocation of 2G airwaves to telecom companies. He also spoke on his fight against corruption and allegations against Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) P.J. Thomas.
He said India was in a "very serious situation" and the "biggest threat was corruption that had spread in every vital sphere of the state's functioning".
The crumbling democratic institutions could be "repaired and restored" provided there was a "very strong people's movement in the country that would bring pressure on the institutions".
"Though the judiciary can play a useful role in that process", in the final count it needed the backing of a strong people's movement, he said.
"I think all problems have to be dealt with simultaneously. You cannot shut your eye to a problem in one institution in order to highlight it in another institution. This is a shortsighted policy which does not pay in the long run," he said.
Advocating an independent media, he said that the media should not be controlled by corporate houses or those who have a direct or indirect interest in other business.
Here is an excerpt from a Time magazine opinion piece by Hannah Beach on the status of Asian democracies:
Asia gave birth to people power in 1986, when a sea of yellow-clad demonstrators peacefully overthrew a dictator in the Philippines. Other popular uprisings against authoritarianism followed, from Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan to Mongolia and Indonesia. Watching the events unfold in the Arab world, Asia's fledgling democracies can be forgiven for indulging in a moment of nostalgia. While revolutionary zeal may have toppled the region's strongmen, however, too few of their successors have bothered to build the institutions needed to sustain democracy beyond its first flush. Democracy through revolution is heady stuff, but it's not always a template for building lasting freedom and justice.
The withered potential of people power is best examined on its home turf. This month, the Philippines will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of its historic uprising. Those following the events in Egypt will find many parallels. Ferdinand Marcos, a corrupt, aging, U.S.-backed dictator, was ousted by a populace that rallied, in part, thanks to technology. (Then it was radio, not Facebook or Twitter.) But a quarter-century later, with the son of people-power heroine Corazon Aquino now serving as President, the Philippines is still beset by the poverty, cronyism and nepotism that provoked the 1986 protests. (See a brief history of people power.)
These failings are not the Philippines' alone. Across Asia, elections are held, but vote buying taints the results. Politics is dominated by the same old families. Economic growth often rewards the few rather than the many. And from Malaysia and East Timor to Taiwan and Thailand, I have met local journalists who passed information on to me because they felt it was too dangerous to write about the issues themselves. Without the crucial check of a free press — or independent legislatures and courts, for that matter — democracy exists in name only.
Still, Asia also offers heartening lessons for the Arab world. There's South Korea, for instance, which overthrew a U.S.-backed military dictatorship, then carefully constructed a prosperous democracy. And then there's Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. In 1998, after 32 years in power, strongman Suharto was forced out by massive street protests. Since then, change in Indonesia has occurred not in one cataclysmic jolt but instead through years of brick-by-brick nation building. That may not sound sexy, but it works. Indonesia has now peacefully cycled through several secular-minded leaders, and its civil society is flourishing. The country's problems are still immense: graft and poverty persist, as does sectarian conflict. But Egypt could do a lot worse than to follow the model of this moderate, Muslim-majority democracy
Soutik Biswas of BBC on "Why India's big, fat weddings will never stop":
The big, fat Indian wedding returned to the front pages of newspapers this week: reportedly a $55m gig with 20,000 guests, a Bell helicopter as dowry, a 100-dish menu, a dozen TV screens showing a video feed of the proceedings, and even a $5,000 tip for the groom's barber. The groom's father - a rich Congress party politician and real estate magnet, exemplifying the intersection of politics and new money in India - wryly remarked that the media reports of the wedding were speculative.
For the Congress party-led government whose credibility is battered by a tsunami of corruption scandals, the hugely ostentatious wedding by a party member should come as an embarrassment, many here feel. One minister is reported to have said recently that nearly 15% of India's grain and vegetables is wasted through "extravagant and luxurious functions". Party chief Sonia Gandhi has pleaded with her workers to be frugal and her MPs to fly economy class. The embattled PM, Manmohan Singh, had feebly exhorted businessmen to refrain from ostentatious displays of wealth because such "vulgarity insults the poor". But what he possibly forgets is that the poor in India are actually insulted every day by many of the men and women they vote into power.
The government is apparently working on a law to curb waste at extravagant weddings and functions. No law will be able to change soon a people and society that remain deeply hierarchical, feudal and class-conscious. At one end of the scale a hapless farmer may take ruinous loans from money-lenders to host a wedding beyond his means. At the other end a billionaire unabashedly builds the world's priciest home (more than $1bn) in Mumbai where half the people live in slums. All this is symptomatic of a society which thrives on perpetuating inequity. With near double-digit growth, there's going to be more money to throw around and flaunt. So don't expect any lame law to curb India's vulgar, overblown weddings any time soon.
“Democracy in India is only top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”
—B.R. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution, in 1949, in "Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol. 1: A Stake in the Nation"
Read more at Countercurrents.org
Here are some excerpts of an interesting open letter to the Arab pro-democracy protesters from an Indian writer Udayakumar:
1. ... ...there are hundreds of Members of Parliament (in both the upper and the lower house) such as Basudeb Acharia, Manikrao Hodlya Gavit, and Somnath Chatterji who are called "longest serving" members. I wonder if they should be called that or the "longest clinging" members. There is a similar trend in the legislative assemblies of all the states in India too. For instance, M. Karunanidhi, the present Chief Minister (US equivalent of State Governor) of Tamil Nadu state has been a member of the state house for more than 40 years now.
2. You rightly problematize the nepotism of your rulers and think that democracy could end all this. The dynasties of the Kennedys, the Bushs and the Clintons in the United States, and the Gandhi dynasty and quite a few smaller dynasties in India would prove that democracy and elections cannot curtail sycophancy, nepotism, and family succession....
3. ...In December 2008, while announcing federal corruption charges against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, FBI Special Agent Robert Grant said that "if [Illinois] isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it is one hell of a competitor." Blagojevich ended up in prison. Republican George Ryan is currently serving a 6 1/2-year term in federal prison for racketeering and fraud. Otto Kerner, a Democrat, was convicted in 1973 on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury and other charges and sentenced to three years in the prison. In 1987 Dan Walker was convicted of bank fraud years after leaving office. Lennington Small, a Republican who served from 1921 to 1929, was indicted while in office for embezzlement. Most Indian politicians have no qualms about stealing public money and they are said to be the largest clientele of the Swiss banks. Rudolf Elmer, a Swiss bank executive, has said that "Switzerland is the most preferred tax haven for Indians" to stack up their illicit wealth (NDTV, January 19, 2011).
4. ...It is obvious that your leaders, kings and emirs use the national resources for their and their families' aggrandizement. Our democracies are not much different either. An article in opensecrets.org points out: “As Americans worry about their own finances, their elected representatives in Washington — with a collective net worth of $3.6 billion — are mostly in good shape to withstand a recession.” Before the meltdown rained on their parade, members of Congress, “saw their net worths soar 84 per cent from 2004 to 2006, on average.” The article points out that while US senators had “a median net worth of approximately $1.7 million in 2006,” only about “1 per cent of all American adults had a net worth greater than $1 million around the same time.” Reputed Indian journalist P. Sainath points out in his column in The Hindu newspaper (dated June 20, 2009) that the number of ‘crorepatis’ (millionnaires) in the present Indian parliament's lower house (Lok Sabha) is up 98 per cent as compared to 2004. Then there were 154 of them but now there are 306 — almost double. In both the United States and India, money from big corporations and business houses helps politicians secure election victories and eventually "own" them.
5...P. Sainath points out the firm links between wealth and winning elections in India in his above-mentioned article.... This is in a country that has 836 million people who scrape along with less than Rs. 20 (50 US cents) a day. Do you think the poor will ever have a chance of voicing their concerns in the policymaking circles?
Latest publication of Wikileaks by The Hindu reveals vote buying by India's ruling party in a 2008 confidence vote:
The ghost of bribes for MPs’ votes returned to haunt the government on Thursday with the entire Opposition demanding its resignation over allegations that UPA-I purchased the support of lawmakers to survive the trial of strength at the height of crisis over Indo-U.S. nuclear deal in 2008.
On top of several scams that had surfaced in the last few months, the government faced a torrid time in Parliament on Thursday with Opposition targeting it on the manner in which it won the vote of confidence in 2008 after the Left parties had withdrawn support to it opposing the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal.
Both the Houses of Parliament were repeatedly rocked by uproar and adjournments by the Opposition members who demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government saying it did not have any right to continue even for a moment as it was surviving on “political and moral sin“.
The Right and and the Left combined in Parliament whenever it met during the day to launch an assault armed with the claim in a U.S. diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks that an aide of former Union Minister Satish Sharma had shown to the diplomat currency chests that were part of Rs.50 crore to Rs.60 crore money collected by Congress for purchase MPs for the vote in the Lok Sabha.
The only defence that the government came out with was when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament that a diplomat’s cable enjoyed immunity and he could not confirm or deny its contents.
Here's another glimpse of vote-buying Indian democracy:
New Delhi: The head of whistleblower website WikiLeaks Monday accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of deliberately misleading the public by claiming that leaked US diplomatic cables allegedly pointing to payoffs to MPs during a 2008 parliamentary trust vote were not authentic."The comments I have been hearing from Prime Minister Singh these, to me, seem to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the public by suggesting that governments around the world do not accept the material," Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange told to a news channel in an interview.
As per the WikiLeaks cables published in The Hindu, a US diplomat was told that Rs.50-60 crore was kept aside by the Congress party to get some opposition members of the Lok Sabha on board before the trust vote in July 2008 during the first tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
The prime minister said in parliament that the government could not "confirm the veracity, contents or even the existence of such communications", and added that many persons mentioned in the cables have "stoutly denied the veracity of the contents".
Assange asserted that there "is no doubt, whatsoever, that the cables are authentic", which was the reason why the US government has been very upset over the leak of the diplomatic cables.
He said that there was "no doubt that these are bonafide reports sent by the American ambassador (in India) back to Washington and these should be seen in that context".
That does not mean every fact in them are correct, you have to look at their sources and how they have this information," added Assange.
He said that the defence argument was "actually the behaviour of guilty men".
"A man who is innocent doesn't tend to behave like that. That doesn't mean people making those statements, like Prime Minister Singh and so on, are guilty of this particular crime. It suggests something that how Indian parliamentarianss and politicians respond to very serious allegations. They respond through indirection and attempting to cover up the issue for the public rather than address it fully and frankly," Assange asserted.
He felt that if the cable on bribery was incorrect, the US envoy in India "has a lot to answer" for sending cables to Washington "about senior politicians and the behaviour of Indian parliaments, which is cast in very negative light".
"Either he has committed a grave error that would damage Indian and American relations and should resign on that matter; or the report was correct and he was reporting correctly and he had checked his fact before reporting back to Washington," Assange said.
He suspected that the "most serious issue in the cable, I suspect, is yet to be revealed". "There is quite a bit of time to go through the material: the material from Pakistan, China. It is likely to be of interest to the Indian population," he said.
There are about 6,000 cables from the US embassy in India.
"What we are looking at more carefully are the cables from Pakistan and those are something that are yet to be published. We are working to have those published," he said.
Talking about democracy, here are some excerpts from a Vanity Fair article by Nobel Laureate Economist Joe Stiglitz about growing concentration of wealth and power in America. It's titled "Of the 1%, For the 1%, By the 1%":
Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.
It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.
Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequal ities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.
Here are a few excerpts from a Sydney Morning Herald piece on India:
..India's euphoric victory in this month's cricket world cup final fits with a mood that its time has come. "The World at Our Feet," screamed a headline in The Times of India the morning after triumph.
And yet the numbers show India is a very poor world power. Its per capita income is $US1265 ($1207) according the International Monetary Fund's latest estimate. That's less than one third of China's and just 2.7 per cent of America's. The 2010 United Nations Human Development Index, a measure that combines income, education and life expectancy, ranked India at 119th out of 169 countries. That's only one place above East Timor. China was 30 places higher than India and Russia was 54 places up the list.
In India, more than 700 million people survive on less than $US2 a day and about 42 per cent of children aged five or less are under-weight. A UN report found there are 421 million Indians living in ''multi-dimensional'' poverty, a greater number than in Africa's 26 poorest countries combined.
Rapid economic change in India has created confronting anomalies. High-tech wizardry and medieval squalor live side by side. It is possible to access fast wireless broadband in villages where children are dying of starvation and thanks to the explosive growth of mobiles, more Indians probably have access to phone calls than toilets.
There is mounting evidence that the spoils of economic growth have become disproportionately concentrated among a small group of super-rich industrialists. Research by the former World Bank economist Michael Walton shows the combined worth of India's US dollar billionaires rose from the equivalent of 1.7 per cent of India's gross domestic product in 1999 to a peak of 23 per cent in 2008.
India's economic miracle, so often lauded abroad, is contested at home. Three of India's 28 states have communist governments. Leftist political parties, critical of India's economic trajectory, are an influential force in politics. India's dynamic volunteer sector, which includes tens of thousands of non-government organisations, has produced an army of activists who decry the social and environmental damage being done amid India's rapid development.
The sense of alienation and anger among India's poor has helped stoke a bloody Maoist rebellion in its most destitute regions. These insurgents - called Naxals after the eastern Indian village of Naxalbari where the movement began - are active in more than one-third of India's 626 districts. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has branded them ''the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country''.
The World Bank estimates the proportion of Indians living on less than $US1 per day (in 2005 purchasing power parity) fell from 42 per cent in 1981 to 24 per cent in 2005 but population growth meant the actual number of people living below that poverty benchmark was only reduced from 296 million to 266 million in that period.
In a new book, the British writer and historian Patrick French criticises journalists who "make a living by reporting ceaseless tales of woe" from the subcontinent. He is right to challenge the outdated stereotype of India as a poverty-stricken basket case but the media obsession with India's growth rate, urban middle-class and super-rich entrepreneurs can also be misleading.
Some analysts have attributed an apparent middle-class disengagement from mainstream politics to the power exerted by poorer ''vote blocks''. Very low voter turnouts in wealthy neighbourhoods of Mumbai and Delhi are cited as evidence of this apathy. But if the middle class cannot hold sway at the ballot box, it exerts influence in other ways.--------
Muslim rulers deliberately projected as intolerant: Katju
Vidya Subrahmaniam, The Hindu
New Delhi: Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju on Sunday attributed simmering Hindu-Muslim tensions to a deliberate rewriting of history to project Muslim rulers as intolerant and bigoted, whereas ample evidence existed to show the reverse was true.
The judge also said that Indians were held together by a common Sanskrit-Urdu culture which guaranteed that India would always remain secular.
Justice Katju said the myth-making against Muslim rulers, which was a post-1857 British project, had been internalised in India over the years. Thus, Mahmud Ghazni's destruction of the Somnath temple was known but not the fact that Tipu Sultan gave an annual grant to 156 Hindu temples. The judge, who delivered the valedictory address at a conference held to mark the silver jubilee of the Institute of Objective Studies, buttressed his arguments with examples quoted from D.N. Pande's History in the Service of Imperialism.
Dr. Pande, who summarised his conclusions in a lecture to members of the Rajya Sabha in 1977, had said: “Thus under a definite policy the Indian history textbooks were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under Islamic rule.”
Justice Katju said Dr. Pande came upon the truth about Tipu Sultan in 1928 while verifying a contention — made in a history textbook authored by Dr. Har Prashad Shastri, the then head of the Sanskrit Department in Calcutta University — that during Tipu's rule 3,000 Brahmins had committed suicide to escape conversion to Islam. The only authentication Dr. Shastri could provide was that the reference was contained in the Mysore Gazetteer. But the Gazetteer contained no such reference.
Further research by Dr. Pande showed not only that Tipu paid annual grants to 156 temples, but that he enjoyed cordial relations with the Shankaracharya of Sringeri Math to whom he had addressed at least 30 letters. Dr. Shastri's book, which was in use at the time in high schools across India, was later de-prescribed. But the unsubstantiated allegation continued to masquerade as a fact in history books written later.
Justice Katju said the secular-plural character of India was guaranteed both by the Indian Constitution and the unmatched diversity of the Indian population. The judge attributed the diversity to the fact of India being a land of old immigrants, dating back to 10,000 years (Justice Katju and fellow judge Gyan Sudha Misra first propounded this thesis in a judgment, excerpts from which were carried as an op-ed article in The Hindu edition dated January 12, 2011). The diversity, reflected in the wide range of religions, castes, languages and physical attributes found among the descendants, led the founding fathers to draft a Constitution with strong federal features. “Diversity is our asset and our guarantee for staying secular,” said Justice Katju.
Earlier, a resolution passed at the conference urged the government to forthwith set up an Equal Opportunity Commission as recommended by the Rajinder Sachar Committee.
The resolution said: “The conference resolves that inclusive growth is not possible without equal opportunities being given to all sections of society, particularly minorities and other marginalised communities.”
Here's a BBC story on damning testimony against Narendra Modi by an Indian intelligence official:
A senior police officer's sworn statement to India's Supreme Court alleges that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state.
More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence in 2002.
Sanjiv Bhatt says he attended a meeting at which Mr Modi is alleged to have said that the Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger.
Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.
'Vent their anger'
The riots began after 60 Hindu pilgrims died when a train carrying them was set on fire.
Sanjiv Bhatt was a senior police officer in the Gujarat intelligence bureau during the 2002 riots.
In a sworn statement to the Supreme Court, he said that his position allowed him to come across large amounts of information and intelligence both before and during the violence, including the actions of senior administrative officials.
He also alleges that, in a meeting in the night before the riots, Mr Modi told officials that the Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson following an attack on a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.
The Gujarat government has responded to the allegations by saying they have already testified before a special panel investigating the riots and will wait for the court's verdict.
It's ludicrous to talk about human freedom in India, a country at the center of slave trade in the 21st century, according to NY Times.
Unfortunately, brains and personality aren’t always enough, and India is the center of the 21st-century slave trade. This country almost certainly has the largest number of human-trafficking victims in the world today.
If M. is sold to a brothel, she will have no defense against H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. Decisions about using a condom are made by the customer or the brothel owner, not by the girl. In one brothel I slipped into to conduct some interviews, there was not a single condom available.
Here are some excerpts from an Op Ed in The Hindu on growing disconnect between mass media and mass reality:
•The mass reality in India (which has over 70 per cent of its people living in the rural areas), is that rural India is in the midst of the worst agrarian crisis in four decades. Millions of livelihoods in the rural areas have been damaged or destroyed in the last 15 years as a result of this crisis, because of the predatory commercialisation of the countryside and the reduction of all human values to exchange value. As a result, lakhs of farmers have committed suicide and millions of people have migrated, and are migrating, from the rural areas to the cities and towns in search of jobs that are not there. They have moved towards a status that is neither that of a ‘worker' nor that of a ‘farmer.' Many of them end up as domestic labourers, or even criminals. We have been pushed towards corporate farming, a process in which farming is taken out of the hands of the farmers and put in the hands of corporates. This process is not being achieved with guns, tanks, bulldozers or lathis. It is done by making farming unviable for the millions of small family farm-holders, due to the high cost of inputs such as seed, fertilizer and power, and uneconomical prices.
•India was ranked fourth in the list of countries with the most number of dollar billionaires, but 126th in human development. This means it is better to be a poor person in Bolivia (the poorest nation in South America) or Guatemala or Gabon rather than in India. Here, some 83.6 crore people (of a total of 110-120 crore) in India survive on less than Rs.20 a day.
•Eight Indian States in India are economically poorer than African states, said a recent Oxford University study. Life expectancy in India is lower than in Bolivia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
•According to the National Sample Survey Organisation, the average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household is Rs.503. Of that, some 55 per cent is spent on food, 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear, leaving precious little to be spent on education or health.
•A report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations shows that between 1995-97 and 1999-2001, India added more newly hungry millions than the rest of the world taken together. The average rural family is consuming 100 kg less of food than it was consuming earlier. Indebtedness has doubled in the past decade. Cultivation costs have increased exorbitantly and farming incomes have collapsed, leading to wide-scale suicides by farmers.
•While there were 512 accredited journalists covering the Lakme India Fashion Week event, there were only six journalists to cover farmer suicides in Vidharbha. In that Fashion Week programme, the models were displaying cotton garments, while the men and women who grew that cotton were killing themselves at a distance of an hour's flight from Nagpur in the Vidharbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists, locally.
Is this a responsible way for the Indian media to function? Should the media turn a Nelson's eye to the harsh economic realities facing over 75 per cent of our people, and concentrate on some ‘Potemkin villages' where all is glamour and show business? Are not the Indian media behaving much like Queen Marie Antoinette, who famously said that if people had no bread, they should eat cake.
No doubt, sometimes the media mention farmers' suicides, the rise in the price of essential commodities and so on, but such coverage is at most 5 to 10 per cent of the total. The bulk of the coverage goes to showing cricket, the life of film stars, pop music, fashion parades, astrology…
Here's the intro to an interview of Smita Narula, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of the report, "Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and the Agrarian Crisis in India" as published by Democracy Now on Indian farmers plight:
A quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years—an average of one suicide every 30 minutes. The crisis has ballooned with economic liberalization that has removed agricultural subsidies and opened Indian agriculture to the global market. Small farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives out of sheer desperation. We speak with Smita Narula of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of a new report on farmer suicides in India.
SMITA NARULA: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this report that you are just releasing today.
SMITA NARULA: Our major finding for this report is that all the issues that you just described are major human rights issues. And what we’re faced with in India is a human rights crisis of epic proportions. The crisis affects the human rights of Indian farmers and their family members in extremely profound ways. We found that their rights to life, to water, food and adequate standard of living, and their right to an effective remedy, is extremely affected by this crisis. Additionally, the government has hard human rights legal obligations to respond to the crisis, but we’ve found that it has failed, by and large, to take any effective measures to address the suicides that are taking place.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this number is unbelievable. Thirty—every 30 minutes, an Indian farmer commits suicide?
SMITA NARULA: And that’s been going on for years and years. And what these intense numbers don’t reveal are two things. One is that the numbers themselves are failing to capture the enormity of the problem. In what we call a failure of information on the part of the Indian government, entire categories of farmers are completely left out of the purview of farm suicide statistics, because they don’t formally own title to land. This includes women farmers, Dalit, or so-called lower caste farmers, as well as Adivasi, or tribal community farmers. In addition, the government’s programs and the relief programs that they’ve offered fail to capture not only this broad category, but also fail to provide timely debt relief and compensation or address broader structural issues that are leading to these suicides in the country....
Now that MF Hussein has passed away in exile, India's hypocritical politicians - from left and right are paying lip service to his memory. How dishonest!
This shows that in the so-called "world's largest democracy", the Indian politicians continue to appeal to the religious fanaticism of the Hindu majority.
Here's a NY Times story on dysfunction in Gurgaon, India:
Gurgaon, located about 15 miles south of the national capital, New Delhi, would seem to have everything, except consider what it does not have: a functioning citywide sewer or drainage system; reliable electricity or water; and public sidewalks, adequate parking, decent roads or any citywide system of public transportation. Garbage is still regularly tossed in empty lots by the side of the road.
With its shiny buildings and galloping economy, Gurgaon is often portrayed as a symbol of a rising “new” India, yet it also represents a riddle at the heart of India’s rapid growth: how can a new city become an international economic engine without basic public services? How can a huge country flirt with double-digit growth despite widespread corruption, inefficiency and governmental dysfunction?
In Gurgaon and elsewhere in India, the answer is that growth usually occurs despite the government rather than because of it. India and China are often considered to be the world’s rising economic powers, yet if China’s growth has been led by the state, India’s growth is often impeded by the state. China’s authoritarian leaders have built world-class infrastructure; India’s infrastructure and bureaucracy are both considered woefully outdated.
Yet over the past decade, India has emerged as one of the world’s most important new engines of growth, despite itself. Even now, with its economy feeling the pressure from global inflation and higher interest rates, some economists predict that India will become the world’s third largest economy within 15 years and could much sooner supplant China as the fastest-growing major economy.
Moreover, India’s unorthodox path illustrates, on a grand scale, the struggles of many smaller developing countries to deliver growth despite weak, ineffective governments. Many have tried to emulate China’s top-down economic model, but most are stuck with the Indian reality. In India, Gurgaon epitomizes that reality, managing to be both a complete mess and an economic powerhouse, a microcosm of Indian dynamism and dysfunction.
In Gurgaon, economic growth is often the product of a private sector improvising to overcome the inadequacies of the government.
To compensate for electricity blackouts, Gurgaon’s companies and real estate developers operate massive diesel generators capable of powering small towns. No water? Drill private borewells. No public transportation? Companies employ hundreds of private buses and taxis. Worried about crime? Gurgaon has almost four times as many private security guards as police officers.
“You could call it the United States of Gurgaon,” said Sanjay Kaul, an activist critical of the city’s lack of planning who argues that Gurgaon is a patchwork of private islands more than an interconnected city. “You are on your own.”
Gurgaon is an extreme example, but it is not an exception. In Bangalore, outsourcing companies like Infosys and Wipro transport workers with fleets of buses and use their own power generators to compensate for the weak local infrastructure. Many apartment buildings in Mumbai, the nation’s financial hub, rely on private water tankers. And more than half of urban Indian families pay to send their children to private schools rather than the free government schools, where teachers often do not show up for work.
Here's an excerpt from a post by Indian blogger Namit Arora:
Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, continues to thrive after calling the Dalits ‘mentally retarded children’ who gain ‘spiritual experience’ from manual scavenging. The media has little interest or insight into Dalit lives, nor hires low-caste journalists. Major atrocities against Dalits still go unreported. Law enforcement is often indifferent or worse. There is no effective prosecution for discrimination in employment and housing. A Dalit politician can’t get a majority of upper-caste votes even in South Mumbai. Even among those few elites who read books, how many have read a single novel or memoir by a Dalit? In what is perhaps the most diverse country in the world, there is no commitment to diversity in the elite institutions that decide what is worthy art, music, and literature, or what is the content of history textbooks. In book after book of stories for children, both the protagonist and the implicit audience are elite and upper-caste. Much the same is true of sitcoms, soap operas, and commercials on TV. Dalits are invisible from all popular culture that gets any airtime. The Indian army still has many upper-caste-only regiments. There is nothing like an Indian ACLU. Or a Dalit history month on public TV, or exhibits in museums, that seek to educate the upper-castes about a long and dark chapter of their past (and present). Unless a sizable proportion of elites, benumbed by privilege, open their eyes and learn to see both within and without, can there be much hope?
India's democracy is facing serious challenges, argues Soutik Biswas of the BBC:
Nearly a third of MPs - 158 of 524, to be precise - in the parliament face criminal charges. Seventy-four of them face serious charges such as murder and abduction. There are more than 500 criminal cases against these lawmakers.
These MPs hail from across the political spectrum.
Twelve of the 205 MPs or 5% of the lawmakers in the ruling Congress Party face criminal charges. The main opposition BJP fares worse with 19 of 116 - or more than 16% - of its MPs facing charges. More than 60% of the MPs belonging to two key regional parties, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - who profess to serve the poor and the untouchables - face criminal charges.
Many of these MPs say that false charges have been filed against them.
Then there are allegations of rampant vote-buying by parties, especially in southern India.
The Election Commission seized more than six million rupees ($13.3m; £8.3m) in cash in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the state elections in April. It believes that the money was kept to buy votes.
In an US embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks in March, an American official was quoted as saying that one Tamil Nadu party inserted cash and a voting slip instructing which party to vote for in the morning newspapers - more innovative than handing out money directly to voters. The party concerned denies the charge.
Independent election watchdogs believe that candidates routinely under-report or hide campaign expenses. During the 2009 general elections, nearly all of the 6753 candidates officially declared that they had spent between 45 to 55% of their expenses limit.
India's most respected election watchdog Association For Democratic Reforms (ADR) has rolled out a pointed wish-list to clean up India's politics and target corruption. I am sharing some of them:
* Any person against whom charges have been framed by a court of law or offences punishable for two years or more should not be allowed to contest elections. Candidates charged with serious crimes like murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion should be banned from contesting elections. India's politicians have resisted this saying that opponents regularly file false cases against them
* To stop candidates and parties seeking votes on the basis of caste, religion and to stop divisive campaigns, a candidate should be declared a winner only if he or she gets more than 50% plus one vote. When no candidate gets the required number of votes, there should be a run-off between the top two candidates
* Voters should have the option of voting "none of the above"
* A law against use of excessive money in elections by candidates
* Despite the clamour for the state funding of elections, it is still not clear how much elections cost in India. Political parties do not come clean on their revenues and expenses, and until there is a clearer picture of how much they spend, it will be difficult to fix an amount. So political parties should give out verifiable accounts, which should be also available for public scrutiny.
The desire for electoral reform is not new.
Since 1990, there have been at least seven hefty comprehensive government-commissioned reports for such reforms.
The Election Commission of India has been saying since 1998 that candidates with pending criminal cases against them should not be allowed to contest.
If there is an overwhelming consensus about these reforms, why have governments sat on it for more than two decades? Ask the politicians.
All the pretensions of western style institutions make little sense to most inhabitants of India and Pakistan and other former colonies.
The colonial legacy of parliamentary democracy and British style rule of law are alien concepts in South Asia and never touch the lives of over 90% of the population.
With few exceptions, the disputes and conflicts are resolved using traditional rules set and adjudicated by local village councils (panchayats and jirgas) which are at odds with the laws passed by the national and provincial legislatures and implemented by the governments' justice system.
Modi the mass murderer, the friend of those who hounded out MF Husain, has detroyed the official records from 2002 Gijarat massacre of Muslims, reports the BBC:
Official records relating to the 2002 riots in India's Gujarat state were destroyed in line with regulations, the government tells a panel probing the riots.
Documents with records of telephone calls and the movements of officials during the riots were destroyed in 2007, five years after their origin
Officials say this is standard practice and in line with civil service rules.
The Supreme Court set up a panel to investigate the riots in 2008, after allegations that the Gujarat government was doing little to bring those responsible to justice.
Government lawyer SB Vakil told the Nanavati panel probing the riots that some records relating to the riots had been destroyed according to the rules.
"As per general government rules, the telephone call records, vehicle logbook and the officers' movement diary are destroyed after a certain period," Mr Vakil was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.
In April a senior police officer alleged in a sworn statement to India's Supreme Court that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi deliberately allowed anti-Muslim riots in the state....
Here's an Op Ed "Economic Growth Versus Human Development" by Prahlad Shekhawat published 02 July, 2011, Countercurrents.org:
Conventional indicators of development are being seen as unsatisfactory. The need for higher GDP leads to productive systems and consumption patterns that are not in harmony with the carrying capacity of the environment and our planet. GDP does not measure indicators of well-being, fair and equal distribution, unpaid labor and social sector indicators which assess the provision of effective employment, health and education.
India has consistently achieved the second highest rates of GDP growth but moved down to 134 position in the Human Development Index in 2009, compared to 128 a year before. The 2010 report puts India far behind in terms of achievements in tackling multidimensional poverty. The report concludes that economic growth has not lead to human development or less inequality. Similarly India is lagging far behind in its meager efforts to fulfill the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Since many years the composite Human Development Index has been combining income, health, education and gender equity. The 2010 report there is a proposal to enlarge the measures to include new indicators like equity, environmental sustainability and empowerment through people’s participation
Moving away from one sided focus on economic growth as a panacea and an end in itself developed is being redefined in terms of more meaningful, multidimensional and sustainable measures. According to the Research Group: Wellbeing in Developing Countries at the University of Bath, the concept of wellbeing examines three perspectives: ideas of human functioning, capabilities and needs, the analysis of livelihoods and resource use, and research on subjective wellbeing and happiness.
The recent report of the Commission points out that there is no consensus yet as to which indicators provide the greatest value, and how they should be applied in guiding public policy. The Commission’s most significant finding seems to be the need to track three distinct policy goals separately: economic, performance, quality of life, and environmental sustainability. Combining many dimensions of well-being would dilute clarity and provide numerical results with little practical utility.
Can the Indian Government respond by setting up a similar and much needed commission in India on the Impact of Economic Growth on Human Development, under the Chairmanship of Amartya Sen. India and its government celebrates Amartya Sen as a matter of Indian pride because he won the Nobel prize, yet completely ignores his advice that economic growth is a means for human development and not an end in itself
India's Supreme Court has told the authorities in Chhattisgarh state to disband civilian militias because they are unconstitutional, according to the BBC:
The judgement is being seen as a significant blow to the state government.
The government regards the armed groups as an important part of its battle against Maoist insurgents.
Chhattisgarh is one of the states at the heart of the Maoist rebel insurgency.
The Supreme Court ruling covers two types of armed group.
Special Police Officers (SPOs) have a semi-official status. They receive small salaries from the government, are armed by the authorities and have basic training.
The Salwa Judum movement is less formalised. The government has sometimes described it as a spontaneous response to the Maoist insurgents.
But the authorities have certainly supported them, encouraging villagers to organise themselves into anti-Maoist forces, says the BBC's Jill McGivering, who has visited the area.
Some of these villagers also received training and guns.
Human rights concerns
Our correspondent says these local groups do have clear advantages over India's paramilitary forces.
They have a specialist knowledge of the jungle terrain and nearby communities and can understand local dialects. They can also provide valuable intelligence to the security forces.
But there have been human rights concerns about their role as armed law enforcers, partly because of the lack of clarity about their powers and accountability.
Some of them have been accused in the past of attacks on other villages, of destroying houses and killing people who were allegedly pro-Maoist.
Critics say that the fact they have government support and can act with impunity has also undermined the rule of law and blurred the lines between fighters and civilians.
A key question is how effectively the Supreme Court ruling will be implemented. Monitoring the process will not be easy in the state's remote forests.
The ruling could have implications, too, for other Indian states with similar state-supported militias.
Here's a review of "River of Smoke" by Soutik Biswas of the BBC:
It is 1838, and Amitav Ghosh's new novel, River Of Smoke, sails into Canton, a rambunctious, crowded city, and home to seafarers, itinerant merchants, opium traders and many such floating folks. "In China, everything new comes from Canton," says a character, in what is the second book in a planned trilogy.
Canton's suburbs are bustling, floating cities on the Pearl River, a veritable "waterborne hive" where up to a million people live in boats moored along the water's edge. At the centre of this maelstrom of commerce, a prosperous Indian Parsi opium merchant, Bahram Modi, negotiates a knotty question of the morality of his trade even as Chinese authorities launch a concerted crackdown.
But beyond the fog of opium and the cacophony of the foreigner's town, River of Smoke is really a scathing parable of globalisation.
Last week, on a cloudy Delhi morning, I asked Ghosh, a trained anthropologist from Oxford, whether free trade and globalisation had failed a lot of people. "Of course," he said. "Look around you, look at Greece, look at England. And yes, we keep making and selling things which are of no real use!"
There's an amazing amount of economics in his novel - pushed against the wall, opium merchants talk about setting up an off-share trading base to ship in opium and about the "hand of freedom, of the market", echoing Adam Smith. (Ghosh tells me that a number of traders were Scottish, and would have been influenced by Smith's tracts.) Clearly, globalisation repeats itself again and again - often with unsavoury results - and nothing really changes.
And then there are the ruminations on democracy. "Democracy is a wonderful thing," says Bahram. "It is a marvellous tamasha (spectacle) that keeps common people busy that men like ourselves can take care of all matters of importance. I hope one day India will also be able to enjoy these advantages." I ask Ghosh about the health of democracy in India. He doesn't appear to be very upbeat about it. "Democracy for democracy's sake doesn't make much sense", he says, "unless we strengthen institutions and follow processes." Otherwise, as Bahram says, it can just become a spectacle, involving the institutions, the media and the people.
Two decades after India embraced globalisation and economic reforms, the results are mixed: a rising tide has lifted all boats - to borrow an allegory from Ghosh's sea novels - but many boats are barely afloat. There is valid criticism about a lot of growth being jobless, and inadequate state attention to education and health of the poor. In an intensely media-driven environment, where everybody appears to be playing to the gallery, democracy, many say, is being trivialised.
But, of course, River Of Smoke is more than all this. This masterwork of historical fiction is brimming with characters and colour. Behind its finely etched detail about people, cities, voyages, flowers and food, it is a seriously engaging political novel - perhaps one of the finest ever by an Indian writer. Don't miss it.
Here's an excerpt from a piece by Ananya Vajpeyi titled "Notes on Swaraj":
In my view, it is precisely because
India experiences itself as economically and militarily on the ascendant that a re-thinking of cultural, political and moral selfhood is timely. It is also
appropriate to return to Gandhi
because so much of India – its poor, its minorities, its separatist and dissenting
constituencies in Kashmir and the
Northeast – remain outside the consensus view of its superpower status. An Indian sovereignty that bans millions of citizens in zones of exception and abandons them to the most egregious forms of violence and deprivation is not consistent with the idea of swaraj.
Here's another piece by Ananya Vajpeyi on exceptions to Indian "constitutional democracy":
By enforcing extraordinary laws, by sending in armed forces, by granting impunity to soldiers and paramilitaries for their actions against armed or unarmed civilians, by denying citizens redress, justice or compensation, by creating a war-like situation for a population that has political, social, cultural and economic grievances possible to address without force, it is the state that sets aside the Constitution. The Indian state has done this too many times, in too many places, and for too long.
It is time for citizens in the so-called ‘normal’ parts of the country to consider how they want to defend their Constitution against such misuse and ill-treatment by the state, a procedure that leaves millions of people exposed to both everyday as well as excessive violence, and ultimately turns them against India. If the Indian Union sees any attrition to its territory in the coming years on account of separatism and civil strife (not such an unlikely scenario as hawkish policy-makers like to believe), this will have come to pass at least partly because the state allowed the cancer of exception to eat away at the body politic, and did not administer the medicine of constitutional reinstatement and restitution in time. It bears repeating that periodic exercises in the electoral process do not always prove to be a sufficient counterweight to the toxic effects of the AFSPA, even if elections are relatively free and fair (a tough challenge), and even if significant percentages of the relevant populations do turn out to vote.
The state’s reasoning for why military, paramilitary and police must replace civil agencies in the work of everyday governance, a step which can and does go horribly wrong, is that disruptive violence (from secessionist and insurgent groups) has to be met with restorative counter-violence (from the state) in order to ensure overall security for the population, and preserve the integrity of the Union of India. Defenders of the AFSPA insist that this is a sound rationale. But inevitably, questions arise: What are the limits of the immunity that such an extraordinary law grants to the armed forces, when does the justifiable control of terror become overkill, and when should a quantitative assessment about the necessary degree of force give way to a qualitative judgment about whether force is necessary at all, over and above alternative – peaceful – means of addressing the situation?
There appears to be a dire need for a system of checks-and-balances, perhaps also originating from the Constitution, to be instituted, so that the explicitly democratic mandate of the Indian republic may be strengthened against an always lurking authoritarian tendency (a legacy of the post-colonial state’s colonialist and imperialist predecessor).
Overall, the latest World Bank data shows that India's poverty rate of 27.5%, based on India's current poverty line of $1.03 per person per day, is more than 10 percentage points higher than Pakistan's 17.2%. Assam (urban), Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the only three Indian states with lower poverty rates than Pakistan's.
The Indian economy is in trouble, says Ramtanu Maitra:
Although the economy continues to show high GDP growth, there is a growing disparity between India's sea of poor people and the few at the top of the heap. Out-of-control inflation, caused by the inflow of billions of dollars in hot money, combined with poor productivity due to weak physical infrastructure has resulted in corruption of unimaginable proportions, which has eaten away the gains made earlier. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who heads a group of disparate political parties under the banner of the United Progressive Alliance, is busy keeping the coalition government in power by doing little to prevent further deterioration of the nation's economy.
On June 16, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) raised its benchmark lending rates for the tenth time in 18 months, as a monetary measure to slow down the rampaging inflation monster, which has already greatly hurt the poor, and is now beginning to hit the middle class, which had benefitted in recent years from the GDP growth and wage rise. The earlier nine such monetary measures within the past 18-month period did not slow down inflation. It is inevitable that the high interest rates will attract more short-term hot money into the country, spurring a faster rate of inflation in the coming days.
India has earned the distinction of incurring the highest inflation of major emerging markets. On June 14, the Singh government said inflation had increased 9.1% in May, compared with a year earlier, a rate higher than expected. High inflation was first observed two years ago in the rise of food prices that affected India's poor the most. But since India's hundreds of millions of poor have little voice in directing New Delhi's economic policies, for the greater part of the last two years such inflation was pooh-poohed by Indian economists, accusing the growing army of the middle class of "over-consumption of food." Now, inflation has shown up everywhere, once again, proving the shortsightedness of those economists.
What this picture, which I elaborate below, underscores, is the inescapable truth that if a fundamental shift away from the monetarist system is not initiated in the United States, and soon, we are looking at the literal devastation of the largest population centers in the world, such as India and China. This is, in fact, the concern of all humanity - and must be stopped.
The Growing Anti-Poor Bias Unwilling to change course, and stubbornly defending the failed economic policy, New Delhi is still harping on India's high GDP growth rate. The New York Times reported on June 15, that Kaushik Basu, the government's chief economic advisor, said, in an interview on June 13, that inflation was a problem that all developing countries were facing. "If you look at emerging economies around the world," Basu said, "India's performance looks pretty run of the mill."
But, neither Basu nor others in the Singh government are interested in taking a good look at the damage done by their strictly money-obsessed policies. "The last two years have been a lost opportunity" for India's governing United Progressive Alliance party, Citigroup said this month in a research report.
This monetarist obsession has given rise to full blown inflation across the spectrum. The unprecedented price rise in basic food items is severely impacting hundreds of millions of Indians. Despite the shouting by the globalizers, investment bankers, and their followers within India, millions of Indian families live on a daily diet which consists of cereal - rice, or wheat flour, or both - some vegetables, including onion, and a variety of lentil, or other similar items. Lentils provide the only significant source of protein they have access to, since they cannot afford to buy other high-protein foods, and this includes a large number of people who are non-vegetarians.. .....
Have the Chamars no right, asks Indian Supreme Court, according to India's Financial Express:
New Delhi: The Supreme Court has severely criticised “some lawyers, journalists and men in public life” for accusing it of judicial over-reach for entertaining public interest litigation filed by “genuine social groups, NGOs and social workers” espousing the cause of the poor and downtrodden.
In a startling observation, the bench said that “so far the courts have been used only for the purpose of vindicating the rights of the wealthy and the affluent.”
“It is only these privileged classes which have been able to approach the courts for protecting their vested interests. It is only the moneyed who have so far had the golden key to unlock the doors of justice,” the court said in a July 12 judgment.
The court said it is praised when it gives judgments in favour of the rich but condemned with a “theoretical debate raising the bogey of judicial activism” when it gives relief to the poor on a PIL.
A Bench of Justices G S Singhvi and A K Ganguly, in a 45-page judgment, said the highest court will be failing in its constitutional duty if it does not accept genuine PILs and “those who are decrying public interest litigation do not seem to realise that courts are not meant only for the rich and the well-to-do, for the landlord and the gentry, for the business magnate and the industrial tycoon but they exist also for the poor and the down-trodden, the have-nots and the handicapped and the half-hungry millions of our countrymen”.
The judgment, written by Justice Singhvi, came on a PIL filed by an NGO, National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers, highlighting the frequent deaths of sewage workers trapped in manholes.
The apex court gave the government a two-month deadline to ensure that these workers are given protective gear and better working conditions.
The court said the judgment is meant to “erase the impression and misgivings of some people” that by entertaining PILs of social action groups/activists/workers and NGOs fighting for those who silently suffer due to actions and/or omissions of the state apparatus and/or agencies/instrumentalities of the state or even private individuals, the superior courts exceed the unwritten boundaries of their jurisdictions.
“There is a misconception in the minds of some lawyers, journalists and men in public life that public interest litigation is unnecessarily cluttering up the files of the court and adding to the already staggering arrears of cases which are pending for long years and it should not therefore be encouraged by the court. This is, to our mind, a totally perverse view smacking of elitist and status quoist approach,” the court said.
“If the sugar barons and the alcohol kings have the fundamental right to carry on their business and to fatten their purses by exploiting the consuming public, have the Chamars belonging to the lowest strata of society no fundamental right to earn an honest living through their sweat and toil?” the court said.
“The former can approach the courts with a formidable army of distinguished lawyers paid in four or five figures per day and if their right to exploit is upheld against the government under the label of fundamental right, the courts are praised for their boldness and courage and their independence and fearlessness are applauded and acclaimed. But if the fundamental right of the poor and helpless victims of injustice is sought to be enforced by public interest litigation, the so-called champions of human rights frown upon it as waste of time of the highest court in the land, which, according to them, should not engage itself in such small and trifling matters,” it said....
Here's a piece by Soutik Biswas of the BBC on challenges of reform in India:
The reforms also unleashed the entrepreneurial spirits of the "caged" Indian. The new economy has thrived - software has become a powerhouse industry. Most importantly, a substantial middle class has come into being between what one political scientist called a "small elite and a large impoverished mass". The newly confident middle class have gleefully abandoned Gandhian austerity for hearty consumerism, splurging on goods and services. India has produced the cheapest car, and offers the cheapest telephone calls, as well as heart and eye surgeries. It weathered the recession gamely, clocking nearly 7% growth during the worst of the downturn. Domestic savings remain robust.
That is where the India reform story comes to a halt, may say. These days, the world's 10th largest economy - which aspires to become the world's third largest by 2030 - is hobbled by what many call "policy paralysis", runaway inflation (nearly double the government's own "tolerable" estimate of 5%-6%) and is snowed under an avalanche of corruption scandals which smack of crony capitalism. Rising oil prices haven't helped matters. Interest rates have risen nearly a dozen times in almost an equal number of months. Spending is down.
But the bigger challenges lie ahead. Many believe that they will eventually decide whether India becomes a highly iniquitous and restive society or a more inclusive, stable one. How fast will the country be able to lift its poorest of the poor - mainly its tribespeople and Dalits (formerly untouchables) - out of poverty? Or will India continue to be a land where there are people "who sell newspapers they will never read, sew clothes they cannot wear, polish cars they will never own and construct buildings where they will never live", as Eduardo Galeano had once said evocatively, writing on a Latin American city.
A third of Indians still live below the poverty line, according to various estimates. A study by C Ravi of the Centre for Economic and Social Studies in Hyderabad actually found that poverty levels in 2009-2010 were 32%, an increase over 2007-2008, possibly due to the recession and severe drought. Other estimates point to a modest drop in poverty in recent years. Even the chief of India's Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, agrees that the drop in poverty is well below the government's own targets.
There are more worries. Half of Indians earn most from their farms, where growth has slowed down worryingly. Lack of access to basic services remains the most worrisome malaise, dragging down India's social indicators. Some 40% of children are suffering from severe malnutrition, more than 45% of them are not fully vaccinated and 41% of women are unable to deliver their children safely. There are worries, too, over the quality of education, with 43% of children dropping out of elementary school by their early teens, according to figures for 2007-2008. More than a third of 8-9 year-olds in villages cannot pass simple tests in reading and arithmetic. So the picture of inclusiveness, in the words of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, remains "mixed". He concedes that "both the extent of poverty and the lack of access to the essential services remain a serious problem".
"The political drama playing out over India, the largest democracy in the world, is about the corruption that rots the system. Yet, the way it has galvanized millions of people into a grassroots movement against the status quo seems to be propelled by deeper undercurrents, that is, the fears, hopes and aspirations of a people staring into their global future.
The crisis between the government and the avowed Gandhian, Kisan Baburao Hazare aka Anna Hazare, and his growing number of supporters is about the soul of India and the rising conscience of a nation. A nation that awoke at the stroke of midnight on August 14, 1947, which embraced a new "tryst with destiny", has resonated to a call for a renewal after 65 years of independence. India must make the right choice in the Faustian bargain.
Anna Hazare, 74, was arrested on August 16 in Delhi as he began a fast "to the death" to exert pressure on the government to enact a strong anti-corruption act as envisaged in the Jan Lokpal Bill, a law to establish a lokpal (ombudsman) with the power to deal with corruption in public offices. This led to nationwide protests in support of Hazare.
The promises made on the eve of independence by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister, remain woefully unrealized:
The service of India means, the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labor and to work, and to work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world ....
Here's the story of two Indias by World Bank's managing director Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala:
India’s global profile is rising—from a slow-growing poor country to a burgeoning economic power:
· India grew fast before the crisis--9% per year--and has resumed fast growth--8.6% in the fiscal year that ended in March.
· India is globally recognized as a key player in the IT revolution, and in sectors as diverse as pharmaceutical, cement, steel and space
But there is also another India:
· India’s GNI per capita ($1170) is lower than that of 161 other countries. World Bank’s poverty numbers show 456 million people in India are poor—about one-third of the world’s poor, and more than in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.
· India lags significantly on health and nutrition targets: It is home to half of world’s underweight children, and it accounts for 1 in 5 maternal and child deaths worldwide.
· Social exclusion remains a stark reality—Scheduled Tribes lag twenty years behind the general population, Scheduled Castes ten years; gender norms can be quite restrictive and gender gap persists in realms such as child mortality and labor force participation.
The 9% growth hides an infrastructure crisis. Innovation in the private sector has often got around this—60% of firms and a large percentage of homes rely on back-up generation, and on an industry of logistical firms. But this has costs, and sooner or later infrastructure constraints will bite, and growth will slow, absent major change. This is especially true in urban areas.
PPPs are often hailed as a solution. Private participation in infrastructure took off in the early 1990s in telecoms and power supply. Highway, port, and airport concessions began to emerge in the late 1990s, with water supply and solid waste management following. We have been here before. In the 1990s Latin America had major infrastructural gaps, and PPPs were thought to be the solution (including by the World Bank). But gaps were effectively closed only in telecoms (which was not an issue for India) and in Chile (a small country with by far the best governance to manage private sector involvement). Elsewhere, there was insufficient private involvement, or private involvement that was high cost, often corrupt, and with frequent renegotiation to extract better deals from the state and society.
The lesson is that improving governance, and solving institutional problems, is unavoidable to improve infrastructure provision, and is necessary for effective private involvement.
The challenge here is so well-known that I do not need to dwell on it much. India has enormous untapped potential—productivity in Eastern states, for instance, is well below what it is in Punjab, and sustainability is an issue in states like Punjab.
V. Education: Focus on results, not inputs
The two Indias are very visible in education: Graduates of India's famed Institutes of Technology literally drive growth. But basic and secondary education are dismal. In fact, even in tertiary education quality is in islands of excellence, not widespread. The demographic dividend can turn into a demographic curse if the millions of young people entering the labor market every year are not equipped to take up the jobs that a fast-growing economy can create...
After the Storm: The Instability of Inequality
Nouriel Roubini, Project Syndicate: "This year has witnessed a global wave of social and political turmoil and instability, with masses of people pouring into the real and virtual streets.... While these protests have no unified theme, they express in different ways the serious concerns of the world’s working and middle classes about their prospects in the face of the growing concentration of power among economic, financial, and political elites."
Read the Article
Occasional and isolated but nonetheless tragic suicide cases like Raja Khan's in Pakistan get a lot of media coverage as they should. Meanwhile, over 200,000 farmer suicides in India have passed with little media attention in India.
Here's a Washington Post report on rising suicides in India:
NEW DELHI — Ram Babu’s last days were typical in India’s growing rash of suicides.
The poor farmer’s crop failed and he defaulted on the $6,000 loan he had taken to buy a tractor. The bank’s collectors hounded him, even hiring drummers to go round the village drawing attention to his shame.
“My father found it unbearable. He was an honorable man and he couldn’t take the humiliation. The next day he hanged himself from a tree on his farm,” his son Ram Gulam said Friday.
Babu’s suicide went unreported in local newspapers, just another statistic in a country where more than 15 people kill themselves every hour, according to a new government report.
The report released late Thursday said nearly 135,000 people killed themselves in the country of 1.2 billion last year, a 5.9 percent jump in the number of suicides over the past year.
The suicide rate increased to 11.4 per 100,000 people in 2010 from 10.9 the year before, according to the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau.
Financial difficulties and debts led to most of the male suicides while women were driven to take their lives because of domestic pressures, including physical and mental abuse and demands for dowry.
A 2008 World Health Organization report ranked India 41st for its suicide rate, but because of its huge population it accounted for 20 percent of global suicides.
The largest numbers of suicides were reported from the southern Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where tens of thousands of impoverished farmers have killed themselves after suffering under insurmountable debts.
The loans — from banks and loan sharks — were often used to buy seeds and farm equipment, or to pay large dowries to get their daughters married. But a bad harvest could plunge the farmer over the edge.
Sociologists say the rapid rise in incomes in India’s booming economy has resulted in a surge in aspirations as well among the lower and middle classes, and the failure to attain material success can trigger young people to suicide.
“The support that traditionally large Indian families and village communities offered no longer exists in urban situations. Young men and women move to the cities and find they have no one to turn to for succor in times of distress,” said Abhilasha Kumari, a sociology professor in New Delhi.
India will not reach its Millennium Development Goal on sanitation before 2047, while Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal will not achieve the target before 2028, according to a United Nations report released on the eve of World Toilet Day 2011.
The WaterAid report titled "Off-track, off-target: Why investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is not reaching those who need it most" says that 818 million Indians and 98 million Pakistanis lack access to toilets. It also reports that 148 million Indians and 18 million Pakistanis do not have adequate access to safe drinking water.
Here's a NY Times story on global protests showing rising disillusionment with democracies:
Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.
Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.
They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box.
“Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”
Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.
But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.
Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.
In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anticorruption measure to hold public officials accountable. “We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.
“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.”
Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.
In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.
The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.
“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”.......
Here's an interesting piece about democracy and oligarchy by Michael Hudson:
Book V of Aristotle’s Politics describes the eternal transition of oligarchies making themselves into hereditary aristocracies – which end up being overthrown by tyrants or develop internal rivalries as some families decide to “take the multitude into their camp” and usher in democracy, within which an oligarchy emerges once again, followed by aristocracy, democracy, and so on throughout history.
Debt has been the main dynamic driving these shifts – always with new twists and turns. It polarizes wealth to create a creditor class, whose oligarchic rule is ended as new leaders (“tyrants” to Aristotle) win popular support by cancelling the debts and redistributing property or taking its usufruct for the state.
Since the Renaissance, however, bankers have shifted their political support to democracies. This did not reflect egalitarian or liberal political convictions as such, but rather a desire for better security for their loans. As James Steuart explained in 1767, royal borrowings remained private affairs rather than truly public debts. For a sovereign’s debts to become binding upon the entire nation, elected representatives had to enact the taxes to pay their interest charges.
By giving taxpayers this voice in government, the Dutch and British democracies provided creditors with much safer claims for payment than did kings and princes whose debts died with them. But the recent debt protests from Iceland to Greece and Spain suggest that creditors are shifting their support away from democracies. They are demanding fiscal austerity and even privatization sell-offs.
What is missing is the counterweight to a tiny minority who didn’t set out to be petty kings but who know perhaps realize that there is no one and nothing in their way as things stand. . . . As things stand: things will change. Revolution is as likely as oligarchy; more likely I would say. And revolution has more modern precedents than does oligarchic recession. But I do think that society is not presently well-balanced to restrain finance-capital: so it’s them or us who goes down. Let’s make it them.
Here's a critical analysis of Tom Friedman's "Flat World" on India:
In the first chapter of his bestseller on globalization, The World Is Flat, three-time Pulitzer Prize–winning foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times Thomas Friedman suggests that his repertoire of achievements also includes being heir to Christopher Columbus. According to Friedman, he has followed in the footsteps of the fifteenth-century icon by making an unexpected discovery regarding the shape of the world during an encounter with “people called Indians.”
Friedman’s Indians reside in India proper, of course, not in the Caribbean, and include among their ranks CEO Nandan Nilekani of Infosys Technologies Limited in Bangalore, where Friedman has come in the early twenty-first century to investigate phenomena such as outsourcing and to exult over the globalization-era instructions he receives at the KGA Golf Club downtown: “Aim at either Microsoft or IBM.” Nilekani unwittingly plants the flat-world seed in Friedman’s mind by commenting, in reference to technological advancements enabling other countries to challenge presumed American hegemony in certain business sectors: “Tom, the playing field is being leveled.”
The Columbus-like discovery process culminates with Friedman’s conversion of one of the components of Nilekani’s idiomatic expression into a more convenient synonym: “What Nandan is saying, I thought to myself, is that the playing field is being flattened… Flattened? Flattened? I rolled that word around in my head for a while and then, in the chemical way that these things happen, it just popped out: My God, he’s telling me the world is flat!”
No compelling justification is ever provided for how a war against deterrables will solve the problem of undeterrables who by definition cannot be deterred.
The viability of the new metaphor has already been called into question by Friedman’s assessment two pages prior to the flat-world discovery that the Infosys campus is in fact “a different world,” given that the rest of India is not characterized by things like a “massive resort-size swimming pool” and a “fabulous health club.” No attention is meanwhile paid to the possibility that a normal, round earth—on which all circumferential points are equidistant from the center—might more effectively convey the notion of the global network Friedman maintains is increasingly equalizing human opportunity.
An array of disclaimers and metaphorical qualifications begins to surface around page 536, such that it ultimately appears that the book might have been more appropriately titled The World Is Sometimes Indefinitely Maybe Partially Flat—But Don’t Worry, I Know It’s Not, or perhaps The World Is Flat, Except for the Part That Is Un-Flat and the Twilight Zone Where Half-Flat People Live. As for his announcement that “unlike Columbus, I didn’t stop with India,” Friedman intends this as an affirmation of his continued exploration of various parts of the globe and not as an admission of his continuing tendency to err—which he does first and foremost by incorrectly attributing the discovery that the earth is round to the geographically misguided Italian voyager.
Leaving aside for the moment the blunders that plague Friedman’s writing, the comparison with Columbus is actually quite apt in other ways, as well. For instance, both characters might be accused of transmitting a similar brand of hubris, nurtured by their respective societies, according to which “the Other” is permitted existence only via the discoverer-hero himself. While Columbus is credited with enabling preexisting populations on the American continent to enter the realm of true existence by reporting them to European civilization, Friedman assumes responsibility for the earth’s inhabitants in general without literally having to encounter them.
Here's a Washington Post report on India's heavy troop presence in Kashmir in spite of peace:
SRINAGAR, India – For more than a decade it was seen as one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear flashpoints, its Himalayan valleys flooded with hundreds of thousands of Indian troops battling a separatist, Islamist insurgency backed by neighboring Pakistan.
But with relations slowly improving between South Asia’s nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, the insurgency is slowly fading away. That has left many Kashmiris wondering why quite so many Indian troops are still here — under laws that grant them vast powers.
With violence on the wane, Kashmir’s Chief Minister Omar Abdullah says the mainly Muslim people of his state deserve to see a “peace dividend,” in the form of a partial, limited withdrawal of the rules that allow soldiers the right to shoot to kill, with virtual immunity from prosecution.
The request would cover only two districts where the Indian army does not even conduct operations. Casualty rates due to the militancy are half of what they were last year, and under 5 percent of what they were a decade ago, officials say.
But India’s leaders have rebuffed the Kashmiri minister’s request, with the army and defense ministry insisting on maintaining broad powers.
It has left the 41-year-old Abdullah wondering whether the Indian government has the political will to achieve a lasting peace in Kashmir, where tens of thousands of people have died since 1989, and ultimately with Pakistan. The dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir lies at the heart of their long enmity and has fueled two of their three wars.
“At some point in time we have to have the courage to take what appear to be risky decisions, with the belief that this is an important component of a peace process,” Abdullah said.
If New Delhi cannot even agree to this, “how are you going to resolve the overall Kashmir issue, that is going to require much tougher decisions?” he asked.
In Srinagar, 23-year-old Bilkees Mansoor knows only too well how difficult it is to find justice when the army is effectively above the law. When she was just a 13-year-old girl, she saw her father, a chemist and businessman, dragged out of their home just after midnight by dozens of soldiers, never to be seen or heard of again.
Clutching his photograph, she recounted her family’s decade-long search for her missing father and how her mother and her siblings all have stress-related health problems, and told of their desperate efforts to have the arresting officer questioned or appear in court.
The case even went to the country’s Supreme Court, she says, where the army major’s appeal to avoid questioning was rejected in July 2007. Still, he has failed to appear in court.
“Because of this law, the army is doing very evil things,” she said. “I still believe my father is alive. We have to keep positive thoughts in our minds. But if he is buried somewhere, this is my right to know.”
Here's a report in The Hindu on India's dismal human rights record:
Six months before India's human rights gets reviewed at the United Nations, the Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR) in India released a report painting a dismal picture of its rights record.
The U.N. Human Rights Council examines the rights record of its members on a rotational basis every four years through a peer review process, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Reports by the civil society, U.N. agencies and the country under review are relied upon during the UPR. India's review is due in May next year.
“The report presents a very bleak scenario of the actual state of human rights across India. The government has shown positive signs in dealing with the U.N. human rights system in the past year. We hope that this change extends to the UPR review in 2012 and beyond. Nothing but a radical shift in economic, security and social policy is needed to meet India's national and international human rights commitments,” said the former U.N. Special Rapporteur and WGHR convener, Miloon Kothari.
“The last four years have seen a marked increase in the deployment of security forces and draconian laws to deal with socio-economic uprisings and political dissent. Conflict is no longer confined to Kashmir and the northeast but also many parts of central India. In all these areas, human rights violations are overlooked and even condoned. The legal framework and practice have entrenched the culture of impunity. People are increasingly losing faith in systems of justice and governance,” cautioned noted human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover.
She felt the military approach and the ongoing conflicts contradicted India's stated position in the U.N. that it did not face armed conflict and pointed out that militarisation was also being used to forward the state's ‘development' agenda.
“Today, our institutions are in disrepair and failing our needs. Our police need urgent reform. Our bar bench and our myriad commissions need much more vigour, commitment and accountability. Every moment reforms are neglected, thousands of tragedies occur and we cannot build a nation on that,” according to Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Executive Director Maja Daruwala.
Here's Sashi Tharoor in Tehelka.com on failure of parliamentary democracy in India:
THE RECENT political shenanigans in New Delhi, notably the repeated paralysis of Parliament by slogan-shouting members violating (with impunity) every canon of legislative propriety, have confirmed once again what some of us have been arguing for years: that the parliamentary system we borrowed from the British has, in Indian conditions, outlived its utility. Has the time not come to raise anew the case — long consigned to the back burner — for a presidential system in India?
The basic outlines of the argument have been clear for some time: our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which policies. It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of individual interests rather than vehicles of coherent sets of ideas. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. It is time for a change.
The parliamentary system devised in Britain — a small island nation with electorates initially of a few thousand voters per MP, and even today less than a lakh per constituency — assumes a number of conditions that simply do not exist in India. It requires the existence of clearly- defined political parties, each with a coherent set of policies and preferences that distinguish it from the next, whereas in India, a party is all too often a label of convenience a politician adopts and discards as frequently as a film star changes costumes. The principal parties, whether “national” or otherwise, are fuzzily vague about their beliefs: every party’s “ideology” is one variant or another of centrist populism, derived to a greater or lesser degree from the Nehruvian socialism of the Congress. We have 44 registered political parties recognised by the Election Commission, and a staggering 903 registered but unrecognised, from the Adarsh Lok Dal to the Womanist Party of India. But with the sole exceptions of the BJP and the communists, the existence of the serious political parties, as entities separate from the “big tent” of the Congress, is a result of electoral arithmetic or regional identities, not political conviction. (And even there, what on earth is the continuing case, after the demise of the Soviet Union and the reinvention of China, for two separate recognised communist parties and a dozen unrecognised ones?)
Here are a few excerpts from a Countercurrent piece on Indian democracy:
“Democracy in India is only top-dressing on an Indian soil which isessentially undemocratic.”
—B.R. Ambedkar, in 1949, in "Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol. 1: A Stake in the Nation"
Over sixty years after Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, talked about the ‘essentially undemocratic’ nature of the ‘Indian soil’ his insight remains relevant to any discussion on human rights and civil liberties in the country. For, without examining closely the very foundations on which the fancy structures of Indian democracy and its political and social institutions rest, it is easy to mistake them for the real thing.
Yes, there is such a thing called democracy in India. There are regular elections and peaceful transfers of power. There is a judiciary that is relatively independent of the legislature and an executive that often operates with a mind of its own. Yes, India is also the world’s ‘largest democracy’ by the sheer size of its population. All these are fruits of many past struggles and something to be proud of as many developing countries around the world are still run by absolute dictatorships.
What Dr Ambedkar was referring to however was the quality of the democracy that ‘Indian soil’- with its caste system, vast economic inequalities, ethnic and gender discrimination is really capable of nurturing. So the question to ask is how conducive or hostile is this ‘Indian soil’ to the functioning of democracy and the flowering of democratic processes or culture? What needs to be done to improve the ‘fertility’ of this soil so that a genuine democracy can be established in this land? A true democracy in any society is after all not the same as the holding of regular elections or going through the routine motions of convening a parliament and having a separate bureaucracy and judiciary. Maybe these are the minimum institutions needed for a democracy but by no means are they enough when they are set in the deeply unjust and oppressive conditions of India society.
Even today in many parts of the country while there is a ban on ‘cow slaughter’ that is effectively implemented there is no such privilege for people from the Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim communities. In that sense these hapless people do not even have ‘cow rights’ leave alone the more esoteric ‘human rights’.
History of the Human Rights Movement
I want to bring to your attention some of the peculiarities of the Indian civil rights movement historically. In the post-Independence period one of the first organisations born to take up the issue of civil rights of citizens explicitly was the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights or APDR, in 1972 at the height of the political repression against the Naxalite upsurge in West Bengal. The organisation is still there after all these years and some very courageous and exemplary work. ....
Here are some excerpts of BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of Pulitzer-winning New Yorker reporter Katherine Boo's "Beautiful Forevers":
"We try so many things," a girl in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai tells Katherine Boo, "but the world doesn't move in our favour".
Annawadi is a "sumpy plug of slum" in the biggest city - "a place of festering grievance and ambient envy" - of a country which holds a third of the world's poor. It is where the Pulitzer prize winning New Yorker journalist Boo's first book Behind the Beautiful Forevers is located.
Annawadi is where more than 3,000 people have squatted on land belonging to the local airport and live "packed into, or on top of" 335 huts. It is a place "magnificently positioned for a trafficker in rich's people's garbage", where the New India collides with the Old.
Nobody in Annawadi is considered poor by India's official benchmarks. The residents are among the 100 million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when India embarked on liberalising its economy.
She used more than 3,000 public records, many obtained using India's right to information law, to validate her narrative, written in assured reported speech. The account of the hours leading to the self-immolation of Fatima Sheikh derives from repeated interviews of 168 people as well as police, hospital, morgue and court records. Mindful of the risk of over interpretation, the books wears its enormous research lightly.
The local councillor runs fake schools, doctors at free government hospitals and policemen extort the poor with faint promise of life and justice, and self-help groups operate as loan sharks for the poorest. The young in Annawadi drop dead like flies - run over by traffic, knifed by rival gangs, laid low by disease; while the elders - not much older - die anyway. Girls prefer a certain brand of rat poison to end their lives.
Boo has an interesting take on corruption, rife in societies like India's. Corruption is seen as blocking India's global ambitions. But, she writes, for the "poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained".
On the other hand, Boo believes, corruption stymies our moral universe more than economic possibility. Suffering, she writes, "can sabotage innate capacities for moral action". In a capricious world of corrupt governments and ruthless markets the idea of a mutually supportive community is a myth: it is "blisteringly hard", she writes, to be good in such conditions. "If the house is crooked and crumbling", Boo writes, "and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?
Here's Russian analyst Anatol Karlin on India's prospects and its comparison with China:
It is not a secret to longtime readers of this blog that I rate India’s prospects far more pessimistically than I do China’s. My main reason is I do not share the delusion that democracy is a panacea and that whatever advantage in this sphere India has is more than outweighed by China’s lead in any number of other areas ranging from infrastructure and fiscal sustainability to child malnutrition and corruption. However, one of the biggest and certainly most critical gaps is in educational attainment, which is the most important component of human capital – the key factor underlying all productivity increases and longterm economic growth. China’s literacy rate is 96%, whereas Indian literacy is still far from universal at just 74%.
The big problem, until recently, was that there was no internationalized student testing data for either China or India. (There was data for cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai, but it was not very useful because they are hardly representative of China). An alternative approach was to compare national IQ’s, in which China usually scored 100-105 and India scored in the low 80′s. But this method has methodological flaws because the IQ tests aren’t consistent across countries. (This, incidentally, also makes this approach a punching bag for PC enforcers who can’t bear to entertain the possibility of differing IQ’s across national and ethnic groups).
Many Indians like to see themselves as equal competitors to China, and are encouraged in their endeavour by gushing Western editorials and Tom Friedman drones who praise their few islands of programming prowess – in reality, much of which is actually pretty low-level stuff – and widespread knowledge of the English language (which makes India a good destination for call centers but not much else), while ignoring the various aspects of Indian life – the caste system, malnutrition, stupendously bad schools – that are holding them back. The low quality of Indians human capital reveals the “demographic dividend” that India is supposed to enjoy in the coming decades as the wild fantasies of what Sailer rightly calls ”Davos Man craziness at its craziest.” A large cohort of young people is worse than useless when most of them are functionally illiterate and innumerate; instead of fostering well-compensated jobs that drive productivity forwards, they will form reservoirs of poverty and potential instability.
Instead of buying into their own rhetoric of a “India shining”, Indians would be better served by focusing on the nitty gritty of bringing childhood malnutrition DOWN to Sub-Saharan African levels, achieving the life expectancy of late Maoist China, and moving up at least to the level of a Mexico or Moldova in numeracy and science skills. Because as long as India’s human capital remains at the bottom of the global league tables so will the prosperity of its citizens....
Here's an excerpt of Businessweek piece on the cost of India's system of political patronage:
India’s government, and especially its state governments, have always run large deficits, partly because regular elections are an invitation to profligacy. Corruption has been rampant for decades, though today’s scandals—such as the furor over the nation’s allocation of 2G telecom licenses—are shocking for their brazenness and the sheer sums of money involved. They are in many ways the fruit of India’s rapid prosperity and the brand of robber-baron capitalism it has bred.
Gurcharan Das, an author and former businessman, has written that while China succeeded because of the state, India thrived despite its government. For a while that seemed like a workable formula: Companies bought generators to get around frequent blackouts, hired their own security, and even maintained roads to compensate for the shortcomings of public facilities.
The country’s recent travails, however, have shattered the illusion that the private sector can thrive without a functioning state. Policy and regulatory confusion, and rising social and environmental problems, are all reminders that sustainable growth isn’t possible without an ecology of sound institutions and responsive government. In many ways it is now apparent that the advances of the last couple of decades were built on shallow foundations.
Yet there’s a danger in overstating today’s weaknesses. Given the global financial crisis it was probably unrealistic to expect India’s economy to remain unscathed. At least part of the decline in foreign direct investment is due to a general tightening of credit and a flight to safety around the world. The Indian stock market’s downturn reflects a broader investor wariness of emerging markets.
Investors are also reacting (and arguably overreacting) based on incomplete information. Jessica Seddon, an economist who is writing a book about data and Indian policymaking, argues that a full picture of India’s economic health remains obscured by unreliable and patchy data. For example, an astounding 93 percent of India’s workforce is employed outside the formal economy, which means that unemployment estimates are inevitably inaccurate. Some of the most important statistics on consumption and demographics come out infrequently, often years after the fact. Similarly, poverty measurements are politically charged, contentious affairs; there exist a multitude of competing methodologies and wildly varying figures for the number of poor.
Seddon emphasizes that the bulk of the evidence does suggest India is slowing, but the severity of that slowdown isn’t clear. Analysts of the Indian economy, she adds, are often “grasping at straws.” Pessimists make their case for Indian decline without full information; optimists use the poor quality of information as an excuse to argue that the country is in fact doing far better than suggested by leading indicators. Reality, as is so often the case in India, probably lies somewhere in between.
Criminals flourish in Indian Elections, reports Washington Post:
DIBAI, India — In India’s democracy, crime really can pay.
In the past month, voters in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, have been lining up in huge numbers to cast votes in state elections.
But of the 2,000 candidates from the main parties contesting here, more than a third are facing criminal charges, including murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion, according to figures compiled by the advocacy group Association for Democratic Reforms.
And many of them will win.
“They are popular with voters,” lamented Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. “I call it the Robin Hood syndrome. They take care to use their corrupt money, money that they get through illegal means, to give to the poor.”
Despite a nationwide campaign against corruption last year, the percentage of candidates facing criminal charges has risen from 28 percent to 35 percent since state elections were last held in 2007. At least 30 candidates are incarcerated.
It is a similar picture nationally: 162 of the 545 members of India’s lower house of Parliament are facing criminal charges, compared with 128 in the previous Parliament.
Criminals and wealthy politicians regularly dole out cash in return for votes. Quraishi said his agents seized more than $12 million in cash during elections last year in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, including one haul of $1 million in cash hidden in sacks on the roof of a bus....
Here's a NY Times story about child slavery in India:
The girl’s screams were brittle and desperate. Neighbors in the suburban housing complex looked up and saw a child crying for help from an upstairs balcony. She was 13 and worked as a maid for a couple who had gone on vacation to Thailand. They had left her locked inside their apartment.
After a firefighter rescued her, the girl described a life akin to slavery, child welfare officials said. Her uncle had sold her to a job placement agency, which sold her to the couple, both doctors. The girl was paid nothing. She said the couple barely fed her and beat her if her work did not meet expectations. She said they used closed-circuit cameras to make certain she did not take extra food.
In India, reported to have more child laborers than any other country in the world, child labor and trafficking are often considered symptoms of poverty: desperately poor families sell their children for work, and some end up as prostitutes or manual laborers.
But the case last week of the 13-year-old maid is a reminder that the exploitation of children is also a symptom of India’s rising wealth, as the country’s growing middle class has created a surging demand for domestic workers, jobs often filled by children.
The Indian news media, usually a bullhorn for middle-class interests, ran outraged front-page articles. But the case was hardly unique. Last week, an 11-year-old Nepalese girl, working as a servant, said that her employer had beaten her with a rolling pin, according to the police.
Indian law offers limited safeguards and limited enforcement to protect such children, and public attitudes are usually permissive in a society where even in the lowest rungs of the middle class, families often have at least one live-in servant.
“There is a huge, huge demand,” said Ravi Kant, a lawyer with Shakti Vahini, a nonprofit group that combats child trafficking. “The demand is so huge that the government is tending toward regulation rather than saying our children should not work but should be in school.”
The International Labor Organization has found that India has 12.6 million laborers between the ages of 5 and 14, with roughly 20 percent working as domestic help. Other groups place the figure at 45 million or higher. Unicef has said India has more child laborers than any other country in the world.
Many of these children come from India’s poorest states, either through shadowy job placement agencies or by kidnapping. In 2011, more than 32,000 children were reported missing in India, according to government crime statistics.
The girl’s employers, identified by the police as Dr. Sanjay Verma and Dr. Sumita Verma, were arrested Wednesday after their return to India and remanded to police custody. The police have filed preliminary charges of violations of the Juvenile Justice Act, the Child Labor Prohibition and Regulation Act and other violations of the criminal code.
Their lawyer denied the charges at a bail hearing.
But Mr. Kant, the lawyer with Shakti Vahini, said the courts rarely issued harsh judgments in cases involving the rights of domestic help.
“There is a general feeling that we need these people,” Mr. Kant said. “Cases aren’t taken so seriously. There is no fear of the law.”
Here's Times of India on 250 murders a day in UP:
The Bahujan Samaj Party on Friday alleged that there is a spurt in crime in Uttar Pradesh ever since the Samajwadi Party came to power and asked chief minister Akhilesh Yadav to seriously work towards providing justice and security to all.
Addressing a press conference here, leader of the opposition and state BSP president Swami Prasad Maurya said that law and order has hit a new low in the state and accused the state government of making officials' transfers a "mini industry in the state". Citing cases of murders which have been reported from different parts of the state in the recent days, Maurya said, "These indicate as to how the state has become a hunting ground for criminals and mafia elements in the present government. In merely 40-42 days of the SP government, people have started remembering the good days of BSP's rule of law," said Maurya. He added that on an average, four murders were taking place in every district every day and by this rate, 250 murders were taking place in the state every day.
The BSP leader advised the chief minister to desist from tall claims and instead seriously work for providing justice and security to all. He said the people of Uttar Pradesh would soon realise their mistake and would repent voting for the SP.
Here's Twocircles.com piece on a Muslim-dominated Mumbai slum:
Dhobi Ghat, a slum area with a majority of Muslim population, is situated on the bank of River Yamuna, near Batla House in Jamia Nagar of New Delhi. Dhobi Ghat has around 150 families, mostly deprived and poor, surviving with low literacy rate, malnutrition, hunger and lack of sanitation, says Ravi Nitesh, Petroleum Engineer by profession, Founder, Mission Bhartiyam and Core Member, Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign. Nitesh’s report reveals as to how government and civil society are insensitive towards slums in Delhi and how people are facing problems even for water in their daily life. The report also highlights lack of community participation. “If the people who are residing in nearby area start a dialogue through support and help of these slum people for providing them better living condition, it can become an example for an ideal community participation for all,” argues Nitesh who is also Member,KhudaiKhidmatgar -- Editor.
Khudai Khidmatgar had organized a youth camp under the guidance of social activist Faisal Khan, with its objective of ‘service of God’ for the families of dhobi ghat. There were 20 volunteers in this campaign. I was one of them to experience the ground conditions of this area.
One of the most shocking facts discovered was that no civil society group/ government officials had ever visited them, even though this area is in the capital city and is situated near Jamia Nagar. How is it possible that NGOs who get crores of rupees to work in slum , to eradicate poverty, to fight with malnutrition, to raise voices for rights, to campaign for education etc; have never visited this area, I wondered.
My report here is dedicated to those people, with the hope that their condition will become better gradually through joint efforts of the government, civil society and Community participation.
In my first sight of this area, I saw children playing, not with modern era toys, but with plastic bags immersed in waste, garbage of river etc.
I met Md. Jais, the only school going boy among the 12 families that I had met. I asked him why he was going to school and what does he want to become when he grows up. His reply was unexpected. He smiled…‘’doctor’’ he replied, in a low pitch. Probably he thought that his desire would be seen as a joke. He was so dirty with his clothes, but probably so fresh in mind, he was so unhygienic in physical condition, but so pure from heart. His mother proudly smiled with a pain. The pain was her foresight by which she was almost sure in her heart about the future of her child. Her heart was breaking in parts at the same moment… she was thinking that her child will not become a doctor due to her poverty, at the same time, another part of the heart believe in God, then again the man of her heart tells that even if God will not want, she will make it happen through her hard labor; another moment she again became dependent on people around her to support her, and then some more and more thoughts…. Now, My voice probably vibrated in her ears because I was in front of her, but she was unaware about my presence, she was in her own thoughts and was busy with listening the sounds of her breaking hearts… but I interrupted (and it helped in stopping the breaking heart in parts).
Here's David Brooks' New York Times' column on inadequacy of democracy in solving problems:
The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.
The American founders did this by decentralizing power. They built checks and balances to frustrate and detain the popular will. They also dispersed power to encourage active citizenship, hoping that as people became more involved in local government, they would develop a sense of restraint and responsibility.
In Europe, by contrast, authority was centralized. Power was held by small coteries of administrators and statesmen, many of whom had attended the same elite academies where they were supposed to learn the art and responsibilities of stewardship. Under the parliamentary system, voters didn’t even get to elect their leaders directly. They voted for parties, and party elders selected the ones who would actually form the government, often through secret means.
Though the forms were different, the democracies in Europe and the United States were based on a similar carefully balanced view of human nature: People are naturally selfish and need watching. But democratic self-government is possible because we’re smart enough to design structures to police that selfishness.
James Madison put it well: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.”
But, over the years, this balanced wisdom was lost. Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mind-set of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.--------
Western democratic systems were based on a balance between self-doubt and self-confidence. They worked because there were structures that protected the voters from themselves and the rulers from themselves. Once people lost a sense of their own weakness, the self-doubt went away and the chastening structures were overwhelmed. It became madness to restrain your own desires because surely your rivals over yonder would not be restraining theirs.
This is one of the reasons why Europe and the United States are facing debt crises and political dysfunction at the same time. People used to believe that human depravity was self-evident and democratic self-government was fragile. Now they think depravity is nonexistent and they take self-government for granted.
Neither the United States nor the European model will work again until we rediscover and acknowledge our own natural weaknesses and learn to police rather than lionize our impulses.
Here's a Wall Street Journal article by Aatish Taseer on Aamir Khan's new TV show:
On Indian TV, there has never been anything quite like "Truth Alone Prevails." Since its debut in May, the weekly show has reached more than 470 million viewers with its inquiries into issues like pesticides in food, domestic violence and the abortion of female fetuses. Within moments of airing, each episode trends at No. 1 on Twitter in India. Ten million people have sent text messages, emails and comments to the show's website to share their questions, opinions and fears.
In two Indian states, the show has prompted governments to bolster the enforcement of existing laws, and a few weeks ago the show's host was called to testify before a parliamentary committee after an episode on medical malpractice. The scale of the response has made "Satyamev Jayate" (as the show is called in Hindi) more like a people's movement than a television show.
More astonishing is the fact that this social and political phenomenon is the work of Aamir Khan, a superstar of India's giant film industry. At 47, Mr. Khan combines something of the glamour and social concern of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Like many Bollywood actors, he made his name dancing around trees and singing in the rain, but over the years he has turned to more serious things. Three years ago he had a great success with "3 Idiots," a comedy about the mind-numbing state of Indian education. Now, having turned down offers to do the game shows that many actors of his standing have taken up, he has created something startling and altogether new in India.
What emerges from their stories is a creeping horror, a vision of modern India that is stark and deeply unsettling: the family whose mother's life is snatched away, they say, in a botched and unauthorized organ transplant; the 12-year-old girl who accuses a 55-year-old family friend of sexual abuse; the call-center worker who tells of the forced abortion of her female fetuses—six times in eight years—at the hands of her husband's family. Mr. Khan's style is wry and laid back, but occasionally the stories are too much for him, and his eyes well with tears...
What gives "Truth Alone Prevails" its optimism is the voice of India's new middle class, which is increasingly politically and socially aware, though still unsure of itself and its newfound wealth and security. If the old India of my childhood—which was a far bleaker place—is to be superseded, it will depend on this new class's ability to understand and defend the freedoms that have enriched it. Mr. Khan's achievement has been to use his celebrity to show Indians, with rare clarity and grittiness, how far the country has come, and how far it has yet to go.
Here's an excerpt from London Review of Books of "After Nehru" by Perry Anderson:
Why then has the sheer pressure of the famished masses, who apparently hold an electoral whip-hand, not exploded in demands for social reparation incompatible with the capitalist framework of this – as of every other – liberal democracy? Certainly not because Congress ever made much effort to meet even quite modest requirements of social equality or justice. The record of Nehru’s regime, whose priorities were industrial development and military spending, was barren of any such impulse. No land reform worthy of mention was attempted. No income tax was introduced until 1961. Primary education was grossly neglected. As a party, Congress was controlled by a coalition of rich farmers, traders and urban professionals, in which the weight of the agrarian bosses was greatest, and its policies reflected the interests of these groups, unconcerned with the fate of the poor. But they suffered no electoral retribution for this. Why not?
Congress had failed to avert partition because it could never bring itself honestly to confront its composition as an overwhelmingly Hindu party, dropping the fiction that it represented the entire nation, and accept the need for generous arrangements with the Muslim party that had emerged opposite it. After independence, it presided over a state which could not but bear the marks of that denial. Compared with the fate of Pakistan after the death of Jinnah, India was fortunate. If the state was not truly secular – within a couple of years it was rebuilding with much pomp the famous Hindu temple in Somnath, ravaged by Muslim invaders, and authorising the installation of Hindu idols in the mosque at Ayodhya – it wasn’t overtly confessional either. Muslims or Christians could practise their religion with greater freedom, and live with greater safety, than Muslims could in Pakistan, if they were not Sunni. Structurally, the secularism of Congress had been a matter not of hypocrisy, but of bad faith, which is not the same: in its way a lesser vice, paying somewhat more tribute to virtue.
A leading test of these professions is the condition of the community that Congress always claimed also to represent, and the Indian state to acquit of any shadow of confessionalism. How have Muslims fared under such secularism, equidistant or group-sensitive? In 2006, the government-appointed Sachar Commission found that of the 138 million Muslims in India, numbering some 13.4 per cent of the population, fewer than three out of five were literate, and a third were to be found in the most destitute layers of Indian society. A quarter of their children between the ages of six and 14 were not in school. In the top fifty colleges of the land, two out of a hundred postgraduates were Muslim; in the elite institutes of technology, four out of a hundred. In the cities, Muslims had fewer chances of any regular job than Dalits or Adivasis, and higher rates of unemployment. The Indian state itself, presiding over this scene? In central government, the report confessed, ‘Muslims’ share in employment in various departments is abysmally low at all levels’ – not more than 5 per cent at even the humblest rung. In state governments, the situation was still worse, nowhere more so than in communist-run West Bengal, which with a Muslim population of 25 per cent, nearly double the official average for the nation, many confined in ghettos of appalling misery, posted a figure of just 3.25 per cent of Muslims in its service. It is possible, moreover, that the official number of Muslims in India is an underestimate. In a confidential cable to Washington released by WikiLeaks, the US Embassy reported that the real figure was somewhere between 160 and 180 million. Were that so, Sachar’s percentages would need to be reduced....
Here's NY Times piece on how Bollywood portrays Pakistan and Pakistanis:
...the need for patriotic films arose as the newly formed nation was looking for a reason to remain united. Pakistan became a convenient excuse. As India’s national identity began to strengthen in the 1960s, jingoistic films began to emerge.
Manoj Kumar’s 1967 classic, “Upkar,” for instance, had covert references to Pakistan, but never named the country outright. The protagonist in the film is suggestively called Bharat (Hindi for India), who takes a moral high ground when his younger brother asks for the family property to be divided between them.
The younger brother (Pakistan is metaphorically called the younger brother of India) is the evil one, who exploits the older one’s tolerance. “Such family metaphors were used by the industry until much, much later,” said Namrata Joshi, associate editor of Outlook magazine.
Professor Kumar said it wasn’t until 1973, in Chetan Anand’s “Hindustan Ki Kasam,” which was based on the 1971 war between the two countries, that a movie made unambiguous references to Pakistan. “But Pakistan still remained an unnamed malevolent power on Indian screens,” he said.
The 1990s saw a sudden spurt in Hindi films talking about the tensions with Pakistan. “The problem was that Indian filmmakers chose to see Pakistan in only military terms. No one tried to portray or even find out what Pakistani society looked like,” Professor Kumar said. “They began to equate Pakistan to its ‘evil’ military.”
Films like “Border,” based on the 1971 war with Pakistan, were released, where patriotism took on a new definition. “You loved India only if you hated Pakistan,” said Ms. Joshi of Outlook.
A typical modern-day Hindi film on the tension between the two countries would have morally upright Indians and sinful Pakistanis. “However, they always distinguished Indian Muslims and Pakistani Muslims. The former were always the good guys,” said the journalist and film critic Aseem Chhabra.
The cross-border tensions on screens portrayed a rather subtle gender politics as well. “I don’t remember a film where the girl is from India and the boy from Pakistan,” said Ms. Joshi. “India had to have an upper hand sexually as well.”
The Hindi film industry witnessed some high-octane nationalism in the early 2000s with films like “Gadar” and “Maa Tujhe Salaam” having blatant Pakistan-bashing scenes. Pakistan was the evil enemy, much like what the former Soviet Union was to the United States during the Cold War
The way the Hindi film industry has looked at Pakistan has always been dependent on the mood of the nation and government policies. “But now, filmmakers keep in mind the mood of the market as well,” Professor Kumar said, “because Pakistan is emerging as a huge market for Bollywood films.” As Pakistani diaspora increases in number, this market would further expand....
Despite these changes in sentiment, films featuring cross-border espionage like “Agent Vinod” and Salman Khan’s “Ek Tha Tiger,” which released Wednesday, still face problems with the censors on both sides of the borders.
“With Indo-Pak films, as with Indo-Pak relations, it is always one step forward and two steps back,” said Professor Kumar.
Here are some excerpts of a piece titled "How's India Doing (2012)?" as published in The Hindu:
One, the decline in poverty has not been uniform across regions and communities. If in 1982 your parents lived on the banks of the Cooum in Madras or in Dharavi in Bombay, it is likely that today your economic status is better than theirs. But if you are from a Dalit or adivasi family in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, or Uttar Pradesh, chances are that you are no better off now than your parents were in 1982. Two, the benefits of growth have indeed trickled down, but that is exactly what has happened: it has been just a trickle. The incidence of poverty has declined, but a quarter of the population or around 300-350 million people are still desperately poor. Three, if other basic necessities like shelter, access to clean drinking water and sanitation are included, the picture is much more dismal. Research by R. Jayraj and S. Subramanian shows that severe “multidimensional poverty” afflicted 470 million in 2005-06, not much lower than the estimate of 520 million in 1992-93. Four, in certain critical areas — for instance, malnourishment and maternal mortality — conditions remain terrible. Close to half our children suffer from malnutrition, much the same as 30 years ago.
So if we paint a broader picture, the old sliver of the beneficiaries of India’s growth has only thickened a bit. For the large mass of India’s poor, daily life remains a struggle. There is no doubt India lost a major opportunity in the past three decades.
The sex ratio has at last begun to see some improvement, though only in the past decade. And the life expectancy of women is now, as it should be, longer than of men. But we are in a far worse situation than in 1982 with respect to the status of the girl child. The sex ratio at birth — the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys born — has declined in recent decades. And the sex ratio of children under six has also worsened. Whether the result of sex-selection at birth, female infanticide, or neglect of the girl child, India has become an awful place for girls.
The outcome, however, has not been any major improvement in the economic status of the deprived castes. It may be too early to express any definite opinion on the achievements of these parties, but the early optimism that they would position the demand for lower-caste rights as part of a larger movement for justice and equality has faded. These parties have at times turned into movements solely for the advancement of sectional interests, and, worse, have become vehicles of personal aggrandisement.
If these are the changes in four areas that Sen examined in 1982, one also has to recognise that major changes have taken place in other areas.
For a country that became independent amid gruesome violence on religious lines, communalism has been no stranger. Soon after Sen’s essay, we had the anti-Sikh riots of November 1984. Mass murder was conducted over three days in the capital under the benign gaze of a new Prime Minister. The message was: if you mobilise yourself with force, you can get away with anything. The message was heard, and put into practice in Bhagalpur 1989, Bombay 1993, and Gujarat 2002.
Beyond such open violence, it is the routinisation of communalism in daily life that is new. Mobilisation on communal lines took new forms after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad/Bharatiya Janata Party decided to raise the issue of the Babri Masjid. The rath yatra of 1990, the Congress’s cynical attempt at soft Hindutva, and the destruction of the Babri Masjid completed the post-Independence transformation of India on communal lines. All this has contributed in no small measure to the growth of domestic terrorism. India is tragically now a less tolerant society than what it was in the early 1980s.
Here's a NY Times blog post on brutal rape and death of a woman on a New Delhi bus:
The woman, who has not been identified, has become of a symbol for the treatment of women in India, where rape is common and conviction rates for the crime are low. She boarded a bus with a male friend after watching a movie at a mall, and was raped and attacked with an iron rod by the men on the bus, who the police later said had been drinking and were on a “joy ride.”
She died Saturday morning in Singapore, where she had been flown for treatment after suffering severe internal injuries during the assault. She had an infection in her lungs and abdomen, liver damage and a brain injury, the Singapore hospital said, and died from organ failure. Her body was flown back to India on Saturday.
As news of her death spread Saturday, India’s young, social-network-savvy population began to organize protests and candlelight vigils from Cochin in Kerala to the outsourcing hub of Bangalore to the country’s capital. Just a tiny sliver of India’s population can afford a computer or has access to the Internet, but the young, educated part of this group has become increasingly galvanized over the Delhi rape case. ...
Here's Reuters' story on the rape incident:
India is angry. India is protesting. Rallies continue in New Delhi after the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl on Dec. 16. The rapes continue too. On Wednesday night, three men reportedly raped a 42-year-old woman and dumped her in South Delhi. There are more cases being reported every day.
The biggest story in India, however, is Abhijit Mukherjee’s comment about the Delhi protests — “These pretty women, dented and painted, who come for protests are not students. I have seen them speak on television, usually women of this age are not students”. He added that students, who go to discotheques, think it is a fashion statement to hold candles and protest.
Are such comments by lawmakers rare? Why are we so sensitive to something that anyone, anywhere in India says? There were similar reactions when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi called Human Resource Development Minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife a 50-crore-rupee girlfriend. A few days ago, Sanjay Nirupam’s comment about a fellow politician — Till some time ago you were dancing on the TV screens and now you have become a psephologist — freaked people out. And let’s not forget the case of the impromptu “theek hai?” on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week. It threatened to become bigger than “mission accomplished.”
Here's a piece in The Guardian by Arundhati Roy on Afzal Guru's hanging:
Spring announced itself in Delhi on Saturday. The sun was out, and the law took its course. Just before breakfast, the government of India secretly hanged Afzal Guru, prime accused in the attack on parliament in December 2001, and interred his body in Delhi's Tihar jail where he had been in solitary confinement for 12 years. Guru's wife and son were not informed. "The authorities intimated the family through speed post and registered post," the home secretary told the press, "the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir [J&K] police has been told to check whether they got it or not". No big deal, they're only the family of yet another Kashmiri terrorist.
In a moment of rare unity the Indian nation, or at least its major political parties – Congress, the Bharatiya Janata party and the Communist party of India (Marxist) – came together as one (barring a few squabbles about "delay" and "timing") to celebrate the triumph of the rule of law. Live broadcasts from TV studios, with their usual cocktail of papal passion and a delicate grip on facts, crowed about the "victory of democracy". Rightwing Hindu nationalists distributed sweets to celebrate the hanging, and beat up Kashmiris (paying special attention to the girls) who had gathered in Delhi to protest. Even though Guru was dead and gone, the commentators in the studios and the thugs on the streets seemed, like cowards who hunt in packs, to need each other to keep their courage up. Perhaps because, deep inside, themselves they knew they had colluded in doing something terribly wrong.
What are the facts? On 13 December 2001 five armed men drove through the gates of the Indian parliament in a car fitted out with a bomb. When challenged they jumped out of the car and opened fire, killing eight security personnel and a gardener. In the firefight that followed, all five attackers were killed. In one of the many versions of the confessions he was forced to make in police custody, Guru identified the men as Mohammed, Rana, Raja, Hamza and Haider. That's all we know about them. They don't even have second names. LK Advani, then home minister in the BJP government, said they "looked like Pakistanis". (He should know what Pakistanis look like right? Being a Sindhi himself.) Based only on Guru's custodial confession (which the supreme court subsequently set aside, citing "lapses" and "violations of procedural safeguards") the government recalled its ambassador from Pakistan and mobilised half a million soldiers on the Pakistan border. There was talk of nuclear war. Foreign embassies issued travel advisories and evacuated their staff from Delhi. The standoff lasted months and cost India thousands of crores – millions of pounds.
What sets Guru's killing apart is that, unlike those tens of thousands who died in prison cells, his life and death were played out in the blinding light of day in which all the institutions of Indian democracy played their part in putting him to death.
Now he has been hanged, I hope our collective conscience has been satisfied. Or is our cup of blood still only half full?..
A billion people were lifted from abject poverty between 1980 and 2010. China accounts for nearly three quarters of these, or 680 million people brought out of misery, by reducing its extreme-poverty rate from 84% in 1980 to 10% now, according to a report in The Economist. The report adds that with "poorer governance in India and Africa, the next two targets, means that China’s experience is unlikely to be swiftly replicated there".
As China's share of the world's extreme poor (living below $1.25 per day per person level) has dramatically declined, India's share has significantly increased. India now contributes 33% (up from 22 % in 1981). While the extreme poor in Sub-Saharan Africa represented only 11 percent of the world’s total in 1981, they now account for 34% of the world’s extreme poor, and China comes next contributing 13 percent (down from 43 percent in 1981), according to the World Bank report titled State of the Poor.
The share of poverty in South Asia region excluding India has slightly increased from 7% in 1981 to 9% now, according to the report.
Here's an Aljazeera report on Indian Maoist insurgency:
"You people say that India [has] got a republican, independent government, we say NO it is not so, and between these two there is a contradiction. You people say that India got independence on August 15, 1947, we say power-transfer happened. Semi-feudal, semi-colonial. Politicians, rich people and land owners are looting the country, and benefiting. You may know the current police law is from 1898, from Victorian times, so what has changed? What has changed is a few faces who sit in the parliament today. Like a new cap on an old bottle. The content of the bottle is still the same. So the common people are still deprived and they will rise," said their spokesman Gaur Chakravarty.
A 40-year long civil war has been raging in the jungles of central and eastern India. It is one of the world's largest armed conflicts but it remains largely ignored outside of India.
Caught in the crossfire of it are the Adivasis, who are believed to be India's earliest inhabitants. A loose collection of tribes, it is estimated that there are about 84 million of these indigenous people, which is about eight per cent of the country's population.
For generations, they have lived off farming and the spoils of the jungle in eastern India, but their way of life is under threat. Their land contains mineral deposits estimated to be worth trillions of dollars. Forests have been cleared and the Indian government has evacuated hundreds of villages to make room for steel plants and mineral refineries.
The risk of losing everything they have ever known has made many Adivasis fertile recruits for India's Maoist rebels or Naxalites, who also call these forests home.
The Maoists' fight with the Indian government began 50 years ago, just after India became independent. A loose collection of anti-government communist groups - that initially fought for land reform - they are said to be India's biggest internal security threat. Over time, their focus has expanded to include more fundamental questions about how India is actually governed.
In their zeal for undermining the Indian government, Maoist fighters have torched construction equipment, bombed government schools and de-railed passenger trains, killing hundreds. In the name of state security, several activists who have supported the Maoists have been jailed and tortured. Innocent people have also been implicated on false charges. These are often intimidation tactics used by the government to discourage people from having any contact with the Maoists.
The uprising by Maoist fighters and its brutal suppression by the Indian government, has claimed more than 10,000 lives since 1980, and displaced 12 million people. Many of the victims are not even associated with either side. They are simply caught in the crossfire. And the violence is escalating as both sides mount offensive after counter-offensive.
As many as 76 sitting MPs of various political parties face serious criminal charges and could be disqualified if convicted for over 2 years. BJP leads the list with 18 MPs while the Congress has 14 MPs with criminal record, Samajwadi Party with 8, BSP with 6, AIADMK with 4, JD(U) with 3 and CPI(M) with 2 are followed by 17 MPs from the smaller parties with serious criminal charges against them.
A 2010 UMich study found that misinformed people exposed to corrected facts rarely changed their minds:
It’s one of the great assumptions underlying modern democracy that an informed citizenry is preferable to an uninformed one. “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. This notion, carried down through the years, underlies everything from humble political pamphlets to presidential debates to the very notion of a free press. Mankind may be crooked timber, as Kant put it, uniquely susceptible to ignorance and misinformation, but it’s an article of faith that knowledge is the best remedy. If people are furnished with the facts, they will be clearer thinkers and better citizens. If they are ignorant, facts will enlighten them. If they are mistaken, facts will set them straight.
In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?
Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”
These findings open a long-running argument about the political ignorance of American citizens to broader questions about the interplay between the nature of human intelligence and our democratic ideals. Most of us like to believe that our opinions have been formed over time by careful, rational consideration of facts and ideas, and that the decisions based on those opinions, therefore, have the ring of soundness and intelligence. In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.
DALTENGANJ, India — When he decided to run for a parliamentary seat from this impoverished, and mainly low-caste constituency in northeast India, Kameshwar Baitha made no effort to sugarcoat his criminal record.
Obediently, he cataloged the serious charges pending against him, all of which he says are false. There were 17 for murder, 22 for attempted murder, 6 for assault with a dangerous weapon, 5 for theft, 2 for extortion, and so on, a legacy from Mr. Baitha’s previous career as a leader of the local Maoist insurgency. On top of that was the fact that he was in jail.
But this did not hurt him with voters here, noted his son, Babban Kumar, who hopes to follow his father into politics. With people in this area, who look to elected leaders as Robin Hood figures, it may have helped.
“You have to fight against something, how else can you get into politics?” Mr. Kumar said. “Without going to jail, you cannot be a big politician.”
New impulses are rippling through Indian politics this year, as a growing, urbanized middle class demands that hundreds of tainted politicians be driven from the system.
In Delhi, crowds driven by Internet campaigns have rallied around an anticorruption platform, holding brooms to symbolize the coming cleansing. The Supreme Court, sensing the public mood, ruled in July that it was illegal for politicians who had been convicted of crimes to continue holding office by simply filing an appeal against their convictions. The ruling would disqualify politicians sentenced to more than two years in prison by a lower court. This change, which could uproot formidable political forces, was endorsed this month by the governing coalition’s crown prince, Rahul Gandhi.
#India's campaigners welcome #EU resolution to end caste-based #apartheid in #India
http://gu.com/p/3jf8c/tw http://www.riazhaq.com/2009/11/dalit-victims-of-apartheid-in-india.html #Dalit
Here's an excerpt of Stephen Kinzer's NPR interview on his book about Dulles brothers:
On the Dulles' ability to overthrow regimes in Iran and Guatemala but not in Cuba or Vietnam
They were able to succeed [at regime change] in Iran and Guatemala because those were democratic societies, they were open societies. They had free press; there were all kinds of independent organizations; there were professional groups; there were labor unions; there were student groups; there were religious organizations. When you have an open society, it's very easy for covert operatives to penetrate that society and corrupt it.
Actually, one of the people who happened to be in Guatemala at the time of the coup there was the young Argentine physician Che Guevara. Later on, Che Guevara made his way to Mexico and met Fidel Castro. Castro asked him, "What happened in Guatemala?" He was fascinated; they spent long hours talking about it, and Che Guevara reported to him ... "The CIA was able to succeed because this was an open society." It was at that moment that they decided, "If we take over in Cuba, we can't allow democracy. We have to have a dictatorship. No free press, no independent organizations, because otherwise the CIA will come in and overthrow us." In fact, Castro made a speech after taking power with [Guatemalan President Jacobo] Árbenz sitting right next to him and said, "Cuba will not be like Guatemala."
Now, [Vietnamese Communist leader] Ho Chi Minh was not establishing an open society ... the fact is, he had a dictatorship, he had a closed, tyrannical society, and that made it much more difficult for the CIA to operate. So we find this irony that if [Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad] Mossadegh and Árbenz had been the tyrants that the Dulles brothers portrayed them as being, the Dulles brothers wouldn't have been able to overthrow them. But the fact that they were democrats committed to open society made their countries vulnerable to intervention in ways that Vietnam and particular North Vietnam then were not.
On how things might have been different had the Dulles brothers not intervened
It's quite possible, even likely, had the Dulles brothers not been [in Vietnam] or had acted differently, there never would've been an American involvement in Vietnam at the cost of a million lives and more than 50,000 Americans. Guatemala wouldn't have suffered 200,000 dead over a period of 35 years in the civil war that broke out after they intervened in Guatemala and destroyed democracy there. Iran fell under royal dictatorship and then more than 30 years of fundamentalist religious rule as a result of the Dulles brothers' operations. Had they not intervened in Iran we might've had a thriving democracy in the heart of the Muslim Middle East. ...
So you look around the world and you see these horrific situations that still continue to shake the world, and you can trace so many of them back to the Dulles brothers.
Commentary on India's regional and identity politics:
Unlike the United States, where state electorates divide themselves relatively neatly into Reds and Blues, Indian states have their own idiosyncratic grouping of both national and regional political parties. The Indian Congress Party and the BJP, the two principal national parties, exert influence nationwide, but their power has waned in recent decades in favor of regional parties. These parties generally represent certain caste, linguistic, ethnic or class groups, groups which themselves are often uniquely in a particular state.
Indeed, India has rarely demonstrated a pan-Indian, national voting pattern, except when a single emotive issue develops momentum, such as in the sympathy vote following the 1984 assassination of Indira Gandhi. In general, past elections have tended to turn on local issues and identity politics. While a few national issues such as inflation, anti-incumbency and national security are consistently of concern for many Indian voters nationwide, they have tended to play a secondary role in determining how citizens actually vote. Local politics are still the name of the game in India; and, unfortunately for the pollsters, Indian local politics are extremely hard to predict.
This predominance of local politics, local issues and local parties, has given each of the 543 Indian parliamentary constituencies its own distinctive political color. Since national polling is most accurate when a survey sample can serve as a statistically meaningful representation of the national whole, and because India’s constituencies are so diverse and cast their votes for such different reasons, it makes a proper sample incredibly difficult to construct.
To account for the diversity in the electorate, polls must be taken in most – if not all – of the 543 constituencies. This is extremely expensive and generally unworkable. Constituencies in India are also numerically huge (most have more than a million people) and often physically challenging for poll-takers to access. But technology is not a panacea for the pollsters: despite India’s rapidly growing telecommunications and Internet industries, the vast majority of Indians still live without phone or Internet access.
This lack of communications infrastructure has made face-to-face, door-to-door surveying the preferred method of polling. Agencies send data collectors personally to survey village and city halls, bazaars and town courtyards, schools and universities. Unsurprisingly, this method is not the most efficient or cost-effective way to do polling.
To get a meaningful number of interviews, in a majority of constituencies, a polling agency would need to employ a virtual army of pollsters. But because no single polling agency in India has the manpower or the funds to do meaningful door-to-door polling in a majority of constituencies, polling agencies must extrapolate data from one constituency to another; or, in some cases, to extrapolate data from a few constituencies to forecast an entire state. Agencies examine the socioeconomic composition of a constituency, look at the castes and religious communities represented, and use the data from that area to calculate and predict the results for another location with similar demographics. But since each area has its own distinctive set of issues and parties, extrapolation of data based exclusively on caste or socio-economic considerations is bound to be flawed on a larger scale.
From NY Times on the role of money in Indian elections:
This is the new world of Indian elections, where costs have soared in recent years; overall spending this cycle is expected to reach $5 billion, second only to the amount spent on the 2012 presidential election in the United States. This increase has a number of causes, and far-reaching consequences.
First, as India’s population has grown, so too has the size of its political constituencies. The average parliamentary constituency in 1951-52, when India held its first post-independence election, had roughly 350,000 voters; today that figure stands at 1.5 million. More voters mean more money spent on outreach and handouts.
Second, elections have become more competitive. In 2009, when India last held national elections, the average margin of victory in a parliamentary contest was 9.7 percent, the thinnest since independence. Candidates in close races have become locked in an arms race of campaign spending.
Third, the scope of elections has broadened. Thanks to constitutional amendments in the early 1990s that established new tiers of village and town governments, India went from having some 4,000 elected positions to nearly three million virtually overnight. Funds must be raised for every rung on the political ladder.
Fourth, since 1971, when Indira Gandhi called an early national election, state and national election cycles have been uncoupled. As a consequence, parties and politicians must collect money more frequently while contributors can no longer get away with a one-shot gift for all elections.
Finally, Indian voters expect more handouts as parties compete to outdo one another with costly pre-election “gifts.” This practice is, of course, explicitly forbidden yet routinely pursued. Gifts range from the obvious (cash and liquor) to the surreal (opium paste or bricks for home construction).
One evening in Andhra Pradesh, I asked a candidate from the Y.S.R. Congress Party whether the huge expenses he was incurring would be worth it. He paused, and then said that he did not know: “If I am lucky enough to win, next time, I’ll need even more money. How does one remain honest and succeed in politics in this country?”
15 countries you should be afraid to visit (include India, not Pakistan).
Describes India as "one of the world's most dangerous countries. Crimes in India include arms and drug trafficking, sex crimes, and corruption but is mostly known as one of the most dangerous countries for women."
Here are the names: Colombia, Russia, Mexico, Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, Central African Republic, North Korea and Syria.
Christine Fair on India's Hindu Nationalists:
India's Hindu Nationalists (RSS, BJP) are like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the violent post-civil war white supremacist organization made up mainly of former southern confederate supporters, in the United States. The difference is that while KKK has very little popular support in America, the RSS's political wing BJP recently won general elections by a landslide, making Narendra Modi ("KKK wizard") the prime minister of India.
This troubling (caste) divide has its roots both in the development of the modern Indian state and in the nature of Hinduism and Hindu society. Before political independence and self-determination were on anyone’s agenda, Indian thinkers and public figures were already considering what social democratization would look like in a nation so fundamentally shaped by social hierarchy. And the 19th and 20th centuries saw numerous attempts to bring Indian tradition, especially Hinduism, in line with a vision of a modern liberal—and sometimes explicitly egalitarian—society.
Bhimrao Ambedkar, the chief architect of the Indian constitution and the nation’s first law minister, anticipated the problems that inequality would pose to the development of independent India as a modern democratic state.
Ambedkar’s experience as a Dalit, or “untouchable,” as well as his remarkably rigorous and international education, led him to advocate for social reform, broader access to education and the abolition of the caste system. And when much of that activism proved unsuccessful, he rejected Hinduism altogether.
For those who dreamed of social democratization, the Hindu tradition, so deeply hierarchical, seemed ill suited to modern egalitarian and democratic society. Could Hindu social practices be adapted to a modern democratic world? Or, as Ambedkar finally concluded, was that an impossible task?
The caste system denounced
Like earlier movements that sought to break with orthodox Hinduism (most notably Buddhism and Jainism), reform efforts in the 19th century emphasized direct, unmediated interaction between individuals and the gods—undermining the power of the Brahmins (the highest, priestly caste).
Two major reform movements, the Brahmo Samaj and the Arya Samaj, went further, offering critiques of religious, caste and gender hierarchy and promoting a vision of a more egalitarian and communal faith.
The Brahmo Samaj, founded in 1828, embraced a version of Millian liberalism while seeking to reform Hinduism for modern times. It established a canon of Hindu scripture and denounced many Hindu practices, including the caste system.
The Arya Samaj was heavily influenced by the work of the Brahmo Samaj; in 1875, it translated the Vedas, Hinduism’s ancient Sanskrit holy texts, into vernacular languages and pushed for literacy as a way of building an inclusive religious community. The Arya Samaj favored merit-based castes and social welfare as the vehicles of its egalitarian, pluralistic vision and emphasized the importance of individual religious morality and an attendant social mobility.
The Brahmo and Arya Samaj laid a foundation later built upon by Hindu leaders Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.
Vivekananda, a much-beloved nineteenth-century Hindu monk and philosopher, saw the potential for divinity in every individual and preached the importance of mass education and material improvement to the development of a vibrant, modern Hindu society. Gandhi sought to shift the focus of Hinduism away from the ideal of spiritual renunciation towards a practical commitment to improving society.
Ultimately, the prominence of upper-caste leaders in social reform efforts tempered the movements’ critiques of Hinduism. The more radical movements were led by lower-caste leaders. Most notable among these was the “non-Brahmin” movement in western India during the 1870s and 1880s.
Jotirao Govindrao Phule and his Satyashodhak Samaj (“truth-seeking society”) were the most radical incarnation of this movement, with an emphasis on the lower castes as a moral and historical community that transcended conventional religion. Phule’s rejection of the upper castes and their traditionalist Hinduism placed him in opposition to the Brahmin-led Indian National Congress, which was founded in 1885 as a pro-independence political organization and later came to dominate the political scene.
Indian Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju on India's Criminal Organizations
I regard the Congress and the BJP as criminal organizations.
In 1984 that criminal gangster Indira Gandhi, who imposed a fake ' Emergency' in 1975 in India in order to hold on to power after she had been declared guilty of corrupt election practices by the Allahabad High Court, an ' Emergency' in which even the right to life was suspended, and lacs of Indians were falsely imprisoned, was assassinated.
As a reaction,the Congress Party led by Rajiv Gandhi organized a slaughter of thousands of innocent Sikhs, many of whom were burnt alive by pouring petrol or kerosene on them and setting them on fire. When there were protests against this horrendous crime, Rajiv Gandhi said ' jab bada ped girta hai, dharti hil jaati hai' ( when a big tree falls, the earth shakes ). It is believed that he gave oral instructions to the police not to interfere with the massacres for 3 days ( see my blog ' The Sikh riots of 1984 ' on justice.blogspot.in )..
Soon after these horrible massacres, elections to the Lok Sabha was declared, and Congress swept the polls on this emotional wave winning a record 404seats in the 532 seat Lok Sabha, while BJP won only 2 seats.
In 2002 the massacre of Muslims was organized in Gujarat by BJP led by our friend ( see my blog ' All the Perfumes of Arabia ), and the result was that BJP has been regularly winning the Gujarat elections ever since, and has even won the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.
So the message which has been sent is loud and clear : organize massacre of some minority in India, and you will sweep the polls. Never mind how much misery you cause to many people.
Are not the Congress and BJP, and even many smaller political parties, which are responsible for horrible deeds and for systematically looting the country of a huge amount of money for decades, and for causing such terrible sufferings and misery to the people, criminal organizations, most of whose members deserve the gallows ?
The dark side of #Indian politics: Why many Indian #politicians have a #criminal record. #India http://econ.st/2kt1dSo via @TheEconomist
When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics. By Milan Vaishnav. Yale University Press; 410 pages; $40. To be published in Britain in March; £25.
ALL politicians are crooks. At least, that is what a lot of people think in a lot of countries. One assumes it is a reproach. But not in India. Indian politicians who have been charged with or convicted of serious misdeeds are three times as likely to win parliamentary elections as those who have not. In “When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics” Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace meticulously tracks the remarkable political success of India’s accused murderers, blackmailers, thieves and kidnappers. Having been a symptom of India’s dysfunctional politics, the felons are metastasising into its cause.
Sadly, this is not a book about some small, shady corner of Indian politics: 34% of the members of parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha (lower house) have criminal charges filed against them; and the figure is rising (see chart). Some of the raps are peccadillos, such as rioting or unlawful assembly—par for the course in India’s raucous local politics. But over a fifth of MPs are in the dock for serious crimes, often facing reams of charges for anything from theft to intimidation and worse. (Because the Indian judicial system has a backlog of 31m cases, even serious crimes can take a decade or more to try, so few politicians have been convicted.) One can walk just about the whole way from Mumbai to Kolkata without stepping foot outside a constituency whose MP isn’t facing a charge.
Mr Vaishnav dissects both the reasons why the goons want to get elected and why the electorate seems to be so fond of them. Their desire for office is relatively new. After independence in 1947 thugs used to bribe politicians to stay out of trouble and to secure lucrative state concessions such as mining rights. It helped that candidates from the dominant Congress party were sure to win a seat and then stay there. From the 1980s, as Congress started to fade as a political force, bribing its local representative became less of a sure thing for local crooks. So in the same way that a carmaker might start manufacturing its own tyres if it finds that outside suppliers are unreliable, Mr Vaishnav argues that the dons promoted themselves into holding office, thus providing their own political cover.
What is more surprising is that the supply of willing criminals-cum-politicians was met with eager demand from voters. Over the past three general elections, a candidate with a rap sheet of serious charges has had an 18% chance of winning his or her race, compared with 6% for a “clean” rival. Mr Vaishnav dispels the conventional wisdom that crooks win because they can get voters to focus on caste or some other sectarian allegiance, thus overlooking their criminality.
As so often happens in India, poverty plays a part. India is almost unique in having adopted universal suffrage while it was still very poor. The upshot has been that underdeveloped institutions fail to deliver what citizens vote for. Getting the state to perform its most basic functions—building a school, disbursing a subsidy, repaving a road—is a job that can require banging a few heads together. Sometimes literally. Who better to represent needy constituents in these tricky situations than someone who “knows how to get things done”? If the system doesn’t work for you, a thuggish MP can be a powerful ally.
Political parties, along with woefully inadequate campaign-finance rules, have helped the rise of the thug-candidate. Campaigns are hugely expensive. Voters need to be wooed with goodies—anything from hooch to jewels, bikes, bricks and straight-up cash will do. Criminals fill party coffers rather than drain them, and so are tolerated.
#India’s court system offers little hope of #justice. #democracy #ruleOfLaw https://www.ft.com/content/e3e31e4e-0015-11e7-8d8e-a5e3738f9ae4 … via @FT
On a hot June afternoon in 1997, a fire broke out at New Delhi’s Uphaar cinema, which was full for the opening day of a Bollywood blockbuster. Smoke engulfed the hall, and 59 people, including children, died of asphyxiation. Most were trapped in the balcony, where one of the exits was blocked by the addition of extra seats, while the other doors were bolted shut from the outside.
Twenty years on, one of the two powerful property developers who owned the cinema hall — and pushed the controversial building modifications that turned it into a fire trap — has been imprisoned.
Gopal Ansal, and his elder brother Sushil, were convicted of criminal negligence leading to the fatalities back in 2007, and sentenced to two years in prison. They appealed, launching another decade of legal battles when judges repeatedly upheld the Ansals’ culpability but differed on the appropriate punishment.
Last month, a Supreme Court panel upheld the Ansal brothers’ conviction, and affirmed that Gopal, now 68, would be sentenced to a year’s imprisonment, due to start this week. His brother Sushil Ansal, now 76, was spared incarceration, with the judges citing his advanced years.
It was a galling outcome for parents such as Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost two children in the Uphaar fire and went on to become campaigners for justice. Worse may yet come. Gopal Ansal has filed a last-ditch appeal that he is also too old and ill to be imprisoned.
New Delhi often touts the rule of law as a factor that distinguishes India from its richer neighbour China, and ostensibly makes it an attractive investment destination. But the Uphaar cinema case is a powerful reminder of how the rule of law is collapsing in India under a backlog of 33m criminal and civil cases, which one judge estimated would take 320 years to clear.
Underpinning this breakdown is an acute shortage of judges, a severe problem in a society where litigiousness seems on par with the US. India has just 18 judges for every 1m people. Many fast-growing economies have between 35 to 40 judges per million people; in the US, it is more than 100.
India’s judge shortage is exacerbated by many unfilled vacancies, the lack of modern technology in courthouses, lawyers’ deliberate delaying tactics to stall cases, and an abundance of relatively frivolous litigation.
Among New Delhi’s demands is a new requirement that investors in India must exhaust all domestic legal remedies to resolve disputes before moving to international arbitration. What that could mean for foreign companies ensnared in disputes with local partners or Indian government entities can be seen in another recent Supreme Court verdict on a high-profile case from the same era as the Uphaar fire.
In 1996 I wrote my first stories about the arrest for alleged corruption of the powerful Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa, a film star turned politician who owned thousands of saris, hundreds of shoes, and a trove of precious jewellery. It drew comparisons with the Philippines’ Imelda Marcos.
In 2014, 18 years after her arrest, Jayalalithaa was convicted of possessing assets exceeding her known sources of income. She spent 22 days in jail before being freed on bail pending her appeal. The Supreme Court effectively upheld her conviction last month, sentencing her long-time companion and co-accused, VK Sasikala, to four years in prison. The wheels of justice turned so slowly, however, that Jayalalithaa managed to elude them. She died last December.
Open Defecation in India: A Major Health Hazard and Hurdle in Infection Control
Paurush Ambesh1 and Sushil Prakash Ambeshcorresponding author2
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“Cleanliness is next to Godliness”, a proverbial adage that traces its inception to ancient Indian times, is the epitome of irony in the current Indian health situation. The lost Indus Valley Civilization, with modern cities like Harappa and Mohenjodaro, was once the gold standard of sanitation infrastructure. Its extensive and efficient sewage system was not only an exemplary gem, but also a gift of knowledge to entire mankind. However history resides in books and has little relevance to the current situation.
Though over the last 50 years, the general health of Indians has improved and the life expectancy has increased, myriad health and sanitation problems still stare one in the face. The biggest one, open defecation, is the mother of all infection and morbidity. The WHO declared the year 2008 as International Year of Sanitation. It was here that the term ‘Open Defecation’ was widely publicized. Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) programs helped spread the term all around the globe.
It is a matter of national concern as India has the most number of people practicing open defecation in the world, around 600 million , and is followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Still these countries come nowhere close to the staggering number contributed by India.
Most of it occurs in villages with a prevalence of 65% . In urban settings the prevalence is close to 16%. The problem has thick deep roots with a multi-factorial origin. Unavailability of proper toilets or toilets with dimly lit, broken or clogged latrines is common. However, the biggest problem is the mindset of people in both rural and urban settings. Children grow watching parents and grandparents practice open defecation. Most farmers believe that waking up early and defecating in the field, not only adds natural fertilizer to the soil, but also rejuvenates the bowel and the mind.
Open defecation is a major cause of fatal diarrhea. Everyday about 2000 children aged less than five succumb to diarrhea and every 40 seconds a life is lost . It is depressing that all this needless suffering is actually preventable. In densely populated countries like India, the health impact is magnified many fold . There is evidence to suggest that water sanitation and hygiene practices are associated with child linear growth . Children have a tendency to put common things in their mouth. In rural settings where open defecation is prevalent, large amounts of fecal pathogens via human and animal feces, are ingested by children. This creates a massive reservoir of bacteria, parasites and viruses that keep spreading gastrointestinal infection. An eventual result is growth stunting and malnutrition.
Though the health challenges seem to compound with time, the health budget allocation by the Government of India is getting smaller every year. This year also it is quite meager, only about 1% of the Gross Domestic Product. This may put financial constraints on dealing with sanitation linked diseases.
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