Friday, December 20, 2013

The Unarmed Democracy

A friend of mine often disagree with me. He also thinks that I have disproportionate influence. Well here it is then, his opinion on something that I have great faith in. Bouquets and brickbats are welcome.



In my country, India, if you talk to the urban intellectuals most of the times they would cite the lack of education as the major problem of the country. Rarely, they would say that the huge population is the problem (which underlies almost every other problem in India). Many people –and this one is especially popular now a days- would say it’s corruption. Some would say it is lack of good laws. Others would point out failing to enforce them as the real problem.

Whatever the problem, most of us want the government to solve them. The idea is quite logical. The only entity with “legal” power to effect any change is the government. However, in India the government is structured in such a way that it could please all the ethnicities and castes. The constitution (which was supposedly designed to eradicate the infamous caste system) ensures that. Most of the Indians would agree that the government is limited in many ways while making decisions. It has to take into account the emotions of all its subjects. It cannot take any decision that in any way offends or hurts any ethnicity, religion, caste etc. This sounds like a heavenly arrangement; nevertheless there is something very sinister about it. If your country respects all religions and my religion is murder, you are in a problem. If your country respects every belief and my belief is in the caste system, you cannot even think of eradicating it. If your country respects all cultures and my culture is human sacrifice you are badly messed up. Well, these examples may sound too extreme, but they happen every day on a smaller level. The law says I cannot encroach the land belonging to the state, but my religion says making a shrine is the biggest service to God and the constitution gives me the right to practice my religion as it is; so the government, despite the existence of the said law, is impotent when I have encroached its land to construct my shrine. And that is what is happening in India every single second in one way or another.

Many “intellectuals”, or not-so-intellectual people, would agree that, depending on their ideology and political inclination, that some form of stronger government is needed. This idea has become particularly popular lately. They would say that unless that happens no change could be brought about. It is a very logical and correct thought. Very similar to the one that Germans had during the existence of Weimar Republic. An impotent government debilitated by “pleasing politics” cannot do much to change a nation of ethnicities so diverse that they could easily be different nations if not continents. Hence, recently the people have started promoting the idea of voting for the politicians that seem to be strong, ruthless and hardliners.

Unfortunately, that is a double edged sword. If you vote for a government that is too strong, it can effect changes undoubtedly, but there would be no way to let it know where and when to stop. One major reason that a powerful government can become too powerful is that the population that elects it is unarmed. It may sound insane, but a government that has an army at its disposal and is too strong about its ideas cannot be controlled by an unarmed population, no matter how long the history of democracy the nation in question has had. I will again take you to the rise of the government that seized power after Weimar Republic failed in Germany. It had very strong ideas, it made the nation grow very fast both financially and industrially and it produced changes when most other liberal governments would have failed. However, soon the government became unstoppable and it led a country of “peacefully unarmed” population to a war that would change both the country and the planet forever in many not-so-pleasing ways.

What I am trying to say is that a constitution like ours that advocates the civilians being totally unarmed has to champion an impotent government because both go hand in hand. The Indian constitution created by people much more wise than I am, ensures that the population has to forever wallow in whatever misery it finds itself in because it can never (thankfully and safely!) have a government that could bring about any noticeable change. If one wants a potent government, one that could overrule the constitution in ways that work for the greater good of the nation (for example, not pleasing every single caste, religion etc. just in order to keep the parliament functioning), one will have to think very seriously about arming the population which would find itself impotent in the face of a democratically elected government that becomes so powerful that it could produce changes and eventually crosses the line and goes beyond what the people electing it originally wanted.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Takeaways from Semi-Final 2013

So the carnival has come to an end, and the victors have been declared. The losers are in a deep sense of despair, trying to figure out the message that people of this country, particularly when it concerns states that add up to nearly 60 seats in the Lok Sabha. There are a few clear takeaways from this election, which I shall elaborate upon:

1. You cannot parachute leaders from Delhi in a country where sub-nationalism runs high
(Regional leaders shine all the way - courtesy LiveMint)
The Congress party's high command culture has been severely threatened by the rise of sub-nationalism in India. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have clearly shown that weak state leadership devoid of ideas and ridden with factionalism cannot work to the advantage of Congress or BJP. The BJP scored in all but Delhi where it exists only because it's regional leaders had been identified and were leading charge well in advance. Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Dr Raman Singh undertook massive campaigns of public outreach more than a year in advance. Parachuting of Modi was icing for them, unlike the disastrous guerilla tactics of sending in an Amit Jogi or a Jyotiraditya Scindia, both of whom were undermined by other leaders from the same state and where Rahul Gandhi's 'magic' was expected to wash out all these tactical errors.

2. Congress is almost out of the Hindi Heartland; stares at 1977 repeat.

For the first time since 1977 is the Congress nearly wiped out of the Hindi heartland. The UP 'miracle' will never happen; nor will the MP or Chhattisgarh revival take place. Except Himachal and Haryana, which give only 15 seats together, the Congress is out of power and out of touch with more than half the country now. Add to that Gujarat, Bihar and West Bengal, the Congress is a demoralized force and stares at a 1977 repeat, where all its Northern bastions were stormed to the effect of exterminating India's Grand Old Party out of existence. Chances of revival are even slimmer till Rahul Gandhi continues to utter sheer nonsense during campaigns and Manmohan Singh remains Prime Minister. Another important factor is the Delhi election, where the Congress vote bank was dented by the Aam Aadmi Party, dramatically hurting them in turn.  Clearly, the Congress' traditional vote bank is searching for options.

3. There are no game-changers of elections except governance,effective implementation, and economic growth

Direct Cash Transfer, Food Security Act, Land Acquisition Act, Har Haath mein Phone Yojana, MNREGS and Right to Education were proposed by the strategy gurus of 10 Janpath as game changers for the Congress, hoping that this Dettol of largess can wash away gangrene of corruption, inflation and slow growth away. What has been demonstrated is that do whatever they can, nothing beats effective governance, fighting corruption and pro-growth strategies for poverty alleviation. Rights based, freebie based approaches are not going to work now, as the drubbing has shown to the Congress party. Rajasthan, the laboratory of Sonianomics, is testimony to it, where the Congress touched a new historic low for the state, winning less than 30 seats in a 200 seat Legislature.

4. NaMo is a factor

I know many will scoff at this by looking at the Delhi elections, but Delhi would not have seen the traditional Sangh vote base come out and support the BJP had Modi not put in so much effort. Selecting a terrible choice in the form of Vijay Kumar Goel was offset only by Modi's aggressive campaigning. Similarly, Rajasthan, the Congress' social laboratory, saw Modi steal the show from Rahul's antics by the sheer power of oratory and wit. The Congress lost all it could thanks to the lack of charisma, as Ramchandra Guha also pointed out on a news channel programme recently.

5. Dynasty politics has started to fade

Barring two candidates across the entire four states, the scions of stalwarts from either side lost badly to new candidates who were perceived to be weaklings. The people are now not going to be impressed by lineage - a sign of maturing democracy. More than 90% of the seats on which Rahul Gandhi campaigned were lost by the Congress in Rajasthan; same was the case in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi too. The charm factor does not hold a candle to the voters, who now vote with their feet.

6. Aam Aadmi Party is here to stay for only two decades - conditions apply

A new slogan will be needed soon
Why do I put twenty years? The only comparable for the AAP is the Telegu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, which is struggling for existence today. Similarly, the PDP has failed to go beyond the Kashmir valley in J&K. At best, AAP will be a regional or a metro-city party; however, if they continue with their socialist agenda they will see themselves being thrashed around like the Congress. Corruption is a major issue, but people will not just vote for clean leaders all the time if they fail to give them opportunities to prosper economically. Delhi is not Kerala, which survives on remittance. Delhi is a prosperous city that can talk about social welfare schemes, but there are bigger more complex states that AAP will never manage to dent like Gujarat, Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra simply because people there are not closet socialists.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Modi and Tejpal - the jaundiced worldview of our TV 'experts'

So much viewer heckling happens in the Indian media nowadays that I feel glad sitting far away from it. However, there are certain things that just catch your attention in ways and means that could have puzzled even the mysterious Sphinx of yore. The timing of two cases that have come to public light has been wonderful; it has taken the veil of political leanings to quite an extent.

Many media houses are a little surprised by the political tone that Tarun Tejpal's story has obtained. However, this was waiting to happen for several reasons. When within a few days of shrilly berating Narendra Modi and Amit Shah of BJP for 'snooping on a girl', we are now seeing an altogether different song being sung. What is even more disappointing is the fact that since one of the media's 'pillars of credibility' has been found wanting on several grounds, the tone adopted by many of them has been defensive, with many of their resident experts saying that the case should neither be politicized nor should we make judgments on the matter which will be sub judice. However, sample these points for a thought ,and you would also wonder at how bad things have become.


Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhary of Tehelka did not reveal the story; in fact, had it not been leaked by some conscientious workers of the organization, this matter would have been killed. A six month 'sannyaas' would have, as a popular joke on Twitter goes, made a Brahmarshi out of  Tarun Tejpal. Shoma Chaudhary may worry as much as she wants to, but the fact remains that when the technique of leaks, pioneered by them, hit them, the organization and its editor in chief were literally caught with their pants down.

Many of the TV experts dancing around the issue today are the same people who more than willingly pass morality judgments on Narendra Modi in the cases of Ishrat Jahan and the recent 'snoopgate'. Just hearing them talk has been a good lesson in being double faced, especially since all of them having a particular political leaning are now washing their linen of neutrality by stating such things as 'let them compromise'. Well the girl clearly does not want to compromise. They would have gone hammer and tongs if the organization would have been Organizer or Panchajanya or Pioneer, as someone had tweeted.

Another dangerous thing to note was the silence of the print media websites on this issue. Times of India and Hindustan Times did not even put this up on their pages for a long time today. Any such scoop on Narendra Modi comes up within minutes without even making a cursory grammar check. That shows us much about their political biases .What is even more worrisome is the fact that the print media's silence when it comes to shielding one of their own. By such actions and more, the case for a draconian regulator is strengthened, lobbying the ball into the courts of such inane Ministers like Manish Tewari, who make yesteryear wonders such as Vidya Charan Shukla look intelligent. Also, the media clearly is not following the guidelines laid out in the Vishakha judgment by the Honorable Supreme Court, which means that most of them are in contempt of the Court as well.

The Indian media's neutrality never existed; it would however make sense if they did not wear that garb and pretended to be holier than thou. So is the case with their panels of experts. However, for once, the media should try to spare us their jaundiced worldview. It would be a refreshing change for us viewers and readers if only they contemplated at their intellectual state.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kufr-ae-ishq

तेरे नाम को उँगली से लिखता रहा
क्या दिन क्या रात क्या लम्हा
कुछ भी ज़हन में न रहा

बारम्बार बस लिखता रहा
स्याह कलम और कागज़ का रूहानी संगम
बस ख़ामोश बैठ मैं तकता रहा

अपनी मोहब्बत की बेहिसी  को
बस यूं समझ कोसता रहा
चश्म-ए-नम को खूं से सीन्चता रहा

ख़ल्क-ए-ख्यालों के तबस्सुम
बस यूं ही उजड़ते देखता रहा
और उल्फतों को सीने बांधता रहा

असासे-दीन को बेच कर
कुफ्र को पनाह देता रहा
बस, अपनी दुनिया लुटाता रहा 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Seemandhra on 'Seema' - Why There is a Cycle of Violence

I just don't get it. Or perhaps I am so pissed off by political and regional violence that I have nothing but utter contempt for it.

Perhaps I fall in the latter category. I do not think very highly of most so called 'unity' movements to be honest. I am also usually indifferent to the formation of new states. Maybe it's my 'Delhi-centric', blinkered approach to blame. Or perhaps living in Hyderabad for more than a year taught me a few lessons that make me really contemptuous of the current political fiasco in Seemandhra region.

Ever wondered why despite being a smaller region than Telangana, Aandhra predominantly gave the state of Andhra Pradesh it's Chief Ministers? This, when there were less seats in the state legislative assembly? The mantle for a brief while shifted to the Rayalaseema region (Naidu, YSR), but more or less the crown remained in the Andhra region. Jobs were dominated by the people from Andhra region, and this is an obvious fact when you see how things have been. Telangana also remained backward in education, healthcare and general social welfare measures. Having the largest population of tribals and the oppressed, it should have seen a much bigger proportion of social expenditure, but it did not. More engineering colleges are in the coastal region than in Telangana and Rayalaseema put together. The biggest loser on all counts was Telangana.


However, the real battle is not one of a separate state, but the battle for Hyderabad. The crown jewel of Andhra Pradesh is dominated by Andhra people, and is the real reason behind the violence. Andhra does not have anything to lose if they become a separate state; however in the classic business-politician-mafia-builder nexus there is in this country and in this state, a lot of money sunk in by politicians of all hues shall be lost. Consider this - Vijaywada and Vizag shall be with Andhra Pradesh. Their economic output is much higher than that of Telangana. Andhra region's agricultural productivity is much higher than that of the other two regions. Lower riparian rights are always recognized in India's inter states water tribunals, thus ensuring that there will never be water shortages created artificially in the Andhra deltas of Krishna and Godavari. Most of the industries lie in the Andhra region. In fact, the lack of development of irrigation facilities in Telangana to benefit Andhra has been the leading cause of farmer suicides in the state, nearly all of which are concentrated in the Telangana region.

And yet Andhra region politicians are overacting with respect to the state's division only because Hyderabad shall end up in Telangana, thus losing most of their money and their ability to influence laws in the city to their will. The other end of this story are the Telangana politicians, who see this as an apt moment to stamp their authority, will of the people be damned. But this violence we are witnessing in Seemandhra is mostly being stoked by the politicians of the Andhra region who have serious vested interests.

Google Lagadapati Rajagopal to understand my point. A large industrialist, a Congress MP from Andhra and one with significant investments in Hyderabad - the classic nexus is represented by people like him, and he has been the most vocal against the division of Andhra Pradesh. Henchmen of the Congress and others like him, who are on the payrolls of several of these politicians, are the largest instigators and are inciting violence in the region. The police, leaderless thanks to a totally useless Chief Minister, K K Reddy, does not know what to do, and is hence standing by, watching goons wreak havoc on the region, forcing power shortages and disruptions in the normal lives. Sure, people of Seemandhra are to be protected, and shall be protected from loudmouths who don't know otherwise, but that is not the real reason for the indefinite strikes that have been called in. Had the government or the party any spine, the Supreme Court could have been requested to declare the strike of essential services like public transportation and government administrators illegal within a day. But we have modern day Neros who don't stand by but instigate most of this political violence taking place through incendiary speeches. Thanks to an ineffective administration, Andhra is being reduced to Yugoslavia.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let's Make a Riot

Let's make a riot.

It's the easiest political formula to follow that is stored up in the arsenal of Indian politicians. No deep thinking to state ideology, no difficult problems to solve to win voters, not even worry about the economy. It's the easiest one of course after the numero uno - we are a party of the poor. After all, everyone in our country wants to be declared poor - just sample the kind of people who carry ration cards to see just who really benefits from schemes for the poor, and you will see.

The riot formula is easy - throw a dead pig or a dead cow, deface religious structures, harass women and raise the slogan of religion, caste or ethnicity, or simply throw up anti-India rhetoric. Put up some fake videos of co-religionists being persecuted in some obscure part of the world and run riot in 'revenge'. If that does not work, stab a worker of some political parties or religious organizations to inflame passions.

 If that too fails, deliver hate speeches and distribute CDs to ensure people get your messages of hate.

Alternatively, let us hack people's hands for 'blasphemy' or publish pamphlets that provoke sentiments of brainwashed people.

Much like the Panchatantra tale of foolish brothers creating a tiger that ate them up, our political parties and political organizations love to create situations where they can be shrill and behave in a reprehensible manner. After all, riots can be selectively milked as well, much like Gujarat 2002, as if no other riots took place before or after. Never mind that these tigers come back to gobble them and their shoddy defenses.

They can also clearly play on the collective amnesia of the public by being shrill about Gujarat or Delhi, even as the rest of the country burns while Gujarat and Delhi are peaceful.

The desire to create riots cuts across all ideologies. Be they 'secular' or 'communal', all of them behave in exactly the same manner when it comes to walking the talk. Let us ride this tiger, they all think gleefully, and behave like modern day Neroes, even as Kishtwar or Muzaffarnagar or Mirchpur or Hyderabad or North Cachar Hills or Kandhamal become modern day Romes, being burnt to ashes, leaving behind anguished people and despaired souls.

Furthermore, even as the riot is taking place, let us force the executive to behave absolutely reprehensibly in controlling them. While the politics of Nero-ism happens, the executive is made to put forward orders that make little sense. Instead of allowing responsible media outlets to publish and broadcast the truth or use these media to appeal for calm, we put blanket bans on them. Let's allow for more rumour mongering to run riot (pun intended) so that more deaths and killings happen. Also, let us not book the real perpetrators of crimes against humanity but chargesheet people who might be dead or not even there. Let us not arrest people who can come on television channels to claim their innocence, or admonish people who call up the executive, asking them to go slow and let the fire singe people in the worst manner possible.

Level 1 of the game, that is mob violence in the face of an inept administration and useless polity leads to Level 2 - the secularism card. Everyone can then have a field day tossing this football around, without owing the responsibility to kick the ball into the goal of peace, justice and responsibility.

This level is even easier than imagined. All you need are histrionics in front of cameras and actors willing to perform tamashas in front of the voting public, who are found in plenty across our political spectrum.

Once the riot has taken place, let's ensure that everyone gets a field day playing politics over who said what, how many were killed, and whether these were the worst ever riots. Never mind people who are waiting for justice - let us hijack the process and try to outshout each other. If we cannot do that ourselves, let us unleash our proxies to continue playing the game for us. Who cares for the dead - they don't vote after all. Nor do the kids who are scarred for life or the old and imbecile who just lost faith in the democracy. Our principal constituency is the voter far away from all of this, with whom we are playing the dangerous game of flaming passions, expecting them to display symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome vis-a-vis our parties, while also displaying the Nintendo effect towards all the violence and bloodshed that took place.

And so, while the polity shouts itself to sleep, the ashes of the nation's hopes, aspirations and dreams continue to smoulder.

Everyone loves a good riot after all.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Random Thoughts

आज धूप निकले हुए दो  दिन हो गए हैं. अच्छा लगता है , क्योंकि बाहर की हरियाली पूरी तरह निखर के प्रस्तुत होती है। घर पर भी हमें ऐसी ही हरियाली देखने को मिलती थी घर से बहार की ओर देखने पर। घर की तरह ही यहाँ भी मैं पश्चिम की ओर इन हरे भरे वृक्षों को देखता रहता हूँ, लोगों की राह उस सड़क पर ताकता रहता हूँ जो उन् वृक्षों में कहीं ओझल हो गयी है, छुप गयी है।

कल शाम हम समुद्र के किनारे टहलते हुए पहुंचे थे. कल शाम ढलते सूरज के आँचल में हमने चंद लोगों को मछली पकड़ने की ताक में पाया था। एक महिला ने तो शायद मछली पकड़ भी ली थी। हम सब राहगीर खड़े हो ये देख रहे थे के मछली निकाल पाने में वो कामयाब होगी या नहीं। काँटा झुकता रहा ; शायद मछली लड़ रही थी. एकाएक कोई आदमी आगे आया और उसकी मदद करने लगा। उससे लगा के शायद उसके हस्तक्षेप से मछली पकड़ में आ जाएगी। परन्तु मछली शक्तिशाली निकली; वह काँटा तोड़ कर भाग निकली। हम सब चुपचाप इस खेल को देख रहे थे, उम्मीद में थे के शायद उन्हे भी मछली देखने को मिलेगी। तमाशा ख़त्म हुआ, और हम सब राहगीर अपनी अपनी राह पकड़ लौट चले। राह में वही किस्सा चर्चित हुआ, के कैसे मछली काँटा तोड़ भाग गयी।

आज सवेरे हमें गुरुदेव के पत्र  पढने को मिला।  फेसबुक भी अजब माध्यम है ज्ञान बांटने का, किस्से सुनाने का।  कभी किसी इंजिनियर मेहमान के साथ उनके अटपटे किस्सों का लेखा-जोखा बयान किया था गुरुदेव ने।  बस, उसी से उनके एक नन्ही पारी को लिखे खतों की याद हमें आ गयी।  कैसे वो अपनी व्यथा सुना रहे थे, कैसे अपने काज गिना रहे थे उस परी को के वो इतने व्यस्त थे खिड़की से झांकने में के वो उसे  पत्र लिख तक नहीं पाते थे।  बस, उसी तरह आज ये सवेरा आरम्भ हुआ; आज उसी तरह हम भी बहार ताकने में व्यस्त रहे। पवन के झोंकों से लहराते हर एक पत्ते को हमने जाँचा - परखा, और फिर अपनी आखों से ओझल होने दिया।  फिर आकाश के नीलेपन को चाँद लम्हे निहारा, और चल दिए दिन के स्वागत की तय्यारी में जुटने।  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Narendra Modi's words of another kind - Cutting through propaganda

No I am not defending Narendra Modi. I don't oppose him either. However, I think it is ridiculous when everyone takes it for granted that Narendra Modi has said nothing. Let us see a blog entry by ad world worker Preet Bedi put up on Firstpost as an article, and try to deconstruct what we have and what is not reported in an otherwise shrill mainstream media of our country.

1. What is Modi's big idea for India?
Modi has so far expressed two big ideas for India - Minimum government maximum governance is one, The other is 'Indian Talent' plus 'Information Technology' is equal to 'India Tomorrow'. To each its merit, but to say that he has said nothing is sheer injustice even by the Devil's standards.
2.  What is the Gujarat Model? Will It work for other states as well?
Gujarat model is one where the state administration does not depend on the Centre to ensure its development, as Tamil Nadu saw during much of India's independence. The Gujarat model is about doing something on your own. The Gujarat model will work when states are given enough independence and the leaders have guts to take tough decisions. No one asked them not to reform labour laws. His idea is letting the power go to the states.
3. Opposing the GST for all your reform bluster makes you look silly.
The so called stand on GST is a result of more Congress ruled states including now Karnataka dancing around the fire instead of talking concrete objections and concerns. Plus if you keep hounding ministers from Gujarat who represent the state you cannot have a steady ship from the state. Remember Amit Shah? Bail grants mean there is something not right about the case. If you do not agree with that, then neither Binayak Sen nor Abdul Madany is innocent.
4. What is his stand on Parliamentary obstructions?
Parliamentary obstructions are being caused by the ruling party. Please be honest about it. The media too has behaved liked morons and bought the government line lock stock and barrel. Why blame the Opposition when it is always the UPA members who rush into the well at the drop of a hat? Clearly not one 'journalist' watches Lok Sabha TV, else they would think before saying anything about 'Opposition' disrupting the Parliament. Yashwant Sinha has been heckled repeatedly at the behest of Sonia Gandhi. Is he in the government or she part of it?
5. Stand on Lok Ayukta in Gujarat
This one deserves an entire blog article on it, but suffice to say that the Lok Ayukta appointment was highly visceral. The Governor and the High Court Chief Justice's role was more than harmful to democratic spirit. Has anyone cared to read the SC verdict? It was upheld only because the Gujarat HC was involved. The judges of Supreme Court themselves criticized the manner in which the selection was done.
6. Perspective on the value of the Rupee
Rupee value has been a problem. It is easy to talk rhetoric. Any politician worth his salt will do that. Modi is no exception. However, he thinks it is important to expand the manufacturing base, hence he has stressed more on prices of essentials. Essentials and commodities being priced reasonably (not given away for free) will ensure that manufacturing can pick up within India. That also means that we need a smooth legal system, clearly not understood by 'economists' in North Block in Delhi.
7. Does he have a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi problem?
BJP as a party is committed to the SC verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi case. Even the RSS and VHP have said that they will respect the SC verdict. Why should it fiddle around otherwise? What have all those 'out of the box' solutions done so far? Nothing!
Regarding the author's complaints about not enough interviews, you just don't watch Hindi news channels. Watch them and you will see more of Modi's interviews. He is smart enough to talk to the 'aam aadmi'. Plus, his interview to Nai Duniya, the largest Urdu weekly, makes more sense than Arnab, Rajdeep and Barkha's total viewership put together and doubled over.
Criticize certainly; but ensure you have facts.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Delhi Technological University will never really be world class - Here's Why

Here's a sample of why the institution, from where I graduated, will touch global nadirs.

DTU is certainly one of the many educational institution in India that is run by the public administration that does not even possess a Complaint Register. This, when these institutes hire people through the government channels and follow those procedures, are run by money paid by taxpayers, and charge significant quantum of fees today (especially in the engineering colleges and MBA institutions). The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi enacted THE DELHI (RIGHT OF CITIZEN TO TIME BOUND DELIVERY OF SERVICES) ACT, 2011 and enforced it the same year, but conveniently excluded educational institutions under its ambit from this Act. Thanks to this divine loophole, students run helter-skelter in hope of collecting relevant documents, ranging from transcripts to degrees to marksheets and even minor documents like a semester was dropped liked headless chicken. The laxity ensures that the lower level officials do not take your requests seriously. What is worse is that when the complaint is raised to higher levels, everyone gangs up to protect their turf and starts indirectly intimidating you. Sample this conversation piece verbatim I had on August 7, 2013 with Mr S.K. Garg, Dean (Academic) and Placement Cell Head at DTU concerning my complaint:

"...Main kya kar sakta hoon? (What can I do) If I set up an inquiry against the officials, I may even find fault with you....."

A transcript in DTU costs INR 1000 per copy. Comparing to the other institution, National University of Singapore (NUS) where I studied, this is 1.5 times higher. What makes it worse is the fact that NUS charged only for the postal charges, while the transcript was free (I paid SGD 6 for the transcript, which at the exchange rate of 48.29 stands at INR 289.73), whereas in DTU I not only pay for the transcript, I also have to post the sealed envelope myself.

The staff of all divisions in DTU think they are nothing less than God. Filing a complaint in writing means you are someone very 'hi-fi' in India, whose father must be some 'raees baap ki aulaad'. Forget past students, the absolute condescension in the tone of these people when talking to current students clearly highlights their contempt of the tensions and worries of students. Having seen other educational systems outside India, it is unbelievable to see just how rudely these employees behave.

Next comes inquiring from the college. As is the norm, the telephone lines either don't work or remain unanswered. The only functional number  is not the one displayed on the official website (which too has gone defunct now) but one that is listed in the Yellow Pages Directory. This functional number is for the office of the Vice Chancellor. The rudeness continues even there. Barring one or two people, everyone else remains permanently oblivious to change, and impervious to concerns of past and present students. Orientations are meant to bamboozle parents into believing that The Heavens have bestowed great honour upon their children of being the chosen one. Never mind that many of these children will have a harrowing time later with the same staff and administrators.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Language of Democracy and Inability to Talk to the Youth



Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs which properly concern them.

-Paul Valery
 


A friend of mine recently remarked that while he agreed with the idea of the struggle of democracy in its present avatar, he also failed to understand why the youth, the catalyst of change, talked in the language that they do with respect to the political space. He expressed his concern on the short memory and confrontational attitude that the youth possessed with respect to the ideas and issues that affect everyone. In my opinion, much of this has been due to the failure to incorporate the youth into the mainstream. It also has much to do with the failure of political language used to converse with the youth.

Arnold Kling has recently written a book called the ‘The Three Languages of Politics’, which offers some interesting perspectives as discussed by him here. Kling has stated that the three schools of American politics – republican, libertarian and democrat all have common characteristics to them. The vocabulary used is meant to address their core bases, and is peppered with the wordings that only the core base can understand. There is no attempt to understand the opposite view for convincing those voters beyond the core bases, and the only way to interact with the ‘other’ camps is through beating them hollow into submission by always attempting to play the masterstroke argument without taking in to consideration what the ‘other’ has to say.

Much of this attitude is seen in other democratic political spaces as well. Additional to it, the language of politics today is confrontationist and is short in every sense – longevity, consistency and the universality of its appeal. Even as people may talk much about the irrelevance of the ‘politics of exclusion’ but the fact remains that mainstream has co-opted the very language of exclusion that it claims to not speak. There is also the problem that today’s politics is one of the aggrieved, the wronged, the identity or the secularism that are divisive social issues. Instead of that, there is lack of a construct that talks again of reforms, jobs, healthcare and growth for all. In order to appease our core voters we have begun to discuss issues that we think are more important instead of finding answers to the problems that need to be addressed urgently, particularly economic issues.

While most democratic nations of the world see a duality or triumvirate of political voices, India by many may be seen as a different case due to obvious reasons. We have voices ranging across a plethora of ideologies, which sometimes can be very difficult to identify due to the shifting goalpost game played by Indian political parties. Sure, coalition and realpolitik does play an important role in defining the fluidity of stands. The easiest one is not to take a stand at all. Many prominent political personalities in India perfected, over a period of time, the art of pusillanimity and vacillating over important decisions that can considerably alter the path to improving administration in all aspects. However, distilling all the talk these personalities discuss, we see that the basic three languages axis put forward by Kling fits in perfectly. The languages are meant to convince party cadre and people who are sympathizers of the ‘party’ and ‘ideology’. The international trend is also amplified in India by the fact that the economic discourse, one of the major factors that defines the three axis theory, is absent in Indian discourse, while other factors have long dominated the public discourse.

One important consequence of all this ideological bluster has been the alienation of youth from the democratic process by the mainstream parties. Globally, the people protesting at the drop of a hat, be it Italy, US, Egypt, Bangladesh or even Singapore, the commonality, as I discussed earlier, is the absence of political alignment amongst the youth. The response of the political parties, stuck within the language paradigm, has been abysmal for them. Clearly, they are not being reached out to in the language of the youth. Rather, the parties are increasingly isolating themselves from a demography that today holds the key to political power.

In such a scenario, political groupings threaten their own existence by shrinking their vote base. The conservative polity in particular is believed to be threatening itself across the world by their marked inability to make itself relevant to a new set of voters. However, this is highly overrated as a phenomenon. While it is true that the Republican Party of the US is increasingly become isolated, identifying the significance of the language axis is important to keep them relevant. The absence of meaningful deliberation in their political language and the presence of increasingly cadre-targeted bluster have ensured the increasing disaffection of the new electorate. After all, the language that makes the Conservative element most relevant beyond their status quo approach to society has been of impacting economic growth and administrative reforms. This is increasingly justified by the revival of the Conservative segment in Japan led by Shinzo Abe, where the sole vote catcher was the promise to revive the economy. This very platform is the reason why Angela Merkel in Germany has managed to almost ensure a third successive term for herself as the Chancellor.

The Democrats/socialist element of society has been unable to discuss the social issues convincingly enough. Even though the youth tends to see themselves as natural allies in most cases concerning the make-up and order of society, there is a major problem when it comes to advocating these problems on a political canvas. Evidence of this disaffection has been seen on several prominent issues, e.g. the assertion of civil rights. The left leaning elements of the political dispensation has been unable to communicate the stand of the youth in particular in a language that is not confrontational without surrendering much of the ground or trying to address apprehensions of those opposing these civil rights issues. It is made difficult to gain greater support but for the inability of the socialist element to ‘talk the talk’ even if they walk the walk. Classic examples of this failure are the protests against legalization of gay marriage in France or the anti-immigration rhetoric in United States. Even though there is significant support, it never translates into equally wide social acceptance.

The political dispensation has to try and bridge this gap. It is important to engage with the youth as I have repeatedly written, and the inability of co-opting their concerns is a glaring failure of any democratic dispensation.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fight for More Democracy


Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried. 

- Winston Churchill


The world, or at least its youth, the torchbearers of our society, culture and democracy, are really angry.

They are angry about lack of jobs. They are angry at inflation and price rises. Go to the European countries fighting recession, and there is a strike a day targeting government betrayers and vested interests (namely the financial world) for leaving them high and dry on every front, ruining their prospects for a better tomorrow. China is worried about the repercussions of the inability to absorb millions of fresh graduates in the next few years amid suicides over pathetic salaries for making iPhones. Brazilians were angry over increased bus fares in the light of abysmal low wages.

They are angry about the state of law and order within their countries. Brazil, India and even Nepal have seen massive protests where law and order has been a major topic of debate. China has been bristling over the sexual overtures of their government officials. Turkey has become an inglorious leading light in jailing journalists, authors, painters – basically anyone who can have an opinion. Well, all these other emerging giants are also doing the same by bringing in draconian laws on imprisonment for ‘nuisance’. So aggravated are the youth that they themselves create law and order situations to express their frustrations at the glacial pace of change (or is there anything slower than that) they see happening in front of themselves.  And before I forget, Brazil is also protesting for better public sanitation facilities (that must certainly be a first for a Third World country).

The young are unhappy with their governments, who also contribute by behaving like idiots. By banning coverage, serials, movies, documentaries and what not, the governments only end up provoking the same bunch of ‘young influential minds’ who they think they are protecting. China’s WEIBO is full of anti-government rants that create mirrors despite attempts to block the raging discussions that fire up a country much to the chagrin of the Communist Party officials. France saw its people take to streets over a legislation that would legalize marriage amongst the homosexual people, making a committed government back off within weeks of introducing it in the French National Assembly. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan thinks he can continue to bully the media into not speaking out against his wolf in sheep’s clothes games over democracy and secular traditions of Turkey. Here in India much like Turkey, our governments at Central and State levels think they can just water cannon and baton their way through people protesting against absolute lack of governance and zero law and order. European leaders have been somewhat better – they wash their hands off when they are to blame in a more convincing manner, which makes me understand just where our Third World politicians gain their lessons in spin-doctoring and repeating a lie so many times it starts to sound like the gospel truth.

What is really going on?

Amidst the seemingly disparate thread of events there is a common underlying factor. In 2010, Chris Kijne made a documentary aptly titled After Democracy that discussed what follows after democracy. It is a worthy question to explore. Societies were supposed to transition from feudalism and autocratic set ups to free, democratic, more representative societies and administrative regimes. At least that is what people like Comte, Marx and Weber thought would happen (each thought of it partially though). But then, if countries across the world are at varying stages of this democratic experiment, why are all of them protesting, almost as if on cue? And once we achieve democracy, then what? Where are we headed to as a world, together?

The crux of the matter perhaps lies in the very definition of the idea of democracy. The word idea is an interesting creature. One of the meanings attributed to it is ‘a concept or mental impression’. The very interesting thing about this ‘concept’ as is with many other concepts is that you cannot hold it within a boundary. Every idea evolves on its own, independent sometimes of its origins and originators. Democracy is one such idea which, much like society and culture is highly fluid and easier to understand than explain. What we are witnessing today across the world leaves to my mind no doubt that this is the start of a process. The rules of engagement within democracies are changing even as we speak. The best part of these protests is that 


  1. It is driven entirely by the young people, the real source of new ideas, a new energy and the ones who bring in change when needed the most;
  2. These protests have been spontaneous, spurred by young men and women who care about what it means to be a citizen in today’s age of modernity and rationality; and 
  3.   The protesters are highly political in their worldviews and are keenly aware of what they want, though this is paralleled by the absence of political affiliation amongst these protesting groups.
These are positive signs, for it shows that a whole new bunch of people are preparing to take over the mantle of political leadership, and are pragmatic about their position in the world. The old guard will eventually have to listen to this new bunch and make way, since the youth of the world has not refrained from challenging the very ideas that the older politicians have put forward. The overarching theme in all these protests is a simple one – involve us. It makes sense, since we never had so many young people on the planet as we do today. 

It is even more ironic that in spite of overall better education, health and life spans than ever before, it is the youth that has borne the brunt of the economic slowdown, wars across the world and violence against which people have been protesting vehemently in several countries. Being part of the political process is imperative for the youth since we have excluded them so much from every other sphere of the national dialogue today. There was a time when the youth drove the global agenda. The wheel has come full circle again. However, this time the youth is not just disillusioned against wars and coup d’états, it also has fresh, bright and innovative ideas of changing the way people are involved in the daily discourse of democracy, government, freedom and society and culture. Failure to involve them now will only cause the whole world to fall apart. The youth of today is fighting for what would be described as more democracy. It needs to be supported by all means if we want to move forward into a brighter future.


The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

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