Sunday, December 23, 2012

calling the President

For several weeks now, I have been trying to spend more time doing things and less time watching things happen or reading about events ----so there is far less of television, but even with very limited viewing, I could not turn away from the disgusting spectacle of young men and women being lathi charged and water canoned on Raisina Hill. Any one with even half a heart, any one with a family,any one with a daughter or sister or wife or mother or girl friend will empathise with the anguish and anger and helplessness that the thousands pouring out at India Gate and Raisina Hill are giving voice to.

Law and order is no more than the name of a television serial to some of us, and a rather pathetic joke to everyone else.None of us feels safe on the roads of NCR, not women, not men,not teenagers, not senior citizens. The feeling of insecurity cuts across class and community. No one is safe. Period. 

So when a particularly brutal act of aggression takes place and a young girl shows the enormous courage to survive it,does the government express contrition at its dismal record of upholding citizen security and admiration at the amazing spirit of a young Indian? No. Instead, it pats the Delhi Police on the back. 

Does it reach out to the young men and women who are voicing the concern of each one of us ? Does it speak in a voice that seeks to reassure? No. It lathi charges them instead and clamps section 144 over the entire city. Are we living in a democracy, or are this country's rulers slowly beginning to emulate the Chinese? 

Would the need for a lathi charge have arisen if the President or the Prime Minister or the Home Minister had stepped out of his citadel, begged forgiveness of the crowd gathered at Raisina Hill, and promised prompt action?   Was there a threat of violence to the person of these worthy representatives of our democracy? If there wasn't, was it merely misplaced arrogance that prevented a dialogue? We already see the sorry spectacle every year of the Prime Minister addressing the nation from behind a bullet proof glass at Red Fort. Is every other public building and public funtionary going to be similarly fortified?  

Where was the young brigade, Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Jayant Chaudhary, Deepinder Hooda? Could none of them have stepped forward and bravely faced  the crowd gathered at Raisina Hill? Or do they only pontificate from the safe confines of the Parliament, or public stages barricaded by gun toting commandos? 

More than the corruption scams of the past few years, these acts of callousness reinforce the belief that what this country needs is a revolution in thinking,a new paradigm, a fresh approach to nation building. The current systems stink. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

importing a lifestyle with Walmart?

The animated debate in Lok Sabha threw up many interesting and not-so-interesting, convincing and not-so-convincing, poetic and not-so-poetic arguments in favour and in opposition of Foreign Direct Investment in multi brand retail in India.Many scholarly articles on the subject have flooded the media. There are also articles carrying the views of farmers' associations, cooperatives, traders' associations, dalit entrepreneurs' association and so on and so forth. However, my reluctance about having Walmart stores in India is more to do with the fact that the stores promote fast food over slow food and the concomitant lifestyle, a lifestyle that emphasizes individualism, short lived joys, a restless search for excitement  and ill health.

 Even without Walmart, we are inundated with packaged food and food supplements some of which only remotely resemble food. The advertising is persuasive, the availability is increasing exponentially, and a significant proportion of the urban middle class is rapidly making the transition to a state of affairs where the family either hires a cook, or eats packaged food. Families don't cook together, and cooking is considered a tedious chore. I am no proponent of a woman's- place- is- in- the- kitchen school of thought, but I do believe that it is a tragedy that women are so rapidly losing the joy of cooking for the family. To a lesser extent, this loss is that of fathers too. One of my fondest childhood memories is of my father spending hours in the kitchen, continuously stirring besan to the accompaniment of the Dilip Kumar songs he was so fond of humming ---- the fragrance of ghee and freshly prepared besan barfi will forever be associated in my mind with my father, and the love he poured into cooking for his children. 

Then of course there is the issue of packaged food being available 24x7 so that the golden rule that constituted the foundation of good health is now observed only in breach----- meals at fixed times, and no food past 9 or 10 pm. 

Packaged food is also so convenient and easy to prepare (where it requires any preparation)  that it encourages the tendency of teen age children to avoid the dining table and family meals and family conversations. 

The fact that packaged food contains chemical preservatives and colours and taste enhancers most of which have a deleterious effect on health over a long period of time is well documented and it  is no tribute to our intelligence that we ignore all sane advice and succumb to the temptations of convenience, ease-of-preparation etc etc.

There was a time when delicacies were the special attraction of festivals and weddings. Now, we  endeavour daily to experiment with different cuisines and different flavours and textures and different presentations simply because they are so easily available. The unintended result is that we weary too soon, too easily get bored, too quickly begin to look for more exciting food to eat. Eating is not so much a means to maintain good health as an exercise in "having a good time". Boredom terrifies us. 

This is exactly the kind of lifestyle that Walmart will aggressively promote. In USA, more than 50% of their sales turnover is on account of groceries and the grocery aisles are overflowing with packaged convenience food of every possible description. 

Genetically modified food is only beginning to make inroads into India ---it will undoubtedly get a push with Walmart's entry even before the Indian public has become aware of its dangers.

Food wastage will increase too ---- an insightful article by P Sainath in The Hindu spoke of Walmart's insistence on the cultivation of large onions ----- the onion is so large that small families do not consume the whole onion, and throw away what remains after cooking, only to dig out an equally large onion the next time -----the more food gets wasted, the more it is bought. 

Perhaps it is old fashioned to want family meals, lovingly cooked, promoting good health, discouraging wastage ---- but I'd rather Walmart stayed out of India.

Monday, December 3, 2012

an hour a week

A shrill, over bearing Barkha Dutt made for a very poor anchor but Mani Shankar Iyer in his dry, slightly supercilious manner and Patrick Heller in a calm, rational tone made a valuable point last night  in "We, the people".

Citizen participation in the political process is not only about casting a vote in the Parliamentary General Elections. It is also about participating in the elections to and the activities of the local elected bodies, be it the gram panchayat or the nagar panchayat or the Municipal Corporation. There are more than 6 lakh villages in India and more than 5000 urban centres, which gives us at least 3 million elected representatives in the villages and 25,000 elected representatives in towns and cities at the local level. The local bodies carry out a range of activities which significantly impact our day to day lives, whether it be roads or parks or sanitation etc etc. How many of us know the name of the Municipal Councillor/Corporator? How many of us have ever voted in the local body elections  or considered contesting the elections? How many of us have made an effort to hold the Councillor/ Corporator accountable in the sense of obtaining information about his duties and responsibilities, ascertaining the extent to which he is performing such responsibilities , and mobilising public opinion if he is not? How many of us have considered assisting the Councillor if he is inclined to promote citizen friendly initiatives but is bereft of the requisite skills (including technology) and possesses the right intention alone?

There are so many other ways in which one can participate in the community. There are citizen initiatives to do with environmental conservation, protecting our cultural heritage, sanitation, building zero waste communities, promoting pedestrian friendly urban spaces, creating parks, libraries and other public spaces, and so on and so forth. Upon reflection, one will see that each of these involves working in a group, engaging with the local administration, and improving the quality of life ----- which is partly what politics is about. We are so busy living our frantic 9 to 5 lives and over compensating over the weekends via movies and shopping and eating that most of us have no time or inclination to participate in any of these community activities. 

Once a year, I organise a collection drive for GOONJ ---- collecting old clothes, utensils, linen, books etc for re distribution to the less privileged. In a community of approximately 1000 families, the same 50 or so families respond every year. Interestingly, these are the very same people who participate in all manners of citizen initiatives that impact the whole community ----- every one else is cocooned in the comfort of job and family and doesn't venture out, except to complain that the country's systems are rapidly going downhill and someone should do something about it!

If each one of us stepped forward and spent even an hour a week participating in community activities including local governance, imagine the difference it would make!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

not my vote, Shweta

Were I living not in NCR but in Maninagar, I would not vote for Shweta Bhatt.

I am no fan of Narendra Modi nor do I think that the BJP is the nation's saviour .

I have no particular antipathy for the Congress, it is as good or bad as the other political parties. 

I am not a male chauvinist in disguise and do not think that the home and hearth are where women belong, not politics.

While prior experience is necessary for most corporate jobs, civil servants who run the country's 600 districts have no prior experience so one can waive that requirement for elected representatives as well, although it would certainly be my preferred option to see in Parliament/Legislative Assemblies people who have some experience in running organisations, be they corporates or NGOs. 

It would help if our elected representatives were articulate. While they do not necessarily have to be powerful orators, and the best orator may mean only half of what he says, or nothing at all, its my perhaps erroneous belief that clarity of thought is reflected in clarity of speech. However, it is not for reason of lack of oratorical skills that I will desist from voting from Shweta Bhatt. 

Does she subscribe to the Congress manifesto? Has she even read it? Does she have a vision for the nation, other than routing Narendra Modi? Is she simply a pawn being played by the Congress which knows that no Congress candidate, be it a Gandhi or a Bollywood superstar or a sports icon, can defeat Modi? None of these matter to me, for we'd be hard put to find candidates who contest elections on a party ticket having read the manifesto and are in agreement with its vision.

The reason why I will not vote for Shweta Bhatt is that her candidature smacks of complete lack of integrity. Why has Sanjeev Bhatt fielded his wife as a candidate? If he has courage of conviction, he should resign from government service and enter the political fray. Instead, his wife, whose name we had not heard till yesterday, has stepped forward as a proxy candidate. That she has agreed to contest elections as a proxy for her husband places a question mark over her integrity as well. Is this the kind of politics that Sanjeev Bhatt wishes to promote, where the alleged authoritarianism of Modi is attempted to be toppled by a mere mouthpiece while the de facto candidate remains in the background? It is not enough that one be seen as a person who does not demand or accept bribes of the pecuniary kind. Integrity is a much larger concept ---- any contradiction whatsoever between word and deed lays one open to the charge of lack of integrity that Sanjeev Bhatt makes against Narendra Modi and is himself guilty of as is his wife. You do not get my vote, Shweta Bhatt.

Friday, November 30, 2012

why 66 A happened

Whether its television or newspapers or social media or e zines, one encounters Section 66 A of the IT Act in all one's meandering journeys these days. Some commentators have read the said clause,  some haven't, some understand it, some don't, some are genuinely concerned, some are not, but every one is talking about it. We owe a debt of gratitude to K Chidambaram, B Thackeray, and Mumbai Police. Had it not been for these worthy men, each one of us would have remained in blissful ignorance of Section 66 A ----- till dragged to the nearest police station for reason of an offending FB post!

Have we asked ourselves the reason for such ignorance? There are more than 40 Bills which are either pending introduction in the Parliament, or have been introduced and are to be passed. Other than the Lokpal bill, which erupted into national conscience thanks to India Against Corruption, most of us would be hard put to name even 2 or 3 pending Bills. As for the provisions of these Bills, the level of ignorance will be even higher, notwithstanding the fact that when enacted into law, these will directly impact our lives, our rights, responsibilities and privileges.

The media too remains mostly silent ---- neither the national newspapers (with exceptions like The Hindu) nor national TV channels carry any discussion on proposed legislation. All the discussions take place, if at all, post facto.

Is it the case that we are too busy to keep ourselves abreast of developments in at least one or two large areas of public policy? I think not ---- middle class lives are far more comfortable and far less tedious than they were 30 years ago. We have plenty of leisure. What we do with our hours of leisure is, however, dictated by an almost frantic attempt to have "fun"---- lots of television, lots of shopping, lots of eating out, lots of sight seeing in India and abroad, in short, lots of stuff that places no burden on the mind. None of these activities is undesirable per se ----- but the fact that this is what we mostly do in our leisure hours and have totally dissociated ourselves from the making of public policy is disastrous for the nation. The educated middle class owes it to itself and the nation to make an effort to learn, perhaps master, those aspects of public policy that do not require expert knowledge ----- even esoteric subjects like atomic energy have some aspects that a layman could acquaint himself with if he tried. It is only a well informed citizen who can trigger/participate in public debate on issues of public importance. That such public debate can influence policy is something all of us have seen vis a vis the Lokpal bill, which would have remained in hibernation had the ordinary Indian not begun talking about it in every nook and corner of the country.  It is only when each one of us begins to participate in policy making to the best of his ability that more such successes will happen, and there will be an enrichment in the quality of our lives, the future of the nation, and the legacy that we leave behind for the next generation.

There are some excellent online resources to aid one in this effort ---- one is,which aims to increase public engagement on issues of national importance. 

Let us not leave the task of nation building to the government -----let each one of us also assume that responsibility.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Akhilesh's game changer

While the UPA government flashes cash subsidy as a "game changer", Akhilesh Yadav has gone one step better and decided to withdraw prosecution proceedings in several criminal cases in which the accused belong to the minority community and are charged with the same category of offences, viz., terrorist acts.

 In a manner of speaking, Akhilesh Yadav is not on weak ground. The Code of Criminal Procedure provides vide Section 321 that the Public Prosecutor in charge of a case may, with the consent of the Court, withdraw from the prosecution of any person at any time before the judgment is pronounced. This provision is taken recourse to by the Central and State governments in many different types of cases. In UP itself, in the recent past, prosecution proceedings have been withdrawn against Sanjay Dutt, actor, in the cases which were registered in respect of his allegedly offensive remarks against the Mayawati government. Prosecution proceedings have also been withdrawn in several criminal cases that were lodged against farmers during the protests over land acquisition-related issues in Tappal in 2010. 

It is also a well documented fact that in many of the criminal cases involving charges of terrorist activities, the accused are acquitted after several years of incarceration. A group of teachers at Jamia Milia Islamia University has put together a compilation of 16 such cases between 1992 and 2008 that failed to hold up in court. All these cases involve youths arrested and described as terrorists, some of whom languished in jail for years before courts acquitted them, citing lack of evidence or possible tampering of evidence.

So, the action proposed by Akhilesh Yadav is neither illegal nor implausible. What makes one react so sharply, perhaps, vehemently in opposition to the proposal are the following facts:

1. While the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for the Public Prosecutor to withdraw from the prosecution of a person, with the consent of the Court, and therefore appears to have adequate checks and balances against the abuse of such a provision by the Executive, the ground reality is that the Public Prosecutor is appointed by the government and rarely contradicts or opposes the wishes of the government. It is therefore likely that a government which has made up its mind will experience no resistance from the Public Prosecutor, no matter what the merits of the case.

2. A single terrorist set free could be instrumental in the deaths/loss of limb/injuries of countless innocent Indians. Will Akhilesh Yadav then step forward, assume responsibility and make good the loss of lives?

3. It is not from the minority community alone that innocent people are being arrested and jailed for years only to be set free subsequently by the courts. This is the fate that befalls many for the simple reason that our investigating agencies adopt short cuts, are used by political bosses to achieve short term political gains, still carry the colonial legacy and therefore view the ordinary citizen as a lesser being deserving indifference at best and exploitation at the worst, and do not, in any case, possess either the skills or the equipment or the will to make proper investigations and collect infallible evidence. That being the case, should we immediately review each and every criminal case pending in the courts to decide whether it merits withdrawal?

4. There are, at present, approximately 2.5 lakh undertrials in India's 1500 prisons. Of these, roughly 70 % or nearly 1.7 lakh have been booked for petty offences. Many, many of them have either undergone the maximum punishment for the alleged crime or major portion thereof without conviction. If at all Akhileh Yadav wishes to ensure that the criminal justice system with its huge backlogs and innumerable deficiencies does not cause harassment to the innocent, why does he not focus on the under trials in UP and secure the release from prison of those accused of petty offences? 

No matter how strident the denials, we know that Akhilesh Yadav is motivated not so much by compassion or a passion for justice as securing/strengthening a vote bank, whatever the repercussions.This is politics of the worst kind and reinforces my conviction that it is not so much educated politicians that we need as politicians with a conscience.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Aadhaar vs Voter ID

On Saturday, the Prime Minister launched the Aadhaar-enabled service delivery initiative in 51 districts across the country. It will be used for making pension payments, MNREGA payments, PDS distribution, scholarship payments and other social welfare schemes. As per the Prime Minister, the intended beneficiaries include 5 crore MNREGA workers, 1.5 crore students who avail of scholarships, 2 crore old age pensioners, and 3 crore families who get medical facilities. The Aadhar will also serve  as identity proof for opening bank accounts, gas and mobile connections etc, says the Prime Minister.

Could the Voter Identity card not have served the same purpose?

In a democracy, it is of utmost importance that elections invite the widest possible participation from voters and that voting be seen as participation in nation building and a primary duty of every citizen. Indian democracy suffers from many ills, not the least of which is the apathy and non participation in the electoral process of millions and millions of voters, specially those who belong to the educated middle class. If the voter identity card were made the most important document that a citizen could possess, there would be a sea change in the attitude that citizens have towards participation in the electoral process. They would begin to look at the Voter card and the attendant electoral process not as an optional activity to be undertaken at one's leisure, if at all, but as an integral part of a citizen's life. If mobile connections, gas connections, bank accounts, social welfare benefits, registration of property transactions, college admissions, stock transactions, high value purchases of consumer goods etc etc required that the Voter Identity card be presented, it would become imperative for citizens to obtain a Voter Identity card. It would be viewed then as a document as necessary to one's existence as the Ration Card once was ----- and the frequent excuse trotted out by many that they do not vote because they do not have a Voter ID card would no longer hold valid. All the demographic and bio metric information that is now being included in Aadhar could become embedded in the Voter ID card, and serve the same purposes ---- proof of identity, and a fail-safe method of preventing identity fraud and leakages of social welfare benefits.

Over the last two years, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has generated over 20 crore Aadhaar numbers and it is mandated to cover 60 crore people by March 2014. There are roughly 80 crore voters in India. Had the time, money and effort spent on Aadhar been expended on streamlining the process of obtaining Voter Identity cards, providing each and every Indian eligible to vote with a Voter ID card, and making the ID cards multi functional, Indian democracy would have benefited and there would have been far less controversy and opposition vis a vis the project.

What we will now have in Aadhar is an identity card that possesses greater utility than the Voter ID card, and is far easier to obtain. Even more than before, the indifference towards the need to get registered as a voter will flourish, and in the absence of such registration, participation in the electoral process will remain at its current low levels. The middle class will continue to watch  exposes of corrupt practices on television, extend support to anti corruption crusaders via social media, participate once in a while in protests and rallies, but when clean and competent candidates present themselves, the potential voters will remain glued to television screens, watching election analyses, and not be seen at polling booths casting their votes.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

jana gana mana

 It was a primarily female audience, mothers, daughters, friends, who had decided to catch the morning show of English Vinglish. There were teenaged, giggling girls, elderly women with walking sticks, young mothers, and chiffon clad grandmothers. The excited girls in the row ahead of mine were practicing whistling ----- Sridevi's come back deserved to be thus welcomed, they said. 

Having settled down with a coffee to enjoy the movie, I was a little taken aback when I heard the request to all movie patrons to stand up for the National Anthem. Plonking my coffee on the floor, I rose to my feet, as did my mother and many others, some with alacrity, some a little slowly as they struggled to their feet. There were some in the audience, however, who remained seated -----the young girls who had been rather loud and vociferous before the announcement was made.

I am still trying to comprehend why this happened. Is it because schools and colleges have almost completely stopped playing the national anthem during the daily/periodical assembles so that the sheer force of habit no longer works in the case of our school/college going youth? Is it because there is a marked decline in the sense of pride in being an Indian? Is it because there is a growing tendency among youth to disobey/ignore directions, no matter what the nature of the direction? 

Whatever the reason, it saddened me to be a witness to such indifference to the national anthem. There are experiences which never fail to stir the heart ----a rendition of the national anthem is one of them if one learns love and regard for it in early childhood.Even as we spend huge amounts of money, time and effort educating our children, let us also make an effort to inculcate in them respect for the national anthem, an inalienable part of our identity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

de criminalising Parliament

With the public gaze resting so determinedly on politicians involved in crimes against women, some political parties have announced that they will not henceforth field such candidates. Some well meaning social activists have filed PILs in the Supreme Court, seeking suspension of MPS and MLAs with cases of crimes against women pending against them. The Supreme Court has declined the prayer, the matter being outside its jurisdiction. 

But why must we hold our breath and wait for political parties to display the good sense to not field criminals as candidates when that's something that they have not done for several decades? Why must we appeal to the courts for relief ? Why do we not demand a legal provision for disqualifying those candidates and elected representatives who have pending criminal cases?

The qualifications and disqualifications for the people's elected representatives are laid down in the Representation of The People Act, 1951 ( the Act ). At present, the law provides for disqualification of only those candidates and MPs/MLAs who are convicted of serious crimes. Because there are long delays in criminal courts, this means that people accused of serious crimes become and remain MPs/MLAs. If the disqualification clause were to kick in before the conviction, we would in one stroke be rid of such elected representatives. 

More than a year ago (4rth August, 2011), The Times of India had reported that there is a move to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1951 along these lines; the move appears to have sunk without a trace. 

Proposed amendment

What is being proposed is that the Representation of the People Act, 1951 be amended so that elected representatives or candidates against whom the court has framed charges involving serious crimes are disqualified from office and contesting election respectively. 

Such a provision will remove the anomaly that MPs/MLAs who have been arrested and against whom investigations have concluded and charges framed in serious crimes continue to participate in parliamentary/government business and to draw salary, perquisites and privileges. Even when an MLA/MP gets convicted, he does not get disqualified till the appeals that he files against the judgement are finally disposed of. The corporate sector would not employ such a person and if he were a government employee, he would be placed under suspension/dismissed. Our elected representatives and political aspirants, however, enjoy a different status ----the irony is that rather than the standard of probity, it is the level of immunity from the consequences of criminal activity which is higher in their case! 

The bogey that is raised against such a provision in the Representation of People Act is that it will be abused by political rivals who, it is said, may get false/bogus FIRs registered or complaints filed in order to wreck the political aspirations of their rivals.

However, if one looks at the various stages of criminal proceedings in India, it becomes clear that this is an exaggerated and baseless apprehension. If an FIR or complaint is registered with mala fide and without sufficient ground, the case will not reach the stage of framing of charges, which is the stage at which it is proposed that disqualification clause under the Representation of the People Act should kick in.

Stages of criminal proceedings

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (the CrPC) is the procedural law vis a vis the substantive criminal laws, such as the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Prevention of Corruption Act, and other laws that criminalise specific acts of omission or commission and lay down the penalty for such crimes. It divides the procedure to be followed in criminal cases into three stages ---- investigation, inquiry, and trial.
First stage

Investigation is the preliminary stage and begins after the recording of a First Information Report (FIR) in the police station. It includes all the action taken by the police officer for collecting evidence, ascertaining facts and circumstance, arresting the suspected offender, examination of various persons including the accused, recording their statements in writing, search and seizure, and formation of opinion as to whether, on the basis of the material collected, there is a case to place the accused before a magistrate for trial and if so, taking the necessary steps for filing the charge-sheet. Investigation ends in a police report to the court.
Second stage

The court sifts and weighs the evidence placed before it to find out whether or not there is a prima facie case against the accused person(s). If, after considering the material placed before it and hearing the accused person and the prosecution , the judge considers that there is no ground or insufficient ground for proceeding, he discharges the accused . In case the material placed before the court discloses grave suspicion against the accused , the court frames the charge. A charge sets out the offence that was allegedly committed by the accused person. 
Third stage

Now the charge is read over and explained to the accused. If the accused pleads guilty, the judge records the plea and may convict him.If the accused pleads not guilty , the trial begins and examination of witnesses, cross examination, examination of the accused by the court etc take place. If after taking the evidence for the prosecution and examining the accused, the judge considers that there is no evidence that the accused has committed the offence, he acquits the accused. Otherwise, a defence is entered, evidence adduced in its support and witnesses produced. After conclusion of arguments by the prosecutor and defence, the court pronounces a judgment in the trial.

As of now, the disqualification clause kicks in after stage 3 , what is proposed is that it gets set into motion after stage 2. Obviously, if a mala fide FIR has been registered by a political opponent, no charges will be framed by the court against the MP/MLA/candidate. Therefore, the argument that such an amendment will be abused by political opponents is baseless and merits not even a second look.

Why then are political parties wary of even talking about such an amendment? Because 31% of our MPs/MLAs have pending criminal cases and would be immediately disqualified!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

the ignorant Indian

The Argumentative Indian ( a la Amartya Sen) has been replaced by The Ignorant Indian. Money does not grow on trees, ignorant Indians were informed yesterday by the Prime Minister. They have reacted with disbelief, and a sense of outrage.

These words are familiar to even toddlers who are thus admonished by exasperated parents when they persist in demanding an object of desire that the parent cannot afford. It is entirely possible that the toddler does not understand the phrase and perhaps tries in vain to understand what money is. As he grows older, however, the concepts of income and  expenditure begin to get assimilated, the fact that incomes have to be earned, and that income and expenditure have to be balanced. The average Indian child sees his parents balancing monthly budgets, annual budgets, festival budgets, wedding budgets. He sees how sudden illnesses demanding expenditure on medical care upsets the budget for months, and sometimes years. He sees money being saved and put aside for a two wheeler or a car or a dowry or higher education. There are exceptions, of course --- perhaps the Ambanis and Jindals and Adanis do not burden their children with such knowledge. (Even the privileged children grow up to understand these concepts ----- how else  will the business he inherits continue to make profits ? ) 

So who was the Prime Minister talking down to? Is our government so removed from reality that it does not credit the citizen with even common sense? Is it so arrogant in its belief in its infallibility that it does not make even a pretense of respecting the very people who have voted it to power? 

This is not a Prime Minister given to making extempore speeches. He does not make frequent addresses or Parliamentary interventions, nor does he conduct weekly press briefings. This is a Prime Minister whom we hardly ever hear, so the very safe presumption is that the address he delivered yesterday was carefully scripted, and was delivered with complete knowledge of its content and deliberate intent ---- and it insulted the intelligence of the ordinary Indian.

The Prime Minister did not choose to address the nation when the CAG report on coal allocations was presented in the Parliament, and a whole session of the Parliament was washed out.The CAG report has cast strong doubts upon the bona fides of the whole policy making and execution mechanism of the nation, including the Prime Minister. Yet, the Prime Minister spoke only of the need to take measures that lead to restoration of investor confidence, with not a whit of concern shown for the complete erosion of citizen confidence in the government.In fact, so strong is the government's apparent belief in the credulousness of the "ignorant" Indian that he has been asked by the Prime Minister to extend his "trust", "understanding" and 'cooperation" as the government takes "hard" decisions to secure national interest. Please note that the "hard" decisions extract a disproportionately high cost from the ordinary Indian, they place scarcely any burden at all upon the privileged Indians whose "big cars" and "SUVs" do not face any additional tax burden. 

We are living in strange times indeed ---when the price of inclusive growth is being paid by the very people who are sought to be included in the growth story! Perhaps the government believes we are oblivious to this irony.  I do not think we are, and it is time that we made that known.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

some questions about the Planning Commission

Every other day, we hear a sage pronouncement from Montek S Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. The learned Deputy Chairman has a prescription for each and every ill that besieges the Indian economy. The problems that beset us are many, of varied hues, of varying intensity. They are to do with inflation,  unemployment, farmer suicides, environmental degradation, crumbling health care systems, illiteracy, mal nourishmnet, poor roads, erratic power supply, lack of drinking water, pathetic sanitation facilities etc etc. The Deputy Chairman has a solution for each of these problems. What is common to his prescriptions is that the USA, the World Bank/IMF, MNCs, unscrupulous businesses and corrupt politicians love them, but the aam aadmi does not, the lakhs of Indians and innumerable organisations working for equitable, sustainable growth do not. What is also common to all these prescriptions is that they involve a total disregard for decentralised solutions, for community level action, for traditional wisdom.Yet, these are the very prescriptions which are increasingly becoming the corner stone of government policy, and the so called reforms that will supposedly reignite the growth story. 

What strikes a dissonant note is the fact despite its a- finger-in-every-pie approach, the Planning Commission is a body created neither by statute nor by the Constitution. Although its role is as significant as that of the Comptroller and Auditor General, or the Election Commission of India, or the Central Vigilance Commission, it has no statutory or constitutional authority or responsibilities and  can assume whatever functions and tasks the government of the day is agreeable to.

The Planning Commission website says it works under the supervision of the National Development Council (NDC). Interestingly, the NDC too is an extra statutory, extra constitutional body, comprising the Union Cabinet and Chief Ministers. The manner in which it "supervises" the Planning Commission is a little mystifying, because the NDC can only "advise" the Planning Commission,  it has no veto powers whatsoever.

We do not know either the eligibility conditions/qualifications for being appointed the Planning Commission's Deputy Chairman.It is important, of course, to be on the right side of the powers- that- be, but other credentials have not been spelled out anywhere, despite the fact that the Deputy Chairman is de facto head of such an important policy making body of the government.

No less discomfiting is the fact that the Deputy Chairman is appointed by the Union Government without any broad based consultations about the likely candidates. Given the far reaching significance of the Deputy Chairman's responsibilities, should we not adopt the same mode of appointment as for the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, namely, a committee that includes the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha?

The Deputy Chairman is neither an elected representative, nor a civil servant, so the mechanism whereby he can be held accountable to the people is ambiguous, if one exists at all. There is no provision in the law either (at least, none that I am aware of) for his removal on such grounds as incapacity although such procedure exists for the CVC, ECI etc.

Notwithstanding all of the above, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission holds the rank of a Cabinet Minister, with all its perquisites and privileges, and in the Warrant of Precedence , he ranks above the Attorney General, the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chief Election Commissioner, and the Chiefs of Staff, holding the rank of General (or equivalent). 

Is it any wonder then that in the Deputy Chairman's pronouncements, one only senses an overwhelming arrogance and indifference to public opinion?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

6 and no more!

The government has decided that henceforth, each Indian household will get 6 LPG cylinders per annum at the subsidised rate of Rs 399 per cylinder, and all further requirement will have to be met by buying the LPG cylinders at the market rate of Rs 746 per cylinder. The government says that 44 % of LPG users in any case  consume 6 or less than 6 cylinders, and they will therefore not be affected by the government's decision.Does it occur to the policy makers that  those who consume 6 cylinders or less may actually wish to consume more if only they had the resources to buy more, that they may not relish the prospect of cooking over wood fire and cow dung simply because they do not earn enough to buy more than 1 cylinder once in two or three months, and that all those who consume more than 6 cylinders per annum are not necessarily profligate consumers who, for reason of their profligacy, do not deserve to have  LPG consumption subsidised?

Is the government aware that those who most deserve the subsidised LPG often buy LPG at astronomical rates because of unethical behviour by the LPG distributors? For the poor, illiterate Indian, who often has to migrate in search of a livelihood, obtaining an LPG connection is still a Herculean task. He does not understand the procedural requirements, is discouraged by the LPG distributor from applying for a connection, and even if he picks up the courage to do so, often does not  have all the documents regarding proof of residence etc. So, he purchases LPG in small quantities at 3 or 4 times the rate at which it is legally sold. He buys it from those unscrupulous people who are in cahoots with the LPG distributor and are allotted gas cylinders on priority. If the government stepped forward to help these households get LPG connections, the subsidy payments would undoubtedly rise. However, the possibility is remote indeed of the LPG subsidy being extended to the impoverished Indians currently outside the net seems by a government which is expressing helplessness at bearing the current subsidy payments, and is endeavouring to lower the amount by  imposing the 6 cylinder cap. 

Unless, the government decides to limit LPG subsidies to the aam aadmi.

Why does the government, which is so stubborn about not universalising the Right to Food and is talking instead in terms of targeting, not implement a targeted LPG subsidy? Why does the government  need to subsidise even 6 cylinders for the Ambanis and the Jindals and their ilk, for the MPs and MLAs and Ministers, for judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, for Group A government servants in the Centre and the States, for members of  the innumerable Tribunals and Commissions that are manned by retired judges and bureaucrats, for corporate sector employees whose annual  salary packages are higher than the lifetime earning of millions of Indian? There is a long, long list of Indians who live privileged lives, and do not need to have LPG cylinders subsidised as well. If the government cannot think of ways and means to withdraw the LPG subsidy from these privileged millions, why does it not throw the issue open for public debate? Is it possible that a nation of 1.2 billion cannot work out an innovative solution to this minor logistical challenge?

Will the  government also explain why it balks at subsidising LPG cylinders for the aam aadmi when it is so enthusiastic about bailing out public sector undertakings that have run up losses on account of inefficiency, poor decision making, corruption etc. Lets take the example of Air India.  The Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) has, in its Performance Review of Air India, made some extremely damaging observations about the role of the Ministry of Civil Aviation in bringing about what CAG describes as the "current critical state of affairs" in Air India. To quote CAG,

The current critical state of affairs of the merged entity “Air India” is a combination of a multiplicity of factors:
(i) risky acquisition of a large number of aircraft with the intention of vastly expanded operations and “footprint”. In the case of the erstwhile AIL, the large acquisition was clearly driven under the influence of the MoCA;
(ii) a liberalised policy on bilateral entitlements for international air travel introduced by GoI. These agreements, besides not affording adequate time to AIL/ IAL to set their houses in order and gear up for a highly competitive environment, very evidently worked to the detriment of the National and Indian private carriers. 
(iii) an ill-timed merger undertaken strangely after separate aircraft acquisitions by AIL and IAL were completed, driven from the top (rather than by the perceived needs of both these airlines), with inadequate validation of the financial benefits from such a merger and without adequate consideration of the difficulties involved in integration (notably in terms of HR and IT, among other areas); 

The government has not ordered an inquiry into these serious allegations of mis conduct ----why would they, when the alleged mis conduct is that of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, including the then Minister, Praful Patel. Instead, they have announced infusion of additional funds, amounting to Rs 30,000 crore, into the airline, apart from a slew of other measures. When asked how long the tax payers' money would continue to be sunk into Air India, the Civil Aviation Minister said " The government will not continue to lose public money like this indefinitely." That's cold comfort, indeed,because tomorrow never comes!So, notwithstanding the CAG report on the mis management of Air India, the culprits remain unpunished, an additional amount of Rs 30,000 crore is invested in Air India, and the citizen is assured that some day (never mind when!), this blatant abuse of tax payers' money will stop.

In the meantime, what can be and has been curtailed is the expenditure on LPG subsidy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

our anachronistic laws

Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi has been arrested and remanded to judicial custody for the alleged offence of sedition. His cartoons are being variously described in the media as "insulting" , "obscene", "ugly', "objectionable" etc.  The aam aadmi is puzzled, because Aseem Trivedi's cartoons reflect the popular sentiment. If he is guilty of sedition, so are lakhs of other Indians.

Is it seditious, then, to express dis satisfaction with the corruption rampant in our democratic institutions? Is it seditious to be incensed by the conduct of our elected representatives who have reduced Parliament to an institution better known for adjournments than discussions and legislative business? Is it seditious to bemoan the erosion of that supreme value "Satyameva Jayate" ? Such would appear to be the case if one is guided by the conduct of the police authorities who have, on the basis of an FIR, arrested Aseem Trivedi although the Code of Criminal Procedure allows them under Section 157 to simply not investigate an alleged offence if it appears to them that sufficient ground for making an investigation does not exist. 

What is sedition? As per the India Penal Code (section 124A), a person is guilty of sedition if by words or by signs or by visible representation, he brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India. 

The Indian Penal Code clarifies that if one's comments merely express disapprobation of the admin­istrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, or if one's comments express disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, then one is not guilty of sedition. The dictionary defines "disapprobation " as "strong disapproval". 

So, we have a situation where the law permits me to disapprove of government measures, either because I wish to simply express my disapproval or because I wish the government to pay heed and alter the measures I disapprove of. However, when I express my disapproval of government measures/action, I must be careful not to sound critical of the government, because I'd then be guilty of  hatred or contempt or disaffection towards the government and hence guilty of sedition. 

To give an example ---- I can say that I do not approve of coal blocks being allotted for a pittance, but I cannot say the government which has made such allocation does not deserve to remain in power ! That's a tough balancing act indeed --- to disapprove of government actions yet be respectful of it, and loyal.

Strangely enough, the Indian Penal Code does not require that a citizen be guilty of disaffection or contempt or hatred against the Indian State or the Indian Constitution to be held guilty of sedition. Hypothetically, a citizen who professes utmost respect for the values and ideals of the Constitution can be held guilty of sedition if he says that the government is guilty of violating those very ideals and values and is therefore not fit to remain in power. In fact, this is what is happening in Aseem Trivedi's case.

Probably, the reason for such a dichotomy lies in the fact that the provisions relating to sedition date back to the 1870s when the government in India was a representative of the British monarch. Therefore, an Indian citizen critical of the government was, ipso facto, critical of the Brtish monarch and his sovereign right to rule over India. We have come a long way since then. Our elected government draws its powers from the people and the Constitution that the people have given themselves. If, by its acts, the elected government is seen to violate the ideals and values of the Constitution or not live up to its promises, the citizen must have the right to criticise the government and not be thrown into prison for that. It is time that we amended the IPC and brought its provisions regarding sedition in line with the times, so that these cannot be abused to stifle freedom of expression, especially when such freedom is used to criticise the government.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sixty days of dignity

Let me state at the outset that I have had to overcome deep rooted inhibitions before writing this blog post, but I strongly believe that the surest way of getting our nation out of the morass it today flounders in is to educate and empower women, and that conviction has given me courage. I can therefore well imagine the cultural taboos that less fortunate, less educated women struggle against. 

Did you know that millions of women in India use sand, ash and rags during menses, and sometimes spend the entire period locked up in cow sheds? Girls drop out of school once they attain menarche because there are no  sanitation facilities and because they fear being teased by boys. This happens because women are the most marginalized  among India's poorest millions -----  they cannot afford to spend money on sanitary napkins, even if such saving means that they make themselves vulnerable to  disease, apart from suffering the hardship and indignity involved.

For several years now, GOONJ ( ) has been pioneering the effort to make and distribute reusable cloth sanitary napkins to these women. What GOONJ does is to use waste cloth to make sanitary napkins of its own design, and pack them into a drawstring pouch for a women to receive without embarrassment. Used cloth is measured, cut, washed, ironed and sterilised; the packages are then sent to far flung areas of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, UP and other States. This becomes an entry point for generating greater awareness on the related health and hygiene issues, an area that suffers from neglect because of the taboos involved.

This year, GOONJ is trying to make this initiative more broad based; they want to reach the Dignity Pack (affordable, easy to use, and clean cloth napkins, made out of waste cloth) to 50,000 women and girls in villages & slums. In this endeavour, they are looking for support from the urban masses ------ that's you and me. Each contribution of Rs 250 that we make will reach 12 packs of environment friendly GOONJ "Easy" cloth pads and 3 sets of undergarments to a woman, giving her SIXTY DAYS OF DIGNITY. Included in this amount is the cost of  information material, discussions and exhibitions to build awareness on this taboo but critical health issue. Will you please step forward to help GOONJ help at least one woman?

This is how you can contribute towards GOONJ's campaign SIXTY DAYS OF DIGNITY:

1. Direct Transfer

In favor of- GOONJ
Bank Name – HDFC BANK
Account No – 04801450000130
Bank Address – Plot No-9, H & J Block, Local Shopping Complex,
Sarita Vihar, New Delhi-110076
Bank Branch Code – 0480
IFSC Code – HDFC0000480
Bank Swift Code – HDFCINBB

2.  You can also drop a cheque /draft in the name of GOONJ in any  HDFC branch.

3.  Please share your full name, address, tel no. & PAN. For any queries, please call GOONJ at 011- 41401216, 26972351 or write to

Monday, September 3, 2012

An illuminating chat with Tulsa

Tulsa is the energetic and articulate young woman who enables me to blog at leisure because she sweeps, mops and dusts my home, all the time sharing her joy in her children, the misery and suffering inflicted upon her by her alcoholic husband, and the challenges of living in a tin roofed room that floods when it rains, and is the 4 member family's living-cum-bed room-cum-kitchen. She rarely complains, electing instead to look at life as a journey to be undertaken with as much dignity and integrity as she can command, notwithstanding the huge challenges. A migrant from Madhya Pradesh, she lives in one of the multi storeyed buildings that dot the rural habitations of Gurgaon, and are home to thousands like her who pay handsome amounts to the native inhabitants for the ramshackle  accommodation that they have built expressly for this purpose. She does not have a bank account, no medical insurance or pension account, not even a gas connection despite having lived and worked for many, many years in a city. She is educating her children, but she herself is completely illiterate.  The Parliament, democracy, Municipal Corporation, laws, rights and responsibilities of citizens ----- all these are concepts completely alien to her.

A couple of weeks ago, she did not report for work at her usual hour, nor did she call ---- yes, she has a cell phone! The next day, she was full of the tiring and disappointing journey she had undertaken. At 5 AM, she said, the landlord had asked all the tenants ---men and women living lives just like hers --- to board a bus that took them on a 7 hour journey to an ashram. There, they sat in the sun for the best part of the day, listening to the discourse of a religious leader. Some light snacks were distributed, there weren't adequate arrangements for drinking water, the children got restless and had to be sushed again and again, and then they boarded the bus back home. Where did you go, Tulsa, who was the guru, I asked. She had only some hazy notions. Some place in UP, she said, and the religious leader was a woman, she had something to do with Sikhism. On being prodded, she revealed that the only reason she and her family had joined the massive gathering at the ahsram was that it was an opportunity to do something different, to be some place else, to break out of the deadening routine that is their lot ----and no expenditure was involved.

There are crores of men and women like Tulsa, and crores in circumstances far worse. They live from day to day, are more or less reconciled to merely subsisting since their avenues of advancement are so severely limited, and have no expectation of the government because they have grown up in a state of deprivation ---- physical, social, economic ---- without any State organ stepping forward to help. What is tragic for the nation, and for their own selves, is that they are the ones who vote in large numbers, and bring to power all manner of corrupt, conscience-bereft, power hungry men and women who not only perpetuate the status quo but prevent good people from entering the political process. They vote for pecuniary consideration, they vote for caste/community/religion/language affinities, they vote because the sarpanch directs them to, they vote because the patriarch requires them to ---- but they do not vote with the expectation that the candidate/ party which will come to power will bring permanent, systemic improvements in their lives, and therefore, they do not vote into power men and women who can deliver them and the nation from poverty, oppression, and  injustice. They mostly do not understand how that can happen, they have not seen it happen, and therefore, they have little or no expectation that it will happen. There are honourable exceptions, of course but these are too few in number to have a meaningful impact.

So, if the nation is to break out of the stranglehold of the parasitical political "leaders" whose burden it now carries, we must either motivate and persuade the educated middle class to participate in the political process in massive numbers, or educate the dis empowered/under privileged millions. Its hard to say which task is more daunting, because the middle class is in a comfort induced torpor that the recent corruption scams have barely managed to dent, and the people/organisations engaged in/willing to raise awareness among the impoverished are too few to adequately meet the challenge.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

the future of Marxism/Maoism/Naxalism

These are extracts from a longer blogpost, written by Rahul Banerjee, that I 'd recommend you read ---- I think this blogpost offers very useful insights into Maoism/Naxalism in India, which should inform the public debate (however limited it is) on the subject, which is currently dominated by stories of violence.

Recently, I have participated in a few debates on the walls of people on Facebook on the relevance of Marxist programmes of action in the present context, especially those adopted by the armed Maoist movement in India which I categorised as being obsolete and so prompted angry responses. While the Marxist analysis of the problems and contradictions of Capitalism remains relevant, the prescriptions for action to overthrow it may not be so. I have written about this in my book Recovering the Lost Tongue at length. I thought I would lift some of that and rework it for a post in this blog.

-------- Moreover, at the peak of the capitalist economic crisis in the late nineteen twenties John Logie Baird invented the television. This set the ball rolling for carrying advertising into people's homes and bombing them with audio-visual content urging them to spend not only their present income but also their future earnings for buying goods and services. Capitalism has since ridden a continuously rising wave of consumerism to expand existing markets and open new ones by titillating the baser instincts of humans all over the world and so continued to fuel economic growth without the recurrence of similar massive demand slumps. The medium became the message.

At about the same time Antonio Gramsci, while incarcerated in prison by the Italian Fascists, began pondering over the conundrum that the oppressed masses in Germany, Italy and Spain refused to become acolytes of Marxism despite the objective conditions arising from the economic collapse being favourable for such a development and instead preferred to plump either for fascism or a capitalism rejuvenated by state sponsored demand boosting measures. He came to the conclusion that the bourgeoisie exert control over the masses not only overtly through the organs of the state but also covertly through their ideological "hegemony" over "civil society" constituted independently of the state by communitarian, cultural and religious associations. Gramsci stressed the important role of "organic" intellectuals coming up from the oppressed classes who would dispel this mesmerising hegemony of the ruling classes by formulating a liberating ideology of their own that could stand up to the dominant ideology of the latter.

However, the scope for this kind of a liberating ideology emerging has been significantly decreased through the influence of television. Television has ensured that it is the sports and film stars selling everything from soap to sanitary napkins and the evangelical preachers of all religious denominations selling divine salvation who have become the gurus of the masses and not the austere radicals, whether communists, anarchists or libertarians, who are making a pitch for a fight against the machinations of neo-colonial capital. These messages, which have been beamed worldwide through satellites, first ensured the tearing down of the iron and bamboo curtains and the collapse of "actually existing socialism". Today, the ever widening reach of television is ensuring that the masses mostly remain engaged in song and dance or vicarious enjoyment of sports instead of taking up cudgels against the ruling classes worldwide to end their misery.

At present, the colonisation of the minds of the masses all over the world resulting from the television propelled cultural imperialism of the West has pushed the meta-narrative of capitalist industrial development and its triplets of consumerism and militarism onto the centre stage of the post-modern world and with the dawn of the twenty-first century, the repositories of various kinds of post modernist "difference" like the Marxists (they have now become marginal players), Maoists and the anarcho-environmentalists are doomed to acting out peripheral micro-narratives. It is not very difficult to imagine that given the readiness among the masses to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the myths being propagated through television, the chances of the Maoists bringing about a revolution in India are remote indeed. Mao had said that power flows from the barrel of a gun but in today's milieu it flows more readily from the picture tube of a television set! The spring thunder of the Maoists, therefore, holds little promise of an emancipatory drenching for those it is ostensibly fighting for. Instead, through their armed actions the Maoists have succeeded in reducing the space for democratic mass action not only for their own mass organisations but also for anarcho-environmentalist ones, which too are regarded by the police to be hand in glove with the Maoists and so are subjected to extra-legal harassment. 

The fact that industrial production processes have been automated so much that it is now possible to have very few regularised permanent workers in factories and farm out most of the work to smaller factories has robbed the working class of the power of the strike action. There are now millions of casual labourers in small groups whom it is very difficult to organise and then form into a conscious "class for itself" that would be able to fight for a revolutionary overthrow. Similar is the situation with landless peasants and marginal farmers. There is no way in which an armed movement can operate openly among the casual labourers and peasants. The net result is that the Maoists are forced to operate in densely forested remote areas which apart from having some natural resources are not very crucial to the Indian State. For a long time the Maoists treated these remote areas as their liberated zones but with time the Indian State and Capitalists felt the need to exploit the resources there and so began attacking these liberated zones in earnest. This has pushed the Maoists on to the backfoot as their overground organisations have all been banned and many leaders have been either killed or arrested. 

There are three other main problems for Marxists in general and Maoists in particular as far as bringing about revolution is concerned. 
The first is that the Indian State is much more powerful militarily than say the Russian or Chinese States were at the time of the revolutions in those countries. The armed forces and the police forces too are very well cared for by the State and so have no reason to mutiny as they did in those countries. Without the armed forces rank and file mutinying there is no way in which a rag tag band of guerrillas can overthrow the Indian State. Even in Nepal where the State and its armed forces are much weaker than in India the Maoists there after waging a long battle have had to agree to participate in a liberal democracy instead of pushing for a revolutionary overthrow. 

Secondly, armed struggle requires a huge amount of funds. Traditionally, the Marxists have sourced these funds by robbing capitalists. The Bolshevik party in Russia used to be funded by the dacoities and kidnapping carried out by Stalin in the crude oil rich Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. The Maoists have to extort from contractors, businessman and industrialists who have to operate in their remote strongholds. While this does provide them with some funds, they are nowhere like enough to finance a major attack on the Indian security forces and so all that the Maoists have managed is to carry out guerrilla warfare which will not get them far.

Thirdly, the compulsions of operating underground force the Maoists to run their areas through summary justice involving the killing of those they consider to be informers. They are constantly on the move so they cannot keep prisoners. Therefore, they have to execute those they consider to be informers or recalcitrants in some way or other. This alienates them from the people and in general, their so called liberated zones are actually fear filled ones. 

Finally, there is the question of what will happen post revolution even if one takes place. If a strongly centralised party does capture power by overthrowing the capitalist dispensation, then it is not then going to suddenly give up its years of centralised and undemocratic functioning as a guerrilla unit and become a bottom up decentralised democratic system. That is why there is a need to think about new methods to combat centralisation which also build up practical models for the post revolutionary dispensation. The control of resources at the moment is in the hands of the capitalists and they are doing everything possible to prevent decentralisation of this control because they know that that will mean the end of their hegemony. So how are the powerless to become powerful is the question that needs to be answered. Marxism has analysed the sources of bourgeois power and the contradictions that it faces very well but it has no answer to the question of how this power can be smashed in the present context where the bourgeois have some very powerful systems in place to prevent the creation of a revolutionary class for itself. Unless a credible plan of action for overcoming capitalism and establishing a more just dispensation is on offer there is little likelihood of a mass movement emerging from the shenanigans of the Maoists or other Marxists who remain stuck in obsolete moulds.

The American anarchist Thoreau once wrote - " If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away". This was a plaintive cry against the homogenising effects of modern industrialisation, which had begun to make themselves felt in the nineteenth century itself. Things have now become considerably more problematical for maintaining economic, social and cultural diversity in the post-modern era. The possibility of launching a concerted challenge to this all round hegemony of capitalist industrial development has diminished considerably. That is why the widespread limitation of the space for democratic dissent that the peripheral violence of the Maoists is causing is a matter of concern. It brings down the number of drummers beating a different beat from that of the votaries of centralised industrial development. Of even greater concern is the fact that the Maoist cadres are mostly from among the marginalised Dalits and Adivasis and these organic intellectuals who could have made a significant contribution to the fight for a better world are all dying an untimely death in the wild goose chase after the Indian Revolution. Lesser and lesser is the proportion of people that are opting out from the destructive march that is being orchestrated by the followers of the meta-narrative of modern industrial development. Thoreau is as lonely as ever.

Monday, August 27, 2012

NPO review: why restrict it to a few?

With rather suspect timing, the Ministry of Home Affairs has decided to verify whether the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) run by Manish Sisodia, member of the now- disbanded Team Anna, is receiving foreign donations, and whether the NGO is using these amounts towards the expenditure incurred by India Against Corruption in the Lokpal agitation. An inspection of the NGO's premises and documents has been carried out to ascertain whether the NGO's claim that it is neither currently receiving foreign contributions nor using these donations for advancing the IAC campaigns is true.

One would, ordinarily, have no quarrel with such a verification exercise because the law (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) expressly provides that foreign donations shall not be used for any purpose other than the purpose stated at the time of obtaining registration under FCRA.There exists a small set up in the Ministry of Home Affairs which grants such registration, receives and scrutinises all types of statements and returns that FCRA prescribes, and where necessary, carries out verification.

What is objectionable, however, is that the same Government which is expending scarce resources on auditing an NPO with clearly political motives has no documented assessment of how large the NGO (or Non Profit Organisation, NPO, as it is more widely described all over the world) sector in India is or its composition, no clear cut mechanisms laid down in the law for monitoring the activities of this sector except the FCRA and the Income Tax Act which are applicable to only a very small percentage of the sector, and cannot even say which the nodal Ministry/Department for the sector is because there is none.Even worse, it has no assessment of the terrorist financing risk that this sector poses in India.

World wide, the NPO sector is recognised as being vulnerable to abuse for terrorist financing because given the vast range of activities associated with this sector and the huge numbers, it is not possible to scrutinise its millions of transactions despite large amounts of money being involved, including money that flows across borders. Therefore, the Financial Action Task Force, an inter governmental body of which India has recently become a member, has recommended that  countries should ensure that Non Profit Organisations are not misused by terrorist organisations posing as legitimate entities or used to conceal the diversion of funds intended for legitimate purposes to terrorist organisations.

This is what the FATF has to say about the functioning of the NPO sector in India, and its oversight by the government:

By government estimates, there are approximately 2 million foreign and domestic NPOs operating in India. NPOs seeking tax exempt status must register under the Income Tax Act. NPOs which receive funds from outside India must register under the FCRA. The number of NPOs registered with the MHA under the FCRA is 38,591 and the number of NPOs that filed tax returns in the fiscal year 2006-2007 is 71,009. Except for NPOs registered with the Income Tax Department and under the FCRA, India's NPO sector is not well organised, monitored and supervised. India concentrates most of its efforts on tax exempt NPOs as well as those receiving foreign contributions, but these NPOs only account for a small number of entities within the sector. While Indian officials indicated that they believe Financing of Terrorism (FT) risk in the NPO sector is small, it is difficult to understand how they can maintain this confidence in light of the fact that they were unable to state the size, wealth and activities of the majority of NPOs in India.

The FATF has therefore recommended that India should:
 Undertake a comprehensive NPO sector review capturing all relevant data 
 Undertake a detailed risk assessment of the sector for terrorist financing

Has such a review been carried out? Have we made a detailed assessment of the risk that the NPO sector poses or does not pose vis a vis terrorist financing ? If we have, have remedial measures been taken ? Aren't these the more important tasks to be undertaken by a nation battling terrorism, rather than the politically motivated inquiry into whether or not Manish Sisodia's NPO is using its funds for the IAC movement? Why are we allowing State machinery to be used for a political agenda, to the detriment of its use for more pressing purposes ?

para 872 to 891

Friday, August 24, 2012

Naxalism : "hard" posting vs "sensitive"

Hardly ever having stepped out of the comfort of my NCR home and office, except to vacation in cool, verdant, and peaceful climes in India and abroad, I am not really acquainted with the troubles of our adivasi brethren in Central India (or elsewhere). The little I know I have gleaned from newspapers, blogs, books, and TV programs. No account is complete, of course, nor is any account completely balanced. It cannot be, I suppose, given the nature of the complex dynamics at work, the high stakes for all the parties involved, the difficult and remote nature of the terrain etc. Nevertheless, even one accustomed to middle class living in an economy which is hurtling pell mell into liberalisation, privatisation, globalisation and all the other isms of modern economists and our American friends/patrons, cannot help but realise that the adivasis are fighting an unequal battle for resources, livelihood, cultural non contamination, possibly their lives. They are caught in the crossfire of Naxalites/Maoists and the State agencies, the latter determined to wipe out the Naxalites as well as any resistance to the exploitation of the vast natural resources that the adivasi dominant regions of our country abound in. The determination and resolve of our State apparatus is strong indeed, much stronger than its resolve to empower the poor, eradicate hunger and illiteracy, provide access to clean drinking water and sanitation. However, whether the the State is displaying any sensitivity towards the hapless, impoverished adivasis appears a little doubtful, even from media accounts.

Lets take a recent example ----- newspapers reported recently that 2 CISF personnel stationed at Mumbai airport were among the 5 persons arrested by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence for their alleged involvement in a gold smuggling racket. Over 10 kg of gold worth Rs 3 crore was seized from the 5 men. The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) Hqrs was said to have taken very stern measures after the incident came to light,  having placed under suspension two Sub-Inspectors (who were arrested by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) and six other junior rank personnel. They were also reported to have ordered immediate transfer of a senior Commandant from the "highly sensitive" Mumbai airport to a "hard area" posting in Chhattisgarh's Naxal hotbed of Dantewada. 

Much as one would like to believe, no posting in the government is classified 'highly sensitive" because it calls for exceptional knowledge or skills or dedication; the criteria are public interface, discretionary powers and the potential to earn illegal remuneration. In other words, the more likely it is that the authority and functions attached to a post will be abused to enable the incumbent to earn illegal pecuniary and other benefits, the greater the chance of such a post being labelled "sensitive" or "highly sensitive". 

A "hardship" posting, to the contrary, affords no such benefits; also, it is more likely (almost always, in fact) to be in a place which is remote, with inhospitable terrain, little by way of educational, medical and recreational facilities etc. In this particular case, there is obviously a far greater risk to life and limb as well.

So what does the government do with an official who's suspected to be involved in an economic crime at a "sensitive posting" ? It transfers him to a "hardship posting", without a thought to the possibility that such an official may vent his frustration on helpless adivasis, one, because he is frustrated, and two, because it is much harder to have Naxalites/Maoists bear the brunt of his anger and frustration. Will such an official be motivated to perform his duty with sincerity, devotion, and scrupulousness? Will he be a good leader, inspire his team by the example he sets? Does he even possess the technical and human relations skills that he would need, looking at the nature of his job in Dantewada? If the answer to all these questions is 'No", then how just is it that passengers at Mumbai Airport are saved harassment by an official suspected to be corrupt, the revenue leakage on account of smuggling is plugged, and the image of the security agency is sought to be restored by transferring the official to a place where the suffering of the ordinary citizen, powerless, poor, and disenfranchised as he is, is likely to increase manifold by such a posting? 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lets get Gurgaon to clean up its act

Gurgaon has a myriad problems, of which one is the lack of cleanliness. Lets do something about it.

1. The responsibility of getting the roads and streets swept, and garbage collected and disposed of is distributed between the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) and HUDA. While the jurisdiction of MCG mainly includes the rural habitations that dot Gurgaon, the rest of Gurgaon falls within the HUDA jurisdiction. MCG has a website (  ) that clearly spells out its jurisdiction, HUDA does not. That is, HUDA makes no attempt to inform the citizens of Gurgaon as to which sectors/neighbourhoods fall within its jurisdiction so far as sanitation is concerned.

2. From what I have been able to gather from the MCG website, newspaper reports and discussions with citizens who have made efforts to improve sanitation levels in Gurgaon, ALL work related to sweeping/cleaning of roads and collection/disposal of garbage has been outsourced by both MCG and HUDA. In the case of MCG, all information regarding the organisations to which such work has been awarded, as well as a copy of the contract, is available on the website. No such information is available for HUDA.

3. If the contactor does not satisfactorily discharge his duties, and a citizen lodges an online complaint on the MCG website, the contractor is bound by the contract to take remedial action within a stipulated time period, or face a deduction in the amount paid to him. For HUDA, there is no such facility for registering complaints.

4. So, if I wish that HUDA would take action regarding a particular road/street not having been swept, or gabage not having been removed from a particular spot, I have NO information regarding whom to complain to, and within what period to expect a response.

5. If we want, as conscientious citizens, to get HUDA to clean up Gurgaon, we FIRST have to ensure that all the relevant information is easily available, especially on a website. I have therefore sent a letter to the HUDA Administartor, and request you all to do the same ----- remember the "ek chidiya" jingle?

6. The letter that I have sent (duly received in HUDA office on 22nd August, 2012) is as below -----please feel free to modify/amend.

The Administrator
HUDA Complex
Sector 14

20th August, 2012

Dear Administrator,

I write on behalf of a 2000 strong group of Gurgaon residents who are frustrated and disgusted by the utter lack of cleanliness in the city and wish to help improve sanitation in the city. However, we are handicapped by the complete lack of information regarding the arrangements that HUDA has made for sweeping of roads & streets and collection & removal of garbage.

While such information in respect of the areas under the jurisdiction of MCG is available in a transparent manner on the MCG website, and there is even an efficient mechanism for registration of complaints and their quick redressal, in the case of HUDA areas, the citizen is left to grope in the dark. May I request that all information regarding the arrangements that HUDA has made for sweeping of roads& streets and collection & removal of garbage be QUICKLY and URGENTLY uploaded on the HUDA website? If no website for HUDA Gurgaon exists, as seems to be the case, we would appreciate the information being uploaded on the MCG website. 

At the very minimum, we request that the following information be (1) uploaded on the HUDA website and (2) provided to us at the address mentioned below:

  1. Which areas/neighbourhoods/sectors/colonies fall within the jurisdiction of HUDA for the purpose of making sanitation arrangements?
  2. What are the sanitation arrangements that HUDA has made? Please specify the arrangements for cleaning & sweeping of roads and streets, and for collection & removal of garbage.
  3. If these arrangements involve HUDA employees, please specify (1) their duties, hours of work (3) supervisory officer for lodging a complaint. Please provide this information for each area/sector/colony under HUDA’s jurisdiction.
  4. If such arrangements involve a private contractor, please (1) provide a copy of the contract (2) name of the supervisory officer for lodging a complaint. Please provide this information for each area/sector/colony under HUDA’s jurisdiction.
  5. Please specify the TOTAL amount spent in each of the last 5 years, and the current year, on sweeping/cleaning roads and streets, and collecting/removing garbage.
  6. If there is any ongoing initiative for involving citizen monitoring of the sanitation arrangements, please provide details.
We are prepared to launch a signature campaign to prove our earnestness in obtaining this information, with the objective of sharing it among Gurgaon citizens, and helping HUDA do a better job of keeping the city clean by involving citizens in monitoring of the sanitation arrangements.


thanks and regards
Priya VK Singh