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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A revolution that we do not need

Through school and college, we read and savoured English and Hindi literature that was value-based, inspirational and edifying. I remember memorizing John Kennedy's famous "ask what you can do for the country ---" speech for the Elocution class, and the lovely Casabianca. I can recall snatches of the hymns and prayers we sang. I have not forgotten Bhartendu Harishchandra and Ramdhari Singh Dinkar. I loved the short stories of O Henry. I grappled with Rabindranath Tagore's poetry. My son is fighting a different battle!!!

We have "globalisation" and "liberalisation" and "Westernisation" at work now ------ and that's reflected in the choice of literature that is being offered for studies in some of our elite schools . It is literature that reflects a reality that one has to come to terms with, sooner or later, but which is neither so refined nor so elevating as one would wish it to be for the sake of its young and impressionable readers in school. This is a revolution in the school curriculum that we do not need.

I reproduce, in part, my son's appeal to the school :

The English Literature syllabus for the new term  is a collection of Katherine Mansfield's short stories and poems.Previously, we had studied Sophocles and Ibsen and Mansfield is the first 'modernist' writer we're studying.So far, we have read and discussed two of her short stories; Bliss and The Wind Blows, the first one telling the tell of a sexually confused woman who is attracted to both her husband and a female friend of hers, and the second one of a teenager who is infatuated with her piano teacher.

I feel these themes are discussed enough on TV shows and movies and should definitely not be a part of the Literature syllabus.English lessons have transformed into long debates about homo-sexuality and loose morals, both of which seem to have been glorified in the semi-autobiographical works of Mansfield. 

I really don't understand how anyone can gain from reading stories casually written by a degenerate who uses elaborate imagery and symbolism to pass off tales of lust and immorality as literature.

Mansfield represents the side of modernism that, in my opinion, is responsible for the decline of our value systems.

The main distinction between modernism and romanticism is the manner in which modernist artists and musicians and even writers tirelessly attempt to incorporate science and mathematics in their respective fields, and their love for determinacy and structure. The movement was triggered mainly by the atrocities of the two world wars and the realisation of the importance scientific progress.

Mansfield's kind, the later beatniks, are responsible for the degradation of all art forms, and of ethics in general. The anti-establishment attitude of this group has no place in textbooks, specially for adolescent students who are influenced all too easily by something they can relate to. 

It is my strong belief that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but a teacher's job is to expose students to positive influences, tales of pride and honor. 

I truly enjoyed Antigone and A Doll's House, but am finding it increasingly difficult to contribute in classroom discussions centered on lesbianism and lustful adolescent urges. The essay questions we are to prepare for ask us to elaborate on the protagonist's contradictory sexual desires.

It is my earnest request that you look into this issue and order a change of syllabus, if necessary.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review of Coal blocks allocation ----- CAG's mandate

In its report No. 7 of 2012-13, which is a Performance Audit of Allocation of Coal Blocks and Augmentation of Coal Production (Ministry of Coal), the Comptroller & Auditor General has concluded that " The process of bringing in objectivity and transparency in the allocation process of coal blocks, which commenced from 28 June, 2004, got delayed at various stages and the same is yet to materialise (February, 2012) even after a lapse of seven years. In the meantime, 194 net coal blocks with aggregate GR of 44,440 million tonne were allocated to different Government and private parties upto 31 March, 2011. The financial impact of the benefit to the private allottees has been estimated to the tune of Rs 1,85,591.34 crores as on 31 March, 2011  for Open Cast (OC) mines/OC reserves of Mixed mines. The Government could have tapped a part of this financial benefit by expediting decision on competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks."

The report has been presented in Parliament, even while the Union Government has launched an offensive against the CAG, with the  Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy stating that “CAG has no authority or right to comment on the policy of the government but unfortunately it has questioned its authority, which is totally unwarranted and against the mandate given to them”, and that “CAG has to work within a certain mandate given under the Constitution. Policy framing is the domain of Government of India, which is the elected government.”

Has the CAG commented on Government policy? It appears not. What the CAG has commented upon is the  delay in decision making (on allocation of coal blocks through competitive bidding) which has led to a loss to the public exchequer . The CAG has merely pointed out that the Government itself had initiated the process of 'bringing in objectivity and transparency" in coal block allocation, but did not take a decision thereon, resulting in substantial pecuniary benefit flowing to the allottees in the meantime.

Does the CAG exceed its mandate if it comments upon the Government's policies? 

To answer that question, lets look at Article 149 of the Constitution, which says  that the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall perform such duties and exercise such powers in relation to the accounts of the Union ----------  as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament ----". 

The Parliament has prescribed these duties under  THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR-GENERAL'S (DUTIES, POWERS AND CONDITIONS OF SERVICE) ACT, 1971 and Section 16 of the Act says
"It shall be the duty of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to audit all receipts which are payable into the Consolidated Fund of India and of each State and of each Union territory having a Legislative Assembly and to satisfy himself that the rules and procedures in that behalf are designed to secure an effective check on the assessment, collection and proper allocation of revenue and are being duly observed and to make for this purpose such examination of the accounts as he thinks fit and report thereon." 

Obviously, the CAG has BOTH the legal authority  to examine the design of the rules and procedure governing the receipts which are payable into CFI and whether such rules and procedures are being observed. Also implicit here is the authority to state the deficiencies in design that lead to inefficient collection of receipts or collection of receipts less than what another design would have yielded. What does this amount to if not examination/review of Government policies that have a bearing on receipts? The Parliament itself having entrusted the CAG with the duty/authority to review rules/procedures that govern receipts, how can  the CAG now be accused of exceeding its mandate? 

Moreover, such audit has not taken place for the first time in the history of the nation. Every time the CAG carries out a  Performance Audit, a review of the relevant Government policy and its due observance or lack thereof is an essential component of the audit exercise. In its recent Performance Audit Report on Civil Aviation in India, for example, the CAG has pointed to the "liberalised policy on bilateral entitlements for international air travel introduced by GOI" as one of the factors contributing to the 'current critical state" of Air India, and has recommended a freeze on bilateral entitlements to certain countries/airlines.It has even recommended rollback of "excess entitlements". 

So why the hue and cry about CAG allegedly exceeding its mandate vis a vis Performance Audit of allocation of coal blocks?

Sh Sukumar Mukhopadhyay, Member (rtd), CBEC , having concluded that "the Constitution does definitely provide a clear mandate to the CAG to delve into policy" , suggests that the Government "make a Presidential Reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 of the Constitution for settling the issue once for all. It would be better than publicly debunking the Constitutional post of the CAG." ----- an eminently wise suggestion. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A tale of two women

Annapurna is a weaver who hails from Gadag district in Karnataka. She is uneducated, yet she yearns to be self-sufficient and has been taking up various jobs to help support her family. I live in Gurgaon, Haryana, and my education has helped me secure a comfortable and satisfying job in the civil services. As a family, we are financially secure, and can fulfill all our dreams.

Annapurna and I live very different lives, thousands of kilometres removed from one another. Yet, our lives have touched, thanks to MILAAP ( Milaap is the first (and at present, the only) online platform that allows people around the world to lend to India's poor. It focuses on enterprise development, sustainable farming, education, energy, healthcare, sanitation and water. Its field partners identify the beneficiaries, one makes an online loan (the amount could be as small as Rs 500/-) which is disbursed via the field partner which also monitors its utilisation, re payment etc.

Having already made several loans via Milaap, and having experienced the satisfaction of re payments coming in ( the smallest re payment is Rs 40 per month!), I enthusiastically joined Milaap's "Adopt an Entrepreneur" campaign, launched ahead of India's 65th Independence Day. The idea was to "adopt" an entrpreneur and help raise the entire amount he/she needs to purchase raw materials/machinery etc. Empowering women is, I believe, crucial if this nation is to grow in an equitable, sustainable manner. So I decided to raise the Rs 35,000 that Annapurna needed, as part of a group that makes colourful weaves, for buying more machinery and raw material.

The journey proved to be surprisingly short and gratifying. 
I shared on Facebook the page  that Milaap created for me 
but more importantly, I specifically requested friends who I know have compassion and a highly developed social conscience to make a contribution. Within 48 hours, 4 or 5 large contributions (Rs 5000 to Rs 10,000) were made, apart from another 5 contributions of smaller amounts,and the loan was 100% financed! My hope now is that when all these generous lenders see the re payments coming in, they will choose to re lend the amount that gets re paid, and also share their experience with like minded people so that the circle grows wider. A big thank you to all of you!!!

Not only do I feel connected to Annapurna but I feel I am now a stakeholder in her progress -----thank you, Milaap, for bringing together two women from such vastly different backgrounds!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Form over substance

When one emphasizes form over substance , one provides information in such a manner as to remain true to the form of the underlying transaction, while withholding, if necessary, the complete information  which would have painted a truer picture of the reality. One gets to see this ascendancy of form over substance in the claim regarding rural electrification made  in the PM's Independence Day address to the nation.

I quote the Prime Minister : When the UPA Government came to power in 2004, we had promised that we would provide electricity to all villages. To fulfill this promise, we launched the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme. More than 1 lakh new villages have been provided with electricity connections under this scheme and now almost all the villages in the country have been electrified. Our next target is to provide electricity to each and every household in our country in the next 5 years and to also improve the supply of electricity.

In the first place, the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme  was "launched" in 2005 only in the limited sense that all existing schemes for rural electrification were merged and given a new name (which, incidentally, helps perpetuate a ruling dynasty).

The scheme had the objective of electrification of  all rural households by 2010. It did not happen, of course. The scheme was therefore carried forward for another 2 years, and because the target has not been reached even in 2012, it is likely to be given a further extension of 5 years.  In other words, the government has failed abysmally in achieving what it had set out to do ----- but that's not what we are being told, are we?

One lakh villages have been provided "electricity connections" , we are told.  Are all these electricity connections operational, say, a year after installation?  Is electricity being supplied to these connections? Are there villages that are still bereft of any electricity connections whatsoever? Have there been cost over runs, or has the scheme's implementation proceeded as per the initial budget?

If our leaders placed substance over form, these and such like would be the questions they would answer even before they were asked. What we are made to hear are platitudes and sermons, what we are provided is incomplete information, what we are expected to do is applaud progress that is taking place at too slow a pace and at too high a cost. Isn't it time we rebelled? Shouldn't we ask more questions, demand more answers? Even if we, the comfortably placed middle class, have no direct concern with such issues as rural electrification, should we not realise that the underlying malady will strike at the very heart and soul of the nation, leave it crippled? Is that the legacy we wish to leave our children?

Lets not sit back complacently. Lets not wait for someone else to ask questions. Lets spend some time instead acquainting ourselves with  issues of public interest; if possible, master one or two. Ask questions. Demand answers. Let the government not get away with half truths, incomplete information, misleading statements.

Lets do our duty as citizens.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When protest becomes endemic

The President of India has been generous in doling out advice to the people. Protest, he says, but do not let protest become endemic or you are flirting with chaos. Perhaps the rulers could have been advised too -----to heed the voices being raised in protest, or else deal with chaos.It is not as if the protesters are a lumpen element,  best ignored, strategically speaking. The most vociferous protests are being made by the very constituency that has gained the most from India's so called growth story -----the middle class. Something must be very wrong indeed for those to protest who have seen their incomes rise and shopping malls spring up and more fast food chains and travel abroad. Do the rulers not sense that? Or are they too busy plotting the next victory against the protesters to understand that?

One doesn't see farmers protesting -----they are simply and conveniently killing themselves. One doesn't see dispossessed tribals protesting ----they are being quelled with State power.One doesn't see the millions of BPL families protesting ---- perhaps they have been struck dumb by the Planning Commission's shenanigans. If all these silent millions were also to demand that they be heard, what advice would the President give them? Perhaps the Presidential address would then include another paragraph. As it now reads, the Presidential address appears to be aimed only at the middle class ----- nowhere does it talk the language that the under privileged would understand, unless one counts Jawaharlal Nehru,Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi as champions of the poor, and therefore, names that the under privileged would recognise.

Would they also be advised, as the middle class has, that they must not "destroy" institutions, and especially the Parliament, which we are told, lives by its "own calendar and rhythm " ? Would they also be rather pedantically informed that in a democracy, there is always judgement day, an "election"? 

Are our institutions, including the Parliament, under threat of being destroyed ? Yes. They are under threat because they have given up even the pretense of performing the functions that they were designed to, not because anguished citizens  are protesting against their inefficiency, indifference and corruption.  When institutions grow as dysfunctional as they have in India, their very existence becomes threatened. If now citizens are asking questions, demanding performance, pressing for accountability, there is still hope for the resurgence of our democratic institutions, provided citizens' voices are not muffled, as it appears would be the Establishment's wont.

The President draws attention to "tolerance of contrary views" as an essential component of the "democratic temper" but stops short of advising those in power to have greater respect for "contrary views". Perhaps  "judgement day" viz., election, is the only occasion when the rulers are expected to hear the citizens for whose welfare  they ostensibly occupy high offices and lofty mansions and travel the world. Between one election and the next, the ordinary Indian must keep his mouth shut, scrounge around for food when prices rocket,  look for employment that does not exist, applaud infrastructure that does not work, and turn to the opiates of Bollywood and cricket when corruption makes life unbearable.

Friday, August 3, 2012


अन्ना और अरविन्द focused नहीं
जब देखो, goal post बदल जाता है
हमें देखें, निशाना चूकता ही नहीं
पैसा हर बार Swiss account में जाता है