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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Rahul Gandhi - Is he really a youth icon?

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The Congress is projecting him as their youth face claiming that he represents the young India. But does he really represents that or is he an 'old wine in a new bottle'? Here are a few pointers that will answer this question:

  1. Just type his name on Wikipedia to check profile. It says, "His admission to St Stephen's College was controversial as he was admitted on the basis of his abilities as a competitive pistol shooter, which was disputed. He left the school in 1990, after one year of education".

  2. The Wiki page also says that, "It is reported that Harvard alumni records list him as attending between 1990 and 1993 but not as completing a degree".

  3. He is said to have done MPhil in Development Studies from Cambridge. The MPhil Development Studies program requires 4 full papers to be completed and it lists 60% as a pass, 65% as eligible for an entry to PhD and 75% as a Distinction. But the real shocker is in the Paper on National Economic Planning & Policy? he scored 58% which is not even considered a Pass.Why do we need such an average mind when we have got brilliant minds like Manmohan Singh. (Source)

  4. Rahul Gandhi had publicly stated that he did not believe in Valentine's Day. He did not utter a word on the 'Bangalore pub incident'. So how on earth is he different from his older party colleagues.

  5. He was a prominent figure in a high profile Congress campaign for the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections; Congress, however, won only 22 seats with 8.53% of votes.Congress has been known to give credit of every major or minor political victory to the Gandhi family while the family is never known to accept any failure of whatsoever scale.

  6. He has criticized the Gujarat Govt. for the incentives it provided for Nano. His own Prime Ministerial candidate, Manmohan Singh said the following at the centenary celebrations of Tatas, "I compliment my friend Ratan Tata, his colleagues Shri J.J. Irani and Shri Muthuraman, for their leadership and for their vision. Our country owes a great deal to such dynamic patriotic leaders of Indian business. They create wealth, they create employment, they create new capabilities and they create new possibilities for all our people". (Source)
Just like the case of his father (who was anointed to the throne soon after Indira Gandhi was assasinated), the Congress party workers want to get him straight to the Prime Ministers Chair, even though he is yet to prove himself as an administrator. They blindly want to get another Gandhi. The brand Gandhi is the biggest brand in the country. All in all, Rahul is in no way different from other politicians. As I stated earlier, 'an old wine in new bottle'.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fall of LTTE is in India's interest

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The Sri Lankan Army has made steady gains in its struggle against the LTTE over the last two years. This has been particularly after the LTTE had a major split in its ranks with one of the top commanders, Col. Karuna defecting. As per the latest reports, the LTTE is now restricted to an area less that 100 sq. kms and some of their major bastions have been taken over by the army and the war this time is increasing seen as a decisive this time.

Sensing a defeat for the LTTE and also with an eye towards the upcoming elections, the pro-LTTE Tamil parties have been raising this issue. They are calling for a ceasefire and a mediation by the Indian Govt. Any mediation by Indian Govt. on the issue would be in direct contrast to our principles. Since 1972, when the Shimla Agreement was signed, India has vehemently opposed any attempts to mediate by the West by claiming that Kashmir was a bilateral issue and shall be solved by bilaterally with Pakistan.

I personally believe fall of LTTE is in India's interest. The reasons are as follows:
  1. Moreover, it would be wrong to assume that the current LTTE is the sole representator of Tamils. LTTE has not allowed moderate Tamil leadership to develop. Even before the Islamic militants developed fidayeen squads, the LTTE had mastered the art of carrying out successful suicide attacks and had assasinated numerousTamil Leaders.
  2. LTTE was also responsible for assasinating Rajiv Gandhi and it has also been known to train some of the Naxalite groups in India.
  3. LTTE does not has a good track record. It has been known to forcibly recruit child soldiers.
  4. During the present conflict, it has been using civilians to slowdown the movement of the Sri Lankan army.
  5. Despite the present Sri Lankan Govt. offering partial autonomy (within the Sri Lankan Union) to the Tamils in the Tamil dominated areas in the North and East, the LTTE has refused to even consider such an option.
  6. LTTE, which has been demanding a separate nation for Tamils, also sees Tamil Nadu as a part of the larger Tamil nation.
  7. China has been consistently trying to extend its influence in the region in an attempt to encircle India. Its relations with Pakistan are well known. After the rise of Maoists in Nepal, the Himalyan Kingdom is increasing coming under the Chinese influence. If India doesn't help Sri Lanka by supplying arms, Sri Lanka could seek help from the Chinese. So far the Sri Lankans haven't done anything to offend India but this cannot be guanranteed as national interest is of paramount importance to every nation state.
What is important to note is the Indian response. Indian external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee has rightly told the Sri Lankan President that millitary solution cannot guarantee peace to the island nation and it needs to back it up with a political solution. There is no doubt that Tamils were killed on a large scale by the Singhalese majority during the 1983 riots and it is not easy to heal those wounds.

At the same time, India has refused to mediate between the two parties. Moreover, it has been reliably learnt that India has been helping the Sri Lankan armed forces by supplying weapons to them. A peaceful and stable Sri Lanka is in our own interest as it would ensure stability in the South Asian region.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The real truth behind the success of Lalu at Railways

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I stumbled across an extremely interesting article, thanks to a post on Ajay Shah's blog which I regularly follow. It is an extremely exhaustive account. Do go through the entire article. Here some of the interesting points:

  • "The world’s only employer larger than Indian Railways is the People’s Liberation Army of China. (The third-largest employer is the British National Health Service.)"
  • "Lalu's single most important innovation at Indian Railways was not a populist move at all. It was an elite one: the hiring of a prodigiously talented civil servant named Sudhir Kumar."
  • "Kumar’s two flat-screens show real-time data on the country’s main routes. Periodically, a minion walks into Kumar’s command center to present a 20-page stack of papers that represent the day’s statistics on passengers, freight, and on-time arrivals. “Like Jack keeps a daily tab, I also keep a daily tab,” Kumar says, referring to Jack Welch, one of his idols. The contrast with Lalu’s own listless inattention is jarring. When Lalu tells me about his success, mumbling vaguely about winning “the confidence of the business classes,” Kumar shouts from the back of the room, citing revenue figures from memory."
  • "None of the innovations was original. All sound, in retrospect, like no-brainers: make the trains faster, heavier, and longer. Kumar wrinkled his nose when I pointed this out. “A five-billion-dollar no-brainer!”"
  • "He may not have increased the fares directly but he has increased the speed of several trains. Once the speed increases beyond a certain point, it qualifies for the super-fast category, and thus its fares is increased, without catching any attention"
  • "The number of coaches in several trains have been increased thus per unit cost has been reduced"
  • "Lalu mismanaged Patna terribly. So how has he managed a gargantuan state organ so well that students from Kellogg and Wharton are taking notice? Part of the answer lies in India’s recent economic growth spurt: Lalu stood on the shoulders of an economy that never grew by less than 6 percent per year during his whole tenure as railways minister. (India’s economy has slowed considerably since the global downturn began.) With a boom like that to fuel demand, how could he fail? All he had to do was sit back and let the market propel him forward"
To add to that, if we look at the Indian scenario, passenger traffic has historically been cross-subsidized by charging more on goods traffic. Infact many industry leaders have criticized his interim budget saying that he hasn't done enough to bring about parity between pricing of passenger traffic and goods traffic, particularly in a recessionary scenario. Indian railways has been loosing its market share in goods transport for many years to the road transport. Even in his latest budget, he has gifted trains to Bihar, whether or not those routes are feasible is a different issue.

Nevertheless, I would have acknowledge one thing - "Lalu is still awesome when it comes to getting media publicity. After he was routed in Bihar, he realised that he needed an image makeover. What better platform could he get other than Railways, the largest employer of India. And he has successfully achieved that and even earning praise from the IIMs and Harvards of the world."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Incredibly stupid India

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I recently came across Karan Thapar's blog, one of the few journalists whom I respect, and found some extremely interesting posts there. I have added this blog to the ever growing list of the blogs that I regularly read, a list which on last count was close to 30. Subsequently, I have stopped counting that number.

I read his latest blog with same title, Incredibly Stupid India. He makes some very interesting points:
  • "in the name of Indian nationalism, the twits from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have ripped apart India’s claim to be the original country of the subcontinent. The truth is it was all India before Pakistan was created. Pakistan, of course, doesn’t always accept that and now the MNS has corroborated their view that the land west of the Indus is different and separate. What a fabulous self-goal."
  • And then there’s Slumdog Millionaire. After Gandhi in 1982, no film has done more to make the world aware of India. It’s a runaway success. Yet what’s the response in India? Some foolish politicians think the name is offensive and at least one court has taken them seriously enough to issue formal notices to the producer. Talk about getting the wrong end of the stick.
  • Such as: India is supposed to be a tolerant, liberal democracy. So how come we can’t accept a name like ‘Karachi Sweets’ and buy Pakistani books? Or: Hinduism is supposed to venerate women, we supposedly elevate them as goddesses. So how come we thrash them if they walk into a pub? And then: India is supposed to be an aspiring and dynamic society. So how come a rather clever name like Slumdog Millionaire can’t be appreciated but is, instead, considered offensive? These are disturbing questions.
I don't have any answers but only questions. Is this the India our forefathers wanted to built?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Analysing India's defense preparedness

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The tempers have risen in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. The attacks brought a renewed attention to India's defense preparedness and capabilities. Even as I am writing this blog, Pakistan is expected to give its reply to the Indian dossier. As per the reports, there is nothing new in the reply and Pakistan is going to simply deny the Indian charges. Surely, the coercive diplomacy hasn't yielded any major results.

So what are the other options before India. According to the Asia Times Online article, the military option is certainly not there. Not just because of threat of Nuclear weapons but because of the lack of preparedness. Infact the article mentioned above claims that it was Indian Army that had backed out of a full scale. This isn't something new that we are hearing. India's last major military conflict was Kargil, about 10 years. Kargil review commitee had also raised several questions. the Israeli Ambassador in New Delhi, Mark Sofer, has said that his country had assisted India in 'turning around' the situation during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.

Kargil war was a narrow miss for India. It happened between May-July 1999. Had we not recieved Israel's support, the outcome wouldn't have been the same. Especially because winters were fast approaching and it would have been virtually impossible to continue with the conflict because enemy had an advantage of height. This would have given adequate time to the Pakistanis to build adequate defenses. Israel is surely a key ally for India, and it wasn't really a co-incidence that there were not too many harsh statements from Indian Govt in response to the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

If we look back at even earlier times, during the 1962 War, India did not fully use its air-power even though it was much more advanced than the Chinese and could have easily slowed their movements.

But have really learnt anything from the past and are we prepared for the future challenges? Sadly, the answer is a NO. India's defense modernization plan is stuck under red-tape and numerous delays. For example - Following the Bofors Gun scandal, no subsequent Govt. had the guts to acquire this gun even though it has proved its worth and was even intrumental during the Kargil conflict.The Arjun Tank, LCA and other important project with the DRDO are miles away from induction. Even the recent BrahMos missile failed its induction test.

India has historically depended on Russia for its arms supply. However, lately there has been blatant arm-twisting by the Russians on the Gorshkov and the LCA engines. It is therefore important for to move out from the Russian claws. The Russian weapon systems are no more cost effective, while their quality control and delivery schedules have always been unreliable.

India's defense spending recently fell below 2% of its GDP, far below 3-3.5% of GDP which is considered to be safe. This is much lower when compared to its neighbors such as China and Pakistan who spend close to 5% of their GDP on defense. China recently got the capability to shoot down spy satellites and also successfully sent a man to space. On the other hand, India's space program continues to largely civilian oriented. China has already build up a good road infrastructure along its borders with India and thus is in a much better prepared.

Turning attention to our internal security, the situation is once extremely bad. Naxalism continues to remain the biggest threat. But we are not tackling it politically. Chattisgarh will raise an elite commando unit on the lines of the Greyhounds(Source). But this wouldn't solve the real issues. The Bangladeshi refugee continue to remain a big security threat for us. Many of them have been in the country for almost 30 years and have even acquired voter cards. Unfortunately, this matter is being politicized by the so called secular forces. Most of the Bangladeshi refugee are muslims and thus are steady vote bank for them. Other than BJP, none of the parties have really raised this issue. POTA which was brought in by the BJP was branded as anti-Muslim. Now the Congress Govt. has brought in a new anti-terror law, which not quite different from POTA.

I can understand that we are a developing nation and have only a limited budget when it comes to defense spending, but surely we can spend the money allocated to defense in a much more efficient manner. Moreover, at least on matters such as defense and internal security, oour politicians should show some amount of consensus.

How secular is India?

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I read an interesting article in Outlook magazine,questioning the very fact whether India is a secular country of not. IndianMuslims blog also had a post on the same topic.These article raise many questions. Not all of them are correct. But still, they are worth reading. It is advisable that the readers first go through the original article, before reading this post. I would like to raise some counter points:

  1. These articles compare India with the West. What about comparing India with other Islamic states none of whom have any credible record of protecting their minorities.
  2. India does have well functioning media and Judiciary, which are largely impartial. These provide ample opportunities to Muslims to raise their grievances. The same cannot be said about the police force though.
  3. Conversion to Christianity by Tribals in India: During the British rule, there was an aggressive proselytizing by Christian missionaries. This is a natural cause of resentment who feel that their cultures were being attacked. This was one of the several causes of the revolt of 1857. In many cases, it has been alleged that the tribal have been offered emoluments for their conversion. The efforts of Christian Missionaries to build hospitals and schools is laudable, but they could do this without indulging in conversion drives. Just to fair, let me also add that another major reason for conversion is avoid discrimination in the rigid Hindu caste system. BR Ambedkar is a classic example who himself converted to Buddhisim after he was frustrated with the caste system. A large number of Dalits have similarly converted to Christianity. Never the less, this should not always be seen as non- secular behavior.
  4. Muslims atleast partly are to be blamed for their present conditions. A large section of Muslims still send their kids to Madarassas for eduction, thus denying them of modern education. This is one of the major reasons why they are so under-represented in Govt. service and police force. For ex: In Jammu & Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits occupy most of the positions in the State Govt. service despite being a muslim-dominated state. Hindus are the more properous community of the state. It is extremely important for the Muslim to do an introspection and find out the reasons as to why the community is lagging. Other minorities like the Christians have been doing much better than the Hindu-majority.
  5. Several individuals like Azim Premji, APJ Abdul Kalam, Irfan Pathan, the Khans of Bollywood have won several accolades in their fields.
  6. Arjun Singh, the man who brought reservations in higher education has recently brought Madrassa education at par with CBSE thus enabling Muslims of Govt service. The rationality of this step is still a question because Madarassa education is based on Islamic teachings and is devoid of modern rational sciences. The curriculum of madarassas need to be revised to make a real impact.
  7. The Uttar Pradesh Board of Madrasa Education (UPBME) has recently banned co-education. This is a step in the backward direction. Though only about 2000 of the total of 16000 madarassas in Up are attached to UPBME, it does not sends the right signals. It is up to the liberal muslims to raise this issue and to make sure that the 150 million strong Muslim community catches up with the rest of the population.
  8. Secularism in its presence sense is a much more recent phenomenon and should be looked in relative terms. For example: US President Obama who has Hussain as his middle name and whose father practices Islam, himself is a Christian. Similarly, Bobby Jindal (Indian American origin) converted to Christianity. He was elected as the Governor of Louisiana, the first Indian American to do so.
Nevertheless, its disappointing to hear such voices from the Indian Muslims. If even after 60 years, we haven't been able to fully meet the aspirations of all our people, surely we have gone wrong somewhere. Something ought to be done to check this disillusionment among the Indian Muslims. Incidents like Babri-Masjid and Godhra riots continue to remain a blot on our democracy. But hardly anything substantial has been done to make sure that such incidents are not repeated.

Muslims have been a part of the Indian society for centuries and their contribution to the society will always remain invaluable. Can you imagine an India without the Taj Mahal?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Will Elections 2009 be any different

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The countdown to the General Elections has begun after a meeting of the Election Commission with all the major political parties, even as the controversy regarding Navin Chawla, who is slated to takeover as the next CEC, refuses to die down.

So, will these elections be any different?

The one aspect that will make a difference is the increase in the representation of the urban voter with respect to rural voter because of delimitation of the constituencies. Delimitation of constituencies is the process of redefining the boundaries of the constituencies to reflect changes in the population pattern. The present constituencies were carved out in 1976. Since then, our demographic pattern has changed and population of the cities has grown from 13% to 28% (2001 census). However, till now only 13% if the Lok Sabha seats were representing 28% if the population. For instance, the Chandni Chowk seat had 3.5 lakh voters while Outer Delhi has 35 lakh voter, clearly defeating the principle of one vote one value. With such a scenario, its no wonder that the politician never bothered about the middle class. Vice-versa the middle class never bothered either because his vote would have hardly make a difference.

But delimitation will change that and would ensure that there isn't vast difference between the number of people every seat would represent. It would also increase the number of seats representing urban voter to more than double(28% from 13%). However there is still a catch here. The population of some of the states like Tamil Nadu hasn't grown that much while that of Bimaru states like UP have grown tremendously. So a uniform delimitation would have actually decreased the relative representation of states such as Tamil Nadu. It would have meant penalizing such states for the progress they have made on the population front and HDI index. Therefore, the number of seats of every state remains unchanged. What will change is the boundaries of the constituencies and number of urban constituencies.

For instance, sitting Congress MP Sachin Pilot will now have to look for another seat as his Dausa constituency in Rajasthan has been reserved for Scheduled Castes. Union minister Kapil Sibal, whose Chandni Chowk constituency has expanded to approximately four times of its present strength, will now have to factor in the aspirations of the new population that has been added. There are many such cases. Somnath Chatterjee will have to forget his Bolpur seat in West Bengal and Mayawati her Akbarpur stronghold (Akbarpur has been put into the general category). (Source)

Delimitation was originally supposed to happen every 10 years as per the constitution, but it was banned in 1976 till the first census of 2000.

In the last elections, the Congress got only 145 seats while BJP got just 138 seats. The delimitation would benefit the two national parties because unlike the rest of the country where general elections are fought on local issues, the cities are more likely to vote on national issues. The delimitation may also alter the power structure among alliances in various states. For example, the BJP in Orissa wants to fight more seats.

Surely, the political power structure has changed. But will it actually translate to any gain, only time will tell. The rural voter still dominates with 72% of the vote.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Swaminathan Aiyar seems to agree with me

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By no means, I would dare to call myself as a political analyst. Yet my predictions seem to be extremely close to what Swaminathan S Ankleshwar Aiyar has written says in today's Sunday Times. Almost three months ago, I had predicted Mayawati as the next Prime Minister. Here is the link to my original post. The points in both articles are different and complementary, and point towards the same conclusion.

However, I don't expect the Mayawati led Govt. to more than two years in office. Probably, by Rahul would the Prime-Ministerial candidate while for BJP, Modi could be in fray. Given the recession, probably I should seriously consider Psephology as a career option.