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Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to kill innovation, learn it from our Govt

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UPA Govt last month rolled out a massive national scheme under which they will provide the women in rural areas with sanitary napkins. While the exact details are unclear, women below the poverty line will be provided with the napkins free of charge where as the rest of the rural women will be charged Re 1 (.02 USD).


This is clearly a great step towards the end goal.  However, there's a 48 year old Coimbatore resident, A. Muruganatham, who isn't smiling.

A. Muruganatham and his invention, a machine that can churn out 120 sanitary napkins an hour, has been creating a lot of waves in the developmental sector.  A high school drop out, Muruganatham created his machine after realizing that there was an immense need for low cost sanitary napkin at the base of the pyramid. According to him, it costs just about 1 rupee (0.02 USD) to produce these napkins and the machine itself costs Rs 66000 (approx USD 1500).

Please read the complete article. This is precisely what I hate about Soviet styled Central Planning.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When will Election Debates make a debut in India

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Last week, Britain made history when for the first time, the leaders from the three mainstream political parties debated in front of a studio audience and was also televised live. Such debates have become a regular feature in the US where this tradition started with the historic debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon way back in 1960. Other countries to have tried this include France, New Zealand, Australia and Iran (Source).

Importance of these Debates
The importance of such cannot be overstated. Firstly, these debates provide a direct platform to leaders to directly reach out their target audience. These leaders otherwise usually spend crores on traveling around the country and in organizing rallies which is mainly attended by party loyalists and not ordinary people.

The present spending limit for candidates is Rs 25 lakhs in Parliamentary elections and Rs 10 lakhs in Assembly elections. How many Indians can spare such large sums of money. More importantly, once they get elected, wouldn't they be motivated to get return on investment. India does not have open and clean system to raise funds for political parties like that of the US. Thus such debates can create a level playing field by reducing the role of money power in elections.

Secondly, such televised debates can lower the power of media-houses. Media houses and Journalists are universally known to have their own biases and often cover stories favorably. For e.g., in UK media has largely ignored the Liberal Democrats in the past. However, last week their leader comprehensively dominated the first Election debate in UK. Thus, the debate created a level playing field and allowed real talent to flourish.

Additionally, a major issue plaguing Indian media today is the rising phenomenon of paid news. It has been widely reported in the international media and it includes the big media houses as well. For e.g., a 2004 article in Asia Times Online claims that even Times of India sells its space for paid coverage (I can't comment on its authenticity). Another more recent article (2009) on Wall Street Journal says,
Ajay Goyal is a serious, independent candidate contesting for a Lok Sabha seat in Chandigarh. Never heard of him? Neither, probably, have a lot of people in Chandigarh because when it came to getting press coverage for his campaign he was faced with a simple message: If you want press, you have to pay.

So far, he says, he's been approached by about 10 people – some brokers and public relations managers acting on behalf of newspaper owners, some reporters and editors – with the message that he'll only get written about in the news pages for a fee. We're not talking advertising; we're talking news. One broker offered three weeks of coverage in four newspapers for 10 lakh rupees ($20,000). A reporter and a photographer from a Chandigarh newspaper told him that for 1.5 lakh rupees ($3,000) for them and a further 3 lakh rupees ($6,000) for other reporters, they could guarantee coverage in up to five newspapers for two weeks.
In the recent Maharashtra elections, three newspapers that compete with each other, Lokmat, Pudhari and Maharashtra Times, carried the same piece, with the same picture and headline on Ashok Chavan. There are people on record saying that representatives of the Dainik Jagran, Dainik Bhaskar, Punjab Kesri, Eenadu asked for money. (Source)

In such a corrupt environment, it is important to reduce money power and create a level playing field which is exactly what these debates tend to do.

Disadvantages
Some people might question the efficacy of such debates. Televised Debates is not everyone's cup of tea. However, such debates only judge the articulation and fluency of the candidates which has no relation to their ability to Govern. Such debates would effectively rule out the likes of ManMohan Singh any chance of becoming the Prime Ministerial Candidates. But isn't fair enough. Aren't leaders expected to articulate and inspire.

And is it too high price to pay, considering if such a system is in place, it would force the likes of Mayawati to come out and face the music and answer questions from the audience. Mayawati has conveniently and continuously ignored the media since the dalits to read or bother newspapers and English new channels. Such debates will not allow candidates to make false promises as they will be cross-questioned. The likes of ManMohan Singh can continue to hold other important positions like Finance Minster or in the Planning Commision.

Another important aspect is that, the party which is ahead has little to gain from a debate in which the leader might slip up, and forfeit their advantage. This has been evident in Britain where there has been a tradition that at every general election the leader of the Opposition challenges the Prime Minister to a televised debate (on the grounds they have nothing to lose) only to be turned down by the Prime Minister (on the grounds they have everything to lose). LK Advani too had challenged ManMohan Singh for televised debate on the eve of the elections which was rejected by the Prime Minister.

Conducting such debates in India
Conducting debates in far more linguistically homogeneous societies like UK or US is far more easy. The obvious question is in which language would you have such a debate. India is far too diverse linguistically. Hindi is unsuitable in the south or the north-east while English is restricted to the urban and elite class. Secondly, India has a multi-party system and any meaningful televised debate can occur with such a large number of participants.

In such an environment, it is difficult to imagine conducting election debates in National Elections atleast in the foreseeable future. But why can't we have such debates in Assembly Elections. States in India were created linguistically and every state has a state language. These debates can be conducted in the state language. Furthermore, each state typically has just two or three major political parties or groups. So an effective debate can be conducted under the aegis of the Election Commission of India.

Final Words
We proudly call ourselves the World's Largest Democracy. But there others like Arundhati Roy who call India's democracy a fake democracy. The reality is somewhere in the middle. We only have pockets of Democracy. Even after 62 years of independence, democracy has not reached every part of the country.

We must bring democracy to every doorstep and Election Debates are a great way to achieve this because it gives a voice to everyone.

If we strengthen our democracy, development will follow. This new democracy can take on anyone including Naxals. Democracy is for the people,  by the people and of the people.Our forefathers fought hard so that we enjoy basic rights. It is now our  turn to fight their unfinished battles. It is now time that the Indian Civil Society shun its ignorance and demand a level playing field. It is time that our leader must face the music.

Would love to see a debate between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi in 2014. And if you still haven't watched the UK Election Debate, you may do so on Youtube.
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Monday, April 5, 2010

Right to Schools (Education)

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Background
After more than 60 years of independence, India's literacy rate is 65%. This is surely a vast improvement over the earlier figures but it is still very low when compared to some of our neighbors like China or Sri Lanka. Importance of education cannot be understated. An educated person is much aware about cleanliness and health, he is much more efficient in work even if he is a farmer, he is much more aware of his rights, he is much more likely to adopt family planning.

Since 1991, our economy has grown at a tremendous pace. However, this growth has been far from uniform. For e.g., in 1999-2000, the Gini Factor (a measure of inequality) was around 32 which today has increased to 36 today. Clearly, the poor have not been able to take advantage of this new economy.

The new economy demands different skills from the old economy. Today, India has a demographic advantage with a large working population and a very small dependent population. However, in the absence of any education, this demographic advantage could easily turn into a demographic disaster. We should not forget that when China began its reforms in 1978, it already had the basic raw material an educated workforce. Therefore, something drastic has to be done to improve not just education but also its quality.

Historical Perspective
The Indian Constitution in its Article 45 states that the "The State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years". However, despite high enrollment rates the quality of education is extremely poor with Class 5 student unable to solve simple Class 2 arithmetic problems or having basic reading skills.

Right to Education
The UPA Govt drafted the Right to Education Act in 2005 and it has now been implemented from 1st April, 2010. I came across an excellent critique of this act by Parth Shah. The basic features of this act are as follows:
  • Every child from 6 to 14 years of age has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education.
  • Private schools must take in a quarter of their class strength from `weaker sections and disadvantaged groups', sponsored by the government.
  • All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 per cent parents and guardians as members.
  • All schools except government schools are required to be recognized by meeting specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure.
Criticisms
Everyone agrees that the act is well intentioned. However, as Mr Shah rightly points out, this Act stresses on inputs rather than outcomes. It is being assumed that with better school facilities, books, uniforms, teachers the quality of education will improve. The act stresses on neighbourhood schools with one school every kilometer.

With such high focus on inputs, I would call this act Right to Schools rather than Right to Education. No doubt, infrastructure is important. For e.g., one of the reasons why enrollment rates for girls have been lower is because of lack of toilet facilites for them, something that the improved school infrstructure will address. However, the act in its present form fails to address the delivery  mechanism. There aren't enough check and balances for the evaluation of either the students or the teachers.

Furthermore, this act unfairly punishes schools that pays market wages rather than civil servant wages. Now this is something I find it hard to understand. Why should a civil servant in Delhi get the same salary in lets say Patna? There is a huge difference in the cost of living. Airtel has offices around the country, does it pay the same salary across the board? It must be understood that some states have more tax revenues than others. States like Bihar, Orissa and UP have very low revenues. Centre deciding what the pay structure of the civil servants in these states is ridiculous.

At the moment, the Centre-State contribution for RTE has been fixed at 55-45. How can this ratio be uniform across the board when some states much more poor than others. It must be recalled that when the 6th Pay Commission report was finalized, the poorer states were not happy. In poor states, it is the state that has to make the investment as the private investors are not willing to investing. By increasing the expenditures of the State Govt leaves very little for the State Govt to invest in other projects.

This is precisely the reason why I believe Mayawati is justified in her opposition to RTE (ofcourse her expenditure on Dalit statues cannot be justified). Other states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have also joined in their opposition. Centre must have a higher share in poorer states.

RTE also penalizes private schools that lack infrastructure like buildings or playground. These schools which operate mostly in rural areas or in urban slums, are extremely cost efficient and numerous studies have found them providing atleast similar education if not better than Govt. schools. A much better system would be that the state provided reimburses the fees and let the people decide as to which schools they intend to send their children.

The RTE envisages to increase the compensation of the teachers to close to Rs 20000 per month. This is a huge amount. However, this carrot alone is unlikely to make any impact since there aren't any sticks. Most teachers in Govt schools particularly in rural areas are irregular in their attendance. The act does not contain any performance based pay structure, without which there isn't going to be any incentive to perform.

The 25% reservations is the only step that is is going to make any verifiable change. The act also mandates that there cannot be any separate classes for those in the reserved category thus ensuring complete integration. However, what is not clear is as to what is the definition of these disadvantaged groups. There is a scope of nepotism here and several undeserved candidates may also benefit from this. This will also push up the tuition rates as 75% of the students will bear cost of the remaining 25%. The reduction in seats by 25% however should not be any problem as this would would attract setting up of more schools to mean this demand. And since we now have reservations at school level, every effort must be made to gradually remove reservations at top and this must start in 2025.

Conclusion
No doubt this grand scheme will have some positive effects. There are around 5000 cities and towns in India. 25% of seats reserved in the private schools in these cities will surely benefit the poor. Even if we assume that 10% of the seats will be siphoned off to those with fake BPL certificates, atleast 15% will be genuine beneficiaries. This is huge number.

Then there will ineveitably more efficient administrations. Take the examples of Bihar and Uttarakhand. Both these states in the past have used innovative means to boast enrollment rates in their states. Bihar Govt provided free cycles to all school students, which boosted the enrollment rates enormously (schools were far away from homes).

Uttarakhand has achieved nearly 100 per cent enrolment of students in schools this year and the drop out percentage has come down to mere 0.31 per cent from 15 per cent in 2000-01. The government has been implementing several innovative schemes like `Sapno ki Udan', `Pahal' and `Muskan' under the Centre's flagship programme to improve the quality and reach of education in the State. The salient features of `Sapno ki Udan' include organising `Mobile Schools' to reach out to the children and their parents, to identify and mainstream `Out-of-School' children, hosting community and educational fairs and conducting regular health camps, Radhika Jha, the State Project Director of SSA, told a visiting team of journalists.

"The Mobile Schools/Multi Purpose Vehicle are equipped with projector, computer library, learning material and other necessary tools. These vehicles are used to provide mobile schooling as well as to extend awareness and motivational campaigns among the masses," she said. `Pahal' is an initiative in PPP (public private partnership) mode for providing school education to `never- enrolled' and drop-out children in the age-group of 6-14 years belonging to vulnerable sections like rag-pickers, beggars and scavengers. `Muskaan' is another successful programme that aims at ensuring education of children of migrant labourers from states like UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
(Source)
According to a NASSCOM study, only 14% of the graduates produced in India can be directly recruited by the Industry, which clearly points out to the lack of quality. This is true even in the primary education field. Mere passing of the Right to Schools(Education) is not going to change anything significant unless coupled by any change in the delivery mechanism.

Let us forget, NREGA was initially launched without any checks and balances. No doubt it has made an impact, but the impact is nowhere near the amount of money being pumped into the schemes as a large amount is being siphoned off. In case anyone is interested, please go through the following article where eminent economist Surjit Bhalla analyzes NREGA using some numbers. I am convinced that RTE is going to be yet another scheme that will fail to deliver its objective.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The New Great Game in Afghanistan

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Background
Afghanistan has been an unfortunate and poor country for quite sometime. It has consistently witnessed intervention of the foreign powers into its internal affairs. After the two superpowers fighting their turf battles in Afghanistan, it is now the turn of two regional powers India and Pakistan to do the same.

It must be understood that for Pakistan, Afghanistan holds the similar importance like Nepal does for us. We do not wish to control Nepal and would like a peaceful stable Nepal. At the sametime we are alarmed by growing Chinese presence in Nepal. Similarly, Pakistan is alarmed by growing Indian presence in Afghanistan. Thousands of Nepalese are allowed to live and work in India. Likewise, Pakistan hosts about 3 million Afghans.

However, the similarity ends there. Pakistan has used Afghans to promote cross border terrorism into India. Thousands of Afghans families have been settled in POK which is in direct violation of the UN resolutions. This is something that India has always respected. Article 370 of Indian Constitution does not permit outsiders to buy land in Kashmir. Kashmiri women who marry outsiders cease to have any property rights. Thus, the demographics of Indian Controlled Kashmir hasn't been altered at all in the last 60 years.

On the other hand, India has always assisted the Nepalese Govt in developing its economy. It helped its Army in its struggle against the Maoists. It has invested in various infrastructure projects in Nepal. But ofcourse, India has also tried to interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal, but that has been essentially to keep the country stable. Nepal hosts a large number of Tibetan migrants from China. India has never tried to use them to promote insurgency and terrorism into China or even give any such impression. This is precisely the difference between the approaches of the two countries.

Indian presence in Afghanistan
It is a well known fact that it was Pakistan's ISI along with the CIA that created the Taliban. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Americans pulled, but the Pakistanis continued to support them. After the Taliban captured power in 1996, it was the Indians who continued to support the Northern Alliance. They continued to pump in money through the Tajiks. Eversince the Taliban were overthrown, India has actively invested in Afghanistan but has restricted itself to development project only. Some of the major projects are given below: (Source)
  • Committed $1.3 billion on various projects.
  • Built the 218-km Zelarang-Delaram highway to enable south-western Afghanistan to access the Iranian port of Chabahar.
  • Constructed the 220KV DC transmission line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20KV sub-station at Chimtala.
  • Built the Salma Dam power project (42 MW) in Herat province (to finish by 2011).
  • Constructing the Afghan parliament building (to be completed by 2011).
  • Helped expand the Afghan national TV network, provided uplink and downlink facilities over all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
  • 84 small projects in areas of agriculture, rural development, education, health, vocational training and solar energy.
  • Gifted three Airbus aircraft along with essential spares to Ariana Afghan Airlines. Also, 400 buses, 200 mini-buses and 105 utility vehicles.
Impact of Indian presence
There is absolutely no doubt that Indian presence has made a significant impact as well as a significant dent in Pakistani influence in the country. For e.g., the Indira Gandhi Hospital in Kabul is the only major Hospital in the country and has brought in tremendous Afghan goodwill. Other projects in the field of edcation, power and rural development have also made significant impact. However, nothing has made a bigger impact than the Indian made highways to Iran and Tajikistan.

 Thanks to an Indian-constructed bridge in 2007 linking Afghanistan and Tajikistan, trade through that route increased sevenfold within a year and Afghan land values along that route shot up dramatically. Not to be outdone, Russia too has offered to facilitate a rail transit corridor linking Europe to Afghanistan via Uzbekistan. Increasing Afghan involvement in Central Asia can spin off and spill over, positioning it to capitalise on its natural endowments and become the regional hub of water resources, energy distribution and hydroelectric power. Indian completion in 2008 of the 135-mile road from Nimroz province to Iran's Chahbahar port provides an efficient transport corridor for goods between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
With the Khyber Pass under constant attack, this insurgent-free route could provide an alternative for supplying western troops with non-lethal goods and aid to the Afghan government. This would cost Pakistan economically as well as geopolitically since currently 75 per cent of non-lethal supplies are transported through the port of Karachi. If the US is able to reopen its base in Uzbekistan as planned, Pakistan's influence will erode even further. (Source)
Till date, Pakistan has refused to allow Indian Goods to reach Afghanistan through its territory. These are now being pushed through the Iranian ports. The biggest consequence for Pakistan is that these economic trends are creating conditions for a de facto partitioned Afghan state. The more stable north and west - with international linkages, economic growth and acceptance of the Afghan central government and western troop presence - can emerge self-sufficient and defensible while pockets of insurgency engulf the south and east.

Pakistan's counter strategy
Pakistan has realised that it needs to counter the growing Indian influence in the region. Firstly, it began attacking Indian missions in Afghanistan. The result of this has been disastrous. For the moment, India has decided not start any new projects in the country and is content with completing the existing projects. Secondly, Pakistan has started accusing India of promoting insurgency in Balochistan. This is again a well thought out strategy. Afghanistan is under US command and it is impossible for India to do anything their knowledge. Moreover, Pakistan media barely talks about Baloch terrorists. They dont have capabilities to conduct Lahore type attacks. This is just a diversionary tactic by Pakistan and quite similar to accusing India of stealing Indus river water. (Refer my earlier article)

Thirdly, it seems to have convinced the US to have talks with moderate factions of the Taliban where it could play a major role as a facilitator. They have found an able ally in the form of the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai too supports talks with the Taliban. In the elections last year, the US supported his rival Abdullah Abdullah, which was seconded by India. Now, Karzai is hitting back and has made overtures to Pakistan. He called Pakistan and Afghanistan as conjoined twins - even though one is over 5000 years old while other is barely 63 years old and it is not certain whether it will remain forever.

Pakistan successfully kept India out of the London Conference on Afghanistan where it was essentially decided to open a dialogue with the Taliban. Several Taliban leaders were removed by US from its list of most wanted terrorists. Pakistan has increasing become more assertive with its demands. They presented a 56 page document containing their demands - something like the old trade unionists, in the hope that atleast some of them will be addressed. As of now, Pakistan will be given more F-16's and drone technology will also be transferred.

However, what the US fails to understand that despite all the money that it has pumped into Pakistan, the people of Pakistan remain deeply suspicious and anti-American. This is essentially because till date it has restricted itself to pumping money into millitary hardware, something that has not touched Pakistani lives. This is precisely what Kerry Lugar bill hoped to achieve. However, there was massive opposition particularly from the Army as there were provisions to monitor the usage of money every six months and the aid was conditional (only released if Pakistan remain under Civilian rule). This directly threatened the Army's hegemony. However, by directly dealing with the Army, the US has essentially weakened the Civilian Govt. instead of of strengthening it.

Possible Indian Strategy
India must realise that its laid back strategy and depending solely on US cannot work anymore. Under the 8 years of Republican rule of George Bush, India enjoyed a strong relations with the US. However, the Democrats do not seem to be bothered about Indian interests too much. India has to do everything to convince the Americans of reducing their reliance on Pakistan. One possible ally in this great game is Iran.

Iran, a neighbouring Islamic country, has tremendous stake in a stable Afghanistan. Afghanistan produces nearly 90% of the World's poppy, which is also a major source of revenue for the Taliban. Being a neighbour, the Iranians have a major drug menace in their country. They would also like the radical elements to be kept away from their territory.

Iran is among the more modern Islamic countries. It is a democractic country. Its HDI index was 0.782 which is extremely good. It has a literacy rate of 83% and women comprise of more than half of the students in universities, something unthinkable in the most of the Islamic world. Therefore, rather than the military ruled and radicalised Pakistan, it should be Iran with whom the US should be dealing with.

However, this may not be as easy as it sounds. Firstly, the US had overthrown an elected Iranian Govt. in 1953 and installed a pro-US regime. This was done primarily to keep US energy interests. However, the 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the pro-US regime. Iran has remained under US sanctions since then. In last few years, Iran has increasing felt threatened by the US, particularly after the US invasion of Iraq, which also driven by Oil interests. Iran has therefore decided to take the North Korea's path and is developing Nuclear Weapons to deter the US from attacking. Secondly, Iran being an Islamic country is opposed to Israel's occupation of Gaza and other territories. Israel has historically enjoyed good relations with the US. With US openly criticizing any fresh Israeli settlements in Gaza, this could be the time to reach out to Iran.

Another possible ally is Russia. Russia again another neighbour that has stake in the stability of Afghanistan. Russia too has faced terrorism from Chechen rebels who have close links with the Al Quaeda operatives. The Russians who withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 are still believed have their intelligence presence in that country. But Russia again has been a long time US enemy strethching back to the Cold War era. However, recent agreements between Russia and US to reduced their nuclear warheads is a sign that the things are changing.

India which enjoys close relations with Russia and has had close relations with Iran in the past. If India could help strengthen the relations of the US with Russia and Iran, something similar to what the Pakistanis did to US-China relations, it could completely change the game in Afghanistan.

Final thoughts
As Pakistani Foreign Minister Mr Qureshi puts it, "Indian and Pakistani interests in Afghanistan cannot be the same". Ofcourse, one is development oriented while other is not.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Humour: Awesome

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I received this as a forwarded email  from a friend. I am not sure if its true, but it still its awesome and worth reading.

An ingenious example of speech and politics occurred recently in the United Nations Assembly that made the world community smile.


A representative from India began: 'Before beginning my talk I want to tell you something about Rishi Kashyap of Kashmir, after whom Kashmir is named. When he struck a rock and it brought forth water, he thought, 'What a good opportunity to have a bath.' He removed his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water. When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished. A Pakistani had stolen them.'
The Pakistani representative jumped up furiously and shouted, 'What are you talking about? The Pakistanis weren't there then.'
The Indian representative smiled and said, 'And now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech. 'And they say Kashmir belongs to them................................................
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Sunday, March 7, 2010

My take on the Women's Reservation Bill

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After nearly 15 years when the Woman's reservation bill was first discussed, it looks set to be passed in the Rajya Sabha. This is my second post on this issue. There were some broad questions that came to mind. I have tried to answer each of them in this post.
  • Do we need reservation for women?
  • Is reservation really needed at the highest level?
  • Are reservations really going to make any difference? 
  • Do we need sub-quotas?
Do we need reservation for women?
A lot has already been written in the mainstream media about the importance that gender equality and empowerment of women plays in the overall development of any society. So I do not wish to repeat what has already been said and to a large extent well understood as well. Empowering women in a society where they have been treated like doormats for centuries is not an easy task. There is bound to be a internal resistance.

Moreover how do we achieve it within the constraints that democracy poses us.China had a cultural revolution from 1966-78, which was imposed on the entire population and was not at all peaceful. In India, any acceptable change has to be brought in an extremely careful manner.

Therefore reservation is one way to empower women. Since 1993, 1/3rd of the seats in panchayats have been reserved for women. This has been referred to as "the greatest social experiment ever". Upon adding the numbers, there are more women elected representatives in India than the rest of the world.

Skeptics might argue that it is still the men who take most of the decisions and women are mere proxies. Most probably it is true. But at least it has brought some amount change in the general attitude of the people towards women. This has got them an entry point, something that would not have been possible without reservation. Changing the rural mindset is not easy. A young boy in a remote village grows watching his father ill-treat his mother. He begins view this as acceptable and is more likely to do the same when he grows up. With such a system in place, it would at least stop such outdated ideas from percolating to the next generation.


Today there are a large number of NGOs that are helping women sarpanches in performing their duties These sarpanches are slowly making their presence felt. They known to focus much more on basic issues like drinking water, sanitation and education. They are much more honest. Since then, the reservations for women have been increased to 50%. I would go on to suggest that this number should be further increased to 75-100% in areas such as Haryana and some part of Punjab where Gender ratios are extremely poor and female infanticide is prevalent.

Moreover, reservation is important because it has been observed that once the seat is dereserved, almost 40% of woman choose not to contest. India's poor record on HDI index can expect to receive a boost in the long run. A professor(with over 25 years of teaching experience) of mine was once discussing this issue. He recalled, how over all these years the psyche of female students changed. While female students of the 80's and 90's would be vocal and aggressive about their rights, the present day female students almost expect equality.As they say, this is how democracy works, slowly.

Is reservation really needed at the highest level?
Reservations at the bottom is needed to bring about social change but is it really needed at the top. Or should merit prevail as we should be more bothered about who is more qualified to lead the country?

India's biggest strength is its democracy and diversity. The idea of India is unique because of its unity in diversity. It has been a tradition in India since the very beginning to have representations of all communities and regions. So all Union Cabinets formed till date have ensured that all communities are well represented. With its abysmally low 10% of elected women representative doesn't goes well with its idea of World's Largest democracy.
"Ninety countries have some kind of quota..That's half the countries of the world. On one level you might have a political party adopting its own informal quota—in the UK —on the other level you can have a legislative quota. You can see combination of those in different countries." (Source)
One of the major reasons why women are so under-represented is because they have their family responsibilities. This has been well recognized by nearly half of the world and it is time that we also consider this option seriously. Let us not forget that even in the best and most admired companies in the world, the female representation in the boardrooms is extremely low despite good gender ratios at lower levels. The most important reason for this that is again the family responsibilities. In something as important as nation building, it is important to give women their due representation.

Are reservations really going to make any difference? 
Reservations are not a panacea and mere reservation is not going to solve everything. Furthermore, just looking around at women politicians Most of them are from political families. Women Empowerment does not means election of such women from political families. In fact such reservations could reduce merit. Wives, daughters, mothers, daughters-in-laws of politicians could be running the show. Another option is that a certain tickets from political parties are reserved for women. The counter-argument given to this suggestion is that women shall be given only losing seats.

Another risk is that this reservation may extend to perpetuity. The caste based reservations introduced in 1950 were supposed to last only 10 years. They have been extended regularly. It is quite possible that the women reservation might take a similar course. Presently this reservation has been made for 15 years, but most probably it shall be there for a long time. In my opinion, there should be a clear road-map to gradually reduce the % of seats reserved for women to around 15%. This would make a balance between merit and social inclusion.

At this point of time, it is impossible to predict whether reservations can bring about any major difference.


Do we need sub-quotas?
Some of the parties like JD(U) and RJD are calling sub-quota for minorities and OBC's. Even though reservations are supposed to eliminate differences, they actually end up doing exactly the opposite. Caste based reservations are a classic example of the same. Reservations based on religion is therefore a dangerous territory.

However, this suggestion mustn't be rejected outright without examining whether there is a need for such a reservation. There is no doubt that women across all communities face numerous hurdles to rise. However, it is incorrect to assume  that this is homogeneous across all communities.Women in some communities face much more hurdles than other because some communities are more orthodox than the others. The following statistics clearly indicate this.




                                                                              (Source: 1, 2)

So while women reservations bill will benefit the women in SC's and ST's, Muslims and OBC women are not likely to benefit much and their representation in Parliament is likely to remain low. For e.g., presently out of 543 members in Lok Sabha, there are only 3 Women Muslim members. If one tries to think of prominent active Women Muslim Politicians, the only name that comes to mind is Mehbooba Mufti. But even she comes from a Political family and she is more likely to take up issues on Kashmir rather the empowerment of Muslim Women.


Furthermore, reservations for OBC's and Muslim women is not easy because there aren't any seats reserved for these communities. Moreover, Muslim population is varies across the country and hence the formula cannot apply across all states. One possible solution is increasing number of seats in Rajya Sabha and nominating members from these communities. Another important thing is that with 33% reservation, the total reserved seats would go upto 48% (22.5%+33%-(22.5/3)). Any further increase to reservation would mean that less than 50% seats are available in the unreserved category.

While the real empowerment of Women can take place at the grassroots level, women leadership across all communities needs to be created at the highest level so that they can take up women issues. Therefore, I believe there is a need to examine the feasibility of sub-quotas within quotas.


Conclusion

There is an old adage, when you educate a man you educate an individual when you educate a woman you educate a whole family. However, reservation is an easy shortcut. Without proper backup steps, it is unlikely to make any significant impact.

Happy Woman's Day
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Monday, March 1, 2010

India and Pakistan - future scenario

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Thank You Blogadda :)

Sixty three years ago, the two countries started their journey, torn by bitter memories of partition. The relations between the two nations have been troubled right from the start. Two similar examples from around the world the come to mind - West Germany and East Germany, and the two Koreas.

There are some basic similarities. These countries too had to go through a bitter partition. They followed different political systems and were bitter rivals of each other. One essential difference is that they essentially were one country - i.e. both East and West Germany claimed that they represented the entire Germany. Same is true in case of North and South Korea. In case of India and Pakistan, their rivalry is essentially over Kashmir. Though India was earlier a united country, it is extremely unlikely that partition can be reversed.

The German Story
After the Second World War, both East and West Germany were essentially poor and devastated. But West Germany under the allied influence, introduced free market reforms. It also benefited by large scale aid by the US. By the 1960's and 70's, there was large and visible difference in conditions on the two sides of the border. People in East Germany wanted to move to the West in search of a better life. The Berlin Wall was constructed to stop this. The difference in living standards continued to increase. Perhaps it was the aid from Soviet Union that was keeping things just about together in East Germany. In late 80's, Soviet Union was badly battered in Afghanistan. As a result, it could not continue its aid to the East. The Berlin Wall collapsed.

The Korean conundrum
The story between North and South Korea is somewhat similar. Both countries have remained bitter rivals since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Both countries have contrasting political and economic systems. While North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship with centralized economy, South Korea is a democratic country with free markets. North Korea implemented land reforms, introduced free health care and education. At one point of time, its HDI indicators were better. However, gradually South Korea's export led economy has moved way ahead. Today its HDI indicators are much better. Its per capita income is $20,000 as compared to a minuscule $1100 in North Korea.

Sung Yoon Lee in his article in ForegnPolicy says,
In contrast, beyond North Korea's southern border lies a free and affluent Korea, one that claims sovereignty over the entire peninsula and to which millions of Northerners would move if given the choice. By its mere existence, Seoul poses an omnipresent existential threat to Pyongyang.
In his article, Lee predicts that North Korea like East Germany cannot survive forever. It will collapse at some point of time. It must be noted that it currently receives aid from China (just like East Germany did from Soviet Union) and South Korea without which vast proportion of its population would die of hunger.

Comparing India and Pakistan
Can such an eventuality occur in the Indian Subcontinent ever. On one side we have India, a democracy (with its own flaws), an rapidly growing economy and rising living standards.But it is also the home the largest number of poor, there is growing rich-poor divide and a growing Naxal violence. On the other side of the spectrum is Pakistan, at best is a military controlled democracy, a country that is battling with an identity crisis, is a nuclear weapon state, is said to be source of terrorism worldwide.

Small signs of such a thing are present. Pakistanis today are worldwide seen with suspicion. They are lined up and frisked separately at airport. Many Pakistanis abroad claim themselves to be of Indian origin in order to escape this. Some Pakistanis artists like Musicians also want to get hold to an Indian Passport. Of course, these people are a small minority.

But is such a thing really possible. My answer to that will be for the moment, NO. The difference in prosperity in the two countries isn't that huge. India's rank according to HDI index is 134 while that of Pakistan is 141. As per Wiki, India's per capita income $1022 while that of Pakistan is $1017. Our Gini ratio is actually  higher at 36.8 as compared to just 30 for Pakistan. Historian William Dalrymple too writes that there is little difference.
On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country's visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India.
However, he goes on to point out some major differences - landholdings. democracy and education. Soon after independence, land reforms were introduced in India. This was promised the Congress. In fact, this is often referred as one of the reasons of creating Pakistan, (protecting the interests of Zamindars). In Pakistan, this feudal system still exists and as a result there is inequality and social tension. Pakistan has seldom enjoyed Democracy. However, often freedom is difficult to directly quantify when it comes to measuring prosperity. Regarding education in Pakistan, he writes
No problem in Pakistan casts such a long shadow over its future as the abject failure of the government to educate more than a fraction of its own people: at the moment, a mere 1.8% of Pakistan's GDP is spent on government schools. The statistics are dire: 15% of these government schools are without a proper building; 52% without a boundary wall; 71% without electricity.

This education gap is the most striking way in which Pakistan is lagging behind India: in India, 65% of the population is literate and the number rises every year: only last year, the Indian education system received a substantial boost of state funds.

But in Pakistan, the literacy figure is under half (it is currently 49%) and falling: instead of investing in education, Musharraf's military government is spending money on a cripplingly expensive fleet of American F-16s for its air force. As a result, out of 162 million Pakistanis, 83 million adults of 15 years and above are illiterate. Among women the problem is worse still: 65% of all female adults are illiterate. As the population rockets, the problem gets worse.
Currently, India's literacy rate is 65% and should increase to 80-85% by 2030. One obvious concern here is what is the quality of this education and are these people employable. And I am sure even in India, there are schools that don't have proper building or electricity(particularly in the Naxal belt).

Nevertheless, India is way ahead of Pakistan in terms of education. But another concern is that a large proportion of the population receives education through the outdated Madrassa system.The so-called secular forces are merely promising reservations for them, even though in 60 years, reservations haven't made enough impact on SC's and ST's. Reservations were supposed to be an instrument that removes the caste identity. Instead it has only strengthened it. A divide based on religion is even more dangerous. Ironically, it has been the so-called communal party that has talked about reforming the madrassas, something that has been looked with suspicion by the community.

Future Scenario:2030
Where will be in 2030 economically, this is an important question. Will there be any difference in level of prosperity with respect to Pakistan change?

Over the last 20 years our economy has grown consistently. In the last five years, we have grown by nearly 8%. There are rumors that we are capable of achieving 9-10% growth rates. Let us assume that we will grow at an average of 7% over the next 10 years and at 5.5% in the subsequent 10 years. The growth rates will come down because of base-effect. Despite these highly conservative estimates, India's GDP would be at least 4.2 trillion dollars. Our rate of population growth has been coming down consistently and present it is roughly 1.55% (Source). Assuming an average growth rate of 1.45% over the next 10 years and an average of 1.35 over the subsequent 10 years, our per capita GDP should be roughly 2700$ in 2030.

What would the number be for Pakistan? Under Musharraf, from 2002 to 2007 Pakistan did post impressive growth of 6-7%. But such stability in the country is rare. In 2009, the growth rate was just 2%. Assuming an average growth rate of 4% over the next 10 years and 6% over the subsequent 10 years(highly optimistic considering the frequent bomb blasts and terror attacks), in 2030 Pakistan's GDP would just be $436 billion. Assuming its population grows at 2% and 1.8% as against present figure of 2.2%, its per capita income would in 2030 would only be around $1800.


These are highly conservative estimates and the real picture might actually to be much much better than this.For example, considering current education levels in Pakistan it is highly unlikely that they can sustain such growth rates of 6% over such long periods. Despite this conservatism, India's GDP would be 10 times that of Pakistan while per capita GDP would  be 1.5 times. More likely figures are that our GDP will be 14-15 times that of Pakistan and per capita GDP will be around 2.5 times that of Pakistan.

Impact of this growth

India's GDP would be at least 10 times that of Pakistan. In another five years time, India's economy would overtake China as the fastest growing economy. This should translate into enormous leverage for us. Around 10-15 years ago, China's human rights record was severely criticized everywhere. But one hardly hears that today. China's influence was very much visible at Copenhagen.

India is bound to enjoy similar influence by 2030 or even before that. By 2030, India would have almost certainly hosted the Olympics. We are not even sure whether Pakistan could host even the Asian Games by then

I do not foresee a Germany like situation which led to the reunification of Germany. But I do expect that if there is appreciable difference in prosperity and if this grow is inclusive, domestic support for terror is should come down appreciably.

Another important thing is that if there is an appreciable and visible difference in prosperity, it shall become increasingly difficult for the Pakistani Military to continue with its astronomically high defense expenditure. Presently India spends around 2.5% of the GDP on defense while Pakistan spends around 3.5-4%. Hence, in 2030 our defense budget should be close to 100 billion dollars ( 2.5% of 4.2 trillions). This would be 25% of the Pakistan GDP in 2030. Naturally Pakistan would try and match India's defense expenditure by increasing its defense to atleast 8-10% of the GDP.

There would be increasing public pressure against this and unrest among the people would rise. This would result to much more Army control over the civilian Govt and military highhandedness. Thus most probably by 2030 Pakistan would under direct Military control.Furthermore, the increasing military asymmetry would force Pakistan to lower its nuclear doctrine. Thus the sub-continent would actually become a much dangerous place in 2030.


Limitations of this analysis
The methodology of this analysis just too simple to cover everything. First, the GDP figures are based on nominal values rather that PPP. Using purchasing parity method, the comparative figures would actually improve significantly for India.

Secondly, India has been lucky to have stable Govts. at the centre since 1999 and increasingly governance is becoming the sole criteria that is used by the people while voting. What if there is a hung Parliament. India has previously witnessed this during the 1989-91 and 1996-98. During this period, the growth was minimal and reforms were stagnant.

Thirdly, merely achieving these growth rates are not sufficient. Whether this will translate in improve in prosperity. Whether this growth will be inclusive. Whether all communities including the Muslims who are currently lagging behind in all social indicator be a part of this growth. Will the Maoists be suppressed. Will the development reach the Naxal belt.

Finally, will there be any war either with Pakistan or with China. War could change the above numbers. Of course any resolution with either of the two will also improve the numbers vastly.


These are extremely difficult questions and only time tell. However, if India plays its cards well, great glory is awaiting us. For Pakistan, it is important to understand that India's rise is inevitable. It will be their choice whether they would like to be a part of this growth or not. It is therefore important for Pakistan to understand that going forward, they will not be able to compete whether militarily or economically.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Avant Garde Blogging Awards

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I had nominated two of my post for the Avant Garde Blogging Awards. I am happy to announce that both of them have made it to the first round. Here are the links to my nominations.

Best Public Interest Post: Bollywood: Miles away from Bharat

Best one off Post: Why is billion strong India a laggard in Sports

In the next stage, these post will be read by a group of judges who will select 5-6 entries. The final round will be voting. I am happy to find that there is immense competition and there are 55 and 54 nominations respectively for the second round in the two categories that I am competing in.

May the best blogger win. Here is the link to the complete result. I haven't gone through the nominations but I sure there would some really interesting blogs. Do go through them and in case you find something really interesting, do pass them on to me.
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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why is India be talking to Pakistan

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This is a billion perhaps even a trillion dollar question and  there are no clear answers. India suspended its talks with Pakistan after 26/11 attacks indefinitely asking Pakistan to stop terrorism from its soil and to punish the accused in the 26/11. Other than the arrest of Lakhvi, there is little to suggest that Pakistan has done anything on that front.

So why then are talks been restarted
I believe one of the major reasons for that are the recent developments at the Afghanistan Conference in London. With a struggling economy at home and lack of public support, Obama is in no mood to fight the War in Afghanistan indefinitely. At the London Conference, it has been decided that the moderate elements in the Taliban would offered a stake in Afghan Govt.

This is where Pakistan can play a major role. It can use its contacts in the Afghan Taliban to bring them to the negotiating table and thus ensure that the Americans can have an honorable exit. But this also means that Pakistan is going to bargain hard to keep India's role in the Afghan reconstruction to the bare minimum. There are some signs that show that the West has agreed to it. Furthermore, there was a renewed International pressure on India to resume talks. Afraid of losing all the strategic gains made by India in Afghanistan by investing over $2 billion, it was thought that Indian interests could be best served by re-engaging with Pakistan.

Why are people opposing talks?
Several voices including those in the BJP are opposed to resumption of the composite dialogue process at this point of time. According to them Pakistan's Army continue to be India centric and have done little to contain the anti-India forces.

This is absolutely true and the Pakistan Army continues to view them as strategic assets. Recently LeT organized mass rallies at POK and Lahore. Infact the rally at Lahore was barely a few kms away from Punjab Assembly. The Prime Minister of Pakistan has publicly said that he cannot guarantee that there shall be no further attacks. But why can't he limit such anti-India forces. Is Pakistan really serious about peace?

The Pakistan argument to the above question is that Pakistan is fighting its own war on terrorism. It has already been said that the current operation would take atleast a year to defeat the TTP. At this point of time, the Army does not wants to open another front with the anti-India forces. The LeT, due to its anti-India stand enjoys massive support in Pakistan. LeT has limited global ambitions and is largely focused on India. It has not allied with Al-Quaida. It is because of these reasons that Pakistan isn't too keen on fighting them at the moment. They are merely arresting them for a while before releasing them again.

What to expect from talks
Personally, I don't have much hopes from the talks. Pakistan would not allow any progress to made unless Kashmir is discussed. It would raise ridiculous issues such as Balochistan and comparing it with terrorism in Kashmir. Balochistan and India do not share any border and the Baloch population is just 4% of the total population of Pakistan. Even if India ever wants, it cannot bleed Pakistan in the same way as Pakistan bleeds us. As far as the issue of Kashmir is concerned, it is highly unlikely that any solution that is acceptable to all the three parties can emerge anytime soon.

Secondly, I doubt whether Pakistan would really ever go after the likes of LeT or Jaish once its operations against TTP are complete. Once the American Guns in Afghanistan go silent and the US drones are withdrawn, I doubt if the US can exert sufficient pressure on Pakistan to act against the anti-India forces. Let us not forget that even before 26/11 India tried to get LeT banned by UN Security Council but it was always blocked by China (a Pakistan ally). I expect the Chinese to use their veto power to create more problems for India in the future.

So, if the situation demands that we talk to Pakistan then so let it be. But we should never trust this neighbor. India should build more dams in Kashmir, thereby creating a negotiating point for ourselves and make it difficult to them continue their proxy war. All major rivers in Pakistan pass through Kashmir this building dams can helps in driving our point through.

We must build up additional negotiating points. India has to be prepared to fight its war on its own. Aman Ki Asha cannot be done without Aman Ki Bhasha from your opponent. This is a game, and that the moment its our adversary who has the advantage.
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Interesting Reading: A 1946 interview of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

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Here is the link to an interview given by Maulana Azad. Just look how accurate he was on the demand of Pakistan.
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Monday, February 1, 2010

News updates

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I haven't been writing at all for sometime. Let me just summarize the developments over the past 3-4 weeks.

  • Inflation:Sharad Pawar is in no mood in fighting food inflation. The Govt. too has gone in for easier option of using monetary policy tools. CRR has been hiked and there should be a reduction in inflation. However, this would also affect growth. What we need is High Growth and Low Inflation. Why can't a Manmohan led UPA understand this.
  • Reforms: After GST, its now the turn of 3 G auctions which will be delayed. There has hardly been any reforms. No progress on the disinvestment side. All that this Govt is doing is populist measure like NREGA. Even that is hardly efficient.
  • India-Pak: There seems to be a definite softening of stand from the Indian side, and honestly I won't be surprised if there would resumption of talks at any level within next 3-4 months.
  • Marathi Manoos:Eversince  attacking IBN Lokmat office, Shiv Sena has been constantly marching on a path towards self destruction. As I had pointed out earlier, it is MNS which has cleverly kept itself out of all this. It did not attack Sachin or Ambani when they said that Mumbai was for all. But they did issue a dictat saying all taxi-drivers must know Marathi. Bal Thackeray seems to have lost his acumen.
  • Hockey: Good to see that the hockey issue was resolved. But I would like that the womens team also get their due. After all, off late they have been much more successful than the men's team.
  • Unfortunately, the Telengana struggle suddenly seems have lost its steam. I don't expect that the new state will be created anytime soon.
  • With Dravid out, India will struggle to hold on to its Number 1 ranking. But the good news is that finally Yuvraj is out and Badrinath will make his debut. He has been the most consistent player on domestic circuit. He has led India A sides. After trying out Yuvraj for nearly a decade, he needs to be shown the door. He has rare;y scored outside India particularly when the team is in trouble. Even Dhoni averages more than him.
  • Budget: Over the next one month, expect the print and electronic media to be full of news on the upcoming Budget. However, I don't have any hope from this Govt. For 5 years they kept making an excuse that it was the Left that was blocking reforms. Who is blocking them now.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

India- Bangladesh Accord: A historical opportunity for North-East India

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Even though I was on a blogging sabbatical, I could not resist when I heard about the India-Bangladesh accord.

This is a historic opportunity for the North-East India that has lagged behind primarily because of geography. Readers may go through this article to understand how beyond the Chickens Neck area, a different world exists.
Prior to 1965 war, India had transit rights over East Pakistan. But even after 1971 they were not given.

I am not going into the details of the benefits to both countries as it has already been widely written. Here are two articles - 1 and 2 that sum it up. But ofcourse, there are no free lunches. India would need to pay high transit fees. This may also give higher bargaining power to Bangladesh vis-a-vis Water disputes. But is that really a price too much? I think not as economic growth could finally bring an end to the insurgency in the region.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

Sabbatical

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Hello Readers,
I am sorry to say that I am taking an indefinite blogging sabbatical. I am not in the right frame of mind to continue this blog. I hope I shall return soon, but can't promise. I have thoroughly enjoyed here.


- Sandy
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Interesting Reading

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Here are two interesting articles.

The first article appeared in the Pakistani Newspaper Dawn. It start by stating that in Pakistan prayer are offered before any commercial aircraft takes off. There after it reveals how Delhi Airport is today under serious risk because of a construction of 80-foot statue of Lord Shiva. The article goes on to give similar examples on how religious fundamentalism is growing in India.

The second article is by senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta . He has praised Narendra Modi and his policies. He points out how and why Modi's latest compulsory voting bill can reduce money power and block voting in politics. He also points out how the "Indian of the Year" awards are given and why Narendra Modi would never get it even though he usually gets high number of votes by the public.
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