Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now Boarding: IC-814







On Dec. 24, 1999, just a day before Christmas, Indian Airlines Flight IC-814 was hijacked by Pakistani terrorists en route to Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. The incident has since been a hallmark of the failures of the Indian security and political system.

How did this horrific incident take place and what have we learned since? OTFS investigates...

South Asia
The region was in turmoil back then. With the Taliban fully in control of Afghanistan (except for some northern areas), extremism was growing rapidly. Only two countries in the whole world - Pakistan and the UAE - recognised the Taliban regime. For India, those were some of the darkest years in terms of International conditions.

In the evening of Dec. 24, 1999, at 17:30 hrs, just after it entered Indian airspace, the captain, Captain Devi Sharan, was 0rdered by five masked men to "fly West," towards Lahore. And so began a journey that none of the 176 passengers on board would ever forget.

Amritsar-Lahore-Dubai
The Captain desperately told the hijackers that they did not have enough fuel to reach Lahore Airport. Meanwhile, a Crisis Management Group (CMG) headed by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was formed in New Delhi to oversee the situation. The Capitan requested that the aircraft be allowed to refuel at Amritsar Airport. The CMG refused and ordered that the aircraft be halted at Amritsar for good.

To that effect, as the aircraft landed at Amritsar, a fuel tanker was dispatched and instructed to block its approach. But as the air tanker neared the aircraft, Traffic Control ordered it to slow down. The tanker stopped immediately and this aroused the hijackers' suspicion. They forced the aircraft to take off without clearance, narrowly missing the tanker.

Due to extremely low fuel, IC-814 requested for an emergency landing at Lahore Airport. It was refused immediately. The Kargil War has occurred recently and Indo-Pak relations were so frosty that neither side wanted to have anything to do with the other. In fact, lights at the Lahore Airport were turned off to keep IC-814 away. Seeing no way out, the Captain tried to land on a patch that seemed to be the runway; actually, it was a road and the Captain aborted the landing just in time.

This threw the Lahore staff into panic as they knew that either they allow it to land or it would crash land in the middle of Lahore. IC-814 was allowed to land and was refueled immediately.
The Pakistanis wanted to have nothing to do with the incident; they even refused to offload women and children. IC-814 was ordered to take off.

The flight then reached Dubai Airport, where 27 passengers (women, children and the ill) were released. However, the hijackers had stabbed 25 year old Rupin Katyal and he breathed his last on the flight, with his newly-wed bride never finding out until the entire ordeal was over. Finally, IC-814 took off from Dubai to Kandahar International Airport, where some of the darkest days for Indian diplomats were about to unfold.

The Bargaining
Once in Kandahar, the hijackers finally made contact. This was complicated by the fact that India did not have any diplomatic relations with the Taliban Government and thus, AR Ghanshyam from the Indian Embassy in Islamabad was called on to Kandahar for negotiating. The news he brought was alarming: the hijackers had threatened to kill off each passenger one by one if the Indian Government did not send a team of negotiators. The Vajpayee Government formed a 52-member team immediately and they were sent off.

The negotiators had still more shocking demands to hear. The hijackers demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, a terrorist jailed in an India prison, as well as other militants. Senior IB official Ajit Doval did all the talking. The team used several tactics over the next five days to wear the hijackers down. Doval tried to play to their religious sentiments, telling them that it was un-Islamic to hijack innocent people, to which he received a terse reply: "You don't teach us Islam."

Later, the hijackers threw a list of their demands out of the plane: the release of 36 militants, $200 million and the body of terrorist Sajjad Afghani, who was killed in Jammu. However, the Taliban began to directly intervene and forced the hijackers to withdraw their demand for the money and Sajjad Afghani's body, since this was "against Islam." By now, the Indian Government had made its first contact ever with the Taliban Government through their respective missions in Islamabad. The response was cold. The Taliban pretended to have nothing to do with this, but the IB knew that they were directing everything from the background.

The Taliban pretended to pressurize the plane to leave Kandahar, putting pressure on the Indian Government indirectly. New Delhi was against bowing to any of the demands, but the hijackers kept up the pressure. Finally, a negotiator told the Indian Cabinet, "You do not know in which age these people are living. It's better we agree."

Finally, a deal was clinched and on new year's eve, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh accompanied three dangerous terrorists - Maulana Masood Azhar (notorious for the 2001 Indian Parliament Attack), Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh (arrested later for the murder of Daniel Pearl) and Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar (now an active militant in PoK) - to Kandahar, where they were freed in exchange for the passengers and crew of IC-814.

The Repercussions
For the freed passengers and crew, the ordeal was a nightmare that ended. But its consequences continue to haunt the Indian security establishment even today. Subsequent investigations, including searches conducted during Operation Enduring Freedom, revealed a deep link between the hijackers, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Pakistan's ISI. The bureaucratic delays, the fact that there was no standard procedure for such a situation, the political ineffectualness, the lack of strong Indian influence in the region: all these and more were to be blamed for the hijack.

To this day, the question as to why the Foreign Minister accompanied the terrorists haunts the BJP.

A Lot Harder
Today, any similar hijack would be met strongly. There is a standard procedure and it envisages a no-talks posture with hijackers as well as a set of guidelines to shoot down a hijacked aircraft. India's NSG is far better prepared to handle such a situation (although 26/11 caused that to happen) as is the bureaucracy. To carry a weapon into an aircraft today has become next to impossible with the levels of security. And India's influence in South Asia and the extended region has grown manifold particularly with a friendly Government in Afghanistan and an Indian Air Base in a neighbouring country.

Yet, the danger of a Kandahar-repeat still exist. We saw that despite all the steps taken to clear unnecessary political and bureaucratic delays, there was still such a long response time during 26/11. Whether the steps taken to prevent another Kandahar are working or not, we'll never find out until another rogue group tries. Lets hope that never happens. (OTFS)

PS: I apologise for the delay in publishing this. It was scheduled for mid-June but came out on the last day of June!

Don't Blame the CRPF

The disturbing and tragic events in Sopore, where several youths have died supposedly in CRPF/Police firing, have created an atmosphere where the media is going all out to paint the CRPF as a trigger happy mafia. However, the truth is far from that.

As the Home Secretary put it so well, what is the CRPF expected to do, stand there and wait to die? A curfew was ordered in that area and it was meant for the protection of the locals. If youths from the area come out in defiance of that and pelt stones at the security forces, how can they be called 'innocent civilians'? Without teargas and some firing, how are the security forces expected to protect themselves?

Furthermore, these protests should not be seen as isolated, spontaneous cases. The separatists have a deep hand in this and are putting teenagers at the forefront of these protests because they want to use them to further their narrow cause. The timing of the protests is also significant as it coincides with the Amarnath Yatra. Indeed, the problem in Sopore and neighbouring areas has caused a delay in the yatra, which has been a target of separatists before.

There is a need to crush these protests with an Iron hand to return the area to peace. That will require not just military intervention but a microscopic observation of separatist activity. In all this, it would be unfair to blame the CRPF, who are being criticized by the people of the same country that they are trying to protect.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm 19!

You might ask: What's so special about turning 19?
I'll say: What's so special about being a teenager for one more year?

Yep, I've turned 19 and already, my Facebook page is flooded with warm greetings from friends, old and new. I never really celebrate my birthday (the last time I had a real birthday party was somewhere in 2nd or 3rd class), it's a nice opportunity to consider the years gone by. And now you know what I'll be thinking of tonight!

So, what's my status update for today?

oh, I turned 19. Adulthood comes near. But I'll still love wearing blue jeans!

Another Batch Learns

Once again, the results of the course allotment to the IITs, IT-BHU and ISMU have thrown up a few surprises. Like last year, the reason that these were surprises is that there were expectations. The devil was, as always, in the brochure.

The fundamental flaw in the brochure is that it provides last year's (first allotment) cut-offs as a guideline for students. This, in my opinion, is flawed because choice sheets should be filled going by interests and not by the previous years' choices. Of course, it is also true that in such a situation students would only fill CS, EE, EC, ME, CE and leave out the more 'exotic' courses. But that will only be for a few years; later on, students will understand that they have to expand their horizons.

The situation that I saw today was students (juniors mostly) were thoroughly disappointed with their allotments, although they should not be theoretically because the choice sheet is supposed to indicate choices that students would be happy to take! The problem is that the cut-offs from last year put a sort of expectation on the list: students feel that although they are filling several options, only one of them is "real" and the rest are for, oh, decoration?

I say that the practice of printing cut-offs should be done away with. The brochure already contains details about various courses. If possible, the first year syllabus of each IIT could also be given. That will ensure that students fill up their list for the sake of learning.

For those who will be writing JEE in 2011 and beyond, remember: the cut-offs are only indicative. Fill every possible course that interests you, as many as you like.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

That Big Day Again

The IITs will be releasing their first round of course allocation today on the JEE website. It's a big day for the 10,000-odd students who qualified in IITJEE as it will give them an indication, perhaps a final one, as to what course they might be offered.

It's a little poorly kept secret that qualifying in JEE is the first past of getting into the IITs: the counselling is the other part. Last year, my batch was asked to go to the respective IIT of the zone (mine was Madras). So, I got to visit the beautiful IITM campus and even talk to the Director. Sadly, or maybe for the better, the counselling has gone online this time.

More interestingly, three options for the second allotment have been created to cover up the glitches from last year. It's a good improvement made to the system.

As always, people from around the country will be opening the JEE microsites of all the IITs and hoping at least one them opens! And me? Well, I'll be doing exactly what I did last year: sleeping until somebody wakes me up to give me some news...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Major Battle is on the Cards

The Election Commission has announced the dates for by-elections to those Assembly Seats that were rendered vacant by the resignation of certain MLAs during the 2009-10 Telangana agitation. With the Congress throwing its hat in the ring, this is going to be a serious competition.

The biggest battle of all will be for the Nizamabad (Urban) constituency, where the head of the Andhra Pradesh Congress D Srinivas (DS) was defeated in the last elections by his BJP rival. Already, DS has raised the tone to a fever pitch and the real campaigning began even before the EC's announcement.

The results of these elections will show just how much the TRS has been able to hold on to its Telangana card with the masses. Presumably, the TRS is itself worried as it kept asking other parties not to contest and allow those who resigned to win unanimously. Well, that's not how politics works, is it? The TRS even got its goons in the OU-JAC to threaten to 'stone [anyone who contests against the TRS] to death!' This was of course, condemned by all parties.

The activities of the OU students, who have been busy campaigning for no reason whatsoever, clearly shows that all they want is to abandon their education and join politics, which is a closed affair as of today. This shows quite poorly on their lot, as they can be described as opportunists who are out to grab power at all costs. And all political parties are to be blamed for this.

If the TRS manages to win all its seats back, it will be a great show of strength. However, if it loses several seats, it could mean that the party might try to set off more violence in the future. As for the old TDP, its leaders are keeping a hushed silence. Sadly, Chandrababu Naidu and his 'two eyes theory' could spell the end of the party.

Something Seriously Wrong




It is a common misconception amongst people that engineering students study all the time and can only talk technical jargon. In reality, that's the description of most high school kids who are trying to enter engineering colleges.

However, once in IIT, a rather odd change occurs in mindset: people who would have struggled for every last mark before would now openly declare that failing or passing is immaterial to them; their life is meant to drink, smoke and "have fun."

So, why do such bright students abandon the pursuit of knowledge almost immediately upon entering the IITs/NITs? The answer lies in our education system, which is based on immediate incentives and rewards. In school, we'd study to gain the teachers' attention and praise, or to top the class and feel special about it. While studying for JEE/AIEEE, students study because of the knowledge that success will take them to some of the best institutes in the land. But in colleges, there are no short term incentives; professors simply do not care for their students' performance, a poor grade today can be compensated by a better one tomorrow. Jobs are not assured from good grades either. Add all the possible distractions (movies, sports, members of the opposite sex etc.) and you get a situation where a student does not have any incentive to study.

I am not espousing that they should study all the time, of course.But taking your subjects seriously at the very least is important.

There is sadly, no quick solution. Our entire education system from the bottom up needs to re-focus around studying for the sake of knowledge rather than for small gains. It's asking for a lot, yet it is possible and, in my opinion, necessary.

A Bold Move

The Union Government's decision to decontrol petrol prices while preparing the ground to do the same for diesel is revolutionary and its positive repercussions will be felt in the long-term.

With the announcement of the long-delayed decision, the Opposition was up in arms. But that's politics. Real economics, as highlighted by the Parikh Committee Report, says that the administered price mechanism is unsustainable. And this year's budget outlay for fuel subsidies clearly shows that it's true.

Decontrolling fuel prices will have a strong effect on inflation in the short-term: without a doubt food inflation will cross 20% with this and the WPI itself would rise to anything around 15%. But in the long term, it will lower inflation by reducing people's dependence on fuel. Urban India today has the terrible habit of buying too many motor vehicles. It's obvious in Delhi, where residents have brawls over parking because there is not enough space for all the cars that they own! And the fuel for all these vehicles is subsidised!

A blanket subsidy like the fuel subsidy is stupid to say the least. Why should the rich pay less? Why should anyone receive a subsidy for fuel? Now that the prices have been partially decontrolled, pressure will eventually shift from the Central Government to State Government to improve the abysmal state of public transport. And that's a good thing. As people use more public transport, it will force State Governments to improve their efficiency (and they have the funds to do so from the JNNURM); it will lower the carbon footprint of many urban Indians; and it will encourage people to walk or cycle short distances.

This move will have a strong effect on several generations of Indians. However, good as it may be, it came at a bad time when inflation is very high. But the bullet has to be bitten someday. It will be left to be seen if the Congress has the political teeth to fight the Opposition and even its own allies. However, one thing is for sure: the market-price mechanism is here to stay.

Friday, June 25, 2010

G20: One Year On, Many Changes






The group of the world's most powerful nations - the G20 - meets in Canada tomorrow for a summit that aims to find solutions to fix the still weak global economy. Well, that's what last year's summit was meant for too. So, what's new?

A lot, presumably. For example, the 'new kid on the block,' British PM David Cameron, is coming to the top table after affecting huge, rather un-British budgetary cuts in his country. German Chancelor Angela Merkel is fighting for her political survival after using taxpayers' money to virtually bail out Greece. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is receiving warm smiles from one and all after the Yuan was allowed to appreciate, albeit slightly. Japan's new PM is a fiscal veteran with a major debt problem. And Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is looking at higher-than-expected growth, inflation and a lower-than-expected fiscal deficit (thanks to the 3G/BWA Auction). So yes, a lot has changed.

But more importantly, the focus in Europe has sharply shifted from supporting the economy to lowering fiscal deficits. So much so that even the French are being forced to used the word 'austerity'! But the US is looking at expanding spending and ensuring that the support systems are not taken off too early. I agree with the American logic: the world's economy is still too fragile to be taken off support. The recovery is incomplete and an early focus of fiscal prudence could lead to a double-dip recession.

Meanwhile, the world's economic engines, China and India, are both looking at bolstering domestic demand while controlling their fast-growing economies. While China is facing some serious issues relating to labour conditions and currency valuation, India faces massive inflation and a hounding from State governments over funding for the Right to Education Act (with some states asking the Federal Government to bear a huge 90% of the cost!). The good news, again, is that both these countries are expecting excellent growth and the World Bank and IMF are cooperating to help them.

So, in the Canada Summit, the most important thing would be to discuss ways to prevent the world economy from entering a double-dip recession as well as taking care of global imbalances. For that, European nations need to hold on much longer to higher debt else face falling tax receipts, high unemployment and a stagnant GDP. As for the global imbalance, the best solution would be to allow the Yuan to rise significantly. Of course, neither of these is going to happen overnight. But what could be better than a good old summit to at least start talking about it?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Waiting for the 'Maha' Episode

Tomorrow, Sony promises something rather unthinkable: a 2-hour 'Maha Episode' that will merge Sony's flagship shows: CID and Aahat. The former is a crime investigation show (the longest running of its kind in India) and the latter is a horror show.

So, the question is, how is it possible to combine two genres that are so radically different? In a previous episode of CID, the ACP rebuked his officer for suggesting that a ghost was responsible for a murder. And now, they're merging the show with Aahat, which always has a ghost as the bad guy!

It will be fun watching this great episode. I just hope they make it really well. As you can see, there are a lot of expectations from it.

UPDATE: That was no 'Maha' Episode, those were two separate and distinct episodes of CID and Aahat. The only connection died in the first two minutes! Very disappointing, it seems Sony was using this as a gimmick to make viewers watch Aahat, sort of piggybacking on the much more popular CID. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leave it Academic, Please

President Pratibha Patil, with Governor SS Barnala and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi inaugurated the first World Classical Tamil Conference today at Coimbatore. The event is expected to be the largest of its kind in history, depicting how Tamil as a language and as a culture goes through the ages. Classical Tamil stands today the world's oldest living language (with supposedly older languages like Sanskrit and Latin not in common use anymore).

The event includes a wonderful display of tableaux as well as several paper presentations on Classical Tamil. The highlight is the presentation of the Kalaignar M Karunanidi Classical Tamil Award 2009 to Dr. Asko Parpola of Finland for his ground-breaking research connecting the Indus script to classical Tamil.

The event has evoked mixed response from various quarters. The opposition AIADMK calls it a waste of money, while hardcore Tamil nationalists look upon it as a victory for the "Tamil cause" (whatever that is). The truth is that the event is as such a very academic one that is, unfortunately, being politicized. The DMK was wrong to use this as a way to save its face after "failing" the Tamils in Sri Lanka (which is a very stupid way of saying that it did not support a terrorist organization), while the Opposition was equally wrong in boycotting the event and politicizing it further.

I do hope that the event is a big success. In particular, I laud The Hindu for the articles it has carried on the way to the Conference. An academic understanding of Classical Tamil is important to understand how our culture developed. And if it holds the key to unlocking the Indus script, then all the better. But it needs to remain academic. Politics will ruin the event.

Talks sans Expectations

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao will be meeting her Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad today for talks that can be described as 'trust building.' The logic was reached in the Manmohan-Gilani meeting (more of a walk in the garden really) at the Thimpu SAARC Summit, in which the two realised that as Indo-Pak talks would inadvertently fail because of the trust deficit between the two nations, it would be best to discuss that very deficit first.

That's of course, easier said that done. These talks are being held under the same shadows that were created post-26/11 and there are more DONT's than DO's. According to the media's sources, Pakistan will make every effort to talk about the core issues while India will dodge such efforts. In fact, a joint statement isn't even expected. It seems that these are just talks for the sake of talks!

The Foreign Secretaries talks will be followed later by a talk between the Home Ministers. Again, nothing much is expected from this. And anyway, it's a SAARC Home Ministers' Conference and there already enough turmoil within SAARC nations to discuss.

With the Prime Minister scheduled to attend the G20 Conference later in Canada (to which Pakistan is not invited, obviously), the next high-level exchange can only be expected on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. However, nothing is expected from that either.

Realistically speaking, these talks have no concrete agenda and until we see a political breakthrough, there will not be any such agenda. Trust you may, but there is a difference between talks and tea parties. And that difference does not exist in this case.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Indian Idol 5's Best Performance Yet!



This is a video of Indian Idol 5's contestant Sreeram singing the song Breathless (June 21, 2010). It could easily be described as the best performance of the show so far (in fact, one of the best ever in Indian Idol).

Listening to him sing the song, my jaw dropped open because it was hard to believe that anybody could master this song in just a day or to and sing it so well in front of the world!

Truly, Sreeram deserves to be the winner. If only people would put their city/state affiliations aside and vote for real talent. After all, only a small percentage of Hyderabad watched the show and almost nobody outside of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh watches it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sing a Song for Kashmiri Pandits

June 20 every year is celebrated as International Fathers' Day in most places. But June 20 also has another, deeper significance: World Refugee Day.

In India, most of us would not think much for refugees. That only happens in Af-Pak or Africa, we would think. But look around and you will see India's internal refugees: the Kashmiri Pandits.

Away from their ancient home of the Kashmir Valley, pushed out by years of systematic terrorism aimed at changing the demographics of the Valley, they now live in various places: some have found homes in new cities and have forgotten Kashmir, others have left the country altogether while still others live in poor conditions, hoping that one day they will return.

So while the Indian Government pours money for foreign refugees in Sri Lanka, the voiceless Kashmiri Pandits toil on their own for their cause. The Union Government is indifferent and the State Government mostly pays lip service. And yet, as violence in the Valley declines, many have begun to return to their homes.

One day, I too hope that the Kashmiri Pandits will return to their homes as full citizens, without ever fearing having to leave again. Till then, all we can do is support them, give them strength and pray for them.

I got this nice video from YouTube, for the Kashmiri Pandits:



The Elections cannot be fought alone

The ongoing rift between the BJP and its ally of 20 years, the JD(U) in Bihar, is threatening to derail the alliance altogether. Now, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's uncouth decision to return the Kosi River Aid Money from Gujarat, things are coming to a boil.

The BJP must understand that the alliance with the JD(U) is more out of common hatred towards the Congress rather than an ideological convergence, as is the case with the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal. Thus, the glue that keeps the alliance together is winning elections.

Interestingly, the JD(U)'s electoral demographics are different from the BJP's: the former is trying to create a vast votebank of Muslim voters, something that the latter is not even thinking of doing right now. But it is not just the JD(U) that is trying to do that: the RJD and the Congress are doing the same thing. And the JD(U) cannot fight them alone.

That's precisely why the alliance has not broken. With an assembly election coming up towards the end of the year, neither the JD(U) not the BJP can face the opposition on its own. It is quite inevitable that the Congress and the RJD will form an alliance: both still remember their disastrous result from the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections. In such a situation, for the ruling combine to return, it will take a good, strong alliance.

Thus, it is in the interest of both the parties to keep the alliance together. The BJP mus remember that interfering with the JD(U) will not work because the two parties do not think alike, while the JD(U) must remember that it is not strong enough to do what the BJD did in Orissa and that it needs this alliance.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't Forget the Soldiers' Plight

PIC COURTESY OF THE HINDU ONLINE

The picture above, taken by a photographer for PTI and published in The Hindu (June 17, 2010), shows CRPF jawans carrying away a slain Maoist. The picture has cause quite a bit of debate because the Maoist is seen being carried away similar to how animals are carried.

A lot of people have said that it reflects on just how little the jawans care for the tribal population, about how insensitive they are. Eventually, it just boils down to the they-are-our-people-too hypothesis. I have a different take, however. I find it a great act on the part of the jawans to have carried the body away. If they wanted, they could have simply left it to rot. But they did not do so, taking it to a safe place to be given a befitting cremation or burial instead.

We must remember that the jawans work under very harsh and difficult circumstances. The weather and terrain and not meant for their sort of fighting and yet they give their lives to fight for the nation. Jawans have to carry heavy backpacks for several kilometers and march in perfect formation. They have to withstand adverse weather conditions and face a constant threat of death. In such situations, to expect them to lovingly carry out a body is too much.

One reader of The Hindu even suggested (Readers' Letters, June 18, 2010) that the jawans should carry makeshift stretchers when they know that they have to remove dead bodies from an area. This is an atrocious and callous recommendation: to add a stretcher to the already overloaded kit of the jawans would be the last straw on the camel's back.

I believe that we must not waste out time and energy on such trivial things. True, the body could have been removed in a more respectful manner. But given the conditions, the jawans did all that they could. We need to support and encourage our soldiers, not castigate them for every small mistake. We owe it to them.

Opening up Officialdom

This week marks the fifth year since the Right to Information Act was passed by Parliament in a bold idea and achievement of the first UPA Government.

The RTI Act gave the power of information to the people. Its logic was simple: the Government runs on taxpayers' money, so all information held by the Government inherently belongs to the people. The Act made it mandatory for Information Officers in all Government offices to provide information to requests within 30 days or face suspension.

As one RTI activist put it, the Act "put the fear of God in the bureaucracy." Countless stories of citizens uncovering corruption, even helping the police solve murder cases show how successful the Act has been. In a Right to Information in South Asia Summit held in Delhi earlier this year, representatives from South Asia greatly praised the Indian RTI because it seemed to flow from the grassroots, not top-down.

There have been some problems to the Act, of course. One problem is the Government's insistence on diluting some of its provisions, such as the Acts applicability over the Chief Justice of India. Another problem is the lack of general awareness among the public. However, with several NGOs and the media working to protect and popularise the Act, these problems are being fought.

The RTI was a transformative Act, one that will be remembered as a landmark in Indian history. There is a lot more left to be done of course, but the foundation has been laid to create a truly representative and responsive democracy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unnecessary loss of life

The ongoing ethnic violence in the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan is a cause of concern to not just CIS countries but also to the whole world. India too is concerned about its troubled ally in its extended neighbourhood, mainly for the small group of medicine students from India who study there.

The Indian Embassy in Kyrgyzstan has already brought all students from the plagued city of Osh in the south to the capital Bishkek, where they seem to have been kept in not-so-great conditions. Yet, the priority was to get these citizens out of danger and that has been done successfully and swiftly.

As per media reports, the students are being evacuated to India as the violence there does not seem to be stemming.

The interim Kyrgyz Government has asked for Russian military assistance but Russia has sent the proposal to the CSTO, which it currently chairs. Immediate measures will have to be taken to prevent a genocide. All nations of the world should look carefully at the situation.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Now, that's overkill

RAAJNEETI (2010)

Producers: UTV Motion Pictures and Prakash Jha Productions
Director: Prakash Jha
Starring: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai and others
Rating: **** (4 of 5)

The first thing that needs to be clarified is that this movie is not some biopic on the Gandhi-Nehru family. Far from that, although it does have hints of it.

This is the story of a political family in an Indian State (it was shot in Madhya Pradesh), created as a consequence of a political agreement, that begins to split apart. A failed politcal succession, two equally ambitious young politicians and, surprisingly, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), who appears from nowhere and turns the tide around. And there is the omnipresent Krishna, Nana Patekar here.

Raajneeti as a story is powerful and compelling, it keeps the audience glued to every scene. It is fast paced, full of scandals, sex, homosexuality and murder. Every few minutes a new plot is hatched and old ones brought back. In the time of elections, all is fair.

The acting, except for Katrina Kaif's (who was mild and seemed more consumed in remembering all her dialogues), was good. The costumes were nothing exceptional, as is always the case with Indian politicians. The best part was the set: those large palatial party offices and rallies were picture perfect. Two things differentiate this movie from your average Bollywood mix: the utter absence of songs (I counted half a song, really) and a lot of depiction of sex. Wonder what happened to the censors!

The real problem with this movie is that it tries to say too much: there are so many twists and turns that by the time the interval arrives (a good hour and a half after the movie starts), you'll feel out of breath. The second half is particularly bad, what with the predictable plot. Katrina Kaif really had no significant role until the very end, and even that was just to add to the commercial value of the movie. Her character could've been deleted altogether without altering anything but the publicity. The film just shows too much gore and hatred.

Overall, this is one movie that I think I could've skipped because it left me in a very bad mood. However, if you want the media and movies to tell you how our democracy runs (as most people depend on these two rather than the newspapers), you should watch this movie. I gave it four stars for the compelling plot and acting, but I would not watch it again. At your own risk! (OTFS)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Windfall at the Auctions





The recently-concluded Broadband Wireless Access (BWA) Auction saw some surprising results, as all the big names in the 3G auction failed to secure a single circle.


The graphic above shows the winners in various circles (except the North East, where Infotel and Aircel emerged victorious). As you can see, Infotel alone bagged a pan-India license. The big names like Airtel, RCom, Idea and Vodafone failed to win anything, probably because their pockets were already burned after the 3G auction.

Right after the results were announced, Reliance Industries announced it had taken over Infotel and thus entered the Telecoms space in India.

The combined BWA and 3G Spectrum auctions have ensured for the Government an income of Rs. 1.06 lakhs, triple the amount projected in the budget. With this, the Government of India's fiscal deficit would go down to just under 4.5% of GDP. The Government has not commented on this yet, but the Finance Minister would definitely be a happy man.

But consumers should be aware that given the vast sums of money companies have coughed up, 3G and Broadband Internet will not come cheap in India. Companies will look to make profits and since these services are more niche, economics of scale will not work here. We can only wait to see what the final pricing will be.

Note: The amount of Rs. 1.06 lakhs includes the fee that BSNL and MTNL will have to pay.

From Success to Disaster

The financial situation of the State of Andhra Pradesh has gone from bad to worse and the state seems to be in a situation where every last rupee matters. The state is now in such a precarious situation that many projects have come to a grinding halt due to shortage of funds to pay bills; new appointments have virtually been halted due to insufficient funds to pay salaries; and another major cyclone or earthquake could cripple the state and send it running to the RBI for help.

These ills can be traced back to several populist schemes introduced by the YSR Reddy Government. Some of these include the subsidised rice scheme, the free power scheme and the fee reimbursement scheme. However, during his time, it was not apparent that these three were such a big problem because the funds for these were obtained by sale of Government lands in and around urban centres, Hyderabad in particular.

But once the global financial crisis hit home, the state began to lose its sources of income. It had to request for a temporary exception to the FRBM Act as well as an overdraft from the RBI. Some taxes were raised, but the populist schemes were kept in place. However, the situation has grown worse now. State Colleges are demanding that the fee reimbursement scheme be implemented immediately or else some of them may have to shut down for want of funds. The Government is going helter-skelter in search of funds, releasing whatever it can find in installments. But it has become apparent that a more permanent arrangement needs to be put in place and several innovative ideas, such as a double-fee system, are making the rounds.

Nonetheless, even these ideas will have their shortcomings. The only thing that can be done is for the Rosaiah Government to gather itself and tell everyone that it really cannot afford the populist schemes anymore. Then, axe the least important of the schemes. It will be hard and the Opposition will have a field day, but it would be the most responsible thing to do. Elections are far away and this is the time for governance, not politics.

Hi-Tech Crime

A few recent incidents in Hyderabad have brought out the hi-tech nature of crime in the city today.

The first major incident was the attempted copying during the EAMCET-Medical Exam, where bluetooth-enabled cellphones were implanted into vests and answers were relayed through them. It was a daring move that, sadly, found takers given the extreme competition.

The next incident was an even bigger scandal: a group of hi-tech miscreants had hacked the NIC servers and virtually taken over the Regional Passport Office, implanting the dates of their clients in the Tatkal system. The incident came to light after a lot of people complained that they were not getting any slots for the Tatkal system.

Finally, a group of youngsters were found implanting false IMEI Numbers in Chinese-made cellphones using a simple and relatively cheap device. This was to skip over a order from the Telecoms Ministry banning the use of phones without a valid IMEI Number.

These three incidents bring out just how sophisticated crime in the city is becoming. Furthermore, it also shows that out police force is bracing itself to take on these threats. Kudos to the Hyderabad Police for nabbing the wrong-doers (particularly the EAMCET ones, because that was foiled in the nick of time). We can truly be proud of our policemen.

Dry Taps

In the recently-held District Review Committee (DRC) Meeting for Hyderabad district (covering Secunderabad and the State Capital Hyderabad), one issue assumed significance above all others: water.

The twin cities have never been particularly water-endowed, but as the city has grown, the water supply to its taps has not kept pace. Consequently, the preceding summer has seen some of the most serious water shortages ever. So much so that officials had to extract water from the main reservoir (Osmansagar) beyond dead level.

As legislators and corporators at the DRC pointed out, the only solution would be immediate implementation of the Krishna Water Project Phase-III. The Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh, now in its second term, had promised to implement it but is now facing a major cash crunch.

Two measures are necessary to mitigate the water crisis:
  1. Immediate amendments to the rules so that every building has a provision for rainwater harvesting and underground water recharge. Going by the last few days, this is going to be a good monsoon. Consequently, these measures need to be taken on a war-footing to prevent a terrible Summer of 2011.
  2. Implementation of Krishna Water Project Phase-III. Wasting Government money on dole needs to end and infrastructure needs to be improved in urban centres of the State.
With these measures, as well as awareness amongst the (mostly laid-back) people of Hyderabad, can go a long way in solving our water woes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nerd Chat

Hehe!!
Thanks, Siddharth, IITR, for the pic.

About Time!

According to a report in The Hindu today, the Indian Railways has decided that, w.e.f. June 15, 2010, student ID cards and passbooks from nationalised banks will be accepted as proof of identity for e-tickets across India.

This move is commendable and long overdue. Consider the five documents that are currently accepted: Voted ID Card, Driving License, Passport, PAN Card and Photo ID Card of State/Central Government Employees. Now, consider the plight of an average 18-19 year old student who lives in one of India's great university campuses and has to travel by train: he/she just turned eligible for voting and may not have a voter ID card (which realistically takes over a year to acquire thanks to bureaucratic delays). Since they don't earn anything to pay any taxes, they don't have a PAN Card. Having just turned 18, a driving license is unimaginable (and also include the fact that most University campuses don't even allow students to drive inside).

Most Indians never travel abroad (it's a fact) and it would be very silly to get a passport just so that you can travel on a train. And let me not even comment on the Employee ID Card, it's too obvious. So, what are the documents that a student could have? A Student ID Card and a (SBI?) Passbook are just about universal. And according to the Passport Office, these two are also valid proofs of ID. In fact, with either of these, you can also enter any airport in India with an e-ticket.

So, this decision finally puts to rest a great anomaly that had become a big-time racket in India. Students with no other ID could only watch helplessly as corrupt ticket tellers would demand a bribe to accept the student IDs. As I pointed out previously, I encountered a TT who accepted student IDs from 2 other people but refused to do so for three of us because he could extract a bribe of Rs. 2000 from three people. Everyone was disgusted by what had happened but couldn't do anything. Luckily, one of us had a passport...

This rubbish system in which each department keeps its own set of acceptable IDs must end and it will quite soon, I think, when the Aadhar Numbers and Cards are issued by the UIDAI. If Mr. Nilekani is to be believed, this could become the new standard ID all over the country. I certainly hope so.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A nice ad to watch



This new ad from Uninor - titled 'Father and Son' - is quite nice really and reflects the situation in many Indian households today. Although the ad does not really introduce the product till the very end, it it engaging enough for the viewer to stay on to watch the entire ad.

In a way, it is similar to the previous 'Flatmates' ad and much better than the old, dry Uninor ads that lasted just 15 sec and had some random character read out the slogan.

Hoping for more good ads from the newest kid on the telecoms block...

We will Win

As the CCS discusses the Army's role in the war against the Maoists, the nation unites in the face of red terror. We will win if we are united. India is greater than these insurgents. Together, we will win their hearts and their guns.

This picture was on the front page of The Hindu, May 29, 2010 issue. It shows a girl being rescued from the train that was derailed, most probably by Maoists.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Euro Trap







The tiny nation of Greece has been in the news for a few weeks now because its finances are in a mess. Although the details are intricate, they can be summed up by saying that Greece has too much debt and cannot afford anymore.

But why has one of Eastern Europe's "tigers" suddenly entered this financial disaster? OTFS investigates...

The History
Greece's woes can be mainly laid on the culture of overspending. The Greek State has been spending beyond its means and hence, debt has mounted. But is it that simple? Don't most countries overspend? Why, yes, they do. Just look at Britain or the US: public debt in relation to GDP is quite large, comparable to that of Greece's actually.

And yet, it has been Greece that has faced the ire of rating agencies, with interest rate on its bonds going as high as 7%+! The reason is two-fold: one, the lies that the last Greek Government made to the country and the world. And two, the Euro.

The Lies
To join the European Union and use the Euro, a country must have a fiscal deficit of 3% or less. That's the rule. Before Greece joined the Eurozone, it undertook several reforms to achieve that and other fiscal targets that the European Central Bank (ECB) demands. Unfortunately, the Government took some shortcuts. According to audit reports, there were widespread irregularities in the figures quoted by the Greek Government. Expenditure was hidden and income over-stated.

This was OK while money freely came in. After all, if you have a billion dollars coming in a few weeks, it doesn't matter if you add those to your figures a little early! It went on this way and the rest of Europe either didn't notice or didn't care. And then came the great recession that caused foreign fund flows to freeze world over. Suddenly, the party was over for Greece. Money that they had in excess suddenly disappeared and the true scale of manipulation came to light.

So, once Greece was faced with the prospect of having to repay its debt using internally generated funds rather than foreign inflows, there was a sudden realisation that money was scarce. And some harsh spending cuts followed and continue to do so. However, normally, countries don't have to go so far. The reason is that Sovereign Debt is valued in dollar terms but the funds to pay it back are generated in terms of the local currency.

So, if you were a country with a serious debt trouble, you could weaken your currency against the dollar so that the actual amount that you have to pay back would decrease. This is called devaluing your currency and is used quite often by Central banks around the world. Furthermore, a devalued currency makes exports more profitable and can boost revenues. So, why doesn't Greece devalue its currency? Because it can't.

The Euro
The currency of Greece is the Euro, which is shared by 26 other countries. None of those countries controls the Euro, only the ECB does. When any country adopts the Euro, it effectively loses the power to manipulate its own currency. Devaluing the Euro might be a good option for Greece but it is not for some of the other Euro states. And since the ECB is independent, the Greek Government cannot pull a few strings to get the job done.

This is what I mean by the Euro Trap: the Euro locks its members into a common monetary policy and forces them to give up a very potent weapon: their national currency. It's OK if all states are fiscally disciplined and never enter a debt crisis. But that isn't the case here. Worse, leaving the Euro is not an option because it would have a devastating effect on the nation's banking system.

Another problem with the Eurozone is that it does not have a Federal Government. The only way to lower debt is to cut public spending. In a federal system, even if a state cut its own public spending, federal projects and jobs would get full funding. Economic output would not be completely crippled. That's not the case for Greece: spending cuts will have an effect on all sectors and will actually see a fall in output and tax receipts, because there is only one Government to pay.

The Lessons
One important lesson we learn from the Greek crisis is that a common currency, while politically desirable, is a dangerous economic item. If not handled properly, it can cripple a whole country. Greece has been saved from a sovereign default because of a reluctant German-backed bailout of $1 trillion, but that might not always be there.

Another lesson we learn is that even when money comes in free flow, it should be spent wisely with an eye on future crises. The Greeks spent beyond their means but did not stop to think about the future. This time, it seems, the British got it right by not giving up the Pound Sterling, thus allowing the Bank of England to keep a potent weapon. Although the English will also face cuts due to their large public debt, it will not be as severe as in Greece because the Pound Sterling can be devalued.

To finish, I think it would be wise to say that you shouldn't play politics with the economy, because it will catch up with you sooner or later. And then you'll have to face the music. (OTFS)

This article was based on some of the views aired by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman in the NYT and my interpretation of them.

Urgent Need to end the Blockade

The nearly two-month long blockade in the Northeast Indian state of Manipur is all set to become a humanitarian tragedy, as hospitals prepare to shutter down owing to a shortage of medicines and fuel.

The blockade, imposed by Naga student associations fighting for Nagalim with the NSCN (IM), has closed off the only viable National Highway to the small state. The other highways are characterized by rough terrain and only limited supplies can be brought in.

The blockade has already created a black market for essential supplies and basic food items are being sold at monstrously high rates. All this was caused by the Manipur Govt's decision to prevent NSCN (IM) leader Muivah from visiting his ancestral village in Manipur.

The worst part about the blockade is that while the students refuse to talk to the State Government, the Central Govt doesn't seem to be pushing them enough to end the blockade. The reason could be that Manipur is one of the 'corners' of the Indian mainland: a blockade in Manipur will not endanger the rest of the country. Suppose there was a blockade (hypothetically) in Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Orissa at the same time and the Southern states lost road contact with the North. The Central Government would be sending in the Armed Forces to end the blockade because four large state would be involved. But here, we've got one small state and that could be the reason why there is no sense of urgency in New Delhi.

Nonetheless, all states are equal for the Union Government and it is a must that the humanitarian crisis in Manipur be arrested. If necessary, force must be used to end the blockade. It is a must. This is nothing less than mass punishment for Manipuris and the Union Government is obliged to stop this immediately.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Memorable Night

For any new batch, the Talent Night (sometimes called the Freshers' Night but with different connotations) is the first major event that brings the whole group together.

Essentially, it's the first event that is organised almost entirely by the first year students and means a lot. It's when the new group of students, suddenly pulled together by the laws of the IITs, gets to know each other better and works together on a common task.

In our talent night (see pics on Facebook), my role was crystal clear from the beginning: the anchor. It was my first time in that role at DPT (although far from the first in my life) and later on, I hosted many other events (my favourite was the closing ceremony for Tarang and the worst was the opening ceremony for Cognizance). A lot of great events - a play, dances, songs, stand-up comedy - were put together and presented before the entire staff, their spouses and the students.

There were a group of students who did not participate in the event, just sat like an audience. I have no idea why someone would miss their first opportunity to make a mark: many of them have not made a mark at all over the year and will most probably not be remembered at all.

As for me, apart from all the hooting, the talent night was quite memorable. I think every batch should have one: it's something like a rite of passage. Seniors have a great role in organising the event and I hope to have a similar role in all of the next years (unless I'm shifted off to Roorkee).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

This is getting ridiculous!

Union Minister Shard Pawar's escapades have been bordering on the absurd for quite some time now. He has been getting so much (unwanted) attention of late that he could very well be the most (un)popular minister today!

His biggest failure has been controlling inflation. Media reports keep coming in about wheat and grains being left in the open to rot, whether it's in Rajasthan or MP or Tamil Nadu. And then there appears to be a shortage. Who controls these goods, which are being piled up for nothing? The Food Corporation of India, which in turn is held by Mr. Pawar's Ministry.

No other ministry has faced as much flak in Parliament (from the opposition as well as coalition partners), faced so much criticism from civil society groups and affected the common man so deeply as Mr. Pawar's. Controlling food supply, which is the main activity of his Ministry, is the solution to the massive food inflation we have today. But in spite of infinite not-so-subtle nudges, Mr. Pawar seems to be busy with... cricket!

Which brings us to Mr. Pawar's IPL business. The ongoing mess concerning Mr. Pawar's stake in City Group Ltd. has once again prompted the Opposition to call for his resignation. Shocking facts revealed by The Times of India and NDTV point out that hot only would Mr. Pawar have made substantial financial gains if City Group's IPL bid had been successful, but also that he lied to the world about the nature of the bid itself.

A self-respecting Minister who has been facing flak for such a long period of time and has failed repeatedly so many times would quit. We know that given coalition dharma, the PM cannot fire him, but why does he stick on to the post when he is so unpopular? No self-respecting person would keep this up. Sharad Pawar has been an absolute failure and must quit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

AOM Completed at Last!


It was one of my most important objectives in first year. Age of Mythology from Microsoft Game Studios, a fun and innovative game that is a lot like AoE, works on four levels: Greek, Egyptian, Nordic and Atlantean.

There are several heroes in the game, the chief amongst them being Arkantos. You have Gods who give you God powers, some of which never work and some of which are necessary to get through a level. My favourite was the Meteorite God Power!

Overall, my favourite round was the Egyptian round. The Myth units here are very unique and formidable, and recovering Osiris' pieces made for a fun adventure.

The Atlantean rounds ended very quickly, unfortunately. The ending was poor: I mean, Arkantos is not a demigod. Couldn't that have been done before?!

Still, the game was great and highly addictive.

Next game: Age of Kings!

Friday, June 4, 2010

A view from the 'not interested' side

Next week, the FIFA World Cup 2010 begins in South Africa, with some of football's biggest names and most formidable teams participating (including North Korea!) From Ronaldo to Messi: all the boys will be there, fighting for glory.

OK, so that was a line I picked up from another website. And those who know me would be shocked that I even put up the World Cup banner on my blog, let alone discussed it. But, in this age when everyone seems to be talking about football and reciting exotic names, how could I resist adding my comments? ;)

I admit, I care very little, if at all, about football. The game is nice and those who enjoy playing it swear by it. And those who don't... well, they probably watch it too. Me? I really find no interest in watching a dozen grown men running behind a ball and beating up each other, all the while avoiding the infamous 'red card.' While the sheer human spirit and tactics do enthuse millions, nay, billions, the fact that most of the players appear to be overgrown ox-like men who cannot hope to apply their minds to find 2+2 even to save their lives leaves me uninterested.

Of course, I'll be facing brickbats from a vast contagion of my friends for saying all this. But, just as football liberates so many from the boredom of life, commenting on football liberates me from the boredom of the [very hot] summer vacations. So, let the ball roll. And change the channel, if you may.

PS: The banner is quite well-made, I must say.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Self-Respect and Historic Justice

The final issue that I'd like to talk about is perhaps the most controversial of them all: the demand for a grand Ram temple at the site in Ayodhya called the Ramjanmabhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram). It is this issue that polarises the nation as none other and it is this that is often sited to "prove" the BJP's communal nature.

Or so the political rhetoric goes.

However, the history of the site, although disputed, tells of a great temple built in commemoration of Lord Rama on a hill called Ramkot Kila ("Ram's Fort") in Ayodhya, where he was born. A report by the ASI, hotly contested by Muslim groups such as the AIMPLB (which shouldn't even be commenting on the issue given its scope), also pointed to a temple existing beneath the Mosque. Based on old accounts, we understand that a Ram temple did stand at the site but was destroyed by Babur's General Mir Baqi after the former conquered the region. Several temples were destroyed by the Muslim invaders.

In 1992, a large group of RSS karsevaks egged on by BJP leaders destroyed the mosque, hoping to construct a temple in its place. The incident led to widespread communal rioting, a good glimpse of which can be seen in the movie Bombay.

So, why do we go back to all this? Because the Congress and several pseudo-secular parties have been opposing the construction of a Ram temple on the site. Some parties go as far as "promising" to construct another Mosque on the site! What could be a clearer example of minority appeasement?

Not Random
Let us understand the site: there are many mosques in Ayodhya, yet only the Babri Masjid is disputed. Why? Because that is no random piece of land: it is the birthplace of one of Hinduism's most revered Gods. Imagine if somebody demanded that a temple or church be built in Mecca or Medina. It would be unthinkable to the Muslim world! And yet, a mosque on one of Hinduism's holiest sites is not just conceivable but "promised"?

A great historic injustice was done to Hindus when the temple was destroyed. It was something greater than the persecution throughout the Turkish ruler's reign: it was a crushing blow to an ancient culture and religion. How can a country go forward with such a great burden in its history? How can we build a secular society where Hindus are supposed to quietly accept persecution and minority appeasement?

If we cut out the political posturing, it seems clear that Muslims should support the Ram temple: it makes perfect sense. But, pseudo-secular parties have twisted the truth and made it seem as though this is some Hindu-Muslim battle and the winner gets their place of worship on the land. This is ridiculous! It's a matter of self-respect for Hindus. The great loss of life following the demolition is a national shame, but to stand back and watch such a historic injustice without doing anything would be a greater shame.

The Ramjanmabhoomi stands today a disputed site. But it needn't be so. In fact, if Muslims looked at it from their own perspective and not as a us-versus-them scenario, everything would settle down for itself. But the politics of Congress and its so-called allies, in particular the RJD and the LJP, has made this a needlessly complex issue. We must come together as a nation and fix this historic injustice, simultaneously prosecuting those behind the riots. Only then can we be a united, strong nation, ready to go into the future with confidence.

(Series concluded)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TMC storms KMC

Even before the final results of the 81 civic bodies that went to the polls in West Bengal came in, one thing was sure: change is coming. And fast.

In a historic triumph, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) ousted the ruling Left Front from the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation after it had lost the same in 2005. Also, it won 27 of the 81 civic bodies that were up for elections in the state.

In addition to the KMC, the TMC also won Salt Lake for the first time in 15 years.

Interpretations
One thing is very clear from these results: the Left Front is falling in West Bengal and the corrective measures taken after the disastrous Lok Sabha Elections last year (which, sadly, resulted in the entire Government machinery being converted into a Leftist machine), and the successive defeats in Panchayat polls, the Left has not been able to win back its core voters and is losing ground at an alarming pace.

For the TMC, if it can keep the momentum going and thwart the Left's clever moves, it could win next year's Assembly elections. However, if we observe the outcome, we find that 29 municipal bodies are actually hung, where a TMC-Cong alliance is sure. That's more than the total number that the TMC won on its own (although just slightly more). So, while the TMC is strong on its own, it is even stronger with the Congress. And when it comes to the Left, only the strongest of opponents can win.

A word on the BJP, the fourth and last leg here. Nitin Gadkari has said that Bengal and South India will be his party's focus for expansion and, going by these results, the party is going well. It sends (or at least sent) one MP (now expelled) from the State, although it had the GJM's support for that. Yet, the signs are encouraging and in the next decade the BJP could be a force to reckon with in the once all-Red state.

Towards Full Integration

The State of Jammu and Kashmir is Governed by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with "Temporary Provisions with respect to the State of Jammu and Kashmir." You can read the full article here.

In essence, the Article grants extraordinary autonomy to J&K, allowing it to have its own Constitution and Flag. No laws passed by Indian Parliament (except those under a few points as spelled out by the Instrument of Accession, such as defense, communications and foreign policy).

Temporary in Nature
The Constitution itself puts Article 370 under the aegis of temporary provisions. Naturally, something temporary must go eventually, as the Article comes in the way of J&K becoming a full state of the Indian Union. Furthermore, in the future, other states, such as Tamil Nadu or Nagaland, could start demanding similar autonomy and there would be no logical reason to deny them.

Thus, the Article is a danger to Indian nationalism and that is why the BJP has opposed it so vehemently. However, so-called secular parties have been opposed to repealing this law simply for political gains; they have spun a silly tail around the BJP wanting to flood the 'Muslim majority' state of J&K with Hindus to change its demographics. The word invented here is 'Kashmiriyat,' which is false and null.

In reality, only the Kashmir valley is Muslim majority, Ladakh being Buddhist majority and Jammu Hindu majority. It has always been the case that Kashmiris dominate the politics of J&K and that has been one reason for demands from some quarters for a separate state of Jammu. Furthermore, Kashmir has never been an isolated region, it has been the gateway to the Indian subcontinent for centuries and has been influenced by cultures to the East as well as the West. Kashmiri culture has always been taking external inputs and thus, the idea that being a full Indian state will somehow be an end to that culture is fictitious to say the least.

Solemn Promise?
During the last elections, the Congress party declared that it would never abrogate the Article, as it was some sort of "solemn promise" made to the Kashmiri people. Oh, really? Then why does the Constitution describe it as a temporary provision? What sort of "solemn oath" is temporary in nature? The Government of India is supposed to strive towards full integration of J&K, not prevent it from integrating!

We thus have a classic case of opportunistic politics and only the BJP is sticking to its ideology (that of nationalism). The Congress and its allies have been working on a misinformation campaign for petty votes, forgetting that J&K is the crown of India and the Constitution itself mandates its full integration with the Union.

(This is the second article in a three-part series)

Second Semester Grades

The grades are now put up on ganga.iitr.ernet.in/results
My results are:



Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Here it comes!

After a grueling summer that was described as the hottest in a century, the monsoon seems to have finally reached the Indian subcontinent.

According to the IMD, the monsoon has settled over Lakshadweep Union Territory and parts of Kerala and is travelling fast across the mainland. Within the next week it should cover large parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

It rained in Hyderabad today, significantly lowering the temperature, which was at an astounding 40C+! The rain lasted for a good half hour and was accompanied by strong winds. This however, is probably a pre-monsoon shower.

It will only get better once the monsoon truly comes in!