Sunday, October 31, 2010

It was the Best, it was the Worst

Thomso 2010 can be described in many ways. While the events weren't all that bad, they weren't as good as last year. The participation was thin, given that few people came from outside and IITians themselves chose to either go/stay at home or attend the PanIIT meet in Noida.

The security measures this time made everyone rather uncomfortable, with the establishment stopping people from simply sitting in one place, particularly the MGCL Steps. The lack of pro-shows, with even Thahake (a faculty favourite) having been cancelled, made one girl lament "it's so boring here!"

Indeed, by Day 3, more than half the visitors had left and the Club Road was emptier than even on regular working days! Events like Mad@Ads didn't go off too well, while the audience participation for Sargam was rather pathetic. The T10 T-shirt isn't all that great and events started very late (again).

The Navratri Nite, though appreciated, was a huge let-down for those who were hoping for a full-fledged DJ Night! But the national publicity that T10 got was unbeatable and the media was the centre of all jokes from Day 2 onwards! Sadly, because of the Lipstick Scandal, Day 3's informals were cancelled and the skirt length at Vogue was significantly raised!

Overall, Thomso 2010 did unleash some euphoria, but much less than expected. In fact, it's being described as the worst edition ever and perhaps the last. Still, it was a good try by the organizers in the face of an uncooperative administration that simply refused to accept that this generation is different from theirs. So, as the gates of Euphoria are closed once again to make way for the last month of the semester, lets hope that we do have a Thomso 2011, however downscaled it might be.

Footloose but very Fancy

Every year, the Convocation Hall aka Hangar sees a huge audience for Footloose, the dancing event. This year was no less.

It was a nice surprise to see dancers from DIT who had performed earlier this year at Tarang. Sadly, they seemed to have lost some of their charm.

In one corner of the hall, there was a group of people who were screaming like mad and giving the security people a hard time. Oh... but they seemed familiar. The DPT gang! And this time, the bulk of it was the freshers, a rather unruly but fun crowd. The solo dance events were good but without anybody to coordinate with, it was hard to tell how well they dancers performed.

The duets were a big bore and the electricity went off just at the right time. In fact, somebody commented, "woh log gaye, ab light vaapas lao!" (They're gone [from the stage] now, you can turn on the light again!) But the group dances were the main highlight. Team IITR put in the best performance with a blindfolded dance, even though it was a copy of DU's performance last year.

IITR, Saharanpur Campus also put in a great performance, beating their performance last year by miles. After their performance, COER's dance was also pretty good.

Overall, Footloose was a great event that merited all the time allotted to it. The only surprise was that nobody was leaving the hall even when the electricity was out, because all the other events were so boring!

Seiger: Egg-citing and Fun!

The poster described it as the desi version of Roadies, even though Roadies itself was a very Indian concept. Still, with RJ Amit keeping the audience glued to the event, Seiger: IITR's version of Roadies was a great success.

From eating green chillies to vote-outs, this event had all the elements that Roadies is expected to have albeit in a compacted form. But the part that really got the audience going was the Egg-throwing round.

Two members would stand at on end and two at the other. From one end, eggs would be thrown while those at the other other end had to catch the eggs and put it in a bucket. Those that were left uncaught would splatter onto the audience: coincidentally, the same side that I was standing!

The event was loads of fun and ended with an egg on the RJ's head. Thankfully, he took it sportingly. Unfortunately, things got ugly in the end when someone tried to toss an egg at one of the female participants. He and his accomplices were caught and whisked away in a car by the police (I heard that they were let off with a warning later). Anyway, the winner was decided based on who could get the audience to scream for them more and obviously, the IITR guy won! Of course, that left most others cribbing that it's 'IITR's fest,' but hey, what's wrong with that?

16 Frames: Some Classics, Some Duds

Last year, I was mesmerized by the 16 Frames Short Film Festival and vowed to return next year. I kept my promise. The Festival - organised by the Cinematic Section, IITR - saw several entries from around the country and one from Israel.

Seated in the comfortable LR-1 at DOMS, the festival began with a simple story about following your dreams. Some of the films were just 15 seconds long, and some went on for 15 minutes. The event as such lasted for about five hours, and I sat through the entire thing.

The best entry - The Narrow Darkness - got a standing ovation from the audience. The story was by itself very typical of Bollywood, but the emotions and execution made all the difference. A documentary on drug abuse in colleges, although an old topic, was greatly appreciated because of the obvious hard work put in by the director. Pollytion, an animated movie about plastics, won the best Animated Film Award, although it really had no great competition. Still, the movie was quite good. The audience supposedly voted for Not Born Free as the popular choice award and indeed the movie did receive a lot of applause.

The movie from Israel as well as the sole move made on the theme of patriotism were major let-downs, while The Harmonium Killers could be described as the worse film of the event for its meaningless plot, abrupt ending and pathetic acting.

This the fourth edition of 16 Frames was not as good as last year's edition mainly because the movie selection was not so good. And indeed, the recurring theme of depression, suicide and death showed a clear bias amongst the organisers. Hopefully, that can be avoided next year (if T11 ever happens, that is!)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

An Empty Road, A Disappointed Crowd

There was some anxiety the day before: the Chemical Engineering students had practicals scheduled for the next day. We were afraid that we might not even get a holiday for Day 1. Fortunately, by the afternoon, the clouds has cleared and the notice was put up. THOMSO 2010 was set to begin.

Day 1 started off on a pretty disappointing note for those who attended Thomso '09: there were fewer people and fewer events. Even the scale and size of existing events was scaled down. Still, the feeling of a great event and old friends from DPT made it feel special.

Day 1 began with a seminar on Indian Culture. It was interesting but not all that great. It might have been worthwhile to leave it out of Thomso altogether. Next, I attended the prelims for Vogue. Now, given what happened to vogue after the Lipstick Scandal, those who saw the prelims actually got to see much more than the others!

One striking feature of T10 was the empty roads. Last year, there was hardly any place left on the streets to walk; this time, cars and scooters were zooming by! Visitors kept themselves busy by taking pictures of the Main Building and MGCL.

So just when it seemed as though this would be a rather sleepy edition of Thomso, along came 'Love, Lips and Lipstick,' a fantastic informal that caught the ire of the local media. Sahara Samay lapped up the story first, followed by Star News. And once India TV and Aaj Tak came in, you can imagine what happened. Yes, you guessed it: women's rights groups were burning effigies of old sexy!

The so-called Lipstick Scandal was seriously dumb. A nice informal worth emulating in other colleges was shown as some attack on the hitherto undefined Indian culture, while drug abuse and alcohol were conveniently ignored. Seriously, our media has it's priorities all wrong. What was even dumber was listening to 24 News' anchor describing in great detail how a boy was applying the lipstick, complete with comments on how the two people were bonding emotionally!

For the rest of the events, this media madness was the butt of all jokes. Seriously, the Lipstick Scandal defined T10!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Waiting for Thomso 2010, almost

Last year, it was the Gods of Fun who came to IITR. This year, THOMSO promises to release euphoria. IIT Roorkee's annual autumn fest THOMSO, the official youth festival of Uttarakhand, begins Thursday, with the inauguration on Wednesday night. 

Now, the campus buzz is that this year, we'll be seeing a vastly scaled down THOMSO. It's pretty evident from the rather short list of sponsors. There's no pro-night, WARGASM or THAHAKE (which is shocking given that the last one tends to be a favourite to the faculty). Nonetheless, my favourite event - 16 FRAMES - will be held as always. Last year, it included a workshop on short film making, but that's been dropped this year.

The campus is not really all alive an excited, although the Main Building has been given a fresh coat of paint and SCB Ground has been cleared of debris. RSVPs are flowing in fast on facebook, though.

As for me, well, it'll be a good opportunity to meet new people and also old friends. It might be fun too. We'll see...

PS: Rumours go that this could be the final edition of THOMSO. I'm not so sure about this though.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

OTFS Endorses JD(U)-BJP

The last five years have seen a marked changed in Bihar. From the jungle raj that prevailed in the 15 years of Lalu-Rabri rule, the state has now come out of a deep hole and is fast progressing towards development. The Nitish Kumar-Sushil Kumar Modi Government in Bihar, under the NDA, has done the impossible. Today, Bihar can look forward to a bright future where caste and religion will not matter and where safety is the right of every individual.

For their development-focused work over the past five years and the promise of a renewed effort in the future, Opinions 24x7 endorses the JD(U)-BJP alliance for the Bihar Assembly Elections.

Bad Days Ahead for Britain

The radical new cuts in public spending in Britain will not work. That's the blunt truth. In a depressed economy where the private sector is not spending and where jobs are scarce, public spending cuts will not be replaced by private spending. The half a million Britons who have lost their jobs thanks to the cuts will probably be unable to find a job for quite some time.

The Government's receipts will come down and it will be forced to cut spending further, creating an unending spiral. The central bank will not be able to offset this as its key interest rate is already near zero. The only way to prevent this from happening is that the Government spends more: and given the low interest rate on the UK's bonds, it can definitely spend more.

It's not just the UK, even France is going down the same path. It seems that Europe's great nations are preparing for a very cold winter and they will try to hold on until the East somehow rescues them. Ironic, indeed!

The Look-East Policy

One of the most radical economic and foreign policy decisions of the Union Government was the Look-East Policy that focused India's economic and diplomatic strength on our East and South-East Asian neighbours rather than on the West.

The policy is still evolving as we go along, but a lot of successes can be named: the India-Asean FTA and the opening up of the Nathu La pass are just two examples.

If 'Look-East' is implemented sincerely, then the North East could stand to become the pivot of the new policy. The land-locked region that is precariously connected to the Indian mainland by a difficult path could, by means of globalization, grow into a great centre for trade and commerce with the entire region, as it used to be before the British invasion.

It's a long-term plan and there are many bottlenecks, such as India's border dispute with China and the testy relationship we have had with Bangladesh, but it presents the best option we have to develop the region. The historic chance that the Indian Nation has to convert one of its poorest, most backward regions into one of its most developed and influential is a dream come true for any diplomat and economist.

Can we seize the opportunity? Only time will tell.

(Series Concluded)

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Memory of Aman Satya Kachroo

This series is dedicated to Aman Satya Kachroo, a first year medical student who died after being brutally beaten up by his seniors during ragging and faced untold humiliation before his death.

Although it may seem that your death has been forgotten, wherever you may be, know that your death was not in vain and that some of us do remember. You never knew us, but your death influenced us profoundly. Rest in Peace.

(Series Concluded)

The Declaration of Freshers' Rights

WHEREAS the phenomenon of ragging has prevailed in our college campuses and even schools for years;
WHEREAS ragging has caused untold harm to the conscience and moral fabric of the nation and mankind at large;
WHEREAS ragging has led many fellow human beings to commit suicide or has scarred them for life;
WHEREAS ragging is an act against humanity, an expression of depravity and in violation of the Constitution of India according to the Supreme Court;
WHEREAS ragging is a phenomenon directly related to a degradation in the quality of society and cannot be eliminated entirely;
WHEREAS the continued harassment of freshers is intolerable in a democratic society;
WHEREAS all human beings are born equal and a difference of a few years in age does not bestow God-like rights on any individual;

We do hereby re-state fundamental truths of humanity as the Rights of Freshers:
  1. Any fresher pays the same fees as the senior students and is thus entitled to use the same facilities that any senior can use;
  2. As a citizen, a fresher has a right to lead a life of dignity and liberty without having to bow down to anybody, senior or peer;
  3. Beating, abusing and forced acts of depravity are against the rule of law and every fresher has the right to protect himself from them, while the Institution and society at large are bound to protect that right;
  4. Law does not force a fresher to call his seniors 'Sir' or 'Ma'am' and although it may be done voluntarily, a fresher also has the right not to do the same and the Institution is bound to respect and protect that right; and
  5. Freshers represent an important section of college society and have the right to participate in all events and organizations that function within that society.
With this in mind, we call for a renewed battle against the crime of ragging, knowing full well that morality and truth are on our side and that while we may never fully win our battle, we will never stop trying.

Of Drink, Smoke and Porn

Lets be honest: alcohol, cigarettes and pornography are everywhere. While the Gujarat Government might fool itself into believing that it can force prohibition, or the Union Government might fool itself into thinking that it can lower tobacco consumption and prop up a Tobacco Development Board at the same time. But we're smarter, aren't we?

Well, yes. But, unlike the examples above, we choose to ignore it. Everybody knows that over half of the teenagers in India smoke, but nobody is willing to even consider the idea that their child indulges in it. And don't even talk about drinking!

But the truth is that in campuses all over India, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and pornography are widespread. Nobody tries to control it and students keep mum about it, because society teaches them to keep mum about anything illegal. However, as the Raghavan Committee Report rightly pointed out, ragging and alcohol consumption/smoking are deeply interconnected.

Fun of the Moment
Ragging, although well-planned, eventually boils to how much 'fun' the senior can have. Smoking and drinking enhances that experiences. It also prevents seniors from applying their good sense. Indeed, most serious cases of ragging have happened due to drunken seniors.

This issue is not just about ragging: the need to curb the free flow of these vices in college campuses is acute. Over a million Indians die of smoking every year and they usually start in college.

There are many other issues related to ragging. Casteism and regionalism in particular are characteristics of ragging and just prove that it is nothing but a crime. However, to avoid digression, lets leave these issues here.

Next: A Declaration

The Law is in mere Words

The year the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in the Aman Kachroo Case and appointed the Raghavan Committee, winds of change could be felt blowing strongly through India's colleges. As soon as the academic year started, affidavits were filed and reports came pouring in from all over the country of students being suspended or even expelled for ragging freshers.

That effect, I am sad to say, has begun to wear off. It is typical Indian behaviour to care about a law only when somebody is watching. In this case, it was the fear of those affidavits being put to use that stemmed (not stopped) ragging last year. But this year is different: there were few complaints. Whatever were made were made in extreme circumstances. It became clear that by simply tweaking circumstances, it is possible to continue ragging freshers and making sure that they do not complain.

Predictable Plot
It's not very hard to find out how it works. Colleges are complicit in this, although there is very little they themselves can do. The first step is to create an illusion of safety: security guards at every other corner; banners outlining the punishment for ragging; phone numbers of the who's who of the institution; and of course, the dire warnings given to senior students that if they cross the line, they would face no mercy.

It lasts for a week or two. Then, the facade begins to chip away. The security guards can be caught napping; the banners either disappear or just add to the decoration; the who's who no longer cares, and neither do the seniors. And so it begins. In residential institutes, hostels are the prime place: security does not matter because a criminal determined to break the law will find ways to get around the law enforcers (and there are plenty of ways). In other institutes, ragging takes place outside the campus, usually in quiet areas.

The most amazing effect can be seen here at this point: although there is an anti-ragging helpline and a written complaint will really be seen as an FIR, the freshers themselves choose to keep quiet. They bear the humiliation, pretending that they are laughing it all off, while accumulating a deep desire for revenge in themselves, to be blown of next year. And the cycle continues.

Why do freshers keep quiet? Well, that's because freshers are actually quite similar to their seniors: they too want to have 'fun' with their freshers, they too want to indulge in the crime. The only way for them to do so is to suffer it themselves and then do worse the next year. No wonder, you can actually find freshers who rag other freshers: the more impatient lot!

What of the Law?
The law is meaningless unless enforced. The Supreme Court has been left as a great big joke as nobody seems to care for what it has to say. Some go to the extent of declaring the the Court made the Aman Kachroo verdict under media pressure and that its guidelines were never supposed to be followed! Really, when teenagers start passing judgment on the Supreme Court's judgment, it seems difficult to see how we can call ourselves a country that has any rule of law.

Next: The Extraneous Factors

Nothing New

In a little under two weeks, Myanmar's Military Junta will be holding the first general elections in the nation in 20 years. The results of the last elections were annulled by the junta and the Nobel Laureate Aung Sun Sui Kyi, whose party should legitimately be governing Burma, has been kept under house arrest since.

Now, this same junta is about to legitimise its military rule over the country forever. It will be much the same Government working through a rubber stamp legislature, a quarter of whose seats are reserved for the military. Simply put, the Government will now wear suits instead of military uniforms.

It would be nothing short of a miracle for the vote to be free and fair. With the main civilian political party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - outlawed and a steep $500 election fee for anybody who wants to contest, it is obvious that civilian rule will not return to Burma anytime soon. In an indication of what the junta really feels about the country, it ordered in one stroke that the country's Name, National Flag, Anthem and Emblem be changed to new ones. Amazingly, the new flag resembles one the Imperial Japanese Army used in its Burmese Occupation!

In all this, the only two countries that can really do anything - China and India - stand as mute spectators. A sad day for democracy indeed.

The Sad Fate of Research in AP

This week, two bits of news made headlines in the major Hyderabad dailies. The first was the laying of the foundation stone for the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) Hyderabad Campus. The second was the poor performance of students from the state in UGC-NET.

The TIFR incident was notable not just because such a distinguished research institution was setting up its second Campus, after Mumbai, in Hyderabad. It was also notable because students of the Central University of Hyderabad (or simply Hyderabad University), along with faculty from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, were up in arms against the handing over of surplus land to TIFR. According to them, the University is losing land rapidly, while the same land could be used (note the emphasis) to "develop" the University in the future.

The results of students from the state who wrote UGC-NET, a national examination for UGC scholarships for Junior Research Fellows (JRF), proved an old point: students from the state are not research-oriented, do not create any new knowledge but just regurgitate the same old things. Although the exam was held for the Humanities, Social Sciences and Commerce stream, compared to other states, the result isn't all that great for the science streams either.

So what do both these incidents reflect? They reflect that not only is the quality of research in the state falling with every passing day, but students themselves are more interested in politics than research. After all, how do you explain the phenomenon of students protesting against such a famous institute coming up right next to their campus? Or that the Chief Minister no less has to assuage tempers by assuring them that TIFR is not a private institute but one run by the Central Government?! The state that gladly welcomed BITS, Pilani and XLRI, and where a vast majority of engineering colleges are run by private managements, is now afraid of giving away land to private institutions!

And consider the gains that HCU could make: TIFR would undoubtedly force HCU to push up its own standards and the academic collaboration would create a win-win situation. Yet, students and some faculty members chose to ignore academic gains for the sake of so-called development on land that would probably be unused for decades and would breed more stray dogs than researchers.

Students in the state need to introspect as to how much they have allowed politics into their backyard and what effect it has on the state. Why do almost all engineering graduates leave the engineering field altogether? Why do so few graduates choose higher education (and I don't mean an MS in the US, which is mainly done to emigrate and not for education)? Students must think deeply as to where there future is, if this is their present state.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Same Country, Same Laws

Of all the laws passed by the Indian Parliament in its over six decades of existence, none stands out darker and more against the spirit of the Founding Fathers of the nation as does the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA for short.

The Act was created in an amazingly short period of time and passed without much debate. But it's consequences were huge: suddenly, the entire North East (and later Jammu and Kashmir) became "disturbed" zones and the Army was given a free hand to do anything it deemed fit, so much so that a low-level jawan could shoot down anybody on the mere suspicion of him being a secessionist.

AFSPA's constitutional validity, although endorsed by the Supreme Court, remains a major question on ground. After much deliberation, habeas corpus was accepted as the only petition from these disturbed areas admissible in the Supreme Court. However, the North East just has one High Court (in Guwahati) and the Supreme Court is not easy to reach. Effectively, the people of the region have been locked into a state of partial military rule with no remedy despite the fact that they fall under the direct control of the Indian Constitution.

Irom C Sharmila has been under self-imposed hinger strike for the past decade, demanding that AFSPA be withdrawn. Because of her action,s the Imphal Municipal Area in Manipur is the inly area in the North East that is not covered by AFSPA. Still, her demand, as well as that of countless activists, is for total revocation of the Act. Irom Sharmila lies in hospital today, force-fed by New Delhi's men to keep her alive.

However, AFSPA remains a huge hurdle in the integration of the region with the Indian mainstream. The weak voice of the North East is often missed in the much louder Kashmiri rhetoric against the Act (which is often followed by calls for Azaadi, unlike in the North East). It is in the interest of national integration to annul the Act at least partly, and eventually wholly. We cannot conquer the hearts and minds of the people of the North East through force. They are Indians, just like you and me. For them to live in a separate, draconian system despite being full citizens is a failure of Indian democracy and civil society.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It's All About Ego


After understanding the phenomenon of ragging from the perspective of a fresher, we now try to look at it from the other side of the window: the senior.

A student who can still remember the barbaric acts he was put through less than a year back now chooses to indulge in those very acts with a new set of students, evaporating the line between victim and perpetrator. Ragging provides a deep and worrying view into how morality has degraded in society and just how much tomorrow's civil society will care about law and order.

So, why does it happen? The simple answer is: ego. Ragging gives you a sense of power so great that it can blind your finer sensibilities. The ability to crush the powerless is a characteristic of human desires and has defined humanity for centuries. It has created Dalits, it has led to genocide and riots. Nobody is free from this desire. When a senior student sees a fresher - new, uncertain, ignorant - his first desire is to harm him. This is true: the first desire is not to befriend but to harm.

Why would any right-thinking person want to harm an absolute stranger? Well, the idea is not to harm him but given him a 'preview' of what he (the senior) could do if provoked. Bluntly put: the senior wants to create a sense of fear in the freshers so that he can derive a sense of power from that fear. It is very common in the social hierarchy in our society for people to wrongly identify fear with respect or discipline. Ragging is simply a manifestation of that.

Over this desire for respect i.e., a desire to fulfill an ego, a vast array of excuses has been created. Ragging has been described as a rite to passage, a way to 'break the ice' and even a necessity in order to prevent freshers from becoming arrogant (as if seniors are free of arrogance themselves). It is none of these in reality. Rather, it is just a way for a senior to create a false sense of pride in himself.

An Organized Crime
But simply forcing a fresher to do some silly stunts is not enough to fulfill an ego that was kept at bay for a year. A senior who indulges in ragging would do it according to a plan: every word would be calculated, every act premeditated. Why? Because a plan well-executed creates a great sense of joy. And a plan which can create a false sense of power, when executed properly, is the ultimate aim of such a senior.

There exists all over the Internet forums where students come together and discuss how to rag freshers. It goes well beyond the usual dramatics and singing/dancing. In case of hostels, it regularly enters the realm of physical and sexual abuse. It is a sort of temptation for the taboo: what one cannot do in public, one would like to do in private simply because it gives one a great sense of exhilaration to break rules.

The final component of the ego fulfillment is a sense of revenge. It is wrongly said that once the ragging period has ended, the juniors can do as they please in front of their seniors. This is false because if it were true, then the very purpose of ragging would be defeated! If it happens, it is because the junior chooses to forget, though not necessarily forgive.

Abusing a fresher gives a senior a great sense of pleasure because it signifies revenge against the seniors who tortured him a year back. Although this is not revenge by any meaning of the term, since the original perpetrators go free, it is certainly the intent.

Thus, a sense of (false) power, a badly bruised ego, an organized network and a powerful desire to extract revenge create the mental setting for ragging. But mental setting is not enough: many other factors go into securing their success. We discuss these factors in subsequent posts.

Next: Supreme Court? Not in my room!

Don't Just Talk, Teach

For all the talk of national integration, the school curriculum set by the Central Government's agencies doesn't really do all that much to bring the North East into the minds of every student.

In fact, hardly any mention of the region can be found in History textbooks. Whatever references are made are usually limited to sessions of the INC before Independence held in the region; the 1962 Indo-China War and of course, the insurgency in the region.

Geography textbooks are even worse as they simply describe the entire region as either 'Forest' or 'Mountainous,' without going into any details whatsoever. So pathetic is the situations that most educated Indian adults, leave alone students, can name all the seven North Eastern states. And don't even ask about their capitals.

Clearly, the North East is heavily excluded from the national consciousness as far as education is concerned. No wonder than that a common refrain amongst North Easterners who live in Delhi is that they often have to explain that Manipur/Meghalaya/Arunachal Pradesh etc. are Indian states. They even have to explain that they are not Chinese, Koreans or Japanese. Yet, the racist term "chinki" is used so commonly it would, and does, lead to huge resentment from people of the region.

National Integration is not just about Bollywood, Punjabi Food and Dravidian Politics. It is about coming together as a nation that knows itself, a nation that can proudly declare its territory to be united in word and spirit. Our national curriculum does no such thing. But that does not mean we cannot do anything. In today's world, nobody is limited to what they learn in school. Nothing stops us from learning about the region, it's people, politics and culture. If only the so-called educated Indian middle class would care to do so. National Integration is not a spectator sport, after all.

The Bihar Battle Begins

In just a few hours, the great Bihar Assembly Elections 2010 will begin. This election will be crucial because it will test the development formula of the NDA Government led by Nitish Kumar.

The main contenders are the JD(U)-BJP, the RJD-LJP and the Congress, which is going it alone under the stewardship of Rahul Gandhi. Young Rahul Gandhi has worked tirelessly to build up the Congress' lost base in both Bihar and UP and this paid rich dividends in the 2009 Lok Sabha Elections.

Overall, the ruling JD(U)-BJP, although a rocky alliance, has the best chances of winning the polls to give Nitish Kumar a second term. Politics aside, his first term saw some real development, bringing Bihar from a negative growth rate to 11.5% growth rate in GSDP; improving the law and order situation considerable; and fostering a careful Muslim vote bank. These are no small things in a state as large and complex as Bihar. This time, the main poll plank is development, albeit with a lot of stress on minority development as far as the JD(U) goes.

This minority-wooing is what has given sleepless nights to the RJD-LJP combine that was decimated in the Lok Sabha polls, with the former winning just four seats and the latter none. This time, the combine is banking almost entirely on the minority vote. Presumably, they hope to win a large majority of the famous Yadav-Muslim votes so that they can force themselves into a "secular" alliance with the Congress.

Oh, and speaking of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi has been working very hard to rebuild the organization there. However, it is thoroughly unlikely that it will be able to secure a majority. It might be contesting from all the seats, but that is more symbolic than serious competition.

A loss for the NDA here, however unlikely, would be a huge setback. The relationship between the JD(U) and the BJP is already pretty dicey in Bihar, although it is working just fine in neighboring Jharkhand. A loss could be a big problem for both parties. Nonetheless, they are going in to this as the clear favourites. Now, let the ballot speak.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

CWG 2010: India Comes Second

Lets be Fair

In a rather moving interview to CNN-IBN's Rajdeep Sardesai, the man in the not-so-comfortable spotlight, CWG OC Chairman Suresh Kalmadi, made some important points that are worth remembering as the Shungloo Committee prepares to get down to business.

Mr. Kalmadi has been blamed for everything - everything! - that went wrong with the Games. This is really very unfair since the OC was not responsible for everything. Consider the collapsed bridge and false ceiling at JN Stadium: there were some pretty ruthless jokes going around the SMS circuits after those, and Mr. Kalmadi was the butt of them all. But truly speaking, it was the Delhi Government's failure there. Even the filthy bathrooms in the Village were not the OC's fault.

Mr. Kalmadi also seemed to be more aggressive, not ready to take any more flak for others' faults. This is quite good, because a lot of officials were looking use him as a human shield. Then again, he also seemed to lack confidence as far as the investigation went, not prepared to commit himself in case he is found guilty. He has good reason of course, since two of his OC colleagues were fired over the QBR.

A;; in all, the interview was great and revealed a lot about what Mr. Kalmadi thinks post-CWG. I agreed with him on many counts and disagreed with him as well. However, when it came to Mani Shankar Aiyar, Mr. Kalmadi's face said it all. And I agree.

Tourism Ads Redefined

This new ad from Kerala Tourism took me by surprise. It's not the same kind of tourism ads that we are treated to in India (loud, in-your-face, though highly effective). This ad is simpler yet far more complex.

Unlike traditional tourism ads, this one leaves you in silence. It's not in-your-face, but it catches your attention. The part where the twins looks at each other on the boats is the best of all. A great ad that sets a standard for all tourism ads in the future!

The Corridor Lost Part-2

May 16, 2018

The Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

The morning prayers had just ended. Tezi Toko, a young monk at the monastery, lifted his head from prayer. Today’s prayers had been special, for a new batch of monks had just joined them. Life was quiet in Tawang, with people minding their own lives, including the monks and priests at the Monastery.

But Tezi had heard some disturbing rumours from the village: strange men in Army uniform had been seen across the mountains. Tawang, being a disputed site between India and China, was not new to Army men, but these seemed different. Some people had suggested that the Chinese were invading, but most people had brushed that theory aside. The Indian Army would never allow that to happen, they said. They had reposed faith in the tricolour that flew majestically in the village square.

Just then, there was a sudden scream from an adjoining corridor. Tezi rushed there to see another fellow monk looking out of the window in horror. Smoke was rising from the village outside and people were running helter-skelter in fear. Women and children could be seen screaming as families tried to stay together. The fire was spreading quickly, but its source was not immediately apparent.

Tezi strained his eyes to see where the fire was coming from, until he finally saw them. A band of uniformed men tossing grenades at whatever, or whoever, they could lay their eyes upon. Within moments, the village roads turned crimson. But when Tezi looked upwards, towards the horizon, his skin tingled in horror. There, a sea of soldiers could be seen marching towards the village. It felt as though the end of the world had arrived for Tawang.

Tezi returned to his chambers and knelt down to pray. He tried to concentrate on his prayer, but his mind kept wandering. He wondered how long it would take for the invaders to reach the Monastery. He knew it wouldn’t take them long once they reached the village square. But they would stop, at least briefly, at the Square. They had to take care of the tricolour, after all.

December 21, 2012

Onboard the Prime Minister’s Special Aircraft from New Delhi to Beijing

Although he seemed calm answering the media’s questions, the Prime Minister had a lot on his mind. This trip to Beijing was to be significant, as the two countries were all set to sign a Comprehensive Convention of Economic Cooperation and a number of security-related pacts.

But that was what the world was looking at. Over the past few years, India had been silently negotiating with Bangladesh to allow it to use its roads to transport goods and people – including soldiers – from and to the North East. It was exhausting, but necessary. Simultaneously, India had begun scaling up its border security along the Siliguri Corridor, which remains the weakest security point of the nation.

The Prime Minister knew that it would be foolish for the Chinese to ever invade India. But he also knew that if it were ever confronted with downfall, the Communist Party could act very foolishly. And, as they say, a strong body with a weak mind is a very dangerous combination.


The Corridor Lost Part-1

This is a story that I wrote for Kshitij. It's purely a work of fiction.

May 13, 2018

Somewhere in Chengdu Military Province, China (bordering Bhutan)

The mood in the Control Room was tense. Everybody’s eyes were glued to their screens as they followed the tiny red dots on the Global Positioning System. It was crucial that they were not found, at least not this early into the Operation.

General Qin Zhang had just finished a top-secret call with the Premier. Everything was going as planned. Things were bad in Beijing, protests had broken out everywhere and it had become near impossible to control the mob of angry students.

Just two days back, the Communist Party’s worst nightmare had come true: the little island of Taiwan had proclaimed Independence, ending over seven decades of existence as a pseudo-state. Mainland China had failed to prevent this unilateral secession and people saw this as a crushing blow to the Government. Now, there were voices calling for the Communist Party to relinquish power and atone for its failure. And again, as it had done in Tiananmen Square, the Party had called on the People’s Liberation Army to save it.

But that was easier said than done. Within hours of the Taiwanese declaration, the United States invoked its Taiwan Relations Act and covered Taiwan under its nuclear umbrella. American Naval bases in Japan and South Korea sprung to life as the entire Taiwan Sea was converted into a fortress. Cruisers, submarines, carriers: nothing could pass the American cordon. Nuclear threats were meaningless before the Superpower.

But something had to be done to reassure the people that the Party could protect China’s sovereignty. After hectic discussions, the Party and the PLA had finalised Operation Southern Tibet. It was necessary to take these territories by force, lest the Party should be pulled down.

General Zhang checked his own screen, which showed the progress of the nuclear weapons as they were being transported from Sichuan to the border. He was interrupted by one of his officers, who said, “General, Battalion 10 reports that Highway 21 has been reached and is being destroyed.” The General nodded in acknowledgement and smiled.

May 14, 2018

An undisclosed location in New Delhi

Neeraj Shah, Officer-in-Charge for the North East in R&AW, was very worried. His team had goofed up badly. Just a few hours back, they had reported to the Prime Minister that a small group of militants had destroyed a part of National Highway 21, which is the lone road that connects the North East and parts of West Bengal with the rest of India. He was informed that the situation was not very serious, although there might be some shortages in the region.

But fresh intelligence reports had pointed to something much worse. There were reports of villages being razed and communication channels failing entirely. There were also reports that the Assam Rifles HQ had come under heavy missile fire from forested areas. No known militant group had such capabilities. Just a few minutes back, informers from Shillong blanked out and the only other source, from Imphal, was unable to provide any useful information.

What made things worse was the fact that a large contingent of troops had just been moved to the border along the Tibet Autonomous Region from the North East. Taiwan had declared Independence and China wanted India to guarantee that there was no trouble in Tibet as it dealt with Taiwan. India complied but had not expected any trouble in the North East. Now, with NH 21 being rendered unusable, troops could only be flown to Guwahati and that would take time.

Compounding Officer Shah’s worries was the strange behaviour of R&AW’s computers: they kept shutting down or deleting information at random. They couldn’t find any virus and suspected a cyber attack. Consequently, they had to be pulled off the network. It was like being back in the 1980s. He only prayed that this was not a foreign attack.

But moments later, he received a memo from one of the offices under him. It had been confirmed that hundreds, maybe thousands, of soldiers of the PLA had managed to cross the border through the unsecured mountains of Bhutan: the least militarised of India’s borders. It seemed that China was invading India’s North East, although this could be a rogue battalion. Whoever they were, they had choked off the Siliguri Corridor, the narrow strip of land that connects the North East to the mainland.

Nobody knew what to do.

(To be continued)

Bring out the Truth

The 2010 Commonwealth Games was undoubtedly a great success. Despite the initial hiccups, the event went like clockwork. India won 101 medals, including 39 Gold Medals: the highest ever for the country in any CWG. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular, Delhi was painted with gloss and the Games Lanes worked perfectly (to my great surprise, I admit).

However, now that the event has ended, it is time to assess the damage. Already, the PM has setup a one-man committee to go through the entire financial mess. The CAG and the CVC are busy going through the Games expenditure. According to several sources, including the BJP President, the expenditure for the games has been INR 70,000 crore! Most of this money has gone due to corruption.

Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit's cheap technique of blaming OC Chairman Suresh Kalmadi for everything, as if she is a clean angel, deserves contempt. A thorough investigation is required and all those found guilty, whoever they may be or whatever their contacts may be, must be brought into the public domain. The CAG has promised to complete the investigation process in three months, following which it will be submitted to the Government and subsequently Parliament. MPs must scrutinize the report threadbare and those guilty must be brought to book.

INR 70,000 cr is no small amount for a country like India. The people demand a transparent investigation and strong action. The Prime Minister's reputation is at stake here, if not the very legitimacy of the UPA Government.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Need for Connectivity

One of the biggest reasons for the North East being so desperately cut-off from the Indian mainstream is the stifled flow of people between the region and the mainland. This is not to say that there is no flow: thanks to the rail and air links to Guwahati, people from the North East are indeed able to move to and from Guwahati.

But again, Guwahati is a city, while connectivity has to be brought to the entire region. Consider the fact that of all the states in the North East, it is Assam that is pre-eminent. Although there are many reasons for this, the most important one is the fact that Assam is highly accessible, making Guwahati the economic centre of the region. Just a few decades ago, the region was almost entirely dependent on Kolkata, but today it has been replaced by Guwahati.

But the rest of the region has just not been developed enough in terms of connectivity. Just this year we saw a horrendous situation where a student group could virtually cut off the entire state of Manipur from the rest of the world! This is simply unacceptable and the people of the region cannot be left to the whims of Delhi in this situation. A permanent solution is required and it is improved connectivity. Of course, that is not easy. Roads and railways are difficult to build in the region. Difficult, but not impossible. For, if we can build a grand highway and railways in Kashmir, we can do it in the North East too. The technology is not missing, just the political will is lacking because the North East is not an issue on the same level as Kashmir.

Air connectivity to all the State capitals could be looked into, although that might not be feasible. We could also consider introducing cable cars to take people from the plains to hills. Developing connectivity will also boost the tourism in the region and help it to integrate into the mainstream.

The Manipur Government's website describes the state as the 'Gem of India.' And indeed, it is. But the mine that one needs to drill to get to this gem is too deep. That needs to change.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Opportunity to be Seized

After a huge loss - by over 100 votes - to Japan in its last bid, India finally became a non-permanent member of the world's top table: the United Nations Security Council. A body that was create by 40-odd countries (including India) right after the Second World War, the UNSC assumed a greater role in International security after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The countries on the UNSC have the unique ability to change the course of the world in many ways.

This is only the seventh time since the UN's formation that India has been elected to the UNSC as a non-permanent member. However, this time is quite different from the last ones: India is today more powerful on the International stage than it has ever been before and can add to the overall security of the world. Or, it could toe the Western (read, American line) on all issues and thus hope to gain more favours from Uncle Sam.

India won this tenure at the UNSC after a lot of hard work, which is evident from the fact that we got 187 votes, including, we are told, Pakistan's vote. This opportunity must not be dwindled. India must take an Independent stand on various issues. The biggest issue of all will undoubtedly be the Iranian Nuclear Issue, in which India will have to show great maturity between its conflicting interests: being an ally of Iran on one hand and being absolutely against a nuclear-armed Iran on the other. We must also raise our voice against human rights violations around the world while at the same time try to convince whatever skeptics are left on the Kashmir issue.

Expectations are high for this term that India has obtained, given the fact that the next one may also take 19 years or even more to come. The Golden chalice - permanent membership - must be pursued vigorously. The current composition of the UNSC includes BRIC as well as IBSA, two of India's most important multilateral fora. Now is the time to introduce serious debate within the UNSC itself on reforms to make it more commensurate with the new millennium.

Great challenges lie ahead for Indian diplomats now. But the current New York team that won the bid must be congratulated, as must be External Affairs Minister SM Krishna. We have the opportunity to demonstrate our leadership now: and we must seize it.

When Tragedy Struck

A very long time ago, the North Eastern states were very different from what we know them today. Almost entirely tribal, they were ruled by various kings and there was a great deal of trade between Burma and Tibet.

But once the British came to South Asia, the tribal kings began to lose their power, thereby bringing the entire region under British India. The region was valuable as it created a land link between British India and Indo-China. However, the local tribal population was a problem and the British did only what they knew: subjugate them.

But perhaps the greatest tragedy for the North East was not colonization but partition. With the creation of the new nation of India, which was to include all of the North East as it was British territory, the region turned land-locked, connected to the mainland only by a thin, difficult route called the Siliguri Corridor. Even worse, the small, divided population of the North East had almost no strong voice in Delhi and was always pushed aside in national politics.

Poor relations with Bangladesh and an utter lack of awareness in the mainland came together to cap the regions centuries of tragedy. North Eastern Indians today face racist remarks in some of India's greatest cities, most of all in the National Capital itself. From aspersions being cast on their nationality to being mocked for their mongoloid features, the North East is more on paper than in the mind of most Indians.

How can we, as citizens of India striving for national integration, contribute? How can the Government of India contribute? And what can the people of the NE themselves do to raise their head high and merge the region with the mainland? These are some questions we will look to answer in this series, We the NE.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Recall Guv HR Bhardwaj

The Governor of Karnataka HR Bhardwaj may be described as one of the most biased public officials the nation has seen. From taking the extreme step of lamblasting the BJP Government in Karnataka in public to calling for consecutive votes of confidence, this Governor has made it amply clear that he intends to remain a Congress stooge.

It is unprecedented in the history of the nation for a Governor to publicly rebuke the Government and then do it all over again, several times, on TV channels. It's not as though the BJP Government is totally innocent, but it is not the Governor's job to catch corruption and malpractices. To add insult to injury, he went on to recommend President's Rule in the State despite the fact that the CM had won the Vote of Confidence. Why? Because the Speaker did not listen to his (unconstitutional and non-binding) advice! If this is not a mockery of the post of Governor, the what is?

Governor's are appointed, not elected. Governments are elected and they carry more public strength than the Governor. It is improper for some appointed Union Government representative to force a state Government to step down just because he comes from the Opposition party. Clearly, HR Bhardwaj has made a mockery of his high post and for this, the Union Government should recall him.

Onward Ho!

Well, another Mid-Term just ended today, and I must admit, it wasn't as bad as I had thought. The syllabus was vast, given the fact that the professors had a full month without any holidays whatsoever to teach.
This semester has been strange mainly because most of the holidays were on weekends and the big holiday for Dashehra came extremely late. So, we had two mid-terms before the holidays. But anyway, the holidays have arrived at last.
My wishlist for home includes copious amounts of rajma and Shrikhand, not to mention sleep and Internet. I've already announced the IOTY10 series, but there'll be no updates for that for now. We the NE will be completed over the next week, as well as Don't Tell Anyone Part II. I'll also be uploading a story which I submitted for Kshitij. Moreover, I'll also try to read up a bit on JAVA and prepare for another story, this one based on Nanavati vs. State of Bombay.
So, just a few more hours and I'll be on the train to Delhi, followed by the flight to Hyderabad. A bus ride on an Aero and I'll be home. I can't wait!

Friday, October 8, 2010

IOTY10: In the Spirit of the Commonwealth Games

This year, the annual Indian of the Year returns. In the last three years, we celebrated the rise of India in the comity of nations. This year, we celebrate the largest multi-discipline sporting event ever to be held in India: The 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The logo for this year is designed around the CWG10 medal: a stylized chakra with the Indian colours on its edges. The CWG is after all, the biggest thing for India this year.

The label for the previous IOTY's have been replaced by a single IOTY label to better reflect the continuity of the award.

The 2010 Opinions 24x7 Indian of the Year
Coming next year

The Signature Ordeal

Those of you who have been following my blog for a few years would know that I hold an NTSE scholarship. To claim the annual amount, I need to fill some forms, which need to be signed by the Head of the Institution.

Last year, it was easy: the HOD would sign. And indeed, it took just a few minutes to get his signature. But this year, I'm in the Roorkee campus, where IITR's massive bureaucracy raises the revenue expenditure of the Government. 

So, the first step is t find out who the head of the institution is: the Director, the Registrar, an Asst. Registrar or one of the many Deans? I decided to enquire at the friendliest office: the Office of the DOSW. I go an immediate reply: Dean Academics.

Well, catching the Dean Academics is easier said than done. It was a fault of my own here, though: I should've asked at the UG Section before the Dean's Office. But anyway, after a week of trying to get him (his timings are erratic), I reached him, and he told me, very politely, that I should get his seal from the UG Section. So, I went to the UG section, which is famous for being the most uncooperative of all.

And it lived up to its name: the first thing they asked me to do was to get a certificate of good behaviour from the DOSW. Now, what's that? I went to the DOSW office to find out, and he described a list of things that need to be listed, all of which reminded me of the Bonafide certificate. And that's exactly what he was talking about.

So (after some days), I took a copy of the bonafide to the UG Section, where I got a pat reply: bring the original!! I could've sworn at him. After a few more days, I finally went with every single document in my possession. After a lot of cribbing, he accepted it and asked me to come the next day. It was a Friday, so I went on Monday, where I was informed that the Dean had accidentally (!) signed on just one of the three forms! He asked me to get the other signatures myself.

A few more days of running around and the Dean's kind PA finally let me get my signed forms. And that's how to get three measly signatures at IITR. One good thing though, I learned that when you're in a Government Office, carry everything!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Signs of Immaturity

According to reports, former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf told German Magazine Der Speigel that under him, the military did indeed train terrorists to fight in Kashmir and that the Nawaz Sharif Government kept quiet about it because it was unable to make any headway on Kashmir. The former General also went on to blame the entire world for Pakistan's faults and insisted that Pakistan exists only because of Kashmir.

His words betray a sense of immaturity so characteristic of Pakistan's military, which virtually runs the country's foreign (and to a large extent, domestic) policy. By tying everything to Kashmir, the army elite has wrecked the roots of Pakistan, destroyed its economy and, perhaps the worst of all, ensured that democracy never really takes root in "Midnight's Other Child."

The former dictator made a case that foreign powers should solve the issue for Pakistan ("solve" here means that they should force India to give up Kashmir to Pakistan) instead of going after strategic deals with India. Well, Mr. Musharraf, Pakistan is treated like a rogue state because that what it is: a country that has fermented trouble across the world. It is a reality that foreign policy favours strategically important countries and Pakistan could have become such a country had it assumed a more mature foreign policy. But dictators seldom think with a cool head, and that's why we have the situation today.

I wish the All Pakistan Muslim League good luck as it adds another piece to Pakistan's political chessboard. Although I seriously doubt is can make even the slightest dent.

A Great Start

Olympic Gold Medalist Abhinav Bindra (L) with Gagan Narang with the Gold Medal for 10m Air Rifle pairs. They started the medals tally for India at the 2010 CWG. They did it by setting a new CWG record.

As of yesterday, India was placed second in the medals tally, behind Australia. We expect that to change, however.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Spectacular Show

Despite all the problems and criticism from officials and a hyperactive media, the Opening Ceremony for the 2010 Commonwealth Games left the audience - both in the stadium and in front of television screens around the world - awed.

The beauty with which the organisers organised the event, not to mention the meticulous timings, made it one of the best ever. Right from Hariharan's 'Swagatam' to the Yoga performance to the closing fireworks and Rahman's music, the event was wonderful.

In the RKB Rec Room, people sat through the entire run of athletes of the 71 Commonwealth Nations. A lot of small countries like Isle of Man and Tuvalu rew curious looks, Pakistan drew some not-so-nice jeers and the Indian team received a grand applause. It was a proud moment to see Abhinav Bindra carrying the Indian Flag.

The Queen's Baton arrives with clockwork precision as Prince Charles delivered the Queen's message, followed by President Pratibha Patil declaring the Games open.

Hopefully, the rest of the CWG will go just as well as the Opening Ceremony. A lot of praise has come in from the now-improved Games Village, and the nation hopes to see India top the medals tally.

A New Insight

Samadhan-10: A Social Entrepreneurship Conference, organised by IITR's STeP and EDC, was a grand event that saw enthusiasm from both students as well as speakers.

The event began slightly late and was organised in the grand Senate Hall. It stated with a presentation about rural entrepreneurship projects in the hills of Uttarakhand. A professor from DOMS delivered it and it was peppered with some great pictures. Simply superb!

Next came The Rickshaw Project, which was presented again by a professor from DOMS as well as an IITR Alumnus. Although the idea was great and was relevant to the students in the campus, the presentation was meandering and lost its direction along the way. Still, the idea was worth appreciating.

The last presentation was the best of all: The Tata Jagriti Yatra, an NGO that takes young, enthusiastic people on the journey of a lifetime and transforms at least some of them into social entrepreneurs. Although the event stretched by an hour, the audience happily delayed lunch for the people from Jagriti, such was the excellence of their presentation. The QnA after their presentation was a grand ending to a great event!

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Balanced Judgement

The decision of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court is mature, balanced and made on an informed basis. The judgement, which as such is quite long, can be summarised as follows:
  1. The erstwhile Babri masjid was built on a temple.
  2. The disputed site is indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram and has been worshipped by Hindus for centuries.
  3. The land shall be divided into three.
  4. A third, including the part under what used to be the central dome, shall go to the Hindu Mahasabha.
  5. Another third shall go to Nirmoha Akhara and a third to the Sunni Waqf Board.
  6. The plea of the Babri Masjid Action Committee stands rejected.

The run up to the judgement saw an immense build up of security forces and intense debate within different sections of society. The uninformed were brushing up on the issue while the more informed were debating it intensely.

In the end however, there were almost no major untoward incidents. India has changed since 1992: the younger generation no longer cares for this. Nobody wants any more trouble. This is a good indication to those, who want to rake up trouble using this issue, that their attempts are futile.