Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Far too Harsh

The recent verdict by a Pune court to award a penalty of Rs. 100 crore on news channel Times Now in a defamation case is clearly disproportionate to the crime. The case, Justice (Retd.) P B Swant vs. Times Global Broadcasting Ltd. (a concern of the Bennet, Coleman and Company Ltd., the publisher of The Times of India), has received a lot of criticism from the legal fraternity.

Rs. 100 crore in our society is a very large sum - according to Arun Jaitley's assessment - and the incorrect picture shown on the channel for no more than 50 seconds does not merit such a huge sum. The Bombay High Court, due to procedures related to monetary fines in civil suits, declined to intervene till the channel coughs up the amount. What is even more saddening is that the Justice went ahead with the case despite a large number of apologies from the channel.

This case shows two aspects - media freedom (including freedom to make mistakes and apologise for them) and defamation, which is a very serious issue. In my opinion, in all cases possible, the judiciary should try its best to ensure that the media is encouraged to do its work without fear, for the grater good of society. In that process, there can be mistakes (we're all human, after all). While defamation does - and must - invite penalty, the penalty must not be to such an extent as to strike unquantifiable fear in the Fourth Estate. That would be a mockery of our democracy.

In the present case, the amount of Rs. 100 cr seems not just arbitrary and unsustainable, it also appears to be vindictive. The public mood today is somewhat anti-media, but that should not be the criteria employed. The mistake made here was one that any media group could make - it is surprisingly common - and the channel has apologized several times. Vindictively charging an obscene amount as penalty will be bad for collective society. This judgment cannot stand.

What's Happening in Burma?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her historic visit to Burma today, the first by an American official of such high rank in over half a century. She was welcomed by the Army-backed civilian government in the capital Nya Pyi Daw.

Since the pseudo-civilian Government was elected to power after decades of direct military rule, several changes have taken place in the country - not least of which is the rapprochement of ties between democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi. In fact, there are even reports that her National League for Democracy, which recently got itself registered, is planning to get her elected to Parliament in a by-election.

From freeing a number of political prisoners to cancelling a hugely unpopular dam project backed by China, Burma is clearly undergoing the most sweeping changes since it was partitioned from British India. One way to explain this is that Burma seeks to free itself from its vassal-like existence vis-a-vis China, for which it would have to ally itself with regional powers - particularly India - as well as the US.

Of course, the change is only visible in the Burman areas - in Kachen, which has a raging insurgency, there is nothing short of direct military rule, a cruel one at that. Yet, it would be wrong for the SecState would to expect monumental changes. At best, an assurance of greater freedom and democracy is what can be expected. And the US itself should seek to offer a carrot by partially lifting sanctions on the South East Asian country.

India has a huge stake in Burma, mainly on account of energy and security issues. But even historically, Burma has always been closest to India culturally. Suu Kyi, an alumnus of Delhi University, is deeply respected among Indian Burma-watchers. A move within Burma, not imposed from outside, to bring her back to the political mainstream is undoubtedly good for India.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Simply Unacceptable

The regrettable episode that played out this week, when India and China postponed a major round of dialogue over the border dispute, should serve as a moment of awakening for the Chinese, who have been trying to unduly influence all other countries in the region.

Although the respective governments have kept quiet, it is an open secret now that the main reason for the sudden postponement was the Chinese side's insistence that New Delhi prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking ta a Buddhist seminar in New Delhi. This is of course, unacceptable, since the event is apolitical in nature and India is a free democracy.

For long now, China has been bullying its neighbours and indeed, several countries in the world. Shamelessly using its economic clout, the Chinese forced a boycott of the Nobel Prize ceremony when a dissident was warded the Peace Prize. The Chinese have been indulging in state-sponsored piracy in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. It is China's belligerence and domineering attitude that has given the US an opportunity to announce its return as an Asian power.

China must know that, while India is all for talks, any interference in our internal affairs and attempts to force their way will be thwarted. While India's GDP is no match for China's, that does not mean that China has bought over India or any of its neighbours. Imperial China might have had several vassal states around it, but in today's world, countries talk face-to-face without shackles.

The Indian Government was right in calling off the meeting in the face of such open belligerence from the Chinese. China must wake up to the fact that the entire region is re-aligning itself against China's euphemistic 'peaceful rise,' which is anything but peaceful. Such episodes will not help China one bit. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Ocean and IOR-ARC

India assumed the two-year Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) this month with Australia as Deputy Chair under the troika format for the grouping. IOR-ARC, formed nearly two decades ago to promote regional cooperation and unimpeded trade through the Indian Ocean, has not exactly lived up to its lofty goals.

As an association of eighteen (now nineteen, after Seychelles rejoined the group) nations representing the continental rim of the Indian Ocean, the grouping can be the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability in the world's most important sea lane. The Indian Ocean is the stage where a large number of navies operate in different capacities, whether it be the forces in the Gulf of Aden or those in the Malacca Straits or even the American forces stationed in the area, particularly in Bahrain and soon to be in Australia.

The freedom to use this critical Ocean for peaceful purposes is of paramount interest to all powers. Therefore, close coordination between the blue-water navies of the region is a must. IOR-ARC is an appropriate forum for just that. Sadly, it had not been used to its full potential yet. But with the situation in Somalia growing worse, piracy in the Gulf of Aden is bound to rise. Already, some members like the Maldives and Indian (near Minicoy) have experienced the effects of piracy closer to home.A joint operation is the need of the hour and it can be done under the aegis of IOR-ARC.

Disaster relief is another important area of cooperation. The 2001 Tsunami saw the Indian Navy rise to the occasion to assist efforts in other countries. The system needs to be institutionalised for the common good of our people. IOR-ARC has a great potential in this, the Asian Century, but a lot more needs to be done. Undoubtedly, India must lead the way.

Think of the Middle Class

The Union Cabinet's decision to allow 51% FDI in mutli-brand retail came as a surprise to many. After all, this is coming from a Government that is fighting virtually everyday for its existence, leave alone taking strong and important decisions.

Predictably, the Opposition came out in Parliament against the move, saying that it would badly hurt small traders. While the BJP's opposition seemed to be hypocritical, given that the party has always been in favour of reforms, the Left's opposition was on expected lines. And even Uma Bharti's threat to 'burn down Wal Mart' stores is not entirely unexpected, given that we're about to enter another round of State elections.

Sadly, in all the rhetoric, two groups have been forgotten entirely: farmers and the Middle Class. As the Government rightly said, this move is not unplanned not is it haphazard - the regulation includes clauses that ensure that farmers will be able to make full use of the supply chain infrastructure that corporates are required to create. Direct procurement and horizontal integration will eliminate middlemen from the whole process, which is excellent for a farmer, who earns less than half of what customers pay for his produce.

For the middle class, the move signals more options and better choice at cheaper rates. With inflation refusing to budge from the 9-12% band, customers are already depending on Indian corporate retailers for cheaper supplies. This move would significantly help the middle class improve its lot, be it in the metros or in the Tier-II cities.

Unfortunately, the political discourse in the country pays lip service to farmers and scorns at the middle class. It's almost as if the rich and better-off are to be punished for being rich and better-off while the poor are to be kept poor to exploit them. While the fear of small shops being closed down is real, that does not mean that employment will fall. New avenues will be generated, this time with a guaranteed fixed income. After all, companies are going to hire locals to work in their stores.

A BBC Documentary also pointed out that Indians might actually prefer small stores over retail chains, for a variety of reasons. If this is the case, then a stable equilibrium could be reached and this whole argument would become pointless. The move is a positive step in an innumerable number of ways and that's why it's so shocking to see that it came from UPA-II.

To conclude, let me point out that people tend to criticize reforms as being something that only helps 10% of the population. I would say that Nehruvian economics did not help anybody, leave alone the top 10%. At least now there is a chance for the common man to live a better life.

A Shot in the Arm

The CRPF, in a dramatic encounter in the Jangalmahal area of West Bengal, killed top Maoist leader Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, who is third in the insurgent group's hierarchy. The initial response from the MHA was that it was '99% him,' but now a sympathizer has verified the claim.

The death of Kishenji stands as a monumental moment in the counter-insurgency operations, 'Operation Greenhunt.' In any war, it is very important to bargain the final deal from a position of strength. That would have been a far-fetched thought as long as the central Maoist leadership continued to enjoy safety in the jungles as foot-soldiers bled the Government troops.

However, the fall of Kishenji is bound to have a huge impact on the Maoists. A weakened central leadership will badly affect fresh recruitment and even have a fallout on current enlisting. A movement that the Prime Minister described as India's single most dangerous internal threat could have been dealt a body blow.

Sadly, some groups have gotten into politics with this whole issue. The Bengal Government's decision to institute a CID probe into allegations of a fake encounter, with none other than the CPI leading the charge, shows that politicians have not woken up to the need to defend Indian democracy. Politics on internal security issues will lead to disaster.

In the immediate future, the guerrillas will no doubt brace themselves for any further assaults. They will also be planning revenge attacks. Catching any more leaders, such as Suchetra Mahato, will be even more difficult. Nonetheless, this is bound to pressurize the Maoists to lay down arms and come to the negotiating table. A movement that started to protect the rights of adivasis and the poor has taken on a mindless violent streak that has destroyed the lives of the very poor that it claims to represent. We must be resolute in our purpose to protect the Indian Union.

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Our Minds

Today marks the third anniversary of November 26, 2008, remembered as 26/11, when gun-tottering militants from Pakistan invaded the financial capital Mumbai and killed over 170 people. It was one of the darkest days since the formation of the Republic, a day that still reverberates amongst the masses.

On that day of 26/11, brave constables and officers of the Mumbai Police, Navy commandos and commandos of the NSG laid down their lives to liberate Mumbai from the terrorists. They remain forever, heroes of the entire nation.

Since that day three years ago, much has happened and much has not. Our coastal security, not under the overall control of the Indian Navy, is still woefully inadequate. While funds have been sanctioned, decision-making remains stymied due to both bureaucratic delays as well as political wrangling. Meanwhile, Mumbai's police modernisation remains a far cry. After 26/11, it was thought that there would be an upheaval at the hustings. That did not happen.

The 26/11 trial remains stalled. In India, Ajmal Kasab is yet to be hanged. In fact, his security has become a great burden on the State. It would have been far better had he been tried in a military tribunal as a Prisoner of War. At the same time, the trial in Pakistan has gone nowhere at all. However, Indo-Pak ties seem to be on the upswing nonetheless, with calls for 'de-linking' the composite dialogue from terrorist activities.

The Indian populace is angry that nothing has moved forward on 26/11. The Government seems determined to bury the hatched. But we will not forget, we will not forgive. 26/11 remains a cold, dark day in our hearts and we will see the perpetrators brought to justice.

Bail is a Right

The Supreme Court released five corporate executives accused in the 2G case on bail after several months of incarceration. As expected, the media was out in full condemnation, asserting that the accused should not be allowed bail.

The current debate over bail is very disappointing. While the nature of the accusation is very serious, that is still no reason to deny anyone bail. Two assertions by the naysayers stand out here: the accused, being powerful people, can influence witnesses and tamper with evidence; and that the accused should get their 'just desserts.'

The first assertion falls flat on closer examination. For one, investigations into this case did not begin all of a sudden: they began a clear year after an FIR was filed and that too after a great deal of pressure from civil society and Parliament. Even then, only certain accused were arrested, their equally influential relatives and colleagues were free to do whatever they pleased. Therefore, the idea that tampering of evidence is possible holds no ground: if it did, everybody should have been arrested, not just the accused.

The other assertion is extremely dangerous. A central tenet of jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence. All accused are innocent until proven guilty. If we were to reject this concept and throw all accused in jail for indefinite periods of time, it would lead to an extremely dangerous situation in the country, one where anyone with a grouse would file a false, non-bailable complaint just to teach his adversary a lesson. It would not just be morally wrong but also in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.

Sadly, the media seems to entertain a certain mob mentality and the judiciary, to some extent, is influenced by it. The Supreme Court came out against this trend, but it did so rather late. Nonetheless, bail must be seen as the right of an individual and presumption of innocence upheld, or else we become a banana republic.

Not Another Logjam

The first few days of the Winter Session of Parliament augur tough times ahead for the UPA-II Government. Even before the session began, the principle opposition BJP declared a boycott of Home Minister P Chidambaram, alleging his hand in the 2G Spectrum scam.

However, the time is not for politicking. Currently, 31 bills are pending before Parliament, while the Government wishes to introduce 21 new bills. Given that the current session is for a measly 17 days, their is an urgency to get these bills passed.

And yet, the Opposition and even some components of the ruling combine continue to disrupt activities over some reason or the other. On the one hand, this reflects poorly on the Opposition, which seems to have forgotten that they are MPs elected to legislate, not goons who are supposed to destroy the parliamentary system of our country. The Government for one needs to be less officious and talk with an open mind with the Opposition, while also managing its own flock.

A massive amount of important legislation is pending in Parliament, including the Lokpal Bill. This session must be extended if necessary and cannot be washed under any circumstances.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Horrible Semester

Nov. 18, 2011 marked the last teaching day for the current semester, whose ETE is scheduled to begin from the 25th. It also marked the end to what has probably been the single worst semester since I joined IIT Roorkee, academically speaking.

While there has not been any repeat of EC-102 (thankfully), the subjects this time (and the teachers) did not inspire us. Not even nearly, actually.CE-351 was the only exception, where the subject was quite interesting and the teacher was also good, although he could have been better. But that's the only positive there.

CE-311 was the worst subject that I have ever had to study, one that has ensured that I will do whatever it takes to avoid environmental engineering. It's just not civil engineering enough! CE-321 was a good subject, one that actually meets my idea of modern technology and programming, but the way the exams and practicals were held left me disappointed. Nonetheless, I think I've confirmed that Geomatics engineering remains one of my top choices for PG.

CE-331 was an exciting subject because it was out first from Geotechnical Engineering. The teacher taught it very badly, but the subject was still good and the practicals even better. I'll be looking forward to more later. CE-341 was virtually non-existent and can really be discarded altogether. IEQ-04 was by far the best elective I took, even though the lack of designing knowledge hampered it a bit.

About the time table - after last sem's extremely jammed up schedule, I was looking forward to a more empty schedule. Sadly, even this sem was busy. Monday was a long day, but not necessarily boring. The worst of all was Tuesday - five continuous lectures was unbearable. Surprisingly  Wednesday was virtually empty, with just one lecture and one tut! Thursday was back to normal with a full line-up of classes, although TIEQ-04 was something I looked forward to. Lastly, Friday was another busy day with the second half of Geomatics Engineering and its three-hour lab (though we barely had half of those!)

Overall, I would not like to have a repeat of this semester, academically speaking. On extra-curriculars, it's a whole new ball game.

How we Survived

Since the evening of the 19th to today, IIT Roorkee's entire network shutdown due to some glitch in the Information Superhighway Centre (ISC). Consequently, nothing but the Campus Intranet was working, leaving everybody in the dark.

For first and second years, it simply meant a reduction in the amount of time spent on Facebook. But for the higher years, it also meant coming dangerously close to missing deadlines for internships, off-campus placements, competitive exams etc. For faculty, this meant a loss in precious time.

It is a major security flaw in IITR's information architecture, that one single individual's absence from the campus can virtually black out the institute for days on end. As per sources, it was not a major problem but one that could be fixed by any technician if they have the password to the system. That, sadly, is in the hands of one and only one individual, who was in Delhi. Now, we has supposedly fixed the problem (for now) remotely.

The Internet is such an important part of our lives now that even a day without it brings back memories of our second year, which was spent with no Internet connection inside the hostel whatsoever. A sad life by IIT standards, indeed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another Milestone Crossed

Nearly five years since we started counting, Opinions 24x7 has his another milestone, with 1.5 lakh hits on the counter. Although our two top articles - Murder in Antarctica and Roadies 5: Ladyboys Inc. - continue to rake in massive hits, newer articles are also attracting readers.

We have successfully enthused blog enthusiasts from India's Northeast through a mix of fiction and reality. Opinions 24x7 reiterates its support to Irom Sharmila and her movement against AFSPA. At the same time, we also have a steady stream of readers from Pakistan and Brazil, particularly for our International stories.

In the coming months, we will be kicking off two new series - The Union Shall Fall and IOTY 2011. And of course, in the summer, we will be blogging on my summer intern, whether it be in Canada, Muncih, Auckland, Mumbai or at home in Hyderabad.

Opinions 24x7, on this fine occasion, rededicates itself to the cause of working for the enlightenment of the nation. Jai Hind!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One More Time

In less than a week, my fifth End Term Exam will begin. It's getting quite tiring now - the regular drill of exams. This semester was particularly bad not least because of the pathetic band of teachers we had but also because of the dreary subjects.

Sadly, I'm sure that this sem will see my CGPA finally collapsing back to eight point something. It's inevitable - my MTEs say as much. God alone knows what sort of distributions will come out this time, given that professors seem to either give marks for free or none at all!

Lets go for a subject-wise analysis (I missed this for MTE-2: my apologies). First, my biggest hope and saviour, IEQ-04. Even with absolute marking, I hope to get an outright A+ here. With the highest total so far in the class and a rather-biased professor, this should be a piece of cake. Finally, I selected exactly the right elective!

In CE-331 and CE-341, my marks are quite high, but not the highest (which is OK). Every mark will count here. Given that the former also includes a practical exam, it will get tighter. In CE-321, I am sure to get either a B+ or an A. My marks are quite good in comparison to the class average, but this prof cuts marks rather randomly and does not listen to any arguments. Therefore, while it does depend somewhat on the PRS, extrapolating my current performance lands me at 8 or 9. There is the question of the role of the Survey Camp, but that will have to be overlooked for now.

Then come the real flop shows that will drag my CG down. CE-351 is really a simple subject that needs nothing more than a bit of patience and creativity. Which is what I realized after MTE-1, when my horrendous 9/25 left me shell-shocked. I did bring back some stability with a 24/25 in MTE-2, but the damage has already been done. It's a similar story in CE-311: 23/25 and 14.5/25. A very sorry state indeed. In either of these, the best I can hope for is a B+.

A word on CE-311: this is the worst subject that I have ever taken. Every aspect of it, from the teacher to the exam to the course itself, makes it the victim of my malice. I would scrap this course if I could without any second thoughts. I'm just happy to be rid of it on Dec. 2. Good riddance to bad rubbish, literally.

Next sem, I hope, will be better.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Timely Intervention

With the debate over the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) heating up, with even Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha joining the protestors, the intervention by former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the man behind India's nuclear weapons programme, is both timely and credible.

Dr. Kalam started out with an enlightening essay in The Hindu, where he rebutted point-by-point the allegations made by those against nuclear power. In particular, he showed, both through numbers as well as judgment, that the Fukushima disaster was nowhere of the kind that Hiroshima was (as many advocates have been claiming) and also that the KKNPP has an even smaller chance than Fukushima of facing such a crisis.

He followed up his essay with a series of meetings and speeches in Kudankulam, where he tried to point out that nuclear power is really our gateway to a better future. His words were backed by Government officials who have been trying to explain the nuances of nuclear power to the locals. Sadly, the protesters seem to have rejected his claims and continue to block the project, which itself is dangerous because, as the AEC Chairman pointed out, you cannot just turn off a nuclear power plant like some electronic item.

Dr. Kalam's injection of rationality into the debate was much-needed. One hopes that protesters can be made to see the light of reason so that India can provide clean energy to the millions in need of it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Remember the Baritone

Widely acclaimed as a musical prodigy who scaled the tallest of mountains in the world of Indian music, Bhupen Hazarika was one of India's most talented singers. Born in Assam, Dr. Hazarika's early education was completed in Guwahati. At the age of 12, he recorded his first song - a sign of many more to come ahead. So passionate was he about music that he went on to do his Ph.D from Columbia University, New York, in the field.

Within his own country, it took time for him to find recognition. He started off with singing Assamese music and became popular in the Northeast and West Bengal. However, it was only when he tried his hand at other forms of music, such as Rajasthani folk, did he find a wider audience. Dr. Hazarika went on to compose hundreds of songs. He even sang some with another Indian prodigy, Lata Mangeshkar.

But perhaps his greatest contribution was to his home state - Assam. It would be no exaggeration to say that his music put Assam on the Indian cultural stage. His colleagues have always lauded him not just his work but also his knowledge of traditional music from Assam and the larger Northeast. He took pains to rejuvenate the cultural space in the region whether it be the first Assamese movie or the first colour movie to be screened in Arunachal Pradesh.

Dr. Hazarika's death in Mumbai represents a tragic end to a distinguished career. He was a nationalist through and through, strongly believing in the unity and integrity of this great nation. Many of his works belied his disgust for the ULFA, which he described as a monster. In his death, the Union has lost one of its greatest sons and a voice that inspired the world has been silenced.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Eleven Years of Shame

The Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila Chanu's record hunger strike demanding repeal of AFSPA entered its 12th year on Saturday. It was way back in 2000 that Irom, having witnessed the gunning down of innocent civilians at the hands of the Army (including a former National Bravery Award winner), chose this Gandhian-style of protest to demand an immediate repeal of the Act.

As a reaction to her strike, the State lifted the DA Act from the Imphal Municipal Region, thus removing AFSPA from there. However, virtually nothing has happened since then. In fact, her protest of eleven years is dwarfed by the age of AFSPA in Manipur - it was imposed in 1958. Over half a century of imposition, it seems, has failed to win the war against insurgency. All it has done is successfully alienate the local population.

As Irom Sharmila enters here twelfth year, India has begun to awaken to her just cause. Insurgency is still a major problem in the region, but looking at it from a typically war-like perspective is not going to change anything. We need to show the locals that we hold them to be equal to all other Indians. Fifty years of virtual military-rule has badly degenerated Manipuri society and Irom stands out in that as a beacon of light, a ray of hope that Mahatma Gandhi would have acknowledged had he been alive.

Eleven years of a hunger strike and shocking apathy from the Indian Government and people brings into question our true commitment to integrating the region with the mainstream. Do we want to live in a country where people's plight can be ignored so summarily just because they live in a remote area or have different habits from us? I don't think so.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Elitist Streak

Justice (Retd.) Markandey Katju, the PCI Chief, made some scathing remarks about the Indian media in a recent interview to CNN-IBN's Karan Thapar. Not only did he chastise the media for giving prominence to Bollywood gossip, he went on to state that he had a very low opinion of the intellect of most journalists.

On the face of it, Justice Katju's remarks are perfectly in sync with what most of the Indian middle class thinks. The Indian media has already gotten out of hand and is, in many instances, trying its best to cause irreparable damage to our social fabric for the sake of TRPs. With hundreds of news channels and thousands of newspapers, the sector is robust but surprisingly unregulated.

Sadly, as Justice Katju wen on to lambast the media, he surprisingly declared that journalists were an inferior species of sort, with no knowledge of economic theory, political theory or philosophy. He made a very subtle hint that he considered most journalists to be thoroughly unprofessional if not outright stupid. His comments, initially well-reasoned, became increasingly venomous, culminating in his declaration that his sole desire as PCI Chief was to raise government control over the media, going as far as to threaten a biased approach to Government advertising.

It is surprising that such a liberal-minded former justice would have such uncouth things to say. Of course, a good part of the blame does lie with the media, which has worked to wreck the nation in many instances, such as by spreading superstition. But the way he went on to describe the 'mental level' of a vast majority of the country belied a clear elitist streak - he is a PCI Chief who is not in sync with the country. Being a justice of high standing, he has clearly lost sight of how this country works. He has not just discredited the media - not all of which, he acknowledged, is bad - but has also belittled the people.

His remarks have faced widespread criticism from the Press. He will surely have to answer for his words.

No Prosperity, This

At the G20 Summit in Cannes, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that rising inflation is a sign of increasing prosperity. His logic is that since people are earning more, they are willing to pay more for food and therefore, prices are rising.

This logic actually flies in the face of facts. Assuming that food is an inelastic commodity, the recent spate of rate hikes by the RBI would have no effect on food inflation. And if it is not perfectly inelastic, then inflation should have shown some sort of downward trend by now - we've had about thirteen rounds of rate hikes already. But inflation has just reached a peak for this year.

Interestingly, even if we are to believe that prosperity is the cause for higher inflation, then we should expect that non-staple foods consumed by lower income groups should show a downward or at least a stable price trend and only the so-called rich man's food (meat and eggs) a higher trend. But inflation numbers show that virtually every food commodity is rising, including jowar and bajra. Why is it that even the poor man's food is getting dearer?

The fact of the matter is that the current round of inflation is primarily because of a global spike in prices (which is due to several reasons but primarily due to speculation) as well as supply not keeping up with demand. Of the former, the PM should have used the G20 Summit to drive home the point, just as FAO reports have been doing. But he chose to overlook it entirely.

As for supply-side bottlenecks, the Central Government should, and has, invested in infrastructure. The onus is on State governments to close bottlenecks in the PDS system and provide timely inputs to farmers. The Central Government already provides a massive subsidy for farmers and there is not more that it can do apart from sponsoring requisite research. States must learn from each other how to improve agricultural productivity.

The PM believes that the current inflation is a sign of poverty. UN and Planning Commission reports show a rise in poverty levels over the years. What sort of prosperity is this?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Flip Flops Augur Bad Times

Pakistan and India have been working for quite some time now over the granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to the latter (India already grants it to the former). Two days back, the talks seemed to have reached a culmination with a press note on the Pakistan Government's website mentioning that the Cabinet had decided to grant MFN status to India. Obviously, there was much cheer in India.

Rather conspicuously, with the night, the note was removed and replaced with a new one that deleted the clause on MFN. The Pakistani I&B Minister, who first said that the stakeholders viz., the business community and the stock exchanges, were in full support of the move. The next day, the Minister denied that MFN status had been granted and added that all stakeholders, including the Army, had to be consulted.

The issue of trade normalization between the countries is as old as the countries themselves. History shows that political problems become easier to solve between countries if the two have a strong stake in each others economies - in other words, if they have strong trade ties. For two countries that share such a long land border, the volume of trade is pathetically low. MFN could have changed all that.

Sadly, it seems as though some vested interests in Pakistan have successfully blocked the move despite the Pakistani cabinet's decision. One vested interest if, understandably, the Pharma industry there, which is scared of a flood of cheap Indian products, which is a global phenomenon. This can only be described as being unfair towards the poor of Pakistan - they deserve to get the cheapest, quality drugs the world can give them. In several FTAs that India has signed, we have taken a risk and we have come out stronger. Pakistani industry has much to gain from India's expertise and an MFN could have opened up vistas of cooperation.

The other vested interest is the Army, whose very bedrock is a hatred for India. Any move to normalize relations between the two is clearly unacceptable and it would be no surprise if it were the Army's gesturing that led to the flip-flop. Clearly, the road to trade normalization between South Asia's economic superpower and its troubled neighbour is far from covered.

On Second Thought

The Mock Parliamentary Debate
L6, Industrial Block
Nov. 3, 2011, 6:15 PM
Motion: "This House Will veto the Palestinian Bid for full UN Membership"

It took a fair deal of running around to get the mock PD ready. An unprecedented media blitz followed, which included my first face-to-face encounter with the Evil Man of CulSoc, however, failed to see a good turnout. Part of the blame, I think, lies in the motion: most people I met complained about how specialized it was. A few read about it in advance, but most came with a blank mind and left with a nearly-blank one.

A major problem we faced initially was the old bane of Lit - everybody was late. The worst part was that Prof. Nangia decided to take an extended extra class, which forced us to start the event led. That also saw a few people leaving. Nonetheless, the actual debate was preceded by several lectures dealing with PD's, Palestine, Israel, Indo-Israel relations etc. I do hope that somebody learned something from these.

Seeing the opposing team with a laptop is rather unsettling - it felt so much like a MUN! Once the debate began, we established our house well, using a times set (my first ever), which left the other team unawares and forced a few of their points to be purged from the records. Just as we had expected! Because our house was USHR, we were able to milk the issue of Hamas very well. However, on the Arab Spring, I think we goofed up, but the judges accepted it. The Burden of Proof being to show that the move would protect our interests in the region, we simply ignored the question of AIPAC and domestic pressure - they never managed to link it to the BOP anyway.

A huge problem with the debate was that it was virtually two parallel debates. The opposition barely heard what the proposition said, such was their level of preparation. It feels very strange when the DLO makes more constructive points than the LO and begins his rebuttal in the last one minute. But a universal problem was that nobody took any PoI's. I have no idea why they didn't, but I certainly had a good reason: my speech was so long and my points took so much time that I would've been heckled had I taken a PoI. In fact, several speakers had to be stopped because they kept speaking beyond 7:15.

Overall, the debate was not as good as I had hoped for. We should have never taken this topic - it's meant for a MUN-style debate, not a PD. Nonetheless, we certainly had fun, especially when the Opp. Whip chose to thrown some of her own side's points down the drain! Like I said - it was two parallel debates! Now, we've called new recruits on Nov. 10. Lets see how many come.

My most quotable quote - "If you want to leave this institute with more than just a degree, this is where you want to be." Quite pompous for someone who joined less than a year ago but then, it was my event.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Disaster in Manipur

Later this week, Home Minister P Chidambaram will be travelling to the North-Eastern state of Manipur, where a mad-made disaster of catastrophic proportions is underway. The Sadar Hills District Demand Committee (SHDDC) and Naga tribes in the concerned region have imposed blockades and counter-blockades on the State in support and against the demand for a new district to be carved out of the Senapati district.

For the last 94 days, the people of the state have been going through hell. All essential commodities, including food, fuel and medicines, are in short supply, although they are available in great supply in the black market. In fact, an LPG cylinder costs Rs. 2000 now, something that would have led to rioting and the collapse of the Government anywhere else in India. Sadly, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's Government has outdone itself in proving its worthlessness. With an election coming up, nobody is willing to budge, while the toll rises on the common man.

For its part, the BJP has repeatedly brought up the issue. The illegal and immoral economic blockade on an Indian state, more so a sensitive border state, is tantamount to opening the floodgates to illegal smuggling of goods. It is perhaps our blessings that have prevented large-scale rioting in the state over this issue. Meanwhile, the Congress, both at the Centre and at the state, has failed to do anything about the situation. As OTFS has continuously states, national highways are property of the Union Government and, by extension, of the larger public. To use them for anything besides public good is a crime in itself.

What Chidambaram's visit will do for Manipur is hard to say. New Delhi took 94 days to consider the suffering of Indian Citizens here. A firm hand, a no-nonsense style of the kind displayed with Telangana leaders, is necessary. Furthermore, it is time for the judiciary to halt this illegal blockade with a suo moto notice from either the Guwahati High Court or the Supreme Court. The continued suffering of our brothers and sisters in Manipur is not acceptable.