Sunday, January 29, 2012

Elections 2012: OTFS Predictions

Based on trends, OTFS can now predict the results of the 2012 Assembly Elections.

Starting off with Manipur, the Congress looks to win a majority here, despite the ban from the CorCom. The reason is obviously the large number of former opposition candidates now standing on Congress tickets. Despite the difficulty in reaching out, there is really very little choice.

Not so in Uttarakhand, where we expect a change in the ruling party. Although the "Khanduri hai Zaroori" campaign has worked a little - and in both Garhwal and Kumaon, to be fair - the effects of the instability of the BJP Government as well as the corruption under the former CM Pokhriyal seem to set the tone for a change in guard.

In Punajb, we expect the BJP-SAD, on the back of several pro-farmer initiatives, to come out in the lead by a small margin. However, this is the least confident of our predictions and a hung house is equally likely.

In UP, we see the BSP clearly emerging as the single largest majority but stripped of its majority. In that case, it would unite with No. 3 (with the SP at No. 2). Now, who will No. 3 be is an open question that nobody can answer, although we suspect the BJP. However, with the Muslim-Dalit combination that Mayawati seeks, will the BJP join Mayawati's cabinet? Or will she combine with the Congress and use some Independents to form a fractures ministry?

Lastly, in Goa, we expect another change in guard, with the myriad of mining-related charges against CM Digambar Kamat expected to cause his ouster.

Last year, OTFS very accurately predicted the Assembly Elections results based on a keen understanding of politics. This year, we try again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Republic Day Lecture: On Representative Democracy

Democracy. Put quite simply, it translated into Government by the people, of the people and for the people.In practice however, it is seldom that simple. Democracy comes in various forms and at different levels. In the US, for example, democracy translates into a Presidential style of government, in which both the executive and the legislature hold separate mandates. In the Commonwealth, it translates into an executive which derives its powers from the mandate of the legislature. In some countries like Ireland, the power of lawmaking lies not exclusively with elected representatives but also with local people. And in Switzerland, any citizen has the power to challenge a law by means of a request for a referendum.

Clearly then, democracy is hardly a catch-all term. But in an Indian context, democracy is probably the one glue that holds this vast and varied country together. Consider the most powerful of all implications: democracy has brought those who, for centuries, were relegated to being declared too impure to ever touch or look at, to the very seat of high power. No other force in the history of this nation has managed to bring the most downtrodden of people to the heights of power. In that sense, democracy has been a great blessing for us.

A Curse

But when one section of the electorate begins to feel sidelined despite having the power to vote, a deep sense of anger surfaces.That, perhaps, is the seed that germinated into hatred towards representative democracy. A system in which the electorate does elect its leaders every five years, but where that same electorate has to face innumerable hardships and a seemingly uncaring political class: few would actually call this democracy.

However, lets get down to this system from a managers point of view. Suppose we think of the nation as a company. Any company needs to have a top-level management. Now, being a country, that management needs to have the support of the shareholders (the citizenry, to be precise). And hence, the elections. Just as the Board needs to ask for endorsement from its shareholders at an AGM, representatives ask for voters' endorsements at the hustings. In the intermediate time, the management (politicians here) are given a free reign to do what they believe is in the best interests of the company so that they come back the Board at the next AGM.

Now, if we assume this to be true (and it is), the representative democracy is perfect. It follows concepts of management perfectly. However, the fallacy would be to look at a country as a company in the first place. For one, citizens are not merely satisfied by profit and loss: governance runs much deeper than that. You need to take people along at every step - every decision makes an immediate impact on every stakeholder. While a company may leave it to shareholders to take a call at every AGM, a country cannot be expected to suffer for five years before they get a turn to say something.

Apathy: The Real Problem
But what exacerbates the situation even further is apathy from the middle class. In general political theory, it is the middle class that determines the political fortunes of a country. The poor simply do not have the time to keep a check on representatives while the rich do not care: it is the middle class that holds that responsibility. But what we currently see is that the middle class has vacated its political space. Now, you have politicians who do not care about them, because they do not hold them accountable anymore. Instead, they look for the votes of the poor - the vast majority.

While nothing is wrong with seeking votes from the poor, the problem lies in that they do not have the resources to hold their representatives accountable. With a lack of accountability, politicians get a free run to do what they please and then come up with short-term methods (money) to become elected again. It is the criminalization and corruption of the system that has brought shame to our democratic ethos. But those who can affect change - the middle class - chooses to sit back and complain.

Clearly, representative democracy is the right way to govern a country. But it is not a spectator sport - people who can must participate. Not necessarily in electoral politics, which comes up once in five years. But in the process of accountability, of holding elected representatives to account every step of the way.

Some say that democracy in India has failed. Sections of the middle class - the laziest sections - actually coo for a benevolent military dictator! But the problem is the other way around - our representatives have not failed the democratic ideals of the Constitution. We have.

OTFS greets its readers on the 63rd Republic Day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How far can a ban go?

The huge controversy over inviting Salman Rushdie to the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) has brought to fore the very limits of a ban. Banning a book goes so far as preventing its publication and distribution. The publication is banned - the government as such cannot ban any person from traveling to India unless that person requires a visa.

Now, Mr. Rushdie holds a PIO Card, which allows his to travel to India without a visa. Therefore, the initial salvo from the Darul-ul-Uloom Deoband calling for denial of visa stands hollow. Then came allegations of a threat to his life form the Jaipur Police, something that was rubbished by the Mumbai Police. Clearly, in an election year, politics are begin played over the issue.

The real shocker came when some writers began to read lines from The Satanic Verses, following which they left Jaipur for fear of being arrested. The ban on the book in question does not mean that one cannot discuss the book, or read it from some legal source. A ban on a book does not translate into a mass gag order on the entire nation - no law in the country can do that.

The events at JLF are unfortunate and highly political in nature. Even disallowing a video link takes this matter too fast. We Indians need to take our country back from religious bigots and keep our minds open to new ideas.

Don't Compromise the Command

The row between Army Chief General VK Singh and the Ministry of Defence over the correct age of the General is a dangerous precedent that will cause havoc in the Chain of Command. On one side is the Army General, who claims to be fighting for his honour as a soldier and on the other are the bureaucrats of the MoD, who refuse to budge from the rules.

The saddest thing about this is the glaring lapse in the records-keeping of the Government of India. The issue of General Singh's age has been going through the corridors of South Block for years now, but each time, bureaucrats have pushed the matter back to avoid taking a cal on it. Now, with the General approaching retirement and the entire Chain of Command at stake, he has taken it to the Supreme Court.

Setting rules and procedure aside, the time is ripe for the Minister of Defence AK Anthony to take a call on the issue and overrule his bureaucrats. The office of the Chief of Army Staff cannot be diminished at any cost. At the same time, communal and casteist forces should refrain from politicising this issue. The guiding principle is that the Army's morale cannot be compromised at all cost.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

IOTY11: Documentary of the Year

The nominations are:
  • The Royal House of Tripura: A rare insight into one of Northeast India's oldest kingdoms. This documentary took OTFS readers back to India's Northeast, to a long-forgotten, once mighty Empire.
  • A City Called Bombay!: In celebration of India's most cosmopolitan city, the financial capital, the very heart of the nation. Bombay - from seven islands to a Global city - has seen a long journey, captured in this documentary.
  • A Historic Assessment of Indian Security: A reminder of the many invasions that the subcontinent and the Republic later have faced. After all, history says that those who fail to learn from it are doomed to repeat it.
  • The Union Shall Fall: A chilling two-part series on the last days of the Soviet Union, written to commemorate twenty years since the greatest geopolitical event of the last century.
Indian of the Year 2011
Coming this March

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Naga Question

This election season, the Naga People's Front, the ruling party in Nagaland championing the cause for a Naga supra-state, has chosen to enter the electoral fray in Manipur and is almost guaranteed to all the seats in Naga-dominated constituencies. This move could prove dangerous in the state with a history of ethnic violence between the Nagas and the Kukis.

In this confrontation that had wreaked havoc in Manipur previously, the Meitei votes are what will count and that is what Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh seems to be betting on. In a shirt byte, he seemed supremely confident of his chances and indeed, political observation also seems to favour the Congress.

However, the underlying ethnic hostilities cannot be brushed aside. the NPF's entry into Manipur could become a dangerous precedent and it is important to work on a political solution.

Can't go the China way

The Delhi HC has raked up a huge deal of controversy recently over its order to social media websites to block objectionable content. The rhetoric has reached such a crescendo that the website in question - Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blogger and other - could face a ban if they do not comply.

However, the fact of the matter is that banning these sites is simply out of the question in India. We are not the communist state that China is - free speech is to be protected here, even to an extreme. Certainly, objectionable content that impinges on peace, security and national integration should be screened, but this can be done through better means than a silly ban.

The Delhi HC, with all its wisdom, must take into account that its verdict will go a long way in determining the borders of free speech in this democratic nation. Indeed, free speech is a touchstone of democracy, something that India has a proud legacy of. A delicate matter such as this must not be considered in haste.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where are the Hill people?

The state of Uttarakhand was formed in 2001 primarily on the plank of development for the people of the hills of Uttar Pradesh. It was hoped that with this, the Hill people could lead a better life.

Sadly, that was not to be. Even after ten years, the lot of the hills has not improved all that much, while those in the plains have. This election season, politicians have woken up to a new reality - mass migration from the hills to the plains. In search of a better education and livelihood, youth from the hills have moved in large numbers to the plains.

Following delimitation of constituencies, this poses a peculiar challenge to candidates - several constituencies in the hills have now disappeared, with new ones coming up in the plains. For parties like the UKD, this is an existential threat, since the UKD was formed on the very plank of development for the hills. However, this is a huge plus point for the BSP, which is a force to reckon with in the Plain Districts of Haridwar and Uddham Singh Nagar.

The UKD, one faction of which is a coalition partner with the BJP in the incumbent administration, will also need to battle internal politics that saw the party split into two. However, the real surprise would be if the BSP could upset the traditional Congress vs BJP game in the state. Add to that ND Tiwari's political shenanigans and you have the stage set for a huge battle. Sadly, detached from the hills.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Anything for UP

With the UP elections looking bleaker and bleaker for the Congress, it seems to have concluded that the Muslim vote is all that can save it from certain doom. Unfortunately, the Muslim vote is very much in the clasp of the SP. And that calls for desperate measures.

And what better than a quota? Now, the Supreme Court placed the upper limit for reservations at 50% in Indira Sawhney & Ors. vs. Union of India, and to invalidate that via constitutional amendment may not just be difficult, it maybe impossible due to the fact that the Court declared reservations in excess of 50% as being against the Right to Equality with reasonable restrictions and also clarified that this right is part of the Basic Structure and cannot be amended via. Keshavananda Bhartee vs. Union of India, with the only exception being for tribal states in North East India. Therefore, the only way to implement a communal reservation is to carve it out of the existing quota and hope that it too is not declared ultra vires to secularism.

Which is precisely what the Congress has done. First, it introduced a 4.5% reservation for minorities within the existing OBC quota. And then, Law Minister Salman Khrushid tried to woo minorities further by promising to double that. His comments met the ECI's ire and the implementation is now on hold in the poll-bound states. However, the brazenness with which the Congress has decided to prepare the ground for another partition is quite shocking.

Reservations are meant to be a temporary measure to improve the lot of the historically deprived. It is not supposed to be a political tool to be used to save a party in dire straits. The pseudo-communal parties such as the RJD cannot openly disagree with this move - it is rather brilliant, in that way. But the truth is that these parties are seething with rage at having their own quota reduced.

But when it comes to the BJP, this move was sheet stupidity. Not only did it clear the road for a direct Congress vs. BJP battle on this issue, since the pseudo-communal parties can only keep quiet and not comment, but it gave the BJP the upper hand with the upper caste votes as well as OBC votes. Since the traditional OBC parties cannot speak up for them anymore, they would flock to the BJP, which can and does condemn the move to introduce communal reservations.

A foolish move, if ever.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Dark Horse: Punjab

A study of the current situation in the five poll-bound states leaves you in no doubt that there are powerful political forces in all of them and one party amongst the many does stand to come out on top, if not win a majority, in all them.

Except Punjab. The state that saw the BJP-SAD combine wipe out the Congress and Independents in 2007 is suddenly the hardest of all to predict. The ruling administration is mired in allegations of corruption and nepotism, which rings true at the very highest level through the father-son Badal combine.

To add to that, a mutiny within the SAD has seen a new political force rise, seeking to pull Punjab out of its precarious economic position. Sadly, neither the NDA nor the Congress seems to want to call the shots on the economy, which is so badly in debt that the State will have to make some hard choices in the future.

The Congress itself seems weak, with Capt. Amrinder Singh's jibes at the incumbent only helping so much. Now, with the UPA dithering over FDI in retail, which Punjab farmers strongly back, the Congress is increasingly seen as a force that cannot be trusted.

From having zero Independents back in 2007, the border state looks set for a massive showdown that could see Independents take centre-stage in government formation. A politically-charged future is certain this March!

Close the Andaman Trunk Road

The condemnable news of Jarawa tribals being forced to dance for food by tourists in the Andaman Islands brings back into focus the long-standing demand and ignored Supreme Court direction to close down the Andaman Trunk Road, the National Highway that connects the major islands of the archipelago.

The demand to close the Road is by no means new and it is based on sound scientific principles. The Jarawas, a protected tribe indigenous to the A&N Islands Union Territory, face an existential threat from contact with the outside world. From disease to exploitation, reportedly even sexual exploitation, the tribe will not be able to survive a further foreign onslaught.

As per International Law, the Islands are a protectorate of India, meaning that India must protect the native people. Even by Indian Law, the Jarawas are entitled to protection, especially of their way of life. In the midst of this, the Andaman Trunk Road is a blot on the landscape, cutting right through Jarawa territory and exposing them to the outside world. Even a Supreme Court directive to shut down this route was disregarded and given the remoteness of the area from the mainland, nobody seems to care.

However, this new incident brings back into sharp focus the exploitation of the indigenous Indian tribes. Let us not forget how, due to external interference, several languages died out amongst the Nicobar tribes. The very fact that the British built the Cellular Jail and India uses the islands for a tri-services command means that the tribes have been exposed to the outside world in a detrimental manner. Any further exposure will seal their fate. As Indians, we cannot allow our indigenous people to die out, no matter which part of the Republic they live in.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

DAAD: You are selected

Yes, with a single e-mail, I was informed that my application for the prestigious DAAD WISE Scholarship was approved. I can still remember all that running around, particularly in the Dean Academics' office, that I had to do to get here. But the fruits of labour are sweet indeed!

Although most people ask me why I'm surprised at the selection, given my CGPA, I genuinely did not have too many hopes. Somehow, I tend to miss the best things in life - Schlum, OPJEMS,YES... I was actually desperate to talk to someone in Hyderabad Metro Rail for a summer internship! Well, that will not be necessary anymore, thanks to DAAD.

Now, there's a lot to do. We need to send a confirmation letter by Jan. 25 and then run around for accommodation and visa and what not. Good things don't come easy in life. But it is definitely worth it.

My University is TU Munich. If there's anybody else going there, do drop a message here.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lessons in Management

Today is Jan. 8 and we're a dozen days away from Nav Umang. And already, I have a bad feeling about this. The concept itself isn't bad - after all, inter-Bhawan competitions are a common affair in all IITs. Even in Roorkee, Inter-Bhawan Sports Events are a major part of the academic calendar.

The problem lay in the way Nav Umang was branded. It did not try to evoke a sense of rivalry between Bhawans. Instead, it tried to act like a replacement for Thomso. Well, that backfired. The logic was simple - people wanted Thomso, not some patronizing fest that made us seem like school kids. Of course, it's not true, there is an inter-Bhawan rivalry and it shows fiercely during the Inter-Bhawan Sports Meet. But to market it as a replacement for Thomso was silly.

Now, the OC. It consists mostly of people with little experience. But that should not have been an issue. After all, the weight of the powerful Cultural Council and all its experience were behind them. Alas, they failed to see reason. Instead of co-opting us, they tried to subjugate us. Instead of partnering the Council, they sought to enslave us. And as expected, poor management showed.

The meetings. Mostly a waste of time, except maybe the first few. There was one particularly disastrous one, in which the Bhawan Secys were called to have a chat with the event organizers. Hardly any BS' came and those that did never got a chance to talk to the CulSoc people because the OC shooed them away too soon!

Now, the members are expected to book the venues themselves - what a travesty! And to top it all off, they were trying to be stingy with the certificates - that would've killed it. Fortunately, a few timely interventions took care of the problem. Anyway, with nearly one lakh rupees in their kitty, they need not worry anymore. In fact, we hear that we'll get T-shirts too!

In all this, I feel terribly bad for the SAC-P, who is a good man. And that's the problem. Still, we expect some participation from most of the Bhawans. Our event, Halcyon, is pretty simple to organize and the main aim was to spruce up ekshitij.com, which we have accomplished. The finish line is a few steps away!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The President must Correct this Fault

The orchestrated chaos in the Rajya Sabha on the day the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011 was introduced in Parliament was a dark day indeed for Indian democracy. Over an hour before the chaos and abrupt adjournment sine die, CNN-IBN reported with a great deal of accuracy the events that were going to take place to save the UPA.

One thing was certain at the outset - the UPA was in a minority. It was clearly betting on a replay of the proceedings in the Lok Sabha, where a walkout by the SP, BSP and RJD gave it a huge majority. Sadly, that did not happen, with the BSP first off to mark in declaring that it would oppose the bill and not abstain. But the greatest damage was inflicted by UPA-constituent TMC, which backed the Opposition's demands.

It was very clear that the Bill would be passed only with a set of amendments that had the backing of a majority but that the Congress opposed. Instead of bowing to the wishes of the majority, it shamelessly orchestrated chaos, prompting the Chairman and Vice-President to prorogue the House. The Opposition was aghast, as it was well-known that a session could be extended with the consent of the House and with the same, unfinished, business being taken up.

Now, the BJP has submitted a letter to the President, asking her to take note of this travesty. The President must immediately call a special session of Parliament to undo this wrong committed by a corrupt Congress party that is at the very bottom of its credibility right now. The President has the power to do this. A shameful act that attacked democracy must not be condoned by the Sovereign of the free Republic.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Assembly Elections 2012

2012 comes with what many would describe as the mother of all Assembly Elections - the UP Vidhan Sabha polls. This election season will also see battles being fought over mining in Goa, ethnicity in Manipur and migration in Uttarakhand.

In UP, there are a myriad of factors at work. While caste is a major issue, it is no longer that simple anymore. The upper castes are disillusioned by the BSP, while Mayawati's core Dalit vote remains with her. Which way the upper castes go will have a strong impact on the results. But it's not just the BSP and SP, Congress heir Rahul Gandhi's political fortunes are tied to this one too. If the Congress lands a dismal fourth, his very future could come into question.

In Uttarakhand, it's a clear fight between the Congress and the BJP as the UKD is split down the middle and smaller parties have failed to impress the masses. The BJP has suffered due to the two-year term of Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank,' but BC Khanduri seems to have worked his charm yet again. With delimitation having reflected the migration to the plains, this one will be tricky.

Corruption and mining will be the most important factors in Goa, now in its 51st year as a State of the Union. Digambar Kamath's Government already looks weak, but can the BJP actually inspire anybody in this state given its track record in neighbouring Karnataka?

Ethnic fault-lines will grow sharper than ever in Manipur. The 100+ day economic blockade, and similar ones before it, have created a lot of bad blood between traditional Naga and Kuki rivals. Caught in this crossfire, the Congress will have to convince the majority Meities that it can protect their interests and take the entire state along. The Irom Sharmila factor remains ever-present over the Ibobi Singh Government and the spate of bomb blasts in Imphal stands testament that the debate over AFSPA in J&K will find resonance here.

Punjab will be the most difficult of all states to predict. Heights of nepotism, crisis-ridden state finances and corruption could all work against the ruling BJP-SAD government led by the Badals. The Congress looks increasingly strong and none other than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be roped in to attract voters.

In this season of elections, OTFS follows the twists and turns as over a quarter of India's population votes for their state governments.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Meeting a Day!

I have a theory - work is like iron. And a worker is the magnet. Once one finds the other, they can't get rid of each other. That's been mu case in the short span of time since the semester began.

OK, I found the work. Kshitij and LitSec were always there - they're my responsibilities. Also, there's Nav Umang, the disaster-in-waiting Inter-Bhawan Cultural Meet. There have been a few boring meetings for that at the Thomso Office (which I'm entering after over a year in a very different, upgraded, capacity). As Organizer for Kshitj's event, Halcyon, with Keshav and some second years, I've found it simple, although it does take away some time.

But then, there's Cognizance. Somehow, it just came to me that I need to get a MUN this year. For a variety of reasons - to cement my position in LitSec, to get myself the experience I'd need in case I choose to shift over to management, to have fun at Cogni again... the list goes on. But then, it's easier said than done. I've had at least five meetings over it with everyone from my co-coordinator to the Lit Secy to the Convener (Finance). Fortunately, several OC members are my classmates, which makes it easier.

Of course, the inertia in the core team is the real problem. Believe it or not, we have been behind them for four days to get us a logo made and to open EB apps on the website. Well, there was a long story over an exclusive FB page and we still have neither a logo nor a webpage. What's worse is that we are competing with another MUN that appears to be cash-rich.

As for Halcyon, our main aim is to promote the website. That's not happening unless we actually have a better website. After two meetings, the only visible change is that I can edit anything - I'm the global editor now. So a nice little comment from one of Kshitij's founders was approved instantly. But no tangible change because, for some reason, our second year designers don't seem to get the urgency of it all (or am I freaking out?)

Well, add to this a debate tomorrow and the fact that I have had an average of two meetings everyday for the last five days and you can understand what condition I'm in. Yet, I do know that I took this responsibility up and I have to meet it. And I will, whatever it takes.

At least I had the good sense to drop my plan of co-organizing Vox!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Long Journey Ahead

Well, it had to come at last. A year that, even before it began, was sure to be one of the most important of my life. 2012 - no, not because the world is supposed to end in cosmic disaster. But for far more momentous things. Coming up in three weeks is Nav Umang 2012 - SAC's great big idea to rechristen Thomso and tear the Cultural Council open in one shot. Oh, is it going to bomb or what!

After that, we come to a real event - Cognizance, where I'm a co-organizer for the Second IITR MUN. Now, this is one event with massive potential - MUNs are the pinnacle of debating and political affairs, both being my passions. Last year's was a huge success and that adds to the pressure!

Then comes the summer internship. I've applied for plenty of research internships, but I do hope to go to abroad. IAS is almost certain, and going to Mumbai for the summer would be nothing short of a dream come true, but the chance to travel abroad is equally tantalizing.

Then comes fourth year. We meet at last. Does a surprise await me from the Literary Section? Well, that we'll need to see. But most importantly, I'll have GRE coming up in August and of course, my minor project.

In Kshitij, we'll be wrapping up our tenure and passing the torch to the second year (rather nervously, I may add). In Lit, I hope to lift a new torch. Several PDs are scheduled and I will participate in 2 or 3. At the end of Third Year, I hope to leave Kshitij behind with a website it can really call an asset.

As you can see, 2012 is already choc-a-bloc with work. Bring it on!