Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Getting Personal

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has never been known for his political correcteness. From standing up to a media determined to force 2002 on him to taking on the Gandhi dynasty, Modi has used rather personal language to have his way. This time however, it doesn't seem to have worked.

The case in point being his language in a poll campaign in Shimla, where he described Sunanda Pushkar Tharoor as 'Rs. 50 crore girlfriend.' He was of course alluding to the shady IPL dealings which cost Tharoor to lose his post as MoS in the MEA. In that sordid affair, Tharoor claimed that he had nothing to do with Ms. Pushkar, but went on to marry her in a few months!

Well, getting back to the point, Modi's words have caused a political furore, mainly because of the sexist overtones. However, given that Mrs. Tharoor is not a politician, it was rather unnecessary to draw her into the debate, that too with such cheap language. Modi would do well to remember that perceptions matter in politics and although his place in Gujarat is secured, on a national level, he will have many more constituencies to address and a bit of political correctness would not do him harm. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Year's Last Contests

The winter has come upon the Indian subcontinent and in this cold season come the last bitter contests of the year. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, both ruled by the BJP in majority governments, look to be a battleground for the Congress, whose credibility has taken a sharp plunge since the UPA-II Government was formed.

The two states are, however, a study in contrast. In Gujarat, Chief Minister Narendra Modi seems unstoppable, looking as he is for a fourth consecutive term, which could make history of sorts in the state. The Congress seems to lack are ammunition of its own, although the dissenting voice of Keshubhai Patel from the BJP is a ray of hope to at least dent Modi's victory margin.

The real battle is Himachal, which is still a cliffhanger. While allegations over corruption in the ruling regime have been made by the Congress State unit, can it seriously hope to stand up in the face of the massive corruption in the Union Government? CM-hopeful Virbhadra Singh's anger at journalists demonstrated just how close the competition really is, as Prem Kumar Dhumal struggles to convince the electorate on one side and manage factions within his own ranks on the other.

Certainly, an exciting contest is on the cards. OTFS brings you some of the top points of discussion in our final election special for the year. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Looking at Trouble

In my first semester, the mid-term break was scheduled right after the MTE - a perfect combination. This time, it's scheduled right before the MTE, an illustration of the precipitous decline of IIT Roorkee in terms of how it values its students. I have now realized that MTE2 is actually a bombshell: given the amount of syllabus it covers, it is as good as 75% of the ETE (or more) but because of the compact nature of it, the preparation is a lot harder.

This MTE2, I face the daunting possibility of a crushing blow to end my reign in CED. I know I always say that, but this time I am serious. Consider the most difficult subject in history - CE-451. Not only is it hard per se, the way it has been taught makes it much worse. It feels very much like EC-102 and with an average MTE1 mark, this is a fit case for a B, my lowest grade since first year.

The bright side is CE-441, which is very boring but comes with the standard advantage of all hydraulics courses - empirical formulas will not be tested, effectively eliminating a quarter of the syllabus. The other good news is CE-463, which I did much better than I had hoped to do in MTE1. Although the course is still a bit sketchy, thanks to the BTP, I am rather confident in this one.

CE-461 is a major problem and Batch B has an inherent disadvantage. Still, the course is somewhat more rational this time and I hope to improve my poor performance of MTE1. And the last worry is IHS-15, which is really not a subject worth discussing. Given how much the course coordinator seems to like me, I think this one is fir for an A+!

So, this is where we stand. How much could I study at home? More than expected, certainly, but not enough, I think. With a sudden reschedule of the exams, due to some tragic circumstances, it seems I might just have enough time to make up the shortcomings in Roorkee. Fingers crossed! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Birth of Rebellion

World War II was a singular phase in the history of colonialism. While the imperial powers waged many battles against indigenous peoples in the name of "the white man's burden," this time they were faced with a imperial enemies so powerful that the very order of the world was on the verge of collapse.

The Opponents
In Europe, Nazi Germany had all but vanquished the old European powers, now wreaking havoc upon the Jewish population there. After the fall of Paris, Great Britain was left the only imperial power in Europe, even as Nazi Germany conquered territories in Northern Africa. In the Far East, Hitler's ally, Imperial Japan, had occupied all of Manchuria and Korea and was not moving further to colonize Southeast Asia. With a ferocity never seen before in this part of the world, Japan occupied Malaysia, Singapore and finally Burma. And then came the biggest prize of all: British India.

However, even before he break out of hostilities in Asia, the Japanese were looking to push the British out and had established intelligence contacts for that. But who would lead the campaign?

The Coming of Bose
Subhash Chandra Bose was ousted as President of the Indian National Congress by Mahatma Gandhi for his call to arms against the British. He escaped his house arrest and made his way to Nazi Germany, where he met Hitler. In the further course of events, he used a U-Boat to reach the lands of Malaya, now occupied by Imperial Japan. The lighting conquest of Malaya and Singapore alone had yielded well over 100,000 Indian PoWs for Japan, but they refused to fight with Japan unless they were led by Bose.

And thus was formed the second Indian National Army, the primary military opponent to British India during WW2. After the Burma campaign, during which the joint Japanese-INA forces brought down Burma, Bose set his sights on British India. At Kohima, he established the provision Government of Free India. It was a difficult war for the British-Indian soldiers.

The Fall
However, with the coming of America into WW2, the tide reversed for Japan, which eventually lost all its Asian possessions and came under American Occupation. After the failed INA campaign, a large number of soldiers were arrested by the British. It was decided that they would be tried in courts martial. Bose dies under mysterious circumstances, but his loyal soldiers remained.

The INA Trials were to be a fitting response to aggressors against the Lord King of Great Britain. They were to be a symbol of eternal glory for the mightiest empire in the world. Instead, they became the stepping stones of the destruction of the British Empire in India.

Next: The Trials

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In the Name of the Best Within Us

Atlas Shrugged 
By Ayn Rand

It's not everyday that you come across a masterpiece, a work of not just one era but of every era of human existence. Atlas Shrugged is that work whence every sort of human being springs forth regardless of who you are or where you live.

The story revolves around a near-future America, surrounded by People's States that do everything possible to destroy the People in the name of the People. Taggart Transcontinental is the preeminent railroad in the nation, by it's own notion, "From Ocean to Ocean." The spirit of enterprise and free capitalistic reigns supreme in this last bastion of man's free will... but not or long.

In three thrilling parts, Rand takes us through the near-collapse, resuscitation and ultimate collapse of the railroad. She shows us how a steel empire is built and destroyed. And to that brew she adds a healthy dose of magical realism, taking us to the depths of Atlantis. But do not be fooled - the book is not a story. It is a way of life. In a historic rendition of her theory of Objectivism, Rand presents us a summary of mankind - from the so-called Original Sin to the looters of the People's Globe and how everything has led to this moment - in a not-so-succinct speech spanning 63 pages by her immortal character, who is... but who is John Galt?

John Galt is what makes Rand a romantic writer: the perfect man, the impeccable hero. But Rand adds a corollary to her writing - that art itself is a work of perfection, not the product of some lunatic. And that is perhaps why she calls her style Artistic Romanticism. Either way, Galt is a strange character - he is omnipresent in both the fist parts but appears only in the last, not as a liberator, but as a destroyer. And the aim of the book is very much destruction.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Atlas Shrugged is its depiction of the Common Man - a vile creature who can demand anything for the purpose of need and the excuse of being unable to earn it himself. Such a stark reality is something we would hardly think of - after all, when was the last time we asked who exactly the 'public' in 'public good' are?

In Rand's immortal tale, I could see a sliver of my own. In some way, perhaps the book explained to me what I always knew. And it might do so for you too. If you have not read this book, you have read very little indeed! 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Step Up

It's the end of the world, the end of time;
There's no looking back, this is the last mile.
And one last glass, before we sleep;
That's all we need, to drown out the tears.

It's the end of the world, the end of time;
There's nowhere to go, no place to hide;
And nowhere to run, the only way's out;
Out to the future, that's where we belong.

It's the end of the world, the end of time;
You had your chance, now get out of line.
 And go to a place, so far away;
Start something new, set yourself free.

A New Front?

The 1962 War was restricted to the high mountains of NEFA and Ladakh, with only a ground component since the CCS had refused to give the IAF an active role.

While another land-based war seems unlikely, the likelihood of an encounter at sea seems greater than ever before. With several maritime issues such as the Senkaku Islands, the South China Sea dispute and Taiwan, the PLA Navy has worked tirelessly to build itself into a modern maritime force and is now close to acquiring blue water capability.

A direct consequence of this is an increase in the maritime risks for India. It must be noted here that India lies at the heart of one of the most critical junctions of the world's oceans - a region that China would hope to control. The PLAN recently unveiled China's newest Air Craft Carrier, while India is in the process of acquiring one from Russia and building an indigenous one.

However, despite the chances of adversity, the Indian Navy and the PLAN do cooperate in anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Still, Indian planners must be eternally prepared for a war at sea. In this, the development of the Nicobar Islands is crucial to serve as a bulwark in the region. The modern wars of the future will all be multi-dimensional and therefore, it is necessary to built our maritime capabilities along with the ones in air and on land.

Nehru had once commented that India cannot be safe on land if it is not supreme at sea. That rings true today - more than ever before.

Is an Encore Possible?

The Sino-Indian War, in which India faced a massive defeat in both the Eastern and Western sectors, was precipitated by a lack of trust between the Asian giants and was lost because of a huge underestimation of Chinese capabilities leading to a lack of adequate capacity building on our side.

But the question remains - can it happen again?

India and China still do not trust each other - there is hectic diplomatic exchange of course, and people-to-people ties do exist. But the distrust is still very much there and most Indians even consider China the No. 1 enemy of the country - a position that was usually accorded to Pakistan.

But the truth is that the International appetite for war has eroded. Countries do not encourage war anymore and this long period of peace that we have enjoyed since WWII is meant to be maintained. Economics has also made it imperative for countries to pursue status quo, because the cost of war is seen as being too great anymore.

Another determining factor is the nuclearization of Asia, with both China and India being nuclear powers. An all-out war has the potential to blow up into a nuclear war in which either side will lose - a prospect that is often called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in think tank-jargon. Either sides' nuclear weapons stand as reasonable guarantors of peace along the border.

If however, was does break out, it will be unlikely that the world will sit back and watch like in 1962. Dynamics have changed so much that a destabilized Asia will have consequences too grave for the world. It is also unlikely that the US would refuse to intervene again, for a defeat of the world's largest democracy at the hands of the world's largest Communist state would erode all American credibility and see an attrition of American influence to an extent not seen since the Monroe Doctrine.

On the military front, India is now well-prepared for mountain warfare and will not be a walkover as before. The Kargil War has put the Indian Air Force - absent in 1962 - at the forefront of India's defense, with he IAF enjoying the bulk of defense spending today. New mountain divisions have been raised, although ground infrastructure in the area remains well below Chinese capabilities.

Although another Sino-Indian War seems unlikely, it would be unwise to sit back and relax, or even lie about facts as Krishna Menon had done. As Manmohan Singh had said, the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance.

The War that Should not have Happened

On Oct. 20, 1962, The People's Liberation Army moved into Indian territory in Ladakh and NEFA, starting ground operations in the ill-fated Sino-Indian War of 1962, which led to a humiliating defeat for India, an angry and disenchanted citizenry in Assam and a thorough review of India's Armed Forces. However, the seeds of the war were laid well before 1962 and the reasons for the loss were far beyond military.

The Question of Tibet
Following the occupation of Tibet by the People's Republic of China in 1950, India faced a difficult choice because it was the only other country in the region with access to the high plateau which was reinforced by a number of treaties between Tibet and British India, to which the Republic of India was a successor state. However, surprisingly, Prime Minister Nehru decided to accept Tibet as sovereign Chinese territory without expecting a quid quo pro from Mao. Further events, including the granting of asylum to the Dalai Lama, cemented China's mistrust for India.

The Sino-Indian War did not come about overnight - hectic diplomatic parleys continued for years previous. Negotiations between BK Nehru and his Chinese Counterparts, which fell through at Geneva, as well as Zhou Enlai's failed India visit were harbingers of the impending military action.

A Political Military
For reasons unknown, the Indian politico-bureaucracy had viewed the Indian Army as a troublesome legacy of colonialism and no real emphasis was laid on capacity building and modernization. Apart from the First Kashmir War and the Liberation of Goa, the Army was not really used much after World War II, despite its extensive experience. 

In addition, Defense Minister VK Krishna Menon continuously fed lies to the Cabinet and the country, exaggerating India's capabilities and refusing to acknowledge Chinese ones. This added meaningless bravado to the discourse, which ended in deadly consequences. Menon's ally in the Army - Gen.BM Kaul - worked to effectively reduce the forces in NEFA to mere observers, using them to build housing rather than capability.

The strategy of building forward posts even beyond India's territorial claims upto the McMohan Line, despite the lack of political objective or military capability in high mountains, proved to be disastrous and can be pin-pointed as the tactical cause of India's loss.

Two final actions ensured that India would face grave defeat. The first was the lack of diplomatic activity during the war, with the best that Nehru could come up with being a desperate letter to John F. Kennedy asking for help. Apparently, for all his love and respect for them, Nehru's Soviet friends chose to keep out of this and concentrate on the Cuban Missile Crisis instead. Of course, a complete lack of allies otherwise did not help. And finally, Nehru's speech " heart goes out to the people of Assam" eroded all confidence within the country itself and alienated the loyal citizens of the region.

So many mistakes, so many regrets. The Sino-Indian War served as warning to Indian military planners - buck up, for the worst is always yet to come.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shooting Yourself in the Head

The recent allegations made by Arvind Kejriwal against Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra are undoubtedly serious because, whether true or otherwise, highlight the serious lack of accountability and scrutiny in the system. However, the debate has not even touched that. Indeed, given the reaction of the Congress over the issue, you'd think that the Congress itself was embroiled in yet another scam.

For once, the sycophants in the Grand Old Party have brought trouble upon themselves. The moment Kejriwal brought up his allegations, they were off the mark in defending the first family. Ironically, Vadra is not even a member of the Congress party and there was no need for the party to defend him. But in another leap of logic, the Congress came out claiming that an attack on Vadra (and hence, the Family) was an attack on the party itself.

And now with the mess growing murkier and enough prima facie evidence to make out a case, the Congress now stands at defending the corrupt (again). Only a party with no vision can shoot itself such. In English, you shoot yourself in the foot. However, given the harrowing spate of events that have besieged UPA-II, this is nothing short of shooting yourself in the head. Without any doubt, the Congress will pay for its sins in 2014. 

The Price Swat Must Pay

The horrific shooting of 14-year old Malala Yousufzai from the Swat Valley in Pakistan at the hands of Taliban militants brings back the horrors of radicalization of Pakistan and in particular, its effect on women living there. The seeds of militancy in the area were sown by the current administration's appeasement of the Taliban by virtually ceding the area to them, only to send in the Army later to recover it.

However, though the major Taliban elements are gone from the region, its vestiges still remain and the brunt of that is borne by women. Malala was one girl who resisted them against all odds and in the face of official apathy - only to meet this tragic fate. Fortunately, she did not die but was flown to Britain for treatment. However, the very fact that this crusader for girls' education would have to go through this reinforces the fact that Pakistan is sliding into the abyss.

The real reason for the event would be the radicalization of society that has taken place since the time of Zia ul-Haq and which no Government, not even that of the liberal PPP, has dared to reverse. So while it is persecution of religious minorities on one side and increasing resistance of girls' education on the other, all indicators are that Pakistan is paying the price for what has been decades of an Army-mullah-bureaucrat nexus.

However, girls like Malala are that ray of hope that keep spirits alive. The Taliban might continue to wipe out resistance but, surely, resistance would continue to stand against their vision of society that contradicts the liberal Sufism of Pakistan. Sadly, until Pakistan breaks free of its addiction to religious extremism in the guise of nationalism, more such incidents will take place.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Crime Against the Middle Class

Arvind Kejriwal, the latest socialist-politician on the block, began his career in politics in a rather uncharacteristic way - by personally restoring the electricity connections of defaulters in Delhi. While on the face of it, this novel method might have won accolades all over, the truth is that this is nothing short of a crime. Not a crime against the Government of Delhi which, post-CWG, has very little credibility left to be able to throw stones at criminals, but a crime against the middle class that does not catch eyeballs and that does pay for every watt or energy consumed.

Arvind Kejriwal alleges that electricity metres are faulty and that the subsequent bills are overinflated. Well, in that case, shouldn't he have fixed the metres in question too? In countless cities - perhaps even Delhi? - metres are installed in the house and you can see the charge on a realtime basis. Kejriwal asks how a small family with only basic amenities - a fridge, TV, fans and coolers (an important requirement in summers) - could build up such a large bill.

Well, if Mr. Kejriwal would just call a spade a spade, he would know that in most of Delhi's lower-income colonies, electricity is stolen. A single connection is used to illegally power multiple households and most of the time, this is done in collusion with the households involved. Furthermore, just about everybody in India wastes electricity on a massive scale - basic thoughts about national resources are forgotten at the drop of a hat. It is not just the middle class that overuses electricity, the lower-middle class and the poor do it too. How does Mr. Kejriwal know that the households in question use electricity carefully? An air cooler running for days on end could indeed rake up a high bill - and God knows what other appliances might be in use that Mr. Kejriwal either does not know about or does not care to reveal.

So who pays for such illegal political stunts? The middle class - the hardworking, rather apathetic and disgruntled group that has to earn its way through everything. Politicians deride them as being rich and uncaring to the plight of the poor, only to promise to 'protect' their 'interests' before every election. It will be the middle class of Delhi that bears the brunt of these shenanigans, because they cannot attract the media to witness their plight (because they are rich and uncaring) and cannot speak out against the poor, who expect a largesse, because that would be politically incorrect.

So next time, when there is a massive round of powercuts due to such innumerable illegal connections, we can all thank Mr. Kejriwal for demanding a Jan Lokpal Bill that will create an ultra-powerful ombudsman that will continue to steal from the middle-class who have earned every penny through sweat and toil. We can thank Mr. Kejriwal for putting up a circus to fool us all, just like we were fooled by the many politicians before him. And finally, we can thank Mr. Kejriwal for making the Nehru cap fashionable again, because that would prove useful to absorb the sweat on our heads during the next powercut.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gandhi Peace Lecture: On Provocation

The last few weeks have seen pitched battles across the Islamic World and even in some parts of India, with hordes of protesters attacking American diplomatic stations across countries against Innocence of Muslims, a 'movie' made by a felon who lives in the US, as well as cartoons of the Prophet published by magazines in Europe. The scale of the violence, it's cause and its results leave one to ponder over the very nature of provocation.

Why do we indulge in protest? Because, as humans, we do react to situations. It is not in the nature of human beings to turn a blind eye towards something that is emotionally-charging. But then, why is it that protest in so many cases degenerates into violence? What is the value of violence to an expression of emotion that is protest?

Application of Mind
The gorge that divides violent and non-violent leadership is most certainly the application of mind to the situation. Consider the case of the movie which, many would say, is in very poor taste and was made specifically to provoke Muslims to violence. And ironically, it did just that. Instead of ignoring this deliberate act of provocation, protesters actually did exactly what they were expected to.

What would have changed had the protests been peaceful or had not taken place at all? For one, the unnecessary coverage that the movie got would have been mitigated. For another, the way the world perceives Muslims as being violent would not have been reinforced. And, most importantly, innocent lives would not have been lost.

The Provocation
But why should the provoked bear the burden of upholding non-violence? Why should those who provoke not be made to suffer? The answer lies in the question itself - why did those who mean to provoke do so? In order to prove their point, whatever it may be; in order to indulge their own sadistic mind. A provocation is a challenge to the provoked to do just as they are expected to - indulge in violence and arson. Therefore, in the reply to this challenge, the provoked have an opportunity to not just challenge the provocation but its very basis.

The provocation is an opportunity to prove wrong those assumptions that the provocation was based on. In this case, the creator of the movie wanted to provoke Muslims to violence and arson because he believed that they are indeed violent, unrepentant and intolerant. Instead of ignoring the provocation and showing the world that the assumptions made are wrong, the protesters gladly obliged by indulging in violence and even murder. What was the result of this - to prove the maker of that movie right?

It is not easy to forgive - indeed, Gandhi once said that forgiveness is a virtue of the brave. It is even harder to forget. Yet, it is on the basis of these two virtues that humanity can continue to live with itself. Mahatma Gandhi showed us that, when confronted with a choice, the path to choose must be that of the truth and nothing but the truth - for in the face of provocation, the truth alone must be allowed to win.

On this auspicious day, OTFS pays tribute to Mahatma Gandhi - the eternal light of our conscience.