Monday, January 26, 2015

Distorting the truth

The mainstream media and political parties are all in a tizzy after yesterday's wonderful Republic Day parade over the accusation that non-BJP ruled states were hardly represented at the parade. In fact, the term used is 'unrepresented.' Here are the facts.

The Congress or its alliance controls nine states of the Union, most of them in the Northeast:

  • Manipur
  • Meghalaya
  • Arunachal Pradesh (represented)
  • Assam  (represented)
  • Mizoram
  • Uttarakhand (represented)
  • Himachal Pradesh
  • Karnataka (represented)
  • Kerala
That's 4 of 9 states that were represented at the parade. 

The non-Congress, non-BJP ruled states are:
  • Bihar (although the Congress supports the ruling alliance)
  • Sikkim (represented)
  • Uttar Pradesh (represented)
  • Jammu and Kashmir (represented; it is under President's rule)
  • Tamil Nadu
  • Telangana (represented)
  • Odisha
  • Tripura
  • West Bengal
So, of these 9 states, again 4 were represented at the parade. 

The BJP/NDA-ruled states are:
  • Jharkhand (represented)
  • Nagaland (the NPF and BJP rule in an official alliance there)
  • Andhra Pradesh (represented; TDP-BJP alliance)
  • Maharashtra (represented; BJP-Shiv Sena alliance)
  • Punjab
  • Rajasthan
  • Haryana (represented)
  • Goa (represented)
  • Madhya Pradesh (represented)
  • Chattisgarh (represented)
  • Gujarat (represented)
Of these 11 states, 8 were represented. Therefore, 73% of BJP/NDA-ruled states were represented and 50% of non-NDA ruled states were represented. Overall, 55% of states and no Union Territories were represented. Of the states represented, 50% were BJP/NDA-ruled and 50% were not. It would take quite a feat of logic to say that 50% means 'unrepresented' or even 'under-represented'. 

Furthermore, if we consider major political formations, these are the number and percentage of states that they rule:
  • Congress/UPA: 9 (31%)
  • BJP/NDA: 11 (38%)
  • TMC: 1 (3.5%)
  • SDF: 1 (3.5%)
  • BJD: 1 (3.5%)
  • So-called Janata Parivar (SP/JD(U)/JD(S)/RJD/INLD): 2 (7%)
  • Communists: 1 (3.5%)
  • AIADMK: 1 (3.5%)
  • President's rule: 1 (3.5%)
  • Anything else/round-off error: 3%
Therefore, the BJP/NDA rule the most states of all political alliances. Statistically, they should have the maximum representation at the parade, which they do, but it should not be overwhelming enough to say that the others are unrepresented (which they aren't). Let me not even get into percentages in terms of population of states, for that would paint a very poor picture of the Congress and I do not wish to sink its ship even further (if that's possible). 

Furthermore, for anyone who knows the process, all states are invited but many, particularly those from the North-East but infamously also the combined Andhra Pradesh, do not bother to even try. Submissions are vetted by a committee of bureaucrats to see if they are worthy enough to be at the parade (there is a due process for this). Whatever comes out of this, is displayed at the parade. Therefore, if a state is not represented, it is the state government's fault, not the Center's, which invited everyone to participate (in fact, a similar process is followed for the Central ministries). Politically, the central government's role is negligible; it is purely a technical affair that the states have to lead in (and most do). 

Where did this controversy come from? From TMC leader Derek O'Brien's allegation that the West Bengal tableau was rejected and the media then painting is at Modi discriminating against non-BJP ruled states. Rules of debate (and justice) require the accuser to prove the accusation - in this case, the TMC has to prove that it was done for political reasons and not for technical reasons (late submission, incomplete proposal, technical faults etc.). This it can do by making its entire correspondence with the Central government on this matter public. It is not enough to say that the submission was based on a noble scheme - if it is accusing partisanship, it has to prove that it is not at fault itself. 

As for the mainstream media, whose journalists do not seem to know the first thing about verifying claims with facts or 'balanced journalism,' the less said the better. The level of debate there is anyway at rock-bottom and accusations are routinely hurled ad nauseum without an iota of proof. Tomorrow, the TMC or any other desperate party in the Opposition could well claim that Modi wiped out the dinosaurs from the planet and the mainstream media would report that to be gospel truth. For that, my fellow Indians, is the media we deserve. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Republic Day Lecture: On Freedom of Speech

Much has been made of freedom of speech in India and indeed, in the world. World over, there exists the full spectrum of freedom (or lack of it) - from the absolute freedom in the US to the virtual ban on it in military and Islamic dictatorships. In India, we have been grappling with the concept since Independence, as one set of values has clashed with another in a continuous churn.

The Source
But where did this debate arise from? Why should the freedom to say what you think have to come from a source - the Constitution - instead of being inherent, as human beings who are born with the natural ability to think and speak? To understand, we must understand that our Constitution is, after all, a social contract, and not the only one in the country (though the only written one). Traditions within communities and accepted norms between them also constitute unwritten social contracts.

Words, after all, are more than mere words, they are powerful weapons. Who would've guesses that the ideals of freedom of the French Revolution would one day transform the world, those of the American Revolution would one day change the very idea of sovereignty, that Mahatma Gandhi's words would one day bring down segregation in America and South Africa? Words are powerful, they carry a great power, just as action does. One of the core tenets of any democratic Constitution is to protect citizens from violence - violence by action.

But what of violence by words? If actions can be controlled, if the state can monopolize it, then why not words that have the same effect as violent actions?

The reason, it seems, is that the damage caused by violence is measurable - numbers killed, wounded or disabled can be counted. Levels of disability can be quantified. Damage to property and life can be expressed in monetary terms. But the psychological damage of words that hurt cannot - it lingers on forever, sometimes attenuating and sometimes amplifying in fits of rage.

And this is the precise problem why any written social contract cannot, such as our Constitution, cannot justify any restrictions on speech, because there is simply no objective measure of it. What hurts one may not hurt another. The Supreme Court prefers to look at it in terms of a 'reasonable man' but even that interpretation is left to the judges themselves, which can change as the court and society itself changes. Simply put, there is no objective way to define the damage caused by words, which means there is also no objective way to punish the violence it wreaks.

This is the reason why the original Constitution of India, which came into effect this day 66 years ago, allowed for free speech with no restrictions. It was only a few years later, with the First Amendment, that restrictions were placed on them and since then, the debate has continued. The answer is not simple, but it is right in front of us. The Constitution of India has been in force for 66 years, but Indian history goes back 5,000 years beyond it. Traditions and community values have defined the contours of free speech in the civilization in a way that no written contract ever can. Perhaps it is time to return to the society we really are, if we are to find solutions that can survive.

On this the 66th Republic Day of India, Opinions 24x7 greets its readers. Jai Hind! 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Signs of Desperation

The 2015 round of Assembly Elections have kicked off with a fire in Delhi, with the BJP being forced to abandon its Modi-centric approach that yielded rich dividends in 2014 and induct a host of new faces, the most prominent of them being Kiran Bedi. After looking at the prospect of Kejriwal coming out stronger in a Modi vs Kejriwal contest, that too after the former decisively defeated the latter by a record margin in Varanasi last May, the party has gone in for some desperate measures, albeit with a level of brilliance that has come to be expected from Amit Shah.

Let's be clear - it's not a question of whether the BJP or AAP will be on top. There is no question of the fact that the BJP will have the most seats in the Assembly, by sheer virtue of its stronger base. The real test will be forming a majority government, with enough seats to cross the halfway mark. It is for that challenge that Bedi was roped in, to provide a counter to Kejriwal's rhetoric and win over some of his voters. Indeed, AAP has been unable to tap into the BJP's committed voters, for whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still the most popular leader in the country, and its gains are mostly that of the Congress' voters.

Speaking of the Congress, it is currently putting on a one-man shadow-show, with Ajay Maken attempting to project himself as the face of the party while the party pulls out its top vote-getters from the fray. This strategy is clearly in line with Rahul Gandhi's suicidal strategy of ensuring an AAP victory to stop the Modi juggernaut, even at the cost of the Congress itself. So low has the former 'default OS of India' fallen that it has to work for the victory of a much smaller party to simply counter the BJP. Ajay Maken is just there confuse the shrill media campaign and hide the Congress' true strategy.

For all the media hype though, Delhi is hardly and important contest. It does not represent India in any way, the issues (or lack of them) are entirely different and it is the only place where the English media can actually influence anything. It is not even a full state. The true test of 2015 will be Bihar towards the end of the year - that Amit Shah must capture at all costs. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Why I agree with Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Gov. and controversial Republican Bobby Jindal is all set to disturb a hornet's nest through his speech, rejecting dual identities that have become so common in America, and in particular rejecting his Indian-American title. As he points out, his parents came to America to be Americans, not Indian-Americans. If they wanted to be Indians, they'd have stayed in India. Certainly, this will win him many brickbats in not just India but also the US, but from an Indian perspective, we have to see him as being absolutely correct.

From my understanding, Indian-Americans make a clear distinction between the Indian Civilization and the Indian Republic. When Bobby Jindal says that there is no reason for them to feel ashamed of their heritage, he is pointing to the proud Indian Civilization that they carry with them, something that is now a part of America. Indian-Americans proudly celebrate Indian festivals and observe ancient traditions, while also seamlessly assimilating into the larger American culture that surrounds them. What they do not conform to or have any love for is the Indian Republic, which has gone as far as if not farther than the former British colonialists in crushing individual aspirations.

Consider what Jindal is asking - why did his parents come to the US? To be Americans. What does that mean? It means they believed they had it in them to achieve something, to choose the direction of their lives. They believed they were special in their own way and that they should be able to take risks and pursue their wants, to be what they want to be. If they failed of course, they would pay for it, but that's a risk they believed they could take. They did not however, want to be Indian. What does that mean? It means they did not want to be held back by a massive government that stymies free thought, that controls every aspect of people's lives and breeds fear. They did not want to participate in an impossible contest in which they pay paid for the sins of their ancestors, or where, by very virtue of not being born a VIP, they were stuck in a position far below what they believed they deserved or could earn if allowed to.

It's difficult to say, but it's true: Indians come to America to be American, to pursue their dreams without having to wage an impossible battle against a government and society that wants nothing more than to bring the best down to the level of the average. The reason Indians do so well abroad is because the ones who 'escape' are the ones who could have been the very best in the country - and the world - if they weren't forced to be average by a very average society, 'the People.' In that journey, Indians do carry their ancient cultural heritage, which goes back far beyond the socialist Republic of India, and proudly celebrate it. But they do not carry with them the horrors of the Republic.

We in India should keep this in mind when we celebrate so-called Indians abroad: the reason they are abroad is because in India, they would've been crushed. They are the best of us who we didn't want among us. America does, for it is a society that gives the individual the freedom to make his or her own choices, unhindered by the choices of society to hold them down. In that respect, Bobby Jindal is perfectly right - they came to America to be Americans, not Indians in America. 

An agenda for Sirisena

As the euphoria in Sri Lanka over the surprise defeat of long-time President Mahina Rajapaksa dies down and his democratically elected successor, Maithripala Sirisena, takes over, he has a tough set of challenges ahead of him. On the foreign policy angle, the most important agenda will be to rebalance the island nation's tilt towards China. There are already rumors, probably false, going around that RAW had a hand to play in Rajapaksa's defeat in retaliation for the Chinese submarine affair. Whether that is true or not is beyond the point: while India does not like to interfere in internal affairs of SAARC countries, it is not going to allow its security to be jeopardized by China's entry into the Indian Ocean. If SAARC countries believe India is going to stand back while they play off India against China, they are wrong - although historically an inward looking country, India can and will hit back if its security is jeopardized. That does not mean SAARC nations cannot have a relationship with China, but it does mean that they must be mindful of India's concerns in that process.

Domestically, Sirisena has to push for reconciliation with the Tamil population who are still living under quasi-martial rule with a heavily militarized Northern Province. It is important for him to implement the 13th Amendment in those areas and finally bring to an end decades of violence against them that actually led to the creation of the LTTE in the first place. In this, he will find adequate support from India, which it will need even as the UN prepares to table a report on Sri Lankan war crimes in March this year. His government has made all the right noises so far, indicating that they would like the UN probe to supplement the domestic one. Many horrific crimes took place in the last Eelam War and by bringing them to light, Sri Lanka will be able to start over. Narendra Modi's government in New Delhi certainly stands in support of this, but the initiative must come from Sirisena.

Sri Lanka stands at a crossroads today. As it looks at the two great powers of the world in the north, it has a choice - join them, or forever stand aside. President Sirisena alone can decide. 

MLK, Jr. and Ayn Rand

(c) Copyright 2015, Sushobhan Sen
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, a day to commemorate the most iconic face of the Civil Rights Movement against discrimination on the basis of color in the United States. In many ways, the ideals that MLK put into practice were those espoused by great thinkers such as Ayn Rand and Henry David Thoreau, who categorically rejected the very concept of looking at people as members of a community with no independent character of their own.

Indeed, Rand has always been opposed to collectivism, which is the hallmark of Marxist thinkers across the world. Human beings are not born collectively, they are born as individuals and must be treated as such. The worth of a human being depends on their thoughts and actions, not those of others with whom they may share a completely random connection such as skin color. The most famous speech of MLK's, I Have a Dream..., made from the Lincoln Memorial, essentially embodies this spirit of individualism.

On this MLK, Jr. Day, we salute that great spirit of individualism, that fire for individual success and freedom that once made America great and which I hope to see in my own country some day. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Teens Only


Produced by: Temple Hill Entertainment
Director: Josh Boone
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern and others
Pros: Good though incoherent story, fell-good
Cons: Slow, bad acting, goes nowhere
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

Before I review this, I must point out that a teenager raging with hormones would've found it more interesting - I was definitely not the target audience. Nonetheless, from my perspective, this was a nice but agonizingly boring movie. I could actually forward through several minutes of it without the scene changing!

The biggest thing that works for the film is that it has a feel-good story. Sure, it's full of loopholes (underage sex, underage drinking, parents turning a blind eye, non-existent law enforcement and the works) but the point is to make the audience feel all good in the right parts, and it worked. However, that's not really enough to cover up for the drawbacks, the biggest of which is that it's extremely slow. Clearly, Josh Boone has never heard of subtlety, where actors do not have to actually say every last thing on their mind but can simply express it with their faces. But then, the acting was pretty poor here and the director probably had trouble getting that level of skill out of them. A lose-lose situation, if ever!

Worst of all, the story, for all its nice-ness, goes absolutely nowhere and in fact, ends very abruptly. It's almost like the producer ran out of funding and asked the director to wrap up in a day! If you like these kind of movies, go ahead and watch it but I certainly do not recommend it. (OTFS)

A Big Dud


Produced By: Paramount and others
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor and others
Pros: Good VFX
Cons: Almost no story at all, too long, bad acting
Rating: ** of 5 (2 of 5)

OK, don't get me wrong: I'm a huge Transformers fan and I loved the last three installments (1 and 2 more than 3). I like action with robots, even if it means tearing Chicago apart. But in the end, the franchise was supposed to be about a story and Transformers 4 does not fit that bill. To put it kindly, it was a boring movie.

True, this one, like all others, took VFX to new heights. Dino-bots was a nice invention and moving the action to China, obviously because of the higher monetary returns there, was a refreshing idea (now at least they don't always attack the US!). But that's just about it - there was no story to back it up. It felt a lot like a school kid wrote the plot, adding new subplots as it went along. Basically, it was "and then... and then..." all the way, almost without an end. Obviously then, it was too long, because you could virtually cut out half the movie and still make no change to the story, or whatever the story was supposed to be. Top that off with some bad acting from all the lead actors and you have a perfect disaster of a film. Definitely worth a miss. (OTFS)

Another Successful Conference

Pic Credits: Jeff Roesler
The 94th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board 2015 in the new Walter E Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC was a grand success, my first time attending the world's greatest festival of Transportation Engineering. Coming as my second conference in six months, it was a great chance to meet some conference friends, meet new people and enjoy the sights and sounds of the world's most powerful city. It was also a great chance to socialize and get to know my research group members, past and present.

Much happened over those five tiring days (which is really a very long time for a conference) - from being asked for my card to being offered a collaborative project to understanding some dynamics going on in the area, I gained a lot from this one. I also presented my second poster, which now needs to be published along with a bunch of other things I did last semester.

Much good things happened, much learning and much understanding - all towards a very successful MS Thesis! More thoughts on #TRB2015 soon! 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Warning Signs in CH

Recently-concluded civic body polls in Chhatisgarh, including to the prestigious Naya Raipur Mayoral post, should come as a warning to the BJP that it needs to deliver, both at the Center and in States, and merely chanting slogans or riding the Modi wave is not going to last it long enough. The polls, in which the Congress and independents trumped the ruling BJP in a majority of bodies and posts, come in the wake of a massive anti-incumbency building up against the party, which has yet to find a base in the southern tribal districts of the state.

The results are even more devastating in the wake of the fact that the state Congress is in shambles and ridden with factionalism. Despite that, it was able to trounce a seemingly-invincible BJP. This is the surest indicator yet for CM Raman Singh and even PM Modi that they need to accelerate economic reforms and development, which is the one issue that can transcend all identities and unite people. These are merely warning shots - while the state will not go to elections till 2018, there are other important states coming up, including Delhi and Bihar. The time to heed calls of danger is now. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Inadvertent Traveler

I don't like traveling much. All my life, I have been traveling, and not as a tourist, but quite literally changing my home every few years: Kochi, Goa, Ooty, Hyderabad, Bombay, Roorkee, Saharanpur, Champaign, Munich... the list of places where I have lived spans states, countries and continents. Mind you, I've lived here in every sense of living - not just as a tourist. If I add tourism, I've been to Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Vizag, Trivandrum, Amritsar, Haridwar, Tokyo, Davis and several cities in Western Europe.

Despite all this, I'm not a traveler. I don't like to travel. I, like so many others, love the idea of being able to predict where I will be tomorrow, what I'll be doing. Stability is a wonderful thing. The transition from being nomads to settled agriculturists was a significant stage of human being's evolution. In my case, I seem to be going backwards. Yes, I am an inadvertent traveler, someone who loves the idea of living with old friends in a flat in a familiar city, working a stable job, meeting new people but always coming back to the same bed. Instead, I've met so many people from so many places that I can hardly remember any of them anymore; I've slept on so many beds (and floors) that comfort means nothing anymore. I've now eaten pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner and skipped a few meals (in a row).

But most of all, I've traveled internationally so often, been in some of the most uncomfortable of places, that the journey is not even noteworthy anymore. But through all this, I realize that I did have the chance to do what everyone else did, to finally end the nomadic life that I have always led. And I chose not to. Why? Not consciously, it's not like I dropped out of ITC because I didn't want to settle down in Bangalore. I was, I am ambitious. I can't do what everyone else is doing. No, I'm not a megalomaniac who wants to stand out perpetually. But there are some ambitions that I do have, ones that don't happen to match with the general population.

In two days, I'll be flying back out to Champaign and will stay in the US for a few years before I get my PhD and it's time to move somewhere else again (assuming they let me through Immigration, of course!). A fifteen-day vacation to one of my many childhood homes. And life continues. 

The War has Begun

A cursory glance at Indian politics today will show a central government, with a historic one-party majority, in complete disarray and an Opposition that is strong and united and determined to fight it. Except, in the matter of elections, where that same governing party seems unstoppable and the leader of the opposition in an unending recession. What is going on, why is the government presumably i abject decline before its opponents in all areas except the electoral one?

What we are witnessing here is not actual a reaction - there can be no situation in which a government appears meek everywhere but wins elections all over. What we are seeing is the Congress finally deciding to hit back as its fights to stay alive, aided by a pliant media with still-fond memories of Padma awards and anger at Modi for not harboring truck with any media, left, right or center. By the Congress, it does not mean Rahul Gandhi, who is now a mere veneer for the deep Congress, the true vested interests that received a severe jolt in May and are only now beginning to recover. These are the bureaucrats, the historians, the social activists who form an intricate net that thrives off Congress largess. The Gandhi family, now left to organize a pointless restructuring that will land it up in exactly the same position it has been since Independence, is the democratic means for the Deep Congress to achieve its larger aim of remaining an entrenched elite, something that Modi is threatening to overturn.

There are many rumors floating around now, including a grand plan of the Congress to force the Modi government to implode and face a mid-term election. Minorities are the means to it, as they have always been, for the decisive leftward turn that the world took after World War II means that the chalice of rights, freedoms and democracy lies squarely on minorities and minorities alone. It is the oldest trick in the book, one that has been used to Partition India and continues to be used to divide society further and the Congress and all the Congress-like parties have perfected the art of it.

Something historic is happening in India - the BJP is turning into the largest party in the country, the default party of governance, and the Congress is heading into oblivion. It happened in the Morarji Desai government too, but then it imploded. This time, instead of imploding, the BJP is only getting stronger. And as it grows, so too will the resistance to it. Congress-JD(U)-RJD was just a visible face of it, many more realignments that go beyond political parties are taking shape. For BJP President Amit Shah and Narendra Modi, the real was has only begun. They might have won power, but they have not won Delhi. There is an entrenched power, a Deep Congress, that lives with them, among them, that senses and reports their every move and has its foot out to make them trip. If the BJP wants to finish the Congress, the final frontier is this.  

Indian Male, Early 20s

A year and a half after staying away from India (and just a few days before heading back), I embarked on a trip to Bangalore to meet some old friends. The City of Bangalore is rightfully called the Silicon Valley of India and attracts thousands of young mostly male Indians, fresh out of college and in their early 20s, to make a career or themselves in the IT/ITeS industry that makes up over half of India's GDP. It was here, with some fellow 20-plus-year-olds who I saw right from their young post-teens to today, that I came across a phenomenon that I should have expected.

The Indian Male in his early 20s is quite clearly the most demonized in India. In the train ride to Bangalore, I was looked upon by hundreds of weary eyes as a potential thief/murderer/rapist/sex offender. Far from talking to me, people just wanted me to disappear. And that continued in Bangalore, as the lady with her daughter saw me and my friends and crossed the street to the safe environs of the other sidewalk.

And then my friend, also an Indian Male, early 20s, recalled that whenever he stepped out, the lady next door would pull her daughters in and shut the door. No smile, no greeting, just a sense that an evil entity was afoot and must be kept out. Alas, this is the sad state of the Indian Male, early 20s, who, in addition to working for a living, now also lives away from home, living a multitude of lives with unending pressures from all ends.

The Indian Male, early 20s, is a heroic being, with all the expectations of the world heaped on to him, as well as the hatred of society. He is the criminal who stalks your loved ones, he is the call center employee whose phone call burdens you, he is the rapist who deserves to be hanged, he is the IT professional who sends money home to his parents every month, he is the drug abuser who should not be your tenant, he is the one who keeps the local restaurants in business. Many faces, one individual. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Amiss with IBN

After a year and a half, when I came back to India, I discovered something very strange in one of the country's leading English news channels, CNN-IBN: there was hardly any news! For a channel that brought great hope against NDTV's extreme politicization, even after the Reliance takeover of Network 18, this is a huge disappointment. Over the last two weeks, the channel has been putting more focus on its Bollywood Roundtable series, an utterly boring and non-issue, over far more serious things and even less serious things! The sight was ridiculous on New Year's Eve when every other channel was discussing something or the other about the coming new year, even if it was simply beaming pictures from eastern countries, while IBN was still busy with its Bollywood lineup!

Back when I used to be in India, I'd watch IBN for serious news and The Newshour for mere entertainment. But now, even the latter has more 'news' than IBN, which just shows how much has changed in the intervening period. The only silver lining is that terrible journalist, Sagarika Ghose, is no longer on IBN to dish out her terrible, biased programming. But that's just about the only positive thing - Rajiv Masand has essentially replaced her. 

Which People?

This piece is in reply to this

Today's edition of The Hindu carried yet more jargon from the class of leftist sociologists struggling to make a living. It is probably no surprise that it came in The Hindu, as some recent revelations have revealed just how the editorial system there works. Nonetheless, this editorial from Peter DeSouza smacks clearly of unbridled hatred for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an utter rejection of the mandate that he secured in May 2014.

There are two problems with the editorial. The first and most significant is the absolute disregard for just who voted for Modi. The editorial repeatedly questions Prof. Amartya Sen on who, according to him, have a new ray of hope under Modi. It rhetorically lists out groups that have been disadvantaged since time immemorial on the Indian subcontinent and simply ignores the most important stakeholders today - the millions of young people who struggle to find a job and make a living in an India which, in the last decade under Sonia Gandhi's welfare economics, has gone through a major recession, loss of jobs and most importantly, a loss of hope.

When Mr. DeSourza asks just who are the people who have been given hope by Modi, he should leave the well-funded confines of CSDS and see the legions of young, unemployed people, some with degrees but most without even a basic education. In the welfare state that he proposes, the state has no resources to fund education. Of course, he is entirely against the idea of the state being an enabler to private industry and therefore, it must fund industry and employment too. Unfortunately for leftist sociologists, mathematics makes it impossible to spend negative money. Therefore, unless they find a way to rewrite even ancient Indian mathematics (as they have history) and make this possible, without Modi's economic reforms including the LARR Ordinance, the millions of young people who voted for him will lose hope. These are the people that Prof. Sen refers to, and they are the bulk of the electorate. They are the future.

The second problem is that the editorial was entirely one-sided and explored the issues from a fixed point of view. To paint itself as being nuanced, it goes into overdrive to 'scientifically' analyze Prof. Sen's statements into five parts, each read separately and with an ample dose of sarcasm to justify it too. In reality, the writer said just this much: Modi is evil, he must be stopped and anyone who supports him, even partially, must be vilified (and demonstrates how). Behind the reams of explorations on 'analytic philosophy' and other such jargon lies just that: a singular worldview far removed from reality, based wholly on pre-determined political biases masquerading as scholarly writing.

And of course, it had to be in a newspaper whose high editorial standards have been left out to dry for everyone to see. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

क्या होगा कश्मीर में?

झारखण्ड में चुनाव समाप्त हुए और नए मुख्य मंत्री ने शपथ भी ली, परन्तु कश्मीर में सरकार बनाने का काम अभी भी जारी है। मुश्किल यह है कि चुनावी परिणाम निर्णायक तो थे ही परन्तु विभाजित भी : कश्मीर ने PDP को मतदान दी, जम्मू ने BJP को एवं लदाख ने कांग्रेस को - ऐसा है कि कोई भी सरकार हर एक क्षेत्र का प्रतिनिधित्व नहीं कर सकती है।  ऊपर-ऊपर से तो PDP -कांग्रेस का सरकार सबसे सरल तो लगता है लेकिन यह बात इतिहास को अनदेखा करता है : कुछ ही साल पहले ही कांग्रेस ने PDP का सरकार तोड़ा था मुख्य मंत्री पद के लिए। अतः ऐसा गटबंधन अवश्य PDP के लिए मुश्किल होगा। 

सबसे चौकाने वाली बात तो यह है कि BJP भी सरकार बनाने कि कोशिश कर रही है। और क्योँ नहीं, आखिर उनके पास जम्मू के लोगों का मतदान है। परन्तु PDP -BJP सरकार यदि हो भी तो दोनों दलों के लिए मुश्किल होगा। PDP जन्म से ही अलगाववादियों सहानुभूति रखती है और BJP बिल्कुल उल्टा, धारा ३७० को रद्द करना चाहती है। ऐसे दो दल यदि सरकार बनाये तो यह खुद के पैर पर कुल्हाड़ी मारने जैसे होगा। ख़ास कर BJP के लिए यह देश-भर में मुश्किल पैदा करेगी क्योंकि केवल केंद्रीय सरकार ही धारा ३७० को रद्द कर सकती है - श्रीनगर में गठबंधन चलाते यह करना असंभव होगा और BJP  के समर्थकों के लिए यह विश्वासघात होगा। 

परन्तु, प्रधान मंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी के लिए शायद यह बात बाद के लिए रखा जा सकता है। उन्हें पता है की मई में उनका बहुमत आर्थिक विकास के वचन पर था और विपक्ष दल ने जिस तरह से राज्य सभा में उनका यह योजना रोक दिया है, इससे समझ में आता है की BJP को राज्य सभा में भी बहुमत जीतना पड़ेगा, जिसके लिए PDP जैसे दलों से व्यापर करना अवश्य है। बिना राज्य सभा में बहुमत के धरा ३७० को रद्द करना असंभव होगा तथा आर्थिक विकास के लिए ज़रूरी सुधार भी। अतः यदि मोदी को २०१९ में एक और सकरार बनाना हो, तो अभी के लिए धारा ३७० जैसे मुद्दों को अनदेखा करना पड़ेगा। राजनीति में बहुत बार एक कदम पीछे जाके दो कदम आगे बढ़ना पड़ता है। 

A Ministry in Shambles

Over six months after the Narendra Modi-led BJP swept the Lok Sabha elections, and after a proper Cabinet expansion, it seems fair to gauge the performance of some key ministries. In doing so, one ministry in particular comes out as a complete and utter disaster: the HRD Ministry headed by first-time minister Smriti Irani, who has been quite the weak link of this government. It's not just that the media had it in for her, she herself has allowed many errors to come in that significantly deviate from the PM's vision of "minimum government, maximum governance."

The most recent and probably most serious case is the spat with the Director of IIT Delhi regarding the IITRA Mauritius that IITD was setting up, on instruction from the former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal and fully-funded by the Govt of Mauritius, as an external research center that IITD would nurture, as so many foreign institutions nurtured the oldest IITs before. There was no irregularity in this - the MoU was fully vetted by the HRD Ministry including Sibal's successor Pallam Raju, and amended several times with hardly any say from the IIT D Director. And yet, the Ministry has now heaped blame on the Director while washing its own hands clean - ironically of nothing, as nothing wrong was done here.

The problem here is very clear - Minister Smriti Irani is weak and ineffective. One would've hoped that PM Modi would've done to her what he did to just about every minister i.e., reduce them to a figurehead and implement his vision directly. After all, people voted for Modi, not for his party, by and large. More than half of the BJP's 282 MPs owe it to Modi for their victory. People want Modi's vision, not the vision of stuck-up bureaucrats in the HRD Ministry. Unfortunately, Modi has given Irani over to the RSS, who look into so-called cultural issues, and the bureaucrats who look at technicalities. The Minister herself has become a post-office of sorts, merely clearing files and chairing meetings.

In the present case, the problem is clearly with the bureaucrats in the HRDM, who do not understand the first thing about research. Rules from another era, which have successfully ensured that we have a large set of well-funded second-rate institutions that do no service to India or the larger scientific community, are rigidly enforced and any academician looking to break that, like the IITD Director, are quickly shown the door and maligned to boot to keep the media quiet. If Modi really thinks Indians working as academics abroad can come back to India, he needs to give these bureaucrats a piece of his mind and work to amend these archaic rules.

Research calls for collaboration and diversification, faculty and students moving between institutions, countries and even continents for research is the norm in established research centers across the world, but the HRD Ministry insists all of these do not fit into its rules and, instead of amending them to make them more relevant, punishes those who try to make good with what is available. There are only two solutions here - either Modi take over this Ministry as he did with so many others (and fight it out with the RSS in the process) or fire Minister Irani and appoint someone more competent to deal with the massive bureaucracy. As of now, the HRDM is an utter failure. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

IOTY14: Troublemaker of the Year

The lighter-side of an otherwise very serious series on OTFS, the troublemaker of the year, for the last eight years, has been a showcase of the sillier things that politicians can say. This year, two of our nominees happen to be from the Samajwadi Party, which has made its mission to polarize UP and push it back to the stone age to the best extent possible. But the other two nominees also happen to be from that sinking ship, the Congress party, with Sanjay Nirupam reminding us what he thinks of women on TV, and Rahul Gandhi well, reminding us ad nauseum of what he thinks!

Indian of the Year 2014
Coming Soon

IOTY14: OTFS Documentary of the Year

The nominees for OTFS Documentary of the Year are:

  • The Marshals: Our documentary on the three Marshal-rank equivalents of India, from the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw to the still-strong Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. A special documentary to honor the Indian armed forces in the centennial of World War I. 
  • Elections 2014: Lessons Learned: A series to discuss the larger outcomes of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and where exactly the country's politics and larger society are going. 
Indian of the Year 2014
Coming Soon

IOTY14: Movie of the Year

Nominees for Movie of the Year 2014 are:
  • Gulaab Gang: For a strong, if stereotyped, message on the role women can play in society together with a wholesome amount of old-school entertainment. 
  • Queen: For its new-age energy and strong message. 
  • 2 States: For its message of national unity mixed with loveable comedy. 
  • Mark Kom: For its hard-hitting depiction of the life and times of one of India's most extraordinary sports personalities. 
Indian of the Year 2014
Coming Soon