Friday, 30 November 2007

Who's Afraid of the Fundamentalist Wolf?

Everybody, it seems, is out to appease the fundamentalists, whether they be saffron, green or dark blue. Especially so, if the appeasers happen to be politicians. Taslima Nasreen has decided to withdraw some lines from the second volume of her memoirs, Dwikhandita, because her descriptions of 1980s Bangladesh under military rule hurt the sentiments of the Jamaat-ul-Islami. Of course, this was after Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian foreign minister, suggested that those seeking asylum in India should take care not to hurt the sentiments of their fellow citizens. Her decision has been warmly welcomed by CPI(M) representatives, despite the fact that Comrade Prakash Karat had at one time thundered against the bourgeois parties’ inability to fight fundamentalism. Meanwhile, in Amritsar, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), controlled by the Shiroman Akali Dal, installed the portrait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple museum. Evidently, this was a demand voiced by radical groups, who had supported the present president of the SGPC in his quest for a third term of office. And in Gujarat, the Congress is busy making a friend of Gordhan Zadaphia, home minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots and now estranged from Narendra Modi.Of course, he cannot be admitted to the party but he can campaign against Modi...

If all this were not happening for real, I’d think I was witnessing a farce. Does the Jamaat support all that was done by Bangladesh’s military rulers in the 1980s? Are the radicals, who demanded the installation of Bhindranwale’s portrait in the Golden Temple museum, aware that he acted as Mrs. Gandhi’s stooge in creating an anti-Akali wave in Punjab? Have they read Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle? Of course, the reason why Zadaphia is so popular with the Congress during election season is not far to seek.

What does this mean for the ordinary Indian citizen? Well, it means that any party that is in politics today sees power as the highest goal. None of them have principles. None of them are capable of seeing the country as one entity, as the founding fathers saw it. None of them will die for the country or for any principles, if asked to do so. And if you blame the border security guard or a policeman for taking a bribe to let a suspicious character go, only to find out later that the character was a dangerous terrorist, please think of the politicians who have made it their life’s business to appease all shades of fundamentalism, to bow down to all the little Hitlers, in an effort to remain in power for yet another term.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Managing Disasters in India

While conducting a search on disaster management in India, I came across this government site on the subject. It includes a lot of information for architects and the ordinary citizen on how to survive an earthquake but I wonder whether the department in question has done much to publicize its work. They have colouring books for students on how to face disasters, but are they carrying out drills to show students what to do in the event of an earthquake or a fire? I remember, when I was a hostel resident in the UK two years ago, how fire drills and alarms were a regular part of our life. Fire alarms were always checked on Wednesdays, not just in the hostel but also in the university. People knew where to go in case there was a disaster. Are Delhi residents similarly well-informed? What about people in the trans-Yamuna region and Chhatarpur, both of which are high-risk areas in Delhi? The residents of high-rises in Gurgaon should at least be drilled in the procedure to be followed in case of an earthquake--we had high security in my UK hostel, which enabled the university and the hostel managers to drill us in the procedure to be followed in case of fire. Drills are a necessity in India, keeping in mind the fact that we have a tendency to lose our heads in a crisis and blame those in power! In fact, the security people could help the residents to prepare their emergency kits and go-bags in case of earthquakes.

State-of-the-art Training in India

It’s good to know that a UK university will provide training in multimedia, animation and gaming creation to Indian students in Bangalore. We need more such ventures--professional organizations should look at future trends and select training options accordingly. IT, because it is such a foreign exchange earner, and because so much work is already being outsourced to India, is a front-runner in this area. How about construction, specialized areas of management, such as HR, and publishing? There is a lot of construction going on in India itself, but the techniques and tools used to bring a project to completion as per client and regulatory authority specifications could be improved. Moreover, our construction specialists could also work in markets where Europeans or Americans might not fit in easily, such as Africa, the Middle East or South-East Asia. In management, various areas could benefit from specialist inputs. And publishing could be the next big KPO opportunity--we have a large pool of qualified people who are extremely fluent in English and can produce documents to international specifications.

Students would really appreciate international-level training provided locally. In many cases, especially if you’re not in IT-related industries, training is hard to come by and expensive. You really have to get a windfall to be even able to think about going abroad for training. Hence the need for other UK- and US-based institutions to tie up with Indian professional bodies to provide international level training locally to students.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Earthquake in Delhi

Did anyone notice that we had an earthquake last night? It measured 4.5 on the Richter scale and occurred some 20 kilometres underground on the Delhi-Haryana border. Evidently, the epicentre was at Bahadurgarh.

I hope no one was injured or killed and no homes were damaged. What does worry me is the fact that no one knows if the Delhi government is prepared to face an earthquake in the city. So I’ve been checking up on some foreign earthquake survival sites. Here’s some information that I got from the FEMA site. They’ve provided the following earthquake survival tips:

  • Create and practice a family/personal earthquake plan.

  • Bolt tall furniture to wall studs.

  • Tie down items, such as computers, televisions and bookcases, which might fall during an earthquake.

  • Install and use bolts and latches on cabinet drawers to prevent crockery falling out and causing damage.

  • Put large, heavy objects on lower shelves of cabinets and bookshelves to avoid breakage and damage.

  • Store breakable items in low, closed and latched cabinets.

  • Put flammable products and pesticides on the lower shelves of latched/bolted cabinets.

  • Hang heavy items away from walls and seating areas.

  • Lock overhead light fixtures.

  • Strap the water heater to wall studs and bolt down gas appliances.

  • Install flexible pipes to avoid water and gas leaks.

  • Repair deep cracks to ceilings or foundations.

  • Check to see if houses are bolted to foundations.

  • Get a structural design engineer to evaluate your home and advise on damage limitation.

  • Buy earthquake insurance.

In case you are in the house during an earthquake, get under a table or stand in the doorway.

According to the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services, these are some of the items you should keep in an emergency kit:

  • a gallon of water per person per day

  • ready to eat food

  • manual can opener and some cooking supplies

  • plates, utensils and feeding supplies

  • first aid kit (disposable gloves, sterile dressings, soaps, antibiotic ointment, burn ointment, adhesive bandages, eye wash solution, scissors, anti-diarrhea medicines, pain relievers, laxatives, prescription medicines if needed and prescribed medical supplies)

  • copies of important documents and phone numbers

  • warm clothes and rain gear for all family members

  • heavy work gloves

  • disposable camera

  • unscented liquid household bleach and an eyedropper for water purification

  • personal hygiene supplies (toilet paper, soap, items of feminine hygiene)

  • plastic sheeting, duct tape and utility knife to cover broken windows

  • blanket or sleeping bags

  • large heavy-duty plastic bag and plastic bucket for sanitation

  • tools--crowbar, hammer and nails, staple gun, adjustable wrench, bungee cords

In case you have kids, elders or people with disabilities in the family, you need to provide for them as well. This particular site is very useful and gives all the details. They also list the items that each family member should carry in a Go bag. This should be carried at all times--an emergency can strike at any time--and includes the following items:

  • flashlight

  • battery-operated radio

  • batteries

  • whistle

  • dust mask

  • pocket knife

  • cash in small denominations for phone calls

  • shoes,.change of clothes, warm clothes

  • map of the city

  • water and food

  • permanent marker, paper and tape

  • photos of family members for ID purposes

  • list of emergency point-of-contact numbers

  • list of allergies to drugs or food

  • copies of health insurance and ID cards

  • additional prescription eye glasses, hearing aids or personal items

  • prescription medications and first aid supplies

  • toothpaste and toothbrush

  • duplicate keys to house and vehicles.

  • any items required by children, the elderly or disabled family members

If the US federal and local governments can help people understand how to deal with a disaster, why can’t our state and local governments do the same? Has the Delhi government developed a disaster plan for earthquakes? If so, have they done anything to publicise it? Today, the earthquake struck deep underground and no one was hurt. Tomorrow could be another story. Wake up, Mrs. Dikshit! If your government has a disaster management plan for earthquakes, please share it with the people of Delhi. Check the lists and suggestions made by agencies abroad--are these appropriate to Delhi conditions? If not, make your own and publicise the same. Let’s not have a disaster management plan after the earthquake--let’s be prepared.

Sunday, 25 November 2007


The newspapers and television channels carry regular updates on the Taslima Nasreen affair--how she has been hounded out of Kolkata due to the fury of Islamic fundamentalists and is now living under heavy security in Rajasthan Bhawan. What amazes me about the Indian political system is the ease with which fundamentalists of various hues--especially saffron and green--can hold it to ransom. Remember the Shah Bano case and the banning of Satanic Verses?

Although the BJP demands that Ms. Nasreen be treated as a political refugee and be given asylum, they have also targeted M. F. Hussain in the past, for his nude paintings of goddesses. What these so-called protectors of Indian culture seem to forget is that women have been depicted bare-breasted in paintings and sculpture of the ancient Indian period. Take a look at Ajanta and Ellora, please! Their aesthetic sense is nourished by the work of Raja Ravi Varma, who depicted Indian gods and goddesses in a style favoured by the imperialist Victorian British government. They should take a good look at a work by Phalguni Dasgupta, which depicts a nude Shiva, lying on the ground, while a nude Kali dances over his prone form. This illustrates the saying that Shiva without Shakti is a Shava (dead body).

What the Indian political class understands by the term secularism is kowtowing to the so-called religious sentiments of the orthodox minority to maintain communal harmony. We need a muscular secularism that will say "No!" to fundamentalists of all hues who try to prevent Indians from presenting their point of view on subjects associated with religion.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Nasreen an Excuse for a Riot?

So the rioters have driven Taslima Nasreen away from Kolkata, just as they drove her away from Hyderabad in August. Why are the politically orthodox Muslims so afraid of this woman? What has she said that has offended them so much? Evidently, she has criticized the manner in which Islamic clerics (and clerics of other religions) treat women. What followers of the revealed religions fail to understand is that although they might believe they are upholding the word of God, those who have to suffer through their interpretation of revelation also have a right to speak up and be heard. However, Islam today, as Christianity as late as the early twentieth century and Hinduism not so long ago, has to learn to listen, not just to the voice of God as embodied in its holy book and other traditional sources, but also to the voice of its followers, which include women. So let Nasreen and others like her speak up and be heard. And why has the Communist government of West Bengal chosen to ban Nasreen’s books? I thought communists were atheists--why this concern for other people’s religious feelings when they have no concern for another person’s right to life?

Which brings me to the other story that caught my eye--that of the Saudi rape victim, who has vowed to fight the verdict handed out to her (six months in jail and 200 lashes) despite being the victim of a gang rape. The Saudi government is embarrassed because her story has caught the attention of the media. Well, if they’re that embarrassed, why not do something to change the law, such as reserving punishments for the perpetrators (not the victims) of rape?

It seems women and their views are just an excuse for the orthodox to riot or to punish women--they cannot come up with a rational argument against Nasreen or this 19-year-old girl. Evidently, the Saudi court felt the girl, who was 18 when she was raped, was committing a criminal act because she was with a man who was not a relative and she was trying to get back some pictures he’d taken of her. When will the Saudis change?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Frisking the Three Service Chiefs

It seems anybody who has heard of the Civil Aviation Ministry’s decision to frisk the three Service Chiefs (and not a certain gentleman, who was lucky enough to marry the daughter of an assassinated PM) is livid.Most people rightly feel that those who have been entrusted with the security of the entire country can certainly be trusted with the security of a civilian aircraft on which they’re travelling. I think the Civil Aviation Ministry will soon have to extend the no-frisk rule to the three Service Chiefs.

Kolkata has been in an uproar--not just because of Nandigram, but also because of the Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen, whose only fault appears to be her feminism and her refusal to kowtow to those who appear to control religious institutions. However, a lot of the violence appears to be opportunistic--the rioters have just used Nasreen and Nandigram as an excuse to go on the rampage. Something very similar happened in Hyderabad a few months ago, when Nasreen went to attend a conference there. And in that case, two sitting MLAs (who should have known better and kept in mind the dignity of their office, such as it is) were also involved. This does not absolve the West Bengal state government, which is doing its best to close relief camps, despite the fact that camp residents are afraid to go back home. I’m glad I’m not the only one comparing the violence in Nandigram and Gujarat--I seem to be in rather exalted company!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Congestion Tax OK BUT...

The Delhi State government is evidently taking advice from Mayor Ken Livingston of London, on how to deal with global warming. The Mayor will probably encourage Delhi’s government to use a congestion tax to reduce the number of cars that run on Delhi roads. However, what the Delhi bureaucrats should keep in mind is the fact that London can afford to tax private transport because it has (compared to Delhi) an excellent transport system. You can easily plan your journey online from one part of the UK to another, without a hitch. However, Delhi just does not have the same facilities. Our Blueline and DTC buses are better known as agents of manslaughter than as a part of a well-thought-out public transport system. And a very small section of the Metro has been completed to date. So, insisting that people entering Delhi from Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad or Faridabad pay a tax on their cars (something close to Rs. 1,000--it’s about £10-15 in the UK) is not a good idea at this moment. Let’s see if Delhi can set up a public transport system by 2010--I think that will do a lot to bring down the number of cars on Delhi roads.

Another reason why I wouldn’t go for a congestion tax in Delhi just now is because the Delhi government needs to clean up the Transport department. Evidently, someone in the transport department has been taking bribes from Blueline operators, which is how these operators have continued to function despite High Court strictures. This is the talk of the town. The Transport department needs to be cleaned up--the people taking bribes need to be kicked out--before any changes can take place.

I’ve often wondered why it is that India has such a bribe-friendly culture, especially in the lower ranks of its bureaucracy. You might occasionally come across such a person abroad--someone who’s willing to turn a blind eye for a few pounds or dollars more--but the habit of "naming and shaming" is so prevalent abroad that any such official would have to be crazy or desperate to do such a thing. Here, taking a bribe is an everyday affair--when you come back after a long stay abroad and have sent the bulk of your belongings as unaccompanied baggage, the small fry in the customs office (located near the international airport) are likely to ask you for money for chai-paani and are grateful if you hand them Rs. 10-20. It’s not because he feels you have broken the law and he is promising to keep silent for the little bit of money you give him--it’s because he’s in the habit of asking people for money!

And it’s no wonder that corruption has flourished in India--of the numerous scams reported so far, how many have actually been tried in a court of law? How many ministers have gone to jail for taking bribes? How many bureaucrats have been dismissed for doing the same? The Army reacted in an exemplary manner once Tehelka made public the findings of Operation West End, but the politicians and the government machinery turned against Tehelka, not against those found to be taking bribes in a defence deal.

When you look at our judicial system, what strikes you is its slowness. The Uphaar case has taken ten years to reach a verdict. And the Ansals might just get away with two years in jail, never mind the fact that 59 people were killed in a fire caused due to their negligence. If this is the state of India’s judicial system, no wonder no politician or bureaucrat caught taking a bribe has ever been tried or convicted. No wonder they continue to rob the people. And no wonder we have the governance and services we have to date.This brings me to the subject of the Maoist insurgency in our poorest states--Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh. This insurgency is a result of the Indian government’s refusal to settle the issue of land rights in these states. Another reason for this insurgency is the fact that the tribal population living in these states has been exploited by non-tribal contractors and businessmen, and the State and Central government has done nothing to stop this exploitation. Now, we’ll have to gather intelligence, send in the security forces into these areas and hope that they do not indulge in human rights abuses while ending the insurgency. It’s easier said than done.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Indian Women (and Women Everywhere)

Although Nandigram has been at the top of everyone’s agenda--the events there have been so utterly horrifying--I’ve also come across some extremely disturbing stories that relate to the status of women in India. One was the story of a 24-year-old woman who was gang raped at the instigation of her husband. He demanded a dowry of 2 lakhs, which her family was reluctant to pay. He then tried to have her murdered, and when that failed, he organized this attack.

In another story, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC)has decided to place cradles at the entrance to gurdwaras, so that parents who wish to abandon their girl children need not do so in parks, railway stations or garbage bins. Why don’t the religious leaders, such as members of the SGPC and the four Shankaracharyas, get together and declare that it is against all Indian traditions to abandon girl children or to harass women for dowry. People who do either should not be given the last rites by a granthi or a pandit. That might be the only way to deal with Indian prejudices against girl children.

Of course, what is even worse is the story about the Saudi Arabian rape victim who was given a sentence of 200 lashes, whereas her attackers were let off with a lighter sentence. What is even worse is that her lawyer has lost his license because he appealed about the sentence handed out to his client. It appears most practitioners of religious law seem to forget the fact that women were given a place of dignity in all religions. So why is it that they are not treated as human nowadays?

After Nandigram...

Now that the CPI(M) cadres have recaptured Nandigram after a bloody battle with the BUPC, it appears that the Communists’ veneer of being part of the democratic set up in India has finally worn thin. The BUPC may or may not have been Maoists; the plan to set up a chemicals hub in Nandigram may just be the last straw that broke the camel’s back, as far as the people in rural West Bengal are concerned. After all, the poor have had to live with PDS supplies being siphoned off, evidently by CPI(M) cadres, who have taken over the ration shops in the state. The fact remains that the CPI(M) chose not to use legally constituted means--the police force and the CRPF--to restore state authority in Nandigram, but preferred to use party cadres, so that they would not be seen to lose votes come the state panchayat elections in May 2008.Is this any different from Gujarat in 2002?There, too, the Modi government wanted a "spontaneous" reaction to the deaths of kar sevaks in Godhra--never mind that investigations later revealed that the fire in the kar sevaks’ train carriage was set inside the carriage, not outside. So the word was put out amongst foot soldiers of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal--not very different from what happened in Nandigram.

This has hopefully made a few things clearer to the middle class--that we cannot afford to trust either the parties of the right or the left unless they are willing to actually abide by the Indian constitution, not just pay lip service to it. Secondly, we cannot afford dynasties in party politics. There’s something seriously wrong with the Congress, because of its insistence on anointing the heirs of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whether or not these heirs show any political promise. Reminds me strongly of Rome under the Caesars--the Republic existed only in name, while the government was actually managed by the Imperator (Emperor) who took the name of Caesar. Let us hope we do not come to such a sorry pass. Thirdly--the setting up of SEZs (special economic zones) in agricultural areas needs to be handled with greater sensitivity. As it is, the poorest people in India, the lower castes and the tribes, do not enjoy rights on the lands they cultivate. Hence the Maoist movements in Chattisgarh and other parts of central India. These people have endured exploitation by the savarna moneylenders, businessmen and government officials--therefore, while the state fights the Maoists, those who wish to do business have to come up with a win-win proposal that will satisfy the needs of the tribals, the poor, the landowners and their bosses in the cities.

Friday, 16 November 2007

"Cholbe Na!"

So the CPI(M) cadres have finally recaptured Nandigram. And reports of a gang rape that took place have been confirmed--the victim has been medically examined and has filed a case. However, according to the Left parties, whereas the Gujarat riots justified a discussion in Parliament, the same does not apply to Nandigram, which remains a state subject! The winter session in Parliament promises to be a hot one--what with a discussion of the 123 agreement and the BJP’s determination to talk about Nandigram in the House. What will really hurt the CPI(M)’s pro-minority image is the fact that the Muslim population of Nandigram has been worst-hit by the recent disturbances. I wonder how they will cry foul over the 123 agreement now--the main plank of their arguments against the treaty has been the insinuation that India’s Muslim population would be disturbed by such a close alliance with a power that is seen to be fighting Muslim fundamentalists.

The real reason why Indian politics and Indian politicians are objects of such derision amongst the middle class is because they are incapable of using a good argument, a well-drawn up policy or a well-executed project to make a point--they’d rather employ goons and lathis to decide the issue. Whether it’s Delhi circa 1984 or Gujarat circa 2002 or Nandigram circa 2007, it’s the same story--beat, kill, bully and rape the population into submission. Don’t build roads, schools or hospitals, don’t dig wells, don’t encourage industrialization--don’t do a thing and just force the people to vote for you time after time, never mind if they have to sell their children to make a living. What has the political class done in sixty years? What has it accomplished? Nothing! And they expect the aam aadmi to be grateful for this--to be beaten, killed or worse by his rulers? Most of our major insurgencies would never have arisen had our politicians done the jobs they’re paid to do--organize a proper land distribution policy in areas where land ownership is restricted and encourage industry, instead of siphoning off funds that they stash into Swiss bank accounts.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Celebrating Diwali

Well, thank all the gods that Diwali is finally over for this year. What with overcrowded mithai shops, markets where shoppers cannot park their cars (this happened in the Kailash Colony market in South Delhi) massive traffic jams (on Wednesday because of Dhanteras) and nights when neighbours played with firecrackers into the wee hours--I've just had it with this festival. We even had the cops come by our neighbourhood to stop the firecrackers--this was around 1 a.m. last night! And you can just imagine how fresh the morning air must have been--what a boon to sufferers from asthma and every kind of respiratory ailment.

Evidently, the Mumbai cops have matters well in hand--310 people have been charged with bursting firecrackers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sensible, considering the fact that we're all talking about keeping the environment clean and avoiding noise pollution. I think that the time limit idea should be adopted in Delhi. I also think that people should burst crackers, not outside their homes or on the road, as they do nowadays, but in areas outside colonies and residential areas, as they do abroad. Better still, why don't our firecracker manufacturers invest in some R&D to develope crackers that produce less smoke? Or are they, like the CPI(M), waiting for Chinese manufacturers to steal a march on them? In any case, the firecracker-bursting fraternities of India should not buy their goods, since most firecracker manufacturers evidently prefer to invest in child labour and refuse to follow any kind of safety standards when setting up their factories. Maybe the money spent on firecrackers should be spent on schools that provide a mid-day meal scheme in poor rural areas? Think about it!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Delhi Traffic and Other Matters

What yesterday’s traffic jams in the capital proved was that Delhi urgently needs a public transport system that can support massive numbers. Diwali is, in any case, a time when everyone goes out to shop. Yesterday being Dhanteras, people were out shopping for something valuable as a symbol of Lakshmi. Since we don’t have a public transport system worth the name--the Metro is operational only on two lines, Blueline buses are better known for knocking down pedestrians on the pavement and the DTC is yet to get enough new buses--the streets were full of cars, scooters, and three-wheelers. Many people slept through the jam, while others cursed. If we don’t do something to regulate Delhi traffic, the atmosphere in and around Delhi will soon be as bad as it was in the pre-CNG days. Respiratory ailments will increase. So the state government needs to wake up FAST to this problem.

Talking of Lakshmi, the two-year-old who underwent a 27-hour operation yesterday is doing well, according to her doctors. However, what was sickening to hear on yesterday’s television news was that the doctors had filmed the entire operation, without concealing the identity of the child. How can they disregard the child’s right to privacy? They can film the operation for educational purposes, but certainly not to advertise their skills.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs has finally decided to proclaim India "a free market democracy". Thank heavens for that bit of honesty--we might as well follow free market principles, since we were proclaimed a "socialist" society during the Emergency. "Socialism" has, in any case, meant that the political and bureaucratic classes have profited at the expense of the people of India. Think about the license-permit raj or nationalisation of sick industries, neither of which really helped workers or industrialists. Or what about the nationalisation of banks, which hasn’t really helped the farmer escape the clutches of the local moneylender, who also doubles as the local political bigwig. Socialism, in the Indian context, is the biggest piece of political humbug, followed by communism. How many members of the CPI(M) have actually worked in factories or farms? Most of them are armchair revolutionaries, members of the middle class (Bhadralok in Bengali) who hang on with ferocity to the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, just as their forefathers hung on to the Manusmriti in the past.

Monday, 5 November 2007

An Emergency in Pakistan

General Musharraf has done the expected by declaring an emergency a few days ago. No one expected the not-so-good general to listen to the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court. However, what he's chosen to do might end up doing more harm than good--blaming the militants and the judiciary for his decision will not help the general stay on in power. He should have taken a good look at a not-so-recent Indian historical event--Indira Gandhi's Emergency of 1975-77. By declaring an emergency when the judgement of the Allahabad High Court went against her, Mrs. Gandhi did much to strengthen the impression in peoples' minds that she was anti-democratic. She might well have been fighting to contain several forces that might have torn the country apart, but she ended up doing more harm than good. The Emergency in India did more to strengthen extra-constitutional centres of power and increased public distrust of the entire politician-bureaucrat-police setup in the country. It did more to create a wave of sympathy for any movement that was in the least anti-government--hence the support for Khalistan and Azaad Kashmir in the 1980s and 90s. She did revoke the Emergency she declared in 1977--and lost the elections held subsequently.

Declaring an Emergency is the General's way of saying that he cannot deal with dissent. He is an Army man and cannot abide the checks and balances that are a part of constitutional government. However, the militants on the borders cannot be dealt with using only military means. Again, the general should take a leaf out of the Indian book and install truly democratic governments, not only in Islamabad, but also in each Pakistani province, city and village. Only a truly democratic society can deal with militancy in all its forms--a military dictatorship not only stifles democracy but might well give rise to the causes of militancy.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Manipulating Perceptions--for whose benefit?

It appears that the Left has convinced the Congress to go slow on 123, by stating that its pro-US policies have alienated Indian Muslims. However, as this article makes it clear, India has not transformed itself into a US stooge--it has simply not been confrontational when dealing with the US. In fact, as Mr. Prem Shankar Jha states, we’ve refused to send troops to Iraq in 2003, continued to fund the Palestinian Authority once Hamas took over, and insisted that Iran be dealt with by the IAEA on the issue of concealing its nuclear programme without raising our voice or banging our shoes (a la Khrushchev) in the UN General Assembly. Since the Left understands nothing other than rhetoric and confrontation, they see this as being soft on the US! The US, in turn, needs a democratic South Asian country with the second largest Muslim population that has not yet turned fundamentalist in large numbers, on its side. They are prepared now, as they were not in the Cold War years, to listen to India’s objections to their foreign policy moves.

However, the Left in general and Comrade Karat in particular are revealing their true colors--they’re very concerned that the growing closeness between the US and India will isolate China, "the most powerful socialist country....". What I find very puzzling in all this is--surely Comrade Karat and members of his party are Indian citizens? Then why this concern for China, which is "socialist" only in name? Capitalism, albeit with a communist face, is the new buzzword in China, which does not hesitate to ally itself with any group or regime that will provide it sufficient energy resources to feed its economy. In fact, only a few months ago, the US was doing its best to wean China away from supporters of the Janjaweed militia! The reason why the West is so concerned about China’s economic clout is because of the dismal Chinese record on human rights.

And talking about manipulating perceptions, there’s the story about some child laborers being liberated from an embroidery workshop in Shahpur Jat.Many of the children rescued come from some of the poorest areas in India(including districts in West Bengal--ruled by a Left Front government over the last 22 years)--one of the children said that he did not enjoy the work, but he saw no future, because his parents could not afford to feed him. Can the government provide food, clothing, suitable homes, and education for these children? If not, what happens to these children rescued from sweatshops? Where do they end up? Many child laborers end up working in fireworks factories--in fact, 11 have been hurt in a fire that erupted in such a factory in Hyderabad.

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