Monday, 30 June 2008

No Surprises from the Left

As usual, the Left stands firm against the 123 deal, and also against any Indian attempts to discuss safeguards with the IAEA. However, is their stand in the interests of the Indian people, especially the proletariat, whom they profess to represent? Considering the fact that the Indian public has to face double-digit inflation, much of it brought on by the rise in fuel prices, is it not a wise idea to look at nuclear energy as an alternative? I know most of our communist leaders live in the past--preferably the Maoist and Stalinist past--but if their parties have to follow policies that help the Indian people, then talking to the IAEA about safeguards and to the US (and the EU, Russia, and China) about using nuclear energy in the civil sector, is a must.

Let us hope Comrade Karat and Co. are at least prepared to give Mr. Kakodkar and other officials a hearing. After all, China, which is THE communist country in the world that Karat and Co. kowtow to, has also signed a 123 treaty with the US--of course, they had to agree to all kinds of conditions. If the Chinese communists can be so pragmatic, why can't the Indians?

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Hooligans in Politics?

It appears that, even as the UP CM has asked one of her cabinet colleagues to resign because of his involvement in murder, yet another political career is being created in Maharashtra based on an attack on a journalist. It seems that politics is now a refuge for all the hooligans, scoundrels and lawless elements in India. All that Mr. Ketkar did in his Loksatta editorial was to ironically comment that Maharashtra had evidently solved all its problems, which was why it could afford to build a statue of Shivaji to arise out of the Arabian Sea. Evidently, one Mr. Methe thought that an attack on Mr. Ketkar was just what he needed to start his political career with a bang.

From the bending of rules to enable relatives of powerful politicians to get into business, to the attacks on and murder of activists auditing the NREGS programme in the districts of India--it seems our politicians are capable of any crime under the sun.

We cannot rely on any political party to be more honest than the last--the moment a party comes into power, it forgets the people. There are times when it even forgets the nation, in the interests of winning the next election. This is plainly the case with those parties that are organizing bandhs to protest against the recent rise in petroleum prices. Evidently, the nation’s coffers are to be sucked dry by politicians, who’d like everything to be subsidized, so that they can continue to win elections ad infinitum. Why on earth our 80-year-old prime ministerial candidates cannot show some maturity when discussing fiscal issues--especially when they have had a spell in power and know what it it is like to govern--is something that still causes wonder. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, the party in power is assailed. Why Indian geriatrics continue to act like juveniles when seeking political office is totally beyond comprehension.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Much Ado about Caste

So the Gurjjars have been on a rampage lately--evidently, they want to be included in the list of Scheduled Castes, so that they also have a chance to get government jobs. Rajasthan saw a lot of violence, and Delhi saw a strike the other day. There are indications that this agitation will also affect neighboring states--Punjab, Gujarat and UP.

I think we need to take a long, hard look at the system of reservations. Has it actually helped castes (or just select families of caste leaders) gain social mobility? Is this mobility greater in urban or rural areas? Has this mobility enabled castes to change status over the last three generations? Is reservation a substitute for a good system of primary and secondary school education for the working classes (urban and rural) ? Has the system of reservation helped people who got jobs in the reserved quota feel more or less professionally competent than their peers from the general category? And this is not something that can be left to the political class, because this class is quite content to throw government money and jobs to the people in an effort to retain power. This is a job that those who now ask for inclusion in lists of SC, ST or OBC groups have to ask themselves.

Based on their findings, they will have to then decide whether or not the system of reservations is working. If only the families of caste leaders have gained social mobility, then there will have to be a cut off from the fourth generation--only three generations of an SC, ST or OBC family can benefit from the reservation system and the fourth generation has to be included in the general category. If it is found that SCs, STs and OBCs based in urban areas benefit more from the reservation system, then the place of residence and education has to be given due weightage. And at the same time, people have to set up schools for their locality--there's no point getting a seat reserved if education itself is unavailable.

Why the CBI?

A young girl, the daughter of a dentist couple, gets murdered--and we not only see a media feeding frenzy, because of the plethora of 24/7 news channels--but we also see the Noida cops behaving abominably, with no reprimands forthcoming from the UP administration. So, as is usual with all cases that are bungled by the local police force. the CBI is called in.

Why is it that our politicians and babus are unable to bring the local (state-level) police force up to scratch? Why are policemen, especially at the lower levels, forced to live subhuman lives so that they have little or no enthusiasm to do a professional job? Our politicians--who are far too busy managing their constituencies and remaining in permanent campaign mode (rather the way Scott McClellan described his ex-boss, the present President Bush)--have little or no time to pay attention to improving the administration or the crime-fighting apparatus. They’re too busy using the local police force to take on their political rivals, or using the lure of jobs to get recruits to pay for jobs in the police (very French ancien regime--I’m sure Louis XIV’s valet would have recognized the procedure!)

When I look at modern India, I’m reminded of 18th or early 19th century Britain--the land of appalling maladministration (remember the novels of Charles Dickens) and political corruption (rotten boroughs--think of any political constituency in India). Also of the post-Civil War US, when corruption was a regular part of life, not only in the state government, but also at the federal level. However, all that changed with the gradual rise to power of the middle class, and on its insistence on law and order. Hence, you saw the setting up of the Metropolitan Police Force in the UK and Theodore Roosevelt’s support for the muckrackers (who exposed political and economic scandals) in the US.

Let us hope--after the successful conclusion of the Nitish Katara, Jessica Lall and Priyadarshini Mattoo cases--that the middle class gets ready to fight for an efficient state police force, which can not only fight crime but also stave off terrorist threats, with federal help if required, but on its own if necessary. Such a police force should be able to use the law and scientific investigation, not just the lathi and third-degree methods, to win against crime.

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I work as a freelance editor and writer in New Delhi. 


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