Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fair trials and justice

"Somebody must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." -The Trial by Franz Kafka
Of all the tragicomic masterpieces to have been created in the world, 'The Trial' must surely rank amongst the best. The entire book is about the trial of Joseph K. who is arrested and is supposed to defend himself in a "court" for offenses he doesn't have the knowledge of committing and is never told about throughout his trial. I suspect that it was this work in particular that gave birth to the term "Kafkaesque," to describe travesty of justice whenever and wherever it occurs. It is also ironic that this particular work came to see the light of day only because Kafka's friend disregarded his last wish(therein betraying his trust) to refrain from destroying the unfinished novel and instead published it. It serves as a reminder to each one of us, of the importance of an independent and a transparent judiciary, especially for a nation with liberal, democratic aspirations.

We believe that in the end truth prevails, "Satyameva Jayate." The principle of "presuming innocence until proven guilty," originates from this love of justice. It is never too late to punish the guilty, but to take back a mistaken conviction is impossible. Beautifully illustrated in this short story by Leo Tolstoy, " God sees the truth but waits," it highlights the need for checks and balances in our judiciary so that, "A hundred criminals may go unpunished, but not a single innocent shall be punished."

Following through, we realize that Justice must be blind and all are equal in the court of justice. This "Rule of law," enshrined in our constitution is in place to protect that smallest minority - the individual. With this in mind, it is inconceivable that an individual is not provided the "fair trial" due to circumstances. Each exception taken to the "Rule of law" is just another body blow against the weakest individual in the society. The powerful may weather the storm - remember Jayalalitha or Karunanidhi's time in the jail, yet it is the meek who will bear the brunt of systemic abuse.

If circumstances can be used as an excuse to override these principles today in the case of a terrorist, nothing stops someone else from misusing the same "circumstances" as an excuse tomorrow to paint an innocent(innocent until proven guilty) as a "threat to the society." Remember the invocation of NSA against eve teasing?

In the '70s it was famously predicted that India would fail as a democracy and be ruled by the an autocracy. The reason, that prediction didn't come to fruitition is the courage of a few good men in our independent if inefficient judiciary. Our system may be corrupt and full of holes, the trial may only provide a stage for Kasab and his ilk to broadcast their agenda, it may result in the worst kind of mudslinging over issues of nationalist importance, yet it is imperative that we provide him a fair and a transparent trial. As Acorn put it, "He deserves an exemplary punishment after an exemplary judicial trial."

If we are afraid that we cannot prosecute Ajmal in a fair trial despite catching him redhanded or that it will take too long, then how can we claim to safeguard our own citizens and how can we claim to be a "democratic republic" which upholds the "rule of law"? What is the difference then, between us and the taliban?

Ofcourse, this also serves to shut up the psuedo liberal ostriches like 1, 2 who draw moral equivalence between terrorist and counter terrorist activities or atleast make them look like the fools they really are. But more importantly, If we are to hold onto our moral highground in this battle of ideologies; Indeed if we are to survive, we must stick to our principles even in the most trying circumstances.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The End of Faith" by Sam Harris - a review

I first came across Sam Harris when I read his article "Bombing our Illusions" right after the 26/11 Mumbai massacre. This article written in 2005 sounds prophetic and ominous in equal proportions. He made an attempt to be intellectually honest and didn't care to be politically correct regarding the nature of religion and the ills that it propagates in our world and was determined to read his thesis published as "The End of Faith", in greater detail.

The book enters into great detail the ills that religion has inflicted upon us over the years or as some believers would want us to say, the ills that have been inflicted upon us "in the name of religion". The basic thrust of his thesis is that "Religion has no place in the age of reason, especially when most religious tenets are overflowing with irrational claims and fantastic myths that have been laid to rest by most of the scientific knowledge accrued over the years.
The only reason anyone is "moderate" in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought. The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. the moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt...
Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance....
Extremely critical of any and all evils that arose out of religious dogmatism from spanish inquisitions to public stoning of "adulterous women"(which incidentally is still followed in some places) down to the calls for jihad. He calls the bluff of left-liberals who adopt illiberal dogmas in the name of "pragmatism" and "relativism". He pans all irrational beliefs across the spectrum, yet makes a few concessions for metaphysical or "mystic" phenomena that science hasn't yet been able to explain.
"It is not enough that Jesus was a man who transformed himself to such a degree that the Sermon on the Mount could be his heart's confession. He also had to be the son of God, born of a virgin, and destined to return to earth trailing clouds of glory.... According to the dogma of Christianity, becoming just like Jesus is impossible, One can only enumerate one's sins, believe the unbelieveable, and await the end of the world

But a more profound response to existence is possible for us and the testimony of Jesus, as well as that of countless other men and women over the ages, attests to this. The challenge for us is to begin talking about this possibility in rational terms"
The book makes for a thoroughly provocative yet at times dry read getting bogged down by philosophical monologues. Perhaps these are very basic statements for a student of philosophy but I would rather read them in simpler language. It also appears that at times in order to support his thesis, he brings in questionable evidence. I don't see the reason why he should do that. History of the last two thousand years is replete with examples that support his arguments, and using such pieces may only serve for the "shock value" but diminish the cogency in his message.

Bottomline: Well worth a read for everyone who considers himself/herself to be a rational human even though the going might get slow at times.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Education in India

Shekhar Gupta at Indian Express writes about the need for reform and revamping of Higher education in India:
Just as the licence-quota raj created self-inflicted scarcities of telephones, scooters and cooking gas, our utterly authoritarian, cynical and intellectually bankrupt higher education policy has created humongous shortages. We all know the odds for a candidate to qualify for premier engineering, management and medical colleges. Those with means now pay their way to colleges in Australia, Singapore, Qatar, besides indeed the traditional “exporters” of education to India, the US and the UK ....
....Yet, do advertise for a security guard on and see how many applications you get from MAs, MScs, even PhDs. These are young Indians who have invested the most valuable years of their lives collecting degrees but no knowledge, education but no skills. Unless this disaster is stemmed now, these numbers will multiply faster than you can imagine, and they will be angrier than you wish to imagine. But if you can fix it, the dividend you reap will be not merely demographic, but even economic and political.
Studies estimate that our education system churns out nearly 3.2million graduates of whom about a tenth or 350,000 are from engineering. But even a cursory examination of the graduates reveals that most of these graduates pay by the noose only to get a paper certification but no real addition to their skills. Most of the so called engineering colleges are blocks of apartments run without laboratories or even proper lecturers. In many cases, the students graduating out of these colleges are employed back as lecturers as they are unable to fit anywhere else in the industry, and the colleges unable to get worthy lecturers, leading into a vicious circle.

The answer is not setting up namesake IITs in ordnance factories or forcing the existing IITs to increase reservations and acceptance rates. It involves giving more importance to autonomy of existing institutions and doing away with the redtape that deters from quality individuals and institutions from coming into the academia. I don't advocate for exclusivist policies with regards to IITs, IIMs, but setting up proxies sans the quality will lead to further devaluation of these last bastions of credibility in Indian higher education system. We need more IIT like institutions not just IITs, and in all spheres of higher education.

If cases of competitive intolerance like this and this don't wake us up to the need for liberalisation in education in general and higher education in particular, nothing ever will. In 2004, I thought that the only upside of NDA defeat was end of Mr.Joshi's hold on HRD but unfortunately he was followed by a catastrophic Arjun singh. Here's to hope that this term may turn out to be different from with Mr.Kapil Sibal as the HRD minister.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Poverty and Wealth

I wanted to write this post a long time back, but now is just as good a time when the calls for coronation of the prince have reached a crescendo. During the election campaign Rahul Gandhi had said, "We believe in the poor people of India and they are ashamed of the poor in India." It is part of electioneering, I agree, but in order to gain votes and power the Nehru-Gandhi family and by extension Congress has equated Poverty with virtue and wealth to a vice. Add to this the famous Nehru quip, "Profit is a dirty word" and we have generations condemned to poverty. Sarojini Naidu once famously observed of Mahatma, " It costs a lot to keep Gandhi poor," only half in jest. Now, Mr. Rahul Gandhi says, " we should not be ashamed of our poor."

Perhaps, but we should be ashamed of the fact that such a large number of our people are condemned to poverty. Instead we are ashamed of our rich."Any wealth gotten is at the expense of someone else, therefore the rich deserve to be stripped off their wealth" is a tenet of socialism that has chained our wings. Instead, our aim should be "wealth creation." The Poor don't deserve to remain "poor" for such a long time. We should have taught ourselves how to fish, rather than take fish from one fishermen, cut them into pieces and redistribute it to others while taking a few pieces for doing the work of distribution. This leaves everybody but the distributer poorer.

When even the Communist party in china embraces free market and shuns socialist policies to achieve tremendous growth, it speaks of the rot that has set in that we regress time and again to our socialist policies, Unless, we see past the halo of our erstwhile leaders whose ideas have long past their shelf life(if they ever had one), we cannot identify this rot and will be incapable of eliminating it.

Here Atanu describes the tale of two countries, comparing U.S - Argentina at the start of last century to India-China in this century. Yet, the illuminated want us to believe that this is "really" a reform oriented government which was impeded only by the left with only a few sane voices questioning this hypothesis. Whatever growth we have achieved so far is despite the government, not because of it. The sooner we realize it, the better. After all, "Socialism is a luxury to the wealthy, but a suicidal creed to the poor"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Elections Postscript

Unexpected margin of victory for the incumbents and a slap in the face for the BJP. Firstly, congratulations to the UPA and its supporters but I won't count myself amongst them. As I mentioned earlier, it is reflective of the leadership vacuum at BJP's top rung that Congress was voted back to power after five years of sleep walking through the government and leading the country into a mire.
Although knowledgeable people all over the world are lauding the return to significance of nationalist parties and marginalisation of regional ones, I wouldn't hold out my breath for this trend(if it is one). The cumulative vote share of Congres, BJP and CPI(M) (which are the three parties to hold nationalist aspirations) has remained close to 48% where it was even in 2004. In addition, the vote share of Congress improved by 1.99% overall, which puts to rest the theories that voters voted enmasse for a "stable government at center".
During the elections, there was a chorus of opinion that this election was less a national election and more a cumulative of 543 mini elections. Although the results don't point to that, I still stand by that theory. On a cumulative note, Congress deserved to lose this election, but BJP deserved to lose it just as well. So, it came down to individual constituencies. A bunch of factors like Chiranjeevi's PRP cutting into 16% of vote share in A.P(which might have gone to TDP+ otherwise), Mulayam Singh's connection to Kalyan Singh in the U.P which led to shifting of anti-BJP vote to Congress, riots in Orissa and Varun Gandhi's mad ramblings leading to a (welcome) feedback agains the BJP, to mention nothing of the incoherence and infighting within the BJP ranks all led to a significant decrease in the voteshare of BJP to a tune of 4.5%.

All these are legitimate and welcome trends in exercise of franchise, yet one aspect still gets my goat. The crown prince who was derided until the results came out suddenly became a genius. "Success has many fathers, failure is an orphan." His pathetic stumbling at the press conference, failure in first attempts at diplomacy all lay forgotten and his "masterstroke" of going it alone in U.P is suddenly his ticket to the seat at the top. Here is a more complete dissection of the selective amnesia.

Unfortunately, I believe that this attitude of servitude and obsequious fawning in wait of a Hero to deliver us from the ills of the world is common to all around the world(Oba-mania anyone?). The trouble with Indians is the continued importance of familial ties and inheritance of profession (Engineer's son being anything other than engineer is a shame, similarly politician's son has to be a politician etc.)

Why were the exit polls off by such a big margin then? I would like to propose a new effect along the lines of "Bradley effect." In India, infatuation with the "first" family is a guilty pleasure. So, people won't admit that they are going to vote for the family, yet secretly do so. The sample space is extremely limited, but I believe that there IS a correlation. I will leave it to the interested or the jobless to prove or disprove this theory.

What lies ahead for the parties? As M.J.Akbar points out, "India is a secular country not because the Indian muslims(minorities) want it to be secular, but because the Indian Hindus want it to be secular" (italics mine.) BJP should realize this and give up on the fanatical elements amongst its ranks. They shouldn't be worried about losing the support of these factions as they can't vote for anyone else anyway. A cursory look at some of the rants by these factions is enough to put off many centrist votes which would've gone BJP's way had it tempered its voice.
And it IS important that BJP gets its message across effectively. Modi, Advani have been making the right sounds for ages, (one unbiased listen to any of their speeches or interviews ought to make this clear) but it is not emulated by the rest.
For the Congress: They must not count this as a verdict for populist measures and against reforms. Kamal Nath already is on record as having stated, "We've done enough reforms." If that doesn't send the alarm bells ringing to our media lapdogs, I wonder what will. If five years of soporific ramblings and somniatic perambulations are enough to win them 200 seats, they should see the potential in five years of good governance to win them 300.
For the CPI(M)/CPI: I'm glad that they've lost, but realistically, we are far from discarding their defeatist ideologies yet. In case we forget, it was Mamata Banerjee and her coterie who caused the eviction of Nano project from Bengal. The UDF in kerala isn't that different to the LDF in terms of policies. In other words, it was a replacement of like for like. I eagerly await the day when their ideas will be put to rest in the sewers where they belong, but it may be empty hope.

PS: I am still ambivalent about Congress/UPA. Yet, Chidambaram as the Home Minister, Pranab Da as the EA minister did a decent job and if the sycophants like Arjun Singh and Shivraj Patil and unscrupulous devils like A.Raja(Telecom ministry) are kept out, I think we have a decent chance at some redemption in the next five years.

Friday, May 01, 2009

MP v Party

In an ideal scenario, the contestants would all be decent chaps(or equally vile) with only differences being in ideologies. In that case, it is very easy to choose, vote for the party whose ideology you believe in (or atleast whose ideology you find less disagreeable). But, in a democracy such as ours, voting is a Morton's fork.

Things become clearer when you consider the 1985 Anti defection law.
One possible answer is the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. Popularly known as the Anti-Defection Law, the Tenth Schedule was written into the Constitution by the government of Rajiv Gandhi in 1985. The schedule mandates the disqualification from parliament of any member who votes against his party’s whip. Supported by many Indians, this law was originally conceived to control rampant defections by members of India’s parliament and state assemblies in order to save or bring down governments.
With the backbencher debate culture lacking, it doesn't matter whether your MP is the most honourable or has the best work ethic, that will only affect in limiting the corruption under his wing. Know that while it does come under their jurisdiction, MLAs and municipal councils are more directly responsible for the administrative state of affairs in each constituency. The role of the MP(as I see it) is more of a representative in making national policies and bargaining for a share of pie at the national table.

Therefore, I believe that one should vote for the party and not the MP. Ofcourse, there are exceptions. If you are given a choice between a criminal from a party whose ideology you believe in, but an honest politician from a party whose views you may not agree with, you should vote to punish the party that put up a criminal. This will ensure enough feedback to the system that criminals may not be fielded in the future. (Tytler is a case in point)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Vitcimisation of the aggressor

The recent case when an American student at TISS, Mumbai accused six others of sexual assault shows the shortcomings in our implementation of "rule of law" and in our failure to reform social norms. It only reinforces the belief that Police instead of acting as the watchdog to safeguard people from crimes, have been reduced to a bureaucratic, self-serving machinery that takes the path of least resistance out in most cases. It is ironic that in most cases, we feel safer approaching another citizen than approaching the police for help. We must reform our police force before we end up surrendering our liberties.

Our social norms however are a bigger threat. For a country that claims to stand for liberty, equality and fraternity, our norms are depressingly patriarchal. Nothing is as disturbing and disgusting as the claims that a victim has brought it upon herself the crime that was committed. The basic defence against accusations of sexual assault seems to be to cast aspersions on the character of the victim and then to conclude, "She brought it upon herself".

From Jessica Lal to Soumya Vishwanathan to this case, consensus seems to be to accept a moral judgement against the victims actions and then condemn the act. In this particular case, the accused has submitted a statement
"The act of the victim accompanying the accused persons who was lonely lady (sic) with six male persons in long midnight itself shows the nature of the victim and therefore, whatever would have happened might be due to willingness of the victim (sic)"
It is a shame that we even entertain a statement such as this. Whence the pink chaddi lobby? Or is it a cause just not glorious enough for the great liberal progressive thinkers? Moral righteousness has no place once a crime has been committed. Crime should be treated as a judicial issue free from any moral judgements.

To extrapolate, the same should be the case with any other crime and that includes terrorism. Conservatives argue for "no compromise" on terrorism, but don't hold the same position when it comes to crimes against individual liberty. Liberals wouldn't compromise on individual liberty and fight against moral judgments on crimes such as these, but don't apply the same logic to terrorism. Hypocrisy thy name!

UPDATE: Exactly the mentality I'm talking about . And they call it "an age-old debate" Beyond disgust.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Democratic Face-off

Will someone kindly tell these chaps that democracy includes "rule of law," but not thuggery by mobs?
Owaisi on Saturday alleged: "Mohanty has a perverted mind. He is trying to be brave in uniform. Let him shed his uniform, come in open and face us in a democratic manner."
And whatever does he mean by "face us in democratic manner"? This is really rich, coming from the same Owaisi who backed the physical attack on Naslima Tasreen by his MLAs.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On coalition governments

Mr.Venkatesan Vembu argues over at DNA that Shaky coalitions make for good economies:
For starters, it's no coincidence that the time-cycle of India's move into a higher orbit of economic growth matches pretty closely the period when coalition arrangements have come to occupy centre-stage at the Central level.

Virtually all the economic opening up and reform programs that enabled this speedier growth were carried out when motley, multi-party coalitions were in power: this is just as true of Congress-led arrangements as of those led by the BJP or the extremely nebulous and politically malleable "United Front".

But Mr.Vembu doesn't explore the reason behind this counterintuitive (seemingly) occurence.

Leglislatives tend to be mammoth inert beasts. So any "reform" is naturally difficult- be it positive or negative. The advantage with unstable coalitions is that, a single party may not have the power to inflict serious damage to the economy. In Henry David Thoreau's words, "No government is better than a bad government."

Compared to the motley crew assembled at the center in the last four parliaments, the INC led government of 91-96 had a fairly stable constitution. Although Dr.Manmohan Singh or Mr.P.V.Narsimha Rao may claim the credit for liberalisation and thereby kick starting the deteriorating economy, it is a fact that situation forced their hand. The governments following '96 didn't have to shift radically from the set precedent.

Unfortunately, of late the parties seem to have discovered a new formula. Where as at one time they might have tried to stop the attempts by the other parties to introduce legislation, now by scratching each others' backs they are able to side step competition and force through policies whose (harmful) effects leave no corner of the country untouched. Thankfully, their teamwork skills are just as deficient as their other skills.

Recent growth of regional parties is also a welcome step in the direction of decentralization of power. If the "national" parties had empowered the individual by having in place a system of consistent feedback with a strong ground level cadre, they might not have suffered this fate.

In this context, I find our Prime minister's laments like "independents are spoilers" and "Regional parties are like tax barriers" laughable. Sir, they are not tax barriers or spoilers but competing suppliers and you just fear competition like any other supplier because it will benefit the consumer at your cost. By saying that, you are either being dishonest or have a suspect understanding of very basic economics.

It remains to be seen if we can grow in spite of the erroneous policies and a fractured polity incorporated into our state or if circumstances force our hand once again in the future.

PS: The arguments were made for organised dilution of power through the organisational hierarchy ultimately translating into empowerment of the individual. This is not the same as dilution of power by setting up an extra-constitutional towers of power.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Right wing politics in India

I'd cited Pratap Bhanu Mehta's previous post in his column most approvingly earlier. But In the next instalment, in spite of making some very important points, I find it hard to agree to his critique in its entirety. The points about BJP playing up the victimhood and Advani's remarks on being "hurt" are spot on.
Advani unconsciously revealed more about himself and his party: both thrive on a constant play on the theme of victimhood. The minute the Congress ratcheted up the heat on Advani’s record, he retreated into playing victim. Try as much as it can, the BJP struggles to rise above a discourse of victimhood, one that has increasingly less resonance.....

....Electoral fortunes depend on a lot of things. But the very longevity of the Congress is a sign that there is something about it that is worth salvaging. But all that remains of the BJP is a long sulk, one that will haunt it even when it is in power. A party whose leader is so quickly “hurt” is a party with no foundations.
But, as he mentioned in his previous post, secularism has taken on quite an insidious meaning. To backtrack on this, and say that "Pseudo-secularism" is irrelevant is hypocritical. To dismiss the "Gujarat" model of development without explanation also reeks of dishonesty. The development seen in Gujarat is just a result of empowerment of the individual and accountability, therefore it is as much a novel model as are freedom and democracy. We classical liberals believe that it is replicable, not just in a country, but in the entire world.

It is a sad reflection on the leadership vacuum, that BJP had to recall Advani( who admitted to thoughts of quitting active politics after the Jinnah incident). But, the same holds for INC which fields as its Prime Ministerial candidate, Dr.Manmohan Singh who is leader enough to sit in the chair, but not a leader enough to contest an election or even lead a campaign.

Infact, it is an apt commentary on the absence of first-tier national leaders that even after five years of such gross misgovernance and incompetence, the opposition finds it so hard to dislodge the incumbent party from power. He mentions Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Narendra modi as the only visible second tier leaders from BJP, but apart from Sheila Dixit(who incidentally doesn't belong to the 30s-40s group he talks about), I don't see any second tier leaders who can grow into their own in INC either. Unless he wants to believe self-endorsed "leaders" like Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, and Jyotiraditya Scinida are the gen-next, it is like watching a game between two minnows. Also, longevity has nothing to do with desirability.

And a final remark regarding the difference in kind of criticism INC and BJP receives. Just as the columnist sees INC as his ideological representative and criticises it for deviating from its ideal, there are a few who hope BJP evolves into a Right-of-center party in economic terms so that a parity is restored to political and economic discourse at national level. A disenchantment with RSS, growing distance between RSS and BJP and slow-down in recruitment of RSS ranks is a welcome development. At the same time response to initiatives like Friends of BJP both from the people and the party suggests to me that there is hope that BJP may one day outgrow the religious roots and into a right of center party acceptable to a majority.

PS: Why do the intellectuals who never fail to remind us that even the extremists like Taliban, Hamas etc have good and bad factions, find it convenient to club all right wing activism and attribute it to RSS and by extension to BJP?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday Levity

SP wants to ban computers and English - the two factors that led our growth post '99. Of course, it backtracks spectacularly calling for "protection" of jobs against computers. Irony(and Tragedy) is that few people see the similarity between SP's ridiculous posturing, and an equally paleolithic "Protection of small-traders" by banning entry of FDI into retail business, supported by all political parties.

Advani walks out (or should I say runs away) from the Devil's advocate. Is it the same man Thapar praised as being one of the most difficult people to interview? Well, atleast Neera Yadav was denied the ticket, close on the heels of Tytler and Sajjan.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Arun Jaitley v Kapil Sibal

At last a debate. Arun Jaitley for BJP taking on Kapil Sibal from Congress. Four major issues debated were Governance, Stability, Security and Economy. Hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai of the CNN-IBN, it was mostly a fair debate.
This is how I saw the debate go, followed by my comments on the substance of the debate:

1) Governance : Sibal 1-0 Jaitley:
2) Security : Sibal 0-1 Jaitley
3) Stability : Sibal 0-1 Jaitley
4) Economy: Sibal 0-1 Jaitley

Sibal scores on the Governance front with the record of 8.5% growth rate supporting his claims. Unfortunately, I would disagree with any government that claims to be responsible for economic growth. Government will only hinder growth by placing artificial barriers like Trade duties, Taxes etc. When they do cut the taxes, they aren't making a "great economic decision" per se, but handing people back what was rightfully theirs. Just as the NDA was taking undue credit for the growth in economy in 2004, UPA is now taking undue credit for the economic growth in '04-'08. The best a government can do (especially in a poor country like ours) is to get out of the way and empower the poor. The poor don't need dole-outs as much as opportunities.

I do applaud the UPA for passing the RTI act, but the rest of claims made on governance are good old fashioned bull. Regarding the infrastructure etc, Sibal may claim that they have begun a plethora of programs, but most of these programs have been allocated funds but grossly abused and mismanaged the typical malaise of a corrupt bureacratic machinery backed by an immoral power structure.

On the issue of security, Sibal might as well have given up the round even before it began: The pathetic and unprecedented record on terror - not only of the Pakistani/Bangladeshi origin, but also of the Maoist origins, speaks for itself. Yet, he did put up a good fight bringing up the issue of Parliament attacks ( a miserable intelligence failure doubtless - But when our RAW cannot tail a civil journalist without being captured, it is a tall order expecting it to gather any substantial information). The counter by Jaitley about the response is well taken. Police reforms are long overdue yet none of the parties have mentioned anything concrete and our response after Mumbai attacks goes to show how badly equipped our police forces really are to handle security threats. Although audience was responsive to Sibal's statements like "We donot send out invitations to terrorists", I wasn't impressed. They were just straw men raised to skirt the issue.

On Economy, a thumbs up to Jaitley on two counts : BJP's positioning itself as a right of center party with greater emphasis on empowerment of people is the right way forward, Hence Tax and interest rate cuts. And secondly, because Sibal's statistics were pulled out of the air. As a commentator put it - "WTF? Is Kapil Sibal crazy? 50% retrenchment means 70 million lost jobs--considering size of American workforce. The actual unemployment rate is close to 8%."
Sibal may tout NREGA as UPA's poster boy, but NREGA was derided and strongly criticised by many organisations including the IMF. Throw in the Rs.60,000 crore loan waiver, and you have a perfect recipe of injecting paper money without any increase in production - in other words inflation.
The danger of running a fiscal deficit of over 10% seems to be lost on Sibal and INC/UPA.

I disagree with both Jaitley and Sibbal on the role of Government in an economy, but that is only to be expected from a country where the constitution requires all parties to pray at the altar of socialism. Sibal also seems to be unaware of the Laffer curve effect, which tends to make up for the loss in tax revenue due to tax cuts by increased economic activity.

Stability would have been a tie(with both UPA and NDA losing allies), but for the recent RJD/SP split from UPA which presented Jaitley with a lot of ammunition. Sibal couldn't counter the arguments of the fighting between the Congress and its allies - NCP, RJD, SP being the primary culprits.

On the issue of Leadership, I have to reluctantly agree with BJP's anointing of Dr.Manmohan Singh as the weakest Prime Minister. I might have retained a neutral view in the elections if Pranab Mukherjee was the Prime Ministerial candidate. However, it is obvious to one and all that Sonia Gandhi pulled the strings from Janpath 10, against Pranab Mukherjee so that the PMO is not occupied by a strong leader who might jeopardise the chances of Rahul Gandhi leading the charge next time around. Although the argument that "educated men are needed" is often made, the education counts for nothing if this education doesn't make a contribution towards shaping the policy. Here Arun Shourie talks about incidents with Dr.Manmohan Singh in foreign policy. (Please watch the video, confirm the claims made and then make a judgment on his competence)

PS: Overall a nice debate and although my deep mistrust towards all politicians and Governments continues, I'd much rather not see the same bunch of thugs occupying power for consecutive terms - instincts of damage control.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Secular and Communal

Rarely do I agree with an entire post/article these days without significant points of disagreement. But I couldn't find anything to disagree with in this article:
Secularism, like communalism, is no longer a first principles debate; it is a pretext for forcing issues where none exist. The only two interpretations of secularism that are current in India are deeply warped: secularism as erasure of identity, or secularism as communal parity. Neither interpretation has room for the core meaning: secularism is about the freedom of individuals to make of themselves what they will; it is about making “identity” irrelevant to politics, not about its enforced erasure...

Real secularism is about giving citizens the freedom to escape being tagged, whether by caste or religion. The Congress politics now has limited appeal, even for the minorities it courts, because it is still caught in the politics of tagging. The BJP tags to target, Congress tags to provide noblesse oblige. But it is the tagging that’s insidious.
It is for this reason that I support a uniform civil code. By definition, in a public sphere of life, there shouldn't be discrimination based on any parts of one's identity.

As I come to understand from the roots of the word, communalism means to discriminate people based on one's community. I wonder then about the honesty in calling religion based politics communal, but not the caste based. After all a caste is a smaller community, isn't it ?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hate-Speech and Electioneering

It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

I had earlier called for the ousting of Varun Gandhi from the BJP candidates list. This despite there being no clear verdict one way or another.(Remember that in judicial issues, accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.) I maintain that NSA and subsequent choking of his freedom to speech was ridiculous. Where are the advocates of free speech today ? The answer to issues of free speech is more free speech, not less. I don't believe in the concepts of offensive or Hate speech, speech should only be free.

Let me add, however, that it is not just Varun Gandhi, A whole bunch of others including Kagodu Thimmappa, Lalu prasad Yadav, D.Srinivas must be removed. But that still doesn't justify shutting them up. If anything, we want the idiots to speak up so that we know who is the idiot and who isn't one. The performance of our media in the backdrop of this issue however, has convinced me of the very heavy left-liberal bias in our media. All our "leaders" should be held to the same standards whether they be from the "communal" or the "secular" front.

At the same time, I feel perplexed at Ms.Sagarika Ghosh's rants over at CNN-IBN. She laments the fact that EC has slapped notices on Politicians who were seen distributing cash for votes. Coming from a network that covered up the biggest "Cash for votes" scam in our citadel of democracy - it is not a big surprise.

Mr.Sardesai's defense at that time, " we have chosen not to telecast the story yet because we did not feel that the story was complete," rings as hollow as does Ms.Ghosh's whines about the loss of a tradition.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Open-mindedness and Prejudice

A brilliant video on the concept of "Open-mindedness"

Most of the anecdotal evidence ought to be rejected right away. It is subjective in nature, and any subjective experience depends on the individual(who's experiencing it) to explain it.Therefore, its acceptance is contingent on the reliability of the individual as a witness. Unfortunately, due to the malleability of our memory, whenever there is a vested interest, as is the case with an individual using the experience to justify his beliefs, these "facts" are not reliable.

At the same time, I find it amusing when people accuse others of a "prejudice" without knowing what it means. There are a few unpleasant truths that can be uncovered in every society after a thorough examination. It might be politically incorrect to say so, but actually saying it doesn't imply prejudice. I am particularly agitated by the media in "free-world" adopting self-censoring measures just to be "Politically correct."

Being free from prejudice doesn't mean you have to bury your heads in the sand and reject all evidence so that you don't come to a conclusion one way or another. If facts corroborate an argument one way or another, following through to the proper conclusion is the intellectually honest thing to do. After all, based on our studies linking smoking to lung cancer, we do conclude that smoking is injurious to health, instead of accusing the scientists of prejudice against smoking, don't we?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Discussion, Debate and Democracy

Debate, dialogue and democracy are considered cornerstones to establish people's will. Why then is the Congress candidate for Prime Minister's post shirking away from all three - He has refused to debate Advani, refused to take part in the Lok Sabha elections, and time and again refuses to address the public directly.

Mrs.Sonia Gandhi may well be within her rights to voice her opinion that "Disrespect of PM is disrespect of the nation", but let me correct her mistaken notion. It is not disrespect of the nation to criticise the person holding the post, it is a disrespect to the nation indeed when respect is not accorded to the post of Prime Minister. By his non-participation in debate, dialogue and democracy - Dr.Manmohan Singh and Congress have done precisely that.

Mr.Rajiv Dogra writes in The Pioneer:
Among the many splendours of his public discourse, Mr Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian shines through. The image that it evokes is not that of a quarrelsome Indian, but of an enquiring, engaging and a questioning people. Mr Sen maintains that democracy flourishes amid a tradition of dispute, discussion and debate. And to cap his argument he quotes Ram Mohan Roy: “Just consider how terrible the day of your death will be, others will go on speaking, and you will not be able to argue back.” .... Mr Singh can still engage in debate with Mr LK Advani. People will then have the satisfaction of having judged them both, before casting their votes.
I agree wholeheartedly and find it amusing the same media which went into orgasmic frenzy over Mr.Modi's withdrawal from Devil's advocate is now refusing to press for a debate of the Prime Ministerial candidates. Just the TRPs such an event would generate should be enough to send all channels scurrying, unless there is a greater agenda.

While at the issue of criticism of Congress, let me add another point - Repeated reference to the shameful capitulation of Indian Government in the 1999 Kandahar hijack case. Is the media that amnesiac or simply devious? Even as a 14 year old, I remember following with distinct sense of unease, the public outrage orchestrated by the media in trying to get the Government to release the terrorists. Here's Kanchan Gupta on the crisis and its resolution:
“We want our relatives back. What difference does it make to us what you have to give the hijackers?” a man shouted. “We don’t care if you have to give away Kashmir,” a woman screamed and others took up the refrain, chanting: “Kashmir de do, kuchh bhi de do, hamare logon ko ghar wapas lao.” Another woman sobbed, “Mera beta… hai mera beta…” and made a great show of fainting of grief.
To his credit, Mr Jaswant Singh made bold to suggest that the Government had to keep the nation’s interest in mind, that we could not be seen to be giving in to the hijackers, or words to that effect, in chaste Hindi. That fetched him abuse and rebuke. “Bhaand me jaaye desh aur bhaand me jaaye desh ka hit. (To hell with the country and national interest),” many in the crowd shouted back. Stumped by the response, Mr Jaswant Singh could merely promise that the Government would do everything possible
(Read the entire article.)The only ones afraid to discuss an issue are the ones afraid of truth emerging from it. By skirting the issue and not engaging in direct debate, Congress is playing a dangerous game at undermining democracy and I believe it must pay the price.

PS: I hope this will be the only post taking up such a strong position against one particular party regarding the elections.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


A wise man foretells:
Therefore, more and more Hindus are concluding that we too should acquire the same reputation, we too should acquire the same capacity. In a word, three things are teaching the Hindus to become Islamic: the double-standards of the secularists and the State, the demonstrated success of the Muslims in bending both the State and the secularists by intimidation, and the fact that both the State and the secularists pay attention to the sentiments of Hindus only when the Hindus become a little Islamic.....Finally, a forecast : the more the secularists insist on double-standards, the more Islamic will the Hindus become
An observer comments:
Militant Hindutva is on the same monotheistic power trip. It is seeking to replace pluralist Hinduism with something that is more useful to attain power. If enough Hindus feel threatened by the power of rival monotheisms, Hindutva will take us in that direction. We may even end up replacing the narrow intolerance of caste with a broader intolerance of monotheism.
Although I agree with the broader direction of his thesis that Hindutva practised by RSS/VHP is growing monotheistic and intolerant, to club Swami Vivekananda and the entire monotheistic school of thought in Hinduism to the same branch is preposterous and ignorant to the core. One need not look any further than the Vedānta tradition of the yore to know the seeds of this particular school of thought were sown long ago. However, It didn't matter if there were monotheistic schools of thought in traditional Hinduism, because by definition, Hinduism was pluralist, "Ekam Sat bahuda viprah vadanti" . It is unfortunate that he looks at the monotheistic strains only through the prism of Abrahamic religions(Judaism, Christianity, Islam) which are by definition exclusive.

When it comes to god and worship, one religion isn't that better than the other as they are mostly related to a supernatural being and relegated to one's private space. The only contributions worth studying are those in the field of philosophy. Religion tried to answer the philosophical questions like "What is life?" "How does one go about living his life?" etc, and unfortunately the answers to these questions affect not just the individual practising the religion, but the entire society.

Monday, April 06, 2009


From clockwork orange:
Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
The insincerity in this girl's testimony is also quite clear. I wonder how long denial can overrule reason and evidence.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Locus of Control

According to Locus of control theories in psychology:
Perceived control is defined as a generalised expectancy for internal as opposed to external control of reinforcements." For every individual it spans between the extremes of "External"(where one believes everything is caused and influenced by external factors) and "Internal"(where one believes that everything is directly determined by one's own actions irrespective of the external factors)...
... A strong internal locus of control has been shown to have high correlation with a high 'need for achievement' and therefore greater motivation.
The "Left-Liberal" bias of a majority of "intellectuals"(connected to socio-economic studies or otherwise) may perhaps be explained thus: Most of the intellectuals(especially the ones at the top) are loathe to admit that any situation is beyond their sphere of control. They try hard to internalise the locus of control and believe that they can "do something" to "fix the system."

Resignation to external factors requires considerable amount of "swallowing one's pride" and it is not that easy for the high-fliers. It would seem arrogant coming even as it does, from the most powerful person on earth to say "We know what is wrong and we're going to fix it." Sadly, we don't know (yet) how to "fix it".

Therefore, how much ever the enlightened ones may insist that these ideas are dead, a few of us hold on to the ideas of libertarianism and capitalism not because it is bereft of ills, but because we believe that in trying to fix these ills without understanding the systems, we give birth to greater evils.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Democracy is passé

Just as any other idea is, when it needs the conservatives to prop it up. We're not just talking about India and other fledgling democratic countries, but of the supposed torchbearers of modern democratic movements.

Also see some rather brilliant exhibits here, here and here (The last one in particular is going viral these days - We can replace Brown and UK with Manmohan singh and India and the indictment is still valid.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of our fourth estate when comic strips and comedy-show hosts have had to take up the cudgel for accountability from the "serious" folks. If one still has doubts about the importance of units and the context, Here's exhibit 2:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Intentions and interpretations

We have had apologists for all kinds of social evils in over the ages: People claiming how the intentions of caste system were purely professional classification; Claims that dowry was a system of maintenance; Claims that the church was usurping power merely to protect the society from destruction and dare I say, how Burqa is actually a symbol for women empowerment and how the Islamic militants today misinterpret and misuse the sacrosanct sayings of the Prophet.

It is high time these apologists (supposed progressives and liberals form the majority amongst them) woke up to the reality. To be a true progressive means to critically analyze and evaluate each and every act committed and purge (or atleast attempt to) the society of these evils. The caste system was vilified regardless of its intentions and rightly so! Over the centuries, it stood as a symbol for oppression by the elites in the society regardless of what its intentions were. Similarly dowry is rightfully criticized by one and all.

Why then, are we hung up on these interpretations of The Qu'ran? After all, it is not us, but the perpetrators of violence who interpret The holy book in ways that suit their agenda. It is moot to discuss whether the interpretation they use is right or wrong.The road to hell is paved with good intentions it is said. Ultimately the intentions don't matter half as much as the outcomes.

If any, it becomes imperative for the other schools of thought who oppose these interpretations to drown out these voices, cry for reform and enlighten the rest of the world. Until then, I believe it is a cardinal sin to ask(and to do) the rest of us ignoramuses to stop listening to our enemies, because "they don't represent the truth." A territorial conflict may be resolved by over powering the opponent, but a war of ideas and ideologies can't and won't be won in ignorance.
"Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy, but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril."
---Sun Tzu, "The Art of War"

Sunday, March 22, 2009

of Civilization and violence

It is perhaps a romantic notion and very fashionable for the "psuedo-libertarian" group to diss the institution of police and state. But, as Dr.Pinker demonstrates in this talk, contrary to popular idea, we are living in the most peaceful of times.

That means that we are doing "something" right. It is important that we discuss the ills of our society as it exists today and strive to improve. However, that is not the same as the thoughtless nihilism being exhibited by some in the name of "libertarianism"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why should we vote?

The middle class in India seems to take great pride in not participating in the elections each year, claiming shelter under the "Cynicism" flagship. However hard they try to hide beneath this veneer, it is not cynicism but sheer laziness that drives them. Take for instance the beloved arm-chair libertarian about whom I had written earlier here:
.....So we must choose: It is either “democracy” or The Rule of Law. We cannot have both......

However, the sad story is that not one of our political parties is talking this language. Whether Tweedledum wins, or Tweedledee, or Tweedledumber, central spending policies are going to be the same
These are the same people that laugh at socialists who ask, "But if no one decides the policies, how will the society function?" That is the irony and tragedy of our times.

To commit the fallacy of "Argumentum ad hominem" against such people is very easy. Let me instead explain the reason why we should vote in a language that most would have no trouble understanding, that of money:

Votes are our currency, political parties are selling themselves and their policies. The sellers' products will reflect the demand from buyers, in other words: Why will I include features you want in a product when you aren't going to enter the market to buy an item, either from me or from my competitor? Am I not better off including features that my customers want?

Not participating in this market and then accusing the sellers of not providing you the products is quite disingenuous. For people who want to take it a step further: Once you start using your currency, sellers will automatically pop up with products that you want to buy. Isn't that the core of libertarian and capitalist market theories?

Here's an excerpt from a recent economics paper : "Polluting polls: When citizens should not vote"
"Irresponsible individual voters ought to abstain rather than vote badly. This thesis may seem anti-democratic. Yet it is really a claim about voter responsibility and how voters can fail to meet this responsibility. On my view, voters are not obligated to vote, but if they do vote, they owe it to others and themselves to be adequately rational, unbiased, just, and informed about their political beliefs...... We are not obligated to drive, but if we do drive, we ought to be responsible drivers. The same goes for voting."
And as a lot of votes are being sold for money, it becomes all the more important for those who believe that they are rational and informed to go out there and vote.

I do support the "None of the above" Vote, because that will at least send a signal to the politicians that you are not apathetic, but merely dissatisfied. In its absence however, apathy and dissatisfaction are indistinguishable and your voice won't be heard.

If these reasons weren't good enough, there is one last reason that trumps all: To deny the goons a chance of rigging your vote.

Varun Gandhi must go

Again this provides a golden opportunity to the BJP to put to rest accusations regarding its communal agenda. Whatever the RSS or the BJP may claim, such inciting speech is not welcome and he should be punished for that at the very least by edging him out of the elections.
But, we all know that it wont happen. And here's why:

(1) Gandhi is a powerful family name to have and the BJP think it is a great fortune to have one of them (and so young at that) fighting on their side at a time when Rahul is supposedly taking the youth by storm.(Youth voting as the young is a phenomenon I just cannot get my head around but that is a different issue altogether).

(2)There are sympathisers to what Varun Gandhi voiced amongst the BJP cadre.

(3) Some of them might even view the opinions aired as being merely "reactionary" i.e even the most incendiary of statements began with a "if a Muslim attacks .."

(4) The Double standards - Ram Vilas Paswan used none less than an "Osama bin laden" look-alike in 2005 elections. and of course the worst of them all

(5) We don't punish openly communal messages like these and some of our intellectuals like Shabana Azmi even ratify them to a certain extent by statements like:
Yes, except you know when people say that this is for Muslim votes, I do not see any problem with that. If there is a constituency that is voting for you, then hopefully, you will pay attention to that constituency. There is nothing wrong with that.That’s what you are supposed to do. You see, if you have voted me into power, then it is my business to protect your rights. What’s wrong with that?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

These idiots!

Some people have way too much time on their hands. Of all the things to be "offended by", statue of Charlie chaplin near a temple !
I have held the UPA bunch of communal goons in great contempt for the past few years because of the way they've gone about dividing the society for minority vote politics. I admire some of the NDA leaders for having an intellectual capacity and a backbone to stand up for their ideas like Mr.Arun Shourie, Mr. Jaswant Singh, even L.K.Advani.
But these idiots lower down have gone about the past few years thoroughly dismantling any and every opportunity handed to them on a plate by the UPA. It is sad to see that the leaders don't condemn these ideas either.
Some BJP leader said in this context:
The local head of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist and India’s main opposition party, said there was no place for Chaplin in the region. “If the locals are against such a statue, I am also against it,” he told The Times of India. “Why should one bother so much about Charlie Chaplin, who was not even an Indian?”
That explains the motivations. It doesn't matter whether it is right or wrong, politicians formulate policies that get them votes. Similar is the tale of N.Chandrababu Naidu and TDP in Andhra Pradesh. He was a pioneer in bringing about reforms and cutting down on the bureaucracy etc. But he was voted out in 2004 and he is now driven into an unholy alliance with the very parties that he had made thoroughly insignificant - the CPI, CPI(M).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Media and Us

One of my most consistent complaints has been against the double standards in the media. Of course, they are not the perpetrators, merely abettors in the cause that is - the rape of our society. But, why am I more concerned about the media than about our politicians?

The answer lies in (1) accountability and (2) impact.

We are the consumers who pay for the very existence of the media that has been conspiring to such an extent in trying to dupe us. Take a look at this clip

My aim in trying to point out inconsistencies in media reporting are similar in nature. The only way to avoid serfdom is for us to demand quality from our fourth estate and watch out for our own selves. It is also not without reason to assume that they go a long way in shaping the public opinion as has been repeatedly seen by the propagandas in totalitarian regimes.

Mind you, I'm not asking for absolute neutrality and bias free reporting- That would be idealistic and impractical. I'm merely asking for a representation of the entire spectrum of voices so that with forces pulling in all directions, the extremists' and fundamentalists' plans are dampened down and the system may settle in an equilibrium with the domination of moderate voices.

PS: Ruminations brought about by the recent happenings on this episode of daily show.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Governments around the world are just a huge waste of time and resources primarily trying to create more work to justify their existence (or atleast justify their huge budgets).
The latest offering comes from the Government of Scotland - a Sin tax on chocolate:

A controversial call for a tax on chocolate to curb obesity was narrowly rejected by doctors today.Lanarkshire GP David Walker led calls for an increase in chocolate prices as a way of tackling weight-related conditions like diabetes.

But delegates at a British Medical Association (BMA) conference in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire, today voted down the plan. The motion was lost by two votes, the BMA said.
I hate it when government tries to poke its nose into places where it doesn't belong. Whether I starve or stuff myself should be my choice and not that of a hundred other people who have nothing to do with my life! Of course, the extra money generated by such a tax would only serve in the government having to find more reasons for its existence and a vicious cycle of interference and "Big brother" hood.


The essay "Keep your identity small" by Paul Graham makes many poignant points.
I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan............

.........The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it's right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible......

......A scientist isn't committed to believing in natural selection in the same way a bibilical literalist is committed to rejecting it. All he's committed to is following the evidence wherever it leads.
I do agree that the identity can cause a partisan bias. Therefore, the foremost trait to infuse your identity with, would be a strong streak of self-awareness and self-criticism. This will automatically lead to pruning of the useless edges that start taking roots in one's identity from time to time. I also like the way he proposes this theory but claims no authority over its veracity.

His other essays are also enjoyable and thought-provoking and my first contact with his writing came through the essay: "Lies we tell our kids".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Objectivity of truth

Orwell writes in the Tribune on Feb 4, 1944 in his column "As I please":

...Up to a fairly recent date, the major events recorded in the history books probably happened. It is probably true that the battle of Hastings was fought in 1066, that Columbus discovered America, that Henry VIII had six wives, and so on. A certain degree of truthfulness was possible so long as it was admitted that a fact may be true even if you don't like it. Even as late as the last war it was possible for the Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance, to compile its articles on the various campaigns partly from German sources. Some of the facts — the casualty figures, for instance — were regarded as neutral and in substance accepted by everybody. No such thing would be possible now. A Nazi and a non-Nazi version of the present war would have no resemblance to one another, and which of them finally gets into the history books will be decided not by evidential methods but on the battlefield.....
My admiration knows no bounds when it comes to Orwell's insights. Take the recent Israel-Palestine conflict which has produced gems like Pallywood or the "Al-Dura murder":

Or our very own "Godhra riots", one version of truth is vastly different from another. Orwell says later in the same essay:
The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.
A totalitarian regime doing this is not surprising, but a whole bunch of cronies running the media, doctoring the truth to protect their life-long investments into a hollow ideology is catastrophic.

"We are not the sole owners, but custodians of the liberties we enjoy today . We have inherited these liberties which were won by bitter struggles of our predecessors and it is our duty to safeguard them for our successors."[1]

For the past few years(decades?) we have grown complacent and turned into that fat behemoth that is crushed under its own weight. It is high time we cast away our apathy and learn to shoulder our responsibilities.

[1] I cannot recollect who said this

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Take a look at the interview. By her own admission, Mrs. Shabana Azmi had a very secular upbringing and she was only questioned about her "Muslim origins" after the Mumbai riots.("It is only when they were affected that they woke up" ) She claims that this led to her "digging in her heels". Let us turn that around for a moment. Let us discount the earlier part of her statement which provides a rationale for the discrimination she had to face(not judging the validity of it), Isn't it entirely plausible that most of the "Right-wing" activism taking place these days maybe a reaction to the way anything and everything to do with "the majority's way of life" is vilified as regressive and pre-historic?

Here is Mr.Arun Shourie writing in "Strong to the weak, weak to the strong"

Many Hindus also notice the other thing -- the one I mentioned as the reason as against the rationalization for no artist ever being galvanized by the creative urge when it comes to painting the features of the Prophet. They notice that the artists do not do so, not because these masters cannot do so, nor because their muse never goads them in this direction, but because they know that, were they to do so, they would be set upon. And that the State -- which is weak, and which also has internalized the same double-standards to rationalize its weakness -- will not come to their rescue. Therefore, more and more Hindus are concluding that we too should acquire the same reputation, we too should acquire the same capacity. In a word, three things are teaching the Hindus to become Islamic: the double-standards of the secularists and the State, the demonstrated success of the Muslims in bending both the State and the secularists by intimidation, and the fact that both the State and the secularists pay attention to the sentiments of Hindus only when the Hindus become a little Islamic.....
Finally, a forecast : the more the secularists insist on double-standards, the more Islamic will the Hindus become.
I wonder if people like Mrs.Azmi have ever heard of "Cognitive dissonance"
It is alright for the youth to take on a radical ideology because they were boxed into that corner by discrimination, but it is not right for the majority to associate that ideology has anything to do with the actions of these youth. In other words, "victimisation of the aggressor."
Correlation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively to 'look over there' (xkcd). Perhaps it is important to take a look at why there is such a high correlation between certain ideologies and acts.

Monday, March 09, 2009


and incentives for terrorist activities (in Kashmir):

I cannot decide whether I should laugh or cry:

"किसी के साथ मानवी चेहरॆ से पॆश आना अपने देश का नागरीक है और इस्के साथ हम आशा करते है की हमारे देश मै शांति स्थापित होगी "

"To deal humanely with anyone is our culture, and we hope that this step will lead to greater peace in our country" Indeed!
(Please note this was around sometime late January, 2008 when the great goat Mr.Shivaraj Patil was still our home minister) Link from here

Sunday, March 08, 2009


I cringe each time I hear sentences like "She was like 'I didn't do it' " or " We were like enjoying ourselves". I understand language is more about being able to understand the other and not about a set of rigid rules to be followed, but Why, oh why? Why can't people learn to simply drop the word altogether. The sentences are perfectly fine without "like".

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Whatever may be the shortcomings of India as a democracy, there have always been a few saving graces. The Office of the President as we all know was sullied long ago, first in 1975 and then in 2007. However, one office remained above this menial bickering. As kids, we learnt from daily cartoons about the mythical powers of the Election Commission using which T.N.Seshan, put political parties in their place. Alas that time is no more.

Know our next Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. Navin Chawla, better:

At the time of the Emergency of 1975-77, Navin Chawla was private secretary to the lieutenant governor of Delhi Kishan Chand (who later committed suicide unable to bear the 'humiliation' following the adverse finding about him in the Shah Commission's report). According to Justice Shah, Chawla, along with his cohorts in the police at the time, 'exercised enormous powers during the emergency because they had easy access to the then prime minister's house. Their approach to the problems of the period relating to the citizens was authoritarian and callous. They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of the citizens, and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others. In their relish for power, they completely subverted the normal channels of command and administrative procedures.'
Declared by the same commission's findings to be “unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others”, Ladies and gentlemen! join me in giving a warm welcome to our next Chief Election Commissioner.

Friday, February 27, 2009


There are four ways in which you can spend money. You can spend your own money on yourself. When you do that, why then you really watch out what you’re doing, and you try to get the most for your money. Then you can spend your own money on somebody else. For example, I buy a birthday present for someone. Well, then I’m not so careful about the content of the present, but I’m very careful about the cost. Then, I can spend somebody else’s money on myself. And if I spend somebody else’s money on myself, then I’m sure going to have a good lunch!Finally, I can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else. And if I spend somebody else’s money on somebody else, I’m not concerned about how much it is, and I’m not concerned about what I get. And that’s government. And that’s close to 40% of our national income.

While Friedman may have been generous to suggest that government spends somebody's money on someone else, in Indian context I'd be happy if the government spends money for somebody else instead of on itself. I'm no economist, but a fiscal deficit amounts to borrowing money for current spending. In this light, the projected deficits of 12.3% GDP in the US and as much as 10% of GDP in India make for a very sorry reading. And the claim of 5.3% growth rate seems highly inflated as it is primarily driven by 17% growth in ‘community, social and personal services': in other words government sops ahead of the parliamentary elections.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Words and Meanings

Taken from Orwell's Politics and English language :
" The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. "
In combination with Goodwin's law - we have a "perfect recipe for nauseous cliches" from the media. Anything opposed to the "liberal" interpretation is labeled "fascist" and the actors are Nazi-incarnates.
Of course, GenX cannot fathom the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis (in no small part thanks to our education), so the next best crutch to hang on to is Taliban. So, we have our Hon'ble minister for women's welfare Renuka Chowdhary beating on about "Talibanisation of India" on the Mangalore attack(at the same time mum on the acid throwing incident.)

Reminds me of:
Nothing less is expected from a professional politician, but the media has been the worst offender. Just because the goons involved in Mangalore incident were organized thugs with manifestos which could be used to corner all right-wingers, it made into the front pages. The more dangerous attacks like the ones here 1, 2, (not just in terms of intrusion into society but also due to the apathy on display from the bystanders) are relegated to back pages if not completely ignored. One may shrug away this unscrupulous behaviour from the media giants as profit driven, but the buck doesn't stop there.

As much as we may like to deny it, media goes a long way in shaping the public perceptions. It is important to call its bluff whenever it peddles propaganda or half-truths as news. Exhibits 1, 2, 3, 4 among many many others.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Freedom of speech

"Take away all my freedoms, but the freedom of speech so that I can win them back"
Watch the video, "Ezra Levant" a conservative on The Micheal coren show. The interview is about "Free speech" and well worth your time, but this particular segment is relevant to what's happening across the world right now.

It is ironic that the conservatives are fighting for free speech whereas the "liberals" are bedfellows with those who want to regulate "offensive speech".

Something in our very own backyard to match it. Here's the background : the UN(or rather its oil-peddling puppeteers) introduced a legislation banning the defamation of "religion". Johann Hari had published an essay criticizing this erosion of free speech in "The Independent" which was reprinted in "The Statesman".
The UN’s Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he seeks out and condemns “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who tried to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.
Of course, we get the entire media crowing over how the freedom of an artist is being compromised when there is outrage over paintings of naked Hindu goddesses, but we don't get quite the same squeaks from our esteemed media when their fellow editor gets arrested for hurting the religious feelings. The editors had to bend over backwards and beg to be released from prison(and they have my sympathies here).

I am heartened to see that at least the author could afford to stand by his views.
What should an honest defender of free speech say in this position? Every word I wrote was true. I believe the right to openly discuss religion, and follow the facts wherever they lead us, is one of the most precious on earth – especially in a democracy of a billion people riven with streaks of fanaticism from a minority of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. So I cannot and will not apologize..... Nothing worth saying is inoffensive to everyone....

They are people like Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the young Afghan journalism student who was sentenced to death for downloading a report on women's rights. They are people like the staff of Zanan, one of Iran's leading reform-minded women's magazines, who have been told they will be jailed if they carry on publishing. They are people like the 27-year old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman who has been seized, jailed and tortured in Egypt for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah law.

It would be a betrayal of them – and the tens of thousands of journalists like them – to apologize for what I wrote. Yes, if we speak out now, there will be turbulence and threats, and some people may get hurt. But if we fall silent – if we leave the basic human values of free speech, feminism and gay rights undefended in the face of violent religious mobs – then many, many more people will be hurt in the long term. Today, we have to use our right to criticise religion – or lose it.

Read the complete article here .