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.