Monday, December 14, 2009

Development vs Insurgency

(Blog on the make …more will be added and what has already been written will be edited ...)

This is a debate as ancient as the other famous one: egg or chicken -- which comes first. The recent Maoist violence has again brought into fore the debate, from the jungles to the media rooms.

I have followed some of the debates. There are two contradictory lines of arguments:

One says, development ruins the tribal way of life. It does not benefit the indigenous tribal people, they do not want it. When we forcibly develop their land (in our perceived way), we antagonize them and force them to the path of insurgency.

The other says that it is actually the lack of development that is what frustrates the indigenous people and fuels insurgency. So develop the area fast which in turn will dowse the insurgent flames.

Let us take up the first argument first. I have seen the tribals of the North East of India. The youth there, and this I have seen even 20-30 years back, do not intend to be in their loincloths like their grandfathers did. In fact they do not wear even the desi jeans; nothing short of designer American jeans will satisfy them. For that matter, not only the NE tribes, ask any youth of any tribal region and you will be surprised to find that contrary to what the activist would make us believe, the tribal youth do hunger for the good life that modern civilisation brings (particularly the western way of life) – perhaps hunger more for it than a youth from the plains (who is more likely to be entrapped in traditions) would do. I am not saying this in a sneering manner… rather I find this yearning quite appreciable. Is not it why people became civilised in the first place? Deliverance from danger and hunger to safety and comfort, from diseases to health, from constant struggle for existence to leisure and luxury – is not this the motivation behind all kinds of human civilisation?

Nothing remains constant if we look at the annals of history -- civilisations rise and decline, races intermingle and new races are born… even faiths do not remain stationary. Today’s thriving race becomes tomorrow’s extinct one (example, the mighty Romans) and vice versa. There is nothing sacrosanct in a people’s present identity that should not change and must be preserved at its pristine quality. To attempt to do so will be actually a disservice to the tribal community for whose so-called benefit such an endevour will be made. Will the Medha Patkars and Arundhati Roys ever understand this?

But a politician is a different species altogether. Outwardly they may toe the line of not violating the tribal way of life. Keeping people backward actually suits them in a perverted sense. But at the same time, they understand the need to fulfill some of the aspirations of the people, and the easy way out to achieve this is to throw asunder some money. Don’t develop, don’t create job opportunities, just give money to grab and spend. This way they create a corrupt system of patronage to some which is perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a people. When I say politicians, I not only mean the ruling class, but also the radicals who supposedly fight for these people. Take the case of Maoists/ULFA/NSCN. Have to ever touched Madhu Koda or people like him? They would rather impose a ‘tax’ from each lorry, from each business transaction, even a fixed cut from the salaries of people. They are part of the vested interest. They use their force to perpetuate the tyranny of the politics of backwardness.

I have always strongly believed in the essence of the second theory that says tribal people also aspire for and need development like anyone else. But I have disagreement with the simplistic solution that just bringing in huge investment would solve all problems. First, in most cases the indigenous people neither have the skills nor the drive to take up the job of development upon their own shoulders. In my experience in many of such regions they are bone lazy (one reason for their remaining backward) and hardly fit for any work above the menial ones (there too the migrant workforce work much harder and are more productive). But the greatest hurdle is, in most of the places, the culture of anarchy –insurgency, the local vs outsider tussle, extortion, indiscipline. Surely an entrepreneur cannot be expected to tackle such situations? This is the duty of the administration first to establish the rule of law there… to come down upon the trouble-makers with an iron feast.

More another day…

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, some time in December, 2008, I received an excellent 'forward' from a person whom I hold in high regard. The forward was actually a long mail. Without going into it I would rather state it's essence, which is: Religion has nothing to do with terror or brutality.

Islam was the context.

The incidents narrated in the mail's account were touching and the underlying theme convincing. For a long time, the subject continued to resonate in my mind, surfacing and resurfacing at odd moments, prodding me all the while to jot down my own thoughts about it. This, finally, is my effort in that direction.

My own view is, there do exist certain fundamental issues within each religion that weaken them from within over time. These issues, or notions, though when incorporated in the first place had had the best of intentions behind them, had also carried the seeds of future discontent, strife and suffering.

Each great religion has two broad aspects. The main one is esentially to show the path (or paths) towards Ishwar-Darshan, or vision (realisation) of God. Saints/Prophets/Avatars are people who have achieved this highest goal. To look at it another way, a religion is alive and kicking, and useful to humankind, as long as it produces People who have been alleviated to such level.

Hardly is there any scope of conflict in the above aspect.

Problems arise with the other side, where it deals with the social issues. What is a sound practice today, it can be said with near certainty, may cease to be so, even prove regressive and stumbling, a few centuries down the line. Here comes the need to continually change, to evolve with the demands of the times. And here exactly lies the problem with Islam. It fights reforms. It wants to remain in its form as it was at the beginning. Reform within a religion is always brought about by its saints, and not by other bearer of religion, the priestdom, that usually resists change. In Islam, the latter -- the Maulanas -- historically got precedence over the saints (the Pirs, Fakirs, Sufis), unless a saint had been given patronage by a powerful ruler. This unwillingness and inability to change with times has given rise to the various conflicts Islam has with other religions and cultures, even with people within its own fold.

Why has this great religion that preached equality of all before God and absolute surrender to Him like nobody else, shown so much inflexibility towards reforming? Obviously the social rules that were good and necessary for the wild tribes of the Arabian land 1400 years back could not be equally applicable in a today's totally changed world?

The reason that comes to my mind (and I may be totally wrong there) can be found in a fundamental proclamation in Islam: "I (Prophet Muhammad) am the last prophet". It effectively put a fullstop to all future chances of reform. Anybody attempting reform would be perceived to be doing an act of sacrilege. Islam does not acknowledge any prophets even from other religions who came after Prophet Muhammad.

No doubt the above was uttered with the best of intentions. God is absolute, truth is absolute. So where lies the need for change? -- must have been the idea. Also, such an embargo helped blocking emergence of fake prophets, a mallady that plagues Hinduism.

But on the flip side, it also stagnated this great, vibrant, energetic, equitable religion once and for all. I sincerely hope that I am wrong and God will restore this religion to it's true, intended purpose.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cairo Talks -- Our PM Buckles again

I cannot forget what Michael Corleone once told Tom Hagen, the family lawyer and Consigliere, when the latter offered to take charge of the affairs during a war-like situation. Michael said something like this: Tom, you are a peace-time consigliere: you are not meant for wars.

Whenever I look at the way our PM Dr Manmohan acts vis-a-vis Pakistan, I am struck by the similarities with the above situation. Here we have a man at the helm of our affairs who would have made a good Finance Minister, but not the Prime Minister, especially with adverseries like Pakistan and China and 'allies' like the US who have designs of their own on us. The country badly needs somebody with more spine.

But the country obviously is in love with the doctor... so who am I to wail?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Election 2009

This year's election has been long over, a new government installed, and the result has been hailed in the media and the blogosphere in general as a victory for stability, for youth, for defeat of religious fundamentalism, and for development. I differ with these views on many counts as I do not think that voters throughout the country have come together and voted this present combine to power, in order to achieve all this. For example, if we look at the Mumbai results, Congress would not have won if SS and MNS did not divide their votes between themselves. So, the result is more due to the complexity of electoral arithmatic that the Congress/UPA played better than their opponents. If there is a single underlying trend, it is the consolidation of Muslim votes towards the winniers and away from the losers. More of electoral arithmatic there.

I am writing this not for analysing the results.. I am not qualified to do that, and also there have been some excellent analyses already. I shall extensively link my post to columnist Santosh Desai's op-eds in the TOI. For analysis, read this: Analyzing the constant election analysis ,
then this: What the election results say about us.

What particularly depresses me is the ascend and more ascend of Dynasty in Indian politics. My deeply-ingrained democratic outlook cannot ever conform to this. The whole thing is nauseating to me. Look at who have won: the INC -- once a party of stalwarts, now reduced to a single-family owned loyalty-to-the-family-bound party (I do not belive Rahul Gandhi will ever seriously do anything to topple the system where he and his immediate family are is the main beneficiaries... we all have noticed how he often mentions his 'family' in his speeches, almost equating it with Congress and India); the NC (the Abdullahs); the DMK (Karunanidhi and his children from many wives).... no need to give any more example. The parties which are based on families and personalities rather than on core ideologies have done better. For that matter, I do not think much of ideologies, becasue that pushes a a party towards dogma and rigidity, but then in a matured democracy it is also not desired that if a situation arises where the core leadership of a major political party suddenly gets eliminated by a mishap, the whole party collapses!

The parties that are structured and where power does not flow down bloodlines, are, on the one side of the spectrum, the leftist parties, and on the other, the BJP. Both have done comparatively poorly in the hustings. I cannot think this is a good trend... I'd not like to die seeing Priyanka's son as the future PM... :(

Please read anothe excellent article from the same santosh Desai that appeared on the 8th June's TOI: Dynasty: Undemocratic but alive and kicking

If we look at the media, almost the whole of the English media is partisan... we have seen Pronnoy Roy visibly getting irritated when he spoke with an NDA fellow -- smile returned to his lips only when the bearded face of Suresh Kalmadi came back into his focus again :) Less open in his bias, and (cleverly) subtler in his analysis, is Vir Sanghvi. He will occasionally even write against the dynastic politics, but his main focus then will be on the Karunanidhis and the Sharad Pawars, and not on the Gandhis (who I think are the real fountainhead of this dynastic malaise). He will also deride the Congress some times in his articles, but then it will be against Sheila Dikshit and her BRT corridor, which will be, needless to say, sweet music to the ears of the High Command! Sanghvi's masterstroke, however, is to regularly trash P V Narasimha Rao, never failing to use the term 'crook' to describe this ex-PM, who probably for the first time in recent history posed a real danger to the family, who was the harbinger of economic liberalization, did many more good things (I’ll write later on him), but who also allegedly bribed JMM (now now, what a coincidence, Manmohan Singh has also been alleged to do so in the aftermath of Left withdrawing their support during his last term, but then, as ironical as irony can go, one is termed a crook and the other a saviour, for committing the same sin!)!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Fallout

The unlikeliest victim of the recent elections has been . . .er . . . my dear wife, and for the unlikeliest reason! The joy of living has been wiped off from her face, so to say, by a single, ruthless stroke!
Looking back, I can clearly see that the dark clouds did not simply pop out of thin air; they gathered in bits and pieces, over time, unseen and unnoticed…
The most important character of this story is my father-in-law. Gentleman to the core, always gives way to others, always ready to lend a helping hand. Even in arguments, his tone is persuasive, and his patience is endless.
He is not meek, though. I have actually seen him getting angry once or twice. In one such occasion, he had accompanied me to a railway booking counter where a young tout broke into our queue and though there were some murmurs of protest, nobody could actually do anything about it. FIL watched this brazen act for some time, and when it became unbearable, with a few long steps he reached the guy, wrapped his strong arm around his waist, and simply threw him out! And the fellow just fled the place with his tail tucked in! With his six feet height and athletic build (a very good footballer in his times who also played tennis), FIL can inspire genuine awe in wicked hearts when he desires.
His only weakness lies in his soft corner for the CPI(M) party. The party always has to be right -- here he has very little patience for any contrary argument. His support is purely ideological. Never have been a party member, nor does he visit the party office; I doubt if the party even knows that such a loyal supporter exists. We are well aware of this weakness of his and the golden rule to follow is, avoid political arguments as much as you can. But hara-kiri is still committed sometimes !
My mind goes back to the days when my parents-in-law visited us in Delhi around one and a half years back. They arrived from a Bengal where issues like Nandigram and Singur had been in full boil then. The whole Bong diaspora of the world were passionately debating them. To add to Buddhababu’s already filled cup of woes, the infamous Rizwanur murder (or suicide) took place just at such a time. In our drawing room, like many other Bong drawing rooms, we debated animatedly on the case -- I and my wife terming it murder or at best instigated suicide, FIL seeing it as a plain case of suicide that the media had been hyping up just to defame the left front govt. (the party line). Things were turning so hot that I felt it prudent to slip out from there. But it was already too late. FIL chased me into the next room, calling me in a loud voice, “Listen, S**** (here he took my full name including the surname… in other words, I had it on the full blast), I am telling you this now, and you will get proof of it soon, blah blah...” (I do not remember now his line of argument, but whatever it was, it was meant to be the closing line of the chapter… no arguments, baas). And yes, I better accept this, my state was not much different from that of the above-mentioned tout-in-the-queue. I mean, the tail propahly tucked under! Later when my BIL came to know about the incident (he was in Kolkata when it happened), he heartily laughed on the phone for a whole minute.
This year, just before the elections, we all met again, in Bangalore, at my BIL’s place. While on a sightseeing trip, we had the imprudence (again!) to delve into the matter of the coming elections, and naturally the political temperature within the family rose again. Left Front, or Mamata – which way should it be this time? My wife, her brother and the brother’s wife, though their hearts still lying with the left and in no ways with Mamata, argued vociferously that the lefts should be shown the door in this election. FIL, needless to say, equally vociferously argued back, with a lot many dismissive grunts thrown in. MIL and I more or less acted as neutral umpires, and when the talks were getting too hot, veered it to something else, something docile.
Our days at Bangalore passed swiftly, without any more political talks, though, I suspect, the volcano just remained dormant. Our vacation was soon over and we returned to Delhi. Life was back to normal. And then the inevitable happened.
Yeah, you guessed it right, the results were out and the Left received a severe drubbing. We came to know that FIL was sulking deeply. Now, I am not actually aware how the daily telephonic talks went between my wife and her parents in the days that followed, but I know of a particular conversation between my wife and her mother that took place about three or four days after the left’s debacle, which somewhat went like this:
Wife, at the fag end of the chit-chat: Oh Ma, know what? I am not getting this particular sari here; next time we go to Kolkata, I will surely buy some from there.
MIL, in a crestfallen voice: Shobbonash! Hell! How’ll be doing that? Your father has already vetoed it. He said, ‘If S dislikes the state of affairs in Bengal so much, why does she rush here every time to buy saris, that too in dozens? Let her buy them from her beloved Delhi then!’
I leave the story here, and with an ominous note too, as I can see more dark clouds in the horizon, in the form of the not-so-far-away state elections of 2011!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sri Lanka -- the right and the wrong

Hats off to the Sri Lankan government. A small country is showing the world how to correctly deal with terrorists. After years of dilly-dallying and endless (and fruitless) soft-touch intervention by the Norwegians, somebody has finally dared to catch the bull by its horns, just as our own Brinda and KPS Gill, the then Chief Minister and Police Chief of Punjab, once did to quell the rampaging insurgency in the state. To me, President Rajapakse is doing even better – he is taking care to keep the civilian losses to the minimum, and also he understands the importance of explaining to the Tamils that the war is not against them but against their real tormentors -- the LTTE. Now, even some Sri Lankan origin Tamil human rights activists are able to come to the fore and let the world know that the vast majority of Tamils of Sri Lanka have always been actually longing for a long time to come out of the clutches of the LTTE. These Tamil HR activists were earler scared to come to the open or their voices were simply not heard. I am sure we will soon come to hear more tales of horror of how the LTTE had been using the entrenched Tamils as shields once the rest of their area is liberated by the SL army.

Hope the SL Government brings the whole thing to its logical end and does not develop cold feet at the last moment, and by this I mean catching Prabhakaran and his cohorts and punishing them. It is always important to root out the leaders. Hope the government ignores all sorts of international pressure (from people who remain strangely silent at human rights violations by the terrorists) and also the numerous mass petitions that are being generated in India urging to stall the assault, and instead proceed determinedly to finish the agenda.

It is indeed shocking that the SL cricket team has been attacked in Pakistan today, and we can expect Pakistan to even try to put the blame for it, at least initially, on SL’s current domestic strife. (The next day's input: Pakistan has begun blaming India instead. . . should have occured to me that they were going to do this.) It also proves, albeit with the benefit of hindsight, that visiting Pakistan when other teams including that from India already refused to do so, was an extremely unwise decision . . . was probably done to show solidarity between small neighbours of a big brother . . . it also shows that one sometimes has to pay a heavy price for such political one-upmanship.