Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Judicial Activism: A Rebuttal of Justice Jeevan Reddy's Thesis

Today's article by B.P.Jeevan Reddy summarizes succinctly the key talking points of the pro-judicial activism groups in India. Justice Jeevan Reddy was one of the prominent judges of the Supreme Court during the late '80s and early '90s and wrote many important opinions foremost among them being Indra Sawhney (Mandal I) and Unnikrishnan. He was also a leading activist and his formulation of the free seat / payment seat scheme for professional college admissions reflected his judicial philosophy at the time. In fact, the entire college admission muddle that students face year after year can be traced back directly to his opinion in that case. While I have criticized Krishna Iyer's views before, Jeevan Reddy's fall to a large extent in a different category. His views here (and before) show a significant streak of pragmatism as he seeks to appeal to reason and common sense unlike Iyer who builds his case mostly on an ideological foundation. I write here because these views, despite being erroneous, are nevertheless widely held and not having been seriously challenged before, deserve to be emphatically refuted.

The Hindu editorial position on this issue has been unclear at best. While joining issue with the court on particular matters, it has never expressed itself for or against the idea at all. My sense is that it would prefer a carefully calibrated approach somewhat along the lines of Krishna Iyer's views with a strong judiciary pushing for socialist goals slowly and cautiously. The paper has however been very careful to distance itself from socialist positions where it saw its own interests threatened - for example, its relatively strong support for the Inamdar opinion (where the court ruled that governments cannot decide on unaided private college admissions) was contrary to the official line of the CPM which favored 'social control' over the admission process. There are several other like examples. In fairness, it has allowed people on both sides of the aisle to debate it out on its op-ed pages. Khare has been the most vocal opponent calling for the 'PIL shop' to be wound up while others such as Krishna Iyer and Jeevan Reddy continue to favor the idea albeit with some exceptions. In the first two paragraphs, he makes a series of allegations all of which are at the very least debatable.

One must say Parliament and the State Legislatures have, by and large, performed their duty fairly satisfactorily; they have enacted many laws touching upon and regulating activities in the social, economic, educational and health spheres — indeed all activities touching the lives of the citizens, in particular the weak and vulnerable sections.

It is, however, common knowledge that the Executive has failed, in a large measure, to implement these laws in letter and in spirit — for reasons which need not be gone into here. This is a feature of the Indian state which has been pointed out repeatedly by several social philosophers and economists over the last four decades and more. Gunnar Myrdal, Scandinavian scholar, famously called (in the 1970s) it a ‘soft state,’ precisely because it does not have the will and the requisite discipline to implement the laws made by it. The result is that several laws and schemes in the social and economic sectors have remained mere declarations of good intentions. A visit to any government school, government hospital, a fair price shop or primary health centre is sufficient to bring home this truism.

Actually many believe that Parliament and state assemblies are not doing a good job. They mostly make noise and spend more time in partisan wrangling than holding meaningful debates. On major welfare questions, one often sees competitive populism with neither side willing to bring in a much needed reality check on the limitations of state intervention.

Again, it is easy to say that the Executive has failed owing to apathy because it is unwilling to implement laws passed in good faith by the legislature though the reality is more complex. In India, it is the Executive that takes all the responsibility, not the legislature. Unlike the U.S. Congress, budgets are drawn up by the finance minister and passed, sometimes without debate in both houses. Financial allocations for schemes is again made by the finance ministry, not the state/Central legislatures. Welfare schemes are drawn up by the various ministries and/or the planning commission, not the parliamentary standing committees. Opposition parties are given to making reckless demands precisely because they are fully aware that the government will not be able to meet them. The responsibility for governance rests in large part on an Executive that is however held to account by a legislature that is unable or simply unwilling to show the same degree of balance and caution in its actions (this is much the same story in every democracy). The result? A disconnect between enactments and enforcement that serves both sides - legislators of all parties can conveniently claim credit for passing the measure and pass the buck to the Executive when nothing changes on the ground.

The other question is about all the laws already on the statute and why the government is not implementing them. Answer: for the very same reason - money and priorities. The politico-legal landscape is littered with centuries of laws and wonderful intentions. Repealing them is often a very difficult task as no one wants to be seen doing something so undesirable; on other occasions, the issue simply does not have enough traction for legislators to care either way. In any case, a number of laws remain on the books with few people even noticing their presence. Take for example a law that requires hotels and innkeepers to provide drinking water free of charge to all passers-by - most people have probably never heard of it and I doubt whether anyone has actually been hauled up in court for failing to do so. Yet, imagine trying to pass a new law repealing this old one and you would probably see the left and other opposition parties regardless of ideology joining hands to oppose the government for being hand-in-glove with the hotel management lobby. Governments would therefore not want to touch such a hot potato and would prefer to ignore the whole thing and let it stand while doing absolutely nothing to enforce it.

That being said, how does a government decide which laws to enforce and to what extent? That depends on the resources available and the gravity of the matter in question, both of which are decided based on the political agenda of the government of the day. If the government believes that a well-equipped police force is central to improving law and order, it may provide police stations with all the tools for investigation and enforcement while cutting corners with development schemes. Alternatively, if it feels that increasing crime is a result of poverty and will not be alleviated by better policing, they may choose to cut funding for cops and instead provide the same money to a rural employment guarantee scheme. In the first instance, cops may be able to go after every small time criminal whereas a broken irrigation canal may not be fixed for years; in the second, the police may have such limited means that they are forced to conserve their resources to investigate only the most gruesome murders letting all other crimes pass by.

Why do government facilities have such poor infrastructure? In part of course is the corruption story that everyone is aware of. A second reason is that political leaders have long believed two things. One, that infrastructure is valued by the public less than welfare measures - hence all the focus on various development schemes and much less on building roads, railways, bridges, schools or hospitals. The fact that governments that built flyovers, bridges and roads during the '90s lost elections badly only added grist to this perception. The other is that spreading the money around is better than pooling resources in one place. Instead of providing district hospitals with CT scan machines, it is better to spread the same money to build more primary health centers; instead of building a few national universities, it is better to build an engineering institute (IIT) in one place, a medical institute in another, an agricultural college in a third city and so forth. Again, in place of providing huge resources to render these institutes internationally competitive, it is preferable to open some more of the same quality in other cities. Thus, it is better to have another 10 IITs rather than the existing six being converted into Indian equivalents of MIT. In other words, it is a conscious policy choice to prefer the mediocrity of the many over the excellence of the few. The third reason of course is that recurring expenditures are a huge burden that governments do not sufficiently take into account when accepting new responsibilities. Building new structures is relatively easy, staffing and maintaining them over the long term is the more difficult part that calls for enduring commitments that unfortunately falls prey to the vicissitudes of public priorities. Simply blaming the executive is hardly a solution. Instead one needs to ask whether it is prudent to compel governments to take upon so many responsibilities in the first place and if so, what the alternatives are if they do not live up to them. All of this brings us to the question, is a judicial order forcing implementation the solution?

In such a state of affairs, if a complaint is brought before court — mainly the High Courts and the Supreme Court — that a particular law or provision or scheme is not being implemented properly and a direction is asked for its implementation, what should it do? Should the court say the matter is none of its concern, that the administrators know their duty and are expected to do it, or call upon the authorities concerned to discharge the functions entrusted to them by the law? After all, the judiciary is also an organ of the state ordained by the Constitution to achieve the goals set out in the Preamble and Parts III and IV.

The author argues it is. I say it is not. If an order is passed forcing implementation, surely the particular measure may be quickly acted upon but at the cost of a different measure or policy that never came before the court and is either not prominent enough to attract popular attention or those affected by it are not aware of their loss to petition the authorities for redressal. If the court orders particular roads to be repaired first (like the Allahabad High Court did a while ago), it is likely that the machines would simply be moved to fix those roads first and whichever others were supposed to have been repaired first based on traffic load or extent of damage would simply get relegated to the background. This facet of the outcome is completely ignored by supporters of activism.

But when such directions are made, it is called an instance of ‘judicial activism’ in a pejorative sense. If such directions are made at the instance of a public spirited individual or organisation — on the basis of what is called public interest litigation (PIL), a technical objection is raised that the really aggrieved person is not the complainant. The problem is that very often the really aggrieved person does not have the wherewithal to approach the court and hence someone does so on his behalf. The issue in such a case is, and should be, the truth of the complaint rather than the identity of the complainant. Maybe, the court does not have the means or machinery of its own to enforce its orders and directions and has to depend upon the very same official machinery, which is found to be lax. Even so, orders made by the courts do carry certain sanction — the power to punish for contempt — and are thus more effective. No one suggests that court can correct all ills afflicting society but the effort should be to try to do the little good that one can do rather than inventing arguments for not doing anything.

For the reason indicated above, it is open to question whether 'good' (last sentence) actually comes out of such intervention. He says that the truth of the complaint is all that matters, not who made it or why. That again is a problem because the Courts are easily flooded with numerous complaints of that nature against virtually any prominent individual. This is particularly so at election time and is increasingly a tactic being used against celebrities and businessmen. The trouble is that the Court, at the time of hearing the petition, is not usually aware of the veracity of the complaint. What it hears is only an allegation with little or no documentation and an investigation would be necessary to establish whether or not there is truth in the matter. Official investigations can cause much pain and hardship in many ways to those bearing the brunt of it, so the question is whether the courts ought to launch witchhunts on the basis of such complaints where regular processes such as evidentiary requirements are being short-circuited. If so, that would amount to turning the country into a judiciary-led police state thereby spelling an end to our civil liberties.

The other type of ‘judicial activism’ is the field of interpretation of fundamental rights, in particular the right to equality (Articles 14 to 16), the several freedoms in Article 19 and the right to life and personal liberty in Article 21. While interpreting these Articles, there is scope for judges to read their personal philosophies into the provisions. This criticism is not peculiar to India; it has been a hotly debated subject in the United States for long. An example, indeed from the U.S., would better illustrate this aspect. By the 14th Amendment to the American Constitution (1868), equal protection of laws was guaranteed to its citizens. Indeed by the 13th Amendment (1865), slavery was abolished. That was a time when slavery was rampant and blacks were subjected to untold discrimination and segregation in every walk of life. There were separate schools for them. No black student could seek admission to a school meant for the whites. When these segregationist policies were challenged as violative of the equal protection clause, the Supreme Court (in 1898) held that such a treatment did not violate the clause; the court evolved a novel doctrine called ‘separate but equal’ to justify these practices. But come 1954, this very 14th Amendment was differently interpreted by that very court, which held that the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ and the segregationist practices it sanctioned were all violative of the equal protection clause and hence unconstitutional. By this decision (Brown) and the others which followed in quick succession, the entire edifice of segregation and discrimination against the blacks was dismantled and outlawed. The consequences of this activist role of the court are there for all to see; in less than 55 years, a black American is likely to become the next President of the U.S. What an enormous contribution by the court — and how welcome, just, equitable, democratic and humane! Could this ever have happened but for the said decision? Maybe, it could have happened but we do not know when and how. It was the court which acted as the agent of change by interpreting the equality clause in its modern and equitable context, without the help of any law made by Congress.

It is true that the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed desegragation in public schools in Brown but that was hardly the only event that changed the racial attitudes in America. A large part of the credit ought to go to those who shepherded the Civil Rights Act through Congress in 1965 including the then President Lyndon Johnson and the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King. The outcome was the result of a prolonged and sustained struggle for racial integration and equality, not only the outcome of Court opinions. This is not however to belittle the Court's contribution but the same attitude has caused the Court much trouble and controversy in Roe v. Wade where it ruled that the Constitution mandates a right to abortion. Besides, the whole idea of Brown that the 14th Amendment mandates racially integrated schools is difficult to justify in principle. As Justice Scalia points out in his book, whether the races and genders ought to be integrated or remain separate is entirely a matter of tradition. For example, by the same yardstick, should men and women have common unisex toilets because 'equal but separate' is unconstitutional?

Lastly, he highlights what he believes are the positive achievements of judicial activism.

Coming to the Indian scene, the activist phase of the Supreme Court became discernible clearly after the Emergency was revoked in 1977. Look at the substantial contribution on this score. Prisoners’ rights: it was held that a prisoner on conviction or awaiting trial does not lose all his fundamental and legal rights but loses only the right to free movement. Safeguards against arbitrary arrest: clarification of the rights of the accused on being arrested; prohibition of long incarceration pending trial; clarification of the concept and objectives behind bail; condemnation of routine handcuffing; prohibiting quarrying and mining activities endangering natural resources and releasing persons from bonded labour are some of the instances.

The restrictive interpretation placed on personal liberty, indeed the manner of interpretation of the fundamental rights adopted in 1950 (Gopalan) was overruled in 1979, reading Articles 14, 19 and 21 together and harmoniously (Maneka Gandhi). Article 21, to reiterate, has been the main spring from which innumerable rights have been inferred — the right to free elementary education, the right to speedy trial, the right to privacy, the right to medical aid to workers, the right to pollution-free water, elimination of water and air pollution and so on. The issue of air pollution reminds us of the Supreme Court orders mandating all public vehicles to shift to CNG with a view to protecting the health of Delhi citizens. True, there was no law providing for the same. But the question is: was it bad? Maybe, this measure did cause dislocation of and disturbance to the occupations and lives of certain members of the public but, overall, it is undeniable that the measure improved the quality of air over Delhi.

Coming to the Delhi CNG issue, this is one instance (indeed the only one that I am aware of) where a study has been carried out that examines the impact of activism - a judicial audit of sorts. I quote here verbatim from that paper.

In the Delhi Vehicular Pollution Case, the equity concerns are less stark, but they are nevertheless significant. R Mehta, erstwhile Chairman and Managing Director of the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) described the conversion to CNG as a ‘legally driven process which badly affected the common man’. The DTC, on pain of contempt, took diesel buses off the roads when the Court-ordered deadlines passed. Although CNG buses were allowed to ply on the roads, given the scarcity of CNG in the early days, these buses had to travel 40 kms and spend several hours queuing up outside CNG dispensing stations to collect CNG. As a result only a few buses were available to ferry passengers. The hardship was borne by those who relied on public transport not those with private vehicles. Eventually the CNG supply crisis eased but only at the expense of industries. The DTC was obliged to buy 2000 buses in 14 months to implement the Court order. CNG buses are 1.6 times more expensive than diesel buses. And there are considerable costs associated with setting up CNG stations. The DTC is arguably in ‘financial doldrums’ as a result of complying with the Supreme Court’s orders. Efforts to offset the costs by increasing bus fares have been controversial (and politicized), because of their impact on the ‘daily wagers’, that is, the common person. In May 2002, however, bus and auto fares increased nominally. The Court imposed an extremely high-cost option, and in any developing country it is important to ask whether the cost to the public exchequer was justified, whether lower cost alternatives were available, and indeed who will ultimately pay the cost. As one government official noted, ‘[i]n a country like India there are many other priorities’.It is difficult to determine which priorities were subordinated in the service of Delhi’s air quality, but it is surely a question that needs to be asked.

Private transporters who were forced to make huge investments to convert to CNG flagged another equity issue. They argued that the contribution of private buses to pollution was not significant compared to the number of other vehicles on the roads of Delhi.141 And, indeed, it is difficult to ascertain, on what principled environmental basis a distinction was drawn between vehicles for private use and vehicles for commercial use. In 2000 there were an estimated 852,000 cars/jeeps, 45,000 auto rickshaws, 8,000 taxis and 18,000 buses. The contribution of the approximately 70,000 private commercial vehicles to air quality in Delhi, while not insignificant, is certainly not in the same league as the contribution of the 852,000 private cars/jeeps, yet the former alone were targeted. And, today, the gains from the Court-ordered conversion to CNG are being offset by the increase in the number of private vehicles in Delhi, as well as the increase in the dieselisation of the private car fleet. In four short years the registration of diesel cars increased from 1,881 (in 1999) to 13,890 (in 2003). And, the steady rise in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions in Delhi is sourced in part to this.

...Although CNG is an environmentally friendly fuel, some argue that as a solution to the CNG problem it is neither economically viable nor easily implement-able. As highlighted earlier, CNG is a high-cost option. Since it was Court-ordered, the necessary rsources were devoted to CNG conversion in Delhi, but it is only now that the MOEF is looking into the cost-effectiveness of CNG. That it was difficult to implement is evident from the ‘teething troubles’ referred to earlier. Further, CNG is not a complete solution in itself. This is evident, in part, from the fact that notwithstanding the introduction of the CNG programme in Delhi, there is a 21.3% increase in cases of lung disease, and more than 20% increase in asthma attacks. A complete solution would address all the relevant pollutants, choose a range of clean fuels and institutionalise inspection and maintenance facilities. CNG only addresses the problem of suspended particulate matter (in this CNG has the clear advantage over other fuels). According to the Mashelkar Committee Report although a CNG vehicle emits 80% less particulate matter, 25% less nitrous oxides and 35% less hydrocarbons, the output of carbon monoxide (CO), a precursor to green house gases (GHGs), is over five times greater than that for diesel. And, a CNG vehicle driven for a mile emits 20% more GHGs than driving a comparable diesel vehicle for a mile. It concludes that ‘from the perspective of global warming, the decision to move from diesel to CNG is a harmful one’.

The Court chose the EPCA-recommended ‘one fuel’ option over the Governmental-alternative of increasingly stringent emissions standards and a range of permissible clean fuels. The Court has also chosen, in order to make CNG competitive, to involve itself in the issue of CNG pricing. Yet it is questionable if CNG is a scalable option. CNG is currently supplied in the transport sector only in Delhi, Surat, Mumbai and Ankleshwar. Extending CNG availability to other cities such as Kolkatta and Chennai would imply substantial investments in CNG infrastructure, which could only be justified if there is a demand for CNG in sectors such as power and fertilizers as well. In the meantime, even polluted metropolises like Chennai will need to explore other clean fuel options. Air quality data indicates an increase of 15% in the levels of NO2 from 2002. This spike in NO2 can be attributed in part to the introduction of the CNG programme. The Mashelkar Committee Report noted in 2002 that, ‘in the case of alternate fuels CNG and LPG to achieve the intended benefits with respect to emissions, maintaining the quality of conversion kits is crucial’. CSE also admits that CNG vehicles are extremely sensitive to maintenance, and ‘NO2 emissions can increase rapidly if the CNG vehicles are poorly maintained’. The third element of an effective solution—institutionalised inspection and maintenance facilities—was conspicuous by its absence in the early years after the CNG conversion, hence the NO2 spike. Clean fuel and clean technology are not sufficient in themselves—they need to be matched with efficient inspection and maintenance facilities. The Court has since realised this, and it is currently engaged, through the EPCA, in institutionalising inspection and maintenance in Delhi. The NO2 spike can also be traced to the growing numbers of private diesel vehicles, and the growing number of vehicles in Delhi more generally.

...A final issue of concern is the safety of CNG vehicles. After a series of fire incidents, the Court through the EPCA launched an investigation into the fire hazards and safety of CNG vehicles. The EPCA-appointed expert committee found that although CNG is an inherently safe fuel, bulk/continuous releases from fuel systems can cause fire, and there is an increased likelihood of this occurring in converted and poorly maintained vehicles. In addition a recent study on the health of DTC drivers found that the conversion to CNG, since CNG vehicles are heavier, attain higher temperatures and require more frequent gear changes than vehicles on conventional fuel, has worsened conditions for drivers, who suffer from musculo-skeletal, respiratory and neurological disorders. The Court and the EPCA are engaged in studying and addressing these safety concerns.

Clearly, the much quoted Delhi CNG story has two sides to it. It is false to claim that all that flowed from the court's intervention is only milk and honey. In light of all the costs involved, how is a court which is hardly an expert in these matters going to decide what is the 'right' approach to take? In fact, is there one right approach at all? I would say there is not. What is best for the city needs to be analyzed through reasoned debate where the benefits can be weighed against the costs and the optimal solution arrived at through public deliberation rather than the whole issue being forced undemocratically through judicial fiat without proper appreciation of the consequences. As for the mining cases and others, they have created their own problems that I will not go into here. The bottom line however is not only can the law of unintended consequences play havoc but all those 'progressive' opinions that he cites can be undone as easily by 'regressive' ones with the same ease by a future bench. Indeed that has happened with defendant rights - a court that favored defendants strongly in the '70s and '80s is now loaded so heavily against them that I would go so far as to question whether a fair trial for certain kinds of crimes is even possible in our courts anymore.

Finally, he makes the case for good PIL as opposed to bad PILs.

It is quite true that on some occasions, the courts might have overstepped their limits. For example, orders directing the construction of roads or bridges, orders seeking to lay a timetable for the running of trains, orders directing beautification of a railway station and so on. But these again are mere aberrations.

Ask ten lawyers what the difference is and I bet each would suggest a different bunch of cases that ought to, in his or her view, fall in either category. Most of them have their own pet agendas and earnestly feel that judicial intervention would be justified in those cases. Equally, many of them also believe that cases that support propositions contradicting their own views ought to be dismissed. All of them including Justice Reddy ought to answer two questions before their claim of good/bad PIL can be entertained: (1) Where would you draw the line? (2) What is the legal basis for that line or in other words, why choose the one over others?

I am yet to find a single article that answers both of those questions in principle. This op-ed is silent as well. I will sign off on this overly long post leaving it to the reader to mull over this.

Chindu joins CPM in rebuking Manmohan

A few days ago, when the PM rebuked CPM, Chindu reported the issue as if the PM warned the Opposition on CPM's suggestion. Now, Chindu is reporting Yechury's statements to give a different twist. Suddenly, the "entire" Opposition has turned into an angel, supporting the "sensible" demands made by CPM.

The Hindu : National : Manmohan's remarks callous: Yechury
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) on Monday took strong objection in the Rajya Sabha to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement issued on Friday that asked political parties to eschew the temptation of politicising the misery of people (on price rise).

CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said the statement was issued after the meeting of a Left delegation with Dr. Singh here on Friday. “As a political party, we have every right to raise people’s issues. It cannot be described in such a callous manner.” The entire Opposition, including the Bhartiya Janata Party, associated with his observations.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chindu's covert distortion of news coverage

This news link was provided by an anonymous reader.
Madame Sonia on her yatra across the native heathens of WB to drum up support for the panchayat elections hit the nail on the head when she said,
It is easy to criticise the Centre, but it is imperative that the State governments fulfil their responsibilities

The article can be read here,
This is a known truth that the CPM government in its quest for Marxist utopia has recreated Dante's hell on earth in West Bengal and Kerala. Now when Madame Sonia of all people decides to stick the fork, Chindu decides to report the news with a twist.
Sonia questions why the state of minorities in WB was not improved?
introspect why after 30 years [of the Left being] in power the State is lagging behind when it comes to improving the condition of the minorities.

This is where Chindu cheats and Marcus Dam decides to covertly distort the news by not reporting it but referencing the Sachar Committee report just to cover the CPM.
The Sachar Committee presented the true picture of Muslims and their lot “is not the handiwork of any political party.”

Sonia's important statement which was edited out maliciously by Chindu was
“It’s unfortunate that the condition of the minorities has not improved even though the CPI(M) been in power for the past 30 years,” Sonia said.

The responsibility of the newspaper is to report the facts as is. India being a democractic country Madame Sonia as a leader can make a statement. If the CPM were confident of their achievements they would brush it off. However like vampires who are scared of the light, Chindu decides to quote the Sachar Committee report which by itself was created simply to cater to the minority votebanks.
Thanks to our readers these cheap tricks by Chindu cannot fool all readers.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Charging at windmills

India and China have growing energy problems. With rapid growth, the infrastructure needs grow rapidly and often with the global competition for fossil fuel, it makes meeting the needs difficult. China has taken a different approach by bartering with tin pot dictatorships like the Sudan. India has been chasing the pipe dream of getting access to Turkmenistan's vast gas resources and guess what by laying a pipeline through Afghanistan. Why was there no shortcut via Iraq?
The Chindu wags its tail in glee at the Government's blind optimism and cautions the UPA Govt. not to forget the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.
Last the people in the world heard, there was a war going on in Afghanistan. Recently the Afghanistan Government was forced to run from a public function when it was targeted by Al Qaeda operatives. There have been numerous kidnappings of workers belonging to multinational companies involved in the rebuilding projects in Afghanistan. How exactly is the UPA Government going to lay the pipelines? Perhaps assemble it in India and drop it over Afghanistan like a Lego toy?
Of course any thought that Pakistan can exert political pressure on India by controlling the pipeline is swept under the rug, by Chindu's statement.
A section of the Indian establishment fears that Islamabad will use India’s dependence on the Pakistan route for importing gas as a lever to exert political pressure. Such fears ignore the positive experience of other regions of the world, notably Europe, in sourcing gas through pipelines; and indeed the success of the Indus Water Treaty between the two South Asian neighbours.

I understand that to get energy, given the current world situation, some deals have to be struck with unscrupulous characters. Is it illogical to think that the deals have to be struck with countries who have a vested interest in India's failure?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Climate vs. Weather Change

Today's paper has a headline 'Climate Change to Blame for musth'. I initially understood this to mean something happening to elephants as a result of the climate change phenomenon but actually it is only a change in the elephants' cycle as a result of an unexpected bout of rainfall. The person quoted is a veterinary surgeon and technical expert on the elephant squad, not a climatologist. Someone ought to tell the Hindu the difference between weather and climate. It appears that all the talk of climate change on the planet has gotten into the head of the writer who posted this item.

A great run comes to a close

Even the darkest of clouds have silver linings. In the case of The Chindu the writings of the venerable Shashi Tharoor was the pick of the litter. Now he announces that his column comes to a close after several years.
This is truly a great loss for readers in general as well as The Chindu for whom this column was one of the last slivers of objectivity. Now we are left with the poor stable of writers. Let me ask you this question, who is your favorite writer on the Chindu currently? (This includes the Chief)

Fudging the numbers as see fit

Analyzing democratic elections become very complicated when there are more than two parties involved. Coalition politics makes it difficult for any person with average mathematical skills to predict the winner of an election.
Thus, the CPM led left front can claim victory despite having won a bit more than 10% of the total seats. However the same rules do not apply to neighboring countries like say, Nepal. Sure the Maoists have passed in flying colors, learning how to rig democratic elections from their friends from the country bordering the north and comrades from a southern state. However the Chindu decides to not apply the same rules here. Read this article,
The Chindu's hatchet man in this case Siddharth Varadarajan, rants that the US is preventing the Maoists from forming the government. But in the article the evidence given is,
According to political and diplomatic sources, the U.S. ambassador in Kathmandu, Nancy Powell, is “actively pushing” the idea that Girija Prasad Koirala should continue as Prime Minister.

Then the article meanders to rant at how the Nepali Congress with a 100 seats is preventing the Maoists(who do not have a majority) from forming the Government.
How is it that the CPM which does the exact same political blocking in India is lauded as fighting for the common man and NC's action's seems as anti-democratic?
Let us know of your thoughts on this incident of double standards by The Chindu.

Left and the price rise

Consider the two reports on th price rise issue: the first one is from Chindu and the second from ToI.

Chindu's report suggests that Manmohan reacted to Left's proactiveness and took measures curb inflation. It appears as if the PMO's statement is aimed at the opposition.
The Hindu : Front Page : Manmohan: avoid scaremongering
His remarks were contained in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after a Left delegation led by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat called on him.

The team, comprising members of the CPI(M), the CPI, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, suggested six measures to curb price rise.
ToI report gives a totally different picture. In fact, it goes to the extent of clarifying that the statement by PMO was directed at the Left. The scaremongering party here is clearly identified as CPM.
Left sees Red over PM's remark on inflation-India-The Times of India
The frost seems to be back in the Prime Minister's ties with the Left as the statement, though couched in general terms, was clearly directed at Left leaders who had just urged him to take several steps to contain inflation. While more or less rebutting the Left's arguments, the PMO virtually accused the comrades of scare-mongering.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Marching to their own beat.

Its been many years since I've read the Frontline. Its better to find more productive ways to idle time. A friend mentioned that there were some good articles in the recent article, so I checked the online version. (you can download the pdf version here)
There were some good articles on the river water dispute, an incredible article on the temples in Kashmir and an article on womens rights group in Tamil Nadu. Just when I was about to give the benefit of doubt hoping the editors had turned a new leaf, the next article hit an unexpected brick, a veritable sucker punch. It was a verbose trumpeting of the CPIM party national meeting with blurbs from the usual chumps like Karat, Yechury, Jyoti Basu etc.
And of course a picture of the red monkeys marching and the leaders cheering them on. The disinterest in the people marching makes it hilarious. The level of self importance shown by the CPM makes it a parody, kind of like a Monty Python film.
Check this out

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ram's Lecture on Wonderful Human Rights in Tibet

Ram apparently is now lecturing people on human rights in Tibet. So what does he have to say?
Tibet’s all-round development over some years has raised the living standards of its people, which by itself constituted progress in human rights...He said the per capita net income of the Tibetan people had maintained double-digit growth in each of the past five years, and stood at 2,788 yuan ($398) last year.

...He observed that the railway line may have had some negative impact on the region’s environment and wildlife, but that some accounts on this aspect were exaggerated. Besides, the central government was working for the protection of the region’s environment with an allocation of 1.5 billion yuan. The money was intended to be used for garbage and sewage treatment and to build 33 special passages for Tibetan antelopes and other wild animals.

Has it not been said by philosophers galore that money alone does not bring happiness? If money was all that mattered, there would have been no Osama Bin Laden for why would someone born with a silver spoon give it all up and shuttle between caves under the cover of darkness all to wage war against a far superior enemy? For the same reason. People are more than money-making robots. They are living entities with aspirations, dreams and fond hopes. Of the many things they seek, the freedom to speak freely and practice their beliefs without persecution has been a paramount one throughout the length of history. Indeed, experience has shown that people who do not have to worry about their basic requirements such as daily bread, clothing and shelter take more, not less interest in such abstract considerations. For people enjoying prosperity, moral and emotional security replaces material security as their primary concern. If Ram believes that building better garbage treatment plants will address popular anger, he could not be more eggheaded about this issue.

What coolaid are you drinking?

People often compare the maturation process to many things like wine (which gets better) or coffee (which tastes worse as time passes). I was pleasantly surprised to read the recent article by Mr.Harish Khare at the Chindu where he makes rational arguments about the causes of Inflation and appeals for a joint effort by all parties (political, media, public etc.) to resolve it.
The article can be read here,

This blog has in the past been quite critical of Mr.Khare's partisan and often non-objective writing. But to see him make some well structured arguments and sound rational at the same time is quite a sight. My only peeve was his statement that,
The great democratic tragedy of the last 15 years has been that a new policy regime of liberalisation was imposed on the country without any debate

The country was bankrupt due to the socialist policies of the last 40 years and the only alternative was liberalization.
Good work Mr. Khare now if you could only convince the CPIM to see logic and not make partisan actions that would be awesome.
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Monday, April 21, 2008

How the Free Access Initiative Came About

Today's editorial in the Hindu lauds the Free Publishing Initiative recently endorsed by the U.S.Congress that mandates all research funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to be made freely accessible within one year of their publication. The item is a little dated as the Act was actually passed in December 2007. There are also several errors in its potrayal of this feature.

Though subscription is a source of revenue for journals, the apprehension that free online access would hurt their bottomline is misplaced; the Act is applicable only to papers arising from NIH-funding. In fact, a number of publishers have already agreed to make published articles available to PubMed Central directly. It is commendable that the NIH did not allow commercial interests of publishers to override the merits of free dissemination of information as an essential requirement for scientific advance. The NIH has resolved the contentious issue of copyrights that was dogging free access. By making the authors responsible for working out a copyrights transfer agreement with the publishers that allows them to comply with the policy, it has ensured greater compliance.

Actually the NIH with a $29 billion budget is the eight hundred pound gorilla in the research funding business. The majority of academic research is funded through its grants and it is indeed the chief source of federal money sustaining health-related research in major universities all across the United States (hence all the heartburn when President Bush passed an Executive Order a few years ago refusing to fund the major part of Stem Cell research). It is therefore no surprise that publications from NIH grants have also been the lifeblood of most scientific journals - the notion that their bottomline would not be hurt is quite mistaken. Indeed, this initiative has been around at least since 2004; it took this long to pass because the Journals lobbied strongly against it so as to keep their source of revenue intact. It is at their insistence that the current compromise has been worked out allowing free access only after a period of 12 months. Since most researchers are interested in the latest inventions/discoveries, the most recent articles are, not surprisingly, in the greatest demand. That would remain the case even now forcing research institutions to continue their subscriptions of all these journals.

The Hindu says that 'it is commendable that the NIH did not allow commercial interests of publishers to override the merits of free dissemination of information as an essential requirement of scientific advance'. Is this true? First of all, the NIH is only an agency under the federal government and is bound by law to implement legislation enacted by Congress. The question of the NIH allowing/disallowing anything does not therefore arise. Secondly, this was not some altruistic idea that suddenly dawned on Congress. Universities faced with budget cuts, other freestanding research institutions and the pharmaceutical industry, all of which deal with scientific research have seen their journal subscription costs burgeoning over the last decade as more money has poured into the field, newer and more specialized areas have emerged and journals have diversified and upgraded themselves partly in response to these changes and partly to stay ahead of the competition. These institutions have well-entrenched lobbies on Capitol Hill that steadily pushed this idea of free publication of taxpayer-funded research, a powerful notion that was strongly opposed by the Scientific Journal lobby. In other words, this was like any other political battle with commercial interests of both sides playing a part.

It is a good thing that the NIH has worked out the regulations necessary to implement this law. But the Hindu is quite mistaken in its understanding of how it came about.

Pardon the wolves, punish the lambs

Often in Bollywood despite a lack of reason the director will introduce a joke bashing a stereotype and those scenes will have no relation with the plot. The Chindu taking a line from those producers decide to do the same in today's Leader page articles. Praveen Swami writes a paean about how there are 2 Americas based on race and the influence it has on the Presidential election. The article can be read here,
He raises some valid historical points. However what was irking me the most in that article was his fact of comparing Jammu and Kashmir with Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s failure to build an inclusive, egalitarian society has bred a culture of violence. As many as 392 people were murdered in 2007 — 10 of them in a single weekend in April last year that saw bullets flying across the city, including in its normally peaceful centre.
Just how astounding these figures are becomes evident when one considers that last year Jammu and Kashmir, described as “the most dangerous place on earth” by the former President, Bill Clinton, saw 764 combat-related fatalities, of which only 170 involved civilians. Given that Jammu and Kashmir has an estimated population of 7.7 million, five times that of Philadelphia city, the statistics are startling.

Few things stand out here, if only 170 involved civilians then 120 people from the military were killed as per the South Asia Terrorism Portal. The satp article can be read here,
How often do we read an article criticizing the jihadists for killing innocent civilians and military men?
How dare Praveen state that "only 120 civilians" were killed. What if one happened to be his family? Would he have the same disdain to human life? Shame on you Chindu for showing no respect for the lives of Indian civilians

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How Not to Make Sense of Rising Inflation

Today's op-ed by C.P.Chandrasekhar really ought to be read backwards. The last sentence is more illuminative of his sentiments than any other:

In particular it [the problem of rising inflation] requires reversing many elements of the liberalisation resorted to in recent years.

That pretty much sums it up. He sees the post-1991 liberalization agenda as the source of all evil. No surprises there - anyone who has read his writings earlier is well-aware that he and Jayati Ghosh have long been virulent opponents and have been rewarded for that very reason as distinguished advisors to the Achuthanandan government in Kerala (even the WB government does not see much merit in taking their advice anymore).

To put it in a nutshell, his central argument is to revert to the old ways - a government monopoly over foodgrain purchase and supply. The FCI ought to maintain a huge stock of grain bought at a price fixed by the government and use that to supply it to supply at a subsidized rate to an expanded market that includes the middle class (unlike the current system where it is pretty much limited to the BPL segment). The idea is that this will shield both growers and consumers from the vagaries of the marketplace. I highlight here a few of the problems with this approach.

The current system is that the government allows farmers to sell their produce in the open market, i.e. to exporters and other buyers, and the FCI competes with them to purchase the same. That way, the farmers get a price determined by market competition rather than a government-fixed one. That is however a double edged sword - in good times, that can mean a better price but in bad times, it can also be worse. The trade-off is that if the commodity price falls in the market, farmers would also end up taking a hit. The FCI however exercises some degree of control over the price by virtue of being a large-scale buyer: it can buy or release grain in sufficient amounts to alleviate the impact of market forces. However, unlike in the past, the more limited PDS requirements nowadays means that the FCI no longer utilizes the huge stocks that it used to have in the past. So its stocks have diminished to some extent - Chandrasekhar says it has come down from 16.8 and 14.8 million tonnes recorded in 2003-04 and 2004-05 to 11.1 million tonnes in 2006-07. He and the Left have been making two main allegations: one is that this reduced size of its stocks has correspondingly reduced its ability to buffer prices. The government seems to have accepted this on its merits - Sharad Pawar announced yesterday that the government was planning to import foodgrains to prevent any shortfall. But Chandrasekhar is against that as well. He says:

Advocates of liberalisation would argue that this should not be a problem since the government can use the currently abundant foreign exchange reserves to import food and augment domestic supply. But the impact of such measures on producers would be damaging. Imports supplied to the domestic market at low prices (sometimes using subsidies), displace domestic production and worsen food security. The task is not to displace domestic production, but strengthen it so as to enhance food security. If not India would be a chronic victim of fluctuations and shocks in global markets.

I am unable to make much sense of this. He says that supplying imported foodgrains will lower domestic prices and hurt domestic producers. But when prices are high (meaning disproportionately high compared to the prices of other commodities), it means the domestic producers are already getting a good deal at the expense of the consumer, so why should bringing down prices to an acceptable level be unreasonable especially if one expects the government to bail out the very same producers when the situation is reversed and they find themselves in distress? In his view, the only viable solution is for the government to remain a captive market for domestic producers - that way, they get a fixed price for their produce and market fluctuations will remain solely the government's headache. The trouble with this strategy is that it rewards the uncompetitive domestic producer at the expense of the government. Farmers will be free to grow whatever they want and the government will be bound to buy the stuff at a good price no matter whether it sells in the market or simply ends up rotting in the FCI godowns. In other words, for any ensuing demand-supply mismatch, the government is expected to take the hit.

The other problem that he correctly recognizes is the close relationship between domestic and international prices.

Finally, liberalisation has meant that domestic prices tend to align with international prices not just in the case of products where part of supply is imported, but also in those where part of domestic production is exported. This is what has been happening in the case of commodities like iron and steel and other metals, in whose case international prices have been soaring because of increased demand especially from China. Indian firms participating in this international boom through rising exports at soaring prices are obviously adjusting or manipulating domestic prices upwards. This has forced the government not only to control the rise in prices but restrict exports.

Divorcing domestic from international prices is something the government already did for many years in the pre-1991 period. In fact, it is still doing that with many products. The trouble with that is that when it is done to shield the populace from price rise, the difference is borne by the government (one claim is that if the government is buying locally exclusively, it does not matter what the international price is; unfortunately, every product requires raw materials many of which are not available locally. When the cost of those materials goes up, the price of the finished product gets tied to international prices as well. To keep it low, the government will have to lower it artificially and internalize the difference). And when that disparity grows large, the subsidy burgeons turning into a major and unproductive expenditure that has the potential to wreck the economy. That was precisely what happened to the Soviet Union. Prices were kept artificially low through heavy subsidies paid for with oil revenues. When world oil prices collapsed in the early 1980s, the revenues fell forcing the government to confront a difficult predicament - either to open up the economy or simply raise prices without political reform forcing an unprepared public to pay more with their limited incomes for the same products. Does the Left want to repeat the same mistakes again?

He also talks of how falling rural expenditure has kept productivity from rising. Yet, while no leftist economist fails to mention the hurting rural economy and how it is the small and marginal farmers who have suffered the most, they leave out the other side of the story. In developed countries, 5-10% of the population is engaged in agriculture whereas the last time I read, the number was 68% in India and a significant number of those have small land holdings and not enough margin to sustain the vagaries of the marketplace. Why is it that we have so many small and marginal farmers? Answer: Land reform. By dividing up large land holdings and distributing fragments to the poor who in turn each divide it up amongst their many children, the state has directly set up this disaster. Like small companies which are the first ones to shut shop during recession, it is the small farmers who are forced to beg, borrow and commit suicide or sell their land and migrate when they cannot meet their obligations. More rural investment may be a good idea to keep rural economies afloat and mitigate the burden cities face from large scale migration but a reckoning with reality will compel one to conclude that rural economies, as they exist currently, are unsustainable. The long-term solution must therefore remain more of the same: The economies of scale that are necessary for increased production can only come into being through land consolidation and therefore, the state's priority ought to be to expand urban (not rural) infrastructure to accomodate the increased rural efflux and in the short term, to invest just enough in rural areas so as to mitigate, not prevent, this migration to bring it down to sustainable levels. This has indeed been the consistent direction that successive governments have taken (though the tilt was more pronounced during the NDA's rule) and to some extent, has stayed that way even during the UPA's tenure much to the chagrin of the Left.

As he correctly recognizes, protecting one part of the economy from liberalization is difficult when the rest of it is being subjected to the same process given that prices especially cannot be bracketed easily commodity-wise. To be sure, this is a difficult issue with different strata of society requiring different levels of state intervention. By pushing the government too far however, the Left risks driving the state into bankruptcy once again. That is exactly what they did in the past and what has left their views discredited to a significant extent ever since. To give in to more of the same and expect a different result this time is more than stupidity; in an increasingly integrated and interdependent world where India has come to acquire a significant stake, it is suicidal.

Hindu's Erroneous Take on the American Right

Friday's editorial in the Hindu on Barack Obama says:
Mr. Obama then fell into a rhetorical trap while speaking about white working class voters, a block whose support will be crucial in the tests ahead. In his essentially accurate yet insensitively expressed view, these voters “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” in order to overcome the bitterness wrought by their economic conditions.

Read Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times for a convincing refutation of this thesis. Krugman is no right-wing zealot. In fact, many of his economic ideas are the staple of leftist thought. The Hindu has published columns making the same claim before. In fact, the notion that economic woes are at the root of all political sentiment is the cornerstone of Marxist dogma. Compelling as it is, Krugman provides evidence that at least as applied in this manner, the view is simplistic and plainly erroneous.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Will we hear opinions like this India?

This is not a view expressed in the Chindu. This is not a view expressed in an Indian newspaper or other media.
This is the opinion of a law graduate Mr. Maajid Nawaz, born in Southend, Essex, reviewed his stand while in jail in Egypt and now believes it is time British Muslims became more moderate. Here he explains why.
This is from the British publishing The Sun,
There are some real sane, rational opinions here like,
For far too long a culture of blaming others and protecting “our own” has been tolerated.
A new standard needs to emerge. Protecting “our own” means all the people of our country, not merely one religious faction.

Another quote,
The right to life must also be non-negotiable. Just as British Muslims condemn the deaths of Muslim civilians in Iraq or Palestine, they must also condemn suicide bombings that kill nonMuslim civilians.

I found this on a blog, http://commonsenseagainstislam.websanon.com/ which has radical opinions to a reality that faces most democratic countries, the threat of radical extremism.
Will the Hindu face reality and question zealots and politicians who divide people using religion as a tool?
Do read the article on the Sun and let us know of your thoughts.

Divorced from realities

The price rise in agricultural commodities is a world wide phenomenon and with the lack of proactive steps the situation promises to get worse. There are many causes which have added up but still the world's leading economists have struggled to pinpoint the root cause of this issue. However our beloved comrades have found the cause of the issue in India...its the Manmohan Singh led UPA government.
The article is on the Chindu getting front page, (with a snapshot of the magnificent dirty dozen :))
The photo of the protesters is shown here,

The causes of the issue as identified by the CPM and its pals are nowhere close to what the real experts in the field state. Mr.Karat in his infinite wisdom states,
the government should ban futures trading in all essential commodities, withdraw all Bills allowing foreign direct investment in the commodities market, universalise the Public Distribution System, roll back the oil price hike, strengthen the essential commodities law and change the taxation structure of petroleum products.

Surprisingly there were a couple of the saner minds to be found joining these chumps. I was surprised to see N.Chandrababu Naidu with the CPM ( isn't the CPM supporting the Congress which has formed the govt. both in the Center and AP) and columnist M.J.Akbar one of the more rational writers from papers like TOI.
I guess desperate times bring in strange pairings together.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Mu Ka claims mathematical breakthrough, solved Fermat's Last Theorem

The DMK is an organization that has of late become an organization which makes senseless argument after another. The Chindu decides that whenever Mu Ka comes out of his castle decides to cover his statement.
Even if that statement happens to be senseless. Please read this article here,
In his infinite wisdom he says,
The DMK does not want the concept of the creamy layer to be considered when the ruling on reservation is being implemented. But if “we are offered only a shirt and not a towel, what do we do? We will take the shirt and keep demanding for the towel,”

There is no rationale given for the fight against the creamy layer exclusion. Instead what the article details is the simple filibustering by the DMK stating their point without any reason or support.
But Mu Ka claims another ploy of his was struck down by the courts,
Mr. Karunanidhi explained that the DMK had tried to implement the concept of reservation based on economic criterion when it was in power in the State earlier. If a person was the first graduate in the family, he was given 5 additional marks. As per this government order, 500 people benefited. But some people went to court and the government order was struck down.

Of course blame the courts and the forward communities while you are at it. The problem of not questioning stupid statements is alive and well.

Chindu dare not offend Congress

thanks to the alert reader for pointing it out.

The Congressman crushed by BSP is faceless whereas the other two are easily identifiable. Any failure by Congress is blamed on the party but any success automatically goes to the Dynasty. This is the Congress dictum, dutifully followed by the ace sycophant newspaper.

The Hindu : Miscellaneous / Cartoons : Cartoonscape

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reservations in Higher Education: Kalpana Kannabiran's Views

Kalpana Kannabiran's op-ed notes some concerns in her op-ed today:

The exemption of institutions listed in the Schedule to Act 5 of 2007, the minority institutions and, now, unaided private institutions, goes against the spirit of equality and considerably shrinks the space for entitlements of persons from vulnerable groups. It is not so much a question of the measure of equality between institutions inter se that is critical in access to education, as of the measure of equality between citizens differently placed because it is citizens who bear the brunt of discrimination and exclusion. After all, reservation is an inseparable part of the principle of equality and where equality is concerned, no institution can be outside its ambit.

'Reservation is an inseparable part of the principle of equality'. Eh? This view is a novel one. There is a view drawn from the U.S.Supreme Court decision in Bakke that claims that affirmative action is simply a facet of equality, a view first adopted by Jeevan Reddy with respect to employment in Indra Sawhney I. But in India, unlike the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, there are separate provisions for employment and education with different wording and different histories as well. While the US Supreme Court's view has itself been challenged by the dissenters in those cases, in India, at the very least, the meaning of the equality provision as applied to education is very clear and has been held before by the Indian Supreme Court in Champakam not to include reservations. The U.S.Supreme Court majority has also made it very clear a few years ago in its Grutter/Gratz decisions that affirmative action programs must be narrowly tailored to meet the interests of diversity and cannot include quotas.

She not only claims this as a right but goes further to say that the duty to provide for it is obligatory for all institutions. So, in other words, a college admission policy is unconstitutional if it does not provide for reservations! Not only does this view have no support in history or the constitution but it has been explicitly repudiated by the text of several provisions of the constitution. She is very upset that unaided and minority institutions have been excluded from its ambit. This claim is not entirely correct. For one thing, only Justice Bhandari has ruled that unaided institutions ought to be left out with the others choosing to remain silent upon it. So it is wrong to say that this is a position adopted by the Court. Secondly, the minority exception has been an integral feature of the constitution ever since the document was adopted in 1950, a feature that guaranteed their autonomy until 1989 from which time, successive judicial opinions have steadily eroded it. The 93rd amendment was drafted to restore an important aspect of this feature, namely their right to admit students of their choice. Any such right to autonomy is meaningless if they are required to follow government quota policies and the very fact that no such thing was imposed on them for several decades after independence makes it clear that her claim is duplicitous and false.

Notwithstanding the above concerns, this judgment has an important bearing on the entire system of higher education, especially institutions of excellence, because it challenges the idea that merit exists in a vacuum – outside of social location and equality of opportunity. Opening these institutions to Dalit and Adivasi students, especially, will bring in dimensions of diversity and counter-hegemonic thinking that will enrich the quality of education imparted there and strengthen democracy.

That she associates upper castes with hegemonic thinking reveals her innate bias against this group. I am aware of no evidence that forward caste people seek hegemony any more than the backward castes. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that hegemony or brahminism as it has been unfortunately labeled, is a feature of the lower castes as much if not more than the forward ones. Witness the strong calls for including the creamy layer - these are not coming from the upper castes but from the lower ones and the driving force behind it is the pressure from caste leaders (that often includes political leaders as well) who are anxious that the benefits that have accrued to the economically powerful and prominent sections of their communities will be lost. So the allegation is that the creamy layer will break caste unity and should be avoided (that is the message being promoted across the entire caste membership to support the cause). The last time when there was some confusion about whether the SC had extended the creamy layer to the SC/STs in the M.Nagaraj case, every Dalit-dominated outfit and virtually every leader of note was in the forefront expressing his/her righteous indignation and seeking its overturning. These parties ought to know that the central aim of quotas was to increase the sie of the educated base of lower caste groupings in order to raise their social status, a goal that is significantly defeated by allowing these benefits to be monopolized by a limited few who have already been uplifted and are less deserving of the state's support. Furthermore, protecting caste unity has never been considered a compelling state interest. And yet, despite all these facts staring in the face, they have the audacity to openly seek the abrogation of this policy and revert to a less progressive, elitist and if I might add, hegemonistic position that is far less effective in advancing this legitimate objective. In light of all this, I would ask the author: what basis does she have to believe that the lower castes are less hegemonic than the upper ones? This is a questionable assertion being peddled not only to smear the upper castes but to set up a common external enemy to be conveniently targeted for political advantage.

She also claims that including Dalit and Adivasi students will enrich the quality of education. As much as this may be a fond hope, has it done so in practice? I am aware of no clear evidence either way as regards this point. Does caste diversity in the classroom promote better citizenship of young college-going people? Perhaps though I do not know if this is actually the case. More importantly, the latter would not actually count as enrichment of education but as one prominent judge noted, is more an experience of life that is not taught in the literal sense of the word. Unless further studies can show that all other factors accounted for, universities with quotas produce more successful alumni than those without them, I would at the very least be sceptical of such a claim.

On The Gen-X Candidate for PM

The Hindu editorial 'Rhetoric and reality' today aims at the make-Rahul-PM episode triggered by Arjun Singh's recent comment. Why the paper attaches so much significance to this incident is unclear to me. Whether this is Arjun Singh trying to win brownie points with the Congress' first family or a polite way of hinting that the PM is not a charismatic personality who can win elections, the matter, in my view, merits little more attention than a brief mention of the item and the official party reaction to the proposal. The paper however uses the occasion to remind the party of some truths and give it some advice.Some truths such as the state of the party are there for all to see. Others are debatable. Here is an extract from para 2:

Who the Congress fields as its prime ministerial candidate is its own business. Outsiders cannot expect to have any say in this. It is also nobody’s case that Mr. Gandhi must be denied the democratic right to pursue politics as a career. But when a party that claims to be democratic and inclusive practises unashamed dynastic politics, it must expect to get flak from all directions.

Has the Congress claimed in recent times to be democratic? It certainly was at one time but has it said so at any point after Indira Gandhi took over? I am not sure. But is it any less democratic than other parties? I do not believe so. In most parties in India nowadays, major decisions are made based on the collective opinion of central leaders. If the matter pertains to a state, state leaders are consulted a priori before the deliberations are held. And the same system seems to prevail in most parties though minor details may vary. To that extent, all parties are democratic. But do any of them hold genuinely free elections like the American party primaries? No. So the argument made by the Hindu is questionable especially given that it makes no similar criticism as regards the CPM. Furthermore is the Congress not sufficiently inclusive? It has people from all communities under its banner and I see no ground for this charge.

Consider the state of his party in Uttar Pradesh, which he desperately wants to win back. During the run-up to the 2007 Assembly election, the Congress, with Mr. Gandhi in the lead, worked for the unconstitutional dismissal of the Mulayam Singh government. On the campaign trail, he boasted that his family had divided Pakistan.

Many a prominent leader has committed a faux pas at some point or another. Does that exclude all of them from becoming PM? Leaders from the left parties too worked for the unconstitutional dismissal of the Gujarat government during and after the riots. They worked to deliberately undermine the constitutional machinery during the Nandigram incidents in order to buy time for their cadres to reestablish their supremacy in the area illegally through brute force. Will the Hindu make the same argument that all the current CPM leaders are precluded from standing for the PM's post if the Third Front wins enough seats in the next election because of their tainted association with these incidents?

Right now, he is leading a vicious charge against U.P. Chief Minister Mayawati in a misconceived bid to wean away her Dalit base. Ms Mayawati has worked diligently and broad based her approach to get where she is. The latest evidence of her political success is the Bahujan Samaj Party’s sweep of by-elections in two Lok Sabha and three Assembly constituencies. Rather than target a charismatic mass leader, the Congress general secretary should work at nurturing genuine talent from Dalit and other oppressed and non-privileged sections so that the Congress ceases to be a party of patronage offering lip sympathy to the downtrodden.

Again, what exactly is vicious about leading a charge against Mayawati? Leading a charge is something that politicians regularly indulge in; again, it is she who has made the vile comments about him. So the advice is that he should not target a charismatic mass leader. Is the paper willing to give that advice to all other political leaders as well? Is it willing to tell the left leaders to back off from attacking Sonia Gandhi, a mass leader? Is it willing to tell the Congress not to go after L.K.Advani or Narendra Modi who are both recognized mass leaders? Instead, the paper has often berated the Congress for not going after the BJP leadership most recently during the Gujarat elections. The last sentence that it should work at nurturing genuine talent is true as much of the upper castes/OBCs as of Dalits but what is the basis for saying that the Congress only offers lip sympathy to the downtrodden whereas Mayawati has somehow done something much more substantive? For all I have seen, the only thing she has been doing is renaming everything after Dalit leaders and building more statues of Ambedkar and more recently, of herself. For the Hindu to sing her praises in the absence of any signal achievement worth mention is bewildering and typical of a strange liberal tendency in India to simply celebrate the rise of a Dalit overlooking even fundamental flaws in the individual's leadership - this is true of Mayawati now as much as it was of Jagjivan Ram three decades ago.

I am not for or against Rahul Gandhi. It is a fact that his family is very popular with the rank and file of his party and will readily accept him as PM - in that sense, he has a better claim to the post than the incumbent. But the point of this post is not that. It is to showcase the patently false assertions of this newspaper made on the basis of jaundiced views about the family and the Congress party. The party would do well to set its house in order but the gratuitous advice on political ethics rendered by the paper would hold more water if only it were to apply those principles equally to its favored groups in the political spectrum as well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Party remains unscathed

An interesting article by P.Sainath. Comparing "loan waiver" to Bear Sterns bailout is really "apple vs oranges". The Fed prints bills at the rate of 2billion per day and the US deficit stands over 8.7 trillion. But what is 15billion when compared to our budget deficit? The US economy is vastly different from India's. I give that , although inappropriate, the comparison puts the "loan waiver" in a different perspective. However, 15billion waiver is still fiscal imprudence. Deriding capitalism and promoting socialism is a poor attempt at justifying populism.

The Hindu : Opinion / Leader Page Articles : Between a rock and a hard place
To be fair to the Union Agriculture Minister, he alone has not laid the blame at the door of faceless global forces. Sharad Pawar locates the problem closer home. In his view, south Indians are eating too many chapathis, leading to shortages of wheat. (DNA page 1, April 2, 2008). An entertaining view but there’s a problem with it. Even while dietary changes do affect consumption patterns, these occur over decades. There is little evidence of an outburst of wheat-centric gluttony in the southern States these past six months. (Unless, of course, with great cunning, the southies are hoarding it up for future chapathi orgies.)
Thanks for attacking such nonsense.
And we also exported millions of tonnes of grain — as in 2002 — and 2003. What’s more, we exported at prices cheaper than those we charged poor people in this country for the same grain. The idea was that we had a “huge surplus” of grain and could well afford to export. The truth was that the massive pileup of unsold stock arose from a surplus of hunger rather than of grain.

This is the curious bit. These are the facts:
India exported millions of tons of grain in 2002 and 2003. There was a huge surplus.
From the CBOT data, I see price volatility in 02 and 03 but largely the prices have been better than over the previous years. It is also during these years that the bullish trend kicked in. The international prices were definitely not depressed to force India to undersell.
BJP ruled during 02 and 03.
Over the past 3 years, food stocks have been reducing.
Farmer suicides increased dramatically over the past 3 years.
There was a wheat import scam under the UPA government.
Congress has been ruling since 04.

NDTV.com: Wheat import: UPA in trouble
There is more trouble for Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. After the Left, it was the turn of the congress party to distance itself from the government's decision to import wheat at a huge cost.
BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Is India facing a food crisis?
Stocks have come down over the past three years because of low production and exports.

Sharad Pawar gets the blame and "The Party" remains unscathed. Some are beyond reproach.

Krishna Iyer on .....err....nothing

Krishna Iyer's column today extolls the virtues of an 'ideological' law reforms commission for Kerala. This op-ed has all the hallmarks of his regular columns, in particular, the use of lofty language to convey repetitive and stale messages of his 'socialist swaraj'. I will not repeat my criticism of his views which I made in my previous post on the subject; it suffices to note that all of them apply here with the same force. One additional point about this piece is its utter lack of substantive content - he does not cite a single specific aim or achievement of this body which he says he chairs. When he is not railing, he is simply moralizing. An example:
I beseech the Prime Minister, and the president of the ruling Congress, not to jettison the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The imperative perspective of the Preamble obligates pragmatic legal engineering to validate the substantive constitutional propositions beyond vain verbosity...

Hindu op-eds have traditionally offered analytical perspectives coupled sometimes with concrete recommendations for change. Iyer's writing is little more than simply an articulation of his worldview with absolutely nothing new to add in column after column on why people ought to be persuaded towards adopting it. The fact that he gets so much space here reflects the paucity of good columnists writing regularly for its pages.

Fwd: Kerala Groups to Protest 'Olympics Torch of Shame'

in support of the movement..

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Friends of Tibet

Kerala-based Human Rights and Social organisations have come forward
to protest the 'Olympics Torch of Shame' which will be on the Indian
Soil on Thursday, April 17, 2008.

Friends of Tibet, Design & People, Human Rights Law Network (Kerala),
Periyar Riverkeeper, Kashi, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, World Tibet Day,
Samajwadi Jana Parishad are some of the organisations participating in
Thursday's protest meet which will be held at the Theresa Square,
Opposite Vanitha Police station, Ernakulam on April 17, 2008 at
5:30pm. Organisations are also planning to hold a candle light vigil
and the screening of a documentary film on the Tibet issue at Theresa
Square. The candle light vigil is organised to protest the Chinese
aggression on Tibet and in memory of hundreds of activists who gave up
their lives for an independent Tibet since the 49th Anniversary of the
Tibetan Uprising on March 10, 2008.

Meanwhile massive 25-feet high 'Olympics Torch of Shame with No Flame'
conceptualised by Kashi Art Gallery is being erected at the Fort Kochi
beach on April 13 (Photos and a report:
http://peoplefortibet.blogspot.com/). The protest torch is attracting
hundreds of people and will be kept unlit till the Olympics Torch
leaves India.

Friends of Tibet is joining and organising protest marches and public
meets at various places in India on April 17, 2008 to highlight the
serious situation inside Chinese-occupied Tibet. To know more about
the organisation and its activities, visit: www.friendsoftibet.org. To
know more about events in India, you may call: +91.9815601768,
+91.9967021592, +91.9895884379 or email: support@friendsoftibet.org.

. . . . .
Friends of Tibet, PO Box: 16674, Bombay 400050, India.
. . . . .
Friends of Tibet is a people's movement to keep alive the issue of
Tibet through direct action. Our activities are aimed at ending
China's occupation of Tibet and the suffering of the Tibetan people.
Friends of Tibet supports the continued struggle of the Tibetan people
for independence. To know more, visit: www.friendsoftibet.org

. . . . .

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Kettle calling the pot black

I'm in awe that the day would come when 'The Hindu' would dare point fingers at someone to say that they are sycophants. Are you kidding me?
The Political pundit, Mr. Harish Khare speaketh that Mr.Arjun Singh has been disavowed by the Congress for making statements that Rahul Gandhi should be made PM. Now the statement itself is controversial and in some ways stupid, but it would be ignorance to deny that Mama Sonia would not have any grandiose thoughts of her son taking over the throne left by her husband.
Anyways Mr.Khare's article can be read in its entirety here,
So the story goes thus, Arjun Singh in one of his moments to grab the spotlight decides to speak an open secret that Rahul Gandhi should be considered for PM. Nothing wrong with that, when Manmohan Singh and Gujral can become the PM without facing a public election, whats to prevent Rahul or Rajiv's Mini-me from seeking the crown.

Thing is the elections are a year away and such statements will hurt potential partners from coming to the Congress. This the Congress high command or Sonia will not allow. This Shakespearean tragi-comedy has many ironies here namely,
1. Jayanthi Natarajan is the grand daughter of Bakthavathsalam and comes from a lineage of sycophants to the Gandhi-Nehru family if one were to read their public statements in the past. (Thanks for correction Thyagarajan)
In fact Rajiv Gandhi died when he was to address an election rally in support of the Congress candidate Maragatham Chandrasekhar. If you notice the videos leading up to the assassination of Rajiv you would notice that Jayanthi and Maragatham were close to Rajiv when he got out of the car, but mysteriously vanished when he went to talk to the hoi polloi. Conspiracy theories anyone?
2. Harish Khare states,
what Mr. Singh did amounted to undermining the image Ms. Gandhi has assiduously built as party chief: that she does not crowd the Prime Minister out of his constitutional domain

I'm sure there are a hundred examples of how Mr.Singh was hindered from doing his Constitution bound duties by the machinations of Mama Sonia.
3. Harish then goes on give examples of how Arjun Singh had torpedoed Congress Governments and the Congress Party in the past. However what he fails to explain is how could a person in such a position have survived those moves without the backing of someone powerful?
4. The general picture painted by Mr.Khare that Mr. Singh is the only sycophant and there are no others in the Congress. That theory is blown out of the water by anyone who attends or walks past a Congress meeting or even views a Congress poster. You would see the pictures (in decreasing sizes) of Sonia, then the local head, then the representative (MP or MLA) and finally Manmohan Singh.

5. Finally, Mr.Khare decides to conclude
The public rebuke to unalloyed sycophancy seems to send out a new kind of political message.

But Mr.Khare, you must forget the old saying that people in glass houses should not throw stones. Likewise the Hindu which is blatant supporter and panders to the ideologies of the CPM, China and few other special interest groups should not be advising anyone of sycophancy without getting its own house in order.

How do you think Chindu would report this news?

thanks to satish for the links
** China 'now top carbon polluter' **
China has already overtaken the US as the world's biggest polluter, according to a new report by US scientists.

** China 'gold medal' for executions **
China put to death at least 470 people last year but may have killed up to 8,000, Amnesty International says.

Here is my take:

China overtakes US
According to a news report by US scientists, China has overtaken US as the top producer of carbon. Speaking to Xinhua, the Chinese Premier has attributed to this to the growing economic power of China. He said that Chinese economy will continue to grow at over 10% for the next decade.
In another report, Amnesty International praised China for its organ harvesting policies. The report says that atleast 470 people visiting the gulags have volunteered to donate their organs but the numbers could be as high as 8000.

This will be followed up by an editorial by Yuan Ram on how India must emulate China.

All Hail China!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Dangerous precedent

In what promises to be a precedent, the Maoists using questionable tactics forced the King of Nepal to hold elections and using standard CPM elections strategies won 110 seats and look to form the Govt. there.
The Hindu gloats right here,
Most definitely in the next few days there will be an editorial of how the Maoists decided to turn to democracy and the validity of their election. But what will be glossed over is how they used terrorism and thugs to force the King to hold elections. This does not bode well for India as similar strategies will be employed by the Maoist rebels in certain states and try to force elections in their states. One needs to look no further than Kerala and WB to see how the Maoist/Marxist experiment has worked out. With Nepal being one of the buffer states between China, the weakened state of Nepal does not bode well for the security of India.
Probably in the near future, China will annex Nepal (the only Hindu country in the world) and The Hindu will probably proclaim that the Nepalis were Chinese citizens living under the illegal monarchy of Nepal. The King can then join the Dalai Lama and the leader of Taiwan in the deposed leaders club.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Manipulative Mainos - an old report from Italy

Look what the beacon of socialism (The Frontline) had to say 10 years ago about the current two-in-one beacon (of secularism and sacrifice).This is one of the most interesting artciles I have ever read. We get amazing glimpses about the Maino family that are guarded more ferociously than even Indian national secrets.


. "I remember it like it was yesterday. Sonia was 20 years old. We were having a school reunion and she had come here with some old pupils. Dinner was being served when she suddenly announced she had to leave. "Why," one of us asked, "you've been away in England and we haven't seen much of you. Why don't you stay for dinner?"

"No," she said, "I can't stay. I have a special guest coming to dinner tonight." When we asked her who it was that was so special, she said with a peculiar toss of the head: "It's the son of Indira Gandhi, India's Prime Minister." I can still see her standing there. A little later she went to India. She had turned 21 by then. And then one day we opened our newspapers and saw the headlines. She had married Rajiv Gandhi. She had sent a telegram home to her father from India informing him of her decision as soon as she turned 21. She was always a little manipulative. She should do well in politics," adds Sister Anna Maria with a wry twist to her lips

I set off for the Maino residence. The last time I visited, it was closed and shuttered. Now the windows are open and there is a large metal blue car parked in the driveway behind the high gate with its prominently displayed "Beware of Dog" sign. Number 14 Via Bellini is a large two-storey house painted a dull, dark ochre with chocolate brown shutters. In a generally poor and run-down area, the house is conspicuous by its neat and well-kept appearance

There are three names on the interphone outside. Maino A., Maino N. and Maino Predebon. I know that Anushka, Sonia's elder sister, is in town. I ring the bell.

"Who is it?" a querulous voice answers.

"An Indian journalist. I would like to speak to someone from the family," I answer.

The voice immediately becomes tough, aggressive. "There is no one here. Go away," it says peremptorily.

"When will they be back?" I persist.

"I don't know, not for a while. I am just the maid. I can't tell you anymore." I know that voice. It bears an uncanny resemblance to Sonia Gandhi's. The reaction does not surprise me.

I knew Stephano, or Eugenio Maino as he liked to be called, quite well. He has been dead these past ten years or more. Came here penniless as a mason and made good. Started a small construction business. Brought up his daughters in the old traditional way - church, confirmation, communion. Suspicious of foreigners, he was.......I ask him about Eugenio Maino's alleged Fascist sympathies. "That shouldn't surprise you. He came from Asiago not far from Vicenza in the Veneto region where nationalism was strong. He fought in the Russian campaign alongside the Germans and remained true to Fascist Nationalist ideology all his life.......He even gave his three daughters Russian names in honour of the campaign in which he fought. He venerated the Duce. Many still do," says Giovanni, referring to Italy's war-time Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Even so, I wonder if we in Italy would accept a foreigner, and a woman at that, to take over a party which has symbolised the country's struggle against foreign rule and which continues to enjoy great, if diminished, support across the land

I was at school with Sonia until the age of 12. After that she went to the more fashionable college of Maria Ausiliatrice in Giaveno, 15 km away, run by the nuns. Sonia was a year older than I - I was born in 1947, she in 1946. She was nice but always aware of her social superiority. But Anushka, her sister, is not nice. She is a nasty piece of work, that one...

Her son is the best-liked in the family. He seems to be a real gentleman. And so goodlooking! But the daughter takes after her aunt - tough, arrogant and stubborn. I remember the tantrums Priyanka threw when she came visiting with her mother - a typically rich, spoilt brat. We were all very disappointed when Sonia decided to enter politics. I'm sure she did it for her daughter. They also say there are corruption charges against the family, that Rajiv took a lot of money. But somehow I cannot believe he did it for himself

Serena and Sylvia take me to Anushka's shop in Gerbola di Rivolta. They want to be photographed among the Indian artefacts there and I am happy to oblige.....The shop called Etnica is located in a lonely and depressing commercial complex a couple of km from Orbassano......The shop itself is an oasis of good taste in a desert of semi-urban kitsch. There are some rare old pichwais. A couple of exquisite silver pieces from Bikaner. The display is an intelligent mix of old and new, antique objects and recent Indian artefacts. The prices are astoundingly high. I noticed goods like Shatoosh shawls, the export and sale of which is banned.

I can't tell you the exact price of the Shatoosh. I received it a few days ago and the price has not been finalised. But it will certainly be between four and six million lire (between $2,000 and $3,000)," the shop assistant had told me on my last trip. A wooden cupboard from Kerala was selling for three million lire - $1,500 - while the pichwais were priced even higher.

I had found the horsey-looking young woman minding the shop a little bizzare. She boasted about her trips to India to buy stuff for the shop but denied she or the shop had any connection with the Nehru-Gandhi family. "I'm told Sonia comes from somewhere around here," she said, trying to look vague, "but the shop has nothing to do with her. The owner is someone from Torino." I had persisted and she had once more vehemently denied any connection. I had found it strange that a shop assistant out in the Italian boondocks should speak fluent English and be so knowledgeable about Indian antiques. She must have a very generous employer indeed, I had mused, pondering over the mystery.

Now seeing me in the company of Serena and Sylvia, she blanches. We have walked into the shop and I have my camera ready. They turn around to greet her but she is already throwing us out unceremoniously. The shop assistant is none other than Aruna, Anushka's daughter and Sonia Gandhi's niece. The girls apologise profusely for her rudeness. "We knew she was arrogant and nasty, but not this nasty," they say.

Aruna and I exchange knowing looks. I am tempted to challenge her earlier claims. Then, feeling sorry for her, I take a picture of the shop from the outside and leave.

Sonia Gandhi's niece "thinks" that her aunt comes from somewhere around India and that this shop has no connection whatsoever with Madam Maino!! Wahhh!!!

Of course people here have heard of the financial scandals surrounding Rajiv Gandhi. But Italians are so used to corrupt politicians that they tend not to hold that against her. And then the amount involved is not very big. Billions of dollars were stolen by Italian politicians as the Clean Hands investigation revealed. We all know about the links between the mafia and politicians. So all that talk about corruption does not bother us. However, I am surprised at what they told you at the shop. Why should they deny links with the Gandhi family, with Sonia? What do they have to hide

I am told Subramanian Swamy filed a case against Madam Maino based on this report for illegally exporting antiques to Italy. Not surprisingly, the case was dismissed in 2005.

The report may not be completely true; but serves a grim reminder to the sycophantic media that Madam Maino is certainly not the angel that she is made out to be. She has been charged with nepotism, corruption,opportunism -charges that have been levelled against any other politician. Why should she alone be exalted ? It could perhaps be for her refusal to accept Indian citizenship despite being married into the family of the Prime Minsiter for well over a decade.How may patriots can boast of that? People who knew her in Italy say she was always manipulative. We couldn't agree more. Madam Maino's palanquin bearers must understand that to "serve the poor" one need'nt be the PM; or worse, be the power behind the throne. Mother Therasa too served the poor.Madam Maino was at her manipulative best in 2004. She wanted power without responsibility and has got more than what she bargained for.