Friday, May 30, 2008

Krishna Iyer's Inanities

Today's article by V.R.Krishna Iyer is hilarious. The gist of his article is that sunlight is being wasted if it is not being harnessed to meet our energy requirements. Every kid knows that as well. It is like saying that if we have a drinking water shortage, it can be rectified by finding a way to utilize water from the oceans. And strong winds often blow across the beaches of Kerala; should we not be running windmills everywhere to harness that? It surely does not take a genius to know any of that. But how to do that is the million dollar question which we expect folks with special knowledge of the subject to enlighten us in a serious paper like THe Hindu. Is there any sign, however faint, of some enlightenment in this article? I could not find it even by going over it with a lens, just a lot of vacuous rhetoric. Mr. Iyer might know something of politics and the law but he is definitely no energy expert and certainly does not come across as someone who has even made a feeble attempt to learn about the details of energy questions of the day. There is an old saying that empty vessels make a lot of noise. Mr. Iyer appears to have become a living embodiment of this dictum. He could do a lot better for himself and his own image by realizing the virtues of silence.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

spindianexpress

It is rather unfortunate that a popular blog criticizing media bias has been shutdown through unfair mechanisms. There have been a few blogs which took on the large media establishments before but, in my opinion, none brought attention to the serious issue of intellectual prostitution in such an entertaining way. While WheelerDealer might have stretched it a bit too far with his below-the-belt take on Shekhar Gupta, it must also be remembered that Shekhar Gupta himself is culpable of more serious crimes like sedition. Media in India is one of the most powerful institutions with little responsibility. As power without responsibility would do, it has corrupted the media beyond reproach. SpindianExpress has shown the way for fellow concerned citizens on catalogue-ing the media corruption. Unfortunately, its popularity turned out to be its death knell. I am inclined to believe that Shekhar Gupta has used his political influence to force Google do evil. Google has shown its willingness in the past to remain in business by appeasing governments .

In an asymmetric power equation, this action of censorship raises serious questions firstly about freedom of speech in India and secondly about what options we bloggers have. It reminds me of the IIPM case against bloggers. Indian democracy has shown autocratic tendencies in the past. But the Left liberals have been conspicuous by their absence. No rallying cries about freedom of speech.On its part, the Congress carefully cultivates sycophancy, trampling upon individual freedom. Apart from the dubious distinction of Emergency, Congress tried to wreck havoc on established media outlets like Indian Express in the 80s for not toeing the party line. More recently, it was up with arms against the Eenadu group. Where does it leave the minions, us bloggers? As Rajeev Srinivasan says, if you criticize the dynasty, be prepared that you will have someone knocking on your door past midnight. Not to forgot that there is no anonymity on the internet.

A few words about WheelerDealer before I end this post. I appreciate your courage and determination in taking on the established media outlet and exposing the shenanigans. You have been one of the inspirations behind this blog. You initiated a movement, and as with any movement, it does not end with censorship. As we continue our efforts to increase awareness and fight for media accountability in our own small way, our thoughts are with you.

Fwd: China's quake: the dam factor

i am inclined to believe that the environmental damage caused by the
dam is not fully understood. while the engineering feat by the chinese
is laudable, we also need to question the motivations and the
implications of the dam construction. do not expect chindu to raise
this issue any time soon.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Girish
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/foreigndesk/detail?&entry_id=26613

As Chinese officials continue to grapple with the devastating
earthquake that has killed tens of thousands of people, they have also
been seeking to to reassure the world that the nearby behemoth Three
Gorges Dam is safe.

Critics of the dam have long painted a bleak picture of mass death and
destruction in the Yangtze River region should the dam fail. They say
its placement in an earthquake-prone area is one of its most dangerous
attributes.

Now, there is speculation that the world's largest and perhaps most
controversial dam was a factor in causing the killer Sichuan province
quake. Scientists from around the world have long theorized that the
sheer weight of the reservoir created by the dam could cause seismic
shifts in the area. A recent article in Scientific American explained
the issue and said 19 earthquakes in China over the past 50 years
could be blamed on dams.

Though no one has directly fingered Three Gorges as the reason for the
earthquake, Probe International, a Canadian non-profit that monitors
China's dams and their environmental and humanitarian fallout, raises
the possibility.

"Whether reservoir-induced seismicity is behind last week's earthquake
should be urgently investigated before the Three Gorges reservoir is
filled to its maximum height," said Patricia Adams, the group's
executive director.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blatant omission of the Amnesty International report

Amnesty international releases annual reports detailing the human rights situation in most countries across the globe. For most part, the report is a scathing indictment of the practices followed by the various law and order functionaries and other groups. The report details the human rights abuses in various parts of India as well as detailed in its India report here.
Chindu has been an outspoken critic of the human rights abuses that happen in NDA ruled states and often quotes the Amnesty report to buttress its points but has chosen to remain silent.
This current report focuses on the issues like the bomb blasts,
Hundreds of people were killed in bomb attacks, including 66 passengers on a train to Pakistan in February, 42 in Hyderabad in August and 10 in Uttar Pradesh in November.

Issues like the Nandigram incidents,
In Nandigram in West Bengal, private militias owing allegiance to the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist – CPI-M) and armed supporters of local organizations battled for territorial control. The authorities failed to persuade farmers protesting against the decision to relocate an industrial project to the area to lift their blockades. A range of human rights violations followed, including unlawful killings, forced evictions, excessive police force, violence against women, denial of access and information to the media and human rights organizations, harassment of human rights defenders and denial of justice to victims of violations.

There were statistics detailed including the headcount of people affected,
In January and March, at least 25 people, mostly local residents, were killed in Nandigram, more than 100 were injured and at least 20 women were sexually assaulted by private militias allied to the ruling CPI-M.

The release of the report has been widely covered by the leading media including Hindustan Times, Times Of India, India Daily etc. However Chindu using its journalistic principles has decided to turn a blind eye to the report. This is another clear example of how Chindu uses human rights and civil liberties as slogans and selectively refers to certain human rights incidents to serve its narrow left leaning principles.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Counter terror with nothing

Mukul Sharma is a "jhollawalla" who often gets disproportionate amount of space on Chindu's Opinion page, which he uses to write liberal nonsense.

Take the example below. Mukul Sharma opens by saying terrorism is an assault on fundamental rights. Obviously, the suicide bombers are assaulting the fundamental rights of us. But Mukul Sharma says the only way we can protect ourselves is to protect the fundamental rights of these suicide bombers. Nice! So you all now know that if you walk up to Mukul Sharma and slap him hard on his face or kick him in his butt, he will not retaliate because he believes in fundamental rights.

The Hindu : Opinion / Leader Page Articles : Counter terror with justice
Terrorism is an assault on people’s fundamental human rights.

The only way people can be protected — from both governments and suicide bombers — is to treat every single human being as possessing fundamental rights that no government, group or individual may ever justifiably take away.


And then, there is the usual talk about Muslims, human rights etc. This terror apologist has made his career out of this stuff. Nothing that can stand scrutiny; just liberal platitudes and no concrete recommendations on how to tackle terrorism.

Delusional rants

While most newspapers were busy covering Gujjar riots, Chindu looked for "national news" in a CPM conference. This is how it is pushing itself into irrelevance.
Interestingly, most newspapers called the panchayat polls in WB a setback to CPM but CPM and hence Chindu think otherwise in a self-congratulatory mood.
The Hindu : National : CPI(M) asked to take people into confidence
Though the Left Front won a majority of the rural bodies in the panchayat polls the reverses it suffered in certain areas could be attributed partially to the failure to effectively stand up to the tirade against the government’s polices on industrialisation and development as well as the often inadequate response to the “lies and the malicious” campaign launched by the Opposition on these matters, the meeting noted.

What "opportunistic alliance" is Karat talking about here. There were never any pre-poll arrangements. BJP fought a two-way battle with Congress and JD(S). In fact, the only "opportunistic alliance" possible is between Congress and JD(S).
I wonder what they serve at these CPM conferences that these "national leaders" end up hallucinating.

The Hindu : National : A warning to secular parties, says Karat
One aspect of the Karnataka Assembly election was the “opportunistic alliance” of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular), and this would be looked into — along with other issues — when the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) gets to analyse the outcome of the polls, the party’s general secretary, Prakash Karat, said here on Monday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Noble thoughts but wrong conclusions -IIT Syndrome

Quite often Chindu allows great pieces in its Sunday Open Page or the Sunday Magazine. While the context is often relevant and the train of thought is interesting, the conclusions drawn and evidence given in support don't really add up. Case in point, the recent article on the IIT syndrome by Mohammed Issam Siddique. The writer makes a simple argument that IIT's are elite institutions but the applicants outnumber the seats by a factor of 100. Given the inherent struggle and competition to enter into these institutions and the obvious career benefits the perspective of those involved often focuses only on the financial aspects. The author wants the IITs to
instead should focus on developing innovative ideas and products which can take the world forward.

Great ideals, but wrong insight on the issue. The author decides to blame a few people for the morass, the children and their parents for being petty and money minded and implicitly blaming imperialistic forces,
Secure because the lads coming out of such prestigious institutions are obviously going to be kidnapped by firms ready to drape them in bundles of dollars.

Mr. Siddique forgets that the students coming out have something called as freedom of choice. No one is putting a gun to their head to choose a company. Another statement with little logic is,
The IITs instead should focus on developing innovative ideas and products which can take the world forward. Rather than priding ourselves on high paid jobs, we should encourage income generating ideas. We need entrepreneurs who are daring enough to show the world the new way.

Some of the most innovative minds in the world today have been graduates of the IIT and have lead in the creation of the cutting edge technologies and innovations from the Pentium chip to the Windows operating system to the Java language to microfinancing, naval architecture, communication advancements and defense operations. The list is incredibly long and can clearly negate the article's specious argument.
There are poorly structured arguments like the below which indicate poor writing style,
And coaching centres are no way to get into such places. Only pure brilliance and unfettered dedication will let you survive inside the IITs.

The booming economy in most sectors has ensured that the pay scales of those coming out of other institutions are on the same scale of those coming out of the IITs. There are several options beyond the IIT's than it were say 15 years ago. While the students, parents and coaching centers can be accused of focusing on financial benefits, should the government not be blamed for not setting up more institutions or allowing private groups to setup institutions of similar standards?
The Chindu prided itself of writing quality editorials with structured arguments but upon reading this editorial one can see how far the apple has fallen from the tree.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Hindu's Advice to Combat Rising Oil Prices

Today's editorial and op-ed by K.Venugopal are a study in contrast. The editorial prevaricates on how the government can adjust oil taxes to ensure 'revenue-neutrality':

Two key issues need to be addressed clear-sightedly. Who should bear the subsidy burden? Secondly, how can the subsidy bill be brought down? The answer to the first question is obvious: the OMC losses must be borne by the Central budget, not by PSU balance sheets. The answer to the second question is more complex.

Right now, about 40 per cent of the retail sale price of petrol and diesel consists of excise and import duties. Sales tax constitutes another 15 per cent to 25 per cent depending on which State one is in. Reducing these levies, while moderating the increase in retail prices, will improve the bottom line of the OMCs. Nearly a quarter of Central tax revenues come from levies on oil products but given the other positive trends in the economy, it should be possible to calibrate an excise-cum-subsidy adjustment that is broadly revenue-neutral. Over the medium-term, a prudent tax policy will require a widening of the revenue base away from excessive dependence on petro products. With the average oil price predicted to hit $150 and even $200 a barrel in the months ahead, the slack provided by excessive indirect taxation will eventually be exhausted. Protecting the poor by subsidising kerosene is one thing but there is no reason why the owners of private vehicles, for example, should be protected from global price trends. The real longer-term answer is taking energy conservation seriously. This means a strategic policy of targeting the present energy inefficiencies, reducing the energy-intensity of the economy, expanding public transportation, and sending out the right price signals towards this end.
Venugopal's plain-speaking demolishes these ideas. He points out two things. The first is that even entirely eliminating the oil tax will only address 40% of the need. So this excise-cum-subsidy adjustment essentially relies on the Laffer curve (less tax = more revenue because of buoyancy of economy) which is strange given that the Hindu had decried precisely the very same idea as 'unproven' when the NDA government applied it in their budget proposal.

To keep consumer prices where they are, the Opposition parties have suggested that the Centre reduce taxes on petroleum so that the oil companies can keep more of the consumer rupee. On the face of it, this appears a reasonable suggestion but it could be both inadequate and unfair. The Centre collected about Rs. 71,000 crore in excise and import duties on petroleum in 2006-07, which means that even if the duties were forsaken entirely, they would provide just 40 per cent of the need. On the other hand, without such revenue the budget would be weakened leading to spending cuts on many a social programme. While petroleum is used in the production of most goods and even services, not every one in the population enjoys it in equal measure. Just one third of the country’s households, for instance, use LPG in the kitchen. Of course it is much the cleaner fuel, and every attempt must be made to make it more accessible. But as things stand, the less fortunate in the population, who make do with firewood and farm residue, gain nothing from a stable LPG price. It would be a rather unjust denouement if a reduction in any government social programme should impact this section of society.
For all the talk in the editorial about reducing consumption and developing alternative sources to also reduce climate change, note that it does not offer any policy proposal to make this transition. Venugopal correctly indicates that the best way to incentivize these alternatives is to expose the consumer to market prices. That way, higher prices will force consumers to cut back on their driving, use of private vehicles and reduce consumption. Keeping prices artificially low by subsidizing them is the best way to prevent this change.

Having worked its creative accountants to the full, the government may claim it has won the battle, but it will lose the war. The proper response to a doubling in the oil price would be to ensure a more efficient use of the resource that the world knows is limited and exhaustible.

...On their own, consumers do respond appropriately to price signals; they know how to moderate consumption when the purse is pinched. If the government insists on shielding its consumers from global price changes, then it must take on the role of modulating consumption. Some one will need to bear the pain.


As Venugopal points out, the government may once again hike petrol price by Rs.2-5, diesel by Rs.1-2 and leave kerosene alone while making up the rest by issuing oil bonds. The continuing subsidy will continue to discourage greater efficiency while the increasing difference between petrol/diesel and kerosene prices will end up incentivizing adulteration. The Hindu does not appear to have thought through its advice before giving it. It appears from what I have seen that it simply echoes the CPM line.

Chindu on two educational initiatives

Two self-made billionaires, two philanthropic initiatives. Chindu appreciates one and ridicules the other.

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : A B-school to empower the poor
But the Legatum centre is in stark contrast to MBA schools where graduates generally aim for well-paid jobs in consultancy or industry.

“We have a very successful fund here,” says Mr. McCormick. “If we wanted to just make money, we’d keep all our investments in the fund. But we’re looking to invest in people, ideas and situations. We want to build the intellectual capital of developing nations.”

The Hindu : Opinion / News Analysis : Vedanta University: a flawed pipe dream
While it is always a good deed when one of the world’s richest men takes an interest in higher education, it is unlikely that Vedanta University will achieve the desired results, no matter how much money Mr. Agarwal spends on it.
Given the contemporary realities, one cannot be very optimistic about Vedanta’s chances for success. Let us hope that those funding the project will have the foresight to anticipate the problems and maximise the chances for success.
I noted at the time that the tone was condescending on Vedanata and was showcasing Chindu's inherent bias. Compare the two articles above and judge for yourself.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Building Global Universities in India

C. Raj Kumar's op-ed today in the Hindu sings all the right notes. In fact, we have seen articles along similar lines in other newspapers as well. Though most 'experts' seem to hold concurrent notions, we have not seen these beliefs actually translating into any real change in the higher education system. The reason is that it fails to take into account the harsh but nevertheless fundamental realities of this sector.

What this and other articles do not tell you is that while universities may be dedicated to teaching and research and their admission policies emphasize diversity, they are pretty much run like a business, not a social good. The author mentions Harvard, Yale, MIT and others as the world's leading universities. Absolutely correct. The question is how they have managed to achieve that status. Answer: All of them have built up huge endowment funds - the last I heard, Harvard had $35 billion, Yale had $22 billion (growing faster than Harvard though), Columbia upwards of $4 billion its kitty and so on. They have hedge fund managers who take care of this money and ensure a substantial return year after year. That money goes into much of the expenditure that the university incurs including maintenance, new ventures, scholarships. etc. In a country like India without much of a philanthropic culture, can anyone seriously expect any university to come up with kind of dough? This is particularly relevant in light of the National Knowledge Commission Report's assertion that philanthropy in India has in fact declined since 1950 - if this is indeed true, it suggests sadly that prosperity has also bred parsimony. This is not to blame Raj Kumar but something for everyone who wants to improve Indian education to think about.

The next and obvious question is if private charity is not an option, what is. Virtually every article in the Hindu mentions the state's responsibility to provide quality education at an affordable rate. The state is in fact trying to do just that. New IITs are being opened, RECs are being upgraded to IITs, new medical institutes on par with AIIMS are being planned in other parts of the country, research institutes akin to the IISc are being considered for other state capitals as well. All of this is progress. However, as Raj Kumar points out, none of these existing so-called premier institutes are to be found even in the top 100. So is it right to look up to them as standard bearers for the rest? The government of course will give the politically correct answer that while existing institutions are being given funds to upgrade, this will not come in the way of new institutions being opened in other areas. This claim of course does not deny the fact that financial allocations always involves choices and it is possible, indeed essential, to ask whether the funds for new institutions could not have been better utilized for expanding existing ones. I read recently that this is precisely what China is doing. Rather than spread the money around, they are trying to build up a relatively small number of around 15 universities to world class standards. Policy makers in India have however found it expedient to build isolated colleges and institutes in different parts of the country rather than collective entities which would be better suited to qualify as full-fledged universities. The focus on new national institutes has also sapped the initiative to improve the 140 universities across the country that cater to the bulk of the student population.

So, if all of this money were to go into creating a few oases of excellence, would they be comparable to the world's greatest? Maybe not right away but we would definitely make major strides towards that goal. As is obvious however, that quality comes at the cost of quantity. A much lower number of students will be able to gain admission into them than the current government strategy allows. Is that acceptable to the public, political parties and parliament? That is a hard question that needs to be asked.

As Raj Kumar points out, private participation is a necessity given the limitations of governmental capacity in meeting the needs of higher education. 'But the expansion of this role ought to be based on the commitment of private universities and centres of learning to promote excellence in education', he says. A laudable idea but the trouble is that such a goal often conflicts with the more vital problem for any private entity - being able to earn enough to make the exercise remunerative. This is true of the West as much as India. Harvard provides additional points for applicants related to their alumni because the alumni provide a substantial contribution to the university. The cost of professional education which is not subsidized for the most part (except perhaps for the exceptionally talented few) - medicine, law and the like at such a fancy place can be exorbitant. Children of big donors, celebrities and powerful people secure admission without much hassle (I doubt George Bush got into Yale solely on the basis of his merit). Though solutions may differ, the problem is very much the same in India - money. Whoever pays may not call the shots but they definitely get something more than the rest for their contribution. That is exactly the same principle that applies in the capitation fee system that our home grown private colleges followed until recently. In the absence of governmental or charity support of any kind, they naturally look to students as the primary source of revenue. In a situation where demand outstrips supply, it is not surprising that they reap a bonanza come admission time every year.

So how does one get the private sector to promote excellence in education? One thing that has already been suggested is FDI and a bill was drawn up by the HRD ministry but continuing controversy appears to have stalled further progress. The Left for reasons that are clear only to itself opposed it saying it will promote 'elitism' (since elitism is all about the excellence of the few, is the Left championing medicrity?). The other answer of course is attractive funding opportunities for research. These may be from the government or from private organizations including foreign ones (the Gates foundation is promoting research for new drugs to treat TB and Malaria for example). Industries of all hues from software to pharmaceuticals can fund some research though basic science of the sort carried on in academia is not usually able to sustain itself merely with private support. Because such research usually carries long gestation periods before it yields any benefits realized through application (if at all), industry usually hesitates to pay for it. So the government would have to offer funding to private research initiatives as well on par with government ones. And the extent of 'excellence in education' will be largely dependent on the strength of funding sources that emerge.

One thing is however for sure. State regulation of private colleges is not the answer. Institutions cannot be forced to create excellence by fiat. The process has to emerge through institutional change that responds to various market forces. The quality of academic scholarship will ultimately be determined by the healthy competition amongst such institutions.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Khare's 'Advice' to UPA on Statecraft

Harish Khare’s op-ed on ‘statecraft’ is a good read of how not to conduct it. He starts out fine:

As most political innovations go, the UPA was born out of sheer expediency. It remains essentially a power-sharing mechanism, tactically an anti-BJP conglomeration, and symbolically an anti-communal, secular front. It has yet to realize its promise as the arrangement that will help the Indian state maximize its power potential at home and abroad.
So far so good. Then it goes off the rails.

If the BJP and the NDA find themselves stranded in the margins of political imagination, it is because the Left parties have managed to appropriate the opposition space. Be it people-centric issues or the disquiet over the proposed closer ties with the United States, the Left was first off the block in protest. In any case, because of its class composition and ideological preferences, the BJP has long ceased to speak for the masses, especially the poor. The Left may have caused considerable discomfort to the UPA but it has also helped to checkmate the NDA.

Left has managed to appropriate the opposition space. Left has checkmated the NDA. Eh? The left is limited to three small states in India and that is it. It is hardly in a position to checkmate a major national party like the BJP. BJP has ceased to speak for the poor. How does Khare know? Did the poor call him up to inform him about their changed preferences? The left and the BJP have been taking very similar positions on most issues. Yet, in his eyes, the Left gets all the credit and the BJP gets none. Both of those claims are mutually contradictory which only goes to show that they are not only patently false but utterly confused.

Perhaps in no other country have the Islamist terrorists been so forthrightly isolated within their community as in India. It is no surprise that the “Indian Mujahideen” (the group that claimed responsibility for the Jaipur blasts) reserves its harshest words for those Muslim leaders who have tried to inoculate the community against the jihadi agenda.

If the terrorists were so isolated within their communities, the intelligence community ought to have been able to gather information in advance and prevent it. Yet, the fact that the blasts were carried out successfully tells a different story that they are not entirely isolated and have managed to build and sustain a critical mass of support within the community that allows them to carry out their sinister agenda. Their harsh words for the Muslim leaders indicate their outrage that the clerics have sold out their community. The email and the blasts may well be their way of attempting to win their community’s hearts and minds by highlighting their grievances while highlighting their ability to take revenge for them at the same time – a case for vengeance and a show of strength at the same time. It tells me that the battle for hearts and minds has only begun, not ended as Khare seems to think.

This wholesome beginning needs to be encouraged to deepen and consolidate itself if this country hopes to defeat the terrorist’s challenge. That challenge can be met only if we are allowed to prefer the politics of inclusion and accommodation over the politics of division and exclusion (code words: minorityism, appeasement, vote-bank politics, etc.). The terrorist’s tactics are calculated to provoke rage; the secular challenge is to defeat all those whose politics depends on working on the citizens’ anger, anxiety and resentment over the terrorist’s ability to get away.
The secular challenge is not to defeat terror but to defeat the politics that accompanies and follows the attacks. No word on the need to mobilize the country to defeat these devastating attacks on soft targets that are occurring almost as a matter of routine, only advice on PR strategy to deal with its aftermath. God help India with advisers like Harish Khare.
Thus, between now and the next Lok Sabha election, the UPA leaders need, first, to convince themselves and, then, the voters that the country has done reasonably well in providing a caring, governing arrangement. By accommodating regional voices and aspirations, the Manmohan Singh government commends itself as a worthwhile experiment in initiating regional leaders into the responsibility of governing from New Delhi this vast country.
Someone ought to tell Khare that coalition governments have been the norm for quite a while and this is hardly the first time that the experiment is being conducted. National Front government led by V.P.Singh, United Front led by Gowda and Gujral – remember? Even the NDA government was a coalition. What exactly is so new or commendable about Manmohan Singh ‘accomodating regional voices and aspirations’? It is not as if the Congress does not want to be ruling on its own. It is simply that they have been forced to accommodate regional voices for the sake of getting the magic number.
It may be that often these regional leaders have not met the “mainstream” standards of probity and competence; but these standards can be enforced only in an environment of non-partisanship and non-divisive politics. Be that as it may, the best interests of the Indian state can be defended and promoted only if the “national” and the “regional” leaders and parties arrive at a working protocol.
‘Not met the ‘mainstream’ standards of probity and competence’ is polite language for corrupt and incompetent. National and regional leaders and parties should arrive at a working protocol says Khare. Actually they have. It is called a coalition government where cabinet positions and other appointments are parceled out to party leaders to fill with their chosen nominees. Failed nuclear deal,no firm action on terrorism,a virtually halted reform agenda, overreach on the price rise issue, eviction of Taslima - certainly the list of documented ‘achievements’is a long one for everyone to see how the best interests of the country are being defended by this ‘working protocol’.
However, irrespective of the BJP’s inadequacies in answering the polity’s needs, the country will still yearn for a more decisive and more effective governance than the UPA has been able to provide these last four years. The “mainstream” discourse insists on a “firm” response to a meddlesome Pakistan, and an insensitive United States…
Mainstream India insists on a firm response so that it does not recur. The focus is not on any country but on solving the problem. The answer is the same whether it is people within India or Pakistan or Bangladesh. An ‘insensitive United States’? The US concluded the nuclear deal with India. They have offered sophisticated military equipment for the Indian military to buy. And they have pressured Pakistan into peacefully resolving Kashmir. How is any of this ‘insensitive’?

Khare’s cheap partisan potshots have gotten the better of his analytical abilities. His motives and assertions are so hollow, blatantly partisan and transparently false that his and his paper’s credibility are likely to be the only casualties of his casuistry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

pseudo secularists kill 64

If Praveen Swami is to be believed, the Samajwadi party is guilty of at least indirectly aiding the Jaipur blasts. In his article today, he makes a mention of the shocking instance of the government pandering to minority votes and letting some accused go scott free. These  "innocent" beneficiaries are the prime suspects behind the Jaipur blasts that killed 64.

Mujahid and Kazmi were arrested. Mukhtar, however, succeeded in escaping — helped along by a series of bizarre events.

First, relatives and friends of Mujahid and Kazmi levelled allegations that the men had been kidnapped and tortured by the police. Large-scale protests by Islamist political groups and the Samajwadi Party followed. Police sources told HinduThe they were then ordered by the State government to ease down on further arrests, for fear of provoking a communal problem.

Among those who benefited from the easing of police pressure were two men now being sought in connection with the Jaipur attacks


http://www.hindu.com/2008/05/19/stories/2008051959501200.htm


It would be interesting to know whether the communists were party to the protests. Chindu of course wouldn't tell us that.

 This is a slap in the face of those who actively campaign against stern anti-terrorism measures. When some suspects( who eventually may turn out to be innocent) are picked and subject to ruthless investigation, it should be seen in the wider interest of a billion people . When the police are given sweeping powers, misuse and even abuse is bound to happen. The efforts must be directed at minimizing the abuse and not doing away with tough laws. Heard of throwing the baby with the bathwater?

 The very same "liberals" opposing counter terrorism laws advocate tough punishments for rapists and those discriminating against SC/ST. How are they so very sure that these laws won't be misused or abused? It is shameful that such people masquerade  as intellectuals and roam around freely while the millions of ordinary civilians cringe in fear. For all that is said about the US and Israel, it is worth remembering that there has not been any terrorist attack on America since 9/11. People attacking Israel dread the ferocity of the retaliation. It is  India that is a sitting duck. With a spineless political leadership, irresponsible media, minority vote craving parties and anti-nationals masquerading  as intellectuals, this nation is a paradise for terrorists. God save its nationals.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Reaction of a country to an attack

There are several incidents in the recent past where a country was subjected to dastardly attacks on its unsuspecting civilians by extremist groups. Terrorist attacks target the country in more ways than the obvious civilian casualties. However each incident is followed by responses by its leaders and the journalists, in most cases pandering to the vote banks but in some cases real pragmatic actions. The recent Jaipur terrorist attack and the reactions have been covered by some excellent posts in this blog. To summarize from the present to the past, we've seen Chindu try to steer the discussion away. There has been some idiotic statements by Praveen Swami like ignoring the author of the e-mail by the so-called Indian Mujahideen. Most importantly the uncaring attitude which smacks of Stockholm syndrome so clearly exhibited by N.Ram where he blathers in blatant sloganism over reality.
There is a lack of real action to tackle the issue by the UPA government, the Left wing comrades and the BJP. When the Tibet issue happened, the Chindu railed on how peaceful Chinese citizens were killed by murderous Tibetian monks. Where is that sense of outrage when something happens to our own country?
When 9/11 happened America was unprepared (conspiracy theories aside) but there has been real activities by the US Government since then. The path taken by America might not be perfect but at least it sent a statement to the world that you mess with our backyard and touch our people(yes not just one section, but any section of the population) we will hit back. Terrorism is a cancer which hits a country and it needs chemotherapy otherwise the patient (or country) will fall. Dr.Singh with his impotent government in a political quagmire decides to put relations with Pakistan in the forefront against formulating real world strategies aimed at protecting his own people.
Here's what I would like to see enacted (in no real order):
  • Creation of a real federal bureau to target terrorism with real budgets allocated and someone with experience to lead like say Mr. Gill or Julio Ribeiro.

  • Invest in ensuring the poor sections of Muslims are integrated within society by implementing real measures, maybe some features of the Sachar report. Yes this might flow against some of my earlier statements however the last thing this country needs is a set of misguided Islamic youth taking up arms. Break up the Muslim bastis in major cities as that is the single important place where the infestation occurs.

  • Formulate a real foreign policy and warn countries like Saudi Arabia not to push the Wahhabi crap into India.

  • Ensure that financial networks are being monitored closely to prevent the transfer of funds to certain groups which fund these activities.

  • Provide the BSF with some legal teeth and funding to prevent illegal Bangladeshis and other characters from entering into India.

  • Reenact laws to protect citizens from terrorist acts and empower the states to take on certain security responsibilities. Clean up the legal process to ensure punishment can be rapidly delivered to criminals unlike the case where 15 years taken to punish the Mumbai blasts case.

  • Join the global war on terror and collaborate with countries like Israel, Britain, Germany and also China(just not to get on LiC's bad side).

What are some of the things you would like see be done to tackle terrorism given the current limitations?

Before the dust settled

I mentioned about how N.Ram in this editorial made sweeping statements on the Jaipur terror attacks even before the dust settled down. By bringing up the Pakistani connection, he was preempting any suspicion on the Indian muslims. Yesterday, Praveen Swami elaborated on the motivation of the Islamists for bombing innocents in Jaipur. Today, we have more information that this terror attack is masterminded by Indian muslims with support from illegal Bangladeshis. As I noted earlier, any sensible discussion on the issue has been completely sidestepped. The focus has shifted to maintaining peace with Pakistan at any expense, to maintain communal harmony at the cost of innocent lives and to absolve the Islamist motivations.

Let us for a moment question the Islamist motivations detailed in the letter by "Indian Mujahideen". The terror attacks are due to Babri Masjid demolition, Bombay riots, Gujarat riots, muslim grievances etc. The most obvious question is why does the history of grievances begin with Babri Masjid demolition, while ignoring all the history before. The next question is why is Babri Masjid demolition a justification for all the terror attacks my muslims ever since. Does it ever end? There are a lot of inconvenient questions that get raised. Obviously, Chindu does not want its readers to think along these lines. And so, N.Ram immediately tried to steer the discussion into a tangent.

The Hindu : National : Jaipur serial blasts: search for terror chief gropes in dark
Mukhtar began figuring on the Uttar Pradesh police radar after the March 2006 serial bombings in Varanasi. Investigators found that two Uttar Pradesh-based clerics, Mohammad Zubair and Mohammad Waliullah, had provided logistics support for the bombings. However, the bombs used in the attack were fabricated by three Bangladesh-based Harkat operatives. Mukhtar, it turned out, smuggled in the Research Department Explosive used in the devices.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Swami's Thesis on the Jaipur Blasts

Praveen Swami's write-up today on the Jaipur blasts has a disturbing ending. He says that the much publicized email is more than just a claim to responsibility.

It would be misleading, though, to understand the e-mail only as a claim of responsibility. Like a similar document issued by the Indian Mujahideen after the bombings of three trial-court buildings in Uttar Pradesh last year, the e-mail is — despite its crude style and poor spelling — a political manifesto.

Perhaps he is right but if reading the rest of the article, I get the impression that this manifesto is no different from the dozens of others published by various jihadi outfits. The recital of all the muslim grievances, real and imagined is the hallmark of all of these 'manifestos'. The last paragraph was what set off this post because Swami's conclusions are erroneous and worrying.

Finding the author of the e-mail, though, is less important than addressing the issues it has raised — and ensuring the Islamist jihad does not gain legitimacy because of the Indian state’s failures.

Wrong. Finding the author is important because if it is authentic as he says it is likely to be, the investigating agencies are likely to obtain valuable clues to solve the crime. And it is utterly naive to think that these issues he has raised can be addressed to the satisfaction of him or others like him who are drawn to this pernicious ideology. The reason the author of the email raises them may well be that he believes that while being sufficiently inflammatory, the Indian state has no satisfactory answers to them. Let us look at the evidence first.

At its outset, the e-mail links the attacks in Jaipur to the broader global jihad, warning the “USA and [Great] Britain in particular that [that] we Muslims are one across the globe.”

...Citing from the Koran and the Hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, the Indian Mujahideen argues its actions have theological legitimacy. Scriptural calls for forgiveness relied on by the Deoband clerics, it says, are only relevant after a decisive military victory. Dialogue, it continues, is futile: “there is no existence of compromise between a believer and a non-believer.”

...Islamic law, the e-mail asserts, allows the use of collective retaliation against civilians if they are infidels. Given that “a single [Muslim] home is attacked by thousands of [Hindu] terrorists, [a] single woman is raped by hundreds of men,” it becomes legitimate for “the mujahideen to go to any extent or use anything to crush the dignity and power of the enemy.”

The email seeks to link this attack to the global Islamic jihad. It insists that there can be no dialogue or compromise with the non-believer. And it asserts that Islamic law allows collective retaliation against civilians if they are infidels. Are any of these issues that can be addressed? Does Swami seriously expect India to capitulate or even negotiate with the enemy in the face of such demands? What is he smoking? All the examples of outrages against muslims it cites are past events that cannot be undone which simply goes to show that these organizations believe in and are determined to carry out such attacks anyway and are simply using all these incidents of communal violence to support their thesis. Organizations like HuJI and LeT existed long before the Gujarat violence and if not for this episode, they and others like them will find some other incident to take its place. While a faithful fulfilment of the state's obligations to do justice to all sections may help stem recruitment to such organizations, to believe that it can actually address such self-justificatory nihilistic baloney solely or even primarily through that means is to engage in self-deception. A global problem today, jihadi terrorism requires an aggressive attempt to combat religious bigotry and to closely monitor such tendencies through an elaborate and comprehensive intelligence network. Read B.Raman's column following the Jaipur blasts that points out some of the problems with our current set-up.

Interview with an Indian Maoist

Thanks to the anonymous blogger who pointed this out. This interview with Indian Maoist spokesperson Azad appeared in yesterday's edition. As he pointed out in the comment, the interviewer K.Srinivas Reddy himself seems to sympathize with the Maoist worldview. This is the question he put:

How do you envisage the future scenario in Nepal? Will India and U.S. imperialism adjust to the new reality and support the Maoist government? Or, will they create hurdles?

Frankly, I fail to see the point of this interview in the first place. Apart from a desire to give coverage to these 'Indian maoists' whoever they are (I believe there were several maoist groups in the country and I am not sure which one this is), of what interest is it to the readers what the spokesperson of some far left outfit thinks about a victory of an ideological ally in a foreign country (note that no questions have been asked about whether the victory has changed the Indian Maoists' own political strategy in any way)? Secondly, as the commentator rightly asks, should the interviewer be expressing such sentiments about any country in his questions?

The answers indicate a clear preference for armed insurrection over electoral politics and a contempt for the Indian government and its interests in Nepal.

Lacking a majority in the CA, the Maoists will be powerless. They will have to compromise and adjust, sacrificing the interests of the oppressed in whose interests they came to power. Or they will have to mobilise the people and intensify the struggle through all means, including armed insurrection, to implement genuine democracy and establish people’s power. There is no other alternative.

We will be living in a fool’s paradise if we believe that the U.S. and India will be comfortable with the Maoists in Nepal or that they will adjust to the new reality. Although they will continue diplomatic relations, they will create an adverse situation if the new government does not obey their dictates. The U.S. tried its best to keep the monarchy alive as the King was a pawn to rule by proxy. As for India, it received a slap in its face when G.P. Koirala and his NC faced a defeat.

Note that the concerns throughout of both the interviewer and the interviewee are only about the attitudes of India and the US. China, despite being a powerful northern neighbor barely gets mentioned. The implied meaning is clear - China is a friendly country that is always helpful, does not cajole or bully and opposes imperialism. India and the US on the other hand are countries to be wary of.

After reading it, I am forced to conclude that the primary purpose of this interview is ideological, i.e., to promote Maoist propaganda by providing an outlet to them to vent and convince the public that their line of reasoning, however sympathetic it may be to armed violence, contemptuous of democratic ethos and Indian interests, it is a perfectly legitimate and honorable political force to contend with.

Fwd: CPM cadres bomb ally Minister's house

you won't hear this on chindu. n.ram will conveniently ignore this news.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Girish
Bengal CPM cadres bomb ally Minister's house

Fri, May 16 02:37 AM
On Sunday, armed CPM cadres freely walked around in Nandigram and today, in one of the of the worst turf battles between two Left Front constituents CPM and the RSP, they allegedly bombed and set ablaze the house of Subash Naskar, West Bengal Irrigation Minister from the RSP. Gouri Naskar, a relative of the minister, sustained 90 per cent burns and was shifted to SSKM hospital in Kolkata where doctors said she was critical. Her husband, Uday Naskar, who is the Minister's nephew, also sustained burn injuries.
http://in.news.yahoo.com/indianexpress/20080516/r_t_ie_nl_politics/tnl-bengal-cpm-cadres-bomb-ally-minister-0058794.html

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Independent Report on Tibet

Read Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times today for an on-the-spot report of the political happenings and mood in Tibet. The article is a refreshing change from all the doctored Chinese government propaganda that the Hindu has been spewing. If the Chief is unhappy with foreign news agencies, he should also similarly send someone or go up there himself to find out the truth. Sadly, it is perhaps too much to expect such uprightness and independence from him.

N.Ram on Jaipur blasts

I am enraged after reading this editorial on Jaipur blasts. It is obviously not about N.Ram's incompetence but about his blind hatred towards Indians. And I am shocked to see him politicize a serious issue instead of provoking a balanced discussion.

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : Challenges from Jaipur
In the minds of their perpetrators, the bombings that have scarred many Indian cities have been acts of vengeance against communal violence directed at Muslims — but also catalysts for an apocalyptic communal war.
He begins by telling us about what the terrorists think. Why dont you tell us what the citizens of India think. Have a look at the letters(1, 2, 3) to editor. Why dont you for once talk about how the victims feel and sympathize with them.

The link between Jaipur terror attacks and muslim reaction to communal violence is only in N.Ram's mind. Why does N.Ram not question muslims for this never-ending rage? Are the marginalized lower castes, who, Chindu says, are oppressed by caste Hindus also going around bombing people?
Inevitably, some jihadist operations have succeeded — and will succeed in future.
N.Ram is telling Indians that we are destined to die in a jihadi attack and should not take it seriously.
Ordinary people have shown that one way to neutralise these ‘successes’ is to maintain communal peace and harmony.
As we Hindus are destined to die in Jihadi attacks, take it easy. Buy "The Hindu", sip coffee and relax while the Jihadis do their job.
Ever since 2001-2002, New Delhi counted on President Pervez Musharraf to rein in jihadist groups operating from Pakistan’s soil.
Notice how N.Ram jumps the gun here. He links Jaipur terror attacks to Pakistan and talks about how India must depend on Pakistani internal policies to negate terrorism.
Last year, however, jihadists exploited his waning authority to escalate the tempo and intensity of attacks against both India and Pakistan.
You see, it is not just India but also Pakistan which is affected by terrorism. Ignore the fact that India has more terror attacks than the rest of the world put together. It is just a statistic.
In consequence, jihadist groups are likely to have more freedom than in the recent past to operate against India.
Is this not a greater threat to Indians. Logically, the next sentence should talk about how India must step up its fight against terrorism, considering the increasing threat. Look where he goes.
The Bharatiya Janata Party appears to be preparing the ground for a communal campaign ahead of the November round of Assembly elections by blaming the Jaipur carnage on the United Progressive Alliance government’s allegedly ‘soft approach’ towards terrorism. Such tactics might help win votes — but will not serve the cause of combating terrorism.
Blame it on the BJP, ofcourse. In fact, N.Ram is forestalling any proper discussion about terrorism. He is deliberately trying to hijack the discussion by bringing in the usual slogans on "discrimination against muslims", "communal campaign", "Hindus are not the only victims", "Indians are not the only victims", etc. This is even before the body count of victims has been completed.
What does N.Ram have to say to the Center on combating terrorism? What recommendations does he give to avoid future such occurrences? What purpose does this editorial serve apart from justifying the terrorist attack?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

surrogate advertising

During LS2004, there was massive criticism of the NDA's India shining campaign. Chindu was particularly vitriolic in its attack and called it "the worst ever violation" of election code. In 2004, it argued that the fact that the election process has not begun cannot be used as an excuse.

To test this, we have to return to the lavish India Shining campaign on the achievements of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance coalition, which was clearly a campaign document funded by the taxpayers' money. The Government's justification was that the election process had not begun.


the India Shining campaign was a massive election advertisement contrary to the spirit of electoral principles — the worst ever violation of this type.


Does the same yardstick apply to non-BJP parties? Sadly, NO. The UPA has been showing ads of Bharat Nirman and how "effective" its policies have been in making the rural people "happy". This campaign is no different from NDA's India shining. Why hasn't a word been said against this? Elections are currently underway in karnataka and it is all the more reason for the powers that be to object. The UPA is buying ad slots on IPL matches to "showcase" its achievements. The Chindu (and the ELM in general) have not spoken a word!

Possible Causes of Rise in Oil Prices

The Hindu editorialized a couple of days ago that the rise in oil prices was largely owing to speculation.

...today’s markets are being driven entirely by short-term factors. And the two most important ones are speculation and the declining value of the dollar. As the greenback loses value in relation to other currencies, the price of all dollar-denominated commodities will rise as suppliers seek to maintain their purchasing power. Speculation may be a rather more complex phenomenon but one thing is certain. The greater the uncertainty, the greater the likelihood of speculative activity on the oil market.

As a reader Vinay Kumar pointed out in the paper today, there are reasons to doubt that.

The editorial “Behind the oil price spike” (May 12) says the rise in oil prices is mainly due to the declining value of the dollar and speculation. While the dollar has fallen against the euro in the past one year, it has been quite resilient against most other global currencies. Further, historically, there has been no strong correlation between the strength of the dollar and the price of oil. The role of speculators may also be exaggerated. As Paul Krugman points out in his latest article “The oil nonbubble,” the telltale signs of speculators in action are not there in today’s oil market.

Paul Krugman indicated in his weekly column why speculators appear not to have had much of role in this phenomenon.

The only way speculation can have a persistent effect on oil prices...is if it leads to physical hoarding — an increase in private inventories of black gunk...But it hasn’t happened this time: all through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn’t the result of runaway speculation; it’s the result of fundamental factors, mainly the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China.
Becker takes a middle view that factors in not only speculation but also supply problems in other countries.

The present boom in oil prices has been mainly driven by increases in demand from the rapidly growing developing nations, especially China, India, and Brazil, although output growth in the US and European have added to world demand, and speculation on potential future price increases also contributed to the increased price of oil. To be sure, supply problems in Nigeria, Venezuela, Russia, and other major oil-producing states have contributed to accelerations in the oil price increases at times during the current boom.
Not sure who is right but in the meantime, there has been a disturbing prediction by Goldman Sachs today that not too long from now, oil prices may reach $200/barrel. Sounds like hard days are ahead.

Succinct summary of the paintings issue

There has been an animated discussion on what constitutes objectionable art to whom and the bias towards certain sections of society shown by Chindu. In an interesting blog post here
there is a succinct picture of the core issue and basic hypocrisy shown by the media and certain sections of society.

The entire set of images can be accessed here here. I do wish that the people who so vehemently defended M.F.Hussain would show the same courtesy to people like Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Geert Wilders(maker of Fitna) and Roger Köppel.

Jessica Lal Murder Case and the Rule of Law

In arguably one of the most talked about cases, Manu Sharma was convicted by the Delhi High Court of murdering Jessica Lal. While I am familiar with the main storyline that favors the prosecution’s view of the case, I have not seen or heard enough of the alternative views of the case to know whether there are any problems with this (none of the judgments appear to be available online). Nor has there been any coverage whatsoever of the reasons Justice Bhayana gave for acquittal and how his approach differed from that of the High Court. All the newspapers have only put out the remarks made by the High Court against Judge Bhayana and how it saw a number of errors in his judgment.

NDTV was the worst offender in this regard. The fact that it had marshaled evidence purportedly in support of the idea that the Sharma family had purchased witness testimony for huge amounts led it to launch a nationwide campaign in favor of his conviction. Even if this is understandable under the circumstances, it went further and began to blame Judge Bhayana and cast this case as an acid test of the worthiness of the ‘entire system’. The recurring theme was that if Manu Sharma was not convicted, ‘people will lose faith in the system’. There was no other way that justice could be done – he had to go to jail and the appellate judges were duty bound to ensure this would happen. The Delhi High Court, in response to this outcry and the SMS campaign that went along with it, took up the matter sua sponte even before the police decided upon an appeal and ended up setting aside the trial court opinion and convicting him. It was said in the press at the time that High Court preferred to go by the original written testimony given to the prosecution rather than what was said in the witness stand during the trial. This way, it avoided much of the confusion and came straight to the conclusion of Sharma’s guilt. The divergence between this earlier testimony and what was later said on the stand by many witnesses also formed the basis for the notices issued to the witnesses for perjury.

The few things I have seen do suggest that Bhayana’s approach was the right one and the High Court’s own improvisation is of dubious basis in law. For example, the Hindu editorial at the time said (correctly) that the Court laid much store in the evidence of Bina Ramani but in fact, her statement was less than categorical on the stand – her use of qualifications such as ‘I think’, ‘looks like’, etc. were hardly the clear and categorical answers that are expected of witnesses in criminal trials. More importantly, preferring to adopt written testimony given to the prosecution over what was said in the stand is very troublesome as a precedent if indeed this was what was done. When a disparity arises between the two, prosecutors insist the witness was bought over and the defense usually contests that by arguing that police coercion made the witness give false testimony which he is now retracting under oath. Anyone who knows the system can testify to the fact that both practices are widely prevalent. Who then is to be believed? It has long been believed that the only way to know that is not to go by what was whispered to the prosecutor’s ear before the trial but what is said in the witness stand, before the judge and the whole world, under oath – a place and time which also allows the other side to question the person and tease out potential contradictions. This practice has existed for centuries and for a judge to reverse it simply to ensure conviction in a particular case is not only unacceptable but will spell the end of legal protection to witnesses in future cases. No longer will they be immune from the coercive machinations of public defenders determined to make up a case, real or imagined, against any individual.

In this case, the media is convinced of the former though Judge Bhayana’s ruling was said to conclude the police case was cooked up to some extent. The much maligned TADA law had a provision that allowed the victim’s testimony to police to be introduced at trial – this dangerous provision caused a huge uproar in 1995 when the law came up for renewal. Opposition parties barring the BJP and many MPs within the Congress (led by C.K.Jaffer Sharief) attacked the idea saying that this predisposed victims to torture and other forms of abuse. The media in large part agreed with this accusation and asked that TADA be allowed to lapse – the fact that this evidence may have helped convict more people did not bother them at that time. Thirteen years later, the very same media (for the most part at least) now concludes in this case that police pressure is not a problem but Sharma’s political power and money are. And it is being repeatedly hammered home that conviction rates have dramatically dropped and Sharma needs to be held to account if only to prove that the judicial system is not a sitting duck. Have the rules suddenly changed? Is conviction rate now such an overriding concern that justice to an individual no longer matters?

Lastly, a few words about the ‘system working for the people’. The ‘system’ includes many parts – cops, prosecution and judiciary who are integral to it not to mention the defense lawyers and witnesses who come from society. When a ‘system’ fails, it could be owing to the misconduct of any of these. But not all of these problems can or should be fixed by the judiciary. If the prosecution goofs up, the media seems to expect the judiciary to make up for this by lowering the necessary standard of evidence. If the witness lies, the judge is now expected to convict without that witness’ testimony even if it is central to the case. If the forensic report does not support the prosecution theory, judges nowadays feel free to convict solely on the circumstantial evidence from a sole witness without any corroboration whatsoever. These are all fundamental travesties of the rule of law. The sad part is that the judiciary is being egged on to commit these acts by an ignorant media in its single minded and vicious quest for accountability at all costs.

It has been alleged that the rule of law has no meaning if Manu Sharma got off in this case. Someone who says that has not the slightest understanding of that phrase. What really is the rule of law? It is all about process, not outcome. The question to ask to determine whether rule of law exists is not whether so and so is convicted or not but whether the expected procedures were followed and the laws applied properly with respect to these to arrive at the outcome. In this case, what ought to matter is whether the necessary evidence in the proper form exists or not and whether in accordance with the laws as applied in all such cases, this particular individual too is guilty or not. That and that alone is what needs ought to count. The fact that NDTV and others crowed that ‘people’s power’ through a campaign they orchestrated made a difference to the outcome is a testament to judicial failure, not success. It indicates that the laws and procedures were subverted to achieve an end that would not have come about otherwise. Justice through rule of law is meant to offer defendants a measure of protection from the vagaries of popular sentiment. It is meant to provide justice by subjecting them to the power of wise men trained in its ways applying methods of reason rather than the unpredictable, often cruel, lopsided and transient passions of the mob (or the media as in this case). When judges begin to respond to ‘public furor’ to alter their practices and case outcomes, it indicates that this shield no longer serves this fundamental purpose. Such a judiciary whose opinions swing capriciously to the tune of ephemeral fancies - ‘public interest’ as popular sentiment is euphemistically known these days - spells the end of the rule of law. To push the state towards this dangerous end simply to have one man convicted is too high a cost to pay. Sadly, though the Hindu, TOI and other newspapers understand this reality, they were unwilling to state it flatly and stand up for the long term interest of the country in the face of popular outrage. This is not, as the Hindu put it then, a ‘capacity for self-correction’ but for self-destruction.

The new proposal to allow magistrates to record evidence before hand to prevent witnesses being influenced is welcome. I do not know whether it will end this practice of witnesses being bribed but it seems to be a reasonably good idea and may well help in curbing it to some extent. What the Delhi High Court is said to have done in this case is however clearly wrong and too outrageous to comprehend. The Supreme Court would do much good to reverse this ruling and set the record straight. Unfortunately, with a judiciary all too easily given to populist impulses, we are more than likely to see the conviction confirmed. This, like many others, will turn out to be one more landmark along the path of of irreversible decline for the one institution hailed as the country's last great hope.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

We still have a long way to go

The ombudsman is right on this occasion. CBCNN only reaches to a small section of participants. It could not even stay on the criticisms section of wiki.

The Hindu : Opinion / Readers' Editor : Online : Chimera of universal acceptance
In the Indian context, while the blogs carry on a lively and sharply critical examination of newspapers (particularly The Hindu), it is a small circle of participants. The large readership, in general, is either unaware of these or cannot or does not participate in them. For them the Readers’ Editor’s columns do hold appeal, as the feedback indicates.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chindu's selective "freedom of speech"

N.Ram upholds freedom of speech when M.F.Hussain denigrates Hindu sentiments.
The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : An end to Husain’s travails
By quashing the proceedings in three cases against M.F. Husain, the Delhi High Court has sent a strong message against cultural bigotry and moral vigilantism. The order provides a measure of welcome relief for India’s most celebrated painter, who has suffered terribly at the hands of rank communalists and a criminal justice system that failed to factor in the utter ludicrousness of his so-called offence.

Orders such as the one passed by the Delhi High Court are a good precedent and will act as a check on lower courts, which — instead of upholding freedom of expression — have tended to be extremely accommodating of frivolous complaints.
N.Ram objects to freedom of speech when newspapers published the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammed
The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : Needless and nasty controversy
Freedom of expression is supremely important. But surely it does not require its champions crassly to cause offence to the faith and beliefs of an identifiable group.

Take the following text from the same article by N.Ram.
This phobia seems to be on the rise, as the publication of vicious cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammed by a Danish newspaper, and their re-publication by several newspapers across Europe, have demonstrated. At a time when Muslims across the world feel deeply offended by prejudiced stereotypes of Islam post-9/11, the cartoons have not just been insensitive, they have been downright provocative.
At the end of the day, the European newspapers have to reflect on the consequences of their actions: eight killed, many more injured, and the anger of hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide re-fuelled.

Are the same principles laid out by N.Ram, not applicable to M.F.Hussain vis-a-vis Hindus?

This Hinduphobia seems to be on the rise, as the publication of vicious paintings depicting Hindu Gods and Goddesses in obscene manner has demonstrated. At a time when Hindus across the world feel deeply offended by prejudiced stereotypes of Hinduism, the paintings have not just been insensitive, they have been downright provocative.
At the end of the day, M.F.Hussain has to reflect on the consequences of his actions:

Also note Chindu's attitude during the Baroda paintings controversy. It distorted the news to blame one party and supported freedom of speech.

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorials : Hurt sentiments and moral policing
The charge that Chandramohan's works offended Hindu and Christian religious sentiments makes no sense given the context in which the works were displayed.
The below news item about I&B minister's opinion on freedom of speech with respect to religious beliefs has appeared in the "Breaking news" section of Chindu but never made it to the print edition.

NDTV.com: Taslima should apologise to Muslims: Dasmunsi
We are a pluralistic nation and we respect all religions. I love literature and I have nothing against her writing. But that does not mean she can use her pen to insult and hurt the religious belief of the Muslims or for that matter any religion.''
Also, on selectively applying freedom of speech based on religion, see my earlier post highlighting similar contradicting editorial stance on banning movies.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Chindu celebrates a "secular" victory

There is a frontpage article with a glamorous photo of MoFoHusain, followed by a detailed court judgment in national news. It is also worthwhile to note that MoFo's affront to Hindus is not mentioned in the detailed report.

The Hindu : Front Page : Court quashes cases against Husain




NEW DELHI: The Delhi High Court has quashed criminal proceedings against eminent painter M.F. Husain for allegedly hurting public sentiment by depicting Hindu goddesses in an obscene manner. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul called the charge “baseless.”
The Hindu : National : Husain deserves to be home and painting, says court
The Delhi High Court on Thursday quashed proceedings against painter M.F. Husain in three cases where the complainants had alleged that he had hurt the sentiments of the nation by painting “Bharat Mata” in the nude. The allegations were declared “baseless.”

Passing the order, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said paintings were a matter of perspective and cannot be the basis for initiating criminal proceedings.

Indian state's discrimination against the majority is unbelievable and Chindu is a pioneer in championing this bias. On the issue of paintings and freedom of speech, Chindu has put its weight behind when the victims were Hindus but has refused to support freedom of speech for a factual exhibition on muslim atrocities.

What is he smoking?

A recent news article on Chindu quotes Mr.Nitish Sengupta making statements on foreign policy. Making grandstanding statements is a common practice among ex-civil servants. But this is the height,
DHAKA: “There should not be any threat perspectives. Bangladesh or India cannot be threats to anyone,” said a former Indian civil servant and politician, Nitish Sengupta, here on Wednesday.

Maybe Bangladesh is threatening to join ASEAN, the logic of such statements make no sense. The High Commissioner, Pinak Ranjan Chakrabarty from his high horse makes a pompous statement that the new generation looks forward to relations with Bangladesh.
the new generation wants to go forward … we have to learn from history and look forward to the future instead of blaming the past.

The two gentlemen do not discuss important issues like illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into India or how the government of Bangladesh with tacit support from ISI is fomenting terrorism in the North East states.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Swamy's Championship of Ram Sethu and the Chief's Take on Tibet (Again)

I am a little intrigued by the Hindu's unexpected willingness to support the campaign against the Ramar Sethu. It has given a fair amount of coverage to the ongoing proceedings in the Supreme Court on this question but more importantly, to the views of Subramanyam Swamy who took the case to the court in the first place. Today it published a long news item on what Swamy thinks of the issue. Swamy and the Chief seem to have been quite chummy for some time. The two appear to go way back. Both have visited China and upon return, heaped encomiums on their hosts (did the Chief organize Swamy's trip in the first place? Someone ought to throw light on this). Swamy even wrote a book asking India to give up the Tibet cause (India's China Perspective) and the two in fact authored articles upon the subject in the same issue of Frontline. Swamy's attempts to now curry favor with the Sangh Parivar, most recently through his newfound love for Lord Ram does not appear to have affected this bonhomie in any way. In fact, there is at least one item every other day on what he said on some matter. Wonder what's cooking.

In the latest issue of Frontline, the Chief has authored one more article on Tibet, this time in more detail than his previous editorialization in the Hindu. He repeats much of the same stuff but in addition points out the various 'falsehoods' in the Western press relying upon the ultimate source of God's very own word (oops! Should I say Mao/Deng's very own word?) - the Chinese government owned news service, the China daily. There are also some other notable assertions:

So what was the provocation for the violence in Lhasa and some Tibetan ethnic areas outside TAR? What is the cause for which these pro-Dalai Lama agitators are fighting? It cannot be economic because the economy of the Tibet Autonomous Region, as virtually everyone who has been there recognises, is on a roll. Nobody in their right mind has accused the Chinese government – with its sights set firmly on economic development, political stability, and a ‘harmonious society’ and just ahead of the August Beijing Olympics – of any new set of suppressive measures, political, economic, social, or cultural, against the 2.6 million ethnic Tibetans who constitute more than 92 per cent of the 2.8 million population of the Tibet Autonomous Region or against the 3.9 million Tibetans who live in other Chinese provinces and regions outside TAR.

So he is saying that the oppression cannot be a reason for the riots because it is not new! By this brilliant argument, most popular movements are unjustified since uprisings do not happen upon the first instance of provocation but only when the people are tired of it and see no other recourse to change.

...it is Mao Zedong’s portrait that you will find in a large number of ordinary Tibetan homesbecause he continues to be seen as the liberator of a million serfs from the old feudal regime of landowning aristocrats and upper class monks. During my 2007 visit, I noticed that a growing number of Tibetan families also appeared to see no contradiction in displaying pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama, typically besides smaller portraits of the 10th and 11th Panchen Lamas, inside their homes. These moderate demonstrations of reverence for the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, which I did not witness during my 2000 visit to Tibet, seemed to reflect a more relaxed socio-political situation in TAR as well as in more developed Tibetan autonomous areas outside the region. But the riots and disturbances of March-April 2008 have obviously brought about a change in this situation.

So, in Tibet as Ram understands it, Mao Zedong's potrait is the one that is predominant in ordinary Tibetan homes. Are we supposed to believe this? Are the recent reports of those keeping pictures of the Dalai Lama being arrested false? There have been too many of them from authentic sources that are not easily refuted to believe that to be the case. Ram does not explicitly say so and seems to be actually surprised that people would want to put up his potrait calling it 'moderate demonstrations of reverence'. Of course their greatest reverence has to be to Mao Zedong for who else could have inflicted such devastation upon them during the cultural revolution?

...most troubling from a progressive Indian standpoint, the reality of a continuing Indian base of operations for the ‘Tibetan government-in-exile.’

This is a point he and other communists have never failed to make - that the Indian government must rein in the Dalai Lama. I thought progressive meant greater freedom and the right to strive for self-rule. Apparently, the rules of the game are different when the adversary is the Communist Party.

On the past failure of dialogue between the two sides, here is his take:

This, in fact, is an acknowledgement of the big gap – which cannot be narrowed unless the Dalai Lama and his establishment radically modify their stand on two core issues.

So it can only be successful if the Dalai Lama surrenders unconditionally. Why beat around the bush with phrases such as 'radically modify their stand' instead of being honest and upfront about it? Apart from the fact that the Chinese constitution does not allow for Tibetan autonomy, he adds another reason it cannot happen.

The law, it has been pointed out, defines national regional autonomy as the basic political system of the Communist Party of China to solve the country’s ethnic issues using Marxism-Leninism. The content of autonomy, which in the Chinese constitutional and political context essentially means self-administering opportunities and subsidies and preferential policies from the state to help the autonomous region overcome historical backwardness, can certainly be improved.

However, the kind of autonomy that the Dalai Lama demanded in November 2005 – “the Central Government should take care of defence and foreign affairs, because the Tibetans have no experience in this regard, but the Tibetans should have full responsibility for education, economic development, environmental protection, and religion” – cannot possibly be accommodated within the Chinese Constitution. Further, his demand that “a Tibetan government should be set up in Lhasa and should have an elected administrative chief and possess a bicameral legislative organ and an independent judicial system” is ruled out of court. Beijing’s 2004 white paper, ‘National Regional Autonomy in Tibet,’ is emphatic that, in contrast to Hong Kong and Macao that follow the capitalist system, Tibet does not face the possibility of introducing another social system.

So autonomy is not possible not only because the Chinese constitution cannot be amended (being the word of God (or whatever else that takes its place in the Marxist lingo), the Constitution is clearly immutable) but because it would amount to having to give up communism! What could be more outrageous than that!

Then comes this gem of 'reasonableness':
The talks will continue, as they should. Civility, open-mindedness, flexibility, and a positive attitude to resolving the Tibet question will certainly help, on both sides.

Civility, open-mindedness, flexibility and positive attitude will all help. Of course, these only apply to the Dalai Lama's side which in order to fulfil these requirements must commit itself voluntarily and without conditions of any kind to total surrender.

Finally comes this word of advice.

For those who espouse ‘independence for Tibet’ – organisations like the ‘Tibetan Youth Congress,’ the ‘National Democratic Party of Tibet,’ and the ‘International Tibet Support Network’ – the future looks bleak indeed. One thing is absolutely clear: as much as the future of Goa, Sikkim, and Kashmir belongs to India, the future of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the extensive Tibetan autonomous areas that form part of four major provinces will reside – in their differentiated and distinctive ways – within one China.

Yes, the future of the Tibet autonomous region must be like Goa, Kashmir or Sikkim. Goa never had an independence movement that took off seriously. Sikkim voluntarily joined the Indian Union after being under its protection for a long time and is governed by the special state-specific provision Art. 371F in the Constitution of India. As for Kashmir which is the only one of the three states that has had a strong and comparable streak of independence, it already has autonomy guaranteed under Art. 370. Besides, people in all of these states elect their governments, a right denied to Tibetans. In light of these differences, I admire the audacity of the Chief in attempting to appeal to his readers' sense of equity and fairplay by making such a preposterous comparison.

Apart from one mention of his visit to Tibet, there is little evidence of any real disclosure. Still, one must admire his unswerving loyalty to China and his determined efforts to aggressively promote Chinese propoganda employing every mephistophelean method at his disposal. Seeing the extent of mendacity involved and his willingness to stake his paper's and his reputation all in dogged pursuit of this goal, I wonder what the reward in exchange for these efforts must be.

Chindu defines secularism

Chindu's editorial board has decided to let the below definition of secularism pass through its censorship because it perfectly fits into its own definition. We have often seen how Chindu has used "Letters to the Editor" to express its own opinion. The present day political lexicon is so distorted that such discriminatory definition of secularism is accepted as mainstream.

The Hindu : Opinion / Letters to the Editor : Ramar Sethu issue
The Babri Masjid, belonging to the minority community, did not get the protection it deserved and was demolished by kar sevaks. That was against the principles of secularism which, in my view, would mean the majority community protecting the interests of the minorities.

N.G.R. Prasad,
Chennai

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Double standards in punishment. The 'privileges committee' issue.

Recently the venerable Mr. Somnath Chatterjee the Lok Sabha Speaker decided to punish disorderly conduct by 32 MPs to the House privileges committee. A vast majority of the MPs belong to the NDA and after some days of protest, animated arguments the parties worked to a compromise, with the Speaker withdraws the motion. This is not a unique incident of Parliamentary disorder as can be observed by anyone following Indian politics.
However The Chindu as is whim decides to rap the NDA for its unproductive attitude and gives a sermon on conduct. The article can be read here,
http://www.hindu.com/2008/05/07/stories/2008050755111000.htm
At the outset, let me declare that I'm in no way saying that the actions of the NDA members was correct or that their behavior was becoming of a Parliamentary member.
The same attitude is seen at any legislature from the Lok Sabha to any state legislature assembly. When the assemblies were created, the founders laid rules on elections, processes and functioning but not very specific rules on who should be elected. Hence the overall population of the various assemblies is filled with undereducated, uneducated people often with criminal records. Ergo the behaviour of such people.
Somnath himself is no stranger to these acts, having been a leader of the Communists in filibustering through sessions and in 1989 was suspended for misbehavior. (Refer to Indian Express for more details).
He has been more considerate of his party members during their various antics when as a Speaker he should have been impartial.
All this is not discussed in the Chindu which conveniently ignores the facts that the Communists have lead such acts over the last 20 years and decides to wave the finger at one party alone when all the others were equally to blame for such a condition. It decides to sermonize with statements like,
Members of the BJP, usually the noisiest as well as the most disruptive — 22 BJP MP's were hauled up in the latest case — sat with their fingers on their lips in a signal of defiance against a presiding officer who had dared to discipline them.

And like this one,
What is the value of a promise made to a presiding officer whom the BJP MP's have disobeyed and insulted in the past, never missing a chance to accuse him of bias and on occasion even calling him a dictator?

Is asking for fairness in treatment a bit too much?

Death Penalty Case in the US: The Hindu's High (and Misplaced) Hope of Abolition

The Hindu has an op-ed today about the recent US Supreme Court case Baze v. Rees over the constitutionality of the 3-drug protocol (Pentothal for anesthesia, Pancuronium Bromide to paralyze muscles to stop twitching and grimacing to keep the spectacle dignified, and Potassium Chloride to stop the heart) used in lethal injection. The editorial, in keeping with its past position, wants to see an end to the death penalty. As the paper explained, 'the contention of two death row inmates in Kentucky state was that the administration of pancuronium bromide, the paralytic, carried the risk of excruciating pain in the event of inadequate dosage of the anesthetic sodium thiopental (caused by improper administration of the drug)'. As regards the judgment, it says:

...the court’s disposition to leave open the question of less painful alternatives to the existing protocol no doubt allows limited room for manoeuvre from the standpoint of the reversal of the death penalty. But such a stance perhaps affords an opportunity to establish that a pain-free lethal injection may after all be non-existent, just as the trauma that accompanies death is inescapable.

Actually, the standard set by the lead opinion is that to accept that a particular procedure of carrying out the death penalty is indeed unconstitutional, petitioners need to provide an alternative that 'is feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduces a substantial risk of severe pain'. Note that it does not require that lethal injection (or any other procedure) itself be pain-free; instead a different method of execution must be shown to only cause less pain than the existing one failing which the latter stands.

The court also says in the first para:

Yet the divergent opinions expressed in the ruling on the constitutionality of the drug regimen and on the deterrent value of the death penalty itself are hopeful pointers to the ultimate, if distant, goal of the abolition of this barbaric punishment.

There was only one opinion written by Justice Stevens that called for the abolition of the death penalty - none of the other eight judges joined it. Furthermore these challenges and the judges' cautiously favorable responses to make the death penalty less painful are less, not more, likely to take the US towards abolishing it. If the practice is so outrageous, gruesome and trouble-prone (read Justice Thomas' opinion to learn the kinds of 'cruel and unusual' punishments that were meeted out centuries ago), it is possible that popular revulsion would push the states towards ending the practice but if the individual is anesthetized first and his life ended in as painless a manner as possible, would the people still see merit in abolition? I think not.

Prices and People


Chindu comes out strongly on the burning issue of inflation. The first article has a Congress leader complaining about inflation. The second one captures peoples' reactions to rising prices. Genuine concerns indeed.

When Manmohan asked political parties (read CPM) to avoid scaremongering, Chindu presented the CPM point of view and reported the Opposition's support to CPM. Later, when Congress edited BJP's advertisement on rising prices, the news item has not even been reported by Chindu. The Congress is acting in its autocratic ways to gag BJP but there is not outrage by Chindu and no sermons on freedom of speech.

Selective coverage and news distortion are all a part of Chindu's political agenda.

The Hindu : Front Page : Price rise hits Andamans household budgets
Sanjay Chaudhary, general secretary of the Congress party in the Andamans. “We are used to higher prices and our threshold of tolerance is pretty high, but now we are being pushed beyond limits,”
The Hindu : Front Page : PRICES & PEOPLE


Maria Selvam


Maria Selvam, housewife, Bamboo Flat: “All our earnings go
towards paying for food and provisions. Where is the question of paying
for our children’s education? Cauliflowers, when available, cost Rs.
60-Rs.80 a piece. Tomatoes and carrots cost more than Rs. 60 a kg. Even
fish, which was cheapest, is now selling at much higher prices.”



Change the TV campaign, EC asks BJP
The ad features leader Sushma Swaraj speaking in Kannada, blaming the Congress and the Central Government for rising prices.

The party says the EC has beeped out all references to the Congress and the centre in the ad. The ad has been released with the beeps on local Kannada channels.