Friday, December 11, 2009

Small is beautiful

Apart from the regular torrent of issues and unrest in our country, we are now experience a new wave of protests and strikes. Either for the formation of some new states or against doing the same. The immediate reason being the statement from centre government regarding the proposal of new state in the Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh. The protests in other parts of Andhra can be attributed to the sentiments and passions running among the people of linguistic states like Andhra.

After Independence, we opted to have states formed based upon the linguistic lines. States, which are more than anything else ,the administrative entity for the welfare of people inside its borders, were formed based upon the language people speak. Due to this linguistic roots, it resulted in states which are huge in size, have strong consolidation of power and capital and even stronger potential for corruption. For reasons I have never been able to understand, we still call it Federalism. Clever politicians always used the feelings of the people to manipulate the public opinion so that their corruption regime goes on without any hindrance. Due to the huge size, management and administration suffered seriously and they were not able to reach out to everyone inside it or get a complete coverage for its citizens. This disastrous combination of gigantic and powerful state governments and even more powerful government Delhi was catastrophic and resulted in highly uneven and skewed distribution of resources. While regions and people at the centre parts of the rule got most of the meat, people at the periphery and remote areas were often neglected and left to have a poor life. Its not a strange coincidence that areas of the country where we see a lot of unrest like Maoism and Nexalism are the regions which are or were mostly part of such big states. Even in Andhra, this Telangana region is a hotbed of Nexalism which thrives on the poverty and poor living condition of the people in the region. All these outfits have grown out of the rampant feudalism left over by the absence of state power and administration.
Perhaps being the home minister and an astute managerial guru, Chidambaram has realised this fact. He might be expecting to defuse the movements by giving them their own states which are smaller in size and will be more attentive to the issues affecting them.

So why not go further and have a radically more distributed architecture for India with a centre dealing only defence, foreign affairs and currency while numerous small states with lots of power vested upon them ? The states should be ideally of Goa's size. This will be a country with a meaningful implementation of the principle of 'unity in diversity' which we all love to boast of. This distributed architecture and greater degree of devolution has some inherent benefits.
First and foremost is the ability to make the state more accessible to everyone of the society. Unlike the present day states with huge size and unable to reach to the periphery, the "administrative coverage" can be reached everywhere. Second, being small in size means people know each other better and their leaders too. So the leaders are judged and their performance is scrutinized in the elections even more closely. It becomes more like a Panjayath election where you talk about the actual development and down to earth issues affecting them rather than making some vague and unrealistic jargons and slogans. Third, when states or countries are formed out of passionate feelings like religion and language it inherently becomes more vulnerable for tension and clashes of different such entities. Cauvery water dispute is a classic example for this scenario where two states are involved in bitter fight against each other over some seemingly non issue. They cannot come up with a viable solution for the problem not because of gravity of the issue. But rather due to the nature of the problem. The people of two states consider it as a clash of two communities separated by their languages. Last, but not least, this will give the centre government more leeway to focus more on its core duties which are currency, defence and foreign affairs. Free of all the trivial tasks like the construction of roads and bridges in the remote parts of the country, centre government would be able to give a sharper focus on these core tasks.
This is not a silver bullet for the development of India. Neither is it a panacea for all the problems our country faces. But it should give us a strong foundation upon which we can grow further.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Building Towers, Cheating Workers

"Please don't go....I will give you even more discount from 200 Dh". When the receptionist in the hotel said this we got shocked.
A discount for a hotel room in Dubai? That too when the prestigious and much advertised IT exhibition (GITEX) is going on ? Is it the same Dubai where all the hotels were booked in advance for 6 months ? My memories quickly went back to the time when I was here a few years back. Dubai was "growing" in an unprecidented pace and fashion. Entire Dubai was being transformed to a pile of skyscrapers. At that time, 25% of world's construction cranes were operated in Dubai ! Every thing was going up. The rent, clost of living, salary for the upper class, government charges for services and anything else which could be charged. Every newspaper and every government official was talking about the "development" and "boom" being witnessed by Dubai. Real estate and construction were in the vanguard of the boom. The atmosphere was always buzzzed about something huge and amazing. Every project was prefixed by something like 'tallest' , 'biggest', 'largest' etc..

Behind the glittering facade, the boom was a euphemism for a recipe of neo-liberal development model with most inhuman treatment of working class, environmental degradation, unsustainable development and above all a complete lack of transparency in any process.

There was a mad rush to be something which Dubai was not and could never be. Dubai was busy in burying its core identity and culture and was eager to embrace an artificial identity taken from the realm of the rulers fantasies.
But no voice of discontent was ever heard in the media or public. Everyone was asked to be in line and follow the herd. Nobody questioned the sustainability of pumping in 400 million gallons of water to the newly created Tiger Wood golf course per day to keep up the green color(This was while human right organizations were complaining the lack of enough water in the labour camps).
Nobody talked about the grave environmental threat posed by an artificial "all air conditioned island" to be built for the super rich. Nobody questioned the idiocy in having mega development projects for an amount many times more than the GDP of the country itself. Nobody discussed the abhorrent condition in the labour camps which shelters the employees who were actually doing this development projects. They were treated with utter contempt and were only tolerated as a "necessary nuisance" to bear with untill the city is developed enough and they are not needed any more. Rules and regulations were carefully tailored to exploit the working class to the maximum and increase the already huge profit margins of these engineering corporations(Not surprisingly, most of them owned by the rulers)

People were paid based upon the skin rather than the skill. I remember having read the words of an american girl who was in Dubai in an article published by London daily Independent, "All the people who couldn't succeed in their own countries end up here in Dubai, and suddenly they're rich and promoted way above their abilities and bragging about how great they are. I have never met so many incompetent people in sitting in such senior position. A philippino girl doing the same job as a European girl is paid a quarter of the same salary. The people who do the real work are paid next to nothing while the incompetent managers are paid 40,000 pound/month."

Actually Dubai's fixation for 'qualified expatriates' (read white and rich Europeans) is what put these incompetent managers at the helm. All these urban development projects are squarely aimed at these 'qualified expatriates' or their super rich Arab counterparts. Their policy and vision of development have resulted in this catastrophe. Working class and labour class, who were mostly Asian origins like Indians, were driven away from Dubai to the outskirts so that they are kept outside the gazes of super rich. These poor people were forced to live in so called labour camps bereft of any necessities like proper sanitation and good drinking water. The condition in such camps were so inhuman and gruesome that it resulted in an unusually high rate of disease, death and suicide in the camps. As their passport is taken away by the employer at the very first day of landing up and having paid a huge sum of money for securing the visa, they have absolutely no option other than going through this abject condition. Either there is no rules to protect the human rights or whatever rules does exist are conveniently not enforced by the authorities.

Now everything in Dubai has hit rock bottom. The prices, rents, traffic congestion and above all the confidence in economy and government have plummeted. We could see the luxury Jumeira residential area full of "TO LET" boards. There came a spectacular end to a few decades of credit, environmental degradation, slavery, suppression and human right violation. The gamble which had paid off for some time has come to an end. Dubai is a metaphor for a world of neo-liberal globalized country that is going to be trashed out in to the dust bin of history.

The government has not learned anything from this at all. News papers are not allowed to cover the recession or the reasons behind the collapse. A new draft law makes it a crime to damage country's economy or reputation, punishable by 1 million dirhams. This law effectively do the censorship on any news not white washing the government. Straight denial and outright suppression are the means adopted by the government to counteract the issue. When respected journalist, Johann Hari had a detailed report on the collapse of the economy and the human right violations in London daily Independent , he was banned from the country and report was made inaccessible in Dubai. Consolidation of power is so obscene that the ruler of Dubai is the vice president as well as prime minister of the country !

The collapse of Dubai shows some important insights to the mode of development in vogue in modern era. It shows that development does not mean having a lot of super highways or skyscrapers. This is especially true in the case of India as we are trying to emulate the Neo-liberal model by means of SEZ (in farm lands) and driving out the poor from their inhabitants in the name of development. Infrastructure is useless until and unless every element of society is equipped to make use of it and contribute it to the progress of the society. Development without providing prosperity to every body in the society is useless and counterproductive. Its even more important to have great degree of transparency for the government. Or else, there is a good chance that we witness similar situation in our country too. Already we are facing unrest in many part of our country because of the skewed development process.

While packing off, I saw the leading daily in Dubai and it is all about the new excitement in the business community and signs of 'strong recovery' in the economy. Excuse me, haven't you told us the same things a few years back too ?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dot net Gandhians and cattle class citizens

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society."

--Edward Bernays(Propoganda)

Contrary to the popular myth that democracy is all about winning public opinion, its infact about manipulating public opinion.

With his few months of political and ministerial life, Shashi Taroor has proven that he has not understood this basic fact. His controversial statement that he found it uncomfortable to stay in Kerala house due to the lack of gymnasium and privacy there proves it. His contempt for anything used by the poor or ordinary was even more conspicuous when he compared economy class with cattle class. Actually Shashi Taroor is not a disease rather the symptom of a disease. Being a bit naive, and unlike others in the ministry, he has openly expressed it. That's all. His policies, practices and mindset are just what is of others in the ministry or any other ministry and ruling class of India in recent times.

Who are these ministers and what is their back ground ? Their career and background are strikingly similar. They come from the elitist and most affluent class educated in Harward or similar institutes. They learn economics. But nothing about Indian culture. Foremost example being that of Mr. Chidambaram, the poster boy of UPA ministry and darling of neo-liberal media and corporate world. For sure, the most powerful minister in this cabinet. He educated in Harvard business school. His previous profile includes Working as a lawyer for Enron corporation which has engineered the biggest corporate fraud in history. He was member of board of directors of Vedanta , another corporate giant currently devastating the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa. He switched from governments to governments, parties to parties and ministries to ministries seamlessly. Of course, no questions were ever asked about these defections ! He once said that his vision was to get 85% of Indian population to live in cities.To achieve his vision of moving 85% of Indians to urban land he has to force them to leave their homes and farm lands. He and his colleagues are trying their level best to achieve the target. They give various names and acronyms for this. Development, Liberalization, SEZ, PPP and many more beautiful acronyms. But the idea and agenda is one and same. To make the land and water ripe for corporate plunder. Their policies are progressing faster. Over the last few years closer to 200,000 farmers have committed suicides Poverty has been increasing in India further. Still not happy, he and his colleagues are envisioning even further cut in subsidies for farmers while driving them to compete openly with heavily subsidized farmers from western world.

But unlike poor Tharoor, they don't receive any flak for these. Because they do understand public relation business and are adept in manipulating it. They call themselves Gandhians(Yes, same Gandhi, who had said that India's way is not Europe's, and India lives in seven hundred thousand villages). And with the help of media, they "engineer consent" for their actions. To manipulate the public opinion further, they have resorted to an austerity spree and new mantra is "Economic class". Ministers are urged to use only economic class while flying. This is nothing more than a cosmetic surgery. Had the government been serious about cut why not try to do something serious for bringing 70 lakh crore of looted money siphoned away to safe tax heavens like Switzerland? That money would be sufficient to clear all of India's foreign debts and solve all our farmers problem. Why not cooperate seriously with German government who pre emptively offered some help in this regard ? Why not follow US who successfully got the names of account holders in similar incidents ? They will not, because that would affect most of the people inside the government and corporate big shots. But to cover up all these they talk about austerity measures and embrace economic classes.

Tharoor needs to follow Edward Bernays and the techniques that can be used to manipulate public opinion and propaganda tactics. How to present his most retrogressive ideas wrapped inside beautiful slogans and camouflage hubris. Looking at Chidambaram and Manmohan, he needs to learn how to stand for Palestine in public while strengthening alliance with Israel more than ever . Twittering alone is not enough. He needs to learn all these public relation tactics from his colleagues and manipulate public opinion.

What does not change is change itself and thus goes the Gandhian breed too. Now Gandhians are post-internet and dot net generation. They need privacy and gymnasium in their rooms. They hate people(they like only "voters"). They want twitter to communicate. They want luxuary suites and more importantly, they want all the villagers(if at all they survive the drought,starvation, suicide and all other calamities they don't understand ) to move to city and enjoy the beautiful life of cities!

Who ever said these dot net Gandhians were not compassionate ?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Enemy Killer or Suicide pills ?

Last week was full of news about Arihant class submarine. Media was flashing with comments and views about our "achievements" and "advancements" in military and nuclear weaponry. Lots were said about the engineering marvel and indigenous skills in the area of science and technology.

Actually not just the submarine, rather everything from the timing(10th anniversary of Kargil war) to the name("Enemy killer" in sanskrit) were carefully chosen to fit the propaganda machine.

But there was some thing related yet not fitting the overall mood. GAG, The Indian Government's financial audit watchdog, pointed out the massive corruption in Gorshkov contracts. This is yet another major one in a series of such scams associated with defence procurement in the last one year alone.The Arihant was developed as part of a clandestine project called Advanced Technology Vessel(ATV) costing a mind boggling sum of $2.9 billion. Military and other defence entities like RAW have huge funding for their surreptitious projects and operations like this without much accountability or any discussion in parliament. Recently there were reports about RAW, which is riddled with the worst form of corruption and nepotism. Of course, no actions were taken against any of these officers or not even an enquiry was known to have conducted. Anything under the name of national security is given a blank cheque and outright immunity. And its going up and up all the time. In this year's union budget BE, allocation for defence is increased by a margin of 24%. while there is a 23.3 % decline in Agriculture and Allied Activities and 14 % decline on major subsidies.

Its said that with this, India has joined an exclusive club of 6 nations who posses this capability.

But where do we stand when it comes to the issues affecting the ordinary people of this country ? India stands at an abysmal 128 in UNDP ranking. Much behind war torn Sri Lanka(99) and many of the "poor" African countries like Namibia. 42% of Indians cannot read or write. According to world bank, 42% of the Indians live under poverty. In fact 25% of the people earn less than 12 Rs per day. India has a higher rate of malnutrition among the children under the age of 3 than any other country in the world. Income inequality is one of the highest in the world. Now can we think that the situation is actually improving ? sure not ! Contrary to the official claims, the poverty in India has actually been rising for past many years

Why is that even after 60 years of independence, we stand at the rock bottom in these rankings while stand "top" in nuclear weaponry ?

Actually, nuclear weaponry is a colossal wastage of money and effort for countries like India and Pakistan. The only beneficiaries in entire Nuclear business is countries like US who sell this to third world countries like India and Pakistan.

The myth of greatness and deterrence achieved by Nuclear weaponry as put forward by media and governments are totally false.If the spectacular collapse of USSR has shown us anything, its the inanity in greatness of military power. Soviet Union was member of virtually every "club" out there in weaponry and nuclear "advancements". Still, none of these helped them from being shattered in to pieces. Actually they were trapped in to arms race and ruined by the effects of the same.

Deterrence (or hoping the enemy would not attack us because of fear of retaliation) is another myth propagated by Nuclear pundits and right wing media. Nothing could be farther from truth. By its very nature, Nuclear weapons cannot be a deterrence. The time and space confronted with nuclear attacks are minutes or even seconds. It eliminates any chance of retaliation or secondary attack. As former chief of Navy admiral Ramdas had put it, When a missile is coming towards you, the chief Executive or whoever is in charge, will have 50 or 60 seconds to determine whether the missiles carrying flowers, bouquets or greeting from Pakistan or a nuclear warhead. So he will press the button as nobody can take a chance. So such a scenario could rapidly spiral in to a nuclear holocaust. By its very nature, nuclear technology is a dangerous beast which nobody can harness. And worst part is that nuclear weapons cost a lot more than what is being said by the governments and media. The associated safe mechanisms, command and control system, waste management and whole paraphernalia costs an order of magnitude more than what is said.

By any measure, US is the biggest nuclear and military power in the world. Despite being the beter noire, Cuba is not pursuing any nuclear ambition and yet successfully protects its borders and interests from US imperialist agenda.

All these thoughts make more sense now as we are marching towards being a nuclear power house and military partner of US/Israel. Hit by the worst form of recession, US is in need of our cheques in the form of defence bills. Raytheon and Lock Heed Marten are just conduits for this reverse flow of money.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We never forget who we're working for

Today evening, I was listening to channels airing the news about Dr.Kalam being frisked at the airport. Though there is nothing earth shattering about the incident, it did receive a lot of media attention. But this happens with many Indians on a regular basis .

Similar incidents were reported with a lot of people like former Union minister George Fernandes(who was even strip searched in US airport),Film stars like Kamal Hassan and Mammotty at various airports in US. Lets not even talk about the misfortunate ordinary people who happen to have a muslim names in their passport and need to fly to US. Probably this issue was a bit different because it happened in India and the victim was former President himself.
Why is it happening again and again ? the answer is simple. Because we accept it graciously. In a sense we enjoy getting humiliated. Especially when its by US authorities or entities. Most of the people who had to face such issues in the past like Fernandes and Mammmotty were eager to hide it from media gaze rather than protest against it. Even in this case specifically, after getting humiliated like this, Mr.Kalam did not cancel the trip or utter a word against the violation of protocol or the sheer arrogance shown by the Airline staff. What is even more horrifying is, public came to know about this after three months of the incident only. So its very natural that incidents like this continue all the time.

Regardless of all our hubris, we accept ourselves as inferior to the Americans or someone who is "perceivably" superior to us in any form. Historically our society has been a cast and class ridden one and we were mostly comfortable with the idea of others being "more equal than others" in the classic Orwellian terms. Exactly because of this mindset, we were "receptive" to the British colonial rule also.

But what if it was not done by an American airline ? What if it was by some Airline from Pakistan ? or Sri Lanka ? what would have been the response ?

Definitely things would have been different. Quid pro quo actions would have come out promptly. Strong words and deeds would have come from every element of Indian society(Like how Manmohan was eager to confront Zardari right in front of the media in Russia )

So where is the border for our patriotism ? our integrity ?

Our patriotism, nationality , integrity and everything else vanishes after the border of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal(Yes, same Nepal with whom we protested arrogantly because after swearing in, the Previous prime minister of Nepal visited China before visiting India).

Funniest part of the story is that all this happened when Mrs.Hillary was visiting India and were finalizing the deal which will effectively open the door for their mass murderers (a.k.a weapon manufacturers) like Boeing and Lock Heed Martin orders worth billions of dollars and permission for the US authorities to inspect the installations for verifying the use of the same. Hopefully, learning lessons from this, during such inspections our defence minister would be agreeing meekly for a strip search to enter the premises and avoid a lot of noises like this.

And I just thought of the base line which Lock Heed Marten use in their advertisements,

..............We never forget who we're working for ......

Yes, You don't but We Do. And that IS our problem.