Thursday, 17 April, 2008

Many sides to a victory

Yubaraj Ghimire for Indian Express

It is now upto Maoists to read the people’s mandate right. And it is upto Nepal’s political mainstream to be magnanimous to them in their moment of triumph
Days after a watchful world, represented by over 1,000 international poll observers, heaved a sigh of relief over the successful conduct of elections to the constituent assembly in Nepal, an uneasy fear grips this country. It has to do with the almost certain prospect of the ‘terrorists’ of yesteryear coming to power.
The results were apparently beyond the calculations of not only most Nepal watchers, but of the Maoists themselves. Up until the last moment, the Maoists were trying to secure support from the Nepali Congress as well as the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) to ensure their (Maoists’) victory in at least 35 places. Reportedly, Nepal’s erstwhile ‘Big Two’ turned them down, saying it’s too late now.
But what could have contributed to such a result in which the Maoists punched a humiliating defeat to the top two and established themselves as Party Number One?
The United States is dumbfounded. The party and people on its ‘terrorist list’ are most likely going to form the government in a country where America has a substantial stake. Indian ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, whose ‘brief’ to Delhi on the likely results has proved to be inaccurate, met Prachanda on April 13 to assure all cooperation from India. The assurance had become necessary as only a few days ago, M.K. Narayanan, security advisor to the prime minister, not only stated that India would want to welcome G.P. Koirala as Nepal’s new prime minister, but he also gave the impression that it would not feel comfortable with Prachanda in the same place. Moreover, India has not only failed in its assessment of the overall politics and likely poll outcome, it has also ended up backing the Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) at the cost of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) that has now emerged as the biggest party in the Terai areas adjoining India.
It is still almost a month to go for the Constituent Assembly to come into existence as the percentage of votes each party will poll would be known only in about 10 days from now, and each party would be nominating its member to fill up the 335 seats under the proportional representation (PR) system.
Maoists, convinced that they will secure an equally impressive share of votes under the PR system, have already begun consultation with the losers, the Nepali Congress and the UML, about forming a coalition government under their leadership. But the UML has already decided not to join such a government, which clearly goes against the earlier consensus that the present coalition arrangement needs to survive for at least the coming 10 years.
The Nepali Congress headed by G.P. Koirala is also likely to follow suit, as a majority of the central committee members now blame the home ministry and the election commission’s leniency towards many incidents of physical intimidation of political rivals and terrorisation of voters by the Maoists as one reason for their defeat. Leading the charge is G.P. Koirala’s daughter Sujata Koirala, a minister as well as central committee member of the party, who lost the poll.
While the allegation is not without foundation, the mainstream parties in Nepal need to be more magnanimous towards the victory of the Maoists, and the causes that underlie it. The country and its ordinary people, with an average per capita annual income of 225 US dollars, want peace to prevail, and their personal security and safety guaranteed. The victory of the Maoists, who unleashed terror and violence as well as the killing of more than 13,000 people during the insurgency, was perhaps the best guarantor of that collective desire.
As the key political parties like the NC and the UML succumbed to the Maoists’ political agenda like republicanism, federalism and secularism, the people chose to discard the me-too politicians. In other words, the people recognised the Maoists as the principal agent of change or transformation of Nepal into a peaceful, democratic and economically prosperous country, a goal that the Maoists and the seven pro-democracy parties had agreed to work towards together under a 12-point agreement that was initiated and mediated by Delhi way back in November 2005. In fact, the CA poll was a fallout of that understanding.
Yet there are all kind of fears sweeping the country. Will Prime Minister G.P. Koirala want to be Nepal’s Mugabe by trying to hold on to the leadership of the government on one pretext or another? The Maoists need to prove that they are a changed lot who can work well within the established norms of democracy and respect its fundamental features in all respects. How they respect political dissent, the judiciary’s and the media’s freedom will be the criterion on which they will now be judged.
Eventually, it all depends on how the Maoists analyse the poll verdict. If they take it as an endorsement of the politics of annihilation and persecution of dissenters and ‘class enemies’ as adopted during the insurgency, they will lead the country into catastrophe. But if they infer that it is a vote for a new leadership, committed to peace, democracy and economic prosperity, they will truly be trudging along the ‘shining path’.

Wednesday, 16 April, 2008

Will journalism survive PR onslaught?

B D Narayankar

Before the public relations hit Indian market in late 1990s, journalism was something business reporters went out and did. Stories did not trickle out over phone by seductive strangers.

But the profession has undergone a transformation. Journalists are under the glare of PR firms so much so that it has become a Herculean task to get whatever required from company bosses to create national headlines. If they shot questions at company officials, they are fobbed off to the PR firms hired by them.

Interestingly, many media houses themselves have hired PR agencies to build image. There was a period when Samir Jain, proprietor of Times of India, barred PR agents entering Times House. It doesn’t, however, seem that the ban is still on by judging the look of the paper today.

This is true with business houses, and governments are not left far behind too. For instance, Himachal Pradesh has hired Perfect Relations to talk about its development initiatives.

Business is booming for Indian PR industry. It is expected to grow $ 6 billion by the year 2010.

As per the survey conducted by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), Indian PR industry, at present, is worth $ 3 billion.

The growth of public relations is in direct proportion to the ascendance of froth in the Indian media. The survey reveals that in the economic boom, a huge competition has emerged for brand building as result of which PR agencies are in demand and quoting a very market-driven prices for their services for which takers are available.

Indian PR industry comprises 1,200-1,500 agencies with their manpower strength of between 30,000 to 40,000. Business is booming for PR industry.

In terms of vertical markets, healthcare has been identified by several of the industry as the fastest-growing sector.

There are more than 100 agencies. Big ones have 10-15 branches across India like Perfect Relations, Genesis PR, Blue Lotus and Vaishnavi. Medium ones, on the other hand, have 4-5 branches.

In this economic boom, the big question is – will journalism survive PR onslaught?

Monday, 14 April, 2008

A smart alternative to disgraced teachers

B D Narayankar
Pune: Four days a week, after a brief siesta, Hardeep Singh plunks down his backpack, pulls out his math textbook and logs on to his laptop to teach students thousands of miles away in a foreign country.

A similar ritual goes at every 2 am in countless Indian households, with one major exception.

A growing number of US families are hiring tutors based in India to help their children with math, science, Hindi and even English.

The Indian tutors, who start their shifts in the wee hours of the morning to be available to US students during prime homework hours, cost far less than their American counterparts.

There are nationwide chains like WiziQ, TutorVista, Sylvan Learning Center, as well as dozens of independent companies with clever names like Math Magician, Math Medics and Mathnasium.

Outsourcing of teachers is a cost-effective exercise for foreign students, while it has been fetching Indian teachers some big bucks. “For teachers based there, students pay Rs 20,000 for an hour of study, while Indian teachers offer them with Rs 1,000 per hour," said Hardeep.

According to Harman Singh, founder and CEO of, of the 20,000-odd students and teachers enrolled with wiziq today, over 4,000 are teachers.

Singh said the virtual classroom (website) is equipped with two-way audio, text, chat, PowerPoint and PDF document sharing. The session can even be replayed. Raashid Malik, a software engineer with wiziq, says one can find the tutor for any subject in the site's massive tutor directory.

American and European children are the same as children anywhere. One day, they are bright and do their work very well. One day, they are tired and difficult, S Ramesh, another online teacher says with a sigh.

To be able to be a successful teacher, you need to be extremely patient. Parents looking to boost their children’s grades have plenty of choices. Despite the competition among private tutors, hiring one can be costly. At Sylvan, which offers a 3-student-to-1-tutor ratio at their centers throughout the city, fees are $45 to $50 an hour. An in-home private tutor can run $65.

Let’s Give Maoist A Chance!

By Tilak KC in Bremen, Germany

I am usually a political pessimist. I never thought that Maoist would come to dialogues in the first place. When they did, I came up with another excuse. They would never agree to participate in election. They agreed for that too. I was left with no choice but to come up with another excuse. I never thought they would get this much of the political response. They have done it. And for the final time I have come in terms with reality. Nepalese political scenario is changing. And Maoists have done it. They have done what non before them had managed to do. They have fought a decade long war, came to dialogues, came into democratic election and actually lead the election.
It’s often easy to criticize. We just write on. We just say on. We are neither accountable nor responsible for what we say and write. I have read and followed many people who had written off Maoist in this regard. The thirteen thousands of killings cannot be justified. The displacement of millions will never be forgiven. The pain and scars of this civil war will always haunt Maoists. They all make sense. Maoists have done that. They have fought the war. They have done it questionable way. They have done it in inhuman ways. I never believed the ways Maoists had taken. I never believed in the ways of violence and death. And I criticized them for that. But I like many others had missed one very important point. Maoists were doing something. They were getting the results.
Changes were necessary in the society. And Maoists were changing it. The villages were like the ocean before the storm. When you looked at them you felt the calmness. Yet there were numerous friction and tides rising and splashing against each other beneath that very surface. The friction in the society was very much there and it was only in a matter of time before it exploded to its full capacity. There were thousands of stories to be told. The exploitation was very much there. I vividly remember the incidents when few of the Kamis were thrown out of the house because they couldn’t afford to pay the interest on their loan when they had a bad harvest. I vividly remember people working for Jamindar for free. I vividly remember a woman being beaten to death by the families of Jamindar for the reasons I couldn’t understand.
Then the Maoist insurgency started. Those exploited found voices. Those unheard soul found a message. And like any bomb that explodes, they exploded blasting anyone within their reach. They not only took the people that were responsible but also the people that were not with those blasts. The process went on. The insurgency went on. It cost life and property. They kept on fighting and the society kept on changing. Now whether we like or not, Maoists have built a much more even society. They have done the same thing in ten years that would have taken millennia for education. They have envisioned a society free of caste, creed and religion. Feudalism has weakened. Society had to change and they have initiated a change. They have to be credited for that.
The need for change in the society is must. We talk about democracy. We talk about the freedom. But the most fundamental necessity of democracy is often lost during discussion. We need plain battlefield for democracy to work. We need the equality between people for democracy to operate. Democracy isn’t just a process of voting but it’s the process of voting among the equals. It’s that belief that each and every citizen is capable of changing the scenario. Our society lacked that. We had heavily dominated Hindu patriarchal society with few of the feudal on the top. Our power structure was pyramidal in nature.
Few people had access to those opportunities and belief while most of us stood in the bay. Maoist insurgency has changed that to some extent. That power structure has collapsed. I won’t say that it has completely changed. It is still there. But it’s much weaker. The Madhesh Andolan was a chapter of chaging power scenario. The Badhis in Singhdarbar was another of such chapter. The Newa mukti andolan and the Tharuban andolan were similar chapters in the changing power structure. This is a good thing for Nepal. The political field is getting even. The people are fighting for a change. And Maoists must be appreciated for being the front runner of such changes.
Maoists are winning the election. There are various reasons for that. The most prominent reason is people’s need for a change. They want something different. They have tried congress and they have tried UML. They haven’t done much to people’s aspiration. They now want someone new in the place. And they have found perfect alternatives to those. They have found a party with whom they could relate to. They have found a party who talks about change and who promises them what they want. The second reason for the Maoists win is the new generation of the voters. It’s been long since we voted. And many of us were children in last election. Many of us are voting for the first time. The EC estimates nearly 35 percent of the population to be first time voter in this election. And this population swung the elections. The youths have stood for a change. And they have voted for a change. This has swung the pendulum towards Maoists win.
Now, the scenario is interesting. How will Maoist lead the government? Will they enforce the absolute communism? Will they go for socialist democracy? Or will Prachanda be next Hugo Chavez? There are few instances in which the Maoists are being compared to next generation of Nazis. I don’t think Maoists will go for absolute communism. The reason is simple. They won’t be able to withstand the international pressure. The communism is falling elsewhere in the world. The Russia has fallen and so along with it have the east European countries. The Nepal’s dependency on India won’t help either. India stands much more for capitalism as Russia stood for communism. And it would be virtually impossible for Nepal to coexist as a communist blog beside a giant capitalist power. Communism is weakening and Maoists know that. Prachanda has repeatedly said that he is willing to modify values and principals to match the changing world scenario. So I believe complete communism isn’t the option available to them.
Now the second scenario, will they go for socialist democracy? I believe that they will. Their election Manifesto primarily indicates towards this direction. They want a federal state with a powerful central government. They want a prime minister elected via parliament to go with executive president elected via general public. They want to expand state welfare policy. They want the state to fund the basic necessities such as education, health and housing. They want to provide benefits to the old and needy. They want to expand economy and employ people within the nation than send them abroad. These are all the features of the socialist democracy. They have picked up Switzerland as their modal. And if everything goes by their plan we might see a federal government with an executive president in Nepal very soon. Now the third option, will Prachanda be next Chavez? It’s a possibility. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
If Maoist can come up with high majority in the parliament they will have the prime minister of their liking. And without Girija Prasad Koirala as a competitor, I don’t think anyone else would come close to Prachanda in presidential election. He can hold the power as long as he wants with parliament in his hand. He could be next Hugo Chavez. However, this stagnation of power in one party hand could be prevented. The opposition will have to act as one. Congress and UML would have to give up their old ways of fighting with each other and for once will have to walk in hand in hand to check the power of Maoist. This is absolute necessity, if they are to prevent one party rule in Nepal. And now the final question, are Maoist same as Nazis? No they are not.
Nazis had nationalist and racial propaganda. They believed in superiority of a race or a nation. They believed in complete dominance of one nation or race by another. Maoists are different type of force. They believe in multi racial and multi ethnic society. They believe in co existence of all races and castes in the equal footing. They are the nationalist forces however. They believe in minimum interference from outer states. They believe in high national secrecy and sovereignty. They are the socialist forces rather than pro Nazi forces.
We have got a new power in political scenario. People have sought and voted for it. They have seen a gleam of hope on them. They have seen a chance for them. We might question the ways in which they did it, but we will have to acknowledge the fact that they have done a lot. They have fought a war. They have made the changes- some good others bad on the way. They have given the hopes to the exploited. They have given a dream to unemployed. They have given the vision to youths. And Nepal seems to have embraced it. They have promised a lot. They are now in position to deliver those promises. This is the best opportunity Maoist can ever get. They have got the chance to write their own script. They have two options. They can go fighting down the barrel as most of the parties do and be lost in the history as a power that almost did something or do something they have promised for. If they can fulfill the visions and aspirations of people, they would be remembered in the history as the best thing that ever happened to Nepal. Now it’s up to them to choose the path. They are in the position to write the script and it’s up to them to write.
For me, I am optimistic for the first time. I believe that Maoist can do something. For the time being I can just wait and watch political scenario unfolding. I can just pray and hope that these new faces will do something new and good. I am willing to take the risk. I am willing to give Maoist a chance.

Sunday, 13 April, 2008

Drawing lines in water

M Rajivlochan writes for Indian Express
People do not fight for zar, joru aur zameen (gold, women and land) anymore. Gold is stowed away safely in banks, contemporary women refuse to be treated as war trophies and purchase is the only way left for acquiring more land. Today it is jal, water, that agitates people, for as yet water does not have an agreed upon market value and so no one knows how much one is losing if someone else uses water or how much one is gaining by depriving others of water. In the event, there are strong pressures for grabbing all that is available.
The latest on this is the anger brewing in Karnataka over the Hogenakkal water supply scheme of the Tamil Nadu Government. The Hogenakkal reservoir falls on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. On the Cauvery river, at an estimated cost of Rs 1,334 crore, with monetary assistance from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the Hogenakkal scheme, it is hoped by its proponents, would supply 160 million litres a day to 40.4 lakh people in the dry districts of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri. Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi laid the foundation stone for the project on February 26. On March 27, the Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted a resolution, urging the Centre to extend “full cooperation and help” in executing the project, citing an agreement of 1998 with Karnataka that allows Tamil Nadu to execute the Hogenakkal project. The Centre has wisely kept its silence.
With 1,869 billion cubic meters of surface water and replenishable ground water, India is reasonably rich in water resources. The only problem is that only 60 per cent of this water, that is, approximately 690 billion cubic meters of surface water and 432 billion cubic meters of ground water, can be put to beneficial use. But even this cannot be currently used because each state through which a river passes or which is included in its watershed demands a larger share of the water.
No chief minister dares allow another state the use of a larger portion of the water from a river. Perhaps the only time a chief minister was brave enough to allow another state to take away a major chunk of water was in November 1963 when Dwarika Prasad Mishra, then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, allowed Gujarat, led by chief minister Balwantrai Mehta, to take away a larger share of Narmada waters for constructing a dam that might have been the precursor of the present Sardar Sarovar project. The Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha rejected the generosity of the chief minister and began the long battle of denying Gujarat the use of Narmada waters.
Even the Constituent Assembly recognised that sharing of river waters was bound to be a touchy issue. K.T. Shah, a member of the Constituent Assembly, proposed that river waters be treated as a national resource and their controls be vested in a national authority rather than in the provinces from which the river flowed. The Constituent Assembly, however, preferred to leave the matter to the goodwill of the states and confined itself to empowering the Parliament to create the Inter-State Water Disputes Act and make water disputes non-justiciable should it so desire. As it turned out, water wars between states became quite commonplace even though it is only recently that they have involved the burning of property and killing of people. Many times, states did sign water sharing agreements.
Since Independence, over 125 inter-state agreements over water sharing have come into existence. These are usually those for which either some external force bullied the warring states into agreement or the projects were so small that there did not seem much point in fighting over the waters or where the economic benefits of sharing far outweighed the costs of being obdurate.
But when the cost-benefit results were ambiguous, political parties had little compunction in going beyond the law and using water as an excuse to whip up passions. The Punjab government sought to overturn earlier water sharing agreements with Haryana and Rajasthan through the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act of 2004 lest its opponents declare it to be against the people of Punjab. The legality of such a state law is still under consideration with the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile in Karnataka, the latest round of water wars with Tamil Nadu has already begun. On March 16, former Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa organised a stir at Hogenakkal against the project. On March 31 Kannada Chaluvali Vatal Paksha activists, led by its president and former MLA Vatal Nagaraj, staged a black flag demonstration in front of the Vidhana Soudha blaming the present government for inaction in the matter of protecting the interests of Karnataka. Political parties in Karnataka, especially the ones not in government, have already begun to use this opportunity to initiate street battles. That apparently is an effective way — or at least politicians out of power think so — of wooing the electorate for the assembly elections that are to be held in Karnataka in May this year. In the absence of a mechanism to rein in the short-sighted among politicians and sharing water fairly, one can only expect more such bitter fights.
M. Rajivlochan is author of ‘Farmers suicide: facts and possible policy interventions’

Stunning upset, Maoists head for power

Yubaraj Ghimire for Indian Express
Stunning opponents with an electoral performance that may also make the international community uncomfortable, Nepal’s Maoists seem headed for a majority in the Constituent Assembly with chief Pushpa Kumar Dahal, better known as Prachanda and chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M), as the new government’s chief executive.
The party which led an insurgency for 11 years from February 1995 to establish “republicanism in Nepal” is still on the US government’s terrorist list.
By all indications, neighbouring India did not foresee the Maoists securing a majority on their own in the April 10 election which, according to preliminary reports of international observers, was largely free and fair. In their election manifesto, the Maoists had called for scrapping all major treaties, including the 1950 treaty of peace and friendship with India, stopping the recruitment of Gurkhas in British and Indian armies and review of major water and irrigation agreements.
The results so far indicate that if at all the Maoists agree to form a coalition government, the Nepali Congress and UML will be the junior partners. The Maoists have already won 15 seats, including Prachanda’s constituency in Kathmandu, and were leading in at least 69 constituencies.
Other parties like the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) were way behind, leading in 32 and 22 seats respectively. Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the UML which had hoped to emerge as the single largest party, resigned from his post, owning responsibility for the debacle.
Election Commission sources said that counting for 160 of the 239 constituencies under the first-past-the-post system was on. It will take more than two weeks for declaration of results under the proportional representation system.
The Constituent Assembly will have a total of 601 members, comprising 240 elected directly, 335 under the proportional representation system and 26 nominated by the Cabinet.
Soon after Prachanda’s victory was announced in Kathmandu, he declared that his party would “not fail the people who had reposed so much faith.”
“We will implement our pledge to make Nepal a federal republic,” Prachanda said as he was cheered outside the Birendra International Convention Hall.
While the results indicated overwhelming support for the Maoists, the Koirala clan, one of the leading families in Nepal politics, took a severe knocking — all eight close relatives of Prime Minister G P Koirala had either been defeated or were trailing badly.
As Maoist supporters swarmed the streets of Kathmandu, armed police were deployed around the Narayanhity royal palace where King Gyanendra lives with his family. The Constituent Assembly will in all likelihood hasten the end of the monarchy.
But the Maoist victory also confused the business community and the diplomatic corps. They were very guarded in their reaction. “The Maoists have to give a clear message that they will not do something foolish that will result in the flight of capital and discourage investors,” a newly-elected executive of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industries told The SundayExpress.
What this means for India
• India was instrumental in forging an understanding with Maoists to avoid delay in polls
• While US was leaning more towards Centrist parties (Maoists are banned on its terror list), China developed stronger ties with UML
• India reads the vote as one against monarchy, corrupt politicians and the UML
• India will have to readjust its relationship and is banking on “close contacts” with Maoists
• But it will have to contend with stronger anti-India rhetoric as Maoists swept polls on the plank of building a “truly independent” republic
• Nepal, under Maoists, will strongly demand revising the 1950 peace and friendship treaty. While India has been considering this, it will have to take an early decision on starting consultations


Skim the questions: The Supreme Court’s go-ahead to the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act 2006 puts India on the cusp of possibly the most significant social policy change in decades. By allowing that 27 per cent reservation in higher education does not violate the basic structure of the Constitution, the court has made possible the changing of the demographic on our campuses at one stroke. On the advisability of this, a political consensus holds. There is, however, debate already brewing on the idea of excluding the “creamy layer” from the ambit of reservations, something ordered by the court in Ashok Thakur v the Union of India. Creamy layer as a mechanism for selection (or de-selection) goes back to the institution of quotas for Other Backward Classes in Central government jobs in the early ’90s. Some of the criteria arrived at then to profile the creamy layer included family income of the aspirant, her parents’ profession, family wealth and the amount of irrigated land owned by the family. There is already pressure on the government from many political parties to file a review petition on the court’s observations on excluding the creamy layer now from reservations in higher education. At one level, arguments for and against the creamy layer exclusion are based on the idea of deprivation. Does a candidate from a family of comfortable means qualify for the deprivation implied in the phrase “socially and educationally backward classes”? Or, do those means still put the person within the purview of discrimination and prejudice implied by caste?
That debate will continue. But there is another question. Does the “creamy” criterion pass easily from jobs to education? Take the changing nature of higher education. The IIMs, for instance, are raising their fees manifold while expanding vastly the number of students they would give financial assistance to, based on family income. The IITs are reported to be thinking along similar lines. It is time our colleges and universities too recognised the need for changing the fee structure and targeting subsidy in a better way. In that scenario, then, should SEBC status derive only from a societal status (roughly caste) or from an individual overlap of societal and economic status?

EXPRESS EDITORIAL: Torching freedom

China’s chairman is our chairman,” was the preponderant Naxalite graffiti in Kolkata in the ’60s-’70s. The CPM was then battling Naxalites. China’s Olympics are our Olympics, the CPM seems to be saying now and, of course, after 30 years of institution-capturing that Chairman Mao would have been envious of, there is no one left in Kolkata to battle the CPM. So Tibetans who have protested all over India and all over the world have been banned from the streets of the city that hosts more rallies than road signs and more bandhs than BPOs. China’s consul general, as reported in this newspaper, is delighted. Well he might be. Which other government apart from that run by China’s communists has understood that, since Beijing decided that the Olympics would be the event when it walks down the world’s ramp, no one else must be allowed to share the spotlight?

But India hosts rambunctious protests by all kinds of groups and the one thing India understands better than China’s apparatchiks is the value of freedom of association. The CPM is one of the biggest beneficiaries of that freedom — where would an agitation-prone party, which reckons blocking streets in Kolkata would change American foreign policy, be if protest were circumscribed? So the CPM banning the Tibetan rally in Kolkata is not just democratically abhorrent, not just an embarrassment for India, but chillingly hypocritical. Will the Congress take on the CPM on this? It must. The issue is not safe passage for the Olympic torch. That the government is handling. The political issue is basic freedom. And the Congress must also remember realpolitik. The CPM boycotted Parliament when American President George W. Bush was to address it. Comrades organised massive protest rallies during his visit. That was the CPM’s democratic right. Now, when India’s credentials as a democratic country are in question thanks to the Kolkata ban, the Congress as the ruling party must bluntly and publicly criticise its ally.
There have been questions about the CPM’s China sympathies. Some of the interrogation has been crude. Some misplaced — the CPM was right in saying Chinese companies shouldn’t be victims of security paranoia. But since the party has decided that Chinese communist sensibilities must be protected from a handful of young Tibetans, it invites very sharp questions. The first question is: why does the CPM think India’s democracy must carry the torch for China’s Olympian intolerance?

Quota compulsions

Soli J Sorabjee writes for Indian Express

• OBC reservations and creamy layer: The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of 27 per cent OBC reservation in higher educational institutions. The reservation now stands at 49.5 per cent. This is disappointing because the court has put its seal of approval on reservations in higher educational institutions where merit should be the criterion for admission. However, in the present context, a contrary decision striking down a constitutional amendment would have led to a fierce confrontation between the judiciary and Parliament, which the court understandably was anxious to avoid.
The redeeming part of the judgment is the exclusion of certain categories of the creamy layer from the benefits of reservation. The rationale is that those who are economically well placed cannot be regarded as backward and thereby obtain undeserved benefits, depriving those who genuinely need them. This is elementary fairness. Non-exclusion of the creamy layer would lead to reverse discrimination and violate the essence of equality. Significantly, caste has not been made the sole determinative factor to the exclusion of financial and economic factors. The direction of the court to review the OBC quota every five years is welcome. The problem is whether the concerned governments will abide by this direction.
The Supreme Court heard all the parties extensively for weeks and after mature deliberations has delivered its via media judgment. It behoves all to accept it and draw a curtain on these contentious issues. There has to be finality. It is impossible to please every side.
• Fair British justice: Fairness is the hallmark of any civilised system of administration of justice. This was displayed in the recent judgment of the high court in London. The UK Government had sought to retrospectively make changes in November 2006 to the previous 2002 scheme, whose professed aim was to attract ‘high human capital individuals’ who had the qualifications and skills required by the UK businesses to compete in the global marketplace. Under the 2002 scheme, points were allocated for educational qualification, age, salary and UK experience, and UK study. As a result of the changes effected in 2006, highly skilled migrants programme visa holders had to reappear for examination. This necessitated higher annual income and also contained age restrictions for extension of visas.
The high court ruled that it was not open to the government to alter the terms and conditions of the old scheme and that there was no good reason why those already on the scheme should not enjoy its benefits as originally offered to them. Justice Sir George Newman, in his judgment, emphasised the aspect of “good administration and straightforward dealing with the public” and observed that “not to restrain the impact of the changes would give rise to conspicuous unfairness and an abuse of power”. Three cheers for fair British justice.
• Arrogant MPs and bold pilots: The Pilots Association should be congratulated for its bold stand against the unpunctual and arrogant Kerala MP P.V. Abdul Wahab. Air travellers are frequently put to unnecessary hardship because some VIPs do not bother to check in on time and, in the process, delay the departure of the flight. A Delhi-Bangalore flight did not take off for 20 minutes because of the late arrival of a VVIP, former PM H.D. Deve Gowda. As he came in to occupy his seat, I raised my voice and told him that he had inconvenienced 110 passengers. No regret was expressed, nor was any explanation offered. On the contrary, his looks indicated that I did not appreciate the heavy burden placed on our political leaders in discharge of their onerous public duties and that I was making an unnecessary fuss over an insignificant issue of delaying flights.
This is the mindset, the lal batti culture, which needs to be obliterated. Captain Rajat Rana was within his rights in ordering the Kerala MP off the plane. The MP’s entry into the cockpit was clearly unlawful and his abusive language deplorable. There should be no camaraderie between fellow MPs in such cases. The issue in the present case is not between individuals. It is of political arrogance and performance of duties by courageous officials.

Why China’s Reds fear religious freedom

Sudheendra Kulkarni writes for Indian Express

The world cannot be blind to Tibet’s tearsWhom does India need: karmacharis or karmayogis?In Kerala, the murderous game must stopHow Congress is chained to the myth of DynastyDr Singh and the nuclear endgame
The anti-religious and dictatorial communist officials who have been badmouthing the Dalai Lama, one of the greatest living spiritual gurus in the world, cannot be expected to know about Asra Nomani, the celebrated author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. But if anyone in China wants to know why His Holiness is revered by Indians and those in the rest of the world who do not equate religion with “the opium of the people”, should turn to this book by the Bombay-born Indian-American journalist (formerly with The Wall Street Journal). This is how Nomani begins her fascinating account of self-discovery.
ALLAHABAD, INDIA: One hot winter afternoon, I was lost in India on the banks of the Ganges, a river holy to Hindus... By chance, my path intersected with the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama, inside an ashram, and he set me off on my holy pilgrimage to the heart of Islam. It was January 2001, and I was, quite fittingly, in the city of Allahabad, “the city of Allah,” the name by which my Muslim identity taught me to beckon God.
Although a Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, like millions of Hindu pilgrims, was in a dusty tent village erected outside Allahabad to make a holy pilgrimage to the waters there for the Maha Kumbha Mela. He joined the chanting of a circle of devotees dressed all in white. When they had finished, I followed the Dalai Lama to a press conference...(where) an Indian journalist raised his hand. “Are Muslims violent?” he asked.
My stomach tightened. This question reflected a stereotype of the people of my religion, but, alas, the national flag of Saudi Arabia, the country that considers itself the guardian of Islam’s holiest cities—two historical sites called Mecca and Medina—includes the sword... The Dalai Lama smiled. “We are all violent as religions,” he said. After pausing, he added, “Even Buddhists... We must stop looking at the past, and look at the present and the future.”
Nomani’s own question at the press conference was: “What is it that our leaders can do to transcend the issues of power that make them turn the people of different religions against each other?” His Holiness answered: “There are three things we must do. Read the scholars of each other’s religions. Talk to the enlightened beings in each other’s religions. Finally, do the pilgrimages of each other’s religions.”
The picture of the Dalai Lama that Nomani presents is that of a true spiritual giant, one who respects all faiths, nurtures ill-will towards none, and is candid in admitting that even followers of his faith might sometimes do wrong things. He has displayed these and several other positive qualities in his leadership on the Tibetan issue. He has exhorted his followers not to use violence in protesting against their ill-treatment in China. He has wished well for the successful organisation of Beijing Olympics. He has been most reasonable in the dialogue he wishes to have with the Chinese leadership to find a just solution to the issue that has been agitating him and his people ever since China annexed Tibet in 1951. And yet, Beijing portrays him as a demon.
Pallavi Aiyar, The Hindu newspaper’s Beijing correspondent, whose reports on China are among the best to appear in the Indian media, recently wrote: “For Beijing to appear ‘soft’ on the Dalai Lama would be as politically unpalatable domestically as it would be in the United States were Washington to decide to engage in dialogue with Osama bin Laden.”
It is high time China did some honest introspection as to why, despite its proud and spectacular economic progress, the Olympic torch is inviting protests in city after city around the globe. The world may admire China for planning to host what promises to be the most fabulous Olympics ever—the recently opened third airport terminal in Beijing is truly Olympian in size: it is two miles long and bigger than all the five terminals of London’s Heathrow airport put together. But to earn respect, China must grant basic freedom, above all, religious freedom, to its people.
This is where the contrast between India and China is the most glaring. While religion and spirituality have been ruthlessly suppressed in communist China, these continue to be the soul of India, where people of all faiths can practise their beliefs unhindered. India has always placed saints and mahatmas on a higher pedestal than politicians. This explains why the Dalai Lama, seen as a living embodiment of Buddhism’s universalist ideals, is widely respected in India. Communist China has no place for any saintly figure. It recognises only one God: the Party. Can we imagine the Party giving the Dalai Lama the freedom to move around in China, preach his ideals, go on pilgrimages, address press conferences and participate in inter-faith celebrations? This can happen only when China, home to a great and ancient civilisation, discards the Party, which, for its own survival, has turned the country into a spiritually barren land.

Friday, 11 April, 2008

WiziQ -- saving teachers dignity

B D Narayankar

Pune: Earning 1,000 rupees in an hour always sounds good. And that is what an Indian teacher is getting to teach NRI children staying abroad. For this, he needn’t migrate to any other western country spending huge money. He, simply, has to log on to the net to teach Indian subjects.

With the spiraling demand to teach variety of Indian languages to NRI children growing under western influence, many websites like ‘wiziq’ have begun linking Indian teachers to students living abroad. “Hindi is being recognised as one of the major foreign languages in US and Canada. But the dearth of Hindi teachers in these countries has created a huge demand abroad. By installing the language fonts, teaching Hindi becomes an easy job,” said Ramesh S, a Hindi teacher.

According to Harman Singh, founder and CEO of, of the 20,000-odd students and teachers enrolled with wiziq today, over 4,000 are teachers.

Singh said the virtual classroom (website) is equipped with two-way audio, text, chat, PowerPoint and PDF document sharing. The session can even be replayed. Raashid Malik, a software engineer with wiziq, says one can find the tutor for any subject in the site's massive tutor directory.

Outsourcing of teachers is a cost-effective exercise for foreign students, while it has been fetching Indian teachers some big bucks. “For teachers based there, students pay Rs 20,000 for an hour of study, while Indian teachers offer them with Rs 1,000 per hour," said Hardeep Singh, a Punjab teacher imparting computer education to students abroad.

The rate at which the method has been gaining popularity in India as well as abroad it will soon replace the way we study, added Hardeep.

It’s a landmark

Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes for Indian Express

Landmark judgments can have one of two features. They can strike an uneasy balance between competing considerations, in a sort of compromise that keeps the peace. Or they can mark out a radically new course of action. Ashok Thakur is an oddity in that, amidst all the complications of four different judgments, it manages to do both. The core orders of the Supreme Court strike a balance between two considerations. A society like India needs affirmative action. But the core question must have some rational justification: Who should be targeted, why should they be targeted and how should they be targeted? For all the brave face the government is putting up, its perfidy has been exposed. The issue was not whether affirmative action is permissible. What was grossly objectionable was that the government indiscriminately included groups that manifestly ought not to be beneficiaries. They had converted a social policy into a pure power play.
The court has, in deference to the legislature but in line with its own precedent, upheld reservations. It has upheld the constitutionality of the 93rd Amendment and 27 per cent quota for OBCs. But it is in modest ways forcing the government to rationalise the system in at least two ways: the exclusion of the creamy layer from the OBC quota and an injunction that the inclusion of specific groups be reviewed every five years. The rationalisation imposed is modest. Who falls under creamy layer exclusion is relatively clear in case of government employees. But the judges have left the determination of its precise boundaries an open question and potentially given the government a good deal of discretion. This will potentially be a great area of uncertainty in the future. But implicitly there is a reminder that caste is a reality in India but it is not the only reality.
The second area of uncertainty is whether private unaided institutions can come under the purview of reservations. The 93rd Amendment was occasioned by the issue of private institutions in the first place. But strangely, the court refused to pronounce on this constitutional issue on the grounds that no private party was impleaded in the matter. But this is precisely the issue that provoked Justice Bhandari’s dissent to one of the strongest defences of the rights of unaided institutions to date in Indian judicial history. The regulatory uncertainty on this issue is likely to continue for a long time, and may be an indication of how divisive this issue will yet be.
This issue is directly related to an issue that the court settles incidentally: whether minority institutions should be exempt from the purview of reservations. The court has upheld special status for minority institutions, but in doing so seems to have confused, as it has in the past, two different issues. The court has been rightly concerned in the past and has insisted that an institution should not lose its minority character merely because it receives state funding. But it does not follow from that fact that the Constitution requires that there be a distinction between minority and majority institutions if they do not receive any state funding. In other words, the court has lost an opportunity to detach freedom of association from being irrevocably imprisoned in the categories of minority and majority. But the fact that it could not come to a determination on unaided institutions has left the majority-minority distinction inscribed in areas where it is unnecessary.
For the most part, the court operates within the parameters of Indra Sawhney; the CJ’s moderately worded judgment does, contrary to the government’s stand, categorically insist that there is a qualitative distinction between SCs and OBCs, and the two deserve different treatment. This is the ground on which creamy layer is excluded for the one and not the other. But since it is operating within existing precedent, many of the anomalies over affirmative action are likely to persist. A curious sentence from the CJ’s judgment: “If any Constitutional Amendment is made which moderately abridges or alters the equality principle under Article 19(i)(g) it cannot be said that it violates the basic structure of Constitution.” Moderate abridgment may be a tacit concession to the fact that the current scheme of reservation remains at best very blunt in its targeting.
While the core orders can be construed as a holding pattern compromise, the large and contentious issues that divide Indian society are scarcely resolved. This division can be seen in the overall approach of the majority and Justice Bhandari’s extraordinarily pointed dissent. Both agree that Indian society is characterised by inequity. But one approach of addressing this inequity operates in the following paradigm. To overcome this inequity we must recognise the key axis of social divisions like caste. It then assumes that the very same categories that produced the social division in the first place should be used to address inequality. Another more radical approach worries that using the same categories is perpetuating those very distinctions that we seek to overcome. The way to overcome caste is to overcome it in public policy, but at the same time attend to the basic provisions that make for real social empowerment.
Which side you come out on is not a matter of pure legal judgment. It depends on your reading of Indian history. One side says: look at the reality of caste. Another side says: look at the ineffectiveness and arbitrariness of reservations, a policy that does not help the very groups it is designed to help. On the one side, which the majority represents, there is an unstated pessimism that is barely concealed — Indian society cannot be trusted to effectively do all the right things quickly enough: spread genuine quality education, create awareness about discrimination and aspire towards equality. So the present compromise is warranted. On the other side, reflected in the dissenting judgment, there is a real fear that this politics of pessimism plays straight into the hands of those who want to opportunistically exploit divisions, engage in power play and avoid doing the real thing.
It is time we really did say to ourselves: let us make quality education a basic right. Let us be clearer about the real sources of social disempowerment and address them. One is resigned to a society of necessary palliatives, the other dreams of an India beyond caste and the tyranny of state-sponsored compulsory identities. The majority judgment reflects the former; the dissenting judgment the latter. Who is on the side of the future will be decided, not by the courts, but by the kind of politics we now engage in.

Anarchy haunts Nepal even after polls

Yubaraj Ghimire writes for Indian Express

Today Nepal holds an election for its constituent assembly. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (CPN-M) plunged into the democratic exercise, taking a calculated risk. It stands to gain already. People have accepted it as one of the important catalysts behind the election to the constituent assembly. It is also thought of as one of the major contributors towards Nepal’s likely journey — of republicanism and federalism.
But the Maoists are still not confident of getting the votes, which is why their militant young communist league cadres have fanned out in big numbers, mainly in what they call the Maoist base areas. These are areas where rival political leaders were forbidden from entering — something that the Election Commission failed to take into account effectively. This, political observers feel, is a guarantee that Maoists will have a respectable position or numbers in the constituent assembly. Ignoring and overlooking likely electoral malpractices is an apparent method to ensure that Nepal will have lasting peace and its own model of democracy.
Chief Election Commissioner Bhojraj Pokhrel has said repeatedly that after all an election is just an extension of the peace process, implying that rigorous implementation of the code of conduct and disqualification of those indulging in gross violation will derail the election, and by extension, the peace process.
As polling day arrives today, the people’s enthusiasm is heady. Prime Minister G. P. Koirala told international observers — about 1,000 of them — that all problems of the country would be over once the constituent assembly poll was over. This is a dream that the people of Nepal, of whom nearly 45 per cent are illiterate, and an almost equal number live under the poverty line, have bought. But many, including international observers and a majority of Nepal’s people understand that what Koirala is saying is neither true nor possible. This is where the Maoists sound different. Not only are they targeting the King as the cause of Nepal’s backwardness, but as the electioneering drew to a close, they began lumping the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) as the allies of the king who were out to ‘annihilate us as terrorists’. Maoist Chief Prachanda’s message to the electorate everywhere he went was clear — let these parties apologise to us for having called us ‘terrorists for our pro-people fight’.
All these developments show that post-election challenges and political equations will not be easy to handle. As the country is poised for a hung constituent assembly scenario, the Maoist faction is almost certain to stake its claim to form the government on the sole plea that it is the only legitimate agent of change. G. P. Koirala, whose name is, almost synonymous with power, is equally certain to invoke the TINA factor in his favour. It is also equally predictable that India and the United States, the two major external players in Nepal’s politics, will not feel comfortable seeing someone in their security radar taking over as executive head of Nepal — a country that is so important for both of them strategically. And of course, equally challenging will be the course that King Gyanendra will adopt. Despite the constituent assembly being under directive from the interim house to enforce republicanism by its first meeting, it does not look feasible. The first sitting will basically see the Pro-tem speaker administering oath of office to the new members of the constituent assembly. But there will neither be a government to move the bill, nor will the rules of procedure of the house be defined. Similarly, the presence of pro-monarchy parliamentarians, mainly within the Congress and UML as well as other parties, would also will be crucial factors in deciding the issue.
Moreover, as the Maoists — key players in future governance — have put forward the idea of carving Nepal into ethnic provinces, the country is likely to get into a new phase of ethnic conflict All these developments only indicate that Nepal’s journey ahead is full of challenges. The constituent assembly poll will of course legitimise the prevailing chaos and anarchy, but there is no guarantee that it will help the country in dealing with uncertainties.

CPM as kingmaker

Balbir K Punj writes for Deccan Chronicle

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) blew its trumpet hard at its recent party congress in Coimbatore concluding it with party boss Prakash Karat setting out to form his “third alternative.” In his own words, the third alternative “can offer people a policy platform distinct from the two mainstream political forces led by the Congress and the BJP.”
Karat’s third alternative partners are expected to be the United National Progressive Alliance, yet another stillborn coalition along with regional, personal and name board organisations. The TD, SP, NLD, NC and the AGP are the constituents of the UNPA after the AIADMK distanced itself from this hotch potch soon after its birth. Add them up and they still are far from even the prospect of a working majority in Parliament. And even if they manage to get it by some fluke, the emerging pattern would make it impossible to find a mutually acceptable Prime Minister. Even if some new Deve Gowda is found, the resulting government would be a cacophony with no one party in the commanding position. Perhaps this is what Karat wants so that he could again play the kingmaker and hold the resultant Cabinet under his thumb.
The Coimbatore resolution of the CPI(M) hints at the game the comrades want to play. At one point it says that the “Left will not take a lead role, but will provide the larger political and policy framework for the proposed alliance.” In other words, the Left will win the head and the others can take the tail of this multi-legged creature. That is, Karat will dictate the framework and the others could just slip into it. This is the classic “salami tactic”: the Left, which is a minority in the United Front, has all the trump cards.
But it gives the impression to the front partners that they are in charge till finally, the comrades close in on the partners. By the time the partners realise this, it is too late to stop the comrades. The CPI(M) thinks it can mislead others on policy matters. According to the Coimbatore resolution, the third alternative is supposed to be against neo-liberal policies. But will the other partners of the third alternative agree to be led by the Marxists on economic policy matters? Is the TD really against neo-liberal policies, considering its support base of the entrepreneurial class in Andhra Pradesh?
To expect Chandrababu Naidu to return to the old licence-permit era is to ask for the impossible. He had pioneered private enterprise in his state when he was the chief minister. As for the SP, the Mulayam Singh government in Uttar Pradesh had allowed the private sector to swamp the sugar mill areas and even proposed an airport in the village of the then chief minister.
For that matter, the Left itself has internal differences over economic policy issues. In fact, at the conclave the CPI(M) had to issue guidelines to its governments in three states (West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura). While West Bengal’s chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has embraced the Tatas in his state, his party colleague V.S. Achutanandan is railing against the Tatas and even threatening to confiscate their tea plantation in Munnar district of Kerala.
As for special economic zones, while West Bengal has already given permission to many, Kerala, though opposed to them, has allowed a “smart city” project incorporating a SEZ. The party’s resolution takes an ambivalent stand: “It will not be possible for the Left-led states to prohibit SEZs till the time basic changes can be accomplished at an all-India level.” And adds: “It is unrealistic to expect the Left-led government to initiate any basic changes.” In other words, the party is saying that let the Left governments get the capitalists in while we oppose capitalism on an all-India basis.
The Marxists seem to be very adept at such double speak. After criticising the neo-liberal policies of the “two mainstream parties,” the CPI(M) resolution goes on to say that it cannot any longer see governance as a “tool for people’s struggles and mass mobilisation.” “People in the Left bastions cannot be told to wait indefinitely for their problems to be addressed till a change takes place at an all-India level.” There are several other instances of double speak in the Coimbatore resolution. For example, the party promises to “defend national sovereignty.” Where does this patriotism disappear when it comes to the Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh?
Finally the Marxists promise to “continue to adopt tactics for isolating and defeating the BJP.” And what is the national and regional strength of this party that sees itself in a larger than life role? The party report admits: “Without making a breakthrough in weaker states, it is very difficult to sustain the present strength and influence both in strong and weak states.”
The party base continues to be less than marginal in big states — UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand, Maharashtra to just name a few. Maharashtra, the state that had given the party stalwarts like B.T. Ranadive and S.A. Dange, hardly has CPI(M) presence. Even in Andhra Pradesh it has to hang on to other parties to maintain a foothold. The party document acknowledges the “need to penetrate more states.” Otherwise the base in the three states may flounder as well.
The party that proudly calls itself the “people’s voice” is confined to only three states. Even there its base seems to be eroding. It was revealed during the Coimbatore meet that only 17 per cent of the full-time members in the party are below the age of 30 years. Clearly, the new generation is not so interested in Marxism. In Kerala, the party’s bastion, membership attrition rate is 10.62 per cent (one out of every four member is lost). In Kerala, where the party is now in power, and had been in power on and off earlier, dalit membership has dropped from 15.86 per cent to 14.97 per cent.
With membership-base in just three states and virtually nothing in the rest of India, this party talks of deciding the framework for structure and policy for the so-called third alternative, which is as yet nowhere in sight, and capture power at the national level.

Monday, 7 April, 2008

Polls apart

B V Shiva Shankar for Mid Day
The Hogenakkal row could be just what some political parties need to postpone elections
Karnataka goes to the polls next month, but the Congress may use the Hogenakkal row as an excuse to ask for a change in the schedule.
An intelligence report submitted to the government says law and order problems could hinder the poll process. The Election Commission announced yesterday Karnataka would vote on May 10, 16 and 22.
What’s happening?
Prime minister Manmohan Singh and Governor Rameswar Thakur also met to take stock yesterday. A source said they discussed the possibility of postponing elections, but did not make any public comment to that effect as it could earn a bad name for the Congress.
Sonia Gandhi summoned S M Krishna to Delhi yesterday, also to discuss poll preparedness.
“The party is not for elections in this situation,” said a Congress leader. “ If the messy electoral rolls are an issue, the Hogenakkal controversy could spoil the atmosphere necessary to hold elections.”But Congressmen are afraid they will be called spoilsports if they push for a postponement.
Bigger issues
The intelligence report submitted three days ago says the Hogenakkal row and related law and order problems could make things difficult in southern Karnataka, while Naxals could create problems in the central districts. The report identifies Hogenakkal as the biggest hindrance.
As the Election Commission announced a poll timetable on Wednesday, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) escalated protests across the state.
“We are not concerned about elections. What is the point in having elections when the basics of our state are at stake? We don’t care if our agitation affects the poll process,” said T A Narayana Gowda, president, KRV.
Strikes galore
KRV, which had stalled screening of Tamil films and telecast of Tamil channels at several places, may stop buses coming from Tamil Nadu today.
“Taking dalits, farmers, and Kannada organisations with us, we will organise a massive rally on April 12 in Kollegal, and call a statewide bandh,” said Gowda.
Vatal Nagaraj, former MLA and president of Akhila Karnataka Gadi Horata Samiti, said his organisation had already decided to call a bundh on April 10.
No problem
However, the Election Commission is confident of conducting free and fair elections.
“The police will take care of law and order. As far as I know the Election Commission is fully geared for polls,” said B V Kulkarni, joint chief electoral officer.
P K H Tarakan, advisor to the Governor, said, “We will see that elections are not affected.”
Governor Rameswar Thakur said, after meeting the prime minister in Delhi, “The issue is serious. I know there is a bit of tension that we can not ignore, but things will follow the normal course.”
Shankar Bidri, additional director general, law and order, told MiD DAY, “I see no law and order problems. If KRV wants to protest, we will allow them to do so in a democratic way.”

Writ in water

Ramaswamy R Iyer writes for Indian Express

The Hogenakkal fires are being doused. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has put the project on hold until a popular government takes over in Karnataka. S.M. Krishna has hailed this “magnanimous gesture”, describing him as an elder statesman. The Karnataka bandh is being called off. Some sporadic violence may continue in both states, but things will probably settle down soon. It is nevertheless necessary to ask how and why this trouble happened, and how a recurrence can be prevented.
Whatever the merits of the Hogenakkal project, two things seem to be clear. First, it is said to be a drinking water project. Among water uses drinking water has the highest priority. The quantity of Cauvery waters involved in this project is very small — 1.4 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) — and it is to benefit certain drought-prone areas in Tamil Nadu. Second, Tamil Nadu says it is an approved project. The fact that Japanese funding is available for it seems to indicate so. Tamil Nadu also says that at a meeting in 1998 the project was cleared and that the two states agreed not to raise objections to each other’s drinking water projects. This seems to be borne out by a report in the media about the details of what happened in 1998.
Why then did the flare-up occur? It was clearly caused by Yeddiyurappa’s visit to Hogenakkal and his objections to the project, adding a dubious territorial dimension to it. He must bear the responsibility for starting all the trouble. The explanation that suggests itself is that in the context of the forthcoming elections he saw some political mileage in this. Perhaps he did not quite realise the forces that he was unleashing. It is a pity that his statement was not repudiated by the BJP leadership, considering particularly that it was under the auspices of the NDA government that the project is said to have been approved; but of course such repudiations do not happen in Indian politics.
Some leaders and opinion-makers in Tamil Nadu responded to Yeddiyurappa’s statement, and eventually, at the foundation-stone ceremony, Karunanidhi asserted categorically that the project would go forward despite objections. He has been accused of using excessively strong language. Perhaps he could have expressed himself in milder and more measured language. However, so far as one can see, he did not say anything that warranted the violence that erupted in Karnataka.
Once Yeddiyurappa raised the issue, politicians in Karnataka did not dare to say that he was wrong. They too found it necessary to question the project. What could be Karnataka’s objections to the project? It may suspect that the project has irrigation and power components as well. Tamil Nadu denies this. Karnataka may also be apprehensive of the backwater effects of the project, though one has not heard this point made. All this can easily be resolved through mutual discussions or through Central mediation. However, the principal Karnataka argument seems to be that Tamil Nadu should not have undertaken the project at a time when the Cauvery dispute is still before the tribunal and the Supreme Court through petitions. This seems to be an afterthought. Tamil Nadu’s answer is that the small quantity of water involved in the project would come out of the share allotted to the state by the tribunal; that the project would not create a new claim to Cauvery waters; and that Karnataka had agreed to the project in 1998.
Whatever the merits of these arguments, it was very unfortunate that certain groups in Karnataka decided to mount an anti-Tamil agitation on this issue. It is not clear what the Tamil language or films or TV channels have to do with the rights and wrongs of the project. The candid explanation is that there is an undercurrent of anti-Tamil feelings on the part of some groups — only some groups — in Karnataka, and that it rises to the surface on occasions of this kind. It happened in 1992 too.
Neither Deve Gowda nor Krishna said a word in condemnation of the violence. By ascribing it to provocation by Karunanidhi, they seemed implicitly to justify it. Violence in Karnataka was followed by violence in Tamil Nadu. Commercial and passenger transport between the two states was disrupted. Filmstars in both states began rallies and protest fasts. Trouble was spiralling out of control.
At the Central level there was a deafening silence. Neither the BJP nor the Congress leaders said a word. The fact is that the responses of political leaders at all levels, local, state and national, were determined by electoral calculations. This shows the distorting power of elections. We rightly take great pride in our elections as impressive demonstrations of Indian democracy, but they have their negative aspects too.
Eminent persons and intellectuals in both the states could have issued statements calling for peace and harmony. So far as one knows, that did not happen. What is the explanation for the silence: prudence or cynicism or pusillanimity?
In reality, this is not a water issue at all. It is the eruption of a latent Kannadiga-Tamilian ill-feeling. This may now be a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand, but it may grow into an enormous problem if left unattended.
Good sense seems at last to have prevailed, but this is a fragile peace. Genuine harmony needs to be restored between the Kannadigas and the Tamils. A great responsibility in this regard rests on persons of goodwill in both states. Will they rise to the occasion?
The writer is a former secretary, water resources, in the Government of India

Whose Hogenakal is it?

Susha Hebbar for Times Now

The Hogenakkal crisis seems far from ending. Even as politicians in both states haggle over the issue in the state capitals, those on either side of the Hogenakkal are a divided lot, too. But at the same time they are also eagerly waiting for this long standing issue to be sorted out.The river Cauvery at Hogenakkal waterfalls physically separates Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and has been the scene of the bitter standoff between the two states. At one spot in the waterfall, water from the Cauvery is to be drawn and distributed to people in Tamil Nadu. Though there is a plan on paper, nothing has been done on the ground so far. Meanwhile, 15 kms from Hogenakkal is the village of Tiruvalluvar. The water here is high in flouride content and the only one handpump in the village too, is contaminated. The Hogenakkal project that they had pinned their hopes on for fresh drinking water seems like a distant dream.Says Amudha, a villager, insists "Karnataka has to give us water. We have been asking for water for years and have been suffering from ailments like asthma and allergies. We want drinking water and they have to give it to us." Many villagers including children displayed mottled discoloured teeth suggesting dental fluorosis - the first visible sign of excessive fluoride exposure.Tamil Chelvam, another resident of Tiruvalluvar, says: "We are just going to take water that naturally flows into Tamil Nadu. Thirty lakh people in Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts will benefit. Everyone is suffering now because of the high fluoride content. We want water to drink, not to do business with." And this the story of not only Tiruvalluvar, but many other drought-prone Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts of Tamil Nadu. Even at the tourist destination of Hogenakkal falls, the tension of the water row is palpable as blue-red and yellow flags mark out territories for Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively.Divisions are deeply entrenched in the hearts of the people and now these are turning into emotional ones. At Marukkottai, the nearest Karnataka village to the Hogenakkal falls, the resistance to the water project is palpable.Villagers demand to know what makes Tamil Nadu special. "We don't get water, why should they?" asks Padmanabha. Others, like fisherman Sindaraju fear that their livelihoods might be affected if the water from the falls is not released and instead diverted.Even as the battle continues to rage on in both states, at Ground Zero it's the uncertainty that is unnerving. The conflict now threatens to deepen the divide between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka - but what many seem to forget, is that it is a drinking water project that is under the threat of being stalled over regional considerations. (By Susha Hebbar)

Jaya slams Karunanidhi

S Shiva Kumar for Meri News
AIADMK SUPREMO and former Tamilnadu chief minister Jayalalithaa who maintained a studied silence when violence erupted on both sides of the Karnataka-Tamilnadu border over the Hogenakkal Integrated Water Supply Scheme, has now deigned to mouth a few words on the issue. She has opposed the Tamilnadu chief minister Karunanidhi’s decision to put the said scheme on hold. Probably she waited for a chink in Karunanidhi’s armour to reveal itself so she could pounce on him and Karunanidhi did not disappoint her either. He obliged her sooner than later by putting the Scheme on hold in deference to the wishes of the ‘Madam from Delhi’, thus playing into the hands of the ‘Madam from Chennai’.

Well, the Chennai Madam, Jayalalitha, charged Karunanidhi with surrendering the rights of Tamils under pressure from the Centre, instead of removing the stumbling blocks. Tamilnadu was under no obligation to seek a clearance from Karnataka for the project since Hogenakkal was part of the state. The scheme envisaged use of Cauvery water that flowed into Tamilnadu. When the Karnataka government was implementing the Bangalore drinking water scheme, why should Tamilnadu be prevented from implementing its own drinking water scheme? The surrender by Karunanidhi was uncalled for since Karnataka had no right to intervene in the project.

She reminded Karunanidhi that the Tamilnadu assembly adopted a resolution in support of the scheme earlier on, only to drop it subsequently. This was against established norms. The house should have been informed of it. The implementation of the project had been influenced by the ensuing assembly elections in Karnataka and that was not acceptable to the people of Tamilnadu. Karunanidhi had betrayed the people of Tamilnadu by linking the issue to the ensuing assembly polls in Karnataka. He had lost the moral right to continue as chief minister of Tamilnadu. Tamilnadu should have a government which was prepared to fight for its rights. The decision on the part of Karunanidhi amounted to a tacit admission on the part of the government of Tamilnadu that Karnataka had the right to decide on the fate of the project. Karunanidhi had granted a ‘non-existent’ right to Karnataka. She wondered whether Tamilnadu deserved such a chief minister. She wound up by saying that whether it was the dispute over the Cauvery waters or Mullaperiyar dam or the Palar row, the discussions held by the DMK government with the states concerned proved to be nothing but “empty talks.”

There is some truth in what the Jayalalitha says. But she has left unsaid another distinct possibility if recent experience in Karnataka is anything to go by. What if the assembly elections in Karnataka throw up a fractured verdict? A brittle coalition government will come to power. The please-all government cannot afford to displease any of its partners. It will be preoccupied with more important issues like holding the belligerent coalition partners together so President’s rule and / or another election can be avoided. So the Karnataka government in such a case will plead its inability to accede to the Tamilnadu government’s request to give the go-ahead to the Hogenakkal Scheme. It may again ask the Tamilnadu government through the Madam from Delhi, Sonia Gandhi, to wait until a ‘stable’ popular government is in place. So the Tamilnadu government may be asked to wait until a popular and stable government assumes office in Karnataka – a big ‘and’ indeed!

Additionally, it was a popular Karnataka government that gave the go-ahead to the Hogenakkal scheme way back which the present regime in Karnataka refuses to honour. In the circumstances, can the Tamilnadu government attach any credence in future to the undertaking of a popular Karnataka government is the question.

Jayalalitha conveniently forgets that she was the chief minister of Tamilnadu for sometime, post-1998. Why did she not take up the dormant project then? As the PMK boss Ramadoss (father of the Union Health Minister) rightly says, if either the DMK or AIADMK which ruled the state post-1998 had implemented the scheme promptly, things would not have come to such a pass. A stitch in time saves nine and the Chennai Madam had better realise that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others.

Cheating Kannadigas!

S Shiva Kumar writes for Meri News
THE INDEFATIGABLE Deve Gowda sees in Tamilnadu’s decision to put the Hogenakkal integrated water supply scheme on hold a conspiracy. According to him, the Congress and its major ally, the DMK are the parties behind the conspiracy aimed at cheating the people of Karnataka. The JD(S) supremo has more or less said what the has been saying ever since hostilities erupted between the neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamilnadu, as his following statement reveals: "A tacit understanding has been reached by the Congress in Karnataka and the DMK in Tamilnadu not to proceed with the project till elections in the state are over, realising the potential damage the project could have on Congress party's prospects in the polls”.

The stalled project, touted as "major relief" and a "great victory" by some leaders in Karnataka, is nothing short of making a mockery of the people and aimed at diverting the attention of lakhs of water-starved farmers in the state”. The ‘some leaders’ Deve Gowda refers to is in fact only one leader, viz., S M Krishna, the former chief minister of Karnataka who claimed earlier that he had urged the Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi to stall the project till elections were completed in Karnataka.

Gowda’s party will, in the circumstances, launch a signature campaign. It will collect two crore signatures and present them to President Pratibha Patil after the conclusion of the Karnataka assembly elections and seek justice to the state on the Hogenakkal project. But why is the JD(S) boss spewing venom on fellow-Vokkaliga S M Krishna? Krishna has taken all the credit for prevailing upon Karunanidhi to put the Hogenakkal project on hold. But how does it amount to the Congress and its major UPA ally, the DMK, cheating the people of Karnataka? In Deve Gowda’s lexicon, whoever cheats him or gets the better of him has cheated the people of Karnataka.

Meanwhile, Tamilnadu chief minister Karunanidhi got himself into a hole by stating that his decision to temporarily put off the Hogenakkal project was to discuss the issue with a new Karnataka government and to prevent escalation of violence in both the states. This made it easier for Jayalalithaa to pick holes in Karunanidhi’s arguments (vide, “Hogenakkal issue: Jaya blasts Karunanidhi”, dated April 6, 2008). According to her, Tamilnadu is under no obligation to seek clearance from Karnataka for the project since Hogenakkal is part of the state. The scheme envisages use of Cauvery water that flows into Tamilnadu. When the Karnataka government is implementing the Bangalore drinking water scheme, why should Tamilnadu be prevented from implementing its own drinking water scheme?

Karunanidhi tried to defend himself by stating "I never said the project had been shelved. I only said we would discuss the issue with an elected government since there is no government right now in that state.... I had said that we shall put off the scheme for a month”. To Jayalalithaa’s allegation that he put off the project without discussing the issue in the house or with the political parties, he explained that time was running out and any further delay on his part could have led to escalation in violence. He emphasised that he decided to stall the project keeping in view the welfare of the people of both the states.
In reply to the allegation of his ally and PMK founder Ramadoss, who criticised the delay in implementing the project though it was approved ten years back, (vide, “Hogenakkal issue: Jaya blasts Karunanidhi”, dated April 6, 2008), he reiterated that one could expect quick decisions from a government but not hasty decisions. He explained at length why the implementation of the project was delayed. He quoted the various reasons beyond his control that led to the delay.

Issue out of no issue

Binita Tiwari for Newstrack India

V S Naipaul in his book, India: A Wounded Civilization writes, “India wounded by many centuries of foreign rule, has not yet found an ideology of regeneration.” The agony is very much evident even today when our country is still grappling with various problems related to our day-to-day trivialities of life and when life tries to move on the fast lane we still get stumbled on myriad controversies created by political figures.
When we have many serious issues yet to solve, when we have problem like inflation that is likely to cost our pocket and peace; the problem of break down of law, and order are the outcome of our politicians’ unthoughtful act, which develops constantly in their factorial mind to create diverse controversy every other day.

The issue which DMK supreme, M K Karunanidhi bugled recently was Hogenakkal Drinking Water Project by airing his view “Hogenakkal project will be implemented at any cost.”

His declaration was followed by anti-Tamil protest in Karnataka and even a blackout ordeal was passed against Tamil cinemas, newspapers, and programmes on TV channels. Many public properties were destroyed during the protest and there was a current of shock among the people across the whole state.

The heat of protest was felt in both the states against the inhabitants of people who belonged to one and other state. The people who went onto rampage did not belong to preliterate society but they did what they would not have imagined.

The Tamil Nadu actors added more glitters to controversy after they took fast to show solidarity to support the cause of the state and against anti-Tamil sentiments in Karnataka. They spoke on this matter without knowing thoroughly about it.

While in Karnataka a bandh was organised to express solidarity with pro-Kannada activists on Hogenakkal issue. Temper soars and people from different walks of life came together to express their concern.

The way the issue was blown out, the way it was politicised, the centre as well as state machinery was questioned.

And, after creating the uproar at the cost of nation, Karunanidhi appealed to the people of the state to keep patience with the project till the general election in Karnataka gets over.

Again in Mumbai, the son of the soil theory created controversy, which was least vital to India as a nation, the ire of MNS against north Indian migrants became a national debate. Why not? For it (wrath of MNS) also questioned the existence of our constitution at the same time it violated human rights concerns.

In this entire scene Amitabh Bachchan was dragged for being not loyal to Maharashtra, for being not lending his voice to the cause of Maratha and ironically for being not among the reason that diluted pro-Maratha’s sentiments of MNS.

Shiv Sena awry of growing MNS hold in the region; in its editorial accused Amitabh Bachchan for the same and asked the actor to learn from actors like Rajnikant who showed his solidarity to the state which brought him name and fame. (What if he would have been a Maharashtrian and had stood against the state…would these Marathi manoos have shared the same thought?)

The drama was very much here, as the next day the party organ Saamna published its clarification, “Amitabh Bachchan is our family friend. I have neither said anything against him nor written against him in the editorial. The hue and cry, which has been created by the media regarding the news in 'Saamna', is condemnable. Our relations with him are not so weak that it can be broken by electronic media news.”

Saamna also condemned Mayawati for harassing Bachchans in a case in which Supreme Court recently refuted to take any action against Bachchan the senior.

Amitabh Bachchan has once said, “I just lead my life as naturally, as normally as I possibly can. But I can't help it if controversy is hounding me day in and day out. I'm quite amazed sometimes by the way they go about it. I grow a beard and it lands up in the editorial in The Times of India.”

Both the controversies though are significant but the people evolved and targeted looks only to meet personal gains. The issue, which could have been solved through democratic means, ended up becoming a savage garden where people risked their life without any substantiation.

Robert Maynard Hutchins has said, “A civilization in which there is not a continuous controversy about important issues is on the way to totalitarianism and death.”

The dust of controversies like these do settle but after creating rift in our social fabric. Public memories though are short but remain smoky throughout after such damage. However, in India, which was once wounded, still remains so with new blisters, the blisters that is not only painful but is outrageous too. It is shame that controversies equalizes both wise and fools.

Hogenakkal issue: Time to love thy neighbour?

G V L Narasimha Rao

The laying of the foundation of the Rs1,334 crore Hogenakkal project—expected to provide drinking water to about three million people in Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts of Tamil Nadu—by the state’s chief minister M. Karunanidhi on 28 March has blown into a full-scale controversy involving the neighbouring state of Karnataka.

Karnataka is opposed to the project on the grounds that its share of the Cauvery waters will be affected and that the picturesque waterfall of Hogenakkal belongs to it, thereby making Tamil Nadu’s scheme illegal, a charge denied by the Karunanidhi regime.

Tamil Nadu says that the Hogenakkal project was approved in 1998, after it gave the go-ahead for use of the Cauvery waters for the Banagalore city in 1997 when Karnataka’s Deve Gowda was the prime minister. Karnataka is opposing the Hogenakkal project citing refusal of successive governments in Tamil Nadu to take up some irrigation and drinking water projects on the Cauvery river in the state.

Karnataka is currently in election mode with elections to the state assembly being scheduled in the month of May. In the midst of preparations for the poll, the row with Tamil Nadu is proving to be embarrassing for the Congress party, one of the principal contenders for power, as the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), is a coalition partner of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre. The DMK government in Tamil Nadu is also actually dependent on the Congress for its outside support. The DMK has been a troublesome ally for the Congress-led UPA even earlier with its now infamous “there is no Ram” affidavit in the Supreme Court on the Sethusamudram project.

The two neighbouring states are frequently in conflict, with the spirit of cooperation completely missing. The current conflict is reminiscent of the long-standing rift between the neighbouring states on the Cauvery water sharing issue. The verdict of the Cauveri Water Tribunal last February was resented in Karnataka as it is generally believed that the regional parties of Tamil Nadu wielded enormous power at the Centre and arm-twisted the ruling coalitions in New Delhi to get favourable decisions.

Water is a highly volatile and emotive issue. Water affects the livelihoods and quality of life of people and thus can stoke strong emotions. Usually, projects that are meant to provide drinking water tend to be less controversial on humanitarian considerations. But, many states have constructed irrigation projects under the pretext of drinking water projects. Various states such as Karnataka, Maharastra, and Tamil Nadu have been accused by their neighbours on this score.

Filmy connection
In the movie-crazy southern states, the line between politics and films is very thin. True to this tradition, film stars in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have championed the interest their respective states.

Rajnikant, the super star of Tamil cinema, said: “I unequivocally condemn Karnataka for this reprehensible act of denying us what is rightfully ours.” He came strongly against senior Karnataka’s Congress party leader S.M. Krishna and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief ministerial candidate B.S. Yediyurappa for opposing the project.

Rajnikant’s unusually aggressive statements are an eloquent statement of his political intent as rumours continue to float that he is contemplating the launch of a new political party in the near future. Even as Rajnikant cautioned Karnataka politicians against using the issue for narrow political gains during the ensuing assembly elections, he has made a strong political pitch for his own political launch as a crusader of Tamil rights.

The strident tone of Rajnikanth—Marathi by descent— surprised many as the matinee idol was born and brought up in Karnataka and worked as a bus conductor there before migrating to Chennai to star in Tamil films.

It is this Marathi connection of Rajnikant that has given critics of poor Amitabh Bachchan yet another opportunity to trade punches with him. In the recent weeks, Bachchan has become the favourite whipping boy for all and sundry for not doing enough to promote marathi manoos (typical Marathi man). Why should Amitabh do anything to promote Mumabai and marathi manoos? Has he done anything to damage, destroy or run down Mumbai or Mumbaikars? Still, the competitive chauvinism of the Shiv Sena and its break away outfit, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), seems to have no limits.

The peace in Karnataka appears fragile. Every time there is a dispute with Tamil Nadu, cinema houses screening Tamil films are attacked, cable operators are threatened and asked to block telecast of Tamil channels, and buses from Tamil Nadu are torched. Kannada film industry rues that non-Kannada films rule the roost in Bangalore and seriously jeopardize the Kannada film industry. Can you force non-Kannadigas to watch Kannada films? After all, the majority of Bangaloreans are non-Kannadigas, much like the majority of Mumbai’s residents are not Marathi.

With Bangalore threatening to turn out to be another Mumbai, there is a need for sparring states to settle matters amicably, lest the two of the country’s most progressive states set a bad example in neighbourly relations.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development and Research Services, a research consulting firm.