Insight Mahiprasad

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bolé To, Corruption is Sometimes Sweet

I have been a wanderer throughout since childhood. This is substantiated by the fact that I stayed in 18 houses in Delhi and around, and 10 houses in abroad, in my fifty years. I have seen many incidents, good and bad, which are enough to turn around the mindset of a person. I, like most, do not support corruption in any way, but some of its form has coaxed me to think again in the matter.

Walking through the main streets of Damascus on a sunny afternoon, I found an old man with his fourteen years old son sitting beside the road. They were selling some fruits on a cart. Though the traffic was heavy on the road, there were only a handful of pedestrians walking. It was clearly evident that the sale of those local fruits were negligible. I felt pity for them as they were sulking under the heat. On the next day, I found them again sitting there. The looks on their face clearly said everything. I couldn’t resist myself, but suggested them to sit two hundred yards ahead where the open space beside the same road had plenty of shades. The old man replied that such cool places cannot be invaded by hawkers. A week later, I had found only the boy sitting at the same place under the sun. On enquiring, the young fellow said that his father was bedridden. Further, after a couple of days, I couldn’t find their cart there.

It was in 1994, I was driving through the Nyerere Road of Gaborone in Botswana. Suddenly I was given a signal by a few policemen to halt. Putting myself on the brake and halted at the side, I came to know that it was due to over speed. The policeman who came to serve me, had taken out his receipt book and asked me to shell out Pula 100 (US$50) as fine. As an Indian, I took him on the side, putting my one hand around his shoulder, as a gesture of friendship. I offered him Pula 10 for his own, as is the practice with Indian Police. I was astonished to see that he couldn’t understand my point of view. He was rather astonished to see Pula 10 being paid instead of Pula 100. I tried my best to make him understand that the Pula 10 was given to him as sweets for his children. After pursuing him for half an hour, he enquired, why I was not paying him the fine money, when I was so kind to pay for sweets. I lost hope and abandoned him by paying the fine.

In many countries, unlicensed vendors are considered as law-breakers, and are subject to lawful detention. In most countries, except our sub-continental ones, rules are strict and are followed. A poor fellow cannot sit anywhere to sell his stuff. In Delhi, I have seen plainclothes policemen visit the temporary vegetable markets, with a register in their hands, and taking commission from the vendors. At 25, I had animosity for these cops taking commission from those underprivileged people. I also had indignation while paying bribe to the traffic police near traffic lights for insignificant break of law. But now, at 50, and after looking around many places, I feel these trifle corruptions are the necessities of life, they are sometimes sweet.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Religiously Yours

Often I see things religiously. If not by practice, I often visit pilgrimages of India. So once, I visited Varanasi, the capital of our Lord, with my friend. This friend of mine is a zealous religious one. After submitting our prayers to the Lord Vishwanath, we took a circular round of the Temple. There we saw a cart pulled by a bullock arrive at the back door of the temple, carrying a huge load of logs. Looking at the exhausted creature, my generous friend shrieked, "Ridiculous, this is a criminal act. How can you inflict pain on an innocent animal like that?" I pacified him by saying," don't worry, this bull, after his death, would be reborn as a man, as per our religious dictum, as it has served our Lord in good earnest." My friend quipped, "another life of struggle and torture!" I replied to him, "this time he would become an army man." Now when I see a government official, I take him as a reincarnation of a donkey working in the one of the various temples of Haridwar, in its previous birth.

I believe that the politicians are the reincarnation of cats in temples. Unlike dogs, as a pet, they are not faithful, they change loyalty sooner they find well-off masters. Although, the cats are loveable pets, but horrifyingly they amuse when their masters die. These characteristics of cats have tremendous similarities with our politicians. Once I saw a pet cat being adored by the head seer of Jagannath Dham Temple at Puri. The young cat was sitting on the lap of the seer, while he was giving soft touch to the pet. This pet was obviously a special one, I felt it, God's own. I watched the cat from a close view, as I knew this one would be an incarnation of a future Prime Minister of India.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Nouveau Way of Concencus

This week Ireland has gone for a knife-edged referendum on the European Union's new reform treaty. The Prime Minister of Ireland and his government raised their voice in its favour, knowing fully well that the rejection could plunge and cripple the 27 nation bloc into a fiasco. Brian Cowen, the PM voiced his confidence in the matter, saying that the three million countrymen (voters) would back the Lisbon treaty, after his whirlwind tour of the Irish Midland. Before the vote, the opinion poll registered that the result would be too close to call. The campaign went into an unprecedented war of words, making the people aware with numerous statistics from both sides. There was a belligerent mood all through the streets of Dublin.

After the vote, the result showed a shock rejection of the Treaty. The opposition to the motion polled 53.4 percent against 46.4 percent in favour. The PM of Ireland gracefully conceded the defeat, and has assured the nation that he would not move further favouring the issue.

In a country like India, there is a consistent functioning democracy, involving a powerful Parliament to the core. However, many important issues of national interests could not see the first light of dawn because of the different opinions and vested interests of the parliamentarians. In recent time, the nuclear deal made people known about the pros and cons of the agreement through a long period. Another issue which could not find its natural execution due to varied opinions and promoting party-interests over the national ones. The sentence for capital punishment to Afjal Guru by the Supreme Court for plotting, abetting terror in the premises of Parliament and killing the security personnel on job. The two major political parties claim altogether opposite opinion. The President of India and the Supreme Court looked fools before the game orchestrated by these parties.

Can't we, like Ireland, move a step further, and bring in the hard issues for the referendum? Our Parliament must move forward the bills of consequence and implement these within a particular frame of time. It is their job. If they cannot do it in a specified time, they must relinquish the matter to the people, who in turn seek referendum.

Now the challenge arises in the context of India, that who would take part in the referendum, where half of its population are unaware of the national interests due to lack of education. Ireland is a developed country, and its people are cent percent literate and understand their edification, unlike India. In order to find out a consensus, a nouveau way of shouldering the responsibility may be thrust on the educated people of India. Citizens of India who are graduates may share the responsibility of taking the major and exceptional decisions by voting in the referendum. Democracy does not mean that the electoral practice would take place once in five years, and people of a big nation hang around the politicians and live lives at their mercy. It should spread in a varied way so that people understand the gravity and its real usage. The people of the country feel cheated when they found that the women's reservation bill was first heard before the general election of 1992 and since it has been hanging fire, buckled under pressure from all political parties, and five elections have soaked through, without any outcome. How long shall we pacify ourselves by claiming that we are a democratic nation of 60 years?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Gentleman PM in Trouble

There are only a handful of gentleman Prime Ministers, or the head of governments in the world over. When they run pillar to post for saving their job, the tremors are felt everywhere, the nation watches them keenly, while it is retreating back. It is obvious for our own gentleman Prime Minister to go through this rigmarole every few months. All important matters of consequences like nuclear deal, price rise, fall of sensex, force our PM to stretch through the process. Like him, one more gentleman PM looks susceptible these days. He is British PM Gordon Brown. The Iron Chancellor for almost a decade now looks vulnerable, and making things entangled since he became PM.

The Prime Minister started sulking after his party's stunning defeat in a labour stronghold northern by-election on 22nd May. The electoral defeat of the post of mayor of London gave a real jolt to his credibility. He looked gloomy and suddenly marginalized by his colleague members. His gift of 5.4 billion dollars to poor people in order to compromise with the tax change not so long ago, backfired. Now that the fuel tax is on the cards, Mr. Brown is facing the ire of the car owners. The introduction of higher road taxes on the old cars with effect from 2009 have convinced many MPs to seek amendments to the policy. Except for environmentalists, most British citizens feel themselves as overtaxed and realize that this new one is one of the most unpleasant of taxes.

While taking up the job of the Prime Minister not very long ago, Mr. Brown looked more of a Philosopher than a politician, when he said that his decisions would be based on "listen and lead". He desires to make many radical changes for the benefit of the people in order to make social justice, but cannot move further because that may influence the party members to look for someone else. The time is not ripe for him, he is not popular.

Last week, the British government admitted that it has many more ideas to include in its anti-terrorism plans. This includes the pre-charge detention limit for suspected terrorists from 28 to 42 days. This has caused some fifty Labour MPs to announce privately that they would vote with the opposition parties, had the Bill is introduced. Though Brown does not see the vote as a motion of confidence. However, the bill is vehemently opposed can be realized when the UN's special adviser on human rights urged him to think again. One can recall, even Tony Blair, the predecessor PM to Brown, had tried to introduce the Bill increasing detention limit from the then 14 days to 90 days, failed in 2005 only. It seems that even if Brown manages to pull through the issue in his favour, a definite fissure in the party would be visible now on.

Any way, the next general election to the House of Common will be held in May, 2010. He has had enough time to ascend himself as a popular leader. He is a thorough gentleman, he only needs a quick insight and judgement of the people for an eventual success. Before the litmus test, he should come out with something which invigorates the people in general, and force the party members to follow suit. It is not too late to write off Brown. If he can listen to the right people and lead the country with his heart and soul, he would, in all probability, surely be one of the finest Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Police Reform

The most talked about book that has been published recently in India is the one by BJP's numero uno L.K. Advani's "My country My life". Though the book is an autobiography, yet it hangs around most of the political events during the last forty years. Hence, the book draws maximum attention of the people, and has already become a best seller. But a book which confronts the security of institutions, and the governance of law-and-order machinery, published at the same time, found little importance amongst the readers. This one is "Political Violence and the Police in India" by K.S Subramanian. Unlike Advani's controversial book, this book pertains to the analysis of Indian police system. This is one subject where India needs immediate subtle reforms in order to make the police organization a transparent one, and answerable to the people directly, and not to their political masters.

While analyzing the intent issues viz. terrorism, communal violence and leftist extremism, the author has diligently discussed the socio-economic problems of India, and has put in his deep concerns for the human rights. Apart from narrating day to day issues by the police, he has taken up the case from both angles, public as well as police, and tried to conduct an in-depth examination, maintaining truthful parameters. Being a former IPS officer, he has not desisted from accepting the involvement of political leaders in the day to day working of the police organization. He has admitted that the law-and-order are often used to unleash state violence with impunity. He has not forgotten to write about the corruption in the organization and interpreting its phenomena.

The author, in his book, has extensively narrated the requirements of the several paramilitary forces, IB's role in unsettling and dismissal of opposition ruled state governments, unethical role of police during communal riots and suppressing of socially and economically deprived people at the behest of rural lords. In addition to these, he has extensively proposed for the reforms needed in the police force to correct the maladies in the system.

It's a well-written book, and certainly requires a public debate on several reforms. Surprisingly Mr. Subramanian, an academician in the field, has not briefed on the delineation of an outline on the reforms. We have surpassed 60 long years of our independence, and around 100 odd constitutional amendments have been made Acts. The law and the frightening police force are the same that ware prevalent during the colonial era. Don't the people of a 60+free and 2000+civilized nation deserve a more incorruptible, humane and easy to approach law protector? The first thing for introducing a reform needs a change of name of the organization. It should be Protector, rather than Police.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is It Inflation or Food Crisis or just Non - Governance

It is indeed the non-governance that is the central reason for the crisis sweeping the country whose foreign exchange reserves have reached a whooping 294 billion dollars. India stands fifth in the world in holding the maximum foreign exchange reserve. There is a wide spread opinion amongst the economists that considering the reserves that India holds at the moment, can wither any storm, and so the country is in a comfortable situation, which had never been the case before.

Ironically, the wholesale price index (wpi) reached 6.6 per cent in March, 2007. But by December of the same year, the inflation floated to touch as low as 3.2 per cent. The reasons behind the decline were invariably due to a number of measures taken by the RBI, prompted by the UPA core committee. But the beast of the inflation could not be tamed, as in March, 2008, the wpi arose sharply to 6.68 per cent. And this bullying inflation has caught us all by surprise, as it is now driven by both primary articles (food and non-food) as well as manufacturing articles.

It is true that the food crisis of a country is threatened when there is a steep negligence observed in the agriculture sector. The farmers are dying, they are not getting the right prices of the crops, the incumbent government is dilly dallying about the subsidies they offer to the farmers and a huge amount of tax-payers money is draining out by paying the debts of the farmers. These problems have not happened in one day, it took decades of the indifference of the government towards the agriculture sector. If most of our governments sympathise with the farmers at large, as they claim, why do the situations have come to such a pass? The concern has crossed all limits when we find our present Agriculture Minister occupied more with IPL and T20, rather than looking at the food crisis in India.

A couple of years back, our Finance Minister assured us convincingly that a value added tax would help in declining the prices of every item. These long and tiring years have passed since the VAT was introduced, but what is the outcome? It has only contributed to the inflation, and virtually raised the prices by nearly 25 per cent. Few parliamentarians have expressed their dissatisfaction, and asked to reduce the rate of VAT from 12 to 8 per cent. It is evident that VAT works meticulously in a unitary form of government and not in a federal system. But our learned FM gets solace with adding up numerous new taxes viz. service tax, fringe benefit, dividend distribution, education cess etc. etc. If allowed, he would not even shy away from introducing Jijiya tax on the people. One thing he does not understand is that adding up varieties of taxes only add to and magnify the inflation.

The present food crisis is not the one that the country had faced in the 60s and 70s. In those days, food items were in scarcity and poor people came out on the road to beg or sell their children. But now, it is the buying capacity of the people which has eroded considerably. A sharp difference in the pay structure between people, have enhanced the inflation to grow bloated. Some, earning lakhs per month, eating out at restaurants every day, do not even know the price of moong dal in the market; and most others are paid between 1500 to 3000 rupees per month to sustain themselves only to avoid relegated to the impoverishment. A country cannot flourish with a few rich men, but can be prospered if its most people live on the fat of the land.

Another major area of concern to prevent the food crisis is to take the international traders by the horn. The soaring of our foreign exchange reserves has become an eyesore to them, and they are bent on gouging out a large chunk out of it. The cheaply procured raw oil seeds and the variety of pulses from India are reprocessed and packed in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan by international traders only to sell universally at a whooping price. One example of this is the current price of Indian urad dal sold at Rs.170/- a kilo in Amman (Jordan). Now that the global trend of food crisis is on the rise, and that the market knows India's needs are large, the traders are prying to the affairs of India's crisis and ready to dent in the economy, only to siphon off some of the reserves of the riches of the new lord.

It is true that the impending problem is a complicated one and hard to cope with, but it's not irrevocable. The country is at present run by two parallel governments, supporting each other, one led by the Prime Minister and the other by the Chief of UPA core committee. If they persevere honestly and sincerely, they do have the potential to squeeze the tale of the beast, and restore normalcy to the finest order.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Cauldron Situation of Time

The most stressing socio-political issue of India is inevitably the reservation policy for the backward classes. For the past 50 years of practicing the policy, it has come to a state where one could sense an imminent civil disturbance amongst the so-called peace loving people. It's a cauldron situation of Time, and requires a thought which would pacify all sections of people, irrespective of class and caste.

The other day, the Supreme Court has given its judgement upholding reservation for the OBC in central institutions of higher education, except the creamy layers, made the human resource development minister to call the verdict "historic", which it was not. It only reflected the sense of relief at being saved the embarrassment of defeat. By the same token, the positive reaction of anti-reservationists was clearly an attempt to salvage some honour from the unanimous refusal of apex court to support their cause. The euphoria of the students of the OBC category, after the verdict, looked ridiculous as who would have entered the premises of the elite institutions, but the creamy layers. The messiah of OBC politics Lalu Yadav has reasons to frown on the verdict, and questions the veracity of the creamy layers. He knows well, what the verdict means. He understands that SC has tried to please all, but in actuality gave nothing to anyone.

The concept of present day reservations, be it to the SCs/STs or to the OBCs, seems medieval in nature and destructive amongst the society. The educated class of India alleges that the fiasco has developed by the nuisance of the political masters, who believe less about the upliftment of poor but more about their own escalation through a vote bank. In a democratic society, one cannot ignore any society, be it an educated class or a society of backward people. Rather a sound, collective introspection has become necessity for burying the anomaly developed between the two castes, upper and backward, in our country. It is also the time for the politicians to realize that "some people can be cheated for sometime, and not that all people can be cheated for all time". Meanwhile, all must keep in mind that though they are not responsible for the Varna-pratha of our system, as some politicians claim, but they have some responsibility towards the real backward people of the country, as it is towards the nation. Therefore, a paradigm shift is required to settle the issue.

The new law would ensure that each upper caste person would give 10 years of his life time to the lower caste in the form of entering into a reservation zone. At present, one has to succumb to the reservation throughout his life time. Equally all lower caste people would be given 10 years to upgrade themselves. A restrictive policy would ensure a person to take advantage of the benefit, whereas a general policy does not excite all people equally. Both castes would enter into a cut off zone for three years in matters pertaining to education. The rest of the seven years they would accommodate in the service sector. Once the period of ten years they serve for the reservation, they would be free from reservation zone and can be liberated from bondage of being born to an upper caste.

The new reservation policy needs to be benevolent in nature. A numerous lucrative offer could be extended to both reservationists, taker as well as giver. The giver would pay a reduced fee to the educational institutions, as given by the taker. The income-tax rebate, one additional increment, an extra holiday for a week in case in service could be given to the giver. In addition, some other incentives can be pursued as per the place of his work.

One must not forget that this is a hard world. Getting a seat in the university or finding a suitable job for a general candidate really wear off a young man's lot of vigour and time. Until and unless we accommodate them with encouragement and lucrative incentives, the policy is bound to bounce back. At present, non-reservation people are only suffering, and that no one pays any heed to them, the government do not acknowledge their contribution for the last 50 years, except lashes them inhumanly every after few years when they raise their voice against the continuous injustice. This needs to be ceased, otherwise the efforts to do justice would backlash the whole concept of undoing the social injustice.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The New President

He came, he saw and he conquered. Recalling two years from now, it was Hillary Clinton all the way moving towards the White House. Suddenly a black man named Barack Obama entered the race for the democratic nominee. He started the race late, which was against the strong wind. There seemed not much hope for him. But the hidden charisma that was not seen immediately, came out steadily and washed over all the deeds penetrated by the strong woman Clinton. The democratic super-delegates had no option, but to nominate the new Alexander for the office of the White House.

The thrust in the wave generated by Obama has made all, including John McCain, to believe that the young man is well ahead for the final forthcoming race. His being black is not the sole reason for his popularity, since no other black men has ever reached the place where Obama stands today. The most important appeal that he attracts is that he is suave and intelligent. The soberly attired and the confident reply of any question in front of the media by Obama has an ebullient mass appeal. He is different, but looks very much down-to-earth unlike Clinton or McCain.

Given to believe that he becomes the 43rd President of the USA, where does Obama find himself any different from his predecessor democratic Presidents? The high hopes are brewing amongst the ordinary black people of America, people from erstwhile colonial countries, different ethnic communities looked down upon in America and the poor at large. Will the rags to riches Obama be able to meet the aspirations of his supporters?

It's too early to comment on. Many fundamental issues are not yet addressed by him while debating with Clinton during the past six months. Now that McCain's important assignments would be to prove his experience, as he always claims, may force Obama to speak his mind. McCain would invariably scour out the opinions of Obama on the fundamental issues troubling America. International volatile issues like Iraq, the Middle-east, Afganistan along with domestic features as tax policy, health insurance, unemployment/outsourcing of labour would be the core issues during the coming days. If his capabilities could run down the attacks perpetrated by McCain in the ensuing days, he would not only enter the White House holding his head high, but also keep the momentum moving in his days as the President of America.

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