DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rahul's "thousand cuts" on Modi

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Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty of the Indian National Congress headed by Sonia Gandhi has suddenly become active and is practically slamming Prime Minister Modi virtually every day. Since his return from what has been termed a sabbatical he has been latching on to any and every issue to fire charges at Prime Minister Modi or his government.

It seems almost like the proxy war that Pakistan is waging against India. On realization that it was impossible to take away a military victory from India in an all out war Gen. Zia ul Haq, the Pakistani dictator, propounded the doctrine of “bleeding India through thousand cuts”. That is how the proxy war commenced against India in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country. The proxy war did bleed India somewhat but soon enough the country got prepared to deal with it. In the intervening three decades since Gen Zia’s death
India came a long way from its depressing economic condition to become a full-blown developing economy, clocking in some years a GDP rate of growth of around 8%. Without getting unnerved it was in a position to take the “thousand cuts” in its stride. The “cuts” eventually had minimal impact.

Here, it is Rahul and his cohorts who are trying to inflict the cuts on an opponent who seldom responds. Rahul’s causticity and sarcasm have, however, only increased by the day. He started by talking of Modi government as “soot-boot ki sarkar” (a government of suited and booted people) hinting at the suit having pin-stripes spelling his name which Modi wore during Barak Obama’s visit and ended up rating the performance of Modi’s government as “zero” – unmindful of what the performance of his own party’s government was. It was, in fact, the non-performance of his party’ government that yielded the massive mandate for Modi.

He accused Modi of being a friend of the ‘corporates’ to whom, he said, the lands acquired under the proposed land acquisition bill  would be transferred forgetting the Coalgate scam where massive corruption took place under the nose of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and lucrative coal blocks were allotted to Congress’s corporate cronies. He also accused Modi of playing “politics of revenge” by scrapping the Amethi food park project. As it turned
out, it was a misleading charge as the company which was to set up the park withdrew its offer finding the project unviable and that happened before Modi’s government came to power.
Besides, it has now been reported that the project was extended eight times since 2008 and yet Rahul, who was and is the MP from Amethi, could not have the project implemented even by his own party’s government.


 All kinds of fanciful charges – all pieces of disinformation – are being thrown at Modi in the hope that, if not all, at least a few would stick. The Congress sycophants find Rahul’s resurgence awesome even though some of his charges are baseless. His attempts seem to be only to belittle the Modi government and run down the Prime Minister in the eyes of the common man. The “introspection” for which he was allowed initially “8 or 10 days” absence by his mother, the Party President, later stretching to as many as 59 days, does not seem to have yielded anything worthwhile except a resolve to snipe at the BJP or the Prime Minister. There is no discourse or a debate; ideology is not involved – for the simple reason that the Congress has had, if at all, a confused ideology. What is happening is only a one-sided unleashing of a fusillade that is mostly dud. After the sabbatical Rahul seems to have resolved to make himself relevant - having been a failure in the Parliament and at the hustings. Perhaps, the dire straits that he and his mother brought the Congress to has put the fear of its extinction in them. Hence the attacks any which way, presumably to remain in public eye!

The crushing defeat administered to it at the elections and later the immense approbation that the Prime Minister garnered inside the country and abroad seems to have discomfited the Congress and its leaders. The euphoria with which Modi started his rule may have somewhat waned as normally happens. But after a whole year people have found his rule effective. The expected quick fixes, however, did not materialize largely because of the mess left behind by Rahul’s Congress government. A nose-diving growth
rate, flight of foreign and Indian capital, dipping manufacturing with rising unemployment, the fiscal and current account deficits and persistent high retail inflation will take some time in unraveling. Nonetheless, his concerted efforts brought down the rate of inflation, of course, with generous help from as unlikely a quarter as the global oil markets where prices registered a sharp decline. Despite an obstructive Opposition in the Upper House led by the Congress Modi’s government has given a new direction to the economy bringing about an environment of optimism and hope. Even international financial institutions like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, Moody’s etc. have expressed confidence in the economy and have predicted around 8% growth in 2015-16. His biggest achievement has been a corruption-free first year in office. Earlier there would be reports of a new scam almost every day involving some minister or the other. People were fed up and they desperately wanted a change. In the new dispensation so far not one politician has been named for corrupt practices.

 More importantly, Modi’s success has been remarkable in respect of economic diplomacy abroad. So far he has visited 19 countries and in each he has had tremendous response and has been able to put traction in his “Make in India” campaign. His popularity with
the most prominent world leaders in the East or the West is unparalleled. Besides, the Diasporas rallied round and gave him amazing receptions whichever country he happened to be in. No Indian Prime Minister had ever been so remarkably cheered in world capitals as Modi. Most impressive has been Modi’s impact on the chief executive of the world’s most powerful nation, Barak Obama. They are on first name terms and Obama has even eulogized Modi on several occasions. No wonder, Fortune magazine placed Modi at the fifth position among the most influential in the world.

One, therefore, gets a sneaking suspicion that jealousy, the “green-ey’d monster”, has taken over Rahul and his Party. They all along overlooked his record of development in Gujarat and its all-round progress which had received critical acclaim even in the West. They had all along condemned BJP as communal and Modi as “maut ke saudagar” (merchant of death) whereas wearing the mask of secularism they were no less communal. To their discomfiture, they now find the same man working a majority in the Lok Sabha. And, what’s more, he is welcomed, honoured and feted by world leaders during his peregrinations abroad. They, therefore, feel, he has to be stopped in his tracks – to, at least prevent him from achieving success in his efforts, if not for improving their own prospects. In the process it wouldn’t matter to them if the country’s economic growth and wellbeing of its people suffered. So, the theme is: obstruct him in the Parliament and bring him down in the public the public eye – with a “thousand cuts”!


Alas, they have not been successful; the year-end report card says it all!

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Photos: from the internet

Friday, May 22, 2015

Palmyra under threat

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The photographs alongside and below are of Palmyra, an ancient Semitic city of Syria with some fantastic remains of its Greco-Roman period. An oasis that once used to be on a trade route was made into an amazingly beautiful city with it Hellenistic and Roman architecture. For its universal value to humanity it was declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


And that Heritage Site is under serious threat from the ISIS who are
reported to have overrun the city. Iconoclasts as they are, it is feared that they are likely to destroy the colonnaded streets, magnificent temples and the superb more than 2000-year old funerary art. Reports of pillage despoilment have already been under circulation. The invaluable collection at the local museum having some irreplaceable 2000 years old arrtifacts are under
serious threat  I find myself somewhat concerned as, though I never had the occasion to visit it, I was exposed to Palmyra a few years ago through the book of Sir Julian Huxley “From an Antique Land”. It is almost like the cradle of civilization and that has fallen to men who are unthinking and insensitive to everything other than their faithThe photographs below are of Palmyra, an
ancient Semitic city of Syria with some fantastic remains of its Greco-Roman period. An oasis that once used to be on a trade route was made into an amazingly beautiful city with it Hellenistic and Roman architecture. For its universal value to humanity it was declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

And that Heritage Site is under serious threat from the ISIS who are reported to have overrun the city. Iconoclasts as they are, it is feared that they are likely to destroy the colonnaded streets, magnificent temples and the superb more than 2000-year old funerary art. Reports of pillage despoilment have already been under circulation. The invaluable collection at the local museum having some irreplaceable 2000 years old arrtifacts are under serious threat  I find myself somewhat concerned as, though I never had the occasion to visit it, I was exposed to Palmyra a few years ago through the book of Sir Julian Huxley “From an Antique Land”. It is almost like the cradle of civilization and that has fallen to men who are unthinking and insensitive to everything other than their faith.

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Phtos: from the Internet





Thursday, May 21, 2015

Defaced city walls

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Defacement of city walls has been a common feature in our cities. I recall when I went to Calcutta for the first time in 1984 I was amazed to see all the walls – public or private –plastered over with slogans, ads or campaigns of the local government. Not an inch of the whites of the walls would be visible. West Bengal had a Communist Party of India (Marxist) government then. Likewise, during my posting in the North-East I visited Agartala somewhere around 1989, the capital of Tripura in the far eastern corner of the country on the other side of Bangladesh. There, too, all walls, public or private, were written over in blue or black or communist red. Tripura was also being ruled by CPI (M), as it is till today, being the only communist ruled state in the country. It appeared, defacing the walls was the hall mark of communist regimes. I was told it was the “red” cadres in every locality who used to deface the walls, of course, on orders from their senior comrades. While Calcutta – now Kolkata – has got over the propensity to deface the city walls I do not know whether Tripura too has shed this tendency.

Surprisingly, situated far away from Kolkata or Agartala, Bhopal seems to have somehow caught the infection that makes private or public agencies to deface walls. All of us have to pass through the Civil Lines or Link Road No.1 and are presented with the spectacle walls written over with government campaigns. One stretch of wall of Hamidia College and the Circuit House was given away during the mayoralty of Sunil Sood to the students to try their hand in painting it with whatever caught their fancy. In fact at that time there was a campaign in the newspapers about defacement of public walls and Sunil Sood had taken a decision to ban defacement of walls. However, quite curiously, the government agencies themselves are now writing slogans on the city walls.

 In the Civil Lines area the wall of State Archives and Polytechnic as also elsewhere the slogans of Swachchata Mission are written all over for considerable stretches. It did not seem to have occurred to the authorities concerned that mere writing of slogans in myriad well-contrived language would not ensure cleanliness. What is needed is concrete action by government’s own agencies or the civic body to rid the city of muck and dirt. All along the Link Road, too, the slogans relating to government’s social campaigns can be seen, though some of them are now, mercifully, obstructed from view by the growing shrubbery.

 Thus the state government is breaching the Municipal Corporation’s ban orders with great facility. It has done so on numerous other occasions like running the cruise and motor boats on the Upper Lake despite a ban imposed by the municipality as far back as 2005. But, the Corporation is unable to gather enough gumption to take action against the former. The government, obviously, thinks nothing of the Corporation as it is, after all, its creature, running as it does on the grants doled out by the former.  The menace, however, seems to have assumed serious proportions as advertisers are now defacing, apart from public walls, even private walls which so far seem to have been spared the obnoxious paint and brush. Besides, they are pasting posters on electricity poles. Not only does it give the whole city a shabby appearance, it also indicates the lack of aesthetics on the part of all those who indulge in this reprehensible activity as also those who manage the city. That it also reflects the Municipal Corporation’s lack of will and teeth to keep the city presentable in every way is, of course, another matter.

In this connection, one must commend the remarkable work done by the I-Clean Team of Bhopal which has gone from place to place cleaning up the walls and bringing order to places where everything they found to be in disarray. Unfortunately, the effort of this self-less team of ever-increasing voluntary workers somehow did not rub off on any of the officials of the local civic body or of the Department of Urban Administration & Development. One expected that looking at the voluntary workers’ enthusiasm to get rid of the repulsive state of the many areas thay happened to visit and looking at their deep commitment to the city, officials concerned and elected representatives too would chip in to supplement their effort by men and material if not lead the entire campaign to better effect. Alas, that did not happen. It is not that they do not know about it; they are all aware of it as the local newspapers have repeatedly carried the news of the efforts of the I-Clean Team. What appears to me from this indifference of authorities is that they, besides being unashamed of their neglect and apathy towards the city, are utterly uncommitted to the city although working for betterment of the city is what precisely their job is. All their talks over the years of making the city look as good as Singapore or Paris were never well-meaning, in fact, that was all gas to hoodwink the people.

Only recently it was reported that the Chief Minister had claimed that our state is more beautiful than Singapore, comparing two incomparables in numerous ways. Nonetheless, in Singapore the government does not deface the city walls like his government does in Bhopal. Let the CM first have the city walls cleaned up, remembering that comparisons, apart from being odious, do not take one anywhere; it is only concrete action that does it. One would have appreciated if the government instead had fostered street art


Friday, May 15, 2015

DESTINATIONS: SWITZERLAND (1987): VERSOIX

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A family dinner out on the lawn on arrival
My eldest brother worked through the late 1970s to late 1990s for GATT (General Agreement for Trade & Tariff and now World Trade Organisation), an UN agency, as consultant to its Director General. He used to live in Versoix (pronounced Versoa) and go to work in Geneva. In 1987 he suggested to us to take a trip to Switzerland. Although those days were not so expensive as they are now – the
Versoix against noise pollution
two way air fare was around Rs. 7000/-, the Swiss Franc was worth Rs 8/- (currently Rs. 68/-) and a Dollar was worth little less than  Rs. 14/- (now 64/-) – yet a trip to Switzerland was not quite affordable for us as the salaries were low. However, as my sister too was coming over from the US, she insisted we make the
Swiss National Day Parade in Versoix
trip. We mustered most of our savings and my brother and sister too chipped in with the air fares and we headed for Switzerland – on a ‘shoe string’ that was rather small. On one late June evening we took off on a Lufthansa flight for Geneva via Frankfurt. At Frankfurt we had to change over to another Lufthansa flight.

My brother had built a spacious house in Versoix, a place that was described to us as a village. It was, as we later found, pretty far
A float in the parade
from all that we associate with our villages. It was a full-fledged modern town, though small with a population of around 10000, with all the urban amenities. Perhaps, former President APJ Abdul Kamal had such Western villages in mind when he spoke of provision of urban amenities in rural areas (PURA). Versoix was a well developed township with great shopping, restaurants and, at least one manufacturing unit which we used to see every time we
Horse-driven carriages in the parade
went to the station to catch a train and that was a chocolate factory. Switzerland, after all, is known for its chocolates.   

Versoix, named after the eponymous river, is about 10 kilometres from Geneva and falls in the canton of the same name. The Versoix River originates in the neighbouring Jura Mountains and meandering through a few cantons it passes by Versoix to fall into Lake Leman, also known as Lake Geneva. Located by the side of
A participant playing on his brass
this Lake, Versoix has excellent connectivity with Geneva by railroads and a highway that my brother used to take every time he went to Geneva. I should think it was more like a satellite town of Geneva with, apparently. a disproportionately high percentage of expatriates working in various international organizations that were located in the latter. Likewise, some expatriates, we were told, also used to live in a border town in France and commute everyday to Geneva. People used to go for shopping across in a border town the name of which eludes me now, though we too had gone there once.

From behind my brother’s garden a small stream with heavy vegetation on its two sides used to run for some miles with a
A float passing by
walking track along it. It was a kind of a nature trail that we could use for long walks. It would eventually open up at a place that was beautiful and was used as a picnic spot. Such a trail in the midst of nature I haven’t seen anywhere else except years later in Mombasa in Kenya

Corn fields near Versoix
The Swiss National Day was celebrated during our stay in Versoix. We saw the parade and the festivities in Versoix. There were colourful floats, marches and bands by the local fire fighting staff and others. Champagne was being carried in trucks and distributed free in plastic champagne-glasses to all and sundry. Each one of us had a couple of glasses. There was a magnificent fireworks display by the side of the Lake in Geneva after dark, a display like of which I had not
The family ready to take off on an outing
seen before. A large number of yachts had assembled on the Lake to watch the event and their lights twinkled like stars in the darkened Lake.

While my brother showed us round a few places in the country, I did some others on my own. Making Versoix as the base we took a 14 day rail trip in Europe covering Munich, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Rome, Cannes, Nice and Paris. We had bought Eurail passes in India for these travels which allowed us passage in I Class.


Friday, May 8, 2015

"Happiness" is not for Indians yet

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In the World Happiness Report of 2015 of the United Nations on 158 countries India has slipped from 111th place in 2013 to 117th. This, obviously, means that people in India have become unhappier during the last two years. The report covers the period from 2012 to 2014 and takes into account not just individual satisfaction and wealth but also broad contentment that includes social support, high healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, perceptions of corruption, pro-sociality – the kind of conduct that may include honesty, benevolence, cooperation and trustworthiness. With Switzerland expectedly topping the list, Nordic countries make up the top five. South Asia generally is in the bottom half and what is perhaps a reason for concern is that India has been ranked below Pakistan and Bangladesh – two countries that of late have been facing Islamic terror and yet their happiness quotient has come out to be higher. Bhutan, which practices the concept of Gross National Happiness and inspired the study through the UN General Assembly, has been ranked 79th – higher than India, yet a not-too-high a rank, given the head start it had in reckoning “happiness” (as against “product”) as a metric for growth and development.

According to the Summary of the 2015 report, the world has come a long way since the first report was launched in 2012. It asserts, “Increasingly happiness is considered a proper measure of social progress and goal of public policy. A rapidly increasing number of national and local governments are using happiness data and research in their search for policies that could enable people to live better lives”. We in India, however, are not aware of any move to collect “Happiness” data at city, state or country levels to enable the administration to frame policies to mitigate the general feelings of unhappiness and misery. If at all this has been done, apparently, the official organisations responsible for collection of such data have been doing so in a surreptitious manner. Not a word seemed to have been breathed to the media.

 That, of course, is another story and not material to this piece. What, however, needs to be pointed out is that over the last three or four years the method of measurement of “Happiness” has been refined. The 2012 report was based basically on the assessment of “Happiness”, whereas the succeeding reports have, in addition, assessed the feelings of “Wellbeing” among those who were surveyed. “Wellbeing” is being measured in the United Kingdom and OECD countries and perhaps measurement of “wellbeing”, especially “subjective wellbeing”, will be true reflection of people’s quality of life – as against the “gross domestic product”. We know how during the years of high growth rates in the country’s GDP quality of life of vast numbers of people did not improve in any way. Poverty, mal and under-nourishment, high infant and maternal mortality rates have continued to haunt the nation.

The report has been produced on the basis of some data that are already available with a few international organisations and others were made available by Gallop World Poll (GWP) against eight constructs, viz. (1) “GDP per capita” in terms of Purchasing Power Parity taken from World Development Indicators released by World Bank in 2014, (2) “Social Support“ available for individuals is the national average of binary responses (of either 0 or 1) to GWP question, (3) data on “Healthy life expectancy” has again been borrowed from World Health Organisation and World Development Indicators (4) “Freedom to make life choices” is again a national average of binary responses to the GWP question “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life”, (5) “Generosity” is the national average of the responses to the GWP question “whether you donated money in the past month”, (6) “Perceptions of corruption” are again national average of binary responses to GWP poll to the question “whether corruption was widespread in the government and also within business” (7) “Positive affect” is defined as previous day’s affect measures of happiness, laughter and enjoyment” and (8) “Negative affect” is defined as the average of previous-day affect measures for worry, sadness and anger.


As of the eight above, GDP per capita in terms of Purchasing Power Parity and figures on “Healthy Life Expectancy” have been taken from relevant international organisations there is some kind of finality about them since these are based on national data fed to them. Predictably, per capita GDP and healthy life expectancy are depressed and have apparently pulled the country down a few notches. The life expectancy was stated in January 2014 to have risen in cases of both the genders. But “Healthy life expectancy” is quite another matter – given the state of environment, sanitation and healthcare in the country. A google search failed to reveal India’s “Healthy Life Expectancy”.

 
Brief comments on each of the six constructs are as follows: Prevalence of “social support” is generally insignificant. It is the lucky few who are able to network and can expect support in times of physical or emotional distress. But indifference of general public to distressed fellow humans is graphically exemplified by accident victims or molested females in public spaces in the country who are left to deal with their misfortunes themselves. Any kind of “Social Support” cannot be taken as a given in India like in more developed countries. Similarly, the freedom to make “Life Choices” of a largely poor, illiterate/semi-literate and unskilled population residing in a country bereft of job opportunities has got to be restricted. And, if one does not have enough to live a dignified life how can he be expected to show “Generosity” by making donations? “Public and Business Corruption” cases have, of late, caught the attention of everyone. Almost every day new cases of fraud of mindboggling amounts are revealed. When huge amounts of public money find their way into private pockets the probability of “Happiness” of vast numbers of people would necessarily recede. Besides, in rural or urban life “Negative Affects” top the “Positives”. Barring a few financially well off, the masses, by and large, get back home harried and distressed after their daily struggle.


Though inspired by Bhutan which is trying to shun consumerism, the report is basically meant for economically advanced countries which, after becoming prosperous, are now trying to take the lives of their citizens to a higher level of contentment and emotional wellbeing. Several countries reportedly are increasingly making use of the World Happiness Reports to fill the gaps in their respective systems to better the quality of life of their peoples. Economic wellbeing enables them to study the problems, if any, and change gears, if needed, to provide for a more fulfilling life of their citizens. Admittedly, material prosperity alone can neither be the sole objective of socio-economic development nor can it give people a sense of “Happiness” and “Wellbeing”.


However, in a highly populous country like India with illiterate/semiliterate or unskilled population that is generally engrossed in somehow making a living, such reports have, at best, only academic value. For such countries, measuring “Happiness” of the people is, therefore, a peripheral issue that can be put off for some other time, overwhelmed as the Indian and state governments are currently with the job of taking succor to the country’s hungry and undernourished millions. Hence, nothing would, surely, be done on the basis of this report in India just as no action was, apparently, taken on the 2012 and 2013 reports. Placement of the country at 117th position, therefore, seems very charitable. “Happiness” and “Wellbeing” of Indian masses do not yet figure in the lexicon of Indian administration.

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Photo: from the Internet