Thursday, July 31, 2008

Capitalism& the Poor World: A Response to Jagdish Bbhagwati, Abhijit Banerjee and others

EMINENT ECONOMIST from Colombia University, Dr Jagdish Bhagwati writes: Typically, the rich in Ahmedabad spent moneys on people's education, on health, and (believe it or not) even on agricultural extension and dry farming experiments.

I am not sure whether Dr Bhagwati visits his home town oftener these days. But I find things are slightly different at the grassroots from the rosy picture he paints.
I don't deny the rich Gujaratis did spend money on philanthropic efforts. They did and they even supported the Indian national movement even when their business interests went against their nationalist sentiments.

But these days how do the rich Gujarati's spend their money?

It is a fact that the anti-minority pogroms that made Gujarat notorious in recent past were funded and supported by these same sections who have plenty of money to spare and they nourished the politics of hooliganism with their riches. Now all over the world the Gujarati diaspora speak of a new Gujarat and this Gujarat is something terribly different from the one the old Rajkot-wallah, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, lived in and died for. It is a place where the other, the poor Muslim who lives in the slums of Ahmedabad and Baroda, has no place.

This is the experience all over the country. As a journalist, I find that the rich NRIs are the major supporters and financiers of a highly virulent kind of nationalism -- a nationalism that is more likely to divide this country again -- that promotes bigotry, hatred and jingoism. They are the people who, from their safe havens in the west, want India to make N-bomb and possibly send its neighbors to the stone age. Read their blogs and comments in newspapers and you are flooded with such sentiments, expressed quite openly and unabashedly.

So perhaps we need to rethink what money can do to a person and a nation. Uncontrolled riches can play havoc too.

Posted by:n p chekkutty | July 21, 2008

Dr Abhijit Banerjee gives a few examples from India, and most of them about the way the country failed to make any mark in beneficial social interventions.
But I had occasion to see the agency of the government actually at work, in a beneficial way. He speaks about the recent budget provision of Rs. 75,000 for the assistance of farmers in distress (to which many economists were not enthusiastic,) following the large number of farmer suicides in various parts of the country, from Vidharbha in Maharashtra to Wayanad in Kerala.

I visited a few villages in Wayanad hit by farmer suicides in the recent past and found that two major steps taken by the state and federal governments, the debt relief commission set up by the Kerala Government and the debt write-off program announced by the Federal Government, did help ease the situation on the ground. During 2002-2007 there were regular reports of farmer suicides from all parts of rural India, but in the past few months they are rare, though not fully subsided.
Wayanad gave me an example of how it works. The debt relief commission, which had received over four lakh petitions in the first three months, had held a few sittings there and I saw many people, most of them with small amounts of loans from various sources, had approached it for help and they were able to provide them in most cases.
The Kerala state's Economic Review 2007, released by the Planning Board headed by Dr Prabhat Patnaik, an eminent economist, reported that by the end of 2007 the state was able to put an end to the widespread farmer suicides in the region.

As a journalist working in this region, I know that this is not 100 per cent true, but to a large extent this claim is factual. The suicides have markedly come down and the government efforts did play a major role in this gain.

In fact, Kerala can be considered a model for the public intervention ensuring a better and even equitable social order: Its human development indexes are almost comparable to the first world, and recent studies seem to say that even the economic growth, which was extremely poor in the past, is now picking up as shown by the experience of recent years.

Posted by:n p chekkutty | July 22, 2008

In response to Eric Werker:

Elsewhere Prof Abhijit Banerjee has expressed reservation about the concept of a weak state, what does exactly it mean. Any lack of a proper understanding or a definition of what is a weak state could be problematic, since there are talks about pressuring, funding and even making use of 'economic smart bombs' to keep them in line.

Being a person from the South which the new 'socially responsible corporates' are determined to reform and revive, I am extremely worried and concerned of what goes on here. I do not say there is any kind of conspiracy here to subdue the poor South making use of new concepts, new ideas and the monopoly over economic and intellectual resources and technological advances the West still enjoys, as many others in the South do believe, but let me point out that the muddled understanding about the people who are not known to those policy-makers can really do much harm.

I am not going into the details about what were our experiences with the World Bank and IMF in the past but in the countries of South, say in my own country India, there has been a great debate on it for a long time. Looking back, it is clear that there was a not-so-subtle element of putting pressure, arms twisting in most of their policy dictates/formulations with regard to many countries in our part of the world.
So let us try to understand what is a weak state? Is the United States a 'strong state' perhaps? Is it the yardstick for the whole world to emulate? Then I think many would not think of anything but 'shock and awe', something too mean for any civilized nation to speak about. So let us drop the use of terms that eerily remind about military tactics, often applied in the past, and in many cases eve now in operation and for some others, still in the pipeline.

Or are we talking about the United States a model strong state in economic terms? I don't deny that the US still has an advantage in science, technology,trade, etc, but is it in the same dominant position as it used to be, say just a few years ago? What is going to be its position in another ten years, after this Iraq war accounts are due to be settled and possibly another from Iran too comes in for payments? It does not look rosy at all and as Fareed Zachariah seems to argue, the US is not declining but that the others are also rising. Well, it's a matter of speculation and I feel when others are rising fast and the US is unable to rise to balance or even out, then what we will see is the decline of the empire.

Here I would agree with the author that may be this new sudden urge to help out without properly looking at the world we are going to reform could do more harm than good. It is not only the dictators or commission agents who i am talking about. They are only an ephemeral phenomenon as people in those countries can take care of them in due course of time. What worries me is that any misguided and impatient approach could harm the nascent, slowly evolving democratic institutions in many parts of these countries that are trying to cope with difficulties, learn to walk, to solve their problems in their own unique ways.

Perhaps what they require from the West is simply a proper hearing, a respectful understanding and may be some little help here and there in making themselves useful; both to themselves and to the world.

Posted by:n p chekkutty | July 24, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Laughing Gas

"Sonia Aunty, I must get that dress, please...!"

Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party puts pressure on United Progressive Alliance for defense and petroleum portfolios, report Indian newspapers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Quixotes Rush to Defend the Party as Somnath Leaves

SO FINALLY Somnath Chatterji, ten times parliamentarian and the voice of CPM in the Lok Sabha is out of his party. And sure enough, the CPM megaphones in Kerala have launched a tirade against the senior leader calling him all kinds of names, finding all kinds of faults with him. Those Quixotes who lead the charge against the new ‘renegade’ are such paragons of Communist virtue like Pinarayi Vijayan, who is facing a CBI inquiry in a corruption scandal, and T K Hamza, a Parliament member who came to the CPM from Congress as he failed to get a ticket to the Assembly in an earlier election. So they are the right people to accuse Chatterji of right deviation and parliamentary opportunism.

But I think the expulsion of Somnath Chatterji raises some fundamental questions, which are of a serious nature in a parliamentary democratic system in which Communist parties also take part.

The question here is whether one can work in a democratic system without any faith in it. I thought the Communist parties through a half century of parliamentary work, had come to accept that parliamentary democracy had its own virtues, just as it has its shortcomings. But it appears they do not share this perception.

it is indeed evident Somnathji took his job in Parliament seriously and sincerely. I had watched him function in the Lok Sabha as Speaker and I always felt this man was sincere in his conviction. His outbursts were a common feature in the House -- often he was so furious with unruly members and he kept complaining that this is the darkest day in democracy, etc, making people wonder how many darkest days were possible in a week-- but nobody could question his dedication to the high office he held. Parliamentary work had never been a tamasha for him, neither as Speaker nor in those four decades in which he shook the House with his tremendous oratory, though some of his party colleagues who thought Parliament was a 'pigsty' even as enjoying its benefits to the hilt, made it out to be.

And here we have some people protesting too much, calling him even a 'cheater' ji. What did he do to deserve this kind of opprobrium from professional turncoats like T K Hamza who came to CPM as he was refused a Congress ticket to the same pigsty they despise?

Then there are others who say his father was a Hindu Maha Sabha leader in Bengal before he came to the left. Those who know N C Chatterji would know that he came to the left out of conviction and not to seek any power or positions, as some of his detractors are today. He came to the left ranks in Bengal in its most difficult hours. As for power and prestige, Barrister N C Chattrerji had them in plenty even during the British days when he used to practice in the courts. His battle royal in the Bhowal Sanyasi case remains the greatest legal battle against British colonial rule in our legal history. Historian Partha Chatterji has written a book on the Bhowal case which he has christened The Secret History of Indian Nationalism which reads like a crime thriller but is a great example of pure narrative history at its best.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Will Global Giants in Search of Public Glow will Trample us Underfoot?

This is in continuation of the debates on the idea of creative capitalism gaining ground, after the Bill Gates speech at Davos:

THE CREATIVE Capitalist entering the social sector for the benefit of the poor in expectation of public recognition as a reward is a good idea.

Only if it works in the field.

The suggestion for effective checks and balances is to go for continuous evaluation, and publish reports for assessment in a transparent way.

Grand ideas indeed. Will ensure some good work for those experts too.

But let me try to give the example of a small project I had seen in a school in my home town: They were producing vegetables in the organic way and the students and teachers were involved in this humble project which ensured the school kitchen received good vegetables at affordable cost.

Then came the government into the scene: a minister landed with his entourage, news cameras and a big ceremony of digging, cutting ribbons, ceremonial planting of saplings, etc, was organized and the next day when the students went back to their garden what they saw was a place that looked as if it had been run over by a thousand elephants in heat...

I do not blame the minister who came with an army of hangers-on to the fragile garden. For him the public glow was the essential part of the show, because he thrived on it. And I do not blame a CC do-gooder doing the same, descending on a small project somehow being run by a small grassroots group with all their limitations, but also with some limited success and applauded only by those local people who are benefited out of it and without much media glare. But when a powerful international group enters the scene with its immense media control, money power and resources, and puts up such shows with an eye on the public glow, then it would be doom for those small grassroots level movements that are slowly seem to emerge in many parts of the world, caught in this whirlwind.

So what is the way out? I would suggest to identify ways how not to trample upon the small shoots, how to be careful and culturally sensitive; how to help local people do these things themselves. But can the global capitalist powerhouses be so sensitive? I am not sure, going by our past experience.

It is around 25 years since the people of Bhopal,India, were gassed by a global company but no one from this philanthropic, crocodile-tear-shedding giants in the West cared to teach a lesson to this particular company and stand up for those victims who suffered for so many years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Laughing Gas Extra

Winning Trust the Economic Way...

Dr. Manmohan Singh, economist-turned-politician, wins trust vote for his government in the Indian Parliament amidst allegations that bribes were paid to Opposition MPs to secure votes for the government: news

Dr. T K Ramachandran: Adieu to a Friend

IT WAS C K Vijayan of India Vision TV who rang me up around midnight yesterday to inform me that Dr. T K Ramachandran is no more. Around 11 p.m, he breathed his last at a hospital in Ernakulam, he told me.

Vijayan was trying to control his sobs as he spoke to me. It was natural. He was staying with TK, as we all used to call him, in those last years he was here in Kozhikode. It was only a few weeks ago that TK had sold out his flat at Mavoor Road in the heart of the city and left for Ernakulam, his home town, to stay with a friend.

Perhaps he knew it was his last journey. Because he knew how bad or how critical had been his condition, he knew it for many years but he did not much care about it. He continued his life in the same way he conducted it all these years, since his teen ages perhaps; addicted to smoking, drinking, reading, talking…

He was a complex person, a genius in many ways, extremely talented, vigorous in his intellectual life, impatient with those who disagreed with his convictions, exceptionally generous and friendly, always open to the others; and at the same time deeply flawed, even bigoted and uncompromising at times…

It was in the late seventies that I saw him first, in Kozhikode, where he had arrived to continue his doctoral studies on William Blake and his poetry. Those were the days after the Emergency, a time when he had to face immense difficulties and even torture. He was associated with the extremist left groups who violently opposed the Emergency and he had left for Calcutta to escape police torture those days.

As I went to the Calicut University in 1980 to do my MA in English, he was there in the same hostel doing his Ph D work. His room was a place where all aspiring young intellectuals converged; reading, writing, arguing, quarreling, smoking, dreaming. We were dreaming about a Socialist world, and we were arguing passionately about this new world where all men will be equal and all will enjoy others’ words like music, but we knew we still have to handle our own petty Stalins, our own Zhadanovs and our own renegades of all hues.

Most of us stopped worrying about comrades Stalin, Zhadanov, Lysenko and others as we grew up. But TK and those around him continued to dream and continued to quarrel about them. A few years ago, just before their divorce, Geetha, his wife, told me how they used to keep arguing till the wee hours of the morning; she trying to catch some sleep in the other room.

Geetha was my friend and colleague in Indian Express and when she decided to marry him some time in 1987, I was not very enthusiastic. I knew he was not a man for family life; his life was that of a gypsy, a vagabond; an eternal rebel. She knew this too, but she was confident she would be able to live her life in those chaotic conditions. However, after almost thirteen years with him, she realized that it was a wrong assessment. So they parted on friendly terms. I was a silent witness to those days of parting, as I was editing a journal called Media Focus with Geetha those days and TK was always very helpful and he even wrote a long article for our journal.

During those days he was experiencing serious health problems and he was admitted to the National Hospital in Kozhikode. I visited him there and Geetha showed me what the doctor had written on his papers: QUIT SMOKING NOW, it said in bold capital letters, as if the doctor was screaming at his patient.

But TK continued to smoke his favorite cigarette in the bath-room, buying as much as half a dozen packets every time. And he did it often twice a day.

But he was much more than a friend or the husband of a colleague to me. He was the philosopher and guide to our generation, the only Marxist among us with a thorough grounding and knowledge in the theory and practice of its world view, a wonderful teacher, a great writer and public speaker, an indefatigable fighter against the forces fascism and fundamentalism looming large in our times, a person who is absolutely and uncompromisingly secular, and much more.

Now I am thinking about how TK will be remembered?

I think ultimately he will be remembered as a Marxist who took left thinking in Kerala to new heights, introducing us to the in-depth and nuanced theoretical debates elsewhere in the world when our mainstream communist parties were reading nothing more than Stalin's books bought from the Russian stores, which are no more around. It was he who taught us Marxism was something more than what Stalin said it was and what those cheap books in those Soviet stores peddled it to be.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Laughing Gas

The defiant cat rattles the comrades:

Veteran CPM leader and Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, defies party and sticks to his post and presides over the no-trust vote debate that began on Monday: news

Will Corporate Do-gooders Save the World and its Poor?

BILL GATES is now a philanthropic messiah and his speech at Davos where he elaborates on his new concept of creative capitalism is his new manifesto. It could enthuse people and it could perhaps even solve many of our problems with the help of corporate do-gooders.

Having worked in and reported on economic and development issues of some of the poorest parts of the world, I feel the devil could always be in the details. Once the former Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, whose youthfulness and commitment to the cause of the poor reminds me of the Bill Gates of today, had pointed out that of every 100 rupees the government spent on the welfare of the poor only 15 actually reached them. The rest disappeared into some black-holes that divide the governments/philanthropists/ NGOs and international aid agencies from the really needy people who live far away.

So what seem to be the real problems is not the lack of resources or lack of willingness of the rich to pay for the benefit of the poor. It is the sheer chasm that divides both these worlds, quite unbelievable but absolutely true.

Bill Gates speak about a number of projects launched by the corporate world for bringing better resources and benefits to the poorer sections of our world. One of the projects he speaks about is the new initiative for bringing the African coffee growers in direct contact with the major Corporations in the business so that their returns would be doubled.

I am not familiar with the African scenario, but I have seen the life and experiences of Indian coffee growers, mainly in Wayanad, a district which has seen the largest farmer suicides in Kerala, a south Indian state afflicted by widespread farm distress in recent past. During 2002-2006, this tiny district had reported as many as 179 farmer suicides, according to the Economic Review 2007, released by the Government of Kerala.

Coffee has been a major crop here, most of the plantations started by the British planters who came here in 19th and early 20th centuries when India was a British colony. Now the major plantations are owned by big companies while there are a large number of small and medium growers who solely depend on coffee for survival.

As a journalist, I went to the place during November-December 2007 to find out what went wrong with their life and why there were so many suicides in these villages. It was a distressing situation: coffee is highly dependent on global market prices and small and medium farmers who cultivate it in a few acres of land, find it hard to withstand price dips and they have no resources to wait till the prices recover. They have to sell out even at huge loss because they are, in most cases, heavily indebted to banks, money-lenders, etc.

Here is the economics of coffee production for small growers:

Malana James, a grower with 2.65 acres of coffee in Kaniyampatta panchayat, Wayanad, got 30 bags of coffee beans in the 2007 season from his plants. Each bag contains 54 kg of beans and when processed he gets 30 kg of coffee kernel from each bag. And the amount he got for one kg of coffee kernel in 2007 was just Rs. 70.

He sells in the open market, and the major corporates procure it. The prices keep fluctuating every year, every season: it was as high as Rs. 120 for a kg in 1994-95 and then it dropped to as low as Rs. 16 in 2002-03. He said last year he lost around Rs. 60,000 on his small plantation.

At the same time the value-added coffee sells in the markets, at prices astronomical compared to the prices farmers get. Nestle India’s Nescafe Classic, a premium brand, is sold at Rs. 68 per pouch containing 50 grams.

I have experienced similar situation in most of the crops that depend on global markets. There is an obscene level of price differences, the small growers being fleeced like anything. But the corporates failed to ensure even minimum price stability for the growers, even in the days of this acute farm distress and mass suicides. It was the federal and state governments who did some fire-fighting operations with the institution of a debt relief commission and higher budget outlay, etc, and taking over of the debts of those who committed suicide so that their families need not keep running from pillar to post to pay off the debts left behind by their dead bread-winners.

I am not ruling out that corporates may have a say or a role, but can they really bring about a change? I doubt it, because their philanthropic role has always been conspicuous by its absence where it really matters: that is among the most backward parts of the world where people are committing suicide because of debt, destitution and lack of any support at the time they really need some.

Friday, July 18, 2008

On Malayalam Varika and Complaints about Reportage of Sex Scandal

People were asking me about some comments about me in a report in Samakalika Malayalam Varika, this week, in connection with some reports while I was serving in Kairali TV. I responded to some posts at the FEC discussion group and here it is:

IT IS possible that our newspapers and magazines can be very very funny. And this is not a monopoly of Malayala Manorama or Deshabhimani either. It cuts across political and ideological spectrum. It seems to be a unique Malayali trait, I think. (By the way I don't call it Malayali hypocrisy because I could be dubbed a racist ...)

People complain the media-persons for this. But I see that it can take even journalists as their victim as Gouridasan had found himself in, a few months ago.

This week I saw the story in Samakalika Malayalam Varika, edited by my former colleague S Jayachandran Nair. The cover story about the sex scandal case and India Vision's alleged volte face on it, accuses me of hushing up the story while I was in Kairali TV some seven years back and demands a public explanation for what I did or failed to do.

I am not going to explain what decisions I took and what stories I dumped in may career as editorial director in that channel. But the point is, when such an allegation is being raised, against a person who is easily available on phone, email or personally, why the weekly did not think it necessary just to ask?

This is the way most of our stories are broken. They are fed by some interested parties and the reporters and editors swallow them without even a glass of water.(and cause social indigestion and a peculiar dismal smell too...)

Just one small point: The report says Mr. Prabha Varma was associate director of Kairali TV during this period; that is, on the eve of the 2001 Assembly election. He was not. He was media secretary to Chief Minister E K Nayanar. He came to Kairali TV after the elections, when the LDF Government was defeated.

Well, even in 'investigative' reports of this sort, it would be nice to see that the basic facts are correct.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

After the UPA trust vote: Will the Left withdrawal be in national interest?

Unnatural Friends: BJP's Lal Krishna Advani and CPM's Prakash Karat will find themselves on the same line trying to pull down the Manmohan Singh Government over the Indo-US nuclear deal on July 22 trust vote in Parliament: news

THE NATION is inching towards political instability as the United Progressive Alliance is divided on the Indo-US nuclear deal. The horse-trading is on, and the numbers game is in full swing.

There has been a series of debates on the net as to the real issues behind the crisis and the future fallout.

I copy and paste here a few comments I posted in a discussion group during the past few days:

On July 12:

I will add just one sentence: I am extremely disturbed by the left positioning which will ultimately drive them into a trap. They will bring down this Government in the company of the BJP and will, indirectly, be responsible for twin dangers: First, they will not stop this deal; and they will help pave the way for the BJP back to power as this lame duck government will not survive for long even if they win the trust vote on 22nd.

July 12:

I believe things can work to the BJP's advantage, as they stand right now.

1. On July 22, the CPM and left parties will vote against the trust vote; along with the BJP and other parties who are opposed to this government.

2. The Manmohan Singh government will have to depend solely on horse-trading, fortune seekers and opportunists for its survival. People like TRS's Chandrasekhara Rao, JMM's Shibu Soren and others may be available for a price. And this price will prove to be too heavy to pay.

3. Hence as soon as this nuke deal is done, may be by September-October, the best way out for the UPA government to resolve this impasse would be to resign and go for a new poll. They are unlikely to stay on till the next April-May, the normal time for the general election. Even if they try, they may not be able to pull on.

4. The elections will be fought not mainly on this foreign policy issue. There are other things, more pressing, like this spiraling price rise which is unlikely to abate in the next few months. At least it would continue till the next crops, hopefully a bumper one, to reach the market and depress essentials' prices. For that to happen we need to wait till Jan-Feb next.

5. That means, though the UPA likes it or not, they are heading for a snap poll some time later this year. And with the battle raging between the left and the Congress, with the traditional left allies like SP and RJD on the other side, and with the BJP and NDA enjoying the show from the sidelines, things are likely to be a muddled multi-cornered contest that will work to the advantage of the present major opposition alliance.

July 12:

Dear friend, when you say there is nothing unusual about left positioning, I agree. Yes, as usual, it is as muddle-headed as it can get.

But there is everything unusual in the present context. When they vote this Government out in the company of the BJP, they will be abdicating their moral high ground lock stock and barrel. They will not be seen in the company of the Congress as they are mortally afraid of in Kerala; but in whose company they will be? I don't find many friends for them.

By the way, the reading may be different in Bengal. Why did Jyoti Basu say that the BJP is the real and imminent danger?

This is going to be a cynical political battle devoid of principles, and the left will not be able to gain anything out of it. Possibly they will lose much.

July 13:

When I say things could work out in favour of the BJP and allies, I am just trying to present an alternative scenario. I don't like it, but I can't help worrying about it.

First, let us face the fact that in all these past four years of UPA rule, the electoral performance of the Congress in State polls was dismal, to say the least. They have lost state after state and are likely to lose the coming ones too.

Why did they lose? Not because of lack of resources, not because of lack of access to state power, media influence or anything.

Primarily they lost because they were not able to convert their plus points into votes. Karnataka was a classic example. They had everything going in their favour, and they had at least five chief ministers in waiting. The Muslims who were facing Sangh Parivar attacks in areas like Mangalore were all for a Congress win. But things worked out differently. It was the fifth major debacle in four years for the Congress.

Now what is the national scene? The PM is now being painted a weak person, a PM with no base and a person who throws away the country's sovereignty. Is it credible? Is the sovereignty of our country something so ephemeral and skin-deep like chastity that one can lose with a moment's indiscretion?

I thought the left realized this danger. They had a vantage position opposing this deal.
They did it to their best there. But beyond that why do they want this government to fall? If the government falls will they ensure another secular one in its place?
Will they be able to stop the Congress taking the soft Hindutva line they played when they were in trouble, as we saw many times in the past?

No. But staying on even as being firmly opposed to the deal would have given them a better chance to guide the national politics in a more sober, active and healthy way. They threw it out when they decided to pull the rug and then declared they will vote with the BJP on 22nd.

I cannot accept it. Because, I see the left is leaving the arena for others to monopolize at the most critical moment in our nation's life.

It can prove to be another historic blunder. Something that reminds us of 1997 if not 1942.

July 13:

JS writes: We are now negotiating based on a vulnerable situation- a weak government and leadership- we are more in to "pleasing" the US.

I am surprised by this statement. How can one say we are in a vulnerable position, we have a weak government, a weak leadership?

I was reading the NY Times editorial on Indo - US nuclear deal a few days ago which castigated the US administration for agreeing to such a deal that pampers India. They say the US and big powers capitulated before India's emerging power status. They don't want this deal to come through.

Neither do I want this deal. Not because that it would make India a US stooge; but because we can move on even without this.

But I am not persuaded to buy the argument that India would be a stooge of US because of this deal. In the post-Independence days, India was a much weaker country. In 1971 they had sent the seventh fleet to the Indian Ocean to browbeat this country. Indira Gandhi simply laughed at them and went ahead with her own plans, to keep this country safe. She was described a durga.

I do not want to describe Sonia in any such terms. But I am confident this country is strong enough to face such threats, our leaders including the Prime Minister are leaders with real strength.

I do not buy the argument that they are stooges; or they are slaves because they served in the World Bank. This is silly to say the least. They are Indian leaders.

So let us stop this business of competitive patriotism. We have heard enough of this jingoism. At least let us leave it to the Sangh Parivar brothers.

July 13:

Yes, in a way we are now facing the most critical question of what is a government.

For me, a government is an institution that anticipates and foresees national interest and moves ahead to safeguard the national interest. It is the duty of the Prime Minister to lead the country and not be led by others.

It should be so with Dr Manmohan Singh too. Here, he was constrained by the CMP, the document that was drafted by the supporting parties. But this document is the common minimum program and not common maximum program, a Laxman rekha for the UPA Government.

It would lead to a serious governance crisis if the political parties supporting any government dictate what should be the day to day affairs, what treaties they can go into, etc. No country can be run that way.

July 14:

I know there are several problems with it when we are in a coalition or work with a common minimum program. Parties may differ on the actual parameters of working in such a situation.

In the present context, yes there are differences between the Congress, RJD and other UPA partners on the one hand and the left parties on the other. Coalition dharma cannot stop the Prime Minster taking actions which he deems absolutely necessary in the national interest. Dr Manmohan Singh has taken a step which he thinks is in national interest and except the left all parties seem to agree.

So what is the option for the left? They thought there was only one: to withdraw. Right. No quarrel. But what I was consistently writing about here is the future fallout of such an action on the part of the left. Will it help the country, will it prove to be in the larger national interest?

I do not think so. That is why I said the left was making a strategic mistake. I still subscribe to my view on this and do feel that there may be many more from the left itself who may think in similar lines. Let us wait and watch for the future developments.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Laughing Gas

Sir, which edition would you like to read...?

The CPM, Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency releases documents relating to the draft agreement on Indo-US nuclear deal: news

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Will the Manmohan Government Fall on the Indo-US Nuclear Deal?

A change of Atlases holding the Government: As the left parties call it quits, Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party takes over the role of supporting party to keep the Manmohan Singh Governmnt going: news

THERE IS real suspense as to what will happen as the Prime Minister returns from his G 8 sojourn later today and the real war for numbers begin in the corridors of power. It seems the Congress leadership is thinking of going for a floor test to exhibit its strength and public support on July 28 when the Indo-US nuclear deal would be taken up by the International Atomic Energy Agency for its ratification.

As for the numbers, it would seem that the Congress and its allies have nothing much to worry about. The principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has already made it clear that it would not go for a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha. It is a change of strategy for the party which realizes that once it goes for the no-confidence motion, that would automatically help bridge a gap that has developed between the left and Congress. It would be suicidal for the CPM, CPI and other left parties joining hands with the BJP to bring this Government down.

So what is the left strategy? They will remain a powerful and vocal opposition and will go against the Manmohan Singh Government tooth and nail, both inside the House and outside it. But they will not be a party to the pulling down of the Government; because by such an action they would be only helping bring in a BJP government closer home. They do not want such a thing to happen at all. So they will oppose, attack and tear the government to pieces; but will see that it survives its full term.

Then what will be the Government’s strategy? The Government will possibly go for a trust vote as soon as possible, because they do need to recharge their batteries. With the BJP and the left parties claiming that there is no majority support in Parliament for the Indo-US nuclear deal, it is urgently necessary for the United Progressive Alliance to prove that this is not the case. So they will seek a trust vote, point blank on the issue of Indo-US nuclear deal possibly on July 28 itself.

Will they win such a trust vote, now that media reports say the Samajwadi Party is heading for a split with some MPs opposing the decision to support the Government on the deal?

They will win the trust vote because the left will find a way out not joining the BJP in the House to bring the Government down; the Samajwadi Party may be able to contain the dissidents and finally the realization that the political deadlock could lead to a sudden collapse leading to a by-poll in which the principal beneficiary would be the BJP would help work out some behind-the-scene deals between the now estranged friends in the Congress and left parties.

(Cartoon courtesy: Sudheernath, New Delhi.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The importance of hartal as non-violent, eco friendly form of protest

I LIKED the accompanying cartoon which shows Kerala’s home minister cum tourism promotion minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan trying to woo tourists to our home state with a hartal special package.

The humour is accurate and hard hitting because in the present circumstances what an home minister who has, anyway, failed in his duty of maintaining law and order can do but to try and bring some result at least in his other charge, tourism?

So you see the minister running after the tourists like porters in most of our railway stations and bus stations, soliciting work.

The thing is that hartals have become a really marketable commodity in Kerala. Just like an archaic form of communism, which deifies characters like Joseph Stalin who has been abandoned even in his home turf, Kerala also keeps up this long abandoned method of protest which Gandhi called a hartal.

Last week, the state’s capital city had two hartals in a week and the other districts one, two or more according to the convenience and whims and fancies of local politicians. Recently I came across a report which said that in a normal year the state observes as many as a hundred or more hartals, based on issues ranging from national, international, local, regional, religious, political, parochial, civic, communal, etc. Hartals come in various sizes and packages, like state wide, district wise, pachachyat only and the durations vary from 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, etc. So you have the freedom to pick and choose as per your requirements, tastes and paying capacity.

And what is more, you don’t come across this unique style of protest anywhere else in the world. Coming to think of it, it is the most comfortable, eco friendly and post-modern technique though it was originally thought up by Gandhi as a form of protest against the British rule.

It is comfortable because hartal means an enforced holiday, to be enjoyed with friends or family; it is eco friendly because vehicles are off the roads and hence no pollution, and it is post-modern because in a modern world of violent forms of protest you see a totally harmless way to protest being home and enjoying a peg or two turning your back against the world outside. Even Henry David Thoreau would have approved.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Laughing Gas

As the left parties decide to withdraw support to the government over the Indo-US nuclear deal, the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress seeks new ties with Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party to move ahead: news