Tuesday, 29 December 2009

In Memory of people who build our Bridges (or जो पुल बनायेंगे...)

It's time we paid a little more respect and attention to the people who are risking their lives to build India. 

On December 24, 2009 a bridge that is under construction collapsed on the Chambal River near Kota in  Rajasthan.
  • I can-not find a list of the names of the people who died.
  • The death toll will only mount - as divers recover more bodies from under the rubble
  • The lives of these people was a story that had a shelf live of under 24 hours for the news media. 
  • I am sure there would have been a candle-light vigil and endless panel discussion on prime time news if a handful of those who died had urban middle class connections.
  • A tweet from @ShashiTharoor attracted more empathy than the deaths of these labourers. 
  • Measured in terms of air-time, column width and media-attention, why is the value of their lives any less than other incidents?
Labour on Indian infrastructure projects works in difficult conditions. Most of the time they work without basic insurance and any safety cover. Liberalization is fine. Reform of labour laws is good. Do not forget the the labour class in the process.

जो पुल बनायेंगे,
वे अनिवार्यतः
पीछे रह जाएंगे
सेनाएँ होंगी पार
मारे जायेंगे रावण
जयी होंगे राम
जो निर्माता रहे
इतिहास में
बंदर कहलाएंगे।

'अज्ञेय'  |

सच्चिदानंद हीरानंद वात्स्यायन 'अज्ञेय'

Loosely Translated -
People who build bridges invariably get left behind.
Armies will cross these bridges. 
Demons like Ravana will be conquered and Ram will be declared a victor.
However, the people who built these bridges will be remembered as monkeys in the pages of history.
- Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan a.k. 'Agyeya'

This poem is based on a part of the Ramayana where an army of monkeys build a bridge of stones for Lord Ram to cross over to Lanka. The Bridge is referred to as Ram Sethu

PS - I was reminded of this poem by Ageya after reading a poem penned by @gyanban on the Girhotra case.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Paid News and Private Treaties (and suggestions to the Editor's Guild)

Image from beta.TheHindu.com [image]
Mahesh Vijapurkar in an article that appeared in TheHoot.org and P.Sainath with his scathing commentary (1,2 and 3) in The Hindu, exposed the obvious abuse of the media by politicians in the Maharashtra elections.

In summary, politicians and political parties were paying newspapers and the broadcasting media to provide positive coverage and screaming headlines in the run-up to the Mahasrashtra elections. Another form of spin-doctoring is practised by Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. (India's largest media house). Times Private Treaties receives a financial stake in a company in exchange for coverage in their publications. Both forms of news are referred to as “paid news”. Chomsky called it “manufacturing consent”.  Sainath and Vijapurkar have triggered a much needed debate on the ethics of such news.

The Editor’s Guild recently (re)elected Rajdeep Sardesai as it’s President. Rajdeep is editor of CNN-IBN. The channel is also the loudest mouthpiece for the Shave India campaign sponsored by Gillette [ #ShaveIndia ]. The Editors Guild responded to the “paid news” by announcing an ethics committee. The announcement came via a tweet by @rajdeepsardesai that linked to a press release on the Editor’s Guild website.  There was also a front page article in The Hindu the next day.

My Opinion
Paid news has been a problem for a long time. Self-regulation within the media has failed miserably. Urgent action is required. It is unlikely that the Ethics Committee which includes stalwarts like T N Ninan and Madhu Kishwar will be to able to clean up the mess. Unless the promise of self-regulation becomes a reality, the government will have to step in with regulation.

My recommendations
It appears that this committee will not be seeking the opinion of readers and viewers. It would be unfortunate if the most important stakeholder group for the media is ignored while addressing this issue.

In an e-mail to Rajdeep Sardesai, I mentioned some of the areas that the ethics committee should look at closely. I did receive a brief response to the e-mail that indicated that it was received and read. (I thank Rajdeep Sardesai for acknowledging the mail.)

I am led to believe (through your posting on Twitter) that the Editor’s Guild has constituted an ethics committee to frame recommendations on “paid news” and “private treaties”.  I hope this committee is able to make honest recommendations that journalists, editors and managers can turn to.  May I request you to forward a few suggestions to the ethics committee?

At the risk of sounding 'obvious', I would like to suggest the following in the hope that the committee incorporates them
  1. Independent directors must be independent. A director or independent director in a media company should not hold a directorship in ANY other company.

  2. Each newspaper/channel should be encouraged to appoint an ombudsman so that readers can send in any grievances that they may have about the quality of content. This recommendation is specifically related to manufactured news

  3. After every National and State election, a newspapers/news channel must publish the billing that they have received
      a) by candidate
      b) by political party
    (irrespective of whether the advertisement is being directly or indirectly paid for by a candidate or party. Proxy advertising needs to be clearly accounted for as well)

  4. Media houses must disclose the names of their top ten 'end' customers based on billing - every quarter (from an advertising stand-point). While it may not be feasible to disclose the value of the billing, the names of the Top10 end customers should ideally be disclosed.

  5. Editorial pages should not contain content that has been paid for (in cash, in kind or by any other means)

  6. Space that is normally used for the masthead should NOT be sold for advertising. The amount of space on the front-page/first-page that is sold for advertising should be capped

  7. Whatever recommendations the committee makes must be extended to the vernacular media as well.
I hope it is appropriate for you to forward these thoughts to the ethics committee.

Call To Action
  • Some visible steps to increase accountability is critical if the media is to get back some of it’s independence and stay true to it’s cause of being a pillar of democracy.

  • Viewers of the broadcasting media and readers of the print media (both English and Vernacular) must send in their (unsolicited and uninvited) suggestions to the President of the Editor’s Guild.
    (The e-mail ID of the President is available on the contact us page of the editor’s guild website).

  • It is imperative that ethical behaviour be restored, or else the media will face the possibility of regulation. This is not a pleasant outcome for both the Industry and the general public. 
Foot Note 
Jay Rosen in his blogpost "How to know if you are behaving ethically as a journalist: Jay Rosen’s checklist" makes an interesting read for journalists, editors and managers in the media.

    Sunday, 20 December 2009

    Predictions for India's next decade

    Irrespective of all that went wrong in the last decade for India, the growing strength of the Indian (urban) middle class has to stand out as the one trend that presents the most hope and has the maximum momentum. As long as this ‘class’ keeps the balance in favour of wealth creation as opposed to consumption, India will benefit.

    In the next decade, there will be opportunities to move forward, there will be a decline in some areas and as usual we will continue to see rapid change. Before the media steps in with their sponsored hype, allow me to present my 2¢ worth of predictions for the next ten years.

    1. Urbanization will continue. The burden of migration will shift from the metros to Tier II cities and we will see a spurt in infrastructure projects in these cities as well (finally!). Will rural and urban India run on two parallel tracks or will they be going in opposite directions? Going by the trend in this decade, there will be a large marginalized population in rural India that will be headed in the opposite direction. This will be the single largest challenge for all levels of government in India.

    2. Regulation of Indian Media will improve. There will be legislation brought into play after all efforts at self-regulation fail. Accountability within the media will increase. The focus will be back on journalism. Distractions in the form of infotainment, psephology and advertising will reduce substantially.
    3. A Green Party! Indians will start to recognize the impact of climate change. This enlightenment will result in direct action as well. A political party that has environment as it’s main electoral platform will win a seat or two in the Lok Sabha. In the worst case scenario, this party will take a toll on national parties by fracturing their vote back in some pockets. 

    4. Intellectual Property Rights will see a major overhaul. Developing countries and poorer countries will be paying “actuals” for the transfer of technology and NOT exorbitant premiums in the name of copyrights and/or patents. This will be most true in the areas of energy, healthcare and agriculture. The West will back-track completely on GATS when they realize that they will be paying more than they will earn. In particular, this will kick-off a virtuous cycle in Africa. (i.e key ingredients for sustainable development will come together at the right place and at the right time)

    5. Large Dams. The decommissioning of some of the largest dams in India will begin. There will be a realization that these dams need to be broken down into much smaller dams along the major rivers. This will be driven by an acceptance of environmental science and by a ‘real’ threat of major earthquakes. Some of the democratic people’s movements that have their roots in the impact of large dams,  may coalesce into a green-party that I referred to earlier. [The large dams debate from 1999]

    6. The mobile generation will skip the PC. A large number of Indians will have their first and (addictive) taste of the Internet through the mobile phone. This leap forward in local appropriation of technology will open up many opportunities for better governance (UID will NOT be one of them). UID as a project will slip into oblivion. It may be perceived to be successful in a few urban pockets thanks to some good PR by the project manager.

    7. Narayanamurthy for President? (Okay I am sticking my neck out here) The co-founder of Infosys will launch a bid for the Rashtrapathi bhavan. Whether or not he will succeed is not clear. His name will do more than just the rounds, he might even end up with a nomination.  He will be supported largely by the corporate lobby. 

    8. India becomes THE exit plan in Afghanistan and Pakistan for America. But first, America will continue it’s blundering ways. The continuing loss of civilian lives will mean that America will not just be “perceived” as an enemy, but will be treated as one by non-combatants and combatants alike. In a few years, India will be first nudged and then shoved into engaging in the AfPak region. The repercussions for India will not be good. The US of course will close another failed chapter in it’s history of imperial ambitions and leave somebody else to clean up the mess. The only positive outcome of such an intervention could be a conclusive resolution to Kashmir. [A status report on Obama's current strategy from an Indian perspective].

    9. If Congress wins a National election in the coming decade (60% chance that they will). Chidambaram will replace Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi will have independent charge of the remote control. This government will be packaged in populist policy but at it’s core will be a capitalist engine. This will put the poorest of the poor at risk. The government will be different because it will NOT camouflage it's complete alignment with US policies on war and neo-liberal economics.

    10. Naxal violence will be mitigated and controlled through the partial nationalization of mines. Large corporate interests will still be pillaging natural resources, but there will be reparations given to local communities both in the form of cash and infrastructure. This will happen through the partial nationalization of mines. The movement for equality and tribal rights will continue to be brushed under the carpet. The violent element in the Naxal movement will be held at bay and will rear it's head when convenient to the central government. 

    11. Circket in India will be in turmoil. BCCI will continue to behave like the school bully both in domestic and international cricket. Interest in the sport in other nations will be in decline as cricket becoming predictable. This decline in interest in other countries will have an impact on the fortunes of the game in India. The process has been set in motion and looks irreversible. 

    12. Women’s literacy will improve by a massive 30% or more. This will not happen thanks to government action but because non-government organizations working across different areas of development will approach the issue of women’s literacy as a a panacea. The impact will be exceptionally positive.

    13. India Vs China (Tortoise vs Hare). India is far less likely to implode than China. This is based on the fact that i) India's trajectory of growth is not as steep ii) Our checks & balances in the areas of finance, banking and accounting is far more transparent and robust than China's. India is more of a socialist country than China (which is the largest capitalist country in the world thanks to it being Milton Friedman's playground in the 80s). Power within India is far more distributed than it ever will be in China. 
    Happy New Year!

    Thursday, 17 December 2009

    Thinking Out Loud on Non Resident Whiners ( and a rant)

    It's funny how folks get educated in India on Tax payer subsidies and go abroad and complain about India and it's socialist policies.

    Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! and almost every other Fortune 500 company in the sates has been built with intellectual contributions from Indians educated in IITs, RECs and other government funded institutions.(Read as Tax Payer money). If you were brought up in India, almost every home cooked meal you had as a child was cooked on subsidized LPG.

    This is not an argument on brain drain. Indians are welcome to go and work in any country of their choice. We have enough and more talent from where they came from. Except by family and friends, they will not be missed.

    I too have many friends and close family working abroad who I miss dearly. The point is, I might miss them, the country doesn't . We can, as the saying goes, afford to spread the love.

    What I do not understand is why a few people of Indian origin living abroad turnaround and say that our system sucks. I concede, socialist ideologies are like capitalist ideologies. They are both imperfect and unfair.

    They (the few I refer to above) forget that they are a product of the Indian socialist system. They are welcome to live in New Jersey or Fremont or any place under the star spangled banner and support American occupation and war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine. They can continue to clap for the cause of genocide and disaster capitalism.  What irritates me is when they turn around and say that they did not benefit from socialism. They would not be where they are without many of the socialist policies that India has had in the last 60 years. 
    • They will complain that "Indians" just don't get the concept of "copyright" and "ownership" but they will be transferring and copying Indian classical music in Gigabytes.
    • They will claim that Hinduism needs a revival and is threatened by "other" religions while heating their beef burgers in the microwave. 
    • They will call you a marxist, socialist or naxalite if you point out that they are as much a hypocrite as you are. (They use labels on resident Indians like a receptionist would use post-it notes).
    • They complain about the "filth" in India. They readily forget that they pollute 500 times more than the average Indian.
    I have no issues with any of them as long as they do not bring their political ideas on capitalism and shove it down my throat in the name of the Hindu religion.
    1. If you suffer from an identity crisis...deal with it. Don't take it out on me. 
    2. If you suffer from a sense of superiority...look a little more closely and you will realise that it is rooted in your own misplaced feelings of inferiority. 
    3. If you think India is a big heap of problems...don't tell me you want to change things from "outside the system".

      Wednesday, 16 December 2009

      Jay Rosen and the Ethics of the Web.

      Came across this Video on YouTube when searching for Videos featuring Jay Rosen.
      Pay close attention to what he has to say about "Ethic of the Web" and "Newspaper Websites".
      Both TheHindu and The New York Times do not publish comments that contain links that are outside their respective domains. 

      Although his blog has not been updated in 8 months, I have added Rosen to my Blog Roll. His insight into media is a must read for any media watcher. It's not easy to read, it takes some time to get your head around the content, but once you do, you normally have a Eureka moment. Another lens through which to look at the Indian Media!

      Tuesday, 15 December 2009

      Freaks or Freakonomics (and Co-relating in the absence of reality)

      Once upon a time, I was interested in the Freakonomics anecdotes. It all changed by the time I got to the end of the second chapter of the book. It reminded me of how “sales operations” guys come up with weird theories during sales reviews. Theories that don’t help you close deals or plan sales campaigns. Freakonomics has a very similar way of avoiding reality and the "big picture". I agree (like most others) that the authors are smart guys with a great talent for writing blogging. It's the lack of perspective in their content that worries me. They do have their fair share of critics. Some examples

      I have followed the freakonomics blog on the New York Times website and am convinced that their approach to economics is culturally biased. By the way, NYT has now stopped publishing any of my comments (even when I have something positive to say about the post). Update: I stand corrected. They published this last night.

      Yesterday’s post- “Do jobs really cure insurgents?” got my attention.  The first half of the post read as follows-
      "Does giving a man a job stop him from becoming a political insurgent? The generally accepted wisdom is that it does. In fact, the U.S. and other western powers have distributed millions of dollars of foreign aid in the hopes of reducing political violence and instability. But a new working paper from Eli Berman, Joseph Felter, and Jacob Shapiro may force policymakers to reevaluate this strategy. The researchers looked at unemployment and political violence against both the government and civilians in Iraq and the Philippines. They find that unemployment is actually negatively correlated with attacks against the government and statistically unrelated to insurgent attacks against civilians."
      The working paper that Freakonomics was referring was published by National Bureau of Economic Research and based on a grant from (surprise, surprise!) The Department of Homeland Security.

      Here is my two cents- 
      • Cause: American invasion of Iraq Effect: More than 100,000 civilians in Iraq are DEAD.
        (Where do employment programmes fit in?)
      • I would not be looking towards “insurgents” as the root problem. I would look at the fact that Iraq is an occupied country that was invaded illegally and without ‘just’ or any other cause. Operation “shock and awe” devastated the infrastructure of the country. 
      • Disaster Capitalists lead by the likes of Halliburton and Black Water are “rebuilding” the country after bombing it flat. How? For e.g. - They are importing raw material after refusing use of local labor and factories to create raw material locally.
      • To try and look at the insurgency problem through the lens of “employment” is, for the lack of a better word, STUPID. You have insurgents, not because they are employed or unemployed but because their country was bombed to smithereens by American troops. 
      • You would not have to assess the functionality of development and employment programs if you had not blown up the country in the first place. 
      • As far as economic research is concerned, this paper deserves nothing less than the ignoble
      • I do not see any economic trends that deserves applause in the analysis. I would however hazard to suggest that the authors study the impact of development programs on insurgency while standing under US operated drones in NWFP in Pakistan. Maybe then, they will have better clarity on the co-relation between employment and insurgency.
      • The paper and Freakonomics blogspost has a Friedmanesque stench to it. 

      Friday, 11 December 2009

      Telangana Conundrum (Divide, divide again and rule?)

      This post is about the flavor of the week. It is my take on Telangana and the argument for breaking up the larger states into smaller more efficient states. When I sat down to write this post, I was against any division of the states. The “divide, divide again and then rule” approach was not making sense and appeared colonial. However, a little bit of research has managed to partially change my opinion. I will try and present some of the data that I came across.

      First, comments on what has been happening

      The pro-Telangana politicos are in hot pursuit of their goal for statehood. Chidambaram issued a statement that kicks of the process of state-formation.

      Going by Chidambaram’s track record on contentious issues (e.g. Operation Green Hunt) the directive to the Andhra government is probably a red herring aimed at a) diffusing a potential crisis and/or b) an effort to divide the opposition benches by throwing a bone to regional parties who have state autonomy as a part of their agenda.

      I will stick my neck out to predict that in all probability, Chidambaram will “clarify” his statement in studio interviews with anchors in a few weeks. The clarification will say that the issue is first a state subject and unless the legislature passes a resolution his hands are tied. He will once again play the “state subject” card with ease.

      As far as Telangana is concerned, he chose his words (as always), with great care. In the process, he created a win-win situation for a fleeting moment. The media, and all parties concerned, bit the bait hook, line and sinker.

      However, his statement has set the cat amongst the pigeons in regional political circles. Many regional forces are brining back their demand for state-hood. Area that are being discussed include
      • Vidarbha (Maharashtra)
      • Bundelkhand (Uttar Pradesh)
      • Gorkhaland (West Bengal)
      • Bodoland (Assam)
      Second, the crux of the debate

      Two questions that are resurfacing and are being debated include-
      • Is the division of state based on language the right thing to do?
      • Are smaller states easier to govern and they do they tend to have better administrative efficiencies?
      For starters the two questions are VERY different. The first question has political roots. Identity based on language has been a useful political platform for regional parties (e.g. MNS in Maharashtra and DMK in Tamil Nadu). I am not going to bother analysing this question. I think any discussion on these lines will be counter-productive.

      The second and far more relevant question is about  administrative efficiencies. Do Small states address development priorities and administration better than a large state? Do they have less corruption?  The rest of this post is an attempt to figure out the answer.

      Small states and administrative efficiencies?
      • Small Assemblies
        One down side of the small state assembly (number of MLAs) is that they may be unstable. Small assemblies and the divisive nature of local politics leads to brittle governments with wafer thin majorities. Horse trading is rampant and governments may change more than once between elections. Haryana, Goa and Jharkhand are examples that come to mind.

        My Argument:  If I were forced off the fence, I would say that it will not necessarily help in brining about better administrative efficiencies.

      • Corruption
        Will small states breed less corruption? Hard to say! Data that I found on the net did not provide any conclusive proof that small states fair much better than large states. However it is apparent that the level of corruption appears to be marginally less in the smaller states.
        My Argument- Based on available data. It appears that small states deal slightly better at dealing with corruption particularly when it relates to their poorest citizens.

      Note - Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, and Punjab are treated as “Large States” by the original report/source

      • Voter Turnout
        Since we are a democracy, one good way to judge how healthy our democracy is to see what the voter turnouts looks like. Data Available in the National Election Study 2009 (courtesy EPW) seems to indicate that small states produce far better voter turnouts. This is a positive sign and an argument that works in favor of smaller states.

        My Argument: Electorates seem more responsible in smaller states.

      • Literacy Rates
        One interesting indicator that should shed some light on development is literacy rates. According to the data available with the National Literacy Mission smaller states are performing much better than larger states. The area that grabs my attention is literacy rates amongst women.

        My Argument: Small states seem to have better literacy rates when it comes to women.  It reflects that a key government portfolio is being delivered more efficiently if the state is smaller. Can we extend this to other indicators? Maybe or maybe not. At the risk of sounding radical, literacy and women’s literacy are good enough reasons to start creating smaller states.

      • Sate Per Capita Domestic Product
        Data is not readily and uniformly available on Per Capita domestic product (maybe I was looking in the wrong places). I will present two graphs based on Government of India data for 2009 (data downloaded with some difficulty).
        Source: MOSPI.gov.in [India in figures - 2009]

        My Argument: If this economic indicator is to be believed, smaller states are doing better economically (at least on a per capita scale). We can find case specific reasons for each small state and why they are where they are in these rankings. However, the fact remains, that citizens in small states appear to be doing better than the larger ones. Again, an argument in favor of small states. 

      • Urbanization of India
        Over 28% of India now lives in its cities.By 2030 this number will be close to 40% (source: EPW Vol 48, 2009).
        It is not just the metros that are bursting at the seams. Like metros, towns and cities across the country have grown. What was a large town 50 years ago is now a sprawling city. Many of these cities have remained underdeveloped.
        My Argument: Infrastructure infusion into capital cities in new and smaller states will ease the burden on Metro cities in the country.There will be a multiplier effect around these cities that will give a better geographic spread to development.
      When I began this post, I was convinced that Small states would not work well. What data I found says I may be wrong. I am confident, based on what I have read in the last two days, that most development indicators will be better in smaller states. Maybe this question deserves some serious thought. If the division of states happens based on regional developmental goals and not feudal family structures, I think we should invest in the shift.

      Saturday, 28 November 2009

      Letting CAT2009 out of the bag (and 40 Million USD in outsourcing)

      I have some serious problems with the way IIM has been restructuring entrance tests. The fiasco on the first day of the computerized CAT 2009 (Common Admission Test) proves that there is some substance in these fears.
      • 40 Million Dollar outsourcing contract to Prometric
        40 million dollars is not small change for IIM or Prometric. It’s well above 160 Crore Rupees.  The contract includes creating the tests and every other step in the testing process. The value of the deal was a surprise to me. [Promteric is an American company who's presence in India has been limited to certification for professionals wanting to work in the US and in delivering the GMAT and similar examinations to Indian students wanting to study in America.]
      • The Model
        Based on my understanding, Prometric has testing centres which are operated by agents/franchisees.Example of list of centres (look for the word "franchisee").

        The model will call upon franchisees to run testing centres. Unless the checks and balances are very tight, cheating may become possible. Run a google search for GMAT and cheating and you will see that there are weak links in the chain.
      • Computerization creates an uneven playing field
        A vast majority of Indians did not have the privileged upbringing that I did. A computer is still a distant luxury. One class of students may have an unfair advantage in terms of familiarity and access to technology. This in-turn helps them in preparation. To use an analogy from sports, many Indian sportsmen are unable to compete at an international level because of a lack of basic training infrastructure. Are we handicapping a group of students in this rat race by moving to a computerized model. Is there a cultural bias here?

      • Right to Information
        The contract between Prometric and the IIMs is not in the Public Domain. Considering that IIMs are a Government supported institution this is odd. A recent RTI application to IIM-A by an RTI enthusiast was shot down. I can imagine that there could be a few confidential clauses like the location of “test engines” but these could be blacked out. Transparency is obviously not something that the IIM’s are keen on. The RTI application is now with the CIC.
      • An NDA with candidates
        There are noises on the web that candidates appearing for the test are signing an NDA. What this NDA says is that the students cannot discuss questions and question patterns with anyone. This throws water on the concept of collective learning and learning through other peoples experiences. Of greater concern is the fact that, despite having a contract valued at 40 Million USD, IIM is not able to get Pro-metric to develop a question bank large enough to avoid a need for a NDA. To put it crudely, what they are saying is, we have a limited number of questions..... so please do not tell anybody else what we asked you. Why pay them so much then?

      • Outsourcing a key competency?
        You don't have to be an IIM-grad to know that key competencies should not be outsourced. IIM has done well because it has been able to select bright candidates. It has paid a lot of attention to the quality of questions and patterns of questions in the paper. I can understand outsourcing the exercise of conducting the exam, but why outsource the task of building the test database? That should be done in-house even if it requires investment. (Note: I have never been a fan of the CAT model - I am an "essay" type and not "multiple choice").

      • Cultural Bias?
        GMAT has had a cultural bias. However, that is fair, since it is meant for Admission to American Schools and the majority of the test takers are American. No complaints there. However, I wonder if they will be able to ensure that they avoid this cultural bias when they are producing questions for Indian students. For example many Indian students who appear for CAT would have studied in a vernacular medium and the vocabulary used in the questions has to take this into account. I hope Prometric and IIM have factored this bias into their contract.

      • Incomplete Model?
        Since CAT results act as cut-off for the interviews, the Model is incomplete. Prometric's American clients, for example, call for exhaustive essays from candidates. These essays are used in conjunction with test scores to judge whether or not a candidate is suitable for admission. In the IIM scenario, there is too much emphasis on the CAT scores and too little emphasis on other aspects that are unlikely to come out in a group discussion or a quick fire personal interview. 
      In a nutshell, a) I think IIM has to be far more transparent about it's relationship with vendors for CAT excercise b) I am not convinced that the tests and computerized model is unbiased to under-privileged applicants c) The admission process needs to include more qualitative checks.
        Disclosure -

        Sour Grapes? I admit I have never been a fan of IIMs. In 2003-4 I attended an interview for IIM-Indore and the questions were right out of a "dummies guide to intervieweing". I attended the interview and the exam at the insistence of family. In 2007 a colleague at an MNC that I worked for said that I was suffering from a "sour grapes" complex when it came to the IIMs. So I went ahead and registered with IIM-A for an MDP. At the end of the programme, my opinion had not changed one bit. They are good but nowhere near great.

        Thursday, 26 November 2009

        A Reminder of 26/11 – Sponsored by the media

        Update: Based on comments and messages recieved
        I am not wearing a badge, armband or ribbon to commemorate 26/11. I don't believe I need to. My way of commemorating the civilian victims is to condemn the people who want to commoditise the memory of 26/11. I condemn every other act of terrorism and war. This piece is based on the opinion that a) I don't need to wear anything on my sleeve to prove that I care b) I believe (contrary to Vir Sanghvi in this post) that media will not learn its lessons c) We cannot chose to calibrate our rage based on the social status of the victims (terrorism is terrorism irrespective who the victim is or isn't)

        The best way to forget the significance and meaning of 26/11 is to follow the directions of the media and their corporate sponsors. Here are some of the instructions.

        • We should switch to a specific cellular provider and talk non-stop for an hour on their network so that they can donate the proceeds. Pardon the predictable cliché but “What an Idea!”. @#$%?
        • Idea's Mascot is also advertising for a two-minutes of silence on the same channel that is airing the Idea commercial. (Mr Bachan Jr - Do you want me to talk or shut-up. Make up your mind please)
        • We must buy exclusive designer accessories that commemorate 26/11.
        • We must listen to what the Cuffe Parade brigade has to say about 26/11 because they represent all Indians.
        • We must recognize that 26/11 was different. And it was not different because of what the terrorists did but because of who the victims were.
        • We must put on our joggers and run in memory of the victims…lest we forget.
        • We must beat our chests and demand that we drop bombs on our neighbors so that we can start an endless war and put somebody else’s children at risk.
        • We should not talk about Commando Gajendra Singh who was compromised by live coverage. Let’s focus and aggravate the wounds of the weeping widows who can give nice sound bytes.
        • I must believe that constables armed with automatic weapons is a solution because a Shobha De or a Suhail Seth says so. We must follow the Isreali example!??! (#arnabforpm like statements)
        • I must not analyze how a bunch of people whom Regan called freedom-fighters were armed, trained and then allowed to hold the world to ransom. (From Robert Fisk)
        • If I see a bunch of Muslims condemning the attacks, I must say “See, THEY TOO are angry”. That way we can all claim that we are secular. If you do not use nationalist jingoism and meaningless rhetoric, you are, as Simi Grewal would say “one of them”. (Why does a community have to feel compelled to make a public display of condemnation ?#$%)

        Unfortunately the media can-not make me forget that-
        • The fourth estate in India was born out of a freedom movement and not out of an effort to generate profit by trading information. (Inspired by P Sainath)
        • I, like every other peace loving citizen in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and every other country in the world felt that 26/11 was a barbaric act. No matter what anyone says we will not forget such disasters. We do not need a sponsored reminder.
        • We do not need a "sponsored", "packaged", "commoditised" reminder of 26/11.  The collective memory of this nation is strong enough. Please do not profiteer from this tragedy.

        Saturday, 14 November 2009

        An Open Letter to Prannoy Roy (another rant on the Media)

        Dear Mr Roy

        At the outset I must place on record that you and Appan Menon have done more for the media than most others. Appan Menon was my favourite journalist and he had the potential of becoming one of the greatest journalists that South Asia has produced. Fate unfortunately had different designs. You were able to catalyse radical change in India. You changed the media because both you and Appan Menon were brutally honest. “Those were the days” as far as Indian broadcasting is concerned.

        I cannot understand how and where NDTV compromised on the honesty quotient. I understand that the “free-market” does impose restrictions. Your listing on the bourses has meant that investors are a more important stakeholder in the business than your viewers. Your expansion into areas such as advertising (NDTV Media) and lifestyle programming (NDTV Good Times) does pose a lot of restrictions on your ability to critique institutions that use these two vehicles. It must be difficult to prevent an incestuous relationship between some of these companies.

        I appreciate that there is no need to make a public admission around the dilution of values. You must have found a conveniently rationalized answer to the challenges that competition and free-market have brought to NDTV’s doorstep.

        As a viewer however I must confess that there is much to be desired. Allow me to place before you the most obvious of examples
        • NDTV regularly runs stories on Infosys. You do not disclose that Narayanamurthy is an independent director on your board.
        • You stooped to astro-turfing when you chose to use the world’s largest auto-manufacturer as a sponsor for NDTV Greenathon. 
        • Your crew crossed some moral and ethical line in journalism during their coverage of 26/11. 
        • The biased coverage of the Afzal Guru case raises a whole set of questions, especially around your willingness to send a man to the gallows without a fair trial. There are numerous other examples of your studio's obsession with kangaroo trials where anchors get to play judge, jury and prosecution.
        • NDTV has been willing to paint some of the most democratic movements in this country in the same paint as extremists (read naxal). What’s amusing is that you do this on shows that run advertisements for companies that these democratic movements oppose.
        One can rationalize a defence for every single one of the above examples. The fact of the matter will remain that there is some truth in each of the examples.

        May I suggest that you ask your team some tough questions. I think it is time that you brought the journalism that NDTV is known for back on track and left the entertainment to bollywood.


        Thursday, 5 November 2009

        Urban Activists and Their Double Standards

        A discussion group dedicated to one of the most elite neighborhoods in the country has been rife with discussion about a land grab. An order by the Supreme Court to preserve a piece of lung-space has been circumvented by the state government and the property has been transferred to the person who has the property titles to the land.

        I appreciate and laud the efforts of these citizen activists who are democratically and legally waging a battle against the transfer of this lung space back to private hands.

        These very same urban activists however call me a leftie or socialist when I say that the transfer of tribal land to the private sector is a similar issue. I find it amazing that some of the richest citizens in Bangalore could be so thick-skinned about how similar these issues are. When a land grab affects them directly it is an issue about environment. When a land grab does not impact them directly or indirectly it is encouraged as a necessary developmental sacrifice.

        This very same discussion group recently had a thread related to how villagers near the Agra Lake area in Bangalore were forcing their way into a traditional burial ground and about how it was making life uncomfortable for the residents of nearby apartment blocks. Here again I was surprised with the tone in which the person who started the thread felt that the residents had a legal right to block the grave yard, construct on the grave yard and literally dance on graves. The lack of sensitivity to the rights of the villagers who are being displaced by the rapid development of Bangalore is embarrassing to citizens like myself.

        Another discussion on the same list was related to how slums were coming up in the HSR layout area. The area is being developed rapidly and population levels are fairly high. On the one-hand, residents need the labor from these slums. They refuse to pay wages that would provide them with quality housing. On the other hand, they claim rights as tax payers to evict these slum dwellers. They fail to realize that the insanitary conditions in which they live is directly related to the level of wages that the people of HSR pay the residents of these very slums.

        This divide between urban upper middle class India and the rest of India is worrying. The dichotomy in their perspectives is pure hypocrisy.

        Saturday, 31 October 2009

        The Broadcasting Media in India – Willing captains to Bush Apologists?

        Bush Apologists have found a new offensive ally amongst the Anchors of Indian Media. The Hindustan Times Leadership Summit was where George W Bush received a standing ovation from the Indian media.

        CNNIBN's Sagarika Ghose thinks Bush is “charming” and can break the ice with his humour. I do not think that the people of “Eyeraq” share this “charming” opinion of George W Bush. Could we please stop dancing on the graves of the civilians killed in Bush’s wars?

        We have an entire audience giving Bush a standing ovation. I did not listen to his speech. I will admit that I did see updates from Indian Media’s twitteratti. In my opinion, the most important part of his speech (irrespective of what he said or did not say) was that he got a standing ovation and it was led by the English broadcasting media.

        The people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder and clapped for Bush are the very same people who are glorifying a Home Minister who is about to launch an armed offensive in his country. An offensive that ignores the vast amounts of grey in between the black and white of a Corporatist Policy and the armed ideology of the Naxals. These apologists for Bush are quick to paint a Medha Patkar as anti-democratic. Bush the hero and Patkar the enemy. This endorsement of corporatist policy that has aggression as its foundation is worrying. 

        The apologists (in Indian Broadcasting media) are more than happy to share a glass of wine and a laugh with the worst terrorist to have graced this earth since Adolf Hitler. Bush sold his nation’s soul to the Lockheed Martins and Raytheons. Are we supposed to give him a standing ovation and excuse his tyranny? Are we to empathize with him because he could not construct a sentence in his own mother tongue? Are we supposed to laugh at the fact that Americans consider him illiterate? Is that a charming joke?

        The questions, as one journalist (thankfully) pointed out, were soft. I would like to be more honest and blunt. The hand-picked questions were intended to establish that George W Bush was the best thing that happened to India.Nobody has the courage to pin George W Bush for his genocide in Iraq.

        There is no shock and no awe. What little credibility the English Broadcasting media had left in my books has now been flushed down the toilet.

        Thursday, 29 October 2009

        BJP - Going Downhill in Karnataka as well

        It has barely been a few weeks since Karnataka was ravaged by a “10,000 year flood”. Rehabilitation and reconstruction operations should have been on in full swing under the supervision of the Chief Minister and his office. In true BJP fashion, the Chief Minister finds himself embroiled in a power struggle with a faction within his own party. Ministers are being courted by both sides and a deadline has been set for resolution. Only the BJP is capable of landing itself in such an ugly mess while completely ignoring the people who are suffering from the devastation of the floods. The indifference and lack of sensitivity on display to the urgency at hand is vulgar. The money that has been donated by many citizens towards relief work will probably now be diverted to trade donkeys within the party.

        The state of affairs in the Karnataka unit of the BJP is testimony to the fact that the BJP deserved the humiliation in the Lok Sabha elections, the bruising in Maharashtra and the wipe out in Arunachal and Harayana.

        There is a silver lining in this episode. If the BJP is unable to prevent a mutiny in Karnataka, it will be one step closer to self-destruction. Yipeee!

        Wednesday, 28 October 2009

        How the media can get in the way

        Live coverage of ...The Thana pipeline accident showed journalists, camera crews and photographers hampering rescue and clearance operations by their presence in large numbers. In the background one could hear an anchorperson in the studios asking railway officials why gas cutters had not reached the site yet.

        The above paragraph originally appeared in TheHoot.org under the Media Watch Briefs section (In the way)

        Participants in the hostage handover? (A copy of my Letter to TheHoot.org)

        This letter originally appeared @ www.thehoot.org TheHoot.org on Oct 24th 2009 [Participants in the hostage handover?]

        Dear Hoot,

        The behavior of the media in their coverage of the Atindranath Dutta release has me confused. News Channels on the one hand are protesting that the government is negotiating with terrorists. On the other hand, they were falling all over themselves to play a role in the hand-over of the hostage.

        With so many journalists present, it would have been impossible for the para-military forces to engage in a counter-offensive with the Naxals, without putting the journalists at risk. The state government had no choice but to stand by and watch as the media took the bait, hook, line and sinker from Naxals. I cannot put this down to the media being naive.

        Correspondents on the ground have been far more sensitive, intelligent and “journalistic” in their approach to stories than their counterparts in the corporate studios. This time however, these correspondents were more than willing to engage not as observers to the hostage drama but as participants in the hand-over of the hostage. There was nothing “humanitarian” about their participation. Their biggest contribution to the hostage drama was in making it impossible for the government to play hardball with the Naxalites. The Naxals did this by spoon feeding the media and keeping them one-step ahead of the government. The media was used and manipulated into weakening the government ability to engage with the Naxals. The media, in my opinion, could not have been oblivious to this. The media was more than happy to be used.

        Anand Bala
        October 23, 2009

        Checklist of things Condemned by the media

        • Condemn the Naxals (agree)
        • Condemn every single peaceful resistance movement taking place in 200 Indian districts.
        • Condemn the NGOs
        • Condemn the people who work in the NGOs
        • Condemn the activists
        • Condemn the people who read what the activists write
        • Condemn the non-violent alternatives
        • Condemn the people who come up with the alternatives
        • Condemn the poverty
        • Condemn the people who live in poverty
        • Condemn the intellectuals
        • Condemn the labour
        • Condemn the labour unions
        • Condemn the violence (agree)
        • Condemn the V schedule of the Indian constitution
        • Condemn the people who don’t condemn the violence
        • Condemn the people who don’t condemn the people who don’t condemn the violence
        Note to the media:
        • Can you please condemn yourselves while you are condemning everything else?
        • Can you please condemn the mining companies that want to violate the Indian constitution?
        • Can you please move beyond condemning and talk about issues and not personalities?

        Sunday, 11 October 2009

        Techcrunch and going to Chile (and how Americans forget history)

        I fell off my chair laughing at a piece in TechCrunch titled Chile Wants Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses, Your Tech Entrepreneurs.

        The premise of the argument is that Chile is a great place to invest. I agree with the author. But the Author totally forgets to mention America's history with Chile (Kissinger advising Pinochet on Shock Therapy). Chile has a brutal chapter in history that has been scripted by the Chicago School and American Corporate Interests. I see no reason why the piece should have been structured to make it appear that their recent history resembles a picture postcard.

        Lets look at some really funny quotes from the article -

        "But Chile does have 40% of the world’s copper, a magnificent inflation hedge."
        The last two people who shouted this from this from the top of the Military towers were Milton Friedman and General Pinochet. Chile was in Hyperinflation and the military junta brought in by the Chicago boys was killing people on the streets like they were swatting mosquitoes....to privatize the mines and wipe out local industry in the name of "structural adjustment".  When Americans start thumping their chest with those same lines, it sends a shiver down my spine.

        "To top this off, Chile is a thriving democracy with one of the most open economies in South America. In fact, if I was starting a new tech company and didn’t need to be in any particular area, I’d start it in Chile in a heartbeat"

        Chile has struggled and shed blood to put democracy back on track. The bloodshed had a lot to do with American presence. This fact is completely glossed over. Where tech companies locate these days has very little to do with democracy. It has more to do with the degree of conflict that the country is engaged in (directly and indirectly). Two examples - i) The USofA and the business of outsourced wars and ii) Israel and the high tech security industry that is bubbling over thanks to wars that their patrons are fighting in Asia. To link American enterprise with democracy is to forget history or to deny it.

        "Everyone told stories about how Chile was built by immigrants and welcomed the world’s most skilled and most oppressed"

        I wonder who this guy was speaking to? Definitely not the activists for democracy in the 70s and 80s in Chile. Except the Americans, most people have a different view of what happened after Allende was killed by the Pinochet junta. For Americans it was a perfect investment opportunity. For the people of Chile it was a disaster. They were the ones who were oppressed. To gloss over these facts like they never happened is naive.

        I do not blame the author. He had to build a case for Chile in 500 words or less for TechCrunch. He chose to focus on the potential of Chile. Fair thing to do. However, it would have been more appropriate if the author had not created an image of the past that is far from the truth.

        Saturday, 10 October 2009

        Why does the media hate moderates (and why intellectual is a bad word)

        There are several reasons behind why the Indian English Broadcasting media snaps, barks and spits at moderates. What they are doing to the moderates on the Naxal debate is exactly what their favorite spittoon the (Communist Party Politburo) does to corporates (snap, bark and bite). Here is my take on this sudden aversion to moderates.
        • The Fifth Schedule
          Moderates believe in the Indian Constitution and the Fifth Schedule of the Indian constitution which says "Tribal Land for Tribals". If the English Broadcasting media fell in line with the constitution of India, their advertisers would not be too pleased
          • Essar group spends enormous amount of money advertising for Vodafane Essar
          • Tatas spend a huge amount of money on advertising for DoCoMo, Tata Tea and Tata Motos
          • Both Essar and Tatas are asking for a quick land transfer of mines from Tribal hands to their mining companies. 
        • Cops - are they always the good guys?
          Moderates do not see a Halo on the head of every Indian policemen. Moderates, based on their own experience, understand that police are not the cleanest institution in the country and have been known to behave like feudal lords when nobody is recording. Moderates also understand that if the police are the only interface between the people and the government, it will lead to violence on both sides. For our English Broadcasting Media, the police are not even a small part of the problem, they are in fact the solution. This lens which is based on the heroics of encounter cops and our good cops who "fight the good fight" does not do justice to reality. When the moderates condemned the beheading of Francis Induvar...they were condemned as hypocrites. 
        • Middle Class Morality?
          The anchors of English Broadcasting media are no more a part of the middle class. With their ESOPs and salaries they have crossed the line into upper-class territory. This is not a bad thing. Good for them! The down-side is that they claim to represent "middle-class India". They do not have reporters covering a rural beat but send 5 reporters to cover a Fashion Week. This is best reflected in their choice of panels to discuss naxalism. They will without hesitation bring in the Bollywood crowd and Cuffe-parade brigade. These stakeholders look down at the problem and do not address it at eye-level. It can be insulting to listen to the Cuffe Brigade talk about "a need for things to get worse before they get better".

        • Moderates make the English Broadcasting media look dumb and lazy
          The moderates, by adding depth to the debate, make the reporters look dumb and riculously illiterate about the rural India. The only way to defend this illiteracy is by focusing on what they can see...the tip of the iceberg and brushing everything else under the carpet. Moderates who stand up and question become a "Naxal Sympathiser".
        The concise format of TV broadcasting prevents anchors from being able to dig deep and separate the wheat from the chaff. This however is no excuse to oversimplify a sixty year old problem that is complex and has many shades. To condemn people who are willing to look at the big picture can not be excused. It is as good as beheading open-debate.

        Friday, 9 October 2009

        Stating the Obvious (and why Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize)

        Barrack Obama managed to bag the Nobel prize for peace. As most parts of the world are still getting back on their chairs after rolling on the floor laughing, let us look at why he deserves the prize
        • His election campaign spent 730 Million Dollars!
        • He increased the number of troops in AfPak by a mere 21,000
        • He has committed to limit the number of Nuclear warheads on American soil to 1,500
        • The drone attacks that he ordered in the Swat valley have killed over 600 civilians
        • He put pressure on Palestinian representative not to peruse the Goldstone report at the UN
        • He feels IMF and World bank should have a greater role in the world economy
        • Refused to meet the Dalai Lama
        • As the commander and chief of the US army, he is the head of the largest military occupation force in the world. 
        • Except for his ability to read the word "peace" of a teleprompter, he has had very little to do with peace.
        • Obama condones torture according to Amnesty International.

        Thursday, 8 October 2009

        Why is Chidambaram Waiting? Why "announce" a counter-offensive?

        A military operation is typically strengthened if there is a surprise element. Our Home Minister has announced Operation Green Hunt well in advance and has been publicizing it with gory pictures in the Media. This "staging" period is serving a specific purpose -
        • Giving the media ample time to justify the military action. Intellectuals are being dismissed as romantics and activists are called "ant-national".
        • During the staging period, every act of the Naxals is put under the microscope by the media, further strengthening the call for military action. (Maoist violence has been a regular affair for about a year now. It is hitting the headlines with a vengeance only now.)
        • Naxals, now that they know what is happening, can dig their heels in and make sure that their arms are well stocked for the show-down. This will make it a very bloody affair.
        If Chidambaram had done this 2 weeks ago - he might not have gotten the support that he will get today. This manipulation of public opinion is very worrying.

        If Operation Greenhunt happens we will create an Iraq like situation (of chaotic civil war, death and destruction) or imitate what happened Post Operation Blue star in 1984. 

        Wednesday, 7 October 2009

        Can Red Paint Camouflage a Blood Bath? (and the Media's cry for blood)

        The signs in the media are ominous. There appears to be a “calibrated” approach to building consent for definitive and armed action against “naxals”. Operation Green Hunt is what this campaign is going to be called.

        There are several “news stories” coming together to make a military option look deceivingly inevitable. The government may end up biting of more than it can chew (for the wrong reasons) and worse, create an even bigger problem.  The Naxal problem is being painted red in the hope that it will camouflage a bloodbath by both the government and the Naxals.

        The first coat of Red Paint is the “Chinese Threat”. The media is hyperventilating about Chinese incursions. The perception in the mainstream English media is that China is showing signs of threatening India’s sovereignty. The screams (which sound like birthing pains when they come from Arnab Goswami) are proving to be baseless and nothing more than a disguised sales pitch for increased defence expenditure for our borders with China. The media’s response and the muted denial of the Indian government is the first coat of “Red” paint that we are looking at. Fox-news would have been proud of some our Journos and analysts.

        The second coat of red-paint is a beautiful bluff. Arcelor Mittal has threathened the government of Orissa that it would pull out of a 20 billion dollar project in Orissa unless Land Acquisition was hastened. The reason why land acquisition is progressing at such a slow place for the project is that there is resistance at the grass-roots. The people do not want to hand over their land and the Government cannot categorically show that the plant in question is a “public-purpose”. In such a backdrop, there is a fair reason for the delay under Indian law. Arcelor Mittal seems to think land for their company is an enshrined fundamental right in the Indian constitution. Rather than call the bluff, and request the company to take a hike, the Government is taking a rather subservient stance. It has said it will catalyse the land transfer. The second coat of Red Paint is now in place and the “markets” are beginning to see a beautiful shade of “Red” in driving away investment.

        All we need now is some red polish to finish the job. This is done by changing the goal posts. You change the goals posts by changing the focus of the debate from the cruel and lopsided nature of development policies over the last 50 years. Instead you bring into sharp focus Naxal violence and display it once you have been able to gloss-over the context. It is easier to whip up anger over the beheading of a cop than it is to get the urban Indians angry about the horrific infant mortality rates in rural India. The dysfunctional analysis lumps a violent INDIAN grassroots resistance with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Al Qaeda. Once you force urban India to link Naxal Violence with Mumbai Terror attacks….building consent for military action will become easier. All you need now is some hot air for the paint to dry. Indian media houses have an abundant supply of hot air. This is best seen in the way any intelligent debate is shot down with language such as “Romanticizing Naxalism” and “Intellectual Sympathisers”. By blocking of reasonable debate, you are left with hot air statements like “Naxalism is an attack on Indian sovereignty”.

        Once dried, we will have a backdrop of red-paint and any blood-bath led by 70,000 para-military forces can be easily camouflaged, rationalized and sponsored with ad-spots on the 10PM news shows.

        A key dramatic element that unfolded before the war on Iraq was Collin Powell and his infamous vial of Anthrax at the UN (and we thought Gadaffi was a raving lunatic). I will not be surprised if we see a similar dramatic plea in the “Indian war on terror”. Get ready to see little red books of Chairman Mao (or some such stupid equivalent) translated into Hindi as being clinching evidence of Chinese financial aid to the Maoists.

        If the government decides to use the might of the Indian army, we will be inviting a civil a war. The red-paint may temporarily camouflage the blood-bath but it will not take long before the violence starts to affect the urban cities that seem to be disconnected from the rest of the country. Every name in the body count has been and will be an Indian citizen.

        On a side-note this paragraph from a book I am currently reading sums up what the media is doing with Naxal debate very well.
        "For "terrorists", read "guerillas" or – as President Ronald Reagan would call them in the years to come – "freedom fighters". Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists. In the Middle East, in the entire Muslim world, this word would become a plague, a meaningless punctuation mark in all our lives, a full stop erected to finish all discussion of injustice, constructed as a wall by Russian, Americans, Israelis, British, Pakistanis, Saudis, Turks, to shut us up. Who would ever say a word in favour of terrorists? What cause could justify terror? So our enemies are always "terrorists." In the seventeenth century, governments used "heretic" in much the same way, to end all dialogue, to prescribe obedience. Karmal’s policy was simple: you are either with us or against us. For decades, I have listened to this dangerous equation, uttered by capitalist and communist, presidents and prime ministers, generals and intelligence officers and, of course, newspaper editors."
        -- Robert Fisk, Page 74, The Great War For Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East"

        Tuesday, 6 October 2009

        Operation Green Hunt - The Indian version of Shock Therapy

        70,000 paramilitary forces are about to enter the poorest districts in India. The excuse for this march of troops is a Maoist Rebellion. Are we on the verge of a civil war that pit's urban India against the poorest citizens of this country? Citizens who have been at the wrong end of the development continuum? Citizens who's land is now coveted because they contain mineral wealth? The answer appears to be "yes".

        The government is taking millions of their poorest citizens and putting them in the same basket that they put Al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists. This incorrect and outrageous re-labelling gives the Government the license to use military grade force on it’s own citizens. Once you get rid of these citizens you can transfer land from tribals and the forests to the mining company who’s share-holders are the first citizens of the liberalized and globalized world. The free-market will take control of all the “affected” districts. The Government will wipe out as much poverty as it can by wiping out as many civilians as it can.

        Lakshmi Mittal has issued a threat to the Orissa government. He has said the he will pull out of a Twenty Billion Dollar investment unless the land acquisition is not “hurried-up”. If the Indian government was looking for an overt and corporate approval for Operation Green Hunt to place at the door-step of the first world, Lakshmi Mittal conveniently stepped in to provide it for them. Mr Mittal will not only get the land and mines but will also get a guarantee that others will be scared into submission to object to the land grab. Needless to say there will be a lot of bloodshed. Civilians will die, paramilitary forces will die and naxals will die. The mining company’s profits will rise. Lakshmi Mitall’s bluff is exactly what the media wants to hear to justify operation Green Hunt. 

        We have a Home Minister who has represented Enron in India in his capacity as a Harvard educated lawyer. He has held office with one of the largest mining conglomerates. A conglomerate, who’s subsidiaries receive some of the largest and most coveted mining concessions. We have this man deciding to send in our troops to kill our own people. Both Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush would have been proud of this strategy if they were the authors.

        Operation Green Hunt will have many of the ingredients of “shock and awe”. The porn stars of India Media will be “embedded” with the para-military forces. We will see a live telecast of genocide that will be inconceivably rationalized and justified by the media. Do not be surprised if you see a TATA TEA advertisement promoting “Jaago Re” as the civil war in Chattisgarh unfolds. As these events takes place in India and on TV screens in our living rooms – we will see laws being re-written. These laws will further alienate people from their lands. It will be India’s highest dose of Shock Therapy to date.

        The unfortunate reality is that we are on the brink of a civil war. The smoke screen of a civil war is what the disaster capitalists create to change the laws of the land and transfer wealth and resources to shareholders and away from citizens. Bolivia, Chilie, Argentina, Poland and Russia all suffered under this mode of capitalism. There was a difference, they were sold-out by the world-bank and were under dictatorships. We are doing it under a democratically elected government.

        Monday, 5 October 2009

        The Iraq Playbook - New Delhi's Surveillance Plans

        If the SiliconIndia.com website is to be believed, then "BOSCH may provide security systems for commonwealth games"

        Surveillance is supposedly at the heart of counter-terrorist operations. I wonder what they are doing by outsourcing basic surveillance? This move to get the private sector involved in what should be a primary government responsibility is right out of the Iraqi playbook of American Disaster Capitalism.

        It appears that BOSCH already provides security systems for the Mumbai Airport.

        The question is, do they just provide the camera equipment and wiring - which is okay or do they go further in manning the cameras, defining the locations and controlling what is and what is not recorded? If they are doing more than supplying equipment I want to know how they can be held accountable in case the government (post-facto) says - "BOSCH was supposed to provide us with the information through their surveillance".

        While this may seem trivial, this is exactly how the Disaster Capitalists Complex worked following the invasion of Iraq. Gunmen are paid by the hour and hired by the truckload as part of "surveillance measures". It started with the purchase of "security equipment" from American and Israeli companies.

        I am not comfortable with the private sector getting a role in the surveillance of our public spaces. That should be the government's job.

        A media that is obsessed with terror did not pick up the story. The article that I read - devotes more times to "market size" of security and BOSCH's revenues through security than anything else. No mention of experience other than some name-dropping and no analysis of how this will reduce the threat of terror.

        Sunday, 4 October 2009

        Condeming Violence (and getting neatly labelled in the process)

        Condemning violence is becoming problematic these days. If you condemn violence against women and terror strikes, people will nod their heads in agreement. It is when you start condemning other forms of violence as well that you start getting some interesting responses. Here is a list some of the labels that I have been given by acquaintances and close friends over the last few months.

        • Romantic (because you condemn the violence of in-equitable development)
        • Maoist sympathizer (because you condemn the use of force by the government to evict people from their homes in tribal districts)
        • Marxist (Because you condemn the use of 60,000 mercenaries in Iraq by the US government)
        • Leftist (Because you condemn the violence of imperialism)
        • Communist (Because you wave the facts around the death of 4 million people at the hands of US troops in the last 60 years)
        • "Socialist Type" (because you criticize the violence of water privatization)
        • Capitalist (Because you condemn the violence of Maoists)
        • Anti-National (Because you condemn the militarization of Kashmir, North East and the death of Pakistani Civilians in US Drone strikes)
        • Atheist (Because you condemn the violence of religion)
        • Environmental Extremist (Because you condemn the violence of corporate greed)
        • Activist (Because you condemn violence against Dalits)
        • Terrorist Sympathizer (Because you condemn the violence of Israel against Palestine)
        • Conspiracy Theorist (Because you condemn the media for spreading hate)
        • Jihadist (Because you condemn the violence of America)
        • Hypocrite (still trying to figure this one out)
        Violence seems to have two categories or buckets. Popular violence and Unpopular violence.

        Popular violence is the kind of violence that we support and excuse.Violence that does not affect us directly but seems to benefit us tangibly or intangibly. This sort of violence typically
        • Preys on fear created by the media (e.g. fake encounter killings), 
        • Appeals to national jingoism (lets wait for the SWAT Valley to self destruct) 
        • Provides for a larger corporate presence in the country (mining concessions are more important than people who live in those areas). 
        • A sure give-away that the violence is "popular violence" will be the over-whelming support that it will receive from the media (Iraq war).

        Unpopular violence is the violence that has typically affected somebody we know or violence that we have been witness to. Daily example of "unpopular violence" include the violence against women or the violence of alcohol abuse or the violence of terror strikes on Indian soil.

        I find it amusing that people condemn violence vehemently but can be selective about the violence that they condemn at the same time.

        I am getting used to the labels. Violence, irrespective of which bucket it falls in, needs to be condemned.

        Thursday, 1 October 2009

        Jeffery Sachs: The First Son of Disaster Capitalism on Climate Change

        Milton Friedman was the father of contemporary disaster capitalism and the ideologue behind capitalist genocides post 1970. If he is the undisputed father than Jeffrey Sachs is the leading contender for the title of "first son". Sachs has successfully driven hundreds of thousands of people into the depths of poverty based on his agenda of structural reform in Bolivia, Poland and Russia. He man is now getting interested in the Copenhagen conference on Climate Change. The likes of Jeffery Sachs thrive in a crisis and find the most innovative ways of manufacturing and profiteering in a crisis. Their area of super-specialization is to bring a country to it's knees by forcing it to sell their assets and waiting for the coffers to get drained before stepping in with reforms that drive the country to poverty. Sachs, after killing democracy in Russia,  is now wearing a halo and talking about poverty, famine and climate change.

        His article in today's Hindu - We need action, not Kyoto II - sent a shiver down my spine. If Iraq was a disaster capitalism success story than the climate crisis is tailor made for Sachs and Chicago Boys. The crisis will be the playground from which Sachs can wrest the title of successor to Milton Friedman.

        This paragraph in the article is very revealing -

        The climate issue is too complicated to swallow in one gulp, as was tried in Kyoto in 1997. This invites a toothless agreement that could be more posturing than progress. We should think about the component parts of real progress, and then insist on practical policies by all major players, even as the legal framework is hammered out for later signature. There is still time for a three-part package: a political framework, a financing package, and a series of practical steps announced by all major regions to tilt the trajectory on emissions.
        When a disaster capitalist like Sachs who evangelizes the shock doctrine uses the term "political framework" it translates to killing democracy (Russia, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Poland) and butchering any opposition (preferably with a bloodbath). When he uses the words "major players" he refers ONLY to MNCs that profiteer based on his work.

        When somebody like Sachs talks about a "financing package" it will mean removing the safety nets for the poorest of the poor in the globe and providing taxation benefits to the largest corporates. It will mean creating a free market for common property resources and putting a permissible price tag to corporate pollution rather than treat it as a crime.

        Sach's "Practical Policies" led to the rise of the Oligarchs in Russia, an invasion of Chechnya, a doubling of the suicide rate, the destruction of the parliament building and immunity for businessmen and politicians from being prosecuted for corruption. How practical is that?

        Based on Sach's track record around "Practical Policies", "Political Framework" and "Financial Packages it is obvious that the disaster capitalists are going to tax sub-saharan Africa and other poor countries while encouraging the increase of consumption in the first-world. They will find a way to make it look "fair" by inventing a way to trade "carbon" (read "trade" as "I pollute and you pay").

        The fact that the article is bereft of any mention of the contribution that his country makes to global pollution is conspicuous.His call for an interim agreement will be the cornerstone argument adopted by the Americans in ensuring that a concrete settlement remains elusive. The only agreement acceptable to the disaster capitalists of this world will be a scenario where the First World can continue to create war, destabilize nations and steal their wealth either overtly or covertly. Such an agreement will be readily signed by Obama (even without a tele-prompter).

        In my opinion, the best way to begin the Copenhagen Summit would be to burn an effigy of Jeffery Sachs and Milton Friedman. We should ensure that the IMFs, World Banks, WTOs and Halliburtons of this world have nothing to do with deciding the fate of our environment. We should also ensure that America has no space on the negotiating table. Their only mandate should be to comply. They lost their participatory rights the day they set foot in Vietnam.

        We should ask for a complete retreat of all US troops to their barracks. America and Europe should be taxed for the environmental damage that they have caused over the last seventy years. Americans must be severely taxed to prevent any escalation of their destructively consumptive patterns. Any failure to comply should be dealt with in the same way that they dealt with Iraq. Bomb all the factories, bridges, hospitals, electricity plants and water treatment facilities on US soil. Once the corporatist structure of the US economy lies in ruins one will be able to see the world bloom and the environment begin to heal itself. Somebody has to tell Mr Sachs that Copenhagen is not about American Imperialism or economics. (...it is about the environment stupid!)

        PS- Unlike some of us, the media still has their head where the sun does not shine. The media will go to any length to promote Sachs and his policies. The media continues to manufacture consent for people like Sachs who have so much of blood on their hands.

        Tuesday, 29 September 2009

        Remember Yeltsin? (and understanding the root of the Naxal violence)

        When the democratically elected parliament of Russia was attacked by tanks and burnt black by Boris Yeltsin, the western media labeled it as a victory for democracy. The country's oil and gas could be sold to Oligarchs who were owned by western businesses in a free-market. The rest of Russia went to hell.

        In India, about 800 million people still live on less than a dollar a day. A vast proportion of this country is surrounded by abject poverty. These people are also sitting on natural resources like forests and mines. Poverty is a form of violence. Forgetting that these people have been at the receiving end of the poverty of violence is stupidity. To look at them as if they are the aggressors is putting the cart before the horse.

        We need to understand that the mining conglomerates and Indian chaebols like Tata  are waiting on the sidelines and salivating at the prospect of receiving the land which these people protect and live on. It is these companies that will benefit when Yeltsineqeue democracy triumphs by killing and evicting the residents off their own land.

        Yeltsin's "democratic" moves ensured the democracy was nipped in the bud. The "freemarket" bought the countries natural resources at throw-away prices and a vast population in Russia slipped into poverty as mines and oilfields changed hands.

        The "democratic" march of Indian armed forces into vast areas of this country where the administration has no control has a simple lesson. Democracy has failed these people and continues to fail them.

        Azadi! Azadi! - Democracy, the Indian Army and Kashmir

        I came across this paragraph in the article titled "Is Democracy Melting?" by Arundhati Roy.
        The war in the Kashmir valley is almost 20 years old now, and has claimed about 70,000 lives. Tens of thousands have been tortured, several thousand have "disappeared," women have been raped, tens of thousands widowed. Half a million Indian troops patrol the Kashmir valley, making it the most militarized zone in the world. (The United States had about 165,000 active-duty troops in Iraq at the height of its occupation.) The Indian Army now claims that it has, for the most part, crushed militancy in Kashmir. Perhaps that's true. But does military domination mean victory? 

        The comparison with Iraq is a cruel reality. What will it take for the the "democratic" government in India to come good on it's commitment to the United Nations to conduct a plebiscite in Kashmir?

        The media as usual is silent about key issues that affect Kashmir. This includes and is not limited to the overwhelming presence of the military.

        On a relevant side note, as India embarks in it's next phase of "auctioning" of the country's assets, Kashmir could possibly serve as the distraction that the private sector needs before digging their hands into what has been built using common property resources and tax payer money.

        Wednesday, 23 September 2009

        An Interview with Robert Fisk

        Unfortunately I have still not been able to lay my hands on Robert Fisk's book "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East". I hope to get a copy soon though. It has been recommended by several people.

        Fisk is recognized as one of the great journalists of our time. [You can read some of Robert Fisk's articles here]. Unfortunately there are few like him in Indian media (P Sainath being one). Journalists with potential are being eaten up by the system. You can not expect much when some of the largest media houses own equally large advertising businesses. An unsanitised version of the truth may be offensive to their advertisers and might upset the incestuous relationship that corporates and the media share.

        If the following interview with Fisk about the book (and other things) is anything to go by, I can not wait to get my hand's on a copy.

        Tuesday, 22 September 2009

        The Goldstone Report Summary (and an excercie is précis writing)

        The media is India is largely silent on the Goldstone report and is obsessing over Twitter, a war with China and nuclear weapons. Since the media in India chooses to ignore the report and not talk about the middle east, I thought I would make it easier for our journalists who believe that news comes in 140 characters or less. Here is my attempt at a summary.

        Most people around the world were shocked by the actions of the Israeli Government in December 2008 and January 2009. The military attack on the civilians of Gaza happened after a three year "blockade" of Gaza. Another ingredient (but not equal ingredient) in the escalation was repeated rocket attacks by militant groups in Gaza on civilians in Israel. The Goldstone Report is the report of the mission headed by Justice Goldstone and appointed by the UNHRC to look into the entire episode. The report was published in mid-September. [Full version of the Goldstone Report]

        Disclosure -
        • I do not claim to have read the report word-for-word but I have looked at what I would think are the key sections (and that is a lot of reading).
        • The content and intent of this report needs to be discussed by the common-man (aam-admi) in India and in every developing country in the world. 
        • The finding of the report are emblematic of the length and extent to which a “modern” and “democratic” government will go to grab what is not theirs based on a false sense of insecurity.
        My summary (and this will be a long one)
        "both the Israelis and the Palestinians share a secret fear – for some, a belief – that each has no intention of accepting the other’s right to a country of their own."

        1. Casualties
        • Israeli Casualties (13 Israeli citizens killed in the entire episode)
          • 3 civilians in Southern Israel
          • 10 soldiers
            • 1 soldier in southern Isreal
            • 9 Soldiers killed in fighting inside Gaza
              •  4 of these soldiers were killed in friendly fire

        • Number of Palestinians Killed – (Varies based on the source)
          • 1,387 to 1,417 (Goldstone Estimate)
          • 1,417 (Gaza Authorities)
          • 1,166 (Israeli Government)
          • If we take the lower end of the Goldstone Estimate, for every one Israeli casualty 106 Palestinians lost their lives.
        2. Basis of the report
        • 188 interviews with people, 300 reports and documents and over 1200 photos and public hearings in Gaza and Geneva (permission for such hearings in Israel and West Bank was denied.
        • The report does not hesitate in stating that Israel authorities refused to co-operate with the mission
        • There were restrictions based on the mission by Israeli authorities.

        3. Root Cause Analysis
        • The blockade of Gaza by Israel was at the root of the problem. Preventing the free movement of people and blocking the movement of essential goods (e.g fuel, food and healthcare) into Gaza was a key cause to the crisis.
        • The demolition of homes, forcing the separation of the people of Gaza and West Bank also contributed to the escalation.
        4. Police Deaths
        • Within the “first few minutes” of the operation in Gaza [on Dec 27 2008] 99 Policemen in Gaza were killed across six police facilities.
        • By the end of military attack 240 policemen representing a sixth of the police force in Gaza was killed.  
        • Israel’s rationale for this move is that the Gaza Police is part of the Palestinian Army.
        5. The “we warned you” Rationale
        • The warnings issued by the Israeli authorities comprised of pre-recorded phone messages, leaflets and light-firing on roof-tops.
        • The phone messages lacked any specifics which made them dysfunctional. The warnings urged people to move to the city-centre – which was where there were fierce gun-battles, making the instructions counter-productive. 
        • The report summarizes this by saying that the Israeli authorities did not do enough to distinguish civilians from combatants
        6. White Phosphorous
        • Israeli’s used white phosphorous bombs on the Al Quds hospital forcing a serious fire and causing the evacuation of seriously injured people.
        • There was a “reckless” use of White phosphorous in densely populated areas.
        7. Destruction of civilian targets/civilians
        • 3,354 homes compactly destroyed, 11,112 partially destroyed
        • Palestinian jail, legislature building – were civilian targets that were destroyed beyond repair
        • Two hospitals - Al Quds and Al Wafa were civilian targets that should not have been targeted. 
        • On the attack on the UN site in Gaza, the report is categorical in stating that Israel’s storyline is inconsistent, factually incorrect and filled with contradictions. 
        • There are documented instances of Israeli combatants targeting civilians who they knew were not combatants 
        • The report presents documented cases of “intentional’ Israeli attacks on civilians.
        • There was “arbitrary” killing of Palestinians. 
        • In an area already blockaded for three years, Israel targeted -
          • Chicken Farms,
          • the only flour mill in Gaza 
          • a wall to a sewage lagoon (releasing 200,000 cubic feet of sewage)
          • the only cement packaging plant
          • food and drinks factories
          • neighborhoods that did not have any combatants
        • Women and children who posed no threat to Israel ...were held in degrading conditions and without access to food, water and sanitation
        • Civilian detainees were held in sandpits and Israeli combatants took positions and were firing from inside the sand-pits. 
        • Israel strategy around the acts was based on maximum damage to civilian properties that would in-turn handicap civilian life. 
        • Thanks directly to the attacks a precarious situation of food insecurity will worsen in Gaza
        8. Use of Palestinians as human shields

        • Palestinians groups, by launching attacks from crowded areas, were exposing residents to retaliatory attacks. There is not enough evidence to completely rule out the deliberate use of civilians as human shield by Palestinians.
        • Israel too, used Palestinians as human shields when entering locations that has Palestinian combatants.
        9. Rocket Attacks on Israel
        • Since 2001 there have been over 8000 rocket attacks on Israel.
        • Starting June 2008, 3 Israeli civilians have died in the rocket
        • Of the 1000 people injured in the rocker attacks, 914 of these were injured during the Israeli Assault on Gaza (Dec and Jan)
        • 95% of the children in Serdot suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders.
        • The rocket firing by Palestinian combatants has affected the education system and violated the basic rights of the citizens in the communities most affected. 
        • The rocket attacks, according to the Goldstone report are “deliberate” and “indiscriminate” attacks on civilians and are not targeted at military assets. There only purpose is to spread terror in the civilian population.
        10. Human Rights Track Record in Israel and Palestine
        • Both the Gaza and Israel authorities have come in for sharp criticism on their ability to protect citizen’s right.
        • Neither of the two sides are doing anything to make themselves more accountable when it comes to dealing with human rights violations within areas under their control.
        • Prima facie it appears that neither side will be ready to open criminal prosecution against war criminals on their side of the border.
        11. Reparations
        • The reports puts the bill of damages in Palestine at about 1.3 billion USD. 
        • To this must be added interest, human cost and the cost to the environment.
        • 613 Million USD is required in the form of urgent and aid for rebuilding basic infrastructure.
        12. Conclusion
        • The battle in Gaza during 27 Dec 2008 and 18 Jan 2009 can-not be understood in Isolation. This battle was direct result of Israel’s policies and Human Right’s Violation that they committed against the Palestinians.
        • The “collective punishment” heaped on the Palestinians by the Israelis is unacceptable
        • The 3 year blockade that preceded Israel’s attack has already brought the people of Gaza to their knees. The blockade has forced in-human condititons on the entire population of Gaza. 
        • The continued blockade is making it almost impossible to reconstruct basic civilian facilities in Gaza. People are stilling living in rubble, without sanitation and with almost non-existent healthcare.  
        • The report finds that the attack was planned and not targeted at specific combatants but targeted at the people of Gaza.   
        • Whenever Israel used the term “supporting infrastructure” they meant the people of Gaza.
        • Attacks were aimed at crippling civilian life in Gaza and went well beyond targeting combatants
        • The Gaza authorities need to stop rocket attacks on civilians in Israel. 
        • There are victims on both sides of the border. 
        • Israelis and Palestine have no spaces to engage with each other constructively. All they have today are checkposts and gunpoints.
        • The problems between Fatah and Hamas are making the problems in the region worse. The political stakeholders need to find a constructive way of settling their differences
        • The International Community has failed to protect the civilian population of Gaza from repeated war crimes by the Israeli forces
        • Israel needs to be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity based on the attack and the blockade
        • Israel detained civilians during and before the attack. This is inconsistent with International Law. 
        • Israel can-not force the separation of the people of Gaza and the West Bank. 
        • Palestinian authorities failed to control rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel
        • Authroities in Gaza used extra-judicial instruments to tackle dissent
        • Israel remains unaccountable for it’s actions against the people of Palestine. This ensures that further military action by Israel in Gaza will remain a clear and present danger.

        My comments - 
        1. I have tried to be as neutral as possible when constructing this extract of the report. I have not touched upon issues such as the use of depleted Uranium by the Israeli forces and some of the evidence and letters that are available in the report. 
        2. If the international community does not react based on the content of this report, it will send a dangerous signal to repressive regimes across the world.
        3. The UN, based in on it's past record of looking the other war when it comes to Israel, will not be able to take any action based on the report and will not be able to prevent further atrocities by the Israeli forces. 
        4. Many parts of Asia are gripped by war and/or the fear of war. This report presents an opportunity for citizens across countries to replace war lobbyists and to build a groundswell of support for peace. Tough ask but possible.