Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, recently took a swipe at Sachin Tendulkar for saying that Mumbai belongs to India. By doing so, the Sena chief has grossly underestimated the cricket star’s iconic status. Political parties across the country have been quick to condemn Thackeray for his editorial, which not only uses cricketing metaphors to suggest that Sachin has been “run out”, but also issues a not-so-veiled threat to the star cricketer to stop him from batting against the Marathi manoos. Such utterances do not have a place in a democracy.
The Thackerays (inclusive of Shiv Sena and MNS) have been allowed to get away far too often with their 'Sons of Soil' or 'Marathi Manoos' agenda. How many times have we seen them threaten people, including celebrities, be it a Sachin Tendulkar or an Amitabh Bachchan, to appease Marathi pride. More often than not, Bal Thackeray’s targets have toed the Sena line out of fear. The Sena chief’s latest outburst – which he calls a “friendly” warning – against Sachin represents an opportunity for the Maharashtra government and mainstream political parties to unite and isolate Thackeray.
Bal Thackeray statements need to be seen in the light of the Sena’s struggle to hold on to its core constituency. Ever since his nephew Raj left the Shiv Sena to form MNS, a rival outfit, the Sena has been fast losing ground. In both the Lok Sabha and state assembly polls held earlier this year, Raj Thackeray’s MNS has seriously dented the support base of its mother organisation. The MNS has done so by stridently championing Marathi chauvinism. Its latest tactic was the attack on an MLA inside the state assembly for taking the oath of office in Hindi. A marginalised Bal Thackeray has sought to hit back by taking on India’s biggest living icon.
This game of competitive chauvinism cannot be allowed to go on. Both the Shiv Sena and MNS have struck at the very root of the idea of India and its federal character. Sachin had stated the obvious when he said that he was proud to be a Maharashtrian but he was an Indian first. For Thackeray to take umbrage at this statement shows the poverty of his politics and ideology. But then to go further and issue a warning to Sachin is clearly not on. Just as the Maharashtra assembly acted promptly to suspend the MNS legislators for taking the law into their own hands, it should also be made clear to Thackeray that he cannot write and say things that are against the Constitution and could incite violence.
These politicians should realise that Maharashtra faces a lot many problems that need immidiate attention. The state houses large numbers of poor people in the country. A majority of the state’s population is dependent on agriculture, and this sector has suffered with falling crop yields and a poor irrigation infrastructure. The result is a dependence on rainfall, and high fluctuations in output. The state has the highest numbers of farmer suicides in the country. While agriculture is suffering, the situation in urban areas is no better with crumbling basic infrastructure.
Recently, members of the MNS have reached the threshold by slapping an elected representative in the state assembly. But even that story died soon. Soon they’ll increase the heat further, and again start hurting innocent people, crossing the limits of civilised behaviour. Is that Marathi culture? MNS may have brought forward the Marathi cause but by going against almost everyone non-Marathi, it has demonstrated how little it understands the state’s dependence on the central government. Maharashtra needs central support to complete critical irrigation projects, which will cost thousands of crores of rupees. Our best shot at progress as a nation is if all states work together with a common agenda, instead of pulling in different directions. Also, by indulging in violent fights with other political parties, the MNS displays an unwillingness to get along with other interest groups. Such an attitude is impractical in a country like India. If MNS members can’t listen to people, who will listen to them? By claiming Mumbai for Marathis and calling everyone else an outsider, MNS is only harming Marathis in the long term. In today’s world, progress depends on interdependence. If global agricultural companies are incentivised and welcomed to base themselves in Maharashtra, it can dramatically alter the standard of living for Marathi farmers. Kicking everyone else out won’t. A lack of understanding of the modern world also casts doubt over MNS’s ability to actually deliver on the issues it has raised. In that respect, the recent comments by Sachin Tendulkar are commendable. It’s in India’s interest that the Thackerys, Bal and Raj, both be stumped.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
After being grounded for days, Air India staff showed that even 30,000 feet above sea level they cannot be counted on. The safety of numerous passengers travelling from Sharjah to Delhi via Lucknow was risked when four onboard crew — two pilots and two crew members — were involved in a brawl. The pilot and the steward have allegedly sustained injuries, and an airhostess has filed a case of sexual harassment against the pilots. Additional details are filtering out, some rumour, some fact: the pilot apparently had a history of bad behaviour, and he threatened to offload the entire crew in Karachi [That alone is an appalling threat :)))]. An inquiry has been ordered, but you do not need one to pass this judgment: this petty indiscipline threatened many lives, and injured the already-battered reputation of India's national carrier.
Airlines fly on their reputations for courtesy, efficiency and, above all, safety. However, the same might not be true for Air India — an airline that runs colossal losses, makes ill-thought-out acquisitions, is milked by management and its political masters, and whose pilots pretend to be ill to affect a blatantly illegal strike. This is a national carrier that is fast proving to be beyond reform. This fiasco only adds to the image of a badly-run excuse for an airline, with poor systems and unruly staff.
Air India is lethargic, ineffecient and unfit for service. AI does not deserve a bailout and it 'needs' to be grounded.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
India’s moon mission has achieved a historic first by discovering water on the lunar surface. This is being hailed as a landmark breakthrough in space science. The water divining was done by a probe sent by the US National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) as part of the many payloads carried by Chandrayaan-I. The probe’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper or M3 collected data on the presence of water on the moon. The major scientists have given all the credit to the Indian Space Research Organisation for making such a discovery possible.
Scientists confirming the presence of water on the moon are doing so on the basis of scientific findings that have been arrived at after a rigorous process of deduction and analysis – and not by actually finding lakes, pools or puddles of water that we’re familiar with on earth. The probe had access to only the top few millimetres of lunar soil, on the bright side of the moon. The water so discerned might be the equivalent of one litre, say researchers, enough to fuel hopes of finding more water as ice in the darker, unexplored parts of the moon.
Unsurprisingly, popular reaction to the finding that there are signs of water on the lunar surface is that, we see the cosmos – or those parts of the cosmos that promise water – as an extension of the earth’s real estate. However, we ought to remind ourselves that there’s more to the discovery than the science of it. The mysteries of the cosmos are far more profound than to be revealed merely to fulfil human needs. To circumscribe the scope of scientific inquiry to realms that focus only on survival of the human species would amount to limiting our own horizons of knowledge.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A man’s desires are like ripples on water, they never cease to enlarge.
In the year 1808, a precious 280 carat diamond gets stolen from an ancient Kali temple in Rajasthan, India. Two Hundred years later, in the year 2008, the diamond resurfaces in Australia. The Diamond is presently worth a staggering Ten Million Dollars. It is currently owned by a cunning millionaire, Alexander Fox, the powerful owner of Fox Ammunitions Inc, one of the biggest weapons manufacturing company in Australia.
Fox has kept the diamond in his ancestral mansion in Dubbo, Australia, where the diamond lies in a safety vault placed inside a secret underground room which is secured by a centralized computer security system and is constantly guarded by armed security guards. To steal the diamond from Fox’s ancestral mansion, KK Raina, assembles a team consisting of Ira Handrich, an amazingly beautiful computer hacker; Siddhanth Roy, an ex-Indian Air Force pilot, simultaneously battling the global economic downturn and fate to save his dying daughter; Harry D’Cruz, a brilliant safe cracker whose dreams were shattered during the 26/11 terrorist attacks in India; and Karan Singh, the inside man. The team travels to Australia in order to pull off the heist. The scene is set for an extraordinary adventure which elicits everyone’s obscurest desires.
Copyright Registered © 2009 by Ram Mishra.
In Indore, the book is available at the following stores: Reader's Paradise (Apollo Square), Sogani Books (Rajani Bhavan), Rupayan Book House.
The book is also listed on the link: http://pothi.com/pothi/book/ram-mishra-victims-desire
But once I started blogging, I realised that I can utilize my skills by venturing out into the field of professional writing. I wanted to share my ideology and thoughts with everyone. I came up with an idea of a Crime/Thriller/Mystery, developed it further and started putting my thoughts on the wordpad. And today, I'm glad to inform everyone that my first novel named, "The Victims Of Desire", in the Crime/Thriller genre, has been published and listed. On store, the book has been published and distributed by Bookworm Publishers & Distributors. In Indore, the book is available on the following stores: Readers Paradise (Apollo Square), Rupayan Book House, Sogani Books (Rajani Bhavan).
The book is also listed at the link: http://pothi.com/pothi/book/ram-mishra-victims-desire
I hope, everyone of you would appreciate my effort and support me further. Looking forward to a positive book review and feedback from each one of you once you finish reading. Buy the original book. I'm sure it's worth that. Say no to piracy. :) ... Enjoy reading the book. Take Care.
- Ram Mishra.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Swine flu has started to claim its victims in India. While there is no cause for panic – worldwide, less than 1 per cent of those infected with the H1N1 virus have died – however, in India, the lacunae way in which the government has managed the disease so far is apparent. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimating that as many as two billion people could be infected with the virus in two years, and doctors’ warning that the virus could spread faster post-monsoon, it is important that the ministry of health be ready to respond to the crisis.
As it stands, the country’s treatment protocol is lacking. The girl in Pune (the first victim who died) was initially misdiagnosed by private practitioners, which resulted in what proved to be a fatal delay in her getting proper treatment. By the time her samples were sent by the private hospital where she was being treated to the National Institute of Virology (NIV) for testing, it was too late. According to current treatment procedure, private laboratories can test for H1N1 infection, but if the test is positive, further treatment is available only at mandated government hospitals.
This should change. Private hospitals and clinics should receive training to deal with suspected cases of H1N1and if the cases are confirmed, they should be in a position to offer treatment.
The rate at which the infection is spreading makes screening at airports irrelevant. Screening is done on the basis of forms that rely on people to disclose the status of their health honestly. With the threat of a seven-day quarantine in a government hospital looming, many people might lie, thus making it useless to screen people on disembarkation. At this point, it is only burdening the system with unnecessary paperwork. Now that the virus has infected the local population, other measures have to be adopted to countermand its spread. For now, until a vaccine is available, the best safeguard is prevention by maintaining personal hygiene.
The ministry of health should concentrate its energies on ensuring that a vaccine is produced as soon as possible. The WHO has supplied seed strains of the virus to two Indian companies to manufacture the vaccine, while a third is waiting for its samples. It is unlikely that the vaccine will be available before the end of the year, by which time the pandemic could have significantly worsened. Australia has already started clinical trials and the US is soon to follow suit. India needs to ramp up production of the vaccine so it can immunise large chunks of the population. If more drug companies need to be licensed to manufacture the vaccine, the drug controller should do it.
It’s a commitment that’s taken decades to fulfil. The right to education is finally made a right of Indian children aged between six and 14. India’s literacy rate and record are abysmal, with millions denied access to elementary education. We have often argued in these columns that India’s growth story could hit a roadblock if a majority of our youth remain out of schools and are not equipped with employable skills. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha recently, could take us far in our quest for a more equitable and progressive society.
The Bill makes it incumbent on the state to provide free elementary schooling to children in their neighbourhoods. It is an ambitious undertaking, roping in private schools as well, which are supposed to reserve 25 per cent of seats at the entry level for students from disadvantaged groups. In return, the government will reimburse the private schools on the basis of what the government spends on students in its own schools. The common refrain about the poor quality of infrastructure and teaching in our schools has also been taken into account. Schools, whether private or government, will have to adhere to some common standards – have play fields, drinking water, toilets and a library as well as stick to a 1:40 teacher-student ratio.
The Bill seeks not just to guarantee elementary education but also reform the system, which has been a long time coming. It bans capitation fees, bars the screening and interviews of parents and students before admission, and makes corporal punishment unlawful. These are welcome measures.
The Bill is well-intentioned, but the question of just how it will be implemented remains. Education is a concurrent subject, which means that the Centre and states will have to collaborate. This is a potential minefield, in which we hope the project will not become a casualty. It’s time that schools are made more accountable to local civic authorities – including parents via the parentteacher associations – than being monitored by an opaque bureaucracy. Crucially, greater budgetary allotments must be earmarked for education, much more than the measly 3 per cent of GDP allocated as of now. This will help sort some of the systemic problems like poor pay for teachers, which in turn feeds absenteeism and indifference on the part of teachers. A country that has great power ambitions must be able to provide basic education and health care to all its citizens.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
During the film, I somwhere felt that it closely mirrored Rand's concept of objectivism and utopia.
The film depicts a future Britain. In this future, a party called "Norsefire" has arisen as the ruling power. "V", an anarchist revolutionary dressed in mask, begins an elaborate, violent and theatrical campaign to bring down the government. The way "V" fights against everything that he holds in disregard, serves as a faint reminder of "John Galt's" character from "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. It also had probable roots from "Howard Roark's" character from "The Fountainhead" again by Ayn Rand. At the end of the film too, the question his question of who V was, is answered by stating that he was 'everyone', resembles Atlas's motive. I would however leave further speculation to everyone else who reads the blog and recommend viewing the film. It was a 'different' film. For further analysis on Rand's two epics, you may refer my earlier post under the blog title: Interpretation of "A is A" from Atlas Shrugged - For all Purists.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
It often happens that nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it loks impossible, and then gets discouraged. It is extremely important to strike a fine balance in everything that one does and to emphasise the need to continuously look for better solutions to achieve excellence. Afterall, life isn't a straight line, it'll always have it's share of twists and turns. And there are no predefined mathematical formulas which'll solve every problem that one faces in life.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Despite all his time onstage and on air, MJ stayed remote: styled, rehearsed and choreographed. He had one of history’s largest audiences, and it never really knew him. There was no denying his talent. His ambition was seductive when he urged ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.’ He offered something to everybody on ‘Thriller,’ which may have been the most strategic crossover album to date.
MJ wasn’t just an oldschool show-business expert who could sing and dance onstage in real time; he was also more than ready for the music-video era, turning his songs into high-concept video clips. His dance moves were angular and twitchy, hinting at digital stops and starts rather than analog fluidity — except, of course, for his famous moonwalk, the image of someone striding gracefully without ever leaving centerstage. The world-beating success of ‘Thriller’ was MJ's triumph and burden. He had the sales, the Grammy Awards, the screaming audiences in every country he toured. MJ never stopped being catchy, but behind the sheen some of the songs grew darker and stranger. But, no matter how harsh some of his critics might be on his social behavior, he'll always be billed as the King of Pop.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Surely, instead of see-sawing between hope and despair each time rains play truant, India ought to deal with the problem of its monsoon-dependence scientifically. Representing around 17 per cent of India's GDP, agriculture has averaged nearly 4 per cent growth over five years. The sector was expected to buoy India's overall growth, hit by the global crisis. Manufacturing is down. Exports are down. If the monsoon does disappoint, farm production will fall at about the worst possible time. Nearly 70 per cent of Indians depend on farming. Many handling summer-sown crops like rice, soybean, sugarcane and cotton would be impacted, as also dealers in food and cash crops. Rural demand has been robust. A poor monsoon could change that. Food prices are already high. They could hit the roof. If rains are deficient, many rain-fed farms will need help in switching to less water-dependent crops. Rice-growing Orissa advises use of short duration paddy seeds.
Bihar is thinking of diesel subsidies so fields can be kept irrigated. Andhra is even mulling cloud seeding. Whatever strategies they adopt, affected states must rigorously implement the rural job guarantee scheme should farm hands need alternative employment. While buffer stocks are comfortable, proper storage to avoid wastage and corruption-free distribution need attention to ensure food security, now and as a general rule. Here's also hoping for better forecasts from India's weathermen. Irrespective of how the situation plays out, studies on monsoon patterns indicate a generally erratic and weakening trend. Yet India's output of water-intensive crops is to grow exponentially in future, implying massive groundwater depletion in wheat and rice-growing states. Managing water resources harvesting, extraction, storage or recycling can't but be top priority. Woefully inadequate irrigation infrastructure needs overhaul. India can learn a lot from technologically innovative Israel, a model of efficient water management. Consider drip irrigation, which avoids evaporation by keeping the soil moist underground. Also, power subsidies encourage waste of water. Their calibrated rollback is required, as also strict use of water meters. Finally, there's need to boost manufacturing to meet growth targets and ease dependence on agriculture. By World Bank estimates, our water demand will outstrip supply by 2020. Staving off such a scenario will require more than propitiating the rain gods.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
He prays to God, in the context of his past sanskaras : "God is the Universal Self which is eternal and has no beginning or end. He is the cause as well as the effect for the universe that is but His illusory play with Himself playing all the roles like actors on a stage. He is omnipresent, omniscient and Almighty. He is beyond speech and thought and can be realised only by the yogis who have exhausted all vasanas and steadfastly see Him in their mind's eye..." But there is no Divine response. Gajendra is distressed why the omnipresent and Almighty God who is said to come to the rescue of the destitute is not answering his prayers and has not granted darshan or given him relief. He now begins to doubt His existence. As he deeply contemplates over this, realisation occurs within him that God alone is the protector for the universe; all his doubts vanish like mist before the Sun and he entreats Him for ending his agony in a spirit of total surrender. The Supreme Lord soon appears, kills the crocodile with His Sudarshana Chakra and releases Gajendra.
Similarly, man, egoistic and proud of his power and pelf, struts about the world unmindful of God until defeat and dejection make him realise his limitations. He turns to God for instant solution to his problems and when it does not happen, he loses faith in Him. Instead of surrendering to His will and praying for relief, he specifies solutions and action plans without realising that God being Almighty and Omniscient will give relief in His chosen way.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
It is an apt observation on the BJP’s preoccupation with Hindutva and its lack of understanding of the Indian electorate. The party is now largely being led by overconfident politicians who have failed miserably in learning the correct lessons after the 2004 debacle. The latest election result should be an eye-opener for it.
Ram cannot be thought to be confined to one small area and the spirit of Ram should not be debased by politicising him to gain a narrow, political advantage. India is a pluralistic state and belongs to all Indians irrespective of colour, caste, creed or religion. The BJP must understand this. Only then can it truly aspire to provide political and social leadership to India and Indians.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Govt. should remember that any Bailout is at the expense of taxpayer's money and at the cost of some other development programme in the country. Is there a guarantee that the airlineand it's highly unionised employees will wake up to the harsh realities after any infusion of funds and run the airline professionally? I strongly feel that with the 'Chalta-Hai' attitude of it's employees, it is unlikely that any bailout plan would help Air India. And moreover, why should the common taxpayer suffer due to the neglegence of AI's officials towards mordanization and fund the travel plans of our lousy politicians and IAS officers. Hence the bailout idea should be resested by all of us.
The malaise that plagues Air India is political interference in its internal affairs. Without governmental interference, it could survive and surmount all odds. The large aircraft acquisition ordered was with the sanction of the civil aviation ministry and with the government standing surety, but now the same government has proposed pruning the order. The best solution would be to privatise the airline and free it from any government control whatsoever, not to bail it out.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
"Complacency" - There seemed to be an air of 'nothing-can-go-wrong' in the team's approach. They appeared to feel all along that the Cup was rightfully theirs and that no other team had the fire power to gun them down. That they lost to both the West Indies and England, two of the less formidable teams in the draw, indicated a sense of false superiority which did not result in runs on the board or wickets in the bag.
Sehwag's unavailability - Despite a star-studded line-up, India had no other batsman who could scare the wits out of the opposition bowlers quite like Virender Sehwag does. Yuvraj Singh is India's batting hero in this version of the game, but the task proved too much even for him, in the absence of the Sultan of Multan, whose shoulder injury cost India dear.
Wrong team selection - India bungled by playing an extra bowler in a batsman oriented format of the game. As a result, there was not enough ammunition in the late middle order to test the opposition seriously enough. Dinesh Karthik should have played instead of Ravinder Jadeja in the match against England. Yusuf Pathan and Rohit Sharma could have bowled spin along with Yuvraj Singh to fill the breach. Ishant Sharma could have been dropped in favour of Praveen Kumar whose swing bowling was suited to English conditions. RP Singh should have played all the matches, given that he was the highest wicket taker in the IPL, and the in-form bowler in the team!
Dhoni was out of sorts - Captain cool, MS Dhoni kept wickets reasonably well, and marshalled his forces to the best of his ability, but his batting was a let down. Even in the match against England when he and Pathan almost chased down the target, he could not really get the big shots going. His bat seemed to have lost its potency, for his shots simply lacked the explosiveness that they are known for.
Media trouble (or Arrogance) - Another factor was surely the off-the-field distraction especially the manner in which the Sehwag issue was dealt with. The media flayed the present Captain's attitude for the first time ever and the foolhardy attempt at displaying a sense of camaraderie by presenting the whole team at a Press conference was most bizarre.
This was the World Cup after all, but from the look of them, Team India could well have been playing any other international series. Gautam Gambhir, who has been the most prolific scorer in world cricket in the past one year, looked totally jaded, and exemplified the mal-effects of excessive international cricket. Fans of the Indian team are distraught and shocked at their early exit from the ICC World Twenty 20. Let's see if the team can re-group from here and win back our admiration in the coming months...
Monday, June 15, 2009
Where did we go wrong? Our bowling lacked passion and class. But it was primarily batting failure that cost us the game. Our top order’s weakness against the short-pitched ball was exposed.
There were strategic blunders too, for which the Dhoni-Kirsten thinktank must take the flak
I will never know why Jadeja was promoted to no 4 and sent ahead of Yuvraj and Dhoni. Especially since his batting limitations had been conclusively established in the practice game against the Kiwis. And I will never be able to fathom why Yusuf Pathan was held back for so long.
Feels really bad to lose a game with two hitters left at the crease with no balls to play with. That’s the penalty one pays for bad 'batting order' management. Among other things, we also seemed to lack the hunger to win. And, yes, we did miss Sehwag.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Investment in self development before setting on a venture shortens the learning curve of the individual. Giong 'back to school' and learning essential skills allow E'preneurs to understand business realities. It also helps to review investment options and exposes them to much harder aspects of business.
Develooping a good n/w is very critical. Through the network, future business owners can communicate their ideas and recieve valuable feedbacks. E'preneurs need to understand the industry or the vertical in which they seek to launch their business. They need to have a clear understanding of the potential of their idea and finally, they need to have a good vision of growing the business beyond the initial 'good' idea. Even the colleges should have student enterprise societies, which is quite a force in student E'preneurship. It is important to have motivation, guidanceand support within the student and academic circles.
Ever since reports of recent attacks on Indians in Australia began coming in, I've been in touch with friends and relatives who have lived there or continue to do so. I asked the same question to each one, "Have you ever personally encountered racism in Australia?" They all shared their experiences readily.
The first person I spoke to is my cousin who had studied in australia and her husband who pursued his higher education (PG) in Australia. "No, we never encountered any kind of racism personally, though we did find a lot of ignorance about India. And, of course, there are cultural differences you need to be aware of," she said. That's for sure. I've always found it ironic that the Australians were apparently OK with Harbhajan Singh insulting the mother of Andrew Symonds, but regarded 'monkey' as a deadly insult. In India, of course, it would be exactly the other way around. However, she then added, "I worked with a leading retail chain group in Australia, and I used to moderate chats. And I was shaken by the kind of ugly comments that used to come in about Asians, especially when the Mohd Haneef controversy was on. I always used to think Indians were oversensitive, but seeing those comments made me realise the depth of antipathy that so many Australians have towards us". The couple came back to India about 6 months back, though they say racism had nothing to do with it.
I chatted with a few other people too, mostly friends and other people whom I know through my cousin, and those who have absolutely no intention of returning to India. "What are you making such a fuss about," demanded one. "Didn't the Shiv Sena target South Indians? Isn't the MNS targeting North Indians? Don't we treat people from the north-east and Blacks abominably? If you say those are isolated incidents, well, so are these. Why doesn't India fix its own problems before lecturing others? This is all just media hype." A lady of indian origin was equally blunt: "As a woman, I feel much safer in Australia than I ever did in India."
Frankly, I tend to disagree with these arguments. At least 100 cases of 'curry bashing' have been reported in the last one year in Australia –- four deadly ones in the past month alone -- and many more probably weren't reported out of fear. That goes well beyond being “isolated incidents". The fact that thousands of Indian students came out to stage a peaceful rally in Melbourne on Sunday also surely indicates that these concerns aren't just 'media hype'.
The very fact that so many attacks could go on for so long seems to indicate a certain lack of sensitivity on the part of Australian authorities -- who were quick to initially dismiss these crimes as "opportunistic rather than racist". Finally, Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith had to acknowledge that there was a problem and Indian students were being specifically targeted. One can only hope that this awareness speedily percolates down the ranks of the Australian police and local authorities.
I think India is fully within its rights to be worried about the welfare of its citizens in a foreign country. Having said that, we certainly need to be as sensitive about how we treat other people -- including our own countrymen -- as we are about the way we are treated by others. And there's no question that we need to develop a zero-tolerance attitude towards louts who molest women, or assault them just because they happen to be in a pub.
What about the charge that most Indians living abroad form exclusionist groups? Even if that's true, I think that's probably a defensive reaction to perceived hostility from the local population. Of course, it turns into a vicious spiral. The more Indians cut themselves off from the mainstream, the more unpopular they become, and the more they retreat into their shell... and so on. But even then, I don't think there can be any justification for the kind of murderous attacks that we've seen on Indians. Even if you don't like someone, that doesn't give you the licence to beat them into a coma.
So, should Indians still go to Australia to study? I think they need to ask themselves whether they intend to return to India or not. If they intend to work in India, it's probably worth bearing in mind that most recruiters here have long since outgrown the foreign fixation. A Harvard or Oxford degree still makes your resume look good, but most recruiters are now much more impressed by a good Indian university than by a B-grade foreign one. So, students should make sure that the university they intend to go to will carry weight back in India. Otherwise, they'll just have wasted a lot of time, effort and money for nothing.
If the answer is that they want to migrate for good, then my next question is, "Have you considered that India's GDP is growing at 6.7% at a time when most of the developed world is undergoing recession?"
If they still want to go abroad, then I think they should be able to do so without fearing xenophobic attacks. And it's the responsibility of both the Indian and the relevant Australian government to ensure their safety and well-being.
Iran recently signed an agreement with Pakistan under which the latter would get an annual eight billion cubic metres of natural gas. Originally meant to partner the $7.2 billion gas pipeline project, India stayed out though Iran would like it to come aboard. On paper, an Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline seems a win-win deal for all concerned.
With the world's second-largest gas reserves after Russia, Iran wants to sell. India is a massive, expanding market, ever on the lookout for diversified energy sources to fuel growth. Pakistan also needs to meet increasing domestic demand. IPI would run over 2,775 kilometres from Iran's South Pars gas field through Pakistan and on to India. Such an overland linkage has economic and functional logic. A deep-sea pipeline would cost four times more while liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade involves long-distance sea transport. On delivery at port terminals, LNG needs to be regassified for piped distribution. Though a viable alternative for India, which imports LNG from countries like Qatar, it is logistically circuitous.
On the diplomatic front, it's been argued that shared stakeholding in a "peace pipeline" would improve India-Pakistan ties. Finally, as a pressure tactic, Iran has hinted that Beijing might enter if New Delhi exits. A project of this transnational scale would, however, have long-term implications in a world of rapidly mutating geopolitical contours. There are nettlesome issues of pricing as well, with Iran on gas price and with Pakistan on transit costs. Even if these were resolved, times have changed since 1993 when this initiative for South-South cooperation was visualised. Indo-Pak ties have been strained by the repeated torpedoing of a peace process by Pakistan's disingenuous postures on terrorism emanating from its soil. From Kargil to 26/11, it has been a story of eroding trust. Pakistan's internal situation must improve drastically for IPI to be risk-free. There are security concerns about the 475-mile stretch of pipeline that would traverse Baluchistan. This strife-prone region's separatist tribes have blown up pipelines in the past. And, with Islamabad's writ not running in vast swathes of the country, its ability to protect vital installations even nuclear facilities has been in question. The Taliban and other extremists run free and a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline would be a sitting duck in their destructive path. So, persuasive as the pro-IPI arguments are, India would do well to look before it leaps.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Credit card users also know this scenario quite well - they borrow money for the short term in order to buy something right away. But when it comes to the stock market and the impact of interest rates, the term usually refers to something other than the above examples - although we will see that they are affected as well.
The interest rate that applies to investors is the US Federal Reserve's federal funds rate. This is the cost that banks are charged for borrowing money from Federal Reserve banks. Why is this number so important? It is the way the Federal Reserve (the "Fed") attempts to control inflation.
Inflation is caused by too much money chasing too few goods (or too much demand for too little supply), which causes prices to increase. By influencing the amount of money available for purchasing goods, the Fed can control inflation. Other countries' central banks do the same thing for the same reason.
Basically, by increasing the federal funds rate, the Fed attempts to lower the supply of money by making it more expensive to obtain.
Effects of an increase: When the Fed increases the federal funds rate, it does not have an immediate impact on the stock market. Instead, the increased federal funds rate has a single direct effect - it becomes more expensive for banks to borrow money from the Fed. However, increases in the discount rate also cause a ripple effect, and factors that influence both individuals and businesses are affected.
The first indirect effect of an increased federal funds rate is that banks increase the rates that they charge their customers to borrow money. Individuals are affected through increases to credit card and mortgage interest rates, especially if they carry a variable interest rate. This has the effect of decreasing the amount of money consumers can spend.
After all, people still have to pay the bills, and when those bills become more expensive, households are left with less disposable income. This means that people will spend less discretionary money, which will affect businesses' top and bottom lines (that is, revenues and profits).
Therefore, businesses are also indirectly affected by an increase in the federal funds rate as a result of the actions of individual consumers. But businesses are affected in a more direct way as well. They, too, borrow money from banks to run and expand their operations.
When the banks make borrowing more expensive, companies might not borrow as much and will pay a higher rate of interest on their loans. Less business spending can slow down the growth of a company, resulting in decreases in profit.
Stock price effects: Clearly, changes in the federal funds rate affect the behavior of consumers and business, but the stock market is also affected. Remember that one method of valuing a company is to take the sum of all the expected future cash flows from that company discounted back to the present.
To arrive at a stock's price, take the sum of the future discounted cash flow and divide it by the number of shares available. This price fluctuates as a result of the different expectations that people have about the company at different times. Because of those differences, they are willing to buy or sell shares at different prices.
If a company is seen as cutting back on its growth spending or is making less profit - either through higher debt expenses or less revenue from consumers - then the estimated amount of future cash flows will drop. All else being equal, this will lower the price of the company's stock.
If enough companies experience a decline in their stock prices, the whole market, or the indexes (like the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the S&P 500) that many people equate with the market, will go down.
Investment effects: For many investors, a declining market or stock price is not a desirable outcome. Investors wish to see their invested money increase in value. Such gains come from stock price appreciation, the payment of dividends - or both. With a lowered expectation in the growth and future cash flows of the company, investors will not get as much growth from stock price appreciation, making stock ownership less desirable.
Furthermore, investing in stocks can be viewed as too risky compared to other investments. When the Fed raises the federal funds rate, newly offered government securities, such Treasury bills and bonds, are often viewed as the safest investments and will usually experience a corresponding increase in interest rates. In other words, the "risk-free" rate of return goes up, making these investments more desirable.
When people invest in stocks, they need to be compensated for taking on the additional risk involved in such an investment, or a premium above the risk-free rate. The desired return for investing in stocks is the sum of the risk-free rate and the risk premium.
Of course, different people have different risk premiums, depending on their own tolerance for risk and the company they are buying. However, in general, as the risk-free rate goes up, the total return required for investing in stocks also increases. Therefore, if the required risk premium decreases while the potential return remains the same or becomes lower, investors might feel that stocks have become too risky, and will put their money elsewhere.
Interest rates affect but don't determine the stock marketThe interest rate, commonly bandied about by the media, has a wide and varied impact upon the economy. When it is raised, the general effect is to lessen the amount of money in circulation, which works to keep inflation low. It also makes borrowing money more expensive, which affects how consumers and businesses spend their money; this increases expenses for companies, lowering earnings somewhat for those with debt to pay. Finally, it tends to make the stock market a slightly less attractive place to investment.
Keep in mind, however, that these factors and results are all interrelated. What we described above are very broad interactions, which can play out in innumerable ways. Interest rates are not the only determinant of stock prices and there are many considerations that go into stock prices and the general trend of the market - an increased interest rate is only one of them. Therefore, one can never say with confidence that an interest rate hike will have an overall negative effect on stock prices.
Monday, May 25, 2009
L'ship is not about managing things but about developing people. L's need the 3Cs: Courage, Conviction and Communication to succeed. Other L'ship qualities that are essential are an abundance of humility, the ability to remain focussed and the capacity to dream boldly. L's take chances and grab opportunities. L's can succeed only if they take their teams with them and have a motivated set of employees. There is only one way to get everybody motivated — by making the other person want to do the job.True motivation comes from having a real sense of purpose, of working for one common goal and with the purpose to excel. Real motivation can never flow from financial inducements alone. Fear is a poor motivator. Show people that you trust, respect and genuinely care about them. Only then will you be surrounded by motivated people. Give people autonomy to decide how to get the job done but be there to guide and help them along the way.
Employees want to be respected and be included in a corporate vision that they can embrace. Success needs to be rewarded and celebrated, and failures need to be handled delicately. Motivation can never be forced. Let the people in your life know that you respect them.That you appreciate their work, that they are important to you and that you want them to learn, grow and reach their potential. Create effective mechanisms viz. money, recognition and training to motivate and retain. Finally, being a leader is not about winning a popularity contest - it is about doing what is right.
Confucius said give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. This perhaps is an important guiding principle for a good leader
Friday, May 22, 2009
But Clinton should be cautioned against accepting an incoherent explanation for it and overlooking what led to US sanctions. It would also help if the US came clean on the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) relationship with notorious proliferator A Q Khan. According to former Dutch prime minister Rudd Lubbers, this relationship dated back to 1975. The CIA had intervened twice with Dutch authorities to let Khan go when he was detained by them. The US's role in Pakistan's nuclear proliferation was not exactly a passive one. The Pressler amendment was not meant to discourage Pakistan's nuclear weapons build-up but to outmanoeuvre the proposed Glenn-Cranston amendment imposing a 20 per cent limit on uranium enrichment. The Reagan administration enabled Pakistan to go up to building a weapon. The tacit agreement was that it would stop short of testing. The Pakistanis broke that understanding and got their weapon tested by the Chinese at their Lop Nor site on May 26, 1990. This has been disclosed in a book, The Nuclear Express, by two US scientists, Thomas Reed and Danny Stillman, associated with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos nuclear establishments. In the third week of May 1990, a US delegation headed by Robert Gates, currently defence secretary, rushed to Islamabad presumably to persuade Pakistan not to test. It failed. George Bush Sr was left with no alternative but to invoke the Pressler amendment. Clinton, therefore, need not feel guilty about the sanctions. Rather, it would do her and the world a lot of good if the US came clean on the events of 1990. That doesn't mean other aspects of US policy were not incoherent. The US helped promote the worst form of Wahhabi extremism among the mujahideen. It is now paying the price since Wahhabi conditioning spawned al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) learnt the tricks it is displaying vis-a-vis the US from CIA trainers. In the years to follow, the CIA could not correctly assess what its former pupils would be up to.
Even after the Taliban's extremism became known, Bill Clinton's assistant secretary of state Robin Raphael tried to negotiate with it. Hillary Clinton would dismiss that as part of incoherent policy. But many who were responsible for it are still around her in the present administration. No doubt Barack Obama's policy has a certain coherence. It recognises the Taliban/al-Qaeda and their Wahhabi extremism as the enemy and no longer talks about the war on terror overlooking the fact terrorism was a strategy to spread an extremist cult. It also recognises the ISI's links with some extremist organisations. Clinton has spoken of Pakistan's government and civil society abdicating their responsibility to fight extremists posing an existential threat to them, and of Pakistan in its present state posing a mortal threat to the US. Yet she now talks approvingly of action against the Taliban by Pakistan's army and democratically elected government. Has she noticed that Pakistan's national assembly has not yet been able to pass a resolution by consensus endorsing army operations against the Taliban? A coherent policy would depend on assessing the nature of the threat Pakistan's situation poses to US and international security. The threat is not merely the Taliban and al-Qaeda, It is an extremist cult under which hundreds of thousands of children from age seven upwards are being robotised to become suicide bombers and cannon fodder in hundreds of madrassas. This did not happen in Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia. Even as the army, government and some sections of civil society in Pakistan have fallen in line with the US demand to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, significant sections of the population still view this as an American war. There is no evidence of the beginning of any ideological transformation against Wahhabi extremism. Policy incoherence arose from the US's inability to understand that Pakistan was a religious ideological state and had a conflict of interest with the US on that account. While both parties in pursuit of tactical gains tried out an opportunistic alliance, Pakistan emerged the gainer. Nuclear weapons made it immune to international punitive action. Plus it had an expansionist ideological cult from which the US now feels a threat. While the US is trying to use Pakistan's army and state apparatus to fight the most organised expression of the extremist cult in the form of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the ideology pervading the madrassas remains untouched. No doubt a programme for building schools and reforming education exists on paper. If the US is not to make the mistake of leaving Pakistan once the anti-Taliban/al-Qaeda campaigns end, it must recognise that there is a fundamental ideological conflict with the prevalent extremist cult. There has to be a de-jihadisation of Pakistan and Afghanistan, just as once there was de-Nazification in Europe.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Despite having a plethora of issues to campaign against the ruling UPA coalition the BJP has suffered a poll debacle. Its paltry tally of 116 Lok Sabha Seats, as well as dip in national vote share by 4 to 5 percentage points compared to the last Lok Sabha elections, which it had also lost, should prompt rethinking in the party about its direction. If it wants to look once again like a contender for power, the first lesson it should draw is not to run a shrill and negative election campaign, full of grievance and vitriol, as it did this time. Terror, for example, can be a valid election campaign theme. But it's a serious issue. The BJP's approach, by contrast, came across as rancorous, personalised and superficial, hung on the three pegs of reviving the unpopular POTA, hanging a convicted terrorist and characterising Manmohan Singh as a weak leader. As Shivraj Singh Chouhan, one of the BJP's most successful chief ministers, has observed, the hanging of Afzal Guru can hardly be made into an attractive election issue. Internal criticisms within the BJP have brought out that it is losing popularity among youth as well as among the urban middle classes, two segments where it had been strong earlier and which represent the emergent India of the 21st century. To reconnect with these segments and devise a winning strategy, it needs to focus on the future rather than obsess with the past.
The BJP may still look at the Ram Janmabhoomi movement as a foundational moment, because that's how it came into prominence as a national party. But this is a new century, where destroying a mosque in order to establish a temple at the same spot hardly makes policy sense. India has changed dramatically between 1992 and 2009. The old ploy of provoking communal riots in order to polarise the electorate, a formula that BJP appears to have stuck to as late as 2008 in case of anti-Christian riots in Orissa, is subject to diminishing returns at the ballot box. If identity politics has played itself out by now, how can the BJP reorient itself? It could do so by identifying and filling a gaping lacuna in Indian politics, the lack of a centre-right party which speaks the language of reform and harnesses globalisation to expand the middle class. That would be incompatible with a Hindu Rashtra plank, but Hindu Rashtra could be substituted with a strong nationalist appeal which would have greater resonance across the country. If that requires the BJP to cut its ties with the far right, it should do so with the intention of occupying a moderate conservative space.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
If Team Rahul gets so much support — and with radiant faces like Jyotiraditya, Sachin and Jitendra Singh — it is able to deliver in national interest, should we remain adamant and say: Hey, you are bad till you join our party? They are Indians and have been voted to power by an Indian electorate. Think what India needed at a time when external security was under strain and internally terrorism of various varieties continued unabated. Recession has put off lights in a hundred million homes and diplomacy has to show its best with confidence when China makes ADB stop an aid to Arunachal, Tamils are severely brutalized and Swat remains a difficult zone for Delhi, though Kathmandu has given signs of relief, which needs further restrengthening of the non-violent democratic forces. We wanted a stable government, led by a party with a national outlook, which is necessarily free in taking decisions and without any dependence on the Left and other fringe elements. And an opposition that’s pan-national in its policies, and strong enough to stop any wrong by the treasury benches. We got it. Should it make us sad, unhappy and remorseful? In any case the young, vibrant faces we see peopling parliament, with less caste consciousness and stronger on the merit lines, will do better than their predecessors and please don’t count if they make mistakes-they will shine even if they make some, which are bound to be there in the land of ‘angels’ who have nothing else to do except criticize and belittle others. India is passing through an ideological and programmatic transformation and the youth in the lead is bound to change the parliament’s body language and paradigms of behaviour. They are there in every party, though more glamorous and the powered will hog the headlines, thanks to the class conscious and politically correct media, the lesser souls will still be relevant and make their mark. An India, which is strong militarily, sound economically and leads the comity of nations for a peaceful coexistence, needs only one brand "Indian", and definitely not a religious or partisan identity. Those who couldn’t make it will have enough time to ponder and analyze why they got the drubbing. But those who have an unflinching faith in their ideology and are committed to their path of bliss will carry on working with a renewed vigour and confidence. If the conveyor belts are weak, you can’t blame the luggage for a failed delivery. Let them think and come to any conclusion that they find appropriate. To say that the issues raised by those who are otherwise known world over as Hindu nationalist group were wrong, will be unfair to India. After all, was the raising of the issue of Kashmiri Hindus wrong? Or demanding revocation of POTA and stringent measures against terrorists? Or the agitation for the Amarnath land and preservation of the unique world heritage and a symbol of faith like Ram Sethu? The nationalists opposed the divisive politics of Raj Thakcrey, who was propped up by the Congress to counter Shiv Sena. Was opposing Raj wrong? The nationalists did Pokaran 2 and were committed to preserve rights for Pokaran 3 if needed. Was that against national interest? On the eve of polls some said forget 1984 but remember Gujarat. What mentality did it show? The nationalists wanted Article 370 to go and Kashmir fully integrated with the rest of India. Was that against national integration? Should India be governed on religious fragmentation and parochial chauvinism or on the basis of egalitarianism, equal rights and privileges to all rising above communal lines? Let everyone ponder: Hindus have been continuously assaulted for the last twelve hundred years. Do they have a right to preserve their heritage and way of life after a partitioned independence or not? These are the existential questions before the nation and not the other way round.
True that most of the opposition was fragmented, filled up front pages of the newspapers with internal brick batting (Rampur, Lalu-Nitish-Paswan-Congress). But that doesn’t make a stark fact diminish that many of the media houses were seen to be working against a particular section of Indian polity. Some becoming an instrument to oppose Hindu assertions maligning them with celebrative enthusiasm for irrelevant happenings like we saw at Mangalore pub. Their (‘fair, objective and independent torch bearers of freedom of expression’) controllers, writing in newspaper columns and on their blogs, had nothing but a decisive opposition and acidic hate for a particular section of the Indians who asserted their dharma. These Hindus were demonized for their civil assertions and all the media space was given to the one-sided attacks on them like the Taliban did in Swat. How the owners of the channels, writing politically partisan columns in papers that blatantly support a particular political party, would allow a debate that can be closer to objectivity and does justice to the other viewpoint? So what? They could do what they did, not because they were too overpowering, but because the other side miss-stepped their plans. In the last eight decades, when did Hindutva get applause by this politically correct press and if their steps were strong, when was it able to stop the march? Prudence demands perseverance and a rational faith in what we have believed in to come up with new idioms and an inclusive appeal that does justice to the cause so dear to the followers. That’s the cause of India. Mother India needs the ideology that reflects the glory of our civilisational contours. The ideology that has been fortified by the martyrdoms and dedication of thousands of unknown and unsung foot soldiers led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Pt. Deendayal Upadhyaya. Both the great stalwarts were murdered mysteriously in their early fifties. They became leaders of a mass party when they were in their forties. And remember they initiated Bharatiya Janasangh, and not Hindu Janasangh, hence their vision was essentially all-inclusive. Trust in the ideology that is the only reason of organization’s birth and survival and don’t get besieged by the flood of assaults in this time of low tide is the message of this mandate for the vanquished. Hindutva is a way of life and not a political instrument like water supply and reservations. Its wrong, completely a falsehood if someone says it spreads hatred. It’s the only ideology that guarantees pluralism on equality. In fact the most hateful ideologies are those which stifle the other voices defining secularism as anything anti-Hindutva. Suresh Rao (Bhaiyyaji) Joshi, the sarkaryavah (Gen Secy.) of the RSS said in an interview with me that Hindutva is not a political subject or a parameter but a way of life. So don’t politicize it. Hindutva encompasses essentially good education, rural development and urban infrastructure. There is no alternative to good governance and a lifestyle that rhymes with the ideals that are espoused. Ram symbolizes material happiness too based on the righteous approach for all. Wherever they could show it, they won. The fact that the nationalist groups are running largest number of service projects, hospitals, blood banks, Thalasaemia care centres, cerebral palsy treatment centres and hundreds of thousands of schools, is overshadowed by political ups and downs. India still produces young, bright, meritorious people who work in remote areas of this land for the socio-economic development without ever caring whether they are mentioned in media reports or not. Five thousand bare foot doctors’ centres in the villages are being run. That’s the real core of Hindu organizational work. With undiluted love and amity for all. If India rises, who falls, is the touchstone of all their actions and utterances. Nationalism means India first without getting embarrassed or apologetic for our Hinduness. The situation demands a better solidarity and not further divisions. It requires an intellectual commitment to India.
We must prove ourselves worthy of it.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Karat's journey towards disaster began with his championing the anti-imperialist cause which, he thought, had a wide measure of public support. Surrounded by like-minded 'followers', he presumed that opposition to America as in the days of the Vietnam War and castigation of neo-liberalism were sure-fire recipes for political success. He evidently had no idea that India had changed meantime and that he was 20 or 30 years behind time, as Rahul Gandhi later pointed out. Perhaps vaguely aware that the Left by itself would not have the requisite numbers to pose a serious challenge to the two national parties, Karat turned to some of the country's most unreliable politicos. He should have anticipated their fickleness when the Samajwadi Party, an old friend of the CPM from the days of Karat's predecessor as party general secretary, Harkishen Singh Surjeet, joining hands with the Congress on the eve of the trust vote in Parliament. Karat ignored Surjeet's earlier acceptance of the Congress as a lesser evil than the BJP. Though adept at stitching together unwieldy alliances, Surjeet's broad objective was to keep the BJP at bay. He would have been appalled by the sight of the Marxists voting along with the BJP against the government on the nuclear deal. Karat, however, had no such compunctions. To him, anti-Americanism was all. Since the government, according to him, was selling out the country to the Great Satan, his first objective was to pull it down even if it meant supping with the devil. His lack of foresight was also evident from the fact that he apparently never considered what would happen if the government really fell. Since Mayawati was waiting eagerly in the wings, he evidently thought that a replacement for the prime minister was at hand. But he never bothered about the consequences of helping someone into the prime minister's chair who had no experience of running a country of India's size and complexity and whose party had hardly any presence outside UP.
In the event, it was the Left that "lost its voice", as Amartya Sen said. Now, it has lost it altogether because of the steep drop in its numbers from 61 MPs to 24. What this dramatic fall means is that the comrades will not have the kind of clout they enjoyed at the Centre for four years from 2004. Karat's singular achievement, therefore, has been to take the Left down from the highest point it ever achieved to one of the lowest in recent years.
Monday, May 18, 2009
It may be difficult to deal with defeat, but the regret of a drowned dream is quickly overtaken by the compulsions of survival. Both the BJP and the Left now face an existential dilemma, and will require honesty to pare away that part of the dogma that has checked the growth of one and undermined the success of the other. The BJP might want to consider a fundamental fact about our country. India is not a secular nation because Indian Muslims want it to be secular. India is a secular nation because Indian Hindus want it to be secular. It would be wrong to dismiss everyone in the BJP as communal. But L K Advani's efforts to sustain the inclusive image fashioned by Atal Behari Vajpayee were constantly undermined by the rhetoric of leaders who did not understand that the language of conflict had passed its sell-by date. The turning point came with Varun Gandhi's immature speech. The BJP condemned it but did not disown it completely, for fear of losing the extreme in its search for the centre. What seems obvious now did not seem so clear then. Varun Gandhi should have been dropped as a candidate. Worse, Varun Gandhi fell in love with his new pseudo-aggressive image, and projected it in statements and pictures that went into every home through television. This young Gandhi even began to fantasise a future as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It is interesting that regional BJP leaders understood that this was toxic. The Madhya Pradesh party bluntly told Varun Gandhi he was not needed while the Bihar unit was relieved when Nitish Kumar refused hospitality to both Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi. The national ethos is shaped by one predominant desire: the hunger for a better life. Prosperity is impossible without peace, so the passions of sectarian politics, whether based on community or caste, have been replaced by the clear understanding that peace is non-negotiable. Prosperity, on the other hand, has always been negotiable, since it has never been a universal fact. India remains a poor country with rich people rather than the other way around. The poor want to be part of the India Rising story. It is odd that the Marxists should have missed this. They lost the Muslim vote in rural Bengal, not because of Islam but because of poverty. The message from Nandigram and Singur was that land was being taken away from the poor in order to create jobs for the middle class. Nitish Kumar has won because he created peace, and took his promise of prosperity to those at the very bottom of the top-heavy caste ladder. He will be the envy of his peers at the next meeting of the nation's chief ministers. It might be even odder if one draws a potential parallel between Bengal and Gujarat, but Narendra Modi's industrialization just might become a problem if he does not take corrective action. Taking the Nano that Bengal lost is only one chapter of a more complicated story. The poor are sensing that this cosy relationship between politicians and industrialists is benefiting either the rich or the middle class. The landless and peasants could turn against Modi if he does not resurrect rural Gujarat with the high-profile vigour he has offered industry. The DMK survived in Tamil Nadu because it gave the poor cheap rice and free entertainment. Buy shares in television companies. Every political party is soon going to hand out free television sets to voters. The Berlin Wall has been breached in Kolkata. Is it only a matter of time before the Communist bloc collapses? Are Prakash Karat and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the problem or the solution? Is there any alternative chief minister in Bengal who can fashion correctives and implement them with a hammer ? The CPI(M) politburo meeting on May 18 was meant to be a celebratory event in the game of thrust and parry that was supposed to follow the results. It will now have the excitement of a dirge. Prakash Karat summed up this election pithily when he said, "We failed". It was not an individual's failure, since Marxist decisions are collective. It is easy to sneer at the defeated, but a paradox needs to be noted. The Left may not be missed in Kerala and Bengal, but it will be missed in Delhi, since it injected serious debate into economic and foreign policies. It is not important that the Left was right or wrong. What is important is that it generated a debate. It is obvious that governance is being rewarded, and Naveen Patnaik's vindication is sufficient evidence. But there is also a model profile for a politician that has emerged. The voter wants three qualities in his leader: honesty, competence and modesty. This is what he saw in Dr Manmohan Singh. Rahul Gandhi added the flavour of the future to the Congress offer. He has won his place in power through this election. In all likelihood there will be a transition within the foreseeable future, particularly since the Congress has silenced its allies as effectively as it has neutered the Opposition. Chief ministers like Nitish Kumar, Naveen Patnaik, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Raman Singh delivered on all three qualities respected by the voter. Others got by on two, but they should not confuse reprieve with victory. The dangers of success are more dramatic than the perils of failure. Complacence is an easy trap. Arrogance is seductive. Dr Manmohan Singh has been given freedom to govern, but his first watch has to be on a slippage by colleagues. By giving him freedom, the Indian voter has denied him an excuse.
Continuity for change. Sounds paradoxical, but that may well be the message that India's electorate wants every one of us in the chattering and political classes to hear.
That seeming paradox becomes a clear statement if you reflect a moment on how an old man and a young man, working together yet separately, crafted a spectacular victory for the United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress party, in the just-concluded general election. It becomes clearer, starkly so, if you contrast the public personalities and political approaches of two Gandhi's in the recent fray, Rahul and Varun. The stage of their contest was one state, Uttar Pradesh, but their sharply contrasting characters and styles encapsulated what was going on in the national mind as we voted our preferences. Obviously at one level, the verdict was for continuity. The Indian people chose not to change the cockpit crew at a time of high expectations soaring ever higher in the midst of severe economic and security turbulence. Manmohan Singh is that greybeard commander who quietly, and without bravado, guides those expectations towards potential fulfilment, warning all the while that it will be a long and difficult journey. He is the man who began a process of change in economic direction when he was finance minister nearly two decades ago; and he was prime minister during the last five years when India's economy, during much of the tenure, grew at around 9 per cent and the nation began to reach out to the world as an aspiring global player. The changes in our worldview necessary to achieve that aspiration were once again initiated by the good doctor, who firmly concluded a deal with the United States that enabled India to circumvent an international sanctions regime and rejoin the world community as a full member. Today, as a leading participant of the G-20 and a key player in the global fight against terrorism, India's status in the world as a power that must be included in any consultation over global crises is established, though it remains way behind China in projecting power perceptions as well as in economic achievement.
It was the contest in UP between the two Gandhi cousins that delivered an equally significant message. Varun was all saffron flame and brimstone; Rahul was mostly modesty and patience. Varun fired up crowds with hate-talk that even his party, the BJP, found disconcerting; Rahul, in consultation with key advisers, chose a go-it-alone campaign strategy that made his party whoop in delight when the results came in. Varun, though young, projects a mindset of an old India, in which people define their identities in ethnic, caste and community colours; hatred, suspicion and settling old scores come naturally to them. Rahul is more about getting on with the job, keeping a goal in steady focus and tolerating, even celebrating, differences; as a result, the Congress ended up with much more support, a lot of it apparently from minorities who had sailed away to other ports, while the BJP, which was expected to do relatively well, stayed where it was five years ago. OK, it wasn't just Varun and Rahul who determined the outcome in UP. But, in a sense, their respective mindsets symbolised the contrasting ideological positions that contested for mastery over the soul of India. In Varun's view, the majority must first define its group identity, keep the 'other' separate from 'us', and then build a muscular nation in which a monolithic majority rules, perhaps benevolently as in Ram's time, to make this country rise to a shining peak of success. Rahul, on the other hand, seems thoughtfully confused about any singular identity of a majority community which can resurrect Ram Rajya in this day and age. In this view, all citizens in a secular nation belong to a minority of one kind or the other; only Indians constitute a collective, widely diverse, majority. It's a salad bowl. Don't risk trying to make it a melting pot of steely identity.