Wednesday, October 14, 2009

State gifts & Stately Gifts

Age old diplomatic precedents and protocols demand that a visiting Head of states are offered gifts befitting their world stature and strength of their nation's friendship. The US constitution abhorred such diplomatic gifts so much that a clause in their Constitution actually prohibits public officials from accepting gifts from foreign officials. In modern days, the trend is on full public disclosure rather than declining the gifts outright.

So every time a President/ PM or a King travels abroad, host nations scramble for a befitting gift. During Nehruvian era, India gifted our pedigree Tigers and elephants as state gifts. In course of time these gifts were rendered out dated ( perhaps this could have led to the phrase "white elephant" gifts?). Live animals have fallen out of fashion in Western diplomatic circles too. A rare pedigree breed dog presented to George Bush Jr. had a tough time to pass the country's quarantine standards, before being adopted. ( No it wasn't Bush who adopted the dog).

Then we had President Col Nasser of Egypt who presented a bride as a state gift to Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (by the way Fathia Nkrumah was a Coptic Christian, so I guess Nasser had no qualms of gifting her).

Lately the Foreign Office of many nations have run out of ideas. US President Obama presented Queen Elizabeth an iPod with popular US tracks and a footage of her previous visits. (phew... I wonder who in the State Department proposed such an idea !!). The Queen had no trouble in reciprocating the same. She usually gives a standard silver framed photograph of herself and her hubby, with her autograph on it. Alas, they still think they are some sort a celebrity couple. Well at least you can excuse them.

Well it is time to revisit this age old diplomatic practice and put an end to these mindless protocols and trivialities.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Going down the drain...

We seldom value things that come free. Air and water are the first examples that comes to mind when I state this axiom. Water, the very essence of life, is being taken for granted by the affluent sections of the society. Is water that cheap, that you dont need to meter it?

After coming to US, I had to get use to bathing in a bathtub. But then I realised that I end up wasting more water , as it goes down the drain, rather than wetting any portion of my body. (also considering the fact the water is of drinking quality, I could not but help claculating the sheer waste). US Department of Energy estimates on average a person in US uses 200-300 liters of water everyday for domestic purposes !!. Man, this nation is one heck of a water gusher.

This led to a more insightful reflection as to why I need water to bathe? I could think of two salient reasons
  • First being the exfoliating effect of water. (removing dirt and dust from the pores of the skin).
  • Second, water being the viscous medium for the soap (including liquid based soaps) to act chemically as well as to ease the dabbing action. (imagine running a dry soap on a dry skin)

So I made a conscious decision on my part to use the age old Indian practice bathing with a water mug. I can easily guess that my water consumption has drastcially cut down. Plus, there is no water spliing outside the tub. (I wish my roomates could follow this simple rule!!!) But having said that its is wrong on my part to expect others to follow my example. Atleast let me practice first, before I start to preach.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Leisure & Productivity

As a country develops the labour productivity tends to increase. This would imply that a country endowed with better capital would be able churn out more goods per hour(or any unit of time) than a country with lesser capital investment. We can clearly the veracity of this hypothesis in our everyday life. The output produced by an average Bangladeshi worker per hour is much lower than the output produced by a German labour. This has nothing to do with the fact the Bangladesi are lazy or Germans are industrious. It only reflects the fact that an average German is better educated and equipped with technology to increase his hourly output.

Labour productivity is not an obscure measure. It can easily be estimated by dividing the GDP of a country by the total labour-hours available. For e.g in US 2008 GDP was 14,350 billion dollars(Source: Federal Reserve). And available total labour hours is 797 million hours. (Source: US BLS )So the average productivity comes around 18 dollars an hour per US worker. So statistically every US worker in 2009 churned out goods worth 18 dollars a work hour.( in current dollars without factoring inflation).

But as productivity rises the demand for lesiure also increases. After all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy right? So the developed country are witnessing the phenomena of high labour cost (it costs a lot more to employ Americans remember) and lesser work hours as well!!

Increasing there are calls for making Friday a part of extended weekend. In my college here in America, people increasing bid me Weekend wishes starting from Thursday afternoons !! In such a scenario we would effectively define a work-week as having only a four continuous working days of eight hours each (considering the fact that in the nineteenth century Industrial age workers toiled for more then twelve hours a day, all week long, this is indeed a remarkable turnaround !!). Increasingly leisure hours would only serve to undermine the competitiveness of an economy.

P.S: India has a long way to go in reaching labour productivity anywhere near OECD countries. In this age of increasing mechanization we still tend to cling on hard manual labour. Our NREGS(National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, similar to the depresssion era WPA in US) is one prime example of this atavistic mentality. Instead of training rural folks to equip them with marketable labour skills, we employ them in manual labur. The worst part the output of their is hardly ever produces tangible assets. Perhaps our public policy doctrine tend to prefer the status quo.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Price of everything and Value of Nothing

This was a very good book by Akerman and Heinzerling that I came across recently. It really opened my eyes to subtle nuances of price and value. Most of us judge the price of a good as an indicator of its value. But usually it is not the case.

I believe price, is the label that gets attached to a good to facilitate its sale or market transaction. Price of a good is only speculative. A shop keeper may sell a Persian rug for $5000. But come festive seasons the price may drop down to $4000 to pep up the sale. In this case does the value of the rug(say its aesthetics) diminishes in any manner? certainly it doesn't.

The value of a good is constant. At least it is constant for every individual .Values of goods tend to take considerable time to change. I may value a rug at lower value, and prefer a Walmart Mainstay's instead. After my value for a rug is determined by the function or utility it servers, say covering the bare floor or aesthetics.

Speaking of rugs it reminds of an interesting incident that happened recently. I wanted to purchase a new rug worth about $25 for our home. But my roomies took a vehement opposition to such outrageous luxury purchase. One mutual friend of our home even suggested that I was not sympathetic with my roomies and aspiring for a luxury world while my roomies are tethering in poverty and penury. Perhaps if we divide among all of us, it would only cost $5 each. But then the rug had no value for any of them. Naturally any price would be outrageous to them (as long as it doesn't come free of cost. In such case they wouldn't mind a rug in the living room).

Alas we live in a world wherein we check the price of everything,while dismiss the value of somethings to nothing.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Follow the herd..dont stand out

The other day while I was commuting the University bus, the driver threw a question at the passangers. Do you folks wanna switch on the AC? Well a seemingly simple question. Answer would be a firm YES or a NO.

But for nearly seconds (that seemed like an eternity) the question was answered with stoic silence. Then a few rumblings. Finally an owerwelming NO. I never realised human instincts are too complicated to understand.

Most of us have this "tag-along-the-majority" syndrome programmed in our genes. we wait for the crowd and then decide on our course of approach. We simply be refused to be on the part of the minority. we tend to sacrifice our individual views to majoritarian voices.

I definitely wanted the AC switched ON. Had I sticked to my guns and shouted aloud, surely the outcome would have been a different one indeed. Of course other passengers wouldn't mind as well, as they pre-programmed to follow the crowd.

Perhaps this explains why we need leaders in our social and political institutions. Most of us are simple unwilling to follow our heart says. Individuality is the first victim of this mentality. We are all leaders in our own merit. Unless we imbibe this spirit, I am afraid we would only end following the herd.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vembusons- the genesis

Usually I avoid my personal stuff in my blog. But the time around I have made an exception. (I have a tendency to make a lot of exceptions though). Rummaging through files at my father's office, I came across these archival business correspondence. Apparently my grandfather's father Vembu Iyer wanted to start the sole franchise for Godrej Boyce Mfg Co in 1943. He had never met a single representative from the company( it was and still is based in Bombay then). His only previous experience with Godrej was the fact that he had bought an almirah in 1938 !! It is interesting see how people proposed business ventures based on a mere purchase of a company good. Eventually my great grandpa did get the franchise and the business is still thankfully running even today. I am what I am because of this business. Vembu may have passed away but his solid legacy still looms large on all his descendants !!!
(just click on the image for an enlarged view to read)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Economics of Engineering Education

Now that it is my vacation, I have a lot of time to kill. So here goes another of my dumb blog. Only that this one is slightly academic or rather economics in nature. It is said that even a parrot could become a economist if only it could say two words: supply & demand !!!

The Tamil Nadu Engineering Admissions 2009 has drawn to a close. The number of vacant seats 30,550 !!! unbelievable isn't ? Out of the 1.14 lac seats that was up in the offing only around 83,500 was filled up. If this being the case for Government quota, I am pretty sure most of the management quota in self-financing quota would be unfilled.

So what explains this paradox? There are few case studies wherein supply exceeds the demand. The engineering education is one such among them. (there are also other examples like the civil aviation sector where currently the supply exceeds the air traffic demand, India's refining capacity is also greater than the current crude oil demand, making India a net exporter of refined petroleum products !!). So in all these case we have seen that it supply exceeds the demand it seriously sucks for the suppliers. For the consumers of course it is a bonanza time as cut throat competition ensures that the costs are un-sustainably cheap.

The diagram pictorialy explains this phenomenon. The downward sloping curve is the demand for engineering seats. The upward sloping curve is the number of seats up grab by the both government and private institutions. The instersection of the two is going to give us the cost of the education. (lets assume as annual tuition fees + costs)

One may wonder if both the number of seats available and number filled are a single point in the graph, why bother to draw to a curve? This is because of the concept of Willingness to Pay.
A more affluent student wouldn't mind paying Rs 62,500 per year (max management quota fees) provided he gets the good he wanted (i.e an engineering seat). So students like him would be on the upper reaches of the demand curve. Whereas a student from a poor family would find it difficult even to pay Rs 40,000 (govt quota fees). such students are bound to be in the lower reaches of the curve. (below the intersection in some cases). Likewise colleges could offer more seats than the current dispensation by increasing the strength or the number of courses. But they would be reluctant to do , if the intersection of demand curve is below their current intake capacity. (for the colleges the willingness to supply is the equivalent concept of WTP).

In this crowded market who is going to suffer? Economics tells us it is going to be the supplier i.e. technical institutions. As the number of colleges proliferate the students have more and more choices. In view of the increasing vacancies, the colleges are forced to reduce their fees (as teh demand curve falls down while supply remains constant). (the other day my cousin showed me an SMS ad for an engineering college seat with reduced fees !!! such is the pathetic state of engineering colleges !!!). As the tution fees falls , colleges cannot recoup the cost incurred in imparting the education.

This is where economics and practicalities differ. As the cost of educations falls it is teh students who are going to be affected as the result quality deterioration. So in a way both the colleges and the students are going to suffer if this current trend continues unabated.

AICTE must step up it reguations in this regard. In this competitive world we cannot afford to churn our second rate engineers. I did visit the AICTE guidelines on the starting new techincal institions. Officially all it is takes is a etsablished trust/society, with 25 acres land and 35 lacs Fixed deposit guarantee !!! Unofficially of course it involves greasing several palms in the State government, affiliating university and AICTE members. ( AICTE Chairman is under arrest by CBI on bribery charges ). So even if that is taken into account it takes only about 1 crore plus the land acquisition cost to start an engineering college !!! You can even start the building construction after getting the initial LoA. With relatively non-existent market barriers it is easy for every Tom, Dick and Harry to start a college. After all these individuals must park their black money somewhere, so why not start a college??

Too many cooks spoil the broth. The saying seems apt for TN engineering colleges. (I personally wish they could start some of these colleges in the North-east or Bihar/Jharkand/Orissa etc. where even colleges are non-existent). In 2009-10 academic year 85 new institutions cropped in TN alone !!! Perhaps they are yet to learn the simple lessons of supply v. demand !!!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Gender Equality- in letter and titles !!!

The other day when I was watching the Lok Sabha TV ( for those of you who have never heard about it, there is also a Rajya Sabha TV channel. Both are meant exclusively for broadcasting the respective house proceedings. Both are very informative on public policy issues), one Honourable member addressed the Speaker Meira Kumari as "Madam Speaker Sir". Well he may be excused for his faux pas, but many of our everyday parlance is riddled with a hidden gender bias. Most of our societies (including that of the West) have been male centric for centuries, so it is only in recent times that gender equality is being given its due regard.

For example we award "Bachelor's" degree even to our lady graduates, when a more politically correct designation would be "Bachelorette's". Our "Madam President" may not find a suitable Hindi equivalent as Rastrapathi is traditionally been occupied by pathis. (pathi meaning a husband). Perhaps she could be addressed as "Rastrapatni". Well I am sure Idea Cellular would appreciate this. After all, "What an idea Sirji !!"

Friday, August 7, 2009

A trial by a Jury or a Judge?

In Salman Rushdie's Midnight Children there is a whole chapter dedicated to the scandal of Commander Sabarmati. The commander's wife Lila was involved in a romantic affair with one Homi Catrack, an unscrupulous womanizer. So when our hero Saleem breaks the news of the affairs to the chivalrous Commander , he devices an elaborate act to catch the couple red handed.

So this sounds like a good hindi movie plot? But unfortunately the events described above are based on real life. In our real story however there are some subtle changes that the Commander is a young Parsi gentleman who could have easily risen to teh top ranks of the Navy. His wife was a British national in India. The villan of course is Prem Ahuja a Sindhi business man. Commander Kawas M Nanavati did murder his British wife Slyvia 's paramour Prem Ahuja at point blank range after both of them were caught red handed.

So why are we so much bothered about a scandal of the Bombay of the sixties ? Exactly fifty years ago this case transformed the way our judicial system work. This was the case wherein the Bombay High Court declared that trial by jury is not suitable for Indian setting. At the trial court the jury overwhelmingly influenced by the stature of Commander's 'chivalrous action' ruled 8-1 not guilty of premeditated murder. Instead charged him culpable homicide with a two year prison term.

Fifty years later, it is time we revisit the issue of trial by jury again. A jury is a representative sample of the society at large. In all criminal proceedings the accused has the inherent right to be adjudicated by the society for his crimes. In the current dispensation it is the individual justices who adjudicate and decided on the extent of guilt.An unbiased jury is a rough representation of society's collective values and conscience. Hence they are less vulnerable to personal prejudices and inclinations of individuals. Also trial by jury can also reduce the burden on over worked judges.

But trial by jury also has its own disadvantages. In the US there are frequent appeals on the composition of the jury. In the Rodney King case, an all-white jury exonerated the LAPD of any wrong doing in death of the black individual. In this case the collective integrity of the jury was called into question.

There are inherent disadvantages in judges deciding on the quantum of punishment as well. In a recent case of a murder of a person, by henchmen of the owner a popular South Indian restaurant chain, the trial court judge passed a 10 year RI imprisonment with a whopping compensation of 55 lacs to the victim's wife!!! (considering his restaurant empire across the world, he could have paid the fine with ease). Then the a two judge bench of the Madras High court stepped in and reduced the fine to Rs. 30,000 (from 55 lacs !!) with a double life imprisonment( two 14 years RI each). So in the trial court the judge saw the practical ameliorative measure as cash compensation with min imprisonment. (considering his age and political clout). But the High court judge strictly by the books and awarded prison terms accordingly. (unfortunately the prescribed monetary fines in our law books is yet to catch up with current rate of inflation !!!). Now that the lady would get a pittance for her struggles, the case went to the Supreme Court and the owner is on bail . (well that's the way our judiciary works)

Before I conclude, Kawas Nanvati was eventually pardoned by then Governor of Bombay in 1962, thanks to pressure exerted by the Parsi club. He eventually left India and settled in Canada. (with his wife Sylvia and family ironically !!))

Monday, March 30, 2009

A report card on UPA governance

It is election time once again in India...once in every five years (or sometimes even earlier) this festival of democracy is marked by the customary boisterous and cacophonic rantings and ramblings of our netas...the opposition accusses the government of not doing enough...the government picks up dirt on the charges, whipping up communal sentiments, Tammny hall politics at its best, caste appeasement and what not...

But wait a minute, in the midst of this mindless cacophony, did we miss out something? of course we did. We forgot to evaluate the performance of government. Or to phrase it more elegantly, what public policy changes did the government usher(or fail to usher) in the last five years? in India, public memory is short (in fact way too short) (one example: Lalu is no more the Fodder-tainted Bihar CM, now he adorns the hat of modern management guru responsible for Railways; transformation) So i thought it would be a good thing to recapitulate and list the successes and failures of UPA government's. (for brevity sake let us limit to top five in the list)

I really doubt many would share a similar sentiment. At least the following list would give an idea on what the public agenda was during the past five years.

  • NREGA: National Rural employment Guarantee act: this phenomenal piece of legalisation ensured credit access to millions of rural poor in India. It poverty alleviation objectives however remains to be tested. One biggest drawback of this lack of tangible assets creation in rural areas.
  • JNURRM: Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission: One more of the Gandhi family named schemes. an out lay of 50,00cr., its India's biggest attempt to inject funds into widely needed urban infrastructure. It covers only 60 major cities, and the total outlay is no where near what India needs.
  • Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Co-operation: after so much hue and cry this act was passed. The utility remains to be tested. expectations are high on this act.
  • Civil aviation boom and airport modernisation: Who would have thought of aam aadmi travelling in a aeroplane prior to Praful Patel's entry? The phenomenal growth in civil aviation is worthy of emulation. But unfortunately airport modernization is not catching up with it. Maybe a bit more impetus on airport modernation would have earned Prafulji an A+
  • Prudent macro-economic management. Chidambaram's policies kept up the pace of economic momentum. RBI's regulation prevented the gloabl meltdown from spoiling the Indian dream. kudos to Chidambaram and RBI . GDP growth was consitently above eight percent for the last five years. this is an feat which no FM in independent India can boast of.
    Top five failures on the next blog.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Iron Lady of India

Our history text books is replete with references to the Sardar Vallabhai Patel as "the Iron man of India". But guess who could vie for the position for the Iron lady of India?

Its not Indira Gandhi or even Pratibha Devi Singh Patel. Unlike Vallabhai Patel, she is not venerated by the Government nor is she is celebrated in textbooks of our school curriculum.

Ok that enough of suspense. The title goes to Irom Sharmila. (its Irom not Iron and that is her name) So who is exactly is this Irom Sharmila ?To sum up in a brief paragraph. She hails from a middle class family. She belongs to the state of Manipur. She had a schooling upto standard twelve. But what made her the Iron Lady is the Gandhian spirit that she had unleashed against the state.

She is on a hunger strike since Nov of 2000. (you got right, for the past nine years she is on a hunger strike) against a alleged Army massacare at Malom, Manipur. But she is forcibily nasal fed to keep her alive. (lest the Government wish her to attain martydom.) For the most of this decade she is under arrest (under the provisions of Indian Penal Code for the cirme of attempting sucide.) Since the jail term is one year for the crime, she is promptly released at the end of her term, then jailed again for her persistence on continuing the hunger strike.

So this saga is continuing for the past ten years now. Her main demands is the repaeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act , 1958(AFPSA). It is draconian and totalitarian act that gives a carte blanche powers to the Indian Army to conduct the affairs of teh state. Alomost all of the fundamental rights (like Right to peacefully assemble, Legal remedy etc.) were abrogated by this act, under the pretext of maintaining law and order. In fact even the Army can fire at any person and still enjoy immunity under the provisions of the law.

Public memory is short, but one powerful image in India's independent history is that of the nude protests by Manipuri women agains the Indian Army. A nation was shell shocked by the image that speaks volume of our indifference to North eastern affairs. we systematically tend to underplay the resentment of the North eastern people against the state. (state meaning India here). For a while the tiny state of Mainpur came into the mainstream prominence. After the period of cooling, the Manipur protest faded away from our radar.

India is a democracy. Of what use is a democracy and the grandoise rights/ liberties. when certain sections of our society is mercilessly reperessed for the past half century. Although mainting law and order is a parmaount duty of a state, but should be pursued to the cost so that even the general citizenry turn against the state?

Justice Jeevan Reddy report(formed after the protest episode) favored the repeal of AFPSA and incorporating some of the demeaning provisons into Unlwaful Activities- Prevention Act (1967)
It is equivalent of old wine in new bottle. The only tangible change on the ground is that kangla Fort, the traditional seat of Manipuri kings, was vacated by the Army and Assam Rifles.

Meanwhile the enquiry against the custodial death of Thanjim Manaorma (the killing which lead to the protests in the valley) has gone no where. The Assam Rifles jawans who raped and murdered here, have still not been brought to books.

Mahatma Gandhi ahimsa was able to work against the mighty British imperialism, but can Sharmila's non-violent struggles against a "democratic" India bring about any fruitful change is highly questionable. As per the latest news report, the PMO is still studying the recommendations of the Jeevan report which was submitted in 2006.

And for our Iron Lady, she is still continuing her marathon fast at Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, Imphal. At the end of the day, nothing seems to have changed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Police Reforms in India

Police reforms in India is long overdue. The Indian Police Act 1861 (that's right, it no typo error. An act passed Four years after the Sepoy Mutiny) is surprisingly the binding precedent on all state police organisations in the country. Perhaps no country in the world follows an outdated law as we do.

The most glaring inefficiencies of the Indian police system was revealed during the recent Mumbai terror carnage. It took just ten heavily armed men to wreck an unprecedented havoc and destruction. Literally they were parading as killing machines. The Mumbai police was brought to its knees during that fateful night. Sadly our thana level police officers, armed with lathis, had to face the might of AK-47s and grenades.

In many of the CCTV footage of the terrorists, literally the police and public were running away from the those killer maniacs. It was so painful to see policemen hiding behind Victorian gothic arches and crevices (at the CST station). We can't blame them, after all most of these Railway Protection Force personnel were un-armed. (I believe only officers above the rank of Sub-Inspector in RPF are armed !!) So the killers had a free run for hours together, gambolling( I can't think of a better word) across the quiet night of the Mumbai, with a free licence to kill.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the more you engage the armed terrorists, better are the changes of the eliminating them. When half the police on ground are barely armed, serious questions are raised on the level of preparedness of the Indian police to meet up the challenges of the law enforcement.

The unmitigated valour and courage shown by the police officers is commendable. In fact NDTV reported that one of the police constable outside Cama Hsopital, actually tried warning the terrorists, mistaking them for innocent students, of the impending danger. Sadly, humanism has no place in the jargon of terrirosm. Needless to say he was killed. The tragic death of three senior IPS offciers(like sitting ducks in a car) is sordid testimony to the lack of police infrastructure. (they ran out of vehicles) To make matters worse terrorists use the same vehicle, a Toyota Qualis, (after dumping the offciers) to spread further carnage. Luckily, this juggernaut was finally subdued an hour later.

To tackle with the new threats posed by terrorism, police reforms must be accorded highest priority. Operational structure must also be radically reformed. Every thana level of constable must be a self contained warrior to meet these typ of challenges. Weaponry is a must for all police personnel, starting from the lowest level of Constable. Co-ordinated communication and more importantly strong back-up response must be institutionalised.

A 18 year old Israeli IDF soldier(where Military drafting is compulsory) is ten times better equipped than a average policeman on street today. But infrastructure alone won't fix the problem, the issue of motivation and maintaining the morale of the force must also be looked into. Maintaining law and order is one the parmaount duties of a police force. Perhaps as our Home Minister Mr P Chidambaram succinctly terms it, " Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for democracy". Vigilance on the part of the public as well the law enforcement agencies is the greatest need of the hour.

Private-public partnerships on Police modernisation can also seriously studied. For example, Hyundai Motors India Ltd. donated Accent cars to Chennai City Traffic Police (CCTP). Chennai is perhaps the only metropolitan city in India, with Traffic police in state of the art sedans. we need more of these partnerships for effective policing.

I prophesize that in the near future most of the major railway stations in the country is going to be equipped with X-ray baggage scanner (like in airports) and latest security detection technologies. (already the Taj Hotels are planning to install security systems of their own). hence funding these modernisation measures is going to be an onerous task. Private players must be roped in to meet this funding requirements.

This time I have focused mainly on policing infrastructure reforms areas. But there are also other issues like corruption, Human rights preservation, Civil/ criminal procedure reforms, administrative reforms, jail reforms, citizen- police interface etc., that merits our attention. I propose to express my views in my future blogs.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Rights, Authority and its excercise

Humans are generally obsessed with rights. Historical documents like Magna Carta of England, Cyrus' tablet or our very own Emperor Ashoka's edicts are examples of humans attempting to enshrine the rights.

Most of democracies today grants certain rights and liberties to its citizenry. Some of the rights we just take it for granted, like the right to live etc. For most of the citizenry rights are just taken for granted, rather only when the rights are denied, we raise hue and cry over its deprivation.

Rights, by their very nature, is an anathema to power.(or to exertion of authority) But humans, as a collective entity, have always subjected themselves to power and authority. We always prefer a leader to guide us , right? Anarchism, a philosophy which advocates complete elimination of authority( or government) is yet to be successfully implemented any where in this world. hence the question of eliminating authority is impractical, at least for now. So how do we explain this contradiction. I guess like all things in life, even politics is a mix of rights and authority. Democracies gives greater priority in expanding rights, while a autocratic system tends to extend the scope of authority.

There is also a curious question of exercising the said rights granted to individuals. Mere granting of rights does not imply an individual has to exercises it. In the parody movie Monty Phyton: Life of Brian, one of the disgruntled folk talks about the desire to have babies. It is every woman's right to conceive (or abort) a baby, but the queer complication in the movie is that the person who wants to have a baby is a gent!! So finally after due deliberations they agree on the fact that every male has the right to have babies, except that this right cannot be exercised by the said individual due to factors beyond one's control. The funniest part is that they passed a resolution demanding the grant of such rights from the imperialist Romans.( they were the occupying Jerusalem , in this case they represent the authority).

So do we need rights that can be hardly be exercised?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Idea of India- Whats in a nation?

During the recent Mumbai terror carnage, folks in the media questioned whether the very idea of India is under attack. The phrase was quite a catchy one and set me on a never ending trajectory of thoughts.

First and foremost the question arises as what constitute a nation? By nation do we only refer to the geographic territory? What do we mean by the rhetoric "to defend the nation"? What are we defending here? Is it only the geographic boundary? Or are we defending more than that, like a nation's values and honour?(remember the French were vanquished in both the World Wars from the homeland, but then remarkably the idea of France did not disappear by it) Adding to the confusion is that for many of us (that includes me) have still no idea on what the "idea of India" actually means.

The seminal seeds of a nationhood was perhaps sowed in the mid-nineteenth century Europe. German unification under Kaiser Wilhelm I (lets not forget Otto Van Bismarck too), Italy under Emmanuel and the French under various Republics facade, are some the poioneering examples of nationhood in the making. In fact the idea of nationhood is not that old in many of the Euorpean nations today. In fact less than a century of emergence of nation states in Europe (Germany for example in 1871), the idea of an Indian nation was born. (in 1947 of course)

Imperialism has sowed these seeds to many of colonised and third world countries too. As Winston Churchill once notroiously remarked, "India is no more a nation than the Equator", the idea of India sprouted very rapidily. It indeed a miracle that by 15th August 1947, 565 Princely Kingdoms united with the British India, to form the India that we know today. ( once again due credits Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India's answer to Bismarck)

In as much as the idea of India emerged, the idea of Pakistan- the homeland for Muslims of Indian sub-continent also sprouted. The merits or demerits of Partition of course is beyond the scope of this trajectory of thoughts. But the example of Pakistan's partition( or Bangladesh emergence in 1971) highights one important lesson. A nation cannot be founded upon unifying trait or characteristics. In 1947, the founders of Pakistan assumed that Islam would unite the East and West Pakistan together. But the idea of Pakistan failed miserbly in this case. (partly India's mischief is to be blamed for the dissolution).

Therefore for a nation to survive, it cannot be based on a uniform trait. Belonging to a nation does not imply that every individual should possess a homogenous attributes.(say language, religious beliefs etc.) Rather my gut feeling says it is the diveristy that strengtens the idea of nationhood. Any nation that fails to accomodate this diversity is only paving way for secession tendencies. Sri Lanka's Sinhala only policy, "standardisation" of marks are examples of a nation trying to impose a homogenous identity on its population, under the guise of social empowerment.

(to be continued...)