Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sudan Referendum - for peace or for another Civil war?

World war two made it difficult for the colonial powers of the old world to hold their international possessions together. Powerful national movements in the colonies, international consensus against colonialism, poor economic condition in Europe after the war etc lead to the independence of colonies.

Even if sun finally set in the British empire, sun never raised (or raised for a brief moment) in many of the new countries. Sudan falls in this category. After gaining independence from Egypt and UK in 1956, Sudan suffered 17 years long civil war which ended in 1972. As if this was not enough another civil war was followed by ethnic, religious conflicts between Northern Sudanese (Arab and Nubian) and Christian and Animist Nilotes of South in 1983. This data is enough for the reader to think about the independence Sudanese got in 1956.

Sudan is also a good example for the 'Curse of Oil'. Sudan's rich natural resources - Petroleum and Oil exports -didn't help the common Sudanese to kill their hunger. According to CIA Fact book - "The second war and famine-related effects resulted in more than four million people displaced and, according to rebel estimates, more than two million deaths over a period of two decades".

After the long civil 'North-South Comprehensive Peace Treatment'(CPA) was signed in January 2005. CPA gave an autonomy of six years for the southern region. After six years(that is in 2011) a referendum will be held to decide the autonomy of southern region.

As if all these conflict related deaths are not enough, a separate crisis was unfolded in Darfar in 2003, (Then US Secretary of state Collin Powell termed Darfur conflict as genocide) which resulted in the displacement of more than 2 million people and death of 2,00,000 to 4,00,000 people - CIA Fact book. The number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) currently living in Sudan is around 5.3 to 6.2 million. A staggering figure as the entire population of Sudan is just 44 million(approx).

It is in this situation Sudan is heading for referendum the first month of next year. How far it will be a success is yet to see. In fact its still not sure whether it will happen in the correct date and whether the waring faction will agree on the results. Even if Southern Sudan got independence after referendum will the people get a stable government? or will the south again split to various faction and continue their wars? It is rater ironic to note that - while 40% of the people live below the poverty line, there seems to be no deficiency in arms production and use. At this point of time what International community can do is to use everything at their disposal to ensure fair referendum in 2011 and substantially increase the number of peacekeeping force to check the possible violence at the time of referendum.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

2G Spectrum, flow of money and Government Exchequer

Indian Currency
It many not be possible even for a good journalist, who is covering politics for last two decades to name all the scams in the last twenty years after liberalization. As the years passed, amount involved in these events exponentially raised to mind blowing figures. For example, how many of you can count the number of zeros in 1.76 lack crore(recent 2G scam) in one minute? And for our bad luck, there is no tendency of a decline in corruption, in fact the number of corruption cases and the amount involved in it are multiplying manifold in year after year.

Corruptions in 2010:

Consider the case of 2010; we have good numbers in hand - 2G Spectrum, Adarsh Society, Commonwealth Games 2010, Dubious deals in IPL, Prasarbharti scam, Karnataka Mining scam, LIC Housing Finance scam etc. All these cases involves huge amount of money running into crores of rupees.

The interesting thing is that, in the flood of scams in 2010 we don't even remember the scams of previous years, like Jharkhand mining scam of 2009 - the alleged money involved in this scam itself is around 4000 crore rupees (almost a fifth of the annual budget of Jharkhand).There is no doubt that the amount of money flowing in to the pockets of government officers, tax heaves and secret banking heavens like Switzerland will be a mind blowing figure. May be we need to employee the services of Tianhe-1A of China or Jaguar of Cray, USA(current top 2 supercomputers) to calculate the sum.

Ashoka's Dhamma and the Current Indian society:

Is it shows the current Dhamma of India? The spider net of curroption is slowly covering our society - not only Indian politics but in other fields too. Indian society which once boast of Ashhoka's dhamma and noble eight-fold path now have low rankings in Transparency International's reports. In a free country everyone have the right to hold personal property and accumulate personal wealth, but no where its said that the amounts which (is in/)have to go to public exchequer can be considered as the personal wealth and use it like that.

But from the top to bottom from getting driving license, building a house, to get connections faster, to get a contract, for operating lorries across different states, to run temporary stores in road sides people have to satisfy various hands of government. of course the fault is not fully lies in the hands of various government arms, people are more than willing to pay small or big amounts to make the things faster(so that they can make money more easier), to short circuit the procedures, to cover up what they are cooking.

The main problem here is not the number of corruptions or the amount involved in it but what happens to the amount itself.For example take the case of 2G scam or CWG games, there is a lot of arguments and counter arguments going on in these cases. Cases are registered and its sure that it will run its own course; CBI, CVC, CAG, ED, IT and various other government agencies will enquire it for some time, then another scam will come and attention will shift to that one and people will slowly forget this one. After some years courts may find someone as guilty and give them the prison terms - considering the pace of cases in Indian courts, these cases will run for years.

Recovering the lost amounts:

But What will happen to the amount of money involved in these scandals? Considering the mind blowing amounts of money involved, a reasonable guess suggest that, this many not be the work of a single person or a handful, but will the agencies be able go to the root and unearth everything? Apart from the money we lost, we are again spending huge amounts to investigate the matter.

What is the point of investigating the same thing by 5-10 different government agencies? Over and above opposition wants more probes into the matter. I don't know what difference a JPC can make? The report prepared by JPC is not legally binding, the same case is applicable for any other commissions created by government. Already there are more than enough reports on government coffers which may be enough to provide raw materials for various Indian news papers for one year!!! In such a scenario what is the use of another enquiry commission?

And after all these investigations, will the Republic get her money back? Will the penalty imposed on the preparaters (If and only if anyone of them convicted at all) will be enough to cover the losses of exchequer? Or will it safely land in Swiss bank accounts? or in the form of properties in posh areas? or will come back to Indian as Foreign Direct Investment from abroad?

Lokpal Bil:

This should not be the situation in a country which is aspiring for permanent seat in UNSC. Accountability should be imposed on all levels. Lokpal Bill have to be passed and there is no need to omit important offices like CAG, CJI from its cover. An enhanced Lokpal Bill, which will cover politicians and beaurocrats in the high offices in centre and state, along with the strict implementation of current anti-corruption laws will enable us to curb this menace.

If passed, Lokpal Bil will prove to be another big achievement of Manmohan Singh government, like the Right To Information Act(RTI), Civil Nuclear agreement etc. To overcome the current corruption scandals which shaked Union government and various state governments, government have to implement Lokpal Bil.

Still we didn't lost everything, there are a lot of honest officers in government services and politics.Hope that there will be a day when the publicaton of curroption reports from Transperancy International many not an embrassing event for India.


Bihar - Elections, Caste politics and Democracy

Mahabodhi Temple, Bihar
Recently concluded Bihar elections gave a whopping four by five majority to the ruling JD(U)-BJP allience. NDA increased its tally from 143 in 2005 to 207 in 2010(JD[U] 116[2005:88], BJP 91[2005:55]); whereas the main opposition RJD-LJP alliance's tally reduced to 25 from 64 (LJP 3[2005:10], RJD 22 [2005:54]). Congress got 4 seats [2005:9] and CPI got 1 seat. Rest of the seats went to others.

You may be wondering what is the difference between election in Bihar and in Other states. The difference emergence of development as the main political issue in a highly criminalised,corrupt and caste based politics of Bihar. I am not saying caste and religion lost its political shine, it will be there and it is possible that it many come back with more power - look at the situation Karnataka. But there is no doubt that the developmental issues at least for this time came out from the shadow. A spectacular turnaround for a state where caste wars and kidnappings were institutionalised. For a long time Bihar was an example for what can be go wrong in India, and if this model sustained it may become a role model for other states.

A lot of things are changed in the last 5 years. One news paper even quoted a person saying that he no longer feared about kidnapping when going out of home in the night. NDTV report says that "According to Police records, 48427 criminals were convicted and punished by fast track courts across the state between 2006 January and 2010 May...During this period, 124 people including criminal turned politicians were sentenced to death, 8602 people sentenced to life imprisonment, 2282 were awarded Jail terms of over 10 years".


According to Bihar government's own economic survey, economy had grown at an annual rate of 11.35% from 2004-05 to 2008-09 as compared to just 3.5% in the previous five years. Construction sector recorded a growth of 35.8%,communication sector have a growth of 17.68% and 17.17% growth in trade, restaurants and Hotels. There is a considerable improvement in tourism sector also. Number of foreign visitors to Bihar increased by six fold from 61,000 in 2003 to 3.46 lack in 2008. Domestic tourism numbers increased from 52.28 lack in 2003  to 118.9 lack in 2008. An impressive turnaround for a state where some years back people afraid to go.

Government scored good on infrastructure also; around 2417kms of roads were constructed on 2008-09 alone as compared to 415kms in 2005-06.Automobile sales recorded a 700% growth. Crimes by bandits fell from 1297 to 640 and kidnappings for ransom dropped from 411 to 66 between 2004-08.

Sustainable Growth?

It will not be an exaggeration to say that in 2005 Nitish Kumar inherited Bihar in one of the worst forms a state can possibly have. From this lowest point a small but consistent support and direction from a stable government will enable the state to improve dramatically. It can acquire impressive growth rates in the short term, but how far this momentum will go? Will the state be able to grow at this rate for a considerable future? And what about growth sectors? is it a sustainable one?

In many cases not only in Bihar but in other parts of country also the growth are not driven by technology sector or High level manufacturing products. But huge amount of money are going in to bubbling construction sector, which raises the price of property beyond the reach of common man. This construction is not mainly focused on increasing office space but on over prized housing projects. How far this construction led growth will go is still not certain.

The other point of growth in the country is in the form of mining, where the established and dubious companies are excavating and exporting huge amount of minerals in the lower value chain. The scams in this sector involves mind blowing figures and acquisition of the land for mining not always peaceful. But how far this mineral export led growth can move the society forward is still an open question. It may be better than the 'curse of oil' in Africa but certainly in the absence of accountability and transparency this will not lead us anywhere;instead of leading to the upliftment of people it may only lead to the upliftment of the society from the inherited lands.

Government reports states that the use of cement in Bihar in has grown 28% in last year- what they are constructing? budget housing or office spaces? or over prized apartments?
Nalanda University ruins, Bihar

Manufacturing sectors contribution towards the state GDP of Bihar is mere 4.69%. According to the third All India census of SSI, based on RBI criteria, 32.04% units in Bihar were sick and have outstanding loans. The two main reasons for this sickness is 'shortage of working capital' and 'power shortage'. Percapita power consumption in Bihar is just 76 units where as national average is 612 units(2005). In the case of poverty, the poverty ratio for Bihar is around 54.4% well above the national average of 37.2%. Growth rate in Electricity, Water supply and Gas in the state is mere 1.48%.

Caste Politics:

Just like the news papers across Indian told us - caste issues may not got an upper hand this time.. Whenever the politicians doesn't have anything else to boast off,they will quickly jump in to caste and religious fever. These people are sawing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. There should be a clear separation between religion and politics, religious fever should be kept out of politics, its private to the individual not a magic 'mantra' for acquiring votes.


But all these things will not reduce the importance Nitish's work in Bihar. Indeed he deserved this landslide victory for driving Bihar back to the track. What lay ahead of him is more important and demanding, he have to continue his initial success and move the state forward - indeed the capital of First pan indian empire and place of enlightment for Buddha deserve to be among the great cities of the world.


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Kitchen to power; Women Reservation - A Kerala model

Different people may have different opinions about reservation, for some it may be a tool for lifting under privileged people, for others it may be an option to get vote, for others it may be one of the worst option that can be implemented by politicians - who are less eager on developmental issues and more interested in caste equations, to get votes. But 33% reservation for women was a shock even for many of the reservation hungry leaders in Indian politics. They tried all sort of methods to drop the bill or to delay it as common people understood or opposing the act because of the absence of separate reservation for women from lower castes according to them! In this situation of intense opposition for '33% women reservation in Parliment', rising attacks against girls and women, we have to analyse the merit of the implementation of whopping 50% reservation for women in the recent Kerala panchayath elections.

Now, women heads 489 gramma(village)panchayats out of the total 978, 76 block panchayats out of 152, 31 municipalities out of 60, 7 district panchayats out of 14, 3 corporations out of 5 and more than 21,682 wards in Kerala. These are the minimum figures as many more women may elected from the general seats too.

It may be true that many of the elected women representatives may be the wives, sisters, relatives of powerful politicians, or dummies to fulfill obligation of law. You can even argue that there may be back stage administration in the case of fresh and inexperienced women members. But all these things will not reduce the sheen of the election of more than half women representatives - may be a difficult fact to digest even for the champions for the women rights in the west - in the local bodies. We can also easily assume that this situation will make the local bodies more approachable for women as they may find another women more approachable.

But do we have any chance to think that women reservation will improve the system? No one can guarantee that a women representative will perform better than that of a male representative, in terms of administrative efficiency or cleaning the Indian bureaucratic system which fell deep on corruption and inefficiency. Will this move eliminate corruption in the system? Again there is no guarantee.

The policy of reserving 50% seats exclusively for women also opens a pandora's box of problems. 50% exclusive women reservation automatically indicates that men can't contest on 50% of the electoral seats for five years. Many women candidates who are going to the local bodies have no previous experience in active politics, this will make them vulnerable in decision making. Its another matter that many of the highly experienced members didn't make the system working. What will happen after 5 years? When these seats will become general seats, will the parties issue tickets to them? or they will exit from the political circles? As of a now the candidate selection committee of various parties (if they have something like that) doesn't have that much representative from women.

Any way in this stage where the scandals after scandals about politicians are exploding in the media circles, the large amount of women influx to the politics may help it to recover some of its prestige. Its a good opportunity for women to show their efficiency and justify the reservation by working hard for the welfare of the people using these panchayat bodies, which are acquiring more autonomy and new funds to implement various schemes.


PS: Please don't make this 50% reservation institutional. May be India is the only country in the world where people are striking for getting lower status [to taste the fruit of reservation], and parties are ready to make fresh offers or increase the existing quotas under reservation for various castes before elections. In fact instead of getting away with caste system we are making it institutional, hope that women reservation will not fall in this pit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Glimpses of British Raj

This incident may not be an interesting one. After reading this story you may even question the validity of the title itself. Any way I am sharing this experience with you; before that I would like to ask one question to you. What is your opinion about the quality of public works at the time of 'British Raj'?

An interesting question? As most of us born after the days of Raj, we can only imagine the situation existing at that times from the stories of 'National Movement' and contemporary literary works.You may be wondering why I am suddenly talking about the days of Raj? OK, let me describe an incident.

Some days back I was on my way to a bus stand, on the the banks of famous Bharatapuza river(Second longest river in Kerala) to catch the very next bus to Thrissur. I took an auto for travelling the last ten minutes to the stand. Please note that in Kerala (at least in Palakkad district) for return autos charges are equal to that of bus fare. There were two more persons in that auto, one is close to 50-55 years old -wearing shirt and pant, other one is around 60-65 years old - white hair, wearing shirt and mundu. Frequent rains almost transformed the road to a small river, pot holes of varying depths are filled with brown coloured water. Pot holes thus formed in the middle of the roads are many times proved to be dangerous, especially for two wheelers, even for three wheelers these holes (filled with water) are posing considerable threat.

Suddenly the person sitting next to me started talking by comparing today's road construction with that of the Raj. Within no time the other one and the auto driver joined. None of them have any good opinion about today's road. Driver said that "Today's roads are like Jack fruits, when it is dry its OK, but at rainy season roads will torn open,like a Jack fruit". Suddenly the first one said roads were good at the time of British, now a days, its good for nothing in rainy season (Monsoon in kerala - from June to November).  I remembered last night's one hour long journey in state run KSRTC bus, if the road is in this state for some more time, then these buses will no longer be in the position to run. These roads will definitely increase the market for pain balms. Slowly we crossed the bridge across Bharatapuzha, after successfully escaping from several holes in the road.

This is not the first time I am hearing about comparison of the 'very high quality' works (especially public construction) after independence and that of Raj. There are decades old British bridges still in use whereas the one made recently fell down twice. If the government is not ready to improve the quality of works at the ground level, then the billions flowing-in for the infrastructure development will fill the deep pockets of the people who are pulling the threads instead of potholes in the ground.