Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who's a lesser devil among BJP & Congress?

Let me first tackle the communal vs. secular angle. Congress is perceived (and that’s what everyone in Congress claims) as a secular party whereas BJP a communal party. So let’s get some basic facts. As per dictionary I don’t think communal (which means pertaining to any particular commune or community) is the right antonym for secular (which means not pertaining to any religion). I’d rather prefer to use the word non-communal in place of secular, because that’s what it means in the context of BJP and Congress. Even though everyone in Congress claims to be a non communal party, long back Md. Ali Jinnah and so many other people associated with Muslim League never accepted that. The very fact that Jinnah and Muslim League supporters didn’t get enough space within Congress, finally created Pakistan. That’s a blatant fact that nobody can deny. All those people, who didn’t get space in Congress, did think that Congress was a communal party. I strongly believe the last non communal personality in India was Mahatma Gandhi and every other politician fitted into the communal or non communal bill as per the prospect and space he/she got in any party. Had Jinnah got the space within Congress, that Nehru got, there won’t have been a Pakistan. Let’s fast forward to post independence scenario. The Jan Singh leaders (Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Jayaprakash Narayan etc) didn’t get space within Congress, the same way as Annadurai, MGR, NTR, et al, didn’t get space and floated separate parties specifically for Dravidian and Telegu communities. At present there are so many regional or community based parties in India. So it’s a fact that Congress didn’t have space to accommodate the aspirations of the leaders of these communities. So I don’t think Congress can take the credit of being a non-communal party. I believe by ‘communal’ and ‘non-communal’ (or secular and non-secular) people generally perceive the idea of how much hostile or friendly a party is towards any religious minority community. So let’s now turn to some statistics with regards to the hostilities of BJP and Congress against minority communities.

In the 1984 anti Sikh riots, after the murder of Indira Gandhi, 2,733 people were killed only in Delhi. It’s wide known that the riots had implicit support of many Congress leaders and the police force didn’t come to the rescue to the Sikh victims. Congress leaders like Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, convicted of mob instigation during those riots were in power for quite some time after the riots. Tytler was even given a birth in the UPA government. A very similar thing repeated in Gujrat in 2002 where 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in Hindu-Muslim clashes in retaliation to at least 15, out of 59 karsevaks, being charred to death when a coach of the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze near Godhra railway station on February 27 by Muslim fanatics. The state apathy and police inaction, that resulted in the carnage was exactly same as what had happened in Delhi in 1984. Both the 1984 anti Sikh riots and 2002 post Godhra riots are equally ghastly episodes and both Congress and BJP governments are responsible for the carnage. But still number of Sikhs killed in 1984 in Delhi alone is more than three times the number of Muslims killed in 2002 in Gujrat. So at least in this case, statistically I see BJP as a lesser devil.

During the 21 months of the Emergency period, between June 25, 1975 and March 21, 1977, more than 100,000 persons were jailed without trial. This was in fact twice the number of arrests made during the 1942 Quit India movement throughout the Sub-continent. During this time twenty custodial deaths were reported. This was again the handwork of the mother of Indian National Congress, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is a sort of atrocity towards the minority community, who belonged not to a different religion, but to a different ideology.

Next, let’s discuss the Babri Masjid Demolition issue. Over one thousand people were killed in incidents of violence throughout India after Babri Masjid was demolished in 6th December, 1992. There has been a tendency to label these incidents as "Hindu-Muslim riots," but as is typical in most instances of communal violence, there is mounting evidence that many people killed have actually been the victims of police gunfire. Why has such violence been used against innocent people? One wonders what stopped the government and the security forces from maintaining the peace and preventing the demolition of the mosque as the terrible events of 6th December, 1992, were unfolding. Why has such tolerance been shown toward the attackers in Ayodhya, who were permitted, for over a day and a half, to demolish the mosque, build the "temple foundation," and leave the city in special buses and trains without being appre­hended, even after the state had been under direct president's rule for more than twenty-four hours? The Babri Masjid demolition was the culmination of Mr L K Ldvani’s Rath Yatra (procession) in 1990, which was directly linked to the communal car­nage that took place at various cities along his route. If the Congress government has today chosen to charge Advani (and others involved in the Rath Yatra) with crimes of instigating mobs, then why was he not arrested during the course of 2 years, especially since Advani and his supporters had long advertised their intention of tearing down the mosque? If Advani is responsible for the communal violence the Congress run government at the centre, lead by Mr. P V Narasimha Rao, can’t also be relieved of the charges of inaction. Advani’s Rath Yatra and Babri Masjid demolition were just very intelligently conceived devices that helped BJP to come to power very soon, the same way Congress came to power after the 1984 riots (and also BJP came to power after the post Godhra riots). Somehow it’s a very disturbing trend that people of India bring to power the very party that had indulged in some sort of ghastly carnage and communal violence immediately after the violence and I see both Congress and BJP exploiting this to their benefit. So here also I don’t see any reason why I should brand BJP as more communal than Congress. Recently the Congress’ apathy to condemn the Left Front government in West Bengal, which is also a partner in UPA, for their state sponsored terrorism and extreme human rights violations at Singur & Nandigram, for which the sitting Left Front has lost miserably in the recent Panchayat Polls, has also shown that Congress doesn’t care to take up minority causes unless it helps them electorally, something what can be said for BJP also.

Now let’s turn towards economy and growth. Based on the findings of this paper, between 1987 and 1999 earnings differences between Muslims and non-Muslims have increased, to the detriment of the former. During the entire period Congress was in power and had they really been keen on improving the conditions of Muslims then they would have done something about it. But the fact remains that Congress has been just using the Muslim-factor to their benefit for electoral success. The conditions of Muslims didn’t change significantly during BJP tenure also but then neither did it change during Congress regime.

Lot has been told about Gujrat and Narendra Modi’s atrocities towards Muslims. But the basic fact is that, despite all the riots, Gujrat is still one of the most prosperous states in India. It’s GDP is $54billion (5% of India’s GDP), growing at the rate of 12.17% (against India’s 9.4% during 2005-06), with per capita GDP of $1068 (against $790 for 2006-2007), which is 6th highest among all states. A more striking fact (more details) is that Gujrat’s 9% Muslim population has a literacy rate of 73%, higher by 5% than that of Hindus (against India’s literacy rate 65% among Hindus and 59% among Mulsims).

The BJP lead NDA regime had its share of goodies and baddies, very much same as the present UPA regime. I don’t want to blame UPA for the recent rise in inflation or terrorism. I do accept that they are just helpless and NDA would have been also in similar position now. What frustrates me is the way Congress gives in to its allies. They removed the competent Dayanidhi Maran from Telecom ministry just to please Karunanidhi. Their budging before the Left for the Nuclear Deal is ridiculous. The waiver of farm loans is just a populist measure without actually solving the ailment of the farmers. With economic stalwarts like Montek Singh & Manmohan Singh & a fairly decent Chidambaram the potential of Congress to really elevate India’s economic condition is enormous. But they don’t have the guts to take bold steps and rise above electoral outcome. BJP would have also cared more for the electoral outcome, but then I feel they have more guts to do things. Also they are less hypocrites. If Congress claim that they are pro-Muslim I don’t see any statistics showing their contribution to improve conditions of Muslims or for that matter any minority community. Also I don’t see anything that says that BJP has hindered the growth of Muslims. So I conclude that BJP is a lesser devil than Congress!!

How much is Congress responsible for high inflation

The inflation has risen from 4.1 in February to 3 year high of 7.6 in May and it’s expected to touch 10 in coming months. Global trends are cited as the primary reason for the present situation. The IMF has reported that food prices in February were 65% more than in 2005; metal prices were up by 70% since 2005 and petroleum products have shot up by over 175%. A buoyant economy, shortfall in production of several goods, sky-rocketing crude prices, and the diversion of food crops for bio-fuel have all contributed to rising prices. These global trends have impacted not only India, but every country. Even China has reported an 11 year high inflation of 8.7%.

With the Lok Sabha elections due in a few months from now, this is really very unfortunate for the Congress. Very aptly the opposition has been using the price hike and inflation as an ammunition against Congress. The recent state election in Karnataka seems to have yielded results to BJP on this ground. But truly speaking none of the causes of high inflation can be directly attributed to the Congress. The economy is strong and we’ve been harvesting record wheat (67 million metric ton in 2003-04) & rice (89). We’re the second highest producer of both rice and wheat, just behind China. Still, we see high inflation due to the external factors, none of which could have been directly controlled by the UPA government. The measures taken by RBI are also very correct and typical to such situations.

Inflation is caused when the supply is less, demand is high and people have money to buy. Theoretically to tackle inflation the local currency, INR in this case, should be allowed to appreciate, which means the value of dollar should decrease (one way of doing this is to stop dollars purchase, thus reducing the demand for dollars). This results in lesser import cost, and hence reduction in price of all the imported commodities. But this impacts the export adversely, because exporters now earn lesser. This results in some exporters refraining from exporting stuff outside, which results in availability of more commodities in local market, which results in increase of supply and hence reduction in price. The second measure is to increase bank interest rates, thus resulting in people refraining from taking more loans from banks and keeping more money in banks. This results in less money floating in the market/industries. Hence the production is impacted, dividends are lowered, people have lesser money to spend and thus finally the demand (or buying capacity) reduces, which in turn helps to reduce inflation. At the same time the government has more money (in banks) at its disposal, which can be used for many developmental work. RBI has exactly done these two things. It has stopped buying dollars and hence allowed INR to appreciate. It has also increased the bank interest rates.
But still, isn’t there anything that the UPA government, lead by Congress, can do at this moment? Also is there anything that they have done wrong, which is having an adverse effect now? Yes, they can surely do something that will impact inflation in the long run, but not before the election and hence I’m sure they will never do that. Also it’s not possible for the illiterate electorate to appreciate the point.

Apart from the measures, mentioned earlier, for curbing inflation, there’s another indirect way, that is to increase the supply and match the demand. One of the reasons for the present inflation is scarcity in wheat and rice in the world market. Isn’t there any way to increase the production of both these grains significantly in India? The prices in the international market for these grains is now very high. If we have any surplus, after feeding our unfed and partially fed population, we can make a killing. At present we’re produce little surplus rice to export around 3 million tons of rice and just adequate wheat to feed our own people. But still not everyone in our country is fed adequately. If we can produce more rice and wheat we can surely add value to the nutrition of our own people. If we can produce even more we can surely export the surplus. At present the yield, metric ton of grain produced per hectare, for wheat is only 2.63 (10th in the world), whereas in China it’s 3.93 (7th), USA 2.97 (9th) and UK 7.78 (1st). For rice India’s yield is just 3.12 (17th), even lower than Bangladesh, which is 3.6 (14th), whereas in China it’s 6.06 (8th) and Egypt 9.52 (1st). UK & Egypt, with highest yield for wheat & rice, have much smaller cultivable lands and hence we may choose to argue that emulating them might not be feasible. But we can always emulate China, which has comparable cultivable lands. If we operate at China’s yield we can produce 100 million tons of wheat and 250 million tons of rice, against the current consumption of 69 and 118 million tons respectively. The increase in yield is possible through better technology and infrastructures, which will come at a cost.

This additional cost could have come from the $15 billion that was waived as debt for farmers. It was argued that this will impact 40 million farmers who have taken loans from government banks. But in reality the 110 million farmers, who have taken loans from local money lenders at ridiculous interest rates like 120%, won’t be benefitted. Only in Punjab, farmers have debt of the order of $250 billion, out of which more than 50% is from local money lenders. So this $15 billion waiver is just a political gimmick. The entire amount could have been used for increasing the agricultural yield, which would have impacted the farmers in a much better way and solved the present food crisis to a great extent.

Recommended Reading for futility of the $15 billion waiver of farmers debt: http://conversationstarter.hbsp.com/2008/03/indias_25_billion_poison_pill.html

All statistics from http://www.nationmaster.com/red/country/in-india/agr-agriculture&all=1 (for 2003-04)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Categories of Blogs

It's really a big task to have a blog on India. There are innumerable topics that anyone can think of. Discussions will lead to just more confusion because any topic would be worth a category. After several introspections, I've finally come up with the following cartegories under which I'll publish my blogs.

Art & Culture
  • Books, Movies, Music: This category is the closest to my heart. I feel the true identify of any country or race lies in her culture. Indian boasts of one of the oldest and deepest cultures of the world. It's not a simple thing to capture the various naunces of Indian culture in a particular blog or book. Much has been written and would be written about Indian Culture. Here I'll try to present my observations, comments & ideologies about books, movies and music of India in diffferent languages.

Religion & Festivals: This is something which might be unique to India, which is often designated in the west as the land of religions and festivals. Indeed India has some of the most fascinating socio-cultural-religious festivals in the world. Religion is a big thing in India and is worth a special topic.

Leisure & Passion

  • Travel, Entertainment: Travel is one of the best forms of leisure to me. Perhaps India offers the maximum diversity to any traveller. From the magnificient Himalayas to the evergreen & deciduous forests, extensive coastline, deserts, backwaters, lagoons & lakes, lush green hillocks, historical places, temples & palaces of varied styles of architecture, exotic folk dances, hugely diversified cuisine - India offers everything on the platter. To me travelling in India is one of the most enriching things in life. Travel is not only a passion for me, but also can provide lot of fun and entertainment.

Past & Present

  • History, Current Affairs: History is the best teacher. That's why it's a very important part of any country or race. History and culture are interwined to each other. It's the only thing that leads us to understand a country and her people. At the same time everyone should be also aware of the current affairs. Progressing and prospering in the present, but retaining the age-old traditions & cultures is something that everyone should do. Disregarding or forgetting the past never leads anywhere.

Foundations of Growth

  • Technology, Infrastructure, Health, Education: I consider these four things as the only foundations of growth. There's nothing else that is responsible for the prosperity of any country. Technology & Infrastructures build the nation and Health & Education build the people. Food & shelters, power etc, anything else that you can think about, are non-issue once these four pillars are strong.

People & Prosperity

  • People, Politics, Economy: This is a very important category. People and politics are inseparable things. Also the economy of the country is nothing but the prosperity of her people. So I've clubbed people, politics & economy under one head.

General: This will deal with statistics, facts and figures etc.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What's in the name of India

Shakespeare had told, ""What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet". Yes that's true. The identity of a person is not much in his or her name. Gandhi was born Mohandas but has lived for ever as Mahatma. Nevertheless, neither Gandhi nor Mahatma tells much about the person whom we know as the Father of the Nation. Still some names are indeed significant when it signifies some history or some trivia. Some people append names of their villages or parents. Lata Mangeshkar is from Mangesh village in Goa, Mohandas' father's name was Karamchand, Jamshedpur is named after Jamshedji Tata, Islamabad was named to commemorate the foundation of the Islamic state of Pakistan, which again means Holi Land (and there's also a view that PAK stands for Punjab, Afghanistan & Kashmir). Most of the Kings and Emperors, both in India and abroad, used to name cities after themselves, or Gods or to commemorate some victory. Alexandria (after Alexander), Aurangabad (after Aurangzeb), Srirangapatnam (after Sriranga or Vishnu, a Hindu God highly revered by Hyder Ali) are just to name a few. So what's the background of the name of our country?

First let's see how many names are there for our country. In most Indian languages the name Bharat, Bharatvarsha, Hindustan are commonly used whereas in English India is popular. Indians are also known as Bhartiya or Bharti, Hindi, Hindustani.

Perhaps the earliest reference of the entire Indian Subcontinent as a single country can be found in Vishnu Purana (post 500BC) where it's mentioned:

Uttaram Yat samudrasya Himdreschaiva Daksinam

Varsham Tat BhaAratam nama BhaArati Yatra Santati

Meaning - The region spanning from the snowy mountains (Himalayas) in the north to the sea (Indian Ocean) in the south is called Bhaarata and the children (natives) of this region are called Bhaarati (for the sake of simplicity let me write the spelling as Bharata, and not Bhaarata, though the pronounciation should be like Bhaarata).

The name of the country comes from the mythical Emperor Bharata. According to the Mahābhārata Bharata's empire covered all of the Indian subcontinent, Bactria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgistan, Turkmenistan, and Persia. If that's true then Bharata's Empire (Bharatvarsha or Bharatavarsham as in Sanskrit) is the biggest of all empires ruled by any Indian King. Neither Ashoka (the greatest of Mauriyan Emperors and one of the greatest in India), nor the Mughals had such a big empire. Not even the British India was as big as that.

Bharat is the son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. The couple's love story and a part of Bharat's childhood are the context of Kalidas' Sanskrit classic Abhigyanam Shakuntalam. The Pandavas and the Kauravas of Mahabharata are descendents of Bharat. There's also a view that Bharat might have been the earliest proponent of democracy when he wanted to crown a popular and competent person outside his family as his successor because none of his sons were found to be competent enough to rule his kingdom.

There's also a reference to one Bharat, in Jain scriptures, as one of the hundred sons of Rishabh, the first Tirthankar. The Jains believe that Bharatvarsha is named after this Bharat.

The name Hindu, derived from the name of the river Sindhu, was coined by the Persians to refer to the people staying to the east of Sindhu. The land of Hindu's thus became Hindustan in Persian. The name India came from Ancient Greeks, who transformed it further from Hindu. They used to call Sindhu Indus and the people of Indus as Indoi.

The history of all the names of India are important because it clearly brings out the idea of a nationhood of people belonging to a particular geographical region and sharing a more or less similar culture. There's no intonation of any religion or creed in the name. It's very significant in today's perspective when regionalism, or rather ghettosim based on language, caste, creed, culture is becoming more and more important beyond the nationhood!! Whatever we might speak or eat or believe in, everyone of Indian Subcontinent is a Hindistani or Hindi!! Let me end with Iqbal's poem:

sāre jahāñ se achchā hindostāñ hamārā
ham bulbuleñ haiñ us kī vuh gulsitāñ hamārā

mażhab nahīñ sikhātā āpas meñ bair rakhnā
hindī haiñ ham, vat̤an hai hindostāñ hamārā