Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Social Media: Tame it... or not?

Article in The Times Of India of 30th August...

Article in The HIndustan Times 29th August

To be or not to be... that is the question. 

Tame social media... or let it free? That is the big discussion that is acquiring increasing media attention worldwide. In India, the recent banning of a few sites by the GOI has got everyone up in protest... is it justified? Or did the government over-react? I am myself totally against needless control on Media, as it is one of the most powerful tools in a functioning democracy. An independent Media is a pre-requisite to a good democracy, for it is only through Media that leaders can reach the people most effectively. Secondly, it is only through Media that governmental excesses, views that run counter to the official view, opposition viewpoints etc can be highlighted. This acts as a form on control on the political process, and hence is indispensable in any free society. But there are many scenarios under which this does not and should not apply. 

This does not apply under national security threats, when it is conceivable that some news might need to be withheld for security concerns. That also should not apply to Social Media as well under similar circumstances. If normal Media can be constrained so as to prevent inflammatory news reaching the public, it stands to reason that Social Media should be constrained as well. We live in an orderly society wherein laws are paramount - and allowing a Medium run to amok, free and uncensored is an invitation for trouble with a capital T. Any situation, thing or person that has no control over it has a tendency to be misused - and there are innumerable examples of this. Especially with regard to social media, one should keep in mind its distinguishing characteristics:

 1. The time concept. The newspapers have a 1-day periodicity: it takes time for news to spread. TV is instant, but does not spread through mobiles etc; Social media is instant, rapid and spreads like a wildfire. It takes less than 5 minutes for a news to spread: a speed which no law enforcement can hope to match
2. The absence of censorship: All media have some built in checks and balances, as well as laws that can be used to punish if they go above board. This is conspicuous by its absence in Social Media: anyone can post anything. That means potentially inflammatory news gets censored or watered down in normal media - even in their online editions; whereas it just spreads through social media
3. Legal responsibilities and the fixation of accountability mean that there is little chance of news getting doctored; again this is absent in social media which has no accountability - which also goes against the grain of a functioning democracy! A democracy also means accountability - it does not just mean freedom!
4. Interactive nature of social media also makes it deadly dangerous in inflammatory situations, especially given the above 3 characteristics. This is so since lack of control, the time factor and lack of accountability together mean that images, news can be easily distorted and spread... which is what happened
5. The scope: a localised problem can be contained by simple measures - but social media is worldwide... the problem can spread, and acquire massive proportions, as well as get inflamed out of all proportion
6. It has the potential of individual targeting (as well as effective group targeting) of the people

All in all, under situations wherein the security of the nation or its citizens is compromised, there is actually a crying need for social media to be controlled. There is no control on it; hence it can be used with deadly effect to reach the less aware people and inflame passions, which will lead to a much bigger problem than before. Social Media does need control: we live in a ordered society! There has to be some level of control, some laws that can be applied. And social media is also a media: with one major difference. While in normal media, the source is verifiable and known... in social media that is not always the case.  And remember: democracy does not mean freedom alone. It also implies duties and responsibilities. Bear in mind that twice in recent memories have revolutions been sparked by reaching people through social media. While those examples were positive, it stands to reason that the reverse will also be true! Full Marks to the GOI for acting boldly! Well Done! Keep It Up!

But that does not mean that the protests are out of place: the protests against control will ensure that the Government of the day does not go too far... in classic democratic fashion! So, Well Done, Media! Keep It Up!

. "Freedom of expression, like all other freedoms under Article 19, is subject to reasonable restrictions. An action tending to violate another person's right to life guaranteed under Article 21 or putting national security in jeopardy can never be justified by taking the plea of freedom of speech and expression," the supreme court bench said on 29th August 2012. Need I say more?

Book Review: The Krishna Key

The Krishna Key - Ashwin Sanghi

The Krishna Key is the latest in the genre started by Dan Brown, and which has now become a rage. This by itself is not a disparaging comment: Whodunits were started by Agatha Christie; Similarly, Historical Puzzle based thrillers were first presented by Dan Brown. What is disturbing, however, that while the story is quite different in some ways, there are clear cases where the story has been obviously inspired by the iconic Da Vinci Code. Is it a good book? Yes? Is it worth a buy? Yes. Is it best-in-class? Unfortunately, no...

  1. Ravi Mohan Saini: Easy-going, smart, intelligent and quick-witted professor of history
  2. Priya: 40, smart, doctoral student plus.... 
  3. Radhika Singh: Bull headed but honest police officer
  4. Sunil Garg: Head of the CBI... 
  5. Taarak Vakil: Serial Killer


Raja Man Singh left 4 seals kept in a base plate, which together point to a secret that will point the way to Lord Krishna's best - kept secret. That is the simple premise of the book. The book is simply based on deciphering the various clues to figure out where the object pointed to by the Key is located. One researcher - Prof Varshney - who knows the secret is murdered; but he has taken precautions by sending 4 of his friends 4 parts of the key. First the Professor and then one by one, the friends start getting murdered
Professor Saini is one of the friends chosen for a key-part; he is suspected of having murdered Prof Varshney; from here starts his headlong rush to save himself both from the police as well as from the real murderer - all the while trying to peice together the near-indecipherable puzzle that has been left by Prof Varshney. He has only his doctoral student Priya and her criminal lawyer father for help... and his wits. He must find the 4 seals that form the key, the base-plate that holds the keys and decipher the reality of the Krishna Key. 


Sounds familiar, doesn't it? A professor, a female helper, a centuries - old puzzle to be solved, both the police and the crooks hunting the poor souls, a religion - based secret... it is the Da Vinci code all over again. At least at first sight. Even at second sight, the impression of Da Vinci Code cannot be forgotten. The similarities are far too many... let us say that this novel has been inspired by The Da Vinci Code. There are enough twists in the tale that keep it from becoming predictable, there are enough changes in the story that take it away from Da Vinci Code. Further, the base story, while being similar in some instances, has a different flow to it, is different in its nature as well as its thesis. There is no religion-challenging here: all is as it should be. It is slower than the Da Vinci Code, more contrived. 
Most importantly, it deals with a subject that we have heard about since we were born (at least the Hindu  Audience); so the interest is kindled automatically. The story does not move at a break-neck speed - but rather at a leisurely pace. The character development could have been better... the characters could have been more robust; there are instances where the stated behaviour jars. Luckily, this is only towards the end of the novel - and only in a few places. The story of the Mahabharata has been interspersed - in the signature style of Ashwin Sanghi - which has a twin effect: it breaks the flow of the story, refocuses your mind as well as  builds your impatience as you wonder how the story progresses. This enables a sort-of refresher of the old story, which is quite entertaining and interesting. However, in this novel, the flow of the story could decidedly have been much better handled - unlike in Chanakya's Chant. 
The book is all in all a quick read, is interesting and is well presented. The writing style is lucid and free from any pejoratives or curse-words, thankfully. I cannot say any more- positive or negative-  as it will reveal too much about the story. It is a good read for a journey, or on a leisurely afternoon. 
It is decidedly not his best work; it could have been much better. But what has been presented is nothing to sneeze at either. It is truly a delight to read, especially as it introduces you to delightful and strange aspects of our history that will send you scurrying to do a google search... in those parts, the book is elevated to a truly class book. It has been really very well researched and includes many a surprise for the uninitiated. It also has a series of references for you to cross-check. Can it be re-read? Yes, it can. Worth a buy...

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

MP govt assures action against cops who let stabbed youth die at Indore police station : North, News - India Today

Our police - and our apathy - just gets better and better. One man - who tried to protect his sister - was stabbed; the police first wrote the report and then took him to the hospital! The poor man died... who is responsible? The shocking insensitivity of the police forces defies belief! Are these policemen human beings or not? Was their paper-work more important than a man's life? And listen to their lame excuses in this video:

The ambulance took time to come! Just who do these stupid inhuman policemen think they are making a fool of? Havent you heard of private cars? Taxis? Autos? And where are all those lovely police vehicles which are used for all sorts of senseless purposes?

Why have a police force if both the goons and the police kill you? Death stalks the normal citizen on both sides! Then why have this eye-wash of a police force? The government needs to ensure that the policemen on duty are arrested and tried for criminal negligence amounting to murder! I doubt - sincerely doubt - that any action will be taken by either the police or the so-called government. Even here, it might just require a PIL in the Supreme Court for anyone to take action. Read the SPs statement: "We are investigating on the police officials in the area who did not act. We will initiate action against them". They intend to "investigate". Brilliant! Dont they know who was on duty? Dont they know that a person died? How long does it take to investigate? And we all know what happens when a policeman or a politician promises to investigate!

What I cannot understand is why didnt the people there take immediate action and take the poor man to a police station? So the police weren't cooperating; fine - but your relatives or friends' life is at risk - and yet you keep quiet and let him die? This whole episode makes me want to puke over the pusillanimous behaviour on display. There has to be a limit to tolerance! The relatives (or friend) would not have been doing anything criminal... then why? Why? And why has this shockingly brutal and inhuman behaviour been conspicuous by its absence from all mainstream media? Wither freedom of the press??????

And still the government does not implement police reforms... we need the Supreme Court to step in to ensure that we have a decent and functioning humane system in place! I just hope that for once, the SP and the GoMP is not covering up...

Monday, 20 August 2012

Rightsizing modern retail - Hindustan Times

It feels great to have confirmation of an analysis or a strategy drawn on the basis of observation and deduction... the latest article on Modern Retail confirms what I have posted on my blog earlier; that things are not all hunky-dory for the Large Format Retail outlet. As I outlined in my earlier posts:
From the above we can conclude that: (as concluded in the Articles above)
  1. The higher strata of society will be tapped by the LFRs 
  2. There might be an initial slack in monthly sales turnover from kirana stores in the short term, especially in the vicinity of LFRs, but over the long term this will be compensated by alterations in stocking patterns, population growth, service improvements, cost advantages of the kirana setup 
  3. Organised retail - LFRs -are already in India in the form of the Indian chains. This is a normal development of the market - consolidation, experimentation with formats etc are normal features in a growing, developing market. The influx of Large Format Retail stores had already begun in the form of departmental stores and the local superstores. These were small shopkeepers who grew big by virtue of their business acumen. Hence, whether FDI comes in or not, Large Format Retail stores will continue to increase in number. It is only a question of a matter of time... 
  4. Each format is facing its own competitive environment, and that includes both opportunities as well as dangers
  5. The Kirana Format is in no danger of extinction given its range of services, width of distribution
  6. Discernible shift in purchasing patterns for certain classes of products with cosmetics and related products increasingly being sought from Modern Retail, and groceries holding their own in Kirana
The enclosed article clearly mentions that breakfast cereals, packaged rice, air fresheners, liquid soaps etc have a nearly 33% sales offtake out of total sales from LFRs. That is a huge share: one-third of total industry. Keep in mind that LFR contribute 1% of Food and Groceries industry sales... 

The customer profile consuming the above items will mostly fit into the affluent classes for Cereals and Air Fresheners, Upper Middle and above for Packaged Rice and Liquid Soaps. This confirms the observation no 1 and observation no 6 above. Next, the article also confirms the importance of home service, personal touch with the consumer, as outlined in observation no 5 in my earlier posts

This article is not being written with an objective of tooting my own horn. The objective is 2-fold; first, the stated article has blamed policy paralysis (in part) for the dismal scenario. This is where I beg to differ. The main problems are the ground reality of retail in India with particular reference to the Food and Grocery Segment. That is why its contribution from Modern Retail is at a dismal 1% whereas other categories are far ahead in terms of contributions. "While Food and Grocery items contributes 11% of the revenues of the industry - this forms only 1% share of the total category revenues including Organised and Unorganised Formats. By comparison, Clothes and fashion is at 23%, Footwear 48%, Durables 12%, Books 13%. Organised Retail seems to be facing major hurdles in this category because of fragmented and localised nature of demand and a host of local tastes and brands to contend with, A massive unorganised and well-serviced retail network, Intra - category competition and the wide spread of the Indian Market." - (Article No 2)

The real problem is the nature of the Indian market. That does not mean that Organised Retail is doomed; far from it. But the growth will be slow and painful. You will have to build it up brick-by-brick. The expectations of rapid growth are frankly wildly overstated in this category. It will be a growing category; but the local realities of tastes, preferences, infrastructural constraints etc mean that the pace of growth will be muted. 

The second point is that Organised Retail needs to ask itself some serious questions in terms of growth targets, locations and towns to be targeted, store formats and size, in-store depth and range. Rather than be all things to all people, they will have to position themselves properly. Simply opening stores and targeting footfalls will not lead to achievement of the magic numbers! It is the bills generated and their content that counts. That is what needs to be done! Irrational store and growth targets and expectations will only hieghten the pain for the chains. The overall shopping experience has to be great, yes. But this will by itself not pull in customers. This is a basic need. The shopping experience will help only marginally; or it will help by not giving a customer any reason to shift. For example, lines at billing counters. Regardless of how much fun quotient you give the customer, you are going to lose clientelle if your billing lines are anything more than 2-3 customers deep. People will simply walk out and purchase from the local kirana. The industry needs to understand that it is competing for share-of-wallet; not with other Organised Retailers! The need of the hour is tempering of expections, and proper positioning of the stores... and the acceptance that LFR (Organised Retail) will co-exist with the local kirana in India!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Book Review: Differential Daignosis

Differential Diagnosis
Edited by Leah Kaminsky; written by various contributors

Every once in a while you come across a book that redefines the very concept of reading; every once in a while you come across a book that makes you drop whatever you are doing and get absorbed; once in a while…. This is one of those books. A book with simple clean prose, an engaging writing style (especially considering its content), a book that leaves its mark on your memory, a book that takes you deep into the emotions of doctors – and yet is interesting to read as well as fast paced! A book written by doctors – actual, practicing doctors: Atul Gawande, Sandeep Jauhar, Perri Klass, Robert Jay Lifton, Danielle Ofri… 

You would expect to read boring repitive stuff; or perhaps great cases handled by these doctors; or maybe stories of that leave you depressed at the ugly aspect of life. You couldn’t be more wrong; you are treated instead to a veritable kaleidoscope of the colours of life – the entire spectrum of life. You will read about amazing and interesting incidents – simple things like the first operation of a would-be surgeon; the first intensive care ward rounds. The style of writing comes across as a total and pleasant surprise – in place of being dry and tactless, it is on the contrary very alive and full of blossom and emotion. Not what you would expect from doctors, to be totally honest!

The book itself is divided into 2 parts: non-fiction and fiction. The non-fiction part details stories like The Checklist which starts with an episode in intensive care, detailing the pressures faced by doctors, the tasks required to be done to take care of a patient… by the middle of this story, you begin to appreciate the difficulties and pressures of being a doctor, the endless decisions that must be taken on a routine basis. The story then moves on to the importance and the impact of something so simple as a checklist of tasks to be done. Wonder of wonders, the addition of a simple checklist can even save lives… this forces you to question yourself – if even lives can be saved by checklists – perhaps we should keep one for all our little tasks!

Another class story dwells on the experience of a doctor who has just lost his first patient – admirable well chronicled in The Beauty. A heart rending tale, dispassionately told, yet chronicled with intense feeling – it is a tale that takes you into the heart and mind of a doctor. You realize that these people are special, one of a kind: people who are trained to take decisions to save lives. When they cure a person, they are usually thanked by the family and the patient; but when the opposite happens, the doctor is all alone… alone with himself and his thoughts. He has to move on; he has no option to move on, for another patient is waiting for his healing hands…

The book is filled with such sensitive and class stories – like the amnesia case, or the Nazi Doctor Story; or the story of the lively but tough intern; or the haunting story of Joshua, a story that will touch the raw nerves of every parent who will read it! These are stories that take you into the mind of the doctors, into the myriad problems, emotions, tensions, successes, relationships and lives of the men and women who strive to keep us healthy. The people to whom we turn to in our hours of need; the people we entrust our lives with. You learn to appreciate the men and women behind the doctors’ masks, and to understand them better…

Monday, 13 August 2012

Silence on the Lokpal Front...

A simple perusal of the movements of the past 3-4 days throw up a very interesting scenario. Anna Hazare and team have, for all practical purposes, accepted that pushing a workable as well as effective Lokpal through the current set of polticians is going to be next to impossible. They have gone to plan-B - namely, trying to provide a political alternative; thereby effectively vacating the plank (at least for now) of the Lokpal. Simultaneously, Baba Ramdev organises a "dharna" 

And, unfortunately, the locus of the demand - and the media and public pressure - shift from the Lokpal to bringing back black money. Nothing wrong with that in principle; with one significant caveat. While the Lokpal focuses on solving the root of the problem and affixing accountability, the "bring back black money" movement very neatly shifts the focus from the core of the problem to its effects. It is like treating the fever, not the illness... 

What is even more interesting is the political support for Baba Ramdev - at least for the bring back black money movement. It provides the opposition the opportunity to target the incumbent government without the attendant commitments or dangers of the Lokpal. And immediately, you have the opposition targeting the UPA-2. Excellent! It also provides the regional parties with the chance to hitch themselves onto the seemingly lucrative anti-corruption platform without doing any concrete about it. What a classic strategy - and transparently obvious as well. 

The Bring Back Black Money brigade has the media attention; public attention - after all, a rather large some of money is involved; it offers immediate (!!!!!!!) fruits - or the promise of immediate fruits; it is good advertisement of intentions; and gives the semblance of doing everything in your power against corruption while in reality you are doing nothing. What could be better and more convenient - at least for some people?

Meanwhile, the Lokpal has been forgotten yet again... apart from the sporadic statements from UPA-2 to get it passed in this session. The political class has as yet failed to act on a Supreme Court order to free the Indian Police from political control; in the light of that, I sincerely doubt whether an effective Lokpal will be passed. In fact, I sincerely doubt whether even an eye-wash Lokpal will see the light of day. While the Lokpal is specific & provides concrete measures against corruption; "Bring Back Black Money" is very unspecific; has no commitments, no dates, no accountability and certainly no affixed responsibility attached to it...

And it captures the imagination of the political class, the media, and I daresay the People.

While the people who fought for the Lokpal without any discernible interest for themselves lie forgotten... please remember that had the bill been passed last year, this entire "enter politics" imbroglio would not have happened. As things stand, not only do we not have a Lokpal, we do not have any pressure on the political class for a Lokpal... excellent strategy by some people, might I add! And Lokpal? Whats that???????

Book Review: Micro

The Characters
Peter Janson: The born leader…
Karen King: tough, intelligent, independent, smart
Rick Hutter: constantly baits Karen, but is tough nonetheless
Eric Janson: Peter ‘s elder brother- a successful Executive at Nanigen
Vin Drake: The quintessential villain
Alyson Bender: The “halfway” sidekick!!!!
Dan Watanabe: Doughty Police Officer
Danny Minot: I, Me, Myself
Jarel Kinsky: Tricked, and trapped…
The Supportive Cast: Important nonetheless! Erika Moll, Amar Singh, Jenny Linn, Johnstone, Telius

The Plot
The story starts with 7 research students getting a visit from the elder brother of one among them. Through the efforts of the brother – Eric Janson – they get invited to a state of the art research lab for a visit. This lab specializes in Nanotechnology on a level and scale that is unprecedented. On the eve of the visit, Peter (Eric’s younger brother) receives an sms from Eric: “Don’t come”. To complicate matters, Eric in untraceable. Peter learns that Eric is assumed dead in a boating accident, and suspects foul play…

Peter’s attempts to prove that his brother had been murdered leads to a stunning discovery for the unfortunate students: that the technology being developed by Nanigen involves miniaturizing machines and humans to operate on a micro scale. The unfortunate students get trapped into being miniaturized. They subsequently manage to escape – straight into the rain forest. The rest of the story focuses on how the students- on a micro scale – fight the forces of nature as well as man in order to survive, to get back to real size and to prove that the death of Eric was a murder…

The Analysis
The book is worth a read, no doubt about that. It is reasonably fast paced, well written with attention to detail. It is a page turner that will keep your interest right through till the end of the book. However Crichton fans will notice a discernible change in the writing style from previous books. This book was started by Michael Crichton but completed by Richard Preston after the original author’s unfortunate demise. The question is whether the book is worth a buy? Yes, it is – it is a  well written book if taken on its own , fast-paced, interesting, on a science fiction base, without any glitches.

As regards character development, most characters have been reasonably well-developed. The principal characters have been decently fleshed out and outlined; the pace of the story does not leave much scope for further development. The supporting cast, while they have important functions in the story, do not merit further development in my opinion. In a story of this type, pace of the story has to take precedence. There are no obvious gaps or holes that I could spot.  

The part where the inch-high students fight for survival make for enthralling reading. You are constanty wondering how on earth are these students going to get out of this one? The treck through the jungle and its awesome scenes where the students fight creatures we take for granted, like caterpillars etc are riveting. The attention to detail in this segment makes for enthralling reading. More than anything else, the way the differing responses of each individual has been represented also give you a fabulous insight into human nature. 

Critically, each response also gels with the overall characterization of the individual. All in all, the book is a good one, gives you a good time – and most importantly, this is the last book from the Michael Crichton stable… so don’t miss this one. You are not going to be treated to another Crichton! Also, the scientific aspects mentioned- miniature machines et al  make this book well worth a read. It transports you into a world where normally only your footwear reaches… and makes a good story out of it as well! What more could a person want from a fiction book?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Book Review: The Last Kestrel

Jill McGIvering has worked in Journalism for 25 years in positions such as senior foreign news correspondent & South Asia Correspondent for the BBC. Currently based in London, she travels extensively to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Last Kestrel is her first novel, although she has already written non-fiction, short fiction and plays


Ellen Thomas: News Correspondent; doughty, tough; never-say-die; a person without any prejudice; responsible and sensitive…
Hasina: A Mother… 
Major Mack: Can be called the quintessential commanding officer… except that he cares too much for his boys and their welfare…
Jalil: An Honest Afghan translator who got caught in the middle
Najib: Jalil’s reluctant but honest friend
Aref: Hasina’s son; wounded and dying; a picture of a tragic nation….

Ellen Thomas is a news correspondent on the hunt for the killers of her translator Jalil; her 10-year association with Jalil and his family lead her to the conclusion that the truth lies elsewhere. In pursuit of this, she lands near the place where Jalil was killed, with the same unit – a bunch of young, inexperienced British soldiers led by a very likable and competent Major. She gets a chance to cover an attack on a Talibani stronghold by the military, where she comes face to face with the people caught in between the Taliban and the British, an experience which jars her to the core of her existence. Simultaneously, Hasina is a mother – nothing more, nothing less. Her son has been led astray by his uncle into the deadly folds of local fighters. He comes home mortally wounded; at this point, the mother steps in with a will to do anything to save her son from both the Taliban and the British.

There is little trust between these two women when they inevitably meet; their respective agenda are different and mutually exclusive. While Ellen is primarily interested in uncovering Jalil’s death, the mother is only interested in saving her son. To complicate matters further, there is a history of violence coming in the way. Not only that, neither can understand a word of the others’ language – nor is there any trust. Yet, they are thrown together – being the only 2 women in the camp… Why was Jalil killed? Was it because he was close to the british? Or was Jalil a traitor? What Happens to Aref? What is the link between Aref and Jalil – or is there no link? 

Much has been said about the power of the written word, of its capability to educate, elucidate, clarify, aid memory etcetera. All of the above are universally accepted and understood. But beyond all of these, it has also been stated that the properly written word can evoke memories, as also paint a vivid picture in your mind as you read the prose. This latter statement is also accepted as gospel by all: and it is this latter statement that describes this book!

A book that will jar you to the core of your being on 2 fronts: the first being the awesome power of its prose, which literally paints a moving picture in your mind as the story in the book plays out. Such is the stunning quality of the writing that you can picturise the entire story play out right in front of your eyes. You are held spellbound and riveted to the story. This is not  a small feat by any means; in fact, given the plot and its treatment, it is a feat that is very nearly unparalleled in my experience at least. I have never  read a more powerful piece of writing than this… I say this because the story and its flow is comparatively slow. The author manages to hold your attention through the sheer power of her writing!

The second front where the book bets you is your guts: it wrenches them from you, takes your breath away and leaves you in a state of suspension as you read the pages. This has nothing to do with the writing: it has everything to do with the content. The way the plight of the Afghan people has been laid out in front of your eyes is breathtaking. Wondrously, this is achieved not by an overdose of melodrama – but by forceful logic, pin-point observation and straightforward analysis. In other words, you don’t shed a tear, or feel like crying your eyes out. You don’t even feel disgust: you are left in a state of wonder combined with an indefinable sadness at their plight.  

There are no value judgements in the book; it shies away from either justification or explanations – or indeed solutions. It states things like they are. The characterizations to achieve this would have  to be limited to the bare essentials – which is precisely what they are. Each character has been developed only to the extent that is needed for the story to move forward; there are no needless details or dilly-dallying of any sort anywhere in the book. All in all, a book you would want read again and again. I rate it 5 stars – in fact, I rate it to be among the best fiction novels I have ever read! 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Judicial Activism....

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : Disturbing trends in judicial activism:

'via Blog this'

An interesting article on Judicial Activism in India by a senior advocate in the supreme court has highlighted cases where the apex court intervened. A look at the areas where the court passed orders is most revealing:

  • Control over automobile emissions
  • Air, noise and traffic pollution
  • Parking Charges
  • Helmets
  • Cleanliness in housing colonies
  • Disposal of garbage
  • Control of traffic in New Delhi
  • Made compulsory seat belts
  • Ordering action plans to control monkey menace
  • Ordered measures to prevent accidents at unmanned crossings
  • Prevent ragging in colleges
  • Collection and storage of blood banks
  • Control of loudspeakers and firecrackers
  • Baba Ramdev Eviction from Ramlila grounds
  • Exclusion of tourists from core areas of tiger reserves
  • Investigation and prosecution of ministers and officers in the Jain Hawala case
  • Taj Corridor case
  • 2G telecom case
  • Distribution of food grains to persons below poverty line was monitored
One question that comes to my mind is What is the Government Of India doing? And what are the various State Governments doing - if traffic, food grains, helmets, ragging, tiger reserves etc all are monitored by the Judiciary? Just who is running this country? And precisely what are the various government agencies, IAS lobby, State and Central Government departments, Governments etc doing? It is obvious from the above list that ipso-facto, the country is being run by the Judiciary and the Army, the only 2 relatively clean organisations in our society. This above list is hard evidence of official apathy and governmental neglect. This is a testimony of a total breakdown of governance... it might sound melodramatic to most of you, but this list boggles the mind and distorts perspective! And we, the people, are blissfully silent and going on with our lives... mindless of the mayhem all around us. 

The more I think of it, the more I read this damning list of failure, of governmental failure, the more I am sure that we need a viable political alternative. We need to get out in 2014 and let our votes do the talking. Let us give the new team IAC a chance.... we have voted for criminally charged individuals, for failures, for power-hungry people, for dynasties...  (based on the list of MPs with serious criminal charges against them); now let  us vote for a set of clean people. At least the IAC team is indubitably better, cleaner, for more qualified, educated than almost 95% of the political class!  Let us hope that Team India Against Corruption can provide us with some much needed respite, and a ray of hope.... we need a chance, before it is too late for our country....

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Political Alternative

The past 18 months have been a roller coaster ride for Team India Against Corruption - starting with the massive interest in the movement in April 11, moving on to the next few heady months... right till the peace in December. During this period, the Team IAC saw it all: heady adulation, vicious targeting and misinformation campaigns etc; they saw the mass frenzy in their support, and also the loss in followers after the initial euphoria. Not a bad experience for a team whose core agenda is to eradicate corruption

But first, the Lokpal. The much vaunted Lokpal, as I had observed in one of my earlier posts, cannot be the final solution; it can only be one of the cogs. The problem is far too deeply entrenched for it to be legislated away. When just about everyone you see is involved in some form of corruption - whether as the taker or as the giver - then a statutory body can only do so much. Further, anyone actually involved in corruption - and in a position of power - would not want a body along the lines of the Janlokpal. Forget about the Lokpal; our political class has even been unable to implement the Supreme Court directive to give autonomy to the police forces. How anyone seriously contemplates the possibility of a genuine lokpal is beyond me.

Next, the much-vaunted middle class. Sorry to say so, but they are either busy in harvesting the fruits of corruption - or are simply not in a position to do anything about it for lack of avenues. In an environ where speaking up leads to being targeted and all your efforts being hindered, any family man will turn a blind eye. This is the way things are done; I cannot participate in it since I am honest; but that does not make me so foolish as to court disaster by trying to buck the system - these thoughts are pretty much what pass through the honest guy. As a result, corruption festers unhindered; it also propagates unhindered as more and more honest people get pulled into the quagmire.

That is the situation as it stood before the advent of India Against Corruption. Now let us analyse the achievements, so as to arrive at a definitive idea of exactly what has been achieved and what needs to be done.To those among us who believe that the movement has fizzled out - please read the points given below with an open mind:

  1. The biggest achievement of this movement has been the galvanisation of the middle class. The laid back middle class with its "chalta hai" attitude was shown to have at least a core of constituents who cared, and cared deeply. They cared enough to come onto the streets all over India: and consistently at that, right upto this latest attempt. Dont look at the dwindling numbers - that is looking at it upside-down. Look at this the right way: you now know that you have a core set of Indians who care deeply and want to implement change, and a tertiary set of citizens who care but have lost hope or trust in you. The moot point here is that the tertiary set is also wanting an improvement in the state of affairs
  2. Creating pressure on the political class: the political class, for the first time in the history of Indian Democracy, got a taste of the power of the people of India. The fact that they verbally ripped apart IAC leaders bears mute testimony to this fact. Sure - they won the first round. But then they were always going to win the first round, no matter how hard anyone tried! They are after all in power, they are known leaders and some of them are genuinely well liked and respected. In this class of respected leaders are some who want change but do not agree with some modalities of IAC - this realisation is also critical
  3. Team IAC has provided a ray of hope in the darkness that was beginning to engulf the nation in the sphere of rampant corruption; it is like the proverbial spark that lights a fire. And the fire that has been lit is the fire in the bellies of all honest Indians who now have some genuine hope of change - and have shown the willingness to do something concrete about it. This is one factor that was conspicuous in its absence earlier.
  4. It is serving as a magnet that is drawing like-minded people... people from all walks of life are now beginning to interact with team IAC. Again, dont look at their numbers. Look at what they can contribute and more pertinently look at the fact that even a figure "1" is numerically greater than "0" - which is precisely what it was just 2 years ago
  5. It has also brought the issue front-and-centre onto the national stage - a factor which was not present even 3 years ago. No mean feat, that
These 4 significant factors are not ones that can be so easily ignored. They points towards a qualitative change in the atmosphere of the Indian people; they point out that there is now a core set of citizens who are actually willing to put the first food forward in the process of change. The political class is now under more pressure than it has ever been; they are under attack from the entire spectrum of interests - including people who disagree with Team IAC. Thirdly, a person without hope will do no efforts; a ray of hope can work wonders : given sufficient time. And fourth, the coming together of people of probity in one forum or one one platform (meaning crusaders who dont agree with IAC but are anti-corruption nonetheless) is also a pwerful factor: it gives the normal citizen a role model and it acts as a further magnet. Not only that, the galivanisation of the middle class also acts as a catalyst as people see citizens they can identify with playing a role and taking a stand. A professional or a doctor as an activist will catch the interest and attention of all professionals or doctors; that is bound to fuel change

Moving on to the political alternative, it should not be and cannot be discounted so long as you dont target specific parties and keep your agenda as Lokpal, probity in public life, anti-corruption and providing a clean alternative. You have to differentiate yourself from the mess out there. No easy task, but there is no other way. We have seen that the political class is in no mood to even relinquish control of the police forces- for which there is an apex court order pending-  so obviously any dreams of a strong lokpal or CBI independence are not going to be realised so easily. We have seen the fear of the political class: they are scared out of their wits by the movement, judging by their vituperative methods as well as long-drawn efforts to appease the people by trying to get in a so-called lokpal. Hence, a political move is indicated

So long as the new clean party harbours no dreams of power, there should not be a problem. It would still cause untold discomfort to the established parties as the votes will be split. Even a few percentage point shift can change the whole scenario; so all in all it could just turn out to be a good move. If the people standing for elections are genuinely clean - and if you can galvanise the middle class who prefers so stay at home on election day then there is no telling what may happen. But at the core of it all is your connect with the movement... it has to grow organically, and your connect with the people has to grow. If you can provide that alternative and cause even a small swing in the calculations - it will give the existing top parties a reason to change simply because the more decent among them might just cause the change. This is simply because your move will have hurt them where it hurts the most: the vote. All in all, a good move...