Reality Check India

Hold on to Siachen ?

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 30, 2007

Quartered in snow,

Silent to remain,

When the bugle calls,

They shall rise and march again 

 

Inscription on the memorial for the war dead at Siachen Base camp at Dzingrulma, India

 

I was shocked to see a program on IBN about whether it was worth “holding on” to the Siachen glacier. I watched with complete amazement the way the story proceeded to count every single logistical challenge as another reason against “holding on”. My initial reaction was, “Since when do we the public have the privilege to ask these questions”. So, whats next, a SMS poll ?

Before approving any story the editor should ask himself/herself this simple question : “If our jawan Ram Das who is duking it out on these heights views this program what impact is it going to have on his morale ?”

Pakistan would be more than happy to hold on to Siachen for us. 

I found some links to the program on the IBN website. Even the kerosene rations, the training period, the incentives (Rs 6,000) are discussed publicly. The world has been told about the MI-7 and Cheetah helicopters and their operational issues.

The maximum load a Cheetah can carry inside is 220 kg, and if it is under-slung (load tied to the copter) the limit is stretched to 300 kg. But as temperatures rise, the load carrying capacity decreases. Flying in every little requirement costs a small fortune

 

“The flying hour on an aircraft costs around Rs 60,000 and there are times when we can carry only one jerry can. So it’s a huge effort the country is sustaining troops here,” says Lt Colonel Bajwa.

Yes, these are challenges. When are we known to fight shy of them? If a Lt Col’s views are publicised like this – what is the rank and file jawan going to think about the worth of  his posting ?

To sustain troops, kerosene is vital. Every solider is rationed three litres daily to keep warm and to cook. The army has now laid pipelines all across the glacier to cut down the cost of transporting kerosene, but the extreme cold freezes the supply.

“We found pumping is economical but it needs lot of maintenance. The pipelines burst and the pumps and oil freeze,” says Col Shrivastava”

Yes, yes and yes. It is not easy. Jungle warfare is not easy either, we have leeches, mosquitoes, malaria,  snakes, heat, and infection. This is what makes these warriors what they are. This is exactly why the entire country admires the men in white who man these snowy peaks. I have met many jawans returning from Siachen during my railway journeys. Their stories (from the amount of rum they drank to ward off the cold to their entertainment options) make me proud.

Finally, the crown of the story.

The spiraling costs of Siachen have always triggered debate. Does India need to plant troops here? It doesn’t, says defence expert Amitabh Matoo, Vice Chancellor of Jammu University and a member of the PM’s task force on global strategic developments

 

“Siachen glacier doesn’t have any inherent strategic value. It only has a symbolic value,” says Matoo.

I dont even know where to start with a reality check on this story. Let me try,

What in heavens name does “holding on” mean ? Are we just “holding on” to Siachen ? In the face of natural challenges or political challenges are we known to scoot and not “hold on”. So, does your definition of “territorial integrity” cover only those areas which have strategic importance and are easy to hold on. If yes, then why is India holding on to the Northeast or Ladakh or Jharkhand or Naxalite areas of AP and the areas near the Mc Mahon line ?

Is Siachen not strategic ? Do we want to see Pakistani troops or “Mujahideen” gunners occupy the Saltoro ridge (which the the main strategic point in that area). This massive river of ice is also called the “Third Pole” due to its thickness and the amount of water it holds. You want to bet that if we dont “hold on”, the Pakistanis will be more than happy to hold on to it for us – the chilling winds, and the icy conditions notwithstanding.   Guess what, their media would not go around second guessing it based on cost and toughness factors.

View dazzling pictures of this landscape here

 

One leg on the slippery slope

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 24, 2007

It seems the quota chicken game is in on, plunging headlong into a wholly avoidable and decisive face off. Will the judiciary or the political class come out of it unscathed ? Are we going to heed reason or probe the depths of contempt laws ? These structures are purely man made and are remarkably easy to disrespect and trash by suitable acts of brazenness. Just ask our neighbour Pakistan. Can our media handle it ? Do they have the maturity to look beyond petty intrigue and snide comments ?

1. CNN-IBN does a story on manual scavengers. They take care to avoid asking the blindingly obvious question. How is our primary social justice platform, the SC quota, performing with respect to this group ? Is this group, numbering 13 lakh (1.3 Million) getting any of their kids into professional education, journalism, government jobs at all ? Arent they the raison-d-etre for the entire quota system ?

2. The Chairman of the National Commission for SCs Buta Singh says that Christian and Muslim Dalits must have the same rights as the Hindu SCs. They also want the SC quota to be hiked to accomodate the new entrants (which number in the millions). The legal complications arising from this are going to be mind boggling. To start off you have to address the oppressions of hundreds of years of Muslim rule (Moghul, Bahmani, Golconda, nizams, nawabs). Second, Dalit Muslims/ Christian SCs will have a double advantage , they have exclusive access to Christian institutes like St Stephens, Loyola – and – access to the SC quota in all other institutes. So, this is not a case of “same rights” but a case of “more rights”. Third, the 50% ceiling – under which these adjustments cannot be made.

3. The AP Government passes the Muslim reservation bill granting 4% in employment and education.

4. Muslim leaders welcome Catholic quota. DNA reported on Thursday that the Catholic Bishops Conference of India has prepared a document titled ‘All Indian Catholic Education Policy 2007’ aimed at increasing the number of seats for Christian students, Dalits and tribals in the 25,000 schools and 400 colleges it runs across the country.

The hapless parents belonging to other communities are barking up the completely wrong tree of “merit”.

In Mumbai, the church’s announcement evoked sharp reactions from agitated parents. “The reservation policy has diluted the standard of education in such institutes.

Thus the implementation of this quota in schools will further hamper the quality of education at the school level,” said Mahesh Shah whose son studies in one of the convent schools — Victoria High School at Mahim.

Source : DNA

The issue dear is not one of merit, which is itself a completely relative term. This blog would like to inform Mr Mahhes Shah that even if the bishops decide to exclude all Shahs or left handed kids or fat kids from these schools, it would still not affect merit. Would it ?

A call to abstain, the unchecked farce

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 19, 2007

The Indian presidential election is on at the moment

Nine parties belonging to the UNPA will not bother to exercise their vote. Does this mean that the people they represent have no opinion on the candidates ? How can they not perform their only duty as members of the electoral college ? Does the word “electoral college” mean anything to them ?

Okay, let me slow down here : I fully understand that anyone should have the right to reject all candidates. My only gripe is the way this right is sought to be exercised. There are some  legal issues discussed at the Law and Other Things blog. While this blog is not as well read, or as well connected to the political structure and media, we take the liberty of making some layman observations. Legal points like the nature of a “whip” and disqualification under the 10th schedule are well taken, but they do not complete the electoral framework.  They are only part of it. We must put in place concrete modalities that give the spirit of the law some meaning. This is where the EC has failed miserably. Just setting forth loose strictures  about desired behaviour amounts to  nothing if there are no tangible checks and balances in place. 

Consider this,

However, they cannot issue any whip to their members to vote in a particular manner or not to vote in the election leaving them with no choice, as that would tantamount to the offence of undue influence within the meaning of Section 171C of the IPC.

The EC Statement

Yeah right, whip or no whip. If a MP/MLA shows up instead of staying at home, his political future in the party is toast. Normally, our politicians do not take such risks unless major financial / vote bank issues are involved. So, the above stricture is meaningless. 

The tragedy is that it is to so easy to fix

The presidential election is a secret ballot, but it is easy to ascertain whether a member of the electoral college even showed up to vote. To the extent of detecting abstention, it is not a secret ballot at all.  Yeah, you just pulled the rug from underneath the process of the presidential election. Any amount of legal scaffolding cannot save it. 

To fix this, a simple mechanism can be set in place.

1. Make it compulsory for all member of the electoral college to cast their vote.

2. Allow an option in the ballot papers beside the 1st choice and 2nd choice, stating “I wish to waive my constitutional right to vote as a member of the electoral college”.

3. Do not allow purposeful damage such as tearing up of ballot papers, pouring ink on it, vandalism to the polling area, or indeed any such action that can be used to demonstrate publicly the waiver to their party leadership.  The official in the booth can easily ensure this.

Now, lets roll. 

With this simple rule, an AIADMK / TDP/ JDS MLA can go in and silently vote or waive without fear of certain retribution from the party leadership.

Thank you,

Sovereignty and Immigration, the Haneef case

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 18, 2007

Sometimes, I wonder if we Indians grok the concept of immigration at all. Perhaps we really do believe that the world is without borders, and that the immigration counters at airports are just inconveniences. Perhaps, we also think that the Government of India’s sovereign extends to the affairs of all human beings with Indian blood (see my posts on the PIO University).

The Haneef case – What is India protesting ?

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) summoned the Australian envoy and demanded that Haneef be treated “justly and fairly” under Australian law.  This is fine and the MEA indignation and the media circus must stop here. The Indian government must not express outrage at the cancellation of his visa or his deportation back to India.  I can fully understand the anxiety of Haneefs relatives and friends, but they need to be patient.

Australia has every right to run him through their legal system. There is no evidence that the Australians have presumed him to be guilty.  It must be remembered that Australia has an anti-terror law. The Congress led UPA government might have found POTA useless, it does not mean the rest of the world agrees. Indeed the Australian anti-terror law makes it an offence to even send funds to a terror group.   Instead of acting coy and offended, India must extend all help to the Australian investigating authorities. 

India is in for a Reality Check

Pardon me for the following statement, but there is a reason why Indians flock to Western (read “white mans”) countries. Even after such alleged mistreatment, why must Haneef fight deportation? Why cant he just say, “To hell with you and your laws” – and return to India ?

I have asked this question to many NRI folks, the answers range from better environment, freedom, tastier fruits and thicker milk, to roads, to 911. I suspect the real answer is along the lines of , “Hey, we can let these white guys do all the nation building (or maintaining). We will let them deal with root issues maintaining the sanctity of the constitution, coming up with laws, the environment, and basic liberties. That would be cool because we can just focus on our jobs. All we have to do is follow a well codified set of rules. We get our promotions, our house, and cars. How easy is that ?”

Guess what, Western countries also put their foot down when challenges are thrown to their sovereignity. There is no scope for “adjustment”.  They may appear to be room for parties with divergent views, but their goals of the parties will be in alignment.  For example : Do you really think the American Democrats will repeal the Patriot Act like the UPA did with POTA ?

See what the Attorney General Phillip Ruddock has to say :

Mohammed Haneef was granted conditional bail by a Brisbane Magistrate despite anti-terrorism laws stipulating a presumption against bail in such cases.

Philip Ruddock has told Lateline it is one area the Government is concerned about.

“The matter that I will be looking at very seriously is this question of the presumption against bail, there was an expectation as to how it would operate and if appeals suggest that we’ve got it wrong, well it’s a matter that the Parliament might well be asked to put right,” he said

Source : ABC Australia

Perhaps this is shocking to people in India under the UPA rule. Mr Ruddock is actually wants to take this to the Parliament to make the anti-terror laws even tougher.   See his retort to his domestic liberal critics.

FACED with hostile media questions about the laws governing the detention of Mohammed Haneef last week, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock cut to the chase. “I tell you,” Ruddock shot back, “you would be asking me different kinds of questions if these inquiries were truncated unnecessarily and some terrible event happened in Australia. You’d be after me unmercifully.”

..

So, Haneef is a known associate of two men who allegedly tried to blow up central London and drove a car loaded with petrol bombs into Glasgow airport. Not only that, he’s connected to them via the mechanism used to try to detonate the bombs. On what reading of these facts can you argue against laws designed to at least pick Haneef up and subject him to a sustained period of questioning?

Source : The Australian

We hope the MEA knows its limits and not trespass on sovereign nations’ rights to formulate their own laws. If private Indian citizens perceive any such laws as draconian, they are completely free to boycott those countries where such laws are in force. They can stay back in India or immigrate to other countries.

Its that time of the year..

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 16, 2007

qseason.jpg

Sorry for the lack of updates to this blog.  It is probably a good thing because the quota issues are going to be back with a bang soon. 

The past few months have been relatively quiet. We witnessed the Gurjar agitation, the Tamil Muslim agitation for subquota, todays protests against the AP muslim quota, the recent St Stephens Christian quota. Yes, this is what we call a quiet period. The Presidential race also served as a good distraction.

Now the OBC quota, which forms the life blood of countless political formations is going to be heard by the Supreme Court tomorrow (Jul 17th).

Some warm up action.

1. Centre wants stay on quota lifted ( Details here )

2. Symbiosis OBC quota stayed ( Details here )

3. Hindu activists protest AP Muslim quota ( Details here )

4. Paswan insists on SC / ST quota in private jobs. (Details here )

5. Catholics Bishops Conference plans to increase the Christian quota across the country.

DNA reported on Thursday that the Catholic Bishops Conference of India has prepared a document titled ‘All Indian Catholic Education Policy 2007’ aimed at increasing the number of seats for Christian students, Dalits and tribals in the 25,000 schools and 400 colleges it runs across the country.

http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1109573

Rev Thampu administers a Reality Check

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 9, 2007

I have covered the St Stephens quota issue in two earlier articles. See “Guha on St Stephens” and “St Stephens hikes Christian quota

In a brilliant Op-Ed in The Hindu, Rev Valson Thampu administers a dose of reality check to those who do not understand the requirement to assert the basic Christian nature of St Stephens.

I am deeply concerned that Christian educational institutions all over the country are losing their Christian character. It needs to be stated unapologetically that the Christian engagement with the educational empowerment of India, hugely in excess of its numerical strength and economic resources, flows naturally from the genius of the biblical faith. Jesus came to “preach the good news to the poor” and to “set the captives free.” 

Source: The Hindu 

I think that a minority institute must be forced to admit greater than 80-90% from their own community. If not, it is simply minority owned. Some institutes will seek to profiteer from the balance seats or use it to peddle influence.  I am not accusing any institute of doing so, but merely pointing out that there is no check against it, while there is plenty of scope for it.

The law today allows minority institutes to admit up to 50% students from other groups. It is simply astounding that such a law exists, but this is the judgement of a 11-judge bench in the TMA Pai Vs State of Karnataka case.  So, Rev Thampu is well within his rights to hike Christian quotas all the way to 80% or 90% if he desires. In fact, that would be in line with the very spirit of “minority christian institute”.

There is considerable angst from the general public, especially non-Christians about the recent developments. See recent posts on Retributions and Nanopolitan blogs. Also see Barkha Dutt’s emotion laden article titled “For God’s Sake”.

A problem of perception

The real problem is that a lot of people get carried away by the majestic buildings, the 5-star alumni, the sprawling campuses, and think that this automatically implies that these institutes are “open” and the St Stephens is just a “cool sounding” western name. I have personally met kids who look at the sprawling wooded campus of St Johns Medical in the heart of Bangalore and their heart fills with pride and hope.  Some of them go, “Hey, I am going to study here one day” Do I have the heart to break the news to them ? Do we want to explain to these kids that it is owned and run by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India ? I bet most Delhiites feel the same way about St Stephens or a non Christian minority college like Khalsa. We just let them revel in this misunderstanding. Life goes on.

Until reality hits them.

These colleges are not designed to be open.  They are designed to directly benefit a narrowly targeted group. Put another way, it would be illegal for them to be open*.

(*  In the Indian context the word open means 50% open)

It is completely understandable for Hindus such as Dutt and Guha to get that sinking feeling. They have themselves to blame. For not exploring every issue in detail, for having a superficial understanding of the nature of these institutes, for being under a permanent illusion, and for not reading blogs like Reality Check (just kidding).

Where are the checks and balances on these issues ?

A lot of readers might wonder, if this blog is openly supporting such religious quotas.  Is this a case of speaking with a forked tongue ?

We cant let emotion guide policy. In this specific instance Rev Thampu is absolutely correct. However, this is only a dot in the larger debate of the very nature of minority institutes (religious and linguistic).

We need to focus the divided public attention on the following :

1. What percentage of the total educational opportunities must be under the minority umbrella ? Theoretically, every Christian/Muslim/Linguisitc minority institute can reserve 80-90% and thereby deal a blow to the opportunities of the majority hindus.

2. Can the 50% limit be challenged ? Shouldnt minority institutes be held to admit 80-90% from their communities ? If they cannot find enough students to fill those seats, then does it not mean that there is no demand for that institute in the first place ?

3. Should the number of resources under the protection of “minority institute” be roughly proportionate with the numerical strength of that community ?

The above questions must necessarily be part of a wholesome debate. 

Rev Thampu calls for a wholesome debate,

 First, what is not debated is hardly understood. “A little knowledge,” said an English poet, “is a dangerous thing.” Advocacies in partial knowledge lead us from what little light we have to greater darkness.

Well said, and I concur.

103rd Amendment – no one likes it

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 7, 2007

Yes, we are about to amend the constitution for the 103rd time. It is most likely going to happen in the coming monsoon session. So, what is this about ?

The religious minority status of a community will be determined on a state-wide basis rather than on a nation-wide basis. (read more here)

Of course, there is no hard cut off for determining who is a minority. Is any community that is less than 50% of the total state population a minority ? Kerala has 25% Muslims and 20% Christians, Assam has 30% Muslims, Bengal has 26% Muslims. Can such substantial numbered populations claim minority status just because they are under the 50% mark ?

This goes back to the very question of minority status based on religion. Even eminent and learned bloggers realize deep inside that for all their atheist and social talk, when the pedal meets the metal, their “religion at birth” and “their caste at birth” is going to determine their and their kids future to a large extent. Reality Check welcomes them to secular India, where you cant claim to be an atheist and escape retribution from religious stranglehold. A stranglehold on not just religious education, but extending from orthopaedics, to aerospace, to liberal arts, to visual communications. 

National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions does not like this amendment

The NCMEI is headed by Justice MSA Siddique and with former MP B S Ramoowalia and the Principal of St Stephen’s Revd Valson Thampu as members).

They want the parliament to reconsider the 103rd Amendment,

The NCMEI report says such an amendment would run contrary to the Constitution, which according to it, has deliberately not defined a minority. The report feels this has been deliberately kept ambiguous and no attempt must be made “to supercede their (founding fathers’) wisdom

Source : IE via Yahoo 

Emp Added

Sounds like the line of reasoning is.  You havent defined who ‘X’ is , now do not try to define who ‘Y’ is.  If ‘X’ can take advantage of deliberate ambiguity then why prevent ‘Y’ from merely following suit.

Raja said why are you only thinking of men.. the selection process

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on July 1, 2007

Here is how the President of India was selected. Thanks to Mr Bardhan for making public the proceedings of private political consultations.

Then the name of Mr Arjun Singh came up, then she said that Arjun Singh is not well. It will be difficult. The name of Motilal Vohra came up. The same problem. Then after these, one suggestion came up, Raja was with me. So Raja said, ‘Why are we thinking only of men? Can’t we think of some women now?’ At that stage, I must give credit where it is due. The Prime Minister, maybe because he had done some homework, casually said, ‘Why don’t you think of Prathibha Patil?’ I was one of those who jumped on it. Because it was a very good name.

Source : IE

So, the real hero is Mr D. Raja (Tamilnadu) of the CPI (Communist Party of India).

Even more curious is the left’s rationale for rejecting Karan Singh.

He asked me what is your objection to me. I said, ‘The first objection, Dr Sahib, is that you are the son of a Maharaja, and you don’t expect us to support the son of a Maharaja. The second, is that you are the founder of the Virat Hindu Sammellan.’ Please remember that.

Source : IE

Maharaj Arjun Singh is fine, but Karan Singh is not ! We will stop here, because it is no fun exposing the left hypocrisy any more.

Dont lose focus of the PIVOTAL issue

Whether or not the Supreme Court will salvage the fountainhead from which flow the life juices of all these political formations. Whether the court will deliver social justice from the dream world of life stories into the world of data and rationalism.

It looks like we are heading straight to a 11-judge constitutional bench.

If there was ever a defining moment in Indian history, this is it. Stand by.