Reality Check India

The middle class myth

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 29, 2008

What is the meaning of the term middle class ? It is a consumption category, thats all.

Behind every opinion that calls for the middle class to come out and vote is the assumption that this group is a tabula rasa.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  They are as susceptible to identity politics as anyone else. I would argue that more tabula rasas can be found in the desperately poor than in this category. You can hope to sway the poor with matinee idol candidaters, colour  TVs, and the latest ‘gas stoves and connections’ (just wait till the LS elections).  Nothing sways the educated middle class.

I personally know two large apartment complexes in stereotypical middle class areas where the voting sentiment is very high. The message is not lost. The apartment committee in one and a retired public servant in the other acted as energetic vote marshals. The only ones who did not vote were the children who were working abroad or in other cities  (quite a surprisingly large number). I will come to that later, but there is much that is wrong about the mechanics of voter rolls. Why cant a hostel student vote in his college ? Sure, this is a purely anecdotal piece of evidence, but I cant even see anecdotal evidence to suggest the opposite.

So, why the f**k am I trying to debunk this ?

What is the point of this watertight cynicism ?

Dont you have anything positive to say ?

If our vote cant change things, what else is left ?

I am trying to highlight the real dangers of the divide and rule tactics of the government. The real danger lies in the fact that you cant fight human individual self interest. We have no choice but to evolve the state to a level where the creation of, the protection of, and the promise of such interests are minimized. The way to do this is to subject these to a scrutiny regime. Big-ticket items like anti terrorism or water supply do not exist at all, if there is no one in parliament who depends on it for survival.

This does not mean you and I give up and not vote at all. I will continue to do my best to marshal my neighbours and chastise those who do not vote. We will continue to take baby steps. God willing, if I am able to grow rich and manage to attach my fortunes to a  SEZ or similar benefit, I will gladly escape this wretched free-agent-hood. I would have found my niche in India. I would have found my own benefit-protector for whom I would vote without hesitation.

I am only using this blog space to highlight something that is difficult to talk about in public in real life. If India continues this path of creating divisions in society, and holds such divisions to ransom, the true nature of the state will be a federation of narrow interests. Beyond that there are multiple failure scenarios, the most immediate one being the birth of a do-it-yourself attitude in dealing with the big-ticket issue of security.

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Vote for change

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 28, 2008

Go out and vote, says the Acorn.

I would rephrase it :

Indian voters ! Please make a sacrifice. Judge the candidates on their position on big ticket issues. No  no, do not vote for the ‘benefit protector’ who can also do big ticket issues on the side. Ignore the benefit protector altogether. I know it is easy for me to say this. I am asking you to vote against your own self interest in the name of a larger good, while I have to make no such sacrifice. It so happens that we need a minimum number of  leaders who get voted in and out based on such big ticket issues. Only then will nations interest in tackling these big ticket issues be represented.

Benefit protectors are not just those who protect existing or promise new turf based on caste/ religion. Everyone who has made a dime in the real estate, SEZ, tax holiday schemes have protectors too.

Undercooked analysis or hidden agenda

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 28, 2008

We are supposed to be in the “zone”, we are not supposed to talk about certain things until a certain time has elapsed. This is the time for candle light we are told. Guess what, the world does not have such a zone. No one is waiting for the magic period to pass before spewing out their analysis.

We now have western analysts who are going out of their way to debunk the possibility of outside jihadis being involved. This even before the last shots have been fired.

Christine Fair of the RAND corporation has this to say to New York Times.

Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she pointed to India’s domestic problems, and long tensions between Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of India’s population of 1.13 billion, and Muslims, who make up 13.4 percent.

“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India,” Ms. Fair said. “The economic disparities are startling and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India.

“The public political face of India says, ‘Our Muslims have not been radicalized,’ she said. “But the Indian intelligence apparatus knows that’s not true. India’s Muslim communities are being sucked into the global landscape of Islamist jihad.”

“Indians will have a strong incentive to link this to Al Qaeda,” she said. “But this is a domestic issue. This is not India’s 9/11.”

Source : NYT

Some more,

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) said in an article on Thursday quoting Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation: “The style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested that the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims – and not linked to Al Qaeda or the violent South Asian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.”

Fair told IHT: “There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it.”

“Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage taking, and they don’t do grenades,” she added.

Source : Experts, Western media blame Indian mujahideen

Someone should tell Ms Fair that Lashkar has used grenades and taken hostages. It is just that she is ignorant. Has she not read about the recent hostage situation in Jammu ? In fact, Lashkar is an expert in hostage taking and getting themselves holed up in important places.  Besides terrorism is not like medical science. You cant lay your argument on lines like : Ok, he is a dentist – he doesnt  do heart surgery.

Look at what  Maria Misra says in  The Times,

But unlike 9/11 there is evidence of an entirely domestic element at play. In recent months there has been a spate of bombings in Indian cities. Responsibility has been claimed by the Indian Mujahadin – one of several fronts for the Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi). It is through Simi, Indian officials fear, that international terrorist networks have begun to penetrate more deeply into India – often through links with the Gulf.

..

But despite the multi-religious and multi-ethnic origins of terrorist violence the Indian authorities have, until recently, tended to treat only Muslims as terrorists. So while Muslim “terrorists” have been subject to extraordinary laws of detention and trial in special courts, Hindu nationalist “rioters” have been tried in regular courts, or, more usually, not been punished at all.

One of the principal complaints of Indian Muslim groups is the failure to bring to trial any of the Hindu ringleaders responsible for pogroms in Bombay in 1993 and Gujarat in 2002 in which more than 4,000 Muslims died.

While the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, and international jihadist groups have undoubtedly trained and funded Indian Muslim terrorists, the chief recruiting officer is often the Indian State.

This is especially true at regional and state level where the police and judiciary are often “captured” by Hindu political interests that have used anti-terrorist laws to pursue political vendettas. The extreme poverty of many Muslims in India, whose status, according to a recent report, was below that of the “Untouchable” caste of Hindus, has increased frustration.

While “Untouchable” and other low-caste groups are actively promoted into universities and prestigious state jobs, India’s 150 million Muslims, who make up 13 per cent of the population, hold only 3 per cent of state posts. They are even less well represented in the police.

Source : Times ( India cannot pin all the blame on outsiders )

Note how circular her article is. The article starts off by comparing the attack to al-Queda, then quickly descends into a social-justice-anti-hindu-consolidation rant. Clearly the world is not holding back waiting for a time period to elapse. Why must Indian bloggers and opinion makers ?

Fareed Zakaria adds,

One of the untold stories of India is that the Muslim population has not shared in the boom the country has enjoyed over the last ten years. There is still a lot of institutional discrimination, and many remain persecuted. There’s enough alienation out there that there are locals who can be drawn in to plots.

Source : Newsweek

Hey, everyone is discriminated. So, do you agree everything is linked to social justice ?

India should do well to understand the western thought pattern. They are rattled because this might impact their own operations in Pakistan’s frontier areas.

No one denies the ability of the local jihadi cells, but this is beyond their ability right now. From what we hear, the mobile phones carry foreign SIM cards, the language used is a foreign accent, they even arrested a T who hailed from a foreign country.  I might add two more things, local terrorists especially from the deccan areas do not have the fair-skinned arabic look. Contrast with the accused in the Coimbatore blasts case. To top it, locals have a bone to pick with locals esp Narendra Modi – it is out of their range to base their operations on taking westerners hostage.

What is happening is like toothpaste. The US and Pakistan are squeezing them from one end, unfortunately for India the paste is coming from on its end. India is already a victim because the jihadi hordes need and will seek employment in the Indian theatre. India must debunk this opinion building exercise at the outset. We beg the  set of human beings in parliament to spend some energy (yes, yes, we know it is useless from their point of view) and confront these premature opinions.

Release mujahideens – the terrorists demand

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 27, 2008

According to this news report :

There are seven of us inside hotel Oberoi,” the man identified as Sahadullah told the channel. “We want all Mujahideens held in India released and only after that we will release the people.”

The terrorist said he belonged to an Indian Islamist group that is seeking an end to the persecution of Indian Muslims.

Identifying himself as a member of a group calling itself Deccan Mujahedeen, the gunman, who was holed up in the Oberoi Trident Hotel, called for the release of all fellow Islamic militants detained in India.

“Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?” he told the channel by phone from inside the hotel, which is surrounded by army commandos.

“Release all the Mujahideens, and Muslims living in India should not be troubled,” he said.

Source : Indiatimes

Mr T.Sahadullah is going out of his way to identify himself as an Indian terrorist. IMO, this is a dead giveaway of his true nationality.

Muslims in India…” No Indian muslim talks like that !

Mothers and sisters…” Again it seems like an attempt by a non Indian to identify !

Release all the Mujahideens…” Again homegrown muslim terrorists do not care enough about mujahideen held in Kashmir or Assam. At least not enough to make it a centrepoint of this large scale attack. This could be changing as they are integrated more and more into the global network.

Are the out of work mujahideen in Pakistan now training their eyes on India ? Last I heard, the United States and Pakistan were using some hollywood-sci-fi technology to fry their asses. India must not allow these losers to come here in search of “employment”.

Are we are back to square one with our neighbour ?

————

Meanwhile, the PM has issued a statement on the Mumbai attack.

I assure the country that we will attend in an urgent and serious manner to police reform so that the law and order authorities can work unitedly, effectively and in a determined manner to tackle such threats to national integrity.

..

Source : Reuters

Even though it is time to present a united face, I must say I find this speech insipid. As speeches go, it does not adequately express the outrage of a great power raring to bring these low lives to justice. Was police reform on the agenda ? Was a Federal Investigating Agency a stumbling block ? We never heard the set of human beings in parliament get worked up over these issues !

I was tempted to hold my views for later, but in two weeks we would have all but forgotten this event. Any news on the Mumbai train attack/ Bangalore / Surat / Assam attacks now ? I believe there were similar speeches at that time.

Mayhem in Mumbai, can the Indian state respond ?

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 27, 2008
Chattrapati Shivaji Railway terminus in Mumbai (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE, AFP/Getty Images / November 26, 2008)

Chattrapati Shivaji Railway terminus in Mumbai (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE, AFP/Getty Images / November 26, 2008)

As we speak, 101+ people have been killed and 250+ injured in a brazen terrorist attack. This attack is different and marks an escalation from the terrorists’ side. I am tempted to call this a ‘swarm attack’ where a swarm of terrorists are let loose with automatic weapons. Instead of bombs, these agents shoot partly at random and partly at pre-determined targets. After all getting teenage mujahideen is far easier than procuring high grade explosives.

Three things stand out :

1) The swarm suicide attack.

2) The targeting of US and British travellers and its potential impact on Indias image and economy. Already the England cricket team is getting ready to pack its bags.

3) The similarity to the recent blast in Pakistan, where the Marriott was bombed. The targeting of nearby hospitals is eerily similar to the recent Gujarat low intensity blasts.

The actual details of the attacks can be found on any news website worldwide. You can also get a list of helpline numbers here.

What can ‘us‘ the ‘comman man’‘ do besides symphatizing with the victims and feeling outraged ? Is there any ‘us‘ and ‘comman man’  left in this country or are we using these words interchangably with ‘free agents’ ?  Is it possible that ‘us‘ could force mainstream parties to make fighting terrorism a do or die issue. For that to happen, ‘us’ should hold our votes hostage to this big-ticket issue.

What will be the response of the Indian state to this escalation ?

An alternate way to ask the same question is : Given that the Indian state is solely represented by the set of human beings in Parliament. Is there enough concentration of interests in this issue amongst this set of human beings ? By this I do not mean interest like what you and I have in following the news on TV and expressing personal shock. I mean interest in actually expending effort on tackling this big ticket issue even while being acutely aware that it does not guarantee returns at the polling booth. In fact, it could diminish their returns.

Have all big-ticket issues become extra-curricular affairs ? Remember in school, we were allowed to indulge in extra-curricular activities only if it did not impact our studies. There were no points for it.

The UPA government is guilty of policies that make big ticket items like fighting terrorists an extra-curricular activity for those humans who will be in future parliaments.  They will be there primarily to protect a fault line created in society. Ironically, this fault line was created for the only purpose that once created, it needs to be protected. This is not to say these humans will be bad persons. They will weep and be outraged just like the rest of us. But, only the reckless mavericks among them will spend the energy required to tackle it.

There is no use sacking Shivraj Patil. He will just get replaced by another lame duck who, like him will in turn be a failure, like the person who will replace him in due course.

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Around the blogosphere :

The shortest post , Shantanu (already has two posts up)The Acorn (see comments), Sandeep Web, Retributions

Imagining India

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 25, 2008

Image Courtesy : IBNLIVE

Nandan Nilekani, co-chairman of Infosys has recently written a book called “Imagining India” (I think Penguin).

Rajdeep Sardesai of IBNLIVE interviewed him about the book recently.

The following exchange caught my eye.

Rajdeep Sardesai: You actually believe that things like the single multipurpose identity card can actually reduce computation. We’ve seen it with taxation and the PAN card system.

Nandan Nilekani: My point is that if you look at our tax system, the way we collect revenues, 90 per cent of our taxes were indirect taxes like sales tax and excise tax which are based on a product. In another 10 years, 90 per cent of our taxes would be direct, like people like you and me and everybody else paying taxes. So there’s a huge shift. The same thing has to happen in our benefits. We have to go from indirect benefits, which were corrupt and go to the wrong people, to direct benefits where we out whatever the benefit is into the hands of the people and that can be done easily with technology.

Rajdeep Sardesai: My bigger worry has always been regional divide. I see …. (moves on to another topic)

Reality Check (who was also present in the room but was invisible) : Whewww ! That was close!

Source : IBNLIVE (text in italics mine)


Most of my readers know what I think about the SEZ policy.

I imagine an India where all SEZs less than the size of Shenzhen are scrapped. All IT tax holidays are withdrawn for non-strategic industries. Where local government (as sucky as they might be) have the ability to collect required revenue to build infrastructure for all citizens, not a ridiculous elevated highway. I do not know how many other Indians imagine this.

Identity vs Benefits

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 24, 2008

A gentleman I was talking to yesterday proclaimed “You know, in India the root problem is that everyone votes for their caste”. I was stunned because it was not really related to what we were talking about, but I said, “I wish that were true”. He was taken aback a bit.

Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest to explain. The same is the case of identity vs benefits. Almost everyday you see a bunch of TV intellectuals predicting who would be the “Obama of India”. Presumably, they want to guess who will be the person of ‘an unexpected identity’ who will lead India.  They show complete ignorance of the Indian system.

First of all, what does the word – ‘Voting for ones caste’ mean ?

a) It is natural for voters to prefer a person of their own identity.  Would you not vote for your uncle if he stood for office ?

If Indians voted for candidates of their own caste, it is not a big problem at all. You could neutralize it by fielding an opposing candidate from the same caste in areas where such a preference would dictate outcomes.  In other words, Laloos candidate could be checked by a Yadav candidate from the BJP, or PMKs candidate could be checked by a Vanniar from the AIADMK. Now, identity having been neutralized – presumably the majority voting group can vote on larger interests.

Does this happen ? No. Because, India is not America. Identity is meaningless without benefits in India. A person representing an interest group can ill afford to work or big ticket items. His position will be endangered by a rival who can position himself to represent the group better.

It is identity coupled with unmonitored benefits. Silly.

Ok, now who will be Indias Obama ?

 

UPDATE :

We have another TV intellectual ties himself up in knots in comparing caste with race.

Ram Guha starts off by trying to fit a square peg  (Ambedkar) in a round hole (Obama). Not sure if it fit, he then tries Nehru (a triangular peg). That does not fit either. So he just gives up and throws everything in the trash.

He thinks Nitish Kumar is Indias Obama. Whoooo ! Look at this gem.

In so far as he is not sectarian, does not come from a political dynasty, appears to be honest and committed to good governance for all — not just a particular caste or religious grouping — Nitish Kumar may be considered to fit the bill. He is no Barack Obama, but he is certainly much less unlike Obama than, say, Mayavati or Rahul Gandhi or Narendra Modi. An India of 15 or 20 chief ministers in his mould would be a better, or least a less unhappy and less violent, place.

Source : Ram Guha’s article in The Telegraph

 

Dear God !

>> An India of 15 or 20 chief ministers  >>

I have news for you Mr Ram Guha, India already has 15-20 CMs in this mould. More will follow after the next elections. So where is my ‘less violent place’.

Nitish is a protector of unmonitored benefits to a group, just like Laloo is, just like Kirori Bainsala is, like Jayalatita is, like Karunanidhi is, like Achutanandan is.  Protectors of group benefits are not an exception in Indian politics, they are the rule. In the next elections, they will strengthen further.   Nitish is not an outside figure uniting the ravaged Bihari people without regard for caste/creed.

Perhaps, Guha is the Indian Idol (sorry Indian Obama) !

The great Indian fuel price bait and switch

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 20, 2008

cal

The above chart is not the Indian petrol price chart.

In June this year, the Congress led UPA government raised petrol prices by Rs 5, Diesel by Rs 3, and LPG (Cooking gas) by Rs 50-150. This was on the grounds that crude was at $150 / barrel. In response, everything from autorickshaw fares, bus fares, restaurant food prices, lorry load charges, shot up. The conditions under which this specific hike was thrust on a nation already struggling with inflation have long ceased to exist.

For the past two months, crude has been below $70-$90. Now, it has stabilized below $50 (todays price $48).  Gas prices have fallen around the world in response. Yet in India, a billion people are being robbed blind, economic activity is being suppressed by this artificially high variable cost, everyone wants a bit of the windfall enjoyed by the oil companies ( there is a even a proposal to hike the excise on fuel).

ON BOARD PM’S SPECIAL AIRCRAFT: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to rule out cutting prices of petrol and diesel till oil companies stop making losses on fuel sales.

Contending that there were “limits to which government can go on subsidising”, Singh said it will wait till oil companies stop making losses before considering cutting petrol and diesel prices.

“When we see that the Indian oil companies are able to sustain a reduction, that will be the right (time for such a) decision,” Singh told reporters late Monday night on way back to New Delhi from his three-day maiden visit to energy rich Gulf countries.

Dr Manmohan Singh in a recent interview

Dr Singh, I think what you meant to say was, “……. when we see that Indian oil marketing companies are able to sustain a reduction – or we have elections, whichever happens first, will be the right time to take this decision”. We desis all know that this is simply a case of building up the books of the oil marketing companies in preparation for a cut near the elections. Free markets anyone ?

There are some who are claiming that the oil marketing companies are still losing on diesel. Can the oil companies make a profit on diesel ? If you make a profit on a subsidized item, can it still be called a subsidy ? If you make a 5 Re profit and petrol and 20 paise loss on diesel, it means you have made a net profit of 4.80 despite the cross subsidy. This is a fake argument.

There are still a few “free agent” voters who might be charmed by an election time price cut. As this blog has been saying – the locked-in voters do not give a rats ass about inflation or fuel prices or terrorism or 6 hour power cuts – they simply vote for their leader who protects their exclusive benefits from examination. Like any rational person would.

Blog note : Regular activity will resume on this blog. I took a break for a while, then had a tough time locating my password. Finally tracked it down.