Reality Check India

Commonwealth games: Indian media’s tease but dont tickle approach

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on September 24, 2010

Jarring to revolting.

The range of my reactions, when Mani Shankar Aiyar takes the moral high ground on the Common Wealth Games fiasco. It is bizarre that a person who seems to be opposed to having the games at all levels was appointed the sports minister for 4 long years.

He feels so strongly about hosting such events that :

“I am delighted in a way because rains are causing difficulties for the Commonwealth Games. Basically, I will be very unhappy,” Mr. Aiyar said in an informal chat with journalists, “if the Games are successful because then they will start bringing Asian Games, Olympic Games etc. Those who are patronising the Games can only be evil. They cannot be God.”

Source: Hindu

Not only is he opposed to the event, he has problems with everything about it – from the location to the housing scam. He also tried to fling some trash in the direction of the BJP led NDA on the issue of bribe of $100,000 to secure the games. This cost us a total of $7M but the media is repeating this all over the place without restraint on using the word bribe. Luckily some native English speaker shut him up.

“The funds referred to are preparation grants that have been officially sanctioned by the Commonwealth Games Federation as part of Commonwealth Games bids for both the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealth Games,” said Ashley Abbott, NZOC communications Manager in a statement.

New Zealand trashes Aiyars bribe charge

Most countries wanting to host the games would be willing to pay up.

Okay, now back to the sports minister. You have a sports minister who is opposed tooth and nail to the event and is actively stonewalling the organizers. This is what Suresh Kalmadi and others have claimed. This means that we have an impasse.

This is where things turn truly interesting.

What happens when two departments reach a dead lock. They escalate the issue to a higher authority. Now, all these creatures are from the Congress party and they understand what higher authority means. So nothing stopped Aiyar from traipsing over to Rahul or Sonia and presented his case. Did that happen ?

If he did not escalate the issue and resolve matters on time, he just sat on his ass and stonewalled the entire project, which is what Mr Kalmadi says he did. If he did escalate it, then higher powers in the Congress party sided with Kalmadi and eased him out. That is obvious and he will break in a second if the media pushed him on this. Yet, they dont. This is the tease but dont tickle attitude on the media when it comes to the Congress party.

More media tricks :

  1. Not referring to Kalmadi as Congress MP, they call him IOC chairman
  2. Not referring to Gill as Congress MP and Sports Minister
  3. Arnab of times now has never used the words Congress in his countless shows
  4. Referring to Delhi CM, IOC,Sports Minister – all from the Congress party as “politicians” instead of “Congress politicians”
  5. Not calling out Aiyar on his promise not to open his mouth until October 15. He made a zipping action over his mouth a few months back.

Change

This post is getting long, but a question dogging Indians now :

  1. If I support the games : its like supporting corruption, cronyism, luxury flats for super rich, companies holding land banks
  2. If I boycott the games : betraying athletes, letting down solemn commitments to international sporting bodies, boycotting poor workers who sweat it out

I do NOT support boycotting the games.  Cheer our players. Enjoy whatever the games offer. The people who scammed us really do not care whether we boycott it or not. Invoices have all been paid.

The best punishment for these Congress party ministers is : spread this conventional wisdom.

The only tool available to us to show our disgust is the voting booth.  Do exactly what the opposite of what the media is beseeching you to do.Politicize it.

Spread the message to the free agent voter.  This is exactly what I had said we should do after 26/11 but I will keep trying. I do not want the media’s exhorts not to politicize it go unanswered.

In any other country, such a humiliation at tax payer expense would have led to it becoming the number one voting issue and resulted in ouster from power (and hence draining all mojo). Not here.

Politicize this for the sake of these kids who were seen near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

They paid for it and got international humiliation.

Seen near

Kids seen near Jawaharlal Nehru stadium

Senior IAS Officer’s guide to game the system

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on September 19, 2010

For those new to the story : Senior IAS Officer Mr Umashankar was recently suspended by the Tamilnadu government for a claiming quota benefits by using a false community certificate. Read here for more He was subsequently reinstated following a huge outcry by the opposition parties.

The episode provides a great insight into the kinds of anomalies introduced by the quota system. Lets find out.

Arguing for extending SC quota benefits to Christians, reinstated IAS officer Mr Umashankar has some tips for Dalits wanting to convert :

Speaking to reporters in Tirunelveli on Tuesday, the TANSI managing director asserted that he has been a Christian for the past two years.

“However, while joining the service, I was a dalit Hindu,” said the IAS officer, who advised dalits willing to go out of the Hindu fold, that “promotes untouchability”, to do so but be careful that they not mention it in their certificates. “Be baptised but don’t get the certificate. Go to churches of your choice but don’t sign in the church records,” suggested Mr Umashankar, calling for a change in the Constitution to extend benefits to dalits who are not Hindus.

Source : DC

The consensus is that Mr Umashankar is an upright officer. Be that as it may, it is surprising that he finds nothing wrong in how he gamed the system of existing laws.  His suggestion to get baptized but dont get the certificate – goes against the spirit of social justice.

What prompted me to write this post is that he attacks the Hindu community. In his interaction with reporters in Tirunelveli, he disparages the Hindu community by describing it using words like “promotes untouchability” (See above news report).  He seems to have forgotten that most Hindus in all political parties, including magazines like Thuglak  had supported him.

Circumstances of his conversion, re-conversion, and re-re-conversion :

About the charge that he produced a fake caste certificate to join IAS, he said while his mother was Christian, his father was Hindu. “All my 11 siblings have all along remained Hindus. But my mother named me Ashok and got it recorded in my SSLC book that I was a Christian Pallar. My father was agitated over that and there used to be a lot of violence at home. Finally, when I was doing my final year in college, my father got me officially converted to Hinduism, changed my name to Umashankar and also got it notified in the government gazette.”
Source : TOI
Finally,
“Let me make it clear now. For the past two years, I am a practising Christian. However, I have not changed my religion legally.”

Legally he is still a Hindu while actually he is a Christian. Or Hindu for benefits. One wonders why would he still be a member of an evil community that he claims in a public meeting to “promote untouchability” ?

This also exposes the anomaly in giving quota for descendants of people who have already availed of quota and are highly placed. His children have various advantages besides being from a senior IAS family and whose father is a practicing Christian. It is important to note that the SC Quota does not have a creamy layer criterion, so his wink-wink Hindu status means that his children can avail of Dalit quota which should ideally go only to the unfortunate souls who still break stones on the roadside.

Fault is with the system

It is undeniable that Christian dalits are better placed than their Hindu counterparts.  At the very least, the disproportionate control of education places them a few notches above.  Growing up he had the “refuge” of the Christian community and access to the vast educational resources of that community. That these privileges were not available to a Dalit Hindu aspirant who still remained, in his own words,  in the “community that promotes untouchability” completely escapes him.

It would be too easy to blame him, but the fault lies with the system. When wealthy and intelligent Tamilnadu Hindus can get quota benefits even though their communities are able to top the open category; what Mr Umashankar has done is par for the course.  Digging further, the real breakdown is judicial because even though the court observed way back in 1996 (Tamilnadu Vs Voice Consumer Care) that over 80% of open category seats were taken by some OBC Hindu castes, it found nothing wrong with this spectacular anomaly.

The solution is start with the root cause – of making available publicly the utilization data of the Hindu OBC reserved category. Only by placing checks on the extremes of the system can we move into a positive spiral. The communities that are doing well must be moved to the open category so that the population of “free agent voters” can increase and we can finally have people who vote on issues like “sewage on the street”. Of course, the politicians attached to dogmatic ideology know very well that free agent voters are dramatically more difficult to herd.

Economic status is not a valid staging group, MJ Akbar nails it

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on September 17, 2010

There was a lot of brouhaha over the Supreme Courts recent “order” and “re-order” to the government to distribute rotting food grains to the poor. The Prime Minister promptly put the court in place for interfering in policy matters. The court in turn promptly slunk back into “we are happy with the government response”.

One might be tempted to think that this was a marvelous opportunity for the government to mop up some “poor”  votes. It was a win-win proposition :

  1. If food handout were successful : Govt takes all credit. Its pro-poor action can be drummed up courtesy friendly media
  2. If food handout fails due to corruption, bad quality : Govt can claim it was simply implementing an SC order

So – one would fail to understand why the Prime Minister lashed out at the court.

MJ Akbar in todays piece might be closest to the truth, as he often is on contemporary issues :

The prime minister is a politician. Any suggestion to the contrary is promotion of a myth. Evidence suggests that his populism would be community-oriented rather than poverty-specific. He understands the nuances of the game better than some self-proclaimed professionals imagine. Community is the key; poverty is too amorphous an identity, whereas caste and religion are the truly powerful instruments of mobilisation. It is not accidental that Dr. Singh’s cabinet has scheduled a caste census for next year.

Source : Wanted Nobel Prize for Honesty, MJ Akbar – Daily Star

Running such a complex exercise of identifying and distributing goods to the really needy, i.e. poor – while maintaining the sanctity of the identification, is hard work. Really hard work.

In an ecosystem of narrow interests, if a benefit protector spends an inordinate amount of energy on big picture issues – he will be punished at the next round.

The Congress led government has the hundreds of sociologists working round the clock to devise devious ways to subvert even the definition of poor.  Real staging units like religion and caste will be given points for identifying BPL (Below Poverty Level) families. The idea is, in the future, judgments like this can be easily implemented while keeping a straight face.

That would be a true win-win.

Unless a new conventional wisdom takes hold in the Indian public about the true nature of such divisive politics carried out by the Congress party  in the name of inclusion.

Jats ask “Why cant we have it too”, not so politely of course

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on September 15, 2010

Image Link Courtesy Hindu

Within a hundred kilometres of the national capital, almost an entire district was under curfew on Tuesday. It was so bad that the Army had to be called in.

ROHTAK/CHANDIGARH: A day after a protester was killed in police firing in Hisar on Jat community members demanding OBC quota in government jobs, Haryana was on the boil on Tuesday with angry mobs torching vehicles, business establishments and a police post.

Hisar bore the brunt, where curfew has been imposed in parts of the city and the Army called in. Traffic on the Hisar- Delhi National Highway 10 has been suspended.

Source : TOI

Some more detail from the same source:

Tuesday’s violence was sparked off when two protestors were killed while trying to stop a goods train at Uklana railway station in Jind district in the morning. The protestors tried to set the railway station on fire. Soon, the agitation spread to Rohtak, Jind, Bhiwani, Sirsa and Fatehabad with mobs blocking several roads connecting the affected towns.

Massive stone pelting, setting a police post on fire,  setting the SBI branch (Hisar Cantonment) on fire, setting part of a railway station on fire, setting police jeeps on fire, and usual rampaging followed.  So, who gets to pay ? The hapless cop.

Meanwhile, a police spokesman said here that several policemen including Hisar Superintendent of Police Subhash Yadav were injured in the clashes with the protesters who indulged in heavy stone pelting.

Meanwhile, the government shifted Hisar Superintendent of Police Subhash Yadav and has given his charge to Additional Superintendent of Police Pankaj Nain for the time being, an official spokesperson said.

He said two cases were registered – one against transferred SP Subhash Yadav and some other policemen under section 302 of the IPC (murder) and the other against unidentified persons in connection with the arson and violence.

Source : Outlook

I had to hunt hard online to locate the fact that the SP and others was booked under IPC 302 murder. This is outrageous as is the Haryana Congress Chief Minister Mr Hooda’s clean chit to the protestors.

In India, this protest is supposed to be a “good and vigorous social justice protest”.

Why is this happening ?

In social issues, you will find that the simplest questions are the most difficult to answer. Yet, the touchstone of justice is that you need to satisfy anyone who asks the following :

“Why cant I have what I just saw you give him”

Note that is this quite different from :

“Why cant I have what he has”

This is because people by nature accept that the life deals each of us a different deck of cards. But, we cant accept the state denying us something that it hands out to other people in plain sight. This emotion finds an outlet in this manner – If a show of strength followed by an orgy of violence is what is required, then so be it.

If you press the agitators enough, the trail will inevitably lead to Tamilnadu. More and more states and communities are asking, ” if they (TN) can have it why cant we ?”. The muddled court judgements lead others to believe that the court is not willing to perform its constitutional duty and therefore it is up to the group leaders to take up the violent route.

So what is unique about Tamilnadu:

  1. The fact that communities in the OBC category routinely top the Open Competition seats
  2. still able to maintain their OBC status
  3. no visibility into disaggregated utilization data
  4. creamy layer is not excluded (in state jobs and education)
  5. court wink-wink on 69%. The court observed in the Voice Consumer case as far back in 1996 that over 80% of open seats went to OBC castes and yet did not find anything wrong with that. Instead, it opted for some gymnastics by creating an illusion of ‘extra seats’

and the main attraction

  1. As it turns out, such adhoc powers to politicians to nix fundamental rights of equality and social justice have a great effect.
  2. These politicians gain a vice like grip over those constituents who adhoc rights it promotes.
  3. Any larger power will then have to enter into negotiations with these benefit protectors if it wants to reach out to its groups.

More about the judicial wink wink

The real issue is “Is evidence of being backward educationally or otherwise a precondition for inclusion in the OBC list?” If there were a high bar for data as evidence of backwardness, then it could have a dampening if not soothing impact on the Jat community.

To put it in a bluntly:

What is the rationale for continued reservation for a caste or community which is able to top or represent well in the open competition ?

As observed by the court in the 1996 case of Voice Consumer Care Vs State of Tamilnadu :

“It is significant to notice in this connection that according to the figures supplied by the Government of Tamil Nadu for the Academic Years 1993-94 and 1994-95, more than eighty percent of the seats in the general category are being taken away by the students belonging to Backward Classes on the basis of their own merit. As fully explained and illustrated in the Order dated August 18, 1794, the students belonging to Backward Classes are getting fifty percent of the total seats on the basis of reservation and more than 80 per cent of the seats in the general category [open competition category] on the basis of their own merit.” Link to judgment

So, Tamilnadu has demonstrated to the rest of India that it is quite possible to extend quota benefits to castes which together get about 80% of the open seats. This has been observed by the Supreme Court no less. It has also demonstrated that the court in unlikely to check such a blatant insult to social justice. Why is it an insult to social justice ?  Because communities that top the open lists will absolutely clobber the really backward in the reserved seats.

This grand anomaly which incidentally dates back to the First Constitutional Amendment , even before the First Lok Sabha convened, will lay this country to waste. A disinterested observer might even observe that as a country we never agreed on some fundamental “ground rules”.

All is not lost. We can build an alternative conventional wisdom that there is disaggregated utilization data that is hidden and that citizens must prise the data out.

Corruption across the spectrum

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on September 14, 2010

Terror : Saffron, Green, and Red

Corruption : Across the spectrum

India today under the dominant political party

I have blogged extensively in the past about the so called 2G spectrum scam. What really sets this scam apart in a nation wallowing in corruption is the scale, the brazenness, and the role of the media (we want clinching evidence Prabhu Chawla).

Today, the Supreme Court has issued a show cause notice to Union Minister A. Raja and other branches of government while hearing a PIL filed by various agencies like the Telecom Watchdog, the CPIL,  and veteran journalist Pranonjoy Roy Thakurta.

The CBI’s failure to file a chargesheet or arrest any person in the murky 2G spectrum scam came under scrutiny in the Supreme Court, which on Monday directed Union Telecom Minister A Raja, the Centre and the CBI to respond as to why not the probe be monitored by the apex court or a special investigation team be set up to go into the scam.

Source : Daily Pioneer

In legal terms, the notice itself is fairly routine. At the very least,  it flies down the news wires and brings the corruption scandal into the media again.

The appointment of new CVC : Heads I win, tails you lose

In this light, Pranonjoy Guha Thakurta as a must read piece in the Deccan Chronicle today on the recent appointment of the new Central Vigilance Commissioner Mr PJ Thomas. Please go and read it now. Here is an excerpt of how serious this government is about pursuing the alleged theft of billions of dollars of the scarcest natural resource.

How Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram of the Congress completely overruled the fair objections of Sushma Swaraj of the BJP, even when a unanimous alternative choice was within reach.

It is hardly surprising that the appointment of Mr Thomas as CVC by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union home minister P. Chidambaram by over-ruling the objections raised by Sushma Swaraj (who, incidentally, also holds a Cabinet rank as Leader of the Opposition) raised a big hue and cry, since he had just demitted office as secretary, DoT.

About how the new CVC appointee secured a note pre-emptively clipping his wings in what would be his new job.

The Bharatiya Janata Party has alleged that Mr Thomas was chosen because he would not rigorously pursue investigations into the 2G spectrum scandal since he “secured” a note from the law ministry while he was DoT secretary which argues that the allocation of electro-magnetic airwaves, or spectrum, used for telecommunications was part of official “policy” that cannot be questioned either by the CVC or the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

Source  : Deccan Chronicle

Observe how fast the files flew through various offices – as if his appointment was a foregone conclusion. This would automatically mean Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram viewed Sushma Swaraj as a mere dummy – who believes friendliness can sway a regime such as the Congress.

The DoT note to the law ministry on the spectrum allocation issue apparently moved with remarkable alacrity between August 10, 2010, and August 12 from official to official before the signatures of minister Mr Raja and secretary Mr Thomas were appended. That’s not all. Within a day, on August 13, the law ministry responded to the DoT’s queries. Such expeditiousness is hardly the hallmark of Indian bureaucracy.

Source  : Deccan Chronicle

On behalf of the citizens of India who are open to an alternative conventional wisdom, Reality Check India would like to extend a Thank You to Mr Pranonjoy Roy Thakurta for this excellent piece.

Role of the media: Take spotlight off the beneficiary

Recently, a leading media channel organized another Business Awards night. The usual suspects were awarded. This year, some brown people holding mid level positions in Obamas cabinet too were honoured. They in turn duly regaled the crowd with their funny accents. The anchor beseeched Mr NR Narayana Murthy once again to step into public life, straight into the office of the President. Mukesh Ambani received the ‘last but not least award’, then cocktails flowed and the crowd dispersed into the Mumbai night. Nothing wrong with these awards.

You would expect that a couple of young entrepreneurs who crashed into the Forbes India Billionaires list at position #49 and #50 would find at least a mention. Not to be.  Is this how we treat our young entrepreneurs and start ups ?

In the answer to this lies a great secret.

Our media these days is very careful to screen beneficiaries of corruption. They would rather prefer a top-down approach to coverage of corruption stories because inevitably this gets lost in bureaucratic  ‘octopus-ink’.  In contrast, a bottom up pursuit will act as very potent entry points into the scam and have a high human interest angle. All Indians, including Maoists, really hate others getting rich on their money.

Lets put the scam in terms of the actors (underlined) :

Foreign firms paid market value to Indian middlemen for a natural resource who in turn paid peanuts to the government.

So does the media give equal airtime to the three actors. Lets see.

We have a spectacle of an  interview with Telenor CEO, who plainly said his firm is used to doing business in “countries like India”.  We also have the cursory interview with the government officials and ministers. But, you never hear from the “middlemen” who now command companies with market valuations in the billions of US dollars.  I have another example of a inspirational entrepreneur. They are a venture capital firm which sold their stake for 350 Crores – more than a 1/2 of all private equity investments in India in 2009 – yet we did not have one interview with their management and not one award. Contrast to the constant air time and awards given to sundry silicon valley venture capital firms who talk big over puny investments of 1-3 crore.  How are our young supposed to get inspired ?

Forbes India quite obviously has a lot to learn about India.