Friday, July 27, 2012

Some Smiles from the Garden of Ambadi

With lot of pride in the efforts put in by my family, here I am presenting some wonderful smiles from the little garden that we have at our home, Ambadi:





 With the hope that you are smiling too!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

You Knew My Words!

You knew my words, knew them well
That what they meant; what they said
That they were my dreams, and my fears
My frustrations, my compassion
My deep desires; my strong feelings
My rising anger; my sarcasm
My innocent love; maddening lust
They were my thoughts; filled with you!

You knew that they were seldom complete
Always failed to convey thoughts
Much remained, yet to be said
Spoken words killed unsaid thoughts

You looked for meaning; beyond my words
Between lines, between words
Behind my smile, inside my eyes
You always found, those hidden thoughts

You found them nice; making you smile
You found them naughty; letting you laugh
You found them profound; making you think
You found them sad; bringing tears!

Then something changed; what was that?
Was that you or your world?
Was it my words, or my thoughts?
What did turn you suspicious?

Now you don’t find those left out thoughts
You don’t find those unsaid words
They don’t make you smile anymore
They do scare you easily now!

Where have those teasing smiles gone?
Where did the suspicious stare come from?
My words are same; my thoughts are same
To me at least, I am the same

It must be you and your views
That changed a lot and changed for good
My thoughts are free, my words are free
Now way above you and far beyond you!

Seeing a world that was unknown
Much wider and much deeper
With all the problems and the prospects
All the thrills of exploring!

I thank you for freeing my words!
I thank you for my open thoughts!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Democracy –Do We Have a Choice?

In a recent post, Democracy- It is all about Yadha Praja Tadha Raja, I had discussed how democracy gives a government that reflects the quality and culture of the voters themselves and why the voters, and not the democracy, are to be blamed if the quality of elected persons is bad. I am rather compelled to say more on this subject as the blame on democracy for all the ills of the nation continues unabated and unchallenged.

No one has ever claimed democracy as a panacea for all the ills of society. In fact, as suggested by Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.  In this profound quote, you can see the USP of democracy.   All the forms of governance, tried at various stages of human history, have fared worse than democracy.  Most of those systems are extinct today, except where some of them have changed themselves to accommodate democratic aspirations of the governed (as in the case of constitutional monarchy of United Kingdom)!

Neither individual rulers nor any group of elites/classes/troops have proved consistently as better rulers in the past than the present elected politicians.  That is why democracy remains the best available system. The TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor will ensure the prominence of democracy for a long time to come!

Fundamental principle, from which democracy gets its sustenance, is that all human beings have equal rights in a society.  Human beings may not be equal in terms of physical or mental abilities. But, as members of a society they all have equal/similar rights to achieve their respective best, within the norms of society.  That being the case, no person or group can assume a right to govern and force their will on the other members.  At the same time, it is necessary to have some authority to ensure adherence to society’s norms by its members and to avoid chaos and self-destruction within the society. Democracy is an attempt to resolve these two contradictory principles of social life.

It is only in democracy that the people have a right to choose, either directly, or indirectly through their representatives, the person or group that governs them (please remember that even indirect election of a Prime Minister, Chief Minister, President etc are perfectly within the representational system of democracy and therefore the argument that people have no direct say in their election is not logical, though one may question the advisability of representational system as against direct democracy).  Also, it is only the democracy that gives a right to the people to reject their rulers and replace them with another set of rulers from time to time. As Pluto said, “Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequal alike.”

Democracy may not give us the best rulers all the time. But, it definitely gives us the right to change them from time to time.  If we do not exercise our rights in the best manner possible, can we blame the system itself? It may happen that in a given election majority of the voters exercise their choice in the most foolish manner and end up electing a tyrant or mass murderer or any such evil, on the basis of some perceived injustice or other emotional reasons.  Yet, unlike the other systems, they don’t have to keep suffering the outcome of their choice forever. The very next election gives them an opportunity to correct their mistake (I do not agree with a possible objection that 5 years is too long a period to wait, considering the need for balance between change and stability).

If we continue to elect same group of rulers, election after election, there can only be two reasons for that; either we don’t deserve better rulers or majority of us consider those rulers as the best available option to them.  If the society itself is devoid of any values then it is not practical to expect the chosen leaders to be any different.  Democracy is not election by consensus, it is election by majority vote. If majority wants a certain ideology or group to govern, then the minority has to accept that.  Of course, needless to say minority will still be protected by the rule of law that ensures all are equal before the law and government, but minority can’t dictate the majority with its choice of governance.

No doubt, democracy is not a natural system of governance in an unequal society.  Staking of territory, survival of the fittest, rule of the powerful, might is right etc are some of the concepts that we carry even now, from our animal existence of the past. Therefore, it is bound to take time for true democracy to take roots in a society, especially if the society is one which has inherited extreme inequality from the past.  But that is no reason to reject a system when we do not have a better system to replace it or speed up the reforms in society. 

We tend to be little impatient when demanding performance from democracy.  We forget that nations are built, not in decades but in centuries. If we expect democracy to undo all the shortcomings accumulated over thousands of years by a nation, in 50 or 60 years, well it is asking for too much! 

Even the social churnings caused by democracy’s taking roots is often looked at from a short-term perspective.  For example, the new found assertiveness of previously oppressed classes like ‘dalits’ and ‘backwards’ has resulted in so many ‘unsophisticated’ and even semi-literate persons getting elected to legislative bodies.  Should we treat that as a negative of democracy? In my opinion, we should not!  This assertion and churning will only improve the equality in the long run and benefit the society at large.

Often democracy gets blamed when the real majority and assumed majority are different. For example, in India one gets to hear that the elections are not reflecting the will of the ‘majority’.  Such an assumption arises from the difference between actual majority and assumed majority.  It is the actual majority that gets to elect the government. However, the views claiming to represent the assumed majority (for example the religious majority, linguistic majority, class majority etc), is not satisfied with the choice of the actual majority.  We can only tell the votaries of such assumed majorities to open their eyes and realise the voice and choice of actual majority, which may not be agreeing with religious or caste or other parochial differentiators!

Another blame that democracy is subjected to is about the strong control exercised by dynasties or families over political parties and elections. Indeed, it is true for a country like India where most of the regional parties and even the largest national party are dependent on dynasties for their leadership.  But what we must realise is that it is not a shortcoming of the democracy but of the feudalistic mentality still prevalent in our society.  If at all, democracy ensures that even these dynasties/families are absolutely subject to the will of people and at their mercy during each election.

Let us accept that democracy is not a perfect system that will give us perfect leaders and perfect governance. Democracy is only a system that will allow us to have a genuine say in deciding our own leaders and rulers.  It was Franklin D Roosevelt who said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”   The performance of those leaders/ government is dependent on our own performance as responsible citizens and an ever vigilant society.  

Anyone can devise a new system that is foolproof against all the social negatives. In the meanwhile, instead of blaming the best available system, let us strive to strengthen it by exercising our duty to vote, in all its seriousness, and also striving to improve our own quality as responsible citizens of the country and members of the society.  As Ralph Nader rightly puts it, “There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.”

While being is free to criticise the outcome of any democratic election, let us not forget that we do not have any choice for the moment but to accept democracy as the best available system. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kochi Metro will go to DMRC: But can this be a Precedent?

After so much uncertainty, the Cabinet at Centre finally gave approval for the proposed Metro rail project that covers 25 Kilometres and 23 stations, for the city of Kochi, Kerala.  The project is expected to be completed in four years, at a total cost of Rs 5,182 Crores. 

Even before the celebrations were complete, the controversy arose as to whether Mr E Sreedharan will be involved in the project.  Mr Sreedharan on his part again reminded Kerala through his statement to Media that he will associate with the project only if it is awarded to his erstwhile employers, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). 

The Media and even Opposition took up his statement and demanded assurances from Government that DMRC will be given the contract so as to involve Sreedharan in the project. As of today, the concerned Minister has informed the State Assembly that the project will be handed over to DMRC. No global tendering, no competitive bidding, no comparisons between interested and qualified contractors- no such formalities of transparent system of awarding contracts will be followed in this case. It is pre-agreed by the Government that the project will be granted to one particular contractor, i.e., DMRC which also happens to be the consultant who prepared all the project reports and estimates etc for the Project.

How and why did this happen? Instead of demanding adoption of transparent and competitive procedures in awarding the contract, the public opinion was managed to force the Government to gift it to a specific agency at a cost estimated by them alone!

There is no doubt Sreedharan has achieved a lot in the field of rail projects.  His role behind the success of Konkan Raliway and Delhi Metro projects is recognised nationally so much so that we even heard calls for his elevation to the post of President of India.  Since he is a son of Kerala, people of Kerala were always proud about his achievements and wanted him to be associated with Kerala Government in resolving the infrastructural issues of the State.

DMRC had implemented the Delhi Metro project satisfactorily and thereby gained sufficient experience in such projects.  It had the benefit of Sreedharan’s charismatic leadership as well.  However, there are various other companies set up within India for undertaking Metro rail projects.  Bangalore Metro is already partially operational, that too almost within stipulated timeframe.  While DMRC was involved in the consultancy stage with most projects, they were not granted the construction work in any other project.

It is true that DMRC is the best qualified domestic agency to implement the project. But the manner in which this appointment is being done leaves a lot to be desired. It is by now very clear that DMRC will get this contract not based on merit (tested against competitive bidding) but on the basis of pressure tactics.  Mr Sreedharan’s tactics in ensuring that the contract will go to DMRC is indeed questionable.  The fact that he is an advisor to DMRC makes it a clear conflict of interest for him while advising Government on Kochi Metro.

Government is left with no choice since DMRC, through Sreedharan, has succeeded in creating an impression in the public mind that the Government is trying to avoid them so that they can appoint some other parties with corrupt objectives! To say no to Sreedharan’s unreasonable demands would have meant that, in the eyes of public, the Government is seeking opportunity for corruption. Government meekly surrendered and is gifting the contract to DMRC, to keep Sreedharan and the public opinion, happy!

Kochi Metro is not the end.  It is the beginning. Sreedharan, and DMRC through him, is already involved in projects like Mono Rail and High Speed Rail line (HSR) in Kerala.  Their involvement in consultancy stage of these projects is without any competitive bidding and that itself is in violation of government rules of expenditure!   Sreedharan will continue to use the same tactics in those projects as well and with this precedent, Government will under more pressure to award the works to DMRC.

The DMRC with such an unchallenged monopoly can milk the State of Kerala to the extent it wants. 

Already there are allegations that the HSR project report prepared by DMRC does not consider the project risks or evaluates the technology but entirely depends on the Japanese assistance and technology.  The very fact that the Japanese technology is expected to cost Rs. 213 Cr/km while the same for Chinese (they have the most exhaustive HSR in the world) technology is something around Rs 165-180 Cr/km is also not considered. 

The entire logic for the Japanese technology was based on the assurance that Japan is ready to grant us loan at about 3% interest, that too with a moratorium period. What is left unsaid is the fact that, the Japanese loan is not in cash but as equipments, coaches, signalling, etc. which was more crucial for Japan to lift their sagging economy than it is to us! Are we to assume that funding of this level and character depends on the presence of one man or one agency than other globally recognised experts?

Even the State Planning Board (SPB) was reported as having serious reservations on the project that is expected to cost over Rs 1 lakh Crores! Yet each time the SPB was to meet, morning newspapers carried stories as to how the project is required for the State, complete with Sreedharan's statement and assurances.  

Same thing happened with Kochi Metro as well.  Whenever a meeting is proposed to arrive at any major decisions, Sreedharan comes out with his media statements that say his association is conditional on project being granted to DMRC.  Also, media was full of reports that suggested that Japanese funding would be conditional on DMRC getting the contract! With Government’s assurance in Assembly now we can conclude that DMRC and Sreedharan have succeeded in pre-empting any competition in Kochi Metro!

I hope the project itself does not come to a halt on account of any litigation against the improper allotment of the contract!  

But can this be taken as a precedent? Can a Government be forced to award contracts of major projects to certain companies or people based on media blitzkrieg or hyped up images? Can a Government in future say that since they think association of a particular expert is desirable, they are handing over the project to an agency chosen by him? Shall we do away with tenders and procedure where Sreedharan or similar charismatic persons are involved?

After all, Sreedharan is not even heading DMRC now. He is merely an Advisor to DMRC.  Without Sreedharan, there is nothing to suggest that DMRC will be anything but another contractor and that they will be able to deliver everything as promised.  Besides, DMRC has no previous experience in executing Mono Rail or HSR projects.  

Kerala Government must show some economic and administrative wisdom and should desist from putting all its eggs in one single basket. Let there be transparent competition involving the best players from throughout the globe and let the best party win the contracts.  Take the people into confidence from the beginning on the need to go for competitive bidding on a global basis so that there are no last minute pressure tactics by any one.  After all, people of Kerala can’t demand tomorrow to hand over the governance of the State to Mr Sreedharan, howsoever efficient and capable he might be!

Not individuals but the systems and processes must ensure efficiency and economy in implementation of any project.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Social Media, Presidential Election, Chetan Bhagat and Dr Abdul Kalam- Some observations

One of the hazards of being active on social media is that it can easily colour one’s ideas about public opinion.  What opinion a person comes across on social media depends on what sort of people follows that person and what sort of people are followed by that person.  If the person’s circle is skewed towards a specific ideology or point of view, that person can easily fall prey to the delusion that the opinions that s/he is hearing are the opinion of the world at large.

Take for example, the article of the self confessed ‘Underage Optimist’ Mr Chetan Bhagat in The Economic Times, titled “Narendra Modi: People's choice as PM of India?”.  Entire Article is based on the findings of a ‘fun poll’ conducted by HIM on HIS Facebook page, in which over 10,000 people voted, with 82% supporting Narendra Modi for PM while Rahul Gandhi getting mere  5% votes and remaining 13% voters supporting neither. 

To be fair to Chetan Bhagat, he says, “No, i am not implying this is India's verdict. In fact, it could be far from the national consensus, as Facebook is a highly skewed demographic of younger, affluent and more educated Indians. As some say, many people on Facebook don't even bother to vote. Also, Modi has some fervent supporters, who rush to support him in times of need such as this poll. Hence, i would take the results with a huge pinch of Gujarat-made salt”. Yet he goes on to analyse the very findings of that fun poll in the entire article and try to tell us that why India wants Narendra Modi as PM. (In a lighter sense,  I think the only finding of the fun poll is that Chetan Bhagat and Narendra Modi generally shares same kind of followers!  Now you can draw your own conclusions on that.)   

Look at another example of Presidential Elections.  This is one election in which people of India have no direct role as the Constitution has entrusted the task to their elected representatives.  By this scheme of things, it is natural that the Party or Group that is in power, and can muster the majority of votes, will have the final say in electing the President. 

The very post of President under Indian Constitution is more of a ceremonial post with limited discretion in any matter.  President is supposed to act as per the advice of the Council of Ministers and have little discretion in decision making except for his right to send back a Bill or Decision for reconsideration (If the same Bill or Decision is send back to him after reconsideration it shall be binding on him to act on that).  Yet, social media like Twitter and Facebook went hyper on the choice of candidates for the election, in an unprecedented manner. Tags like #PeoplesPresident trended on Twitter in support of Dr Abdul Kalam for his second innings as President of India.  Even Ms Mamata Banerjee who is not otherwise considered media savvy, chose Facebook to promote her suggestion of candidate!

If we go by the Twitter responses alone, as Chetan Bhagat would do, Dr Kalam is the greatest President we ever had and Pranab Mukherjee will be the worst President we will ever have!  With all due respect to Dr Kalam, I have never found his presidential innings inspirational in any manner.  I respect him for his achievements after coming from such humble beginnings and his inspirational speeches that continue to ignite our children’s imaginations.  Yet to say he was the best President and no other person can be as good a President was little too much and out of touch with reality.  

Even in that one aspect where a President has real discretion, i.e., deciding on mercy petitions filed by death row convicts, Dr Kalam’s record was anything but inspirational. Out of total 28 mercy petitions that went to him for decision, he only cleared two in his five years is so telling!   As far as I am concerned, delay in considering Mercy Petitions is no less a crime!  So, for me, Dr Kalam remains a great person but just another President.

That apart, when Dr Kalam declared his intention not to fight for a second term the so called public opinion changed immediately.  Suddenly, Mr P A Sangma became the choice for People’s President.  Facts that he was still very much part of NCP, a constituent of UPA and that his daughter still continues to be a Minister in the UPA Government (though it is not unnatural to be so) etc were forgiven overnight and he became the new champion.   The fact that same ‘public opinion’ used to praise Mr Pranab Mukherjee on his political skills as against that of Dr Man Mohan Singh’s skills, till recently, was also forgotten as soon as his candidature was announced.

Dr Kalam’s tryst with social media did not end there... As soon as information came out that his new book speaks about how he was ready to make Sonia Gandhi the Prime Minister of India, in 2004, he turned villain.  No matter, as back as on 19 May 2004, President’s office had clarified through a Press Note that “It has been reported in a section of the press that the President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had discussed the citizenship issue with Smt. Sonia Gandhi when she met him yesterday at Rashtrapati Bhavan. This is contrary to facts. It did not figure in the discussions at all.”

Yet Dr Kalam was subjected to all name callings because he admitted that he was ready to do what a President is supposed to do as per the Constitution of India.  It is like, to be a People’s President you are supposed to go against the Constitution and do what the so called ‘public opinion’ wants; no matter, what the real ‘people of India’ had decided in a recently concluded election!

I do not want to enter into a debate whether it is desirable to appoint a foreign born person as the Prime Minister of India.  I have my opinion on that issue like most others have their own.  But what matters for a President is what the law says and the law does not differentiate between different classes of citizens of India.  That being the position, President was bound to administer oath to a person who had the support of majority of the members of newly elected Loksabha.  Yet the so called public opinion on social media finds no problem on condemning someone who was their ideal People’s President just a couple of days ago, for admitting that he was ready to stand by the Constitution.

Finally look at the interest, for and against, that Dr Subramaniam Swamy (and even Team Anna for that matter) commands over the social media, with an army of supporters pouncing on anything and everything spoken about him or his views. Yet, his Janata Party is in such a dismal position electorally, is an indication how detached the ‘public opinion of social media’ is from the ‘public opinion on ground’.

Forget about social media; I seriously doubt if there is any homogeneous opinion throughout India on any matters.  Even in our Parliamentary elections, local issues and factors gain prominence and affect ultimate results. Even an issue as fundamental as Emergency did not succeed in universalising the public opinion throughout the country, is a lesson for all of us.

Social media has its role in propaganda, counter propaganda and simple sharing of views and information. Let us use the social media for what it is worth while still keeping our eyes and ears open so as to differentiate propaganda from facts! To succumb to delusions that what one is experiencing is the pulse of Indian people at large can only blind one and lead him/her to fundamental errors.