Monday, December 30, 2013

Verdict for democracy


Nepal’s election results are hardly unexpected. The Maoists have been relegated to third position and many Madheshi and fringe parties have met their diminishing fortunes. Under both the direct vote and Proportional Representation systems, the Nepali Congress, led by Sushil Koirala, took the lead, followed by the CPN-UML, headed by Jhala Nath Khanal.

The political verdict is clearly in favour of a stable coalition. Evidently, the course correction has been directed against the UCPN (Maoist), who failed at any broadbased maneuvering to make the constitution in recent years. The disenchantment with the Maoists, thus, must be seen in the long-term context.

Unprecedented fall

The rise and fall of the Maoists as a political force in Nepal is unprecedented—their acceptance into mainstream society grew with the end of the ‘normal monarchy’ in the country and subsequent political developments, in which the mainstream political parties were on a weak track. Even then, the way in which the Maoists rose to political prominence, despite their notoriety for violence, was quite unusual.

The spectre of decline was certainly known to Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai but they seemed to remain steadfast in not moulding their ideological principle for local conditions and moreover, to live out its spirit. So, the blunders were not single-handed. In the changed scenario, the Nepali Maoists turned into a classic example of adhering to a custom-made ideology from a foreign land.

In the 1960s, something similar happened in India when a genuine radical upsurge met with an awful fate, following the incorrigible sycophancy of communist leaders in fancying the Chinese style of ‘hit and run communism’. Some even went so far to declare ‘China’s Chairman as their Chairman’.

Consequently, the radical movement dwindled in India, though the oppressiveness of the state and corporates has increased multifold over the decades. The Maoists in Nepal should think of the bigger picture and start doing things, rather than denying the aspirations of the common folk. And on a personal front too, they have to show integrity with principled political commitments, which, sadly, is notably absent in their current mode of action.

Albeit, emigration is reaching painful levels of exodus among young Nepalis but the poll results have represented their will. Certainly, they wish for a stable nation, with enough capacity to absorb the needs of every citizen. As of now—from India to Tibet to the Arab countries—the state of average Nepali migrants is a matter of concern for any thinking mind. Alas, no thou-ght or action has really been made on this haunting issue!

NC and UML

This is a historic chance for the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML to draft a pro-people constitution and create a functional government. As representative of the peoples’ will, these two political parties should not fail this time, because improved democratic processes will only promise better times ahead.

More on the socio-economic line, increased inclusion of different under-represented communities should be among the top agenda. Now these two major political parties have to carry the will of the people at large—as the activism of regional outfits in the Madhes and other parts of the country have lost their allure. But it is crucial for the NC and UML to respond and address the genuine demands of these groups.

Missed opportunity


The election result is remarkable for rejecting the ‘federalisation drive’ of the Maoists but keeping hope alive for socio-economic transformation. This was a response to the previous political configuration, which was largely opportunistic. If things improve, we will not see ethnic conflict mar the syncretism of this ancient land.

As the recently held CA election had existential rigour for Nepal’s democracy, it is truly unfortunate to see India’s inept response. India’s foreign ministry has again missed a chance to do damage control for earlier blunders by offering gestures of support to Nepal, which holds more significance than the other countries where top leaders don’t mind travelling to without reason and wasting valuable national resources.

Still, if not the Indian establishment, the mass of Indians think much more actively about their special neighbour. There lies the strength of bilateral relations between two countries; otherwise, official double standards from both sides could have hampered this relation long ago.

The time is right for immediate action from the new incumbent in Kathmandu. They will have focus on pressing goals. This time, leaders have to act or fail like the Maoists. The choices are easy to make but consistently following up on them will be the real acid test. But for now, reading the election results on a positive note would not be too risky.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kathmandu post,on December07,2013)

An unholy nexus binds Government to industry

From the Planning Commission and the apex bank endorsing corporate events organised by shady consultancies to the Finance Ministry supporting toothless industrial lobbies, the political class signs in tune with India Inc
We all know how UPA2 has stopped performing and is scoring poorly in most of areas. This well-choreographed plan is a rare phenomenon in realpolitik which re-defines the Darwinian principle of existence (Charles Darwin tried to, wrongly, make us believe that only the fittest can survive).

The existential quest is blurred, and configured so that action is presented as sin and inaction as unwavering virtue. Those in Government are a happy lot, but escapist business honchos are disturbed. They are not getting their favours on time — a throwback to the slow socialist days. This is a funny situation, especially when the country has no dearth of ‘non-performing assets in the form of some corporate leaders. The list is long but deserves not to elaborated.

There are countless activities in India’s burgeoning metro cities where the beleaguered corporate lot, mostly from the wonderland that is the West, has foolish interests. But here the safeguard to national interest is coming through collective angst. This is a sort of strength for new India that trounces Goldman Sachs and WalMart and the insightfully-poor rating agencies’ hope of making the country a parking lot for many of its useless minds.

The corporate world is in desperation, as it genuinely finds it difficult to stay exuberant beyond the happy premises of five star hotels — momentary relief though comes quite often, as India’s Finance Ministry is fully committed to acknowledging the events of toothless industrial lobbies and shady consultancy companies.

Nothing is taken for granted at such events — so everything is productive and meaningful within that ambit. A photo session with a Cabinet Minister has its high demand, speaking from the dais (before an indifferent and slumbering audience) is important, being front-running sponsor of an event has its value.

The Reserve Bank of India and the Planning Commission also support such corporate events where we hear many useless speeches. But despite the good tuning between the Government and business sector, those with money are still sad souls in India.

This might be because, sometimes, the cycle fails and then layoffs begin. At this stage, the top honchos recall the value of money and in the process goes back to the long-discredited economist Adam Smith (sadly, he couldn’t understand the discipline). But the tragical wind is unbiased, and it is dutifully blowing across all the sectors. Job cuts are all-pervasive including within the media which silently suffers much management atrocities.

Another area of unethical exploitation is the intellectual festivals. The Tehelka-Tarun Tejpal-Think Fest episode is a good case in point. Generally speaking, these conditions should have kept the humour alive in business circles but as the tough reality of the current situation is known to all, the sentiment will be in a jittery state.

The boom-time of ignorance is over now. The chances of course-correction are also few, especially given the current functional arrangement of the industry-Government dynamic. So, to be sure, in the time ahead, the Indian economy will seem to be more shocking than entertaining. Besides a failed Government, the corporate sector too has to be held accountable for its inability to rise to the occasion and make the most of several opportunities that have presented themselves over the years.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Pioneer,on December06,2013)

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon

Book Review: Fiction/ The Shadow of the Crescent Moon by Fatima Bhutto, Penguin, p.232; Rs499 (Hardback) Fatima Bhutto is a conscience keeper of her sensibility. She has proved it on time and again. Her detailed memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword, had made the world knowing about the very famous Bhutto’s overtures with the real politicking of Pakistan’s tragic democracy, like never before.

Then, she championed in writing uncomfortable truths of her family and politics, dutifully, and broke a firm impression that the load of powerful past can keep the flame of personal intention and integrity on toe. Remarkably, she did it when she was quite young—and now she is back, with her debut novel The Shadow of the Crescent Moon after a short interlude.

Meanwhile, Fatima has risen to be a prolific Columnist of eminent publications in Pakistan and Western media. The vital commonness of these books is in their anecdotal accounts, which grips unwaveringly. That makes the purpose of writing well served, as Fatima is an individual who has lot of bearing with the collective outer space—both as a creative soul and importantly hailing from Pakistan’s most influential political family.

She had opportunities growing up, and in recent years as a journalist/writer to visit the ‘troubled tribal region of Wajiristan’, to other terrains of north-west frontier and Afghanistan. Thus the town of Mir Ali, remains more than a passive protagonist in The Shadow of the Crescent Moon. Without relying too much on ‘twists in narrative’ (for better sake), Fatima has become able to give this sleepy semi-urban locale, a lively humane touch.

She makes a memorable fiction entry, by chronicalising a small town in infamous tribal region of Waziristan, Mir Ali—the book begins and ends on a rainy Friday morning. The metaphors have used resolutely, and story follows an intelligent path, not anything shaped in the guise of personal wishes or nay to the turn of any situation.

Three brothers meet for breakfast. Next, the eldest, recently returned from the US, boards a taxi to the local mosque. The second brother, a doctor, goes to work in his hospital. His upset wife does not join the family that morning, even few know what she does these days. And the youngest, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. He is accompanied by a beautiful, fragile girl whose world has been overwhelmed by war (like many others). Only few hours later their day ends in devastating circumstances.

She has drawn the details of troublesome human misfortune, in terms of terrorism and its fallouts. Also not less, the inner contradiction of Pakistan’s less understood political regime, which juggles aimlessly between limited democracy and overgrown military establishment.

Little more wide, this book covers the shadow of South Asia’s general psyche, which mostly outgrows the conformity of national boundaries created in twentieth century, as legacy of British Empire in tune with the ‘hungry tide’ of confused nationalists.

The Empire ruined long back too, and now it has own mimicking shadow to confront with—herewith, the east and west is meeting proportionally and without any advantage. Seeing the state of nation and people—normally, the magnanimity of success or failure is known for a ruling set of systems. If not looking through a much distorted value proposition of comparison, the pathetic state of Pakistan becomes more clearly visible. This is something undeniable for healthy thinkers, though they are rare species.

On the positive side, Pakistan has today a long list of good writers—surprisingly, some of them born elite but sensed the grave issues of land, as carefully as their rest fellow countrymen. This marks toward the changing expectation at mass level, which must not go waste alone in the inner circle of ideas—therefore, the required action must knock at fore.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon makes the ground for those, who have not left the quest for life and love, even in the toughest human situation—a thoroughly sensual novel, naturally fits to be noted extraordinary and recalled as a great read, by the generations of readers.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kashmir Walla,on December14,2013)








Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan

Book Review: Non-fiction/City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes, Aleph, 168p; Rs 295(Hardback)
It’s a moving commentary on the city which is at ease with its state of chaos
A city like Mumbai cannot be described in a few words; so to attempt to etch a ‘short’ biography of this historic, vibrant city is in itself a daring act. However, Naresh Fernandes’s City Adrift attempts to override such realities, with a moving commentary on the city, which is at ease with its state of chaos.

In an excellent narrative, this book reveals the prominent temperament of Mumbai — its unusually configurative set of urban islands, its tryst with commercial history, and its mixed sociological set-up. The book represents the city neither as a ‘maxim’ nor as a unit ‘toying with minimum spirits’. It engages itself with the changes that made Mumbai a mismanaged locale.

It would be wrong to say that the city inspiringly transcends beyond political rhetoric, nevertheless; and in patches, the author pragmatically delves into the political paradigm shift in the city from progressivism to ‘identity-assertiveness’.
Since Mumbai is India’s first cosmopolitan city, the entrepreneurial tradition developed here with Europe’s growing interest in sea trade during the late medieval times. The primarily business communities such as Gujaratis and Parsis were some of the first beneficiaries of this rising global trade alliances. Even today they are the formidable players in commerce.

However, business operations have renewed methodology now and have segregated many of them from social affiliations. Fernandes, as a writer and resident of Mumbai, ponders over the same through his book and locates significant results. He narrates the history of Mumbai and portrays its existing state, with a deep sense of attachment and concern. His personal sentiments are also evocative in his depiction of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

The security lapses happened, the most inhuman killings took place, but sadly Mumbai’s security structure has not improved as it should have had. A single downpour can turn the city into a living hell. The dwindling housing facilities don’t constrict one to live decently unless one is facilitated by an obscene amount of earning!

The book reflects upon how the new ‘demonic structures’ in the city has made it more corrupt-looking and indifferent to the shortage of basic civic facilities all around. Today, Mumbai needs a complete geographic reconfiguration, emancipation from ‘chauvinistic politics’, and its citizens’ active participation. Only that would justify the city that has the best corporate services in social domain. The Parsis and other businessmen of the gone era were different from India’s neo-rich, who are ‘absurd’ beyond the limit.

The book could have been lengthened, so that it could detail the painful transition of the city, but it still carries a pertinent research on India’s “most cosmopolitan” city.
-Atul K Thakur
Mail: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Pioneer,on December29,2013)

Frontiers of insecurity

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India at Risk: Mistakes: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy by Jaswant Singh, Rainlight/Rupa, p.292; Rs595 (Hardback)
The review discovers Jaswant Singh’s genuinely comprehensive and informative account of major security challenges facing India over last six-and-a-half decades
This is Jaswant Singh’s eleventh book, and in this, the former foreign minister has opted to keep his focus intact on ground level experiences rather than rhetoric to deal with the complex design of India’s security challenges.

With India at Risk, Singh justifies his long eventful overtures in public life and also as an avid researcher, who spent decades getting familiar with India’s security establishment from close quarters.

Primarily, this book poses the question why India has failed to respond adequately in meeting challenges to its national security? Singh contends that during the past crises, existential challenges were overt but the responses remained surprisingly limited.

Jaswant Singh appears perturbed on the conceptual fault lines and misdirected governance, particularly in the handling of security affairs. The mismatch of challenges and responses has been far too huge to be ignored by any thinking mind—and Singh is certainly more conscious among others. Hence the vindication of the title: India at Risk: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy.

Having directly handled the responsibility of managing a whole series of security related challenges, Singh genuinely informs and analyses the major security issues, which the nation has faced in the last six-and-half decades. The book is written with a clear sense to capture the mistakes as well as follies from past, to tread safely in 21st century.

Unlike the books written by politicians, here a complete shift in narrative is obvious - in parts, where the author leans to recall the grave policy failures of the Nehru era, he does it with great care. He reminds us that Nehru, a believer in humanity with a broad mind, was much vulnerable before the dubious Chinese leadership. So, hardly surprising what happened in 1962.

This shows the comprehensive grasp and a firm stand that could have been adopted only by an ex-serviceman MP and the only person to have simultaneously held the portfolios of the Minister of External Affairs and of Defence, in addition to also having been Minister of Finance.

That is remarkable for this trusted and most respectable lieutenant of the BJP - as a veteran politician, he could have easily spiced up the debate (earlier he has not refrained doing that, the case in point is his book on Jinnah) but has chosen not to so.

Examples of faulty democratic practices resulting in challenges to our national security abound: Assam and the Northeast, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the birth of the Maoists and the concomitant challenges. The question that brings us back is: ‘what goes into making democracy as efficient instrument of governance?’ Exactly that which enables a country, any country, to achieve the essentials of national security leadership.

While progressing towards the misadventures of Pakistan, Jaswant Singh recounts its aims and planning of 1965, as:

The strategic backdrop of this 1965 conflict was the politico-military situation created in India as a consequence of the 1962 defeat. The signals that emanated from India thereafter, particularly after Nehru’s death in 1964, and the consequent battles for political succession were not reassuring. (page-76)

Obviously, Pakistan read the inherent message wrong and foolishly faulted in seeing Kutch and further Jammu and Kashmir, as the grounds exploitable with their severely undisciplined military and political regime. The book dwells further on this to overview the nature of Indo-Pak conflicts. Overall, this makes for an insightful read, that has much to offer to both the novice and the trained mind.

The birth of Bangladesh happened in 1971 and India played a formidable role in redrawing the map and political discourses of contemporary South Asia. Noticeably, this happened just after 22 years of the earlier partition, which shook South Asians in an unprecedented manner. Singh recounts how Pakistan fought two wars that time, one internally against East Bengal and another with India, it met well deserved failures in both.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on December22,2013)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Making of the Mahatma

Book Review: Non-fiction/Gandhi before India by Ramachandra Guha, Penguin/Allen Lane, p.673, Rs899 (Hardback)
When India’s leading historian Ramachandra Guha writes on Mahatma Gandhi, the nation’s father, the account is naturally steeped in the wider discourse. After all, the writer of India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, one of the most incisive commentaries on India’s tryst with nationhood, certainly has the authority and command to touch upon the main currents of India’s modern history. For over two decades, Guha has brought historiography within his purview, proving to be unprecedentedly receptive to greater social ideas.

On that basis, he has covered the history of cricket, environmentalism and the overall emergence of India as a young nation with old civilisational characteristics. And Guha’s new book, Gandhi Before India, which aims to inquire into and showcase Gandhi’s metamorphosis into the Mahatma over the years, is yet another significant addition to his body of work. Meticulously researched and richly detailed, the book is characteristically humane—a reflection of the fact that Guha has long been a most devoted scholar of Gandhism.

Attempting to explore lesser known facets of the life of Mahatma Gandhi, this first book of a two-part biography project focuses on the time between his birth in Porbandar in 1869 till his departure to India from South Africa in July 1914. “Before I come to the argument about the man, I thought that I should first understand the man. During my research, I realised that virtually everything written on Gandhi was in Gandhi’s own words, all that he said or wrote. I wanted to go beyond Gandhi’s point of view, everything that he wrote on including caste, culture, and religion,” Guha has stated.

The configuration in Gandhi Before India is between India’s greatest man and a scholar. The book’s content proves how majorly Guha has been influenced by the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his worldviews—and there are very few who could’ve penned it in the same spirit. For there have been many an attempt to evaluate the great man, but few have been truly successful—some works oversimplify the narrative while others falter when pushing forth unreasonable doubts.

What is visibly amiss in such cases is an interest in Gandhi’s diversified persona, which is difficult to reject, even in the course of a subversive analysis. Based on archival research in four continents, Gandhi Before India gives an account of Gandhi as an individual and the world he lived in, a world that was apparently constructed of sharp contrasts, such as those witnessed during his movements between the coastal culture of Gujarat to High Victorian London and then to empire-ruled South Africa.

The book is tastefully directed to explore Gandhi’s experiments with dissident cults such as the Tolstoyans and vegetarians, his friendships with radical Jews, devout Christians and Muslims, his enmities and rivalries and his failures as a husband and father.

All these had, after all, contributed to the process of his becoming the man he would forever be known as around the world, a mass mobiliser for the emancipation of humanity. Gandhi’s biggest triumph thereafter was probably his determined reliance on non-violence to fight the brutality of the racist regime in South Africa and the colonial occupation of India.

In the course of time, after plenty of blood, sweat and tears had been shed, the erstwhile colonies became free democracies—and Gandhi’s role also deserves to be seen in the context of his championing of a better western idea.

Although a democrat to the core in action, principally, Gandhi had backed the conception of ‘nation and nationhood’ without sliding from the backup of conventional wisdom. He was part of a vital stream of tradition and modernism. So, as Guha understood it, revisiting Gandhi should take consideration of his personal beliefs as well as his dealings with the world. For he was foremost a man of immense integrity, one who never denied his weaknesses, and who rose to inspire the ethical consciences of millions.

Guha is able to do justice to his chosen theme, depicting Gandhi as simultaneously a fallible man and an unparalleled reformer who changed the entire course of history. The basic contention of the book reasonably notes that Gandhi was not born great but that it was his honest overtures with unusual circumstances in alien lands that had befitted him for the purposes of activism.

He soon emerged a great visionary, a beacon of hope for all the pockets of colonial oppression around the world, one who was intent on sticking to the path of non-violent revolution in order to curtail and diminish the might of imperial power. His approach was not hard-hitting as such, but his conviction and ability to communicate was forthright with effect. A great writer himself, Gandhi linked activism to the pen and peaceful demonstration—a phenomenon shift in the medium of protest in the post-industrialised world.

Guha’s book allows readers to be informed on all counts—including on the many inconvenient truths and misnomers surrounding Gandhi’s legend. Unlike most other attempts, this book does not intend to mystify; it aims instead to make Gandhi accessible to the greater masses, an admirable effort towards what is called the ‘democratisation of historiography’. Gandhi Before India is thus a beautifully written book that will no doubt create anticipation among readers for its sequel. And Guha, reportedly, is already at work on the same.

Even after 66 years of independence, the fog that surrounds Indian history is still quite dense—bizarre given how we’ve had generations of historians who’ve been scrabbling to find the pulse of significant events from the past. Unlike many of them, however, as a free thinker, Guha is probably in a better position to write the new history of modern India, or its ‘social history’. Gandhi Before India pays testament to his skills therein, and his capacity to shape an accessible and engaging narrative with remarkably gathered facts and balanced perspective—quite a rare achievement when it comes to something as complex as India’s history.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on Novemver30,2013)

Choices to make


As the November 19 election for a second Constituent Assembly (CA) nears, the question is whether the imminent electoral exercise will inevitably cause the political parties to head for more confrontation or if it will outline a strategy of cooperation and co-evolution instead.

The developing political scenario suggests that political parties are sticking more closely with the two contentious issues of the last CA—federalism and the form of government post-election. In the absence of collaboration, it will be tough for the CA to write a well-structured constitution, which is what the country needs.

Since 1990, Nepal’s democracy has been grappling with consistent flip-flops and political maneuverings. It has already lost over two decades in coming out completely from the shadow of royal institutions. The current constitutional crisis would have been unlikely if political principles were in alignment with peoples’ aspirations.

Nepal’s tryst with democracy hasn’t always been painful—the country witnessed full-scale transformation into a ‘democracy’ within a short span of time, compared with other South Asian democracies. The first generation democratic leadership of the country deserves closer evaluation, as they had a clear grasp over their goals and intentions. Sadly, things are dramatically different now.

Nepal has failed to capitalise on many chances to cement its democracy. The eventful 1990s were spent initially in a ‘tug-of-war’ between the king and the political forces, and later in the Maoists v everyone else. The last decade began with an unfortunate royal massacre, which not only ended the monarchy’s natural continuity but also greatly affected the natural progression of democracy.

Since 2001, what has dominated the major political discourse in Nepal should have avoided—intense factionalism, directionless ideological formations and fragmentations, unprecedented rise in regionalism and an excessive focus on the federalisation of the republic. Demands were mostly routed through demonstrations, discarding basic civic and moral sense.

At this crucial juncture, the reckoning should be that Nepal fared well under a central command. It is a small country where territorial divisions are not as important as its emancipation as an economy and democracy. India and China can be the good examples for Nepal, given how far these countries have traveled from medieval monarchies into modern states.

Nepal, however, always has the option to keep the constitution-making exercise simple and inclusive. As a modern parliamentary democracy, it can go the Indian way—where the constitution was made through a rigorous consultation process and by adopting the wisdom/aspirations of the land along with fine examples from outside.

The Indian Constitution, at least notionally, embodies the best of democratic values; and this despite diverse ethnicities and massive size. Whatever the verdict of the election, all political parties should approach constitution-making as a consensus-driven exercise. For this, the trust in the existing parliamentary model needs to be incorrigible. Sans faith in the present system, it will be impossible for the political parties to offer a better alternative to the Nepali people, who are more interested in a dignified life.

Meanwhile, the adamant stand of Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist against the election only proves once again the directionless working of his camp. Baidya should revisit the basics of communism, which teaches that a ‘connect with people’ is supreme. Second, he needs to figure out the constituents of a ‘class structure’ before fighting for the cause of ‘invisible proletariats’. He is about to commit a bigger blunder than his alma mater, the UPCN (Maoist), when recognising the divide between the ‘elite’ and ‘oppressed’.

Baidya’s half-baked political programme may not lead him too far. Earlier too, the Maoists performed miserably on crucial socio-economic as well as cultural matters while they were in power. That was at the cost of a rare political edge, which was post the diminishing status of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML.

For long, Nepali leaders have not looked at political developments beyond the ‘surrealist order’, which allows ‘unconscious choices to be expressive’. This is an existential downplaying and must not be continued. The Nepali people’s faith in democracy should reflect in its institutions.

Political leaders have to be sensitive to this or they will end-up undermining democracy and finally their own utility in public space. They have to make choices and the poll is going to be most opportune for hat. This election will decide whether democracy in Nepal is a lame duck or a winner.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on November10,2013)

Wealth of the nation

Book Review: Non-fiction/Before and after the Global Crisis by T T Ram Mohan, Gyan Publishing House, p.352; Rs990 (Hardback)
T T Rammohan makes a brilliant diagnosis of what’s currently ailing the political economy of India


T T Rammohan is an academician of repute from IIM Ahmadabad. But unlike the rest of his creed, his writings are diverse and are meant for all kind of readers. Besides academic and consultancy overtures, he has been a widely-read and admired columnist with India’s leading pink paper for over two decades. With hundreds of articles on macroeconomic policies and other significant issues to his name, Rammohan is amongst the formidable scholars of his generation.

Before and after the Global Crisis is a collection of articles Rammohan had written during the 2004-12 period. Taken together, they add more value, and help tabbing the pulse of Indian economy in the post economic reforms years. This book enriches the understanding of India’s political economy and reads very well. Particularly, the chapters on how Indian economy stood in pre and post world economic crisis of 2008, are worth reading.

His earlier book Brick by Red Brick: Ravi Mathai and making of IIM Ahmadabad was a tribute to Ravi Mathai, who outgrew personal aspiration for shaping an institution and finally nation-building. The work is a biography with a difference, as it dealt with two institutions of different dimensions, IIM-A and Ravi Mathai. It got well deserved attention from readers and critics and the new book opens another round of idea exchange, focussed on the state of Indian economy.

This book is divided into five parts. The major areas covered under this are: macro economic variables, economic reforms, fiscal consolidations and disinvestment policies. The essays place rational arguments by allowing opinions to contradict the flawed current policy mechanism of the government. At some points, the author does not hesitate to approve the good works being carried out by the centre. He knows the beauty of keeping balanced views.

The next part of the book deals with banking sector reforms. The essays make the case for proper human resource development, besides favouring the prospects of inclusive banking. As the new bank licencing is imminent now, the chapter on financial inclusion has high relevance.

The third part of the book takes stock of world economy, particularly, the genesis of global economic crisis and role of international banking in the whole episode. Spread on a broader spectrum, the complex issue of ‘economic recession’ is still a puzzle. one among the formidable reasons of that has been the ‘shady regulation’ of Anglophone financial markets.

The lackluster regulatory approaches had prolonged the adventure of unsustainable financial businesses—and things hardly changed, even after the west suffered unprecedentedly through Subprime Crisis to the mass failure of banking structure.

T T Rammohan, a keen observer of global economic policies, naturally appears a very insightful narrator through his first hand experiences. As at the heart of this book is to unleash the background and foreground stories of world-wide economic crisis, the author’s specific leaning on the world economy, is justified. The world still has not come out of the grip of economic recession and although bank collapses are rare now, still the old confidence in financial markets is hard to be seen. Somewhere, it reflects the bigger mishandling of governance and regulation.

The timing of the book could not have more apt than now, when India is really passing through a tough time, by relentlessly witnessing a downward trend in its growth curve. And without growth, the principal stand of economic reforms would falter in no time. Rest, the provision of ‘redistribution of wealth’ is living uncertainty.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on November17,2013)


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

India's industrial lobbies are crumbling


The return of these institutions to the fold of big business houses and the consequent weakening of executive control in these chambers have damaged their credibility and are detrimental to their sustenance

On hindsight, it is safe to say that India Inc no longer runs through legitimate lobbies. Recent years have witnessed a sharp fall in the quality of leadership at India’s premier business chambers — the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India and the National Association of Software and Services Companies. This has led to sagging morale in business circles, with furious voices emerging from the inside.

The return of these institutions to the fold of big business houses and the consequent weakening of executive control in these chambers are detrimental to their credibility and sustenance. These institutions are more the victims of inner strife than the economic slowdown that has plagued Indian industry in recent months.

It is worthwhile to recall that ‘lobbyism’ is itself a hyper-materialistic term which is often used to refer to the clout of the old boys’ network that uses the backdoor approach to get things done. Lobbying is an established phenomenon in the US, but clearly what may be fine in an alien land is not acceptable in India. Still, some people like a former CII chief (whose untainted reputation lost much of its sheen after the

Radia tapes came into the public domain) have sought to push the culture of lobbyism. UPA2, with its propensity to plunder public resources, has ensured that such systemic ills happily flourish. It is unlikely that the Government’s insensible use of the carrot-and-stick policy which pampered business tycoons, will lead to any improvements. It will only encourage sleaze in business and accelerate the downward spiral in trade.

The crucial issue here is that the Government rarely does anything that is notionally wrong, but routinely falters at the implementation level. The converging of politicians’ business interests with those of the industrialists can only fudge the lines between politics and business.

A recent case in point is the FIR lodged by the CCenttral Bureau of Investigation against Kumar Mangalam Birla. The Government sought to spin the news in its favour but the Supreme Court and a former Coal Secretary did not allow it to hide the Prime Minister’s Office’s explicit mishandling of coal block allocations. Moreover, the UPA’s own Ministers, including Mr Anand Sharma, spoke their mind and expressed displeasure over the Government’s risky adventure against Mr Birla.

The Ministers fear slowing growth in such circumstances — already, India’s corporate entities are turning incompetent. There is also a disconnect between intention and action, making it highly unlikely that the Indian economy will return to its lost growth trajectory soon. There is not much for trade bodies to look into at this point, as the current mess has happened at a high level, leaving no space for third parties to intervene.

The fight is on to save the face of the Government. And, except for the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, no other institution has effective authority to challenge the regime. Through indecisiveness and preferential treatment, the Government is doing its best to damage the entrepreneurial spirit in the country. Unfortunately, no voice can be heard against such moves from the industrial community, instead, it only whines on specific issues wherein its immediate interests come into play. The trade representatives are now pantomime actors.

Besides, these institutions had ceased to be the knowledge institutions long time ago, when motley groups of tainted management consultants begun supplying second-hand wisdom from within the various chambers’ crumbling blocks. Clearly, it is tough to be either on the side of the Government or the industry.

China has controlled its economy and implemented progressive reforms for over three decades, yet, it hasn’t been able to join the league of high-income nations. It is impossible to see India walking a smooth path in the coming years. If the country’s economic performance has to improve, steps must be taken renew faith in institutional frameworks.

Industry is a vital component of the nation’s growth and ‘profit’ is really not a dirty term, if it has some redistributive bearing. Economic growth and redistribution of wealth can happen simultaneously, if the Government and trade and industry learn to work together.Finally, industry chambers too need to wake up and get their act together, if they wish to remain relevant. Or else, they will soon have no role to play at all.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Pioneer on October28,2013)

Book Review: Fiction/ The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House, p.340; Rs495 (Hardback)
Jhumpa Lahiri has been established as a prominent literary voice, with her previous works of fiction: Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake and the recent one, Unaccustomed Earth. And now, her latest novel, The Lowland, is giving her unprecedented acclaim and readership—besides offering a short overture with the Booker Prize.

The Lowland is a kind of intelligent work, which is consciously written in the two frames of mind. Sometime, they are in proportion—sometime they are not; nevertheless it makes the narratives able to continue with the spontaneous choices of the author.

The first half of the book reflexes Jhumpa’s greater intimacy with the scenario and characters set in Calcutta of troubled 1960s. Doing this, she becomes a formidable chronicler of Naxal upsurge and a family, devastated through its consequences. Though another half seems less coherent, where the major portion of the book rests in the US surprisingly, Jhumpa appears a better catcher of intricate realities of India rather the US, where she has spent more time.

The bondage of boundaries is frail here, not allowing the book being in the grasp of simpler convictions. Rather the quest is to look into the complexity of the matters, which made the family corresponding with tragedies without shock or awe. This is realistic as the fighting or giving up to the odd circumstances never follows a particular pattern—the ‘variance in approach’, what inspires to be collected for coming in terms with the wider truths.

The novel is about the two inseparable brothers: Subhash and Udayan Mitra, who at the same time have different orientations. Udayan, a more impulsive idealist, gets attracted towards the Naxalite movement just like other youth of his generation.

The brutality in action was shaped so accurately by the state authority, the movement not only died but permanently scared the ‘culture of dissent’. Still, the earth’s largest democratic skeletal is being confronted with the resistance, quite often than not.

Subhash, a dreamer and doer type feel drawn to the life in the academic circle of the US—then a dream place for the detached souls from the cramped third world. He returns to see his grieving family, following the death of brother, who was both different and alike to him. Time spent at home, feeds him with nostalgia and sense for getting involved with his family, which seemed drifting apart.

Parent living a certain kind of shock chose to be less sensitive for Gauri, Udayan’s wife. Subhash shares her grief and responsibility, by coming into matrimonial term to give the child a secure future. Immigration of Gauri to the US empowered her to forget Calcutta but not Udayan. Her feeling were fallen and found no particular reasons to establish a normal leniency for Subhash or her estrange daughter.

Her change of mind and existence are juxtaposing her own self. Consequently, her perils are independent and somewhere directionless. The cultural degradation following the alienation among the different core family members creates a void among the lives. The alienation also grows to the level, where the significance of places and cultural attributes dwindle, and get no proper space in the cognition order of characters.

The exile leaves a heavy toll on Subhash and others, so fiercely to be not approached by the constructive interludes. Jhumpa has succeeded to make a fine balance between complex emotion and bitter turnout of the situation, through a rare elegance in expression.

V S Naipaul’s idea of knowing the quality of fiction, based on gender rather substance is fitted to be fail—he too may sense it, if he gets time to read this highly engaging work of a writer, with immaculate sensibility and no preoccupations for the locale. Jhumpa is cosmic, and hence an Indian too.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Rising Kashmir on October25,2013)

Train to partition


Book Review: Non-fiction/ Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten by Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph, 432; Rs695 (Hardback)
From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, the history of Punjab is replete with uncomfortable events, but Rajmohan Gandhi provides a compassionate account.
Normally, we hear of Punjab and think about the partition that horribly divided it into East and West. The scare is permanent, as one of the world’s bloodiest human exodus took place in its terrains in 1947.The leadership was incompetent then, and sadly things have hardly changed even after close to seven decades.

Rajmohan Gandhi, a gentleman and scholar has his argument well placed. He believes in the potential of ‘course correction’, which could happen with different groups making honourable compromises and settlements. Though his genteel wishes never ignore the realities of historical setbacks, which turned the region into the centre of bloodbath during Partition, Gandhi keeps his chin up when he speculates on alternatives.

An unprecedented wave of killings and suffering was the byproduct of virulent political-religious agenda. Gandhi’s Punjab: A History from Aurangzeb to Mountbatten has a message, however. ‘Partition could have arrived with proper settlement and talk, though it arrived with a bit of uncertainty and terrible violence that uprooted millions’, he says. So, during those uncertain times, even the promise of democracy could hardly deter the ‘wildness of few!’

From Aurangzeb to Mountbatten, the history of India is replete with uncomfortable events—Rajmohan Gandhi has chosen to dwell on them and elucidate the bygone times with his own findings through years of years of tireless research. Gandhi’s love for history and research is exemplary—his last two works being A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 and The American Civil War, outcomes of his erudite devotion to the past.

This book, too, heavily relies on the facts—and not all are in circulation as far as mainstream ideas and ideologies are concerned. At places, facts do justice with the plots but the thin appearance of perspectives tilt the balance of the book closer to academic studies. In that, it reads well. The book etches in detail throwing light on the history of undivided Punjab and the life and times of the ruling classes. Apart from that, it also brings out the untold story of the Punjabi Muslims.

So far, stories of Punjabi Muslims have been mostly neglected by historians. Surprisingly, there isn’t much historical records even from Pakistan in this regard. Contrary to the trend, Rajmohan Gandhi covers almost 250 years of undivided Punjab, from Mughal, to Sikh to British rules, with a sound back up of research into what can be called the ‘subaltern egoes.’ His findings on the diversity amongst the Muslims of undivided Punjab and their cordial living with Hindus and Sikhs are both refreshing and substantial.

The need, however, is to ponder more on that phase of history in order to defy the lateral ‘hate base’ created before Partition, which has not halted yet. The Punjab has seen an endless wave of invasion and experiments with dangerous politics, which have turned this otherwise mild land into a zone of ceaseless tragedy.

Today, the two divided Punjabs on both sides of the border are weaker on all counts. But the book is hopeful of a better time ahead, and indeed it is possible—even if only few leaders in India and Pakistan would realise the follies of staying perpetually at loggerheads with each other.

Rajmohan Gandhi recalls a very turbulent past of Punjab, to pave way for a humane discourse on this land. Instead of pursuing obsessively high-decibel diplomacy inevitably mixed with ugly battles—the Indo-Pak relations would only improve through such softer sides of exchange.

The Partition story and preceding times need a thorough reassessment from historians and public intellectuals alike. Gandhi’s truthful interpretation of history will open a new chapter of understanding—both India and Pakistan need it urgently.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on October13,2013)

The case of a falling nation


Soon to be posted..



-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets2gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on October06,2013)

Sunday, September 29, 2013

More than a rockstar performance

The new RBI Governor has loosened capital controls to attract investments from abroad. But the weather is still rough and the economy weak. Raghuram Rajan has a lot to do, and his debonair looks will not see him through...

These days everyone, including celebrity author Shobhaa De, is writing about Mr Raghuram Rajan for the country’s leading pink papers, which surprisingly cover lifestyle alongside business news. In the Reserve Bank of India’s long history, such excitement over a new Governor is unprecedented. But much of this has been manufactured by the Union Ministry of Finance which also clouded the end of Mr Rajan’s predecessor’s term.

Mr D Subbarao was given a politically-motivated farewell for his conservative handling of the central bank. He will also be remembered for his principled tussle with the Finance Ministry for quite a long time. It is a cliché that the nitty-gritties of politics overrule broad-based approaches because, for now, politics has won, and the Finance Ministry and the RBI are enjoying a rare harmony.

I have known Mr Rajan since his early days in Government, was impressed by his celebrated 2005 lecture, The Greenspan Era: Lessons for the Future, that was delivered at a symposium sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I also read with great interest his radically upfront book on capitalism, Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy.

If his 2005 lecture placed him among visionaries who sensed in advance the impending trouble in the Anglophone financial model, his 2010 book added to his position as a rational thinker who had confronted the ills of the financial model, spoke against the rise of cronyism and the suspicious increase in the number of billionaires in post-reform India. Unfortunately, I fear we will miss that person now that he has taken his position at the helm of the RBI.

There is good reason why Mr Rajan’s nicely tailored suits are more talked about than his policies. Some of these, for instance, he has taken overnight to stop the downfall of the vulnerable rupee. Mr Rajan has also loosened capital controls to attract investments from abroad. But the weather is still rough and the fundamentals of the economy still weak. The pampered corporate sector is in no mood to fight its incompetencies.

In the last three decades, financial systems around the world have witnessed major change. The credit system has liberalised and the reaches of financial markets have expanded. But these changes have come with greater risks. The RBI, on many occasions, has had to step in to control visible and imminent challenges such as the earlier East Asian crisis to the worldwide recession of 2007-2008, from which we are yet to recover.

The RBI especially deserves praise for maintaining an effective regulatory grip over the new entities in the financial sector such as private equity and hedge funds. But on the other side, it remains a helpless hawk that cannot control the unethical business model of the capital market or rein in the impractical mutual fund sector which is destined for be untrustworthy. But with regard to the banking sector, the RBI has appeared to be in sync with the Finance Ministry. As a result, this sector has remained semi-reformed and non-progressive.

The last two decades have seen the emergence of diverse institutional networks in India and together they make a huge impact on policy-making. From inflation control to monetary policies, the RBI is controlling them all but individually. The clout of established third party financial assessors and lobbyists is also being strongly felt, now that India’s financial system too is seeking to become a clone of the Anglophone financial model. This is fine in the short run, but will lead to heavy losses in the medium to long term.

Mr Rajan has to take a position on this. But in the short span of time that he has been in office, he already seems to be losing his sheen. The Economist, which for some reason is religiously read in India, has compared the RBI with a pressure cooker and covertly offered sympathy for Mr Rajan. I don’t subscribe to such an extreme evaluation but have no doubt that leading the RBI during the last months of a beleaguered UPA2’s term is not a comfortable task.

At a time when the Government has made governance a redundant theme, reviving growth and containing price rise are among toughest tasks for the new RBI Governor. Also, since election is around the corner, agencies that have been sleeping all this while, such as the Planning Commission, will awake to action and offer concessions to cover up the incumbent regime’s fiscal imprudence. The RBI will come under pressure from the top and play safe, or not play at all.

Of course, India will eventually bounce back but the recovery will happen with a volatile financial sector that will remain densely populated by crony-capitalists and marred by their incompetent corporate spirit. The impressive ratings of the new RBI Governor must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Pioneer on 25September2013)

United against the terrorism


Five years ago, fugitive Indian Mujahideen commander Riyaz Ismail Shahbandri slipped through the India-Nepal border near Madhubani. From there, he undoubtedly continued to safer havens and made sure the Indian Mujahideen would be better trained and more dangerous than ever before.

The recent arrest of high-profile fugitive Siddibapa of the Indian Mujahideen—popularly known as Yasin Bhatkal—from near the Raxaul border in the northern part of Bihar has confirmed that the traditional structure of the India-Nepal border needs drastic changes.

Once, the border areas were known as peaceful regions. But now, more and more terror cells are using the area to cross international borders and plan their attacks. There have been many such cases and the current border security system has been incapable of stopping them from crossing from Nepal into India and vice-versa.

Both in principle and practice, India and Nepal are cooperating to fight terrorism and protect their lands from being misused by rogue elements. Notwithstanding the good intentions of both countries, it is clear that the open border between Nepal and India is being covertly used for passage by terrorists.

Bihar shares a 625 km border with Nepal, of which a long stretch between Jaynagar in Madhubani and Raxaul in East Champaran has been under the scanner of the Indian police since 2006. The complicity of Pappu Khan, Mohamed Khalil, Omar Madani, Ghayur Ahmed Jamali and Ajmal alias Shoaib, in recent terror attacks on Indian cities and the establishment of their activities in northern Bihar districts have justified the police’s attention and call for more of a focus in this region.

The Bihar government has shown resilience in recent years in curbing terrorist activities. The State Government woke up after a joint operation of the Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police in October 2005 where these agencies scanned the call details from Madhubani to East Champaran and found an unusually high number of ISD calls to hostile destinations and known terrorist linkages.

India surely appreciates Nepal’s readiness to cope with these challenges and thanks to a joint operation, India was
able to nab a deadly terrorist like Yasin Bhatkal. However, the overall security situation is very complex and the two countries have to deal with it cautiously and on time. Measures need to be taken now, as tomorrow might already
be too late.

We immediately need to end the notion that the open border between India and Nepal poses no security risk. Also, border security has to be up to the mark, which it is currently not. Second, both countries should allow each other to track wanted criminals in their respective territories, thereby making the region unattractive for wrongdoers. Times are getting tougher for India and Nepal due to the rise of international terrorism.

The leaders of both sides must recognise this and they must focus their efforts on fighting terrorism—whilst not neglecting other crucial issues. Nepal is aware of India’s problems with imported as well as homegrown terrorism. Broadly, Nepal cannot afford an unstable India and obviously, a peaceful Nepal is one of India’s main concerns. On the political side, there should be no obstacle for a new security cooperation.

An effective way to deal with cross-border terrorism could be through dialogue on high official levels. Sadly, neither side has taken this issue very seriously in the past. As a consequence, terrorists have been able to move across borders and carry out crimes.

There is, therefore, a crucial need to restructure border security arrangements and build better infrastructure on both sides of the borders. Furthermore, as Indian police are state agencies, Nepal should find a way to involve state governments, who share common concerns along the border, instead of only dealing with New Delhi. Third, the Nepal Police needs a modern upgrade when it comes to interface technology and an increase in the headcount to be deployed near the border.

The Government of Nepal has partnered well with India and if it continues to do so by making its territory safe and
its borders impassable for terrorists, India will be the beneficiary. This strategic response to the activities of non-state terror networks would end their so far successful acquisition of easily accessible resources and pieces of infrastructure.

Until a few years ago, it was unthinkable that terrorists could misuse places like Janakpur or Pokhara to conduct illegal activities against India. The two Indian districts of Madhubani and Darbhanga also suffer from these latest
developments, despite their past intellectual traditions of refined cultural practices and communal harmony.

These two districts are known in official police criminal records as the ‘Madhubani Module’ and ‘Darbhanga Module’ What, then, is fueling the hate-game? Consensus can be attained by looking at some of the most recent terror cases and their link to the districts of north Bihar. There is evidence of local support and—shockingly—most of the culprits ended up as terrorists because they misinterpreted the teachings of Islam.

They have forgotten the shared past and the unbreakable trust which still remains among the different communities of the Mithila region. Neither historical records nor the present situation justifies such misinterpretations. Nevertheless, terror has expanded. It has to be ended and terrorists have to be reformed (those who are willing to be) or wiped out.

There is no reason for us to treat them with kid gloves. India has been suffering greatly from terrorism, although it was only after 9/11 that the world acknowledged India’s pain. India has the capacity to fight terrorism and its determination to do so is unshakable. Nothing could be as helpful at this stage as effective security cooperation between India and Nepal.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on October06,2013)

Aboard the Madras Express

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Degree Coffee by the YARD by Nirmala Lakshman, Aleph, 158p; Rs295 (Hardback)Nirmala Lakshman thinks Chennai of olden days can be better understood through its culture, language and heritage rather than politics and history...
The memory of a political class could have its own distinctive merits as well as flaws, but they do immeasurable harm when they start tampering with historical facts. For example, the city of Madras was founded by the Brits, almost four centuries back in 1644 when the Fort St George was built by the British East India company—but in a sudden stroke, its name was indigenised, to Chennai. Nevertheless, the city retained its basic characteristics flowing with the time.

Nirmala Lakshman can say much about her city, which fortunately in her descriptions is still Madras, but in Degree Coffee By The Yard, she has chosen to present a short biography instead. Her sense of history is immaculate and undisputable, as it is hindered by no barrier of ideologies and shows no alignment with specific camps within historical debates.

She gives the readers an outline, and in patches descriptions too, about how the city, established by the British, rose to become a site of powerful nationalistic movements. Lakshman also charts the later phases, describing the glory of this city in independent India, despite its formidable distance from the seat of power, Delhi.

This was not a mean feat, because identity politics of any kind, too, had to thrive on the Centre’s ‘assistance’ — and on different occasions it became evident, especially in post-reform eras, when the politics had been in the grip of sinister business interests than issues on ground. Although it was and still persists as a universal phenomenon, Madras, as a hub of shadowy politics, is neither unique, nor too typical.

The city has a quaint vigour, charming characteristics and the people live with them, as Lakshman reminds us about the little intricacies that make Madras different from other Indian metros. Lakshman, a senior journalist herself, has, over the years, strengthened The Hindu Group of Publications—so, directly or indirectly, she has made the city’s biggest and strongest brand more popular and inclusive.

Lakshman’s accounts of her family and their standard publication interests — spanning RK Narayan, literature, authors and books, over dosa and coffee — give a sublime quality to her narration of the city. While looking back on bygone Madras days, she appears more a preserver of heartwarming, conventional practices rather a conservative harping on tradition at all costs.

Of course, she admits the essentiality of change and sees the partial Western cultural invasion into modern day Chennai, with ease. With the world fast turning, old things are making peace with the fact that now their existence would probably be confined to being items in a curio shop or the museums of memory, stacked neatly, although, often falling out of people’s minds.

Still, some incorrigible inheritors will not cease to intertwine old symbols with life style. As a brief history (but of course not as semi-history) of the city, the book chooses to not dwell at length with the state’s parochial politics, where the culture of succession is an accepted reality now. Cinema, too, has not given extensive coverage, probably to not enter the usual discussion on its unhygienic nexus with Tamil politics.

The book, consciously, has a leaning for music and public life. That places it closer to ‘people’s history’ rather than resembling with an official charter on Madras. The readers would be delight in reading Lakshman’s personal views on her city, who helps them recall a Madras minus the clear and present fears of political vandalism or the atrocious dictates of Shiv Sena’s Tamil counterparts.

Probably, this reflects the differing temperament of the two mega Indian cities. Whereas, recalling Bomaby is taboo, Madras can be still used synonymously with its present name, Chennai. Lakshman believes, Madras can be known better through its culture, language and heritage rather than with politics and history.

Thus, she dwells on the caste and language movements in the state with the prism of the city’s softer attributes, rather than any rigid polemic. Understanding any part of India requires flexibility and informed inquiry to decipher some of its qualities or lacunas. Lakshman, a visionary and veteran journalist at The Hindu, has distilled that gist with perfection for this book. It reads well, both as a precise work of history and a short memoir of a city, about which most of us need to know more.
Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets2gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on September15,2013)

All gore for the crown

Book Review: Non-fiction/ The Bloodstained Throne by Baburam Acharya, Penguin, 266p; Rs299 (Paperback)
Baburam Acharya sheds light on the inglorious power struggles within Nepal’s bloody royal history.

Nepal has an eventful past, but sadly its culture of historiography isn’t that strong. Few historians from the land, which has on occasions, seen both war and peace between the royalty and half-baked democracy, have documented the changing times. Baburam Acharya was an exception among the Nepalese scholars, who had shown great leaning for historical writing, without ever fearing the wrath of ruling kings of his time.

The Bloodstained Throne is the English translation of Baburam Acharya’s seminal work in Nepali—Aba Yasto Kahilyai Nahos. The translation has been done by his grandson, Madhav Acharya, a well-known journalist. Moreover, Baburam’s son Shreekrishna Acharya has done justice with the book, as its editor, preserving the facts, while moulding the book for new era readers.

The book covers a very disturbed timeframe of 1775-1914, when the ruling Shah dynasty confronted both the internal and external oppositions against its rule. A fragile kingship and corrupt feudal structure allowed the despotic Rana regime to come to fore, plunging the throne to a new low.

All 11 chapters of the book dwell with the gloomy time of Nepal’s royal rule, recalling major conspiracies, murders and court politics. The violent eras were preceded by Prithvi Narayan Shah’s effort to unite Nepal into a single entity, even though there was hardly any connect with that principled vision. The time to come was rather driven by the court conspiracies, massacre and assassinations — violence in tune with the disenchantment with royalty.

From Pratap Singh Shah to Dev Shamsher, there was not a trace of hope. Nepal has been living under the ‘factional challenges’— the royal massacre of 2001, the beginning of civil war to ongoing democratic blunders in the country, which have largely stemmed from the same complexes. Prithvi Narayan Shah died early, causing a young nation to fall from the track of consolidation and development.

As an articulate historian, Acharya had rightly chosen not to write a fictional history of the nation. The book gives rich details of Chinese incursion into Nepal’s territory during the rule of Bahadur Shah—and the decisive role played by the Malla kings and Gorkhali Empire. Bhimsen Thapa’s real character is revealed, contrary to his popular nationalistic image.

The death of Pratap Singh Shah and emergence of Rajendra Laxmi as the new power centre had allowed Thapa to pursue his wrongful ambitions. The shadowy nexus left a deep scar on nation’s prospects. From there, started the Rana’s adventurism with the throne—Rana Bahadur was made the Prime Minister and he met his end in court, while pronouncing the punishments targeted at courtiers.

Rule of Jung Bahadur was bloodier. The brutal Kot Massacre was the height of his cruelty. If the Shah had drawn the middle name ‘Vikram’ from India’s Parmar dynasty, the surname ‘Rana’ came as sign of newfound clout for the ‘Kunwars’. The nomenclature had wider symbolic values.

The Rana rule continued in Nepal for almost 100 years and they made the Shah dynasty a puppet during those painful decades. Nepal remained a hub of ignorant and greedy feudals. Between the senseless war between the Shahs and Ranas for power, Nepal remained sandwiched with all bad turnouts.

The book opens up many hidden facets from Nepal’s royal history, but there are no detailed narratives on the people or their suffering. Acharya had sensed the aristocratic pulse of those eras and streamlined his research towards the same. It was a better idea to focus on decisive factors, whose sources were available. The diversification would have made the project superfluous, especially because of the severe limitation of reliable information.

The Bloodstained Throne is a pathbreaking addition to Nepal’s politics and history. It would redefine the perception on the established institutions and symbols, bring in sharp clarity.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets2gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on October06,2013)



Delhi by Heart

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Delhi by heart by Raza Rumi, Harper Collins, 322p; Rs399 (Paperback)

As Raza is Rumi, so ploy of narrower gratifications should normally evade his identity. Surprisingly (for conformity between author and editor), the cover of Delhi by heart presents this most impartial and genuine self-narration on the city Delhi as—‘Impressions of a Pakistani Traveler’. In actual, the author was never alien to this city—as like many of us, he too could see beyond the boundary without falling in guise of extreme limiting factors—such as nationality and uncomfortable equations among the two nieghbouring nations.

Like insiders of this city, his comfort level is more competent with the old parts of Delhi than its shining hotels and sprawling urban extensions, which tirelessly ostracize wisdom and release endless hallucination of modernism. Clearly, this can’t be confronted by wimps—praying to be separated from the load of past and oddness of present.

Still there is no dearth of alibis from the people and machinery that make the old urban structures, marginalised and dying slow death. Sadly, the pattern of certain kind of living too diminishes with the demise of symbols. Delhi is catching up that pattern blindly—so it’s naturally justified, if majority of its residents know Chirag Delhi by a nearby over-bridge than for its historic significance.

The days are not far when Nizamuddin Dargah would be better known as a landmark to reach Hotel Oberoi—and Kutub Minaar as picnic spot for absentee landlord type scholars from western part of the earth, living in the farmhouses of M.G.Road. This road ends Delhi, hence civilisation and brings Gurgaon—an anti-thesis of former. This book has no taste to travail any uncivilized roads.

Raza’s leaning with the northern India, as he confesses in writing—grown-up by listening the pre-partition stories from elders at home. That part of the land was once his home—he got that sense and also pain for not being able to see it freely. This happened with so many people, we have various accounts on that but those were from earlier generation. Author leads the debate here, as he represents those who didn’t see the trauma of partition though felt its darkness even after decades.

As he shares, his first visit took place to see his forefathers’ land—and in the course of the time, his bond of sharing developed with fellow Indian students in LSE during University days and later working in Multilateral Agencies, being part of Pakistan’s elite Civil Services.

Years back, he moved from the service to become primarily a writer, with free pen and conscience. That made him writing this meticulously researched and well involved book on Delhi—a city that was in want of authentic looking back on its fading edifices and cultural tradition.

As a columnist too, Raza has been writing about Delhi, its people, who are his friends. And on different side—he is the person, whose writing infuse hope from Pakistan. He can speak of his mind, for making the ills obvious, and thus less harmful. However, the establishment running Pakistan like a half-baked democracy has no intention to stop its slumbering for listening rational commentaries.

Raza likes Delhi—and this city reciprocates with him in same warm way. This book marks it better than any other additional attribute. He has remembered his Delhiwaala and they are reading this book and loving it. Even in conservative estimation, I see this book reaching in ‘essential reading list’ on Delhi. This solely based on the authenticity, the book upholds.

Delhi’s eternal characteristics defies partitioning views—so compilation of its good and bad can be sensibly done only by those not pursuing many goals at a time. That stands opposite with most of the historians, claiming to have expertise on this restless city. Raza Rumi’s Delhi by heart is an important addition to the literatures on Delhi and for delinking the concentration of history writing from royalty to people. In either or both ways—the book will command a wide readership, from across the sections.

If travelling can enrich entitlement with the places—its articulation could make history, simple to be remembered. We can believe it, if not overlooking a remarkable book like this one.
-Atul K Thakur
Email:summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on October23,2013)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Incorrigible Patna

Book Review: Non-fiction/ A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar, Aleph, 144p; Rs295 (Hardback)
The city part of Patna is eternally incorrigible—because most of those, who make this city complete, have no permanent rapacious leaning. This is unusual trend, seeing the kind of progress India has made over the years, with its semi-reformed economy and very active ‘cronyism’. These two together make ‘billionaires’ at filthy high pace—we all know them, as they don’t do petty acts like fodder scam.

Their modus operandi are accomplished, so they do speak on ‘innovative practices’ in packed halls of India’s glittering metros unlike Bihar’s clueless political frauds, bound to make more ‘defame than fame’ through their visible mean acts. The whole country has rats, though people of Bihar believe in co-existence, so they let allow rats to do wishful. But, can believing on animals, with sharp teeth, is a fair idea?

Amatava Kumar inquires it through his new book-A Matter of Rats, which is slim, sharp and appealing for readers, with faceless distinction. Personally, I read his previous books too—and those were belonging to the different genres. I grew up in Madhubani and lived in Patna for a year during the height of state’s political misrule (2001-02)—have also read for first time the writings of Phanishwar Nath Renu and Baba Nagarjun in school days and had stroll on the roads of this state capital.

So, I could understood the genuine nostalgia, which makes Amitava Kumar recalling places, events and people of Bihar, with remarkable or shocking characteristics. The merit of the book lies in Amitava Kumar’s frank observation about his own elite background, the smoke of feudalism and the official lacunas, which for long have gripped the whole state. Still, the claimed changes are not on the ground in Bihar—the author is right in saying, through his firsthand account on this city.

On the positive side—Bihar has been a land of knowledge-seekers. This is not less, because common Bihari people were more competent with their knowledge than other resources to survive in the big bad world. So the book has detailed attention on the achievers from Bihar, who have travelled long path and their success in different field are indeed worth of admiration.

Amitava Kumar doesn’t ignore the positive changes, which took place in the state in last few years. However, categorically he proves why still Patna is a place to be visited by its young absentee population, but not for living permanently. We all think on this, while being on walk in morning or evening or talking to our ageing parents—the sense of void is pervasive everywhere. Biharis’ are doing well outside —but back at home things wear the same non-changing look.

Lack of enterprise and hiatus in cultural exchanges are the two reasons, which make Patna less happening than it deserves actually. So, people should have urge to live in their city and to love it as much they wish. Among the earlier journalistic works on Bihar —Arvind N Das’s Republic of Bihar and Vijay Nambisan’s Bihar Is in the Eye of the Beholder had captured the ground realities. Both these books were written with great insight and meticulous efforts.

After a long break, Amitava Kumar’s A Matter of Rats is a valuable edition in those literatures on Bihar. This book breaks the monotony in different way—it sensitizes the readers towards the state, which for long had seen losses of perceptions and fortunes. Now it is rebounding—whose marked sign is this book.

A well-established writer, Amitava Kumar has looked with utmost care on his home state—and has searched the odds, which are recognizable and addressable. His account of Patna is though much more deep than ‘home-matters’. This is about an incorrigible city, and shaped by the memories and perspectives of Amitava Kumar. The book has come out naturally meaningful, and deserves wide readership.
Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Rising Kashmir on 7September2013)







India in sepia tint

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Mofussil Junction by Ian Jack, Penguin/Viking, 323p; Rs599 (Hardback)

Ian Jack’s Mofussil Junction is a treasure trove of scintillating sketches of a bygone time, when he traversed and documented rural heartlands of Bharat.
For the veteran Guardian journalist Ian Jack, India is not just a subject close to his heart, but a second home. The compilation of his essays, written during his active days as a journalist/traveler in pre-liberalised India, emphatically announces at the outset the impossibility of collating India at the altar of coherence. This volume deserves far wider reading by those born after 1991, when the ‘enigma of reform’ finally arrived at the slumbering power corridors of Delhi.

India decided to go another way in early 1990s, not because of the Indian leaders’ newfound love for the verses of Victor Hugo, but to escape a wretched existence, wherein wealth creation had become really tough. So, it was then that ‘an-idea-whose-time-has-come’ kind of prose came into prominence and shifted the entire India narrative, turning it inside out as the country embarked on an unprecedented journey.
Ian Jack is no Max Mueller — he has real feelings for India. Unlike the German Indophile, Jack keeps himself at arm’s length from hypothetical arguments. However, he is a superlatively articulate journalist. Jack has seen much and the result is this volume, a treasure trove of scintillating sketches and travels by road and rail through the length and breadth of India, with the spotlight on rural heartlands of Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. From metropolitan India to mofussil Bharat, he appears to be a neutral observer of a changing nation.

Going against the Western trend to look at the East through either rose-tinted glasses or shambolic poverty-goggles, Jack comes across as a moderate polemicist, especially when he’s writing on Bombay or George Orwell’s Motihari, where, to his dismay, few knew the acclaimed Englishman. Similarly, Jack’s essays on the Bhagalpur incident, or the Mansi Railway accident, break the convention of traditional journalistic reportage that eschews opinionating. Knowing it to the bone, Jack’s intuitive grasp on eastern India, which he has seen and felt like no other Western traveler, spellbinds even some of the most astute readers.

The essay on Tagore confirms it, where he diligently recognises the Bard’s unmatchable fame and how that has become a myth in itself, available for popular regression. It is another thing that now Bengalis, and other Tagore-scholars, have developed many, often conflicting, sets of opinions on the Nobel laureate, but none of those challenge his supreme authority in the cultural affairs of the clan. So, while Jack confronts their obsessive side, which hinders the dogmatic Bengalis to see merit in others, he also strikes a resonant note when he asks why Tagore has suffered in translation, and why his preeminence within the Bengali cultural superset is not without its reasons.

Jack’s essays on good English-speaking people like Sonny Mehta, or his landlord in Delhi, Sham Lal, have greater symbolic value, as they were written in simpler days, when speaking mannerisms and accents accrued greater degree of appreciation than the real content. On the Gandhi troika – Indira, Sanjay and Rajiv — his pieces seem to give primary information. I would like to believe this hardly showcases his limitation; rather, it allows us to believe, blissfully so, most of us are perfectly enlightened about the precious and trashy details of our political first family.

But Jack is an old horse at narrative journalism, and it’s humanly not possible to keep the inner perspicuous observer in him hidden behind the reluctant annalist of the Indian dynasty. On 1984 Delhi riots, he provides fresh perspective. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s an old issue and India has, unfortunately, had periodical bouts of turbulence, violence and bloodshed since then, the 2002 Gujarat pogrom being one, Jack’s eyes discover new details that had gone unnoticed in the deluge of politically-motivated accounts of the ugly chapter of modern Indian history. As a democracy, India has been ceremoniously plagued by the ‘culture of riots’ and the fertile ground of hostility is right inside the polity, and partially, Jack, too, hints at the unpalatable truth.

The book has a fleeting subcontinental touch as well. It becomes evident in his recollections of Benazir Bhutto and her mother, who once danced with a white politician, interestingly, which even Oxford-educated Benazir couldn’t do, that there was more to the embrace of modernity and Western ideas than the South Asian mind would like to admit. On Benazir’s reluctance or refusal to dance with a white man, Jack muses whether it was because she was a determined conservative who had learnt Urdu to use it for embellishing both her slang offerings and fiery speeches, which we most of us have heard at some point of time.

Jack’s essays are musings, repositories of collected memories — memories which are personal but have huge relevance for the larger audience, whether Indian or Western. At a juncture, when the incessant drone of breaking news clogs off the sieves of mind, and few are left with a proper appetite for narrative journalism, essentially, which is the better part of the trade, Jack’s work comes as a whiff of cool breeze and refreshing change. Mofussil Junction is here to buck the trend and is a delightful addition to your library, big or small.
Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Millennium Post on 1September2013)

Tales of Kashmir Walla

Book Review: Anthology/Non-fiction: Of Occupation and Resistance: Writings from Kashmir by Fahad Shah (Edited), Tranquebar/Westland, 264 pp; Rs395 (Paperback)
Fahad Shah, a young journalist from Kashmir has been mainstreaming the Kashmiri people’s voice through an alternative, but very remarkable online magazine —The Kashmir Walla. Like his journalistic works, his first book too sets a new trend of narrative and has potential to diminish the limitless polemics channelised by ‘poet-philosopher to hand choppers’!

The essays of this anthology are handpicked under a clear editorial policy, which is guided with precision and ‘native touch’. The perspective is new and expression exuded by most of the writers of this volume drastically differs from the romantic notion —‘Kashmir is only paradise lost’. But here, one can see the personal and collective angst overturning those beliefs.

Fahad, who stays in Delhi too and has friends here, yet looking at home, makes him feel ‘disconnected’ from rest of India. This still stays a typical status of mass Kashmiris, who struggle for existence rather supremacy and feel vindicated with unrelenting misdeeds from all corners. Fahad’s long introduction of this book and his essay—Kashmir: A Colony of India affirms those unwavering tussle of ‘self and others’ generated out of political follies and adamant stand of opportunists.

Famed novelist and sensible depicter of actual social realities, Siddhartha Gigoo’s Looking Back at the Roots gives balancing touch to the book. His essay marks unending shocks—started with Pandits’ exodus from valley to their turning into a prosperous community, sans cultural affiliations. This is a void hard to fill by ‘artificial get-togethers’ or tempted to live in divisive ghettos, created by confused state machinery.

Gigoo maintains his own track-record of looking on Kashmir’s socio-cultural outbreak and does not make himself to be like partitions— the way many young Kashmiri writers are doing these days at the risk of making plights’ graver. The sense for inter-community life, which once used to be the strength in Kashmir, witnessed its intense wane in 1980’s and since then continuing with the worldview, which is sectarian in actual and holds no amicable solution.

Gigoo can read the pulse of his community—and also to his neighbours back at home—with whom he is separated physically but not at the cost memory. Here, Kashmir still exists in mind and frame—atleast this is a case with few who have been living in honest memory for over two decades. Those subtleties of memory walks further in Nitasha Kaul’s articulately presented Everything I Cannot Tell You About The Women of Kashmir.

With convincing intellectual puts in recalling an important chapter of history—Mridu Rai traces the advent of nationalism, as well as the ‘discontents’ through essay—Memorialising 13July1931in Kashmir. She presents her views on popular compulsions of convergence& alienation as:
“Beginning in the 19th century, ever since nationalism became the predominant ideological vehicle to counter colonial dominance in India, memory became apotheosized in its culture. Events, people, places, words, memory became symbolized. And memory became history; history, however, mapped out in specific ways.”

If these essays brings back the historical turnings into glare—the other pieces, particularly written with bylines less known (from band singer/ M C Kaish, young journalists, stone palters, corpse bearer etc) —too touches the core subject of the book. They are in resistance mode—in life or writing. Irrespective of checks& barriers at theoretical level—they think on sovereignty differently. But in cases, when state protects crime committed by its own men and doesn’t stop watching kitchens of its claimed ‘citizens’—such voices will be remain in vogue.

Since 1947, Indian democracy has grown-up—mostly in terrible shape but at bright side, it has made citizens overtly conscious about the dignity. Unfortunately, we see double standard quite often than not in conflict zones or with whom, who have no representation in power circle.

If, routine check-up in Kashmir makes mockery of basic citizenship rights—the powerless as hysterical level faces similar fate. Although, the variance could be noticed at the level of violence—Fahad not appears colour dyslexic when he terms ‘red is blood in Kashmir’. Those who flirts this lost paradise have no time to think for people—they are sponsoring puppets in state machinery and keeping the pressing questions out.

Freny Manecksha’s How I Understood Kashmir’s Resistance and Gautam Navlakha’s The Matter of Truth, Lies and Manufacturing Consent in a Conflict Zone gives impetus for deeper observations but at occasions, confine their viewpoint at pre-determined level. The essays written from distant geography are less serious than in totality this book comes out—the good thing is, the deviation are surfacing only on few pages.

This book is about the present Kashmir, which comes into this shape and away from age old socio-cultural equilibrium through the political overplays. Both the definition and narration can be diverse but at the end—the realisation has to come—the plagued state of occupation and resistance cannot ensure the democratic ideas blossoming.

It was wrong the way, the interlocutors sent from Delhi to Kashmir, saying—the issues of Kashmir are impossible to be solved under the India constitution. This was among the improper conclusions from the mavericks. It could have much better, had they timely acknowledged that the stone is being pelted there by the youth—not because, they are not in employment, but with urge to resist against the tyrannies of better placed and powerful state forces.

This could have controlled the violence—and peace might be imminent there. Things are in altered shape there—as the will-power lacks in Srinagar and New Delhi equally, and without even the difference of fraction second. Though with the changing time—state as well as the pampered lot of Kashmir’s local leadership has to be extra-conscious—as the young Kashmiris’ are less receptive to outdated whims& fancies.

They are looking for normalcy—and that should not be merely confused by some more political maneuverings. Fahad, with his first book has brought attention on Kashmiri people—this is a valuable accomplishment and will put forth positive turnouts. The hope has better chance to stay now!
Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Rising Kashmir on August08,2013)











Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Poornomics!

India’s growth story has failed to percolate down the layers of the society. To ensure citizen’s empowerment the leadership needs to invest in a more engaged effort.)

Adam Smith was a moral philosopher and a pioneer of political economy. He is best known for his second seminal book: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which strongly emphasizes on the role of ‘self-interest’ and religiously (read wrongly) taken by the believers of free enterprises as the capitalist scripture.

This has been in practice with overlooking his much humane earlier work The Theory of Moral Sentiments—where he defined "mutual sympathy" as the basis of moral sentiments (the capacity to recognize feelings that are being experienced by another being).

This he had written about seventeen years before, his magnum opus permanently stuck to the mind and soul of European intelligentsia and later crossing the geographical boundaries. So, still a better part of capitalist ideas remains seriously compromised.

The opposite school—Marx’s ideas hold that “human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a proletariat that provides the labour for production”—here the argument is sharp and firm.

But looking into the context of India’s poverty debate (surprisingly which is in limelight just after a month, when Jean Dreze had shared his concern for lowering footfalls from the policy circle on poverty issues) —it appears that more than the confrontation of ideologies and adding enlightened partitions, the poor need the merit of both capitalism and socialism working genuinely in their favour.

After all, the ideological convictions shaped during the 18th and 19th centuries too need some brushing up now—even the staunchest Marxist scholar like Prabhat Patnaik doesn’t deny it. However, they require to be understood through the complex interface of Indian democracy and economic reform, which essentially walks on a non-linear path.

It is already in reckoning of many of us that the key characteristic of a democracy rests on electoral contest. More than any other democratic processes—election and subsequently formation of the government shapes the turnouts of policy debates.

Nevertheless, this is high time, when the Indian government should officially declare macro-economic policies out from the rigid purview of non-resident economists, who are more political than the obvious political tribes of Central Delhi and have in fact no or shrugged opinion on most of the pertinent matters.

The ongoing trash debates between Amartya Sen and Arvind Panagariya shows the frivolous determination of these two top placed economists for real causes haunting a large number of Indian populations. This started with a review of Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze’s An Uncertain Glory: Indiaand its Contradictions, in The Economist.

The piece published in the magazine said that this book has greater relevance than Bhagwati and Panagariya’s latest book in advocacy of market linked reform (also for ‘market linked politics’ that later substantiated in interviews/numerous articles by Panagariya) Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries.

The debate went awful when Bhagwati took Sen and Dréze much lightly than they are. In reciprocation, Sen reminded everyone his old love (not in public memory) for growth although that should be packaged with heavy public expenditure for making it ‘notionally inclusive’.

Later, they both added their views on an ideal candidate for the next PM in Delhi and rims of paper were wasted in support of their PR affairs by India’s faithful mainstream media.

Shaped in the culture of non-reading and bandwagon effect, most of the top brass of the fourth estate has written about the spat of Sen and Panagariya and only few have actually remembered the national sample survey organization’s (NSSO) recent unbelievable dossier, asserting in a worst economic phase India has been able to slide almost 2% poverty annually in last eight years.

These NSSO figures, calculated according to the Tendulkar methodology, reveal that poverty levels in India had reduced by 15 percentage points, from 37 percent to 22 percent between 2004-05 and 2011-12.

According to the data, the total number of people below the poverty line in the country is 26.89 crore as against 40.73 crore in 2004-05. The national poverty line was estimated by Planning Commission at Rs. 33.33 in cities and Rs. 27.20 in villages per day per person.

This was brainstorming for thinking people and those chosen not to think too doubted these numbers. This is acceptable that over the last two decades of reform have changed the course of Indian economy—some for good reasons. However, as a rising economy, Indians should not be complacent with rise of fortunes of a segment of population.

Through popular yardsticks—it is impossible to judge the actual numbers of poor in this country. Though lately, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahulwalia has also shown his differences with NSSO’s data, prepared by an expert panel. In his opinion, the actual data would be much different, when the poverty measurement would take place in absolute terms.

These data will appear even more unreal if given little more thought on ‘relative deprivation quotient’. The growth, sans equity is a ground reality in India. Public expenditure alone cannot ensure inclusive growth—the citizen’s empowerment would take much more engaged effort than the leadership is intent to lend on this as of now.

In the meantime, the poor debates on politics and economics will not halt for sure!
Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in Governance now on August12,2013)