Day 3: Hope

It’s been a while since I wrote on political happenings. But then it has been a while since something so envigorating has happened.

Yes,I am talking about the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP). They have done what was seemingly impossible – brought in a fresh wave of honesty and accountability into Indian politics. Despite all the nay-sayers, they managed to get such a huge number of seats. For a first time party, I think it was stupendous. The icing on the cake is, of course, the fact that they have done all the right things as soon as they started governance. And for a change, it does seem that we are talking about the ‘governing party’, as opposed to the ‘ruling party’ that we had been talking about.

Are all their policies right? Well, they seem to be alright to me, but then I am no expert. However, what I do think is that they do have their heart in the right place. If their policies are not effective enough, I do think that they would be open to changes/criticism to ensure that they do what they set out to do. So far, not only have they done what they promised about the water and electricity charges, they have also tackled huge issues of night shelters in Delhi, things which previous governements did little about. News like the manner in which the young minister, Rakhi Birla has already set about her job, is so heartening to read. For once, we can see the will to do things rather than politicians waxing eloquent about stuff and not doing a thing that actually matters( à la Rahul Gandhi, for instance). Are they perfect? Of course not. But they are pretty much as perfect as it gets at this point in time.

It feels like the dawn of a new era. Which is probably why the old time politicians have suddenly started to get edgy, uncomfortable. I find it funny that parties like the Congress which have had so many years to do all this, are now trying to ensure that AAP does what it promises to do, in 2 days. And BJP seeing how AAP could cut into their vote share, is all jittery and will do anything to discredit AAP(not that they are succeeding, they just sound childish and silly).

While I can understand the politicians reacting this way, I find it hard to understand people like you and me being cynical about AAP. I wonder how our expectations are so low from the other parties and yet, we are so demanding from this fledging party, which is trying its best to stem the rot that has been part of the system for so many years. At the very least, I would say AAP is forcing the other parties to adopt austerity measures and talking of things that so far was never even discussed. While I do understand that there have always been upright, non-corrupt, austere people across parties, the true difference in AAP is the fact that it is the party line. It is their way of life, while in other parties they are more the exception than the norm.

Also, AAP has forced the debate on the things that actually matter. We are now talking about the basic needs that our governments of the past have not bothered to address, and seeing the way AAP is taking action, it is clear that things can be done when there is political will. And my hope is that having had a taste of governance, the people of India will refuse to let good governance and accountability be a dormant option going forward. Hate them or love them, there is no doubt that AAP has changed the way people viewed politics.

Of course, not everybody sees them with the rosy glasses I have on, but I can only speak for myself and I have to say that AAP makes me hopeful. AAP gives me that hope that politics will not remain the refuge of the scoundrel. People like you and me could join and work for the country, if we so wished to. Hope, for a better future for our country, that is what AAP stands for, for me. And for that, I am grateful.

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26/11 – Hope against hope

26/11. The day which shocked us all like never before. Far, far away from India, I sat transfixed, watching the horror unfold in front of me.

Millions across the world did the same, felt the same outrage, came out in different ways to express how they felt…

Outpourings of grief, anger and outrage everywhere..

So many brave people of India, scarificed their lives, saved lives without thinking twice about their own safety..

But did it change anything? Has 26/11 changed anything in reality or are we just waiting for another, more shocking. more horrifying version of 26/11 to happen before we get pushed into action. Have we all gone back to our cozy lives after the initial shock wore off? Have we, in reality forgotten what happened a year back.. Apparently, South Mumbai where most of the attacks took place, had a really low voter turnout – have we as voters forgotten our responsibility too?

Just when I thought it could get no worse, I saw that our govt had spent 31 crores to keep Kasab alive! What a monumental waste of money.We have seen all kinds of tamashas in this trial.  What should have been an open and shut case, has dragged on for a year. What with the Shiv sena threatening the lawyers who were to represent him and all that. Surely, why do these political parties forget that justice is simply being denied by all these unnecessary political dramas? What did it all achieve? Yes, am sure they got some political mileage – but the real cost is the 31 crores and justice that has been delayed for so many victims and their families. Makes you wonder if all the valour with which our forces fought the terrorists were wasted. Makes you wonder if the Ajmal Kasab trial will go the Lieberhaan way and take 17 years  before it is completed?

For a country to be a position to ensure it’s security, from both internal and external elements, one of the key things is to make an effort to reduce the corruption levels. With reports of how Hemant Karkare’s bullet proof vest is missing – it just reinforces the fact that we have corruption at the highest levels. If our government officers and those in the government are not accountable and responsible – what hope do we have to ensuring that our country is safe from terrorists?

While I do understand that countries like America have an intrinsic advantage of geography, but surely, given that we are more vulnerable and our neighbourhood more troubled, we have to go that extra mile. I guess, all we can do is hope (against hope?) that we never see a 26/11 attack again..

Scoring high into the IITs

Yesterday, Kapil Sibal proposed that the minimum marks to enter the IITs would be raised possibly to 80-85% in the Class 12 exams. Since then he has back-tracked, but I still wanted to talk about this.

On the face of it, it seemed alright, but the more I thought of, the more I was convinced that this was just not a sensible move. One of the reasons that Sibal states is that coaching centres have been mushrooming around and this move will curb it.

Now, if we do take into consideration, the much maligned coaching centres. The reason, we have so many coaching centres is

1. Our Class 12 syllabus is not geared up to allow a student to successfully meet the IIT standards

2. Our school teachers are not competent enough to teach the children

Surely, if we do need to curb the culture of coaching classes, what we need to do is, ensure that our Class 12 syllabus is geared up for the competitive exams rather than increase the focus on marks in the Class 12 exams. And we need teachers in schools who are able to guide the children through these exams. We have children going to tuitions and coaching classes from Class 1  onwards – surely, there is something wrong in the system? And not in the way the IIT entrance criteria are structured? The fact that so many of our students need coaching outside of school is just an indicator that somewhere our schools are not performing the role they are meant to be.

Secondly, to increase the eligibility percentage to 80-85% also assumes that every board has the same standards and marking policies. Most of us would be aware of how different every state board is. I know, some states, where scoring an 80% is no big deal while some states where it is very difficult and only the very top students manage an 80%. So students studying in some state boards are automatically at a disadvantage.  There is a distinct difference even in ICSE and CBSE boards scoring standards. Without a common board, such a proposal is just recipe for disaster.

Initially, when Kapil Sibal spoke of reforms, the impression that came about was that the system would change from rote learning to practical, from the basic learning. IIT entrance exams, if anything, are a very good test of how good our basics are. I think to shift the weightage from the entrance exams to the Class 12 scores is a sure-shot way of shooting in the foot, the reforms that Sibal spoke of.

Since then, Kapil Sibal has back-tracked. He is doing a lot of things in the right direction, to reform our education system. I think IITs is one place where things are functioning the way it should and he should just let it stay the way it is.

I just had to get that out of my system!

Selective Freedom?

In the heart of our democracy, the parliament, MPs have objected to people  using English to reply to questions ‘despite being fluent in’ Hindi.

This is something that really irritates me. Does a person not have the right to speak in any language that he is comfortable in? Surely there are translators in the Lok Sabha. Why create an issue over language? Is it really democratic to behave this way?

Not just this, talking in Hindi is considered ‘patriotic’ and in English or any other Indian Language is considered ‘unpatriotic’ by many. Why? Is our Indianness so narrow that we define it by one single language? If somebody is comfortable speaking in English(or any other language) and the other person has the means to understand it – what is the issue? I understand if the MP was addressing public who understands only Hindi and he happened to speak in English. But in the parliament? So are we free to talk any language – as far as it is Hindi?

To me, this is as bad as the show of chauvinism by some states in rejecting Hindi totally. Why can’t we just accept the differences we have and learn to live with it.. accept that people may speak different tongues, different dialects, follow different religions.. and still remain as Indian as one can be? Why make such a huge issue of language, when we have so many, many more important and pressing issues to be debated upon?

Edited to add : For more information on the languages that can be used in the Lok Sabha – http://164.100.47.134/newls/abstract/official_report_of_proceedings_o.htm

Edited to add : This link, thanks to Indyeah, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/minding-our-languages/300936/0. It makes a lot of things clear..

Playing favourites..

The other day, before the Rail budget was announced, we were watching NDTV and the news anchor was telling us how West Bengal is looking forward to the Railway Budget, because ‘traditionally’ , the state from which the rail minister hails, gets a lot of benefits.. new trains, station improvements and all..

Both husband and I were quite surprised to hear about that ‘expectation’. That, it is perfectly acceptable for a Railway Minister to favour the states that they hail from! Why? I mean, it just does not make sense to me. Firstly, why should that expectation be there   and secondly,  why should it be accepted as normal!

Would we be just as happy if the Prime Minister announced some ‘extra’ schemes for the region that he came from? Or if a CEO of a company said that he would hire 50% of his employees from a particular region? Or if a project manager in a company decides to staff his team with people from his area? Won’t we all be appalled and disgusted at that? Then, why is it so acceptable for a Union Railway Minister to favour his/her state?

Isn’t it at odds with the ideas of democracy where every body is equal.. Shouldn’t Union ministers be thinking of the whole of India rather than making sure that their constituencies/states get some benefits from their stint at the centre? If they did want to do some good for their constituencies – surely, there are other ways of going about it.. When in positions  in the Union Government, should the focus not be entire India instead of their home states?

Redefining the heights of narcissism

UP Chief Minister Mayawati has been slammed by Union Home Minister P CHidambaram for spending Rs 1000 crore on statues of herself and other dalit leaders.

Rs 1000 crore in a country like India where millions are still under the poverty line. Apparently the cost of maintenance is estimated at around 10% of the construction cost – annually! It stumps me to think that leaders like Mayawati think that installing statues of dalit leaders and herself(?) will help improve Dalit pride – that is apparently the justification that is given! What I just cannot understand is how, she can build her own statues! Isn’t that the heights of narcissism?

Yes, we may not have the basic amenities like food, clean water or housing, but we are extremely proud because we can see umpteen statues of our ‘leaders’!!!! And this coming from one of India’s most backward states – backward in every possible form! Backward in development, education, women’s safety, but yes, I am sure that Dalits must be extremely proud of Mayawati’s statues! Wouldn’t any community prefer that their leaders spend money on developmental activities instead of statues of themselves?

Dr B R Ambedkar , on whose name, she wants to piggyback into fame, must be cursing his fate to be clubbed along with Mayawati! I am sure, had he been alive, he would have condemned this mindless statue building spree!

PS : I have been out of the blogosphere for the last 3 days. Will respond to all the comments on my previous posts and read all your posts as well – in the next few days.

Opposition Politics

The new Government is being put together. As a pleasant surprise, we have had a decisive verdict in the polls and now its time for the government and the opposition to get back to work.

The government of course, has it’s work cut out. This time, hopefully, they will be able to focus on development and on actual governance as opposed to policies just to keep their coalition partners happy. At this time, I think it is important for the opposition to introspect and work on their issues. And also, concentrate on the more important bit  – on performing the role of a constructive opposition.

We have always seen in India, how the opposition believes in ‘opposing’ – everything and anything that the govt comes up with. I do wish our opposition comes to understand that just because they are in the ‘opposition’, it does not mean that they have to literally ‘oppose’ everything. A good opposition should act as a check when it comes to harmful policies and as a support in the times that the Govt needs support. Unfortunately, none of our political parties behave that way.. They are normally just too happy to score brownie points – not realizing that their conduct just lowers their respect in the electorate’s eyes.  I would have loved to see BJP support the government on the  nuclear issue.. The way they behaved just made it look like they were opposing it – just for the sake of it.. Had they been in power, they would have done the exact same thing that the UPA govt did. Instead of standing together for the good of the nation, it just tried to play opportunistic politics.. Having said that, I am sure even the UPA had the roles been reversed – would have behaved just the way BJP did..

I do wish we had the concept of Shadow Cabinet , like they have in Britain. I wonder why, when we took everything else from the British , did we leave this out?  It is such a great concept. It is the Shadow Cabinet’s responsibility to pass criticism on the current government and its respective legislation, as well as offering alternative policies. Every cabinet portfolio, will have a shadow portfolio as well. So you have a Cabinet minister responsible for health, for instance and a shadow minster responsible for the same.. I think it helps improve the working knowledge of the opposition and also gives the electorate an idea of how the opposition can be expected to perform, if they were to come to power.. I personally feel that it also improves the accountability of the opposition.

 A good opposition checks and balances out a government. I do so hope that the parties in the opposition, particularly the BJP as it is the largest opposition party, if it wants to have a better showing next time round, needs to gear up and play the role of a constructive, effective opposition and not one of a disruptive opposition. A government with weak or no opposition can turn out to be even more dangerous than a cobbled together coalition government. Lets hope that both the government and the opposition work together for a better India.

 

PS: Does anyone know why we did not adopt the Shadow Cabinet? Was there any specific reason for it? I was not able to figure out.. I would love to know!

Election Results!

Just wanted to record how delighted I am at the results! After all the dire predictions of a split verdict and the possibility of cobbled-together, opportunistic, coalitions – the decisive victory for the UPA is a delight to see!!!

It is a delight to just know that all that heavy bargaining that was predicted is not going to happen.. and that all the predictions and exit polls are actually far from what the Indian voter wants.. Is this an indication of the growing maturity of the Indian voter? I, sure hope so!

Fastest murder judgement: All over in 10 days

I came across this news about the fastest murder trial in India so far! All over in 10 days!

‘A district court made legal history on Saturday by convicting a man with murdering his wife within 10 days of framing charges, and in just three hearings

On Saturday, Chandigarh additional district and sessions judge Raj Rahul Garg found Sunil Kumar guilty of brutally killing his wife, Kiran, on February 17, 2009. The accused was convicted solely on the basis of his eight-year-old son’s statement. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced on Monday

Charges were framed within 70 days of the crime and the verdict came 10 days after the chargesheet was filed.
“It is a ray of hope for thousands of victims and a warning for those who exploit the loopholes in criminal justice system,” said criminal lawyer N K Nanda. ‘

This certainly came as a ray of hope , especially in the middle of election coverage where all people seem to be talking about is the number game.. I do hope that we get to see more of these sorts of judgements.. Kasab’s trial would have been a nice way to start…

Dance of Democracy

Masood’s post on Indian Democracy brought about this post.. It just reminded me of all the ways in which we take our democracy so much for granted..

I have heard comments, as long back as I remember, about how India needs a dictator to make things right.. How one dose of dictatorship will set right all our problems! Have we started taking our democracy for granted? Have we stopped valuing our democracy? Today, as we are in the process of voring in our 15th Lok Sabha, a brand new government, I really wanted to pen down, how I view the democratic process..

From what I have read, from the time India , as we know it today,came into existence, there have been dark and pessimistic predictions of how quickly the ‘democratic setup’ will dissolve and India will slip into total chaos. Initially it was the West which were predicting its decline and then we ourselves picked up the chanting, but miraculously, despite all the problems, all the flaws, and the short foray into dictatorship during the emergency, India has continued to function as a democracy.

Yes, we have our problems, but why do we forget that we are just 60+ years old.. That is surely very young, if you compare,for instance with England.  Despite being a monarchy – they had a parliamentary system in place as far back as 1295 . That is a lot of  years to iron out the issues and fine tune their system.. Add to that, the fact that India’s cultural diversity adds another element which brings a different take in our parliamentary system..  According to the wikipedia – ‘At least once every five years, India’s Election Commission of India conducts one of the largest, most complex elections of the world. India’s elections in the 2004 involved about 581 million voters who travel to nearly 800,000 polling stations to choose from some 11,680 candidates representing roughly 221 parties. The elections reveal much about Indian society.’

We talk so much about regionalism in politics and it’s harmful effects. But can we totally do without regionalism? Will that ever work? The way I look at it – in the UK, such a tiny country, especially in comparison to India, still has 2 countries within it – Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.  They have their own sports teams and there is a very intense rivalry between these ‘countries’ and yet they remain a country. So in a ountry like India, these regional feelings are quite normal and expected.. What probably, needs to be done is that any sense of alienation, needs to be tackled by governments in a positive and encourahing manner  – as opposed to a patronising or ‘votebank’ style as is being practised today..

Yes, our democracy has criminals representing us – but isn’t that because of our own apathy?

Yes, our democracy has the caste card and religion based votebank politics being played – but isn’t that a reflection of our society, where which caste and religion you belong to, seems to matter ?

Yes, our media might be biased, but atleast we have the freedom to speak our mind. Google does not need to modify/alter searches for our country – we are free to look up what we want in our country.

Yes, we do compare with China quite badly, but really, do we want the government to take our personal decisions for us? And the truth is that we do not even know the whole truth behind China.. If some reports are to be believed, the villages are in as bad shape.. In India, we can, at the very least, question, our

Yes, our secularism has its flaws – but do we really want to be a Pakistan?

Yes, we have people like Narendra Modi and Madani in politcs, but we also have the right to question them.. If found guilty, Modi will not be able to contest elections. Yes, we have a slow judicial process – but isn’t it better than no judicial process? Or a judiciary which is totally controlled by the government?

Yes, a lot of us do not vote – but we have the option and the option to not use it.

I have heard of people dismissing news channels and freedom of press saying – oh they just debate the same things’! But at least, we can discuss, debate and question our leaders.. Today, even though there are criminals in politics, I do think that parties are aware that they will be questioned about it.. And even if it is a slow process, it will take effect.

Yes, we have a lot of problems, but are we not part of it? Are we all doing what we can do.. I especially feel this whenever I read some of Manju’s posts.. There is so much we can do, we can express ourselves, we can disagree with our political leaders, we can even complain that we have a democratic system which does not work – because we have a working democracy – however flawed it might be…