Tuesday, February 28, 2012

10 years since Godhra --- Emergence of Modi phenomenon

Ten years since the Godhra train inferno and the subsequent anti-Muslim carnage of 2002, Gujarat has attained its developmental success stories. Yet, it remains a ‘Hindutva laboratory’ , the reputation is not altogether deserved, may be. Narendra Modi wants to see himself as an architect of change. But he does not quite want the Hindutva poster-boy image to be erased completely. He only wants to sell the development card to his voters and the rest of the world. The 2002 riots is too strong and powerful influence in Gujarat graph that it can be erased by a decade of development model as is pursued relentlessly by the state chief minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, undoubtedly the principal protagonist in Gujarat polity and also in this book. In 2002, the English media in particular in the country and also the western countries like the European Union and the US made their intention clear about their assessment about Gujarat, and more particularly perhaps on the people of Gujarat. My assessment as I recorded in my first book ‘Godhra- A Journey to Mayhem’ published in 2004 by Samskriti Publication, was that such merciless killings of a battered community – the Muslims - could take place only on a soil “fertile” with religious “prejudices”. There was truly a climax situation as hardliner communalism had assumed ominous spectre in a state, which otherwise took pride in a growth rate equaling that of China. Unlike scientific inventions, in social science, there are hardly any drastically new and original ideas. Therefore, this book owes in more ways than one its credit to a plethora of studies, media reports, analysis by political commentators and of course the interviews I had with people including from both sides of the political divide. The Human Development Report by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2011 deals about the debate that economic growth is no criterion of human development or a happy nation state. In Gujarat, the multi-pronged developments have come; but the social prosperity is not accompanied by human development or the moral order. In another report, ‘India Human Development Report’ released by the Planning Commission and the government of India, it was stated that despite impressive growth, Gujarat has not been able to reduce malnourishment levels, while Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the two known most backward hubs in the country, have done better in improving the lot of their marginalized Dalits and tribals. Many say, the moral order as was understood traditionally and cherished in folktales is increasingly vanishing under the pressure of survival and challenges associated with so called modernization and materialistic comforts. This is no doubt a national and also a global experience. But in Gujarat, the core values are perhaps vanishing faster, I say this with no intention to hurt the sentiments of the locals and with all respect for the highly enterprising skills of the people of Gujarat. The joint families are breaking into nuclear ones sometime by design sometime by deceiving the simpleton and traditional parents. With modern education, what is expected is that legalistic moral codes would prevail. But the 2002 arson and loot carried on by the middle class displaying the baser human instincts only proved that there was complete collapse of social leadership. It was a case of virtual decay of the social values. When middleclass women including pregnant ones and youngsters in jeans took to looting of malls, the transformation was telling. The intelligentsia has also perhaps failed to appeal to the commoners especially on issues bordering religious belief. And under Modi, it’s largely alleged that there has been hardly any attempt from the state to introduce any coherent moral order. In fact, not only Modi, the vices like saffronisation of the village home guard and state police was near complete even under Modi’s illustrious predecessor Keshubhai Patel and the late Haren Pandya, whose murder is a keenly seen legal battle today. The BJP insiders say, the real reason for the cold war that existed between Pandya and Modi was this uncompromising commitment to Hindutva of the two leaders and who will really steal the limelight of the legacy. Moditva is definitely a shining feature of this very legacy one is talking about. Post-Godhra ‘handling’ had enhanced Modi’s image as much it overshadowed the late Haren Pandya, who was also Minister of State for Home under Keshubhai Patel. $ The social reforms could not come to Gujarat even in the 19th and the 20th centuries. When new societies like Brahmo Samaj set their face against what they considered extravagant, the people reviled them as “pro-Christian and anti-national”, according to a local historian Vijay Singh Chavda. And once VHP and other Sangh Parivar elements got the upper hand, the voice of tolerance, accommodation and respect for other religious believers vanished. “The intelligentsia were either threatened or suppressed” and only the likes of Pravin Togadia were at liberty to propagate their viewpoints. Like developments everywhere, in Gujarat too, the ‘development model’ of Modi has its share of gainers and losers. For obvious reasons, the Modi detractors are pinning down on the losses and negativity. Losers are generally from lower strata of the society – the landless and displaced. I will take a closer look at the issue of displacement. The affected belonging to poorer background economically and backward castes have been in the process also got marginalized and isolated in some pockets. On the contrary, the gainers are from upper echelons of the society – Patidars and those with certain assets and skill and education to capitalize on. We take a close look at these issues too. The loss of community also means reinforcing tendencies towards factionalism along with complete collapse of collective responsibility and welfare. More the modern day’s development, each man becomes an island of his self creation. These compartmentalized living also result in ‘ghetoization’ of cities. Like Mumbai, a city with overwhelming Gujaratis, major Gujarat cities like Ahmedabad and Baroda are gradually getting ghettoized with ‘mini Pakistan’ name given to Muslim-dominated old city area very conveniently. The good old saying, the glass is half-full or half-empty applies to all dynamic human conditions. The beauty of the thing lies in the beholder’s eyes. There are those who see positive flashpoints in a situation and consider them as adequate justification for lauding what happened. I belong to neither side; though the anti-Muslim carnage is something I disapprove of with all my sincerity as I firmly believe if Godhra train inferno was wrong the riots too were equally unjustified. Two wrongs do not make it right. BJP and Narendra Modi, therefore, would do well to keep in mind that they should not underestimate the voters’ intellect. Any attempt especially to monopolize information or bank singularly on own trumpet or propaganda has boomeranged on every such regimes. Lately, this has happened in the left-citadel West Bengal. The communists globally have got the feel of it after Soviet Union. Closer home in India, the Congress party experienced it after emergency and also aftermath Bofors scam controversy. The Congress thought Bofors will be like any other issue, but the party with 400 plus strength in the Lok Sabha was ousted and more so the family of Nehru-Indira legacy from 7 RCR, the official Prime Minister’s residence for over 20 years. So did BJP. The saffron party strategists and their Sangh Parivar sympathizers thought Gujarat riots will be bygone case under the hyped campaign of ‘India Shining’. They lost power in 2004. ends

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

For Students of Print Journalism --- Lets Go crackingg

In a previous posting in 2010 in this blog I have described journalism as my OBSESSION – something which started as an adolescent love and incidentally has stuck lifelong. It’s a difficult ballgame to continue to be with it, I maintained and claimed that among the plethora of reasons for that, one factor that has been driving down the road is : I cannot do anything else. So when I decided to entertain request from some young friends to pen a few lines for the students of print journalism, especially in Indian context, I took the opportune moment as a challenge. I will not go typically in a class room manner. Actually, it must be understood that class rooms can dole out clerks to CEOs – but never a journalist. At least, I am not one. So, I start here with Development Reporting: Let’s keep the definition about news and principal facets of reporting for another day. In Development Reporting, firstly one needs to get its ‘initial acts’ together. For instance, someone with non-economic background should not try hands at reporting sectors or ministries like Finance. It’s not impossible but you will need the lady luck to come to your help. So let us imagine the stage for non-economic background students. So from New Delhi’s point of view – that’s is if you are based in the national capital, you are likely to cover ministries like Rural Development, Urban Development, Agriculture, Railways and a few more. Lesson number 1. Firstly, like all streams, you should have some basic information/knowledge about the beat you are covering. A ---- like who all matters in the beat (say Rural Development) --- who’s is the Minister, How many and who are the ministers of state (brief political background of each) --- Secretary, Rural Development and other key officials. B ----- Then what’s all happening in the ministry or department. (In Rural Development beat if u r covering it in circa 2011-12;;; You OUGHT TO KNOW WHAT’S MG-NREGA scheme (It is the flagship scheme of the UPA government launched in 2006 and is in news almost on daily basis for one reason or the other) Similarly, if you are covering Railways::::: you must know whose who of Rail Bhavan. - Unlike any other department, Railways in India has a Railway Board. So you should know who is the chairman? (A brief refresher knowledge of the railway ministers is must again) What’s happening with the Indian Railways? In February-March every year: the buzz is the railway budget. So obviously beat correspondents are expected to do stories in the run up to the Railway Budget. --- How well the financial position of the country’s largest land transporter is? What are its limitations? - How would the budget address the issue of financial balancing when fare hike is something generally DISLIKED IN INDIA. When was the railway passenger fare hiked last? What will happen to railway safety as train accidents are a major concern? So how will a reporter start his day: 1. Actually, he starts much before that d-day. He does his homework properly at least 36-48 hours before about the beat…. And he is at the job – obviously he does it hour by hour – episode b episode. 2. Then he should know (the government appointed) PROs or Information officers to the department/ministry. These information officers by nature of their job are more concealment officers. They will hide things which really make news and instead tell you routine stuff like railways’s freight income has gone in September to feb as against last year. This fact does not make any story. So THE CHALLENGE IS TO DIG OUT INFORMATION. --- it will not come overnight. Your intimacy will count. And top of these your nose for news. NOW FOR INSTANCE, pro could tell you the railway minister is busy today – he has gone to the Planning Commission. If this is happening on the eve of budget --- there is a story. Because Planning Commission’s say is vital in clearing several projects or even getting adequate funds for specific projects or general. == so your next course of query either from pro or some responsible source will be to : has the minister gone to planning commission to meet the Deputy chairman of the planning commission. If so what are the issues they r likely to discuss. It can’t be the minister has gone to the planning commission to ask about deputy chairman’s wife’s uncle’s health? Before we proceed :::: we must know who is deputy chairman? His equation with the railway minister? If they have held any important meeting earlier? If the relation is not good then a mere visit is a good enough hint for a good story --- but with details. Now imagine the meeting is taking place on the background the railway minister Dinesh Trivedi meeting the prime minister the previous evening seeking Rs 14 lakh crore additional funds for modernization of railways.. then in all probability you can link the same. ## Now yet again, imagine RD minister jairam ramesh has gone to the planning commission. - scenario will be slightly different. Though this also merits story.  Background:: sometime back, jairam and deputy chairman planning commission montek had differences over the poverty figures. --- the RD ministry had in the past interacted with planning commission members over ways to bring improvement in NREGA scheme… so you know how to connect these. Don’t forget: among the basic elements of news we know how News // News like episode is related to something else in the news. Conflict, and consequences r essential features in working on a news story. Enough for tonight, let’s c the reactions?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Indian Agriculture – Looking for a Quantum Leap Forward

Agriculture since ages is the mainstay of Indian population. In fact, the story of Indian agriculture has been a spectacular one with a global impact for its multi-functional success in generating employment, livelihood, food, nutritional and ecological security. Agriculture and allied activities contribute about 30 per cent to the gross domestic product of India. The green revolution had heralded the first round of changes.
India is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut as also the third largest producer of tobacco. The country is also second largest producer in cash crops like coffee, coconut and tea and it does account for 10 per cent of the world fruit production.
It is in this context, one must try to understand the two-day conference of the Food Ministers of states held in New Delhi aimed to ensure effective public distribution system.
The need for enhanced investment in agriculture was rightly emphasized by a galaxy of speakers including the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee.
The Finance Minister was right in stating that massive investment in the agricultural sector is needed as enhanced food production is must for the success of Food Security for all. The Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar also shared similar sentiments and pointedly called for better coordination and enhanced interest by the states to the agri sector.
Needless to add, it is in this backdrop that Mukherjee also called for joint efforts by the Centre and States to modernize the Public Distribution System (PDS) to make it more effective.

The conference also dwelt at length on the National Food Security Act, which has been introduced in parliament. The proposed legislation seeks to provide food security to all, said the Food minister K V Thomas.
The country had achieved a record food production of 230 million tones in 2008 and the same has seen quantum jump despite shortfall in rains in few pockets. The country has produced a record 241 million tonnes of food grain in the season July 2010 to June 2011, 23 million tonnes more than the previous year.

Similarly, India has had enhanced production of pulses, fruits and vegetables. The pressing problems, therefore, relate to effective distribution at reasonable price and proper storage facilities.
Hence, it goes without saying that to catch up with the pressing needs, larger investments from both public and private sector will be necessary.
In fact, during the period 2006-07 the private sector investment in agriculture had increased from 8.9 per cent to 9.9 per cent. The larger investments in agriculture could only help sustained growth in other sectors like industries.
The government is targeting an agriculture growth of 4 per cent. Higher growth would also ensure larger employment opportunities.
Agriculture ministry officials say that infrastructure in agriculture will also mean impounding of rainwater in ponds and using it for critical irrigation particularly in low rainfall areas.
According to Agriculture Secretary, P K Basu, the government is already working in details to introduce mechanized farming and the recently introduced Second Green Revolution in the east of India is showing good results.
Official estimates say the Eleventh Five-Year Plan is likely to end with around 3.2 per cent agriculture growth, which marks sizeable increase over the growth rate achieved during the 9th and 10th Plans.
However, there are still challenges. At present the Indian agri scene is largely rainfed and therefore, drought remains a formidable challenge.
Viewed in this context, officials say there was a long felt need to bring together at one place all conceptual issues, detailed institutional framework and operational details related to drought management. A Drought Management manual prepared by the government has prescribed threefold actions vis-à-vis drought mitigation, plan, relief measures required for providing succor to the affected population and to integrate it with long term objectives.
Therefore, finally, the task at hand with regard to ensuring food security, higher agri growth and adequate jobs in agri sector is also to face the challenge of drought on a war footing with a well thought of far-sighted vision and action plans, both in short term and long terms.
As they say, obviously the first priority will be to protect the interests of the farmers and ensure access to agri products both to the farmers and the consumers at reasonable prices.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Attack on Israeli diplomat: A Challenge in counter terrorism and Diplomacy

- Nirendra Dev

None can dispute that terrorism is a global challenge. Closer home in South Asia, it has been punctuated with all the more dangerous dimensions with diplomatic riddles.
The attack on an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi through an improvised explosive mechanized device on February 13, 2012 must be seen in that paradigm.

Police investigators say a “well-trained" person possibly on a motorcycle drove up to the Toyota Innova car and attached a device to it while it was waiting at a traffic intersection sparking off the explosion within seconds, injuring four people.

They also this is the first time that such a technique has been used in a terror attack in India.
Magnetic bits were found on the car, indicating the use of a "sticky bomb".

The Israeli diplomat's wife Ms Tal Yehoshua-Koren, who was in the car when the explosion took place had sustained serious injuries and is stated to be in critical condition with her left leg lying paralyzed.
Three other people, including the driver of the car, also had received minor injuries.

The Government of India has taken the incident very seriously. The Home Minister P Chidambaram has termed the attack a ‘terror strike’ and that a very well trained person has committed the attack.

He said there were reasons to believe that the target was the Israeli diplomat’s wife and thus the investigations had to be pursued in that direction.

The United States has offered its assistance to the probe.

While the government of India has handed over the task of probe to the National Investigating Agency besides the Delhi police, Israel has deputed a post-blast investigation team from Israel to help in investigations.
The Israeli government has also passed on information to India about two suspects who are currently in the custody of the Georgian police over a bomb being found in the car of a local employee at the Israeli embassy in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has himself claimed that the two incidents are linked and has blamed Iran and the militant group Hezbollah for the incident in Delhi too.

However, given the immense diplomatic sensitivity attached to the entire issue, India is firm about doing the right tightrope diplomatic walk. While New Delhi has assured Israel of a serious and thorough investigation, the External Affairs Minister S M Krishna has made it clear that the government does not want to speculate on Iran's role. India’s stance is critically important as Iran has already denied about any such possibilities.

In the emerging global situation, India has over the years cherished smooth and cordial relations with both Iran and Israel.

India has formally termed Israel as an ‘important partner’ with enhanced ties in counter-terrorism, defence arena, agriculture, energy and culture.
Only in January 2012, the external affairs minister S M Krishna made a state visit to Israel coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and New Delhi.

It is no small tribute given the fact that formal relations between India and Israel had started only in 1992. But the ties between the two countries have grown on a very fast pace under various governments in New Delhi.

Similarly, with Iran too, India has had friendly and very warm relations in many areas. There are significant trade ties, particularly in crude oil imports into India and diesel exports to Iran.
Lately, New Delhi has also tried to follow a different roadmap than the western countries like the US, who are in some sort of hurry and waiting in the wings for harsher sanctions against Tehran.
The general understanding is that Iran's nuclear programme will not affect India's broader engagement with that country as New Delhi is more keen to see that Tehran is able to play a balancing role in West Asia.

True, in the ultimate analysis, the bomb attack of February 13 on the Israeli embassy vehicle thus pose a twin challenge --- one to counter terrorism and the other in maintaining diplomatic harmony, as they put it.