Monday, April 28, 2014

Poverty and Migration Menace

The cost of hosting thousands of Biharis and north Indians has brought north-east India to the brink of a socio-economic crisis. For a change, chauvinist Marathi leader’s counselling to ‘future PM’ Narendra Modi that development of cow-belt would help stem ‘migration menace’ has merits...Here its how and edited version of this piece made to the prestigious North East Weekly page of The Statesman.

Raj Thackeray, we are with you!!

Hospitality is perhaps more often not a permanent virtue to human nature. The vexed anti-outsiders’ movement in various states in the north east in general and the supposed conflicts of interest with regard the Inner Liner Permit (ILP) debate in specific is related to this human tendency. Migration is in effect a multi-edged weapon for north-eastern states. 

My understanding of migration in the national context is that had our national founding fathers not provided the scope of free migration within the country, India would have collapsed as a united nation. The insurgency menace would have stuck at the heart of India – states like Madhya Pradesh as well as population wise vulnerable the cow belt or northern India.

But coming to north-east of India, we have a few serious issues at hands. In the name of pragmatism, practical handling of issues or facing reality, the ‘reality’ is that these ‘tribal states’ in the northeast have accepted permanent problems in the form of millions of work force from mainland India. Deliberately let us keep the issue of illegal foreigner influx from Bangladesh away from the debate.

The cost of entertaining thousands of Biharis and north Indians, Bengalis, Nepalis and even a large number of Marwaris from Rajasthan has brought the region to the brink of worst socio-economic crisis. Now, let us take the question often asked, whether the ILP rules as provided in the legislation framed in 1873 – the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act - if implemented properly could have helped the tribal cause. The answer is generally no.
Recently I interacted with a group of tribal students from the north-eastern states of Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram – where ILP rules are enforced.

Unhesitatingly, I must say, some of them readily agreed that the alleged collapse of ILP mechanism to check ‘inflow’ of outsiders – Mayangs in Manipur, Dhwakher in Khashi (Meghalaya), Vai-Naupang in Mizoram and Plain manu in Nagaland - too has much of it contributed towards the gunrunning culture in the northeast. Without doubt, it’s the fear and subsequent hatred towards ‘outsiders’ that have often led to insurgency or anti-India campaigns.
One of the students was particularly more vocal when she said; ILP was a “bad in law” with tremendous scope for slackness in implementation that has further aggravated the ugly situation.

So, what’s the way out of the mess or the cob of complexities?

One solution, I thought to these vexed questions lay with a rather parochial and regional chauvinist man in Mumbai – Raj Thackeray.

Raj – heading his fledgling Maharashtra Nirman Sena – in a series of television interviews during last week had actually suggested a solution to India’s intra-country unchecked migration problem.

It’s a different matter that the suggestion for a near solution comes in a crude and unsophisticated manner. Raj has suggested that according to him, Narendra Modi, whom he wants to become Prime Minister of India, should dedicate his first ‘five years’ to the development of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. This would minimise, Raj says, the “burden” of Mumbai and Maharashtra. As someone born and brought up in north-eastern India (the state of Nagaland precisely), my response to Raj’s rather chauvinist rhetoric was: how crude, but how true!

One could be wrong, but it goes without saying that the economic factors and especially the absence of job avenues – even manual – that’s driving people from Bihar and UP to ‘migrate’ outside their states. The bigger form of immigration is called exodus. The exodus normally affects the poorer sections either way – those who are migrating and importantly, also those, who are ‘affected’ by the migration. 

The sufferings of poor should get focus on both the stages. And here comes the relevance of Raj Thackeray’s suggestion or words of ‘wisdom’ for a probable Modi regime in future.
Now, frankly, I would not have been carried away by Raj Thackeray’s crude gesticulation vis-à-vis the states of Jharkhand, UP and Bihar

Ordinarily, I would have dismissed his anti-migrant rantings without a thought, but Raj's interviews coincided with my trip to Uttar Pradesh for election coverage. The sights of poverty one saw in the Yadav heartland, the supposed power base of Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, a permanent aspirant to Prime Ministership, are worth sharing.

Despite playing messiah of the poor and downtrodden and of course his favourite vote-bank ‘Muslims’ now for 3 decades, 'Netaji' as Mulayam is known remains an epitome of failure to deliver development.

The perpetual power crisis and pathetic communications infrastructure have scared away any local industry, and thus hundreds of Yadavs and Muslims in the Mulayam strongholds of Mainpuri, Firozadabad and Kannauj migrate every year to hubs like Guwahati, Dimapur, not to mention Mumbai.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why and How Modi clicked in the cow-belt ?

Narendra Modi's biggest selling point in this year's elections has been the ability to fire people's imagination and hope. A sharp contrast from what the country was known during Congress rule of being hapless against non-performance and corruption!  

I traveled across key districts in Uttar Pradesh – precisely the Yadav-heartland of Firozadabad-Etah-Mainpuri stretch for election coverage. For obvious reasons, I could feel the ‘Modi wave’, so did another colleague and friend who also traveled extensively in this region, other parts of Uttar Pradesh and also in Bihar.
Thus, we had one question in mind, why and how did Narendra Modi click in the cow-belt states.

A few key aspects that came during on-field interactions in hinterland would be worth discussing here. Actually, Narendra Modi represents different aspirations to different set of people and perhaps that’s the yardstick of a mass appeal of a leader. Call it a ‘wave’ or something else.
To middle class and educated lot, Modi’s appeal was more fundamental to economy. The Gujarat chief minister casts himself as the economic reformer India needs. 

Over the last 6 months sustained campaign, BJP and Modi played ‘developmental plank’ and ‘governance’ ostensibly for twin reasons – first to expose the ‘decade long mis-governance’ of Congress-led UPA. Secondly, and it is presumed more importantly, the BJP had to conceal or even dump Modi’s Hindutva anti-Muslim image of 2002.

Thus, it goes without saying from the very beginning of electioneering season to elect the 16th Lok Sabha, how to achieve inclusive growth stared highly as a key election issue. Indian economic growth dropped from over 9.5 per cent in fiscal 2006-07 to under 5 per cent in 2012-13. 

There have been different facets of economic doldrums and BJP campaign too. The saffron party line has been that Congress has devoted crores to its hyped welfare schemes and often sending the economic management to disarray. The Congress decisions were largely guided by vote bank politics. They cite various studies including Mckinsey Global which claim that over 680 million Indians do not have sufficient access to clean water, schools and health services. 

BJP believes and frankly, we found endorsement that an overwhelming section of people think such goodies do not help people. Many voters across cow-belt states said they would rather prefer a new approach. It is in this context, one experienced even Muslim voters in known ‘secular’ bastions like Mainpuri (Mulayam Singh Yadav’s fiefdom) stressed on the key factor of performance by both the Samajwadi Party government in UP and the Congress-led UPA in New Delhi.

A 65-year old Maulana Badruddin was trembling in anger at Konchi village under Mainpuri parliamentary constituency. He said Muslims should not vote for Mulayam or Congress or get carried away by the mob mania.

Instead, he said people could prefer voting for Mayawati’s BSP. His views were endorsed by one Binod Ghiar in Mainpuri town. “The free doles and concessions have never helped us. People these days want livelihood support not favours,” he told me.
The result of freebies had left its impact clearly on more ways than one.
On April 24, 2014, the day country went for 6th phase of polls, the Food Ministry-run Food Corporation of India (FCI) had floated a tender inviting bids to meet the working capital expenditures.

In 2013-14, the government had provided Rs 75,500.02 crore as subsidy to FCI, while subsidy incurred during the year was at Rs 1,03,791.85 crore. The total subsidy arrears, including arrears carried over from the previous years amounted to about Rs 50,000 crore. 

Thanks to hurriedly brought in Food Security Act, the subsidy burden had gone up throwing financial management into disarray. On the other hand, former president of business chamber FICCI, Rajya Vardhan Kanoria said people and industry thought that under Modi’s focused approach, Gujarat could successfully attract investment. 

Then comes the constant 12-year-old lambasting of Narendra Modi for the 2002 mayhem. This perhaps angered a large section of Hindu elites and middle class who sympathized with the Gujarat chief minister. 

Surjit Bhalla summed that paradox well in ‘Indian Express’.  

Two wrongs do not make a right, but isn’t it a terrible wrong for the intellectual to not even mention, let alone acknowledge, that a major wrong took place in their (the Congress’s) secular India in 1984? They know full well that the Gujarat rioters took many cues and directions from the Delhi pogrom murderers —  they got their strategy of pinpointing victims (from the addresses on electoral rolls) and their belief that they would not be punished for their crimes because nobody had been punished for the 1984 riots. Indeed, the accused political leaders involved in the 1984 riots had been given cabinet posts in subsequent Congress administrations. If these intellectuals had acted post the 1984 riots with even a quarter of the dedication they are mustering now, maybe, just maybe, Godhra 2002 would not have happened.” 

True, Modi has been accused of mishandling the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which over 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. His detractors say he and his administration sided with the Hindu rioters. 
However there are different views too. “He has been cleared of any wrongdoing by a Supreme Court-monitored investigation, although others have been found guilty of killing Muslims, including a former state education minister. In interviews with the local news media this election season, Mr. Modi has reiterated that he did everything he could to stop the religious violence,” said The New York Times.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mango Pickle -- A short story

(By Nirendra Dev)

Having the television set switched off Pinaki Shekhar was blinking awkwardly at the roof. He gazed at the wall for a while rather accidentally. 
A framed photo of his and his wife on the Kochi seashore holding hands looked quite touching. “It speaks a thousand words, frame it,” his mother-in-law had advised Pinaki when she saw it on the mail box. 

He got distracted for a while. There are times, he thought in the life of man solitude and loneliness of nature excites more. He walked towards the balcony. It was raining outside.

He liked the rains. But he was gazing above towards the sky in the dark dense clouds. This was by habit ----- unless he is fixing his gaze upon some object Pinaki particularly wishes to examine he generally stares upwards. It was quite a stormy evening with the whimsical wind making the night more mysterious.
Pinaki always thought he was a realist. No much pretension about life. He knew his biography would not read any fairy tale; it had its share of tension and some human misery. 

Some weakness and some success.

But the situation he was in perhaps was beyond his comprehension, he thought.
And it all started with a bottle of mango pickle. He sounded so much cynical to himself.

Every family quarrels. All couples quarrel. All mothers-in-law have tiff with their bahus. So was in his family. But what has this turned out to be?

His mobile buzzed inside…. Actually it had a receiving tone of a famous song. Pinaki liked the lyrics.

The Bengali lines…. jibon khatar proti pataae
jotoi likho hishab nikash 
kichui robenaa 

Whatever you could write in your life memoirs; nothing is permanent print in that diary….

His Bengali wife Malavika had translated it for him and also taught him the meaning of the powerful lyrics and he loved it.

He picked up the cell. No, it was not from his wife. He threw himself into the sofa looking for a comfort zone in that room.
There was a gloom and some kind of suffocating heaviness in the room. Sadness seemed to be lurking in every corner.

He looked at his wrist watch trying to figure out the time and subsequently lowered his wrist. Pinaki walked towards the life size dressing table, it had a big mirror. He glanced for a while. 

He found his eyes expressionless or dried up a bit displaying only the determination to get through the time he is in.


Why did Malavika leave his home in such anguish, and with such an announcement?
“I am going Pinaki…your mother does not want me to be with you; in this house….under one roof. Let her be happy. Once I am gone, she can marry yon once again and get a daughter-in-law of her choice”.

Pinaki tried his best to reason. “This is not the way, one should react..Be matured Malu…”.

“I was immatured so long, but no longer. I know now what’s right and what’s wrong. I know what is right at least for your mother”, Malavika shot back.

The argument went on for about 10 minutes but the inconclusive meeting had one conclusion drawn by Malavika that she should call it quit from the house and the marriage.

“It is tough to make such a decision, but once I have made it, this shall  remain,” were the last words from Malavika as she walked away holding that faded brinjal coloured new tourist bag.

Pinaki did not quite know how to react. His anguish and even trying to reason did not convince Malavika. Their 7-year love tale was coming to an end.

But they did not deserve such a fate. 

It was a good love story and despite the linguistic differences between two families, everything was accepted quite easily brushing aside his mom’s objection.

Things also had begun on sound footing notwithstanding usual pinpricks in any family. But the last episode has snowballed into a hot potato – like a political scandal, thought Pinaki.

He felt dozing off. The last days or rather nights of October month. Diwali was not far off. The winter was limping back to this city of extreme cold and heat.

As he returned to his room now trying to retire on his bed, strange thoughts got into his mind. That he should indulge in some gambling during this Diwali. All his life he had tried to lead a disciplined life; avoided heavy drinking and ‘never played’ gambling. 

But another strange thinking stuck him now. Even his wife used to be surprised on Pinaki avoiding gambling with cards or drinking during pre-Diwali parties.
“Why don’t you gamble at times… at least you can lose me in such a gamble and tell your mom back home that you got rid of me?” she used to tease him.

Pinaki would generally react by hearty laugh.
Once, however he remembers asking Malavika, “but can you tell me why you don’t gamble. Some women do these days but generally women are less into it?”

Malavika had rather given an interesting reply with her infectious laughter:
“ha ha ha, you don’t know; in our case women's total inclination for gambling is satisfied by marriage and once someone gets a mother-in-law like your mom; she knows what the hell is too”.


Pinaki had no answer. He knew his mom could go nagging all along. Despite his father and his grand mother’s approval; she had hardly approved of Malavika as the daughter-in-law.

All these despite Malavika’s sincere attempts in last 7 years to adjust to the family. Malu had even picked up Pinaki’s family traits, food habits and even cooking style.

Slowly he felt asleep.

Next morning he was surprised to know by his wrist watch that it was already 8 o’ clock. The rays of October sun were illuminating the wall. Usually Pinaki did not sleep so late.

The room looked untidy just in the passage of few hours since Malavika left although the floor was still shining clean. Pinaki knew already there was a difference in his life.

His mind again turned to the recent past; - the thumping of his own heart, Malavika’s angry oneliners and ultimately the heated argument and then Malavika walking out angrily. Pinaki walked outside the room in the balcony to pick up the newspaper. He was also trying to dust off the memories.

What made his mother make that nasty statement on receiving the 'mango pickle' prepared by Malavika, he tried to figure out a reason.
Poor Malavika never claimed that she had mastery in preparing the pickle. Even if she knew, she knew part of the Bengali style preparation. But his mother had insisted that she prepare it in their distinct style!

Malavika had given it a shot and upon preparing sent a small portion of it bottled up in a good glass container. Pinaki had himself carried it to his mom’s place in Chennai.

And it was this bottle of pickle that had sparked off a mini-war after his mother made those unkind remarks. This followed angry protests from Malavika and subsequently provoking her to stage that telling walkout.

Initially the real reasons for Malavika’s protest were still unclear to Pinaki.

But once Malavika showed Pinaki his mother’s letter to her, things started unfolding properly. This crisis has been actually constructed by his mom’s missive.
By now he knew – it is his mother who had constructed the plot of this ‘separation’ of her son and daughter-in-law --- betraying all the calculation and some miscalculation.

Unmindful though, Pinaki recalled the good times he shared with his wife.
Only a fortnight back or so as the temperature had come down to a soothing effect, Pinaki had grasped tight Malu’s thin shoulders - her breast did some signals and her head bent forward, Pinaki had tried to bury his face in her dense long hair.

They shared a genuine intimacy together. Then why this was to happen?

Almost absentmindedly he was looking outside again, at times towards the door perhaps expecting Malu’s return. But that was not to be. He had done with his hot cup of tea. Time was running fast. The sun cast a rosy hue over the sky.

He smiled for a while as he remembered his wife telling him once how the sunbeams can chase away the clouds. “These clouds resemble a helpless daughter-in-law and the sunbeam your mom,” she would say. Pinaki as usual used to only laugh these off little realizing that slowly but certainly things were perhaps reaching their limits for Malavika.

As he walked towards the feet of the bed and stared outside through balcony yet again, Pinaki realized that his house was not quite different from other houses in the locality. 

In most houses windows were thrown open for fresh air but the door curtains hung drawn properly. None could guess what was going on inside each house.
Unknowingly he thought perhaps others also in the society did not know about the crisis in his house. That his wife has left him.

But slowly the lanes resounded with the hullabaloo of morning walkers, parents taking school children towards the point to see off the off-springs for the school bus.

Pinaki’s thoughts would have gone wilder but just then the maid servant came in coughing. Pinaki then realized that the doors were kept open throughout the night. Why did he left it unlocked; knowing very well that Malavika, his wife Malu is not the kind of person to come back so easily.

The maid was young with a charming face and had a good physique. After all Pinaki is a man and used to eye her even earlier – even when Malavika was around. But today she looked better. 

The festive season and soothing whether added to the atmosphere.
Suddenly the gloom seemed to have vanished from his room. Suddenly there was a joyful look around.

The maid walked towards the wash basin in the kitchen and started making the usual noise with utensils and her colourful bangles. Pinaki started loving the noise. It was like some music. Is it a reality? Can man be real dog after bones? 

Could the purity of magic help maintain one's integrity?

The maid started humming a popular Bengali song more by habit. She had an okay kind of voice but not the one to do justice to the old classic. 

Still she was singing as her hands moved quickly washing off the utensils.

“…. amari porane aasi, tumi je bajabe banshi
sei to aamar sadhona chaina to kichhu aar
(When you come in my life, there would be love song always;
This is my only desire, I don’t want anything else)”.

Flames danced over the gas stove. The maid servant had put in the saucepan to boil milk. 
Pinaki’s eyes traveled quickly around the room, then the kitchen and slowly towards the maid’s bangles, her hand, her shoulder.