Monday, September 27, 2010

The Pauperised Growth

The rich ones are God in this country, the middle class constitute the Congress category of 'aam admi' and the paupers are not even eligible to be treated like humans, they have to compete with rats for the basic amenity ‘food’. The government prefers to feed the 500 million tonnes of food grains to the rats than distributing it free to the starving populace, When the judiciary intervened and ordered the government to freely distribute the grains that were stacked in the warehouses,the able prime minister opened his mouth wide for the first time in his political career , subtly bashing the Supreme Court that the ‘policy matters must be better saved for the governments to work upon." There can be no doubt that it is the policies of the successive governments that have led to the pathetic state of the teeming millions.
Coming back to the aam admi again , The aamadmi would act decisively only once in five years when it votes but the poor ones are the desperado who commit suicide, take to arms struggle and yes... they even cast their vote. The biggest tragedy with the government is that it has even lost count of the ‘poor terrorists’ as various committee put across various figures. Thus the government has been trying hard to fix numbers.
Last December, the government announced that only 27 per cent were living below the poverty line in 2004-5, based on National Sample Survey data However, the Planning Commission has now put the new figure at 37 per cent, based on Tendulkar Committee report.
While this committee estimated the number of BPL families at 80 million, the Planning Commission has fixed it at 74 million, while its own earlier figure was 65 million. Interestingly the Tendulkar Committee had been set up after the March 2009 National Development Council meeting, to look into the methodology for estimating poverty, because there was widespread criticism that the Planning Commission was producing unrealistically low poverty estimates.
P Sainath in his article dated "How right are you, Dr Singh" writes "What too, does the Supreme Court do when the government's 2006 promise of a new Below Poverty Line (BPL) Survey to be completed before the start of the Eleventh Plan never materialises? What do they or anyone do when the government sets grain allocations to the states based on poverty estimates of year 2000 based on the 1991 Census. Twenty-year-old data which result in 70 million fewer people getting BPL/Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) grain than should be the case."
With the food inflation increasing day by day and the income levels of the poor remaining almost unchanged, the current numbers of the people living (dying) below the poverty line is surely more than the 'accepted' figures of the government.
What has the government done ?
To mention its few (mis)deeds:
For purposes of food security, the Planning Commission finally accepted that the number of people living below the poverty line in India is 37.2 per cent . The Plan panel, mandated by the empowered group of ministers chaired by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to finalise the BPL numbers, will now meet the secretaries of food and expenditure to calculate the cost of providing food security to so many poor.
While the process of meetings, deliberations and discussions continue and the government finally calculates the ACTUAL number of poor, I am sure the population would have increased by that time and the time would be ripe to form another committee to calculate the number of poor.
The centre has generously decentralised the prices of the petrol, ...... the government rationale is that the complete deregulation of auto-fuels and sharp hike in the prices of cooking fuels would help the government in reducing fiscal deficit and thus curtail its borrowings. Since fuel is a basic commodity, diesel prices rise will increase the carriage charges, which will be added to the commodities being transported. It will mean a hike in the prices for everything that is sold in the market and more money has to be shelled out.
Also, it is a well-known fact that the subsidised kerosene is not reaching the needy poor, rather it is being used as adulterant in diesel and it constitutes a roaring business.
 The government has asked banks to ensure that micro finance institution (MFI) they lend to, do not charge beyond 24% interest from final borrowers.This directly contradicts the RBI policy that there should be no interest rate caps, and the RBI is the regulator of banks. It remains to be seen whether the RBI will assert itself or give way on this. While the government preaches SC not to intervene in the policy matters it forgets its own boundaries.
The main source of credit for the poor farmers has been the moneylenders and their interest rates exceed 30% in most of the cases. The main advantage of the MFI has been that it has been delivering credit at the doorsteps of the needy.
The question is how long can the trio (the aam aadmi and the government and the Gods) continue to turn a blind eye to the poor Indians, it is indeed a national shame to talk about the GDP rates, boast of soaring sensex figures and go gaga over the great Indian growth story where the ‘growth’ hasn’t even touched the majority of the populace. In the year 2010 when more than half of the population is malnourished, 17% are slum dwellers, 35% of the homes still live in darkness,One woman dies every eight minutes due to lack of medical facility... Indian growth figures seem hollow and shammed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A land of million mutinies and a land of million voices – India!

The voice is at times is suppressed, at times ignored and at times unheard of...but it still keeps ringing in villages, in the mud thatched huts, panchayats, bus stands, pan shops, in the courtyards of temples, hills, fields, cow sheds, benches lying near the tea shops, charpoys of roadside dhabas and in many such places. These voices are the ones which the mainstream media carelessly or at times carefully manages to ignore, but there is an strong urge to be heard, thus it is being heard!
The community radio – though a new concept, is picking up in the hinterlands of the country!It is certainly not a romantic idea of the rustic villagers handling the sophisticated equipments of the radio station or RJying ! It is more about the community using the medium to voice its issues and aspirations. A community has a vibrant life and its various hues are being effectively communicated by the members through the channel.
The topics heard on the radio are of multifarious nature…. folk songs, ad of the missing buffalos, ideas of the small business (that could even include gathering peanuts and selling in the nearby markets), a sneak peek into the life of a women who lives in the nearby village, punditry on ‘how to get good harvest this season’, information on RTI, NREGA… and at times granny tales too. The programming is as fresh as jasmine and as innovative as weaver’s bird nest!
There has been a mystery about the functioning of  the media…. No commoners know what goes around the premises of the of a conservative Radio station AIR (I call it conservative as most of the times it’s the particular tribe that mans or at times (woman's) the radio station for donkey years! The citizens are usually the hapless receivers and their ritualistic participation only left to requesting songs or sharing love life dilemmas over the radio ?(be it AIR or FM)).
But here the story is different …there is more than it meets the eye or rather enters the ears. It is about building the confidence of the people and the realization of the fact that ‘We do exist and our problems are not the common problems’.The rural communities experience the perennial neglect of the government.Earlier it was the mainstream media that would atleast report the issues but over the passage of time It is the media that has turned more hostile to the people than the government itself. The ceremonial debate on the 24/7 channels by the driven by ‘God’ like journos are mere gimmickry! In those discussions there will be a voice from the government, from opposition, an intellectual from an academic institution but the ‘common man’ on whom the entire debate is based , stands missing ! His perspective is never enquired by the media. In such a scenario it becomes imperative that the ‘aam addmi’ must speak out…and the community radio gives the platform.It is not just speaking on problems but also about the culture and communicating the local flavor of the community through folklore, songs etc. This the songs that were restricted to the special occasions such as marriage , birth or harvesting seasons are now on the radio and the singers are the local artists. The programs are not in Hindi or the standard vernacular language, but in the local dialect (for example in Himachal the community radio in Solan uses the pahadi dialect Bhagati and similarly in Uttar Pradesh the Bundelkhand radio uses bundeli as the medium of communication).
Community radio signals a lot of things….first the community establishes its unique identity through the medium, second the medium has led to a meaningful addition to the social lives of the people of the community as the people now discuss their issues more vigorously and third and the most important - the mainstream media has in a way failed the ‘rural’ India and thus people will exercise their rights through this tool .

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Manufacturing Images

Thankfully the great Indian Tamasha – IPL(Indian Paisa league) has come to grinding halt … I had literally gone on hibernation during these days. It was torture browsing the web portals of any news channel. Even Narendra modi wasn’t the cynosure of media during his hay days (Godhra riots) as Lalit Modi has been during the IPL. This time Narendra can happily repeat his statement (and I would second it, if it is directed towards Latit bhai) “your riot was worse than mine”. The IPL was literally a Riot!

The drama even shook the not so holy portals of “Indian Parliament” – no doubt Lalu was jealous, vexed and so were other ‘leaders’. A feeling of inferiority complex had crept in as politics is no longer the only ‘dirty game ‘ in country ….there are more ‘sinister ‘ plays now.
IPL robbed the lone ‘dude’ minister, Sashi Tharoor of Congress of his cabinet berth, it robbed the richest man in India of his precious sleep (I guess so as Mukesh Ambani didn’t seem amused when he saw his prettier half clinging to the tiny sardar Bhajji), it robbed the game of the game itself!
IPL….also stirred a bit of my mind… Are all the poorest of Indians actually crying hoax, everything seemed fine in this country during IPL!! All talks about inflation, poverty, inequality had a new connotation these days…if there was inequality in this country it was between the scores of two teams! If there was any poverty, it was of NEWS…and if there was any inflation…. It wasn’t there for the 'sabjis’ but for the ‘Bhajjis’ and other tomatoes and potatoes of the international cricketing world!
No point of shooting arrows on Lalit Modi… one should bomb those 24 hours channel which manufactured only those images that earned buks! Why a farmer from vidharba or from any part of the country would have a prime time slot…. He certainly cannot pay for it…isn’t it?
If he needs to have his story told on the media…. He has to do something dramatic … No a suicide won’t help anymore!! They have to think out of the box…has to be something scandalous as their story is pitted against that of the Modis, Mirzas and Mallicks!!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

WANTED - Power!

One of the ‘accidental intellectuals’ of this decade has been Karan Johar. Not that I have any particular liking for this tissue like, touchy kind of  bollywood director , but what amuses me are the ‘not so popular’ issues that he has thrown open through his ‘popular’ cinema! One such topic that popped up with his dumbo Dostana was ‘gay prem’!
Once unheard, unspoken and untouched of the gayish jokes are relatively common these days. Generally people do acknowledge the existence of ‘Gay’ men except for the likes of yoga obsessed baba Ram Dev who claims to cure? Sexuality (I hope karan Johar knows of this). The murmurs are clearer now.  I just hope that we don’t restrict it to the frivolousness of the light jokes surrounding the topic. The debate has to go deeper, raise important questions about the civil rights of this minority community.
The judiciary has to be hailed for the series of ‘welcome’ judgements that it has pronounced in favour of gay men in India. The recent Allahabad High Courts judgement to reinstate Dr Sreenivas Siras back as a faculty in Alighar Muslim University is case point. To give a brief background of the case, Dr Siras was caught on a camera footage having sex with a rickshaw puller and the Vice Chancellor of the university sacked him terming it as ‘grave misconduct’. Judiciary didn’t go with the VC’s version and now Dr Siras is back to his beloved! In an ideal situation its Dr Siras should have slapped a case of intrusion of Privacy on the VC who had sent the so called journos to film him in the compromising position.
These judgements are a good beginning but the stir shouldn’t calm here, not all gay men are affluent and educated as Dr Siras. They are trapped in other unprivileged identities such as Dalit, lower castes, Scheduled castes, scheduled tribe etc. In such a case it is a dual stigma for them… do we brush them aside as they constitute a very miniscule part of the  gigantic population or wait till there is an uprising (I see very remote chances as Not all gay men can unite…. They have hierarchies among them too…as all Hindus do not love all Hindus, all gay men cannot act humane to each other).
One of the solutions can be political representation, If women can have 33% reservation (though passed only in Rajya Sabha) why not gays! If for representing about 46% percent of the population, a 33% of reservation can be thought of then why not reserve atleast 5 seats for about 70 million LGBT populations in India. This proposition might seem contentious and can be criticised on many fronts such as …. How to determine which constituency they must represent as all the LGBT do not concentrate them in one particular land or so, they are scattered, unorganised like any other group in the country. Will they serve as true representatives (in that case no one can claim to be a genuine representative of another). If seats are reserved for LGBT , then reservation based on other identities may be demanded.
Brushing aside all the criticisms and doubts regarding such a move, I would just like to highlight some points …. Our society is homophobic. There have been endless cases when they have been beaten, harassed or put to death by authorities. In many states, they have killed themselves after facing harassment at home and outside. They are forced by family into heterosexual marriages. It is not that all are confident about their sexuality, at times it is difficult to come to  terms with ones identity and it can be painful process when every one around despises you. Gay behaviour is regarded as sexually predatory!
Homosexuality may have been decriminalised but Government departments are yet to acknowledge the fact that India has a gay population, they are yet to be recognised as a third sex (or why not the first sex, I won’t assign hierarchies to different sex). As the LGBT are not a visible vote bank, it becomes imperative that they should be given power to address their own problems.
And what better form of Power than the Political Power…. (As in our country political power is the doorway to all kind of prosperity…. economic, social and what not.. Let gays men also have some garlands !!)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Chenchus…lean, thin and lost!

Mutthiya sits with his back resting on a wall of a house; a lock dangles on its door. Out of forty two houses, only four of the doors remain unlocked in this Chenchu penta(the colony is known as penta). The entire village has migrated in the search of employment to the towns… left behind are the likes of Mutthiya, who are old and cannot toil hard. He occasionally goes in the nearby forests (forest seem an overstatement) to collect honey and sells it at the nearest town Devarkonda. Chinamma, an old lady in her fifties collects groundnuts and earns Rs 10 per day. There are many such old men women in the penta who live for pittance as most of them do not get the old age pension that they are entitled to.
Chenchus are the hunting tribes who once dwelled in the forests of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. With the cities swallowing up the forests and their lands being washed away by mighty dams, Chenchus have relocated themselves or have been ‘rehabilitated’ In other parts of the land.  As is the case with this Chenchu group, their colony was gifted to them in exchange of the forests that Nagarjunasagar dam drowned in 1967
It has been almost forty years and Chenchus are yet to merge in the mainstream mode of life. The colony or penta as it is popularly known is located around 50 kms from Devarkonda, other adjoining town includes Timapur.  9866163824 , a phone number is written with charcoal on a wall facing Deenamma’s home, it is the phone number of a doctor residing in Timapur. The penta doesn’t have a primary health centre.
Deenamma has called up this number many times as she has a new born baby girl, due to this reason her husband has chosen not to work far away from their penta. The number comes handy as Doctor is just a phone call away, Thanks to the nokia set! Most of the Chenchus own mobile phones…the road connectivity may be poor but the tele connectivity is excellent!
Not just mobile sets, one could spot a dish antenna on the roof top of two shut houses. I wondered if the house had a TV set. It is amazing to witness the paradox… A one room  house, where a bedroom, kitchen, living room, guest room (all kind of fancy rooms we love to have in our homes) is crammed up, also has a space for a TV set. A more intriguing question is the fact that how one does manages it? Is it through collecting honey, killing rabbits, porcupines, working in fields or through sweating at the construction sites in the urban centres? Chenchus are hard working people. Employment card elude most of these hard working Chenchus …. Other people have it … certainly on the name of Chenchus folks!
It is relatively easy to con the tribals are as the literacy levels are depressingly low. The Chenchu penta had one dilapidated room in the name of a primary school. Around 30 to 35 children in the age group of 5 to 13 who should be ideally going to a primary school actually accompany their parents where they migrate in search of work. Whoever are left are lucky to have more holidays than working days as the teacher visits once in four days in the so called primary school which is deprived of the primary facilities!
The issues are numerous but Chenchus are not an organised tribe unlike the other tribal communities such as the lambadas. Their political representation is nil and the population is also declining soon… thus a vanishing tribe. E.V.L.Narayana , President of Green Cross, an NGO based in Devarkonda says “ Chenchus are lean , thin and usually malnourished. One of the reasons is the rampant arrack consumption. The immunity levels are very low as Chenchus marry within their community only and the life span is usually up to 45 to 50 years”.
There are programs like Integrated Tribal Development Agency ITDA initiated by the government that are functional in various places such as Mehboobnagar ands Srisailam. The program constitutes of community and women's development, health and education, natural resources development, credit and marketing support and project management support, including monitoring and evaluation. The Tribal Welfare Department had the overall responsibility for project implementation, with the commissioner for tribal welfare as the project coordinator. Project activities are implemented through the regular ITDA channels which includes local NGOs. Atleast the government has provided each home with a medical kit. Whether they have been briefed about its usage is altogether a different story that we couldn’t explore.
For long life … Chenchus believe in God! Apart from calling the Timapur Doctor occasionally, and using/or not using the medical kit Deenamma invokes God to ensure a healthy life for her family.  She recently converted to Christianity along with the entire penta. Now every house has a holy cross enshrined on its outer wall. Few weeks back a lady from another Chenchu penta had visited this penta and had facilitated conversion to Christianity. Muthhiya says that he has stopped drinking arrack as he had taken oath in the name of Jesus Christ! Amen!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Insight into the food Inflation

The malicious and mindless blame game is on! Who ever in the government can be held responsible by the opposition is being brutally attacked (certainly the style is verbose). The crisis isn’t a common one, it has broke backs of the most vulnerable of the aam admis of our country … it is the ever bourgeoning food inflation.
The cliché with such a kind of crisis is that, people belonging to different spheres such as politicians, economists have their own respective interpretations and not necessarily does it leads to any kind of solution.
Many culprits have been named till now… while Manmohan Singh holds global increase in the commodity, prices responsible for the domestic surge in the prices while BJP accuses Sharad Pawar as being the sole malefactor.
Closely examining the food inflation, the picture doesn’t seems a simplistic one… bad recessionary times intersecting with the neglect of the agricultural sector at the home has led to the unprecedented rise in the price of the basic food items across the length and breadth of the country.
With an average growth rate of about 2% per annum, the agricultural sector has been gasping for real time reforms. Major issues continue to hog the sector persistently. Low per hectare yield, poor irrigational facilities, dependence on the erratic monsoon, lack of credit facilities are some of the issues that farmers have been facing since decades! It wasn’t a surprise that the monsoon was the spoiler this year…. lack of rain, power crisis and heat waves damaged the sown seeds but also delayed the cultivation cycle, resulting in huge loss of the output. This was the point when the food prices started rising. The rise was not on account of any shortage but more on account of probable shortage
Secondly the poor shortage facilities resulted in loses of 58,000 crores worth of agricultural food items due to lack of post harvesting infrastructure. If the Government had ensured timely storage facility, food inventory would have been more then sufficient leading to prices remaining under control. Next factor that led to the spurt was the government going soft on the hoarders and speculators.
On the global arena economic recovery from recession in major advanced economies and improved growth prospects in major agricultural products have been major drivers of the recent increases in international commodity prices. The FAO (Food Price Index), a measure of the monthly changes in the international prices of a food basket composed of cereals, oilseeds, diary, meat and sugar has been increasing significantly since August 2009, led by all its components. The major driver of this increase has been sugar, as output of the two major sugar producing countries, i.e. India and Brazil has declined. Consequently sugar prices have shot up in India too.
All the above mentioned cases are the supply side constraints that have led to sky rocketing prices of the staple food items of an Indian family such as pulses, rice, sugar etc. Government has reacted by permitting import of raw and white sugar, edible oil and pulses by public and private sector as well. Centre has taken steps in empowering states to punish hoarders. The area that can be consolidated further is the public distribution system
Pranab Mukherjee, Union Finance Minister said “RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has already done the demand-side management by raising the CRR (cash reserve ratio). It will suck out Rs.40,000 crores money from the banking system. This will ease liquidity pressure on the system,” 
Added to the proactive measures by the Government institutions, one can also count on nature as Rabi crops prospects seem encouraging; the post monsoon rains have been good. Along with the short term initiatives, there has to be long term vision in dealing with a crisis of such grave nature. Inflation as an economic phenomenon is cyclical in nature, but how much of it can be allowed a free play is a crucial question. Had the agricultural sector been better off to absorb shock, the intensity of the food inflation would have been moderate.
The bottom line is that agriculture has to be revived, revamped and reformed through a visionary plan in our country! The double digit growth that the PM claims in the next few years cannot be at achieved by riding on the success story of the manufacturing and the service sector. The growth has to be holistic including all sectors of the economy.
To conclude I would like to quote George Washington who had once remarked, "I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture"

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let baigans be bygones!

“You cannot get up before tasting the baghara baigan, it is the south Indian speciality” quipped Ashish Uncle, neighbour of my aunt in Hyderabad. It was a weekend and I had been to my local guardian’s place when Ashish Uncle had invited us for his son’s birthday.
All my life I have detested the king of vegetable but since I have come to Hyderabad, it has been tough time ignoring brinjal! Whether it be the Sunday special at the hostel mess or a friend’s mom invitation for feeding us the ‘home made’ food or  lucky  ‘out of the blue’ invitation for  Ashish uncle’s kid’s birthday party or the news papers flooded with ‘BT Brinjal’... Brinjal seem omnipresent!
But I realize that brinjal in newspaper is certainly more intriguing than the brinjal on a platter… because it’s just not about the king himself but plethora of things attached to it. Bt brinjal has triggered issues such as livelihood of the farmers, sustainability of agriculture, burgeoning profits for the corporate houses, credibility of the scientific research, faith in government’s decision and a range of issues like this!
BT brinjal, a genetically modified strain created by India's number one seeds company Mahyco in collaboration with American multinational Monsanto, claims to improve yields and help the agriculture sector. This claim has been contentious and has let to a stir in the country, jolting everyone from the netas to the aam admi. 
The company products have the dubious distinction of proving destructive on the fields and adversely affecting the lands and the crop yields worldwide. Various international groups such as the Organic Consumer Association, Greenpeace have carried campaigns such as “Millions against Monsanto”. It is a clique that the poor farmers have been coaxed by the governments and the Monsanto to pay them and get their fields contaminated by genetically modified organisms.

Presently the big multinational corporations (MNCs) control the seed and chemical supply, and it’s a huge market. Monsanto, one of the top MNCs claims to apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.  In reality the companies have pushed the farmers into a vicious cycle, where to grow the GM seeds, the farmers have to spend on chemical fertilisers and then to sustain the seed one has to depend on pesticides. Consequently the farmer is caught in a debt trap as all these wares come at a price and the worst of crisis occurs when the yields are shockingly low! Thus more  borrowing to harvest the new GM seeds!

The MNCs have been showing keen interest in the agricultural sector of the country due to various reasons. India being the habitat of the world’s second largest population, food security is a major concern.  Per hectare yield of the farms in India has been drastically low in comparison with other countries; hence increasing the output of the farms is one of the priorities of the sector. MNCs ensuring abnormal outputs see India as a major market for the genetically modified seeds.
In 1995, Monsanto teamed up with the Indian Mahyco to import Bt cotton seeds. The GM seeds were crossed with local varieties to ensure that they could adapt to local conditions. Much of India's GM debates stems from this point - In India’s agricultural history the first GM crop to be commercially grown in the farm lands was the Bt Cotton. Let alone an increased yield of cotton, it rather led to series of farmer suicides in the states where the GM seeds was promoted aggressively by the state governments.
There is now a stand-off between supporters of the technology and activists  who accuse the government and industry of a lack of transparency, which they say has prevented a serious, inclusive scientific debate on the issue. The decision of allowing the GM seeds was a top down diktat that was enforced on the vulnerable farmers.
"With no transparency over GM crops in India, no one, farmers or the state agriculture department, is told anything properly," says Suman Sahai, convenor of the Delhi-based nongovernmental organisation Gene Campaign. 
After the fatal consequence of the Bt cotton, the next GM crops that awaits to cause  destruction is the Bt Brinjal .However, the debate over the safety of Bt brinjal continues with mixed views from scientists working for the government, farmers and environment activists. There have been various versions of the research that had flooded the debate on the Bt brinjal.
The research conducted by the MNCs  which they use to persuade the governments is usually the research  funded by the companies themselves and then presented to the regulators for clearance. It is not surprising then that there is an enormous lack of credibility.  Activists allege that the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has shown a bias towards   Monsanto. Ideally the research must have been publicly funded and openly scrutinized.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, noted environmentalist and activist says that “Safety tests conducted on Bt brinjal were a big fraud. The tests have not checked the effects of transgenic Bt which include genes for antibiotic resistance and genes for viral promoters. The tests have been done on safe microbial Bt, which has been used as an organic pesticide for decades. Hence the results merely show the safety of the organic spray.”
There has been a wide spread protest in the country including methods like the ‘brinjal satyagraha’ a nationwide fasting campaign against the commercialisation of the Bt brinjal in India, signature campaign where about 1, 70, 000 people have signed the document stating “I am No Lab Rat”. 
Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister of environment came up with the device of public consultations on October 15, 2009, just a day after the regulator in his ministry, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), had given its go-ahead to the commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. The series of consultation meetings chaired by him have turned out to be dramatic, given the manner in which pro and anti-GM lobbies sought to demonstrate their strength.
States cutting across regional and political lines: Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal and Bihar have come out against Bt brinjal. While some asked for a moratorium pending further testing of the bio-safety of Bt brinjal, others rejected the very idea of letting toxic genes be inserted into food crops. Consequently Jairam Ramesh, the Union minister for environment and forests, has agreed to put Bt brinjal in the cold storage for a while.
The question is not only about allowing a new technology of genetic modification here; it is about its use in a daily-use vegetable, cooked in our homes, a vegetable that can easily be grown in the backyard. India is the home of brinjal, where it has been cultivated for four thousand of years without the help of fertilizers; hence do we really need a Bt bringal? Will it help the farmers to improve their income or will it lead to surge in the  number of suicides?   Or will it just help the MNCs to fill their kitty? There are numerous such questions that need to be debated and discussed constantly!
To add to that list, one more question …. Will the Bt bhagara baigan will taste as delicious…. Well I would leave the question to the south indian food experts to answer!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Copy cats going crazy!

Debacle in the 2009 lok sabha elections, the resurrection of the Jinnah’s jinn leading to the ouster of the loyalist Jaswant Singh, tussle within the organisation on the issue of leadership and the occasional bashing up by the  daddy ‘RSS’ on the question of 'The Right Ideology'….. Bharatiya Janta party is in a mess!
The only ‘hope’ that the BJP’s battered kundali shows is its brand new party president Nitin Gadkari, A man supposed to be on a mission to revive the party. An uphill task as the BJP is going through a challenging phase. BJP realises that the conservative right winged ideology will not reap seats in elections unless they get lucky with events such as Babri Masjid Demolition or Godhra. And talking about events of this nature...they seldom occur naturally, they have to be staged, manipulated and a party needs shrewd strategist to milk it incessantly!
Whenever the party leaders try to fiddle with the ideology, the RSS pulls it strings from the other end. In an era of coalition politics, BJP had to mould its ‘ideals’ in a way in which it goes in tandem with other fringe parties ‘elastic ideology’. Congress has been trying hard to lure the progressive Nitish Kumar’s party into its fold… even the Biju Janta Dal which was seen as a faithful alliance once, ditched it at the peak of election…these are indicators that BJP has to buck up.
Strangely the few initiatives that BJP has taken in this direction are the carbon copy of the Congress's mantras. The first one is initiation of a drive to induct youth in the party and the second one is the most exploited word of the year ‘The austerity drive’.
There is a huge crisis in terms of fresh faces in the right wing camp… all they have in the name of young leaders are the poster boys… Varun Gandhi, Navjot Singh Sidhu. It is high time for BJP to interrupt the tune of the pied piper Rahul Gandhi, who has been attracting the potential young blood in the congress tribe. the question is who will do the job for BJP? 
Talking about the so called 'Austerity drive' that the part has adopted in its National Conclave being held at Indore… the drive has led to setting up air conditioned tents consisting of sofas, double beds, dressing tables, personal computers and solar panels for the not so hi-fi leaders of party. The ‘Austere’ leaders have abstained from staying in the five star dwellings for the greater good of the nation and thinking that staying in the ‘humble’ tents would impress the people.
I am sceptical of how far this ‘beggary’ will click with the populace… but ‘Back to Basics’ is not a bad idea in itself. The point is that the route should be an original one!

Sunday, February 7, 2010


This post is a slightly different one.. not the regular rabble rousing on the political state of the country, instead  a short story and the first one I have tried to write... may not turn out to be an exciting piece, but all I can say is  that It was an honest attempt to try out a different genre of writing.

It was one of those days, when I was bogged down by the monotony of the news. I have this curious fetish for news; hence I can invest hours on browsing through e papers of ‘reputed’ and ‘not so reputed’ newspapers… Sadly nothing seemed interesting enough to keep my frantic mind engaged. After few hours of hopeless mining, I gave up…Now more than a break, I needed to breathe! Hence I decided to stroll in the campus.
I approached my friends and two of ‘The’ generous souls on earth agreed to come along!
 I choose the road not taken (pun intended) … a trek through a jungle that ambushes near the new S.N.School building. My friends nodded their heads in approval.
As we walked, we got enmeshed in the darkness. The night wasn’t at its pleasant best instead it was baffling. We walked along the narrow path, trying to find out the way to the Gacchibowli stadium road… Meanwhile the trees appeared ghostly, they seemed angry as we had intruded its territory at a time when it was in no mood to entertain guests.
As we were drawing close to the stadium, the woods became more dense and intriguing. I had the guts to advance further only because I was familiar with the place, I knew it was the last leg and the most difficult part of the journey… and we were close, very close indeed.
We made it!
And I breathed…. the freshness of night.
Strangely the bonhomie with nature didn’t last long…couple of minutes passed and I felt the same.    I started observing objects nearby, and I quipped … “there lies the mushroom rock”. My friend hushed … “chalein kya?” I don’t know whether he read my intentions or he was in a mood to gallivant through the bushes, Whatever may be the case, he spoke my mind and I was excited all over again! All we could see is the rock at a distance, none of us knew the way.
Round 2! We ventured into the uncharted territory. Broken paths were strewn all over the place, they crissed crossed and every path seemed equally promising as the other one. We tumbled on thorns and narrowly escaped thorny bushes… kept walking, the mushroom rock eluded us, but it couldn’t hide long from the determined spirits.
We reached the almighty mushroom rook, it looked majestic. The rock didn’t seem hostile as the trees; it looked amused at the untimely arrival of the strangers! It welcomed us wholeheartedly.
It was a grand structure, a towering one; there were numerous middle sized rocks which were perhaps envious of the mushroom rock, but there was a harmony, a peaceful coexistence … that one rarely finds in the world of men.
They stayed together… adding meaning and beauty to each others existence. So did we…. three of us were ecstatic, because we were together… like those rocks!
We started capturing moments… to be exact, my friend clicked to his hearts content. Truly speaking I love to be on the other side of the camera, arresting life into images! Strangely … I get irritated when camera stares at me… don’t know why. Some traits just remain unexplained!
But this time I wasn’t… I was equally keen to seize our joy in pics.
We hobnobbed for a while and then decided to climb on one of the adjacent rocks… my friend accomplished this feat effortlessly; he seemed a seasoned rock climber… I struggled hard…felt like a child, one who tries hard to get its steps right.
My friend gave me his hand and pulled me up, in seconds I was there.
We climbed up the rock… the view was a pure ecstasy, cold wind blew hard and  the city remained wrapped in the blanket of night and all we could see is the lights of stadium and the mighty mushroom rock beside.
And this time…. I did breath in the freshness of LIFE!
I sat quite for some time, until I heard
“ Swami… have you heard of ponzi scheme?”
It was a rude shock , until now we thought that the night, stars, cool breeze and mushroom rock were all ours! But the mention of ponzi scheme by a fellow specie made us realised that we were not alone.
We traced the source of ponzi scheme to a adjacent rock, which lay couple of meters away.
There were two guys who were lying on the rock… it was difficult to look through the darkness … I mumbled, “These gay couples ,they could have chosen a bush instead, there are plenty of them in the campus” my friend grinned, and before I could observe more and make further deductions…
The punditry ringed louder “Swami I will tell you about the ponzi scheme it is all about……” . I was beginning to get irritated and felt like shouting to the pundit…  Screw your ponzii!
My friends seemed unaffected… they seemed to absorb both … the breeze and the ponzi with ease! As the time passed… the pundit’s dose of gyan also increased. By now we all knew the name of the disciple (the other guy)  was Swami! Swami was quite or may be he was already asleep and if he was in his senses, he must be thinking exactly the same as me.
The pundit went on, his words were loaded with terms that I couldn’t relate to, All this while I was trying hard not to eavesdrop but the pundit’s voice was difficult to ignore.
 After some time he made the most humane remark of the night… “You must be hungry Swami, I have a chocolate brownie and a chocolate sponge cake in my bag!”. I turned my head and so did my friends! And swami turned alive… “Sandy, I love you”
One of my friends whispered, you were right “they are a gay couple”, we chuckled!
Our rock was no more silent… for some time we bitched about the profs, enlightened ourselves about the latest love affairs and sex scandals of our university and gossiped all possible page 3 stuffs on the campus.
We had almost forgotten our neighbours, until we heard someone jumping into the bush… it was the pundit… Sorry I forgot that pundit had an ultra modern name “Sandy”. Swami followed the suit. Perhaps they were leaving the places, we were happy to see them retreating.
Just when we were about to resume our meaningful conversation, my friend pointed toward them and said, why are they moving towards the jungle?
It was a good observation, meanwhile the other friend quipped, “I think we should also start moving, its 3.10 am”. I looked at the watch, it was late and we had to walk all the way back to our respective hostels, it would take another half an hour or so, hence by the time we reach it would be four in the morning.
We took our bags and started our journey towards land… 
Descending was relatively easy, a few steps hither tether and our feets touched the ground.
We started walking … again the numerous paths lay before us, each seemed to promise us the destination, we were bit sleepy by now and no one was in a mood to think hard… my friend walked infront , we followed him blindly…  we were assured that he would lead us from the darkness to the light , our saviour (referring to the light, we meant the light  emanating from the stadium!).
But it didn’t take him much time to shatter our high hopes! We were being misled and our leader was more confused than us… we were going towards the jungle and not toward the stadium.
He said lets go back and wait till dawn, I didn’t want to heed but had no other options…
None of us was sure of the way back to the stadium road, and we didn’t have the energy left to explore and rediscover the path. Hence we walked back to the mushroom rock as it was “THE” only visible thing in the dark night!
We were on our way back, and about to reach the spot when we heard some people walking. I was bit scared as it was around 3.30 and there was no soul around…  I knew there was a village near by but I wondered who would come to this place at midnight.
We walked briskly; the voice seemed more prominent now. We saw two men walking towards us.
They drew near and before we could think anything… one of them said “Do you guys belong to the university”
I instantly recognised the voice, it was the pundit… the pundit was wearing specs, he appeared like a bemused student who has been thrown of the school because of knowing much than the teacher… pundit was in formals, his white shirt was loosely tucked out and seemed crumpled. He wasn’t a student, or had he just come from an interview….naah not possible… in his hour long lecture there was no mention of any interview. He was a working guy perhaps…whatever!!
My friend replied quickly... “yes yes we are university students, and we seem to have lost the  way…”
Shit…I said in my mind! Why the hell on earth my friend had to mention our hapless state…and that too to this pundit! I felt like hitting my friend for opening his mouth wide. I stared at my friend, and he ignored it artistically.
Well the damage had been done… and I had no control over it.
The pundit softly said… “lets walk together, I am sure you wouldn’t prefer climbing on the rocks and stay there in such cold night”. That time I felt like shouting…I prefer rocks than walking with a business channel!
My friends nodded their heads and shook hands …. “sure,lets go together!”
No one seemed to bother about my approval… I was getting furious inside. I was in no mood to spend the rest of midnight walking with a private Quelch! (Private Quelch was a character I had read of in my school, private Quelch knew everything)
The pundit started walking, so did his disciple…sorry disciples (Three new admissions!). A fresh journey commenced. Pundit marched ahead… carefully examining the path, he would occasionally shout “thorns here… be careful” , though I was dead sleepy then… but I remember clearly that he must have warned us about thorns at least twenty times… such was the effect that now I had  turned paranoid about every plant..I would even suspect of basil plant to have thorns!
Surprisingly he didn’t talk, he looked intently at each rock ,every thorny plant hence examining path with great precision. He was a man on mission. Very soon indeed we found ourselves on a road… but not the stadium road!
I had serious doubts now, I spoke for the first time challenging the ‘leadership’ … I shouted “this cannot be the way… “, pundit replied softly “but isn’t it beautiful… I am sure we will reach the stadium road, there must be some way out”.
I was angered …retorted “to hell with your beautiful road”… he just ignored it but my friends hushed …chill , we know your are sleepy, but be patient.
I kept quite… drawing an  equation 4:1 ( all guys had ganged up )
I decided not to utter a word anymore, would boycott all conversations further! I kept mum and sauntered.
After a while, when I looked around ( and thank God I did) I realised that the road was indeed beautiful and naturally lighted. I discovered that the moonlight had eluded us all night because it was lying peacefully on this road! Finally the moon also became a fellow traveller…
Pundit was true .
The road lead to a helipad, the one I had heard of often but had never managed to see in the last one and a half year.
I was thrilled by the discovery more than anyone … I ran towards the helipad! Everyone was bit shocked as till now I had been silent (and grudgingly silent later) and suddenly I seemed the happiest person on earth.
I was delighted as I had never expected to land on a helipad.
Just when I was ‘happy’ about the state of affairs, a terrible thing happened. My friend took out his cam and said lets pose together for a pic !
He looked at me and grinned … irritated and annoyed to the core I grumbled some jargon that my friends are used to hearing from me.  Needless to say the jargon included some indecent words, that shouldn’t be uttered especially infront of the guys. I didn’t think at all then… my friends laughed, they seemed to have good fun. Swami seemed untouched… and pundit just smiled!
My friends pulled me and there I stood with mixed feeling (ashamed of the outburst and enraged). Pundit volunteered to click the pic, my friend uttered a cheesy line “ No, how can you, I want you to be in pic” .
So he fixed the timer, propped the camera on a small rock and grabbed pundits hand and ran towards us. There we stood and the camera flashed.
I noticed that the guys bonded well, apart from covering the journey, they covered a plethora of topics ranging from cars to beers, I think they also exchanged phone numbers and email ids…etc
The equation remained unchanged for the rest of the journey … 4:1.
More than anything I was feeling bit guilty on having behaved so  rudely in the helipad, I shouldn’t have lost my temper, the thought kept bouncing back and I tried to shun them by increasing the pace.
We had reached university and it was already 4.30 am, the guys seemed more relaxed … It was only me who was bit miserable. My friends tried to talk to me , but I dismissed them saying I am too sleepy to talk… I was awake…
As we reached the cycle stand, I grabbed my cycle and mumbled a very abrupt “bye everyone’ and cycled toward the hostel.
As soon as I reached hostel, I had fallen asleep.
Next day was a usual one; I had a class on ‘feature writing’ and my teacher explained about the skills one requires to write a good feature… creative, imaginative, keen observation ability blah blah… it was an exhaustive list . I concluded that, I need to write first… rest all will fall in place later.
So in the evening, I took out my lappy , switched it on and clicked on the icon microsoft word, with the intension to write something (the ‘something’ would be decided later). While I was about to begin, I thought I must check my gmail, twitter, facebook and orkut (The intension was that nothing must come between me and my writing spree for next couple of hours, hence decided to go through them first).
I opened my gmail account, five new mails… 2 of them facebook friend request, which I carefully ignored , 1 mail from the feature writing prof , the mail reiterated about the assignments deadlines, there was one mail from the, reminding me of the exciting offer that I would miss if I didn’t subscribe the magazine immediately and the last mail… from an unknown email address
The message read “Thankyou guys for the wonderful time" -      Sandy
What struck me is the last line “there are no traffic jams along the etra mile”
I smiled thinking that pundit never misses an opportunity to spread gyan.  Pundit was a nice chap, more sure than all of us and a humble guy who excused all my stupid tantrums. Maybe I was bit unfair to him … whatever!!
I just wondered how he knew the campus …
And there was a pic attached to the mail.
It was the helipad pic and no doubts for guessing…the equation was still the same 4:1…
four smiling faces and a frowning one….