Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Misgivings of a midway child

Having been born in the year of release of The Midnight's Children,I fall in the age cohort of midway children a term used to by Rama Bijapurkar in her book on the Indian consumer market titled 'We are like that only'.

Two decades have elapsed since Dr Manmohan Singh,the then finance minister,concluded his speech in the parliament quoting the words of Victor Hugo that "No force on earth could stop an idea whose time has come" signalling the country's integration into the free market economy. Much ice has melted from the Himalayan glaciers since then(much more than it did in the previous decade,thanks to Global warming) and flooded the north Indian rivers.

As the heretic movement born in the Mecca of free market economy that pledges to occupy the wall street gathers followers and spreads to all the nations that share the same religious credentials, let us review the trends in the society after our nation did convert to this creed.Some of them are the direct offshoots of the economic policy, others though not related to economic policy are the trends in the society that do not augur well for a nation that generates lot of hope.

The two Indias:That the country is increasingly being divided into(in addition to the usual billion divisions) Bharat( rural,extremely poor, poorer than sub Saharan Africa,hungry,deprived) while India is shining,growing with 8% growth rates,reaping the dividends of the reforms growing increasingly confident,harbouring desires of becoming a super power is an established cliché now.With glaring inequalities in economic distribution the genie of reforms unleashed two decades ago,that miraculously brought about astonishing growth rates for an economy accustomed to the hindu rate of growth,has failed to reduce the Gini coefficient*.

The immediate interests of the two Indias are never more divergent than when it comes to procuring the agricultural land for various development needs that a growing nation requires. Archaic land acquisition laws of the colonial era often results in popular upsurge that the opportunistic politicians never miss to exploit.

Maoist insurgency:From Tirupati in Andhra pradesh to Pashupati(nath) in Nepal* along the ancient Dandakaranya a red curtain has descended across the subcontinent.Prime minister himself acknowledged that " in many ways, left-wing extremism poses perhaps the gravest internal security threat our country faces." discrimination of the indigenous people in the forested districts by the state machinery helped the cause of maoists who often receive the support of the local people.

Insensitive media: Media, owned and controlled by the rich that forced upon the people with renewed enthusiasm.The rural India is in a state of distress more than the media wants to us realize.It required a supreme court judge to remind us that 512 journalists were invited to cover a fashion show, when a mere 2 journalists reported the Vidharbha suicides.*

Increase in the female foeticide among the educated:Though the availability of cheap technology for the determination of sex and the insecurity of raising a female child may be the reasons,the growing demand for dowry in an increasingly consumerist society can not be ignored.

May be it is too early to draw conclusions, when the country finally looks poised,but a doubt arises whether capitalism based on the faith on individual's greed (aided by the increasingly affluent middle class) help the nation pull the bottom millions out of abject poverty.

Can India exploit the once-in-an-eon opportunity before its current generation in the form of demographic dividend to its advantage to grow into an economic power without much income disparities,ensuring food security to its teeming billions and without negatively impacting the ecology of the planet.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Requirement Analysis for Democracy 2.0

Let us for a moment assume Niall Ferguson's argument to be true that democracy is also one of the Six killer apps downloaded by us orientals (Civilization the west and the rest)from the western civilization as if it is a western idea unheard of anywhere in the east of Suez.(Do not jump on your feet to argue that there are democratic states before the birth of The Mauryan empire or clear your throat to the explain the existence of the village democracies of The Chola age)
Even if we go by Ferguson's logic we have customized this particular Democracy app that was downloaded 64 years ago,to suit the complex needs of our complex nation.

We have started as a multi party democracy with universal adult franchise ( where as the western democracies had taken ages to allow theit fairer sex suffer the travails of the suffrage)and after the demise of the age of a single party rule entered successfully into the era coalition governments.corruption seeped in,at first as an exception then as a rule and manifested itself as the only grease that runs the gigantic,rusted wheels of the government machinery.
During these 64 years for a brief 22 months period, this App was put in disuse by a paranoid but a popular system admin citing some intrusion by foreign hackers and security reasons(but never found in the logs and traces) and installed another app called Emergency.Though this was certified by the then CEO,this app itself was a virus that contained many a trojan horses to trap the political opponents and to obtain personal gains for the administrator.Though the old app was brought back eventually,the infrastructure was corrupted beyond repair while hosting the 'Emergency', that observers could perceive a considerable decrease in the performance after the relaunch.Religious chauvinism and sectarian differences at times prove a menace to running this application.
Some twenty years ago,the application for the financial management changed from Fabian socialism to Market based economy,out of compulsion. While the this helped cut the red tape and delays in some key industries and fostered growth in general,Some neo-liberal updates of the later times also facilitated in large scale pillages by unscrupulous politician turned unscrupulous businessmen.

Politicians found the incentive in keeping the status quo, maintaining the vote banks, reviving the divisions in the society. Majority of the middle class prided itself in its ability to keep away from the process and in the vociferousness of its criticism of the politics and its practitioners.The masses, intelligent though illiterate participated and(often auctioning their democratic decision making powers to the highest bidder) some how provided the fuel for the functioning of the engines of democracy.All the while allowing corruption to gnaw at the vitals of the society.

Can Democracy 2.0 allow the for feedback from the popular judgement influence the law making.May be a Gandhian with a long history of social work and unimpeachable integrity could awaken the usually somnolent middle class of the country to support the cause.
Is this the subversion of democracy by a bunch of self styled unelected,unelectable individuals?
Or is it asserting that the means to find a solution to a critical problem that reached unusual proportions can also be equally unusual?.
Or this is the course correction that is long due for a process that has been subverted by vested interests that are too reluctant to change the system, which is faulty by design.
Can sartorial patriotism by sporting a Gandhi cap and waving the national flag and lighting a candle amount popular dissent?
Can twitter feeds and Facebook likes and other paraphernalia of Web 2.0 coupled with media created hype effect a change in design of the new version of the Democracy App.?

What explains the fact that this protest could force the largest number of ordinary citizens to come out on to the streets for an apolitical,secular cause in the history of independent India.

This surely is another test for the effectiveness of the greatest social experiment that is being conducted successfully for the past 64 years in the crucible of human society, i.e, to keep together (almost) one fifth of the planet's population of incalculable differences under the flag of a popularly elected government.
May be user base increased multiple times since release of the first version, and this is the new method of accessing the App that appeals to the newer generation that is increasingly interested to use and experiment with this app for maximum benefits.
Let us hope this feature to tap the popular feedback(though not expressed through the traditional channel that is opened every five years) to make structural changes into the system proves to be the reason for the better performance of Democracy 2.0.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

On a Great Indian Novel

This is on the book,"The Great Indian Novel" by Dr Shashi Tharoor. There are many adaptations and re-tellings of our twin epics.The Ramayana that commands more knowledge of Indian geography than The Mahabharatha has various varieties and flavours with variations in the story line and is widely known through out south east asia.It is also probably retold in many Indian languages than is the case with the latter.The Mahabharatha,the longest of the two is not as much globalised(asianized to be more precise) as its epic cousin.

In this book the plot is the story of Indian history roughly from the begining of the 20th century till the time India Gandhi declares emergency in 1977 and losts the subsequent general elections.The story is narrated with the characters of the Mahabharata,the deftness and creativity of the auther shines in choosing the appropriate characters from the Great epic and mapping them with the historical personalities who shaped India during freedom struggle and the aftermath.During the course of the book both the stories proceed parellerly without compromising on the originality and chrnological order of either of them.It is a wonderful experience reading the story as it is narrated, picking up the parellers,disentangling the pun,unmasking the historical personality out of the character enacting the familiar scenes of the national story but donning epic robes.

In a country where the dividing line between mythology and history is very thin and where very often the former is misunderstood to be the latter,the latter metamorphoses into the former as it gets older,an attempt to narrate the former in the light of the latter is an interesting experiment.
But the idea to narrate the history in the light of The Mahabharatha itself has a long history.Attempts to compare the political situation of the the existing times with the story of this epic is not new.Probably Indian writers never missed any chance to tweak and retell it when ever possible, to suit the social milieu of their times.

The work of the Kannada poet Pampa vikramarjuna vijaya,an adaptation of this epic, is narrated with Arjuna(who also serves as a metaphor for the king with the same name who patronized this poet) being the centre of the story whom he consecrated on the throne after the great war instead of Yudhishtira.A millenium ago in the present day Andhra Pradesh the story of a ruling family where the feud among the cousins that runs for two generations curiosly takes the same shape and the substance of The Mahabharata.This story is famous till today,the main reason for its immortality being its similarity with the great epic.Balladeers sang the paeans of its heroes,Poet Srinadha chiselled it in immortal ink in his work Palanati Veera Charitra.In Hindi,Ramdhari Singh Dinakar's 'Kurukshetra' is written keeping in mind the destructive memories of the second world war.

Returning to our current story,It has 18 chapters same as in the original.It begins with the birth of Ved Vyasa,(the writer of original Mahabharata) in British India and later becomes associated with the royal family of Hastinapur,a princely state in north India.The main hero of this story Gangaji, is Bhishma of The Mahabharata, who is a euphemism for Mahatma Gandhi himself.This role is properly narrated as the comparison is deftly carved out.Dhritarashtra is Nehru, Pandu is Subhash Bose,Drona is Jayaprakash Narayana etc.

If you are interested to untangle the skeins of the comparisons yourself,read it without any aid and enjoy the happiness as when the character is identified,but if you want to test your findings and to find out more about the significance of the nomenclature of each of the eighteen chapters, go through the wikipedia entry on this book. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Indian_Novel

Surely Patel is more than the Vidura of TGIN. His role is abridged in both size and stature.Vidura appears more like the secratary to Patel's minstry
V.P Menon.The Actual heroes of the story,the Pandavas are represented as the personifications of the institutions of democratic India such as the judiciary,the armed forces,the press,the buerocracy and the diplomacy.Draupadi,personification of the Indian Constitution marries the five Pandavas. Except for very few characters, there is no direct mapping from the epic characters to their twentieth century counter parts.Some times one character at times represents a real person and at times becomes personification of an institution.Like that of Yudhistir, it represents Morarji Desai in personand at times figuratively stands as an epitome of the judiciary, righteouness, rule of law etc.

This version of the story where Pandu lives longer and plays a heroic role (worthy of his counter part Subhash Chandra Bose)than dying a premature death as in the beginning (of the of the original story),where Karna(Mohammad Ali Jinnah) and the Kauravas (The Congress party) take opposite sides,where the earlier generations play a significant role, which their less illustrious successors struggle to emulate is a feast for the mind.

Read this book to understand the mind and methods of Gangaji.As Ved Vyas explains to Ganapati during the Great Mango March that 'they were not led by a saint with his head in the clouds,but by a master tactician with his feet on the ground'.Roles of Mohammed Ali Karna and Jayaprakash Drona illustrate the important roles they played in the history.

But some important characters are conspicuous by their absence,Like Ambedkar.
some stories are unnecessarily added only to keep the connection with the original alive, as the story of Bhim killing a bully and marrying his sister.Some important incidents like Yakshaprashnas and Bhishma's discussion with Yudhishtira on Dharma on the former's death bed of the epic were completely ignored where there is much room for creativity.Towards the end in the last chapter the reasoning that explains Pandava's falling one after the other in their great ascent and Duryodhani's royal luxuries in the court of history are examples of imagination of the highest order.

peppered through out the book are the pithy aphorisms that Tharoor is famous for,his stunning observations in over simplified yet scintillating similes smeared in alliterative phrases.
One interesting scheme employed by the author is that the narrator of the story Ved Vyas falls in to a dream whenever relating the story with the original looks impossible otherwise.
Not to be missed are his unrelated references to the things very much Indian like cricket,slowness of the judiciary,The Kamasutra and The Taj Mahal(India's best known mascots abroad during the ancient and medieval times respectively) the arresting originality of the caustic remarks showcase the naked reality that is often difficult to discern.

Never skip the poetic renditions where ever they are be it the story of the end of Pandu,or Vidur's saving the Pandavas from the house of lac.Especially significant is the narration of Gita to Arjun.When Priya Durodhani announces elections after lifting the emergency,Arjun vacillates whether to file his nomination for the opposition or to just wield his pen more effectively.Krishna induces him to fight the election.This conversation was in verse that pays' iambic tribute to the tetrameter'.

Though Tharoor gives a disclaimer on the name of this work 'The Great Indian Novel' on the lines of Voltairean appraisal of 'The Holy Roman Empire' and ascribes it to the literal meaning of term 'The Mahabharata',this is aptly named.It is undoubtedly Great,quintessentially Indian,although an allusive imitation of an epic,refreshingly Novel.