Posts Tagged ‘China’

Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore

4 February 2013

Why do more young people read stories titled “Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore“?

For the same reason that more young people are interested in knowing the pet name of Hrithik Roshan than in politics or policy. Which is, because “the stupidity and the villainy of human beings is overemphasised and the ignorance is underemphasised.”

Amarya Sen, the Nobel laureate, was in conversation with Sharmila Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore‘s descendant, at the Calcutta literary meet on Saturday.

He also said, among other things:

1. One-third of Indians don’t have an electricity connection. When the newspapers hollered last year that 600 million Indians were “plunged” into darkness, what they didn’t mention was that 200 million out of those 600 million never had any power. So they were not specifically “plunged” that night, they are plunged into darkness every night.

2.  India is the only country in the world that is trying to have a health transition on the basis of a private health care that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We have an out-of-pocket system, occasionally supplemented by government hospitals but the whole trend in the world has moved towards public health systems. Even the United States has come partly under the so-called Obama Care.

3. India is a country where there is more open defecation than any other country for which data exists. Forty-eight per cent of households in India do not have toilets. That’s larger than any other country. Chad comes slightly close but no other country. The percentage of homes without toilets is 1 per cent in China, it’s only 9 or 10 per cent even in Bangladesh.

4. There is so much to be learnt from China in terms of economic growth. But not in terms of democracy… China spends 2.7 per cent of its GDP on public health care — governmental expenditure. We spend 1.2 per cent. When Jamshedji Tata was setting up Jamshedpur, he felt it’s not only an industry, it’s a municipality. He felt I have to provide free education, free health care for everyone, not only my employees but anyone in the neighbourhood.

5. China wouldn’t be a country to learn about democracy from but Brazil could be, Mexico could be. Good efficient public services with cooperation of the unions is very important for any country and since 1989 Brazil has transformed itself with that. In the same period, India has risen in per capita income but its position in living standards has declined. In South Asia, we were the second best, after Sri Lanka, and now we are the second worst, only ahead of Pakistan. I think Bangladesh has overtaken India in most of these categories, except per capita income.

6. In the 2011 February budget, the government had put in a very modest import tax on gold and diamond imports. And there was such a lot of protest that they had to withdraw that. Because that’s an organised group; a group of underfed kids is not.

7. When people say that this (rape) happens in India, it doesn’t happen in Bharat, they completely overlook the fact that Dalit girls have been violated, molested and raped over the years and there still isn’t adequate protection against that.

By the way, Hrithik Roshan’s pet name, which used to be Duggu, is H-Ro.

Read the full story: The Telegraph, Calcutta

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India

How reformer Manmohan became a xenophobe

29 February 2012

Twenty years after he emerged in our lives as a practising politician, Manmohan Singh appears to be happily dismantling the very attributes that endeared him to the chattering classes—or allowing those around him to do so.

For one, as the 2G and CWG scams show, “Mr Clean” has wilfully turned his nose away from the stench of corruption asphyxiating his government, while blithely letting the attack dogs in his ministers to tear into independent institutions like the election commission and comptroller and auditor-general—and the media.

There is dark talk of the return of “estate tax” that is widely believed to have paved the way for the reforms that he unleashed in 1991, in this year’s budget. And now the original reformer who opened the nation’s doors to the world and taught us to trust “the other”, is talking of a “foreign hand” behind the protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power project.

The irony is too heavy to be lost: a government that is seen to have surrendered to the “foreign hand” behind the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, a government that is seen to be the chihuahua of global finance giants, is turning against a citizenry fearful of what reactors can do to their lives and livelihood, post Fukushima.

Behind all this is the dire message: Agree with me, agree with what we do.

Or else.

***

In the Indian Express, the commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes that the prime minister’s remarks show a diminishing space for dissent in our democracy.

“On the surface, Indian democracy has a cacophony of voices. But if you scratch the surface, dissent in India labours under an immense maze of threats and interdictions. What is disturbing about the prime minister’s remark is its construction of what dissent is about.

“The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously.

“Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

“This has serious consequences for dissent. Our actions and rhetoric are sounding increasingly like China’s. The state, when challenged, will often resort to all power at its disposal to pressure organisations and institutions. Make no mistake about it: seriously taking on the state is still an act of bravery in India….

“The prime minister unwittingly showed what a banana republic India can be. If a few crores here and there, given to NGOs which have no instruments of power other than their ability to mobilise, can bring this country to a standstill, then we are indeed in deep trouble.

“Banana republics are more paranoid about dissent than self-confident democracies.”

Illustration: courtesy Keshav/The Hindu

Read the full article: Do not disagree

CHURUMURI POLL: Too much democracy in India?

Is India moving towards becoming a dictatorship?

ARUNDHATI ROY:  A corporate Hindu state

‘India, not a rising power or an emerging power’

19 July 2011

Ramachandra Guha in a piece titled “India is too corrupt to become a superpower”, in the Financial Times, London:

“The Republic of India today faces challenges that are as much moral as social or political with the Mumbai blasts having only temporarily shifted off the front pages the corruption scandals that more recent dominated. These (scandals) have revealed that manner in which our politicians have abused the State’s power of eminent domain, its control of infrastructural contracts, and its monopoly of natural resources, to enrich themselves….

“This activity cuts across political parties—small and large, regional and national. It has tainted the media too, with influential editors now commonly lobbying pliant politicians to bend the law to favour particular corporations…. [The] current wave of corruption scandals will put at least a temporary halt to premature talk of India’s rise to superstardom.

“Such fancies are characteristic of editors in New Delhi and businessmen in Mumbai, who dream often of catching up with and even surpassing China.

“Yet the truth is that India is in no position to become a superpower. It is not a rising power, nor even an emerging power. It is merely a fascinating, complex, and perhaps unique experiment in nationhood and democracy, whose leaders need still to attend to the fault lines within, rather than presume to take on the world without.”

Agree? Disagree?

Photograph: courtesy Garima Jain/ Tehelka

Also read: India’s most secular religion has to be Corruption

‘Editors and senior journalists must declare assets’

Hopefully, the Chinese are watching this salute

26 January 2010

On the day the Indian republic turns 60, a screenshot of the homepage that no longer flickers as brightly as it used to on computers in China. After its belated outburst against Chinese censorship, is Arunachal Pradesh in India or China, or is it a disputed territory, for the folks at Mountain View?

***

Anne Applebaum on the patriotic Indian crowd, on Slate:

“Not nationalistic, not imperialist, not aggressive, but rather self-critical, focused on what is still wrong as well as what has gone right… No one remotely intimidated by being there, no one afraid to say anything aloud. It’s that sort of patriotism, so hard to find in China and Russia, that gives India its lively novelists, its open public culture, its energetic film industry. It’s that sort of patriotism that, if it can be encouraged and maintained, will keep Indian politics diverse and democratic over time—even if the economy stops growing.”

‘3 Idiots’? What about the other 100 cr, maamu?

8 January 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji was reading Vijaya Karnataka.

Suddenly, she flung the paper in disgust.

Her face, a seething crimson, resembled  a cross between Vidhu Vinod Chopra at the press meet over Mooru Mutthaaalaru aka 3 Idiots, and Kumara Sangakkara at the Ferozshah Kotla grounds after being hit above you know what by a round missile.

“What’s the matter? The New Year has just started. More or less everybody has resolved to be good and nice in 2010. You have already broken your resolution in 10 days!” I asked.

Yeno anyaya idu! The price of thogari bele (tur dal) is Rs 105 a kilo. ‘Super’ togari bele, the one without rubbish, is at Rs 109 a kilo. And nobody, just nobody, neither the ‘polticiansu’ nor the TV and paper peopleusu are raising hell over this. What is the matter with our country?” Ajji demanded to know.

She was as distraught as Angelo Mathews walking back to the pavilion after getting run out at 99.

Ajji! In spite of the recession all over the world, our economist-turned-prime minister is happy our GDP has grown at 7% in the year gone by. Next year he feels we will bounce back to our regular 9% growth rate. That is what our President Pratibha Patil also said sometime back.”

“Some years back, Vajpayee government almost got thrown out because they couldn’t control the price of onions. Earlier, whenever the price of rice or wheat went up, Mrinal Gore would descend on the streets of Bombay and bang the thali as a mark of protest. The admiring public called her ‘Thaliwali’ because she fought for them. What would our Rashtrapatiji know about the thogari bele or its price? She doesn’t buy these things and cook any more as she is busy flying Sukhois and cruising in Navy fleets.”

Ajji! She is showing what a woman of her age can do.”

“I salute her. But who is raising a voice against price rise? ‘Polticiansu’ are busy with Telangana fasts. Where is the BJP these days? I haven’t seen them for ages except when they fight among themselves which is promptly shown on TV. Are there Leftists left in our country any more or have they all fled to China? As far as TV is concerned, all of them without exception are busy with Ruchika’s molestation as if it happened yesterday! Sure, you must catch and punish the guilty, but that is not going to happen because you show it over and over again after 19 years! Allow courts to do their job.”

“The TV networks are just making sure the issue remains in the public eye.”

“I am all for catching and punishing the guilty kano. But tell me, who is going to protect us from chain-snatchers and terrorists etc?’ Ajji suddenly changed the topic.

“As if you don’t know that? It’s the police!”

“I too thought like that! But aren’t they busy attending New Year parties thrown by underworld netas!  Police are dancing to the tunes of bhai log! What is happening, Rama Rama? Beli-ne yeddu hola maithya-idiyallo!!”

Ajji! That  happened in Bombay. We don’t have to worry about it.”

“Why not? Wasn’t Bombay the place the terrorists bombed the hotels, shot people in the railway station and the pub just a year back? If the police are doing tango with the ‘bhais’ some of whom are friends with terrorists, what is our national security coming to? No wonder, nobody saw Headley come in and go all over the country, attend Bollywood parties while planning the Bombay siege. You know what that means..?”

Yenajji?”

Namma deshana Shivane kapadbeku antha ankondidde. Eega anisutthe, avangu swalpa  kashtaane!! Even God can’t save us at this rate.”

Is China India’s greatest security threat, or not?

4 December 2009

The relationship between India and China has in recent months become, as the cliche goes, the cynosure of all eyes. Border roads and dams; military incursions; a row over the Dalai Lama; illegal Chinese workers on Indian soil, Google™ maps, all have become milestones in the steady escalation of tensions.

The media has been at the centre of the dispute, and there is a feeling that “sections of the Indian media” (in other words, “anti-China media”) have been inclined to ratchet up the volume, ostensibly at the nod of their American, capitalist masters.

But could the opposite also be equally true? That “sections of the Indian media” (in other words, “pro-China media”) have been inclined to play down the tensions, ostensibly at the nod of their Chinese, communist masters?

Some proof comes from the manner in which the Lowy Institute for International Policy‘s survey of Chinese attitudes about their country and its place in the world is being reported.

# Exhibit A, above, is from the December 2 edition of The Indian Express, New Delhi, whose Delhi-based correspondent avers that 40 per cent of Chinese think India is their country’s biggest threat “after the United States”.

# Exhibit B, below, is from the December 4 edition of The Hindu, Madras, whose Beijing correspondent reports that environmental issues are perceived to be the biggest challenges facing their country. “60 per cent of Chinese did not view India as a threat…, only 34% viewed India as a threat an the rest were non-committal.”

For the record, prime minister Manmohan Singh said during his recent State visit to the United States that he could not understand the reasons for China’s recent “assertiveness”.

Turned on its head, is China India’s greatest threat? Or not?

Newspaper facsimiles: courtesy The Indian Express and The Hindu

Also read: Is India right in barring foreign media?

Censorship in the name of “national interest”?

Because your television can’t devote 23 minutes

19 September 2009

On Thursday night, Al Jazeera English devoted a full half-hour to a calm, clear and cogent discussion on why India and China are at loggerheads on “the longest disputed border in the world”, and what it means for the two countries especially in the context of India’s growing proximity to the United States.

‘Blood stains can’t be wiped out by getting rich’

5 June 2009

The collective memory of the Chinese of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 has been wiped clean on the ground that if the tanks hadn’t rolled in, China would have descended into social chaos and the Chinese economy wouldn’t have been opened up, transforming its destiny over the last 20 years.

Venkatesan Vembu, the east Asia correspondent of DNA, sees a parallel between China’s efforts “to move on” by harping on its economic strides, and Narendra Damodardas Modi‘s efforts “to move on” from the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 by using the plank of industrial development.

“Although the precise details of the Indian parallel are admittedly different, what it has in common with the Tiananmen case-study is an emerging mindset that believes that the bloodstains of history can be wiped away by “making people rich”….

“But the harder China’s Communist rulers try to erase the memory of Tiananmen, the more it becomes manifest that for all their claims that Chinese people have “moved on” from 1989 in their embrace of riches, China today continues to be haunted by the ghosts of that massacre.

“Likewise with Modi, the memory of 2002 cannot — and should not — be erased until some semblance of justice is seen to be done to the victims, and the perpetrators of the riots are punished. Only that will exorcise that persistent memory. In the absence of that, attempts to whitewash that tainted record count for nothing. Even all the riches of the world cannot remove the bloodstains of history.”

Read the full article: Modi and Tiananmen

Also read: ‘Gujarat was vibrant long before Narendra Modi

Why the US is right to deny Narendra Modi a visa

The Economist calls Narendra Modi ‘a disgrace’

The difference between India and China is this

5 June 2009

No media debate on Asia is complete without comparing India to China, or vice-versa. Even among middle-class media consumers, there is a barely disguised contempt for the slow pace of growth in democratic India, for all the “obstacles” in the path of progress and development, compared with the frenetic pace in The Middle Kingdom.

But is there a comparison to be made at all?

Is China really in India’s league, notwithstanding the growth rate, the forex reserves, etc?

On  top is a CNN video of its Beijing correspondent attempting to go to Tiananmen Square on 4 June 2009, the 20th anniversary of the massacre, before being engulfed by umbrella-weilding “undercover” police.

As the legendary Atlantic Monthly correspondent James Fallows, now based in Beijing, writes:

“This is the kind of thing that makes you hold your head and say: Rising major power in the world?”

And this, on top of a ban on Twitter and Facebook, and censorship of television stories which begin with “In China today…” or “Twenty years ago in Bei….”

Also read: James Fallows: The June 4 report

T.J.S. George in China: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI

‘The date of India’s debut as a great power’

25 May 2009

Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek:

“One can date precisely China’s debut as a great power. It was the evening of 8 August 2008—the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. We might look back a few years from now and date India’s coming-out party to 18 May 2009, the day its most recent election results were announced….

“Over the past two decades, India has been consumed by its internal divisions: of caste, ethnicity and religion. This has made it difficult for the government in New Delhi to mobilize national power to any purposeful end in global affairs. A decentralized and divided polity has punched well below its weight internationally. That’s bad for India and bad for the world. This could all change now. For the first time in three decades, a single party—the Indian National Congress— was given a clear and broad mandate.”

Read the full article: India’s giant coming-out party

The top-15 media stories (& viral videos) of ’08

6 January 2009

The strange thing about the so-called Global Village is that it has turned us all provincial. We relate to, are interested in, connect with, and remember news events with an insularity that would befuddle Marshall McLuhan. And in the process, we forget that stuff happens outside of the bubble we inhabit.

The Listening Post, the world-class media show on Al Jazeera English hosted by Richard Gizbert, has compiled the stories and personalities that dominated the global media in 2008, in association with Influence Communications, the Canadian media analysts who look at more than a billion TV items from 160 countries.

And the winner? The US presidential election which occupied a grand total of 6.5 million minutes of airtime around the world. On election November 8, and the day after, an average of 21 television news items per second were aired worldwide. The full list is as under:

1) US presidential elections

2) War in Iraq

3) Global economic meltdown

4) The Beijing Olympics

5) War in Afghanistan

6) Oil prices and climate change

7) Nicholas Sarkozy and Carlo Bruni

8) Tibet during the Olympic torch relay

9) Conflict over South Ossetia betwen Russia and Georgia

10) Pakistan after Benazir Bhutto and Pervez Musharraf

11) 60th anniversary of Israel’s creation

12) European football championships

13) Iran’s nuclear programme

14) Zimbabwe’s political and economic troubles

15) Earthquake in western China

Can India pull off an opening ceremony like this?

9 August 2008

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: Communist China at 1.3 billion people, has a fifth of humanity living within its borders. The Olympics in its capital Beijing that kicked off last night, at 8 minutes past 8 pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of the 8th year of the new millennium, is arguably the most important event in modern Chinese history.

The curtain raiser to this sports gala  had the world amazed and enthralled, but it also had in it an element, that to me, made it so meaningful.

No, I’m not talking of the eclectic yet elegant ’Bird’s Nest’ stadium or its amazing lighting, imagery or  pyrotechnics—all of which showcased eye for detail, diligence and mastery in executing to a plan.

What impressed me the most was the sheer number of people in its acts!

What better way to showcase the most populous nation in the world than to be proud of its numerical might? 15,000 artists enthralled the 91,000 strong packed stadia for 50+ minutes in choreographies that skillfully showcased ancient history and modern might alike.

The amazing mass of humanity choreographing with such precision, fluidity and control talked volumes of the Chinese determination in making a mark on the world; despite the bludgeoning populace. No matter what your disposition to the Chinese, this was their moment and they seized it.

The opening act with 2008 drummers in a  rhythmic drumming that included a countdown to the opening, amid changing lights was a great curtain raiser. The drummers made way to a group of school children who passed the flag to soldiers underlining China’s hope and strength. The unfurling of the Chinese flag and passionate singing of the national anthem, Hu Jintao included, exuded pride of a confident and prepared host.

The next acts paid tributes to ‘The Great Wall’, ‘The Huns’, ‘Buddhism’ among other things. Be it with the number that had people tucked beneath boxes to produce a piston effect or the one that paid tribute to China’s maritime with flowing sailboats and churning seas or the one with traipezing artists around an illuminated globe, it was a pageantry in grace and effortless flow.

Mind you, it involved thousands of people….

The ‘Parade of Nations’ followed and the 204 participating nations were welcomed with warmth by the gracious hosts. Given that 87 of the 204 countries have never won a medal and some like India get one or two, the opening ceremony was a crowning moment for quite a few people participating.

The parade ended to a thunderous entry of China with Yao Ming of NBA fame being the flag bearer. As if to juxtapose a stark contrast to the affluent 7 footer Yao, a 4-year-old earthquake survivor from the recent mishap marched alongside Yao, symbolizing unity and triumph of spirit.

Nothing could have conveyed China’s dichotomy better.

Over the next 17 days, the communist republic will play host to the biggest games ever. People can disapprove the force China used to get to this grand finale. People are furious—rightfully—at China’s blind eye toward human rights and free press.

People have criticized the Chinese handling of Tibetan protesters—and they richly deserve it. But, in the same vein, they do deserve credit, praise and congratulations for pulling this magnificent feat off. Few can deny the effort, preparations and commitment that went into making this such a spectacle of a pageantry that would put a first world nation to shame.

Well done neighbor! Could we dare dream of India playing host one day?

Photograph: courtesy Flickr, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, originally uploaded by k-ideas

‘The Chinese think India is a Buddhist country’

1 July 2008

China dominates the Indian discourse in ways seen and unseen. We are in awe of the speed and scale of its reforms. We wonder about the efficacy of its dictatorship and compare notes with the limitations of our democracy. But how does the aam admi there view us?

Pallavi Aiyar has been The Hindu‘s Beijing correspondent for four years now, and is out with a book Smoke and Mirrors (HarperCollins India). In an interview with Krishnakumar P. of rediff.com and India Abroad, she answers the all-important question, showing how little they know of us as we of them.

How does the comman man in China see India?

“There is far more interest here in India about China than the other way round. For the common man there, there are two very strong sources when it comes to India: religion and movies.

“They see India as this very spiritual place, just like the westerners, but in a different way. Since Buddhism originated here in india, they still see India as a predominantly Buddhist country. Most people were surprised to learn that I am a Hindu. They think the whole of India practises Buddhism.

“They also know a lot abot Indian movies, especially of the 1950s and then the late 1970s, after the Cultural Revolution…. The younger crowd has a lot of awareness about India, mostly due to the information and technology boom. Then, there are the policy circles where India is seen as a country with potential, but not a threat to China.”

Read The Hindu review here: China through a smoky lens

T.J.S. GEORGE: Why we can’t do a 40-km trip in 8 minutes

What you should if you catch a cold in China

Will corruption end if we hang the corrupt?

Is there a good reason why we are where we are?

21 June 2008

An Indian visitor, any Indian visitor, who steps outside the subcontinent and goes east or west is immediately struck by the value that is placed on the human life. The footpaths don’t suck you in. Motorised vehicles stop for you if you are crossing the street. Buildings have easy-access ramps for the handicapped. And the public toilets and rest areas are as clean as hospital ICUs.

An Indian or NRI returning home from east or west, on the other hand, is struck by how little our netas and babus have learnt from a million “study tours”. Trivial issues dominate the discourse: Road and rail blockades by the agitator-of-the-day. Blackening of English sign boards by language activists. Bans on books, films, paintings by the moral police.

Parks, playgrounds and other public property are in the ICUs.

In the sixth and final episode of his six-part series, “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George writes on how his heart sank to see China doing the same in Hong Kong to his beloved Star Ferry. And how it suddenly soared.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Hong Kong

For generations of imperial fortune hunters, Hong Kong was a corner of a foreign field that was for ever England. The funny thing is that, 10 years after the People’s Republic of China acquired full sovereignty over the erstwhile colony, Hong Kong still remains what the British made of it.

The Red Flag flies over government buildings, of course. But Macdonnell Road and Robinson Road still commemorate Messrs Macdonnell and Robinson whoever they were. There is no rail roko demanding their renaming. Hong Kong’s superb airport is known simply as Hong Kong International Airport. There is nothing like the cries that were heard for Chhatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj in Mumbai or are now being heard for Kempe Gowda in Banga… er, Bengaluru.

Although the yuan Renminbi is China’s official currency, the old Hong Kong dollar holds sway in this special territory. Indeed, the currency notes continue to be issued by that famous limb of colonialism, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, complete with the British lion (which is very different from the Chinese lion).

Across the waters in Macau, the Portuguese flavour is maintained undisturbed. The currency there is still the Pataka. Signboards are in Chinese and Portuguese. Street names remain as unpronounceable to the non-Portuguese tongue as before. The Rua Norte do Mercado de S. Domingos, for example.

It must be that when you are confident about your inner strength, you don’t waste your energy on superficialities. The Government of China is the supreme authority in Hong Kong and Macau. Once that is established beyond doubt, all energies can be directed towards one goal—continually improving the quality of life in these mega metropolises.

That is exactly what is happening. The iconic symbol of Hong Kong is the Star Ferry, the green boats that plough the harbour to and fro every few minutes. I was scandalised when I saw the old familiar Star Ferry pier on the island demolished.

Feeling betrayed, I walked about the area which had been turned into a major construction site.  Another commercial building, I thought, cursing real estate tycoons.

Then I noticed that posters had been pasted on the temporary walls enclosing the vast construction site.  They gave details of the work in progress.  The authorities were constructing there “The New Central Waterfront—An Arts and Entertainment Corridor.”

The large posters, carrying text and artist’s projection of proposed facilities, graphically told the passing citizen (or visitor) what was coming up on the corridor. “A waterfront of international standard as well as a harbour for the people, a harbour of life, will be developed here for an unrivalled passive recreational open space with spectacular views across the everchanging harbour.”

Make an allowance for the bureaucratic English and you learn that “the corridor will comprise a network of bridge and deck links. New small and large-scale cultural and recreational developments will be provided.”  And it was reassuringly mentioned that “the iconic Star Ferry terminal will be recreated.”

Look at the attitude of mind at government level.  They not only pull down an already developed area and rebuild it in ultramodern style to ensure enhanced “public enjoyment”; full details of the plans are placed before the people for them to know what’s going on.

(For comparison, look at the “improvements” in the arterial road to the new airport at Bangalore. The public never knew what the scheme was and how a stretch of road was being altered until the work actually neared completion.)

The difference between a developed country and a developing one is that public facilities are conceptualised and put in place for the convenience of the public. You notice that when you drive around in America, go to the theatre in London, take the underground in Paris, find your way in sprawling airports like Frankfurt.

By that yardstick, China is a developed country already.

Countries in East Asia have their problems, but they are making rapid progress in making life easy and comfortable for their citizens.

Their standards are conitnually rising. Are ours? At some point we need to ask about the meaning of big growth rates and big company acquisitions, and why, alongside the burgeoning mall life, slum life is also burgeoning.  Even Malaysia has abolished poverty.

In the end, why are we where we are?

Photograph: Star Ferry Pier in Kowloon, originally uploaded by GluehweinEffects/ Flickr.

Will corruption end if we hang the corrupt?

20 June 2008

Corruption is India’s most secular activity. Hindu or Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Jain, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, urban or rural, all of us practice it, lap around in it, in some form or the other. Either in giving or in taking, or in watching it helplessly.

Year after year, the “secular” republic slides up the totempole of sleaze, but stunningly no one is caught, no one has ever been punished. Worse, in poll after opinion poll, “We, the People” seem to indicate as if corruption does not matter in our mind’s eye.

Corruption is no better in China. But as “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George writes in the fifth of his six-part series, there seem to be two key differences. One, the administration sends strong signals when it wants to, when it suits it. And two, despite the corruption, China has something to show for it.

But does corruption not matter if it gets the work done?

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

Everyone knows there’s corruption in China. It’s serious and often widespread. The motivation is money rather than power. Modern China confirms yet again that when market economy rushes in through the door, corruption slips in through the window.

But, unlike India, China metes out punishment to several highprofile bribe-takers.

Occasionally it can be of the sensational, example-setting variety. The biggest example set in this new century was the execution last year of a top official, a food and drug controller. In return for bribes, he allowed eight drug companies to flood the market with substandard products. The international scandal about Chinese toothpaste proving harmful in foreign markets must have shamed the authorities into giving the drug controller the severest punishment.

Political leaders get caught too. A court case early this year involved a former chief of the Shanghai Communist Party who was senior enough and powerful enough to be a member of the Politburo as well. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail for bribery and abuse of power.

The recent earthquake in Sichuan showed that the tendency to make a fast buck is prevalent among ordinary citizens as well. Earthquake relief materials that poured in from all over the world were misappropriated on a large scale. Bottled water, instant noodles and sausages, even tents and sleeping bags, meant for distribution among the quake-hit, were found on sale in shops. Some “modernists” also used SMS to collect money in the name of quake relief and pocket it themselves.

Again, the authorities were quick to take action when the people in the affected areas rose in protest against racketeers. Fines of up to 10,000 yuan (more than Rs 60,000) were imposed on shops found with stolen goods. One shop was ordered closed.

Interestingly, the authorities urged both the people and the media to continue exposing wrongdoers. Sichuan’s civil affairs department chief said: “We hope the media can strengthen their supervision” so
that the Government can “investigate immediately and punish (the culprits) heavily.”

A more serious aspect of corruption unearthed by the quake may prove vexatious for the Government. Many of the schools that collapsed and caused large casualties belonged to the relatively poorer segments of the population. Schools attended by the richer kids stood erect. Clearly some buildings were put up by contractors in an irresponsible manner while some others strictly adhered to building rules.

This was further underlined when all 61 schools built by a Hong Kong-based charity organisation remained intact in one area when hundreds of other schools nearby completely collapsed. Again, the authorities immediately understood that the stricter construction codes of Hong Kong made a difference to their schools while shoddy construction in other cases led to tragedy. Obviously there is a contractor-official collusion in many parts of China that can no longer be denied.

However, it will be wrong to look at corruption in China without looking at the progress of China. Appropriately enough, it was an Indian who brought this to my attention.

A professional banker who has been living in Hong Kong for more than 40 years put it succinctly when he said that corruption had not prevented China from notching up some of the greatest economic achievements of modern times.

From the biggest airport in Asia (Pudong) to the longest sea bridge in the world (36 kilometres), from the most daring architectural wonders to an astonishing system of crisscrossing flyovers—the way urban China has developed must be some kind of a historical record.

“If a country can achieve so much in so short a time, I won’t crib about corruption,” my banker friend said.

Infographic: courtesy Transparency International via The Economist

Also read: Why has corruption become such a small issue?

Is corruption in India really coming down?

Tomorrow: Lessons from Hong Kong and Macau

What you should do if you catch a cold in China

19 June 2008

The world talks of India and China in the same breath. Yet, no two neighbours could be more different than “Chindia”.

While we are weighed down by seemingly intractable socio-economic problems like poverty, ill-health and inequity in the era of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, China seems to have sidestepped them despite its communism, or because of it.

In the fourth of his six-part series, “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George writes of how a sore throat that afflicted him during his recent trip to the Middle Kingdom brought home a vital lesson difference between “us” and “them”.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

You don’t see poverty in the urban belt of eastern China.

There is an occasional beggar, blind or otherwise handicapped, who may extend his hand for alms. One or two impoverished men may also be spotted looking into garbage bins for half-eaten food items. But you don’t see slums and ill-clad children and starving women.

Extreme poverty and overwhelming filth of the kind that hit you again and again in Indian cities seem to have been abolished in urban China. This is a big leap forward from the massive poverty of the imperialist era and the famine days of Mao Zedong‘s experiments with permanent revolution.

Not surprisingly anyone who can speak English would rather talk about Deng Hsiaoping than Mao Zedong.

Anna, for example. She was born in post-Mao China and is today a manager in a serviced apartments company.

When I asked about living conditions in China, she asked me whether I had heard of Deng.

I said yes but what about Mao’s days?

Her response sounded typical of modern Chinese youth. She said: “My parents and grandparents had a hard time during Mao’s days. But he was a great leader. He made China free. Deng Hsiaoping made China happy.”

I said thousands in the big cities must be unhappy because their houses had been demolished to make way for modern buildings. Anna’s family was one of those who were affected. But they were not complaining, she said. “We are a family of poor farmers. Our land was taken away to help developers build highrise residential blocks. But we were given good prices and new houses. Most people who were displaced got a good deal. Some complained but they had to agree when all others agreed.”

An electrician who works for Anna’s company lost his job when his factory was demolished to make way for a park. He was without a job for a few months until he got his present job which gets him a little over 3,000 yuan a month (approximately Rs 20,000). That’s about the earnings of a taxi driver and of other ordinary workers.

For college graduates at the entry level, the starting salary is also about 3,000 yuan though skilled graduates from some outstanding universities may start at double that salary. You need about 5,000 yuan to live quite comfortably in the cities, so a supplementary income is welcome in most ordinary families.

It’s a very different story at the top. Leading financial companies have been doubling and trebling the salaries of their boss officers. Many big executives in the big private companies earn more than 25 million yuan a year after taxes. (More than Rs 15 crore.)

That explains why shining Rolls Royce cars are on display in automobile showrooms. Flats in Shanghai’s highrise residences were selling last month at 15,000 yuan per square metre (about Rs 1 lakh). Luxury villas sold at 25,000 yuan per square metre. The world’s most expensive jewellery names like Cartier do good business in China. This must be what Deng Hsiaoping meant when he talked about socialism with a Chinese face.

The booming economy means also a galloping population of expatriates. But unlike in India, there is a marked differentiation between locals and foreigners in China. The visible example of this is in housing: there are some buildings and some areas that are exclusively for foreigners.

A less visible but more interesting example of the divide between locals and foreigners catches our attention if we go in search of medical assistance. Urban China is notorious for bronchial illnesses like cold and flu and breathing difficulties. If you are a foreigner and develop a soar throat, you better know where to go and what to do.

A local friend took me to a big hospital in Shanghai. At the gate, the watchman told us that the locals’ wing was on the right and the foreigners’ wing on the left.

We decided to go to the locals’ wing.

The verandahs were full of patients lying on stretchers and cots with tubes and bottles attached to them. But the service turned out to be prompt. The local friend got me registered (10 yuan), a young doctor examined me (no charge, waiting time only 5 minutes), a routine blood test was done (50 yuan, completed in 20 minutes on the spot) and a prescription made out for vitamins and parasetamol (50 yuan). Very efficient and economical procedures, I thought.

Very different was the story when my host had the same sore throat complaint attended to.

He works for a foreign company which has an insurance tieup with what are known as expatriate hospitals in China. He went to one of these hospitals. He too got himself registered, a Chinese doctor examined him, called for a routine blood test and chest x-ray, then prescribed the same vitamins and paracetamol. He then got a neatly printed bill. The blood test and x-ray cost 990 yuan and there was an additional doctor’s charge of 1,000 yuan. Plus the cost of the medicines. That is, 2000 yuan (15,000 rupees) against my 72 yuan (about 500 rupees).

He could have gone to the same locals’ wing of the hospital that treated me. But his company has this insurance arrangement, so what does he do? Who is taking whom for a ride? Whether it is food or medical services, you are better off in China if you have a local friend to guide you.

Photograph: courtesy kanzhangguao.com

Tomorrow: Why China’s corruption is different from India’s

There is a new garden city, and it isn’t Bangalore

18 June 2008

First impression is the best impression, goes the old jungle saying. And China, with its pitiable reputation for the environment, is making ultra-sure that television audiences and spectators don’t get any other impression but the very best in the manner in which they are pulling out all stops for the Beijing Olympics.

In this, the third of a six-part series, “Our Man in China” T.J.S. George describes the green revolution that took place on red soil when he stepped out of his hotel room for a few hours one day, last month.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Beijing

In this bestirred capital city, the Olympics began long ago.

The official approach to it has also brought out one commonality between China and India—faith in numerology and vaastu, in what is auspicious and what is not.

The most auspicious of all numbers in the Chinese tradition is 8. Therefore the opening ceremony will start precisely at 8 seconds past 8.08 pm on the 8th day of the 8th month of 2008.

Actually the manner and scale in which the Olympics is being organised say a great deal about the national character of the Chinese people—their pride in China, their vision for the future, their planning genius, their organising capabilities, their aesthetic excellence, above all, their intense desire to be liked and
appreciated by the rest of the world.

All nations hosting the Olympics use it as an occasion to display national glory. China has followed the tradition by putting up some futuristic buildings as the main venues for the Games. The central stadium is already a topic of discussion around the world as the “bird’s nest” (in picture). The swimming events will be held in a structure that looks like it is made of water.

For the Chinese, though, all of Beijing is an Olympics venue.

That is the kind of attention they are paying to every nook and corner of the place and to every nearby attraction, from the Ming Tombs to the Great Wall. And they are doing it with a speed that is astonishing.

I stayed in a hotel close to the Bird’s Nest. A large area nextdoor was being levelled by excavators, apparently for landscaping. One morning when I left the hotel, a “JCB” was digging some holes. In the evening when I returned, the whole area had become a beautifully laid-out garden with fully grown trees and large flowerbeds. The flowers, big hydrangias and azalias and petunias in bright reds, yellows and violets, were swinging in the wind.

All over Beijing instant forests and gardens are coming up. Big trees, their trunks wrapped in gunny bags or tightly wound ropes, are transplanted from faraway places. Roadside landscaping and medians are living works of art, miles of roses and chrysanthemums beckoning you as you drive past.

They don’t call Beijing a Garden City. But it is.

The greening of Beijing is part of the environmental policy adopted as part of the Olympics commitment. In all 28 million trees have been planted in the city. All Olympics buildings are lighted by solar power. All factories in the city centre have been closed and inhabitants of three lakh odd houses rehabilitated outside the city. There were no protests as there was in Delhi when the courts ordered closure of some old factories in the inner city.

Communism has its uses, especially when it is purposeful communism accepted by the people as such.

Beijing’s notorious pollution is said to be already under control. They have announced plans to allow only one-third of the city’s registered vehicles to be out on the road on any given day. From July 20, the massive construction industry will stop, not just in Beijing, but in nearby areas as well, to ensure good air quality for the athletes.

The cigarette industry is also dislocated. Smoking is a national habit in China. Paramount leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Hsiaoping were chain smokers.

The supreme sacrifice of curbing smoking is already under way. Even in the restricted rooms where smoking is permitted, they have fitted nano air filters have to break cigarette smoke down to harmless particles before it is released into the atmosphere.

They have another national habit—spitting. The traditional belief is that phlegm is evil and must never be retained in the body. Singapore ended the habit by imposing heavy punishment on offenders. China is currently trying persuasion. What is called the Capital Ethics Development Office has distributed to local people two million booklets on how to behave in public places.

It is all about smiling, queueing, not littering and of course not spitting.

Perhaps no people who hosted Olympics in the past were as eager for the Games to succeed as the Chinese now are. More than with any other people, it is for them an issue of national pride. They want the Games to proceed without a hitch. And they want the visitors to go back with happy memories. They want the athletes in particular to remember the Beijing Olympics as something special.

The medals this year will be more precious than any that were presented in previous games. The gold medals for example will have gold only on one side. On the other side will be white jade, the finest and costliest of China’s most precious gem. A usual Olympics gold medal costs around $200 (approximately Rs 8,000). This year’s gold-and-jade medal will cost $800 (Rs 32,000).

To the world’s greatest sports stars that will be a permanent reminder of China.

Nearly two million visitors are expected to visit Beijing for the Olympics. If you are planning to be one of them, think again.

A city tour that now costs 500 yuan will cost 1000 yuan in July-August. Hotel rooms will be three and four times more expensive. Tickets for the opening ceremony have already hit record levels in the black market. One taxi driver in Beijing told me that the going rate was $20,000 for a ticket. That is about nine lakh rupees.

No Olympics is worth that.

Tomorrow: What the service apartment manager Anna told me

Why we can never do a 40-km trip in 8 minutes

16 June 2008

To an untrained eye, modern China—or at least that part of modern China that modern China is willing to expose to the untrained eye—evokes shock and awe. Shock at the strides made by a Communist behemoth; awe at the speed and scale at which those strides have been made.

Whether similar strides have been made at a similar speed and on a similar scale in the part of China that it doesn’t showcase to the world is another matter. Whether this could have been achieved in a democracy is not clear. Whether somebody somewhere is silently paying a price for all this is not known.

But China’s image management skills is not to be scoffed at. It’s what Mao didn’t put in his little red book.

Editor, columnist, author and eternal wordsmith T.J.S. George, who co-founded Asiaweek magazine in Hong Kong, has been a longtime China watcher. He returned to his quarry last month after ten years and experienced first-hand why modern China can make even minds not easily given to hype, melt.

The first of a six-part series this week.

***

By T.J.S. GEORGE in Shanghai

The speed at which China is transforming itself is not just impressive; it is scary.

Can such massive cities come up in the twinkling of an eye? Can such elaborate infrastructure be put in place in a jiffy? What is the engine that drives this frenetic pace of progress? Is there a target such an engine cannot achieve if it wants to?

When I visited Shanghai less than 10 years ago, Pudong was a sprawling marshland which had just been drained to make the soil ready for construction activities. The first highrise hotel was coming up and a landmark TV tower was rising.

Today, Pudong is a marvel of modernity, a glittering financial and corporate centre with facilities and institutions bigger and better than the best in the world.

A fairyland kind of suspension bridge, for example, is the most spectacular link across the Huangpu river that used to separate Pudong from Shanghai. There are several other bridges, several ferry services and several state-of-the-art underwater tunnels that make that separation a thing of the past.

Consider the road system. Shanghai was a notoriously congested city—a tangled web like central Bombay. It was impossible to untangle it. But the authorities found a way: Put an elevated road system over the city’s “ground floor.”

Today an overhead network of crisscrossing flyovers make it possible to go from point A to point B without traffic lights. From the centre of Pudong I drove for 36 kilometers before the car was stopped —by a tollgate.

This determination to do what is necessary—and do it quickly and efficiently—is what is helping China catch up with lost time.

They do everything on the grand scale, planning for a hundred years ahead. The new Pudong international airport will be good enough for virtually a century. It is about 40 kilometres from the city and magnetic levitation train covers the distance in eight minutes.

Compare that with Bangalore’s agonising access problems over the new airport.

There is nothing that China has achieved which others cannot. The difference is that China has the national will to achieve it, and the leadership to turn that will into action. We may say that the authoritarian system facilitates quick execution of plans unlike in a democracy.

Is that an argument we want to push when authoritarianism is so palpably constructive as it is proving in China, and democracy so chaotic as it has become in India?

Perhaps the key lies elsewhere.

Aldous Huxley provided an insight as far back as in 1926. Talking about “the dense, rank, richly clotted life” of Shanghai, he wrote:

Each individual Chinaman has more vitality, you feel, than each individual Indian or European, and the social organism composed of these individuals is therefore more intensely alive than the social organism in India or the West.

In other words, whether it is communism or capitalism, the Chinese have a national character that tends to give them an edge over others.

Photograph: Jukkinen via Flickr

Tomorrow: Shanghai is more than just money

Also by T.J.S. George: What if the South had seceded

Also read: How China changed the face of Karnataka politics

Is democracy India’s biggest hurdle to development?

Our communists and their communists

Western incompetence versus Asian competence?

What if India had done to Kashmir what China…?

17 April 2008

Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“The controversy over Tibet is a controversy about pluralism. The main allegations against China — that it has tried to alter the demographic balance of Tibet by settling Han Chinese there, that it wishes to assimilate the religious and cultural distinctiveness of Tibetan identity into a larger Chinese identity — seek to highlight the Chinese State’s intolerance of difference.

“The main difference between the Indian attitude towards its borderlands and the Chinese State’s attitude towards Tibet is that India has made no attempt to change the demographic composition of its troubled peripheries through forced settlement. The reverse, in fact, is true.

“The argument, long made by sections of the Hindu Right, that the Kashmir problem ought to be solved by changing the demographic facts on the ground, is not a monstrous argument in purely democratic terms. There’s a reasonable justification for it: in a democratic republic, every citizen ought to have the right to buy land and settle in any part of that state.

“To limit that right on account of local sensibilities or grievances is, it can be argued, to pander to parochial prejudice…. The reason the Indian State is willing to weight its laws to accommodate particular sensibilities is because Indian democracy, from its inception, has been leavened by pluralism.

Read the full article: Pluralism and Tibet

Butter luck next time: Tibetan protests melting

16 April 2008

KANCHAN KAUR-HARIHARAN presents incontrovertible evidence of the brutal Chinese crackdown that cuts off supplies to Tibetans, slice by mouth-watering slice.

Tripitika (abridged) for our political bloodhounds

14 April 2008

Sudheendra Kulkarni writes on China’s bizarre response to the Tibetan protests, and recounts an encounter which Asra Nomani, the author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, had with the Dalai Lama.

Asra Nomani: What is it that our leaders can do to transcend the issues of power that make them turn the people of different religions against each other?

Dalai Lama: There are three things we must do. Read the scholars of each other’s religions. Talk to the enlightened beings in each other’s religions. Finally, do the pilgrimages of each other’s religions.

Read the full column: Why China’s reds fear religious freedom

CHURUMURI POLL: What if 1958 had happened in 2008?

Five lessons to learn from the Tibetan protets

‘Everything’s fine till something happens to you’

25 February 2008

SWAROOP C.H. writes from Bangalore: I’ve been provoked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Incident 1. It all started on Day 2 of my Singapore trip (Sunday, December 23) when a hotel owner was too friendly. Maybe he didn’t have much work, but anyway, he got pretty chatty with us and was asking about how we liked Singapore. All we wanted to do was eat noodles.

He started talking about his visit to India, and like most Singaporeans, he had been on a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I can still remember the angst in his voice.

He said that the central government in India was good but the state governments were bad. Strike 1. I had to agree.

He said that it was not a safe place for businessmen to invest money. He said one of his close friends made huge investment, but when the government changed, the policies changed and the friend made a huge loss. Strike 2. I don’t know much about such things, but I can imagine that it is possible.

He said that India hadn’t advanced enough, there’s still too much poverty, there’s still so much chaos. He said ‘take a look at China’. For example, if the parents invest some amount with the government, they’ll give back 10 times the amount in 10 years, or something like that, and this is guaranteed by the government to safeguard the child’s future. I don’t remember the numbers he used but I was impressed with what he said. Strike 3.

I was beaten and didn’t know how to fight back.

I’m not a patriotic guy. I don’t go around burning boards written in non-state languages, nor do I go around speaking only in Hindi and refusing to speak in English. But I believe in the concept of India as a nation and I instinctively feel that I should defend my country when someone says something negative about my country.

But I was stumped. I was completely caught off-guard. I didn’t know what to say. I just nodded. I desperately looked for things to tell him. But I got nothing. Throughout the trip, I kept thinking of things to go back and tell that hotel guy that India is a great country, but what do we really have?

Specifically, the question is:

Post-independence, does India, as a nation, have achievements to be proud of?

I’m not talking about our ancient history or ‘culture’. I’m not talking about what some Indian did when he went to a foreign country, or even someone who went out of his way to achieve something within India (like the paeans being written about Tata Motors and their Nano car).

I’m talking specifically about: 1. the post-independence era, and 2. as a nation.

    A week after that incident, I was still trying to forget about it. But the same thing happened again on Day 9 (Sunday, December 30) with the store owner of a bookstore that Abishek and myself randomly walked into.

    We had a long conversation about Buddhism and our beliefs of God and how we pray. It’s surreal that we randomly started talking our intimate spiritual beliefs with a complete stranger. But such is life. And then she mentioned the same exact things that the hotel owner did. She specifically mentioned that she was appalled at the poverty when she went to Bodh Gaya.

    Yes, we are talking about poverty, not just about the beggars on the busy roads of Bangalore, but he fighting-for-food kind, the kind that we saw in Swades.

    Incident 2. After visiting the Kaala Chakra exhibition, I realized how influential India has really been, especially to most of South East Asia, from language to politics to trade, Indian-related stuff is everywhere in South East Asia. I used to wonder about why Tamil is such a common language here in Singapore, and only after I visited this exhibition, I realized that this goes back to the ages before christ!

    Notice the irony that I got to know more about Indian history and influence when I’m outside India. Probably because there is such importance given to history and culture in Singapore. But people in India have no time for such things, we are still fighting and struggling for our basic needs.

    This immediately reminded me of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”:

    Maslow's hierarchy of needs

    We are still struggling in Levels 1-3, that’s why we are just touching Level 4, and we’re a long way from reaching Level 5 of Self Actualization. At least, my point of view.

    Incident 3. I know there will be lots of people that say that I’m wrong, and that everything’s fine in India. (It reminds me of Rahul Bose in Everybody Says I’m Fine.)

    The problem is that everything’s fine as long as nothing bad happens to you or you witness it, only then you realize how bad the situation is. God forbid, you end up in an accident, only then you realize the problems with the police, the hospital, the insurance, and so on. The situation is the same everywhere, irrespective of the aspect of life.

    I don’t know how better or worse we are compared to other countries, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be in a better situation. There is simply no reason to! We have the money, the people, the resources…

    Incident 4. I came to know recently that at a premier medical institution in Bangalore, teachers are openly telling students that if they don’t help the teachers (i.e. pay them money), they will make sure that 30% of the students will fail! I am not kidding you, this is for real. Where’s the sanctity of education? Where’s the concern for the students’ future? Where’s the concern for encouraging future doctors (especially because the number of doctors is already dwindling)? Where’s the concern about setting precedents for future of medical profession? Even if they don’t think long term, how will students afford this? I know many medical student friends who have struggled to pay the hefty fees, what about these students who simply cannot afford to pay bribes to teachers?

    Similarly, lecturers in PUC colleges have stopped teaching in college and they tell students that they are anyway going to tuitions. If not, they should join their own tuitions! What happens to all those students who can’t afford it?

    Incident 5. Abishek’s close friend and special effects friend Osmand is a third-generation Indian. When he was about to fly from India to China to visit his relatives, he was abused that he was a Chinese person, and this for a person who’s born and brought up in India his entire life!

    The difference in attitudes was telling when the Indian immigration officer made him wait for 3 hours to prove that he’s an Indian compared to when he explained, that he’s a third-generation Indian originally hailing from China, to the Chinese immigration officer, he said Welcome home.” Now, Osmand is as Indian as it gets, irrespective of how it looks. Tell me, who’s the racist here? Osmand is so fed up of this attitude that he wants to go back to China.

    Incident 6. Abishek and myself were sitting by the river in Clarke Quay in Singapore on new year’s eve waiting for the clock to strike midnight. The atmosphere was full of revelry with all the Singaporean youth spraying foam on each other or boozing away or chatting. What’s amazing is that women freely walk around without any fear. I’ve seen women in Singapore walk at 2 am freely with clothes that redefine what ‘mini skirt’ stands for.

    On the other hand, Abishek pointed out that in India, at new year’s eve, there were incidents of molestation in Bombay, eveteasing by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s sons, Patna boys barge into a girls hostel, Cochin revelers molest a 15-year old Swedish girl and so on.

    Oh, and this is not just inside India. As churumuri put it recently, you can take the Indian out of India, but can you take India out of the Indian?

    Incident 7. When I was in PUC, I had many a time seriously considered politics as a career (all that “desh ke liye kuch karna hain” funda) but goondaism isn’t my cup of tea, so I dropped the whole idea. Seriously. If you want to survive in politics in India today, you have to know some rowdys or goondas to back you up, or you’re gonna end up in pieces in a ditch somewhere. We all know the familiar story of Manjunath Shanmugam who ratted out on how the Mittal petrol pump in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh are doing adulteration and he got shot by the owner’s son Monu Mittal and his goons.

    Politics in India is simply terrible.

    On the other hand, Singaporeans may have less press freedom and such, but I am okay with that compared to the circus that we have here.

    We are only harming the planet, it seems.

    Incident 8. Another incident I have to come know of is that there was some random old person who was suffering from a high BP attack and was going in an auto to his hospital where he was undergoing treatment. First, the auto guy literally dumps him on the pavement, takes the old man’s money and runs away. All this in broad daylight. IIRC, that too in Koramangala, one of the posh areas in Bangalore.

    Second, there are 10-20 people who surround and watch him and do nothing. Third, nothing happened until Vikram (Abishek’s friend) was passing by, shocked at all this, talked to the old man, who somehow was able to convey which hospital he was going to. Vikram took him to the hospital on bike. Fourth, the hospital said they can’t admit without some identification! Vikram said “He’s your patient, please look up your records and please treat him urgently.” They repeated the same statement. Fifth, Vikram who was fed up, says “Maybe Times of India would like to do a story on this.”

    Suddenly, the hospital staff spring into action and look up his records and take the old man in to the doctor. Sixth, Vikram comes out shaken and calls up Abishek and asks “What if this is my father tomorrow? What would happen to him? What kind of city do we live in?”

    Pop quiz : How many things are wrong/sad in this picture?

    These are real incidents, real stories. Seriously.

    Incident 9. What can we do in a place where people have to bribe to get death certificates? Aren’t the families mourning enough already?

    Again, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We are just struggling for the basics of life, maybe that’s why we can’t seem to go beyond that.

    Sportspersons are fighting for basic equipments, for basic facilities. No wonder they can’t move beyond to think of fighting against the competition. Cricket is an exception for exactly this reason – because the cricketers are so well-paid, they move to the next level in Maslow’s hierarchy and actually concentrate on the game. This becomes a virtuous cycle and hence the game is flourishing.

    Apply the same concepts to the other aspects such as political or economical, and you’ll notice that we’re still fighting the same everywhere.

    Let me repeat, post-independence, is there anything to be proud of India, the nation?

    I can’t think of anything. And what’s worse, I put this across to a few close friends, and they didn’t offer anything too. In a way, I was glad that it’s not just me, but many others feel the same way too. The sad part is that many others feel the same way too.

    Incident 10. The Press likes to make it a point to hail people of Indian origin like Lakshmi Mittal (Mittal Arcelor) or Indra Nooyi (Pepsi) or Vikram Pandit (Citigroup) and how they have risen to those powerful positions. But why is it that they were able to do it only when they’re out of India, not when they are here in India?

    Isn’t this a common refrain? I again trace it back to Maslow’s hierarchy. Most talented people I know all want to get out of India so that they can do serious work. Sad, but true. Including Abishek who’s now in Singapore making ads for China, Middle East, India, Pakistan, all in Singapore. He would’ve probably never got an opportunity like this in India. And yes, he’s the brains and technical person behind many ads in India you would see from Limca to Airtel to Pepsi.

    Again, I see people here in Singapore indulging in running, cycling, shopping and they’re seriously into arts, and so on. They are building a culture. Even partying till late into the night at Clarke Quay or shopping 24×7 at Mustafa and so on. And it’s completely safe for women as well. How do they do that!?

    Imagine that a 42×28 km country like Singapore (one of the 20 smallest countries in the world and at the same time the 2nd most densely populated country in the world) is hosting a Formula 1 race in 2008, is bidding for the 2010 Olympic Youth Games, etc.

    A country that is more than 4500 times bigger and has 250 times more population is still struggling for basic needs (numbers derived from Wikipedia’s estimates of population and size).

    Yes, our problems are bigger and more varied, but the politicians and the press talk about Bangalore becoming something like Singapore in 20 years or so! We are already comparing us vs them.

    We can’t even get basic water supply or road transit facilities to an upcoming world-class Bangalore International Airport? (And the only reason it’s world-class is because we outsourced it). Why are things so bad? It’s not the money, we have enough of it. Is it the people? But the capability is there. So what’s really wrong? Is it the leadership? I guess we do really need visionaries who execute like Lee Kuan Yew in India. Is it the attitude of the general population? Is it both? Or something else?

    I don’t know, I am disillusioned.

    I bought into the kool-aid and that whole India 8% growth story. I want my money back.

    Well, people can say that Singapore has no real freedoms, you’re just a puppet and so on. I have an analogy for that. We need a class teacher to maintain discipline (law and order) so that the classes can proceed and progress can be made, otherwise there will be just noise and only people who somehow learn to not get affected by the noise and study on their own (businessmen who succeed). It’s not like there is no freedom, you can always raise your hands and talk to the class teacher (citizens representation to the government) or at least approach the teacher after class hours (write to them)….

    Irrespective of the type of government (democracy or autocracy or whatever), maintaining discipline should be the primary responsibility of the government, which is what is lacking in India today. For example, why is it that the same Indians who go to places like Singapore suddenly start following the rules? Because they know they’ll be fined otherwise. And once people start respecting each other, keep the premises clean, and maintain civic behavior, things automatically start looking better.

    On the other hand, on Bangalore roads, I face road rage everyday. That’s why I prefer to listen to songs on my iPod, so that I can tune out all these unruly people.

    Sigh.

    I really want to go back to that hotel and argue with the owner. But I have nothing. Nothing.

    India is No. 115 out of 157 in the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom. I have no idea what that means, but I’m sure it’s not a good thing.

    Even in a “forward” state like Karnataka, nearly three-fourths of rural eighth standard students cannot do basic subtraction, fewer than half of the schools have all teachers present, and only 7.4 per cent of students in standards 3 through 5 can read a sentence in English. The report is simply depressing.

    Even our IT boom is debatable.

    I hope someday I can go back to the hotel owner and defend India.

    Someday.

    Hope.

    How China changed the politics of Karnataka

    19 November 2007

    PALINI R. SWAMY writes from Bangalore: Hunting for a scapegoat is India’s national pastime. And as the chief ministerial ambitions of B.S. Yediyurappa get cruelly chopped off by the devious designs of Deve Gowda & Sons (and daughters-in-law), every side can find plenty of pigs to explain the denouement.

    The BJP can take the high moral ground and again call it “the worst betrayal ever”, ignoring its patent desperation to sleep with a promiscuous partner. The JDS can take the only road available before it—the low one—and say all it wanted was an pre-nuptial agreement on stamp paper, probably given its own sterling record of sticking to promises.

    The Congress can take the middle road, rubbing its hands in glee at the “communal forces” being stumped, not once but twice, and hope that somehow something will happen that will give it get another shot at power. And the astrologers, who were proved wrong just a week ago, can claim that it was all an astral aberration.

    But a good exercise at this juncture is to inspect “the foreign hand”.

    For over two decades now, “the foreign hand” has been political shorthand for Pakistan. An inheritance of the Indira Gandhi era, it has been used to explain everything that went wrong in the country.

    A bomb explosion, a stock market implosion, an assassination, trouble in Kashmir and Punjab, everything was traced back to the “foreign hand” of Pakistan and its ISI, although even after five years Lal Krishna Advani could not quite come to deliver the “white paper” he promised.

    The nausea-inducing politics of Karnataka gives us a chance to ponder a real and more tangible foreign hand: that of the People’s Republic of China.

    Think about it: Beijing through Bellary.

    Bellary with its rich iron ore deposits has become a goldmine that no political party wants to take its hands off. In 2005 alone, the mine owners are said to have made profits of Rs 3,100 crore. Illegal mining is said to have cost the State Rs 25,000 crore in lost revenues.

    Excavators dig through hills and hillocks, day and night, as if there were no tomorrow. And the famous high-quality ore (65%+ Fe content), trucked to and exported from Mangalore, have made millionaires out of many, some of them politicians with helipads in their homes to ferry kids to school.

    The BJP first tapped Bellary’s value when Sonia Gandhi stood for elections from there in 1999 and Sushma Swaraj took her on. And there has been no looking back since.

    # Real estate prices have zoomed 400 per cent in three years.

    # Bank withdrawals in Hospet’s SBI have shot up from Rs 3 crore every six months to Rs 40 crore per week.

    # Local press reports say Bellary will soon have Asia’s highest per capita concentration of private helicopters.

    But it is the lasting imprint that the easy lucre of Bellary’s ores have left on Karnataka’s soil on their way to China in the last couple of years that is truly mind-boggling.

    The first stone against H.D. Kumarawamy—the Rs 150 crore bribery charges—was thrown by G. Janardhan Reddy, who owns the Obalapuram Mining Corporation. Reddy’s brother N. Karunakar Reddy is the BJP MP from Bellary.

    The currency notes counted on camera by inspector-turned-minister C. Chennigappa were earned by the sweat and toil of the mine workers. HDK’s political secretary was M.P. Suryanarayana Reddy, one of Bellary’s biggest miners and an MLA.

    D.K. Shiva Kumar, with mining interests in Kanakapura himself, established through documents how the humble farmer’s family had attained mining interests in Bellary. M.P. Prakash, who made a minor bid to form a government, is also from the area, with his son M.P. Ravindra a go-between miners despite the father’s protestations.

    JDS legislator Santosh Lad, who owns V.S. Lad & Co and was instrumental in installing Kumaraswamy was—no surprise, no surprise—a major player in the failed attempt to install Prakash as CM with the Congress’ support. And his cousin Anil Lad is with the BJP.

    And finally, B. Sriramulu. The minister who filed a criminal complaint against Kumaraswamy is from Bellary with his own mining interests and is close to the Reddy brothers. The JDS is opposed to his inclusion in the Yediyurappa government, and it is the very renumerative mines and geology portfolio that the JDS wants.

    No wonder the first action of the BJP after the Kumaraswamy government fell was to revoke Janardhan Reddy’s suspension from the party. No wonder the JDS wants the mining portfolio. No wonder BJP doesn’t want to let go.

    It takes no genius to see that greed and avarice have become the leit motif of our parties and politicians. But who would have guessed that China’s insatiable thirst for steel could be fuelling it in a small corner of the globe, altering the political landscape—and political integrity—of the region, possibly for all time to come?

    Also read: Mining frenzy

    Iron ore politics

    One question I’m dying to ask… Prakash Karat

    13 November 2007

    Saluting the Chinese for their reforms while blocking it back home… Blocking the nuclear power deal while lapping around in Greater Kailash II in Nike sneakers… Bossing over Manmohan Singh while slamming the RSS for bossing over Atal Behari Vajpayee… Beating his breast over Gujarat while Nandigram burns… Calling George W. Bush a fool while there may be other worthies crying for attention…

    What’s the one question you’re dying to ask Prakash Karat? Please keep your queries short, civil and Marxian (Groucho, not Karl).

    Also read: The media moguls in the life of a Communist

    Nandigram and the deformations of the Indian left


    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 7,689 other followers