Posts Tagged ‘Kapil Sibal’

Now showing at a theatre of the absurd near you

30 January 2013


So, young Indians cannot tell their friends what they ‘like’ on Facebook, without being “pre-screened” by Harvard types (or hauled into a police station by Shiv Sena goons). So, bloggers cannot publish their “online private diaries” without the sword of 66(A) hanging over their heads.

So, tweeters can be blocked and Savita bhabhi‘s enviable lifestyle can be subject to some faceless babu’s sense of humour (or voyeurism). So, the Mahatma‘s life is beyond scrutiny in the land of you-know-who. So (oh!), Aamir Khan‘s film will not be screened in the land of you-know-who.

Or his TV show.

So, TV stations cannot show protests without threatened by the information and broadcasting ministry (or corporate titans). So, newspapers cannot report what their reporters see without being told that the tap of government advertisements could be turned off.

So, M.F. Husain cannot die in his own country. So, A.K. Ramanujam‘s interpretation of the Ramayana hurts somebody.

So, Ashis Nandy cannot drop his pearls on corruption without offending Dalits, tribals and OBCs. So, Salman Rushdie cannot go to a lit-fest in Jaipur (or Calcutta) without offending Islamist fundoos. So, Shah Rukh Khan cannot write what’s in his heart without offending.

So, Kamal Hassan‘s new film can be banned by a government run by a former film actor.

Sometimes, you do have to remind yourself it is a free country, don’t you?

Image: courtesy R. Prasad/ Mail Today

Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers, and now private TV

25 December 2012


In the cold war era, it used to be said that the first target of wannabe-dictators was government-controlled radio stations—take control of it and you control the message going out.

In the post-liberalised era, the first target of the government seems to be private television stations.

Below is the full text of the “advisory” issued by the information and broadcasting ministry headed by Manish Tiwari to news and current affairs satellite TV channels on Sunday as coverage of the protests in Delhi brought the “people to the gate” (in the memorable words of The Times of India).

Interestingly, the chairman of the national broadcasting standards authority, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, J.S. Verma, has been simultaneously named as the chairman of the three-member committee to review the laws for “speedier justice and enhanced punishment in cases of aggravated sexual assault”.


All News and Current Affairs  satellite Television Channels

Ministry of Information & Broadcasting
“A” Wing Shastri Bhawan
New Delhi-110001

23rd December, 2012


Whereas a number of private satellite news TV channels have been showing programmes covering round-the-clock direct telecast of the events relating to public demonstration being held in New Delhi in the wake of the unfortunate and tragic incident of gang rape of a young girl on 16th December, 2012 in a moving bus.

The  channels have been covering the agitation  and the efforts of the law enforcing authorities to maintain law & order, as well as the commentaries of the channel reporters to portray the incidents from their own perspectives.

Whereas this incident and the  public outcry in its aftermath are a very sensitive issue and any inappropriate media reportage thereon is likely to vitiate the law and order situation.

It has been observed that some private satellite news TV channels in their 24X7 coverage have not been showing due responsibility and maturity in telecasting the events relating the said demonstration and such a telecast is likely to cause deterioration in the law & order situation, hindering the efforts of the law enforcing authorities. (emphasis added)

Whereas Rule 6(1)(e)  of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, which contains the Programme Code to be strictly adhered to by all private satellite television channels, provides that no programme should be carried in the cable service which is likely to encourage or incite violence or contains anything against maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national attitude.

Now, therefore, all private satellite television channels are advised to scrupulously follow the Progarmme Code laid down in the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 and to ensure to telecast the matter in a responsible manner with due care, maturity and restraint.

Any violation of the Programme Code will invite such action as provided for in the Cable Television(Regulation)  Act, 1995 and the Rules framed thereunder as well as the terms & conditions stipulated in Uplinking & Downlinking Guidelines.

Supriya Sahu
Joint Secretary to the Government of India

Photograph: courtesy Press Trust of India

Crossposted on sans serif

Also read: The New York Times calls Kapil Sibal‘s bluff

What brainwave has struck our netas tonight?

CHURUMURI POLL: should Facebook be censored?

Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control Act

Censorship in the name of ‘national interest’

Is UPA hitting back for Anna Hazare coverage?

Should the censors tighten Savita Bhabhi’s hook?*

1 May 2012

GAGAN KRISHNADAS writes from Bangalore: With the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 in place, internet censorship has gone high and degree of criminality has fallen down. Be it Kapil Sibal or Mamata Banerjee, the people at the helm of power are trying to gain a control over internet.

The effect of existing law: To put it in simple terms, if anybody finds a particular post on this blog illegal, he/she may bring it to the notice of the owners of this blog. If the blog owner does not take any action within 36 hours, the liability on the content immediately shifts to the owner of the blog.

If at all there are about 200 ‘take down’ requests in a day, the blog owner surely cannot ascertain the legality of the content within 36 hours. Surely, the owner will find it convenient to remove the content instead of contesting the claim.

Resistance: The resistance for the said rules was not strong until recently when Kapil Sibal became vocal on pre-censorship on internet.

On April 21, there was a press conference in New Delhi by Knowledge Commons, Software Freedom Law Center, Delhi Science Forum, Save Your Voice Campaigm, Internet Democracy Project, Center for Internet and Society, Free Software Movement India, IT for Change, and Alternative Law Forum.

Two events were organised in Bangalore on the same day to voice against Internet Censorship. Let me juxtapose how media professionals and Free Software Movement people respond on the issue.

Senior Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha said: “This is a matter of considerable concern. It is known to a relatively small section because; ordinary people do not understand the intricacies. It is a matter of freedom of speech and hence it concerns not just the netizen, but every citizen. At the legal and larger philosophy, Article 19 lays down reasonable restrictions like public order, national security and so on. But who decides these reasonable restrictions on the internet?”

Mahesh Murthy, went a step ahead to declare: “I feel there should be no censorship of any kind of information, be it Savitha Bhabi or pornography or a hate speech. All such information already exists in the society. By censoring them, you are not achieving any results. The Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s alleged sex video was removed from Youtube just within 5 hours, but if someone hosts it on Piratebay, it’s almost impossible to censor.”

Na Vijayashankar said that the internet cannot be left unregulated and at the same time the regulation should not take away the basic rights of the citizens. He recalled that right from the initial days of the internet, he advocated for an internet law made by the netizens themselves, because the lawmakers hardly understand the technology.

Soon after the meeting, I moved to the town hall to participate in a protest convened by the representatives of Free Software Movement of Karnataka (FSMK) along with Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC). The crowd predominantly comprised of Engineers and Engineering students.

I was surprised that the Engineers also had acquired a good understanding of the rules which are in detriment of their interest. While the group of media persons was more worried about censorship and freedom of speech, the ambit of concerns was larger with the Freedom Software advocates.

Senthil from the Free Software Movement of Karnataka was skeptical about similar laws being passed in other jurisdictions. Recently, USA was on its way for passing the controversial SOPA/PIPA legislations which was halted due to public pressure.

People have used internet to question the established governments, be it wikileaks, networking during the Egypt revolution or Lokpal movement. Senthil feels that the intermediary guidelines would be a hindrance in taking technology to the people.

Member of Parliament, P. Rajeeve has introduced a motion in the Rajya Sabha calling for the Internet censorship law passed last year (“Intermediary Guidelines Rules”) to be annulled.  This motion will be taken up once the Budget Session 2012 reconvenes, and will need the support of the majority of both Houses to be passed.

Until the Parliament meets again, we the netizens and citizens need to ask our MPs to support the motion when it is introduced.

(Gagan Krishnadas is a post-graduate student at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

* Search Engine Optimisation techniques at work


Also read: Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control act

Ajji: ‘The only thing to fear in life is fear itself’

27 April 2012

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji was reading Praja Vani, once owned by Netkalappa, which was a favourite of Bangaloreans along with P.R. Ramiah’s Tayi Nadu, a long time ago.

She was unusually silent. Normally Ajji slices and dices reputations as well as she does vegetables.

“What happened, Ajji? You are quite different this morning,” I teased her.

I was reading about the renovation of Niranjan Mutt in Mysore where Swami Vivekananda stayed there once.”

“Yes. He stayed there before he went to Chicago to address the World Congress on Spirituality.”

“It seems he said there, ‘Be not afraid of anything. It is fearlessness that brings Heaven even in a moment’.”

“That’s right, Ajji.”

“Our Prime Minister also has advised the boorokrats.”

Ajji, adu bureaucrats not boorokrats. What was the advice?”

Yeno sudugaadu.  He has asked them to be fearless in their work.”

“Isn’t that good advice? What’s wrong with it?”

“If you ask somebody not to eat onions, first you must not eat onions yourself. So goes a proverb in Kannada.”

“What have onions got to do with his advice asking them to be fearless?” I demanded.

Alvo! He himself chickens out on every occasion. He refused to confront A. Raja on 2G spectrum; also Kanimozhi. Didn’t want to sack Suresh Kalmadi on CWG. Wasn’t that lack of guts?”

“You have a point there, Ajji. But he attributed his lack of fearlessness partly to coalition compulsions.”

Ajji took no notice of my interruption. She had compiled a dossier on the PM’s lack of action like our home minister on Hafeez  Saeed’s involvement in terrorism.

“Then there was S-band scam in the ministry of space which is directly under him. Then there were the file notings of P. Chidambaram in the 2G scam. The Prime Minister kept quiet in public and in parliament. He chose to answer everything in his customary eloquent silence.”

“What you say is true.”

“He didn’t take Kapil Sibal to task when he declared that the amount of loss to the exchequer from 2G scam was zero, instead of Rs 175,000 crores as calculated by CAG. He should have sacked Sibal if he had worked fearlessly.”


Rahul Gandhi failed utterly in the UP elections. Why is he not acting fearlessly and sacking him?”

“Looks like he has deliberately forgotten how to act fearlessly,” I intervened.

“It’s not that he doesn’t know how to act fearlessly. During Narasimha Rao’s days as finance minister he took bold steps to liberalize the economy. The economy boomed because of that. He was only a finance minister then, not a Prime Minister.”

“That’s true.”

“Though he is the Prime Minister now, I think he is taking orders from somebody. That’s why he can’t act fearlessly.”

“Do you think he is taking orders from his wife as all men do?” I  asked.

“I wish it were like that. Then at least outside he would have acted fearlessly!”

“Then who is he taking orders from?” I challenged Ajji.

“I think he is hemmed in both at home and from outside. That is why he is helpless. When he is asking the borokrats to ‘act fearlessly’ he is expressing his own wish. He remembers he acted fearlessly once. He wants to be like that again but realizes he can’t; that is why he is advising the borecrats to act fearlessly,” Ajji surmised.

CHURUMURI POLL: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

2 February 2012

In its second term in office, the UPA government of Manmohan Singh has been dealt several body blows that could have completely ennervated and incapacitated a lesser man. Scam after scam, scandal after scandal has hit the Congress-led UPA regime, but like in a C-grade Bollywood film, the protagonists have found the energy to wake up from every thundering blow administered by the courts and the constitutional bodies like the CAG, dust off the rubble and prepare to fight another day.

But could 2 February 2012 be slightly different?

In responding to pleas by Subramanian Swamy and Prashant Bhushan—cancelling 122 licences issued by the now disgraced telecom minister A. Raja; allowing the CVC to look at the functioning of the CBI and in giving a free hand to a lower trial court to adjudicate if home minister P. Chidambaram too should be made a party to the crime—the Supreme Court of India has virtually validated the Rs 173,000 crore 2G scam that had been described as a “zero-loss” scam by a fatcat lawyer in minister’s clothing.

And it indirectly validates the Anna Hazare campaign that has been floundering and looking for oxygen.

With the Uttar Pradesh elections around the corner, the SC verdict pulls the rug from under the feet of the Congress which has been going to town over Mayawati‘s corruption, even raiding her closest supporters. It also puts a big question mark over the future of the Manmohan Singh government, pending a judgment in the Chidambaram matter. With the budget session of Parliament looming and presidential elections around the corner, it also throws up interesting improbables.

Questions: Will the Manmohan Singh government survive? Or is it all over bar the counting? Or should the prime minister resign to protect what little credibility there is left to his once-clean image?

Also read: Will Manmohan Singh survive?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—II?

Has the middle-class deserted Manmohan Singh?

CHURUMURI POLL: Manmohan Singh, still ‘Mr Clean’—I?

Can the paragon of virtue hear his conscience?

One question Barkha Dutt should ask Rushdie

24 January 2012

After five days of dominating the Jaipur literary festival without even stepping foot in it, Sir Salman Rushdie will bring the curtain down on the final day; he will address the gabfest by a video link with NDTV anchor Barkha Dutt as his interrogator/interlocutor. (Oh, he won’t!)

These five days have been a signal lesson in India’s slow but sure march towards illiberalism.

Over five days, we have learnt that there is no ban on reading, possessing or downloading copies of The Satanic Verses;  just that the finance ministry has disallowed its import. But that has been sufficient for Islamist fundamentalists to bar Rushdie from stepping on the soil of the country of his birth.

Over five days, we have seen the Rajasthan government invent an “assassination plot” to keep Rushdie out, succeed in their efforts, and then deny their concoction. Over five days, we have seen the festival’s organisers behave like Team Anna, saying one thing one moment, exactly the opposite the next moment and both sometimes (while having grand debates on censorship).

Over five days, we have seen a lawyer (Akhil Sibal)—son-in-law of one of the organisers (Namita Gokhale) and son of the Union IT minister (Kapil Sibal)—who “defended” M.F. Husain when he was being targeted Hindu fundamentalists, being deployed to urge authors (like Hari Kunzru, Amitava Kumar, Ruchir Joshi, Jeet Thayil) to sign papers that they read passages from the book so on their own volition, and so on.

What is the one question Sir Salman Rushdie must be asked this afternoon?

Like, should Rushdie be asked to repeat what he told Rajiv Gandhi in an open letter in the The New York Times in 1988, when The Satanic Verses was banned:

“By behaving in this fashion, can [India] any more lay claim to the title of a civilised society? Is it no longer permissible, in modern, supposedly secular India, for literature to treat such themes? What sort of India do you wish to govern? Is it to be an open or a repressive society?”

Cartoon: courtesy Surendra/ The Hindu

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Is India a liberal republic?

Ask not what your leaders have done for you…

15 December 2011

With the year drawing to a close and Christmas close at hand, E.R. RAMACHANDRAN is in an expansive mood, compiling a list of gifts that he would like to give out to our various performing and non-performing assets.

1. Asif Zardari: A permanent hospital room in Dubai

2. Imran Khan: A Pakistani political pitch to bowl on

3. BJP leaders in Karnataka: Sites in Bangalore + a room in Parappana Agrahara

4. Jayalalitha: A set of 10,000 sample questions for practice

5. Rahul Gandhi:  ‘India is UP, UP is India’ T-shirt

6. Sharad Pawar: Protective cover for the other cheek

7. Team Anna: ‘Scams within’ report

8. Virender Sehwag: Indore pitch

9. Mamata Banerjee: Fireproof hospital (scale model)

10. Anna Hazare: Jantar Mantar for fasting

11. P. Chidambaram: A pocket map of Tihar

12. Manmohan Singh: A mike

13. Sonia Gandhi: Calendar with a red marker

14. Subramanian Swamy: Permanent room in  Supreme Court

15. Kapil Sibal: Facebook without faces

16. Sachin Tendulkar: 100 centuries of 90s

17. L.K. Advani: Hidden agenda

What gifts would you like to give your favourite performing and non-performing assets, for services rendered or denied in the year gone by?

Check out what ERR gave in 2008: Gifts for some one you love and don’t

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Facebook be censored?

6 December 2011

As if all the problems facing this glorious land—hunger, disease, death, malnutrition, farmer suicides, etc—have all been miraculously solved; as if all the scams facing this wondrous government—2G, CWG, Delhi international airport, etc–have all been cracked, Harvard University’s proud son, Kapil Sibal, has stepped in to crack the whip.

The telecommunications and information technology minister, he of the “zero-loss” formulation, now wants “social media sites like Facebook to prescreen user content from India and to remove disparaging, inflammatory or defamatory content before it goes online”, according to the New York Times.

According to the Indian Express, Sibal’s ire is motivated by the “derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about religious figures and Indian leaders such as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the Web.” (Not surprisingly, somebody’s created the hashtag #IdiotKapilSibal to express his ire.)

The attack on social media comes in the wake of the attempts to muzzle mainstream media following the anti-corruption campaign. Read together, it reveals a growing political distate for privacy and free speech, reminiscent of the censorship era during the Emergency, without a formal proclamation on the part of the Congress-led UPA.

There is no denying, certainly, that there is plenty of stuff on the internet that is vile, abusive, even verbally violent. But that’s the nature of the beast, its anonymity lends it an edge, and there is no denying that there is plenty of stuff offline too that is vile, abusive, even physically violent. But to seek to prescreen everything goes against the laws of the land, indeed it veers dangerously close to China’s (or more recently Thailand’s).

Questions: Should social media be screened? Is it possible to prescreen everything that appears online? Doesn’t the government have anything better to do? Or is this just another diversionary tactic of a government that is trying to cover its tracks?

Also read: Say ‘No’ to India’s blogger control act

How will media react if Emergency is reimposed?

Censorship in the name of  “national interest”

Bonus reading: The greatest poet since ‘Bhakti’ movement?

External reading: Medianama, Kafila, Khamba, IBN Live, Tumblr, First Post, Faking News, South Reports

Gandhi & Anna: a tale of two fasts and two rulers

26 August 2011

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The ongoing fast by Anna Hazare to usher in a Lok Pal has entered the 11th day.

What is most striking with the manner in which Hazare’s fast has been dealt with by the current “rulers” in contrast to how the British handled Mahatma Gandhi’s numerous fasts.


Since they were the rulers  of an Empire where ‘the sun never set,’ the colonisers could have spirited Gandhiji out of India, thrown him into a jail in some far corner of the world, and made him totally irrelevant.

Worse, they could have fed him slow poison and got rid of him and by the time the news reached India, it would have been some months, if not years, especially since there was no ‘breaking news’.

In short, the British could have done anything to break the freedom movement. It is to their credit and to their sense of fair play that they did none of the above and allowed Gandhi his right to protest.

Result: the freedom struggle took root and finally they had to quit India.


Cut to 2011, Anna Hazare’s fast.

Kapil Sibal, P. Chidambaram, Ambika Soni and Manmohan Singh attacked Hazare’s movement in their interactions with the press and in Parliament.

The Congress party’s spokesman Manish Tiwari even declared that ‘Anna was corrupt from head to toe’ for which he tendered a meek apology later.

After inviting civil society members, the government resorted to dirty tricks to damn their character on some pretext or other. They even had the temerity to arrest Hazare and send him to the same jail where Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and Kanimozhi were lodged, only to release him when the public reaction got too hot.

Above all, we have seen a number of devious, duplicitous statements unbecoming of a government, which seems to have forgotten that it remains in power only at the pleasure of the people.

Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and the history books could well tell us a different story of how Gandhi was treated by the colonisers. Still, the question remains: were the British far more humane in their treatment of Gandhiji when an Empire was at stake than the Congress-led UPA has been of Hazare who is merely fasting for a tough piece of legislation?

Photograph: The front page of a newspaper in 1933 with news of Gandhi‘s fast

S.M. Krishna revives Churumuri’s RKN campaign

23 August 2011

The minister for external affairs, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna, may be creating news for all the wrong reasons in the year of the lord 2011. But he has struck the right PR note by reviving‘s acclaimed campaign for recognition for India’s original English writer, R.K. Narayan, in his hometown, Mysore.

When was launched in 2006, we made an all-out effort to get Narayan his due place in the landscape of Mysore, where he spent almost all his life and from where he gave the world, Malgudi.

A churumuri delegation comprising the photographer T.S. Satyan, the historian Ramachandra Guha, and the writer Sunaad Raghuram even made a representation to the then governor of Karnataka, T.N. Chaturvedi, armed with reader suggestions on how Narayan’s memory could be perpetuated.

After all the usual noises from the usual quarters, the campaign died a slow death.

Now, S. M. Krishna, a close friend of  RKN’s brother, R.K. Laxman, has given the campaign a fresh lease life in this, the 10th year of Narayan’s passing away. He has written to prime minister Manmohan Singh and railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to name a train between Mysore and Bangalore as Malgudi Express, and urged communications minister Kapil Sibal to release a stamp.

It might be too early to hail this attempt, but at least for trying, Krishna deserves some plaudits.

Also read: All the stories in R.K. Narayan campaign

T.S. SATYAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knews

T.S. NAGARAJAN: The R.K. Narayan only I knew

CHURUMURI POLL: Bharat Ratna for Anna Hazare?

16 August 2011

For months, a country utterly lacking in genuine heroes has been desperately groping around to find somebody, anybody, deserving of the nation’s highest civilian honour. The name of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar is on most lips, not least because he does something very well which many understand, because his stellar feats will never ever be repeated by anybody who ever plays the great game again, and because everybody loves a winner.

But Sachin is still 38. Sure, he hasn’t put a foot wrong in his long, luminous career, but he has a lifetime ahead of him and he might yet do many things after hanging up his boots that might take the sheen off the Bharat Ratna to everybody’s regret. Moreover, decorating a sportsman who has doubtless provided hundreds of hours of entertainment to millions but changed nobody’s life but his own and that of his family is fraught.

Allow us therefore to propose an alternate, unlikely Maharashtrian: Kisan Baburao Hazare.

At 74, Anna Hazare, as the small man who speaks Bambaiyya like Sachin might when he is that old is known, is not everybody’s favourite public figure, especially of those who see a tinge of saffron in his white attire. Still, in bringing corruption to the national centrestage when neither the Congress nor the BJP were interested, in jumpstarting the movement for the Lok Pal bill which had been hanging fire for 38 years, in resolutely even if obstinately sticking to his convictions, he has been a revelation.

And after today, when his early-morning arrest evoked shades of the Emergency a day after August 15, Hazare has united vast sections of urban, middle-class India; his release by the end of the day a standing testimony to the power of the people against an arrogant, repressive regime, whose Harvard-educated ministers (Kapil Sibal and P. Chidambaram, if you have to name them) show what they don’t teach at Harvard about democracy with their every word and deed.

Make no mistake. A brazen, scam-tainted government with much to hide might yet bury its hand in the sand and bulldoze its way on the Lok Pal bill; the great protectors of our democracy who can do anything for cash may shamelessly back it in the name of parliamentary democracy; Hazare’s own struggle may yet peter out like so many have before; and high corruption of the sort we have seen over the last few months might be here to stay.

Still, in his stamina in sticking to an issue, in his single-mindedness to achieve his dream, and above all in his desire to change things which has the potential to change the lives of millions of Indians—all traits most Indians will happily agree they do not possess—does Anna Hazare qualify, even if only notionally, to be crowed Jewel of India ahead of SRT? After all, he has some practice, having received the Padma Sri and Padma Bhushan earlier.

Photographs: Protestors in Bangalore wear masks of Anna Hazare demanding his release (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Sachin for Bharat Ratna?

Is India getting increasingly intolerant to dissent

May a thousand Anna Hazares bloom across India

Has media become ‘accuser, prosecutor, judge’?

29 June 2011

Like a bad host, who abuses his guests after calling them home, the prime minister of India launched into the media today after calling a bunch of five editors for a much-delayed interaction. It took Manmohan Singh just 25 words in his 1,884-word opening remarks to stick it into the editors.

“An atmosphere has been created in the country—and I say this with all humility—the role of the media in many cases has become that of the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge… . We take decisions in a world of uncertainty and that’s the perspective I think Parliament, our CAG and our media must adopt if this nation is to move forward,” Singh said.

As if the media was responsible for the 2G, CWG or KG basin scams that has seen his ministers resign or prepare to. As if the media was responsible for the thuggish behaviour of his ministers (like Kapil Sibal) in undermining “civil society”, in other words the people of India. As if the media was responsible for runaway prices or inflation.

Or, as if the media was responsible for hurling a question mark over his tenure. Etcetera.

So, what do you think? Has the media overstepped its brief? Has it become accuser, prosecutor and judge? Has the media done its job in unravelling scams and keeping the pressuer on the government? Is the media wrong in clamouring for a cleaner, less corrupt system?

Or is Manmohan Singh barking up the wrong tree by shooting the messenger?

Also read: Why the PM is hopelessly wrong about the media

How well is the PM’s media advisor advising him?

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—I

Because when dog bites dog, it’s news—II

Never believe anything until it’s officially denied

CHURUMURI POLL: Should PM be under Lok Pal?

31 May 2011

The hurried efforts to draft a Lok Pal bill, propelled by Anna Hazare‘s fast unto death in the wake of a slew of corruption scandals, has run into seriously rough weather, with civil society members at odds with representatives of the government on a very fundamental issue: just who should (or shouldn’t) come under the Lok Pal’s purview?

Should members of the higher judiciary be left out? Can members of Parliament be excused? Officers below the level of joint secretary? Should various anti-corruption bodies like CBI and CVC all come under the Lok Pal? Will such a Lok Pal with overwhelming powers over the executive, judiciary and legislature be such a good thing for a democracy? Etc.

The key emblematic issue, however, concerns the prime minister of India: should he or she come under the purview of the Lok Pal?

Home minister P. Chidambaram says the civil society members are themselves not in agreement on some of these issues. His HRD counterpart Kapil Sibal says whatever is done has to be in consonance with the Constitution of India. And Chidambaram has now written to the State governments and the MPs on the contentious issues.

All of which is shorthand for just one thing: there is desperate backpedalling going on after the attempt to stymie the panel through insinuations failed. After all, if the government’s own draft (according to the RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal) included the prime minister in it, why is the PM now being sought to be kept out of the Lok Pal’s loop?

Question: Should the PM come under the Lok Pal’s ambit? Or will his august office be sullied by frivolous charges, as is the fear?

Also read: Let a thousand Anna Hazares bloom

Why I’m slightly disappointed with Anna Hazare

CHURUMURI POLL: Do we like ‘single’ icons?

‘Media only bothers about the elite, eductated, middle-class’

11 reasons Right to Education isn’t what it seems

12 April 2010

Last week, KIRAN RAO BATNI wrote of how the UPA government’s much-vaunted Right to Education was anti-federal and anti-democratic, and was indeed a sign of India being pushed towards becoming a dictatorship.

“Any move which takes power away from the people is a move away from democracy. By moving the site of power from the States to the Centre, India has demonstrated its preference of dictatorship over democracy, of government over people, of centralism over federalism,” he wrote.

The article attracted a barrage of criticism. Click below to read his response.


Is India moving towards becoming a dictatorship?

6 April 2010

KIRAN RAO BATNI writes: It’s the talk of the town these days: “right to education”.

From television channels to newspapers, websites to blogs, everyone is busy contemplating the consequences of the Right to Education bill.

The contemplation—be it about the intent of the bill or its implementation or its implications—is primarily centered around the poor versus rich question and the effective-implementation question which manifest themselves in questions such as: “Will the poor be really benefited by this?”, “Will the rich object to the poor flooding their children’s schools?”, “Can private schools which provide premium education at premium prices just remain out of this whole thing?”, “Can this bill actually improve the quality of education in India?”, etc.

However, much to the disappointment of anybody who upholds democracy and federalism, all the discussions about the bill have missed the single most important facet of this whole thing: the complete usurping of power by the central government and the complete neglect of state governments in the matter of education.

I haven’t seen a single voice raised against this decadence of India, and must do my part.

While the people of India are busy discussing trivial details of the bill, they’ve forgotten that it is none of the central government’s business to assume the exclusive ‘right to education’ (as in the right to the portfolio of education) in the first place.

Even in the centre-heavy Constitution of India, education is a concurrent-list subject, but this bill makes it clear that the central government would rather have it all for itself —be it however anti-federal, be it however anti-democracy.

While India discusses the bill in letter, it misses the spirit of the bill which is simply designed to help the central government at New Delhi move one stealthy step closer to becoming a total dictatorship, with state-governments being moved one stealthy step towards becoming dispatch clerks.

The bill delivers a deadly blow to the future of India as a truly federal polity.

State governments, which actually run most of the schools in India, are now being told to act as dry implementers of dubious (nay, outright fatal) diktat flowing in from New Delhi.

The power to decide the constitution of the education system, all research, and indeed everything related to the quality of education is now unilaterally assumed by the central government.

The states now have no say in what constitutes a good education of their people. They’re just being asked to be clerks who shell out money for programmes decided by Kapil Sibals sitting in New Delhi.

Who is Kapil Sibal, and what  does he know about what constitutes a good education for Kannadigas, for Tamils, for Marathis, for Oriyas, for Malayalis, for Telugus? Can he even enumerate all these languages?

Any move which takes power away from the people is a move away from democracy. By moving the site of power from the states to the centre, India has demonstrated its preference of dictatorship over democracy, of government over people, of centralism over federalism.

The people of India have lost the power to have any say in the education of children around them. The real educationists and social reformers of India have suddenly become objects of neglect, and now have an infinite disincentive to advise the governmental machinery on matters of education – simply because they now have to travel to New Delhi to even look at that machinery. Earlier, it was at least to the state-capital.

I urge India to look at this bill from this perspective—the perspective that India is slowly moving towards a dictatorial form of government. And that is not good. Period.

Photograph: courtesy The Hindu

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish

Can Azim Premji do what the government can’t/ won’t?

Yedi is fiddling when namma naadu is burning

Do our netas, parties really care about education?

When will our kids start questioning? Don’t ask

Quotas in foreign Universities on Indian soil?

20 March 2010

The Congress-led UPA government has moved a bill allowing foreign universities to set up shop in India. The entry norms specify a minimum corpus of Rs 50 crore, regulation (but no ceiling) of fees by the University Grants Commission (UGC), non-remittance of profits from educational activities, and a possible exemption from quotas for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

R. Jagannanthan, executive editor of DNA, says the bill is designed to kill the IITs and IIMs, and all government-run academic institutions. Reason: it gives the foreign universities the kind of leeway and elbow room that is denied to State-run Indian universities.

Result: Indian institutions will become like BSNL, Air-India and ONGC.

“Will the government allow the IITs to set their own fees for regular students, thus allowing them to subsidise the SC/ST candidates and the poor?

“Will the IIMs be allowed to enforce affirmative action in their own way without being forced to admit poor quality students in the name of quotas?

“What will happen when the foreign institutions come here and offer their own salary packages to the best remaining professors? Who will teach at the IITs? Just the dregs?”

Read the full articleKapil Sibal’s bill

Also read: FDI + Indian Universities = Infinite possibilities?

CHURUMURI POLL: Quotas in private sector?

CHURUMURI POLL: Private sector = Unequal India?

Is India taking a sudden right toward the US?

20 October 2009

HRD minister Kapil Sibal talks of allowing Harvard and Yale and Stanford to set up shop in India. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh does a u-turn on climate change.  Commerce minister Anand Sharma talks of reviving the Doha round of WTO talks. The US ambassador in India, Timothy Roemer, publicly thanks the UPA government for allocating land for two nuclear plants.

Is the UPA, in its second innings, taking a decidedly pro-US turn, slowly, secretly but surely?

Yes, says Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, in DNA:

“There is no need to look for conspiracy theories that prime minister Manmohan Singh and some of his cabinet colleagues are taking decisions that send out a clear signal that India-US relations will be closer in UPA’s second term. But there is a need to talk about it openly, even debate it, and express objections at least in some cases.

“The BJP will not do it because its leaders do not have the time or the inclination to argue the case either way. The communists can rant as much as they like but no one is likely to take them seriously. The tendency of Singh to do things quietly will only raise doubts and suspicions when there need be none. What appears murky about the Singh government is not the deeds so much as its refusal to do them openly.”

Read the full article: UPA-2’s conspicuous tilt towards US

Also read: 18 things you might like to know about Jairam Ramesh

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply

Kapil Sibal’s helped the kids. What about parents?

28 July 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal’s move to scrap examinations for Standard X has received universal acclaim amongst students.

Although the teachers could lose out a sizable chunk of money in evaluation of papers and a bonus to re-do wrong evaluations, children are already celebrating with high-fives, pizza and Pepsi™.

I went around schools to gauge the prevailing mood.


In the first place I went, nervous parents were standing in a queue to face the exams, a prerequisite for admission of their kids to LKG in a play school.

I asked one of them his opinion of the Sibal Plan to abolish exams.

“I whole-heartedly welcome it! Kapil Sibalji should first ban the mandatory interview/ exam for parents before their children are admitted to LKG. This is the second school I have come to face an exam as I failed in the first,” lamented the father.

“Why? What happened?” I asked.

“In the first school, after I filled the form along with the Rs 500 fees, the secretary of the interview board gave me a guitar and asked me to sing Salman Khan’s latest hit song ‘Mujse shadi karo……’ I haven’t even heard of that song. Instead, I sang ‘My shayar tho nahi, magar….’ from Bobby. They all had a hearty laugh and asked me to come back for the exam next year fully prepared.  My son knew the song and he was very angry with me for being such an ignorant idiot.”

“It’s so sad,” I empathised.

“My life has changed ever since. I’ve been taking  tuition lessons after my office hours learning Bollywood songs,  mugging up all the brands of motorcycles and cars, and the jingles of chocolates. My son has also made me learn by heart the Rin ad ‘Doosra ball bhi sixer hoga, Sir’ and ‘Walk when you Talk, sirji’ ad of Abhishek Bachhan. If I fail this time, my son will never forgive me. Kapil Sibalji is my only hope.”

Next, I met a mother who had come for admission for UKG for her son but had flunked the exam for parents.

“I knew all the jingles, ‘Little stars of India’, and the names of those had got ‘Uttam’, ‘Athi Uttam’ and ‘Sarvottam’ in music competitions. But I was given a practical examination. They asked me to transfer a picture from a mobile phone to a computer. I didn’t even know how to connect the cables. I told them I could draw some pictures from Microsoft Word ‘Paint’ which I showed. When they laughed at my pictures, my son who was also present grabbed the mobile from me, connected the cables and downloaded the picture in 30 seconds.”

“Then, what happened?”

“Since I had failed the test they denied him admission. The education minister should immediately abolish this outmoded horrible practice and help mothers like me. My  son has taken my failure to his heart and insists  he won’t go to school  until I master downloading pictures. I am sending an email to the HRD Minister requesting abolition of exams for parents. I will draft the letter; my son will email it,” said the exasperated mother.

In the next school I went, the parents were asked to take the examination together. For admission of their child to the I standard, the parents were asked to send 5 SMS, each of 5 lines within 5 minutes to each other.

I asked the parents what happened.

The father replied: “They had a stopwatch ticking from the start. At the end of five minutes we could together send only four messages in which there were eight mistakes. We had failed in the technical part of the test which meant ‘no seat’ for our boy.”

The mother continued: “I had taught him how to count up to 100, add, subtract, paint and show up his little finger, both index and middle fingers whenever he wanted to go to ‘Su Su’ and ‘Che Che’. But their decision was final. We are approaching Aamir Khan to help us out.”

It appears Kapil Sibalji will have to abolish the system of examination and tests from nursery school level itself, mainly for parents!


Also read: India’s greatest poet since Bhakti movement?

‘Modern Indian mind is allergic to speed, scale’

18 July 2009

Shekhar Gupta uses the brouhaha over HRD minister Kapil Sibal‘s urgency to introduce reforms in education and E. Sreedharan‘s scorching pace to complete the Delhi Metro project, to say that the modern Indian mind is chronically allergic to speed and scale, in The Indian Express:

“In our popular culture, the honest, efficient and sincere are stray romantics and, ultimately, losers; a trend you see in the defining movies of each decade. There is a sense of resignation, an acceptance of the inevitability of misery, under-performance, shortages, delays, waste and corruption.

“Only, it is unsustainable at a time when our people are getting younger, more questioning, demanding and impatient. One way or the other, they will refuse to live with this contradiction between what they want and expect and what the system feels comfortable delivering. They will either force a change, or vote with their feet.”

Read the full article: Babuji  dheere chalna

CHURUMURI POLL: Judge vs Union minister

6 July 2009

The case involving the Madras High Court judge who reportedly received a call from a Union minister on granting anticipatory bail to two persons is remarkable for the u-turn it has taken—or has been forced to take.

On June 29, the judge R. Reghupathy, without naming anyone, said a Union minister tried to influence him to pass orders favouring the petitioners. According to this report, in which the reporter also mentions an off-the-record briefing by the judge after court, the minister is categorically reported to have spoken to the judge: “A Union minister talked to me. He influenced me to release this petitioner on anticipatory bail.”

The disclosure saw the usual to-and-fro from the political parties, with the BJP and Left united in their condemnation. Although the judge had not named the minister who talked to him, the BJP’s Arun Jaitley demanded that he be sacked.”The minister is not ‘a raja’ who was not accountable to anyone,” Jaitley, a Supreme Court advocate said, in a thinly disguised attempt to name the minister.

Kapil Sibal, a former Supreme Court lawyer now a serving cabinet minister, joined former atttorney general Soli J. Sorabjee, in demanding that the judge make the name public.

After the AIADMK leader J. Jayalalitha named A. Raja as the minister who spoke to the judge, the DMK chief M. Karunanidhi sought a clarification from the telecommunications minister. Meanwhile, MDMK chief Vaiko, an electoral ally of Jayalalitha, has suggested that Raja could have used another minister to pressure the judge. (The film star-turned-politician-turned Union minister D. Napoleon hails from the same area as Raja.)

A day after the incident became public, the chief justice of India, K.G. Balakrishnan, said “if the Minister had spoken to the Judge [as stated by him] then really it is an interference with judiciary.” Now, in an extraordinary turnaround, Justice Balakrishnan has said the judge did not really talk to the minister and that the counsel of the petitioners had held out a phone.

Clearly, there has been some hectic backpedalling. Who do you think is telling the truth?

Graduates of Indian Universities need not apply*

1 June 2009

The new council of ministers of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has drawn attention for the number of alumni from St Stephens College in it, the number of women in it, the number of first-time MPs below the age of 40, and sundry other attributes.

It is also remarkable for one other reason: the number of products it boasts of from foreign Universities.


Manmohan Singh: University of Oxford, and University of Cambridge

P. Chidambaram: Harvard University

Kapil Sibal: Harvard University

S.M. Krishna: Southern Methodist University, Texas; George Washington University, Washington DC

Jairam Ramesh: Massachusetts Institute fo Technology

Prithviraj Chauhan: University of California at Los Angeles

Salman Kursheed: University of Oxford

M.S. Gill: University of Cambridge

Shashi Tharoor: Tufts University, Massachusetts

Agatha Sangma: Nottingham University

Sachin Pilot: Pennnsylvania University, Wharton Business School

Jyotiraditya Scindia: Harvard University, and Stanford University

* Except to fill the quotas of alliance partners, and minister of State posts

Why 2009 elections was like Mahabharata redux

27 May 2009

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Now that the election results are out and the dust has somewhat settled, analysts and psephologists who had got it all wrong with their analyses and predictions are standing upside down and scratching their heads to read the real meaning.

It isn’t different in our home either.

After Ajji does her daily puje to the Tulasi katte, it is her usual practice to sit quietly in the open yard while I read the morning newspapers. This is the moment when she usually chews on what she has seen on Udaya TV and read in Praja Vani the night before.

Ramu, this election just resembles Mahabharata in every respect,” she started.

I was surprised and taken aback by the comparison.

Ajji, I don’t know how you can compare this to Mahabharata… Although there was lot of shrill verbiage, they didn’t come down to fisticuffs. Even Naveen Chawla and N. Gopalaswami shook hands at the transfer of power in Election Commission. There was no mara-mari.”

Illa kano Ramu… I think this was a war between Pandavas and Kauravas. Pandavas had only five people and their mother Kunthi. Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi, Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath shepherded by Sonia were all what they had. Krishna came on the scene, as always, at the right time.”

Has Ajji lost it, I wondered?

Has she entered the first lanes of Alzheimer‘s?

“Ha, ha! And who were on the side of the Kauravas?” I asked nonethelesss.

“There were hundreds of them I can’t remember them all. There was Advani like Bhishma, Murli Manohar Joshi as Kripacharya and Jaswant Singh as Drona. Jaitely, the upright Karna, was emotional as always. But their DuryodhanaVarun Gandhi—made a series of blunders. Azam Khan was their Dhusyasana making obscene remarks at Draupadi, Jaya Prada. Behenji Mayawati was their lone sister, Dhusyale. Kauravas paid the ultimate price for their ahankara, over-confidence and lack of unity.”

Ajji had mastered all the names in just two months as Lalit Modi probably had in South Africa for IPL-2.

Ajji, you have got Mahabharatha all mixed up, but ninna story sakatthagide. What will happen in the future?”

“Pandavas will not exactly roll around on a bed of roses. For one thing, they should not have made peace with Dhrutharashtra. His sons and daughters will always be greedy putting their family’s interest before that of the country’s.  No doubt, Krishna will protect Dharmaraya from external forces.  Arjuna and Kunthi, along with BhimaChidambaram, will protect Bharathavarsha from all internal strife. Still, there will be pinpricks from Dhrutharashtra every now and then.”

Ajji! I think you are making up your own Mahabharatha now! But it is beginning to make some sense. Any predictions?”

“After some time Arjuna will take over from Yudhistira who will take to vanavasa. He will also groom AbhimanyuSachin Pilot—his trusted lieutenant, to take up some responsible position.”

“What will happen to Krishna?”

Ayyo, Krishna will ensure there is no trouble to Manamohana Rajya from our neighbours. But ultimately due to Yadavi kalaha in his home-State he will be ousted. His own people will prove to be his nemesis.”

“What will happen to Dhruthrashtra?”

“When Arjuna takes over, he will have a bigger headache as Dhrutharashtra’s great-great-grand childern, children of each of the present ministers and their wives (and husbands), will demand their pound of flesh, i.e. cabinet posts which will number more than 20. Kauravas would have also strengthened their positions through treaties with lesser known chieftains and ruffians. Without Krishna, external forces would also be emboldened to have a go at Pandavas. India will thus face threats both internal and external.”

Ajji was narrating the story like Alfred Hitchcock; rather like Nostradamus. The suspense was killing me.

“What will happen after that, Ajji? Tell me.”

“I don’t know. Thank god! I won’t be there to witness all that,” concluded Ajji.

India’s greatest poet since the Bhakti movement?

8 September 2008

PRITAM SENGUPTA writes from New Delhi: As Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw showed, if you have to die, you must die somewhere in the vicinity of Delhi, so that the movers, shakers and brokers of the capital can easily assemble to “bid a tearful farewell”.

If you write a book, you must write do so somewhere between south and central Delhi, as Presidents (Abdul Kalam), former Union ministers (Lal Krishna Advani, Jaswant Singh), South Block mandarins (Pavan K. Varma, Vikas Swarup, Navtej Sarna, Nirupama Rao) have shown.

For, if you do, Jnanpith Award winning authors, Bollywood actors, starlets and lyricists will crawl out of the woodwork to read and recite your magnum opus. And the media, otherwise snapping like mad dogs at your feet, will gratefully roll over and allow itself to be given a nice little rub on its bloated underbelly.

Take the case of Kapil Sibal‘s ‘I Witness: Partial Observations‘ published by IndiaInk (Roli Books).

It’s a collection of 84 “poems”, mostly composed by the Union science and technology minister’s own admission “on the cellphone during long flights”.

It’s what you and I would call an SMS.

But looking at the red-carpet treatment the putative poet’s book has received from our supposedly “cynical media”, it would seem the greatest poems since the Bhakti movement have been penned on a Blackberry in the business class of British Airways before the babes brought in the booze.

# On NDTV 24×7, Sonia Singh assembles a half-hour show on the politician as poet.

# On CNBC-TV18, Karan Thapar, who otherwise eats politicians for dinner, actually looks lovingly into the eyes of the new prodigy on the block.

# In Outlook, there is a two-page profile of the “nano poet”, with the breathtaking line, “Bio-tech: scientific surgeon’s knife/ genetic investigator’s dream”.

# On NDTV 24×7, Shekhar Gupta does a full Walk the Talk with the “peripatetic poet”, and follows it up with a full-page of excerpts in The Indian Express.

On top of the specials, there is the routine too.

In Bangalore, The Times of India gleefully records the presence of actor Waheeda Rehman and Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw at the release.

In Delhi, The Hindustan Times grimly documents Sibal’s self-proclaimed “natural affinity for rhymes”.

Sure, the media’s duty is to shine the light on fresh new talent. Sure, as Sibal said in Bangalore: “We (politicians) too are sensitive. We too have feelings like any other ordinary mortals.” And sure, there is an element of surprise, if not an undercurrent of fun.

But where is the balance?

Do gems such as these qualify as poetry:

# A constitutional/guarantee?/No panacea/for inequality

# I never have understood/why so many of us/have to die

# TRPs of channels,/soap operas,/get hits for you./News that matters/serious content,/of limited value

# The Left has suffered for a lifetime now, of an ailment they can’t diagnose The symptom however that troubles them most is that they can’t see beyond their nose

Is this a book of poems, or the first book of SMSes?

Vijay Nambisan, a published poet, writes in The Hindu:

“Kapil Sibal is entirely justified in referring to these pieces as ‘partial observations’. But neither he, nor Shashi Tharoor on the back cover, nor even the more fulsome front inside-flap copy-writer, is justified in calling them poems.”

Maybe, if the media went about being so serious, it would be a very boring media. Maybe, there is a some laughs to be had out of all this just as we laugh at Lalu Prasad‘s chalisa. Maybe, this is just desserts for charming Mr Sibal, a fine lawyer with a fine sense of humour.

Maybe, it’s a publicity coup for his publishers. Maybe, it’s a small price to pay for editors and publishers who want to be on the right of Sibal. Just good PR, nothing lost in humouring a Union minister.


But would a fresh young poet in Delhi, especially one aged 60, get such play in our media? Would a fresh young poet in some other part of the country, get such play? Would an out-of-power politician get such play? Would an out-of-power, non-Delhi, non-English poet get it?

Above all, is this stuff even halfway good?

Or just page 3 pap?

As Indrajit Hazra wrote in a piece accompanying a “review” in the Hindustan Times:

From the shores of a droll ministry
comes outpourings from a head.
Now, if it wasn’t Kapil Sibal
we would have left them unread….

Sudha Murthy, the wife of the Infosys chief mentor, N.R. Narayana Murthy, recently complained to a wellknown short story writer that the media wasn’t taking enough note of her literary output.

“I have been writing short stories for 50 years and nobody is taking note of me. And here is a rich but bored housewife who is writing short stories as a hobby demanding it as a matter of right,” the short story writer told her son out of exasperation.

India’s celebrities, it now appears, are secretly hoping that their every fetish and fancy be recorded for posterity. Funnily, it seems, a celebrity-driven media is unquestioningly falling for it.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News (digitally altered)

Also read: How many poems can fetch a poet Rs 8.5 crore?

A box of poems is mightier than a sten-gun

Da Ra Bendre on why nitrogen is nonsense

FDI + Indian universities = Infinite possibilities?

14 July 2008

NIKHIL MORO writes from Mount Pleasant, Michigan: With the Left betaal only recently shrugged off, a Parliamentary majority highly tenuous, and an energized BJP nipping at his heels, does Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have the energy to restart economic reform?

That may be anybody’s guess. But the education sector, so far immunized from WTO and GATS negotiations, is begging for a ceding of state control.

In a way it’s odd that private investment for profit should still be disallowed in education, particularly in higher education, after two decades of avowed liberalisation. Two decades is plenty of time to implement cultural safeguards. Investments by charitable trusts and religious institutions have been a trickle, and not universally appreciated.

The National Knowledge Commission seeks a nearly four-fold increase in the number of universities by 2015 for India to maintain any competitive edge. At present only about a tenth of college-age Indians are even enrolled in college; China’s comparable gross enrollment rate is two times that.

In order to increase India’s college GER to 15 per cent by 2015, the Knowledge Commission recommends that spending on higher education, which accounts for less than a sixth of the total spent in education, be doubled to at least 1.5 per cent of the GDP.

Even with limited non-government investment in higher education, nearly a third of college students are enrolled in institutions that receive no government aid.

Additionally, India is under pressure to enhance quality in the existing 350 postgraduate universities and their respective families of about 1,770 undergraduate colleges, which together constitute one of the world’s prodigious systems of higher education.

An average Indian university administers more than 100 affiliated colleges; a few universities administer as many as 400. It is akin to a poor family raising scores of demanding kids. India’s per capita spending on higher education, according to UNESCO figures, is one of the world’s lowest.

Members of the Knowledge Commission are aghast. They want some sort of “family planning” for universities – creating as many as 1500 smaller, “more nimble,” universities by 2015, each taking care of far fewer colleges and spending far more per student.

Clearly, immense investment in higher education is a need of the decade. 

Where the money? The government’s resources are already straining from the unmet challenge of universal literacy: India has 380 million illiterates, more people than the populations of the United States and Canada combined.

Other than raising public bonds, inviting investments from competing private entrepreneurs may be the only sustainable solution. John Elliott of Fortune estimates that investment potential to be $40 billion per year and to increase to three times that in a decade.

So what is the government doing?

Earlier in July, Harvard-educated science minister Kapil Sibal, during a visit to Bangalore, declared his intention to invite foreign direct investment (FDI) in higher education. Not just private but foreign too. Whether Sibal was speaking for the Union cabinet is unclear, but he sure got the Communists’ goat: Three weeks later, CPM secretary Prakash Karat pulled the rug from under the government, albeit over the nuclear agreement.

(Ah, was that a grin crossing Mr. Sibal’s countenance?)

So what might be some implications of opening the sluice gates of higher education to private and foreign investment?

# Dollars/Euros would fund the pursuit of applied, high-demand, subjects (biotechnologies, informatics, telecommunications, chemical engineering, etc).  Some investment would go to the humanities (law, mathematics, philosophy), a trickle to the social sciences (psychology, political science, linguistics) and whatever remains to vocational/trade subjects (aviation, metal work, information technology, etc).

# Academy-industry ties would turn more universities, to a larger extent, into petri-dishes of corporations. R&D activities would migrate from corporations to universities due to lower costs. So more active campuses, more rigorous program requirements, more robust degree programs. Result? More patents and other intellectual property, which in turn would attract even more investments, more trickle-down returns.

# A substantial spike in sources of research funding outside the social sector would result in more avenues for productive student employment, more incentives for creative faculty, a tenure system for professors based on research productivity – more reasons to pursue higher education.

# Education would be priced much higher; tuition and fees would be driven not by utopian fundamentals such as margins of profit or social need but by the inexorable demands of the market.  Banks and other lenders would enter a golden age. Credit rating of individuals would blossom as an industry in itself.

# Resistance to egalitarian programs such as reservation in college seats would get stronger, more so in reservation in faculty positions:  Disadvantaged backward/rural students would find motivation to be as competitive as ever.

# Universities from America and Europe, eager to expand their reach and coffers, would be able to offer high quality programs on their own terms: How about access to the portals of Columbia, MIT or Cambridge while sitting in your red-oxide verandah in Vontikoppal? There’d be a celebration of the scientific method, probably with greater emphasis on process than on concepts.

# Short-term disadvantages to regional aspirations such as Indian systems of medicine and therapy, the Kannada chaluvali, Indology and Eastern philosophies would be corrected over time by the higher-impact creative activities and research.

# The academic year’s pace would hasten; university schedules would move into more flexible, credit-driven semesters or quarters.

Churumuri readers might want to discuss the value additions/deletions from the above implications.

Also read: Yella not OK, guru. Nanna makkalu is not learning

Don’t gift them fish. Teach them how to fish

Can Azim Premji do what the government can’t/won’t?

What can Mysore University do with a windfall

The world’s ascendant education superpower?