January 29, 2011

India in the new millennium

THE BEGINNING of new millennium was seen by Indians as an emergence of new opportunities, new hopes, new realities and above all better governance. We did witness sparks of everything but without any stability. There is less than two years when we would complete the first decade of the new millennium with hopes, opportunities and realities shattering.

Political opportunism has reached its nadir and all political parties are mute to people’s aspirations and frustrations. None of the political leaders, irrespective of party affiliation, has appeared to be sane in his thinking process that could help in nation building, thereby, meeting aspirations of the people at large. What we have witnessed in the recent past is that every political party has more respect for its party flag than the national tricolour. Else, we would have not found streets full of blood, be it in Ahmedabad or Jammu or Srinagar.

The so-called Indian growth story was so contagious that we did not know that it would soon culminate in price hike of foodgrains, fuel, fruits and vegetables. When an average Indian is burdened with meeting his ends, taking care of his family and health, our political masters draw strategies as how to win the impending elections by dividing the nation by resorting to every dirty trick they have in their kitty. And we, who take pride in identifying ourselves as the elite citizens of the third largest democracy watch helplessly. A few thousand politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, journalists, musclemen and power fixers control the democracy in the name of Republic of India.

There has been no efforts on the part of political leaders to bring an element of people’s participation in the nation building process where the entire system agrees not to politicise a few issues that would give fillip to national development by rising above regional compulsions.

Could there be a way LK Advani, Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Prakash Karat, Mulayam Singh Yadav, N Chandrababu Naidu, Ram Vilas Paswan, Mayawati, Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi, where all of them would agree on just five issues that can be in the interest of the people of India? At least, let the new decade not go waste in putting the nation into the orbit of real people-oriented growth where no one throws a spanner.

January 19, 2011

India waits for Wikileaks to name Swiss account holders

ALLEGATIONS THAT there are billions of dollars in black money stashed away in Swiss banks by Indians might be proved if one believes the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who has promised to disclose the names of 2000 account holders, who have Swiss bank accounts.

It is generally believed that a number of Indian industrialists, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats have deposited around 1500 billion dollars of ill gotten money in Swiss bank accounts. In fact information about some of these big names is known to the Indian government and in a recent move, the government was forced to reveal some of these names to the Supreme Court, although the government did so under the condition that the same should not be made be made public.

The reason being that this information was classified as it was given by countries like USA and Germany under a confidential clause. However, the moot question is, if the government of India knows the names of such wrongdoers, who have looted the country and still are doing so, then why there has been no action against them?

Don’t name the corrupt in public, but atleast take action on the basis of this information and stop this loot, the people are demanding. However, it seems that many in power and those close to them are happy with the way things are going on and this could be due to obvious reasons.

Now coming to the much anticipated revelations promised by Assange, the whole of the country is waiting to know if some Indian names will also be exposed by his website. Recently, the Nira Radia tapes also exposed the unholy nexus between politicians, corporates, Indian bureaucrats and even the media and this lead to the ouster of a union cabinet minister.

It is quite possible that Wikileaks expose could also cause a similar upheaval in Indian politics and hit some bigwigs. The common man in India burdened by rising prices, lack of opportunities and general apathy of government and administration is imploring the Wikileaks silently and in the heart of hearts to come out with names of such corrupt Indians.

However, they know that even if these names are revealed, it would be tough to get these corrupt people convicted as they are not only powerful and rich but could also hold the strings of law themselves.
The entire nation knows the fate of Bofors scandal, where the government and the CBI used all its resources to ensure that the case never came to conclusion and despite clear cut evidence of wrongdoing none of the corrupt could be brought to book.

India is a country, where a person might be jailed for accepting a bribe of Rs 20 but if the amount is Rs 20 crores or Rs 200 crores, then the circle of justice just gets inverted. The bigger the crime, the lesser is the chance of getting caught and even less of being convicted.

Recently, a former CVC of India was quoted as saying that corruption is a highly paying activity with a very low risk attached to it. It is time that this risk is multiplied and those, who break the law are made to pay for it.

It is being hoped by the people of India, particularly the poor, who account 70 per cent of the population that billions of rupees that really belong to them are brought back from the Swiss banks. If the UPA government in the centre wants to redeem itself, then it should take cognizance of the Wikileaks revelations seriously, whenever the same are made.

If any Indian name is revealed by the site, then the Congress lead government should immediately order an inquiry and take action against those, who have stashed away national money in Swiss bank accounts.

This money in Swiss banks has been looted from the people of India and if it is brought back to the country, the entire foreign debt can be paid off and even after that a huge amount of spare cash would be left behind for development.

But, who will do this. Does the Indian government and politicians have the strength of character and will to change the very rules of the game and put fear into the minds of those, who have been stealing from the people of India.

We are waiting for Wikileaks to release the list.

Wikileaks info on hidden accounts likely to reveal Indians

WHERE POLITICAL stalwarts failed to deliver, a dynamic journalist, Jullian Assange has succeeded. The political parties in India have been trading charges over the money stashed in overseas tax havens like Switzerland and Germany, however none appear sincere in their approach.

Ruling UPA has time and again offered tall promises to bring back black money stashed away but never appeared genuine in approach. On the other hand opposition too seems hollow in this regard. Now as they are in opposition, they are raising this serious issue, however when they were in power for six years, they did little to catch the booty.

Julian Assange, a man who has been in limelight for leaking strategically important political and diplomatic cable across the world through his web portal, Wikileaks is once again all geared up to ruffle Indian feathers. According to recent developments, Assange has received two CDs containing 2000 names from the world of business and politics. Any time in near future, the list will be made public and is expected to create havoc in many countries, especially in India where influential people are plundering government coffers bypassing laws of the land easily.

Rudolf Elmer, a former bank employee who worked with a Swiss bank in the past has handed over CDs to Assange at the Frontline club, London on January 17, 2011. The list contains information on “high net worth individuals and corporations and many elite rich and famous people. Many leading politicians, bureaucrats, corporations and other famous personalities are supposed to face heat once data comes out in public domain.

Some reports say that anywhere around $5.7 trillion are stashed in tax havens by rich and influential Indians, the money is mostly amassed flouting law of the land and through illegal means, crime, smuggling, bribe and extortion. According to 2007 exchange rates, the money comes to voluminous Rs 285 lakh crore.

The money, if used properly can address many social issues, it can facilitate in constructing world-class roads across the country, taking power to every rural household, providing drinking water in all villages and towns, constructing houses for 30 crore families, providing Rs 8 crore to every village of the nation; and to build a school, a primary health centre and many more.

But who cares, the people who can bring about a change in the society are all engaged in tall talking and trading barb with critics. The corrupt are still roaming free, nothing concrete has happened to people like Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, A Raja, Yeddyurappa, many generals and colonels and bureaucrats. Those who can restructure the system are napping or have become a mute spectator to all the ills happening under their nose.

January 14, 2011

Dissent and Democracy

THIS PIECE is being written about a week after a sessions court in Raipur convicted the human rights activist and physician, Dr Binayak Sen to life imprisonment on charges of sedition. Dr Sen, an alumnus of the Christian Medical College, Vellore was honoured by the college a few years ago for distinguished service by an alumni by awarding him the Paul Harrison Award. Since the sentence came in, lots of protests and criticism of the judgement has come in from various quarters. Binayak Sen’s involvement in spporting the human rights of the tribals of Chattisgarh comes out of his work as a doctor involved over decades in providing health care in the area.

Along with Dr Sen, there were two others who were sentenced. One of course was a Maoist ideologue and the other – Piyush Guha, a tendu leaf trader, who used to buy tendu leaves from Chattisgarh and sell them in West Bengal. So obscure was he that even the Maoists didn’t know, that he was supposed to be one of them; he didn’t figure on any one’s list of ‘wanted’ people, and when he was arrested, it would seem that everyone was puzzled.

The sentence raises the question of the place of dissent and divergent opinions in a democratic society. I can understand condemning and cracking down on violence. I don’t see too much difference between left wing extremism and right wing terrorism and if we are dealing with one with an iron hand, we should surely do the same with the other too..... But is even non violent dissent a crime and a threat to national security?

In 1947, when we obtained political independence from the British, the Communists had called it a jhoothi azadi- a false independence. Today, we know why. We have retained archaic British laws, colonial structures and bureaucracies and even the bearer’s uniform in the district collector’s office wears an uniform smelling to high heavens of imperialism. There is one significance difference though. The British administration was an explicitly colonising regime and so sedition was a legitimate offence for them. Sedition as an offence in the penal code of a democratic country stinks. A democracy should be so able to attract its own people to itself, that seceding from the country is the thought that is farthest from the citizen’s mind. With close to 139 districts in the country covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and other such draconian laws, it seems that Indian democracy is being sustained at gun point in several parts, rather than a willing participation by the citizenry.

Coming back to the matter of the sentence handed down to Dr Binayak Sen, what can one do? The first thing to do is to acquaint oneself with the bare facts of the case and what different voices are saying. A voice that I have been hearing and finding it to be disturbing and what M J Akbar, the noted journalist and a senior of Binayak at school has articulated is that “India has become a strange democracy where Binayak Sen gets life in jail and dacoits get a life in luxury. It takes years of pressure for government to move against those looting the nation’s treasury”. Akbar makes the further telling point, “Binayak made a fundamental, mortal mistake. He was on the side of the poor. That is a non-negotiable error in our oligarchic democracy."

The Indian parliament is increasingly becoming the preserve of the rich and privileged. In an earlier era, corporate czars used to stay out of politics and curry favour with politicians by donating to party funds, under writing election expenses and similar activities. They have increasingly dispensed with that – (though of course lobbyists still exist as any one reading the news in the last weeks knows) and are entering parliament themselves, so that they can directly shape policy without go betweens and middle men. When such is the composition of our parliament, siding the poor and speaking up on their behalf will be obviously charged with sedition, no less. The only consolation that these hapless prisoners will have is that of the company of the Father of the Nation, who too in his time was charged by his colonial masters under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code with sedition. Yesterday’s colonisers wore suits and ties; our masters of today wear crumpled dhotis. Not much has changed and perhaps not much will – in the short run.”