Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Gas Baalu

Gas Baalu
-By Susenjit Guha

Rising to new heights in defiance in re-calibration of morality of the public office, Mr.Baalu--- instead of repenting---admitted in the Rajya Sabha that he had used his position to secure gas for the companies owned by his family and found nothing wrong with it.

A hungry man is an angry man.

Nations can be hungry too. India is hungry for energy.

With oil prices showing no signs of abating, gas has become an indispensable fuel for industries, power generation, fertilizer production and household consumption.

That is exactly why the Congress party---even after an unsuccessful attempt to nearly sovereignty-sell India on the N-deal and a successful vote against Iran at the IAEA---is now looking forward to president Ahmadinejad’s 3 hour stopover visit. India needs Iran’s gas and the contentious transit fee hitches with Pakistan are already being worked out.

And angry reactions to US’ suggestions to talk the Iranians out of making nuclear bombs reflected how hunger leads to anger.

Hunger for energy and resources---common among the two emerging Asian economies, China and India who are also scrambling for them in volatile Africa---are natural with our much touted growth rate.

But the swag of oddities begins here.

What we keep seeing as growth, benefits barely 10% of the population. 10% in India is huge and glossy enough to eclipse the 90%. With inflation soaring, the 90% are the hardest hit. Basic food grains---their staple diet---vegetables and all edibles have to be bought at higher prices every time.

They are hungry and when concerns are raised, Dr.Manmohan Singh thinks political parties are politicizing poverty. 90% do not have the wherewithal to spiraling income to combat spiraling inflation.

And Rahul Gandhi---who was referred to as Congress’s future to Congressmen by Dr.Singh---recently went on dalit-darshans and quizzed them(they fall in the 90%) about his family before the prime minister hinted or made us believe that he was irked about politicians making an issue out of the poor.

The 10% and their economic achievements can be talked about as much as possible and showcased as India’s success story. That would make for good advertisement without being a bother for politicians. Why bother when everything in that bracket is hunky-dory?

And everything was hunky-dory for Union Minister T.R.Baalu till his party opted out of the earlier NDA alliance. GAIL cancelled the gas allocation to companies owned by his sons and they presumably fell sick and went under BIFR.

Rising to new heights in defiance in re-calibration of morality of the public office, Mr.Baalu--- instead of repenting---admitted in the Rajya Sabha that he had used his position to secure gas for the companies owned by his family and found nothing wrong with it.

He said he ‘put in a word’ which in fact resulted in 8 letters in 3 months from the PMO to expedite gas supply to the companies.

What about several other BIFR companies not related to ministers holding office?

It means if you are a politician in power or part of a governing alliance and hold public office, you can always ‘put in a word’ and let the PMO do the rest to kick start family owned companies that had been way-laid by previous governments antagonistic towards you.

Nothing wrong and no problem with the anomaly that similar ventures way-laid due to several other factors will not have the reach you shall enjoy.

Do we need to brace up to a paradigm shift in morality of the public office?

Or, will gassed up companies float leaving others rooted on terra firma?

Both our major political parties have proved they are at times out of sync with ground realities and allowed caste based, parochial and regional parties to loom up. In the era of coalition governments, they have to be kept in good humour and whatever is required to keep them on board---even 8 letters---has to be done.

But there is a silver lining.

Democracy ensures that if unchecked price rise leads to hunger, anger will be reflected on the election results since those affected, will belong to more than 90% of the population.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Playing Games?

Playing Games?
By Seema Mustafa

The country is reeling under price rise, but even here the PMO seeks to drive political advantage by blaming the concerned political parties for exploiting the "misery" of the poor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has issued a statement urging the Left not to play upon the misery of the poor by raising the issue of price rise repeatedly. In other words, yes there is inflation, yes there is price rise but do not go on and on about it as in doing so you are playing upon the misery of the poor by creating a hype. This was the tone and tenor of the PMO statement read out faithfully by the Prime Ministers advisor Sanjaya Baru after a meeting with the Left leaders in Delhi on Friday.

It is amazing how beautifully the Prime Ministers office put itself into a perpetual state of denial, and blames the opponents for its own omissions and commissions. It was not so long ago that the PMO was flailing at the critics of the India US civilian nuclear energy agreement in a similar manner, where the Left and the NDA and the regional parties were being accused of being against the interests of the nation in opposing the deal. The statements from the PMO, both official and more unofficial, seemed to suggest that only the Prime Minister and his supporters in the government were acting in the national interest while all the rest in Parliament and outside opposing the deal were anti-national. In fact terms close to this phrase were used against the nuclear scientists when they came out against the terms and conditions of the nuclear deal, to a point where the PMO appeared to have pitched itself across the oceans to side with Washington while the rest of India (excluding the Congress party and allies like Lalu of course) continued to block the government from going ahead with the nuclear deal.

Of course, even today despite the long fight the government has not been able to admit that it is indeed over, and keeps insisting that the deal might just happen. CPI leader A.B.Bardhan used a good phrase to describe the current status of the nuclear deal, "na marti hai, na khaat chor ti hai". (it neither dies nor leaves the bed). And even today despite the opposition the statements from the government seem to suggest that they are still looking for an opportunity to slip the nuclear deal past the Indian Parliament.

Now the country is reeling under price rise, but even here the PMO seeks to drive political advantage by blaming the concerned political parties for exploiting the "misery" of the poor. At least the Prime Minister and his bureaucrats have admitted that the poor is miserable, although they hesitate to define the reasons for this. Inflation is hitting the ceiling with even the normally suave finance minister P.Chidambaram unable to convince the nation that this is a temporary phenomenon and will settle down soon. The government that had always denied possible impact of global economics on national polity, is now having to admit that the current scale of inflation is largely because of this. Spiralling prices now threaten to place even a frugal meal out of the reach of the poor who see no end to their deepening 'misery'.

The Left parties in their memorandum to the Prime Minister actually submitted specific recommendations for tackling price rise. These included strengthening of the public distribution system by universalizing it, placing curbs on the procurement of food grains from farmers by private companies and traders; banning future trading in 25 agricultural commodities as proposed by a parliamentary standing committing; cutting customs and excise duties on oil and reducing retail prices of petrol and diesel, and taking stringent action against hoarders and black marketers. The Left also suggested that the present requirement of stocks of foodgrains of 50,000 tonnes held in godowns and warehouses should be lowered to 10,000 tonnes.

Sound and practical suggestions that one would have expected the Prime Minister to take on board while preparing a plan of action to deal with the price rise as an urgent priority. Instead the response has been the usual homilies tinged with a tone of confrontation that had the Left reminding the government that it still had to face the passage of the Finance Bill in Parliament, and could not get through with the support of the Left parties. This is an unfortunate development as prices should be a matter of national concern, with the government taking the lead to cut across the political divide for a policy based on national consensus and concrete measures. The poor who had virtually disappeared off the policy map of governments over these past ten years, are now being further squeezed out of existence with the ruling elite barely concerned about their plight.

Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi is currently stopping for tea and meals at the homes of tribals and Dalits to announce to the world his supposed concern for the completely marginalized sections of Indian society. Of course his questions include a quiz where he wants to know from the poorest of the poor whether they knew of his grandmother Indira Gandhi, his father Rajiv Gandhi and of course of his mother and him. One does not know the response as this was not reported by any of the journalists, but there has not been a statement from him of what needs to be done in concrete terms for the poorest of the poor. It has all been about 'me and I' as the Congress sycophants----including general secretaries and ministers---line up to praise the young man for his initiative and insist that he should now become the prime minister of India. One is still waiting to hear from Rahul Gandhi about what he is going to do, or at least suggest be done, to improve the lot of precisely those he has been targeting for his own 'face lift'.

Gimmicks now do not work. These in fact stopped working a long time ago as the poor of India has lived too long with hopeless poverty to jump and cry for joy each time some one remembers them and comes visiting. The story is not about the one individual or the one family that the Congress scion honoured (or at least thought he had) with his visit, but about the masses who continue to live in acute poverty without the basics that distinguish between dignity and a complete lack of respect. While economists fight over the BPL statistics the fact remains that millions of Indians today live without electricity, roads, health care, drinking water, education and in other words, without a decent life. Price rise has further bent their backs, as the one roti has become half a roti with even salt becoming a luxury.

Dr Manmohan Singh and his finance minister have some explaining to do. They must tell the nation why their great economic policies have gone so horribly wrong, and what they intend to do about this now. It is not enough to say that inflation is a global phenomenon, they must tell the nation what the government is going to do about it today. India does not reside in the big cities as the Prime Minister and the UPA government has come to believe, but in the villages and small towns of India who live with the dirt of non governance as they struggle to make ends meet.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Global problems need global solutions

Global problems need global solutions
by Susenjit Guha

Global solutions for global economic problems would also mean putting up firewalls against global financial institutions whose on-the-loose laissez-faire has proved to be grossly unfair.

Gordon Brown’s US visit may have been overshadowed by the Pope in the nation of prayers, but his attempts to mend and forge with Europe with some talk of a slip road from his host’s unilateral freeway despite sharing a ‘special relationship’ cannot be overlooked.

So what if the British media had dug up Carla Bruni’s dare-to-bare modeling past and when Sarkozy paid a visit? Obviously, Sarkozy’s needling of the sleeping, now infirm leviathan Great Britain, may have worked.

And not only did Brown shift gears on the infamous Blair doctrine---it had boiled down to pre-emptive action and the right of early intervention against rogue states and potential enemies---but he was also emphatic about his hope for a more consensual style of US leadership from either of the 3 White House hopefuls.

Gordon Brown weighed in with the need for global political and financial institutions to find global solutions for global problems

That would indeed be a change if it actually comes about. And where else Brown could have expressed his hope other than the John F Kennedy memorial library in front of Kennedy family members who are solidly behind Barack Obama whose call for ‘change’ set the campaign pitch?

That would also mean breathing life back into a near defunct UN and giving G8'greater’ voice than a unilateral US. Hadn’t the US helped set up those very global institutions after WWII which were later ignored by the Bush administration? Pre-emption was restricted to military invasions to snuff out imaginary WMD’s but not to predict and avert financial meltdowns.

Again, global solutions for global economic problems would also mean putting up firewalls against global financial institutions whose on-the-loose laissez-faire has proved to be grossly unfair. Brown advocated more political and inter-nation co-operations, so far resisted by the bankers who had US support for their free run. Brown wanted more US involvement for tackling climate changes.

Brown himself had undertaken the US trip without a clue about how to arrest the British economic slide down and avert a US-style housing crash.

But can the UK--- seen by Europeans as a conduit to the US---get to bear on future US administrations about the indispensability of a consensus? If required, will they hold their ground with major EU nations in case presidents across the Atlantic go ballistic?

Traditional US allies like Australia also smooth talked themselves out of total dependence on US security alliances in the last couple of months.

Brown also chipped in with US’ leadership indispensability during his meetings with the hopefuls and president Boosh---that was how he referred to Bush in his Highlander accent--- whose term ends in just 9 months.

And his speeches carried the word ‘global’ 69 times which made the Guardian wonder if its repetitive use would in itself shape a new order.

Tony Blair did an about turn in the US after hyping up EU hopes of an active UK involvement during the St.Malo summit in the late nineties. Getting the US to change its foreign policy and separating a traditional dependence was not easy as he found out. Even the quintessentially English Winston Churchill felt he too could have been an American to warm up to the US when the Germans just had to cross the channel from Dunkirk in the early years of WWII.

Perhaps Brown tried to achieve some of it by lobbying for emerging countries like China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa to get them on board. New voices are bound to be louder during debates on global solutions and help bolster the case for multi-lateral efforts.

But a lot depends on the next US president. A lot also depends how Great Britain, Brown or without Brown, can walk the talk and not be seen by the EU as only doing US’ bidding to solve global problems with only US' solutions.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Seed of hatred begets nothing but destruction

Seed of hatred begets nothing but destruction
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

Hate looks like a paltry four letter word. To say 'I hate…' may seem natural. 'It's common' many may say, and agree. It is also a 'natural human tendency' that which is imbibed in a person 'since birth'. But once born hate often dies hard.

Leaders are the men who lead the masses. Leaders are required, for without them we have little motivation for growth. If leaders are wise, they transform the society for good and forever, when imprudent he instigates a culture of hatred. That hatred, like wild fire, burns the minds of people and instigates violence to be faced and suffered by not just one but generations after generations.

When Pakistan was born it was simply based on abhorrence towards the Hindus. When Zimbabwe marched in its path to freedom it carried along hatred against the white skinned people. Almost all of the middle-eastern nations were brought to existence out of the hatred for the other races and religions. There is a saying in various Indian (or Hindu) texts, which reads 'If hatred is thy reason, it shall bring nothing but destruction.' Great Indian Sages starting from Vedic seers like Jaimini and Veda Vyas until the great exponent of Advaita Adi Shankaracharya until Sufi saints like Kabir have all been great propagators of 'Love', for they knew that 'Hate' will bring nothing but obliteration. The chaotic state of Pakistan, financial and social misery of Zimbabwe, suffering of people living in Middle Eastern nations, I strongly believe, is a testimony to that truism of our sages.

For a long time now I have been trying hard to understand my nation - India, whom I love so much. Unlike other nations on facet of mother earth, India is immensely exceptional. After its Independence from the British on 15th August 1947, its nationalism was not based on any of the conformist indices of general national characteristics.

It wasn't, or rather isn't, united because of one language, Indian constitution recognizes eighteen official languages, and there are thirty five that are spoken by more than a million people each. Ethnicity too couldn't make its nationalism happen, for India accommodates a diverse pattern of racial types in which many Indians have more in common in foreigners, than with other Indians. For example, Punjabis and Bengalis have more common ethnicity with Pakistanis and Bangladeshi's respectively than with other Indian citizens. Religion too couldn't unite, for India was more a pluralistic and secular state that which has been home to, almost, every religion known to mankind. Not even geography, since the nation's topography was hacked since 1947. Nor territory, forms its bases, since by law, anyone with one grand parent born in pre-partitioned India – outside territorial boundaries of today's state is qualified for Indian citizenship.

Indian nationalism, I believe, is a nationalism of ideas, the idea of a land emerging from a primordial civilization, amalgamated by a shared past and sustained by a pluralistic democracy. Considering this fact we are all minorities in this country, should we not recognize ourselves as Indians. In proportion to the population of Hindus, presently, Muslims are minorities. Considering the population of Muslims, Christians and against Christians, Paris and Jews are minorities. Hindus again, thanks to the political agendas of self serving politicos, are being divided further. First it was SCs and STs and now it is going to be OBCs (Other Backward Classes).

The reservations for the Muslims, Christians and OBCs are now underway in educational and governmental establishments. The idea is that because Muslims and Christians are minorities they are being deprived of chances to flourish in the government sector. Similarly argument with OBC reservations is that because they are minorities within the Hindus they are underprivileged. Does the argument really make any sense? I wonder.

'Do you know how we are treated in the past by Brahmins?' asked a raged friend of mine, who hails from a SC community. He wasn't the only one to say that there are many Dalit leaders, who are also my friends, taking the same line. So are they asking for reservation as a revenge for a historic 'wrong'? Well if that is so then it's again a seed of hate which is being sowed, certainly not virtuous.

For such divisions and subdivisions there will be no end. Every person or family living in this country could be termed a 'Minority'. It is needless to say that this political division is neither for the benefit of Muslims, nor for Christians nor for the OBCs. It's for Votes. And let me tell you: there are two ways in which you can win votes. It can be either by doing a good and sensible job or by following the age old, and nasty, trick of 'Divide and Rule'. Our politicians prefer the nasty ways, always.

Being a diverse nation with so many languages, sects, religions and regions there exists people with diverse differences. These differences when not channelized and negatively harnessed can be transformed into a seed of hatred, a very lethal and potent weapon. This is how the politicians in his country have won their power in elections. It is owing to these facts that for the past sixty years not all Indians have learnt to think of themselves as Indians, and to speak of an Indian identity. And should this trend continue we would foresee yet another partition of this land, for hate begets destruction.

The Congress led, and Communist supported, UPA government at the center is certain that it's not going to recuperate its power, owing to several factors, in the coming elections, including the Indo-US nuclear deal, High Inflation rate and many others. But they are desperate to come back at any (or anyone's) cost. The OBC and Muslim quota they plan to implement is for nothing but to woo their vote banks. They seem to be keen to return to power by this. Alas, there's no one who can remind this party of the state of V P Singh who lost elections even after implementing OBC reservations. History has several anecdotes in it to tell for our better future, only if we show interest and listen. Neither Congress nor Communists are in a mood.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Threat that can be severe than Terrorism

Threat that can be severe than Terrorism
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

The social theories of Karl Marx were long discarded as of being little value, even to revolutionaries. But he did warn that Capitalism had a tendency in to generate its own crisis. I may sound as a communist, but I am not.

Do you think Islamic terrorism is the worst thing ever to be face by mankind? If 'Yes' is your answer, perhaps you shall change your view point, and completely, after reading this column.

Egypt's authoritarian regime is currently facing a mounting political threat. Other countries in similar state are: Cote D'Ivoire, Cameroon, Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Yemen and Indonesia. If not riots they are forced to face increase in public demonstration. Recently Jacques Edonard Alexis, Prime Minister of Republic of Haiti, a Caribbean nation, was kicked out of office foreseeing the hospitals filled with wounded following the riots. These riots, interestingly, are neither for the sake of religion nor for unswerving political rationale. It is all happening for the sake of food!

Globally food prices have risen nearly 40% since mid-2007. And the nations who import nearly all of its food are facing their worst crisis ever. The prices of wheat have jumped by over 120% which means the price of a loaf of bread has more than doubled in places where poor spend as much as 75% of their income just on food. It is needless to say that if such rise in prices go on, then its consequence on population in a large set of countries will be terrible.

The social theories of Karl Marx were long discarded as of being little value, even to revolutionaries. But he did warn that Capitalism had a tendency in to generate its own crisis. I may sound as a communist, but I am not.

Here is the reason why I am recalling the remark of Karl Marx on Capitalism: The rapid industrialization of China and India over the past two decades – and the resultant growth of a new middle class, that which is fast approaching the size of Americas – has driven demand for oil towards the limits of global supply capacity. This has pushed the oil prices to levels five times what they were in 1990s, which has also raised pressure on food prices by driving up agricultural costs and by promoting the substitution of the bio fuel crops for edible ones on scarce farmland, all affecting the production of food crops intensely – leading to the growth of food prices.

Moreover the middle class in India are eating a lot better than their earlier generations – particularly meat. Globally the consumption of beef is on the rise. As per some estimate, producing a single calorie of beef, require eight or more calories of grain feed, and due to expanded meat consumption there is a multiplier effect on demand for grains – leading to the growth of food prices. It is not wrong to say that, if at all, we turn to vegetarianism we shall perhaps contribute something to the reduction in prices of food items.
Recently, while speaking at the Finance Minister's meeting, the World Bank President Robert Zoellick stated 'While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs and it is getting more and more difficult every day.' Not a word of his is wrong and the heat has begun to be felt the world over. In US too the presidential candidates have began paying increased attention on the cost of food prices, often citing it on the stump!

The blame on the rise of food prices is also being put upon the ethanol, the bio fuel. The basic argument here is that: because ethanol comes from corn, the push to replace some traditional fuels with ethanol has created a new demand for the corn that which has thrown up food prices. However some environmental groups have already rejected the said argument.

United Nations has announced a $10 million grants from United States for Republic of Haiti to subsidize the fuel prices. But how much can money play its role? It can seldom satisfy your appetite.

Terrorism what we face today would be of a miniature size to what we might have to foresee in the near future, when there will not be enough of food. Let us not forget the fact that hunger has historically been an instigator of revolutions and civil wars. For a mass outpouring of rage spurred by hunger to translate into a credible challenge to an established order requires an organized political leadership ready to harness that anger against the state. It may not be all that surprising, then, that Haiti has been one of the major flashpoints of the new wave of hunger-generated political crises; the outpouring of rage there has been channeled into preexisting furrows of political discontent. And that's why there may be greater reason for concern in Egypt, where the bread crisis comes on top of a mounting challenge to the regime's legitimacy by a range of opposition groups.

Just a thought: Government intervention on behalf of the poor — out of fashion during globalization's roaring '90s and the current decade — may be about to make a comeback.

Meanwhile, I am yet to understand why hasn't Indian media failed to carry this news forth their readers/viewers?

Caste, Cream and Quotas

Caste, Cream and Quotas
- By Susenjit Guha

When India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru envisaged 10 years for reservations to lift the backward classes, he never expected that even in 2008, the Congress HRD minister Arjun Singh would mull about retaining them as long as they were required.

Obviously politics has played a part in the reservation controversies whenever they surfaced. And Indian society, politics and politicians are equally responsible for the plight of the backward classes and castes.
Politicians are worried not about the recent Supreme Court ruling of a 27% quota for the backward castes in centrally funded educational institutions, but of the ‘creamy layer’ exclusion. Representatives of backward classes whose support the government cannot do without, fall in the creamy layer.

Having undergone one major amendment in 2004 when the NDA government was in power, the creamy layer was redefined by NCBC as those among the backward classes whose annual income were Rs2.5 lakhs, up from Rs1 lakh.

But is there any need to worry? Not really, since many upper caste Dongres, Chaturvedis, Sharmas, Raos and Mukherjees earn Rs2.5 lakhs and dream of sending their children to the IIT’s and IIM’s. As expenses are high, banks chip in with higher education loans which are not caste barred.

Why should those who have reached a comfortable income parameter continue to benefit from government quotas and depriving others who are in genuine need? Shouldn’t economic conditions determine the relevance of quotas?

And caste distinction is not religious, but a social malaise of Hindu society. Hindus may have different rituals, different gods and goddesses, but the Vedas are the bedrock of the faithful. Dasyus, Panis and Asuras were regarded as negative cosmic forces that allied with the powers of darkness and deviated from humanity.

The division was between the spiritual and materialistic. Accordingly, each Vedic cycle begins with truth which drives human beings and ends when they are under the spell of ignorance and falsehood.

Different classes---nobility, priests, tradesmen and commoners---existed and they emerged from different occupations in Vedic society but were not stratified into castes, higher, lower, forward or backward. Conflicting theories exist how and when societal divisions and hierarchy got sharpened.

Caste was so ingrained even as early as the 8th century that even Shankaracharya who revived the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta berated a sweeper for crossing his path while he was returning after bathing in a river. He quickly realized his folly when the person alluded to the scripture and his teachings.

Subtle forms of caste consciousness still exist in other parts of the sub-continent. Some feudal landlords in Sindh still sport Rajput names after their usual Muslim names. But dalits in Karachi don’t face discrimination in the local Hindu temple like they do during pilgrimages to India.

Bangladeshis, originally from Midnapore, Burdwan, Malda, Bihar and undivided Assam sneer at the traditional East Bengali Muslim whose immediate forefathers were mostly fishermen or peasants. Some even trace their ancestry to Sayeeds to prove they are from Central Asian stock.

A mere classification according to occupation somehow morphed into social fault lines. The bare, disturbing truth still stares at us from the matrimonial columns of newspapers.

Although the government said funds would not be found wanting for quota implementation while projecting an outlay of Rs85000 crore for higher and technical education in the XI Plan, doubts remain if it will be sufficient for the massive infrastructure expansion required. Backward classes form the bulk of India’s population.

What about absorbing more children from backward classes at the primary and secondary levels of education? Quotas for IIM’s and IIT’s without starting from scratch can impact the quality of recruitment. India might end up with managers and engineers who traveled all the way on quotas, not on merit. Politicians cannot walk away from the ensuing mess.

And they are not happy with the exclusion of the creamy layer from the 27%. Politics will decide if they want to file a review petition.

Arjun Singh may have put an indefinite time frame on reservations---as long as they are required---but 60 years is too long a time for them to still exist and create controversies. And the rise of caste based politics again reminds us that mainstream political parties had never risen above politics to take the backward classes forward.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Zimbabwe : A dreadful saga of inflation

Zimbabwe: A dreadful saga of inflation
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

In Zimbabwe every person is a millionaire. He has a capacity to spend millions of Zimbabwean Dollars (ZD) every month. It is true, have no doubts. Actually he does spend millions of dollars. It’s fact, not fiction.

However, it is also true that knowing this very truth revered economists deny calling it a prosperous nation. Not out of psychosis, but of sanity. A mere sausage sandwich here costs 30 million ZD. That’s true, thirty million! That apart a 30 pound bag of potatoes, which would cost 90 million in the first week of March, is now estimated to be costing over 160 million ZD. Why? That’s because of inflation, which in case of this African nation has surpassed over 1,000 %.
Before I dive a bit deep into the subject here’s a brief definition of inflation, for those who have never heard of this economic terminology:

‘Inflation is a measure of rise in price level of goods and services, measured up by taking set of goods and services and then prices of the items in the set are compared to prices one period ago.’

In 1979, when Mugabe’s nationalist rebels overthrew the white dominated government of Rhodesia, and changed the name of the country to Zimbabwe, it was among the most prosperous of the African Nations then. All the farms which once would have enough and more of food grains and thus export to earn a foreign exchange now lay barren – virtually. Needless to say that agricultural productivity is at all time low. This year the country’s shortfall in maize is 360,000 tones, and its short fall in wheat is 255,000 tones.

Have you heard of a country which is dotted with malls filled with goods, but no customers? It is Zimbabwe – ‘the land of Mugabe’. The food in the shelves of those malls is so exceedingly charged that it is just impossible for a common man to afford.

The cash is a worthless possession here now. That apart, Zimbabweans have battled severe shortages of cash over the past four years due to an economic crisis, that which is described by the World Bank as ‘unprecedented for a country not at war’. The exchange rate of ZD is 50 million: 1. Yes, that’s right, you get 50 million ZD in exchange for 1 USD.

To encounter the problem of weighing cash at Exchanges (as counting becomes virtually impossible), the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has introduced a new note worth 50 million ZD also to deal with rampant shortage of cash in an economy that is also grapping with world’s highest inflation rate. The 50 million ZD note has been introduced in the market after RBZ also increased the maximum withdrawal limit for individuals to 50 billion ZD a day. And with cash being an insignificant custody, people have started investing in a different commodity. They stack bags of maize meal in their homes.

Zimbabwe is a classic case of how inflation can make life hell for people. Experts say it all started with ‘Mugabe’s regime’. Whatever may be the reason: the truth is that Zimbabwe has lost the ability to feed itself. Before independence majority of farmers and farm land owners were whites, who were expelled or persecuted irrationally leading to their mass exodus. This has resulted, ever since, in the substantial decline of agricultural outputs of the nation, year after year. The nation is also an example for the world how inflation can ruin a country which does not produce enough for her people.

Worsening the state of the nation, further, is the political chaos. There has been controversy over the elections and the issue has been put forth to the High Court, it is expected to announce on Monday whether it can order the country’s electoral commission to release the result of last weekend’s presidential election. The people are eagerly waiting for the economically tyrant President Robert Mugabe to vacate and make way for change. But it seems the sitting president is unwilling to give up. Meanwhile dozens of veterans loyal to Mugabe have invaded white owned farms in two provinces and have tried, in vain, to force those white farmers out. Senseless they are and also ruthless.

Commenting on the election results Daniel Calingaert, a Zimbabwe analyst for US based Freedom House, has said that Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party wields ‘quite a bit of influence over the high court’. The party has also rejected the offer from its opposition MDC to form a national unity government. Considering this the mess is far from being cleaned up in the near future. I am scared to even think about the state of this African nation. What would happen to them? What would they eat? Would someone like to come to their rescue? It’s impossible to imagine.

From the chaos of Zimbabwe there is one essential lesson for us Indians to learn from:

If you don’t have agricultural commodities the prices are bound to go up. This is a crucial lesson for us. Let me bring to your notice that supply of basic commodities is not growing in proportion to the population in India. And such a situation of extraordinary inflations might be a possibility in India too, later if not in the near future.

With over a billion populations, there is hardly any country in the world which can cater to India’s food grains demands. To sustain our belly we need a strong agricultural frame work. Our agriculture ministry, at the centre and at state, is doing little other than fixing compensation amount to the family of farmers who have, and are to commit, suicides.

It is the ultimate time for us to shift our attention from the little tax paying and unjustly demanding IT industries to work on the agriculture sector. Silicon Chips are good but can seldom satisfy the appetite like their vegetable counterparts.

Won’t you agree? I am sure you will.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Bush tried to wedge through EU

Bush tried to wedge through EU
By Susenjit Guha

A strong EU super-power will isolate US from West Asia and admission of Russia will render US leverage redundant. No US president can be comfortable with an independent of US European Union having the same GDP but a relatively humane, social capitalism, not a sprung up ready- to- bolt sort of free market

It was anybody’s guess that George W Bush would try to stave off ‘union’ in the EU during his last NATO summit as president of the US. And with no takers of Bushism in the US anymore, he looked for succor in a Europe, divided, with several weaker nations ever ready to jump on his bandwagon.

Being nascent democracies, the smaller nations were only too eager to fill up NATO forces with their troops and dig in for the long haul in Iraq. Invitation to Croatia and Albania to join the EU military alliance was aimed at taking the heat off US forces in Iraq.

Trying to welcome on board Ukraine and Georgia for the same reason was rebuffed by other alliance partners, at least for now.

More or less convinced that his White House exit in less than a year would be the most looked forward to ever not only by several Americans but by freedom loving peoples the world over, he tried to play the similar fear mongering card of WMD’s lobbed by rogue states like Iran in the future.

Missile defense systems had gripped his imagination even before 9/11. Bush carried an updated Reagan’s Star Wars obsession with him when he began his first term as president. On the way out, he wanted radar systems in the Czech Republic and rockets in Poland.

Naturally, Putin was against such a move of using members of the former communist bloc and even questioned NATO’s relevance in a post Cold War Europe. And the Black Sea resort of Sochi where he hosted Bush - both of them will fade into history soon, but Putin, due to step down in May this year, had already handpicked his successor Dmitri Medvedev, brought the differences of former arch rivals out in the open.

Reluctantly, Bush had to put missile defenses on hold. It was left to the future US president and Medvedev, whose soul could not be searched by Bush who in his characteristic fashion thought him to be a ‘straightforward fella’ nevertheless to work out a solution.

If Iran lobs WMD’s after they put together their nuclear bombs (figment of Bushisms and like-minded imagination of his Neocon ilk) on unsuspecting and ill-quipped European nations, the missile defense system will thwart their designs.

So instead of reflecting why the groundswell of world support after 9/11 slithered into morbid anti-Americanism and his widespread revilement, Bush, revved up again.

Hadn’t Europe looked up to the US all along to take care of their security? So what if the Cold War was over? Iran is being hyped up as Iraq was after 9/11. Ahmadinejad’s Iraq visit was a snub to the US terror hype which could have been transformed into incremental diplomatic breakthroughs. But spending billions of dollars on missile defense is an easier, less challenging option, than hedging money on time consuming, but lasting diplomatic solutions through dialogue.

And where the systems could be put up? In the former communist countries who are now eating out of US’ hands. When more and more such nations along with those severed from the former USSR swell the ranks, stumbling blocks like Germany and France will be marginalized.

Sarkozy may have promised more troops for Afghanistan against French public opinion but that did not stop him from trying to influence Great Britain during his recent trip by harking back on her pioneering democratic institutions. Germany took the lead under Gerhardt Schroeder who refused to tow the US in Iraq. He had taken an initiative with Tony Blair for a greater engagement with Russia even leaving the option open for admission into the EU in future. Russia supplies 40% of Germany’s energy requirements.

Great Britain can always be counted upon to ally with US’ security concerns in the capacity of a double agent despite being part of EU.

Even Greece could not be arm twisted by US into accepting Macedonia into the alliance. Greeks refused to trade off its northern province by that name famous for Alexander’s birthplace.

European landmass is hemmed on one side by US’ energy hub. Any interventionist foreign policy by US can directly affect Europe. A strong EU super-power will isolate US from West Asia and admission of Russia will render US leverage redundant. No US president can be comfortable with an independent of US European Union having the same GDP but a relatively humane, social capitalism, not a sprung up ready- to- bolt sort of free market.

New, weaker nations were the best bets for the US. Bush again could not manage to have the last laugh.