Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saddening case of the Indian Bureaucracy

Saddening case of the Indian Bureaucracy
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

In India there is no dearth of columnists arrogating to be 'experts' in polity, governance and administration. But the very mirthful fact, that which I realized of late, is 'how less of notions do we actually have versus the bureaucracy from these columnists'. And most of the articles on them are absolutely rabble rousing – that which hardly makes any sense.

When India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was asked as to where in administering this country was he a failure, his answer was 'Administration System'. 'I have miserably failed in setting right the administration - it is still the same as left by the British.' The situation is no different even today. Most of the governmental works are, and have to be, routed through these bureaucrats.

Technically these Administrative officials claim to be 'grossly underpaid', and yet we have more than a majority of them owning properties exceeding their financial capacities – yet none to questioning them.

Being acquainted with the political class I can claim to have a privilege of understanding the troubles faced by a politician whenever he aspires to execute a developmental work. One of the several challenges is in handling these bureaucrats. There are several illustrates where the political will has failed to implement a project just because it lacked the bureaucratic support! What is worse is that with every year passing by taming corrupt bureaucrats turns increasingly difficult.

Here's an interesting case you all:

In the recent winter session of the parliament, on December 28, 2009, that which lasted for a meagre of [13 minutes], one of the bills passed was for amending the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA). The bureaucrats all over the country, specifically those facing allegation of corruption, fêted over its passing. This was because the amendment bill was in every sense a 'triumph' to bureaucrats all over the country as they were no more answerable to 'pesky' investigating agency.

The only voice that which was technically visible was that of Lokayukta of Karnataka Justice Santosh Hegde. 'We were struggling to get sanctions to investigate bureaucrats. Thanks to the amendments, we now have to seek permission of even retired officials' he was found saying to the press with thwarting.

He had in fact recommended 'prosecution of an IAS officer under the clause 13 (1) (d) (i) of PCA.' But now the [entire clause has disappeared].

The earlier law had said that 'If a government official, by corrupt or illegal means, obtains for himself or any other person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage, he or she is said to have committed an offence of criminal misconduct.' It includes awarding contract to any person with the above said motive. 'Now' says Justice Hegde, 'the bureaucrat can award any contract to anyone and no one can question it!'

Tells a bureaucrat to a premier daily '… I have an academic question. What is the guarantee that people who succeeds those like Justice Santosh Hegde as Lokayukta will not misuse the powers given to them?' furthering 'The Lokayukta is free to express his opinions and views. People like me need permission from government to speak to newspapers. The public will not understand the kind of pressure on officers like us. We have to be nice to many to retain our posts and yet get the work done, hopefully without violating the law and procedures'

The bureaucrat however 'agreed' that 'checks and balances' were 'necessary in a democratic setup'. 'If you give all the powers to men like, say Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, even the opposition leaders would not complain. But is there a guarantee that the succeeding prime ministers will not misuse the power?' the bureaucrat is said to have told.

For this Justice Hegde had but one question to puzzle, which is in every regard very significant one, 'If a driver of a fire force vehicle, rushing to the spot of an accident to prevent further damage to the property or save lives, commits a traffic offence, he can be pardoned. But it does not mean that the officer on duty is free to run amok causing more damage, than the one cause by the fire itself.'

Alas the words of Justice Hegde will never be heard and the corrupt bureaucrats will have no troubles with their current streak of degeneracy.

With the 'fear of misuse' some have began dissenting framing of any new laws. The same is the case if anti-terror laws. Then there is one idea, I wish to convey to these men: why don't they get rid of the law itself? After all an outlaw is termed based on law, No law no outlaw(s)! Given that where arises the need for framing new laws? The rationale 'Misuse' don't even arise!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Recession: Time for Ergodic Cerebration

Recession: Time for Ergodic Cerebration
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

It is baffling to learn about Ramalingam Raju. A person who, just a year ago, was called a 'renowned', 'distinguished entrepreneur' and an 'international business leader', is today behind bars for 'financial misappropriation' in the company which he himself had built from scratch—Satyam. If the media informants are to be trusted, he had been keeping up the defalcation for the past decade! Wasn't it during this time that he was honoured with awards and accolades of both national and international standing?

The repercussions of this episode are certainly not going to be few and far between. It could even prove to have a catastrophic effect on the Indian IT industry, which is already facing the brunt of the global economic slowdown. Wipro, which was recently in the news after being barred by the World Bank, and Infosys, are trying their level best to convince their customers as well as investors that they are still impregnable and that recession is having little effect on their business. But how true is that? Only time will (or can) tell.

Globalization, call it good or bad', brought but one fresh trend in the corporate sector with it. It has got rid of the 'job security' factor—forever. This has made people wary with a feeling of insecurity gripping their minds strongly. This might have made them 'efficient', but they are, now, certainly selfish and greedier.

The incertitude has always has had a ruinous consequence on the human psyche across civilizations around the world, over the centuries. The uncertainty always has an effect on mind as well on body; if your mind isn't steady, you can seldom have clarity of thought and a lack of clarity can cause you to take the most catastrophic decisions.

A few years ago, a leading television news channel interviewed the employees of some premier IT companies. The question posed to them was simple—'Do you or not agree with globalization?' Interestingly, everyone endorsed globalization. 'My dad took 10 years after marriage to get a car and over 20 years to own a two-bedroom apartment. My mom is today absolutely dependent on her husband because she has no income. But that's not the case with me. I am not dependent on my husband; I own two flats in this city and have a luxury car and a bike to commute. And this has been possible all because of globalization. So, why anyone should be opposing it?' questioned a lady, in the process demeaning the accomplishments of her own parents.

The IT industry in India today, including companies like TCS, Infosys, and Wipro, do little business other than developing some kind of a computer application (a.k.a. software) for their international clients. This job is akin to building a house with bricks and mortar. Now, suppose you want to build a house; you need to get someone to design it, first. Once the designing is over, you need coolies to build the house. What these IT professionals do is quite similar to the job of the coolies. Terms like 'IT coolies' or 'cyber coolies' are used in this very context. Their work does not soil their hands or stain their clothes, but they are, technically speaking, coolies in every sense.

No, this is not to disgrace IT industry or its people. This is, instead, to make you understand that the IT sector is just another industry like textiles, tobacco, publishing, and automobiles. No job is small, and also, no job is too big, so long as it is within the purview of the ethical norms of society. IT industry in this country has been looked upon with a lot of admiration. Due to this the IT professional gets more respect than anyone else within a family, today.

It's a meticulously insane comparison in every sense. This pomposity has caused mental unrest in the society we live in. Just because an IT professional gets paid a lot and leads a 'royal' lifestyle, everyone within the society wants to earn more and have a similar 'modus vivendi'. For that, they are willing to sacrifice anything—be it giving up their values, principles, or morals. Who cares?

Recession is being talked of today with a lot of seriousness. People are truly scared of it. Loss of jobs affects people badly. But, very few understand that it also brings about a sense of balance. As a result of IT professionals paying excessively for real estate, the price of property had skyrocketed, making it virtually impossible for an average middleclass person to get a dwelling at an affordable price. The excessive demand which was created by these lavishly paid IT industry people had also created a phenomenal rise in costs of commodities, which is already coming down because of this recession.

Yes, sadly, IT professionals, in specific, are sure to have a tough time for at least two more years for they are directly dependent on the American economy which is in a mess. But don't hard times harden people and, also, prepare them for the challenges of life? 'Neither good nor bad times last' is an evident maxim of life.

This recession is a corrective measure. It will readjust the prices from prohibitive levels to nominal. Do you understand that prices of petroleum, which once exceeded $100 a barrel, are now less than $50 a barrel? This is owing to recession. Several other price rectifications are sure to happen due to the phenomenal drop in expenditure.

Drop in expenditure brings down the cost, as it cripples the demand. When there is no demand for a commodity, the prices are sure to drop and this will surely pave the way for more affordable prices for the masses. Hence, recession is certainly a time for ergodic cerebration.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Emulation of Fallacies

Emulation of Fallacies
By U. Mahesh Prabhu

Every being has two sides—the good and the bad. This is a well-acclaimed fact. Even the unlawful have something in them for good and wise men to emulate. But how easy is it for us all to really look at only the brighter side of men and ignore their darker side? Arduous, immensely difficult!

In India, since time immemorial, we have been in pursuit of a society which is laudable as far as principles, ethics, and rationale go. Our pursuits have not [just] been towards creating a financially affluent society. We have been rather immensely zealous in working towards a civilization where all and sundry would live in peace, dignity, and with honor.

Yes, it is very much possible that we, especially a large section of the youth, can begin a self-defeating argument against ‘evil practices’ once practiced in our society such as caste-ism, ‘Sati’, dowry, and all that. By this argument, all that would be proved is that ‘ours was never a nation of good men’, and also that ‘wisdom never existed here’. Words are slaves of those who have a command over them. In the court of law, lawyers by mincing words, present truth as untruth and vice versa. By this, does the truth turn into a lie? No, truth certainly remains undeterred in the actual. It may be forgotten, or may never be known—but it remains unchanged.

For ages, in India, due to a lack of interest among masses in documenting our history, and also due to the onslaught of barbaric invaders, which played havoc on our libraries, we have lost track of several such truths about ourselves. Further on, a generation of people began a series of real politick measures to negate whatever little proud moments that might have been left in the minds of nationalists by way of legends.

A great part of history documented in Sanskrit, was declared by self-styled ‘modernists’ as ‘mythology’. The recent Booker Prize winner and author of ‘The White Tiger’, Aravinda Adiga, as well as previous Booker Prize winner , Arundathi Roy have targeted this land in their works, for things which they consider ‘unwise’. The sad part is that they failed to write even one word in appreciation of their own country!

What is worse is the manner in which the media here idolizes Adiga who has showed no consideration to the country of his birth! They, and of course their readers or viewers, are ‘proud’ of him. But has any one cared to at least flip a few pages of the book and read through it? Not many, I’m afraid. And yet they want ‘future generations’ to emulate them!

The British may have left India but they still continue to rule the psyche of Indians. Yoga and Pranayama have been in India for ages—but a great part of our populace began practicing them only after the stamp of some western health institutes was imprinted on them.

Our traditional Gurukula system of education was set aside and Macaulay’s influenced version was put in place. The joint family system was put to death, simply, and mostly, to emulate the western style of living. We want to emulate the west for we have declared that, unconditionally, ‘whatever the west does is progress and others are orthodox’, and thus they are to be shunned.

Wearing ‘kurtas’ and ‘pajamas’ and ‘chudidars’ or ‘sarees’, is termed primitive and jeans and short skirts have been termed ‘fashionable’ and moreover ‘feasible’. Do they say feasible? In hot Indian weather conditions, ‘dhotis’ and kurtas are more logical attire for they allow your skin to breathe. On the contrary, jeans are completely far removed from this ‘feasibility’. Won’t you agree?

But why do our youth love jeans? Simple, because its ‘fashionable’. But have they ever tried wearing dhoti/pajamas with kurtas? Or chudidars and sarees? Definitely not!

The mental slavery of our men is still bowing to the west—at large. In politics, management, medicine, or education, in every sphere of life, we are in total comparison with the western way and their standard of life in terms of ‘well-being’. Our know-how of our legacy, tradition, and culture, is so feeble and yet we are all for denouncing it outright. Ridiculous!

Is that a sign of wisdom? Is that even right by a commoner’s common sense? If not, then why are our youths, mostly in the metros, so? Without our roots, we are no better than creepers. Creepers serve no worthy purpose. Emulation of good is a positive development. But blind emulation is fallacy; it’s insane; a real waste. Let that emulation of fallacy be not ours.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Let’s be realistic about the return of our ‘friend’ in Bangladesh

Let’s be realistic about the return of our ‘friend’ in Bangladesh
By Susenjit Guha

Let’s look forward to this year with hope and do some realistic thinking as well about the huge mandate for the Awami League in Bangladesh .

It is natural to be upbeat about the return of the Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh when our relations with Pakistan have strained and our friends have dwindled like usual in the neighborhood.

But can we sink into complacence just because the Awami League is considered India friendly?
If we do, we would grossly misjudge the average Bangladeshi and his reaction to India . Our conclusions are based on the support we lent to their liberation struggle in 1971 by covertly arming the mukti bahini or the freedom fighters. In return ecstatic Bangladeshis lined up the streets to throw garlands at Indian soldiers.

We did manage to break up Pakistan , create loads of goodwill among the Bangladeshis, but faltered later when trade and water sharing issues made us look like a regional hegemonic big brother.

Our traders took the opportunity in the years after their independence to fob off junk taking advantage of a nascent nation that was still unable to find her bearings.

To Bangladeshis India was a savior but had turned into a devourer.

And this attitude towards India was shared by the Bangladeshi armed forces.
While the recent India-Pak war posturing was going on in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks, Bangladeshi naval warships threatened Indian vessels that they alleged were exploring gas in their waters.

We cannot separate the Bangladesh armed forces from their Pakistani counterparts when it comes to India . The ISI trains and supports militant groups masquerading as relief organizations who they brand as non state actors for creating mayhem in India and uses Bangladesh as a logistic base for intrusion through India’s porous eastern borders.
Poverty being the main problem in Bangladeshi villages, the promises and ‘dreams’ that motivated young men like the lone Pakistani terrorist caught during the Mumbai mayhem, Kasav, is also sufficient incentive for them to train for terrorizing innocent Indian civilians.
Terror groups operating out of Bangladesh were involved in the blasts that took place in Indian cities in recent years.

With rising prices and an economy totally dependent on export of garments to the west, Bangladesh cannot but be hit sooner or later by the recession in the US and Europe. Sheikh Hasina’s major task would be to save the economy and control prices to prevent the village youth from careening towards religious fundamentalist groups. Her rival Kahleda Zia and the radical Jamaat may have been wiped out, but her call to ‘save Islam’ during the election campaign is a pointer to the direction the country could have headed had she taken over power. Islam was never a danger in Bangladesh but the hype was necessary at the behest of the now wiped out Jamaat.

But considerable support for radicalism among the electorate must have made it inevitable for the secular Awami league to rein in the fundamentalist Khelafat-e-Majlish party during the last failed attempt at holding an election two years ago.

While hopes are on the upswing in India , one would be naïve to expect the new government--- supposedly India-friendly--- to hand over NE insurgents or close down some of the alleged terror training camps.

We cannot leave a porous border with Bangladesh un-sealed any longer and should forget about the socio-economic and humanitarian aspect of allowing mobility of labor.

Can the proponents guarantee that terrorists won’t slip in disguised as laborers looking for work in India ?

Many of the recent terror blasts had some link, however weak to West Bengal as the language and culture allows Bangladeshis to melt with the state’s population.

Health tourism attracts tens of thousands to India and all it requires is a doctor’s certificate for an extension of stay.

That was the very reason why many Awami League workers and small time leaders-on –the-run during the last Khaleda Zia government could stay on for years in India without being noticed.

Friendship with India and cultural similarities to West Bengal should not make us blind to the reality that Bangladeshis love Indian goods and movies but are always wary as they are engulfed by a mammoth India from all sides.

Any upper hand in settling common problems by India find them looking for common ground with Pakistan .

And with nearly 40% first time voters barely out of their teens in the recent election, alluding to the heady 1971 drubbing of common enemy Pakistan and maintaining it as a constant for the future would be extremely shortsighted.

Change from an utterly corrupt BNP government and of course a return to democracy and shunning of Jamaat brand of Islam was what the 80% of Bangladeshis who turned out to vote hoped for.

Cementing the loose bricks with India was certainly not on their minds.
And it does not take 80% to create terror. Only a fraction of the population can hold a nation, a religion and its ideals to ransom and make fools of larger nations’ if they live in a fool’s paradise that friendship is forever.

Hope 2009 will be a year for some realistic assessment of our regional security and the will to follow and act on the tips and leads of the intelligence agancies to save lives of innocent Indians.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Right Ideology, wrong place

Right Ideology, wrong place
By U Mahesh Prabhu

‘It’s neither the horse nor the elephant and never – e’er – the tiger. It’s the goat that is offered in sacrifice, even the gods slain the weak.’ said the legendary Indian diplomat and author of Arthashastra – Kautilya.

We often call ours as the ‘land of Mahatma’. ‘We are a peace loving nation’ we proudly declare, furthering ‘and we are proud of it!’ True, absolutely, we love peace.But more than often we forget that there is a price to be paid for peace. Peace is not free.

A weak person, no matter in which part of the world, is bound to be subdued by the strong men. He gets no respect from men with brawns. ‘Strength respects strength’, as said by India’s former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, holds well, always – beyond all incertitude.

Weak has neither the present nor future. Even if he says that ‘I fight none’ and that ‘I am all for peace.’ people are certain to mock at him. Why? Because they know that he can seldom offer a resistance when assailed by a mighty adversary. Nowhere in the world has a weak been able to live with respect. Very similar is the case with a weak nation.

But what makes a human or a nation weak? It’s all about courage. If men lack courage they are sure to be weak and the country is weak when its establishment is spineless. Yes, people too have their share of responsibility, for it is they who vote a government to power.

In India, since the time of independence we have took a great pride in our Gandhian Heritage. Our first prime minister though absolutely failed in carrying forward the ideas of Mahatma in terms of national development; in his diplomatic speeches across the world he seldom pretermitted to cite a line, or two, of Mahatma. His was the concept of economy which was in sharp with Gandhian one. But when it came to diplomacy and international affairs Nehru was a true Gandhian - as honest as a monk!

Gandhi may well have been a great man, but he was seldom a sound politician. His legacy is replete with blunders in politics. His handling of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Muslim league is a testimony in this regard. He was impudent. That he showed favouritism to Nehru over Sardar Vallabhai Patel over the President-ship of Indian National Congress (INC) is a verity and that it cost the nation dearly, too, is a reality. We have an undisclosed belief in India; we all believe that when a man is declared ‘Great’ he can do no wrong! We personate such men with perfection. This is certainly a matter of lugubriousness as it stands against the fundamentals of sapience.

It should certainly baffle anyone as to why it be that these very Indian politicians, who retort to so many brutal modes to triumph in elections, to traduce their antagonists and suppress their critics go ‘Gandhian’ versus a grievous neighbouring country. Why this ‘non-violence’ attitude? Why don’t they inverse their approach and show their ‘Gandhigiri’ to their political opponents and depict their vandalism with their nation’s adversary? At least, can’t they do anything more than offering lip service of ‘criticism’, ‘condemnation’ and ‘warnings’ against an ever shrewd neighbour?

Recently, after the Mumbai blasts when Mumbaikars took to the streets in protest against the blasts, I was feeling a strange emotion. I was unsure as to whether should I cry or laugh. After all what did they achieve by lighting those candles? Yes, we do need to pray for the departed souls but what about the security of the living souls? No one pays any heed. After the blasts a great number of people took to abusing the politicos. The blame was according to me utterly unjust. Strange, but true, not a word was spoken against those terrorists. It was trying to appear as if it were politicians who had planted those bombs! This was all to get publicity. Does anyone in India understand the seriousness of Islamic terrorism? Does anyone knows that those Arabs flush with petro-dollars are investing profusely into those thousands of Madrassas bustling amidst our cities and towns in every major city polluting young minds with ideas of insanity? Do they understand how important it is take a strong action against them? And even if they come to know, I am convinced, they would prefer to keep mum, sit in the comforts of their home and if another blasts happen they come in open in ‘strong criticism’ against the government (not terrorists, or Pakistan – mind you) and go back until the next blasts take place.

The legacy of Mahatma Gandhi is for us not a source of inspiration. From it we find rationales to support our awry ideology.

If we are weak we are sure to be invaded, assaulted and persecuted. History of our land starting from the invasion of Mohammad Ghazni in 1000 AD to onslaught of China in 60’s is supportive of this fact. We are always betrayed by these nincompoops because we haven’t dealt them with an iron fist. We have well over a billion population but we have not started to think and work as a nation of billion people – which is a deeply saddening part.

We certainly need Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas and ideals, but when it comes to politics let’s follow Kautilya. By shouting against our own people and by completely not understanding our true opponent we are making ourselves a weak and fragile nation. We have every reason to be impregnable, to be challenging and even lead the world. But by applying our right ideology at the wrong place we are sure to weaken our resolve and kill our prospect of becoming a happy, prosperous and formidable nation.

Resolution 2009: Go for People's Government

Resolution 2009: Go for People's Government
By Seema Mustafa

It is election year and the political parties are frantically counting the eggs in their respective baskets. The Congress is particularly happy that it has emerged unscathed from the Mumbai terror attack, not through action, but through manipulation. The BJP is looking at the elections results in Jammu through the Amarnath prism and is now positive that communalism and divisiveness is the only agenda that works for it. The regional parties are working out the vagaries of the vote bank, sizing up their rivals, and talking to everybody for possible alliances.

The English media, electronic and print, has decided to recognize no other party but the Congress and the BJP. The regional leaders are either branded as corrupt and opportunistic or ridiculed or both. The Left is attacked from every quarter, and the third front as an option so scares the corporate owners of the media that it is not even mentioned as a desirable. On the other hand, the BJP and Congress top brass are treated with a reverence that is almost nauseating, more so when one or the other is in government. The BJP was lulled into thinking it would sweep the elections last time, and this time around it is the Congress that has popped the media pill for blissful hallucinations.

Interestingly, the regional parties are treated like dirt by the ruling elite surrounding the BJP or Congress governments until and unless they have found acceptance by allying with one or the other of the extreme right and right wing parties. RJD's Lalu Prasad Yadav, at the height of his popularity with the people at one time, was the butt of deep ridicule with the media openly laughing at him for every word he spoke. But no sooner did the RJD join the Congress, that Lalu became a top favourite, his style hailed by the elite as "sooo cute", and overnight the rustic man became an urban hero. The corruption that he had been pilloried for became a non-issue and today when he is losing support in his state, he is portrayed as a highly successful leader.

Mayawati is the new kid on the block with the ruling elite in particular speaking of her corruption. Even a suggestion that she could become the Prime Minister is met with horrified, "has this country gone mad" as everyone in a Delhi drawing room starts sharing stories of her corruption. It took a hardened activist, working for years in the villages of eastern Uttar Pradesh, and definitely not a BSP loyalist to point out, "you see her corruption, I see Congress leaders who are even more corrupt. But I see that for the past one year there has not been a single lathi charge in UP against the SC's and ST's at any level, I see that UP is the only government to have appointed Advisasis in forest rights committees….all this to my mind are achievements. But you talk of Mayawati's corruption, and keep silent about the others ruling you today."

Bofors is a story that has not gone away. Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi has got away as have his benefactors in New Delhi. Those who wrote about it were even branded as anti-national, as there is this vested class (for want of another description) that has come into existence over the years and protects the elite in power. This comprises journalists, retired bureaucrats many of whom are passed as security experts, some professors, artistes and of course industrialists who work with and off the system and protect the politicians from the BJP or the Congress ---depending on who is in power---with a fervour and zeal that is really quite unique. In fact these are the votaries of a two party system and remain largely in place whether a Congress led government is in power, or one led by the BJP. What scares them, and drives them into panic mode, is talk of a third front as here their control does not exist. And then can see their hold over the system slipping. The regional parties are fine so long as they work under the BJP or the Congress, and do not make their presence felt beyond state considerations.

Corruption is eating into the vitals of our country. Bofors was just the first story where it was clear that kickbacks had been paid and that late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi had used his clout to move, or stop, files. And that Quattrocchi, a close friend of Sonia Gandhi's from Italy, had grown in business from one little room to a huge office space in Connaught Place and had received a fairly handsome sum of the Bofors money. But since then corruption has hit us where it hurts several times over. In more recent years, Kargil was evidence to the fact that our soldiers were not even properly equipped for combat at the heights. And that ministers in power were instead more interested in the kickbacks they could get over a coffin contract for the soldiers killed in the conflict with Pakistan. Now again the Mumbai terror attack has exposed not just the inefficiency of the security apparatus, starting from the top in Delhi, but also the fact that our anti terror squads do not even have proper bullet proof jackets and helmets, and our NSG commandos do not have a dedicated aircraft. These are all small ticket items, and the ministers are more interested in the money that can be got from the huge deals in defence and civil aviation for instance.

It is well known that India, despite being one of the biggest defence buyers today, ends up paying through its teeth instead of getting good deals from Israel, Russia and others. Why? The answer from defence officials is categorical, "because we are so b….. dishonest, we will buy anything at any price so long as we are paid handsomely under the table." In Goa, the police is making the most of the terror threat to extort money from the young people who decided to spend their winter holidays there. This columnist knows of at least two young groups who ended up paying several thousand of rupees to the police, who followed them to their guest houses threatening to book them under stringent laws if they did not pay up.

The real issues are that of security…economic, political and strategic. Security from hunger, security from political exploitation, security from police victimisation. Today the main political parties being feted and back rubbed by the elite in Delhi have not even tried to ensure this, and over the past ten years in particular India has been virtually divided into two worlds, each disconnected from the other. There is one of the poor where food, education, health are wants that are not even addressed. There is another of the rich where black money is pouring out of the refrigerators. There is a world where religion and caste is used to terrorise and oppress, where the poor trying even to speak their rights are subjected to the worst kind of state terror and live in complete fear and darkness. And then there is another where the chattering classes pat each others backs, shop at the swanky malls and take holidays in Switzerland and Washington. In Delhi, for instance huge acres of land have been sold for hotels and shopping malls but not even a bigha has been provided for a government hospital, or a government school.

The New Year will be happy if the people---neglected and oppressed---exercise their franchise with care and are able to bring in a government that is responsive and sensitive to their aspirations, that provides them with dignity and respect, that makes them secure in their freedom and in their right to life. That believes in unity and not divisiveness, and that takes the focus away from war and conflict and caste and religion to unity and peace.