Tuesday, August 23, 2011

India's ailing health

Mohammad Arif visited his wife, Ruksana, in the labor ward of Umaid Hospital here on Feb. 13. She was to have a cesarean-section the next day. It would be her first child.

"You're going to deliver on Valentine's Day," Mr. Arif told his wife.

"Everything will be fine, with God's will," she said.

Instead, the young family fell victim to the dysfunction plaguing India's public-health system, an overstretched and underfunded patchwork on which the vast majority of India's 1.2 billion people rely.

On Valentine's Day, 20-year-old Ms. Ruksana gave birth to a baby girl. But the young mother's bleeding couldn't be stopped. Umaid Hospital was about to descend into crisis: Up and down the maternity ward, new mothers were mysteriously starting to die.

A few days later, Ms. Ruksana's doctor, Ranjana Desai, pulled Mr. Arif aside and told him, "Along with medicines, she also needs your prayers."

India supplies doctors to hospitals the world over. Within India itself, a thriving private health-care industry—serving a growing middle class and the wealthy—is a byproduct of the nation's economic ascendancy. By some important measures, India's health is improving: Over two decades, life expectancy has risen to 64 years in 2008 from 58 in 1991. Infant mortality has declined as well.
Amol Sharma, Geeta Anand and Megha Bahree in The Wallstreet Journal. Here

Monday, August 22, 2011

Do Bees Have Feelings?

If you’ve never watched bees carefully, you’re missing out. Looking up close as they gently curl and uncoil their tapered mouths toward food, you sense that they’re not just eating, but enjoying. Watch a bit more, and the hesitant flicks and sags of their antennae seem to convey some kind of emotion. Maybe annoyance? Or something like agitation?
Whether bees really experience any of these things is an open scientific question. It’s also an important one with implications for how we should treat not just bees, but the great majority of animals. Recently, studies by Geraldine Wright and her colleagues at Newcastle University in the UK have rekindled debate over these issues by showing that honeybees may experience something akin to moods.

Using simple behavioral tests, Wright’s research team showed that like other lab-tested brooders -- which so far include us, monkeys, dogs, and starlings -- stressed bees tend to see the glass as half empty. While this doesn’t (and can’t) prove that bees experience human-like emotions, it does give pause. We should take seriously the possibility that it feels like something to be an insect.

As invertebrates -- animals without backbones -- bees are representatives of a diverse group accounting for over 95 percent of animal species. But despite their prevalence, not to mention their varied and often nuanced behaviors, invertebrates are sometimes regarded as life’s second string, as a mindless and unfeeling band of alien critters. If that seems a bit melodramatic, just consider our willingness to boil some of them alive.
Jason Castro in Scientific American. Here

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What can replace the dollor?

For more than a half-century, the US dollar has been not only America’s currency, but the world’s as well. It has been the dominant unit used in cross-border transactions and the principal asset held as reserves by central banks and governments.

But, already before the recent debt-ceiling imbroglio, the dollar had begun to lose its luster. Its share in the identified foreign-exchange reserves of central banks, for example, had fallen to just over 60%, from 70% a decade ago.

The explanation is simple: the United States no longer dominates the world economy to the extent that it did in the past. It makes sense that the international monetary system should follow the global economy in becoming more multipolar. Just as the US now has to share the world stage with other economies, the dollar will have to make room for other international currencies.

What’s different now is that a pox has been cast on both houses. The US debt-ceiling fiasco has raised doubts in the minds of central bankers about the advisability of holding dollars, while Europe’s failure to resolve its sovereign-debt crisis continues to fuel doubt that the euro can survive. Once upon a time (less than a year ago), it was possible to imagine international-reserve portfolios dominated by the dollar and euro; today, anxious central bankers are desperate for alternatives to both sick currencies.
Barry Eichengreen in Project Syndicate. Here

Anna Hazare, Jan Lokpal and the threat to representative democracy

The principal focus of concerted public action today, is a shifty, ill-defined target. And “corruption” is in the discourse of most of those who have joined the Hazare campaign, a term of wide amplitude, referring to a host of anxieties that have lately manifested themselves in the middle-class consciousness. The economic downturn since late-2008 has not shown up in official economic statistics, but it is a part of peoples’ lives in India. Inflation has become a more perceptible threat than ever before in two decades. The vaulting ambitions of India’s bulging “youth demographic strata” are under stress, making nonsense of the beguiling prospects held out by the media just over two years ago. And as the global economy itself lurches into a possible double-dip recession, the promise of India’s emergence on the world stage as a superpower seems rather dim. 

Political corruption is a convenient target onto which this whole complex of anxieties could be shifted. And the seeming urgency of creating an authority superior to all others, meshes neatly with elite convictions that representative democracy has been a colossal failure. But if failure is encoded into the genesis of the institution that Hazare and his flock have designated as the ultimate solution to the anxieties of Indian democracy, it must be asked what their reaction would be when this reality becomes undeniable. It should be asked if the target could then shift from “corruption” to “politics” itself. If representative democracy could itself fall victim to awakening Indian middle-class rage.
Sukumar Muralidharan in his blog. Here

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A tale of two Indias!

Neoliberalism is undermining social cohesion. It is also marginalising and disenfranchising the poor from participating in social life. It is only when they wage arduous battles to defend livelihoods and civic and political rights that they get heard. In contrast, the rich are becoming more aggressive in extending their privileges and demanding and getting generous tax breaks and state protection. Their political influence has never been greater. India increasingly resembles the United States' Gilded Age when Robber Baron capitalism prevailed and imposed a heavy toll on society.

At this rate, India will soon become structurally incapable of developing a shared sense of nationhood. An untutored sense of community, which is not drilled into children through chauvinistic textbooks that describe India as the greatest civilisation ever, can arise only from relative equality of life chances and basic parity in entitlements amongst people.

A notion of common citizenship and shared destiny, which goes beyond participation in electoral processes, cannot develop in a divided society where the chasms are widening under neoliberalism's ruthlessly inequality-enhancing influence. No wonder all manner of narrow and parochial identity politics, as well as superstition and obscurantism, are thriving in India today. We are paying an exorbitant price for neoliberalism – including enormous waste of precious human potential, people's suffering, rising gender inequalities, growth of irrational faith, and a weakening of human solidarity and the foundations of political democracy.

Neoliberalism is also imposing huge ecological costs on India through the rapid melting of the Himalayan glaciers, loss of prime natural forests, degradation of land through reckless mining and the overuse of chemicals in agriculture, extensive air and water pollution, poisoning of all our major rivers, overuse of groundwater, loss of priceless biodiversity, and rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Driven by a luxury consumption boom under neoliberal policies, India's emissions are growing twice as fast as the rest of the world's, aggravating and accelerating climate change. India is now the world's fourth biggest GHG emitter. Indians, already vulnerable to climate change because of geographical and social factors and lack of resources for adaptation, will become its worst victim. Continuing along the neoliberal course means shooting ourselves in the foot.
Praful Bidwai in Frontline. Here

Anna Hazare wants to subvert democracy

A theory has been put forth, and is being recycled continuously, that it is the political awakening of the new Indian middle class, a middle class often decried for its apathy towards the Indian state and democracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is not the political engagement of the new middle class with India’s democratic system and processes. It is in fact a rejection of India’s democratic politics of 64 years. The message driven home has been: the elections and elected representatives don’t matter, the middle class votes don’t matter — because in any case, either the poor sell the vote or the rich buy out the politicians. There is no need for middle class to engage with the system. The system should instead be captured or subverted by street protests and public blackmails, with the help of the news television channels which can act as a force multiplier. When you mobilise supporters telling them that their votes don’t matter, and only street protests and blackmail do, these people are not going to stand up in queue to vote in the next elections.

It is for this precise reason that the current agitation is different from the earlier political movements in this country —- one led by Jai Prakash Narayan against the emergency imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1975, and the other launched by Mr. V.P. Singh against corruption in 1987. Both were ‘political’ movements where the leaders were proposing an alternative political formulation in front of the electorate. By seeking votes against the ruling establishment, they were reposing their faith in India’s democratic system. In contrast, Mr. Hazare’s handlers are self-righteous activists with a disdain for politics and politicians. The basic belief arising from the nature of their work with the NGOs is that politics and government cannot deliver, and only they can do a better job. In following their beliefs, the current movement is being assiduously apolitical, where its leadership is subverting — if not overtly rejecting — the democratic institutions like the Parliament and established legislative processes.

With its implicit message of subversion in a democracy, it illustrates the paradox of the current movement. The enthusiasm and commitment of the people in coming to the streets for a non-sectarian cause in a democracy is breathtaking. Yet this is a movement without an agenda beyond pushing its own version of the Jan Lok Bill. It could bend towards a new political party the way V.P. Singh’s Jan Morcha evolved into the Janata Dal, or it could be sophisticatedly co-opted by the UPA government as a new National Advisory Council. The essential truth is that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading. The political parties are being wise in moving carefully — and avoiding the facile embrace of a movement whose trajectory is unknown.
We are in the danger of ending up with an even more disillusioned and disenchanted middle class which doesn’t believe in a social contract with the Indian State. While the existing social contract seems to have lapsed, there are no alternatives being articulated by the leaders of the current movement.
A scathing comment on Anna Hazare by Pragmatic Desi. Here

Book review in Dinathanthi


Friday, August 19, 2011

Anna Hazare is wrong. Jan Lokpal Bill is not the solution : Nandan Nilekani

Sagarika Ghose: Hello and welcome to this CNN-IBN special. Can Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement and the Jan Lokpal Bill in its present form end corruption in India?

Joining us is Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys and chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, which aims to provide identity cards to the poorest of the poor to eliminate corruption from the delivery of services to them.

Nandan Nilekani, thanks for joining us. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement and the Jan Lokpal Bill is the big news at the moment. Two questions. What do you make of this movement? And do you think that Jan Lokpal Bill is the best way to fight corruption in India?

Nandan Nilekani: No, I think there is no doubt that all of us want to do things to eliminate corruption in our society and I fully sympathise with that motive and the frustration that people feel about corruption. But I think if you really want to do it, it has to be done in a much more holistic and strategic manner. Because there is a part of corruption that is big ticket corruption, there is a part of it that is retail corruption, and what we are finding in the Aadhar project, the UIAI project, is that we have basically given people an identity so that they are not denied something because they don't have an ID. We have to give them services in the villages so they can get their money automatically. We have to make sure that their PDS is portable so that they can go to any ration shop. These are basic, fundamental things which will help in making sure that the people have a much more hassle-free relationship with the State. And so I think if you are going to do something about corruption, we have to do it in a much broader manner, where this Bill just becomes one of many things.

Sagarika Ghose: But you don't think that the Jan Lokpal Bill on its own is a magic wand that can solve corruption problems.

Nandan Nilekani: Absolutely not, I mean, I don't know who is drinking this Koolaid. You know, I find this simplistic notion that you pass some magical Bill and some corruption is going to go away, I find that... frankly... certainly not the way you should be thinking about the issue.

Sagarika Ghose: So do you think that at the moment we have enough laws, the laws that we have, the IPC, the Prevention of Corruption Act, we have enough laws those are enough...

Nandan Nilekani: No I'm not saying that we don't need a Lokpal Bill..

Sagarika Ghose: We need to improve the delivery system.

Nandan Nilekani: I'm just saying that a Bill where you create a whole police infrastructure that will eliminate corruption without looking at the whole broad set of issues and fundamentally changing the way we deliver the public services - in a way that is much more convenient and hassle-free for the common man - is I think focusing on a very small part of the overall problem. So I'm very much for removing corruption, but I think the statement that this is the only way to do it to the exclusion of all other things is... I mean, I find that very very impractical.

Sagarika Ghose: So you are basically saying that the way to fight is through service delivery, to streamline service delivery, not bring back what many are calling an ‘inspector raj'.

Nandan Nilekani: Yes, I mean, I am not saying that we don't need a Lokpal Bill. That is for the Parliament to decide - what should be the frame of that bill. I'm just saying that for millions of people corruption is at the point of interaction. When they are trying to get their PDS, when their are trying to get their pension, when they are trying to get their bank account open, when they move from a village to a city and nobody is willing to recognise them. That is where corruption is. And that is where the things we are doing like giving an Aadhar ID for every person, especially those who have no ID, (comes in). Getting them bank accounts by an automatic KYC, getting them a business correspondent network so that they can withdraw money from anywhere. Giving then the portability of the PDS so that if one PDS outlet is not giving them service they can go to somebody else. That's where, you know, millions of interactions the people have with the system, you need to fix that. And that is really a process, transformation, you know, technology kind of a solution, it is not about the law.

Sagarika Ghose: How do we assess this middle-class anger; is it assertive, is it anarchist or is it constructive?

Nandan Nilekani: No I think there is a revolution of rising expectation and a part of that expectation is a much better, much more streamlined, level playing field kind of a society, which I think all of us will agree. I don't think that the aspiration or frustration is something that... you know, I fully empathise and sympathise with that. My point is both the solution and the means being adopted - that is where I think I have a difference (in viewpoint). All the people who are against corruption should have a much broader agenda, which covers at least 10 to 15 things. One of which is whatever Bill they have in mind.

Sagarika Ghose: There is a feeling in this country and a growing feeling in this country that corruption is increasing with liberalisation and economic reforms and one of the champions of the Jan Lokpal Bill Prashant Bhushan has actually said that. What do you make of that argument? Do you believe that liberalisation is creating big ticket corruption and that the avenues for making illegitimate money are increasing because of liberalisation?

Nandan Nilekani: No I think in fact we need more reforms to rectify these issues because there are parts of Indian economy that don't deal with the state much. You know, you have the IT industry, the BPO industry, the FMGC industry, the manufacturing industry, the auto industry, the financial industry which are very competitive open market kind of situations. The challenge happens when there is some huge role of government, whether the government is a regulator or the government is a provider of some resource which is scarce or the government is a buyer or whatever. And that interface is where all these issues are, so we need to make that much more transparent, open and deregulated. I mean we need liberalisation very much because finally we are going to have millions of Indians coming into the workforce. And the jobs for those young Indians are going to be created by entrepreneurs. So we need to create a culture where we encourage ethical entrepreneurship.

Sagarika Ghose: So the battle against corruption should not lead to stopping of reforms, should actually incentivise more reforms?

Nandan Nilekani: Absolutely. You need more reforms, not less.

Sagarika Ghose: So you simply eliminate the government functionary?

Nandan Nilekani: No, you streamline things, you automate things and you create choice. I think choice is very important. See the difference between you and me and somebody in a village is that if you don't like the service in one shop you can go to another shop. So you have a choice, if you get bad service you can go somewhere else. If you don't like this bank you can go to some other bank. You don't like this ATM you go that ATM. So the choice is what empowers you. If you are a person who is a part of the PDS, your name is assigned to only one shop. You can't go anywhere else. So if that particular shop is shut down or is not able to give you service or whatever, you are out of luck. So you have become hostage to that one entity. The moment you make it portable where I can go to either shop A or shop B to get my things suddenly you've empowered me. That you do through a system, you can't do it another way.

Sagarika Ghose: From land acquisition to spectrum to mining, it's always the discretionary power of the government where the corruption comes from. But is it going to be that easy to do away with discretionary powers of the government because the government has to after all make decisions.

Nandan Nilekani: I'm just saying that for the common man the corruption is at the point where they have to open a bank account, get their pension, get their rice and wheat - whether those points of interaction can be streamlined - which I think can absolutely be done. That's how we are going to tackle it for the majority of the people.

Sagarika Ghose: But what you are talking about is the corruption that is affecting the common man on a day to day basis. Now what about big ticket corruption, big scams, the 2G scam, the CWG scam - don't you need a Lokpal there for example to tackle big ticket corruption?

Nandan Nilekani: No, I'm not saying don't have a Lokpal, I'm just saying that Lokpal is just one out of 10 or 15 initiatives that we need to take, so we should see these things in the context of that. That's all I'm saying. Of course we need a Lokpal bill and whatever version, I'm not an authority on that. But please look at it as a strategic, holistic, transformational challenge that cuts across large ticket items, retail items procurement, elections, whatever. And look at this in a strategic manner - don't focus on one out of 15 things. And act as if that is a magical bullet that will solve everything - that is completely inane.

Sagarika Ghose: It's simply not enough. It is inane and not enough.

Nandan Nilekani: I mean I really don't know why this has reached this level. I mean I have been trying to do this system stuff for many years and I am convinced that you have to look at it strategically.

Sagarika Ghose: Do you believe that this protest which is taking place while the Bill is before the Parliamentary process is justified?

Nandan Nilekani: I don't think it is justified. You know we have a Bill for the UID authority, which went to Parliament and was placed before the standing committee on Finance, which is chaired by Mr Yashwant Sinha. And I have had the occasion to, you know, make a presentation on more than one occasion to the standing committee. Now the proceedings of this are confidential, but let me tell you they do an extraordinarily thorough job. I'm very very impressed with the quality of questions, the homework, the due diligence, the seriousness that they view these things with. And it's very bipartisan, you can't make out who is from which party because they all ask (questions) on the issue. So when you have such an excellent system of law-making...and you know they have asked us so many thing to clarify, they have called so many experts, they have called people who are against what we are doing to the committee. So it's a very comprehensive approach to law-making. So when this law is in front of the appropriate standing committee, why do we need an agitation? It escapes me why this is going on.

Sagarika Ghose: So you believe that the agitation is actually a violation of Parliamentary principles.

Nandan Nilekani: No, I'm saying when a very serious Parliamentary body called the standing committee has taken this law for consideration, why are we not working through that system?

Sagarika Ghose: And we should not disrespect the Parliamentary standing committee?

Nandan Nilekani: Absolutely. I mean, look I have visited the UK Parliament, I have gone to the French Parliament, I have been to the US House of Representatives. I have met top leaders across the world in all walks of life and let me tell you the standing committee procedures are second to none. Let us respect that, let us give them the opportunity to call all the experts for and against and let them come out with something. They are the appropriate people, they are our representatives.

Sagarika Ghose: Are you placing too much faith in technology. Because IT systems can clean up the system, you can computerise your birth certificates and death certificates, but at the same time you do also have to monitor credit card payment, you do have to monitor retail purchase. So a certain of degree of monitoring is required even if you provide IT service in transactions.

Nandan Nilekani: The way you do that Sagarika is that you have millions of transactions happening every day. You can't have millions of people roaming around looking at transactions - that is not a scalable model of doing things. The way you do it is that you build analytical tools where you look at a large number of transactions, look for suspicious behaviour and focus on those transactions that look suspicious. There is a science called fraud analytics to do these kinds of things. Why would you use nineteenth century methods to solve problems today?

Sagarika Ghose: Many are calling it a national catharsis on corruption. Why do you think corruption thrives in our country? What is the reason according to you why corruption is endemic in our country?

Nandan Nilekani: No, I think there are different aspects to this corruption. Right, there is the large ticket kind of corruption which happens typically where the state interfaces with business for large resources and land. There the solutions are different, there it is about having a better land market or auctioning of resources or better procurement policies. Then there is the small ticket or retail corruption where millions of people interact with the state, there is a rent-seeking transaction that happens, that is about systems, automation and the stuff I talked about. Then there is the tax issue which is ... again a lot of taxes are about having better systems to reduce things by having matching of invoices or having common entity registrations so that everybody uses the same IDs. Now you obviously need surveillance or inspection, I am not saying you don't need that. But that is a layer you put on top of a well-functioning, streamlined system. Surveillance and an audit cannot be a substitute for that and that is one of the conceptual problems I have with many of these proposals – which is that nobody is talking about how do we fix the underlying thing. But we create one more army of people who are going to inspect something which is already not working - that is not the way to fix things, go and fix it where it should be working. My point is simply that let's not get carried away by the idea that one magic bullet is going to solve it. And let us respect that when there is a Parliament, when there is a standing committee which is looking into this matter, let them do their job.

Sagarika Ghose: Are you pessimistic or are you optimistic? Often from the Anna Hazare camp we hear slogans like sab neta chor hai, the system is entirely corrupt, politicians are all corrupt, we should not have trust in the system. Do you buy into such pessimism or do you feel we're winning the war on corruption?

Nandan Nilekani: I think it is a very unfair statement. You know I have been two years in public life and my respect for politicians has gone up. I think they are extremely hard-working, they're juggling with a dozen balls, they're very understanding of issues, you know, there's enormous diversity they have to deal with. If the argument is that some politicians are corrupt we can say that about every walk of life. There are businessmen who are corrupt, there are media houses which are corrupt, and there are NGO which are known to be corrupt, why are we tarring just one constituency with this brush. I think we should respect our politicians and across the board I have tremendous respect for politicians.
Sagarika Ghose in CNN-IBN Here Watch the video Here

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Top Ten Reasons Anna Hazare shouldn't have waged a war on corruption

Top Ten Reasons Anna Hazare shouldn't have waged a war on corruption
10. Corruption is omnipresent in India.
9. Without giving bribe nothing happens in India. You cannot get your birth certificate or death certificate without giving bribe. You cannot get cremated without giving bakshish..
8. Indira Gandhi has famously said once that corruption is international phenonmenon.
7. Corruption is ingrained in the blood of Indian.
6. Indians would prefer to bribe the TT and get themselves a berth or seat rather than altering the travel plan.
5. Corrupt practices are part and parcel of the Indian mythologies. Remember When Karna took his powerful weapon, Nagastra and shot it at Arjuna. Krishna saved Arjuna from certain death by his divine powers; by subtly lowering Arjuna’s chariot into the earth, through a gentle pressure of his feet.
4. Hypocricy is ingrained in the blood of Indian. India is the only country where everything from river to wealth and knowledge are worshipped as female gods. India is also the only country to have massacred crores of girl childs in a decade 
3. Corruption cannot be eradicated by framing stringent laws alone. In India there is a law that those who indulge in spurious drugs should be hanged to death. Not a single soul has been hanged till today. The spurious drug industry is thriving with 5000 crore turnover annually. Besides nobody could deny the threat of it being misused. Janlokpal Bill would become another POTA or TADA
2. Indians would find ways and means to buy Lokpal or Janlokpal whatever.
1. There are more pressing issues facing the nation: Suicides of farmers, scarcity of drinking water, rising unemployment, threat of Hindu Fascism, collapse of family system, onslaught of western culture etc.
 Wake up Anna Hazares! It is better late than never.

China surpasses India in building railways to Himalayas

India's struggle to build a railway to troubled Kashmir has become a symbol of the infrastructure gap with neighbouring China, whose speed in building road and rail links is giving it a strategic edge on the mountainous frontier.
Nearly quarter of a century after work began on the project aimed at integrating the revolt-torn territory and bolstering the supply route for troops deployed there, barely a quarter of the 345-km (215-mile) Kashmir track has been laid.

Tunnels collapsed, funds dried up and, faced with the challenge of laying tracks over the 11,000 foot (3,352 metre) Pir Panjal range, railway officials and geologists bickered over the route, with some saying it was just too risky.

The proposed train, which will run not far from the heavily militarised border with Pakistan, has also faced threats from militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed region, with engineers kidnapped in the early days of the project.

China's rail system has been plagued by scandal. A bullet train crash in July killed 40 people and triggered a freeze on new rail project approvals, but the country managed to build the 1,140-km (710-mile) Qinghai-Tibet line, which crosses permanently frozen ground and climbs to more than 5,000 metres above sea level, in five years flat.

It has also built bitumen roads throughout its side of the frontier, making it easier for Chinese troops to move around -- and mass there, if confrontation ever escalates.

Indians have long fretted about the economic advantages that China gains from its infrastructure expertise. But the tale of India's hardships in building the railway line also shows how China's mastery of infrastructure could matter in the territorial disputes that still dog relations.
Sanjeev Miglani at Reuters. Here

We are ready to give bribe. But we want the corrupt to be punished.

The best thing about Indian politicians is that they make you feel you are a better person. Not surprisingly, Indians often derive their moral confidence not through the discomfort of examining their own actions, but from regarding themselves as decent folks looted by corrupt, villainous politicians.

This is at the heart of a self-righteous middle-class uprising against political corruption, a television news drama that reached its inevitable climax in Delhi on Tuesday when the rural social reformer Anna Hazare was about to set out for his death fast — the second one he has attempted this year to press his demand for a powerful anti-corruption agency.

He was arrested by the police, ostensibly in the interest of law and order.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his Independence Day address to the nation on Monday, took digs at Mr. Hazare and his tactic of using hunger strikes to twist the arm of an elected government. Mr. Singh said that he did not have “a magic wand” to end corruption in India.
The anti-corruption movement has the simplicity of a third-rate fable.
There are the good guys (the reformers and the average Indian citizen) and the bad guys (the politicians). But the real story is not a fable but art cinema.

Indians have a deep and complicated relationship with corruption. As in any long marriage, it is not clear whether they are happily or unhappily married. The country’s economic system is fused with many strands of corruption and organized systems of tax evasion. The middle class is very much a part of this.

Most Indians have paid a bribe. Most Indian businesses cannot survive or remain competitive without stashing away undeclared earnings.

Almost everybody who has sold a house has taken one part of the payment in cash and evaded tax on it.

Yet, the branding of corruption is so powerful that Indians moan the moment they hear the word. The comic hypocrisy of it all was best evident in the past few months as the anti-corruption movement gathered unprecedented middle-class support.
... ... .... ..... ...

Behind the power of India’s anti-corruption movement is the rise of a new emotion: Young urban Indians are more interested in their nation than ever before. As a consequence they are more politically aware.

Seven years ago, I went around Mumbai asking fashionably dressed college students questions like, “Who is the deputy prime minister of India?” Often, I was faced with long, embarrassed silences, or “Oh my God, quiz question.”

When I asked a young Muslim woman the question “Who is Narendra Modi?” she said she had not heard the name before. Mr. Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, was then and still is accused of assisting riots that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Muslims.

Today, there is a perceptible increase in the number of young people who are acutely aware and interested in the fate of the nation. That is because they are different from the generations before them whose only objective in life was to escape India. Now that the world is what it is, there is no place to escape to. So they want their home to be a better place — where bribe-takers are punished and bribe-payers live happily ever after.
Manu Joseph in The New York Times. Here

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What made Japan surrender?

The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific, but it didn’t force Japan’s surrender. So why did the war end?...
For nearly seven decades, the American public has accepted one version of the events that led to Japan’s surrender. By the middle of 1945, the war in Europe was over, and it was clear that the Japanese could hold no reasonable hope of victory. After years of grueling battle, fighting island to island across the Pacific, Japan’s Navy and Air Force were all but destroyed. The production of materiel was faltering, completely overmatched by American industry, and the Japanese people were starving. A full-scale invasion of Japan itself would mean hundreds of thousands of dead GIs, and, still, the Japanese leadership refused to surrender.
But in early August 66 years ago, America unveiled a terrifying new weapon, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In a matter of days, the Japanese submitted, bringing the fighting, finally, to a close.

On Aug. 6, the United States marks the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing’s mixed legacy. The leader of our democracy purposefully executed civilians on a mass scale. Yet the bombing also ended the deadliest conflict in human history.
In recent years, however, a new interpretation of events has emerged. Tsuyoshi Hasegawa - a highly respected historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara - has marshaled compelling evidence that it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan’s surrender. His interpretation could force a new accounting of the moral meaning of the atomic attack. It also raises provocative questions about nuclear deterrence, a foundation stone of military strategy in the postwar period. And it suggests that we could be headed towards an utterly different understanding of how, and why, the Second World War came to its conclusion.
“Hasegawa has changed my mind,” says Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “The Japanese decision to surrender was not driven by the two bombings.”

Hasegawa’s scholarship disturbs this simple logic. If the atomic bomb alone could not compel the Japanese to submit, then perhaps the nuclear deterrent is not as strong as it seems. In fact, Wilson argues, history suggests that leveling population centers, by whatever method, does not force surrender. The Allied firebombing of Dresden in February of 1945 killed many people, but the Germans did not capitulate. The long-range German bombing of London did not push Churchill towards acquiescence. And it is nearly impossible to imagine that a bomb detonated on American soil, even one that immolated a large city, would prompt the nation to bow in surrender.
If killing large numbers of civilians does not have a military impact, then what, Wilson asks, is the purpose of keeping nuclear weapons? We know they are dangerous. If they turn out not to be strategically effective, then nuclear weapons are not trump cards, but time bombs beneath our feet.
An analysis by Gareth Cook in Boston. Here

India's unwanted daughters and the American connection

AS HE walked into the maternity ward of Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan Hospital in Delhi on his first day at work in 1978, Puneet Bedi, a medical student, saw a cat bound past him “with a bloody blob dangling from its mouth.” “What was that thing—wet with blood, mangled, about the size of Bedi’s fist?” he remembers thinking. “Before long it struck him. Near the bed, in a tray normally reserved for disposing of used instruments, lay a fetus of five or six months, soaking in a pool of blood…He told a nurse, then a doctor, I saw a cat eat a fetus. Nobody on duty seemed concerned, however.” Mara Hvistendahl, a writer at Science magazine, is profoundly concerned, both about the fact that abortion was treated so casually, and the reason. “Why had the fetus not been disposed of more carefully? A nurse’s explanation came out cold. “Because it was a girl.”

Sex-selective abortion is one of the largest, least noticed disasters in the world. Though concentrated in China and India, it is practised in rich and poor countries and in Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim societies alike. Because of males’ greater vulnerability to childhood disease, nature ensures that 105 boys are born for every 100 girls, so the sexes will be equal at marriageable age. Yet China’s sex ratio is 120 boys per 100 girls; India’s is 109 to 100.

The usual view of why this should be stresses traditional “son preference” in South and East Asia. Families wanted a son to bear the family name, to inherit property and to carry out funerary duties. Ms Hvistendahl has little truck with this account, which fails to explain why some of the richest, most outward-looking parts of India and China have the most skewed sex ratios. According to her account, sex-selection technologies were invented in the West, adopted there as a population-control measure and exported to East Asia by Western aid donors and American military officials.

The ultrasound and other technologies that identify the sex of a fetus started out as diagnostic devices to help people with sex-linked diseases, such as haemophilia, conceive healthy children. They were greeted rapturously in America in the 1960s. “Ultrasound Device Takes Guessing Out of Pregnancy” ran one headline. “Control of Life: Audacious Experiments Promise Decades of Added Life” ran another.

But 1960s America was also a period of growing concern (hysteria, even) about population in developing countries. Policymakers, demographers and military men all thought rapid population growth was the biggest single threat to mankind and that drastic measures would be needed to rein it in. One such figure was Paul Ehrlich, whose book, “The Population Bomb”, became a bestseller in 1968. Mr Ehrlich pointed out that some Indian and Chinese parents would go on having daughter after daughter until the longed-for son arrived. If, he argued, they could be guaranteed a son right away, those preliminary daughters would not be born, and population growth would be lower. Sex selection became a tool in a wider battle to stop “overpopulation”.
But how did an obsession of Western policymakers turn into the widespread practice of destroying female fetuses in Asia? Partly, argues Ms Hvistendahl, through aid. The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations gave over $3m to the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the 1960s, helping it to pioneer India’s first amniocentesis tests, initially for genetic abnormalities and later for identifying fetal sex. India at that time was the World Bank’s biggest client, and the bank made loans for health projects conditional on population control.
A review of the book Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl in The Economist. Here

Monday, August 15, 2011

An inspiring success story of a Muslim School in Mumbai

An inspiring, enlightening success story of a Muslim School with a difference. It is worth emulating all over the country. Hats off to people behind Al-Muminah School.

• 6500 Muslim students enrolled in 16 Islamic Schools in Mumbai.
• Islamic schools affiliated either to Maharashtra board or CBSE.
• Every subject is taught with an Islamic Perspective.
• Computer Science & General Knowledge is part of the curriculum.
• Senior Girls are also taught self-defense.
• Microsoft Paint is learnt by Writing "Allah Hu Akbar" in Urdu.
• Windows Media Player is used to listen to lessons of the Quran.
• Rotation of Earth is described as Act of Allah's Mercy.
 A report in Headlines Today. Here.

THEY sing "A for Allah, B for Bismillah"; run around their classrooms properly covered from head to toe, know Arabic almost as well as they do English, don't watch TV but are familiar with the most advanced general knowledge books and CDs.
Say "Salaam Aleikum!" to the first batch of toddlers to enrol in Mumbai's four "Islamic" English schools started over the last two years. Combining the study of Islam with a regular academic curriculum, these schools aim to produce a radically different generation of Muslims: English-speaking, academically on par with the best, and thoroughly Islamic in conduct and appearance.
Housed on one or sometimes two floors of old buildings in the city's Muslim quarter, they have yet to acquire a fully qualified staff, run only till Std. II or III, haven't yet got official recognition, but are already turning away applicants.
Their USP is their irresistible combination of religious and secular education. Most Muslim children start learning the Quran by age seven, and almost all of them end up resenting this additional burden, which cuts into their limited play/rest time, and makes little sense to them. In these new schools, Arabic is taught from nursery, to enable children to understand the Quran instead of merely learning it by rote and then "putting it away on a shelf, forgotten," as Dr. Shehnaz Shaikh puts it. But it wasn't just this belated homecoming that prompted her to risk starting the Al Mu'minah Girls High School, where her younger daughter joins 124 others in singing "Be careful little eyes what you see, as Allah is watching you". The frequent taunts faced by her elder daughter in one of Mumbai's best-known English schools, brought back bitter memories.
From a report in The Hindu dated October 19, 2003. Here

"Ba Ba black sheep. 
Do you pray to God? 
Yes sir! Yes sir! Allah is my Lord. 
He created the moon and sun. 
He created us, each and everyone!
This is how the girls of Al-Mu’minah School recited Ba Ba black sheep. A school annual function generally brings to mind some song and dance sequences by children. But the Al-Mu’minah School annual function was a function with a difference. Confident toddlers of Al-Mu’minah, the Islamic Academic School, enthralled the audience with performances ranging from recitation of the Quran to Islamic personality show. The auditorium was resonating with the praise and glory of Allah. Three and a half-year-old Sadiyah Shaikh of Lower KG not only recited the Surah Al-Fateha and Surah Al-Baqarah, but also gave the English translation of both. 
What was astonishing was that this three and a half-year-old tiny tot understood what she was reciting. When she was reciting “Dhalikal kitabu la raiba fih” and “This is the Book” she picked up the Quran and demonstrated to the audience that indeed Quran is the book wherein is no doubt, a guidance for the God-fearing. The audience which mainly consisted of the parents of the school kids were overwhelmed when the students gave a demonstration of how they spend the day remembering Allah by reciting the duas to be said at different times of the day, right from waking up until going back to sleep. It was indeed amazing to see the small girls recite duas on waking up, before entering the toilet, on leaving the toilet, before eating, after eating, after drinking milk, on wearing clothes, when looking in the mirror and these duas have been learnt by the children with English translations.

A report in Islamic Voice March 2002. Here

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Comparing Indian states with countries

How big is Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state? One way of answering the question is to take its total area: 95,000 square miles (246,000 sq km). Another way is to think of it as a country. If Uttar Pradesh were to declare independence, it would be the world’s fifth most populous country (as the map below shows, it has about the same number of residents as Brazil). Yet its economy would only be the size of Qatar, a tiny oil-rich state of fewer than 2m people. That makes it poor on a per person basis. Despite India’s two decades of rapid growth, Uttar Pradesh’s GDP per head is close to that of Kenya. Interestingly Tamil Nadu's GDP has been mentioned as close to that of Angola whereas Maharashtra's is close to Singapore.
A report along with flash presentation in The Economist. Here

Iftar Parties in Police stations

The Programs like Iftar Parties where in people from different communities participate will pave the way for proper understanding between the communities and such an opportunity was provided by this Police Station. These were the words spoken by Mr Mohammed Ziaullah, President JIH, Gulbarga at an Iftar Party organized at Raghavendra Colony Police Station on Friday the 12th August 2011. He briefly spoke on the importance of Fasting the month of Ramzan by Muslims all over the world, how it prepares a human being to be pious, the book of Quran as guidance to humanity, its message and the importance of the belief in the here after.

Presiding over the function Mr Basavaraj, Police Sub Inspector of the Police Station, expressed pleasure and happiness for having arranged this program in his police station. And glad to know about the importance of Ramazan and teachings of Quran.

The Police Constables and other staff of the station participated. They appreciated the effort of Jamaat in organizing such programs.
 From Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Gulbarga's site. Here and Here

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Indian behind the Downgrading of America

Credit rating firm Standard & Poor’s, which stripped the U.S. of its top-notch triple-A credit rating on Friday, is headed by India-born Deven Sharma.

The downgrade has sent jitters across governments and investors around the world as they try to figure out what this means for them and whether the downgrade could trigger a major market downturn. Major European governments, for instance, held an emergency meeting on Sunday to chart their plan of action.

Meanwhile, S&P has received a lot of flak for the downgrade, especially from U.S. Treasury officials  who complained there was no justification for it and noticed a $2 trillion error in S&P’s calculation.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published on Sunday, Mr. Sharma said the rating cut was in the best interest of investors. “Our ratings are forward-looking. And part of making ratings forward-looking is for the benefit of investors, to give them a view about how we see the future risks of the credit unfolding,” he said.
It remains to be seen what the long-term impact will be but, in the short-term, stock investors have been hurt.

Asian markets were trading lower midday Monday and India’s benchmark Sensex fell to a 14-month low in morning trading, losing 2.7% to touch 16,835.

But who is Mr. Sharma, the president of S&P?  As the company’s president, he also oversees S&P’s analysts in the rating committees. They are the ones who decided to downgrade the U.S.’s credit rating. Mr. Sharma has been at Standard & Poor’s since 2006 as executive vice-president and was promoted to president a year later. Before that, he was an executive vice-president at The McGraw-Hill Companies, S&P’s parent company, for five years.
Shefali Anand in Wall Street Journal. More Here
 Read Q&A With S&P President Deven Sharma here

Why do they loot?

Many of these mindless thugs involved in the riots don’t think more than 10 minutes into the future. They think that stealing trainers is ‘fun’, not even considering that it might be wrong. Many of them are, quite literally, unable to read and write: 17 percent of 15-year-olds are functionally illiterate. If you de-educate an entire generation, if you constantly make excuses for their behaviour, if you never teach them the difference between right and wrong, then chaos is what you reap. These young people are just implementing what they’ve learnt at school!

Katherine Birbal Singh in The Telegraph. Here

Muslims come out to defend London

Last night Muslim Turks in Hackney chased off looters and Muslims in Whitechappel were defending the Islamic Bank of Britain. Muslims in London have done this before in Harrow when we organised and coordinated in huge numbers to see off the EDL vermin and we should do it again for the benefit of all Londoners in this great city of ours.
More Here and Here 
and AlJazeera report Here

Why London is burning? Five quick points on riots

The polarisation between the claim that ‘the riots are a response to unemployment and wasted lives’ and the insistence ‘the violence constitutes mere criminality’ makes little sense. There is clearly more to the riots than simple random hooliganism. But that does not mean that the riots, as many have claimed, are protests against disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives. In fact, it’s precisely because of disenfranchisement, social exclusion and wasted lives that these are not ‘protests’ in any meaningful sense, but a mixture of incoherent rage, gang thuggery and teenage mayhem.  Disengaged not just from the political process (largely because politicians, especially those on the left, have disengaged from them), but also from a sense of the community or the collective, there is a generation (in fact more than a generation) with no focus for their anger and resentment, no sense that they can change society and no reason to feel responsible for the consequences of their actions. That is very different from suggesting that the riots were caused by, a response to, or a protest against, unemployment, austerity and the cuts.
Kenan Malik in his blog. Here

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tipu Sultan and the Chennai connection

Ask any Chennaiite about the city’s connection with arms production and the spontaneous reply could be the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, which manufactures the indigenous Arjun Main Battle Tank. But, South India’s tryst with weaponry and ordnance manufacturing dates back to over 200 years, according to experts at the government museum in Egmore. The exhibit of the model of the State Gun of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan is, they said, a pointer to that. 

The miniature of State Gun displayed at the museum as the ‘Exhibit of the Week’ was fabricated at the Gun Carriage Manufactory of Madras for the Superintendent Major John Maintland, commemorating the victory of English East India Company over Tipu Sultan of Srirangapatnam near Mysore in 1799 during the Mysore War IV.

According to C Maheswaran, Curator, Archaeology Section, Government Museum, the British seized several cannons after defeating Tipu Sultan at Srirangapatman on May 21, 1799. “Thereafter, a miniature of the State Gun was made at the Gun Carriage in Chennai in the same year,” he added.

Interestingly, the Government Museum acquired the model just for Rs 60. During the pre-Independence era, the British government had transferred several objects to the museum  free of cost though a few historical exhibits like the State Gun model, which were sold for a price.

Historians claim that cannons were not conceptualised by the British — a popular belief among the countrymen — but was actually introduced by the Mughal emperor Babur in India. Firearm was an invention of the Chinese, who passed on the technology to the Mughals as the two races had good relations with each other. Hyder Ali and his successor Tipu Sultan developed the cannons to effectively counter the British during the four Mysore wars.Maheswaran said that Tipu Sultan could be termed a master in warfare, including the guerrilla warfare.

“Tipu Sultan was a legend during his lifetime, who ruled Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. He set up arsenals in almost all the areas under his control, constructing watch towers on the hill tops to have a watch on the enemies,” he observed.

The big guns have since gone silent. But the model of the State Gun manufactured by the British tells a tale — of bravery, resilience and resistance – of a ruler called Tipu Sultan to the present generation.
Yogesh Kabirdoss in The New Indian Express dated 9 Aug 2011. Here

Little school kids walk into the main building of the Government Museum Egmore to be stopped in front of a miniature model displayed as the ‘exhibit of the week'. 

“So, what is that?” asks a museum staff. “It is a bullock cart,” says a girl. Most of them have no clue as to the display – the miniature of the gun used by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan to fight the expansion of English East India Company. 

C. Maheswaran, curator, anthropology section, patiently tells them the story — rather, the history — behind the miniature model. “At the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799 A.D during Mysore War III, the English East India Company captured the State gun of Hyder and Tipu. In memory of this historical moment, it created a model of the gun in brass at its gun carriage manufactory in Madras the same year,” he says, adding the state gun is in Srirangapatinam. 

The children keep nodding their heads and walk away and the next batch of noisy kids troops in. “It is like a time capsule. We don't know where the gun carriage manufactory was in Madras but it was fabricated under the supervision of Major John Maintland,” he says. 

The swell of the muzzle of mounted gun is shaped like the conventional head of Yazhi (the mythical animal). Urdu inscriptions are noticed on the stock of carriage. On the vertical bar, the word ‘Seringapatam' (Srirangapatinam) is noticed and on the horizontal bar the words, ‘progress' and ‘decline', are inscribed in equi-distance. 

“There is this word ‘Hoonsur” inscribed in Kannada. Probably, it could be the place where Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan manufactured the guns,” says Mr. Maheswaran. Interestingly, the Government Museum acquired this miniature exhibit for Rs 60.
A report in The Hindu dated 9 Aug 2011. Here

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Why is Europe afraid of the rise of Islam?

Italy has become the fourth country in Europe to act against the burqa, after France, Belgium and at least one city in Spain. Italian lawmakers have drafted a new law that will penalise women wearing the burqa and fine and jail men who force them to do so.

As Switzerland upholds a ban on minarets, and Germany's chancellor says multiculturalism has failed in Europe, are we seeing a nod to the Christian far right? Or is it the latest sign of the friction between races and religions?
An interesting debate in NDTV. Ankita Mukherji in her daily programme Politically Incorrect discusses this thorny issue with legendery parliamentarian Mani Shanker Aiyar and noted journalist Swapan Das Gupta.Watch the clash of the titans Here and Here

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

If Yeddy could smash laptop what Modi would do?

Minutes after being relegated to the status of caretaker chief minister of Karnataka, B S Yeddyurappa (BSY) vented his anger at senior central BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu, who was trying to pacify him. Yeddy flew into a rage and grabbed Naidu's laptop and smashed it on the floor on Sunday, according to party sources.

The incident took place in a suite at Hotel Lalit Ashok where the BJP central observers, including Naidu, a past president of BJP, had called the chief minister to demand his resignation, the sources said. Such was the 68-year-old Lingayat leader's anger that when a minister close to him woke him up at his Race Course Road residence, he slapped the minister's face.

Yeddy was already miffed at the central leadership's decision to ask him to step down and its reluctance to heed his choice of a pliable successor. The trigger for his violent behaviour appeared to be Naidu's refusal to sign a letter supporting Yeddy's cause. Sources said Naidu, who had so far always supported Yeddy's cause, toed the central line in removing Yeddy as CM.
A report in Times of India. Here

The wisdom in Fasting

The hawk's swooping contributes to the sparrow's alertness and agility. Although rain, electricity, or fire sometimes harms people, no one curses them. Fasting may be difficult, but it provides the body with energy, activity, and resistance. A child's immune system usually gains strength through illness. Gymnastics are not easy, but they are almost essential to bodily health and strength. People's spirits are refined through worship and meditation as well as through illness, suffering, and hardship. These allow them to acquire Paradise, for God gives a large reward for a little sacrifice. Hardships and sufferings promote people to higher spiritual degrees, and will be returned manifold in the other world. This is why all Messengers experienced the most grievous hardships and sufferings.

Hardship, suffering, and calamity cause believers' sins to be forgiven, warn them away from sins and the seductions of Satan and the carnal self, help them appreciate God's blessings, and open the way to gratitude. Also, they urge the rich and healthy to be concerned about the ill and the poor and to help them. Those who have never suffered cannot understand the condition of those who are hungry, sick, or stricken with a calamity. In addition, these afflictions may help establish closer relations between different social sectors.

The role of intention in fasting
Intention has a prominent place in our actions, for God's Messenger told us that our actions are judged according to our intentions. Intention is the spirit of our actions, for without it there is no reward. If you remain hungry and thirsty from daybreak to sunset without intending to fast, God does not consider it a fast. If you fast without intending to obtain God's good pleasure, you receive no reward. So whatever one intends, one gets the reward thereof. Those who have a firm belief in God, the other pillars of faith, and the intention to believe in them will be rewarded with eternal felicity in Paradise. But those who are determined not to believe, who have removed the inborn tendency to believe from their hearts, will be victims of their eternal determination and deserve eternal punishment. As for those with deeply ingrained unbelief and who have lost the capacity to believe, we read in the Qur'an: As for the unbelievers, it is the same whether you warn them or warn them not. They will not believe. God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes there is a covering (Baqara 2:6-7).

Favoring the Heart as Opposed to the Flesh
Human life is a composite of two distinct powers: the spirit and the flesh. Although they sometimes act in harmony, conflict is more usual—conflict in which one defeats the other. If bodily lusts are indulged, the spirit grows more powerless as it becomes more obedient to those lusts. If one can control the desires of the flesh, place the heart (the seat of spiritual intellect) over reason, and oppose bodily lusts, he or she acquires eternity.
Compared with previous centuries, people may well be wealthier and enjoy more convenience and comfort. However, they are trapped in greed, infatuation, addiction, need, and fantasy much more than ever before. The more they gratify their animal appetites, the more crazed they become to gratify those appetites; the more they drink, the thirstier they get; the more they eat, the hungrier they get. They enter into evil speculations to feed their greed to earn still more, and sell their spirits to Satan for the most banal advantages. And so they break with true human values a little more each day.

To sacrifice one's enjoyment of worldly pleasures has the same significance for human progress as roots have for a tree's growth. Just as a tree grows sound and strong in direct relation to its roots' soundness and strength, people grow to perfection whose striving to free themselves from selfishness so that they can live for others.

Spiritual practices during Ramadan
Muhasaba (Self-Criticism or Self-Interrogation)
Self-criticism may be described as seeking and discovering one's inner and spiritual depth, and exerting the necessary spiritual and intellectual effort to acquire true human values and to develop the sentiments that encourage and nourish them. This is how one distinguishes between good and bad, beneficial and harmful, and how one maintains an upright heart. Furthermore, it enables a believer to evaluate the present and prepare for the future. Again, self-criticism enables a believer to make amends for past mistakes and be absolved in the sight of God, for it provides a constant realization of self-renewal in one's inner world. Such a condition enables one to achieve a steady relationship with God, for this relationship depends on a believer's ability to live a spiritual life and remain aware of what takes place in his or her inner world. Success results in the preservation of one's celestial nature as a true human being, as well as the continual regeneration of one's inner senses and feelings.

Tafakkur (Reflection)
Reflection is a vital step in becoming aware of what is going on around us and of drawing conclusions from it. It is a golden key to open the door of experience, a seedbed where the trees of truth are planted, and the opening of the pupil of the heart's eye. Due to this, the greatest representative of humanity, the foremost in reflection and all other virtues states: "No act of worship is as meritorious as reflection. So reflect on God's bounties and the works of His Power, but do not try to reflect on His Essence, for you will never be able to do that."[1] By these words, in addition to pointing out the merit of reflection, the glory of humankind determines the limits of reflection and reminds us of our limits.

Shukr (Thankfulness)
True thankfulness in one's heart is manifested through the conviction and acknowledgment that all bounties are from God, and then ordering one's life accordingly. One can thank God verbally and through one's daily life only if personally convinced, and if one willingly acknowledges that his or her existence, life, body, physical appearance, and all abilities and accomplishments are from God, as are all of the bounties obtained and consumed. This is stated in: Do you not see that God has made serviceable unto you whatsoever is in the skies and whatsoever is in the earth, and has loaded you with His bounties seen or unseen? (Luqman 31:20), and: He gives you of all that you ask Him; and if you reckon the bounties of God, you can never count them (Ibrahim 14:34).

Of course, one should try to increase in all virtues during Ramadan, as this is the best time of year to do so
Fethullah Gulen in his website. Here

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

ரமலான் நோன்பு

சொர்க்கத்தைத் திறந்து வைத்து மிகக் கொடிய
சூதாளர் நரகத்தை அடைத்து வைத்து
மக்களெல்லாம் இறைவனது மாண்புணர்ந்து
மண்டியிட்டுத் தொழுது நின்று பணிவுடனே
தக்க படி நோன்பதனை ஏற்கும் மாதம்
தனியாக முப்பது நாள் ரமலான் ஆமாம்
எக்கணமும் எப்பொழுதும் இறைவனையே
ஏற்றி நிற்கும் இசுலாத்தார் இனிய மாதம்
A poem on Ramadan by famous Tamil orator, poet and thinker Mr Nellai Kannan. Here and Here

India’s poor relations with its neighbours

India’s poor relations with its neighbours is hurting its global ambitions, says The Economist

NO ONE loves a huge neighbour. For all that, India’s relations with the countries that ring it are abysmal. Of the eight with which it shares a land or maritime boundary, only two can be said to be happy with India: tiny Maldives, where India has the only foreign embassy and dispenses much largesse, and Bhutan, which has a policy of being happy about everything. Among its other South Asian neighbours, the world’s biggest democracy is incredible mainly because of its amazing ability to generate wariness and resentment.

Until recently it operated a shoot-to-kill policy towards migrant workers and cattle rustlers along its long border with Bangladesh. Over the years it has meddled madly in Nepal’s internal affairs. In Myanmar India snuggles up to the country’s thuggish dictators, leaving the beleaguered opposition to wonder what happened to India’s championing of democracy. Relations with Sri Lanka are conflicted. It treats China with more respect, but feuds with it about its border.
A review in The Economist. Here

Monday, August 01, 2011

The legacy of Deoband and Ghulam Muhammad Vastanvi

Darul Uloom Deoband is much more than a mere madarsa. It is a pile of history, a movement, an ideology itself; and mother of thousands of madarsas in the Indian sub-continent. Deoband is India’s pride, a heritage; and it is nobody’s monopoly. The power battle between Maulana Syed Arshad Madni and Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi should not shake Deoband.

Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanautavi (1832-1879), the founder of Darul Uloom (house of knowledge) at Deoband, later on outlined the purpose of establishing the institution in the following words: “The English have perpetrated boundless acts of tyranny against the Muslims for their fault, if at all it was a fault, of the uprising in 1857 and their relentless endeavour for the independence of this country thereafter. They have left no stone unturned to plunder and obliterate the Islamic arts and sciences, Muslim culture and civilisation. Endowments of Muslim educational institutions have been confiscated and as a result state funded schools have been virtually closed. It is therefore necessary to adopt other methods instead of relying upon the old system of endowments.”

Deoband believes in inclusive nationhood, promotes patriotism and seeks equal justice. However, it is orthodox in following Islam in letter and spirit. After 1915, when Mohandas Gandhi returned from South Africa and with the help of the moderate group led by Ghokhale became president of the Indian National Congress, he formed an alliance with the Khilafat Movement and Deoband scholars-led Jamiatul Ansar - which later reformed as Jamiat Ulama-e Hind in 1919 to avoid a ban by the British Raj in 1913.

Since then, the Deoband scholars have had a strong political bonding with the Congress and it continued as late as 1990s — before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. During the pre-Independence era, when most ‘modern’ educated Muslims were trapped into the idea of nationhood based on religion — as articulated by Jinnah — Deoband scholars posed strong opposition. They unequivocally quoted from Islamic scriptures to prove that nationhood had nothing to do with religion. Rather, it has as its basis the idea one’s birthplace and the sense of homeliness. They proclaimed Hindus and Muslim are one nation (qaum) and debated vigorously for composite nationalism, thus rejecting Jinnah’s two-nation theory.

The first political comments in January by the nascent vice-chancellor or mohtamim of Darul Uloom, the ‘liberal’ Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, favouring Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi would be a hard nut to digest for Deoband and her alumni; let alone giving a clean-cheat to Mr Modi or praising him. This author has also opposed his “statement” at that stage itself and it was printed in national newspapers. The basis of our opposition was that his statement angered Muslims across the globe. Moreover, in post-independent India, Deoband had shaped itself into an apolitical educational institute. The newly-appointed VC’s amateurish media gimmick was quite uncalled for and caused unease in academic circles.

By July 23, our apprehensions got vindicated when the ‘reformist’ Maulana Vastanvi lost his battle in the face of some strong lobbying by Maulana Syed Arshad Madni and his supporters. Freedom of expression is a basic right in India — everybody knows it, but even iconic figures like Vastanvi should not have lost sight of the relationship between that right and responsibility. Maulana Vastanvi may have his personal likes and dislikes. But when he speaks as the Mohtamim of Darul Uloom Deoband, it mattered for many in India and abroad.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that there is more to Maulana Vastanvi’s un-ceremonial removal from office than what meets the eye. His hurried dismissal was mired in a conspiracy by a certain interested class in Deoband and Delhi as the inflammatory coverage by certain Delhi-based Urdu newspapers following his appointment as Mohtamim of Darul Uloom bears out. Since the Congress top brass have almost unchecked intimacy with Vastanvi’s arch rival, Maulana Arshad Madni, the long-handedness of the Congress cannot be overlooked. It, obviously, would be in the interest of the ruling party to keep Darul Uloom as her usual support bastion by ousting a person who could challenge absolute hegemony at any point of time — not to forget poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.

It is noteworthy that Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi was elected by the high-level committee (Majlish-e Shoora) as VC of Darul Uloom on January 10, 2011 by a majority, even though voting was not common trends in the previous occasions in the history of the institute. Out of 18 members, 14 were present, Vastanvi secured eight votes while four favoured Maulana Arshad Madni and two voted for Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi. Till that day, Maulana Vastanvi and Maulana Badruddin Ajmal, Lok Sabha member and president of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), were on top of the Arshad Madni fraction of Jamiat Ulama-e Hind.

Vastanvi’s alleged Modi remark erupted just after his return from Deoband to Gujarat within days of his election. He was forced to call for an emergency meet of the Shoora committee on February 23. By then Maulana Ajmal was unconstitutionally sacked as president of the Assam State Jamiat by Maulana Arshad Madni — even though the State was election bound. Obviously it was an outburst against voting against the diktat. On February 23, the Shoora appointed a three-member sub-committee with Mufti Ismail of Malegaon as coordinator. Its term of reference was to investigate his alleged pro-Modi views with the context and submit a comprehensive report in the next Shoora meet.

To everyone’s surprise, the next day Maulana Arshad Madni appeared before the media and mocked the Shoora decision. He announced: “He (Vastanvi) has got to go whether or not the three-member committee’s findings favour him.” He further emphasised, “he has (already) gone” and that the formation of a fact-finding committee was only a formality. Isn’t this evidence enough that the decision on Vastanvi was taken by an extra judicial party and that too before the matter was put up for trial? The three-member probe committee had found nothing conclusive against Vastanvi. It is no secret that two of the three members, including the coordinator, stood with Vastanvi till the last day.
M Burhanuddin Qasmi in The Pioneer. Here


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