I have written about throttling of artistic talent in this post on the website you are now reading. Now one of the controversies have come to an end. However, the resolution is not to my satisfaction. The reason for my disquiet is that the artist made compromises. Kamal Haasan the director of the movie Vishwaroopam (on which the controversy was based) agreed to cut the controversial portions of his movie. The movie has since been released on February 7 in Tamil Nadu, the state to which Haasan belongs. This is like an author agreeing to delete the portions of his novel that people – or groups of people for that matter – object to. So where is artistic freedom? How does this become a good precedent for other artists around the world, I do not know. How can this capitulation occur when artists should have stood as one and opposed sectarian forces? The Indian art scene is so divided that not many artists came to Haasan’s rescue. Only a few ventured their support.
Apparently, for Haasan a lot was at stake. He had mortgaged his house in the making of this movie and a failure to release this movie must have led to his financial ruin. Which is understandable and pardonable given his commitment to making meaningful movies. I am a great fan of his movies and his elder brother – Charu Haasan – is a good friend of mine and we write to each other often. What I am afraid of is that henceforth movie makers would shy away from creating works of art based on their free will and thinking, afraid of antagonising this or that religious group. This will be like censoring oneself, before a script becomes a movie. India has a strict board of censors who go into every movie to see if there is anything objectionable. It seems they will not be needed anymore if artistes decide to edit, cut, delete and mutilate their works of art themselves.
We, here in India, are going through another frenzy of attack against artistic freedom. Two instances in the past week have delineated this for the observer. One is the banning of Salman Rushdie from the Calcutta Literary Festival and the other is the protest by Muslim organisations over actor Kamal Haasan’s movie Vishwaroopam.
Firstly, Rushdie is in India to promote the film based on his novel Midnight’s Children which gave him fame and, obviously, fortunes. While Bombay, his native city, didn’t protest, the chief minister of West Bengal Mamta Banerjee, a firebrand, has banned him from appearing at the Calcutta Literary Festival because of a book – Satanic Verses – he wrote decades ago, in fact, in 1988. Haasan’s film Vishwaroopam is on the subject of terrorism and Muslims have objected to its exhibition in theatres because of some objectionable content.
Now, freedom of expression has been guaranteed by the Indian constitution. However, these days this freedom has been exercised more to suppress the freedom of artists and writers. Most of these suppressors haven’t read or seen the artistic work in question but work on the basis of some assumptions, as in Rushdie’s case the very title of his novel. Indian politicians are reluctant to act on behalf of artists because they have the votes of the protesters to think about. The Muslim community’s vote is a big decider in any state of the country and so those in power do not wish to antagonise them. Even earlier, in 2012, the Jaipur Literary Festival had to cancel Rushdie’s appearance in it because Muslim groups protested against it. This year they expressed their displeasure at a few authors who read from Rushdie’s book in 2012 which must have led to Rushdie abstaining on his own.
Such diktats kill artistic freedom and drive a stake into the intellectual backbone of society. The lack of intellectual discourse which can be engendered by books and films have thus been curtailed. It’s so sad. An atmosphere of fear has been created in writers’ and artists’ mind about the consequences of their writing, which has led to self censorship, or, their reluctance to write about controversial subjects. The corollary is stunted development of Indian thought and the throttling of the work of emerging writers and artists. A lot of new talents exists who have not been given their share of fame because of the reluctance of publishers and self-styled censors to accept their work. Also, the partisan way in which the politicians in power look at artistic endeavour needs to be examined, though all of them profess to be patrons of the arts.
Which is to say all is not gung ho with the Indian literary and artistic scene.
What I find pernicious about Indian corporations is the atrocious salaries paid to managing directors and the poor salary paid to employees down the line. I worked in a company where the salary of the peon (the lowest employee) was less than one-thousandth of the managing director’s. The managing director comes in a BMW while the peon walks to the office. The managing director dines in fine dine restaurants with his family members while the peon eats a vada-pao costing Rs 5 from a kiosk by the road. What’s the problem? Both are employees of the same organisation, both are working hard. What makes the directors and CEOs pay themselves indecent salaries while the other employees suffer with no increment whatsoever.
In Switzerland Thomas Minder has been fighting for reforms including voting of directors’ remuneration by shareholders. Surely, shareholder are the real owners and they don’t want their dividends to be diluted by the luxurious living standards of the directors. That is the best way of keeping top-management salaries under control. Among the directors there is a tendency for accountants to pay themselves quite a lot of the loot rather than engineering or marketing.
This is a much needed reform that needs to be introduced in India too. Some avatar of Thomas Minder should raise the issue in parliament and steps should be initiated to curb the rampant misuse of funds by directors of companies. The need is very dire indeed in the face of liberalisation and relaxation in foreign direct investment (FDI) norms. So who’s going to bell the cat? Subramaniam Swamy perhaps?
I would call it an Indian phenomenon. I mean “eve-teasing.” In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape and the outrage that followed the discussion in the media (and offline) has provided some new insights. (Even the word “gangrape” has been made into one word in Indian media, which would point to its wide prevalence.)
For example the term “eve-teasing” is clearly labelled as an Indian phenomenon by the Oxford English Dictionary:
the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place.
Surprised? Apparently, because in other parts of the world – less crowded than India – this may hardly take place. There private spaces are respected. In India men take advantage of the crowds on the street to get away by touching, groping, and even pinching a woman, which has become so common that women accept it as a given. In fact, no Indian woman can say that she hasn’t been touched or groped in a crowded street or public place. It seems to be prevalent in cities mostly because that’s where the crowds are. The cities also have a huge unattached male population who have no outlet for their sexual desires.
The term has also come to be termed as street harassment, a new connotation, it might seem. How come it hasn’t been such a grave internationally as it is in India? What is so peculiar about Indian men? After all, we have written texts on the art of making love – the Kamasutra. So the question is why is India such a sexually repressed society? The answer may lie in the changing demographics of gender numbers. Considering the high dowry payable to give a daughter in marriage most families want male children. This has led to detection of the sex of the child and aborting the fetus if it is a female. So, overall, there are more men than women and in the cities where men come to work the sex ratio is even more disparate. This leads to eve teasing and street harassment.
What’s the solution? Practices like dowry are banned, but it continues to be given and taken. There needs to be more education for women, and appointment in positions of power in society. All this takes a lot of struggle on the part of women at an ideological level and not just slogan shouting and calling for the death penalty for rapists.
That the Indian cinema – Bollywood – is a corruption of the very basis of cinematic story telling is an overstatement. I have made this overstatement many times, but nobody seems to care.
However the following from the newspaper Mirror got my gall:
“Bhansali and his team are very confident about Ram Leela. His lead pair Ranveer and Deepika has put in extra effort to ensure their performance is top notch. In fact, Ranveer has worked hard on his body while Deepika has undergone vigorous training in dancing.”
What’s wrong with you film people? Or, is it something with the shoddy reporting that is to blame. After reading “Ranveer and Deepika put in extra effort to ensure their performance is top notch,” I waited with bated breath to find out what they had done, have they been trained by some acting guru, have they been given some lesson in screen histrionics by the great Anupam Kher, have they done some voice training?” What?
No, sadly, they built their muscles and worked on their dancing skills. So films’ success these days depend on the six-pack abs on the actor and the actress’s dancing skills. I guess Oscars also should be given to the hunks who sport their pectorals on screen. And the thin anorexics who dance “Item Numbers.” Shouldn’t it be?
Ever since Sylvester Stallone flexed his muscles for Rocky and Schwarzennegger came on the scene (don’t know how to spell that chap’s name) actors have latched on to this mistaken notion that it is muscles that make them good actors, not acting skills. I think this needs to change.
After the dust had died down in the aftermath of the gruesome gangrape – and death – of a girl in a bus in Delhi, there has been a rising wave of anger and outrage against rape in India. One of the accused is a boy of 16 years, still a minor. It has shocked Indians how so many rapes go unreported in the country as more cases of rape are coming to light. The women, and men, have been emboldened to speak out and seek justice. It appears that in India of modernisation and glitzy malls something like violation of a woman’s right to exist is being threatened. For example see this page in the leading newspaper Times of India which is full of news about rape that occurred in different parts of the country. Women have been warned by politicians not to go out after dark and to cover themselves up when going out. However, this seriously curtails the freedom of the modern liberalised Indian woman.
Strict laws including chemical castration and death have been discussed for offenders. However, even in the event of imposing these laws the justice system in India remains painfully slow and resolution of cases take months. The political pundits have been slow to react to protesters who thronged the India Gate in Delhi demanding justice. A solution needs to be worked out soon, or, else, the anger will lead to either a political change at the centre or some other dire consequence. Only lately is the political class – who move around in guarded bullet-proof vehicles – waking up to the realities.
There has been endless coverage in the media, discussions following discussions in gory detail about the case. Will all the talk be forgotten and will the country return to the dark ages of atrocities against women remains to be seen. However, from the anger and outrage expressed it doesn’t seem likely.
The recent arrest of two girls from the Palghar area near Bombay has thrown up several issues regarding freedom of expression. The girls – Shaheen and Reenu – had posted a message on Facebook when the ultra-right Hindu party leader Bal Thackeray had died. The original screenshot of the post can be seen on the official page of Shaheen Dhadha here.
It seems that in India freedom of expression, though guaranteed as a democratic right by the constitution, has been hijacked by religious groups, who can curtail them at will. Mostly, this is done with the connivance of the police as has been seen in the above case. There are some more instances of such arrest taking place because of pressures exerted by religious groups. A rationalist Sanal Edamaruku was sought to be arrested because the supposedly holy water coming from a statue in a Catholic church was actually issuing from a leaking pipe. Well, Christianity is against idol worship, so why this extreme step of asking for Edamaruku’s arrest?
Several other cases of freedom being hijacked come to mind. The human rights groups in India have their hands full and, that too, how far can they fight these battles. The whole issue of democratic freedom then becomes questionable, when its primary freedom has been curtailed.
Will India find a solution to the problem? Can the authorities control the religious forces that take law into their hands and destroy public property remains to be seen. Writers in India live in constant fear of something they write being taken as offensive by a section of the people. They censor themselves, before the government can censor them. And, to be frank, this is not a good signs of a healthy democracy.
“To suspend the Indian Olympic Association with immediate effect pursuant to Rules 27.9 and 59.1.4 of the Olympic charter until the Indian Olympic Association is in a position to satisfy all the conditions set out in the Olympic Charter and IOC’s requirements.”
That’s a quote from a letter from International Olympic Committee (IOC) to India Indian Olympic Association (IOA) banning it from participating in any Olympic activities, including the Olympic games. The reason is that IOA hasn’t conformed to the mandatory rules for free and fair elections and internal transparency in its dealings. The present office bearers were elected unopposed, probably due to fear in other members that any opposition would endanger their lives. Sitting on a chair in the IOA entitles the occupier to luxuries such as free travel to foreign countries, bribes while conducting selection games, and much more and the same people who have dominated IOA have time and again held office as if the position belonged to their dynasty. There is considerable resentment about it but, as so happens in India, no one is willing come forward and put his neck in the noose.
The man who is king-maker in IOA is a convicted politician and his word is law. How can this be true in a democratic set up? Well, that’s the way it is in India. In the last London Olympics India peformed its best ever by winning four medals. (A poor tally considering its size and scope.) But it seems it will have to content with not winning any medals in future because of corrupt politicians and their lackeys who are in power in IOA.
Another literary festival is going to be held in Bombay on December 7. This is in addition to the Bombay Litfest organised by India’s top business how – The Tata Group – that concluded a few weeks ago in controversy over its awarding the lifetime achievement award to VS Naipaul, a writer of Indian descent. Playwright Girish Karnad tore into the works of VS Naipaul using the platform of the festival itself, resulting in anger and red faces and jaw-dropping embarrassment.
This festival is organised by the country’s leading newspaper The Times of India and has in its marquee writers such as: Anita Desai, Kiran Desai (Anita’s daughter), and a wide range of authors from around the world including the peripatetic William Dalrymple who organises the Jaipur Literary Litfest (boasting of being the biggest such festivals in the world). The festival starts on December 7 and ends on December 9, 2012. (Those interested can go to the programme at www.timesliterarycarniaval.com.) A lifetime achievement award is being conferred on Anita Desai, also an expatriate and one hopes this also doesn’t end in controversy.
Now an anti-view, a kind of warning about these literary jamborees comes from a newspaper from the south The Hindu. The account is written by Akshay Phatak and lists some of the sordid goings on behind the glitz and glamour. He isn’t kind to literary festivals and especially the ones organised in India. Do these festivals serve any purpose? Are they mere waste of time? Well, I will be attending to check things out as it is being held in my city, Bombay.
What has shocked internet users – those addicted to Facebook and Twitter – is the recent arrest of a girl who posted a message on her Facebook page as to why a city like Bombay should be shut down because a right-wing leader – Bal Thackeray – died. I have already written about this in this post.
Shaheen Dhada, a college student, had innocently written, “People like Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a ‘bandh’ [shutdown] for that.” on her facebook page and her friend had “liked” the post. The police following a complaint had arrested Shaheen Dhada and her friend and charged her under the Section 66A of the constitution dealing with online media. The two girls were detained by the police, interrogated and charged. They are fighting a battle to clear their names.
The saga didn’t end there. Workers of the right-wing party Shiv Sena attacked the hospital run by Shaheen Dhada’s uncle and vandalised equipment worth Rs two million. The authorities were reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of this crime and even after their arrest – after a public outcry – let them off on bail immediately. What is obvious is that they do not want to offend the righ-wing party and its bigshots who are known to resort to violence and arson to prove their point.
The aftermath of this incident proves the partisan nature of Indian authorities and their willingness to punish innocents whose only crime – if it can be called that – was to express their feelings about the virtual paralysis of the city after a leader’s death. As for the traumatised girls who appeared in veils in photographs, they will have to fight they way through the police machinery and face even a jail term.
India’s premier city Bombay saw two noteworthy deaths in the past few days.
Firstly, the leader and founder of the ultra-right party Shiv Sena died a natural death at age 86 leaving his legacy to his son and grandson. (Here’s a link to his life and times.) Bal Thackeray founded the party after he resigned his job as a cartoonist in The Free Press Journal. He then went on to espouse the cause of the sons-of-the-soil in job allocations in Bombay, India’s premier business destination. Often he used strong-arm methods to force his policies on those who were recalcitrant, and those whose ideology was divergent from his own. But later in life many of his trusted generals deserted him. Still he carried on in spite of several cases being filed against his unconventional methods. He used bandhs (total closure of work) to force governments to accept his demands. His workers were not averse to using violence against the Communist trade unionists and workers of other parties. Ageing and infirm, another trusted aide Raj Thackeray, his nephew, deserted him to form his own party Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which has carved its constituency out of the Shiv Sena’s vote bank. The end came on 17th November 2012, and with that a chapter in Indian politics ended.
Secondly, Ajmal Kasab, an extremist who came to India to kill people randomly four years ago in 2008 was executed in Yeravada jail, near Bombay. Allegedly he was trained by extremist outfits in Pakistan to carry out his crime. Ajmal was one of the nine extremists in his team who spread carnage inside the busy train Terminus named Victoria Terminus and two premium five-star hotels, Hotel Trident and Hotel Taj Mahal (where the cost of one night is equal to an Indian man’s one month’s salary). Out of the team of nine extremists he was the only one to be captured and was kept in a high-security prison for four years while his case was heard in courts and went up to the Supreme Court of India. After he lost all the cases his plea for mercy was sent to the president Pranab Mukherjee, who also rejected it. Ultimately the law had to take its course and he was taken to the high-security prison in Yeravada, near Bombay, secretly in the night. The end came on 21st November 2012 when the hangman put the noose around his neck.
The continuing crusade against corruption in India has entered a new phase. Arvind Kejriwal, India’s own Julian Assange (who had promised to publicise one case of corruption every week), has come out with more than one case. He has now accused a list of businessmen of hiding black money in Swiss banks. What is more, he has also revealed their modus operandi. See this article in the Times of India.
The modus goes like this. A rich businessman calls up a multinational bank (named in the above article) informing them he has to deposit a large amount in a Swiss bank. The bank sends its executives to collect the cash. The same day an account is opened in his name in a Dubai bank and then the cash is transferred to the bank’s branch in Switzerland. Everything is done without a hitch and the business man is safe in the belief that his money is in good hands. If he wants to withdraw he is given a contact’s name in Switzerland and with just a phone call the cash will be delivered at his door step. Isn’t that convenient? Some banks in India call it “Convenience banking.”
Kejriwal claims that his sources in government and the banking sector have seen a list of around 500 names of persons who held Swiss accounts released by the French government. This top secret document contained the names of the top-most Indian businessmen. The government was supposed to investigate these people and submit a report. However, investigations were done only in case of around a hundred small businessmen and the rest were let go with a wink and a nod. The big fish escaped the net and only the small fish were caught because the net wasn’t cast wide enough. Now, that’s Kejriwal’s claim.
Almost all the business houses have denied immediately that their owners do not hold secret Swiss accounts, of course. The spin doctors must have done their work in earnest. Bringing out such allegations have thrown the gauntlet at Kejriwal, since these are rich people he is messing with. They have their own legal departments and can bring defamation and libel suits against him. Will they do it and further expose themselves, or will they keep quiet. Let’s watch and see.
Kejriwal himself is waiting to launch his anti-graft political party. Will this help him in his crusade to make India corruption free? Remains to be seen.
Literary controversies are nothing new to India. Last year when excerpts from Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” was read at the Jaipur Literary Festival a lot of hackles were raised and the police had to becalled in. But has it become a staple of literary festival culture?
It seems likely when Girish Karnad, veteran actor and theatre personality took the stage at Litfest Bombay, Bombay’s own literary festival. Karnad was supposed to talk about his life in theatre and a number of acolytes had gathered to hear about his career and masterly performances. He both directs and acts in plays and movies. A few days earlier the Litfest had conferred the Life-time Achievement Award to Sir V.S. Naipaul, the famous expatriate writer of Indian origin from Trinidad & Tobago. Karnad, instead to speaking about his life in theatre launched into a diatribe on Sir Vidia, saying he is a muslim hater and that he knew nothing about Indian music. He also accused him of supporting the demolition of a Muslim Masjid in Ayodhya.
What must have been Karnad’s motivation for this outburst is known only to himself. But he has been quoted as saying that “William Dalrymple (Indian historian of British origin) has been attacking him for years. What I find disgraceful is that criticism came from Dalrymple and not an Indian writer.”
Obviously, the platform chosen to vent his grievance was all wrong. Karnad attacked the organizers of a Litfest on their own platform and got them into a tizzy. A lady from the audience asked him if he was jealous that Sir Vidia got the award and not him. What made Karnad take up cudgels on behalf of Indian Muslims? Does he want to get closer to Indian Muslims through this theatrical performance? Was he considered for the life-time award and rejected? Nothing is known as of now. Hope something emerges in future.
Corruption is not new in India. Politicians who control the funds consider corruption as their birthright. Raising the bogey of corruption has been a constant endeavour in the press these days. Then what happens? Half-hearted investigations are done, a few names are bandied around and the powerful people buy their peace. How? Because Indian politics is according to columnist Minhaz Merchant collusive, where the ruling party and opposition, though they may be foes in parliament, collude when serious charges of corruption are raised against the political class.
Crusader for stopping corruption Arvind Kejriwal came out in public with allegations of corruption against the president of the main rightist opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The president is a gentleman by the name of Nitin Gadkari, a man with staunch Hindu credentials. He has been accused by Kejriwal of running a ring of companies registered in fictitious addresses. And who are the directors of his companies? One is his driver, another is his accountant, and many others. A ring of companies known as Purthi Group owns several other companies into which funds have been invested, the source of which is not known.
What is shocking and disturbing about the revelation is that Gadkari, a senior member of the opposition party, is in collusion with another party which is a part of the governing coalition. That would mean that both government and opposition are colluding on bleeding the country’s money and resources. More developments will come as the press unearths more murky dealings. Till then one can only wait and watch.
Yash Chopra, the movie moghul, who died last week was important to Switzerland in many ways. When I say important I mean in cultural, tourism, and commercial terms. The king of romance, as he was known, was well known for his preference of the Swiss Alps for shooting the songs in his films. Now why is this important for Switzerland? The reason is that seeing the beauty of Switzerland, Indians chose it as their preferred tourist destination. Gradually, cultural exchanges also took place and it brought the people of both countries together. Till then Indians didn’t know where Switzerland was, or, had any experience of the beauty of this country. Now most film directors take their crew and actors there because they think that having the Swiss countryside in their films could bring certain success. And this assumption was buttressed by the success of Yash Chopra’s films.
It’s no wonder then that Switzerland conferred an Swiss Ambassador’s Award on him in 2010 which was handed over by none other than actress Ursula Andress. Chopra excelled in the romantic genre of films and romantic feelings were given a fillip when conducted against the idyllic Swiss countryside. Fans loved his films and wanted more. He gave them the best and was preparing to shoot a song for his forthcoming film Jab Tak Hai Jaan in Switzerland when he caught the dengue fever and died. They say it was dengue but old age also was catching up with him.
He leaves behind a vast oeuvre of films including super hits like Deewar, Silsila, and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. He is also responsible for the rise to super stardom of India’s foremost actor Amitabh Bachchan, who played the lead role in Deewar. He is also credited with the rise of the heartthrob of young people, Shahrukh Khan through films like Darr and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge.
He is also credited with upholding Indian moral values while flirting with bold themes. His heroines always wore the Indian sari, that too in chiffon. His films did reflect the aspirations of a newly created generation, willing to forget the trauma of colonialism and launch themselves into the world as computer programmers and doctors.
Known to be genial and popular, he will be missed by the members of the film industry who worked with him and his countless fans. He will also be missed by people of Switzerland as he was the one who had forged cultural ties between India and the country.
Yash Chopra Rest In Peace!
For the past half century the Persian Gulf meaning the Arab countries have been a source of employment for Indians, especially for Indians from the south of country. For a year I too was one of these immigrants earning a good salary, which I didn’t get in India. I was able to pay a mortage on my house with this income, but I did find the working conditions there – in the Persian Gulf – not to my liking. I worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, almost 84 hours a week. It exhausted me, and I remember becoming home sick and returning to India.
However, of late, this dream of working in the Persian Gulf has been losing its charm. Estimates find that in 2011 only 2.28 million workers went to the region for employment. The rate of growth has also dipped from 7.1 per cent in 2003 to only 1.4 per cent in 2011. The reason for this is not hard to seek. India, with outsourcing centres and call centres is becoming an attractive job destination. Those who had to bribe their way to the Persian Gulf can now easily find a job in India itself. Moreover, they can live with their families and are entitled to much more benefits and perquisites in their home country.
So who are the ones working in the Persian Gulf now? Actually, with the collapse of the financial markets, Dubai, a prime destination for job-seekers is now in a big recession with scarcely any jobs being available. Saudi Arabia is still a good place to earn a living, however, salaries have been slashed. This has made the Philippinos, Pakistanis and the Bangladeshis as the main players in the job markets there. The Indian presence has diminished over time and who knows in future India may be a big destination for foreign jobs.
Like many of its religious fundamentalist neighbours, India is not a good place for women these days. So it might seem from recent events. I mean a lot of progress has been made in various fields but still women, especially children, are abused by frustrated parents and men. The government has made education free for girls and there are a lot of facilities available for female children. However, the illtreatment of little girls persist. The reasons are many as I have written on my blog. In the Indian system, a women has to be paid a dowry while she gets married and goes to her husband’s house. Therefore she is considered a liability than an asset. Besides, a boy can earn a livelihood but employment opportunities for women are few. These may be some of the factors contributing to atrocities against women.
Recently, in my city of Bombay Dharmista, a housewife, battered her baby named Ahuti who died on admission to the hospital. It was said that Dharmista was frustrated that she couldn’t give birth to a son and her husband used to harass her because of this. Earlier on January 12 this year, another two-year-old girl was admitted to hospital with severe head injuries and died. Both her arms were broken and Falak was beaten for no fault of her’s.
In February a seven-year-old girl by name of Menaka Thakur was admitted to hospital with injuries and fractured limbs. This girl was beaten by her step mother Aarti Thakur. Then there is the case of Tanaz who also was beaten by her parents and died in hospital. Such examples abound in India, many go undocumented.
Why are these atrocities against girl children committed? What have they done? Do they deserve such cruel punishment from their own parents? Poor innocents have been sacrificed for their parents greed and insecurity. The situation can be remedied by joint action and a campaign to change mindsets of the people. However, this is a huge task ahead for Indian society in the days to come.
A few days ago we wrote about the government’s new economic policy. It came as good news to us, waiting for something to boost the economy and recharge the process of development. However, what we saw in the newspaper today is quite disappointing, no, quite depressing. What is depressing is this:
Around Rs 200,000 million has gone missing from the government’s allocation for irrigation. Now let us explain. Most of India face shortage of water and a drought is usual during the summer months leading to famines and extreme misery for farmers. The irrigation department was supposed to build dams and canals for the above amount so that farmers can cultivate throughout the year. It has been found now that Rs 200,000 million was given but no dams and canals were built. Then where did the money go? Did it disappear like a stream in the desert? Obviously it went into the pockets of contractors and bureaucrats. It’s only now it has been found out that a certain minister had approved several projects which have not yet been completed. What is more hurting is that some projects have been given additional funds without showing the required progress in construction.
So that’s the depressing news. Awful isn’t it? How can we be upbeat when such incidents are brought to our attention? The warning signs had appeared long ago when an official of the irrigation department had pointed out that the minister had signed on projects without the required aapprovals. Why wasn’t any action taken at that time? Will they nail the real culprits? We can only wait and watch as the story unfolds.
I am John P.Matthew, a writer from India and I will be writing a regular column for Johntext from today. I thank Hans-Jurgen John for inviting me to be a part of Johntext.
Well, to be frank, India is as yet a poor country where millions of its citizens live below the poverty level. Only recently the economy has improved because of the influx of funds into the business outsourcing and software development industries. Even then the country has a problem maintaining a growth rate of 8 per cent it needs to keep up with its neighbour China. This year the growth rate is much below the 8 per cent target and is lagging behind at 6. So the government has unleashed a number of reforms among which are: raising the price of diesel (which is already very high), increasing the price of cooking gas, allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand malls and shopping chains. People here feel this will further drive up the inflation rate.
However, these reforms haven’t been accepted by all Indians. Trinamool Congress, a party supporting the coalition that rules the country withdrew its support and the country erupted into strikes and bandhs (bandh means a stopping of all work) by the leading opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The beleagured government is adamant about its resolve to go ahead with the reforms which should see a considerable improvement in growth rate, almost up to 8 per cent.
Now what remains to be seen is what the corruption-tainted government will do to pacify the opposition parties. Already there is talk of early elections by the opposition since a poll now will favour them. The ruling party of Manmohan Singh is reeling and a blow could bring the government down. So all eyes are watching what this taciturn former bureaucrat would do to save the economy and, at the same time, keep the government’s allies happy.