Saturday, December 31, 2011

Prejudices in reasonable minds

It is not uncommon to witness otherwise reasonable minds to vehemently disagree on certain issues of public interest. Yesterday, NDTV presented a discussion featuring Prannoy Roy, Narayana Murthy, Shekhar Gupta (of Indian Express) and Arvind Kejriwal. It was not surprising to hear all of them praise the efforts of Anna Hazare to centrestage the issue of corruption. The first three however took serious exception to Anna's controversial statements like "If Lokpal were in existence, Chidambaram would be in jail" and "Alcoholics may have to be beaten to wean them away from addiction". Since he was in a hopeless minority. Kejriwal could not defend Anna fully. Perhaps one way of looking at the issue is to trace the genesis of such statements to Anna's obsessive sincerity.

No human mind is completely free from bias or prejudice. "Stereotyping" is a bias most of us are prey to. Anna while reforming and transforming Ralegan Siddhi had come across many incorrigible alcoholics and he was privy to the resultant sufferings endured by many women and children. To him. the village was the universe. He formed a stereotype in his mind that consumption of alcohol and family distress go together. Similarly, some of the controversial acts and utterances of Chidambaram made Anna to fit him into the stereotyped version of a politician as a venal, arrogant person. Absence of direct exposure to social evils like alcoholism and its impact on economic conditions has enabled formation of a different kind of prejudice in the minds of PR, NM and SG. Because of inevitability of powerful prejudices like these, the otherwise wise people are forever condemned to disagree among themselves and let the sinister rule the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mahatma Gandhi and Anna Hazare

Comparison between Anna Hazare and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is inevitable in view of the ethical foundation of their approaches to social issues. Their modus operandi, atleast apparently, is similar. Hunger strike and Satyagraha lend commonality to their campaigns. How do we make a comparative assessment of  the roles played by these two gentlemen?

Gurudas Dasgupta, an erudite parliamentarian, avows there is no second Mahatma. In a caustic criticism of Anna's ways, the Bombay High Court says,"One man's Satyagraha may be another's nuisance". (This was what the British used to say!)  The Mahatma is held in high esteem by the entire country and rightly so. Ofcourse, praising the Mahatma's approach does not seem to preclude the self-proclaimed Gandhians from adopting unethical and corrupt ways in their life. Such Gandhians are a dime a dozen among particularly the politicians.

The Mahatma was a legend in his lifetime and has taken on divine dimensions in his afterlife. Therefore any earthly characterisation of even his mundane dealings is considered profane. Hence I attempt only a tentative comparison between the two giants.

The Mahatma was well educated in India and in the inns of London. He had advisors / followers like Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajaji, Satyamurthy, Vallabhai Patel and others. He was a gifted writer and an orator equally at ease in English and Hindi (and ofcourse in Gujarati too).  Most of all, he fought for India's freedom from aliens who had not forsaken all vestiges of integrity and decency.

In contrast, Anna Hazare is barely educated, had never been abroad to facilitate broader vision, and has to fight against a cabal of corrupt, dishonest and unethical persons whose overpowering aim in life is to amass wealth (if the economy is destroyed in the process, why should these venal elements bother?). He can speak only in vernacular languages.

If inspite of these disadvantages, Anna Hazare is able to make the kind of impact he has already made and has stirred the nation's conscience through his crusade (albeit misguided at times, because of the limitations mentioned above), is he not in some ways atleast (yes, I am commiting the sacrilege) better than the Mahatma?

Anna is no Mahatma. The Mahatma was no Anna either.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Chidambaram's discomfiture

The Home Minister is embroiled in a spate of controversies. He is alleged to have gone easy on A.Raja who decided on pricing of 2G spectrum. His narrow victory in the last election to the Lok Sabha is legally contested. The latest controversy is regarding the grant of permission to withdraw a criminal case against a fraudulent hotelier. In this case, the minister had earlier argued in the courts in favour of the hotelier and lost the cases. Chidambaram has taken a position that he does not remember all his erstwhile clients.

On 22nd Nov 2010, we argued as follows:

"The ever-repulsive spokesperson of the Congress party has unconvincingly argued that CAG's report on 2G Scam refers only to "presumptive loss" to the exchequer and therefore the country is needlessly agitated over a non-issue.

Even before we could digest this argument, the normally sensible P.Chidambaram has sought to throw further light on the theory of presumption. "I place some 50-60 signatures in a day with the presumption that they are right to the best of my knowledge. Perhaps few may go wrong, but they were not malafide because the intentions were right." (The Hindu dated 22nd Nov.)

Is Chidambaram serving advance notice on the prime minister ? This specious presumption argument can be used by every decision-maker. So no one can be held accountable for any decision, for who will accept his intentions were wrong? "

One is afraid that Chidambaram's continuance in the cabinet has become untenable.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Harvard elbows out Subramanian Swamy

Subramanian Swamy has been handling two courses for the Harvard Summer School for a long time. The subjects were "Quantitative Methods in Economics" and "South Asian economies". Harvard has a tradition of reviewing each course every year. This year these two are the only courses being discontinued. Swamy is annoyed, perhaps naturally.

The courses are being discontinued only because Swamy had earlier written an allegedly inflammatory article in an Indian newspaper. Harvard university favours freedom of expression. Diana Eck, the well-known Professor of Comparative Religion at Harvard led the move against Swamy. She drew a distinction between what is unpopular and what is unwelcome. She characterised Swamy's fulmination against followers of a particular religion as 'unwelcome' and therefore she wanted a ban on Swamy's courses. Isn't there a further distinction between what is 'unwelcome' and what is 'intolerable'?

Harvard's decision may be a blow against freedom of expression which any academic institution should protect. However, Harvard cannot be blamed as partisan. Remember Lawrence Summers who had to resign from presidency of Harvard because he had made a politically incorrect statement on rarity of female professors in science disciplines?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Subramanian Swamy's latest letter to CBI

The following letter makes interesting reading:

Letter from Dr. Subramanian Swamy to Mr. A.P. Singh, Director, CBI, New Delhi

Please refer to the Written Complaint that I had submitted on November 28, 2011 to CBI through you, and on behalf the Action Committee Against Corruption in India (ACACI).

The letter is by way of additional information relating to the disclosure of offences committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA).
First, is the information from an article published in Schweitzer Illustrate in its November 1991 issue, which magazine is a highly respected and widely circulated magazine in German language, and published in Switzerland. This information discloses that the former Prime Minister, Mr.Rajiv Gandhi (now deceased), had about $2 billion in secret bank accounts in Switzerland, which is clearly disproportionate to his known sources of income as per his affidavit filed with his nomination papers upon becoming a candidate for Lok Sabha elections in 1991. This attracts section 13(1)(d) of the PCA. Although the information is two decades old, but you are aware that there is no time limitation for corruption cases under the PCA. Also even if Rajiv Gandhi is now deceased, his likely beneficiaries are his wife, Sonia, and two children, two of whom are public servants.
The second information is from Dr.Yevgenia Albats, a Russian scholar, holding a Harvard Ph.D and who was a member of the Inquiry Commission into KGB Activities which Commission was appointed by President Yeltsin of Russia. She subsequently authored a book titled: “A State Within a State: KGB in Soviet Union.” In that book, she disclosed the File Numbers contain evidence of the KGB payments to the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his family members. This disclosure was confirmed by the spokesperson of the FIS, the KGB’s successor spy agency (equivalent of our IB and RAW combined) in a Press Conference in 1992, and reported by The Hindu, Times of India, and UNI. In 2002, the then External Affairs Minister Mr.Jaswant Singh had taken this matter up with the Russians and was informed by the Russian authorities that the GOI may send a senior representative of the RAW to Moscow to obtain authenticated records of KGB payments to Rajiv Gandhi and family.
Third, I have information that Mr.Rahul Gandhi was detained in Boston’s Logan Airport by US law enforcement authorities sometime in the later half of September 2001. He was in possession of $160,000 in cash which he did not declare upon arrival. US Customs require all amounts above $10,000 in cash to be declared, and if not every $10,000 installment carries a 8 year imprisonment, if convicted. This means Rahul Gandhi was indictable for a prison term of 144 years. However, the then Principal Secretary to the PM, Mr.Brijesh Mishra, to my knowledge, had intervened with US Secretary of State, and arrangements were made get to Mr.Gandhi released.
In his deposition to the US authorities before returning to London Mr.Gandhi had declared that the money was his, and he had drawn it out of his secret account in Pictet Bank, head quartered in Zurich, Switzerland. I may mention here later that while studying in Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, USA, Mr.Gandhi paid his Tuition and other fees to the College from his secret accounts.
New information has surfaced which is related to a Geneva court order, freezing the bank accounts of one Sanjay Pasari as reported in Pioneer of Dec. 7, 2011. Mr. Pasari reportedly was acting on behalf of certain Indian public officials. Investigation of this transaction will help ensure the restitution of illicit wealth stashed in tax havens provided Letters Rogatory for prosecuting complaints under PCA are obtained.

After the became aware of these developments — after US counterparts alerted your Bureau the CBI has merely put Mr. Pasari in the Undesirable Contact Men’s list. But that is clearly insufficient. This development adds up to the ACACI petition submitted to you on November 28, 2011 in person urging the CBI to register a FIR.

Best regards,

Yours sincerely,
Subramanian Swamy.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Misuse of Intelligence

Intelligence services in any country are  supposed to take care of threats to national security. It is reported by The Hindu that Indian intelligence services are generally utilised by their political masters to spy on opposition, within and outside their party. It is an extremely dangerous trend and needs to be arrested immediately. Intelligence resources are scarce and if they are misused like this, terrorist and other anti-national activities are at an advantage. This is an important issue that needs to be debated in the parliament. But does our parliament have time or concern for such crucial issues? Will the judiciary take suo-moto notice of this?

Kapil Sibal's warning to social websites

Kapil Sibal has been stung once again. He sees the world in black and white terms, no shades of gray ever. A typical lawyerly approach perhaps. Regarding the 2G scam, it was "zero loss". Now he has issued a stern warning to Facebook, YouTube and other social websites to desist from uploading "disparaging and defamatory" content. Apart from the fact that such a check may not be technologically possible, the minister should remember that these are international (or nation-less) sites and what is defamatory in one place may not be so in another. The minister has become sensitive on this issue because of morphed images of his party leaders appearing in the sites. Such incidents involving others are common. People in public life need to be a bit more tolerant and liberal.

Additions made on 7th December:

The following is a report from BBC:

"Before the press conference, Mr Sibal showed reporters morphed photos of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, as well as pigs running through Islam's holy city of Mecca."

One wonders why the minister is mixing up Congress leaders and the holy city of Mecca. Devoted Muslims are capable of safeguarding their interest. The minister is deliberately communalising the issue of freedom of social websites in order to obfuscate that his only mission is to protect his party leaders from alleged denigration. The minister has only committed the blunder of providing wide publicity to what would have died down otherwise. In a lighter vein, Sibal must be hauled up for comparing the party leaders with pigs!