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If an opinion poll is done on one of the video channels on what kind of animals they would like, choices of human beings would reflect their thinking. Probably monkeys would be the last, following lions or tigers. The topmost slot would probably be occupied by birds and animals, which are ‘beautiful, serene, calm, and domestic’. Same goes with the vegetation. People would not like thorny plants even if they have berries. But, then monkeys love to eat wild fruits, even if they are difficult to get. These are the choices, which pervade the inexorable march of human beings to ‘conquer’ the plant. And our choices get reflected in our lifestyles. But, then if you take a rights perspective, monkeys, crows, thorny plants, etc., also have a right to live on this planet.
But, then with human intervention, defined by a development paradigm, has led to deforestation. Reforestation and development focuses on growing eucalyptus, coffee, tea plantations and other bio-fuel species, which responds to requirements of carbon development mechanisms. Monkeys were not discussed in Kyoto Protocol, or at many of the international conventions. People love the grace of the tiger/lion, and somebody said it is on the top of the forest food chain. So, there are umpteen programmes to save them. When a particular video channel started a ‘talk campaign’, there were many financial donations as well. I am not sure if the same channel would get better TRP ratings, if they did the same with monkeys. I am doubly sure that there would not be any donations for rehabilitating monkeys, or crows for that matter.
What can the monkeys do, if they don’t get food in the forests? They would go where food is available. It would be agricultural fields, colonies, homes, temples, etc.. Now, we call them marauders, because they snatch food. They would not wait for your permission or largesse. They would know nothing about ‘proprietary’ rights on the food. It is nothing personal for them. They are hungry, they see the food, and they would want it.
People started taking precautions. They would cover their foods in zipped bags, or any other closed containers. Monkeys knowing that people do carry their food started attaching them in search of food. Then, people started saying monkeys have become violent. All along, from their sojourn in the jungles to concrete jungles, the monkeys search was for food. They never questioned human beings where their food came from, why they deforested their jungles, why their farms are fenced and electrified, why their apartments have iron grills and why only human beings have ‘proprietary’ rights over the planetary food. They are innocent, voice-less species.
On the other hand, people also would not have bothered, if they died due to starvation and hunger in the jungle. They would not have shown concern if the monkeys were waiting for ‘alms’ from some sympathetic person. But, people would get concerned and bothered only when the monkey attacks them for food. At that stage, monkey starts becoming bad, violent or marauders. This scenario is the same for many wild species, including cheetah, elephants, etc. Like sparrows, or some ‘saintly’ birds and animals, not every specie has the courage or wherewithal to enter the precincts of human beings and challenge them. Cheetah is single. Human beings can kill it easily. It is not easy to handle a organised group like monkeys. Ofcourse, in many places, pesticides are applied to kill all ‘wild’ species which raid the food stores of human beings, from ants, foxes and wild boars. But, in India, monkeys are not killed because of religious beliefs. That is the only solace.
Apply this situation to the human society, a jungle of attitudes and another kind of life. Apply this to Indian governance, supported by ‘proprietary’ thinking of ‘haves’. The situation of ‘have-nots’ is akin to any of the wild species, who are denied their living, by government policies. They are not even allowed to have their own growth, with their resources being usurped by fellow human beings who are on the upper echelons. Their choices are accepted and their life is disrupted.
The message I am trying to bring here on this blog is that monkeys do commit violence. But it is not their choice. They would love their environment, if that is not disturbed. Elephants would not run down the ‘human’ streets, if their habitat is not disturbed. Violence is not always the choice of species, which become violent. Violence is induced because of larger environmental and socio-economic changes, which are unjust and inequitous.
This I am posting this in the context of discussions on recent political and social developments in Andhra Pradesh, and India. You are free to draw your inferences.
The analogy is general, and not aimed at categorising any section of human beings as some ‘wild species’. I have chosen monkeys because of the suitability; principal factor being the Indian belief that monkeys should not be killed. That is, how do we address the problem of injustice, without taking the extreme step?
Residents of Kundanpally, near Ramagundam, are in a very very pathetic situation. This village, just below the ash pond, reservoir of ash from Ramagundam thermal plant, is not acquired. Local temple priest informed us on 17th May, 2015, that the average age of the eldest person in the village is 50 years, indicating that mortality is very high. One woman mentioned six deaths in her family in the last one and half years. There are others also who spoke about frequent deaths. Doctors do not tell them what is causing their death. Ash storms, especially in summer, spreading ash dust, leaves them choking. Uncontaminated water is hardly found. Children, old and women have breathing problems, skin rashes and joint pains. Bouts of fever hits them. As photos below show this is huge ash pond, of more than 2,500 acres, from a thermal plant with a capacity of 2,600 MW. Another 1600 MW plant is going to be added, for which a public hearing is slated tomorrow, 23rd May, 2015. Very miniscule efforts of resistance, awareness raising and enabling informed public participation. Local ‘Leftists’ and trade unions are afraid. Telangana people are wary of loyalists to ruling party. There is fusion of interests, fears and loyalties, of all influential sections, leaving the disempowered classes rudderless and clueless on what to do. No water to drink, no proper work, improper health, fear of displacement, etc., all combinedly weakened the communities here.
Alarmingly, farmers are being encouraged to spread this ash in their farmers for better yields. Local politicians, who aspire to be elected representatives, of local bodies, vie over each other, to facilities supply of seepage water from this ash pond to the farmlands. the logic goes that any water is better in a dryland area. Ofcourse, with the mighty Godavari river nearby, and natural tanks, one would wonder why the farmers still look at these waters for salvation.
A development of much more alarm is that Jaipur, in Adilabad, where another thermal plant of 1800 MW, is slated to come, to quench the insatiable thirst for electricity, is 12 km away. Thus, within a radius of 15 KM, thermal plant capacity is likely to be 5,400 MW, more than double the current capacity. Number of ash ponds, and nearby open cast mines, are surely going to signify this area. With no acquisition plans, more villages are likely to be on the path of Kundanpally. Media, as usual, seems to be playing truant.
In this age of climate change, would you vote for a thermal plant, or solar electricity? Telangana State which was formed on the basis of aspirations for better future, cannot afford to create bands of collaterals – people who have to suffer for the benefit of the powerful and elite. Can development afford to sideline people who do not know and cannot resist? Development has choices which can benefit everyone, without harming the interests of the weak, including ecological species. Telangana has announced a solar policy. If it can pursue it seriously, within the period of erecting and running these monstrous thermal plants, solar electricity can provide solutions.
I always wondered about the mechanisms behind Meet-the-Press organised by the journalists unions. Elected bodies of these Unions, who most often do not see eye-to-eye on their own issues, agree to meet the famous, and famous only. I have been observing the Meet-the-press programmes for long. I used to think this is one tool that is available in the hands of journalists, to present news, which is of public relevance. Of late, this seems is now an expectation, and not the reality.
Just to compare, a Meet-the-press with the RTC Union leaders was always relevant to the times, than with MD of Hyderabad Metro Rail on 9th May, 2015, in Hyderabad. A Meet-the-Press of a weatherman is highly relevant, for farmers and others. There is lot of interest, commercial and non-commercial, on the monsoons and rains in the days to come.
Meet-the-Press is increasingly used to meet the ‘page 1′ regulars, and give them more space. It is no longer a tool to give news space to people, who are relevant and need to be given space. During elections, top political party leaders get this opportunity, and not other candidates who cannot give advertisements and do not get space in the newspapers usually.
Given this unfortunate trend, I would now wonder who picks the costs of such Meet-the-Press programmes. Who pays? Ofcourse, journalist unions may not have funds in their coffers, even if their leaders are famous and rich. If it is true, it would be worthwhile to know what pressures are on the Unions to organise Meet-the-Press programmes. The famous and rich can anyway pay for their ‘news’ by organising their own press conferences. I do not think there would be any less news value, if MD of Hyderabad Metro Rail organised a press conference.
Further, I notice that Meet-the-Press is organised mostly, if not entirely, by Unions belonging to print media. There seems to be no such ‘cohesive’ work among video journalists. This is probably because video channels would like exclusive bites, and a common programme does not suit them. However, quickly, it does not bar them to beam the same content, across all channels, if paid, including weddings of the famous families. But with various print media houses controlled by different business and political interests, what guarantees the repetition of the same news in all kinds of print media. It does not.
Does Meet-the-press programme provide ample time for journalists to learn, question and satisfy themselves? What do the leaders on the dais do? If they are not ‘playing’ journalists at this event, why do they give so much time to such programmes? Thus, I am back to where I began to know and understand the mechanisms of Meet-the-Press programmes.
On 10th December, 2014, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary in a written reply to Shri Vivek Gupta in the Rajya Sabha informed that government has decided to delete Section 309 of IPC from the Statute book. Suicide is no longer a criminal offence. Apparently, this was based on a report by Law Commission, endorsed by 18 States and 4 Union Territories. We need not know specific names of these States and UTs. The Law Commission, in its report no.201, titled “Humanisation and decriminalisation of Attempt to suicide” (October, 2008), says, “Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code provides double punishment for a person who has already got fed up with his own life and desires to end it.” In this 38-page report, the Law Commission details reasons and justification for its recommendation – “Section 309 needs to be effaced from the statute book because the provision is inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. The repeal of the anachronistic law contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code would save many lives and relieve the distressed of his suffering.”
The decision is taken. This is probably one of the series of changes BJP has promised in its manifesto to ‘review and change anachronistic’ laws in India.
Be that as it may, a conversation with one of my journalist friends brought me the realisation. What happens to farmers suicides? We are aware that farmers suicides are happening for the past several years, increasing cyclically. The only authentic nation-wide source of such information is National Crime Records Bureau. With decriminalisation of suicide, this Bureau would not task itself with such collection anymore, and police stations would be relieved of collecting and recording suicides.
With governments not ready to accept recorded statistics of farmer suicides, by their own agency, for political reasons, they would be much more happier if there is no information collection at all. Presently, a serious issue of farmers suicides, with available statistics is buried and neglected by all the four pillars of Indian democracy. With no system of information collection, suicides can be easily be ignored and forgotten. No one can be wiser about the magnitude.
In fact, not just farmers suicides, it will be a issue for all kinds of suicides, if one sees suicides as a socio-economic problem and has policy and governance implications. In India, with a state which is ever distant from the poor and good governance, suicides are often termed as state murders, implying apathy and neglect of government. In the case of farmer suicides, the demand for compensation has been met by many State Governments half-heartedly. There are number of documents to be submitted, for the family to claim such compensations. One of them includes a record from the local Police Station. With the dropping of Section 309, the police station is relieved of such function, including filing of FIRs, investigation, and the responsibility of post-mortem. Unless, ofcourse, all suicides are recorded as suspicious deaths. Prior to the dropping of the section, affected families had atleast a suo moto procedure to rely upon. Not that it happens on its own at every place. But, atleast the police had a responsibility. Now, the onus will be on the families to get this legal procedures done, even while they are in distress over the untimely death. Which department would not collect these statistics? or record such deaths?Policy makers had a statistical burden to respond. What is the alternative?
For me, the answer lies in laws, rules and administrative systems related to collection of statistics in India. We need a thorough review of the same. We tend to rely more and maximum on Revenue Departments – anachronistic and outdated in its outlook and functioning. Like in United States and other countries, India needs to build a vibrant National Vital Statistics System. This system should be made independent of government whims and fancies and should be funded by autonomous, constitutionally acceptable financial support. Data collection and information systems at the State level are almost non-existent.
Suicides and other public healths statistics have to be made independent of the Revenue and Planning departments. As health, economic and social issues became more complex, the content of the information collected on the vital
records has to be expanded and measures to improve its quality are brought in. The function of producing national vital statistics has to be entrusted to a dedicated public research centre, and a system of regular collection, and not to be embedded in departments with bureaucracy breathing down their neck.
Indian political scenario has witnessed a sea change in the last more than fifty years, especially after Independence. Some say it reflects the change in aspirations of the polity that is the people. However, this is not peculiar to India. The world over this change can be seen. One important change is the political leadership, and the style of functioning. Political leadership is increasingly becoming devoid of ideological content. There is now an element of generality in every leadership, belonging to any party, region or country. Considering this situation, it becomes imperative to compare political leadership. This comparison is also necessitated because of the present conditions. Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu represent this change of leadership style in their particular era. In both of their times, poverty has been on the rise, widening gap between rich and the poor, and accumulation of wealth at particular levels. There was a ‘threat’ to each of their political careers, and their responses have been the same and also different.
There are lots of things common among them. Both of them are autocratic, in the party and also in the governance. They have always never allowed anybody to speak except themselves. They ruled with an ‘iron’ hand, and talked very emphatically. However, both of them were vulnerable, like any dictator, always living under the fear that they will be thrown out. This fear psychosis prevented them from confiding in anybody, not to trust anybody. However, their ‘policies’ and responses are different. While Indira Gandhi nationalized major financial institutions, reflecting the supremacy of ideology in political decisions then, today, Naidu talks of privatization of everything reflecting the void in political decisions. Indira Gandhi tried to be populistic, Naidu armed with modern communication facilities is trying to popularize his approaches by adopting Goebbels strategy. Despite the ‘best’ strategies of both these leaders to hoodwink the democratic processes, both of them could not prevent dissent and revolt. Ultimately, Indira Gandhi had to impose emergency to safeguard her rule, which became her undoing. Naidu is using police, repression, secrecy, and media to browbeat democratic aspirations and processes. It is already becoming apparent that it would not be easy for him in future, and is looking into angry faces both in the party and society. Ms. Gandhi and Naidu both tried to take support from outside, and always wanted ‘certificates’ from everybody. They went to any length to win accolades and praises. While Indira Gandhi talked about Garibi Hatao, Naidu is bent upon ‘Garib ko hatao’.
Chandra Babu Naidu’s rule is coming under increasing scrutiny by supporters and adversaries. Supporters of his ‘policies’ have been looking at his leadership as a model, while adversaries are critical about the impact of his policies on the polity. His strengths so far has been his ability to utilise the media, Corporate power and the World Bank. This is a powerful combination with which he is able to fend off any criticism. Added to this, he promoted himself as a messaiah, talking of all the ‘good’ things in life. A novel approach, this has endeared him to the middle class and upper middle class sections. These sections have been ‘vexed’ by the vote politics and quibblings of other politicians and parties. Shrewd as he is, Naidu has always been careful not to antagonize these classes in his speeches and public posturing. He became a champion of modern, sophisticated technologies which made him a dear boy of middle classes and upcoming millionaire classes.
Modern communication mediums like newspapers and Televisions, full of middle class people, have been very supportive of his programmes, irrespective of the quality of their implementation. A feature of his time is that today politicians are now falling over each other to be seen in the company of big corporate leaders, unlike in the past, where meetings with them were almost private. Today, a politician with a vision is one who can be accepted by the corporate leaders in their clubs and meetings. It is increasingly becoming apparent that government policies are being framed in the corporate boardrooms than in Secretariat and legislature. Unlike the previous generation of politicians, Naidu is ‘openly’ championing the corporate interests in the name of globalisation and liberalization. The financial muscle of World Bank and other multilateral institutions can be clearly seen in the promotion of Naidu as ‘leader with a vision’. Principal support for him, not surprisingly, is only from outside. Today, a common man is not in a position to understand this web of deceit in the politics and policies, leave alone providing an opinion on the rule of Mr. Naidu. They are merely awed by the publicity he receives, but never misled by the ground realities of raising prices, increasing crime, deteriorating law and order, drought and water shortages, and unemployment.
Meanwhile, the World Bank through an army of consultancies and consultancy firms is ready to help Naidu by churning out studies and performance reports which show his policies in favorable light. Thus, the AP economy continues to be ‘bright’ while there are suicides and hunger deaths. World Bank-led reforms in power and irrigation sectors have nowhere been able to deliver the services promised in terms of efficiency and quality. But, people have now to pay for the same mediocre services through their noses. Tail end farmers are yet to be assured of irrigation water, under any dispensation, but the water cess has increased many more times. Consumers of electricity have to pay inflated bills, while there is no assurance of assured power supply. Overall, the mark of Naidu’s rule on APs economy is so deep that there are more number of people looking for employment, more industries are being closed down, more number of farmers are committing suicides, more number of people are being killed by police, or lathicharged, and there are more number of poor people and lesser number of millionaires. His vision of Swarna Andhra Pradesh helps a few sections of contractors, politicians, officials and consultants, while millions of children are under the threat of losing their vision due to malnutrition and food insecurity.
Overall, there can be no comparison between Indira Gandhi and Chandra Babu Naidu, basically because of their personalities, times and circumstances. Yet history, past and recent, has proved time and again that ultimately people and the democratic institutions will prevail over every powerful combination of vested interests. It is just a matter of time. Personalities never mattered before or even now.
Politicians have their own role models. Young and upcoming individuals follow some of the role model politicians. Obviously, the most successful politicians would be the role model. Success of a politician can be rated in many facets: money, income, networks, sustenance capacity, and floating always even in the most adverse political storms (like a sea float).
Common people are farthest in this network of income and expenditure, payments and receipts and balancing self and other interests. The most efficient means of reaching the people are the media and connections with persons, whom the people love (film stars, godmen and women, etc).
So, you have successful politicians, who can be businessmen, when they are in opposition, and leaders of businessmen, when they are in power. Their power remains the same, being elected or not elected. They can be influential in their own party, and also in the opposition party. They can decide who can be their opponent in their own constituency. In fact, they would promote their own opponent. Some are bigger than the party, of which they are a member. Party would be dependent on them, than the other way. It can be in the constituency or outside. The key is becoming bigger than the party is to accumulate more and more money and create ‘own’ networks (most often caste) independent of party cadre. In future, you may need to start your own party.
Best way is to have loads of money is to have a finger in the business, which is not linked with costs of production. Thus, usually it would be a business in natural resources which cannot be valued, and the value depends on the demand. Many made a killing out of deforestation. With trees on the wane, they turned to sand and stones. As business grew, this sand mining politician would grow into major minerals, such as coal, iron ore, etc. Funds from these would help them to venture into infrastructure projects. Roads and culverts are for small time contracts for followers. Now, it would be airports and 8-lane toll highways. Power projects would be an added advantage. Ofcourse, one can start with min-hydel, biomass (cutting trees) and then graduate to thermal. This graduation would bring them on par with corporate honchos. But, do not forget land. Start with cubic feet, grow to acres and hectares. Government land would be the best possible start, to do business with.
However, you have to be honest. You cannot earn money through extortion, harassing women, crime and anti-social activities. You cannot afford to go to jail on those counts. That would be very bad. Leave that to your followers, who need their livelihoods to follow and support you. You can go to jail on corruption and there is no bar. In fact, it would be an added advantage. Once your stars turn, you need not advertise your services. People with necessities would come to you. Price for your services can always be negotiated.
Heading a association of a particular business is now the latest trend. So, if you are a cabinet minister, and being the president of ‘xyz’ manufacturers association is a matter of pride and no shame. In fact, if you are in trouble, members of this association would come to your rescue, and you can always be their godfather. In fact, this way you can also connect with ‘opposition’ politicians, who have same business interests. You can be pally with them when it comes to business. But beware that necessarily you have to maintain political distance in the public domain.
Then, another phase of life begins. Becoming connoisseurs of art and artful living. Attending filmy functions and sports opening & closing ceremonies would give them the positive image. Being a President or office bearer of any sports association would be an added advantage, of removing them from the everyday grind of politics. Earlier, it was only boxing or wrestlers association. Class is also important – more classy sports are also advantageous. They would also do social work, through a trust or society. This would be the conduit for corporate tax savings and constituency development funds. Maybe it will help during and after the elections. It would give them an image makeover at the cost of state funds.
These days owning a news channel would be helpful. It can be an instrument, to cow down opponents, cajole the ‘subjects’, earn pots of money and keep regulatory authorities at bay. If you cannot, ensure that you have a relative or a supporter in the media. Starting a chain of colleges would also help. The formula is to ‘reform’ a sector, encourage privatisation and reap the benefits.
If you become a national figure, do not forget foreign lands. The best way is to support a existing a business group, foreign multi-national, or Indian multi-national. They can route some profits to you. Additionally, there are thousands of hectares of land up for grabs in Africa. There are tax havens, as well. You can always visit and monitor your business. However, be sure to link it with a official tour to study waste management, travelling in a metro car, traffic lights, etc. Do not select heavier topics, after all you need to enjoy the trip and manage your business. Back home, you may be ‘harassed’ with questions, as studies always involve reports.
You may consider what one Union Cabinet Minister did. Start a consultancy service in New York, and provide ‘intermediary’ services for approvals and permissions back home. Not to confuse your potential customer, name it after the party you are heading. No one can object, in the land of contradictions. Election Commission would be least bothered. This would help you in earning money, and also bring you closer to who is doing which business and how in India. Arm-twisting them later can get you more money later.
Leave nothing to anyone. Philanthropy, philosophy, press, power, people and pelf would all be part of the same. You would be a fool, if you think they will leave past ‘money spinners’. Jobs, transfers, small contracts, tenders, etc., are all done by their followers. All this requires trust and trusted people. Who can be more trustworthy than sons, daughters, wife and their relatives? But, they would not be enough. Identifying self interest of the other one and integrating with one’s own would be the key strategy. Caste, religion, region, etc would be additional helpful links.
In the following maze of success, you can begin anywhere. You can be a successful businessman, and enter politics and complete all the formalities of success. Or, you can be a film star, and become successful as above. However, the story is you have to complete all the links, to become successful, wherever you begin. However, you need to start with criticism, and end with ‘mysticism’, making people guess where you are in this complex political scenario. You would not have to worry about disqualification, or burning bridges, everyone knows that in politics, criticism cannot be taken personal. If you are successful, even your rivals would follow you, court you and would welcome you with open arms. It would be so thrilling to move between rivalry and friendship, as frequently as possible. It tickles everyone, more so the media, the intellectuals and the ‘fanatic’ followers. They all know you are doing it with a purpose. They would come up with a rational explanation of why you behaving like that.
But, ultimately, connecting with the people is important. After all, they provide you the bread and butter. No worry about dissent and disgruntled people. Do not worry about average citizen. They all know that you are beyond ‘repair’ and they would worry about themselves. You can keep connecting with different people, not the same set always. You can chose your constituency.Managing citizens should not be a big issue.
Ultimately, when you die, you need not be worried as well about those ‘four’ persons who can carry you to grave. Being a successful politician, you are entitled to government-organised funeral services, with 21-gun salute, etc. So, bingo, go ahead and do not look back.